Friday, April 30, 2010

Indpendent Analysis Says Blowout Bigger Yet

Analysis by independent experts based on satellite imagery says BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe is larger that either the government or the industry admits.  Based on calculations of the speed and size of the visible oil slick, the 5,000 barrel estimate by the Coast Guard is the lower bound for the rate of spill. John Amos of Sky Truth, an organization that specializes in gathering data to promote conservation, says the rate is more like 20,000 barrels (840,000 gallons) a day. At that rate, the spill will easily exceed the Valdez disaster. Although the Gulf has been adversely impacted by decades of oil industry development, it still is the habitat for numerous protected species, and a vibrant commercial fishing industry. The fishery in Prince William Sound still has not fully recovered from the toxic effects of crude oil. {"Exxon Valdez"}.

After first trying to stonewall environmentalist demands to reconsider his decision to "drill, baby drill", Forty-four has conceded a halt to new drilling pending an investigation. What he will find is an industry that has always placed environment impact behind profit, and has spent billions trying to minimize environmental and safety regulations instead of preparing to prevent, contain, and ameliorate inevitable disasters in a risky, dirty business. Opening new offshore areas to drilling without the industry demonstrating a complete change of culture was an imprudent decision driven the exigencies of a broken political system in Washington, not "whacko environmentalists". Put a cork in it, Limbaugh.

[photo: courtesy NASA's Aqua satelite]

California Protects More Seacoast

California's underwater marine parks are set to expand on May 1st to include the Point Reyes Headlands, Bodega Head, the Farallon Islands and Fitzgerald Marine Reserve.  The designations are part of a process to implement the Marine Life Protection Act that requires the state to develop a system of marine protected areas the length of the 1,100 mile coastline.  California is the first seacoast state to implement such a comprehensive plan to manage marine resources.  The north central coast network creates 21 marine protected areas, 3 marine management areas and six special closures.  The designations put 11% of state waters into fully protected marine reserves.  Planning for the far north and south coasts is underway and expected to be implemented by 2011.  New research confirms that marine reserves play an important role in replacing marine life harvested in areas outside of the reserves.

[photo: South Farallon, NOAA]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

NOAA's Forecast Map for the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Mississippi Canyon 252 refers to the OCS lease designation.

Delta Wildlife Refuge Still at Risk

More: It will be a bigger disaster than the Exxon Valdez. The oil is headed to shore and British Petroleum has been unable to cut off the flow, now estimated at 5,000 barrels a day. Locals say company officials were in denial about the size of the leak. No effort was made to surround the burning rig with booms before it blew up and crude started flowing. The leading edge of the slick is only 3 miles from shore.  Authorities estimate it will reach the Mississippi delta tonight. Attempts to cut off the flow of crude at the wellhead using only robotic equipment have not succeeded. No explanation has been given why manned deep submersibles have not been sent to the site in an attempt to close the blowout valve. At least three months will go by before an intercepting relief well can be drilled, and the well capped with concrete. The already fragile Louisiana coast and wetlands will be covered in a toxic goo lethal to wildlife and commercial fishing. The only good that can come of this slow motion disaster is the reversal of the recent administration decision to open up more of the US coastline to oil and gas drilling. Until the industry can convincingly demonstrate that it has the will, the technology, the trained manpower, and the financial commitment to rapidly respond and contain disasters like the Deepwater Horizon, the government should not allow it to operate in new offshore areas. Deepwater Horizon is destined to replace the 11,000 million gallons the Valdez spilled at the top of the industry's sorry environmental record in the United States.

Update:{4.25.10}The destruction by fire of BP's deep water drilling rig, Deepwater Horizon last week has caused a underwater leak of about 1,000 barrels of crude a day spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. The rig had been producing 8,000 barrels a day before a fire destroyed the platform and killed 11 workers. Most of the crew escaped from the platform. The Coast Guard said it will take time to decide how to stop the leak 5,000 feet down in the Gulf waters. A worst case scenario is that it will take months to stop the well riser rupture. The riser is lying kinked on the sea floor restricting the flow of oil.  Company officials are attempting to activate the blowout valve using remote controlled submersibles to cut off the flow, but the operation is complex and may not succeed. Environmentalist are concerned about the magnitude of destruction to wildlife and ecosystems if the crude reaches the coast.  The slick is now covers 1800 square miles and is 30 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

{4.15.10}Crews are working to contain an oil spill near the Delta National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of the Mississippi River. A Coast Guard officer at the scene said the slick covered about 16 square miles of the refuge. The refuge contains about 76 square miles of marshland and waterways. It is the home to a multitude of raptors, wading and migratory birds including endangered species such as the brown pelican, arctic peregrine falcon and piping plover. The American alligator also lives there. Delta NWR was established in 1935 primarily as a sanctuary and habitat for wintering waterfowl.  Although accessible only by boat, the refuge has long been used as a hunting and fishing ground.

