Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Left Does It Better

Once again Washington politicians are behind the curve, following and not leading. Senator Kerry told progressive activists to be like the Tea Partiers and get angry about climate change. He cannot be reading the reports coming from Coal River Mountain, West Virginia were activists have succeeded in stopping the demolition of Coal Mountain by Massey Energy for seven straight days. They have endured intimidation by Massey employees as well as the elements: flood lights shinning in their eyes at night and air horns blasting them 24/7. Supporters of the non-violent civil disobedience have called West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin to end the harassment before it escalates into violence. You can support the people like Eric Blevins who are putting their bodies on the line by going to the Climate Ground Zero website.

[photo credit: Eric Blevens stopping mountain top mining; Climate Ground Zero]

Friday, January 29, 2010

'Toontime: Money Talks

Thursday's decision from the Supremes, (Citizens United v. FEC), on "free speech" culminates a century of precedent {8.29.09} guaranteeing the dominance of the Money Power in our political process.  The conservatives on the court threw out decades of rules preventing corporations from influencing political campaigns by direct spending. This reactionary judicial activism caused Senator McCain (R-AZ), co-author of campaign contribution reform legislation known as the McCain-Feingold bill, to declare federal campaign finance legislation "dead". Perhaps American democracy is too, as we inch ever closer to a fascist police state.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Watch this One!

From Firedoglake:

Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) thankfully still believes in the American system of government. His Progressive Caucus stood up against the Pharma lobby and made Joe's Senate antics irrelevant. Now is the time to pass real reform on a majority vote. We may have lost one race, but we still have the votes to pass a plan that will force the industry to compete fairly for our health care dollars. Contact a member of the Caucus and say thanks for listening to the people in Massachusetts who knew better and the rest of the nation that wants real reform.

Forty-four & the Status Quo II

Conservationists, including your truly, spent the eight years of the Regime fighting its assault on the environment. We saw the Obamanon as a welcome relief from the constant struggle to maintain the existing legal framework protecting wildlife and wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We are now sadly disabused of that notion. Forty-four has approved Shell Oil Company to begin exploratory drilling off the coast of the Refuge. A spill offshore will be just as destructive to living things as one on the tundra. Government officials admit that an oil spill is inevitable if full-scale production ever begins off the coast. The Refuge is the main location for Alaskan polar bears to make their birthing dens. It is the home of whales, seals, walruses and caribou to name a few of the larger inhabitants. The industry has no method for cleaning up crude oil in ice cold water. If a bear's fur is covered with oil when swimming in the spill, the bear loses vital insulation and dies. If the bear consumes oil by licking its fur or eating contaminated meat, the toxins in the oil kill the bear. Cubs are especially vulnerable to toxins. A spill would also kill thousands of sea birds, seals, fish and whales. It would be an unmitigated ecological disaster that would last for generations. Shell Oil's plans must be defeated by taking them to court and enforcing the existing environmental rules protecting priceless natural heritage such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Help NRDC fight the good fight when our politicians prove inadequate.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chart of the Week: Leading Poverty Indicator

Food stamp usage has increased by about 10 million people in two years. The program now feeds 1 in 8 Americans and 1 in 4 American children. See this interactive chart that shows food stamp usage by county:

A recent study by a Washington University professor found that half of Americans receive food stamps, at least briefly, by the time they turn 20. Among black children, the figure was 90%. Obviously, the solution to this shocking amount of hunger is to send all those using food stamps to South Carolina where Lt. Gov.Andre Bauer(R) would have them sterilized.

Kill Them One More Time

It is an insidious maneuver that plagues politics at all levels: achieve a precedent so you can more easily repeat the bad policy later. So it is with the sale of elephant ivory confiscated from the illegal trade. Robert Mugabe was able to convince CITIES to allow Zimbabwe and three other south African nations with substantial elephant populations to allow a "one-time" sale of 50 tons of confiscated ivory in 1997. That was seven years after the banning of ivory sales worldwide. When the ban came into effect poaching levels across Africa dropped, and the crash of elephant populations halted (1.3 million individuals down to 625,000 in the decade of the 80s).  After the "one-time" sale in 1997, poaching levels rose, undoubtably stimulated by new demand for ivory.  In 2007-08 CITIES repeated the mistake and allowed another "one-time" sale of 100 tons.  To make matters worse, China was made an official ivory buyer, despite its terrible record of enforcing the ivory ban. In Kenya the number of elephants killed by poachers rose from 47 in 2007 to 98 in 2008 and 214 in 2009.  According to the Independent, at least 15 tons of tusks and pieces, equal to 1,500 elephants, were seized en route to Asia last year.

