Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hawaiian False Killer Whales Proposed for Listing

Not just "bycatch"
The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed a Hawaiian population of false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) for listing as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The NRDC petitioned for their listing in October, 2009. Fewer than 120 of these large dolphins remain in near shore Hawaiian waters. The Hawaiian population is the only one known to inhabit inshore waters and is genetically distinct. Their preference for proximity to land is probably responsible for losses to starvation, entanglement and toxicity. The inshore population has crashed over the last 20 years.  Only Forty-six of the false orcas are capable of breeding raising the possibility of genetic defects. The mammals are highly social, intelligent and bond for life. The federal fisheries agency was sued in 2003 and 2009 by Earthjustice [photo] for failing to protect false killer whales from commercial fishing. The environmental legal group accused the agency of ignoring its own data showing that the Hawaiian long line fleet was injuring and killing the mammals at a level nearly ten times what a healthy population can sustain. Long line fishing is known for its high levels of "bycatch" in which other species besides the target species (mostly tuna and swordfish) are hooked or entangled in gear. In 2008 the GAO issued a highly critical report to the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee on the NMS failure to protect marine mammals from commercial fishing. In January of this year a consensus agreement was reached on a draft take reduction plan intended to reduce interaction with the islands' long line fishing fleet. The recommendations include gear modifications, disentanglement training for crews and a year round exclusion zone. A final rule after a public comment period is expected in October, 2011.

Monday, November 29, 2010

'Toontime: Holiday Travel in Amerika

[credit: Joel Pett, Lexington Herald Leader]
Wackydoodle sez: Bring a pint of yer blood too!
{27.11.10}The First Traveler says the insulting and intrusive searches are necessary to keep domestic flights safe (no body searches on Air Force One). ACLU says they have received over 900 search related complaints in the last month. The groping by TSA agents has not been proven more effective than normal pat downs. And there is anecdotal evidence that naked body scanners are being set off by panty liners, thereby subjecting the wearer to a crotch search. The searches without more evidence of specificity and protection for bodily integrity are probably unconstitutional. Read the travel horror stories here.

Update: Just to remind us that the "war on terror" will be with us for as long as the Cold War, FBI agents in Stumptown entrapped* an 18 year old alienated, possibly emotionally disturbed, Somali immigrant into parking a government supplied van supposedly filled with explosives near a crowded holiday tree lighting ceremony in the town square. Two older FBI agents posing as jihadist brothers "immersed themselves" in the life of an immigrant college student who had expressed hatred of the United States. The FBI began monitoring his mail in 2009. He was put on a no-fly terror list, and thereby prevented from taking a summer job in Alaska. The suspect exchanged e-mails with an alleged jihadist in Pakistan who claimed terrorist contacts. One of the agents contacted the young suspect with ideas of how he could become involved with violent jihad. The indictment is full of the sweaty details of meetings and suggestions initiated by the agents who obviously held sway over the suggestible, alienated teenager longing for the romance of Islamic struggle. He was willing to act no doubt, but the idea of a driving a van equipped with a bomb close to the celebration was the government's idea, not the deluded teenagers'. If anything, the indictment proves just how desperate the hysterical super-patriots are to stir the pot of fear and intolerance. The local paper inflates this self-justifying concoction of federal officials into a "bomb plot"! Perhaps what the indictment describes rises to the level of a terror plot only in liberal Stumptown, because it is one of the first cities to opt out of the joint federal terrorism task force five years ago. Obviously, that decision has not sat well with federal law dogs. Naked airport screenings, anyone?

*Entrapment is a legal defense.  The key to an entrapment defense is to show that the idea of the alleged criminal act originated with the police or government agents instead of the suspect.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weekend Edition: More Hunger in America

Depression era "Hooverville" upper right; modern homeless camps
Americans celebrate historic plenty this Thanksgiving weekend. The holiday has its earliest beginnings in 1621 when English religious separatists celebrated their survival of the first difficult year in the New World with a three day harvest feast. In modern times plenty is not universal and this sad fact also applies to the United States. The Department of Agriculture released a report saying hunger reached the highest level since the department began keeping statistics 15 years ago. About 15% of US households had difficulty feeding one or more household member at some point last year due to insufficient income. That figure represents about 45 million people who are officially "food insecure". About 12.2 million adults and 5.4 million children live in homes with drastic food shortages that force them to go without or eat much less. Despite the persistent problem of hunger in America, conservative politicians and pundits dismiss the problem with callousness worthy of Scrooge before his conversion. Extension of unemployment benefits failed in the House of Representatives this month by 17 votes. The Senate cut the Food Stamp program by $2 billion in 2013. It also failed to pass an emergency fund, part of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, used to create subsidized jobs for low income workers through grants to the states. The emergency fund for jobs has support from governors on both sides of the political divide.
National Guard units train in Alaska to quell civilian unrest 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ninth Circuit Saves Columbia River Sea Lions

