Tuesday, August 31, 2010

California Coastal Waters To Be Free of Sewage

giant cruise ship in San Diego harbor
All sewage from large cruise liners and cargo ships is to be banned from entering California coastal waters under new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The ban would be the largest no discharge zone in the US and is expected to spare the seawater from diluting 20 million gallons of untreated sewage dumped by ships every year. ENS tells us that 434 California beaches monitored in 2009 showed forty percent were put under advisories for exceeding pathogen standards. All fifty LA beaches,  85% of San Francisco's beaches and 75% of San Diego's were issued advisories. The State of California asked EPA to establish the ban to improve water quality under the federal Clean Water Act. The ban applies to ships over 300 tons displacement and covers coastal waters within 3 miles of shore. The state is also attempting to improve the regulation of sewage discharge from smaller vessels including private recreational boats. The EPA is inviting public comment for sixty days on the proposed rule, EPA-R09-OW-2010-0438.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chart of the Week: Its Not Just the Poor Getting Poorer III

Continuing our theme of the effects of the Second Great Depression on the middle class and society in general, we can see that the shrinking of manufacturing in this country is having a profound effect on the ability of middle class families to participate in home ownership. Manufacturing jobs historically paid the highest wages, due to more collective bargaining in the sector, but that has all changed with globalization:
The blue line of existing home sales represents the predominate purchasing of distressed properties using the first time home-buyer tax credit in the current depressed market. The red line representing new home purchases is falling faster because of less price flexibility according to Calculated Risk.com. The "distressing gap"  is not good news for the FIRE economy. Housing construction is now one of the biggest industries in America.

The federal government is also feeling the squeeze. Falling tax revenues are increasing the burden of existing and future public debt. Morgan Stanley created an interesting table tp show the relative position of western countries when it come to the ability of a country to pay back its public debt. Compared to western Europe and especially the notorious Mediterranean profligates, the US debt to GDP ratio is conservative. But the ability to pay debt is better related to government revenues which are basically taxes.  In this comparison the US comes last:
The middle column shows why.  The US has the lowest total tax revenue by far, less than half of all the other nations in the table.  This will make a Tea Party person happy, but creditors will get nervous about the US ability to pay back its debts.  Perhaps the answer is to cut taxes even more?  Not so much.  The fact is the United States has a very low corporate tax rate and no VAT which most other western nations have.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mississippi Fishermen Test for Oil

[credit: Erica Blumenfeld 2010]
The government wants you to believe the oil is gone and the seafood safe to eat. The State of Mississippi opened all of its coastal waters to fishing on August 6th with the approval of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and the US Food & Drug Administration. But fishermen in Mississippi wanted to know for sure, so they set out to test the waters of Mississippi Sound. What they found was oil in high concentrations. Truthout.com went out with the fishermen and report about what was found here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Are New Nukes Safer?

The public is still skeptical of the safety of nuclear power reactors. A new report by sociologists published in Science criticizes Obamacon & Folks for leaving the human factor out of their technical calculations for a "rebirth" of the heavily subsidized industry. {"nuclear renaissance"} The social scientists say that another blue ribbon commission appointed to sell a nuclear future to America is not addressing the concerns Americans have for nuclear safety issues. The primary concern the public has is the safe and secure storage of radioactive wastes, a problem made all the more urgent by the closure of the Yucca Mountain, Nevada national repository {"Yucca Mountain"}. More than 170 national and grassroots environmental organizations from every state have signed a petition asking for the 18 member panel to require hardened storage for high-level radioactive waste currently stored at nuclear power plants across the US. About 60,000 tons of waste has accumulated in the US without a final disposal site available. Funding for the repository was ended by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July.

Reactor safety is still something to think about. One of the major conclusions from the analysis of the Three Mile Island near meltdown was that reactor design should be standardized. Currently five designs are being studied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which requires time and expense to verify and approve. So no new reactor is expected to be built before 2016. All of the submitted designs rely on proven technology--pressurized water and boiling water reactors. NRC does not require the new reactor designs to be safer than existing reactors, but it does require hardening of the containment shell to withstand a direct impact by a jetliner. Ideally there should be just two designs to vet. Using a pre-approved design for a PWR or BWR would simplify licensing, construction, operation and malfunction response. Because of this country's ideological bias for the free market, all of its 104 existing reactors are custom built, thereby magnifying their cost and complexity to build, run and regulate.

The new designs have been subjected to mathematical risk assessments to measure the probability of an accident. The designs have lower scores than existing plants, but only if internal events such as pipe breaks, fires, or welding failures are considered. When external events such as earthquakes are considered, the new designs are no safer than the old plants. Nor are the designs intended to withstand a unexpected sequence of events, something the engineers could not predict as probable or beyond the design parameters. The partial melt down at Three Mile Island was just such a "black swan".

