Friday, November 14, 2008

I Was a Prisoner of the Dow Jones

Stocks are down about forty percent year to date and no bottom in sight, so U.S. Person feels free to now tell you the truth. He will be traveling for the next month and there will no entries during his absence. For two years he has enjoyed sharing news and his views with readers of Persona Non Grata. He wishes to express his gratitude for your interest in this cyberspace. Happy trails!
[image: orignial art by Linda Paul]

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Nearly 1,000 endangered gray wolves could face slaughter if the Regime's new wolf-killing plan goes through -- and we only have two weeks to stop it. Click to send your Official Citizen Comment right now -- before the administration has a chance to pull the trigger on its vile scheme to strip wolves of their endangered species protection. They will not stop until the new president takes the oath of office, so its up to us to stop them. Even before this plan was announced, park biologists were predicting a crash in Yellowstone's wolf population this year. Wolf pups are dying from an outbreak of a yet-to-be-determined disease.

Proof in the Preference

Treasury Secretary Paulson is now facing the enormity of the morass of toxic debt. Consequently, he has backed down from buying up all of the banks securitized mortgage instruments because they are basically worthless. The fact that our economy is a FIRE economy is proved by the extension of more credit to insurance giant AIG and the Regime's refusal to use some of the initial $700 billion in economic aid to bailout General Motors. The explanation for how the money is spent lies in which class the aid benefits the most. Paulson has comitted $265 billion of the $700 billion approved by Congress in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). All of it is going to banks and purchasing $40 billion in preferred shares of AIG. Protecting AIG from failure, which underwrites trillions in investment derivatives, benefits rentiers. Keeping GM going would benefit thousand of skilled workers by keeping them employed. The regime is also balking at helping homeowners facing default. The plan announced so far only helps homeowners who are already delinquent on conventional mortgages owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The failure rate for conventional loans is about 2% compared to the 20% for adjustable rate sub prime loans. Unfortunately, there are a massive amounts of those loans at risk of default, a condition which will continue to exert a depressive effect on the national housing market and thereby the economy in general. Some government officials notably Sheila Bair, chairperson of the FDIC, advocated a much bigger rescue effort for home buyers planning $50 billion to modify mortgage terms, but discussions with Treasury failed. It all about whose ox is being gored.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Le Shorter:Just Say No To Joe

Joe Lieberman was once a Democrat, but even by the lax standards of Washington politics Joe has burned so many bridges that there should be no way back for him. Its not just that he spoke at the Republican national convention in support of the Republican candidate, but his voting record on issues such as the Iraq war, domestic surveillance, civil rights, torture, energy and social security shows he is progressive no more. His colleagues in the Senate vote next week on whether he can keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee. With 56 sure seats Democrats can govern without Joe. There are moderate Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins or Olympia Snowe of Maine, or even Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who could be approached to break a filibuster. They could also be offered cabinet jobs, since their states' Democratic governors should appoint Democratic replacements. Joe, because his adoption of extreme policies, has himself chosen to wander in the wilderness of right-wing politics.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Damage Done

As a parting gift to the nation before he vacates the bunker, the Charlatan is wearing out his executive order pen reducing or eliminating regulations intended to protect workers, consumers and the environment. His favorite target has been the Endangered Species Act, one of the most successful pieces of environmental protection legislation passed during the Nixon era. The effectiveness of the law explains why developers want it weakened or abolished. Former Congressman Pombo's legislative attempt to gut the law failed in the Senate, so now in a last ditch effort to give his supporters what they want, the Charlatan is using executive regulatory power to eliminate required consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service for federal projects that may impact protected species. The change is seen by most wildlife experts as significant weakening of the Act since it takes the independent agencies out of the decision making process and allows project managers who have no in-house biological expertise to make decisions affecting protected species. According to the loyalist lawyers at the Interior Department, such consultations are no longer necessary because federal agencies have developed expertise to review their own construction and development projects. Imagine some manager in the Minerals Management Service responsible for issuing oil and gas leases in Chesapeake Bay, the home of oysters, mussels and crabs enjoyed by gourmands in DC. Is there any doubt about how he or she would decide the question of going ahead with a project or protecting the shortnose sturgeon? The change also gives the severely understaffed wildlife and fisheries agencies only 60 days to reach a decision when consulted on whether a proposed project impacts protected species, or the project moves ahead without such a decision. Between 1998 and 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted 300,000 consultations. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which evaluates projects affecting marine species, conducts about 1,300 reviews each year. The reviews have helped safeguard protected species such as bald eagles, Florida panthers, and whooping cranes. A federal government handbook from 1998 described the consultations as "some of the most valuable and powerful tools to conserve listed species." When the federal agency I worked for was planning a new medical center in Florida, our project managers had no problems asking me to consult FWS to protect wetlands on the proposed hospital site. The Charlatan's parting shots as president are true to form--the triumph of narrow, blind ideology over the common good. It will take a long time to repair all the damage done.
[photo: Florida panther and cub courtesy]

Monday, November 10, 2008

'Toontime Extra: DC Rush Hour

[credit: Dwane Powell, Raleigh News & Observer]

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Old Game

The Russians have made the opening move in the old game of nuclear chess using the map of Europe as the game board. President Demitry Medvedev announced that Russia would install short range missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave to offset the planned installation of American antimissile batteries in Poland. The announcement gave European leaders pause. President-elect Obama has talked by telephone with the Polish president about US-Poland relations, but an aide said that he has not committed to going ahead with US plans for an anti-missile shield. Its obvious that the Russians have offered up a negotiating pawn to the new president to quickly test his attitude towards US-Russian relations which are currently at an uncomfortable nadir. The challenge presents an opportunity for the new administration to implement its professed willingness to negotiate and cooperate with foreign governments and end eight years of confrontational foreign policies pursued by Bush. President-elect Obama will be looking for ways to decrease wasteful spending to offset the billions that will be spent in economic subsidies. Eliminating an unneeded, unproven, and destabilizing missile system in Europe is a good place to start. Besides cost considerations, securing Russian cooperation to contain Iran's nuclear ambitions is a better way to protect our European allies from possible attack.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Bellwether County, Colorado

