Saturday, February 28, 2009

PNG's Darkroom Open

You can now visit PNG's Darkroom photographic supplement and go "On Safari in Namibia" with U.S. Person.  Be sure to click on the audio clip while you view 130 beautiful photos of Namibia's wildlife and geography. For full immersion, click the audio link under the lion's head (1st page, bottom).  Click the link

Friday, February 27, 2009

'Toontime: Repugnant Road Kill

[credit: Michael Ramirez]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ivory Sale Encourages Poachers

US Person told you that the "legal" ivory sale to China some months back would lead to increase in slaughter of elephants for their tusks {Death to Elephants, 7/16/09}.   That is exactly what is happening in Kenya's Tsavo National Park.  Five elephants have been killed in the Park in the past six weeks reports The Independent.  Wildlife officials and conservationists are blaming the increase on the sale of over a hundred tons of stockpiled ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The sale was permitted by the UN under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) despite fierce opposition.   British Labor MP Alan Simpson said the sale was "obscene" and "a license to kill".   The discredited dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe instigated the first sale of "legal" ivory in 1997 after the miserable trade in elephant parts was officially banned in 1989.  Elephants were hunted down mercilessly in the 70's and 80's for the ivory causing their population to collapse from 1.3 million to 625,000 in a decade.  The recent victims were found in three different areas of Tsavo with their tusks hacked off.  Two suspected poachers were arrested along with a middleman who had already sold the tusks into the illegal trade. Two AK-47s and 38 rounds were confiscated. It is suspected that some of the elephants died a slow death from poisoned arrow wounds.  Overall, elephant poaching in Kenya has increased 60% over last year.  An official of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said "we believe there is strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory stockpile sales allowed by CITES." 
[photo: Mahango National Park, Namibia]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Le Shorter: Binyam Mohamed Freed

Update:  Who are you going to believe, Eric Holder the new Attorney General or Ahmed Ghappour who represents 31 detainees at the gulag?  Holder just returned from an inspection tour of the facility which he called "professionally run".   He reported he saw no incidents of abuse while he was there (Really?), and despite his positive impression of the detention camp reaffirmed the US administration's promise to close it within a year.  Ghappour, a British-American lawyer who has visited the camp six times since September tells a different story.   Says Ghappour, "there has been a ramping up of abuse since President Obama was inaugurated".  He thinks the increase in incidents is due to "traumatized guards....basically trying to get their kicks in" before the camp closes.  Admiral Patrick Walsh, who conducted a two week review of conditions at Guantanamo at the request of the President, reluctantly confirmed 14 instances of substantiated detainee abuse out 20 cases reviewed.  In one camp according to Ghappour all the detainees are on hunger strike and subjected to force feeding including laxatives that induce chronic diarrhea while strapped to feeding chairs.  Ghappour said several of his clients have had toilet paper pepper sprayed while suffering from hemorrhoids.  

{posted 02/23/09}Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed {2/10/09} was flown to freedom in Britain today where he will be allowed to reapply for UK residency.  The Ethiopian national landed at a British military base and emerged from an unmarked business jet looking thin and weak from his hunger strike while incarcerated at the gulag.  Lawsuits to obtain secret documents detailing his torture in Morocco with the cooperation of US and British intelligence agencies are continuing. Binyam's prepared public statement read by one of his attorneys said that prior to his capture torture was just an abstract word. In his darkest dreams he never thought he would be a victim.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ted's Table

Helen Redmond writing at Counterpunch says Senator Ted Kennedy has been schmoozing in secret with corporate America concerning a desperately needed health care plan for Americans. It is invitation only for the usual suspects: lobbyists of Aetna, AHIP, the Business Roundtable, US Chamber of Commerce, the AMA and PHRMA.  Senator Kennedy has often said that a universal health care plan is his life's goal, but attempting to co-op these business interests is not going to produce a plan that controls soaring health care costs[1].  The Senator had a chance to achieve his stated goal in 1971 with the introduction of the Kennedy-Griffiths bill. But he did not fight aggressively to pass the legislation and gave his support to incremental compromises that have brought us to the present crisis.  Most Americans want a single payer system which can control costs because only the government pays their bills. Therefore the plan would have huge economic leverage in the health care market place. But such a monopoly plan threatens insurance and drug company profits.  The businesses only want a mandatory private insurance plan along the lines of Massachusetts's controversial model which penalizes those who do not buy insurance from private carriers and further enrich insurance companies.   Physicians for a National Health Program were not invited to the Senator's table, but they sent him an open letter explaining why the mandate program is not working.  The bloated health care industry is blaming the lazy, cheap little guy who cannot afford (or does not want to afford) $400 to $1000 a month for a high deductible policy that does not cover everything.  If you have a pre-existing condition, fuhgedaboudit.  Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent research organization states that between 1970 and 2005 the growth in Medicare spending per person has been less than the growth in spending by private insurers, despite the fact the government system treats most of the sick elderly.  If you were to ask Senator Kennedy what kind of policy he has to cover the extraordinary cost of treating his brain cancer, he would tell you a federal government policy guaranteed for life.  For the Washington elite health care is a right, for the rest of us it is a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.  Call Senator Kennedy and tell him that single payer is what he once stood for, and is the type of universal plan Americans want. Representative John Conyers'  H.R. 676 is a good place to start. That phone number in Washington is: 202-224-4543, or call his state office 617-565-3170, or 877-472-9014.  If you want affordable health insurance start dialing.
[1]The HHS reports that health care costs will average $8,160 per US person.  The cost is projected to be $13,100 by 2018 or $1 out of every $5 spent in the economy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Talk About Stress!

