Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm Senator Al Franken

The comedy writer who made himself famous on the TV show Saturday Night Live by telling viewers, "I'm Al Franken" is now a Senator. The Minnesota Supreme Court finally ruled on the ballot challenges of his opponent Norm Coleman, saying Democrat Franken was "entitled" to be certified as the winner of the state's US Senate race. The state's governor Tim Pawlenty (R) said he would sign the necessary certificate if the court ordered him to do so. Once seated by the Senate after the July 4th recess, Democrats will be have the 60 votes necessary to invoke cloture, if they can count on the defector, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Specter has said publicly that he would support a public option health insurance as part of the reform legislation currently under consideration by the chamber. Democrats may need all sixty votes to cut off debate on the measure. The last super-majority of either party with the ability to invoke cloture was in the 95th Congress during the administration of President Jimmy Carter.
[photo: AP]

Chart of the Week: The Pivot of History

{6/22/09}Allen Dulles would be proud. At the end of June Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Shahristani will award oil field service contracts to the world's largest oil companies to develop six of Iraq's largest oil fields over the next 20 years {3/21/09}. The fall in oil prices has placed the dysfunctional Iraqi government in a financial crisis. 80% of revenues pay for current expenses, leaving little to pay for reconstruction of Iraq's war torn oil infrastructure. The companies will be paid a fee for restoring production and then increasing oil output. Iraq needs around $50 billion over the next five years to raise the current production level from 2.5 million barrels a day. The long term contracts put the foreign companies in a favorable position when bidding starts for exploration of undiscovered reserves which experts believe will be found. Little exploration took place under the Hussein regime. The expertise and money can only come from outside Iraq given the country's inability to properly manage long term projects, where jobs are allocated to political factions regardless of experience or abilities.

Update: On the day American forces withdrew from Iraqi cities prompting fireworks and celebration, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced it had struck a deal with a BP/CNPC led consortium to service the giant Rumaila oil field in the Shi'ite south of Iraq. The other fields up for bid did not find takers. The international companies participating in the auction wanted higher fees per barrel produced than the government was willing to pay. Shell offered $7.89 a barrel for the Kirkuk field in the Kurd north. The government was only offering a flat $2.00 barrel which only BP/CNPC accepted. The sale drew intense criticism from Iraqi nationalists who saw it as step towards denationalization of its vast reserves. Another sale of undeveloped fields will be held later this year.

Monday, June 29, 2009

When ACES Are Not Winners

US Person asked his readers to support the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) because quite frankly, it was the only game in town. The bill was watered down to attract enough support from 'Blue Dogs' and moderate Repugnants (an oxymoron?). Co-author Henry Waxman (D-CA) said the bill will put on a path to "true energy security". That remains to be seen. What it does put us on is the path to using more coal. Coal is dirty no matter what the commercials say about 'clean coal'[1]. There are no commercially viable technologies for sequestration of carbon from combustion waste products. Research and development on this technological trick is just getting started. The Department of Energy announced that it would spend $1 billion to restart a carbon-capture demonstration plant in Mattoon, Il. Leading government scientist on global warming Dr. James Hansen called the bill "the Temple of Doom". His view, shared by other environmentalists, is that no bill is better than Waxman-Markey because the cap-and-trade system for pollution offsets it creates is an inefficient way of establishing a carbon price, and a method particularly vulnerable to gaming by polluters. Experts who agree with Dr. Hansen[2] view a carbon tax as the best way to make dirty energy too expensive to use. But the efficient solution ignores political reality in Washington. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), represents a coal state, but supported the cap and trade system because it "create[s] the opportunity for increasing coal production." The legislation will have little actual effect on pollution levels in the US and if fact allows regulated industries to emit a third more carbon in 2012 than they did in 2005 and close to 10% more in 2020.[3]It will also allow Obama to go to the Copenhagen climate conference in December and tout a mandatory reduction system thereby taking the US off the climate pariah list, if it survives the Senate.

ACES does do some positive things, such as establishing the long overdue national energy efficiency and renewable energy standards for utilities. It also provides funding for worker training in green technologies, and community development programs--mere bones for the dog. King Coal, your train has arrived.

[1] The coal industry spent $38 million in the 2008 presidential campaign to push its message that coal burning has a future in a greener America. Coal is America's most abundant fossil fuel and is the source of half of its electric power.
[2] Hansen was recently arrested for protesting a mountain top coal removal operation in West Virginia. His inconvenient truth is based on his latest modeling and the work of other climate scientists: the threat of global warming is far greater than expected. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are generally assumed not to pose "dangerous anthropomorphic interference" until 450ppm are reached. CO2 has already reached 385ppm. If current trends continue the number of doom will be reached by 2035. Hansen believes the danger level is really at 350ppm, and we are beginning to see the climatic results: ice caps and glaciers melting and arid zones expanding. Dr. Hansen was not permitted to talk to the media without White House clearance during the Bush Regime. The New Yorker Magazine, 6.29.09

Chart of the Week: The Second Great Depression

[source: Eichengreen & O'Rourke]

The major difference between then and now is that governments' monetary and fiscal response has been much more rapid and robust.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nobody Expects the American Inquisition!

Why is 44 seeking approval of indefinite detention? It boggles the mind, but the White House is floating a draft executive order allowing indefinite detention of certain unidentified detainees who "cannot be tried and are too dangerous to release" Talk about an opaque mantra. Who are these super-humans, and more importantly what have they done to make them too dangerous to be neutralized by the largest and most expensive military machine ever assembled on Earth? At least 44 owes Congress and the American people an explanation of why each of these ninety or so individuals cannot be tried or deported back to the war zones from which they were accosted. If they cannot be tried because the US does not want to reveal secret information, that reason alone seems insufficient to violate one our most fundamental concepts of human rights: the right to face accusers in a public forum. Even Jesus of Nazareth got a hearing before the Roman authorities. Tawfiq bin Attash may be one of the incommodious ninety. Accused of participating in the USS Cole attack, the three witnesses on whose testimony the government would have to rely at a hearing are not available. One escaped jail in Yemen, another was subjected to torture by the US, and a third is still in custody, but the government of Yemen will not let him testify. Too bad, Yemen! Establishing a system of dungeons in this country would be to sacrifice of every moral principle upon which it was founded. 44 has to do better, even if it means stepping on a few diplomatic toes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Waxman-Merkley Climate Bill

Update: The US House of Representatives passed by a narrow vote (219-212) the first greenhouse gas reduction bill ever considered in Congress. The measure was criticised by the right as being "bad for business" and the left for not doing enough, soon enough to make a critical difference to the Earth's potentially disasterous warming trend. Co-sponsor of the bill Ed Markey (D-MA) said it is "the most important energy and environmental legislation in the history of the country". One of the biggest compromises in passing the legislation was the 85% elimination of the plan to sell pollution permits to energy companies. They will be given away instead. Only eight Repugnants voted in favor. The measure goes on to the Senate for their consideration, where it faces stiff resistance from members of both parties.