Now Tanzania and Zambia want to their turn to sell official stockpiles of ivory.  Their application will be voted on at the next meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in March.  Conservationist fear this sale could be the death knell of the African elephant.  Loosing habitat at a fantastic rate, and under extreme pressure from poaching, the large herbivores may disappear from the wild.  Allowing another "one-time" sale is simply bad conservation even if it appears unfair to the applicants.  Other African countries led by Kenya and Mali oppose more sales.  The concession to Robert Mugabe  should never have been allowed. It is now clear the official sales stimulate more demand for ivory.  There is no justification for repeating the mistake.  Are the ultimate sacrifices of dedicated rangers (100 a year die fighting poaching) trying to protect their heritage wildlife to be rendered meaningless?  We in the industrialized world have a moral obligation to protect what remains of the world's natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.  Urge Secretary of State Clinton to vote against more sales of ivory stockpiles.

[photo: Namib desert bull, US Person] 

Monday, January 25, 2010

Saving A Natural Gem

If US Person could scuba dive only one lake in the world, it would probably be Lake Niassa between Malawi and Mozambique. Known for its diversity of cichlids, it is a natural aquarium of beautiful fish.  Once connected to the sea, the clear waters of the lake are home to over 1,000 species of fish, 95% of which are unique to Lake Niassa.  But like most ecosystems, it is being adversely impacted by man.  Mosquito netting donated to villagers for malaria prevention is being used to catch fish. The netting is very fine so it removes even the tiniest fish and eggs, destroying fish life cycles. When the netting is used for seining from the beach, the long nets are dragged across the lake bottom, destroying algae that forms the basis for the lake's food chain. Catches declined as did fish size. In response to a potential disaster, local fishermen have formed fishing councils to ban the use of mosquito netting for fishing and promote sustainable fishing techniques. Now the government of Mozambique is preparing to announce the establishment of the Lake Niassa Reserve, one of the largest fresh water protected areas in Africa. The World Wildlife Fund worked with community organizations and the national government to bring about this conservation success story. As one fisherman said, "but now it's like magic has happened: we catch fish big enough for ourselves and to sell in big markets." Help WWF create more "magic" in the world by supporting the preservation of wildlife and wild places around the world.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Creature Feature: The Storybook Wolf

The shot looked like something right out of "Little Red Riding Hood" or maybe "The Three Little Piggies".  The winner of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year award, Jose Luis Rodriguez was stripped of his title after the judging panel reconvened in response to disquiet about his image.  It looked to US Person too good to be true, or captured in a camera trap with extreme good luck allowing for a perfect exposure.  The judges decided the wolf is a model animal.  Models are not allowed under the rules. No new winner will be announced as the photographers and the details of their images are now known, making an impartial selection impossible.  Mr. Rodriguez denies using a model wolf.  Still, its a striking image even if Lobo brings it on cue.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Year of the Tiger

It is the year of the Tiger on the Chinese calendar.  This new year finds the tiger in tough shape.  There may be as few as 3,200 individuals still living in tiger range.  Dr. Eric Dinerstein of the World Wildlife Fund is still optimistic about the future of Panthera tigris in the wild.  According to Dr. Dinerstein there is about 425,000 square miles of tiger habitat remaining in the world, enough to support 20,000 to 30,000 wild tigers.  WWF and its partners have successfully brought back other species from the edge of extinction.  At the turn of the last century there were only 100 southern white rhino clinging to survival in a reserve.  Now because of conservationists' direct intervention more than 17,000 live in the wild, albeit still under threat from ivory poachers.  Tigers breed much more robustly than white rhinos.  Developing countries in tiger range must consider the needs of their remaining tigers when making plans for human infrastructure.  Poaching is one of the greatest threats facing wild tigers.  Education and law enforcement in the field are the two best ways to counter this threat to the tiger's existence.  There are around 5,000 captive tigers in the United States.  Allowing captive tiger parts to reach the black market also poses a threat to wild populations because the supply stimulates further consumer demand, leading to more poaching in the wild.  You can help protect the wild tiger by asking our government to close loopholes in protected species regulations, and prevent the use of captive tiger products.  Take action and go to