Treasury Secretary Geithner and company are subjecting the US economy to prolonged distress out of ideological purity.  Rather than kill off the zombie banks--Citigroup and Bank America are the two leading examples--with a coup de grace of nationalization, they are bleeding the national economy with the death of a thousand cuts.  Bank of America received $45 billion from the ineffective TARP program and a $118 billion guarantee for buying the defunct brokerage Merrill Lynch.  Its share price recently closed at $4.90 or 21% of book value.  The bank posted a fourth quarter loss of $1.55 billion while Merrill Lynch loss another $15.3 billion.   Citi has narrowly escaped bankruptcy before, but perhaps not this time.  Despite a $45 billion injection of TARP funds, its share price closed recently at $2.19. The Chicago Boys are simply wrong. The Bank of Japan spent a decade massively increasing public debt, but Japan's economy is till stagnant.[1]  There are socially more beneficial ways of deficit spending than buying worthless paper or propping up insolvent banks. If I were advising 44, I would tell him to forget the labels, the fat cat contributors, the half measures, and ignore your economic advisers that are partly to blame for this catastrophe. We can no longer afford to protect the denizens of the Street of Broken Dreams from their own "irrational exuberance"[2]. He must summon the audacity do what is right for the country.  And oh yeah, remove that bull statue from Wall Street--its bad for business.

Meanwhile across the waves, the financially imploding former Eastern bloc countries are threatening to take down the EU.  Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion to finance its economic westernization, most of that from Austria, Sweden, Italy, Greece and Belgium.  The former Soviet bloc countries have to rollover more than $400 billion of that debt this year to stay current, an impossible task given that foreign credit windows are shuttered.  The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has said default rates will top 10% and may reach 20%. Austria is so exposed to the European equivalent of "toxic assets"--it has lent the region an amount equal to 70% of its GDP--that a failure rate of 10% will collapse its own financial sector according to a Vienna newspaper.  Of course such a collapse will have a knock-on effect here as well.  Europe as a whole has entered a deeper recession than the US precipitated by the same contagion of unsustainable debt levels.

[1]  If the US cannot pull off the hat trick of re-inflating its bubble economy, a preview of the real "new world order" to come was announced by President Putin at Davos, Switzerland (44 was notable for his absence):  a world financial order based on energy and natural resources.  China has entered into a long term barter agreement with Russia for twenty years of guaranteed energy supply in return for a $25 billion loan.  The Russians are also working towards a bilateral barter agreement with Germany.  The US may find itself out in the cold since these arrangements will bypass the corrupted international banking system dominated by the US and UK.  The G-20 already has a plan for a new monetary system to replace the US dollar as the world's reserve currency.
[2]Mohamed comes to the mountain. Alan Greenspan that foremost guru of laissez-faire told the Financial Times, "The US government may have to nationalize some banks on a temporary basis to fix the financial system and restore the flow of credit."

Update:  Changing the government's stake in the banks from preferred shares to common stock as suggested by Citigroup is just another PR move. A move which says more about the ideological rigidity of the elites in Washington than their willingness to protect the economy from capitalist excess.  The proposal allows Citi to dress up their balance sheets to meet analytical parameters ("stress tests") since preferred stock is considered debt, but forces the government to assume more risk as a common stockholder with less return and without obtaining control of sick bank management.   Could this proposal be because the regulators and management belong to the same oligarchy?  Billions for bankers, a dime for John Doe.  J'accuse!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Murkowski Looses Touch