{6/24/09}Al Gore told 11,000 green activists last night in a teleconference that the Waxman-Merkley climate bill, which was voted favorably out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee (33-25), will be scheduled for a floor vote on Friday. Energy business interests lobbied heavily against the legislation, and the effort featured a chart full of cost misinformation created by none other than the CEO of Peabody Coal Company the former Vice President said. The non-partisan CBO estimates that the per household cost of controlling greenhouse gases will be about the same as one postage stamp a day. ($175 a year by 2020) V.P. Gore asked specifically that Americans who understand the necessity of controlling CO2 if the planet is to have a survivable future, call their elected Representatives and ask them to vote for the legislation when it reaches the floor. If you read this blog and are a citizen of the United States, that means you! House switchboard: (202) 224-3121

You can also tell Congress that you want a public option to insure competition for affordable health care by signing a petition circulated by Senators Dick Durban, Charles Schumer and Patrick Leahy.

'Toontime: The 800 Pound Insurance Exec

[credit: Stuart Carlson]

“[T]hey confuse their customers and dump the sick, all so they can satisfy their Wall Street investors,” former Cigna senior executive Wendell Potter told senators at a hearing on health insurance Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Potter, who has more than 20 years of experience working in public relations for insurance companies Cigna and Humana, said companies routinely drop seriously ill policyholders so they can meet “Wall Street’s relentless profit expectations,’” Potter told the hearing, according to ABC News.

“They look carefully to see if a sick policyholder may have omitted a minor illness, a pre-existing condition, when applying for coverage, and then they use that as justification to cancel the policy, even if the enrollee has never missed a premium payment,” Potter added. “(D)umping a small number of enrollees can have a big effect on the bottom line.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Feeding the Bulls IV

Even the New York Times called it "back to business as usual" when the newspaper of record panned 44's financial regulatory reform proposals. The plan is a Wall Street wet dream. As economist Michael Hudson points out in his piece for Counterpunch, the reform proposals fail to address several critical issues:
  • Regulatory capture. Expanding the role of the Federal Reserve as the uber-agency of financial regulation is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. The Fed is essentially a private bank. Its shares are owned by the commercial bank members, and its chairmen have been banking advocates. The regulatory framework established after the Great Depression was systematically gutted at the request of banking interests. Alan 'Fedspan', creator of the bubble currently deflating us all, is the archetypal example of a Fed chairman under the influence of Wall Street. Andrew Jackson did not spend his second administration fighting the Second Bank of the U.S. and Nicholas Biddle for nothing. He knew that the power to print money should be a monopoly controlled by a democratically elected government. In modern terms, the ability to create credit has devolved to any business willing to sell debt--the shadow banking system. 44 is doing nothing to correct this problem. The Federal Reserve is already the lender of last resort charged with the safety of the banking system, now referred to as "systemic risk". It failed to stop the abusive practices leading to the near melt down of the system. A first step to real reform and public accountability would be to allow GAO--an agency of Congress-- to regularly audit the Federal Reserve since the power to print money is reserved to Congress in the Constitution[1].
  • Failure to prosecute fraud and abuse. A second step would be to prosecute credit companies, including banks, for fraudulent extensions of credit. Bush used an obscure civil war era law in 1864 National Bank Act to block eleven state Attorney Generals from prosecuting financial fraud. He assigned the cases to the federal regulator who refused to prosecute citing 'free market' principles. 44 does not propose repealing this archaic law, and pays lip service to more vigorous federal fraud enforcement without proposing additional funding for it.
  • Consumers left to the mercy of predatory lending. 44 proposes a Consumer Financial Products Agency to protect consumers from predatory lending, but does not support re-instituting usury laws, capping mortgage rates, or rescission of predatory mortgages in bankruptcy court. Nor does he support an actual consumer bank such as postal banks {Another Free Radical Idea, 2/3/09}that could issue their own credit/debit cards and provide automated payment services to insure competitive credit card rates from private banks.
  • Opaque financial derivatives are not eliminated. Wall Street advocates call it financial engineering, but in reality complex derivatives like credit default swaps are casino capitalism. Only a casino wins in the long run, and the same is true for derivatives. Wall Street firms make their money on the fees associated with designing and marketing custom derivatives. 44 does not propose restricting this cash flow based in essence on gambling. He also does not touch the off-balance sheet vehicles used to hide debts an assets beyond the purview of regulators and the public. Requiring banks to hold only 5% of their mortgage loans is simply child's play for the wizards of private credit creation.
  • Favoring financial capitalism over industrial capitalism. The existence of well paid manufactory jobs made a large, financially secure middle class possible. But now the United States is making fewer and fewer capital goods. This de-industrialization is encouraged by a skewed tax system that encourages the selling of debt as the major product of our economy. FICA wage withholding is regressive and only wages below $102,000 are subject to the tax. Yet capital gains, the 'wage' of Wall Street speculators are only taxed at low rates--15% for long term capital gains. As a result of this and other fiscal subsidies for debt leveraging, industrial cash flow is diverted to pay interest and dividends rather than being reinvested in the means of production. This condition leads to further social stratification in which a shrinking middle class is mired in a low-wage debt peonage to the financial elite.
Critics of FDR called him a "traitor to his class" because his progressive programs diverted wealth from the plutocracy of which he was a member to rebuild the country's economy. If only Barack Hussein Obama were inconsistent with his aspirations.

[1] There are bills in the Senate and House intended to assert Congressional oversight of the Federal Reserve: Rep. Ron Paul's Federal Reserve Transparency Act (HR 1207) and Senator Bernard Sander's Federal Reserve Sunshine Act (S604).