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Polluters' End Run

Pay for play politics has the upper hand in Washington.  Democrats are reeling from the defeat in Massachusetts, so conservatives and their corporate sponsors are taking advantage and moving to gut the Clean Air Act {04.02.07}.  Since the debacle of the Copenhagen climate conference, the EPA's rule making concerning greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant that endangers public health, is the best hope for doing something to curb global warming.  Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is fronting for a bill written by the coal lobby that curtails the EPA's authority to regulate carbon dioxide.  The two lobbyists involved are former members of the Regime that overturned a Clinton era rule to regulate CO2.  Jeffery Holmstead now works for the law firm of Bracewell & Gulliani as a registered lobbyist.  He has lobbied for Arch Coal and Duke Energy, an electrical utility company.  Roger Martella is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP.  Martella has lobbied for the National Alliance of Forest Owners.   Murkowski received $389,313 in political contributions from the electrical utilities industry, while the oil and gas industry has donated $365,813 to her campaign fund.  Holmstead also represents the Southern Co. which owns three power plants that topped the list of U.S. coal fired sources of carbon dioxide.  The nexus is there for any person--not just an alleged "doctrinaire Marxist"-- to see. Fight back against this gentile form of bribery by calling their representatives and demand that Murkowski's amendment be defeated.

Who is Alan Frumin?

He is the Senate parliamentarian. Martha Coakley lost Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, so his role in the Senate may become critically important to passing a health care bill. The unsurprising* loss in Massachusetts ends the Democrats' feeble sixty Senate seat majority, but it also makes Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman's votes thankfully irrelevant. Democrats will now be forced to either try to pass a bill over a filibuster before the Republican is seated or use the reconciliation process to pass the House bill which would only require 51 votes. The House is rightfully objecting to passing the Senate's bill because frankly its plan is better.  President Clinton wanted to use reconciliation to pass his 1993 health care plan, but Senator Byrd objected.  In 1996 Republicans created a precedent to apply reconciliation to any legislation affecting the budget, even if it would increase the deficit.  They used reconciliation to pass tax cuts, oil drilling, and trade authority among other things.  This route is less fraught with failure, and would give progressives a chance to resurrect the public option contained in the House bill. Washington wonks say reconciliation is not appropriate because important provisions like the national insurance exchange could be declared out of order since, in their narrow rule interpretation, the exchange is not budget related. But the key to this impasse is that parliamentary order is maintained by the presiding chair. Whoever is in the chair at the critical moment, and I have to assume it would either be the Vice-President or the Majority Leader, would rule on the issue, advised by Mr. Frumin and his staff sitting on the dais.  Sixty votes are then required to overturn the presiding officer's ruling.  Saving lives is worth some liberal rule interpretation, ancient Byrd's insistence on procedural purity notwithstanding.

*Coakley ran a pitiful campaign.  She was willing to rest on the laurels of Ted Kennedy's forty-seven years in office. The defeat can be seen as a rebuke of Obama caused by his repeated disappointment of the party's progressive base, or alienation of the state's largest voting block: independents. Whether her defeat is a referendum on health care legislation is not so clear, since Massachusetts essentially has the scheme being proposed for the nation.  But it may be indicative of dissatisfaction with the pending proposal.  Massachusetts' plan requires residents to buy coverage and the plan does not have a public option.  Health care costs have escalated in the state despite the 'reformed' system.  Given the new state of play, it may be easier simply to extend Medicare coverage through the reconciliation process, and make critical changes in the regulation of private health insurance.  Near universal coverage will have to wait yet another Democratic administration.  Giving up is not a solution as Ted Kennedy said, "Hope still lives..."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wolves Are Being Slaughtered Again

NRDC tells us the death toll of grey wolves in the Rockies is mounting steadily.  Conservationists were unable to convince former rancher and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to end the wolf slaughter authorized by the previous regime. {3.20.08}  Litigation in federal court to stop Montana and Idaho's radical hunting program has so far been unsuccessful. Nearly 200 wolves have been killed by hunters in the two months open season was declared.  Another 130 have been killed by government hunters since last spring when Salazar approved removing the grey wolf from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  From the beginning the first hunting seasons in modern times has gone wrong.  Montana implemented the hunt to reduce predation of livestock, but the state permitted hunting in back country areas before opening front range areas resulting in the deaths of animals posing no threat to livestock.  Members of Yellowstone Park's Cottonwood Creek pack were killed when they wandered beyond park boundaries, as well as collared animals being studied by wildlife biologists.  After a public outcry, Montana closed off some areas around the Park to wolf hunting. But the entire hunting program with its ridiculously high quotas demonstrates the dysfunctional relationship some western landowners have with the predator.  These influential special interests are determined to eradicate the species once and for all.  By the time conservationists convince a federal court to return the wolves endangered listing, 40% of the wolf population in these two states could be gone.  Help NRDC fight for the grey wolf by donating financial support.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chart of the Week: "Too Big To Fail" Is Failure