Steady progress is being made cleaning up the spill, and no wildlife has been observed in distress. Seven thousand feet of containment boom was deployed to protect sensitive areas. The oil spill was first reported on Tuesday when a barge dredging for Exxon/Mobil notified the Coast Guard at 1am. The dredging barge is a "stump barge" which anchors itself to the bottom by driving a piling into the channel bed. About 18,000 gallons of oil spilled before Cypress Pipe Line Co (Chevron/BP), the owner of the pipe, could close it off. The cause of the spill has not yet been officially determined, but Exxon/Mobil has offered to help clean up the spill.  However, oil spills of size or another are very common in the delta because of the intensity of oil and gas development there.  Records of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality show that ten of the largest refineries in the state averaged ten accidents a week during 2005-08.

[photos: USFWS]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Le Shorter: Only in DC

Is the Post trying to send a subliminal message?  If so, the editors are totally whacked. Forty-four's corporate sponsored incrementalism is so far from Malcolm X's race inspired revolution it makes comparison seem ludicrous.

Le Shorter: US Approves First Offshore Wind Farm

The idea was opposed by the late Senator Kennedy because he thought the 130 spinning turbines would spoil his view from the Kennedy Compound. Massachusetts Indians opposed it saying the turbines would interfere with their sunrise ceremonies. But Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has approved the Cape Wind project off of Cape Cod. The project developers hope to begin generating electricity by 2012 for the residents of Cape Cod, and aim to supply electricity to about two-thirds of them. Nothing like a looming ecological disaster in the Gulf to clear the head and motivate government leaders. Nudge, Nudge.

Single Payer Health Insurance: An Idea So Good It Will Not Die

Vermont's House passed a version of single payer health insurance legislation already passed by the state Senate last Friday. Vermont follows California's House in adopting the most efficient way to provide universal coverage to its residents. One of the selling points for the "Obamacare" legislation just barely passed by Congress is that it contains a waiver mechanism allowing states to experiment with innovative methods of providing affordable health care. But it order to appease industry lobbyists, Congress delayed the implementation of opting out of the state exchanges until 2017, after the expense of establishing mandated state exchanges has been incurred. To opt out, states have to provide a system that provides comparable benefits to at least as many people as the exchange would have covered at no extra cost. Those requirements could be met without much difficulty by a state-wide single payer system because of its much lower administration costs. But states implementing innovative systems must also reconcile them with federal requirements for a host of federal programs: Medicare, Medicaid, FEHBP, Indian Health Service, Tricare, and ERISA that preempts legislation affecting employee benefit plans. HHS has no authority over ERISA, which is administered by the Department of Labor. Thus the new federal legislation does very little to encourage states to adopt more efficient delivery systems for health. If California and Vermont implement single payer health insurance despite the regulatory hurdles, the rock will begin to roll.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Where the Buffalo Roam

They roam on Horse Butte adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Bison go there to give birth, and feed on the fresh green grass after a hard winter. You would think that since there are no cattle or horses on Horse Butte the US Forest Service would leave them in peace. NOT! The hazing of bison using helicopters takes place each year after May 15th, and each year the bison are senselessly chased away at the risk of injuring small calves and adults. The ostensible reason is to control the spread of Brucellosis abortus, a bacterium which causes bison and cows to abort pregnancies. Only one problem with that reasoning. There has never been a confirmed case of transmission of the disease from bison to cattle in the wild. Recent science on the subject indicates the risk is very small outside of Yellowstone in Montana. If that were not enough reason to stop the waste of money spent on the hazing operation, Gallatin National Forest recently decided to close the only remaining grazing allotment on Horse Butte.

It is time to expand the boundaries of Yellowstone--or at least create buffer zones on the Park's boundaries--to give the genetically unique wild bison herd more protected space in which to roam. The 3,000 or so Yellowstone bison are the foundation to reestablishing the bison to its historic range because they have not been interbred with cattle. In the meantime the senseless harassment of these potent symbols of wild America should cease. You can help end the practice by sending a signal to Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack asking him to let the buffalo enjoy Horse Butte undisturbed this spring.

[photo: courtesy Wyoming Secretary of State]

Does the Bilderberg Group Rule the World?

That point is debatable, but they did hire Timmah! to work for them. He's the guy that never held a real job. Beyond conspiracy theories, it is fairly clear the secretive confab is more than a debating society. Bilderberg chairman √Čtienne Davignon publicly bragged that the group helped to create the Euro by introducing a policy agenda for a single currency in early 1990's A BBC investigation found documents from earlier meetings that confirm the EU was a brainchild of Bilderberg. The 2010 Bilderberg Group conference is due to be held June 3-6 in Spain.  The meetings are strictly invitation only to the world's most influential power elite in government, banking, media, academia, and international business.  It's agendas and proceedings are kept secret.  But some investigative journalists have managed to penetrate the veil as tells us.  Daniel Estulin has reported on the group before, and his revelations have proved accurate.  Estulin predicted the 2008 financial crash based on what the elites were discussing at their 2006 meeting in Canada and the 2007 conference in Turkey. According to his sources the group is now divided on whether the world economy should be put into a depression that is prolonged but shallow or a severe but shorter one to allow the world economy to be rebuilt on a more sustainable level with less sovereignty but more efficiency.  Nationalists within the group are objecting to any surrender of sovereignty. Such a period of "rebalancing" may see the creation of a new world currency based on IMF's Special Drawing Rights*.  Short or long, one thing is certain, the plutocracy will remain in power.