Creature Feature: Tickle Me Lorris

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nominee is No Friend of Wildlife

44 is building a basketball court so he can shoot hoops with his NBA buddies. While he is waiting for the White House tennis court to be converted, he is nominating people who have little interest in the subjects they are being assigned to protect. The man named to enforce the Endangered Species Act as head of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Sam Hamilton, is head of the ten state Southeastern Region. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) tells us that he has the weakest record of any comparable official in the country. The latest records show that of the 5,974 consultations of development permits, Hamilton only issued one jeopardy letter or opinion that the proposed action would adversely impact a protected species. During the same time period, the Rocky Mountain region issued 100 jeopardy opinions in only 586 consultations. 44 restored the the consultation process eliminated in the last days of the Regime, but the nomination of Hamilton to be agency head undercuts the supportive rhetoric of Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who told the press that the consultation process was vital to ensure endangered species "receive the full protection of the law"{3/4/09}. In a PEER survey of federal scientists working for FWS, 46% that they had been directed at some point to refrain from making findings that are protective of species. 49% said that commercial interests have inappropriately induced the reversal or withdrawal of scientific conclusions. Under Hamilton's supervision virtually no species was listed and no critical habitat was designated except after costly and difficult lawsuits against the agency. PEER's director said under Hamilton the Endangered Species Act has become dead letter law in the Southeast.

In was in Hamilton's jurisdiction that a federal biologist, Andrew Eller, was threatened with termination for publicly expressing concerns about the "no jeopardy" effect of a limestone rock
quarry on the highly endangered Florida panther. Eller escaped termination after a settlement with the agency was reached in 2006, but his field supervisor who proposed his termination, and who allowed the use of skewed statistics to support the desired result, was promoted. Only 87 panthers are thought to exist in the wild. Biologists in the Vero Beach office wrote a joint letter in 2005 saying their supervisors had forbidden them from writing any jeopardy opinions on any project, regardless of adverse effects. A FWS supervisor called the panther a "zoo species" destined for extinction in the wild, and that any jeopardy opinions would be wasted effort. A federal district court revoked the excavation permit for the proposed limestone mine located amid 6,000 acres of habitat in the western Everglades, the panther's last redoubt. The judge ruled that FWS ignored scientific evidence, and was arbitrary and capricious in finding no potential harm to the panther. The suit was brought by the National Wildlife Federation and its allies.

Indigenous People Block Oil Development

More: Peru's indigenous Amazonians scored a historic victory as Peru's legislature voted 82-12 to repeal controversial land laws intended to implement the US-Peru trade pact. Civil disturbances protesting the laws caused 34 deaths and provoked tensions with Peru's traditional enemy Bolivia, when socialist President Evo Morales backed the Indian's tribal rights. Peru's Prime Minister Yehude Simon (AP photo, center) led talks with the protesting tribes.

Update: {6/11/09}The leader of the indigenous revolt in the Amazon forest region of Peru has fled to Nicaragua for political asylum after the demonstrations against oil development in their home region turned violent. Alberto Pizango, head of an organization that represents 56 tribes spent Wednesday in the Nicaraguan embassy in Lima. He has been charged with sedition, conspiracy and rebellion by his government. Last Friday 2,000 tribesmen carrying machetes and spears fought heavily armed police after a highway blockade confrontation. First reports put the number of killed at 25 and nine police, but later reports put the number at 60 including 23 police. Many more people are missing and unaccounted. President Garcia's attempt to open up Peru's Amazon region to mineral exploitation as part of a trade agreement with the United States has infuriated Amazon tribes who see the policy as an attempt to sell off their lands without their consent. Indigenous people see little improvement in their lives as a result of development, and their relationship with the ruling European elite is tense. Garcia has characterized the Indians as ignorant savages, blocking progress for all Peruvians. However, Peru's parliament has voted to suspend the controversial land laws for 90 days until order is restored.
{6/5/09}Peruvian Indians are dying to protect their rainforest homes from oil development. Twenty five Indians and nine police have died in gunfire at a road blockade in the northern province of Utcubamba on Friday according to AP. Blockades have occurred intermittently since April as Indians demand the repeal of laws making it easier for foreign companies to exploit their homelands. Peruvian President Alan Garcia says the laws are needed to bring progress to all Peruvians, but indigenous leaders say Garcia is violating the country's constitution and international law by not obtaining their consent to development in their areas. Half the population of Peru is indigenous and its poverty rate tops 40%. Most of the material benefits of development are enjoyed by a wealthy business and political class. Due to the unrest, a state of emergency was declared on April 26, and the state oil company Petropru stopped pumping oil through its northern pipeline from the Amazon region.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Turtles Need Tunnels Too

The Repugnant attempt to ridicule the building of a wildlife passage in Lake Jackson, FL with stimulus money as an example of wasteful spending shows more about their attitude towards wildlife preservation and highway safety than valid criticism about 'pork barrel' spending. Roadkill is no joking matter. Wildlife suffers greatly attempting to cross man's avenues of death. 2,070 turtles have been squished on U.S. Highway 27, the second highest fatality rate in the state. State officials point out that U.S. 27 would never have been build where it is if today's environmental standards were followed 50 years ago. The highway was built across the lake bottom making it an impassable barrier for wildlife. About 62 species need to cross the road to get to the other side of the forest around Lake Jackson. The twin passages will be big enough for animals as large as deer, panthers and alligators. So the building of the passages qualifies as a safety improvement too. Any driver who has hit a deer at speed can testify the impact is shattering. The decision to fund the project was shared with local officials, and the $3.4 million cost will come from a highway enhancement fund set aside for just this type of project. The budget priorities of the United States are simply perverted when Congress passes a funding bill of $80 billion for two wars without a whimper of protest, yet politicos complain about spending a fraction of that for a highway improvement to save lives--human as well as beast.
[photo: an existing culvert that will be replaced and another tunnel built with permanent retaining walls for wildlife to cross the busy highway safely near Lake Jackson north of Tallahassee, FL., courtesy Tallahassee Democrat]

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Washington Health Care Nexus

"We've come too far and gained too much momentum for our efforts to fail over disagreement on one single issue,"--Tom Daschle to ABC News
Tom Daschle has come out against a public health insurance policy option. The former Democratic Senate majority leader from South Dakota now works as a "special policy advisor" for Alston & Bird, a law firm whose clients are major players in the health care industry. Clients and the amount of reported fees include the American Hospital Association ($80,000) Bayer AG ($120,000), Generic Pharmaceutical Association ($190,000), Health Management Association ($120,000), HealthSouth Corp. ($440,000) and Roche Group ($120,000) among others. The Center for Responsive Politics says that Aston & Bird filed 68 lobbying reports in 2008 on issues pertaining to health care.