credit: moldychum.com
Here in Stumptown, sea lions are celebrating this Thanksgiving by eating salmon dinners while local fisherfolk watch with frustration.  The nifty Ninth told state wildlife officials in Oregon and Washington on Tuesday that have not explained this "apparent conflict" to the appeals court's satisfaction:  a human take of 5.5% to 17% of endangered wild salmon and steelhead depending on the size of the run is acceptable, but yet the 0.4 to 4.2% estimated taking of the same protected fish by sea lions is considered to have a "significant negative impact" by the National Marine Fisheries Service.  Such an apparent contradiction in policy is violative of the Marine Mammal Protection Act ruled the federal appeals court from San Francisco. Duh!  The court ordered the stares to stop killing them. Thus, the irrefutable logic of numbers has given the gutsy pinnipeds a reprieve.  But it came too late for 25 sea lions euthanized in the past two years [photo] for having the nerve to eat fish favored by the planet's greatest carnivore.  Thank you, US Human Society for bringing the sea lions' cause to court.

Le Chef d'État Qui Est le Plus Pollueur Au Monde

Reuters: Le Voyageur
Mais bien sur, c'est le "Obamacon".  Le magasin, "Terra Eco" pour la troisième année consécutive, prend en effet sa calculette les émissions des voyages présidentiels.  Monsieur Le President des États Unis a produit 20.000 tonnes d'équivalent CO₂ émises entre le 1er Janvier et le 31 octobre 2010.  L'ecologie ne semble pas être le fort de Obamacon.  Le Boeing 747-200 présidentiel, "Air Force One", a piloté 200.000 kilomètres, plus dont a été note pendant des élections de mi-mandant américaines.  Pensez a ceci, amis. Quarante pour cent du plancton de l'océan a été tué par le chauffage d'océan.  Ces créatures minuscules font a moitié de l'oxygène nous respirons!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tiger Summit Holds Promise

A real Siberian heavyweight
That notable man of action, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, held sway over the "tiger summit" in St. Petersburg despite movie actor Leonardo Di Caprio stealing some of his limelight by arriving late and donating $1 million to the cause. The Prime Minister recognized Mr. Di Caprio's contribution by calling the actor a "muzhik" or "real man" at a press conference, Tuesday. DiCaprio's arrival was delayed by the diversion of a Delta flight that lost power in one of two engines. The subject at hand was not scary airplane travel, but saving the remaining tigers in the wild. $100 million was pledged at the conference. However, tiger activists warned that without lethal law enforcement in lawless areas of the 13 range countries, the species is doomed in the wild. Only $9 million from the US was earmarked for combating the organized gangs that traffic in tiger parts and poaching. One Southeast Asia conservationist noted, "Our main concern is that of the amount of money going into this, not much is filtering down into law enforcement." Another concern is the legal "tiger farms" in China that fuel the demand for tiger products. Some conservationists see the summit as a publicity cover for the World Bank that funds development projects in range states with massive adverse impacts on tiger habitat.

EPA Will Test Chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency will test 134 chemicals for their potential to disrupt the human endocrine system beginning next year.  The endocrine system regulates growth, metabolism and reproduction.  The new list is on top of an initial group of 67 chemicals the agency ordered tested in October, 2009.  Humans are increasingly exposed to possibly toxic chemicals in everyday items ranging from aircraft to toys. Benzene, long known to be a carcinogen, is on the list.  It is used as an industrial solvent in the manufacturing of drugs, plastics, synthentic rubber and dyes.  Etheylene glycol, used automotive antifreeze, is also listed.  Two pharmaceutical chemicals to be screened include the antibiotic erythromycin, and nitroglycerin used to treat heart patients.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chart of The Week: Budget Woes Are Not Just Federal

Cities have been hit hard by the economic downturn.  Many are facing huge budget gaps that must be closed in order to balance their books as required by law, unlike the federal government. The bar chart shows the decrease in spending after 2007, but also the greater negative change in general fund revenue:
Source: National League of Cities
In order to make up the difference cities are using personnel and capital project cuts most often to reduce spending, while increasing taxes and fees to increase revenue:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekend Edition: Senate Agrees to Pass a Bill

Reuters: Rescued baby river dolphin is noticed
There are some issues so inherently and morally correct, that even the US Senate is compelled to act. One might place nuclear arms control in this category of imperatives, another is preventing animal cruelty. The lame duck Senate unanimously passed a bill that makes the creating, selling or distributing videos that feature the torturing or killing of animals a felony crime. So-called "crush videos" are the sick products of a demented, sadomasochistic mind. The Supreme Court struck down 18 USC §48 which outlawed such pornography as overly broad and infringing free speech. The new, revised legislation more narrowly defines what constitutes a prohibited video and excludes videos of hunting, fishing, trapping or "customary veterinary and husbandry practices". Nevertheless, one shudders at the thought of videotaping an animal in pain at the hands of man regardless of the circumstances. The bill goes to President Obama for his signature to make it law.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kyl Kibosh Kills Treaty Vote