*Mexico's President Vincinte Fox, admitted on The Daily Show to discussing a new North American currency, the Amero, with the Charlatan.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Chart of the Week: Price of a Home in Gold

To allow for some perspective and filter out the "noise" of fluctuations in the value of the dollar, economists often look at the price of an asset in terms of gold, the only other international standard. The chart below shows the median price of a US home in gold, and clearly shows the burst of the housing bubble beginning in 2008 after peaking in 2001:
The following chart is another revealing comparison. It shows the yield spread for Greek bonds.  The basis points difference between German bonds, considered a safe investment, and the bonds of a country in dire financial straits is becoming wider, approaching a full percentage for 2 year bonds.  Greece is therefore facing ruinous expense in refinancing its huge public debt with short term bonds yielding a whopping 10% and long term bonds 8.8%:

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Senate's "Climate" Bill

Update:  After suddenly loosing the support of an influential Republican senator, the administration is temporarily withdrawing the Senate climate bill from consideration.  The move by Lindsey Graham (R-SC) appeared to be a protest of Senate Majority Leader Reid's decision to move an immigration bill ahead of the climate legislation on the Senate's agenda. Graham had reached agreement with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on a bipartisan immigration bill, but objected to the Democrats using  a bipartisan bill for political advantage. The Democrats are facing increased pressure from Hispanic voters to pass legislation providing a path to legitimacy for undocumented workers. Democrats are working to smooth Lindsey's ruffled feathers, but the politics are complicated: Senator Henry Reid (D-NV) is facing a tough re-election campaign and needs Hispanic support to retain his seat.

{4.23.10}The Senate will introduce its climate bill on Monday April 26th. In a transparent government, the bill would honestly be titled "the nuclear industry subsidy bill" because that is exactly what it does: subsidize expensive new nuclear power generation as a solution to the climate crisis. The day is significant for another reason. April 26th is the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl catastrophe. We now know that tens of thousands of people died as a result of the Chernobyl explosions and aftermath. Many more will become ill and die[1] as the effects of long lived nuclear decay (Cesium 137, Strontium 90) takes its toll on the lives of eastern Europeans. Two reports, one commission by European Greens and another commissioned by Greenpeace document the effects of the environmental disaster that effectively halted new nuclear power construction in this country. But that was twenty four years ago. Now, the Senate is proposing to spend $54 billion of taxpayer funds to encourage a moribund industry to expand capacity in the name of achieving an inadequate reduction in carbon emissions of 17% by 2020. Many climate scientists think that is not nearly enough to keep global temperatures from rising 2℃ above pre-industrial times. Other industry friendly proposals to be put forward include prohibiting EPA from regulating CO₂ as a pollutant, expanding offshore domestic oil and gas production in Alaska, and on the east coast[2], and funds for research on clean coal burning.

[1]the basic conclusion of the World Health Organization/IAEA contained in a 2005 report of the "Chernobyl Forum" is that 4,000 to 9,000 people died or will die of exposure to radioactivity.  But both reports linked here conclude that the long term effects of radioactive contamination were ignored or minimized by international bodies.  More than 50% of the fallout affected 13 European countries outside of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that were dangerously contaminated by radionuclides.  More than half the Cesium 137 emitted was carried in the atmosphere to these countries.  The most recent published figures in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine alone indicate that the accident killed an estimated 200,000 additional people between 1990 and 2004.
[2] A Louisiana oil rig explodes, burns and sinks killing all aboard the platform in the Gulf of Mexico.  Now that the rig has sunk, it could be spilling as much as 8,000 barrels of crude a day into the Gulf.  
[photo, right: the radioactive wreckage after the persistent graphite fires were "liquidated", courtesy Soviet government. A new book on the disaster from the New York Academy of Sciences says that of the 830,000 involved in fire extinguishing, containment and clean up between 112,000 and 125,00 died by 2005. This figure is based upon previously untranslated, published slavic language studies and articles. It contrasts sharply with the initial WHO/IAEA estimate of only 31]

Friday, April 23, 2010

Toontime: State of Denial

[credit: Lalo Alcaraz]
Wackydoodle sez:  Papers? I ain't got no stinkin' papers!

