Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Next Big Bubble

Forty-four has a big smile on his face these days. His gigantic subsidy of 30 million new customers for the private health insurance industry was finally passed without help from the wholly owned GOP. Passage of so-called health care reform will no doubt allow him a second term in office since he accomplished what no other Democratic president was able to do in the last century. The next subsidy on the list of corporate America is the $1 trillion in loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry. A large part of the administration's energy plan to replacing fossil fuels relies on revitalizing a moribund nuclear power plant industry. As US Person has reported before, the administration and its allies in Congress want to build 100 new nuclear generating stations in the United States {"nuclear renaissance"}.  Currently the Nuclear Regulatory Agency is reviewing applications for 21 new reactors.  The major problem with this approach is that construction of new plants has flat lined since the early 1980s because of the ballooning construction costs of complex nuclear reactors.  Utilities are reluctant to undertake the risk of expensive nuclear projects without federal subsidies in the form of loan guarantees.  The Alexander-Webb bill (S.2776) proposes up to $1 trillion in new guarantees and places the risk of default, estimated at 50% by the CBO, in the form of subsidy costs on the taxpayer.  Current legislation requires the utility to pay subsidy costs.  It also removes an important protection for the taxpayer who is providing the capital. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the United States has first lien rights in the case of a loan default and the assets are sold to satisfy debts.  The new legislation requires that the US share liquidated assets with other investors, often foreign companies.  The loan application review period is truncated to six months from the date of submission, a short time to approve loans of such complexity, and in most cases before the reactor design is finalized or realistic cost estimates are available.

All of the administration's accelerated emphasis on making nuclear power affordable ignores the fact that a basic problem of nuclear power generation has not yet been permanently solved.  The only national high level waste depository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada has been denied budgeting and is no longer slated to go into operation.  All high level waste in the US is stored above ground at nuclear facilities, a temporary solution that is vulnerable from a security standpoint.  The way around this problem is a bureaucratic word game worthy of Wonderland.  The Nuclear Regulatory Agency has a rule which basically says they will assume for planning and regulatory purposes that a permanent national repository will be operating by 2025. No other repository site is currently under consideration to replace Yucca Mountain.  The rule is called inappropriately, the "Waste Confidence Rule".  The proposed legislation will codify this rule, thereby prohibiting the NRC from rejecting a nuclear plant project for lack of capacity to dispose of radioactive waste in "a timely manner".

Another $4 billion in direct subsidies to the nuclear industry are proposed for such things as workforce training, research on extending the life of current reactors, and a program for developing small, fast reactors.  Most governments and companies have had negative experiences with developing small reactors since they do not achieve economies of scale.  In contrast to this largess for an expensive, dirty mode of power production, the bill proposes only $6 billion over 10 years for clean alternative energy sources such as liquid biofuels, solar electricity, improved batteries, and carbon capture technology.  The reason for these misplaced priorities are many, but the prime driver is that because nuclear power plants are expensive to build, the industry uses political influence to collect a lot of utility rate payer and government money to socialize the risks of construction and operation. It is a strategy familiar to Wall Street.


Monday, March 29, 2010

Chart of the Week: Death of a City

The chart pretty much says it all: Detroit is dying.  With the slow death of its industrial base, the auto industry, the middle class has departed.  The current average home price is an eye-popping $7000.  An example of what has happen to real assets in Detroit reported by the Wall Street Journal is the home built by Clarence Avery, a Ford Motor executive who conceived of the auto assembly line.  The five bedroom home sold for $250,000 in 2005. A woman bought it for $189,000 with a $200,000 subprime loan. She defaulted. The deteriorating home was bought by a non-profit which renovated it and sold it for $10,000. Of course the disappearance of the tax base has severe effects on city services.  Recently Detroit announced the closure of one-quarter of its schools because it is out of property tax money. Crime has dropped recently, but in 2007 Detroit was the sixth most dangerous large city in America according to the FBI. Over 900,000 people have left Detroit since 1950, about half the city population.  As the chart below shows the income per capita by city census tract in 2000 is less than $20,000. The city is now 81.6% black and only 12.3% white.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Great Britain To Ban Wild Animals in Circuses