Americans can be proud that their nation has made significant social progress in 153 years since the Civil War. A black man will sit in the Oval Office of the White House, the most powerful political office in the world. But the iconography is simply not enough because our country needs real and decisive leadership if it is to cope with the critical problems facing it after eight years of misrule by Republicans. President-elect Obama will have a relatively short period--the so-called honeymoon--to translate some of his stirring campaign rhetoric into legislative action. If his presidency is to be truly a historic one, he must deliver for the average American. Unfortunately he will not have a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. He does have the wind at his back with a more than two to one victory in the Electoral College and a popular vote margin not achieved by a Democrat since Jimmy Carter. Carter attempted too much in his first one hundred days in office, diluting his effectiveness with congressional allies. Obama should not make the mistake of attempting too little in the nation's time of crisis. The public is undoubtably ready for some fundamental change even if Washington politicians are not. The choice of a Chicago machine politician as his chief of staff and a Clinton insider as transition chief are not particularly auspicious of the changes Senator Obama promised the electorate.

US Person spent Election Day in a targeted precinct in Colorado helping protect the vote with a team of volunteer lawyers and others. The experience was heartening in some respects and disappointing in others. The turnout was high, reflecting the largest number of voters at the polls nationwide since 1960. Although McCain won the county by 57% to 41%, that vote count is a very good showing in such a deeply red jurisdiction dominated by military installations. The vote there certainly contributed to Obama's winning Colorado 53% to 46% with its 9 electoral votes. In my view the "winning the west" strategy paid off by offsetting the solid Republican deep South. Obama managed to win three western states with changing demographics and a total of 19 electoral votes. The poll watching experience in Colorado also reminded me that voting is not an easy task for the average American who must take time from work and deal with a confusing--even for lawyers--set of rules and regulations governing casting a valid ballot. About 23% of the votes cast in the precincts I observed were by provisional ballot. The reasons for such a high proportion of provisional voting were many, but most were also avoidable if the registration and voting processes were simplified, and election officials acted as facilitators and not gatekeepers. Voter fraud is in reality almost a phantom problem that does not justify the significant bureaucratic tangle the honest voter must negotiate in order to cast a vote. It is difficult not to conclude that in some cases the rules are strictly enforced to suppress voting, not encourage it. A healthy democracy does everything within fairness to facilitate participation by the citizen, not discourage it. America has a long way to go to improve its election processes. Reliance on technically sophisticated hardware, prone to failure and confusion is not the answer. Making Election Day a federal holiday, as well as requiring early voting periods and optional mail-in ballots would encourage participation, especially by working people. Adopting uniform national standards for voter registration, ballots, and election procedures in federal elections would reduce the amount of waiting for ordinary voters at the polls, insure fairness, as well as increasing opportunities for participation in the best form of government on the planet.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Make History


Monday, November 03, 2008

You Are What You Eat

You do not have to be vegetarian to know that farm animals raised in intensive commercial feeding operations suffer terribly from overcrowding, disease and pain. These agribusinesses are run on a production line template to achieve economies of scale with little consideration for their sentient captives. The confined feeding operations have become the predominate method of producing animal protein for our consumption. They produce more than fifty percent of food animals although they comprise only five percent of livestock operations. Their economic efficiency, however is supported by unpaid costs to the environment, our health, and the livestock's well being. These are referred to as "externalities" by economists. Confined feedlots also benefit from taxpayer subsidies for feed grains such as corn, and taxpayer supported clean up of wastes generated in huge quantities (300 million tons of untreated manure per year). Between 1997 and 2005 grain subsidies amounted to $35 billion. Confined animals in large numbers are more susceptible to diseases. Consequently 70% of all antibiotics use in the United States are given to food animals to prevent epidemics. The massive use of human drugs on animals leads to disease resistant strains of bacteria such as E. coli, Campylobacter, and the flesh eating horror, Staphylococcus aureus. Human health in rural communities close to giant feedlots suffer from respiratory problems from particulate pollution as well as contaminated drinking water. The smell alone is enough to drive down property values.

The Union of Concerned Scientists in their report, "The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations" concludes that these public subsidies are leading to problems that could be avoided if animals were raised humanely and sustainably. Apart from obvious ethical considerations, their study also concludes that sustainable operating methods produce better quality at comparable profit when externalities are properly considered in the cost per unit calculations. The report estimates that the cost to clean up contaminated soil under dairy and hog feeding operations would approach $4.1 billion. The Department of Agriculture says it would cost $1.6 billion to transport and spread manure on farmland instead of storing it in waste lagoons. The waste lagoons stink and pollute the atmosphere and soil with ammonia, nitrates, excessive phosphorous and nitrogen. The subsidies give huge confined feeding operations an unfair competitive advantage against integrated farms and mid size feedlots that produce healthy food without damaging the environment. We can have our steak, chops, eggs and breath easy too, if the proper regulatory scheme is put into place.
[photo: commercial feedlot, southwest Kansas]

Sunday, November 02, 2008

'Toontime Extra: We'll Miss You, Buddy

['toon credit: Berkeley Breathed]
No more cares, no more scares, may you sleep a peaceful night everywhere...