The passage of Arizona Senate bill 1070 culminates a rightward shift in a state that has been conservative even before the days of Barry Goldwater. The law is a potential fountain of police abuse and racial discrimination that allows majority white police to stop anyone they think is possibly undocumented to prove they are legally in the United States. The bill smacks of vigilante justice and probably violates the constitutional doctrine of federal preemption in the area of immigration.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some Good News In Honor of Earth Day

WWF tells us that Brazil's latest analysis of deforestation in the Amazon from August 2008 to July 2009 shows the slowest rate of loss since record keeping began in 2000. While good news, the reduced rate must be seen in the context of a global loss of forest of just over 32 million acres per year.  Deforestation and degradation accounts for 15% of global CO₂ emissions.  Recent studies show that 40% of the reductions in deforestation achieved from 2004 to 2007 is the result of the creation of protected areas, including protecting indigenous lands. WWF is working with the Brazilian government on the Amazon Region Protected Areas initiative to create a network of protected forest areas 50% larger than the United State's park system. Preserving forest is the most cost effective way to keep us away from the zone of catastrophic climate change*. So go out and plant a tree for Earth!

US Person still recalls the thrill of riding a friendly, working elephant through the Thai rainforest. Using elephants to protect other species is a good idea, and is one being adopted by wildlife officials in Asia. In Sumatra's Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, the Elephant Patrol was out on the job when a baby elephant, confused and apparently abandoned, approached the group of four domesticated elephants with their rangers aboard. Despite their efforts to find his group and return the one year old to the forest, he came back each time to the patrol. Apparently he had decided to joint this slightly unusual herd. The rangers relented and took in the new recruit. The national park is 882,000 acres at the south end of Sumatra covering forests, hills, river beds and beach that provides a home to endangered rhinos, tigers and elephants. It shares a border with 127 native villages. Human-wildlife conflicts are therefore inevitable. Tomi, as he is now known, accompanies the Patrol regularly learning to be a wildlife protector and an elephant ambassador to humans.

*last March was the warmest March on record according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The combined land and ocean global average was 1.39℉ above the 20th century average. Antarctic sea ice expanse in March was 6.9% lower than the 1979-2000 average. Many locations in Ontario, Canada received no snow in March setting a record for low snowfall.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Chart of the Week: Keeping it Simple

A little confused by modern finance? Rest assured you are not alone. Even the bankers don't understand synthetic collateralized debt obligations fully! But here is a chart to help you figure out who's on first:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another Example of Pay for Play

This one could really make you sick.  Senator David Vitter (R-LA) is blocking the listing of formaldehyde as a known carcinogen by the EPA. The National Cancer Institute issued a study last year showing a link between formaldehyde and leukemia.  The report increased efforts at EPA to upgrade the chemical's status from "probable"to "known" carcinogen. But Vitter has blocked the nomination of a key EPA official while urging the agency to seek another National Academy of Science review of formaldehyde's health risk, a process requiring more time and money.  Eventually the agency capitulated, postponing the new designation. Vitter is backed by the formaldehyde industry. For his 2010 election campaign, he received $9000 from Dow Chemical, $5000 from Monsanto, $4000 from Exxon/Mobil and $2500 from the American Forest and Paper Association. His position on formaldehyde corresponds exactly to that of the Formaldehyde Council Inc, which spend $30,000 on a lobbying campaign to win a National Science review of the scientific studies on formaldehyde toxicity.

Vitter is not alone in backing the chemical industry's delay tactics.  Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) stalled the more serious reassessment in 2004. Koch Industries {"Koch"} contributed $6,000 to Inhofe campaign that year. Koch bought two paper mills from Georgia-Pacific the same year. Formaldehyde is used in the manufacture of plywood. Thousands of Katrina victims complained of respiratory problems after being temporarily housed in government trailers contaminated with formaldehyde.

Sea Shepherds Claim Success

Despite having their high speed trimaran Ady Gil smashed in a ramming at sea, and its crew captain detained to face serious charges in Japan, the Sea Shepherds claim their harassment tactics were responsible for halving the Japanese catch of whales in the Southern Ocean.  The Japanese whaling fleet returned to port last Monday with its smallest catch in years--506 minke and one fin whale--well short of its target of 935 whales. The smallest toll on record was the 2006-07 season when the fleet returned home after a ship caught fire. Whalers blamed the aggressive interference of the Sea Shepherds for the small catch.  The Japanese fisheries agency said that their activities forced the fleet to suspend its activities for 31 days.  The season was a probable economic loss for the Japanese, since the environmental group thinks the fleet needs to kill at least 700 whales to break even.

The industry has been subsidized by the Japanese government since 1988. The price of whale meat is now lower than beef or reindeer meat in Norway, the other major country hunting whales on a commercial scale. Nevertheless, Japan is making headway through the IWC, seeking to end the international moratorium {"whaling moratorium"} on whaling in its coastal waters in exchange for lower quotas in Antarctic waters. Japan apparently sees the whaling issue in terms of protecting national sovereignty despite a declining demand for whale meat in its domestic market. Incredibly, their effort is being supported by the United States.{Betraying the Whales, 4.2.10} It is taking the official position that continuing the moratorium is impractical. There appears to be a growing black market in whale meat. Last year nearly 1700 whales were taken compared to 300 in 1999. The US is willing to allow Japan, Norway and Iceland to continue reduced commercial hunting for ten years. Australia has said it may take the Japanese to court for abusing the research exception to the moratorium as cover for commercial hunting. Conservationists see the US brokered deal as a sell out of a hard won international consensus against further exploitation of whales, once hunted by man to near extinction.  The IWC meets in June to consider the moratorium's fate.  Go here to sign a petition against the resumption of commercial whaling.