After centuries of being exhibited to man for his amusement, and suffering often appalling treatment, the British Environment Minister Jim Fitzpatrick is reported by The Independent to be favorably considering a ban on wild animals continued exploitation by circuses.  Consultation with the British public shows that a great majority back the idea. Currently four circuses in Great Britain use wild animals in their shows.  The British Veterinary Association also thinks a ban is good idea.  Minister Fitzpatrick said the animals in captivity will be looked after when their performing days are over. "Nobody wants to see them simply destroyed, and we will work with all concerned to secure a future for these animals.", the Minister was quoted as saying. A Bristol University study last year found that circuses, often economically distressed, fail to provide basic animal welfare needs such as space and animal socialization. Clearly the days of being entertained by captive animals, a western cultural mode since the Coliseum of imperial Rome, have finally past.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Last of the Haditha Killers Will Go Free?

Update:  In a surprising decision on Friday, the presiding officer of Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich's court martial on charges of voluntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty refused to dismiss the case saying there was not enough evidence that the legal process was tainted by command influence.  Lt. Col. David Jones said defense attorneys had failed prove two marine generals were influenced by the presence of a top aide who had investigated the incident at meetings where the case against Wuterich was discussed.  Trial is now scheduled for Sept. 13th.

Frank Wuterich, the last Marine to face charges of manslaughter arising from the Hadditha massacre {"Haditha"} will undoubtably go free after the judge in his court martial ruled on Wednesday that there was possibly "command influence" prejudicing his case.  A similar finding allowed another Marine, Lt. Col. Jeffery Chessani, to escape punishment for the incident in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed, some in their beds.  Eight Marines were charged with murder or failing to investigate a crime.  Six had charges dismissed or withdrawn, one was acquitted.  Four years later, Wuterich is the last awaiting disposition of his case.  He was the squad leader when a bomb killed a Marine and injured two in the Iraqi village in 2005.  During a house search for responsible "insurgents" the Marines killed 19 unarmed civilians in three houses.  It is a sorry record for the Marines, and a crushing finale for military prosecutors attempting to impose accountability for crimes committed by American military personnel during another unnecessary, ugly war.  Wuterich's attorney said after the favorable ruling his client was in "good spirits", and that Wuterich plans to make the Marines his career.  Good choice, as there is not much demand for killers in the civilian economy.

Le Shorter: The Modern Pontius Pilate

0:11--0:16 (ignore ad):

'Toontime: The Nativist Fringe Caged

[credit:  Matt Davies]
Wackydoodle axes:  Would 'ya like an automatic with that?

Ten Democrats have been orally threatened or had their offices vandalized in reaction to the passage of the healthcare bills.

Obama Fails to Protect Right Whales

The Administration promised conservationists it would protect marine life from the Navy's lethal use of mid frequency range sonar after the Supremes approved an exemption from environmental laws on national security grounds.  But the Navy is not on the same page, and is preparing to build a sonar training ground just outside the only known calving ground for the critically endangered right whale.  Only about 300 Atlantic wright whales remain.  Environmentalists were successful in getting marine speed limits and re-routing shipping lanes off the Massachusetts coast to protect the mammals on their migration south to northeastern Florida calving grounds{"right whales"}.  The proposed range, spanning 500 nautical miles, may be crisscrossed with acoustic devices and cables emitting sound shown to be lethal to marine mammals.  The Navy chose the site without conducting the most basic research on biological impacts of its proposed plans.  Once again the US military exhibits its almost autistic disregard for the environment.  NRDC is attempting to block the Navy's plans in federal court.  The Administration made a commitment to identify sensitive habitat where mid-frequency sonar endangers whales, dolphins and porpoises, but it apparently failed to get the Navy on board.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Point of Order, Mr. President!"