Daschle is promoting his own compromise health care bill as part of the Bipartisan Policy Center. He has teamed up with Repugnant graybeards Howard Baker and Bob Dole to push a compromise plan that establishes optional public insurance pools administered by the states. It also mandates that individuals purchase insurance if there employers do not provide it. Daschle estimates it would take four years to achieve universal coverage under the proposal. Among the contributors to the Bipartisan Policy Center is the giant pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough. Its contribution is described as "substantial" on the Center's federal disclosure form. The co-director of the health care project is former Clinton official Chris Jennings, who is also president of Jennings Policy Strategies, a lobbying firm that has earned millions from companies with interests in health care. Clients of Jennings include the Generic Pharmaceutical Association ($2 million in fees since 2001), the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association ($450,000) and Actelion Pharmaceuticals ($320,000). Does Tom Daschle really have any credibility left after loosing his appointment to be Obama's health secretary because he did not report compensation to the IRS? Answer: only in Washington--where the term 'conflict of interest' is an inside joke.

When Democrats walk away from fights they can win they pay for it in votes because people start agreeing with Ralph Nader: there is no fundamental difference between the two parties. 44 campaigned to bring change to Washington by taking on special interests. Yet, in the biggest of showdowns with the massive private health insurance lobby, fifty years in the making, Democratic Congress members are apparently unwilling to use their procedural advantages (50 votes instead of 60), and the unwavering public support for real health care reform (NBC/Wall Street Journal says 76% of respondents want the freedom of a public-private choice). Voluntarily eliminating the public option in order to pick up a few votes would deflate their own progressive supporters who are working hard to pass real reform. Would Repugnants do that to their base? Not!

'Toontime: Medication Time!

[credit: Drew Sheneman]
Wackydoodle sez: Better'n that there 'private insurance enema!'

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hawaiian Monk Seals Win More Habitat

A designation of critical habitat for the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) was made last Friday by the National Marine Fisheries Service in response to the petition of three environmental organizations*. Only 1200 monk seals remain in the Hawaiian islands, victims of overfishing, pollution, and disease. Earlier this year NOAA declared another species of monk seal, the Carribbean, extinct. Critical habitat designation in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands already exists (created in 1988), but the new designation will expand that and include habitat in the main island chain for the first time. Monk seals are suffering a rapid population decline (4% per year) in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, but do better around the main islands were food is more plentiful. There, monk seal numbers are slowly increasing. Monk seals tend to use the same haul out beaches where pups are born and raised. A critical habitat designation does not close a beach to public access, but does limit federal activity (including federally funded or authorized) that could harm the animal or its environment. Recent studies show that species enjoying a critical habitat designation are twice as likely to recover as species without the benefit of one. The public is allowed to comment on the designation prior to implementation.
*Center for Biological Diversity, The Hawaiian Environmental Alliance and Ocean Conservancy

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nuclear Power: Too Expensive to Use

A remark one can accurately make about Repugnants is that they are ideologically consistent. They consistently advocate and support policies that are bad for America. An example is their fascination with nuclear power generation. Nuclear power has been demonstrated to be the most expensive form of power generation in the world. It is also burdened with serious problems of radioactive waste disposal, vulnerability to sabotage and operational safety. Nevertheless Repugnants in Congress continue to advocate the nuclear option as the solution to the climate crisis. Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) has drafted a bill that sets a goal of building 100 reactors over the next twenty years. Perhaps the explanation for their wrongheadedness lies in the fact that nuclear power is the most capital intensive form of power generation. In a regulated industry where rates of return are set based in part on the cost of the infrastructure invested in generation and distribution (the rate base), nuclear power has the potential for the largest rates of return. Advocates appear to care much less about the deleterious effects on the environment or the cost of power to consumers.

The recent experience of Finland which is building a new, modular design reactor is instructive to anyone not ideologically driven. The Olkiluoto reactor [photo] was supposed to be the most powerful and safest ever built. Its modular design was also supposed to make it faster and cheaper to build. The superlatives were inaccurate. After four years of construction, the reactor is 150% over the projected cost of $4.2 billion. The French state owned firm constructing the facility is no longer confident of a specific start date for operations (projected construction time is now seven years compared to four when the project began). A similar reactor under construction in Flamanville, France is also over budget and behind schedule. The Areva company wants to build reactors in the United States. Standardization has been touted by the industry as the way to shorter construction periods and lower price, but these two reactor projects using standardized designs are causing experts to revise their estimates. In Finland, inspectors found the concrete foundation for the reactor to be too porous and prone to corrosion. Also, inexperienced subcontractors drilled holes in the wrong places on the huge steel containment vessel, an absolutely critical safety component. The worksite is a veritable "tower of Babel" were eight languages are spoken, and communication often on technical subjects has posed problems. Canada has also experienced a flop with its new reactor design. Atomic Energy of Canada consumed $1.74 billion in subsidies last year, and now the government wants to sell the company. The natural uranium/heavy water reactor has design flaws which require heavy maintenance for installed facilities. Of the 45 reactors now being built worldwide--mostly in Russia and China--22 have encountered construction delays and nine do not have official start dates.

None of these problems faze Repugnants like Lamar Alexander (R-TN) who wants to subsidize massive new reactor construction. Price estimates for new reactors in the US are around $10 billion dollars each. DOE has announced four finalists eligible for only $18.5 billion in loan guarantees under the Regime's 2005 energy plan. Fifty billion more was cut from the current administration's funding proposal. Missouri legislators just said "no" to pre-construction electric rate increases, causing the state's largest electrical utility to suspend plans for a copy of Areva's EPR reactor. For nuclear power to have a high impact on reducing greenhouse gases, an average of 12 reactors a year would have to be built world wide until 2030 according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. As of now there are not enough new constructions to replace the old reactors going off line. But Repugnants never let the facts get in their way, if there are profits to be made by their business sponsors.

