Sunday, October 31, 2010

Save the Wild

1% of Blue whales remain
Update:  The Tenth Conference on Biodiversity in concluded yesterday. The delegates agreed to set 20 goals intended to protect biodiversity. Perhaps the most important is the goal to half the extinction rate by 2020. Preservation targets fall short of what many conservationists wanted. The delegates set a target of 17% of the Earth's land surface to be set aside as protected areas, up from 12.5%. The oceans' protected area goal was increased from 0% to 10%. The Nogoya Protocol is expected to become effective in 2012. The EU, US, France, Norway and Japan are contributing financial support.

{26.10.10}After four years of writing Persona Non Grata, it is clear to US Person that the natural world is being crushed beneath the impacts of human generated climate change, pollution, and development. The degradation of nature cannot continue without the bleak visions of dystopia becoming a reality. The World Wildlife Fund warned recently that the humans will need to find another Earth within the near future if the destruction of this planet continues unabated. A third of species faces extinction. The world will face a prolonged and severe drought by 2040 caused by climate change.  The worse news is, despite efforts to find another Earth there is none in this solar system. All other possible worlds found by science so far are at impossible distances from Earth or are uninhabitable gas giants similar to Jupiter and Saturn.  Besides, only a relatively few elite will voyage to distant worlds in a future too remote for most of us.  The rational conclusion is that Earth must be spared. There is a meeting of governments right now at the Convention on Biodiversity considering the fate of humanity's only home. The question is: should 20% of our seas and lands be set aside as a permanent wild reserve by 2020? US Person thinks it should be a larger amount, but has already voted at, yes.  You can make your voice heard too, thanks to technology.  The conference ends Friday. Avoid the collapse of a living planet, or the ancient Mayans could be correct.

Friday, October 29, 2010

'Toontime: "Night of the Brain Dead Voter"

[credit: Steve Carlson]
Yes, folks it's that time again when you, the frustrated ordinary American, get your sole opportunity to stick it to the plutocrats who really run the country. But shooting off your foot to spite your head is not a solution. Vote for sanity.
Tom Tancredo (R) of Colorado

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palau Creates Whale Sanctuary

Green Kudos are in order for the island nation of Palau! Minister of the environment announced the new 600,000 square kilometer whale sanctuary at a news conference Saturday. It was "Oceans Day" at the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan. The minister said that the declaration reflected the traditional values of Palauan culture that are closely linked to nature and living creatures. The tight archipelago of eleven islands has at least eleven species of cetaceans inhabiting the surrounding ocean, including a breeding population of sperm whales [photo]. Whaling in the past has significantly reduced the number of whales in the Pacific Ocean. The nation has only one Australian patrol boat to protect waters that cover an area about the size of Texas. It is asking for help from neighboring countries to protect animals in the sanctuary from illegal fishing. Paulau became a independent nation in 1994 after the U.S. trusteeship came to an end. Besides whales, there are 1500 species of fish and 700 species of coral and anemone in Palauan waters. Up until Saturday's declaration of a marine sanctuary, Paulau voted with Japan to end the international moratorium on commercial whaling. The decision may signal that Japan has lost another supporter for the resumption of comercial whaling.

Russia Sends NATO Military Aid

You know the writing is already on the mud wall in Afghanistan when Russia agrees in principal to sell Poland, a member of NATO, five military helicopters and help train the Afghan army. The Mi-17 choppers [photo] are for the use of Afghan forces being trained to replace western troops. Afghan officers are training in a number of Russian military institutes now, according to the Independent.  No doubt older Afghan pilots are familiar with Russian equipment from the days of communist rule in Kabul. The former Cold War enemy is also interested in expanding the use of Russian controlled supply routes into Afghanistan after the recent successful attacks on western convoys in Pakistan. Russian officials have exposed willingness to consider the request since they view with concern the deteriorating security situation in Central Asia. But Russia also wants the West to accept the status quo in South Ossetia which the Russian military has occupied since the brief but sharp conflict with Georgia two years ago. An announcement of the Russian military aid to NATO is expected at the next NATO summit in Lisbon to be attended by President Medvedev. The memory of those CIA supplied Stinger rockets that brought down Soviet helicopters two decades ago must be bitter sweet by now.  Round and round we go, and where it stops, nobody knows.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Red Tide on the Danube

Update: Aerial photos of the Kolontar waste dam show evidence of leaks three months before the dam broke. Six villages were inundated by a tide of toxic red sludge that reached the Danube and destroyed a tributary. Seven people were killed and one is still missing. The photos made by Interspect in June 2010 show red sludge visible in channels surrounding the alumina factory. According to WWF-Hungary the aerial survey shows the weakened state of the reservoir walls, although the collapse took place in another location from the one in the photo above. The organization is particularly concerned about the state of waste ponds located close to housing and the Danube river.

