Friday, May 29, 2009

'Toontime: Deja Wha?

[credit: Ted Rall]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Caught on Video: Police Brutality in Seattle

The citizen (white jacket) is in a coma and listed in critical condition after being "walled" by a King County deputy sheriff.  It was another case of mistaken identity.  Notice how the pedestrian goes limp after his head and neck hit the side of the cinema building.  The cop weighs in at over 250 pounds. The police call it "a tragic accident", and say they had probable cause to stop the victim, who did not freeze when allegedly told to stop.  The assault occurred on May 10th.  Talk to a cop lately?

Chart of the Week: Map to Hillaryland

To unfold a map of Hillaryland, click on the map tool "Full screen"
Russian technologists estimate the size of the recent North Korean nuclear test at between 10 and 20 kilotons, or about the blast size of the Hiroshima bomb. [image credit:]

Monday, May 25, 2009

Energy Legislation Update

Update:  The House Committee passed the  American Clean Energy and Security Act (Waxman-Markey) by a party line vote of 33-25.  The bill contains a target of only a 17% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2020.  Recently in Copenhagen, business leaders endorsed a 50% reduction by 2050 in accord with the IPCC's recommendation in their 4th Global Climate Assessment.

While Americans enjoy the long weekend and the semi-official start of summer, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service has kept track of energy legislation moving through committee work on Capitol Hill. Together with a national health insurance program, alternative energy development will be the most profound accomplishment of 44's tour of duty in the White House.   The Senate Energy Committee is considering S.949 and the House Energy Committee is considering the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.  The Senate committee, thankfully, rejected Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) amendment that would have given payments to communities accepting "interim" storage of radioactive wastes.  Now that the national repository at Yucca Mountain has lost funding, the storage of high-level waste is becoming a pressing problem.  The vote was tied 11-11, with Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) ruling the amendment defeated.  The other Arkansas senator, Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) voted present.  Other pro-nuclear, pro-reprocessing amendments offered by Repugnants were also defeated by narrow margins.  But they will try again when the legislation reaches the floor.

The House climate change bill has caused an eruption of about 450 dilatory amendments from Repugnants who see the legislation as anti-business and anti-growth and are attempting to kill the legislation with "poison pills".  The House Committee approved by a vote of 51-6 a clean energy bank bill that will provide a source of federal loan guarantees for the development of clean energy technologies.  Unfortunately the proposal still includes nuclear power development and coal technologies.  The amended bill offered by Representatives John Dingell (D-MI),  Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Bart Gordon (D-TN) does limit the amount of loan guaranties to any one technology, by no more than 30% of the bank's total funding.  Priority is supposed to be given to the technologies that produce the greatest greenhouse gas reductions per invested dollar, and the earliest reductions in emissions.  The Senate version of the energy bank bill does not have these notable improvements.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Return of Sith Lord

Darth Cheney is getting full marks for his media offensive against the 'liberal egghead' Obama. The mission the Sith Lord decided to accept is to force the former law professor onto the ropes of alleged foreign policy naivete. Darth apparently makes 44 nervous, because he is dancing to his right to avoid the onslaught.  Cheney may be left swinging at the shadow of his own regime as 44 embraces preventative detention, supports domestic spying, resumes military commissions, extends the life of the Guantanamo gulag, slows withdrawal from Iraq, seeks a military victory in Afghanistan, and denies legal process to terror suspects held at US military installations there. (Have I left a flip-flop out?) It is a sad, but revealing commentary on the realities of American imperialism that an author of the immoral torture and detention policy which violates the law of nations receives a national media platform to espouse his strange apocalyptic fantasy, rather than answer under oath for his war crimes in a court of law. In the movie allegory the princess cogently observes, "So this is how democracy dies, to the sound of thunderous applause."
[image: in Star Wars, Darth Sideous addresses the Galactic Senate.]