Update: Told you it would be action packed!   The reconciliation bill goes back to the House in this latch ditch fight for what the rump party views as the capitalist soul of America. They succeeded in convincing the parliamentarian that two minor provisions in the 2000+ page legislation violates the Byrd Rule (budget reconciliation) while the Democrats defeated 29 straight GOP amendments overnight. The House is expected to take up the returned bill immediately. The glitch gives us "unreal" progressives--in the arrogant opinion of Senator Bennet (D-CO)--an opportunity to fight for a vote on the public option. Thirty-five thousand signatures in support of forcing a vote on the public option were handed to Bennet after he declared his support for the only effective price control mechanism proposed in the Alice-in-Wonderland process our dysfunctional Congress has engaged to pass some kind of reform. The absolute truth is the Senate bill is an industry sponsored (primarily pharmaceutical companies) guaranteed market bill. You can put pressure on the unreal hypocrite from Colorado to stand behind his word by contributing to publish ads in his state demanding he introduce an amendment putting the public option to a majority vote. Go to…

{3.23.10}That will be the Repugnant cry from the floor of the Senate this week as the Democrats attempt to pass the fixes the House of Representatives wants in return for voting for the Senate's health care reform bill. The President has already signed the Senate bill, but the 51 vote reconciliation process in the Senate has just started, and the rump opposition party is already threatening to do its level best to derail the legislation. Senate Majority Lead Reid better bone up on his rules of order, and Vice President Joe Biden better be ready to overrule the Senate's appointed parliamentarian if he advises that a point of order should be sustained*. The Vice President as presiding officer has the power to do so under the Senate's rules.  There is too much at stake to worry about whether overruling the advice is "nuclear" or not. Waiving a point of order would require a super-majority of 60 votes, a hurdle the precarious two step process is intended to avoid since the Democrats can only muster a simple majority after the Massachusetts special election. If a point of order is upheld the legislation is sent back to the House which would be the legislative equivalent of removing a card from the bottom of a house of cards. Debate is limited to 20 hours, and it promises to be action packed. Ben "Hack" Nelson (?-NE) has already voted with the Repugnants, bless his pointy head.  No doubt he is upset that the notorious "Nebraska kicker" will not survive the reconciliation process.

*Parliamentarian Alan Fruman already rejected the opposition's most substantive claim, that the 2018 excise tax on high end health insurance plans would impermissibly impact Social Security, on a point of order raised Monday night. 

Presidents Make Progress on Phone

Update: The United States looks as though it got its way on missile defense in the game of diplomatic one-upmanship. Realizing a START replacement treaty with formal linkage to American plans for a European missile shield would never get past the militarists in Congress*, the two sides agreed to a work around in which missile defense is stated to be a part of overall nuclear disarmament in the preamble of the agreement--aspirational rather than binding language. Nevertheless the Russians have the ultimate option of withdrawing from the treaty, just as the US withdrew from the ABM treaty, if they believe the intent of the agreement is broken. Now the parties appear to be finally ready to sign an agreement in Prague, not Kiev, on April 8th.

On Sunday, Presidents Medvedev and Obama made progress narrowing differences in the START II negotiations over the telephone. The leaders reviewed the negotiations and agreed to provide additional guidance to their diplomats meeting in Geneva.  The area of disagreement appeared to be the status of American strategic antimissile systems, which the Americans believed should not be covered in a replacement treaty intended to significantly reduce each country's stockpile of offensive warheads and delivery systems. The US Secretary of State will travel to Moscow this week, and meet with the Russian President as well as her counterpart to discuss the new strategic arms limitation treaty.  She will not be meeting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who publicly linked resolving missile defense issues to the negotiations. {"start II treaty"} The Russian government now appears to be ready to sign the new agreement, possibly in Kiev, Ukraine to emphasize the importance of nuclear non-proliferation. The Ukraine voluntarily rid itself of nuclear weapons when it became an independent state. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaking during a press conference in Ukraine on Tuesday, the new agreement will contain a legally binding link to missile defense.