{8.10.10}No doubt readers of this blog have seen the story of the toxic red sludge spilling into the Danube River in Hungary. The highly alkaline waste from a alumina plant waste pond breached a corner of the dyke on Monday. It is yet another major environmental catastrophe. But the back story is the breach was an accident waiting to happen. This spill is the second major disaster to hit the Danube once famously described as blue. Now, the middle Danube basin is heavily industrialized and the river is polluted. The Danube river flows through 19 countries. Hungary alone has two other sludge ponds storing toxic industrial waste in close proximity to it. One is 80kms upstream and stores about 12 million tons of sludge in seven pools near the river bank.

In Serbia numerous heavy industries as well as the Pancevo complex of oil refineries are located on the river. After the NATO air war, surveys showed the presence of mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ethylene dichloride and dioxins in the soil. Romania was the site of a massive  spill of cyanide waste from gold processing in 2000. In 2009 an industrial plant was discovered to be illegally storing thousands of tons of waste in an old dump covering a million square meters (247 acres) with peaks over 100 meters in height. Equally notorious is the Alum Tulcea plant that has a 20 hectare landfill of red sludge linked to fish and bird kills in a protected river delta. Bulgaria is littered with abandoned tailing ponds where heavy metals are buried. The EU issued a Mining Waste Directive after the major cyanide spill in Romania, but the regulation was significantly weakened by industry lobbying.

UK First Post: clean up in Kolontar
In one tributary of the Danube, the Marcal River, all the fish were killed as alkalinity levels hit 13 (as caustic as lye) on the pH scale. The Marcal has been declared dead by government officials. The survival of another connected river, the Raba which flows into the Danube, is threatened. Acid dumps have reduced the alkaline levels somewhat to around 9. Ground water readings are near normal around the village of Kolontar, the worst affected community, but percolation of toxic substances may take more time. There is concern that when the sludge dries out, the heavy metal dust could become airborne. The heavy metal content of the sludge which also contains industrial chemicals, communal wastes, and oil, is estimated at 120,000 tons. An estimated twenty thousand people in the region still depend on river water for drinking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Frago 242 Another Catch 22

Chris Hondros: Parents killed at US roadblock
Frago 242 stands for "fragmentary order 242". It is the military directive issued in 2004 that allowed US troops to ignore instances of torture by their Iraqi allies. The order summarizing a complex application of international law told US soldiers not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict unless it directly involved them. When the alleged abuse was Iraqi on Iraqi, the order said, "only an initial report will be made." The Wikileak release of hundreds of war logs show a cornucopia of torture and abuse on a daily basis, making it indisputable that US forces knew of the ongoing war crimes in the name of state security. In some cases the US even handed over detainees to the infamous Iraqi 'Wolf Brigade' that specialized in torture*.  Faced with such a detailed, self-incriminating, and flagrant violations of international laws against torture including the legal obligation to investigate credible allegation of torture, the United Nations called on Obama & Folks to investigate.  The Iraq War logs also show the possible war crimes by American troops stationed at roadblocks.  In several instances Iraqi civilians who did not obey orders of US soldiers were gunned down.  The British based organization, Iraqi Body Count, has revised its estimate of the number of Iraqi civilians killed from 107,000 to 122,000 based on the leaked information.

*one of the Tea Party's collection of fronts, extremists and closet Nazis running for office is Ilario Pantano, a candidate for North Carolina's 7th C.D.  He served as a second lieutenant with the Marines in Iraq.  In April 2004 Pantano and his platoon stopped and detained two Iraqis near Falluja.  He allegedly sprayed 60 rounds into the two men, and placed a placard inscribed with a Marine motto over the mutilated bodies.  Pantano told an interviewer, "I was sending a message'.  Pantano faced charges for premeditated murder, but they were later dropped for insufficient evidence.  He is running close behind his Democratic opponent in a recent poll.  The former Marine, who was winning hearts and minds in Iraq, has managed to raise $1 million for his campaign from a variety of right-wingers.  The Seventh Congressional District is the home of Camp Lejeune, and many in the military population consider Pantano a hero.  But the presiding officer of his court-martial recommended non-judicial punishment for his "extremely poor judgment" which reflected discredit on US armed forces.

Chart of the Week: Arctic Will Not Be the Same

You can believe the climate change deniers never read the the NOAA website. If they did, they would know that it was the third lowest extent of sea ice on record. The site also has a video graphic that shows the shocking extent of melting that is affecting sea levels and climate patterns. The lowest extent of ice around September 15th this year was 22% lower than in the previous 30 years [map, red line] based on satellite measurements, and the fabled Northwest Passage was ice free this summer. The ice cap has been under satellite observation since 1979. Here is a map, or chart in nautical terms, of this year's melt from the March maximum to the September minimum:
Mother Jones: 2010 Arctic Ice Cap
Greenland, formerly permanently ice covered except for patches along the coast, is experiencing record high temperatures, ice melting and glacier loss. The Petermann glacier lost an area of ice 290km² in area (71,661 acres), the largest ever recorded. Melting of Greenland's ice cap will have a direct effect on sea levels since the ice is supported by land and not the sea. Scientists from 69 countries conclude in their "Arctic Report Card" that the Arctic has reached a tipping point in terms of temperature change. It is unlikely, according to the contributing researchers, that the Arctic will return to its previous state of equilibrium.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Edition: Evolution in Action