[photo:  a slaughtered whale and her calf are hauled abroad a Japanese whaler, Australian Customs Service]

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chart of the Week: Goldbags Hits Wall

Update:The German government has said that it, too, may file a fraud case against Goldman Sachs according to the German press. The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority will request information from the SEC to decide whether to file a suit. IKB Deutsche Industriebank AG based in Dusseldorf got clobbered by the Goldman CDOs. The German government spent $13.5 billion propping up IKB. The UK was stung too. The mostly government owned Royal Bank of Scotland Plc paid $841 million to Sachs to unwind its position in the Abacus CDO which it acquired with the purchase of ABN Amro in 2007. Prime Minister Brown said on TV he wants an investigation, and accused Goldman of "moral bankruptcy"--a long way from "God's work" touted by the cynical Goldman CEO Larry Blankfein [photo]. The twenty-something French trained whiz who created the synthetic security at the heart of the fraud is unavailable for comment. Does it matter that all the players were big boys doing their level best to get on the greed train that was the America housing market?  US Person says, "NOT"  Their shenanigans almost crashed the entire US economy, and cost taxpayers billions.  Let the hay making begin.

{4.18.10}The chart shows the 16 ton effect of the SEC's civil fraud filing against Goldman Sachs on its stock price. The Goldman case rapidly became a pink elephant as more and more information became common knowledge about the insider deal between trader John Paulson's company, Paulson & Co., and Goldman. The gravamen of the fraud case is that Paulson convinced Goldman to issue collateralize debt obligations (CDOs) made up of bundled subprime mortgages that were tailor made to fail. Paulson then bought credit default swaps insuring the securities against default. When the CDOs failed, Paulson made $3.7 billion. For its part in the alleged fraud, Goldman sold the securities to European banks without telling them of the bond selection by Paulson & Co. The banks lost $1 billion on the deal. Goldman responded to the allegations by saying it was under no obligation to disclose identities. Yo, ho, ho and a bucket of blood!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Creature Feature: Luna Plays with Dog

Watch "Luna" play with a friendly dog aboard a fishing boat. This scene took place in 2006. Unfortunately "Luna" was habituated to humans, and was killed by a tugboat in Nootka Sound on March 10, 2006. Tagged L-98 by scientists, the male orca from the Southern Resident Community of orcas lived away from his pod for more than five years and developed relationships with other species. The lesson US Person takes away from his tragic death is simple but profound: sentient wild animals like the orca must be respected by homo sapiens and allowed to live the life nature (or God, you choose) intended without lethal interference. Listen to the unusual music tribute to "Luna" or "Tsuxiit" here.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Black Rhinos Come Back to Luangwa Vallley

Black Rhinos {"rhinos"} were declared extinct in Zambia at the turn of the last century as a result of constant poaching. But Diceros bicornisis being reintroduced to the North Luangwa National Park in a enormous effort to re-establish a sustainable population in the Luangwa Valley.  Zambia had the third largest rhino population in the world until the 1980s.  The project is a joint one between the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Zambian Wildlife Authority which began in 2001. Twenty rhinos have been established in the national park since then.
One of the reasons the project is possible is because poaching has been put under control in North Luangwa. Some conservationists may say poaching is reduced there due in part to the ground breaking efforts of an American couple, Mark and Delia Owens. Others might say poaching was controlled in spite of the American biologists' involvement in what amounted to a private war. The Owenses lived in North Luangwa until 1996 when their North Luangwa Conservation Project was seized by the government of Zambia. The seizure was part of an investigation into a homicide captured on tape by an ABC video crew making a documentary on the activities of Mark Owens and the rangers he trained and equipped to stop devastating poaching in the park.

An article by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker magazine describes the furor caused by what Zambian officials called an unjustified homicide during a anti-poaching patrol of an unidentified man alleged to be a poacher. The article is critical of the Owenses for being too zealous, but it makes clear the biologists were selflessly dedicated to protecting the park's wildlife, especially it's elephants. One safari guide who knew Mark Owens in Zambia said Mark's experiences in the bush hardened him: "He was very angry with poaching. He loves the elephants, so all the killing made him very upset." The Owenses were well funded--the Frankfurt Zoological Society was their main supporter--and they used the money to purchase a Cessna airplane, a Bell helicopter, and trucks to transport "Owen's scouts" on "village sweeps" conducted at night. Some sixty game scouts were in their direct employ according to reports. During the sweeps, scouts would descend on local villages looking for poachers. Suspects were often beaten. Homes were disrupted and frightened villagers interrogated by armed men. These raids appear to have violated Zambian law which requires a warrant for a house search. In one raid in August 1993, according to Mark Owens in a funding proposal to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, more than fifty firearms were confiscated.