'Toontime: You Can't Eat the Fish

More: Whenever a Washington administration wants to create an appearance of consensus on a policy issue that has already been decided out of range of public scrutiny, it creates a 'bipartisan commission of experts' to role out the foregone conclusion. That is exactly what Obamacon & Folks is doing to end the drilling moratorium sooner rather than later. The moratorium is scheduled to expire on November 30th. A report was issued Thursday by a Washington think tank named "The Bipartisan Policy Center" stating that the moratorium may no longer be needed, "If industry is diligent...and DOI is vigilant in oversight" Two big conditions, both of which the disaster proved were not operative. The Macondo well is still not plugged from below, and the investigations of what happen aboard the Deepwater Horizon are still in their beginning stages. The shut-in took almost 3 months to accomplish and the task was marked by confusion and conflict. During the crisis Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar told the press he lost confidence in the company, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu turned to BP competitors for advice. US Person does not doubt that a blowout located a mile under the surface presents unique engineering problems, but the company represented to the federal landlord it was ready and able to handle a worse case spill scenario. NOT. The public relations offensive about ending the moratorium soon demonstrates one fact only: the incredible amount of political leverage the oil industry has in DC. The moratorium should not end until the industry demonstrates it has the ability to shut in a deep water blowout quickly and efficiently while minimizing adverse environmental impacts.  The industry is hot to drill in pristine habitats such as the Arctic where not only deep water presents difficulties to plugging a wild well or cleaning up a spill.  Compare the Arctic sea to the environmentally abused Gulf of Mexico where microbes and hot sun apparently combined to eliminate much of the spilled oil.  The industry now more than ever needs to demonstrate to the world it can operate at sea without causing environmental disasters before it is allowed to drill in locations where pollution is not a taken for granted.

Update: {24.8.10}Evidence of BP's criminality continues to mount as the Deepwater Horizon inquiries continue. A Halliburton engineer testified at a Coast Guard hearing today that he informed BP of the risks of gas leaks if the company cut back on pipe stabilizers in the Macondo well.  Jesse Gagliano sent BP a computer model by email showing the severe risk of gas flowing into the well if the company used fewer than seven stabilizers at different depths.  Halliburton was hired by BP to cement the Macondo well casings in place.  It is believed by industry observers that an explosive surge in natural gas--a "gas kick"--escaped the well bore, ignited and destroyed the drilling platform causing the worse oil well disaster in US history.  In addition to the email Gagliano testified he shared his concerns with BP engineers sharing the same office.  Brian Morel was one of the BP engineers receiving the email, and he has refused to testify by invoking the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.  Morel defended the decision to use fewer stabilizers in an email to a BP colleague.
[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]

{20.08.20}Scientists looking for subsurface oil have found toxic levels of oil in the sediments of an important spawning grounds for commercial species. University of South Florida researchers found oil droplets covering sediments in the DeSoto Canyon east of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The oil has yet to positively identified as originating from the Macondo blowout. Phytoplankton--microscopic plant-like organisms that form the base of the marine food web--appear to be in poor health according to the researchers. Other scientists have expressed confidence in the South Florida team's preliminary results. In June, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute found an underwater oil cloud stretching 35 kilometers, 2 kilometers wide and 200 meters thick.

On the legal front, British Petroleum's drilling contractor is accusing the oil giant of withholding evidence that it says is key to identifying the cause of the disaster. BP called the accusation a "publicity stunt". Officials investigating the incident have also experienced similar delays in "prying information" out of BP. The oil company has been ordered to replace the blowout preventer which failed and preserve it as evidence. A new preventer must be pressure tested. The process will further delay the bottom kill operation until after Labor Day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Only in South Carolina

You may have noticed that South Carolina is...a little different than other states.  Besides its notoriously corrupt politics, inhabitants enjoy a rather archaic and truly brutal pastime.  US Person is not talking about football, either.  An investigation by the US Humane Society has captured the cruelty of bear baiting on video.  It ranks with bull fighting for the sheer coldheartedness involved.  A captive black bear is chained in a corral while wildly barking hunting dogs keep the bear in fear for its life while stupid humans enjoy the spectacle.  Often the captors remove teeth and claws making the bear defenseless against the swarming hounds.  Where this video was made, the assault continued for 4 HOURS.  She faced 300 dogs in succession. The yokels in South Carolina keep this kind of "training event" underground because they realize that the rest of their countrymen may find this spectacle more than backward.  The USHS says there are 26 captive bears in South Carolina, many are probably used for such cruel sport.  The state's Department of Natural Resources issues permits for keeping the bears in captivity, but does nothing about the cruelty these bear endure.  Black bears by nature are shy and retiring, one of the reason they are able to live around man.  The dog attacks must be frightening beyond explanation.  Two respected bear biologists that have viewed the footage say the bears are reacting in "defensive terror"  If you have the nerve you can view the shocking video here.  Then call or email South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Director John Frampton and ask him to stop this insane cruelty.  800-734-4007.

[photo credit: Aiken Standard.com]

Oil & Gas Discovered off Greenland

Armies no longer run on their stomachs. Modern armies, and navies too, run on hydrocarbon fuels. So it is no surprise that the Danish Navy is facing off against the Greenpeace ship Esperanza protesting the drilling of two exploratory wells in Baffin Bay. The captain of the patrol frigate Vaedderen has warned the environmentalists that their ship will be raided if they violate a seclusion zone around the drilling activity conducted by a British company, Cairn Energy. The modern double hull Danish frigate (1992) is armed with a 76mm rapid fire canon, various heavy machine guns, antisubmarine weapons, and a Lynx helicopter. The Esperanza is a former Russian firefighting vessel equipped with boats and a helicopter. Thirty activists and crew are reported to be aboard.