The economic crisis is unparalleled since the Great Depression, and US Person is not alone in referring to it as "the Second Great Depression". There is now a consensus that the crisis was precipitated by a combination of easy credit, lax government regulation, and the explosive growth of finance capitalism.  The chart above shows the disproportionate growth in wealth of the fianancial sector compared to manufacturing and households in our economy.  As the hearings in the House of Representatives will hopefully demonstrate, the nation is in the grip of the Money Power as embodied by Wall Street financial institutions as never before in our history. The very fact that national government leaders felt compelled to give unprecedented financial aid to private speculators largely responsible for destablizing excesses, tells us that the current system has failed {11.28.09}. It has failed because the system compensates bankers to take inapproriate risk to generate short term profit.  This fact is reflected in the growth of Wall Street bonuses compared to the stagnated income of ordinary Americans:

The tax proposed by President Obama to recover the cost of bailing out 'the masters of the universe' is a good beginning to reforming the financial system, but the entire concept of a financial institution being "too big to fail" is warped.  No individual insolvent institution should be so large that its failure endangers the entire banking system.  The banking system should be decentralized, and banks should be run in a manner to meet the credit needs of the public, not the profit motives of the super rich.  A humble example of what can be achieved by a  publicly owned state bank can be seen in North Dakota.

While larger more populous states like California and Michigan are teetering at the edge of default, North Dakota is declaring a surplus so large that taxpayers will average $650 savings in 2009 taxes.  And they are not cutting services to the bone just for a tax refund.  At the center of this unusual economic strength is the only state-owned bank, the bank of North Dakota.  Established in 1919, the waning era of populous agrarian revolt, the bank has since been a credit machine promoting agriculture, commerce and industry for the state.  North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.1%.  BND acts as a 100% publicly owned central bank, unlike the Federal Reserve which is owned by  private banks that make up its membership. Local banks do the most lending, so BND acts a secondary market for local bank loans.  Its residential loan portfolio is over $500 billion in a state with a population of only 700,000.  BND avoided the credit crisis when secondary markets for loans collapsed in 2007 through prudent management. To be sure, there are no eight digit bonuses paid to BND executives. The bank earns a health 25% return on equity without speculating with complex, high-risk derivatives. When the state failed to meet its budget a few years ago BND stepped with financing for the shortfall.  California has no such state institution to help it meet an $20 billion budget shortfall, and must ask an unsympathetic federal government to give it $7bn in aid.

US Person can hear the perspicacious say, "we had this argument before, and Andy Jackson lost".  But it is equally obvious the Federal Reserve has been captured by the Money Power. The central bank's primary purpose of regulating the supply of money has been overshadowed by it becoming a hand maiden to the highly leverage international banking system{11.09.09}.  A return to a decentralized state banking system would not present the problems of multiple currency issue that it did in the 19th centrury. Greenback issue and monetary policy would remain the function of a smaller, transparent Federal Reserve Bank under joint congressional supervison pursuant to Congress' constitutional powers over currency.  Obama cannot stop with just a tax, no matter how satisfying the concept may be to exploited taxpayers.  The 'masters' must once again be made the servants of the people.

Friday, January 15, 2010

In the Back Rooms of Washington

When it comes down to hard negotiating over major policy, official Washington retreats behind close doors, open government rhetoric be damned.  So it is with the "change" administration and its efforts to reach one-party consensus on the health bill.  US Person will not dignify the pending proposals with the term "reform" because there is precious little reform in the Senate bill and only a modicum more in the House proposal.  The real reform so desperately needed is a method to control escalating medical care costs in this country.  The House bill attempts some cost control by providing competition from a non-profit government insurance plan.  But as we have seen this idea is too effective for the revanchists that represent the insurance industry in the Senate.  The Senate is only willing to allow some pilot cost control programs as a sop to progressives who saw their public option axed by Joe Lieberman and his ilk.  As Republican leader Mitch McConnell rightly observed, "this bill doesn't even meet the basic goal that the American people had in mind and what they thought this debate was all about: to lower costs."  The complaint may be disingenuous coming from an obstructionist like McConnell, but it is accurate.  The Congressional Budget Office agrees the Senate bill makes no significant long-term cost reductions.