Anyone familiar with the state of wildlife conservation in Africa knows that protecting wildlife from poaching is dangerous work. The poachers are not just hungry villagers armed with old rifles and shotguns supplementing their starvation diets with meat. Nowadays they are gangs armed with automatic weapons engaged in a criminal enterprise of international scope. Local officials are often helpless to stop them, as the dire situation in the Congo demonstrates. Rangers must be ready to defend themselves with equal force, and to protect wildlife in certain desperate situations, rangers must be ready to shoot poachers on sight. If Africa's irreplaceable wildlife is to survive human depredation, then law enforcement must be taken to a more sophisticated, coordinated level*. Mark and Delia Owens now live in the US, perhaps never to return to the savannas they fought hard to protect. But black rhinos are returning back to North Luangwa National Park.
*David Higgins, manager of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme, said, "The gorillas are yet another victim of the contempt shown by organized criminal gangs for national and international laws aimed at defending wildlife. The law enforcement response must be internationally co-coordinated, strong and united, and INTERPOL is uniquely placed to facilitate this."

[photo, top: a wild elephant walks through a safari lodge in South Luwanga National Park.  The lodge was unwittingly built atop a traditional elephant path to favorite mango trees, so the elephants insist on walking through reception.  No injuries have been reported by hotel staff, and no elephants have attempted to register. UK Telegraph.]

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Wildlife in Congo Basin Is Victim of War

The chief warden for Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo reports that the Congolese army is largely responsible for the increasing amount of poaching taking place in the Park. Eight battalions are stationed around the boarders and they are turning to bush meat to feed themselves and to sell on the black market. The elephant population has declined by 90% in the past twenty years. Buffalos have also been decimated. Now endangered lions appear to be the wild meat of choice [photo courtesy, Gorilla CD]. Rangers are sorely outnumbered by the undisciplined soldiers, 10 to 1. Despite their unquestioned bravery--about 200 park rangers have been killed in the line of duty--the rangers are under equipped and in need of aircraft for rapid transport and surveillance.

Virunga NP is also the home of the mountain gorillas. A recent UN report tells a grim story of the future of the gorillas. [photo courtesy] They may be largely gone by 2020 due to human encroachment on forest habitat and the increasing demand for bushmeat. The report estimates that just 10% of undisturbed gorilla habitat will remain by 2030. Militias operating in the eastern part of the troubled country are blamed for most of the damaging illegal trade in minerals, timber and charcoal. The trade is 2 to 10 times official estimates. Militia control of boarder crossings alone brings in $14 to $50 million annually, used to perpetuate the conflict. The insecurity caused by the civil unrest has driven hundreds of thousand of people into refugee camps. Poachers keep the camps supplied with wild animals for food, and they have little respect for international efforts to enforce wildlife protection agreements. But the mountain gorillas have faired better than their lowland relatives because of strong joint efforts to protect them by Rwanda, Uganda and DRC law enforcement officials, along with local community support generated by benefit sharing.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Chart of the Week: Virtual Recovery Forges Ahead

Yes, stock watchers, the Dow Jones is back over 11,000 which is feel good news for Wall Streeters and those who still have 401k accounts. But look at these charts to see just how shallow the recovery is:
This chart shows that as a percentage of the total population, civilian employment has reached levels not seen since the 1950s. Approximately 42% of the total US population is not employed. Without wages to pay their credit bills, consumers are cutting back on their use of credit as shown in this chart:
That the recovery is restricted to a few sectors of the economy is reflected in this final chart. Some businesses such as home electronics and paper products have already experienced sharp reversals from the growth in the last quarter of '09 while others have stagnated near zero:

Friday, April 09, 2010

'Toontime: Would You Buy a Rug from This Man?

[credit: Deb Milbrath]

Wackydoodle sez:  If'n you shake his hand, count all yer fingers!

Thanks to a revitalized poppy industry, the Taliban is flush with money according to a US Treasury official.  So that means it can finance terror attacks, train and recruit soldiers, purchase and replace weaponry, and fight US troops.  Perhaps because the cash is getting greener on the other side, the increasingly erratic Hamid Karsai is threatening to join the jihad.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