Cairn Energy announced yesterday that it has found gas in thin sands usually associated with oil. One of two wells in Baffin Bay, T8-1, has not yet reached its target depth. The company plans to drill four wells in the area and perform seismic surveying.

[photo credit: Will Rose/AFP/Getty Images via UK Guardian]

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Money Talks II

Citizens United v. FEC is right up there with the Dred Scott decision for being the worse decision ever by the Supreme Court. It gives corporations the right to make direct contributions to politicians, something that had been denied them by sixty-three years of legal precedent. So much for stare decisis. Apparently conservatives are only concerned with judicial activism when it is liberals doing the deciding. But give them credit for being prepared. Faced with the prospect of being out of power for years after another unpopular war, they made sure that the Supreme Court was controlled by a solid conservative majority, and the Stevens Court has delivered. As US Person stated previously {29.01.10}, the inequity of empowering a legal fiction with the same political speech right as a natural person goes back to the 19th century. A constitutional amendment limiting political speech to natural persons would be the appropriate way to correct the situation. But such an amendment is highly unlikely to succeed. Senators Schumer (D-NY) and Leahy (D-VT) offered the next best thing, a bill requiring corporations to disclose their political contributions publicly. The DISCLOSE Act is also a corny acronym, which in acronym crazy Washington is almost a necessity to get people's serious attention: Democracy Is Strenghtened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections. When the proposal was voted on this July, it lost by one vote due to yet another Repugnant filibuster[1], but the Democratic Senators are planning to reintroduce the measure after the August recess.

The problem of corporate domination of national politics is bigger than where to build a mosque in lower Manhattan. Without knowing which corporations are sponsoring which politicians, Americans will be unable to counteract unwanted influence with their votes. Washington floats in a swamp of special interest money now. Conservatives hoping to counteract their numerical disadvantage have opened the floodgates to unlimited, anonymous spending. As the law stands corporations can hide behind non-profit organizations doing issue advocacy since the non-profits do not have to disclose their donors. The proposed Act seeks to insure transparency in election funding by requiring more disclosure from corporations making donations. An example of anonymous corporate spending is coal companies planning to form a Section 527 group that will allow them to hide their campaign activities until tax returns are due after the mid-term elections. They are targeting politicians the coal industry considers "anti-coal". In a letter to other coal companies, the senior vice-president of International Coal Group said thanks to the Citizens United case, "we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard." Not just coal companies are deciding to take advantage of this undemocratic change in campaign finance law. Tell your senator or congressperson during the recess that you do not want the last vestiges of "government by the people" to perish from the Earth. Sign the petition here.

[1] Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had the unmitigated gall to tell NPR the DISCLOSE bill was a "transparent effort to rig the fall election". You really do have to admire his ability to ignore cognitive dissonance. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chart of the Week: It's Not Just the Poor Getting Poorer II

The picture above is from the 1930's courtesy of the Library of Congress. Then, as now, it is no freak of nature that the people in line are of color while the icon of the American family is white. Unemployment among minorities has always been more prevalent and persistent. Initial unemployment claims increased by 12,000 from last week reversing an improvement in the number of jobless:
The claim of the world's highest standard of living on the propaganda billboard no longer has a grain of truth in it. A recent national magazine rated America eleventh in quality of life among nations. Finland was rated first, Switzerland second, Sweden third, and Australia surprisingly fourth. One of the reasons for the declining living standard is the post-world war rate of inflation increase:
The chart shows the most rapid increase in the CPI occurred after the dollar was decoupled from the gold standard, effectively devaluing the currency. Caught between declining real income and a shift of living wage jobs overseas to cheaper labor markets, the white American middle class may end up in line too. If that happens, heaven help the Current Occupant.

The ignoramuses on the other side of America's political divide will tell you the fuel needed to power the nation out of economic stagnation is "cut taxes". Allow the great intergalactic ship of private enterprise to go to warp speed thereby creating more jobs and more wealth is their Hollywoodesque rationale. But these scenario pitchmen will not tell you corporate America and it's wealthy bosses already pay less in taxes than ordinary individuals, as this pie chart shows:
US corporations paid only 6.5% of taxes (red) collected by Uncle Samuel while individual income taxes accounted for 47% of revenue (blue)! The plutocrats are spending as never before to keep the pie sliced the way they like it. Thanks to the conservative activists on the Supreme Court who gave us Citizens United v. FEC, the US Chamber of Commerce has increased its spending for the upcoming congressional election from $38m in 2008 to a projected $75m or more. This huge amount of money will be focused on 10 Senate races and about 40 races in the House. One report circulating among Democratic legislators says 15 conservative groups have budgeted $300m to spend on the campaigns. Rather than talking about allowing the Charlatan's tax cuts for the rich to lapse, we should be talking about taking the annual income cap of $160,000 off Social Security contributions (green), thus eliminating the problem of the program's fiscal soundness for the foreseeable future. Now that is class war US Person can endorse!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ecuador Earns Green Kudos

The Galapagos Islands, a part of Ecuador, lost its UN protected status as an endangered World Heritage Site, but the government of President Rafael Correa succeeded in obtaining international funding to replace the lost revenue from ITT oil concessions it is giving up in Yasuni National Park. The Park is situated in the perhaps the most biological diverse region on Earth at the intersection of the Andes Mountains and Amazon River. The agreement was reached on August 4th and will be administered by the UN Development Program. Initial contributors to the fund include Spain, France, Sweden and Switzerland. They collectively committed $1.5 billion to replace half of the estimated $7 billion oil exploration would have brought the Ecuadorian government.