Zionists Accept Palestinian State....Provided

Developments: Former President and Nobel Peace Laureate Jimmy Carter met with Hamas officials in Gaza on Tuesday. He toured Gaza with Ismail Haniya and met exiled leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus. Hamas forms the civil government of the Strip, but is also officially considered a terrorist organization by the US government. The exchange is causing consternation in the State Department. According to a foreign policy insider, "They are very pissed with him." Nevertheless, Carter's self assigned mission is to explore opportunities for engagement between Hamas and the U.S. government. Official US negotiator, George Mitchell, said Hamas is welcome to join peace talks if they meet the requirements of a "democratic dialogue" which he clarified to mean the so-called Quartet conditions: renounce terror, recognize Israel, and abide by past agreements. Hamas has made public comments indicating it wants a softening of Washington's preconditions to joining talks. Hamas welcomes the attention of the former president as a way of opening communications with the new US administration, even though Carter is viewed in some conservative and Zionist quarters as eccentric. While in Gaza Carter spoke forcefully against the continued economic blockade of the 140 sq. mile enclave by Israel saying the 2 year old blockade has brought "death, destruction, pain and suffering to the people here". Despite being pleased with Carter's visit, Hamas deputy foreign minister Ahmed Youssef, rejected his call for recognition of Israel on Wednesday. As long as the two sides continue to value ideological purity over reality, the human suffering will continue.

{6/15/09}In a speech at a university yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel could accept a Palestinian state on its borders, but refused to freeze Israeli settlements on the West Bank. He expressly conditioned acceptance of Palestinian statehood on a single Palestinian government that does not include Hamas, the organization which controls Gaza, and a united Jerusalem. The acceptance of Palestinian statehood is almost insignificant when compared to the conditions imposed by Netanyahu, but like acceptance of the existence of Israel by the Arabs, the issue has been continuously raised as a stumbling block to further peace negotiations. The US administration said in response that it would continue to press the Israeli government on the settlements issue. Netanyahu in his speech attempted to cloak the strategy of incremental Jewish assimilation of the West Bank as "the need to allow the residents to lead normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children". As the map at left demonstrates, Israel has increased the size of its state continuously since 1947. Arabs are unlikely to accept a "united Jerusalem", either since East Jerusalem is viewed as the eventual capital of a Palestinian state, historically majority Arab, and controlled by Arab armies from 1949 to 1967. A senior Palestinian negotiator remarked after the speech that the peace process has been moving at tortoise speed. He quipped, "Tonight, Netanyahu has flipped it over on its back."

Demos Cave Again?

More: Despite Speaker Pelosi's public assurance that the House will pass a public option, so-called 'Blue Dog' Democrats in the House are working with the other side to produce a bill that does not include the capitalist heresy of government health insurance. One observer commented that the biggest impediment to real reform is the corruption of Congress. Blue Dogs are heavily dependent on special interest financing of their political campaigns according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The meetings between conservative Democrats and Repugnants have been in secret due to their potential for political repercussions. But Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-TN) confirmed to reporters that his colleagues in the 52 member conservative caucus are working on "co-op" alternatives to a public option plan. Other Demos mentioned as working to undercut their leadership are Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN).

Update: {6/16/09}Attack dog Carl Rove has gone on the offensive against the public option in an editorial replaying the memes of conservative propaganda guru Frank Luntz. US Person actually wants single payer health insurance because it makes the most economic and social sense. Call it "socialized medicine", if you will. The term is not a pejorative in my blog since the rest of the civilized western world already enjoys the benefits thereof. Most Americans, including me, are willing to compromise with the social Darwinists and just provide a government plan option among a constellation of private health insurance plans. But that's unacceptable to the laissez faire die hardists, so they are fiercely attacking the progressive reform with myth making. Here are the leading lies and true facts about the public option[1]:
  • Lie: it's unnecessary since there are plenty of private plans available. Truth: Private insurers avoid competing with each other. 1 in 6 metropolitan areas are dominated by a single insurer according to a 2008 study of 300 US markets. The industry has experience a wave of consolidations with over 400 mergers in the last ten years;
  • Lie: Proponents of private competition to provide the prescription drug benefit (Medicare Part D) claimed it would reduce costs. Truth: Kaiser Family Foundation has found that costs of Medicare Part D with private competition have significantly increased;
  • Lie: A public plan would shift costs to Americans with private insurance since Medicare pays less. Truth: Public plans like Medicare increase efficiency of the health system because they pay for value, not volume;
  • Lie: A public plan will lead to a "welfare state". Truth: There will be private insurance for those who want it for ideological or health reasons. Private insurers who offer a superior product over the generic government plan will be rewarded by consumers. Those private insurers who do not offer value will be at a competitive disadvantage. That is the way the market works, Carl.
  • Lie: Americans will be forced to purchase a public plan eventually because the government will crater the private insurance market. Truth: Conservatives want a mandate for all Americans not eligible for Medicare to purchase health insurance, but are unwilling to allow a low cost plan for those who want a basic comprehensive policy because they cannot or choose not to afford higher prices in the private market. There are both KIAs and Cadillacs offered in the US car market. Not everyone drives a KIA.
  • Lie: A public plan puts a bureaucrat between the patient and doctor. Truth: Private insurers already insert themselves into the doctor-patient relationship by deciding which treatments they will pay for in advance. Public plan proposals provide for incentives to private doctors patients choose for providing quality care of illnesses--not just symptoms, spending more time with their patients, and rewarding good health maintenance and preventive care.
So Carl your objections are not only nothing new--they were used in the sixties and seventies to stop reform--but they are not true either. By now even Joe the Non-Union Plumber understands the health care system is broken and needs to be fixed. A consensus among experts exists on two crucial points: everybody must be insured, and costs must be controlled. 66% of Americans support Obama on this reform because it does both. The cost of health care reform will be large, but so are two wars and the Wall Street bailout. The cost of doing nothing will be nothing less than disastrous.

Lacking the courage of their convictions and actual control of the Senate by one empty seat (Al Franken D-MN), Democrats are caving to lockstep Repugnant opposition to a public health care plan that will compete with private insurers. Congress members think that a public plan will mean the eventual demise of private health insurance in the United States because a majority of Americans will opt for the lower cost option especially if they are required to purchase health insurance to achieve universal coverage. According to one Repugant a bipartisan consensus exists for such a mandate. But politicos of both parties are extremely reluctant to tell private enterprise, which finance their campaigns, to take a hike by forcing it to compete with the federal government. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a conservative and potential stumbling block to a passing a public plan, said on CNN that the Senate would not pass a government run health option. He supports unspecified "health insurance cooperatives", perhaps reminiscent of the many grain elevator cooperatives that dot his sparsely populated state. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), senior minority member of the Senate Finance Committee is demanding that the government option be dropped. Senator Ted Kennedy is still suffering from a brain tumor, but nevertheless has courageously drafted a bill that includes a government policy option as well as the administration's concept of "health exchanges" where consumers can purchase private insurance at group rates. If Democrats do not get serious about controlling the cost of health care in the US, it will eventually bankrupt the nation. As the director of the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office, Doug Elmendorf said, "We have had forty years without knowing clearly how we will pay for our heath care programs. Now we have to come to terms with it." Obama is known to want some bipartisan support for his health reform program since the health care system is 17% of the US economy. If he is to do the right thing for Americans, it may mean pushing through a plan without the nabobs of private enterprise on board.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chart of the Week: Where the Bombs Fall