*Senate Minority Leader and Minority Whip wrote to Obama March 15 to drive home just that point."As you know, it is highly unlikely that the Senate would ratify a treaty that includes such a linkage, including a treaty that includes unilateral declarations that the Russian Federation could use as leverage against you or your successors as missile defense decisions are made," they wrote. However Senator Lugar (R-IN), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said he plans to support ratification of the treaty in the Senate.

CITIES Meeting a Bust

The meeting of the UN CITIES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) committee just over in Qatar rejected another official ivory sale, but in other respects it was a bust as far as giving additional protection to species under threat of extinction through over harvesting, habitat lost, and global warming.  Some of the future extinction victims of man's selfish unwillingness to help other beings inhabiting the planet:
  • Tigers--there was no agreement on banning altogether the domestic sale of tiger parts, including supplies coming from so-called tiger farms.  China led objections to international oversight of its domestic tiger trade, as an "infringement of sovereignty" The delegates did agree to increase tiger range cooperation.
  • Red Coral--the participating governments voted against protections for red and pink corals suffering a drastic decline due to of over harvesting for the jewelry trade. Corallium populations in the Mediterranean are no longer commercially viable.  90% of colonies in the Med are only 3 to 5cm tall and less than half are sexually mature.  Production has shifted to Pacific.  The US is the primary market for coral jewelry.  The US imported 28 million pieces of red and pink coral between 2001 and 2008.  The decision was a win for commercial lobbying.
  • Sharks--the convention failed to aid five shark species also suffering population declines due to over harvesting.  Three species of hammerhead shark, the Atlantic white tip and the spiny dogfish failed to make Appendix II which would have allowed better management of the fishery for international trade.  Scientists think that the current level of harvest is unsustainable.  In some areas populations of sharks whose fins are highly prized for soup have declined by 90%.  These types of sharks are particularly vulnerable to over fishing because they are late to mature, long lived, and produce few offspring.
  • Blue Fin Tuna--the single biggest failure of all, and one that practically guarantees the extinction of the fish, is the decision not to ban trade in Atlantic blue fin tuna.  There is overwhelming scientific justification to support a trade ban {"blue fin tuna"}. But once again commercial interests carried the day on a hurried vote called by Libya to cut off debate.  The international management organization (ICCAT) charged with the tuna fishery is a consensus failure.  Consumers can help the plight of the tuna by boycotting Atlantic blue fin.  So the next time you are in a restaurant ordering a tuna dish, ask if it is Atlantic blue fin.  If they don't know or it is blue fin, order the steak instead.
Score for the meet: Human Greed 4  Wildlife 1.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Chart of the Week: The FIRE Economy the Next Day

US Person has posted before concerning the inordinate amount finance and insurance now contributes to GDP {"FIRE"}.  Here is a chart that shows just that:
Although the trend line is reversing, it has a long way to go before reaching a reasonable historic norm. Value added means the sector's contribution to GDP minus production originating outside the country.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stop the Killing of Elephants

Update:  Good on ya! The UN CITIES committee meeting in Qatar over the weekend turned down Tanzania's and Zambia's petition to sell off government stocks of captured ivory.  However, Kenya's bid to ban sales for twenty years was withdrawn because of lack of support. The officials faced the fact that poaching is rife on the continent, especially in West Africa.  The trade exists because of black markets in several Asian and African countries: notably Thailand, Nigeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo. Almost half of the ivory in the applying governments' stockpile is of unknown and possibly illegal origin. Zambia's application was narrowly defeated and its representatives may ask for a revote on Thursday.

{3.16.10} Yes, he's baaaaack!  And US Person wants you to sign up to protect elephants, those remarkable leviathans of the wild kingdom that communicate ultrasonically and visit the bones of their dead just like humans. Tanzania and Zambia are lobbying the UN for a special exemption to sell stockpiled ivory seized from the illegal trade and obtained by official culling operations. Past "one of" sales has increased poaching {7.16.08, 2.26.09, search "ivory sales"}, allowing traders to commingle illegal ivory with legal supplies. There is no reason to think this sale will be any different. Allowing it is tantamount to a death warrant for elephants.  Go to and sign the petition to stop the ivory trade once and for all.