Health care cost are strangling our economy: eighteen cents of every dollar an American earns goes to health care.  Between 1999 and 2009 the average annual premium for an employer provided plan rose from $5,800 to $13,400.  The average cost for a Medicare recipient went from $5,500 to $11,900.  Our system costs so much not because of superior quality--Europe does it better for less--but because our so-called system is fragmented, disorganized, inconsistent and profit oriented.  At the current rate of increase, the cost of family insurance will reach $27,000 or more in a decade.  Business will see the share of their labor costs devoted to providing insurance rise to 17%.  Medicare will be bankrupt in eight years.[1]  Not only will Americans be unable to afford health insurance, the current broken system will bring the national economy to its knees.

Senate bill supporters point to the excise tax on high cost health plans favored by Forty-four as a cost control measure.  The reasoning is that if expensive plans  are taxed, businesses will not offer them and consumers will not take advantage of generous benefits.  The reasoning is specious.  The 40% excise tax will affect insurers and large self-insured employers who will then past on the costs to employees.  By 2019 the tax would affect one-fifth of households making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year--the working middle class--according to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.  Studies show that expensive plans do not always have generous benefits, either.  High premiums are associated with older workers, smaller employers, and women. Where a worker lives also makes a difference in premiums.  A twenty thousand dollar policy in Miami costs only fifteen thousand in Phoenix. The difference has nothing to do with overly generous benefits, but is a function of prices and medical practices in each market[2]. So the bottom line is that the only practical solution offered by Congress in either bill--non-profit competition for the private profit insurance business--has been defeated by the insurance lobby, and once again Americans will be left to pay the mounting bills.

[1] "Testing, Testing", New Yorker Magazine 12.14.09
[2]Bill Salganik,Counterpunch 01.14.10  Unions managed to cut a deal with Forty-four in private meetings at the White House to exempt their contracts from the excise tax for five years.  Of course the political concession to unionized labor only makes the tax even more unfair.

'Toontime: Mirror, Mirror of TV....

[credit: Tom Toles, The Washington Post]

The latest kiss and tell book roiling Washington, Game Change, which exposed the atavistic race attitudes of Senator Harry Reid, also has some unkind things to say about Ms. Palin's emotional stability, not to mention her faulty grasp of world affairs.  Apparently while campaigning for the vice presidency, the former Governor of Alaska and beauty queen, experienced wild mood swings and moments of complete withdrawal.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Black Rhinos Still Dying for Horn

The chaos that has become Zimbabwe continues unabated, and wildlife as well as humans are paying the price. Liberation war veterans, staunch supporters of freedom fighter turned dictator, Robert Mugabe, are now turning to rhino poaching as a means of making money. Veterans settled in Chiredzi District are poaching rhinos in a game reserve and selling the horn to South African dealers, according to informed sources at nearby communities.  The rhinos are being poisoned with tainted cabbages left at watering holes. The poachers track the dying animals until they drop dead, and then remove the horn. A community spokesman said the water holes are also affected, and the poisoning is killing their cattle. The lawlessness has undermining decades of painstaking effort to increase rhino numbers in Zimbabwe. An estimated 200 rhinoceros have been killed in the last three years. Authorities believe the horn is going to South African middlemen who ship the illegal ivory to East Asia, notably South Vietnam and China where it is used in traditional medicine as a Viagra-like drug. Yemen was once a major market for horn because the handles of ceremonial daggers (jambiya) carried by men traditionally were made of horn. A religious fatwa  issued by the grand mufti said the killing of rhinos is against the will of Allah.  Today's jambiya handles are made from water buffalo horn, camel nails or plastic. Conservation experts no longer see Yemen as a factor in the illegal trade. Despite the decline in the Yemeni market, the illegal trade has hit a fifteen year high which means more than 3100 kgs of illegal horn have reached Asian markets from 2006 to 2009.  The poachers operate in armed gangs and are willing to shoot people trying to protect the animals. When poachers are captured, they routinely escape punishment. In September 2008 a gang of four Zimbabwean poachers who admitted killing 18 rhinos were freed by a corrupt judiciary. Senior Mugabe officials have been implicated in the resurgence of rhino poaching according to the Environment Minister, Francis Nhema.  89% of illegally killed rhino come from Zimbabwe.  Other rhino countries have population increases, but in Zimbabwe the population is declining. The country has the world's fourth largest population of critically endangered black rhino (Diceros bicornis) but not for long if the criminal gangs are not stopped soon.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Budget? What Budget?