US Person recommends this highly interactive web site where you can see the location and effect of the air war in Afghanistan.  Click the link and know your targets!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Suspected Cat Killer Arrested

An eighteen year old was arrested in Miami suspected of killing as many as three dozen neighborhood pets.  Some cats were found mutilated and partially skinned.  Tyler Weinman was arrested Sunday and charged with 19 felony counts of animal cruelty, 19 misdemeanor counts of improperly disposing of an animal body and four felony counts of burglary.  Four of the cat killings were on the same street as Weinman's residence.  Neighbors describe the young man as "quiet" and "a lovely person".  Apparently not.  The cruel deaths of beloved pets has caused anxiety and tension in the upscale neighborhoods of Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay.   One of his victims was "Miss Kitty", a stray that a couple had adopted as a pet, shown in the inset photo.  Her head was crushed and her back legs skinned.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Public Option Health Plan

Update:  Does this suprise you:  the doctors' lobby, AMA, has come out against a public plan option as part of the health care reform bill. That simple fact alone should tell you why America needs public health insurance.  For decades doctors have grown rich off the health for profit system.  Although there are exceptions, doctors in general have become businessmen not care providers, seeking ways to enhance their profit margins even if it means prescribing treatments or medications a patient does not need.  The lobby group has opposed every major health care reform initiative presented in Congress.  Since the 2000 election cycle the group has donated $9.8 million to Congressional candidates.  House Speaker 'Big' Nancy Pelosi said on MSNBC Wednesday that the House will not pass a reform package without a public option[3].

{6/09/09}Senator Kennedy is circulating a draft bill among his Senate colleagues that combines the President's preference for a dual system in which Americans have the option to buy competitive private insurance or a public plan.  The public option is intended to control private insurance cost through competition, a concept even Repugnants can understand.  By capping its reimbursement rate a 10% above Medicare rates, the public option would put downward pressure on the private sector when it negotiates prices with hospitals and doctors.  Of course legislators beholding to the health insurance cartel for their elevated status characterize such competition as "unfair", but when giants like Aetna and Wellpoint use their size advantage to negotiate lower rates, that is simply the miracle of the market at work.  Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee is now on board with a public health plan option and financing it in part through cost savings in the Medicare program by $200 to $300 billion over ten years.[1] The Senate is expected to vote on a bill from the finance committee in the last two weeks of July.   Reform of the broken system comes thirty years late.  The US spends more than Switzerland on health care, but our system is not even close to the Swiss as their health statistics testify.  Even the Business Roundtable, a bastion of laissez faire capitalist economics, concluded there is a "23% value gap" per dollar spent on health care compared to five leading competitor countries--Canada, Japan, Germany, UK and France.[2] Controlling costs is key to solving our health care mess.  As a former participant in the Federal Employee Health Benefit System US Person can testify having comprehensive health insurance at a reasonable cost is a load off your mind. Better reform late than never.  Help Senator Kennedy pass health care reform by signing his petition.
[1] before pressure from business heated up, Baucus supported the inclusion of a public option plan in his white paper on health care, Call to Action: Health Reform 2009
[2]The Business Roundtable, Health Care Value Comparability Study, Executive Summary, http://www.businessroundtable.org/sites/default/files/BRT%20exec%20sum%20FINAL%20FOR%20PRINT.pdf 
[3]  Don't hold your breath because the health business lobby is gearing up to defeat reform. Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. has spent $1.5 million in the first quarter, up 34 percent from $1.1 million in the same quarter last year; Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna Inc. spent $809,793, up 41 percent from last year; and Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc. and Louisville, Ky.-based Humana Inc. both saw first-quarter spending rise 16 percent to $1.2 million and $370,000, respectively.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bluefin Tuna Headed to Extinction

The giant bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is an advanced streamline predator that can regulate its own body heat to achieve bursts of speed of up to 45 mph in the water, but it is no match for the supreme global predator, man. Unfortunately for this fish, it has a firm succulent flesh that millions enjoy, so the species is being harvested into extinction.  There are two remaining stocks of northern bluefin, a western one which spawns in the Gulf of Mexico, and an eastern group that spawns in the Mediterranean.  The eastern group is now close to collapse due to rampant overfishing for the Japanese market.  The US and Canada officially protect the western Atlantic blue fin from commercial fishing.  Scientists recently discovered that there is some interbreeding between the populations, so the collapse of one threatens the other.  The Japanese firm of Mitsubishi is doing something about the end of northern bluefin tuna: hoarding what tuna remains.  It's definitely a cultural thing.  Japanese love sushi, sashimi and all forms of sea cuisine in which tuna plays a central role.  It is may be a phenomenon similar to Americans hoarding ammunition for their weapons of personal destruction.   Mitsubishi is importing thousands of tuna fish and freezing it, banking on the day when northern blue fin is commercially unavailable. When that happens--no longer a question of if--the flesh will be sold for astronomical sums. A single giant tuna sold on the Tokyo fish market for more than $100,000 this century.  Martin Hickman, correspondent for The Independent reports that Mitsubishi trades in 60% of the threatened fish and has expanded its freezer capacity to accommodate the unlimited catch.   World Wildlife Fund forecasts that breeding stocks of Atlantic bluefin will be wiped out by 2012.  The international catch limit is set at about 30,000 tons annually despite scientific advice that the limit be set a 8,500 to 15,000 tons[1].  A computer model of the species population dynamics run by the Technical University of Denmark predicts that even if hunting were banned the eastern population will probably collapse[2].  Conservationists estimate the actual catch is in the range of 50-60,000 tons annually.  If this rate of harvest continues blue fin tuna will certainly go the way of the tiger.
[1] International management has been so ineffective that the international body responsible for conservation, ICCAT is jokingly referred to as the 'international conspiracy to catch all tunas'.  Because bluefin is a deep ocean species, its management suffers from being in a veritable no-man's land.  Experts hired by ICCAT to review the management of bluefin concluded it was "widely regarded as an international disgrace."
[2] www.economist.com/background/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12502783

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Letting the Criminal Justice System Work