P=MV Revisited

Here is some more expert support for US Person's view that deflation is the paramount scenario of the debt crisis:

The twenty-fiver years of empirical research Dr. Keen refers to includes the work of Nobel economists Kydland and Prescott who found that private debt is created before infusions of government money because banks do not loan out money from their reserves as thought in classical theory. A bank creates it own "new money" by simply crediting the customer's transaction (checking) account for the amount of the loan made to the customer. If this is in realty the case, then the fact has profound implications for allowing money creation to be primarily in the hands of private institutions not beholding to the body politic. Someone should tell Ben Bernanke about Section One, Article Eight.

Brits Strike Black Gold

Those past masters of empire, the British, have found significant amounts of oil--3.5bn barrels--beneath the sea near their South Atlantic outpost, the Falkland Islands. A British submarine appropriately named HMS Sceptre [photo off Gibraltar, First Post] arrived at the Falklands to show the flag, and remind the Argentinians it was a British nuclear submarine that sunk their aging light cruiser, the Belgrano (formerly the USS Phoenix)during the short war over the island's possession in 1982. Six hundred forty-nine Argentine soldiers and sailors,  mostly conscripts, died in the conflict.  Great Britian lost 225 professional servicemen. Share prices of the companies participating in the successful exploration of the North Falkland Basin have risen several percentage points in response to rumors of a find. Oil in commercial amounts was believed to be below the seabed near the islands named Las Malvinas by Argentina in the 1980s. Serious exploration began in the 90's with six test wells, of which five showed promising results. But since the price of oil in 1998 was at $10 a barrel, nothing was done to develop the reservoir. That has changed now with oil at $75 a barrel. The ocean drilling rig Ocean Guardian arrived in February from Scotland after a three month tow costing $245,00 a day.  The rig will drill deeper to determine the size of the reservoir.

Now that oil reserves have been proven there is no chance Argentina's claim to the islands will be accepted by the UK. Oil is not the only reason.  History favors Britain's claim. The islands were uninhabited by humans until French fishermen arrived in the 18th century. The British arrived in 1765, about 55 years before Argentina became an independent nation. Spain made various claims to Las Malvinas until Britian asserted sovereignty in 1833. The great majority of the residents want to remain under British rule. Colonialism is still alive in the 21st century.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Le Shorter: Public Option Scorecard

Update:  It's dead. The public supports it, the House passed it once, fifty-one Senators have spoken in favor of the only effective price cutting measure offered in the entire kluge, but according to the Speaker, the option is not: a reprise of the Garden of Gethsemane where the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak because the flesh is owned by the Money Power. America is the only advanced nation on Earth willing to subject its citizens to mandated profit making in return for what should be a basic human right--access to healthcare. It's so sad.

There is still a chance for its passage through reconcilliation as more and more senators realize the only way to begin fixing the system is to force competition upon the private oligopolists. The current number of senators supporting the option: 51[Ed Show]