Increasing budget deficits and the ballooning national debt--the limit was recently  temporarily increased by $290 billion--are the topics du jour for the chattering classes[1].  But when it comes to the Pentagon budget, the natterers fall silent.  Forty-four requested a record $708 billion for defense purposes, a staggering sum that dwarfs comparable spending by other industrialized countries.  The figure does not include $33 billion for the small wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The reality 'out of bounds' for the ruling elites over cocktails at the White House is that America is a military empire whose economy is dominated by a policy of military Keynesianism. {The Road to Weimar 12.31.06}The term was coined by economist Micha Kalecki to explain the rise of Germany from the depths of the Great Depression. Our country has been in a permanent state of military mobilization since the end of World War II. To take just one example of how military spending drives the US economy consider this fact. Depending on who is doing the estimating the United States since 1983 has spent between $92.5 billion and $130 billion trying to figure out a way to shoot down ICBMs in flight, without success[2]. No one knows for sure how much has been spent--not even members of Congress--because most of the spending is classified. The success of a military program is really beside the point now. Spending by the military-industrial complex is routinely pitched to Congress by Pentagon lobbyists as a jobs program. When the current administration decided to end the procurement of unnecessary F-22 Raptors[3], protests were raised about the relatively few numbers of jobs that would be lost at Lockheed-Martin. Without a doubt the Pentagon budget is a cash cow for corporations, lobbyists, Congressmen and military officers. As President Eisenhower warned when he retired from political office, the military has become a dominant part of the nation's economic life. We are still paying off interest on debt incurred to fight World War I! And they wonder how to pay for a national health insurance program.

[1]The bond raters, Fitch, have issued a caution: "Difficult decisions will have to be made regarding spending and tax to underpin market confidence in the long-run sustainability of public finances. In the absence of measures to reduce the budget deficit over the next three to five years, government indebtedness will approach levels by the latter half of the decade that will bring pressure to bear on the US's 'AAA' status"
[2]  Besides the inherent physical difficulty of destroying a warhead moving faster than a speeding bullet, modern ICBMs employ a range of defensive devices intended to defeat anti-missile defense systems.  A prime example is the mobile TOPOL-M.  This Russian missle features high speed solid rocket boosters, hardening against laser and radiation attack, mid-course maneuverability, three MIRV warheads and four sophisticated decoys. Hit that, Uncle!   Even a rogue state could launch a missile swarm that could allow one ICBM with a warhead to evade an anti-missle battery. 
[3] In response to the United States continued development of high tech war birds like the F-35 Lightning II, Russia is developing a fifth-generation stealthy fighter in full partnership with India,  designated the Sukhoi T-50 PAK FA.First flight is scheduled for 2010 with mass production in 2013-15 [image].

Monday, January 11, 2010

Chart of the Week: The Great Consumer Deleveraging

US Person showed you in the last Chart of the Week posted on Saturday, that the decade of the 2000s was a bust from the standpoint of civilian employment among other things.  When consumers are not employed two things happen:  the government collects less tax revenue, and consumers stop discretionary spending which in our leveraged economy means using less credit.  The following charts from Martket Ticker clearly show de-leveraging is taking place and is far from over:

The first chart is a historical perspective. Growth in the amount of consumer debt since 1960 has always been positive except for a brief dip below zero in the early 90's. Prior to now, consumer credit has never contracted below -2%.

This chart shows the growth in consumer credit peaked in 2007 and is contracting especially for credit card debt (revolving) which is accelerating and approaching -10%. Consumer credit has contracted for a record ten months in a row.  But the amount of de-leveraging (4.5%) has a long way to go in absolute terms as shown in the final graph.  How you can create economic expansion without consumer spending is a trick that would interest even Ben 'Bubbles' Bernanke*.

*Two of the economists Bernanke cites for his denial that a low central bank rate [the real rate was actually negative for 40% of the relevant period] contributed to the housing bubble—Frank Smets, director of research at the European Central Bank, and his colleague Marek Jarocinski—reported in the July/August issue of the St. Louis Fed Review that "monetary policy has significant effects on housing investment and house prices and that easy monetary policy designed to stave off perceived risks of deflation in 2002-04 has contributed to the boom in the housing market in 2004 and 2005."  See Prof. Taylor's critique of the Fed Chairman's January 3rd speech in the online  Wall Street Journal.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Chart of the Week: The Decade of No More Jobs

December figures show 85,000 fewer jobs in the US non-farm economy.  What is even more noteworthy is the first decade of the new millennium had fewer jobs created than any previous decade going back to World War II.  Growth in the number of jobs per decade has been from 20 to 38%, whereas the decade just concluded shows essentially no growth despite a 10% increase in population and significant increase in wealth among the top American socio-econmic strata.