More:  Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) jumped the GOP party line and chastised his colleagues for playing party politics with United States' national security. Lugar said that the leadership in his party does not want to force its members to face an up or down vote on the treaty. Of course they don't because it would be politically difficult to vote against a treaty that even the Pentagon supports. A "no" vote would be more salable in the hyper-partisan atmosphere of an almost evenly divided Senate next year. Lugar said, "I'm advising that the treaty should come on the floor so people will have to vote aye or nay. I think that when it finally comes down to it, we [supporters] have sufficient numbers or senators who do have a sense of our national security". Lugar pointed to the need for Russian cooperation on the issue of insecure nuclear materials inside Russia. Lugar told his colleagues, "There are still thousands of missiles out there. You better get that through your heads". That is a tough request, Senator Lugar, when people are willfully ignorant.  Russian officials are expressing disbelief that conservatives would actually vote against arms control.  What the Russians don't understand--or perhaps they are remembering Ronnie 'Raygun' who went to Reykjavik--is that the treaty's opponents are just as ideologically rigid and opportunist as Soviet communists used to be.  Their minds are permanently locked in the 1950's, when they stopped thinking and "learned to love the bomb".  Besides, building bombs is good for 'bidness'.

Update: {17.11.10}Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is still optimistic that a START II treaty vote can be held this year despite the negative comments from GOP lead negotiator, Jon Kyl. According to Kerry, Kyl has presented his shopping list to the White House which they are addressing. Vice President Biden confirmed that the administration is offering an additional $4.1 billion on top of the budgeted $80 billion over the next ten years for modernizing the US nuclear arsenal. Of course that perennial prima dona Ben Nelson (?-NE) has to get his two cents worth. He wants to delay the vote until next year too. Kerry insists the vote should be this year because it was this Senate that held hearings and worked on the treaty, and this Senate's membership should have the opportunity to ratify it. Kerry told reporters at the Capitol, "We're not stopping because we're negotiating. We're planning to go forward." If the American people have to endure another five decades of "duck and cover" paranoia, they will know who to thank.

{16.11.10}True to form the leading GOP authority on the START II treaty has refused to join a vote for ratification in the lame duck Congress. The announcement is merely a part of the overall GOP strategy to deny President Obama a second term by blocking any legislative accomplishments in the next two years. After Obama told Russian President Medvedev at the G-20 conference that ratifying START II was his "top priority", Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday he did not think the treaty vote could be held before the end of this Congress. Ratification will require a two-thirds super majority. The treaty has almost no chance of passage in the next Congress where there will be even more opposition to confront given the mid-term election results. Kyl's kibosh comes despite the efforts of Democrats to bribe him with $80 billion worth of nuclear weapons modernization. Obama also offered an additional $4 billion in hopes of wining his support. So what about the deficit? Two other prominent GOP members, John McCain and Lindsey Graham expressed cautious support for the treaty at a recent security conference, but Kyl has been the de facto GOP negotiator on the subject. Democrats will reluctantly push ahead for a vote without GOP support according to staff. Failure to ratify the treaty that makes significant further reductions in both sides' nuclear arsenals will endanger future Russian cooperation on mutual security issues. The White House is reportedly "shocked and angered" by Kyl's intransigence. Really?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Offshore Wind Has Power

Danish array in Baltic Sea
America's first offshore wind farm, Cape Wind, five miles off Cape Cod is closer to a reality after clearing the final regulatory hurdle in April 2010. Federal approval culminates and exhaustive nine year review of the project by state and federal agencies. Senator Ted Kennedy was part of the opposition to the project {"Cape Wind"} that included local Indian tribes. Cape Wind is a 130 turbine installation that will generate 468MW of electricity or enough to meet almost 75% of demand on Cape Cod as well as the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.  The project developer agreed to perform several years of operational monitoring to assess the turbines' impact on birds, bats and marine wildlife, as well as taking measures to minimize adverse impacts. Construction will begin once long term financing is secured.