UC Davis: evolving mosquito
Somebody ought to show this post to that media clown Glenn Beck--who does quite well, thank you--broadcasting his stupidity to two millions everyday over the public airwaves. Because no one has shown him a "half monkey human" (or is it the other way around?) he does not accept evolution as a scientific fact. The British daily The Independent tells us that the most dangerous mosquito malaria carrier Anopheles gambiae is in the process of splitting into two distinct genetic variants that will develop eventually into two distinct species of mosquito. Gambiae, one of several mosquito species that can carry the Plasmodium bacteria which causes malaria in humans, is responsible for 500 million new cases each year throughout Africa. This evolutionary development poses new problems for eradication of the disease that kills almost one million people each year in Africa alone. Scientists at the Imperial College of London see the mosquito evolving more quickly than anticipated. Two strains, M and S have been known for years, but sequencing of their individual genomes has revealed the extent of the differences between the two variants. The S strain is the ancestral one because it is found all over sub-Saharan Africa whilst the M strain is concentrated in central and west Africa. The M strain also appears to have adapted to laying its eggs in rice paddies which are a recent introduction to the continent. A human strategy to eradicate one species may not work against another. It is not known what role mosquito control measures in their environment plays in the evolution toward two distinct mosquito species.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Creature Feature: Proof Positive

What irrefutable proof that man is destroying protected tiger habitat! This remarkable video from a camera trap shows the presence of tigers in a protected Sumatran forest, Bukit Batabuh, that is a corridor between two tiger preserves. The video shows it being illegally cleared for palm oil plantations. There are fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers left in Indonesia. The tiger is trying to tell us something as he walks in the wake of the destruction of his home by a bulldozer:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Defense of Animals

During August-September 2010, INTERPOL coordinated a six country operation (India, Russia, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal) against the illegal tiger trade. The enforcement action led to the arrest of 25 suspects. Tiger parts and carcasses were also seized. In a single raid in Hanoi, six whole skeletons and six skulls were confiscated. Swift, international enforcement of laws intended to protect the dwindling number of tigers in the wild needs to be at the top of the agenda at the Year of the Tiger summit to be hosted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg later this year.

On the other side of the world, lawyers representing the US Fish & Wildlife Service were asked by a federal district judge to explain their position that polar bears are merely "threatened" instead of "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups urging the court to list the species as endangered, argue that the loss of critical marine habitat due to global climate change puts the bear in danger of extinction now. If arctic sea ice continues to melt at the current rate, polar bears could be extinct by the end of the century. Oil industry and its government allies are concerned that a finding of endangerment could open a legal argument for using the Endangered Species Act to regulate greenhouse gases since the Act prohibits human activities that take habitat the protected animal uses to survive. Obama & Folks decided to keep the rule the Regime instituted to prohibit government scientists from considering the effects of greenhouse gases on the loss of polar bear habitat.

Environmental groups filed suit in the Eastern District of Louisiana on Wednesday against British Petroleum for harm done to endangered animals by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The petition says that at least 27 endangered species living in the Gulf were harmed by the crude oil, and specifically discusses harm caused to sea turtles, whale, birds and manatees.  An oceanographer testified to the National Oil Spill Commission that at least 50% of the spilled oil remains in the Gulf ecosystem, much of it in coastal and marine sediments. At least 650 miles of coastline was impacted by the disaster. The suit seeks restitution and mitigation of the damage caused to protected animals and their habitats.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chart of the Week: The Pension Bomb

How you count the numbers makes a big difference to whether municipal workers will be able to collect on their pension benefits when they retire. The most common accounting method used by municipalities is the dotted line. A new study using expected value shows a much larger pension bill due mid century. The French are in the streets right now, protesting only a two year increase in the age of retirement of sixty that some see at a birthright. Undoubtedly the retirement age will be raised in the United States to preserve Social Security's long term solvency.

Monday, October 18, 2010

At Home in Pakistan

US comics have a running joke about Osama Bin Laden living in a cave. The jokes might make some Americans feel better about our military's failure to kill or capture the icon of international terrorism. The sad truth according to a NATO source is he lives in relative comfort in northwest Pakistan under the protection of ISI officials and local tribal leaders. CNN says their source has access to the alliance's most sensitive information. When Bin Laden and his chief deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, escaped encirclement at Tora Bora, they moved to Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal regions along the border with Afghanistan where they ranged in relative safety from Chitral in the north to the Kurram Valley 300 kms to the south. Bin Laden at large after nine years of fighting is one more measure of the insurmountable duplicity the US confronts in the unwinable Afghanistan war. You just got to laugh.

