Friday, July 31, 2009

Wu Willing to Wager Health Care Bill for Higher Rates

Congressman David Wu (D-OR) signed on to the 'Blue Dog" letter to Nancy Pelosi threatening to scuttle health care reform legislation pending in the House. In a letter responding to constituents' concerns for the passage of H.R. 3200 the Affordable Health Choices Act, Representative Wu says:

Physicians across the state are suffering under these low rates, being paid for only a fraction of their comprehensive costs every time they see a Medicare patient. Because of this ongoing problem, I recently signed on to a letter to Speaker Pelosi expressing my serious concern that H.R. 3200 does not sufficiently address the geographic variation that exists in the flawed way Medicare reimburses physicians...

The letter to constituents does not specifically address whether the Congressman will vote for the bill regardless of whether it addresses the "geographic variations" or not. Nor does it identify which letter to Pelosi he signed. Forty conservative members of Congress--so-called 'Blue Dogs'--sent a letter opposing any health reform that did not meet a list of provisions they demanded be in the final legislation on July 9. On July 16 a group of 21 first term congress members signed a letter objecting to taxing the wealthy to help pay for the legislation. Five signed both letters. Wu is a six term legislator from Oregon's 1st Congressional District. That makes 57 Democrats opposed to central features of the pending legislation. And Wu was one of them. Fortunately, for those of us wanting affordable health care for every American, progressive Democrats reached a deal with the obstructionists late today.

'Toontime: The Hand that Feeds Them

[credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Give US Socialized Medicine, Please!

Compared with countries that really do have socialist medicine (Canada, Australia, Germany, United Kingdom, New Zealand), not just a hybrid compromise[1] like what is being proposed for the United States, we rank last in all but one parameter of a fair, functional system: access, patient safety, efficiency and equity despite paying the most per capita. [chart]. The one part of US health care that is socialized, Medicare, gets high marks from the elderly it covers. Fifty-six percent of enrollees give Medicare 9 or 10 ratings on a ten scale. And a clear majority support extending Medicare to Americans age fifty-five and older according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the realities do not stop the right wing propaganda machine from resurrecting the lies of yesteryear. The same arguments used by Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and Barry Goldwater to try and stop the enactment of Medicare are being re-broadcast today. Someone should tell them to stop playing the same scratched record.
[1] The Senate HELP Committee bill has the fingerprints of Senator Ted Kennedy all over it, more than enough reason for some conservative Democrats and Republicans to oppose the measure. The Affordable Health Care Act contains the bedrock of Kennedy's forty year advocacy: a mandate for all Americans to be covered, a requirement for employers to subsidize it, grants for those too poor to buy it, and the creation of a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. Requiring all Americans to have health care insurance coverage without a public option or similar public subsidy as proposed by the Senate Finance Committee may violate the constitutional principle of equal protection under law. It is not clear if Senator Kennedy will be able to resume active public service, but the cause of his lifetime is within reach of becoming law.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hawaii Fails New Monument

One justification for federal regulation of the environment is that state governments do such a bad job protecting natural resources. The State of Hawaii added another case to the pile of evidence supporting that conclusion. The recently established Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument--the single most significant act of federal protection of a fragile ecosystem during the Regime--is the largest area of federally protected habitat in the United States. It covers a 1200 mile by 100 mile wide area around the outer islands and coral atolls of the northwest Hawaiian archipelago. Although the area is jointly administered by state and federal agencies as co-trustees under a "do no harm" policy of non-interference, the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has issued hundreds of permits allowing access to the monument for various human activities including wastewater dumping, fishing, and specimen collection without conducting the required environmental impact reviews. The state is being sued by an an environmental group and a former state attorney who say the DLNR did not prepare either an impact statement, an assessment, or determine a categorical or statutory exemption before granting the permits in violation of the Hawaiian Environmental Protection Act. According to the attorney plaintiff who filed a whistleblower claim against the agency, DLNR has a policy of ignoring the requirements of the Act. The attorney claims he told his supervisor that the entire permitting process would be subject to legal challenge for noncompliance. The new monument was nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List, but the failure to apply state environmental protection laws to the archipelago jeopardizes a World Heritage Site designation.
[photo: the Laysan albatross, phoebastria immutabilis mates for life. As many as 5% of chicks annually are dying from lead poisoning by eating paint chips from 95 federally owned abandoned buildings on Midway Island, the species main nesting ground. About $5.6 million is needed to clean up the contamination, but the federal government says it does not have the money.]

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Of 'Possums, Blue Dogs and Yellow Dogs

After playing 'possum for weeks thereby delaying the legislative process, six members of the Senate Finance Committee led by Senator Max Baucus finally lived up to expectations and produced a so-called bipartisan compromise that is a sell-out of Americans who want a real solution to the health care crisis in this country. The emerging agreement lacks two critical elements for holding down costs and providing universal coverage: it omits the mandate that employers provide workers with health insurance, and lacks the competition of a low cost government insurance option according to AP sources. Without a mandate for employers to provide insurance, workers may be forced to switch to a subsidized government plan, thereby increasing the program's cost to taxpayers.

Likewise the Democratic conservative caucus in the House, referred to as 'Blue Dogs', want similar changes to pending House proposals. These demands would effectively gut any legislation intended to slow down the health cost spiral. As economist Paul Krugman points out any reform worth its name rests on four main principles: regulation, competition, mandates and subsidies. But Blue Dog demands do conform with the wishes of the drug and health insurance lobby which has showered them with contributions. At the same time they oppose a public plan because of its cost, these posers of fiscal responsibility want increases in Medicare reimbursement rates, thereby adding to the cost of Medicare. The conservative legislators should not be called 'Blue Dogs' but 'Yellow Dogs' or perhaps even the more descriptive 'Running Dogs'--an archaic vestige of the once Democratic "solid South" that has become more unreliable than loyal. The caucus was founded by a conservative House member from Louisiana, Billy Tauzin, who switched to the Repugnants soon after the group was formed. He then pushed through the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act full of huge giveaways to drug and insurance companies. Is Mr. Tauzin still a low paid Blue Dog ostensibly representing his district faithfully? Foolish question. He is now the obscenely paid president of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical lobby. Watch the President discuss health care reform in a live town hall webcast hosted by AARP at 1:30pm Eastern time today.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Taking the Gloves Off