Friday, May 22, 2009

Warning: Spin Doctors at Work

Update: A new poll released by The Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation studying health care issues, found that senior citizens served by Medicare are more satisfied with their health insurance than those patients served by employer provided plans.  Only 8% rated their health insurance as poor compared to 18% who rated their employer plans the same.  Medicare patients also reported better access to physicians and fewer instances of not receiving needed treatments.  Republicans are resorting, as usual, to mendacity to obstruct the passage of much need health care reform including a government provided plan to level the health insurance playing field.  Their proposals are basically warmed over ideas for tax credits and "health savings accounts" that do nothing to control the escalating costs of the current patchwork of employer and private insurance.  They tout the "freedom of choice" of private insurance and exploit sterotypical notions of government inefficiency*.   It has been demonstrated repeatedly that the government systems for civil service employees and the elderly are more efficient at controlling costs without sacrificing a person's health care options.

{5/18/09}Former Governor of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius is now Secretary of Health and Human Services. She was also the former insurance commissioner of the state, and saw rationing of health care services by private insurance companies first hand.  While testifying at her confirmation hearing she said: "I frankly, as insurance commissioner where I served for eight years saw it on a regular basis by private insurers, who often made decisions overruling suggestions that doctors would make for their patients that they weren’t going to be covered. And a lot of what we did in the office of the Kansas Insurance Department was to go to bat for those patients to make sure that the benefits they had actually paid for were ones that were delivered." Another reason for making sure there is at least a government insurance policy option in the reform package, if single payer makes too much sense for American plutocrats. The fact is that all of the arguments being used by Repugnants to block reform are simply propaganda.
*a quote from one of the Repugnant plans: "In solving our health care crisis, Americans already know that government will not work…Patients should be able to choose from a variety of private insurance plans. The Federal government would run a health care system — or a public plan option — with the compassion of the IRS, the efficiency of the post office, and the incompetence of Katrina."

'Toontime: Got Tin Hats?

[credit: Jorge Cham, PhD comics]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gorilla Numbers Rise Despite War

A survey of Virunga National Park in the Congo, the first in sixteen months, found 81 mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in the Mikeno sector despite poaching and civil war in the area.  In 2007 rangers found 72 gorillas.  Virunga is one of Africa's oldest parks created in 1925 on the eastern border with Uganda and Rwanda, and it brings in $3 million annually from ecotourism, most to the home of the mountain gorilla.  However park rangers were removed from the area by the government in September 2007.  Negotiations with a separatist leader allowed the return of park rangers whose fierce dedication to the gorillas make it possible to continue to protect one of two remaining habitats of our wild relative under challenging conditions.  World Wildlife Fund has been working for twenty years to preserve the park and is currently assisting war refugees encamped on the park's borders with food and firewood from sustainable sources.  During the survey rangers found more than 500 snares placed by poachers with hundreds more remaining hidden.
[photo: young gorilla in the Virunga Mts., courtesy]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blue Whales Go Home

Verified field observations show that the mighty blue whale (Balanenoptera musculus), Earth's largest creature, has resumed its historic migration off the western coast of the United States. After nearly being hunted to extinction by man, the legal protections afforded the endangered whale have benefited enough for it to resume some historic living patterns. It was thought that populations of blue whales off California were separate from those found in the eastern North Pacific.  Researchers from the Cascadia Research Collective, NOAA, and Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans identified 15 individuals off British Columbia and in the Gulf of Alaska, four of which were previously seen off the California coast.  Blue whales are identified by photographic comparison of skin pigmentation patterns and small fins on their dorsal side. Some populations have not rebounded after commercial hunting was stopped, such as those formerly found in the North Pacific.
[photo courtesy Cornell U.]

The Hard Right Way

More:  Only far left radicals support the rule of law when it comes to detainees because the right thinking Democratic centrists who do not secretly hate America have decided not to fund moving prisoners and closing the gulag[1].  At least that is the meme in the corporate sponsored media.   The reality is that 44 has essentially adopted most of the Regime's "war on terror" policies.  Even his stand against torture is compromised by his administration's expressed willingness to use "enhanced interrogation" if a committee signs off on it in advance.  At least the Charlatan had the courage of his convictions to torture and seek legal rationalizations later.   It's lonely being an "irritated liberal purist".  But then you do not have to smell the napalm with your morning joe, or watch your political hero morally compromise himself into the ordinary.