Mortgage Foreclosure Fraud

That is what it is. Assuming home buyers were in most cases not making mortgage payments does not excuse banks from using fraudulent paperwork to foreclose. In the land of real estate flips, Florida, one judicial circuit alone may have as many as 20% of its cases awaiting summary judgment based on legally deficient documents according to the chief judge of the 12th Circuit. Yet Florida is third behind Nevada and Arizona for most foreclosures. Morgan Stanley says as many as 9 million US mortgages may face legal challenges over the validity of legal documentation. The problems are so prevalent that Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase have called a halt to their foreclosure process, and fifty state attorneys general are launching an investigation into bank foreclosure practices. These developments will have a negative effect on the already weak US real estate market since the majority of recent home sales have been of bank repossessed homes selling at a discount. About 1.2 million homes were expected to be repossessed this year.

According to the FBI, 80% of mortgage fraud is induced by lenders. Former west coast bank, Washington Mutualwhich collapsed in 2008, is a good example of the predatory lending practices used to feed the lucrative securitization business. The document fraud used to foreclose on fraudulently induced loans associated with the collapse of the real estate bubble first came to the public attention in 2007 when an Ohio state judge refused to approve 14 foreclosures by Deutsche Bank. The bank was unable to prove to the judge's satisfaction that it was the owner of the mortgage notes in question because ownership had been flipped so many times, the chain of title became confused. This situation is common amongst the big banks who rapidly bundled their mortgages and sold them as part of the securitization process (REMICs). The unexpected result in Ohio set off alarm bells nationwide for attorneys representing home buyers facing repossession. In December of 2009 an employee of GMAC involved in Florida foreclosures was deposed. He testified that he personally signed off on 10,000 foreclosures every month in a process referred to as "robo-signing", now known to be a common practice. In such mass processing there is little chance the person attesting to personal knowledge has any knowledge of the contents of each foreclosure file. In September 2010, GMAC called a nationwide halt to processing its foreclosures in 23 states where court approval is required.

So dear readers, in the pursuit of ever more profit the banks have created a real mess that seems to keep compounding itself.  It is what one well known economist has called the greatest financial fraud in world history. The end will not come until all the worthless paper and inflated housing prices are deflated. Trying to blame the on-going crisis on the little guy for buying more house than he could afford is farcical. If you are one of the unfortunate ones, just say, "show me the note" because the Obamacon is not going to help you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Weekend Edition: US Looking for Exit In Afghanistan

The confirmation that the US is participating in negotiations between the proxy government in Kabul and the Taliban indicates the US is setting up for an early exit from the failed effort to create a modern democracy in tribal Afghanistan.  No surprise there since we have never been good at nation building given our record in the Philippines, Haiti, Liberia, Honduras, Vietnam etc. A report on Dutch reconstruction efforts in Uruzgan Province [map center, dark red] by a Swiss based aid organization studied the relative success obtained by the Netherlands before withdrawing from the engagement in August.  The report is based on four years of continuous research.  While praising the Dutch effort in the birthplace of Mullah Omar, the report criticized what the Americans have done since they left.  Locals see the Americans as taking the Popalizi side (Karzai's tribe) in a tribal civil war, whereas the Dutch managed to deal successfully with a precarious balance of power between tribal leaders.  The report implies the Americans are in a hurry to leave.  No doubt it is correct on this point as war weariness has set in on the home front. The Marines have stopped small unit patrols from small bases dotting the countryside in neighboring Helmund Province, and are resorting to raids from a few consolidated bases.  The tactic isolates them from the populace which they are supposedly trying to pacify and protect.  British sources suggest that the US will start drawing down forces at the end of next March in order to meet Forty-four's date of July, 2011 for beginning an end to conventional warfare.

Friday, October 15, 2010

'Toontime: "Tell My Family I'm OK"

[credit: Tony Auth]

The world applauds the rescue of the Chilean miners trapped by a cave in for over two months.  Underground mining is an inherently risky business, and most miners go to work in the mines with their eyes open.* Lives depend upon constant vigilance and strict adherence to standards and work rules. Safety underground costs money, so what is required most of all is a system of mine regulation and inspection by an non-profit agency. An audit of the United States Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was ordered after the April 5th explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in Montcoal, West Virginia which killed 29 miners. What the Labor Department found was not good. The Massey mine had been cited 600 times for safety violations in eighteen months preceding the explosion. The cause of the explosion has not yet been officially determined, but experts believe a methane explosion set off a massive coal dust blast that killed miners up to two miles away. Fifty-four withdrawal orders, given when a condition poses an immediate risk to the health of miners, were issued to Massey by mine inspectors in 2009, and in the months just before the explosion, at the rate of one per week. Yet despite all these violations, the MSHA never took steps to declare a pattern of noncompliance existed that would have allowed it to shut the mine down. The Department of Labor's Inspector General found that lax regulatory enforcement did not favor just Massey Energy. It took 13 years after passage of the 1977 mine safety act for the agency to issue final regulations implementing the legislation. In the agency's thirty-three year history, it has never found a mine worthy of being shut down for a pattern of violations.