China's Concentration Camp for Tigers

China has a weird and abusive relationship with the most beautiful and popular member of the Panthera genus, Panthera tigris. Animal welfare activists abhor the atavistic use of tiger parts in Chinese folk remedies, marketed as medicine around the world. Chinese authorities have made poaching of tigers a crime punishable by death, but the illegal trade flourishes. An estimated 5,000 or more tigers are held in captivity on so-called "tiger farms" where they are bred for profit. China signed the CITIES convention in 1981But the latest animal welfare story out of China is a new low in the human abuse of this noble animal. There are only 20 wild Siberian tigers left in the wild in China, 300 in the wild. Eleven siberian tigers starved to death in the underfunded Shenyang Zoo. The zoo has been closed and an official inquiry ordered into the "irregular deaths", but the sad fact is that 50% of the Chinese siberian tiger population is dead due to human cruelty of unimaginable proportions. The tigers were systematically undernourished and died of starvation because they were fed only chicken bones! Two tigers were shot after mauling their callous guards. The private park is operating on a shoestring budget and has lost twenty-six animals from 15 species including a lion, a brown bear and a Mongolian horse. The zoo's costs are about 10 million yuan a year, but the government which owes a 15% interest in the zoo has only pledged 7 million yuan ($1.03 million) to defray expenses. The zoo "manager" has said the nothing illegal occurred and that the tiger remains are stored in a freezer, but a zoo worker quoted by news service Xinhua, said the remains were  made into a tiger bone liquor, "used to serve important guests". The outrage in China over the inhuman treatment at the zoo has apparently been considerable. The 30 tigers still alive at Shenyang are now being fed more food, 2.5kgs of beef and two hens a day. Their cages have been cleaned and heaters and lighting installed.  The Chinese government must take more aggressive steps to end the illegal trade in tiger parts, and end the cruel breeding of tigers in captivity for this purpose. Land needs to be set aside for tiger habitat, and as many captive animals as sustainable released into the wild Failure to act will severely detract from China's international reputation as a modern, developed nation.  The Year of the Tiger is a good time to start.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chart of the Week: P=MV, Who Cares?

You should.  Close readers of this cyberspace have seen this formula before. It explains the relationship between a country's gross domestic product, P, to the money supply, M, and the velocity of money, V. {1.26.09} V is slightly arcane, but easy to understand since it basically measures the rate at which a given money supply is exchanged. The chart from the Federal Reserve shows that the velocity is reverting to the historic mean of 1.67 (blue line). That is the basic reason the Fed is pumping money into the economy by deficit spending to new heights, increasing M, to prevent P from contracting severely (depression).  18% of personal income in the US is now provided by the federal government. According to the White House, the financial crisis has caused more than 8 million Americans to loose their jobs. The P=MV relationship also explains why during the 90's when M2 was falling the total economy expanded because financial wizardry in the form of derivatives and collateralized debt obligations of all types increased the velocity of money by enhancing liquidity. In 1997 it reached 2.12 the highest point in the last century. We know now to our great regret that the explosive, even fraudulent growth, in unregulated financial instruments proved to be toxic to the economy. As John Mauldin says, the "Great Unwind" is upon us.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Stink on the Street of Broken Dreams

The pregnant question is: where was the New York Federal Reserve, charged with regulating investment banks, headed by none other than Timmy Geithner, which had regulators inside the bank at the time the repo frauds were perpetrated?  The scale of fraudulent activity and collusive behavior that has transferred trillions in wealth from the middle classes to the plutocrats of Wall Street is sadly without precedent in US history.  US Person was once arrested in the antechamber of the Nebraska State Supreme Court for a bounced $20 check that he did not write.  Yet the banksters plunder the world as free men enjoying a life style similar to those of the patrician class of ancient Rome.  Makes you grin, doesn't it?

Monday, March 08, 2010

US Person Is Away From His Post

Check back later for more high impact blog @ PERSONA NON GRATA

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Is Stupak Stupid or Just Running for Re-election?

Want to talk about blackmail or even worse kidnapping for ransom? Because that is what one misguided representative in the House of Representatives is doing to the delicate procedure being discussed among Democrats to pass a health reform bill. He is willing to torpedo the entire effort if he does not get his way on language prohibiting the use of federal money to fund abortions. As the price of stopping legal abortions in the US, abortion foes are willing to cause the foreseeable death of thousands of Americans who cannot afford health insurance. The Senate bill already contains provisions against using federal money to fund abortions, but Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) says the language is not strong enough. He has the backing of conservative Catholic bishops, despite the fact the Catholic Hospital Association thinks the Senate provisions are adequate. Stupak says the Senate bill allows the indirect use of federal funds for abortions since poor people may receive federal subsides to buy health insurance. The Senate bill does allow private insurance policies offered in the exchanges to provide abortion coverage. After several arguments he had been using to not support the reform effort had been addressed by changes in language, Stupak is now making an argument that is basically false. The Senate bill even requires that private policyholders seeking abortions to pay separately in advance for abortion services. Speaker Pelosi is understandably frustrated with Stupak, saying "This is not about abortion. This is about providing quality affordable health care for all Americans." Given the size of egos which perform on Capitol Hill, grandstanding for personal gain is a commonplace. If you are from Rep. Stupak's district and want affordable health care in America, call and tell him to get real not re-elected.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Grande Prairie de L'Amerique