The U.S. is behind Europe in the utilization of an abundant source of power in offshore winds. This clean power source is especially important for coastal metropolises such as the Northeastern corridor where demand for electricity is huge. Europe has been developing offshore wind since 1991 (Denmark). Nine countries have developed more than 2,000 megawatts of capacity and another 16 projects are under development. The UK just recently announced tender offers for six projects that will provide 2.8 megawatts to Britain's grid in an effort to meet Europe's greenhouse gas targets. Denmark is already exporting clean wind energy thanks to its numerous offshore arrays. [photo credit: Baltic Sea Solutions]

Here, the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates offshore wind has the potential of three times the nation's current electrical capacity. Offshore wind power comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Turbines generate electricity without consuming fuel or water, produce no global warming emissions or pollution. Turbines poses a hazard to migrating birds and bats, and raise human social, cultural and health issues on shore. Part of Senator's Kennedy's opposition to the Cape Wind project was aesthetical since it can be seen on the horizon from his home. Costs associated with offshore turbine arrays are higher than comparable land wind farms. To achieve economies of scale, offshore arrays require many turbines, each requiring remote monitoring and expensive maintenance at sea. Offshore turbines are much larger than land based ones, having a blade diameter on the order of 400 feet or twice the wingspan of a Boeing 747 jetliner. Land turbines have a typical span of 240 feet. Nevertheless as the technology matures and costs come down, offshore wind power is a big business opportunity and a solution to global warming.  Tell that to a plutocrat who lives near you.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tigers Win in Russia

Public protest is effective even in the "former Soviet Union". When the Forest Management Department of Primorsky Province announced an auction of logging rights in prime Siberian Tiger habitat the public response was loud and universally negative. The auction was to be held October 26th in which 16 logging sites were up for bid, some in the proposed Middle Ussuri wildlife refuge. But the forest management director went on holiday instead. Prime Minister Putin said a full public statement was pending an investigation of the circumstances surround the auction, according to WWF. Mr. Putin will host an international summit on November 21st in St. Petersburg to galvanize action to save the tiger from extinction in the wild.  But some prominent tiger conservationists like Dr. Alan Rabinowitz of the Panthera organization do not hold out much hope for effective results from the summit.  In his view not enough emphasis or accountability is being placed on protecting tigers from poaching and encroachment where they still survive.  Logging rights in protected areas are one wildly abused legal loophole. Poachers use logging roads to access remote tiger populations. The logging activity destroys the supply of food such as pine nuts and acorns for prey species. In this case from Primorsky, logging would also have disrupted salmon breeding grounds.  Time is running out for the tiger.  Judging only from confiscated tiger parts since 2000 an average of at least 104 tigers have been killed per year.  Drastic measures are in order.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chart of the Week: Deficit Hysteria

US Person used to give Obamacon credit for being a clever politician.  But since taking office he has fallen into a hole the opposition dug for him.  He fell in by giving their deficit mongering "street cred".  He established a high profile commission to address a problem wildly exaggerated by so-called conservatives who helped create the deficit in the first place. They have used the deficit meme as a justification to oppose all,not just some social legislation proposed by the Democrats. This chart from the Congressional Budget Office tells the story:
You can see that the economic stimulus [light blue] rapidly becomes a small part of current deficit projections. That wide band of gold in the middle is the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and it gets bigger into the future. The other largest contributing factor is the decline in tax revenue due to economic depression [dark blue]. Clearly, a rational person without an ideological ax to grind would conclude from this the way forward is to revive economic activity by putting people back to work and paying taxes, ending the wars as soon as possible, and eliminating the tax holiday for the wealthy.  But the problem is Washington is full of people with axes to grind.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Weekend Edition: Sea Shepherds Unveil New Boat

At a Hollywood fundraiser (where else?) earlier this month, the activist organization Sea Shepherds showed off a replacement for the high-speed Ady Gil that was rammed by a Japanese whaling vessel in the Southern Ocean. The Ocean Adventurer is a 115 foot monohull vessel with outriggers and is intended to be a fast interceptor, the same role played by the Ady Gil before it was rammed by the Shonan Maru No. 2 early this year. The sinking of the Ady Gil has been surrounded by controversy, with its former captain blaming the Sea Shepherd founder, Paul Watson, for ordering the damaged craft scuttled.  Greenpeace has disowned Watson, a former member of its board of directors, for his confrontational tactics, and "inability to commit to non-violent" means. The new boat will join a fleet of two other vessels in the seventh campaign, "Operation No Compromise", to harass the Japanese whaling fleet. The eco-warriors claim to have saved the lives of 2,000 whales over the course of their operations. Their operations have also brought international attention to commercial whaling by the Japanese conducted under the guise of 'cetacean research'. Whether the fragile looking Ocean Adventurer fairs any better against the steel hulled Japanese whaling ships can be seen on the Discovery Channel TV show "Whale Wars" that follows the activists' vigilante exploits.

In other conservation news from the southern hemisphere, the University of Queensland announced recommendations for the establishment of marine reserves in Australia's southwest marine region which covers coastal ocean from Kangaroo Island in the south to Shark Bay in the west [map]. The scientific study provides
sanctuaries in blue
the Australian government with a basis for action to protect 57 species listed for conservation in an area with more unique marine life than on the Great Barrier Reef in the northeast. In the early '90s the federal government reached an agreement with state governments to establish a system of marine reserves. The plan establishes protection for 1,465 marine species at the 50% level as well as protection for 486 underwater features supporting marine life. Professor Hugh Possingham, lead scientist, sees the conservation principles behind the plan as being applicable to all of Australia's marine areas.