China has the largest mining industry and the worst safety record in the world. 2600 men died in China's mines last year. A Chinese miner is 100 times more likely to die underground in an accident than an American miner. South Africa, which has the world's deepest mines, also has a poor safety record. 165 miners died in accidents there last year. Free marketeers boast that "free market" innovation played a crucial role in the Chilean success story. Could a high tech drill bit and fibre optics saved all these men? US Person begs to differ. BP had lots of high-tech available--and chose not to use it because it cost too much.

* One of "Los Treinte y tres" interviewed exclusively by the Washington Post, said he did not tell his mother that he was going to work underground in the 100 year old mine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bad Economy and Cheap Gas Crimp Nuclear Boom

NY Times: Calvert Cliffs
Last weekend Constellation Energy announced that it would pull out of its proposed project to expand the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland nuclear power plant. The company cited the "unreasonably burdensome" demand by the federal government that it pay a premium for a guarantee of risky construction loans. The announcement comes after industry analysts predicted a step back from a boom in nuclear power plant construction because of wildly escalating construction costs, falling electricity demand, and plunging natural gas prices. Constellation was seeking a guarantee of 80% of the cost of the project. The government wanted a fee of $880 million for the $7.6 billion loan. Constellation said the fee was "shockingly high". Two utilities in Florida have slowed their expansion projects down, and a Missouri utility cancelled its decision to build a Calvert Cliffs clone reactor. However, two projects in Georgia and South Carolina have gone ahead primarily because both southern states guarantee a rate of return on a project unless regulators make the unlikely determination that the costs were not "prudent".

When Constellation first contemplated building an additional reactor at Calvert Cliffs in 2004, the price tag was estimated to be $2-2.5 billion. By 2006 the cost had jumped to $4.5 billion. At a hearing before the Maryland Public Service Commission in 2008 the joint venture CEO testified that the estimate was then between $7.2 to $9.6 billion. Another utility has estimated the cost of an identical reactor to Calvert Cliffs III, including financing and fuel loading cost, at $13-15 billion. A study by the Department of Energy found that the first 75 reactors built in the US overran their cost estimates by average of 207%. 

Because of the size of the investment required, Constellation had to find a partner for the project. It ended up with √Člectricit√© de France, a 80% government owned company. Constellation has argued an experienced partner should help reduce the risks associated with building such an expensive nuclear plant. Intervenors before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have made much of the foreign government participation in a project that has national security significance. Not only the security issue poses problems. The reactor design itself has been found significantly defective by NRC. But in the end it is the economics that have caused the nuclear boom to splutter. As one activist put it, "nuclear reactors make no economic sense."

Chart of the Week: Profits Come First

Marx predicted, apparently with some correctness, capitalism in its later stages would be more concerned with producing profits, i.e. money, than with expanding capital. This chart shows the disconnect that exists between corporate investment in capital (and by extenuation social well-being or use value production) and profits:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hungary Steps Up

In corporatist "Amerika" you will not see Forty-four taking this action in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  The Hungarian Prime Minister announced Monday the CEO of the MAL Zrt corporation was arrested. The company owns the alumina plant responsible for the spill of highly toxic red sludge that killed eight people. The reservoir dam burst on October 4th, but environmental officials say the reservoir is unstable and may collapse again. Emergency crews are racing to build a containment dyke around the damaged reservoir. MAL Zrt according to Reuters is privately owned by some of the richest men in Hungary. The net worth of Chairman of the Board Lajos Tolnay is about $116.9 million. Co-owner and CEO Zoltan Bakonyi faces eleven years in prison if convicted of public endangerment and environmental damage charges. Prime Minister Orban said, "We have good reason to believe there were some who were aware of the weakened state of the reservoir wall and chose to do nothing. Accountability in a strict and fair manner, is in the public interest." The government also passed emergency legislation to take control of MAL Zrt.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

GM Lied About Volt

Close readers of this blog may recall that US Person touted the Volt, GM's so-called "Jesus car" because it used revolutionary electric technology to power the vehicle, reducing the role of a motorcycle-sized combustion engine to recharging the car's batteries for extended range.  He may have even committed himself to buying one! {"electric cars"}; He wishes to inform his readers that all bets are now off. GM lied about the performance of the Volt. The claims of 230 mpg are totally misleading and the gas engine is actually used to move the wheels according to and Business The car was tested by Popular Mechanics and Motor Trend. Both car magazines found mileage under real world conditions to be in the 30-40 mpg range. Good, but not miraculous.