Update:  {5/16/09}The House passed a war funding bill today without funds for closing down the Guantanamo Bay gulag. Repugnants in Congress are jumping on the issue to embarrass Team 44 who were caught without a plan to transfer the detainees to another facility before announcing their intention to close the offshore gulag. Members of both parties want to see a plan before voting for funds to close down the detention center. Scare tactics abound on Capitol Hill where Repugnants are claiming Al-Qaeda terrorists will soon be walking main street USA.   Of course such allegations are complete rubbish intended to scare the ignorant as the government could deport any detainee as an undesirable-- even taking them back to the war zones where they were first taken into custody if their country of origin is unwilling to take them.   The fact is new terrorist recruits are made everyday all over the Middle East as the result of the Iran occupation and the war in Afghanistan.  

{5/14/09}Another tactic Repugnants use extremely effectively is the irrelevant red herring.  A imbroglio has erupted on Capitol Hill over whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew about the use of torture, and if she did, why she did not object to its use.   The undeniable documented fact is that the Regime implemented torture as a conscious executive policy in violation of the law of nations and federal criminal law (the term torture is defined in Article 18 Section 2340 of the U.S. code).  Whether a legislator knew about the use of torture before or after the fact does not relieve liability from those who actually planned and implemented the policy, and over which the Speaker or any other member of the legislative branch had limited control. 

Forty-four to the detriment of his image as an agent of change in the morally confused muddle that is Washington DC, is opting for the easy, and wrong, way out of the problem presented by the 241 remaining detainees at Guantanamo Bay.  He soundly criticized the military commission tribunals under his predecessor "as an enormous failure" during the presidential campaign. Upon taking office he ordered they be halted pending a review. After a four month hiatus, he has apparently concluded the commissions trying detainees will resume, but may ask for additional legal protections for prisoners. Forty-four is scheduled to meet with Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and other Congressional leaders on Wednesday to discuss the matter. Senator John McCain led the effort in the Senate to create the commissions in 2006, and gloated that closing Guantanamo without a plan for what to do with the detainees is a "deep hole" for the new administration.  Legal scholars view the military commission process as fundamentally flawed since its judgments may rely on tainted evidence--including evidence coerced under torture--and hearsay.   A memo released in April by the Department of Justice said Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 plot, was subjected to near drowning 183 times in a single month by a government "that does not torture"[2].   The hard right way from the perspective of rehabilitating our tattered democracy is to try the detainees in a federal court or in the military courts martial system.     But there are substantial concerns evidence to be used against detainees would not pass constitutional standards.  So be it, if we are to remain a nation of laws and not of men.
[1] Senator Majority Leader Reid in supporting the refusal to appropriate money for the move said, "he did not want terrorists suspects in US prisons."  Of course that facile rational completely overlooks the fact that there are already terrorists being held in the federal prison system.  Here is a list of terror prisoners currently being held from Mother Jones.  Officials of the town of Hardin, Montana volunteered to hold Gitmo prisoners in their facility which is currently empty.  The offer proves that Hardin really is a home of the brave.
[2]  Team 44 also appears to be backtracking on the release of photos of detainee abuse.  It previously reached an agreement with the ACLU in a Freedom of Information lawsuit to release the photos.  But 44 has expressed concern over the effect the publicity would have on troop morale and safety. 
[image: alleged female witch subjected to water torture] 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Killing Cougars