{War Wounds of the Mind, 6.2.09}A veteran of Iraq combat who served with the Second Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division (2/2) wrote a letter to higher authority in the chain of command notifying them of what he believed to be "war crimes and violations of the laws of armed conflict". PFC John Needham was stationed at Camp Falcon in Iraq during 2007. He witnessed an Iraqi male being stopped, questioned and detained. At the time of the detention the soldiers had no information the man was a terrorist, and he did not posed a threat to the Americans. Needham says he did not personally witness the man's death, but he did witness the dismembering of his body. The mutilated body was tied to a Humvee and paraded around the Muhalla neighborhood while an Arabic interpreter shouted warnings over the loud speaker. In his letter Needham tells Army brass he has a photo that shows the victim's brains being removed. Needham goes on in detail about two other homicides and unjustified shootings he witnessed. In one instance a wounded Iraqi was cold-bloodedly shot in the back of the head because he was still moving. Needham told authorities that "my experiences have taken a terrible toll on me." He stated he is under treatment at Balboa Naval Hospital, and requested protection from retaliation by his fellow soldiers stationed at Fort Carson, CO. Read the letter in full, and remember: be all you can be in the Army.

When a Badge Goes to Your Head

Ordinarily US Person would not deem an arrest for disorderly conduct in Cambridge, MA worthy of comment at Persona Non Grata, but everybody in the corporate media is talking about it instead of health care reform so it must be important, right? Well, it is, but not because race or inflated egos were involved. The arrest of Professor Gates is symptomatic of the bigger nationwide problem--police gone wild with the power of arrest. It is getting to the point where looking cross-eyed at a police officer will get you arrested. That kind of hair trigger retaliation for non-violent behavior a cop does not appreciate should not occur in America where citizens have the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to be free from unlawful restraint. But it does happen, and everyday. I can testify to the problem from first hand experience.

While jogging across town some years ago, I passed a few of children playing at the curb. It was the end of a long run, and I was only a half a block from my apartment. I remember making a joking comment to the children about playing in the street as I passed. Minutes after getting inside a police officer knocked on my door and asked me to step outside and come over to where the children were, now accompanied by a woman who looked irate. Being a law abiding citizen, I complied with the officer's request. The woman was identified as the mother of one of the juveniles. To my utter amazement the officer--a muscular, sunburned white man with a buzz cut--began asking me if I had made "an obscene gesture" to the boy whose mother was standing nearby. My first reaction to the absurd accusation was to say nothing and call another attorney once inside my apartment. My second thought was to try and find out what had prompted such an outlandish fabrication by a young boy about a total stranger. Trying to defuse what was obviously an emotional confrontation, I offered to discuss the allegation with the officer calmly at my apartment across the street. He did not respond immediately. I turned and began walking towards my home. Within a second or two I felt a hard football tackle from behind, driving me face down into the yard. The police officer's enormous weight on my back kept me pinned to the earth like a squashed bug while he handcuffed me and told me I was under arrest for "disorderly conduct". Downtown I went.

The charge was eventually dismissed, but the memory of the incident has stayed with me. The arrest cost me some money, as well as the embarrassment of a day in jail arranging bail. Once out, I hired a private detective to interview the children separately, and of course the boy's story was not corroborated by his playmates. The detective (a former state trooper) also found out that the mother had a problem with alcohol and had made numerous past complaints to the police about abuse of one sort or another. The point of the story is, that citizens should not have to be put to the expense and embarrassment of proving their innocence, as Henry Gates was put to the test in his own kitchen. Gates had cause to be upset and even angry, having shown his ID--prima facie evidence that he was not a burglar. An arrest was not justified under those circumstances, thus the President calling it "stupid". The proper word is systemic. Police often use the power of arrest for inappropriate purposes such as detaining someone thought suspicious, as a pretext to search, or most perniciously, retaliation. 44 ought to discuss these systemic issues with Sgt. Crowley over their beers. In the end the arrest says more about the abuse of authority by public servants in uniform and Gate's neighbors*, than Gate's lack of control and reverse stereotyping. He was in his own home and not wearing a uniform. The "take 'em downtown" mentality belongs only in the movies.
*recording of the emergency dispatcher shows that Lucia Whalen, apparently a passerby, said the two men trying to get in may have been neighbors when pressed to describe them. She also said the men had luggage with them on the porch. Said Whalen, "I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with a key." Sgt. Crowley can be heard saying "Keep the cars coming".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Public Option Health Plan on Way to Defeat?

Update: Repugnants, lead by broadcast gas bag and de facto party leader, Rush Limbaugh, is making the passage of health care reform a purely partisan fight intended to damage Obama's political fortunes regardless of what failure means to millions of Americans. They have no new alternative legislation to offer, and in fact their strategists are encouraging Repugnant legislators to "go for the kill" rather than cooperate with Democrats. The same advice was given in 1993 when Clinton attempted to pass health care legislation, and the same advice was given by 'Saint Ronnie' Reagan in 1965 when he framed pending Medicare legislation as the first step toward a socialist America. Total poppycock. Repugnants know they are increasingly irrelevant in the debate on needed health reform as their hysterical opposition demonstrates. The real policy battles are now being waged with the Democratic Party's own right wing.