Perhaps the mileage claims could be forgiven as mere puffery, but GM misrepresented the fundamental nature of the vehicle's motive power. The Volt is essentially a plug-in hybrid, not an electric car. Since the Volt's unveiling to the public as a concept, GM engineers* claimed it to be an all electric vehicle with a piggy-back combustion engine only to recharge the batteries for more range than an electric car using plug-in technology. But the small engine does power the wheels with the electric motor when the lithium batteries run down at speeds of around 70 mph. Taxpayers rescued GM from bankruptcy, and subsidized the Volt to the tune of 30%.  Partly, this subsidization was approved in the hope of obtaining an American breakthrough in clean transportation technology. And what did we get--typical Detroit under achievement. Jesus would definitely not buy the Chevy Volt, and neither will US Person. At about half the price and unsubsidized Ford's hybrid Fusion is a better deal.

*Volt's chief engineer said, "you're correct that the electric motor is always powering the wheels, whereas in a typical hybrid vehicle the electric motor and the gasoline engine can power the wheels. The greatest advantage of an extended-range electric vehicle like the Volt is the increased all electric range and the significant total vehicle range combined.

Weekend Edition: New Rules! Deepwater Horizon
Update: In an imperfect world in which the United States has been called "the crookedest place on Earth" by novelist Gore Vidal, it was inevitable that the deep water drilling moratorium would be lifted. It lasted just six months after the largest environmental disaster in US history was unleashed by a careless international corporation accustomed to lenient treatment by its supposed regulators. Environmentalists wanted to see a longer ban until companies in the Gulf could demonstrate safe operations in a changed corporate culture, and the federal government got off dead center on passing climate legislation. Senator Landreau of Louisiana blocked Forty-four's nomination for for the Office of Management & Budget while the moratorium was in effect. With new rules in place, and 33 rigs sitting idle, the Secretary of the Interior suddenly became satisfied that deep water drilling could resume. When announcing the moratorium's end Tuesday, the Secretary said the country still needs Gulf of Mexico oil. There will be a delay to actual start of operations as the industry adjusts and Interior Department begins reviewing permit applications under the stricter regulatory scheme. Its interesting to note that the EU recently also decided not to ban deep water drilling for oil.

{2.10.10}No, not Bill Maher's comedy routine, but the new offshore drilling rules announced by Interior Secretary Salazar in a speech on Thursday. Citing an unacceptable gap between drilling technology and government regulation, he announced "the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms of regulation and oversight in US history." Salazar admitted that the Deepwater Horizon disaster "showed just how unprepared industry was for a deep water blowout". That may be all well and good. But new rules that are unenforced will not change the culture of an industry used to having its way on the OCS.* The Secretary told his audience that the lapdog Mineral Management Service is gone, and replaced by a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. Responsibility for collecting oil & gas royalties has been turned over a new Office of Natural Resource Revenue in order to separate that function from the offshore leasing and regulation programs of the enforcement agency.

Also eliminated is the Charlatan regime's loophole that exempted certain operators from worst-case discharge requirements in their exploration plans. The new director of BOEM, a former inspector general from the Department of Justice, has issued a directive limiting the use of categorical environmental impact exemptions like the one received by British Petroleum. Operators must now submit drilling plans signed by their CEO's indicating their company's compliance with safety and environmental rules, and the drilling process itself must be certified by professional engineers at various stages.

Two new rules are being implemented on an emergency basis. The Drilling Safety Rule establishes stronger standards for well design, casing, cementing, and blowout preventers. The Workplace Safety Rule aims to reduce human and organizational errors that cause accidents and spills. Under this rule, operators must development a comprehensive safety program that identifies potential drilling hazards, provides protocols for handling them, and risk reduction strategies for eliminating them. According to Salazar the industry objected to the workplace rule, but he intends to see it implemented anyway. He also said that his department is considering adopting requirements for blowout preventers to be equipped with redundant shut off mechanisms including remote actuators like those used on foreign platforms.

At the close of his remarks, Secretary Salazar recognized the need for domestic oil & gas production from the OCS. He also said the suspension of deep water drilling will continue until he is "comfortable that we have significantly reduced [deep water drilling] risks". The moratorium has allowed the implementation of a new regulatory environment in the OCS--one that places needed emphasis on safety and environmental protection. Regulatory reform and enforcement is part of the solution. Redoubling effort to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels by developing a clean energy America is the way to a sustainable future.