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AS) announced yesterday that she would introduce a bill that would allow oil companies to directionally drill beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from outside the surface boundaries.  Activists spent eight years battling the previous regime over the small amount of reserves within the Refuge, and declared the proposal unacceptable. Drilling the Refuge has become a cause celebre among conservatives and a surefire way of gaining support from the America's delusional right-wing.  Directional drilling from outside the refuge boundaries would require exploration and production drilling from farther away than any wells have been drilled before.  One million barrels a day by 2025 is a spit in the ocean at the increasing rate of our current fossil fuel consumption.  Meanwhile up north, BP reported a spill of unknown proportions at Prudhoe Bay.  A twenty four inch diameter pipe ruptured shutting down 11 wells producing 1300 to 1400 barrels of oil a day. Leaking was stopped on Wednesday and a clean up is under way.
[map credit: Anchorage Daily News]

'Toontime: 'Scuse Me While I Stash This Cash

[credit: Joel Prett, Lexington Leader]

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Bones of Geronimo

The famed Apache resistance leader, Geronimo, does not rest in peace according to his descendants who filed suit against the exclusive Skull and Bones society at Yale University on the 100th anniversary of war chief's death at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  The suit claims that members of the Skull and Bones society took Geronimo's remains from the burial plot at Fort Sill.  According to lore Prescott Bush, grandfather of the previous occupant, and others dug up the grave during the First World War.  Great grandson Harlyn Geronimo told the press that he wants the remains returned and reburied near the birthplace of the feared warrior and medicine man in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico.   
[artwork by Arnold Friberg, Geronimo: "I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun.  I was born were there were no enclosures."]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Le Shorter: George Will Take a Look!

Global warming denial is only one above Holocaust denial.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Final Shame?

The New York Times is reporting on a developing scandal that may be the final disgusting chapter in the crime against humanity that is the Iraq occupation.  Fraud by United States officers charged with redeveloping a devastated country may exceed the avarice of Bernie Madoff and company. Once the full extent is known, the looting of Iraq by US officials and contractors will probably be the biggest fraud in American history[1].  In 2004-05 the entire Iraqi military budget of $1.3 billion was drained from the Iraqi Defense Ministry, a theft blamed on Iraqis, but the Ministry was largely under the control of US military officials at the time. Federal investigators have subpoenaed the bank records of former Army officer Anthony B. Bell who was responsible for contracting reconstruction efforts in 2003-04. Air Force officer Ronald W. Hirtle, a senior contracting official in Baghdad in 2004, is also a person of interest to federal investigators.  The murder of businessman Dale C. Stoffel outside of Taiji is being reopened.  Stoffel had been granted limited immunity in return for information about a bribery ring within the Green Zone.  According to the dead informant, tens of thousands of dollars in bribes were delivered in pizza boxes sent to contracting officers.  Despite $125 billion appropriated for the reconstruction of Iraq, there is very little evidence of work underway outside of the US embassy compound. Only the palm trees seem to get planted and replanted in the median strip of Baghdad boulevards.  It does not take peculiar insight to understand why the Army is experiencing the highest number of suicides among soldiers since record keeping began.  To risk your life for such a morally flawed endeavor must be very disheartening indeed.
[1] The exact value of missing reconstruction money may never be known, but the special inspector general appointed to investigate potential fraud in Iraq suggests in his report that it may exceed $50 billion.