If this is the start of a new trend in the handling of Gitmo detainees, it is certainly more consistent with our fundamental national values.  Ahmed Ghallani was brought to New York City early this morning for his trial in a federal court.  Ghallani is charged with participating in the attacks on the US Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya which killed more than 224 people including 12 Americans.   According to prosecutors he began his terrorist career delivering bomb parts on a bicycle, went on to become a document forger, a trainer at a terrorist camp, and bodyguard to bin Laden.   Four others have been tried and convicted for the bombings and all are serving life sentences.  So much for the political cheap shots-- the namby pamby NIMBY complaints about bringing terrorists to America*.  Upholding the rule of law requires more than groovy speeches by teleprompter--an electorial majority with some backbone and a national leader who believes what he says.   
*a leading example was broadcast by that Repugnant operating under cover, Senator Ben Nelson (D?-NE) on Fox Spews: http://thinkprogress.org/2009/05/24/nelson-guantanamo-torture/ 

Colorado's Nativist Son

US Person must admit he once lived in the US House district of that major know-nothing, Tom Tancredo.  The experience taught him one thing: ignore everything the extremist says, especially when it concerns his pet peeve, undocumented immigration.   Tancredo is no longer a Congressman after running for the highest office in the land, but he is injecting some of his own special brand of race baiting into the Supreme Court confirmation process and getting national media coverage as a result.  Tancredo told MSNBC that Judge Sonia Sotomayer is a member of La Raza (National Council of La Raza, NCLR).  He called the liberal Hispanic civil rights organization, "a Latino KKK without the hoods and without the nooses". Tancredo may be conflating La Raza with MEChA, a radical Latino student group whose motto he cited is, "Por La Raza todo, Fuera de La Raza nada".  Sotomayer has no known affiliation with that group.  But Tancredo should know a radical when he sees one.   Sonia Sotomayor made a speech at Berkeley in 2001 in which she said she would bring the experiences and sensitivities of a "Latina" to court.  A fair reading is she made a candid admission that all judges, from the municipal court to the Supreme Court, being human have their legal reasoning shaped by their life experiences.  See Plessy v. Ferguson.  The right wing has gone ape over the statement, claiming it reveals her willingness to ignore the law and engage in social engineering while on the bench. Character assassination is their metier, but Repugnants should realize that vile attacks like Tancredo's on a qualified jurist will further reduce the appeal of their party's politics for most Americans.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Chart of the Century

MIT's Integrated Global System Model makes probabilistic projections of climate change.  The computer simulation has been continuously improved since its inception in 2003, and improvements made in the estimate of input parameters.  Hence, the model makes warmer projections for Earth's surface warming over the 2003 estimates: median surface warming at the end of this century is computed to 5.1C (middle red line above) compared to 2.4C in 2003 (blue lines). Is Waxman-Markey enough? Not by a long shot.
[chart courtesy Kevin Drum, Mother Jones] 

Friday, June 05, 2009

Energy Legislation Update II

'Big' Nancy Pelosi got tough (sort of) with the two committee chairs allotted mark-up sessions on the Waxman-Markey climate bill.  Rep. Charlie Rangle (D-NY) chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee reacted negatively to the imposition of a June 19th deadline to act on the bill or loose jurisdiction.  Agricultural Committee chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) threatened to take the bill down from a full floor vote if his committee did not have an opportunity to mark it up. Rangle eventually said his committee would comply with the deadline, and Peterson indicated he was no longer trying to stop the bill, but "make it workable". The important legislation, a signature one for Team 44, is in danger of getting mired in intramural Democratic politics.  But Rep. Waxman told interlocutors that he and his staff were willing to work out changes with both committee chairs.   It is possible that six other committees may want a hand in the formulation of climate policy, nevertheless Waxman embraced the Speakers' deadline, pointing out that the month of July will be needed to discuss the other significant policy initiative, health care reform, before Congress adjourns for the summer break.

'Toontime: Don't Forget the Blindfold

[credit: Chan Lowe, Sun-Sentinel]
Wackydoodle sez: Them water wings work good, too.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Israel Turns Hard Right

Update:  The Independent says Israeli PM Netanyahu claims "secret deal" with the Charlatan to justify the continued settlement of the West Bank.  His government alleges that Ariel Sharon agreed to the Road Map and the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers only on the "understanding" that Israel could expand the existing settlements within their physical boundaries.  44 does not see any such understandings, if they existed, as binding on his watch.  He told NPR that a freeze on settlements was part of Israeli obligations under the internationally endorsed Road Map. Especially irritating to both American officials and Palestinians is the government backed plan to build a 200 room hotel 100 meters from Old Town, an Arab enclave. Another point of bitter contention is resuming the building of the E1 corridor intended to link the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumin with Jerusalem.  Elliot Abrams, a former Assistant Secretary of State in the Regime confirmed that there was an agreement with Mr. Sharon that settlement growth could continue provided Israel did not create new settlements, use public funds for construction or expropriate more Palestinian land.  The agreement was approved by Secretary of State Condolezza Rice according to an Israeli diplomat familiar with the conversation.  The invocation of such an understanding now to block negotiations on territory division shows the extent to which US policy has tilted in Israel's favor during the past eight years, or the willingness of former US officials to protect Israeli interests while in private life.

{5/29/09}The Israeli government has rejected U.S. requests to end the spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  On the eve of 44's foreign policy speech in Cairo a government spokesperson said the settlements'  "natural growth" would be allowed to continue and their fate would only be decided as part of an overall peace agreement.  This difficult stance by the right-wing coalition now governing Israel demonstrates the increasingly dim prospects for forging a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute at the center of Middle East unrest. Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to endorse even the concept of a two state solution, a position his predecessors in office embraced.  He also refuses to cede any Arab land taken in the 1967 war as part of a regional peace deal.  President Obama must spend some time with Israel's congressional allies here in the United States, if he is to succeed in leveraging Israel into necessary concessions on territory[1].  It may be useful to him to remember that when U.S. relations with Israel hit a low point in 1991, Bush 41 refused to grant housing loan guarantees to the government of Yitzhak Shamir when it refused to stop settlement building. P.L. 108-11 states that loan proceeds can only be used in areas within Israel's pre 1967 borders, and that amounts may be reduced by an amount equal to what Israel spends building settlements in conquered territory.   The law has been renewed since the mid 1990's.  In 2007 the Bush 43 government increased military assistance to Israel by $6 billion over the next decade.  For fiscal year 2008 Israel receives $2.4 billion in military aid.  That will increase incrementally to $3.1 by fiscal year 2018.  Egypt, usually the second largest recipient of aid in the region will receive no increases.  From 1971 to the present, U.S. aid to Israel has averaged over $2.6 billion per year, two-thirds of which has been military assistance. For an overview of current American aid to the state of Israel see this link.