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Battle to Defend Whales Intensifies

Update:  The Ady Gil has sunk while being towed by the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker.  Tow lines snapped from the weight of accumulated sea water in the heavily damaged Ady Gil.  The Shonan Maru #2 rammed the composite fiber vessel taking off eight feet of the bow.  The Ady Gil, a former ocean racer, was  seen as an escalation of the conflict since the eco-warriors intended to use its high speed capabilities to interfere with fast Japanese harpoon vessels.  But the Bob Barker, named after a US television game show host and animal welfare activist, is even more of a surprise in the Southern Ocean.  The refitted and ice reinforced Norwegian whaler was purchased quietly, and managed to depart from Mauritius to join the Sea Shepherd fleet unnoticed by the Japanese until now.  The Ady Gil is said to have been worth $2 million.  A video taken from the Bob Barker shows the Shonan Maru #2 altering course to ram the smaller ship.  Salvage is unlikely.

The Sea Shepherd's sleek trimaran, Ady Gil, {10.19.09}was involved in a collision with a Japanese whaling ship as the confrontation between whalers and eco-warriors in the Southern Ocean continues to heat up. None of the crew was seriously injured, but the Ady Gil suffered heavy damage to its hull as shown in this AP video:

'Toontime: PNG's Equal Time Doctrine

[credit: Don Wright, Tribune Media Services]
Wackydoodle axes: "What's the 'ole boy say 'bout delusion?"
Sixty million tourists cannot be wrong.  That is how many have decided it is not worth visiting America, the befuddled, since the attacks on September 11, 2001.  The only "systemic failure" worth talking about are foreign policies that create enemies and alienate friends faster than our imperial bureaucracy can react.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Democracy Found Alive in Iceland

Only in a literate constitutional nation of 317,000 could this happen.  Twenty-three percent of Icelanders have told their fraudulent banksters to go screw themselves by signing a petition asking their president Olafur R. Grimsson to not sign a law passed by parliament.  The law imposed "draconian" terms for paying back the money Dutch and British citizens lost in the Icesave scheme.  But under the Icelandic constitution, citizens can demand that their president submit legislation to a referendum before it is passed into law.  Activists say about 70% of the populace is against making restitution on behalf of bankrupt private banks, Landsbanki and Kaupthing.  However, recent polls may show voter resolve fading, perhaps because of the negative reaction from the rest of Europe. Iceland is negotiating a $2.5 billion bailout with Nordic countries, but the deal is contingent on the passage of the Icesave bill.  Apparently so is Iceland's EU membership application. British and Dutch finance ministers are grinding their teeth over the taxpayer revolt. The British minister of finance said a no vote would be tantamount to saying Iceland did not want to be included in the global finance system. British PM Gordon Brown used his nation's terrorism laws to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain when the banks collapsed; a move which irritated many Icelanders.  Fitch Ratings has downgraded Iceland's bonds to "junk" status.  Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir's office said the referendum vote will take place in late February, and any remaining bank assets currently valued at ₤2.35bn would be part of the ₤3.4bn debt repayment package.

[photo credit: protestors outside the Althing, Halldor Kolbeinsson]

Five Things Wrong With the Senate Health Bill

More:  Forty-four is so desperate to pass any health care legislation that he is willing to alienate the base of his own party to get the Senate's weak version past the obstructionists and corporate lackeys in Congress.  He wants the remaining progressive feature of the House bill--taxation of the wealthy to help pay for wider insurance coverage--removed in favor of the Senate's taxation of expensive health care policies.  Unions naturally oppose this move because they fought long and hard to give their members in dangerous jobs generous benefits.  The House wants to increase income taxes on individuals making more than $500,000 over ten years.  Most analysts say that a tax on high price plans ($8500 for individuals) will be passed on to consumers who now face a federal mandate to buy health insurance.  Any pretense Obama indulged as a liberal legislator determined to change how Washington works is now officially history.  As one popular commentator crudely put it, "Obama be pimpin'" Denied the public option by the President's unwillingness to squeeze industry sponsored agents in Congress, despite campaign promises to provide a public option in the  insurance exchanges, progressive House members now need to draw a line in the sand and remind Forty-four he also promised not to increase taxes for the middle class.  He cannot be re-elected without their votes for a fair health care bill.  The Wall Street casino knows where Forty-four stands:  the S&P Health Care Sector has gained 32 points since late February 2009.