*BP chose a method of securing the Deepwater Horizon platform to the well that saved the company $7million instead of the safer and more common method.  It chose to use only 6 centralizers on board--down hole tools that keep the drilling pipe in the center of the well bore--instead of the recommended 21, again making a less safe choice in the interest of profit.  BP saved $128,000 by sending a Slumberger test crew home before a standard well log was made to insure a cement collar was pressure tight.  The well exploded 11 hours later.  All of these decisions were made by a company which profits hundreds of millions of dollars every year drilling in the public's domain.  Such deliberate choices, given the information and expertise available to the company, takes BP's action beyond the legal standard of negligence to the level of reckless disregard of the consequences to public safety and property.  Hence the proper characterization of BP's actions as "reckless" made by the former Chicago law school professor, Barack Obama.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mogul Trashes Tiger Reserve

The military dictatorship of Myanmar (formerly Burma) proudly announced in August that it was doing its part to save the tiger and its habitat in this Year of Tiger. The entire remote Hukawng Valley, about the size of Vermont, was designated a protected tiger area by adding over 4,000 sq. miles, welcome news to conservationists struggling to save the world's remaining 3,200 wild tigers. The reserve was established in 2001 with the help of the Wildlife Conservation Society based at the Bronx Zoo. Dr. Alan Rabinowitz of Panthera, a big cat conservation society, led the first biological expedition into the area in 1999. He said, "The reserve offers one of the most important stretches of tiger habitat in the world."

credit: KDNG
The good news did not last. A powerful tycoon, U Htay Myint, moved into the valley with heavy equipment to clear cut forest and destroy tiger habitat just five years after the reserve was established. His company, Yuzana, has close ties to the ruling military, and it was granted 200,000 acres in the Hugawng Valley to plant sugar cane and tapioca. A report issued by a civil action group, Kachin Development Networking Group, says the clear cutting and burning is making a mockery of the reserve's protected status. All that is left of the conservation effort are barren, flat fields and signposts that once marked animal corridors and no hunting zones [photos]. Indigenous farmers as well as tigers and other endangered animals are being displaced. Seven villages are located in the project area with an estimated population of 5,000. Despite the reality of the devastation, Myanmar plans to present its tiger recovery plan which it claims will double the country's tiger population by 2022 at the international tiger summit to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia in November.

There are more tigers in captivity in the United States (5,000) than exist now in the wild. If you want to do something real to help tigers and other members of the big cat genus, Panthera, go to, watch this moving video, and then donate. You will know that your contribution goes directly to scientific field work to save magnificent animals that deserve a future on our planet.

Friday, October 08, 2010

'Toontime: Midterm Blues

[credit: John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune]
Wackydoodle sez: "And I ain't a votin'."
[original post deleted by cyber attack]
US Person has been forced to reconstruct his original text after Persona Non Grata was hit by an embedded script that deleted his post. Fortunately there are new developments in the story since his posting early this morning Pacific time. Forty-fur responded to stories on the 'net revealing the huge amount of cash that is being spent by pro-corporate organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce at a speech in Maryland.  According to ThinkProgress, a progressive blog, some of the money could be coming from foreign businesses. The blog mentioned the oil rich Arab country of Bahrain as a source since foreign business membership fees are commingled with money spent for domestic political advertising. The business lobby said previously it would spend $75 million or more on mid-term campaigns. The influx of anonymous money has been facilitated by the Supreme Court's horrendous decision in the Citizens United case. The third ranking Democrat in the House said that the Chamber's activity will be investigated after the election on November 2nd.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Chart of the Week: Mortgage Meltdown

FLASH:   A spokesman for the President says he will not sign H.R. 3808, the Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act.  The White House blog has more on the subject.
Update: One of the consequences of the mortgage meltdown is the mounting litigation over improper foreclosures. Homeowners are hiring lawyers and fighting the banks trying to repossess homes.  It is no secret whose side Congress in on in this battle. Congress refused to consider middle class tax relief before elections, but a bill making it more difficult to challenge improper foreclosures sailed through the Senate without public debate on the last day before recess. A special procedure was invoked by Democratic leadership to take the languishing bill out of the Senate Judiciary Committee so it could be passed by unanimous consent with the help of Repugnants. The bill had already been passed by the House twice. The ease with which the legislation passed even surprised its Repugnant sponsor, Senator Robert Aderholt. Questions about notarizations, improper affidavits, and other court filings have risen in foreclosure actions by big banks such as JP Morgan, Bank of America and GMAC. Some bank employees have testified that the notarizations in mass filings were made without appearing before the notary who sealed the attestation. Also in some foreclosure cases, affidavits of personal knowledge were made by processors without actual knowledge of the documents' contents. Widespread halts of foreclosure proceedings and increased costs have been the result of the exposed irregularities. The bill awaits the President's signature. The Interstate Recognition of Notarizations Act requires all states and federal courts to recognize notarizations made in other states, including electronic notarizations made en masse. Currently only a dozen states recognize such computerized imprimaturs.