Yasuni Park covers 982,000 hectares surrounding the Amazon's headwaters. It contains 28 endangered vertebrates on the ICUN's Red List including several species of monkeys, giant otters, and Amazonian manatees. The region is the ancestral home of the Huaorani, Tagaeri and Taromenane tribes. The Huaorani were responsible for lobbying the government and applying public pressure to sign the proposal through three years of political turmoil. During this time drilling inside the Park was allowed to continue. Estimates are that the agreement will prevent 400 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere as a result of burning the extracted oil.

Hear the Jaguar roar!

When Defeat is Victory

Obamacon told the West Point military cadets earlier this month that Iraq is "what success looks like". Not even those gung-ho professional soldiers in training can swallow that canard. As the last combat troops of the 2nd Infantry Division left for Kuwait early this morning a quick look around will tell you the reality of Iraq post Sadam is not for the better. The country is physically in ruins. Iraqis regularly protest intermittent electrical service, lack of sanitation, and potable water. Governance is almost at a standstill because the major ethnic factions are unable to form a coalition after the closely divided result of a basically fair election in March. Suicide bomb attacks regularly interrupt the country's tenuous hold on peace. On Tuesday, an attack killed 48 at an Iraqi Army recruiting center. High level government officials and police are targets of assassination. The famous troop surge neocons are so proud to claim is responsible for this "victory" is itself a fiction. The Sunnis decided to stop fighting the US because they were loosing the civil war against the Shia in Baghdad, and the US began paying off many of their tribal leaders in the "Awakening" movement. A most unwanted consequence of the war on Iraq is the increased influence of Iran's Shia government over its weakened neighbor.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq cannot be considered a victory even if cynically measured in commodity terms. Only two US companies received long term oil contracts from Iraq: Exxon-Mobil and Occidental. Exxon and its partner Royal Dutch Shell got the West Qurna Phase I field; Occidental got the Zubair field in partnership with Italy's ENI and South Korea's Kogas. The largest field, Rumalia (17 billion barrels), was leased to British Petroleum and China's National Petroleum Company. The Majnoon field (12.6 billion) went to Petronas and Dutch Shell. So the lion's share of oil went to foreign companies, despite the fact the occidental blood spilled was overwhelmingly American. Combat troops may be largely be gone, but there will be Americans around every corner in Iraq even after the 2011 deadline for removal of all American military forces.

The cost of the Iraq War to America goes beyond casualties and money both of which are considerable in their own right. As a people we have become desensitized to violence and more xenophobic during the eight year occupation. We have witnessed a United States government engage in torture, seizure, assassinations and other serious violations of internationally recognized human rights. Our laws protecting citizen privacy have been abridged in the name of national security. Treaties and laws against torture were bureaucratically nullified. For the first time in our history as a nation, our military has created an offshore penal colony that is not close to being closed nine years since the terror attacks that brought it into existence. The legality of the Iraq war itself has been called into question. To say this is what victory looks like makes a mockery of our civilization.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

America, the Ugly

While Obamacon entangles himself in a local land use dispute and Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) scares the ignorant with rants about "terror babies",  Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced yesterday that NEPA exemptions previously granted oil companies seeking to drill in deep water will be temporarily halted. Companies must now prepare a environmental impact statement prior to drilling where the proposed well has the potential for significant impacts. It was revealed during the Mississippi Canyon blowout that British Petroleum received a categorical exemption under the Act based on outdated data for the overall program of increased exploration for oil in the Gulf (Programmatic EIS). No site specific study was competed by BP for Mississippi Canyon Block 252 p.18 of Council for Environmental Quality Report on MMS NEPA Practices.  The company's filed oil spill response plan (OSRP) represented the company was equipped to handle a spill of 300,000 barrels per day.  The categorical exclusion relied on by the Minerals Management Service to approve the company's drilling plan was established in 1986.  Between 1947 when the first deep water well in the Gulf was drilled at 212 meters and 1986, 330 deep wells had been drilled.  The definition of a deep well has changed over time as companies explore further out to sea.  The Macondo well was over 1500 meters below the surface.  The environmental assessment for deep water drilling on the OCS noted in 2000 that, "Water depths may complicate well control operations. Of particular concern is the ability to stop a blowout once it has begun". Too bad everyone was at the party when those words were written.