{7.23.09}Majority leader Henry Reid announced today that the Senate will not meet the President's timetable for a bill before the Senate recesses. The announcement comes after 44 held an hour long press conference on the subject of reforming the broken system yesterday. The development is not good news for reformers who see the delay as the coercive effect of intense lobbying from the health care industry and feet dragging by reluctant conservatives in the Democratic Party. According to a Politico blogger, Rick Scott, a former hospital executive leading a conservative counterattack is telling supporters by email that the public option "will die" if no bill is passed before recess[1]. Public option is the proposed main mechanism for controlling the exploding cost of health care in this country. Democratic progressives are becoming increasingly impatient with the slow pace of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, Max Baucus, who supposedly is trying to draft a bill two or three moderate Repugnants can support. In contrast, the Senate HELP Committee chaired by Senators Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd (D-CT) has already passed a bill on a party line vote. Some colleagues are beginning to wonder if the claim of bipartisan support is worth the potential damage to passage of any bill. Baucus has voted with Repugnants in the past on important issues like tax cuts and the controversial Medicare prescription drug bill. Roll Call reports that Democrats on the inside and outside of the negotiations say his progress reports are too vague. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) told constituents, "It's time for them to fish or cut bait". Perhaps Montanans should ask their six term senator what exactly he is doing to solve their unaffordable health care problems.
[image: Repugnant's health care chart propaganda]

Utility Company Pleads Guilty to Killing Eagles

PacifiCorp electric utility, one of the West's largest, agreed to plead guilty to 34 misdemeanor counts of killing eagles, hawks and ravens in violation of the federal Migratory Bird Act in Casper, Wyoming federal court on July 10th. The company was assessed $10.5 million:$510,000 as a criminal fine and $900,000 in restitution, and required to spend $9.1 million repairing or replacing equipment to make the infrastructure safe for birds. Prior to the plea agreement, the company failed to implement readily available solutions to prevent avian deaths. The illegal deaths were caused by contact with Rocky Mountain Power's power lines and distribution equipment. US Fish & Wildlife conducted an investigation beginning in 2007 into excessive eagle mortalities in six Wyoming counties. The federal charges arose from the investigation's findings. USF&W agents documented 1,031 eagles dying from electrocution in Wyoming since 1991. The eagle remains are sent to a national repository where some will be distributed to Native Americans for religious and cultural use. Recitation paid by the company will be distributed to conservation organizations engaged in conserving birds of prey in the inter-mountain West.
[photo courtesy: USF&W]

Friday, July 24, 2009

'Toontime: Repugnant 'Birthers' at Play

[credit: Pat Oliphant]

Nuclear Power: Too Expensive to Use II

{previous post 6.17.09} Nuclear power generation is enjoying a faux renaissance as an energy policy option thanks to some overly optimistic cost studies, the most influential of which was made by MIT in 2003. The study was based on plants built in the seventies and operating in the nineties which significantly skewed the results of future projections of nuclear power plant cost. The direct costs of nuclear plants were vastly underestimated in these studies. The most recent cost projections, including those made by independent and Wall Street analysts are on average over four times the so-called "renaissance" projections[1]. You do not have to be Amory Lovins to know that vast economic subsidies will be required to make nuclear competitive with technologically advanced coal plants and renewable energy systems. These subsidies must either come from ratepayers or the government. Even stoutly capitalist Forbes magazine concluded midst the flurry of state regulatory proceedings to deal with massive cost overruns of the eighties[2], "The failure of the US nuclear power industry ranks as the largest managerial disaster in business history, a disaster on a monumental scale...only the blind or the biased can now think that most of the money has been well spent"[3].

Enter Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who with his industry allies, has targeted the pending climate legislation for inclusion of vast subsidies for the nuclear power industry. Instead of being "two cheap to meter" nuclear power is now touted as the magic bullet solution to the climate crisis. Senator Alexander has called for a non-binding resolution to be attached that endorses a doubling of the number of US reactors--100 new plants--with at least $50 billion in loan guarantees for the industry. Under both Senate and House versions of the proposed Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) agency intended to provide affordable financing for accelerated deployment of clean energy, nuclear power is considered a "clean energy technology"[4]. In the Senate version, one technology could get most of the subsidies on offer. It could well be nuclear power since has the highest capital investment costs of all energy options. Estimates by independent energy analysts and Wall Street investment analysts put the cost of electricity from renewable sources (wind, geothermal, kinetic) at six cents per kilowatt hour. Electricity from nuclear reactors is in the range of 12to 20 cents per kWh. The cost of building 100 new reactors is estimated to be between $1.9 and 4.4 trillion over the life of the plants[5]. But because the American public has such a short attention span, hustlers like Alexander are able to repeat the sale of snake oil every generation. Show you get it and contact your senators to tell them no subsidies for power to expensive to use[6].

[1], chart p. 3
[2] the writer appeared before the Texas PUC concerning the Allens Creek nuclear plant in which the PUC penalized the utility for mismanagement of the project. The decision was later reversed on judicial appeal.
[3] Id. at 13.
[4] The big lie of course is that nuclear power has its own highly toxic waste stream. Significant radioactive fallout occurred at the Three Mile Island near meltdown on March 28, 1979, and despite a partial evacuation, people died from it.
[5]. Op. cit. at 2.
[6] Atomic Energy Chairman Lewis Strauss declared nuclear power "to cheap to meter" in 1954. The pipe dream was shared by Dick Nixon who envisioned a thousand nuclear reactors by now. Times change and the dream dashed by staggering costs and radioactive dangers.
[photo: protestors at Pennsylvania capital, April 9, 1979; NARA]

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

When Animals Were the Enemy

New research released this month concludes that the Regime exaggerated the threat of forest fires to promote logging in northern spotted owl habitat. The threatened raptor became the bette noir of the timber industry when it was put on the endangered species list in 1990. The listing created rancor between environmentalists and business in the Northwest for years. Loggers' trucks bore bumper stickers saying, "kill an owl, save a logger", and environmentalists chained themselves to trees. As part of the effort to reduce the bird's protection from logging old growth forest the Regime introduced a required recovery plan in 2008 that was "inaccurate and misleading" about the fire threat. The study published in the journal Conservation Biology focused on fire adapted dry forests of the eastern Cascades and Klamath regions of California. The study found that mature forest habitat is increasing at a rate of seven to 14 times faster than fire is destroying it. The study's leading researcher at UC Davis, Chad Hanson, said the recovery plan "is simply not scientifically justified and would create substantial risks for the spotted owl".