{5.10.10}Not a very colorful chart this week, but it conveys important information about the crippled American real estate market:
source: Business
It shows the continued alarming rise in mortgage defaults.  There is a prediction by a respected mortgage analyst that 1 in 5 borrowers will default, an unprecedented level of mortgage non-performance!  The recent touted improvement in mortgage performance is due to large scale loan modification activity. Nineteen percent of mortgages underwater by 120% or more are defaulting every year as home buyers walk away from their increasingly uneconomic investment. Such behavior has been characterized as "immoral" or "un-American", but frankly Americans have never faced such a severe real estate deflation before. A family who defaults can typically live in their home for 20 months rent free while the foreclosure system processes their defaulted loan and repossesses the house. Alarmed mortgage professionals are calling for missed mortgage payments to be treated as W2 income! Private money has abandoned the home mortgage market due to increased risk, with the severest declines in the jumbo category where government accounts for 90% of current originations. Is this Wall Street's version of the "final solution" for the middle class?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

60MPG Good for Business

The Department of Transportation issued a Notice of Intent  to make regulations requiring US automakers meet a 60mpg CAFE standard by 2025. The fifteen year lead time is intended to give industry and the public time to give input for the rule making process and develop technology. The public already supports higher mileage standards as shown by a national poll (66%) even if it adds $3000 to the price of a car. Eighty-three percent agree that the technology to dramatically increase mileage either already exists or could be developed if a serious effort were made. The current goal established by Forty-four & Folks is 35mpg by 2016. The Notice shows that automakers could reach the higher standard while saving purchasers between $5,700 and $7,400 over the life of vehicle in fuel costs. According to an independent analysis by theUnion of Concerned Scientists and the National Resources Defense Council the 60mpg standard could be met with a new car fleet comprised of hybrid petrol vehicles (55%) conventional petrol vehicles (30%), hybrid electric vehicles (10%) and battery electric vehicles (5%). EPA and DOT worked with California to write the technical report on which the standards are based. California retained its ability to set carbon limitations for itself under the federal Clean Air Act after it won a legal challenge from the Charlatan's regime to end its exemption.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Walruses Seek Land as Ice Shrinks

AP: a walrus resting at Barrow, Alaska
Thousands of Pacific walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), perhaps as many as 20,000, hauled out of the Chukchi Sea onto Alaska's coast this summer as sea ice continues to disappear. Arctic sea ice reached the third lowest extent on record by September 3rd. This year has tied a previous record(2005) for the highest combined land and sea temperatures since record keeping began. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center think the Arctic could be ice free in the summer by 2030. Walruses are known to haul out in numbers on the Russian coast, but this is the first time such mass behavior has occurred in Alaska. Large numbers of the sea mammals began coming ashore in Chukotka, Russia and around Barrow, Alaska in 2007, the record low ice year. Local Russians moved to protect the mammals, and two Chukotka communities created new protected areas around the haul out sites. US Fish & Wildlife began thinking about conservation efforts in Alaska, and last February brought Chukchi leaders to Alaska to conduct a series of village meetings from Point Hope to Barrow where conservation issues could be discussed. Starving polar bears could begin predation of the walruses on land as their seal prey become less accessible. This change in behavior could pose a problem to villagers who live near haul out sites. Adult walruses can weigh 2000 pounds or more. Biologists also fear for the animals health if they are confined to small areas of shoreline instead of dispersed over vast areas of sea where they rest and feed from the ice pack edge.

Friday, October 01, 2010

'Toontime: Is It November Yet?

[Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Wackydoodle axes, "Is that there like an income gap?"

Repugnant candidate for US Senate in Connecticut, Linda McMahon, told a press conference that the federal minimum wage should be reviewed to determine "how much it ought to be". You may recall that the federal minimum wage was only just recently increased (2009) to $7.25/hr. after a decade of stagnation. McMahon is a multi-millionaire and former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. According to her Democratic opponent, she takes home $46 million a year and laid off 10% of her workers.

In other election news, Rahm Emanuel, White House Chief of Staff, is leaving to run for the Chicago mayor's office. Forty-four angered his liberal base with the choice of pro-war Emanuel as his chief of staff. He was supposed to be the President's tough, can-do negotiator able to cut deals on the Hill. But since going to work in the White House he alienated progressive legislators, calling them at one point in the health care debate, "retarded". A potential glitch in Emanuel's career plans has arisen since he leased his Chicago home in September 2009 while serving in Washington. A Chicago election lawyer told WLS radio that Emanuel, a former fundraiser for the Daley political machine, cannot qualify for the mayor's race since he does not meet the city residency requirement. Oops!

Former California Governor Jerry Brown (D), running for his old job after serving as mayor of Oakland and state attorney general must be dancing a jig right now. His opponent, Meg Whitman, another rich CEO running as the opposition, hit the undocumented worker mine. Whitman's housekeeper for nine years told a press conference on Wednesday Whitman knew she was undocumented, but ignored the fact. Whitman fired Diaz Santillan shortly before announcing her candidacy for governor. Whitman claims she did not know Santillan was an illegal immigrant, but cannot deny she employed her. The former EBay executive spent $71 million her own money to secure the GOP nomination in the most expensive campaign in California history.  Whitman told conservative radio hosts she opposes a program for legalization of undocumented workers.  Too bad she could not afford to hire an American maid.  The GOP is tripping all over its proverbial double standards.