UK Takes a Giant Green Step

US Person believes in giving credit were it is due, and he is a little late acknowledging the British government's contributions to saving wildlife and it's habitat around the globe. Careful readers may have descerned by now, US Person firmly believes that preserving the wild is the major path out of the global warming box next to drastically reducing carbon combustion. {"preservation"} Her Majesty's officials announced on April Fool's Day that a significant swath of the Indian Ocean is designated a marine reserve. the Chagos Island Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory), a remote remnant of the British Empire (awarded to Great Britian by the Treaty of Paris in 1814) in the middle of the Indian Ocean is now off limits to human development. The 210,000 square mile sanctuary is a biological "hot spot" containing still numerous species in a relatively unpolluted marine habitat. An water analysis in 1996 said the ocean was "exceptionally pristine" The waters around the islands in the chain, including the infamous Diego Garcia military base, contain up to half of the healthy reefs in the Indian Ocean, providing a priceless treasure chest of biodiversity that replenishes the entire ocean. At least 60 species of fish on the IUCN's red list of endangered species survive with the sanctuary's 200 mile limit. It will also provide a haven for fish facing extinction due to man's over exploitation such as tuna, billfish and sharks. As a fully protected area the Chagos Marine Protected Area will be a research mecca for scientists studying crucial subjects for man's continued health such as ocean acidification, sea level changes, fish stock declines, pollution migration and climate change. There is only one cloud to mar the dedication of the largest marine reserve in the world: The Chagossian people were removed from their island home when the UK and US military moved in forty years ago. They are now suing in the European Court of Human Rights for their return. Even so, the designation of so much unspoiled territory as a wildlife reserve deserves a GREEN KUDOS award to the UK.

[photo: clown fish on Chagossian reef, courtesy BBC]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Video: Winning Hearts and Minds in Iraq

This video was released by a non-profit organization that has drawn the ire of the military/intelligence complex because it has made public classified information concerning the US war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008 the Army Counterintelligence Center said Wikileaks was a security threat.  During the incident in which mostly unarmed Iraqis were blasted by the crew of an orbiting Apache helicopter, a Reuters reporter and his driver were killed. This event took place in 2007. US soldiers on the ground driving Humvees in the area were directed to the killing zone by the crew after the "bastards" were lying prostrate, dead or dying*. Notice that even after the reporter was clearly wounded and unable to escape their fire, the Apache crew shot up the reporter and his rescuer in a van. The US military has admitted the authenticity of the video which was decrypted by Wikileaks. If you can spot the man with an RPG launcher give US Person an email with the digital time frame and you will receive virtual credit at Persona Non Grata.

*And in Afghanistan, the Special Forces, the elite of America's military establishment, have been forced to admit that two pregnant Afghan women were killed in a raid. Alexander Cockburn reports:  "[T]he US military has finally admitted that Special Forces troops killed two pregnant Afghan women and a girl in a February raid in which two Afghan government officials also died. Brilliant reporting by Jerome Starkey of the Times has blown apart the US military's cover-up story that the women were killed by knife wounds administered several hours before the raid.  It now appears that the knife wounds may have been inflicted by the Special Forces troops retrieving their bullets from the dead or dying women's bodies. Starkey reported that Afghan investigators had determined that American forces not only killed the women but had also "dug bullets out of their victims' bodies in the bloody aftermath" and then “"washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened".

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Indigenous People Win Land Battle

The battle was not fought with spears, bows and arrows, but with legal arguments before the Sarawak High Court in Borneo. Palm oil leases granted by the state government to IOI Corporation were declared null and void by the court because they violated the customary land rights of the villagers whose communal boundary encompassed the leased areas {"Borneo"}.  The decision in the class action suit took twelve years to be handed down. The court also awarded exemplary and aggravated damages to the Long Teran Kanan native community for the trespass on native land.  IOI has attempted to present a public image of sustainable palm oil industry, but investigations by the BBC and Friends of the Earth found the corporation responsible for denuding vast swaths of rainforest to install monoculture plantations, leaving a "a vast scar on the landscape". The growing market in the west for palm oil as a food additive and biofuel is leading to increasing deforestation [image courtesy]. Environmentalists and supporters of the indigenous are urging the Sarawak government not to appeal the ruling.

Trouble in Paradise

No explanation has yet been offered by the Chinese as to why a bulk coal carrier was sailing well within a restricted marine sanctuary when it ran aground on Australia's Great Barrier Reef on April 2nd. The 230m long bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 was 9 nautical miles off it's set course near Great Keppel Island, well outside the shipping channel. The ship hit the reef at full speed. It is carrying 65,000 tons of coal as well as estimated 975 tons of heavy fuel oil. A relatively small leak has been spotted coming from the stranded vessel, but the ship is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. Fuel oil is a toxic goo that kills any biological organisms it comes into contact with. Dispersants have been sprayed from the air on the relatively small leak of about 3km by 100m. Booms have not been deployed due to a heavy ocean swell. Intial damage reports indicate a breached engine room and a seriously damaged rudder. The captain says there is a hole in the outer hull of the ship. Meanwhile, the heavy vessel continues to grind away at the reef on which it is perched. Salvers are aboard, tugs are in route, and hopefully Australian maritime officials can prevent further environmental damage.  There were no local pilots on board the ship when it ran aground, a circumstance an Australian senator called "reckless", but the authorized shipping channel is not considered risky and the Shen Neng 1 was miles away from it when the grounding occurred.  Plans are afoot for even more shipping traffic in the channel to export natural gas and coal. The reef is a UN World Heritage Site.