Friday, November 12, 2010

'Toontime: Taken for a District Ride

[credit:  Ben Sargent]
Wackydoodle axes:  Who is that fat man?  Is that there both of the Koch Bros.?
One of the perennial tricks of the plutocrats is the co-option of popular political movements.  If you want to play in the pond you have to make room for the big fish.  One ripple: Michele Bachman, the mad woman from Minnesota and a tea party favorite, dropped her bid for chair of the House Republican Conference.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chart of the Week: It's a Man Thing

Women seem to be faring better than men in the labor market. This situation may be attributable to women occupying lower paying service jobs and fewer construction industry jobs. Another sign that the US economy is shedding family wage, middle-class jobs that may never be replaced. That is not the only bad news. Obamacon appointed another pass-the-blame commission to study ways to cut the deficit. That whale of a statesman and co-chair Alan Simpson, wants to balance the budget on your back by drastically cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.  They want to take away your mortgage tax deduction while lowering corporate income tax just for good measure. Did the White House stand up for the middle class when the draconian cuts were suggested? Only the crickets could be heard because nobody's home. The British are taking their turn in the streets protesting the austerity measures of the Tory government. At home US Person suggests first ending two costly wars--in one case unjustifiable and in the other unwinnable. The Pentagon will not do that on its own even though it has enough hutzpah to waste a spare missile now and then while the cat's away hobnobbing with the upper caste. And remember this Wackydoodle: you asked for it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Government Whitewash of Gulf Disaster Continues

First the bureaucrats of Obamacon minimized the size of the spill. Then the minions in his government said the oil had miraculously dissipated. Both statements turned out to be not true. {"Deepwater Horizon"} Now, the Obama appointees on the national commission of inquiry into the Deepwater Horizon disaster are saying no one was responsible for making economic decisions that caused the biggest environmental disaster in US history. It was just a serious of honest mistakes and tough calls. Horsepucky! The chief counsel's conclusion is another despicable Beltway whitewash. The commission is providing the cover necessary to let British Petroleum off the hook for any criminal liability. A successful criminal prosecution would require proof of intentional or at least reckless behavior was involved.

Sure, no one left little sticky notes on the drilling control panel saying "screw safety". No executive from London or Houston sent e-mails saying don't do this pressure test or circulation test ($118,000) or use more well lining ($7-10 million) because it costs too much. But any company with BP's history of cost cutting certainly is acutely aware of the expense of drilling a deep well at sea, estimated to be about $1.5 million a day. The drilling of the Macondo well was six weeks behind schedule which alone cost BP at least $21 million in leasing fees. How the commission could find last week that both BP and Haliburton knew there were problems with the cement mixture for cementing the well, yet used it anyway, and conclude Monday there is an absence of at least corporate recklessness defies logic. But logic never stopped the paper hangers of Washington. It is important to note that the commission does not possess subpoena power, so it can not get beyond corporate finger pointing or self serving internal reviews if it wished to do so.

Charles Perrow, a Yale professor who wrote the sociological classic "Normal Accidents" thinks the current administration is engaged in a cover-up. In an interview with AP Perrow said "There's a long history of dollars versus safety at this organization." He pointed with good reason to the 2005 Texas City oil refinery explosion. Examining the causes of that disaster, federal officials cited BP for a "culture of cost cutting" that contributed to the explosion. Reps. Waxman and Stupak who investigated the Deepwater Horizon spill sent a letter to BP in June stating that the company "appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons." The present inquiry panel's co-chairman was the head of EPA in the previous regime notorious for its incestuous relations with big oil. And at some point in the numerous lawsuits spawned by the spill's aftermath, the federal government itself may face liability for its lackadaisical oversight of a rogue corporation operating in the public domain. This preliminary finding of "no conscious decision to favor dollars over safety" by chief counsel Fred Barlit, Jr. [photo] is beyond absurd, it's criminally dishonest.