Already political pressure is ramping up to end the temporary moratorium on exploratory drilling on the OCS.  Gulf state politicians are sensitive to the fact that offshore oil employees are not working.  Nearly four months after the blowout, the relief well plugging operation is still not completed.  Apparently debris trapped in the damage well is preventing the pumping in of mud and cement from going ahead.  Officials are studying the effects of pressure increase  caused by a bottom kill operation.  A group of scientists studying the government's earlier finding that 75% of the spilled oil has dissipated contradicted that overly optimistic conclusion by saying as much as 79% of the leaked oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chart of the Week: It's Not Just the Poor Getting Poorer

When US Person gave a speech at the Longshoreman's Union hall, his theme was "Downhill since Nixon". As he explained to the 100 or more people gathered there to support a Democratic presidential candidate, the middle class has been loosing economic ground since Richard Nixon unleashed the twin devils of currency devaluation and debt financing by taking the United States out of the post-war Breton Woods agreement. The salient fact is that since 1973 the year the gold standard was ended, real incomes of 90% of Americans--the great middle class--has increased less than 10%. The top 1% of Americans, who derive most of their incomes from investment, has tripled. In the period 2000-2006 the average family income for the bottom 90% decreased by 4% while the top 1% experienced a 22% increaseexcludingcapital gains! These astounding statistics represent a wage stagnation which has profoundly altered social conditions in America. The middle class share of the "American dream pie" is shrinking. Over 37 years, middle class Americans used consumer debt to get the things they wanted because inflation made them ever more expensive. Consumer debt is at crippling high levels. Middle family incomes are today two person incomes that are increasingly spent on necessities such as mortgages, child care, interest expense and health insurance. These charts tell the story:

The wage peonage in which most Americans have put themselves is not entirely their fault. They were encouraged to consume, so capitalists could continue to make profits not only on the goods but from financing consumer purchases at lucrative interest rates. This unequal situation was made crystal clear when the Charlatan was asked what ordinary Americans could do in response to the terrorist attacks of 2001. He replied with words to the effect: go shopping. Borrowing was made relatively cheap by government fiat, and consumers used their major asset, their home, as collateral. Now 25% of homeowners are underwater. The debt hole they dug is a deep one indeed:
US household debt is up 120% approaching $20 trillion or 130% of GDP. Personal savings has dropped from $20 trillion to $8 trillion. The social effects of all these negative changes in the relative economic well being of the American middle class was reported by the Financial Times. What the newspaper found were hard working Americans (the ones still employed) who are living in an increasingly stratified society, and who are becoming more pessimistic about their ability to move up--the end of the American Dream.

Think about this fact: fewer than 1/10th of Americans belong to unions. People in Canada and Europe are subject to the same forces of globalization and technology, often blamed for wage stagnation, yet they belong to collective bargaining units in greater number and their health care is publicly funded. Americans often equate socialism with economic stagnation. But Germany, a socialist state that mandates worker participation in company management[1], is making the so-called US recovery look bad (France's unemployment rate is similar to ours):

[top charts: www.marketoracle.uk.com]
[1] Thomas Geohegan in his Harper's article points out that the foundation of Germany's social democracy are the works councils, the co-determined boards and regional wage bargaining institutions. All of which depend on worker participation.  And the Germans still make good cars--imagine that!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

BP Still Has Clout II

Update: Apparently unsatisfied with the technical test results or sensitivity to the desires of the public who want a permanent fix, or a combination of both, the federal crisis chief, Admiral Thad Allen ordered BP to go ahead with the bottom kill in "an overabundance of caution". The failed blowout preventer may be replaced and additional testing completed before the relief well is finally plugged. Allen assured reporters that precautions will be taken to preserve the BOP's forensic value. Bravo! Belts and suspenders are always best when your pants are prone to falling off. Enjoy your dip Mr. President.

{12.8.10}The UK's Telegraph newspaper (Tory) is reporting that British Petroleum is close to a deal with Obamacon & Folks to guarantee its return to the Gulf of Mexico in future. There is support in the US House to ban companies with poor safety records from drilling on the US outer-continental shelf. But the current administration is pro-big oil so it is amenable to allowing BP to guarantee the $20billion compensation fund with revenues from Gulf operations which account for approximately 10% of its business. The company already paid $3bn into the fund on Monday, and has repeatedly said it plans to make further payments from current operation revenue. The company reinsured its executives in the amount of $400m just prior to the blowout occurring. Over 300 lawsuits have been filed against BP as a consequence of the largest oil well disaster in history. Debate over whether the company will be allowed to leave the Macondo blowout unsealed from the bottom--the so called bottom kill--continues to simmer. Moving on without sealing in the reservoir is the kind of irresponsible cost cutting that contributed to the cause of the devastating blowout three months ago. No one knows for sure if the "top kill" successfully sealed all weak spots in the crippled well bore. The incestuous relationship between our national government and big business has never been more clearly on display to the American public.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

'Toontime: The Truth According to Obama-BP Inc.

[Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer]

From the 'Obamanon' {3.1.08} to the 'Obamacon' in just two years!  He started out as the the answer to our hopes for a new way of governing.  Just two years inside the soul sucking former swamp that is Washington has turned Forty-four into the biggest spinmeister since...Ronald Reagan.   In the Oval office, black is white and the oil is all gone (it has to be the lack of corners).  But if the peasants are no longer buying your snake oil, get your barker to verbally attack them.  Yes, the thrill is gone, but not the oil!