In addition to the scientific critique of the 2008 recovery plan, the Department of Interior's inspector general's office determined that the decision making process establishing the revised plan was jeopardized by political influence. Secretary Salazaar has concluded that if the spotted owl recovery plan and the Western Oregon Plan Revisions based on it were defended by the Obama administration it "would lead to years of fruitless litigation and inaction." So the plans were withdrawn. Consequently, Oregon forests will be managed under the previous Northwest Forest Plan which controlled timber sales from 1994 until December 2008. Part of the problem with the Regime's efforts to accelerate logging was its decision to curtail consultation about the impacts on endangered and threatened species required under 16 USC §1536. If the federal district court in Washington, DC agrees to vacate the revised management plans--they are being challenged by both conservationists and timber industry--the spotted owl's protected habitat could revert to 6.9 million acres designated in 1992 until a new designation that passes legal muster is in place. Conservationists consider Secretary Salazzar's decision a good one for the survival of the owl and other species that depend on old growth forests.
[photo: USF&W]

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Team 44 Backtracks on Roadless Rule

Forty-four pledged during his campaign for office that his administration would defend the 2001 Roadless Rule that prohibits road building in wilderness areas. His appointee at the Department of Agriculture, former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack, has approved logging in a roadless area of Tongass National Forest, Alaska. The North Orion sale of 381 acres on Revillagigedo Island did not technically violate the ban on logging in pristine forests since the area had received a final environmental impact statement prior to the Roadless Rule being adopted. The sale is in the last in-tact roadless watershed on Thorne Arm used by locals for recreation and hunting. About 2 miles of road will be constructed to provide access to the area adjacent to Misty Fjords National Monument. The Forest Service's cost of building the road will no doubt exceed the revenue from the sale. Environmentalists are concerned that several more approvals are in the pipeline under the "Vilsack Policy" in which the Secretary personally reviews timber sales in roadless areas nationwide. They would rather see legal action from Team 44 to overturn a Wyoming federal district court ruling invalidating the Roadless Rule, and dismiss a pending appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision invalidating the Regime's timber sale program intended to replace the Roadless Rule.

Greeks Bearing Gifts

It is no surprise that the insurance industry hand maiden from Omaha, Ben Nelson, is reprising his "centrist" gig by leading a gang of six conservative Demos to delay passage of health care reform. He is the same loyal Democrat who brought you the "Gang of 14" that voted with Repugnants not to filibuster their judicial nominees. His hypocritical attempts to be a Senate power broker are playing right into the hands of the opposition which wants only to slow down "the Obama experiment with our health" until they figure out a way to kill reform again. What does surprise US Person is that normally clear headed Ron Wyden (D-OR) signed on to the delaying tactics in a letter authored by that under cover Repugnant, Joe Lieberman. The only "heavy lifting" to be done is passage of a reform bill in the Senate that can be reconciled with the House's version (HR 3200). The letter's professed fiscal prudence rings hollow. Only one of the six voted to stop the Medicare Modernization Act which denied Medicare the right to bargain for lower prescription drug prices and was also unfunded. Could Wyden be that angry at 44, who dismissed his health care reform measure as "too radical"? It is the Republic's great misfortune to rely on men whose self importance has distorted their ability to function in the nation's best interests[1]. Shame on you Senator Wyden for ignoring the wishes of the majority of your constituents. The Democratic Party should be rapidly reaching the point where it will no longer afford to coddle office holders unwilling to march onto the field of "Waterloo" against the social darwinists and their fellow travelers.

[1] Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus has accepted nearly $1.5 million from health industry companies and employees in 2007-08. Although he stopped taking money from health PACs in June he still accepts contributions from individual executives or industry lobbyists. During a break from bill writing in June Senator Baucus held his annual fly fishing and golf weekend in Big Sky, Montana for a minimum donation of $2500. As they say in DC, "money talks, bullshit walks". Money buys access while the prols protest in circles outside. Now, perhaps the reader will understand why it has taken a full half century for health care reform to reach this stage.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Now Banks Walk Away

A disturbing development in the on-going economic crisis is banks whose borrowers have been foreclosed are finding the unrelenting deflationary conditions equally daunting. Banks faced with weak real estate markets, and the high cost of foreclosure, reconditioning and resale are also taking the easy way out. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that in Ohio an increasing number of properties are being abandoned by banks without a sheriff's sale after the owner has been foreclosed or voluntarily handed in the keys. Without an owner who cares, homes are being left to deteriorate to become the target of vandals and the haven of drug users. As liens and code citations against the abandoned property mount, the title becomes unmarketable thereby increasing further the costs of turning it around. It could happen that the cost of rectifying the property would exceed its market value. In Cleveland more than 60% of the homes foreclosed by mortgage companies and then sold went for less than $10,000. There were about 14,000 foreclosure filings in 2007 and 2008. But actual sheriff sales--necessary to transfer title to another owner--have dropped from 10,000 to 8,000 in 2008. Often surprised foreclosed owners are informed that they are still on the hook for thousands in back taxes, code violations, court costs and legal fees as well as the unpaid mortgage balance.

War Wounds of the Mind II

US Person posted previously {6.2.09} on the epidemic of combat related mental illness. New information shows that 1/3 of Middle East veterans enrolled in the VA health system (aka socialized medicine) were diagnosed with a mental health problem. A study by the University of California, San Francisco and the San Francisco VAMC was released on Thursday. Based on 289,328 veterans involved in the two current wars and who used the system between 2002 and 2008, it found 37% of them were diagnosed with mental problems, 22% of which was for post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), 17% for depression, and 7% for alcohol abuse. The principal author, Dr. Karen H. Seal, attributed the rising problems to multiple exposures to combat, the unconventional nature of the conflicts, reduced troop moral, waning public support for the wars, and increased public awareness of PTSD. Only about 53% of combat veterans suffering from PTSD or major depression see a doctor. On the same day the study was released the Army confirmed that more soldiers died of suicide than died in combat. There were 17 confirmed suicides by active duty personnel in May. Sixteen died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army experienced a record number of suicides in 2008.