The State of Oregon likes its shinny green image, but if one scratches the surface of the public relations image, one finds state policies more in tune with the culture of say, a West Virginia.  A case in point is the state policy towards cougars (felis concolor).  Oregon has recently begun hunting the beautiful feline again. Once hunted to near extinction, cougar numbers have rebounded, although wildlife advocates say the state counts are inflated.  The potential for conflict between humans and the big cats has therefore increased. Conflicts with humans is the primary reason wildlife management officials offer to justify the hunting program.  The state started culling in 2006. About 100 cats have been killed by state hunters so far.  There is only one problem with the reasoning.  Reports of conflicts are down from a peak in 1999 as public education of how to live with large predators
is making humans more comfortable with sightings of the awesome animal.  Thirty years ago cougars ranged in about a quarter of the state, now they have been spotted everywhere except in the densest urban areas.  Despite the apparent lack of actual conflict, the state has made it easier for the public to hunt mountain lions:  extending the season, reducing the price of a hunting license and increasing limits.  The voters of Oregon did ban the use of dogs to hunt cougars in 1994, and a bounty has not been paid since the early 20th century.   Biologists think that puma numbers are closely controlled by the amount of prey available, primarily deer and elk.  Relocation of unwanted cats is more expensive and time consuming, but cougars are worth protecting from death as a mere pest. Public education of how to deal with a close encounter in the wild (rule one: never turn your back) will also help the normally reclusive cougar to live peacefully in the state near human habitats.   There has never been a documented attack on a human by a cougar in Oregon.

Chart of the Week: Smoking the "Green Shoots"


Americans are marching to the unemployment offices in record numbers for the fifteenth week in a row.  Job loss results in a foreclosure 15% of the time.  The April figures for home foreclosures set a record for the second straight month. The median price for homes fell 14%, the biggest decline ever. Production capacity utilization is down 69.3%, the lowest since records began in 1967.  Somebody ought  to tell the chart crazed denizens of the Street of Broken Dreams to stop smoking the "green shoots".  A sign of the times in Stumptown:  "Share the well."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Toontime: Veep Thrills

[credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Longest War

Recent events in the two wars still being fought by the United States are not good news despite the change of policies in Washington.  The seven year war against the Taliban in Afghanistan is now the longest war ever engaged in by the US, including Vietnam which is usually measured from the first commitment of ground forces in country.  The general commanding US forces in Afghanistan was essentially fired by his civilian bosses, the first time that has happened since Harry Truman relieved the egotistical and radical Douglas MacArthur in Korea. The change of command reflects the worsening situation.  The Taliban militia controls the northeast of the country, and the porous Pashtun controlled border between Pakistan and Afghanistan allows the largely Pashtun militia force to rest, recruit and re-equip at will.  The US has predictably resorted to large air strikes to counterbalance their tactical disadvantage on the ground, only to kill large numbers of civilians.  A recent strike killed about 130 Afghans.  Incidents like these further alienates the population from the western invaders. The fact that the Taliban, defeated in three months of conventional operations at the start of the war, was able to resurrect shows that the US has failed to apply consistently the lessons of counterinsurgency once learned the hard way in the jungles of Vietnam.  It established a weak, corrupt central government, but failed to win over conservative rural tribal leaders or control territory with troops on the ground.   Recently 17,000 additional US troops have been sent bringing the total to 55,000 Americans and 37,000 allied forces.  During their failed ten year war to subdue Islamic fundamentalists, the Soviet Union committed about 80,000 to 100,000 troops to the conflict at any one time.  But old Soviet hands are skeptical that simply applying more troops is the answer to winning the war.  As one Soviet general observed in the notes of a Politburo meeting, "After seven years in Afghanistan, there is not one square kilometer left untouched by a boot of a Soviet soldier. But as soon as they leave a place, the enemy returns and restores it all back the way it used to be."[1]

The other war in Iraq has taken second place in the thinking of the current administration since announcing its intention to end combat operations there by 2010.  Despite the political de-emphasis Americans continue to die in Iraq, some at the hands of their deranged comrades in arms.  A soldier on his third tour of duty in Iraq opened fire while at a stress clinic in Camp Liberty near the Baghdad airport.  He killed five after taking a weapon away from an escort and an unpleasant verbal exchange with the clinic staff.  He was arrested and charged with murder. The latest bombing in the still chaotic country killed fifteen in a Baghdad marketplace.  A string of deadly bombings have renewed fears that Iraqis are still incapable of policing themselves when American forces leave.
[photo: the "Valley of death", Korengal, Time]
[1],  an online database of previously secret Politburo notes and diaries concerning Afghanistan. Remarks attributed to General Akhromeyev during a November 1986 meeting of the Politburo.