The pecuniary interests of BP have been directly opposed to the free flow of information about the disaster because their liability under the Clean Water Act alone is measured by the amount of oil spilled. The latest, most popular figure quoted is 4.9 million barrels.  Fines under the Act according to AFP range from $1100 to $4300 per barrel making BP's exposure just for the spill as much as $21 billion.  The government will have to rely on the company and its contractors for the salvage operations.  The Coast Guard is not equipped to do the work itself despite the fact that much evidence of whether negligence or worse was involved on board the Deepwater Horizon will come from the sunken platform wreckage.  Not only does the technical information about the disaster come from the perpetrators, the federal government is complicit in the control of information about environmental damage.  The international environmental organization, Greenpeace, is responding to the lack independent, verifiable data by sending the Arctic Sunrise research vessel into the Gulf to collect information about ecosystem damage from crude oil and chemical dispersant.  US Person will follow the results of the three month survey on line because America needs the truth.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Obama Shows his Dark Side

Canadian healthcare?  Eliminating the Pentagon?  Then give us a toke, Gibbs. If the Obamacon thinks you can fool all the people, all of the time, Mr. Lincoln wants to talk. Sure the left supported the current occupant, but in our corporate state we only have a choice between bad and worse. US Person for one never swallowed the 'change' stuff Forty-four was peddling, but just kept his eyes on the guy from Vietnam with one good arm, PTSD, and an Alaskan loon for a running mate. Personally I don't think Dennis Kucinich has the killer instinct to be El Presidente, but if he were we might have national health insurance by now that really does reduce prices for health care, instead of a talking point. Ask the people from Massachusetts.  According to your chief of staff, refusing to be bought off by the entrenched special interests controlling politics in Washington is "retarded"! So count me as being eligible for the Special Olympics where I could match drug tests with Gibbs any day of the week and twice on Sundays. Volunteer anyone?

Monday, August 09, 2010

Caught in the Act

US Person mentioned the Indonesian palm oil giant, Sinar Mas in a previous post. Greenpeace was successful in getting Nestles to agree not to use palm oil suppliers that destroy rain forest. {2.07.10} Greenpeace continues to investigate the company, and it has caught the perpetrator in the act of clearing rain forest containing priceless orangutan habitat and carbon rich peat lands despite its public repentence.  Confidential company documents obtained by Greenpeace show the company plans to expand its pulp and palm oil operations in Indonesia by an additional million hectares (3,861 square miles).  The latest clearances shown in these photos (via wildlifeextra.com) are on the island of Borneo.  The environmental organization's spokesperson said Sinar Mas is a "typical firm with an appalling record of environmental destruction".  While some firms like Nestle, Kraft and Unilever have ended their contracts with the firm others like giant Cargil continue to do business with the irresponsible and destructive Sinar Mas.

Chart of the Week: A Rigged Game

Want to see what a rigged game looks like?  Goldbags boasted that it did not loose on a single day of trading last quarter.  Quarter Two was no so much.  It only lost on 10 days of trading:
If the titan of the Street of Broken Dreams were playing an honest game and not an insider game, one would expect the chart to be more bell shape indicating an even distribution of lost and gain days, since they are only mortal after all.  But as you can plainly see the number of days in which Goldbags raked in over 100 million in a single trading day is more than five times the number in which they loss more than that amount.  Total number of days of gain is 55 or 84% of the trading days in the quarter.  The chart, as economists would say, is skewed.

Meanwhile on Main Street, the news continues to disappoint:
  • US auto sales are about 2/3rds of what dealers made during the earlier par to the decade.  In July retailers sold 11.6 million units;
  • Retailers are not getting a back to school bounce in sales as sales missed estimates;
  • Factory orders fell in June for the second straight month, dropping by 1.2%;
  • Fannie Mae the federally chartered mortgage lender is seeking a $1.5 billion loan from the US while under federal conservatorship;
  • USPS is seeking an increase in postal rates to cover $3.5 billion loss in the recent quarter due to loss of mail volume and increases in retiree health care costs
  • Food stamp use rose to a record 40.8 million in May.  Participation in the food aid program has set records for 18 straight months;
  • Home sales felt a record low in June.  There were a record number of foreclosures in April and May;
  • Dollar falls and gold nears record high of over $1200 an ounce, Fed announces purchases of national debt and finally;
  • Social Security will pay out more than it takes in for the first time since 1983, the last time it was "fixed".
But the COM wants you to look on the bright side: Ms. Kagan got a job for life.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Victory for Wolves!