44's New House of Cards

The Street of Broken Dreams greeted the new Treasury Secretary's plan for rescuing zombie banks with a decisive thumbs down.  The almighty Dow Jones Index dropped nearly 400 hundred points when the plan was announced last week. The important reason for the brickbats is that there was no explanation of how the trillions of worthless assets now held by financial institutions would be revalued by the government. Just before Lehman Bros. went belly up, speculators in devalued paper were offering 22 cents on the dollar.  Now, the banks are asking for 75 cents on the dollar! The banks and the traders want the government to guarantee the price at which private funds buy toxic assets from the banks. Just how the government can afford to pay this extortion without people marching on Washington is the question left unanswered by Secretary Tim Geithner.  Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo are holding two-thirds of all the toxic mortgage backed paper by some estimates.  The government must swallow perhaps half a trillion in losses within the next 18 months if the zombies are to survive.  The Obama campaign received $10 million in contributions from Wall Street, the largest source by far.  From purely an efficiency and cost viewpoint nationalization is the way to go.  Sweden followed this path successfully when it faced a deep banking crisis in 1992.
It is also clear that the proposed public-private "bad asset" bank is the new market mechanism by which the Geithner and economic advisor Larry Summers[1] hope to re-inflate the economy. But the financial crisis will have to get even more dire for their partnership bank plan to be successfully foisted on outraged taxpayers as the savior of our national economy.   The "aggregator" bank is supposed to be funded to about $5 trillion by the big banks now receiving tax money for their own recapitalization.  So far each major bank has received about $25 billion in public funds.  The government will guarantee the new bank's bonds with its power to tax future generations of Americans ad infinitum, thereby socializing the risk of capitalist failure.  The bad asset bank will have the power to buy and renegotiate mortgages, hopefully saving desperate homeowners now "upside down" and facing foreclosure.  However, the plan is once the economy re-inflates through rising prices and new debt creation--possible after the toxic assets from round one have been removed from the balance sheets of imprudent capitalists--the bad bank's private owners will reap the reward of any capital gains above the amount of debt written off when the loans were renegotiated.   Trading away the "equity kicker" to the post-industrial buccaneers will be the price of salvation, according to Michael Hudson, a former Wall Street economist and professor at the University of Missouri.  To make the scheme perfectly clear: the captains of finance who created the mess by expanding credit imprudently using arcane securitization techniques will use taxpayer money to shift their losses to the government, and reap still more profit by appropriating from surviving homeowners any gains realized once the government inflates prices again.  Such a deal.  Thus, for the free market schemers on the Street of Broken Dreams, the free market should only be free of financial regulation, free of tax on unearned wealth, and free of market consequences for gambling with other people's money.  The new Secretary has indeed proven himself a friend of the wealthy one-percenters, but this is bad news for the rest of us debt ridden proles. It is not the big bank niche of the FIRE sector that is essential to our economy.  It is consumer spending, responsible for 72% of our GDP, that is essential to our economy.  Joe the Plumber and Jane the Clerk are in debt over there heads with no paychecks coming in because all the good jobs have been transported to low wage countries.  Until they get some relief, they have got no money to spend (they do not pay taxes either).   The government so far has offered homeowners about $50 billion in relief-- just .5% of the $10 trillion given to the Street to date, and less than half what AIG got to repay its derivative gambling losses.   So the bubble goes up, the bubble goes down, round and round it goes, and were it stops nobody knows including Rep. Kanjorski of Pennsylvania.[2]
[1]Carl Rove told the Wall Street Journal that both Geithner and Summers were "market oriented" and "solid picks" by 44--euphemisms for committed corporatist.   Geithner as president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank did nothing to address the impeding trouble in the credit markets in late 2007. Larry Summers as Clinton's deputy secretary of the Treasury joined with Secretary Robert Rubin and Chairman Alan Greenspan to force the resignation of Brooksley Born, chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, who had the wrongheaded idea of urging regulation of the exploding new derivatives market. 
[2] In the video Kanjorski partly justifies the initial decision to bail out Wall Street on an "electronic run on the banks" in September 2008 of $550 billion within just a few hours. What's up with that? Economist James Galbraith says of the effort to save the banks, "I think it's fair to conclude that the large banks, which the Treasury is trying very hard to protect, cannot in fact be protected, that they are in fact insolvent, and that the proper approach for dealing with them is for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to move in and take the steps that the FDIC normally takes when dealing with insolvent banks."  Nouriel Roubini, the New York University economist who predicted a major crisis two years ago, says: "Nationalization is the only option that would permit us to solve the problem of toxic assets in an orderly fashion and finally allow lending to resume. Of course, the economy would still stink, but the death spiral we are in would end."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Talk About Dogma!

Latest:  The Senate in a late hour roll call is passing the compromise stimulus spending package after the modified bill passed the House earlier today.  One of the items cut during the negotiations was the $50 billion program to finance more nuclear power development (see below).  The flawed economics of nuclear power do not justify investing more taxpayer money when cleaner and cheaper energy alternatives exist.  Green activists played an influential role in convincing lawmakers to ax the unjustified subsidy for the nuclear power industry.  An example of the Repugnants' hysteria over the passage of the largest domestic spending bill ever was illustrated by their mythologizing about the salt marsh harvest mouse [photo].  Minority Leader Boehner blasted the charming rodent (Reithrodontomys raviventris) in his speech on the House floor claiming that $30 million was being wasted to protect it.  But like so many other Repugnant claims, it is not true. The money according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office is for federal restoration of wetlands none of which are in the Speaker's district.

{first post 1/29/09} In a stunning display of Bourbon intransigence the GOP minority in the House did not give President Obama a single vote in favor of the stimulus package that passed on a strict party line vote (244-188) .  This, despite cocktails with the President to enlist some bipartisan support. Obama agreed to remove certain items that offended conservative dogma such as funds for family planning and included others like more tax cuts for business.  It was a wasted effort. GOP leaders must be pleased when discussing the degree of rigid conformity that exists in their ranks of Herbert Hoover impersonators.