{5/27/09}The predictable effect of including the extremist right wing in the Israeli government is playing out in the Knesset.  A law limiting free speech has passed its first reading.  Under the proposed law it would be a crime to deny the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, punishable by one year in prison.  Another law under consideration would condition citizenship on an oath of loyalty to a Jewish, Zionist state.  A few months ago Avigdor Lieberman's party, Yisrael Beiteinu was on the fringe of mainstream politics, known for its racists and ultra-nationalist positions.  Now it is shepherding an agenda of rightist measures through the Israeli parliament. The effort seems to be targeted at Israel's Arab minority. If Israel under Netanyahu marches further to the right, more strain will be put on an already strained special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. At some point the administration may be forced to reconsider generous bilateral arrangements. 
[map: United Nations]
[1]  Prime Minister Netanyahu is reportedly not happy with the united front the administration is presenting to the Israelis on the issue of settlements.  Israeli leaders are also surprised that some prominent Jewish members of Congress are siding with the administration.  Their probes for negotiating room are not producing results.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Charts Changed to Protect Remaining Wright Whales

The last 300 North Atlantic right whales will get some needed protection from the heavy shipping traffic off the Massachusetts coast beginning this month.  Ships entering busy Boston Harbor will travel slightly narrower lanes.  Large ships above 300 gross tons will be asked to avoid an area in the Great South Channel from April through July where slow moving right whales feed and face the greatest chance of being hit.  NOAA researchers used twenty years of sighting data to determine the collision risk to right whales and develop the lane changes which were assessed for safe navigability by the US Coast Guard.   About 3,500 ships move through the shipping lanes off Boston every year, and more than half of the world's North Atlantic right whales are in the same area during the spring. Recommended chart changes have been adopted by the International Maritime Organization, so they will be reflected on all charts used by international shipping.  In a related positive development, ENS reports that the mating call of the fantastically large blue whale has been recorded off the shores of the Big Apple.  Cornell University's Bioacoustics Research program identified the blue whale songs.  It had monitoring equipment deployed from about 10 miles to 80 miles east of the entrance to New York Harbor to study the effect of man made noise on whales.
[photo: North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium]

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

War Wounds of the Mind

In Haditha a squad of second tour Marines kills 24 civilians in their homes; a soldier issued sleeping pills for his symptoms of PTSD and sent back into combat rapes and murders a young Iraqi girl in Mahmoudiaya; Sergeant John Russell on his third tour cracks and kills five fellow soldiers while at mental health clinic in Baghdad.  All of these incidents are red flags of the much larger problem of the mental condition of soldiers returning home from long, unpopular wars. Mental health workers have concluded that there is a correlation between stateside violence and a constellation of mental disorders catalogued under the heading of "post traumatic stress disorder" and the lenient attitude of military commanders[1] towards crimes committed by American military personnel during combat.  The crime statistics among Vietnam veterans indicates the depth of the problem. The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Survey reports that by 1986 almost half of all veterans suffering from PTSD had been arrested or jailed at least once; a third had been jailed more than once; 11.5% had been convicted of a felony[2]. Eight hundred thousand soldiers have served at least two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.  A non-partisan estimate is that more than 300,000 suffer from major depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  43,000 soldiers deemed mentally unfit for duty were nevertheless deployed in the first five years of the Iraq war.  Suicides have hit record levels in the Army.  One elite unit, the 101st Airborne stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY has recorded eleven suicides in one year, the highest rate in the Army.  The alarming number of suicides caused their commander to temporarily close down camp operations recently, and order his troops to re-evaluate themselves.
[1]Of the four enlisted Marines and four officers charged for the Haditha killings, murder charges against two of the enlisted men were dropped, as have dereliction of duty charges against three of the officers.   Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani is facing a possible renewed prosecution for failing to order a full-scale investigation into the killings.  One enlisted man was acquitted after trial.  Only Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich remains in jeopardy for nine counts of murder.
[2] More recent statistics are equally shocking.  Within four years 14 soldiers in one brigade of the 4th Infantry Division stationed at Ft. Carson, CO have been involved in homicides.  The 4th brigade completed two tours in Iraq and lost 113 of its members in combat.  One soldier, a former California surfer, was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury due to blasts. He was medically discharged with prescriptions for 12 different medications.  He is now charged with beating his nineteen year old girlfriend to death.  The 4/4 is currently deployed on the Pakistan border in Afghanistan.  For more on homicide involving Ft. Carson veterans see this link.

The End of the Beginning

The government now owns 60% of the largest industrial company in America.  General Motors, which filed for Chapter 11 reorganization yesterday, was once the icon of American capitalism--a colossus of successful enterprise that sold its products all over the world, and dictated the way Americans transport.  No longer.  If 44 has any insight he will use our government's majority stake in the company to insure that the new GM produces the types of vehicles that make economic and environmental sense in the 21st century.  He may tell the press he "has no interest in running GM", but that is a sound bite for another failure, this time at taxpayer expense.  The American people want some payback for their investment of billions to insure GM a future in the global marketplace: they want secure jobs at home; they want high quality vehicles; they want vastly improved gas mileage; and they want practical replacements for the internal combustion engine.   It is 44's responsibility as their CEO to stand and deliver on these societal needs because the "free market" spectacularly did not. 

Monday, June 01, 2009

'Toontime Extra: Daddy Takes the Keys Away

[credit: Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press]

Wackydoodle axes, Where's my "Volt" subsidy?"

Chart of the Week: Who Needs World Trade?

[credit:  variantperception.com]

John Hussman of Hussman Funds has this take on the PIPP put: Make no mistake - we are selling off our future and the future of our children to prevent the bondholders of U.S. financial corporations from taking losses. We are using public funds to protect the bondholders of some of the most mismanaged companies in the history of capitalism, instead of allowing them to take losses that should have been their own. All our policy makers have done to date has been to squander public funds to protect the full interests of corporate bondholders. Even Bear Stearns bondholders can expect to get 100% of their money back, thanks to the generosity of Bernanke, Geithner and other bureaucrats eager to hand out the money of ordinary Americans. Wackydoodle sez: The market's up!