NRDC tells us that wolves and their friends have scored perhaps the final victory in the battle against slaughter in the Northern Rockies!  A district federal judge agreed with conservationists that wolves in the Northern Rockies were improperly removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.  It took a year and half and 500 dead wolves to get the slaughter stopped again.  The decision halts hunting seasons planned for this fall in Montana and Idaho.  The wolves in Wyoming were not removed from the endangered species list because its management plan was deemed inadequate. The disparate treatment of the wolves in the Northern Rockies along political lines rather than biological ones was the major reason for the decision to restore listing. It has been a long fight, but people who care about wolves carried the day in court. Thank you, Judge Malloy for seeing it through wolf eyes.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Death Toll in the Gulf

Update:  It is about money, people! BP is having second thoughts about the bottom kill.  If they go through with the relief well plugging operation the reservoir cannot be produced from the wells already drilled.  BP has its greedy eye on coming back to Mississippi Block 252 someday, but it would rather not have to drill another expensive well to produce the same reservoir.  Retired Admiral Thad Allen in charge of the government's crisis response insists the bottom kill will happen.  Guess who is going to win that argument.  BP may have some leverage too.  If the company is forced to do a bottom kill, it may argue it is entitled to royalty relief for an uneconomic deep well under the Deepwater Royalty Relief Act.  Are your teeth grinding yet, Mr. President?

{5.08.10}British Petroleum has finally, finally cemented in the Macondo blowout from the top.  Only completion of the relief well and cementing from below remains to hopefully permanently seal in the worst well disaster in history. The death toll of wildlife is still early in assessment, but the official count is 3,606 birds, 508 endangered sea turtles and 67 marine mammals according to the BBC. BP should be prosecuted for taking* each and everyone in violation of the Marine Mammal Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Act just to name the most prominent federal laws protecting these animals. More than 2,100 birds, turtles and marine mammals have been found oiled but alive. Some of those undoubtedly will perish from exposure to the toxic crude and dispersant. Countless more have died anonymously. Yes, the oil is disappearing, but the dead remain to remind us of man's recklessness.
[top photo credit: NY Daily News; bottom, UK Guardian]

*"to take" under the federal Endangered Species Act is to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, kill, trap, capture or collect any threatened or endangered species, and may include significant habitat modification where it actually kills or injures a listed species through impairment of essential behavior such as nesting or reproduction.  Presumably the 11 humans killed in the disaster were not slaves.

'Toontime: Hot Times on Planet Earth

[credit: Steve Benson]
Wackdoodle sez: An' that ol' boy Putin plays with matches!

Congress fiddles while Forty-four gets in a round or two or three. US Person is not blaming Majority Leader Harry Reid for the Senate's inability to take up the most fundamental problem affecting our times: global warming. The Senate is a broken institution, and he knows it: broken on the back of a few revanchist ideologues who are willing to manipulate arcane rules of procedure to thwart the popular will.  Reforming the Senate's filibuster rule (apparently created by mistake thanks to Vice President Arron Burr, who also killed Alexander Hamilton) will have to occur before taking on the enormous task of changing the way America powers itself.  According to our current Vice President, Joe Biden, Repugnants have been threatened with loosing the privileges of their seniority unless they support the GOP leadership on every single procedural vote.  One thing is certain--business as usual will take us over the cliff of catastrophic climate change.   How catastrophic? Canadian scientists report the possible collapse of the oceans' food chain. Rising sea levels could create millions of climate refugees. The Pentagon is already forecasting regional wars over water and food supplies. Mass fatalities and livestock die off can be caused by extreme heat and more violent storms.

The problems facing activists who want to do something about climate change are many and serious.  But a few of the largest impediments can be quickly identified.  First is the proposed legislation itself. The cap and trade mechanism sponsored by Senator Kerry (D-MA) is another corporate inspired boondoggle.  Most informed climate activists do not support it, and the progressive base is rightly uninspired by it.  The nation needs incentives to switch from carbon to alternative energy sources, not more futures markets dominated by the likes of Goldman Sachs.  The federal government also needs revenue.  A carbon tax would generate a lot of revenue as well discourage the continued and extravagant burning of carbon.  Everything from new coal power plants to low mileage SUVs could be taxed in ways to make their continued use cost prohibitive or at least accurately priced.  Of course, any kind of new tax is anathema to corporate America and their captive politicians, but the corporatists are using our air, land and water as open sewers without cost.  That has to stop.  If this extreme inequity alone is not enough to ignite popular support, then channeling some of the new revenue to Americans so they can afford higher energy costs might be an appropriate feature of a new energy tax scheme

Second, the ability of purchased politicians to block fundamental energy reform must be illuminated and eliminated.  Whether this is done on a rule by rule basis or a wholesale reform of Senate procedure is a matter best left to members, but the institution's dysfunction must be remedied.  The House passes legislation without super-majorities, and the American people support passing bills in the Senate in a similar fashion.  Without changing the Senate, America cannot go forward into an alternative future.

Third, the occupant of the White House has to get behind the issue of climate change in a committed way. He refused to invest any political capital in the effort to pass the cap and trade legislation.  Forty-four should begin the campaign to pass carbon tax legislation with an unmistakable symbolic initiative: retrofitting the entire White House for energy efficiency.  The retrofit includes reinstalling the solar panels that Jimmy Carter, the last President to do anything significant about alternative energy policy, put on the roof and Ronald 'Raygun' Reagan took down as a statement about the "new dawn in America". The current occupant can even use the South Lawn if a bigger array is necessary. It is simply irrational to spend more on drone aircraft than solar energy technology.  Unless we change how American powers itself, Reagan's version of a "new dawn" will bring our doom.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Know Nothings Ride Again!