Chart of the Week: The Fourth Turning

Where most of it comes from:
Where most of its used:

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Entertainment From Pain

Ever since the barbaric games of the Roman Empire, and probably since weapons first allowed man mastery over wild animals, humans have enjoyed the suffering of animals. But Evo Morales, President of Bolivia has taken the first step towards ending the immoral practice of animal suffering as entertainment. He signed the world's first national law that prohibits the use of wild and domestic animals in traveling circuses. So far Croatia, Singapore, Austria, Israel and Costa Rica have banned wild animals in circuses. Evidence supporting passage of the legislation was provided by Animal Defenders International as the result of an undercover investigation. Investigators found animals abused by circus trainers, confined to tiny wire cages [photo] and pregnant female lions forced to perform while pregnant. Circus animals kept by marginal entertainment enterprises all over the world are often confined in unsanitary and cruel conditions so poor that they clearly constitute animal abuse. The Bolivian Congress was presented with a report on the scientific evidence of suffering titled "Alto al sufrimienteo los circos en Sudamerica" Under the new law circuses are allowed one year to adapt their shows to humans performers only. GREEN KUDOS to the Bolivian government for their heroic advance in animal welfare.
[photo: ADI]

Friday, July 17, 2009

Obama on Animals

President Obama's pick for the Office of Management and Budget, Regulatory Affairs is being held up by Saxby Chambliss R-GA for his views on animal welfare. Cass Sunstein, the former Chicago University law professor said in a short Time magazine article on the same subject that "animal suffering matters", and that even in a society which considers animals property, animals should still have rights under law. He also co-edited a book on animal rights which is a growing area of interest in academic legal circles. Citizens are demonstrating an increased awareness of animal suffering in our society. The number of reported animal cruelty-neglect cases has tripled during 1996-2000 says the Animal Legal Defense Fund. But the increasingly paranoid right-wing, sees Sunsteins's appointment as part of 44's creation of 'czars'--super bureaucrats--beyond the power of elected government to control as he attempts to introduce the 'Socialist States of America'.

Broadcast insanity aside, just how is 44 doing when considering the topic of animal welfare? has a brief run-down of the President's actions so far. Despite the public relations (photo above), it's a mixed bag.

Creature Feature: Stuck in the Middle

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Elephants Vote With Their Feet

In what may be considered a referendum on the chaotic rule of dictator Robert Mugabe {Zimbabwe Victorious?, 9.15.09}, four hundred elephants have crossed the Zambezi River from Zimbabwe into Zambia. Three elephants have wandered into the outskirts of Mutare, a border town. Wildlife authorities want to shoot the elephants unless conservationists come up with the money to relocate the disturbed pachyderms. As Zimbabwe's economy and social structure melts down, humans are encroaching into areas reserved for wildlife in search of food, firewood and security just like the elephants. Tourism has collapsed, putting a severe strain on the country's conservation infrastructure. Mugabe has consistently blamed the West, particularly the United States, for his nation's self-inflicted penury and chaos. He recently referred to the senior U.S. diplomat for Africa, himself an African-American, as an "idiot". Mugabe called his predecessor a "prostitute", and the former American ambassador in Harare a "house negro". Scapegoating is a poor substitute for good government.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Health Care Legislation Update

Senator Ted Kennedy and his Senate HELP Committee passed it's version of health care reform legislation on a straight party line vote 13-10 reports AP. It is becoming increasingly clear that Democrats are wasting their time and effort trying to compromise with Repugnants who will not vote for increasing the size of health benefit programs which they see as a stop over on the road to a socialist state. They would rather continue the dysfunctional status quo than give 47 million fellow citizens the basic health coverage already enjoyed by Europeans and Asians. Americans would be best served by the majority party drafting the best legislation they can muster and using their parliamentary advantage to pass it. Repugnants will vote against it, and pay for their votes at the polls in 2010. On Tuesday House Democrats pledged to meet the President's request for legislation before the August break. The House passed legislation priced at $1.5 trillion yesterday that for the first time in the nation's history said health care is a right and responsibility for all Americans. Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) standing in for his chairman, said "This time we've produced legislation that by and large the American people want." Amen, Senator Dodd.

Rhinos Once Again Under the Gun

When US Person walked the dry bush veld of Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe counting the ill-tempered black rhinoceros {Diceros bicornis} in the early 90's, rhinos in Africa were making a slow come back from years of intensive poaching. Once again in this century rhinos are being slaughtered for their horn as a result of increased demand in Asia. The 15 year high in the number of poached animals threatens to set back decades of intensive effort to restore healthy populations of rhino. An estimated three rhinoceroses were killed illegally each month in all of Africa during 2000-05 out of population of 18,000. Now twelve are poached monthly in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone according to conservation groups WWF and International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) which reported at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) standing committee meeting in Geneva this month. There is growing evidence of an international criminal underground involving Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai nationals in the procurement and transportation of rhino horn out of Africa. Rhinoceros poaching is also on the rise in Asia itself. About ten have been poached in India and seven in Nepal out of a total population of 2,400. Almost all rhino species are on CITIES Appendix One which means any international trade in their parts is illegal.