Yes, "prairie" is derived from the Old French and the voyageurs were probably the first white men to witness the sea of bison flowing over the Great Plains. Tens of millions of buffalo roamed the interior 500 years ago. The decimation of the buffalo by later white men was beyond the understanding of indigenous Americans. It was a crime against nature, a type of genocide, since the eradication of the buffalo was intended to deprive the Native Americans living on the plains of their source of sustenance. US Person and other conservationists want to make amends for this crime blighting the history of our country's development.  We envision a great park rivaling or even exceeding the size of Yellowstone established on the Great Plains where human population density is now at historic lows. The Grande Prairie National Park, if you will, could cover millions of acres of restored grassland where reestablished herds of bison roam free, subject only to the predation of wolves and even grizzlies.  The migrations of the herds could rival those found only on the Serengeti of Africa.  Of course this ambitious dream can only be realized with the cooperation of state and federal governments as well as private land owners. That cooperation would require a profound change of public perception of the buffalo as a relic of the past. Wild bison are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (ICUN) list of threatened species. Now 93% of the remaining buffalo are livestock and interbreed with cattle. There are only 61 herds of plains bison and 11 herds of woods bison maintained in North American as conservation herds, which are carefully managed for genetic diversity and ecological function. IUCN's 2010 Status Survey and Conservation Guidelines provides a framework for action. Already there are conservation groups in Canada, such as the Canadian Rockies Bison Initiative, seeking to reestablish bison to the eastern slopes of Banff National Park. North America's largest land mammal, known as "Tatanka" to indigenous Americans, could thrive again if given only some of the grand space it once occupied.


'Toontime: Two Sides of the Same Coin

[credit: Ben Sargent]

Wackydoodle sez:  She had to leave baby Massa at home with the staffer!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Superfund Stirs From Regulatory Rigor Mortis

After suffering neglect under the previous regime, the EPA's Superfund program is showing signs of renewed vigor. On Tuesday EPA announced adding 10 new sites to the national priority list bringing the total of seriously contaminated sites waiting for cleanup to 1,279.  The announcement comes after an exceptional year for enforcement activity. During 2009 responsible parties committed to pay about $2 billion to clean Superfund sites, the second highest amount since the program began in 1980. However the original funding mechanism which required producers of toxic materials to pay into the fund for clean up expired in the mid 1990's.  Since then the agency has had to ask nicely for polluters to contribute to cleaning their mess.  The EPA has little funding to do the work itself. With money in the fund, the agency was able to impose tougher clean up commitments on polluters. The administration has said publicly that it intends to reinstate the polluter pays provision, but wants to wait until there is more economic recovery.

One of the sites added to the list is the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York [photo]. The canal has been flanked by industrial companies since the early 1900's. Millions of gallons of toxic chemicals and oil products have been dumped into it, creating a smelly, toxic soup.  The Gowanus Canal caught fire in 1946 due to gasoline floating on its surface presaging the infamous Cuyahoga River fire of 1969. That event spurred on the American environmental movement, and resulted in the federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972.  As one commentator noted, the river "burned on newscasts all over the world".