As Washington mops up and papers over, the Gulf and the wildlife continue to suffer. US Fish & Wildlife figures show a total of 8,184 oil birds collected since the spill began. 6,104 of those found dead. 1,140 oiled sea turtles collected. 605 of those DOA. A new report from the EU shows 20% of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna were killed by the spill contaminating a large section of the species' spawning grounds. This fish species is already collapsing due to overfishing. The shrimp catch is down 52% from last year. The livelihoods of a great number of Gulf residents involved in the region's fishing industry have been wiped out. One reason Obama & Folks got trashed in the mid-term election is the conspicuous lack of courage of their alleged convictions.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Car of the Future Here Now

Nissan's Leaf on tour
Nissan's new, all electric Leaf automobile is touring the country. US Person test drove the vehicle in Oregon. Although the test drive was too brief, he  formed a very favorable first impression of the electric car. The Leaf is a quantum leap beyond General Motor's EV-1 that was test marketed in California and Arizona in the mid 1990s. "This is a car my mother can drive today", said the enthusiastic company representative in response to a question about subsequent advancements in battery technology and smart instrumentation. Nissan has a history of developing electric vehicle technology that goes back to 1947 with its Tama vehicle. In 1996 the company was the first to utilize lithium battery technology in its Prairie Joy vehicle. The Leaf is powered by modular, flat battery packs that can be replaced individually, if necessary. Nissan engineers apparently have solved the problems of battery overheating, rapid fading, and charging 'memory'. The battery assembly adds 600 lbs to the vehicle gross weight of 3500 lbs, the same weight as a Chevy Volt. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf's motive power is totally electric. The car even uses a solar panel located on the top of the rear spoiler to recharge a 12 volt lead battery dedicated to powering accessories. The heavy electric powerplant is mounted midway beneath the cabin enhancing the car's cargo space and stable handling characteristics.

inspecting the motor
As the electric blue LX model pulled to the curb for a test drive, US Person first noticed its eerily quiet operation. Only the tires rolling on wet pavement made an audible sound. He was next impressed with the car's nimble performance. He easily accelerated from zero to fifty in a few seconds without any hesitation for gear shifting. One of the physical advantages of an electric motor over a combustion engine is the immediate availability of torque over the entire rpm range. A robust V-8 pickup only yields 40% power at 1000 rpms while the Leaf produces 100% power at the same engine speed. A hundred seven horsepower gives the vehicle a top speed of 90 mph. Braking power is firmly immediate and regenerates electrical power to charge the main batteries. Front wheel drive steering is tight and responsive. The hatchback's exterior styling is very aerodynamic with a drag coefficient of only 0.29. Even the prominently mounted headlight assemblies split the wind around the exterior driving mirrors to reduce wind resistence at speed. However, our driver prefers the car's rear and side profiles over the bug-eyed front end.

charging batteries
The interior is made from recyclable materials as is 99% of the car--no top gear leather or woods here. You can have any color interior, as long as it is light gray. Seats are merely comfortable with adequate room in the back for two average adults despite the claim of seating for five. The rear cargo compartment is not stupendously large, but you can get your groceries home, no problem. Instrumentation is a bright spot. You start the Leaf with the push of a button, provided you have your personalized electronic fob on your person--without it, no go. The shifter is an ergonomically pleasing knob that changes gear with finger pressure. The speedometer is digital, large, and centered above the main panel in an eyebrow arrangement. Performance readouts differ from a combustion engine and will take some time to become familiar. Digital graphics inform the driver of the rate she is using power, driving range remaining, and battery temperature.
The navigation touch screen is a tech geek's delight with plenty of options and displays to fascinate or confuse the user. An owner will be able to interact via mobile device and computer with his vehicle as never before. The car can be programed to pre-warm or pre-cool the interior, but it will not make coffee for you. Perhaps the most useful display screen is energy usage that monitors vehicle energy consumption in real time and suggests how to improve range by turning down the A/C for example. The navigation maps update themselves and include the latest charging station information within the travel range. Charging infrastructure is still in its infancy, so that last bit of information will be important. Now that the J-17-72 electric vehicle plug has been standardized, more charging stations will be available in the near future. XM satellite radio, USB port, and a CD player with six speakers are included.

modular battery packs
The obvious drawback of an all electric vehicle is limited range. Leaf has an estimated range of 100 miles without recharging. That is enough range for 95% of Americans who drive less than that each day. Of course, as with a conventional car, mileage will vary by terrain, driving habits, and usage. The car is designed to be typically charged overnight when off-peak electric rates are low using a dedicated 220/240 volt charger installed in your garage (24kWh @ 6¢/hr local rates). A customer must purchase the charging unit separately and have it installed by an electrician. The car is equipped with a 110 volt trickle charger for those unexpected situations away from home. Warning: be prepared to wait twenty hours for a full charge using the trickle charger! At the other extreme, a commercial 480 volt DC charger will energize your batteries to 80% in 30 minutes. If you stubbornly ignore the car's repeated electronic suggestions that you recharge now, it goes into "turtle mode" in which nothing works except the steering, brakes and motor--truly an emergency mode. How far "turtle mode" will last no one at the tour site seemed to know. If you are a masochist trying to set a world's single charge distance record with your Leaf, perhaps the dealer will come to the rescue and tow you to the nearest charger.