Monday, May 11, 2009

No Friend of Polar Bears

The backsliding of Team 44 continues, as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decided to leave in place a Regime era rule which prohibits using the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse warming that is melting the polar bears' Arctic marine habitat.  The Secretary said the potential loss of the polar bear is an "environmental tragedy of the modern age" but agreed with former Secretary Dirk Kempthorne that the Endangered Species Act was never intended to regulate global climate change.  The Act was intended to regulate human impacts on species threatened with extinction.  Polar bears, which rely on sea ice from which to hunt for seals, is severely impacted by the rapidly shrinking Arctic ice cap. Environmentalists see Salazar's position as an overly narrow interpretation, and inconsistent with the decision to rescind the Regime's policy of barring consideration of global warming impacts on endangered species in general.  The NRDC and other organizations filed suit last May to challenge the 4(d) rule.  Andrew Wetzler, director of NRDC's Wildlife Conservation Program said the legal action will go ahead.   Salazar, according to the environmental news service ENS, agrees the bear is threatened by global warming, but says a comprehensive energy and climate strategy that ameliorates climate change is the proper course of action.  Salazar said, "Both President Obama and I are committed to achieving that goal."  He was unpersuaded by the thousands of requests to rescind the 4(d) rule.   Salazar pointed out that the administration's budget request included an increase of $7.4 million for polar bear conservation, and that the great bear is also protected by the Marine Mammal Act and the international CITIES treaty.  His decision was welcomed by the petroleum industry, but criticized by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.  Help NRDC overturn the rule that is helping destroy the polar bear's Arctic home.
[photo: Canadian Ice Service]

Chart of the Week: The Company Store

There is a line from an American folk song that says, "St. Peter don't ya call me, 'cause I can't go--I owe my soul to the company store."  As the chart shows Americans owe more to the banks than ever before.  The orgy of personal consumption of the past two decades was fueled by Wall Street's credit creations.  According to the Nilson Report the top 19 US credit card issuers held an (87.6%) market share of $972.73 billion.  The top three are JP Morgan Chase (21.22%), Bank of America (19.25%), and Citigroup (12.35%), all recipients of government aid.

Friday, May 08, 2009

'Toontime: Taxes? What taxes?

[credit: Tony Auth]

Single Payer Health Insurance: Officially Off the Table

Incoming Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday that single payer health care is not an option for the Obama administration, but it does support a public plan option[1] intended to promote competition with private insurers. Dr Howard Dean in an interview with Think Progress says Medicare is 3 to 10 times more efficient in terms of administrative cost than private insurance.  During his tenure as governor,  the state's Medicaid program was turned over to a private insurer to save money, but after three years the program cost was 3 times what it cost the state run it. According to Dean only a public option will change the fundamental structural inefficiency of the current broken system.

[1] Twenty-one Democratic Senators support a public option: Sens. Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) Russ Feingold (D-WI), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), John D. (Jay) Rockefeller (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fished Out

A new study of the Caribbean basin indicates that large predator fish have all but disappeared. According to Chris Stallings of the Florida State marine laboratory, the absence of large fish is most likely due to over fishing. He found a correlation between islands with dense population and fewer large fish. The study was published in the May 6th issue of the journal PLoS One. Large predators play a crucial role in the health of marine ecosystems, one that cannot be replaced by smaller predators. A reason for the population explosion of Pacific Ocean lion fish introduced into the Caribbean through aquarium releases may be the lack of large predators.  Stallings used data gathered by volunteer SCUBA divers spanning a fifteen year period and available in an on-line database.
[photo: Nassau grouper, Florida Museum of Natural History]