Many of these superfund sites have long histories. The poisonous conditions have simply been ignored due to lack of money, political will or legal liability necessary to ameliorate the years of land abuse.  In the case of the Chemetco site northeast of St. Louis, the operators filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the midst of a court ordered cleanup. A secondary copper smelter operated between 1969 and 2001 leaving behind 500,000 cubic yards of sludge contaminated with heavy metals and other hazardous materials. The company was found guilty of using a secret pipeline to dump hazardous waste into a tributary of the Mississippi River. Several workers were also found guilty of conspiracy. They were fined and ordered to home detention, but the company's former president who ordered the pipeline fled prosecution. He is believed to be living in Belgium. The status of the $3.8 million in fines against the bankrupt company is unclear. The poisonous mess remains.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jaguars Moving North

With the death of Macho B in Arizona {4.6.09}, jaguars are no longer roaming the wilds of the southwestern United States as far as humans know.  But there is photographic evidence that jaguars (Panthera onca) are moving into the northern deserts of Sonora, Mexico just thirty miles south of the border.  This jaguar [photo credit: Sky Island Alliance] was caught by a camera trap in a remote canyon of the Sonoran desert.  It appears jaguars are attracted by abundant prey in the Sky Island region, a mix of riparian, desert and oak woodland habitats.  Ranchers in the area are helping to provide the spacious habitat needed by the largest New World felid to survive.  The photograph was taken on the El Aribabi ranch, and the owners are thrilled to have the cats living on their land.  The ranch is home to 35 species protected under Mexican law including golden eagles and ocelots.  Re-establishing the jaguar to its previous range in the southwest would be an appropriate project to fund under the Great Cats and Rare Canid Act administered by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  To support the recovery, migration corridors must be protected that link habitat zones between Mexico and the United States.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Allies Uncomfortable With US Nuclear Policy

Update:  The nuclear armed cruise missile, Tomahawk, will be retired ahead of plans for its retirement in 2013 according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.  The Navy deployed about 300 of the cruise missiles on ships and submarines, some of which were stationed in Japan during the 1980s.  After the announced end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush put the warheads in storage for future use. A high level Congressional review committee recommended the warheads be refurbished and reissued based on the testimony of several Japanese diplomats says the UCS.  However, the Japanese government reviewed the testimony and repudiated it in response to questions about the weapon from their legislature and public.  Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada sent a letter to Secretary of State Clinton saying the testimony did not represent Japan's official position on forward basing of nuclear weapons.
[battleship USS New Jersey firing a Tomahawk, courtesy J. David Rogers]

{first post 2.23.10}The United State's major Asian ally, Japan, has uncharacteristically displayed displeasure with US nuclear policy {2.15.2010}. The only country to suffer a devasting nuclear attack in war, Japan allows the advance positioning of US nuclear weapons on its soil and has done so since the start of the Cold War.  However, 204 members of the Japanese Diet have asked in a letter delivered to the US ambassador for the President to declare US nuclear weapons' sole purpose is to deter nuclear attack. This policy change would rule out, for example, the use of tactical nuclear devices to preemptively destroy Iran's emerging nuclear capability or defend Taiwan from a conventional invasion from the mainland. The State Department told media that the US nuclear policy review will not contain a fundamental change in nuclear policy.  Japan is not the only nation uncomfortable with the United State's forward nuclear posture. Belgium, headquarters of the western military alliance, NATO, has announced that it would lead a cooperative effort with Germany, Netherlands, and Norway to ask for the removal of all US nuclear warheads from Europe.

Chart of the Week: Deflation is the Word

Ok, so we have a debt based economy what does that mean for Joe Sixpac?  It means without more credit we have no mo' money and without money we have no jobs and nothing to buy. And round and round it goes down. Banks have money because the federal government stuffed $13 trillion into their pockets. But they are not lending it as this chart shows:
The banks are not lending because their balance sheets are impaired by all the toxic assets they bought during the real estate boom and they need liquidity to improve their balance sheets. US bank reserves have increased 500 times from under $2 billion in August 2008 to over $1 trillion. Bank lending has contracted the largest percentage in 67 years. Commercial real estate loan defaults are a major concern to small and midsize banks that do most of the lending to community businesses which in turn provide most middle class jobs. Commercial real estate and related businesses alone generates an estimated 9 million jobs. This chart shows the problem:
Just pushing on a string, baby.
chart source: Shedlock,