Update:  The Senate Appropriations Committee, during the night of January 27th, put in a provision to 44's economic stimulus package that would provide as much as $50 billion for loan guarantees to build new nuclear reactors.  Although the language of the provision is ambiguous, the provision's backers, Senators Robert Bennett (R-UT) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) are clear that the provision is intended to fund new nuclear reactor production.  This stealth funding attempt arrives in the face of a CBO report that predicts a 50% default rate by nuclear utilities using the money.  Also, a recent report by the Nuclear Information & Resource Service exposes the practice of disposing radioactive wastes (radioactive scrap, asphalt, concrete, plastic, wood, chemicals, soil and equipment) into ordinary landfills. Tennessee is leading in licensing waste processors that can release radioactive materials from nuclear facilities without public knowledge of the disposal.  It is also possible that some of the radioactive waste could be recycled into everyday consumer products.  The investigators researched seven sites including DOE headquarters: Oak Ridge, TN; Rocky Flats, CO; Los Alamos, NM; Mound & Fernald, OH; West Valley, NY; and Paducah, KY. 

'Toontime: The Audacity of Choices

[credit: Robert Ariail, The State]

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Le Shorter: Arlen Specter Insults Latin America

In responding to a Gallup poll which shows that a plurality of Americans support the idea of a Congressional investigation into the anti-terror excesses of the previous occupant, the Republican Senator from Pennsylvania said, "If every administration started to examine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it.  This is not Latin America."  Chile and South Africa have both held "truth commissions" over civil right abuses by undemocratic governments.  Specter himself served on the Warren Commission that investigated the JFK assassination.  Wackydoodle sez, "Y'all remember irony is dead!"

Israel Stands at the Edge

Israel's election results show the Middle East peace process is in more trouble.  Although Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her Kadima party won one more Knesset seat than Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party (28-27) the nationalist camp controls a larger bloc of seats (63-57).  If Livni cannot put a coalition together that totals 61 seats, Netanyahu will.  The strong showing of the ultra-right Yisrael Beiteinu party (15) means that if Netanyahu is asked to form a government, he will not be willing to make any unilateral concessions to the Arabs. Yisreal Beiteinu (Israel Is Our Home) recently accused Israeli Arabs of disloyalty leading to the barring of two Arab parties from taking part in the election.  However, the action by the Knesset Central Election Committee was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court.  In an interview with a Jewish-American peace action group, Akiva Eldar, chief political correspondent for Ha'aretz, said that Israel is akin to a friend "standing at a cliff".  The United States must be willing to provide Israel guidance, even if it means "hitting them over the head". In his view that means making it clear to Israeli policymakers that US interests in the region extend well beyond Israel's.  Mr. Eldar suggested that the new US administration should not turn a blind eye to settlements in the West Bank and violation of commitments to past administrations.  The Obama administraiton should tell Israel, "There is going to be a price tag and we're waiting for you with a full basket of rewards if you go our way, but if you don't, don't expect us to play business as usual."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

US Continues to Hide Torture

Update:  It simply boggles the mind.  After eight years of the government from hell one should be numb.  But evil deeds done in the name of fighting terrorism continue to shock. The latest story is simply medieval in the level of its sheer brutality. According to the Daily Telegraph  Binyam Mohamed was subjected to torture much worse than water boarding. The young Ethiopian had his genitals sliced with a scalpel presumably at the hands of his Moroccan captors who were cooperating with CIA and MI6. According to an official source familiar with the classified report on the case, water boarding "is very far down the list of the things they did".  In a related rendition case, the Obama administration told a federal court that it would continue to maintain the previous regime's position that information about a subsidiary of Boeing Co. cooperating with the government's rendition program is a state secret and will not be divulged. The case is Mohamed et al v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc.   Despite 44's expressed lack of appetite for a complete and public accounting of the crimes of the Charlatan's regime, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, is absolutely correct when he stated recently at Georgetown University that Congress has an independent responsibility to conduct a criminal investigation.  He is proposing a Senate commission with subpoena power to pursue the truth.    The ACLU has published an on-line archive of documents about US torture policy released under the Freedom of Information Act.  Senator Leahy, my ax is available to rent.

The United States, the country that "does not torture" according to the previous occupant, threatened to break off cooperation with its closest ally, United Kingdom, if it disclosed information that a British resident, Binyam Mohamed, was tortured while being held at a "black site" in Morocco.  He is still in detention at the US gulag, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  The Independent reports the British High Court ruled against a request by the detainee's lawyers to release the information in the possession of the Foreign Office.  The judges said they were forced to rule against the request in the face of a threat by the US to end cooperation with Britain against terror.  The detainee is an Ethiopian granted refugee status in 1994.  He was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and handed over to US agents.  Last year all terrorist charges against him were dropped.  He is one of three remaining UK residents at the infamous offshore prison.

Attack of the Media Clowns

Update:  The Senate, by the cooperation of only three Republicans[1], invoked cloture thereby allowing the passage of a stimulus bill which now proceeds to conference committee with the House.  Senator Ted Kennedy rose from his sick bed in Hyannis Port to be present for the crucial vote.