Feeding the Bulls III

The feds are ducking the news cycle today, waiting until 5 pm to release the results of the celebrated and feared "stress tests".  The basic information has  already leaked, probably deliberately.   The stress tests have been discredited in several quarters as not being much stress and relying on the banks' cooked books[1]. Nevertheless the government will tell at least ten banks, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citigroup that they need more capital. It strenuously maintains that all the banks examined are solvent.  How it can do that with a straight face takes practice, creative accounting and deep pockets. The enormous fact of nominal billions in worthless derivative securities on their books is the 800 pound gorilla in the room[1]. The biggest banks like Citi and B of A will be allowed to exchange government owned preferred shares traded for cash earlier in the TARP program for common stock.  This move increases their capital account at the expense of taxpayers and existing shareholders.  The government looses its preferred creditor status, significant dividends, and increases the risk of no return on its equity investment. Banks will be told to submit plans forget for new capital structures within thirty days.  As part of the plan banks are expected to "review their existing management and Board in order to assure that the leadership of the firm has sufficient expertise and ability to manage the risks presented by the current economic environment".  The stock market is up, and for Geithner & Co that is half the bubble re-inflated. 
[1] B of A reported operating profits of $4.25 billion for the first quarter.  $2.2 billion of that came from accounting adjustments of Merrill Lynch notes. $1.9billion was from a pre-tax gain on the sale of shares of China Construction Bank. [Fox Business]
[2] Nonperforming loans at the big banks are skyrocketing. Bank of America Corp. bad assets increased 229 percent to $25.7 billion. Problem assets at New York-based Citigroup Inc. rose 128 percent to $27.4 billion, and San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co.’s jumped 180 percent to $12.6 billion. [Bloomberg]  The right-wing has tried to blame minority and poor home buyers for the disaster, but a study by Center for Public Integrity shows that Wall Street was pumping millions into sub prime lending in order to meet the demand for high yield bonds backed by mortgages.  Of the 25 top loan originators, 21 were financed by banks receiving federal aid.  In December of 2006 alone, Citigroup packaged $492 million worth of mortgages to sell to as securitized investments.  63% of the loans were originated by New Century which according to a bankruptcy trustee report had "a brazen obsession with increasing loan originations, without due regard to the risks associated".  Who are you going to blame the suckers or the cons?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Talking the Talk

Update: Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) of the Senate Appropriations Committee told the Washington Times the money to close down Guantanamo and move prisoners would be restored to the final $94 billion supplemental bill for war funding.  But some Democrats want the funding request to be accompanied by a plan of what to do with the remaining 240 prisoners. There is stiff resistance from members of both parties to bringing the prisoners within the continental United States.  The Senate voted previously 94-3 against bringing Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) is backing closure of the detention center and is willing to bring prisoners into the US penal system. "We have very violent criminals who are born and raised right here in the USA.  I think we know how to handle violent people", he said.  

In his 100 day press conference 44 claimed he is implementing the oft spoken of "change" from the policies of the previous Regime by "closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay."  A politician should be judged by his actions, not his words, and by that measure 44 has been getting off easy.  He did issue an executive order directing that the gulag be closed within a year. But only one prisoner has been released during his administration, Binyam Mohamed, no doubt due in part to the sensational revelations concerning that prisoner's torture at a CIA black site in Morocco.   Only one other prisoner, Ayman Batarfi, has been cleared for release.  

Attorney General Eric Holder has said that about 30 prisoners would be ready for release soon. It is unclear whether these prisoners are most of the 40 prisoners whose cases have already been reviewed either by courts or multiple military review boards and approved for release.  The administration seems to be dragging its feet on the issue of prisoner release while engaging in a superficial public relations offensive intended to show it is changing the repudiated and deviant policies of its predecessor in office.  Team 44 dropped the public use of the discredited term "enemy combatant"; yet in court filings it has maintained a definition for prisoners eerily similar to the one used by the Regime.  In comparison a detained individual's support for the Taliban or Al Qaeda must now be "substantial".  Granted some of the delay may be due to finding jurisdictions willing to take released detainees, or the legal requirement that detainees not be sent back to countries where they face torture by their own government such as the seventeen Chinese muslims cleared in federal habeas corpus proceedings.  However, there are six cleared Saudis still in detention at Guantanamo despite that country's rehabilitation program for former jihadists[1].