US Person previously referred to the Tea Partiers as modern day "Know Nothings".{15.6.10}  The Know Nothings were a splinter party of the early 1850s that campaigned based on white Protestant reaction to the first non Anglo-saxon immigrant wave to hit the shores of the homeland.  The Know Nothings rose to prominence in Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  At its peak of influence two thirds of Massachusetts voters voted for Know Nothing candidates.  But the party's power evaporated when the Know Nothing presidential candidate lost the election of 1854. Allegedly, the party name came from the instructions members received for responding to inquiries about their activities.

To understand just how marginalized the Republican Party is becoming, and morphing into a party of know nothings or worse, one only has to look at their endorsement of ending the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of citizenship to any person born on US soil.  Previously this was a radical position only favored by right-wing fringe groups.  But now leaders of the GOP are calling for an examination of the constitutional provision.  Tea party favorite Rand Paul (R) advocates ending the citizenship at birth provision as have other legislators.   Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called the constitutional provision "a mistake".  The only mistake is one the GOP is making. Contrary to their closet supremacist fantasies, the United States was built and settled by immigrants of many races. It was never a white man's country club. When the 14th Amendment was being debated, Congressmen clearly understood that it would apply to the children of immigrants not just freed slaves , and the natural born citizenship provision basically followed the English common law principle of jus soil. Their pandering to white racist reaction is truly "repugnant".  What's next: killing "anchor babies"?

Al Gore Talks With the People

Now that big Al Gore has faced down the massage artists claiming unwanted sexual touching (while making money off their stories) he can turn to renewing efforts to get the Senate to pass climate legislation. Mr. Gore is hosting a virtual town meeting on Tuesday August 10, at 8:30EDT, 5:30PDT.  If you want to attend the meeting go to this link: http//acp.repoweramerica.org/jointhecall-taf and sign up for the conference call.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Russia Gets Green

More evidence that Russia lives up to its international agreements is also good news for preserving biodiversity.  The government has decided to increase protected areas to nearly 3% of its land mass.  Russia is huge, stretching over 11 time zones so 3% means nine new nature reserves and 13 national parks covering 3.8 million hectares. One million hectares will be devoted to marine buffer zones.  The existing nine reserves and a national park will be increased in size by a half million hectares.  These conservation decisions will help Russia meet the goals set for it by the International Convention on Biodiversity.  The UN has declared 2010 the International Year of Biodiversity.  A summit conference is planned for October in Nagoya, Japan.  Despite a pledge in 2002 to reduce the rate of species loss by 2010, governments have not net their commitments and biodiversity continues to decline at an alarming rate.  It is simple citizens, as US Person said at last year's Netroots meeting in Pittsburgh, "healthy animals means health people".

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Chart of the Week: Yo Chief, Can You Spare a Job?

Establishment economists are tooting their horns about how the government saved America from the Second Great Depression. In a report authored by a Princeton economist and a Moody's analyst it's claimed the financial collapse of '07-08 would have been much worse without the massive government intervention into the economy and the temporary takeover of two giant auto manufacturers. The "full range of policies" kept GDP 15% higher and the unemployment rate 6.5% lower according to their computer model. US Person does not doubt it could have been worse without the massive infusions of capital ($3.7 trillion according to he government's own figures) in various forms.   But a 'dead cat bounce' in the economy is not much to show for the trillions spent. Looking at these employment charts, you could never tell the "Great Recession" is over:
The bars show high and low unemployment figures for each of the states with the current level in red. The economies in states like Nevada and Michigan are so bad that estimates of the likelihood of the state defaulting on its current obligations are close to 1 in 3! Oregon has the largest number of food stamp recipients in the state's history, over 700,000. The housing industry is suffering the worse collapse in US history.  In three years, 2006-09, the largest industry in America loss 79% of it's housing starts.  After the massive federal effort to stimulate the industry with tax incentives and buying mortgage backed securities, the industry recovered less than 1/10 of this historic bust.
This chart shows initial unemployment claims are down from the peak in January '09 but they show no sign of dropping to previous levels. Yet the economy grew at 2.4% in the previous quarter and 5% in the last quarter of '09. The true unemployment rate is 16.5% not 9.5%, and if you get even more real and include the long term unemployed, the shocking figure is 21.6%.  That is Great Depression levels of unemployment!  The higher figure includes those accepting temporary employment while looking for permanent positions and those who have stop looking for jobs not there.

Could it be that corporate bosses are using an old capitalist trick to grow their profits by squeezing payrolls and doing more with less? Awash in a perpetual labor surplus, they can afford not to hire additional workers and instead demand increases in productivity or wage decreases. Workers are compelled to comply. By now largely de-unionized and burdened with debt, they cannot afford to loose their incomes and expensive health benefits. They are stuck without economic leverage in debt peonage. Look at this chart and decide for yourself:
Compared to previous economic recessions since WWII the current one has been far worse for workers:
A record 46.2% of the workforce has been out of work for 27 weeks or more. That is DOUBLE the worse level ever recorded since record keeping began in 1948. Anyone who would vote for a Republican, the party that voted against extending unemployment benefits, is either rich or from Arizona.