Even with majorities in both houses of Congress, 44 is in a pitched battle to get his administration's stimulus bill passed.  One reason the opposition is so fierce is that corporate media talking heads are providing cover by pushing the discredited conservative line of "tax cuts only".  Well they should since these media hirelings occupy the upper reaches of the income tax tables. Nor will you see them paying for groceries with food stamps anytime soon. Rush Limbaugh's patented drug induced nonsense about "porkulus" is being repeated by supposed objective journalists who ought to know better.  Between February 2 and February 5 during the Senate debate Republicans were on the air touting their party line 75 times contrasted to Democrats who were interviewed on air 41 times. During the House debate cable outlets hosted GOP leaders by a 2 to 1 margin[2].
[1] Specter, Snowe, Collins
[2]Think Progress Report, February 10,2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Chevy Volt Wins Award

Thanks to Uncle Sugar there might be a General Motors Company around to produce the Chevy Volt.  The innovative electric vehicle won an award from a green auto magazine at the Washington, DC Auto Show last week. The photo (courtesy GM) shows a pre-production model. The car is designed to travel 40 miles on one lithium battery charge with zero emissions.  Eighty percent of commuter trips in the US are forty miles or less.  The car can achieve over 100 mpg on extended trips using a motorcycle-sized combustion engine to recharge its electric motive system.  The design beat plug-in hybrids, hydrogen cell fuel cars, and other battery electric cars in the show competition.  When finally offered to the public its price will probably exceed $40,000 retail. Not exactly a price point for the Everyman, but perhaps with government subsidies the car will become more affordable.  The administration's Recovery and Reinvestment Act now being debated in Congress is intended to foster green mobility technologies such as the Volt.

For the Record with Wen Jiabao

"[The world financial crisis] is attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption; excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit.”--Chinese Premier at Davos Forum

NB: China stopped new investments in US companies last year, and dumped $26.1 billion in Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac bonds in five months ending in November, 2008.

A Message to Congress

Sellwood Bridge is falling down.  Literally.   The narrow bridge is used constantly used by drivers, bike riders and pedestrians because it connects two densely populated districts of one a city divided by a river (31,000 cars a day).   It's 82 years old and it's concrete is cracking and recycled steel frame rusting.  It is not very wide either, making the bridge a hazardous crossing for people using the 4 foot wide sidewalks or thirteen foot traffic lanes.  It ranks 2 out of 100 points on a federal bridge sufficiency scale, tied with two other bridges in the state.  The Minneapolis bridge that collapsed scored 50.   A significant earthquake would collapse the bridge according to a 1995 engineering study, and it is actually six inches shorter than when it was opened in 1925 due to ground movement.  Sellwood Bridge will cost $237 million to replace because it is beyond repair.  But the county responsible for the structure cannot afford to replace it because it has no money.   There must be hundreds of Sellwood Bridges spanning America after decades of neglect by local authorities with inadequate budgets. So do us all a favor and stop quibbling over a few million here and few million there.  You gave $700 billion to Wall Street which apparently pocketed the chump change.  Keep the aid to the states* in the economic recovery plan you are posturing over.  It is time to get real.
*New Deal programs constructed 46,000 bridges, not to mention planting 3 billion trees.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Big Cats of Namibia

{first post 1/16/09}  In the early days of blogs there was a fad to post cat pictures on Fridays.  US Person offers his version of  "cat blogging".  Recently he returned from a photo safari to Namibia and has been busy organizing his digital and film photography.  Persona Non Grata plans to exhibit his work soon in a photo gallery supplement, PNG's Darkroom:  