The car's lithium batteries are intended to last 8-10 years, and are warranted for eight years.  And here lies the rub. The batteries will need replacing by an owner if he intends to keep the vehicle beyond the estimated battery life, or if he wants to take advantage of anticipated improvements in battery technology. No information on battery replacement cost is available from Nissan, yet. Such information is important to prospective buyers wanting to compare operating costs between economic alternatives. No doubt an electric vehicle, with fewer moving parts, has lower maintenance costs; nevertheless batteries are an expensive component of this car's powertrain. The company should consider selling the car with a battery lease option to reduce the car's $25,000 to $32,000 selling price, foster battery recycling, and enhance consumer product satisfaction by offering technological upgrades as part of the lease agreement. The company's tour agent said a lease option was considered for the US marketplace and rejected because such a lease option would violate "lemon laws" that prohibit the sale of a car that could not be driven off the lot once purchased. US Person seriously doubts most consumer protection statutes pose a real problem to offering a battery lease option with the car's purchase.

No, the Leaf does not fly, but no doubt the Leaf is a future car available now. One performance statistic above all affirms this conclusion: zero tailpipe emissions. A Ford Fusion hybrid emits an estimated 48,310 cu. ft of CO₂, while the antisocial driver of a Hummer H3 emits a whopping 134,549 cu. ft. The cute little Leaf even has a "virtual tree" indicator to let the driver know they are doing their part to save mother Earth.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Weekend Edition: Government Scientists Find Smoking Gun

NY Times: Dead coral deep in Gulf
Federal scientists in the Gulf of Mexico have found large areas of destroyed coral on the seabed at a depth of about 4500 feet. The mass die off is almost certainly a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The discovery was made Tuesday by scientists aboard the Ronald Brown, a NOAA research vessel. The evidence for a causation link is still circumstantial, based on proximity to the Macondo well about seven miles away, documented subsurface oil plumes in the area, and the toxicity of crude oil. But the lead scientist said of the destruction, "I think we have the smoking gun." When a coral's survival is threatened, it emits a thick mucus to protect itself. The dying coral in the Gulf was found covered with a thick brown scum and exposed white skeleton, further evidence of poisoning. Confirmation of the cause of the coral death off awaits analysis for hydrocarbons and chemical dispersants in the samples taken. The researchers were unable to explore all of "the underwater graveyard" with available robotic submersibles. There are plans to return in December with a manned Navy mini-sub for more extensive research. Deep coral formations provide an essential habitat for other marine life in what is otherwise a cold, barren environment on the seafloor. Coral does not regrow quickly and is a sign of the lasting impact of history's largest accidental oil spill. The disturbing find is in stark contrast to earlier government reports that 70% of the spilled crude dissipated without significant damage to the environment.

Friday, November 05, 2010

'Toontime: Pledging the Class of 2010

[credit: John Darkow, Columbia, Mo. Daily Tribune]
After the GOP gained control of Congress in 1994, federal discretionary, non-defense spending grew every year except 1996 and continued to grow under the previous GOP regime.  The largest increases over the past 40 years in federal outlays, not counting the Vietnam War era, were made by the Charlatan.  GOP fiscal responsibility is just another beltway myth.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Bernanke Dumps the Pretense

Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke does not even bother to lie about "quantitative easing" helping the broader economy. If printing $600 billion--because in essence that is what it is--helps Wall Street that is enough. The Dow is up 218 points today. Small savers like you can go dance to the banks' tune of currency devaluation. Perpetuating the national Ponzi scheme is uppermost: keep short term interest rates near zero; allow the banks to borrow cheap from the Fed; multiply the funds in Wall Street's manipulated stock market money machine and lend some of it long-term dear. Buy back US bonds from the banks. Repeat. No wonder gold is over $1300 an ounce! The idea it to allow the banks to inflate their way out of all the negative equity hidden on their books by accounting tricks (estimated at $15 to $20 trillion in overpriced assets an $10 trillion in bad debt).  Even Goldbags & Sacks says it would take $4 trillion in QE to get the economy moving.  In reality we are creating powerful incentive for future frauds.

The business of America is business, observed President Calvin Coolidge. No longer.  The business of America is bubble creation even if is at the expense of foreign economies. US money managers are sending the cheap credit dollar abroad, buying up foreign assets, businesses, commodities and land. One financial observer wrote, "To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US." There is more than one way to fight a war. Dollar devaluation is the US weapon of choice for now.

[image: "Fiat paper bombers" courtesy Gordon T. Long]

Charlatan Admits Approval of Waterboarding

The Charlatan has come out of the closet in his memoir and admits he approved torture.  According to the torturer in chief, the CIA asked if he approved of the water-boarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed.  "Damn right!", was his reply.  In February Dick Cheney also owned up to torture.  So there is no argument anymore that the former President of the United States is a war criminal.  He, and people under his direction, violated the UN Convention Against Torture.  The Convention requires signatory nations which includes the United States, to enforce its provisions.  Both Forty-four and his Justice Department have declared water boarding to be a type of torture* proscribed by international law and have banned its use.  What remains to be seen is what is he going to do about the violations.  After Tuesday's election results, nothing is less than even money.