[photo: Maritime Safety Queensland]

Monday, April 05, 2010

Chart of the Week: Fighting for Pay

Another inconvenient fact is that the biggest US jobs program is run by the Pentagon as this chart indicates:
Even though the absolute number of military employees is declining due to population growth, the amount the Pentagon spends on our volunteer warriors is growing.  The growth in the Pentagon's budget ($708B) is not envisioned to decrease despite the drawdown of troops in Iraq.  There is something to be said for compulsory national service when the cost of a completely professional standing army gets more burdensome over time. Perhaps if the responsibility for fighting our nation's frequent wars were not shunted aside to a tiny minority of citizens, we would not be subjected to a seemingly endless, costly series of conflicts by executive choice. As any competent historian will tell you, paying for a bloated military establishment has contributed greatly to the ending of empires. See Rome; see Great Britain; see Soviet Union, etc.

Friday, April 02, 2010

'Toontime: Wolves Among Sheep

credit: Mike Lukovich

"...It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea...woe to that man through whom scandal comes."
                           --Matthew 18:5-7

Betraying the Whales

This is what Forty-four wrote in response to a Greenpeace questionnaire dated March 16, 2008 when he was running for the office of President:

"As president I will ensure that the US provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including the strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling.  Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable."

Actions always speak louder than words, even when they come out of the mouth of the President of the United States.  If Forty-four means what he said, then the US delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), hand picked by him, should not be supporting the vote to reinstate commercial whaling or pressuring other countries to do the same!  Japan continues to push hard for a resumption of commercial whaling, and a small working group within the IWC has recommended that commercial whaling be reinstated.   The issue is set for a vote at the June meeting of the IWC. The draft proposal would allow hunting in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica and grant Japan new hunting right in its coastal waters. Countries in the middle of the fight such as New Zealand see compromise on the moratorium as the only way out of the impasse. Australia is prone to take Japan to international court to oppose the use of the scientific research exception to the moratorium used by Japan as cover for its Southern Ocean whaling operations.   Iceland may have to drop its miniscule whaling industry as a condition for joining the EU.  That leaves Norway as the only other country that actively hunts whales.  Countries supporting Japan's demands to resume commercial whaling are doing so only as payback for Japan's support on other diplomatic issues such as status of forces agreements.  The Administration must step up and be counted on this important international agreement, and insist that the moratorium in place since 1986 be maintained.  Whales are fighting for their lives against habitat loss, ship collisions, pollution and entanglement in discarded fishing gear.  They need us to fight for them against whaling.  Countries around the world support continuing the ban, so tell Obama to match action with his words.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Dirty Koch Empire

Those of you who watch PBS might be familiar with the name David H. Koch [photo courtesy Koch Industries, Inc.].  His foundation is often given screen credit for supporting PBS programing such as "The American Experience".  But behind the benign facade of charitable giving is the fact that billionaire oilman David Koch and his brother Charles are responsible for a nearly $50 billion campaign to deny climate change and stop policies and regulations intended to reduce global warming.  Koch Industries is the second largest privately held company in America behind Cargill.  It has a very poor environmental record according to Greenpeace.  In 2000 the EPA fined Koch Industries $30 million for its part in 300 oil spills that leaked more than 3 million gallons of crude into ponds, lakes, streams and coastal waters.  Greenpeace has released a report exposing the connection between the Kochs and the coordinated oil industry campaign to deny climate change and stop or delay any regulation associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Koch out spent Exxon-Mobil in funding front groups opposed to clean energy and climate policy in recent years.  From 2005 to 2008 Exxon-Mobil spent $8.9 million compared to Koch Industries and its controlled foundations spending $24.9 million.  In 2007 Koch funded a non-peer reviewed article by climate denier scientists that concluded western Hudson Bay polar bears are not being threatened by anthropogenic climate change*.  The paper was debunked by independent bear experts.  You can visualize the web of obsfucation and mis-information weaved by the Koch brothers in support of "market based solutions" to the climate problem by visiting Greenpeace's interactive chart. It shows the $37.9 million in lobbying activity, campaign financing of $5.74 million since 2006, and the foundations and institutes beholding to Koch Industries Inc.  The company and its foundations are the single largest obstacle to advancing clean energy and climate policy in the US.  And you can thank the US Supreme Court for recently guaranteed their right to be so.

* An adult polar bear was found washed ashore alive but totally exhausted on the Scottish island of Mull.  The bear was discovered on Wednesday by a Scottish police officer on a routine patrol of the shore.  The nearest populations of polar bears live in Greenland and Svalbard archipelago.  The bear may have drifted to Mull on an ice floe.  The officer took some pictures [link] and went to get help.  When he returned to the spot, the bear was gone. A search of the island is underway.  It is believed to be the first time a polar bear has been found in UK waters since before the last Ice Age.