Namibia, because of its low population density (1.5/sq. mile) and early conservation efforts by German colonists, has healthy wildlife populations.  It is the only country in the world to specifically address conservation in its constitution. (Article 95) Most herbivores co-exist successfully with humans and their agricultural activities.  About 70% of the country depends on agriculture for a living.  Most of the central region is devoted to grazing and subsistence farming. Predators like the big cats are not welcomed by native people and many view large felines as dangerous nuisances to be eliminated.  Persecution of lions, cheetahs and leopards, which occasionally kill livestock to survive, is common.  Carnivores in unprotected areas are driven off to marginal habitats
in the most arid regions of the country. Predator extermination is often the livestock protection method of choice. Large felines are trapped, poisoned or shot on sight.  A shift from cattle ranching to trophy hunting and tourism as a livelihood among wealthier landowners has also caused removal of carnivores preying on their natural food.  Indiscriminate removal is taking a toll on feline populations.   Bushmanland is a sparsely populated 9,000 square kilometer region along the eastern border with Botswana.   Only four cheetahs have been relocated to the area. We were lucky enough to see two in the wild.  But significant numbers of visitors, mostly from Europe, still come to only view wildlife.  High on their must see lists are large carnivores. These visitors are motivating more conservation efforts.  Large, private game reserves have been established where paying visitors can closely view animals living behind tall wire "game fences".   Some residents even wear radio tracking collars for easier display.
Okonjima Game Reserve is a 55,000 acre (222 sq. km) private conservancy in central Namibia that provides shelter and care to orphaned, displaced and injured cheetahs and leopards.  It is home to the AfriCat Foundation,  a registered UK charity, that devotes itself to promoting
tolerance of large carnivores among farmers, educating the public about predators, research, and rescuing "problem" animals for release.  AfriCat has rescued and returned 900 cheetahs and leopards to the wild.  The foundation provides a home, food and care for over 100 animals that cannot be released into the wild. Orphaned cubs and habituated cats are not suitable for release.  Cubs are fed by their mothers until they learn to hunt.  Humans do not make good hunting teachers.   Habituated animals have lost their healthy fear of humans, and in some case have lost their hunting skills too.  Lions, because of their disposition, size and strength, do not make suitable subjects for rehabilitation in most cases.  Unfortunately their numbers are declining drastically, and brave souls may have to take on the difficult task of conserving lions displaced by man.

There are lions in Namibia's flagship national park,
Etosha, a huge area of bushveld and savanna about 200 kilometers wide surrounding a saltpan of 4,590 sq kilometers (1.1m acres).  The park was established in 1907 by the German governor of Southwest Africa who was alarmed by the disappearance of wildlife in his jurisdiction.  By the 1880's, most of the country's lion and elephant populations were killed off.  It took thirty one years for a lion roar to be recorded in the Park.  Now an estimated that 300 lions live within its boundaries. We saw a magnificent mating pair near Rietfontein. There are few things as thrilling in life as seeing wild lions up close. Politely watching their effort to continue their race under such adversity, artificial and natural, was truly inspiring.

Photos by US Person:
top r: Mafana, a four year old male leopard living at Okonjima;
r: Sandy, a 9 year old female living at Cheetah Conservation Fund a welfare organization founded by Dr. Laurie Marker; 
l: a wild Etosha lion;
r: Etosha lion pair

'Toontime: Returns!

It's 3:00am. Do you know what your computer is doing?
[credit: Dan Morin, The Miami Herald]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Charlatan's Legacy of Death & Destruction

The previous occupant of the White House was no friend of the environment, we all know that.  But the extent to which he was callously willing to sacrifice wildlife and wilderness in order to extract natural resources, or to maintain the national 'insecurity' state, is still yet to be revealed as the new government in Washington digs through the stack of last minute rule changes.  Perhaps the most dastardly are the ones that allow the Navy to "take" whales and dolphins--a statutory term in the Endangered Species Act that means to kill, harm or harass protected animals.  The rule changes allow the Navy to use its mid-frequency active sonar in training exercises near endangered whales in its Hawaii Range complex, Southern California Range Complex and along the entire eastern coast during the Atlantic Fleet's active sonar training exercise.  These areas overlap with migration routes and calving grounds of humpback and right whales (only about 300 right whales remain).  It has been demonstrated that the Navy's radar can cause disorientation, hearing loss, stranding, and even kill whales and dolphins by severely damaging their internal organs.  The Navy does not need to sacrifice these mammals to protect America. NOAA, which has jurisdiction over ocean fisheries, issued the rule changes, relying on the Navy's inadequate estimates of harm.  The agency did not consider cumulative impacts of long term use of the radar, nor did it establish meaningful protections for marine mammals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.   You can help reverse these heartless rules by writing to acting Administrator Mary M. Glackin, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and requesting that the sonar rules be reviewed and reissued to protect marine mammals from needless suffering and death.  Or you can use this NRDC link:   

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who Runs America?

Few governments in the world are so utterly under the influence of corporate interests as in the United States. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), two-thirds of corporations in America paid no federal income taxes at all between 1998 and 2005. This includes a fourth of all large US companies (those with assets worth $250 million or more). An earlier GAO report showed that 61 per cent of US corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1996 and 2000, periods of high growth and huge corporate profits, and periods when both major parties held the White House.  Larry Summers, director of 44's National Economic Council, facilitated the creation of the bubble economy through financial deregulation that has brought us to these dire straits.  Summers has consolidated his power in the White House to the point that the press calls him 44's "chief economic adviser".  He was a proponent of policies--from the lifting of capital controls in developing economies to the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act at home--that proved spectacularly wrong.   So what's a few thousand in back taxes among friends?  Wackydoodle asks: "I'm a hearin' they's a job at the health department--anybody tell Dennis?"