Update: Need more proof that Washington politicians do not give a flying fig about what the American people want? Progressive legislators were looking to the conference committee as a means of strengthening the Senate's business friendly bill, and perhaps even reinserting some form of public option. But no, says Harry Waxman, chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee. There will be no formal conference committee reconciliation process. Instead a manager's amendment in the Senate will be allowed that incorporates changes agreed upon with House leadership and the White House. Rep. Waxman's (D-CA) suggestion that more regulation can take the place of a robust non-profit alternative is simply hog wash. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already sending semaphore that the public option is dead. But she may ask 'pretty please' to end the anti-trust exemption. Since when is the Justice Department interested in anti-trust prosecutions? So much for reform. What America will end up with is a sweetheart deal labled "health care reform" that only insures the conduit of corporate campaign contributions will continue to flow to Capitol Hill.  You too could get a health bill passed if you spent $600 million lobbying legislators.

{First post 12.31.09} Real reform being killed by craven, venial pols manipulating anachronistic rules of a corrupted institution is not an easy thing to watch, but that revolting spectacle aside, here for the sake of argument are five things wrong with the Senate bill which House conferees should concentrate on correcting or at least minimizing during negotiations:
  • demand in return for the purchase mandate a public health insurance option, preferably by extending Medicare which would be cheaper in the long run than creating a new program. No public plan means there is no economic lever to force insurance companies and care providers to limit their greed, and forces citizens to further enrich them;
  • both bills require Americans to buy health insurance without making it truly affordable for low income people. The Senate cuts off Medicaid eligibility at an income of only $14, 404 which is unrealistic;
  • taxing working Americans with generous health benefit packages is an unfair allocation of the burden of covering the uninsured. A small tax surcharge on the wealthiest (>$1 million of income) is a fairer system of taxation;
  • ending the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies that is responsible for their dysfunctional market behavior. Regulation of a single national health insurance exchange should be accomplished at the federal level and not left to state governments which are already experiencing budget shortfalls;
  • too many Americans are left uninsured by both bills. The House bill covers about 5 million more people than the Senate version.
Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson should suffer the political consequences of denying Americans the opportunity to finally be insured without being gouged by corporate plutocrats whose primary concern is stuffing their pockets with cash, not the health of the nation.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Kakapos Got Eggs

The New Zealand Kakapo, (Strigops habroptila) is perhaps the strangest bird unfamiliar to you. Think of a cross between a parrot and a Dodo only smaller. They are unique parrots that have their own tribe designation, Strigopini. It is critically endangered and now only lives on isolated islets off the coast, but they once inhabited both main islands in numbers. Like the dodo it is a victim of habitat destruction, flightlessness, and the lack of indigenous predators. The nocturnal creepers are intelligent and long-lived, but their love life is in tatters. Humans have been trying to help in that department with limited success. The good news is that Kakapos have now successfully been artificially inseminated. The New Zealand Department of Conservation announced the world's first successful artificial insemination of a wild bird population. Six female kakapos were inseminated using various sperm storage techniques. Thirty-three chicks were hatched during the 2009 breeding season. These chicks put the number of Kakapos in the world over 100 for the first time in decades. Inbreeding was thought to be a factor in the low fertility rate, so sperm from less dominate males was used to inseminate the females, thus insuring genetic diversity. GREEN KUDOS go to New Zealand for its efforts to preserve the Kakapo.
[image credit:]

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Rule of Power

Two independent non-profit research organizations, the Institute for Energy & Environmental Research and the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy, studied United States compliance with eight major international treaties including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation, Anti-Ballistic Missile, and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaties. In each case the organizations found the United States violated, compromised or undermined every treaty.*

The United States is the only nation condemned in the World Court at The Hague for terrorism as a result of Reagan's covert efforts to destabilize and overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua in 1984. Despite the US refusal to ratify the new International Criminal Court treaty, the Court has been established. Congress, in a paroxysm of paranoid reaction, passed a law in 2003 (H.R. 4775) authorizing the use of military force to remove any American citizen held by the court for trial of war crimes.