Together with increased demand for purported medicinal horn, lack of effective protection for the animals is a major factor threatening their survival. The situation is particularly dire in Zimbabwe where civil strife has effectively melted down the judicial system. A park ranger was acquitted recently despite overwhelming evidence of his illegally killing three rhinos. In September of 2008 a gang of four admitted killing 18 rhinos, but were also let go.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Bigger than a Bread Box"

So now its official, the Regime spied on just about everyone, suspected terrorist or NOT {10/26/06}. As spymaster Michael Hayden [NYT photo, r] cryptically told Congress members, the President's surveillance program was "bigger than a bread box". Inspector generals of the nation's intelligence agencies have completed the report required by the 2008 FISA amendments and the news is shocking, if that emotion is still operative after eight years of an authoritarian government installed by a conservative supreme judiciary. The former chief executive directed that the considerable signals intelligence resources of the National Security Agency be used to detect and prevent acts of terror in the US. The agency previously had been prohibited from conducting domestic collection activity.
As the report pointed out in its conclusion, it was "inappropriate and extraordinary" that a single Department of Justice attorney, John Yoo {The Naked Yoo, 3.5.09}, was relied on to provide the initial analysis of the legality of the program without the oversight and review that is customarily the practice at DOJ. The result was a legal analysis "that at a minimum was factually flawed". DOJ's inspector general concluded Yoo's analysis was legally deficient to the extent that it presented a "serious impediment" to re-certifying the program. Nevertheless the collection effort became "unprecedented" in scope and went beyond the warrantless wiretapping authorized by the Charlatan. Those other programs are still secret[1]. The pregnant question Team 44 has been dodging since it took office, is what will 44 do about the rampant violation of our civil rights? Nothing less than criminal investigations and prosecutions are in order. But 44's only response so far as been to threaten a veto of legislation in the House intended to expand access to secret intelligence briefings.
[1] the latest revelation is 'Darth' Cheney ordered the CIA to keep the existence of a secret assassination program from Congress. If the story is substantiated, then Cheney could be prosecuted for yet another violation of federal law. How many apparent violations it will take before he is indicted remains to be seen.

Chart of the Week: Throwing Good Money After Bad

The government's financial rescue has shoveled billions of taxpayer money into the coffers of big banks that are still over exposed to derivate risks as the chart above shows. The re-inflation of the Street of Broken Dreams has allowed bankers to write off some bad debt while still maintaining security prices, thus masking the true seriousness of the economic downturn. Some economic analysts are expecting a "return to fear" in the market as the next wave of illogical ARMs--option ARMs--are scheduled to reset [chart below]. Bankers know this and are expecting another cascade of delinquencies and defaults, which may be good reason for hoarding government cash in their vaults. Banks will also need to refinance $1 trillion in commercial mortgage backed securities.
All of the extraordinary intervention has not removed the systemic risk of toxic derivatives from the financial system. The International Bank of Settlements recently issued a report warning of the peril of not removing the toxic assets from balance sheets: "The lack of progress threatens to prolong the crisis and delay recovery because a dysfunctional financial system reduces the ability of monetary and fiscal actions to stimulate economy." Testimony before the Senate Banking Committee characterized the trade in credit default swaps as akin to "betting on the temperature". To argue that mathematical models accurately price swaps is "a ridiculous deception that should be rejected by Congress and by regulators....CDS contracts and complex structured assets are deceptive by design..."[1] This negative prognosis is supported by the anecdotal evidence contained in the Federal Reserve's "Beige Book" a report on economic conditions in each of its twelve districts. The report says, "credit conditions remained stringent or tightened further...Districts reporting on non-financial services indicated that for the most part activity continued to decline." A key factor in the continued decline of economic activity on Main Street is that consumers are deleveraging for the first time in many years (130% of disposable income down from a decades high of 133% in 2007). The San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank noted this otherwise positive development is not good news for counteracting deflation since 70% of our GDP is based on consumption. Our most populous state, California, with an economy larger than Russia, China, Brazil, India or Canada ($1.8 trillion) is literally busted and issuing IOUs. Uncle Sugar has to find ways to give money to the real engine of the economy, the American consumer, because Wall Street fat cats are sure not going to spare a dime[2].
[1] Christopher Whalen co-founder of Institutional Risk Analytics
[2] read Matt Taibbi's expose on Goldman Sachs in Rolling Stone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Malawi Elephants Given New Home

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) spent £200,000 to move 83 elephants, an entire herd, away from a village in Malawi to a wildlife reserve. It is believed to be the largest deliberate relocation ever. The human inhabitants of Mangochi and the elephants had been engaged in a sort of war for years. Elephants were eating and trampling crops planted in their former range, while impoverished humans were killed trying to stop Earth's largest land mammal from destroying their meager property. Dozens of elephants are believed to have died in a series of violent attacks by humans. Twenty farmers were trampled to death. Many of the elephants evacuated suffered injuries: seven amputated trunks caused by snares, foot injuries from traps, gunshot wounds, and in one case, blindness in one eye from a gunshot. Three elephants were still ensnared when captured. The epic effort lasted a month as fourteen separate groups were rounded up, sedated, and moved with cranes and trucks to Majete Wildlife Reserve south of Lake Malawi. The move was done safely without further injury to the elephants. The project is an inspiring ethical example of how human-wildlife conflicts should be resolved. Humans, as the reputedly thinking animal, must use their capacity for empathy and their technology to aid other animals attempting to survive in a rapidly changing world they cannot control. Green Kudos to the government of Malawi for participating in the evacuation with IFAW.

[photo: an elephant marked "B1" is moved safely to new home, IFAW]

Friday, July 10, 2009

War of Words

It is hard to beat Hamas leaders when it comes to overblown rhetoric intended to infuriate the zealots in Israel. Hamas called Prime Minister Netanyahu's recognition of a two state solution "a freak offer" and said that it would never give up armed struggle against Israel. Netanyahu has returned service by telling the German foreign minister that the West Bank cannot be "Judenrein" a Nazi era expression meaning "Jew free". Pro-Zionist supporters in the US have provided a chorus by irresponsibly labeling the removal of illegal settlements in the West Bank "ethnic cleansing". Both sides have to stop using their rhetorical brickbats if any solution is to be reached based upon the accepted principle of two separate homelands for the Arabs and Jews in the Levant. Only then will the killing stop. Could it be that the current set of leaders are more interested in the miserable status quo than peace? The Jews are represented by a far-right Zionist coalition, and the Palestinians have a dysfunctional dyad of Hamas and Fatah as their representatives. But to paraphrase one of our less successful public servants--you go with the leaders you got.