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Another Free Radical Idea: Peoples' Banks

Tired already of the federal government stuffing your tax dollars down the maw of insolvent banks "to big to fail", or slipped into the pockets of criminally rich Wall Street executives? Want some of that Uncle Sugar available to you as near as your neighborhood post office?  Want to actually re-inflate our economy by boosting consumer spending (responsible for 72% of our GDP) or save your mortgage from foreclosure?  Ready for some real stimulus*?    It is an idea whose time has come at last, and one that U.S. Person has suggested before.  United Kingdom's business secretary (equivalent to our Secretary of Commerce) Peter Mandelson, is pushing a plan to make post office outlets into mini branch banks of a new national bank. Cherished UK post offices [photo] would be able to offer a range of services such as savings accounts, checking, personal loans, credit card accounts, small business services and financial advice.  The UK post office already offers bill paying services and runs the card account that distributes benefits to pensioners.  But the idea comes with a catch. It is part of a plan to privatize the Royal Mail. At least a hundred Labor MPs object to privatizing an institution most British see as working just fine, thank you very much.  Nevertheless, the peoples' bank idea is striking a cord with organized labor and small business in the UK.  Of course if the idea could work in England, it could work here.  But if peoples' banks were suggested for the United States, the howls of "socialist" from the unreconstructed capitalist cronies in Congress would be heard from sea to shinning sea.

But the hard fact is that more mega banks will fail, as reluctantly recognized by 44.  They will fail despite massive infusion of taxpayer money, and will fail because they are mired in bad debt and excessive leveraging.  The U.S. must allow these so-called "zombie banks" to fail, not just for moral reasons--bond and share holders should bear the risk of their managers' imprudent strategies --but so the market can be cleared of their toxic assets. Consider just two examples.  Bank of America's share price is plunging towards zero making it impossible to raise private capital.  It has already received $45 billion in federal funds.  But its exposure to risky credit default swaps is $2.5 trillion!  The bank is exposed to defaults by trading partners to the tune of 177.6% of its total assets.  The situation at Citicorp is even worse.  Its share price is already near zero.  Citicorp is exposed to 260% of the bank's total assets. Citicorp holds credit default swaps of $3.3 trillion. Together the two banks have credit swaps more than sixty times larger than the $90 billion they have received so far from the US Treasury.  Uncle Sam simply does not have enough money to bail them out without jeopardizing the US economy.  New, honest banks geared to meet the needs of ordinary Americans must be created to replace the zombies before they devour the Treasury too. 

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Way Washington Works

Close readers of this cyberspace may recall an entry about the EPA administrator who lost her job because she had the temerity to insist that Dow Chemical Company clean up its dioxin pollution in Midland, Michigan {5/08/08}.  The case has not simply disappeared into the ether, nor has the contaminated areas been cleared of the deadly poison*.   A plume of the byproduct in Agent Orange--the herbicide used to destroy thousands of acres of forest during the Vietnam War--is still seeping into Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. The highest levels of dioxin ever found in a U.S. river (Tittabawassee) were recorded thirty miles from Dow's chemical plant.  The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has issued advisories warning residents of contaminated fish, waterfowl, and game animals.   During the Regime regulatory enforcement actions by EPA were often undertaken only with the consent of the violator.  The Dow case is a casebook example.  Negotiations between Dow and the government have been underway for more than a decade for private control of the stringent clean up process.  The former administrator, Mary Gade, attempted to take concerted regulatory action. Gade said she was "extremely disappointed with the outcome" of negotiations to clean up the pollution because key issues paramount for protecting human health were left unresolved.  EPA Region 5 terminated negotiations with Dow in January 2008.   To counter the enforcement effort, Dow used its high level political connections at EPA.  Eventually Gade was forced to resign as head of Region 5.   The secret negotiations resumed on December 15, 2008 and are now coming to fruition with a consent agreement between Dow and the government.  If an agreement is signed the agency may be contractually precluded from pursuing stronger remedies regardless of future environmental conditions.  The state of Michigan will also be put in a difficult legal position if it attempts to require stronger measures.  This abdication  of regulatory enforcement duties by EPA comes despite 44's public statements in favor of "transparent" government and renewed efforts to protect the environment.   How newly appointed officials at EPA will handle the negotiations scheduled to be concluded February 15th is unclear.
*the most toxic form, 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzodioxin is a carcinogen associated with soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphatic leukemia. According to the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 4.8 million Vietnamese were exposed to Agent Orange and other defoliants (Purple, Pink and Green) resulting in more than 400,000 deaths, disabilities, and children with birth defects.  Dow Company manufactured herbicides for use in Vietnam.