*Spanish inquisitors called it "tortura de aqua". "Unequivocally torture” is how U.S. Brigadier General David Irvine described water-boarding, after teaching POW interrogation and military law for 18 years. Whatever you call it, the technique is meant to instill the body's gag reflexes in response to a slow drowning.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Obama's Midterm Report Card

Update:  Because of the size of the Repugnant victory in the US House of Representatives, US Person must downgrade Forty-four to a D.*  It is the largest margin since the sweep of 1938.  The margin of victory (60 seats) exceeds that achieved by Newt "the Grinch" Gingrich during the Clinton administration (52 seats).  But that so-called "Contract with America" brought us the shut down of the federal government and the prolonged agony of the Clinton impeachment on a hypocritical morals charge.  It remains to be seen what foolishness awaits us with extremist tea party politicians in positions of power within the GOP. GOP leaders are already promising to repeal the health care reform enacted this year.  Forty-four will only compound his mistakes if he looses sight of the indisputable fact that his jubilant opponents have nothing to gain and everything to loose in 2012 by allowing him to be perceived as a successful President by voters.

{2.11.10}If Obama & Folks get an F after this midterm election--an F being loosing both the House and the Senate, a C for only loosing the House--credit another case of disappointing raised expectations. Obama's electrifying campaign rhetoric proved hollow after his first two years of holding the Office of President, despite a Democratic majority Congress passing several significant pieces of legislation. He promised change in Washington, and what we got was more of the same: neo-liberal incrementalism. All of his legislative accomplishments are tainted by the loathsome process of political deal making, and smack of too much compromise with principal for his liberal base. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in our history with more troops committed by this President to an unachievable goal. The Guantanamo gulag, symbol of this nation's departure from fundamental principals of civil liberty and international law, is still in existence.  Obama's health care reform for which he expended so much political capital, is the insurance industry's preferred alternative without needed competition from a non-profit policy option. Yet Americans will be required to further enrich the already bloated health insurance industry or face fines. The financial reform does not restore the fundamental Glass-Steagall Act prohibition against investment banks also becoming depository banks, nor does it do anything to brake up the Wall Street oligopoly that completely dominates the nation's financial system. The Federal Reserve Bank is just another captured regulator that fails to protect the public, akin to the regulatory failure that helped create the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though the TARP rescue is turning a profit thanks to record low interest rates and a manipulated stock market, the bailout has not relieved the pain of the Second Great Depression on Main Street. There is no widespread mortgage loan relief or lower consumer credit rates on the President's agenda to aid the unemployed. This last mentioned disappointment is perhaps the bitterest pill for the electorate to swallow. Yet another Wall Street rescue demonstrates to ordinary Americans that the rules are different for those with money to influence professional politicians. "Yes, we can....but" was the how Obama rephrased his campaign refrain on national TV just prior to this election. That "but" is a condition of approval by the plutocrats who control the political playing field and the players in America. Are you ready for some gridlock?

*In modern times Presidents from both major parties have lost seats in the House during their term in office. Such an outcome is graded a C. Lost of control of the lower house rates a C-. Loss of control by an historic margin must therefore be graded a D.   Lost of control of both Houses of Congress is nothing short of failure.

Monday, November 01, 2010

EU Says No to Inuit Seal Hunters

The European Union reinstated a ban on the importation of seal products.  The ban took effect in August, but native hunters were granted a temporary exemption pending their appeal of the EU regulation.  The regulation recognizes seals as "sentient beings that can experience pain, distress, fear and other forms of suffering".  The ruling cuts off a major export market for the annual Canadian seal hunt. However the hearing judge ruled the Inuit failed to prove an imminent financial hardship from the ban taking full effect.  The EU has had import restrictions on seal products since 1983 in response to humanitarian concerns.

Chart of the Week: Double Dip

Home prices are clearly taking another nose dive, reflecting the continued deflation of the real estate bubble from the early part of this decade. The chart is current through August, before the impact of the widespread foreclosure fraud is reflected. But it has become clear that the mega banks securitizing these mortgages knew they were putting defective loans into the pools. According to testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee one company responsible for due diligence found that of the loans they were asked to examine (about 10% of the total) for underwriting sufficiency 28% were determined to be disqualified in which there were no mitigating circumstances that would allow the defects to be waived. Nevertheless, the banks waived the defects in 39% of those loans rejected. The fact is that Bank of America, JP Morgan, Citigroup et al were shoveling the sub prime junk out the door as fast as they could create the CDOs. The banks used the negative information to negotiate better prices on the  loans they were purchasing according to testimony.  They did not inform their investors of the underlying loan deficiencies. Book 'em for bunco, Dano.