'Toontime: Screws Loose

[credit: Jim Morin, Miami Herald]
Wackydoodle sez: Rhambo's gots a big driver if ya'll needin' it!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Cautionary Tale of Raphus cucullatus

This previously unknown 17th century drawing of the famous dodo bird of Mauritius is being auctioned by Christies of London. Drawn before the bird became extinct as a result of human predation and habitat eradication around 1700, it was the main predator on the Indian Ocean island until the introduction of bigger animals such as pigs and macaque monkeys. The word "Dronte" above the flightless bird was its old Dutch name. The vibrant drawing is expected to bring £6,000. However an expert on dodos at the British Museum of Natural History said the drawing is "not very good even by contemporary standards". No doubt a live dodo bird would be much more interesting a study.
[image: UK Daily Telegraph]

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Team 44 Ready to Sell Out Public Health Option

US Person believes some people got a little hot under their collars when he referred to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel as a "Chicago machine politician" some time back {Bellwether County, Colorado, 11/06/09}. Offered for your consideration: 44 had to call back home from his summit in Russia to quell progressive concerns about ditching the public option. The White House stealth lobbyist for business told reporters that Team 44 would be OK with a public health plan that only triggered in if private competition did not improve. The idea is similar to the one the Regime instituted with Medicare drug prescription plan in 2003. You know how well that benefit works. Since then private competition has been judged to be sufficient and the public drug option has never "triggered". According to a source quoted at Huff Post, Emanuel has been floating the "trigger" sell-out since January. Dr. Howard Dean says public option health insurance is needed to control costs because a public option that looks like Medicare--which has worked since its inception in 1965--"won't engage in the kinds of things that private insurance companies do...they don't pay extraordinary amounts of money for repeat procedures. They don't pay chief executives in seven, eight or nine figure range for their salaries. They don't have to advertise...a trigger mechanism is one version of what I call the fake public option"

The private health industry definitely sees the latest effort for health care reform as having a chance to succeed. More than 350 former government staff members and retired members of Congress have been hired to influence their former colleagues at a cost of $1.4 million a day. The amount of money being thrown into the fight is mind boggling even by the cynical standards of Washington, DC. Health care companies spent more than $126 million on lobbying in the first quarter, more than all other industries.In return for the largest the health industry gets access to key legislators. In a June 10th meeting with aides to Finance Chair Senator Baucus (D-MT), the industry lobbyists present included two former Baucus chiefs of staff, David Castagnetti whose clients are PhRMA and the insurance industry's lobby front, America's Health Insurance Plans, and Jeffrey A. Forbes who represents PhRMA, Amgen, Genetech, Merck and others. Also present was AMA lobbyist Richard Tarplin who worked for Senator Chris Dodd.

One bright spot in the morass that is Capitol Hill, is the offer by American hospitals to forego $155 billion in future Medicare and Medicaid payments to help pay for the cost of health care reform. Vice President Joe Biden announced the deal today. But the offer is tied to Senator Baucus' efforts to negotiate a bipartisan plan with the pols who say "no". The proposal to tax high end health insurance benefits provided by employers is meeting resistance among Democratic senators. Without the tax the prospects for a bipartisan deal seem remote.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The ABM Red Herring

The US and Russia are attempting to negotiate a follow-on treaty to START I that expires in December. Russia wants to see deep cuts in the number of warhead delivery systems currently allowed to offset the US advantage in bombers and missiles. The US appears to be willing to reduce the number of strategic warheads to around 1500 and delivery systems to around 500 to 1,000 from the present ceiling of 2200/1600. Greater reduction would require the US to destroy delivery systems which would present Team 44 with political problems from the nervous Nellies at home. A major hurdle to an agreement is the US insistence on a "missile defense shield" for Europe against an attack from the Middle East. It plans to build an unproven ABM system in Chez Republic and Poland {11/08/08}. The Russians see that plan as a provocation because in their view it dilutes nuclear deterrence--akin to the NATO dog scent marking its expanded sphere of influence. A secret study by a US physicist indicates the Russians may be correct in their evaluation. An anti-missile defense against a launch by Iran, the only Middle East antagonist remotely capable of a future attack against western Europe, would be much more effective based in Turkey and Romania instead of central Europe. The Russians have offered to allow the joint basing of an ABM radar array in Azerbaijan. Perhaps in the interest of progress in other areas with our strategic partners, the US should replace its negotiating fantasy[1] with the reality of close US-Russia cooperation.
[1] A group of experienced scientists and engineers urged 44 to apply the principle of restoring scientific integrity in government decision making to the European ABM system. The experts said in their letter, "This system has not been proven and does not merit deployment. It would offer little or no defensive capability, even in principle."
[photo: Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), Aviation Week ]

Colorado's Good News

The first lynx kittens in three years have been discovered by Colorado Division of Wildlife biologists. Seven males and three females in five separate dens on the western slope are good news for the re-introduction program which has struggled to establish a healthy population of the wild cats in Colorado. The species once flourished in the mountains, but by the early 1970s, lynxes had disappeared from the state. 218 lynxes from Alaska and Canada have been released, but biologists do not know how many have survived and bred successfully since many of the original telemetry collars have stopped working. Lynxes are specialist hunters that rely on snowshoe hares for their food, consequently declines in hare population have an immediate effect on lynx numbers. The den locations show that the cats are expanding their range, and are apparently finding sufficient food and habitat. Two of the litters were produced by native Colorado lynxes. 49 of the cats have active radio collars. That means the number of kittens found is probably a conservative number. Biologists are pleased with this year's survey results, and are hopeful that the program, paid for by the state lottery, will succeed in recreating a self-sustaining population of these beautiful and elusive cats.
[photo credit: AP]

Monday, July 06, 2009

Chart of the Week: Rich Getting Richer

The Second Great Depression has taken a small toll on the world's rich. The population of individuals with at least $1 million in investable assets fell by 14.9%. But as the bar chart shows the United States still has by far the most wealthy people. Fine art auction sales in the US are down $1 billion from 2007 and US sales of Lamborghinis dropped 21% last year.