What is more disturbing for civil rights advocates and problematic for the government, is a third group of prisoners described by hold over Defense Secretary Gates, as "the 50 to 100...who we cannot release and cannot try".  The administration's request for $81 million to move prisoners was left out of an emergency war spending bill introduced in the U.S. House on Monday.  Gates wanted the money as "a hedge" on building an alternative facility to contain Guantanamo detainees[2].  Secretary Gates seems to have in mind a system of preventive detention for those detainees deemed too dangerous to release, but who cannot be successfully convicted in a civilian court of law under stricter rules of evidence and procedure.  Traditional notions of due process in this country do not recognize a system of preventive detention.  Even permissible pre-trial detention is constitutionally limited by duration and the opportunity to apply for bail.   Developing the legal capacity to hold undesirables forever should certainly chill the most ardent super-patriot, otherwise for what are they fighting?

[2]In the administration  review of the maintenance of Geneva Convention standards at Guantanamo mandated by 44's executive order, the detention camp passed, forced feedings and beatings of recalcitrant prisoners notwithstanding.  Senator John McCain argues for preventive detention in a Wall Street Journal article.   He admits the term "enemy combatant" was over inclusive, but relies on a DOD statistic that 1 in 10 detainees released from Guantanamo returned to the battlefield to buttress his conventional law of war argument.   Hardly a frightening statistic, and an acceptable failure rate given the overwhelming amount of American firepower being poured out on villages of Afghanistan. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Harp Seal Pups Get Help

The European Parliament overwhelmingly passed on Tuesday a trade ban for seal products.  The European Union was a market for a third of the world's seal trade.  The ban is to take effect in October and marks a significant victory in the effort to end the annual Canadian seal hunt, the world's largest. An average of 300,000 harp seals (pagophilus groenlandicus) are killed, usually by clubbing, or shot with rifles.  The new rule bans all seal products from commercial hunting which the body said is "inherently inhumane". The measure allows narrow exceptions for traditional subsistence hunting by indigenous groups or small scale hunts to manage populations, but the products of those hunts will also not be allowed into commerce in the EU.

Hybrid Vigor

Update: Researchers are closing in on a universal influenza vacccine reports ENS. Dr. Robert Belshe, director of the St. Louis University Center for Vaccine Development presented his findings for developing such a vaccine in Baltimore last week. In his study 377 adults received three injections of Bivalent Influenza Peptide Conjugate vaccine over a six month period. The dosage invoked an immune response similar to that found in test animals infected with influenza virus. Dr. Belshe said more research was needed. A universal vaccine would reduce or eliminate the current necessity of manufacturing a new vaccine for each discovered flu strain. There is no existing vaccine for the AH1N1 virus. Mexican health authorities report twenty six confirmed dead and a decline in the number of new flu cases, but new cases are now reported in Europe and elsewhere. Vice President Joe Biden has received a deluge of criticism for his poorly considered statement about staying out of confined public spaces like aircraft and subways. His essential point is correct, however. The virus is transmitted human to human through the air and by contact with contaminated surfaces as this young animal lover is demonstrating.

{4/29/09}The first H1N1 flu virus was found in a North Carolina factory pig farm in 1998.  These industrial operations are notorious for the fetid stench of waste lagoons and animals subjected to obscenely inhumane conditions.  At times chickens and pigs are processed in close proximity by the same human workers.  Birds often land in waste lagoons.  Untreated waste water is used to clear pens.   So it makes biological sense that the genetic chimera now killing people worldwide would contain genetic material from all three species[1]. Swine factories awash in excrement and other wastes make a verdant incubator for microbes of all kinds.   The Pew Research Center issued a report last year that emphasized the continual cycling of viruses could increase the probability of mutations resulting in more efficient human to human transmission. The overuse of antibiotics (cheaper than establishing humane conditions) also contribute to the rise of resistant strains of bacteria and protozoans. There is currently rampant speculation surrounding a Smithfield Foods subsidiary operating a massive factory[photo] in Veracruz, Mexico (Granjas Carroll) alleging it is ground zero in the current pandemic.   Smithfield has released a statement denying any link to the swine flu outbreak, and has submitted samples from its herds to the University of Mexico for testing. Local officials described a 'strange' outbreak of acute respiratory infection that lead to pneumonia in some pediatric cases causing to them to declare a health alert on April 6th. About 60% of the population of the town of La Gloria (1800 cases) has been affected[2].

Smithfield was fined by the EPA for polluting the Pagan River in Virginia.  The Supreme Court upheld the $12.6M fine in October 2000, the largest ever under the CleanWater Act.  The company was accused of dumping feces and other bodily wastes directly into the river since the 1970s[3]. Smithfield is headed by pork magnate Joseph W. Luter III.

[1] "The continual cycling of swine influenza viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks provides increased opportunity for the generation of novel viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmission of these viruses. In addition, agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities. This bridging increases the risk of novel virus generation in that human viruses may enter the herds or flocks and adapt to the animals."Pew Commission on Farm Animal Production.
[2]the Mexican news service Marcharan a headline on April 15: "Granjas Carroll, causa de epidemia en La Gloria"  Residents of La Gloria complain of odor and flies coming from the waste lagoons as well as respiratory problems.
[r photo: Jo Tuckman/]
[l photo:,

Monday, May 04, 2009

Soft on Zion

Desperate for an angle of attack on the new administration midst the worse depression since the Great Depression, Repugnants have settled on one of their favorite hobby horses, support for the state of Israel.  In Washington, being a supporter of Israel is similar to being an anti-communist. You can always score points against your opponent by accusing him of being soft on Israel. That is exactly what the Repugnant leader in exile, Newt 'Shut 'em Down' Gingrich, did at the right wing AIPAC conference.  The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has a long history of Zionist positions concerning Middle East policy, and is very influential on Capitol Hill.  When Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington, AIPAC was only behind AARP and outscored the AFL-CIO and the NRA[1].  A similar conclusion was obtained by the National Journal.  Newt wowed them last night with a call for using military force against Iran.  He got them in the aisles by naming the two-state solution "a fantasy" that was "endangering Israel". His bombast is nothing new--it could have been 'Darth' Cheney standing behind the podium-- but it is red meat for the Zionist-fascist axis that dominates right wing American politics. According to one survey conducted by the Jewish-American peace group J Street, 70% of American Jews support the Obama administration's policy of seeking a state for the Palestinians.

[1]Fortune 12.8.97; National Journal 3.5.05.  AIPAC was ranked fourth by Fortune in 2001. The Chicago Jewish Star rated it second in 2005 behind NRA. 

Chart of the Week: Back to the Future

The top chart shows the gap in incomes between the top 1% and the rest of us proles.  The income gap reached record levels in 2006--a whopping 976 times the lower income.  One of the reasons for this condition is displayed in the lower chart, a historically low top marginal tax rate.   The average after tax income of  plutocrats more than tripled in 2006, an increase of 256% while the average after tax income of the poorest fifth only rose 11%. [source: CBO]  Notice the correlations in both charts with the Roaring Twenties, a previous era of excessive debt creation and low taxes on the rich.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Timmy's World

After passing the House the foreclosure relief bill intended to allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms died in the Senate. A dozen conservative Democrats read 44's lips after he gave only tepid support to the measure. He had previously proclaimed his support for giving homeowners in bankruptcy a way to reduce their mortgage debt and save their homes. But Tim Geithner, the banker's friend, told 44 "cram downs" were a no-go with the money changers. The defeat of the bill prompted Senator Dick Durban (D-Il) to call the banking lobby the "most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill", so powerful he said, "they frankly own the place"
[graphic: NY Times]

'Toontime: GOP Without a Cause

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]
Wackydoodle sez:  It's the ole 180 play agin!