For the rest of us the news is not so good. Job losses are nearly three times as much as the average downturn. Job losses mean fewer families that can afford to buy a home, more foreclosures, and more delinquencies all of which puts downward pressure on house sales. Its not hard to understand why Progressives are pressing conservative Demos to support social change. What is hard to understand is why 44, who ran on a reform platform, criticizes them for applying the pressure. To use his words, "It's not logical."

Friday, July 03, 2009

Make it a Green Fourth

Sure fireworks can be awesome, but given the deteriorating state of our planet, perhaps Americans should give thought to a more constructive activity during the celebration of our nation's Independence. Planting a tree is more than just a symbolic gesture that embodies hope--a small seedling growing into a giant able to withstand the storms to come and live for centuries. Trees absorb CO2 and produce oxygen. A natural process we need to offset the increasing amounts of CO2 industrialized humans dump into the atmosphere. One of the champion CO2 absorbers is the American chestnut tree. The chestnut was almost wiped out by an Asian fungus (cryphonectria parasitica) imported to this country at the beginning of the 20th century. Once a dominant species throughout the eastern United States the chestnut now lingers as a mere shrub growing in disturbed forest sites. The strong, rot resistant wood was prized for building cabins, floors and furniture. The nut was fed to hogs and cattle as well as humans who enjoyed roasting it during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays when it ripened. Efforts to hybridize the remaining chestnut trees with blight resistant Chinese chestnuts have produced a hybrid that is 94% American and resistant to blight. The tree is fast growing and massive. Chestnuts can reach 120 feet tall with a trunk as much as 17 feet in diameter. So it stores more carbon in its biomass than other species do. According to Purdue scientist Douglass Jacobs who has studied the hybrid chestnut, trees absorb about one-sixth of the CO2 produced in the world each year. Citizens, do something positive for America and the planet: plant a tree this Fourth of July.
[photo: a Tennessee family stand next to an old chestnut]

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Another Senselessly Cruel Death

AFG reports that another extremely endangered Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatrensis) died on Wednesday. The WWF says that the male calf was less than two years old and starved to death. The calf was still in need of his mother's milk, but she died recently from eating palm oil crops doused with insecticides. His death was the eighth death since since May. Five of the eight have died near or inside a forest concession owned by Rimba Peranap Indah. Three were killed for their tusks and four poisoned after eating palm oil plants treated with toxic chemicals. Eighty-three percent of its former habitat has been transformed into plantations. There are about 2,400 elephants in Indonesia and they are extremely threatened by human greed and persecution. This grizzly file photo from AP shows five wild elephants found poisoned to death near Mahato village in Riau Province in 2006.

Scoring Universal Health Care

Repugnants leaped on the Congressional Budget Office's initial cost estimate of $1.6 trillion over ten years for universal health care with glee, saying it was a deal killer, but the legislation scored by CBO did not include a government health insurance option or a mandate for employers to provide worker health insurance or pay a $750 fee for each full-time worker not covered. Now that Senator Kennedy's Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee has submitted a complete version of the bill, the CBO has priced it at $611.4 billion over ten years and estimated coverage at 97% of all Americans. That is less than the Pentagon's single fiscal year 2009 request for $766.5 billion*. The vast estimate improvement has prompted even the AMA to reverse course on opposing a public/private system, calling it "the American model". Rhetoric aside, progressives will have to get the legislation past the obstructionists who almost certainly will try to filibuster any solution with a "socialist" element. AP obtained a copy of a letter containing the new cost estimate Senators Kennedy and Dodd circulated to other members of the Committee.
*estimate provided by respected veteran journalist Chalmers Johnson. According to Johnson official figures are notoriously unreliable. 30-40% of the Puzzle Palace's budget is "black" or secret. DOD has yet to comply with the Federal Fiscal Management Improvement Act that required all federal agencies to hire outside auditors. The US outspends its nearest military rivals, China and Russia by a factor of 10, or more than the entire world combined ($600 billion out of $1.1 trillion, 2004 estimate). "Military Keynesianism" as Johnson calls it, was enshrined in the National Security Council's Report 68 drafted in 1950 and basically followed to this day. The report concluded, "...the American economy, when it operates at a level approaching full efficiency, can provide enormous resources for purposes other than civilian consumption while simultaneously providing a high standard of living." We are slowly finding out that Cold War ideological notion is not true in the long term.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Enviros 0 For 5 at SCOTUS

The pro-business legacy of the 'Bushed' Supreme Court is beginning to reveal itself. The Roberts Court has handed five losses to environmental advocates in five cases before the justices this term. In the past nine court terms, environmentalists have never been shutout. All of the losses were on appeals brought up by business interests after being ruled against in lower courts. Some court watchers are left wondering if the Court is signaling a right turn on environmental causes, or just expressing its displeasure with the Ninth Circuit. The NYT opines, "the court appears poised to move to the right in the Obama era". It is also suggested that business is winning because it uses appellate lawyers who are very familiar to the justices and who are expert in tailoring the cases presented to them, such as former Solicitor General Theodore Olson. Washington is definitely a company town.

Although none of the case could be construed a "landmark" some of them do contain significant implications for future environmental law enforcement in what one scholar called a "chipping away at the foundations" of environmental protection. Four of the five cases came from the Ninth Circuit, generally considered the most environmentally friendly:
  • Entergy Corp v. Riverkeeper The Court ruled 6-3 that electric utilities may use cost-benefit analysis in regulating water cooling intake structures under the Clean Water Act;
  • Coeur Alaska v. Southeast Alaska Conservation The Court ruled 6-3 that the Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to issue permits for dumping and dredging into a lake with satisfying pollution limits set by the EPA;
  • Burlington Northern Railway v. US The Court ruled 8-1 that the Superfund law does not require joint and several liability in every clean up cost recovery but permits apportionment;
  • Winter v. NRDC In a 6-3 decision the Court lifted an injunction against the Navy's use of sonar near marine mammals;
  • Summers v. Earth Island Institute The Court decided 5-4 that environmental organizations lacked standing to challenge the exemption of salvage timber sales from notice and public comment process.