Friday, December 24, 2010

will be taking a brief pause for the winter holidays.  Come back next year for more high impact blog. Peace be upon you.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

'Toontime: New Plumbers!

[credit: Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette]
Wackydoodle sez: Make sure y'all clean that up!
BP finally got sued by the federal government, but the criminal investigation is still underway, promises Attorney General Holder. US Person will reserve comment if and when indictments are handed down. But Obamacon, basking in the garish light of progressive betrayal deemed in Washington "compromise", may be too busy cutting Social Security to care about the environment in the coming year. As if a $4 trillion Christmas gift to the hereditary rich is not enough.

Michigan Begins a Green Energy Future

Michigan is one state suffering the most during this Second Great Depression. The bad national economic climate is compounded by a declining auto industry, once the heart blood of Michigan's economic life. But there is an industry on the horizon that can help replace Detroit's shrinking industry, and that is clean energy manufacturing. Governor Granholm announced earlier this month the first production of utility scale wind turbines entirely in the state. A power purchase agreement between Consumers Energy and wind farm operator Heritage Sustainable Energy made the production of direct drive wind turbines by Northern Power Systems [photo] possible. The direct drive design eliminates the need for a heavy reduction gearbox and increases efficiency by 15%. Michigan passed a renewable energy standard in 2008 as part of comprehensive energy legislation and requires a modest 10% of the state's energy be produced by renewable resources by 2015. Research indicates that Michigan could generate as much as 16,564MW of wind power on land and additional 448,756MW offshore in Lakes Michigan and Huron. Thirty thousand jobs are expected to be created in Michigan from the wind manufacturing sector alone according to the US Department of Energy.

The energy pyramid for the US is: coal, petroleum, nuclear, renewables, efficiency. Your job dear reader, should you decide to accept, is to invert that pyramid so it reads: efficiency, renewables, nuclear, petroleum, coal. Not an easy task, but US Person has confidence in you. The demand for gasoline is dropping after seven decades of increasing demand, and your refrigerator uses 75% less energy than it did in 1975 even though it is 20% larger.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Festivus Feats of Strength Con't.: START II

credit: Signs of the time
Update:  The Senate voted yesterday to end debate with a vote of 67 "ayes" indicating enough support to ratify the treaty. Senator John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said enough GOP senators have put the nation's safety above politics to insure passage of START II. Three senators including Ron Wyden (D-OR) who was released from the hospital after prostate surgery were absent for the cloture vote, but are expected to vote for the treaty today.

{20.12.10}The much belabored strategic nuclear arms pact with Russia cleared another hurdle last night when the Risch amendment (see post below) was voted down 32-60. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has filed for cloture to end debate. The cloture motion requires only 60 votes to pass. involved. Then there are 30 more hours of debate according to the archaic rules of the Senate. Reid said more amendments will be debated in that time, but in the end it boils down to this, "either you want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists, or you don't". No exaggeration there, Senator, because no US inspectors have been inside Russia since the last START treaty expired a year ago. The treaty provides for 18 inspections per year. The US has 17 facilities subject to inspection, while Russia has 35. Two leading Repugnants have come out of their closets and made their unconditional opposition to the agreement public. McConnell and Kyl both said the treaty needs to be "fixed". However, Vice President Joe Biden appears confident treaty supporters have enough votes for final passage. The historic vote could take place December 23, the last scheduled working day of this Congress, but our nation's existential foreign policy* is in danger of becoming hopelessly entangled in domestic partisanship.

*“I can only underscore that the strategic nuclear arms treaty, worked out on the strict basis of parity, in our view fully answers to the national interests of Russia and the United States,” Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told the Interfax news agency on Monday. “It cannot be opened up and become the subject of new negotiations.”

New Lemur Species Found in Madagascar

The island nation of Madagascar is the endemic home of many species of lemurs, a member of our Primate Order. They evolved separately from our immediate ancestors, anthropoid apes, but they do have digits instead of claws. Unfortunately these interesting very distant relatives are under threat from deforestation. A species of lemur believed to be new to science has been located in the dry forests of northeastern region of Daraina, a protected area. First spotted in 1995, it has been now being formally described by Dr. Russ Mittermeier.[photo credit] The new lemur is about the size of a squirrel. Both Dr. Mittermeyer and his associate Dr. Ed Luis from Omaha's Henry Doorley Zoo would like to name the lemur after the NGO that is most responsible for protecting Daraina. Sixty-three new species of primates including 42 species of lemurs have been discovered world-wide in the last decade. Each lemur species has unique adaptations to survive in its particular island niche, an example of evolutionary radiation similar to that exhibited by Darwin's finches.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Born to Loose?

Think US Person might be slightly paranoid? Bitter? Too cynical? Well, air your grievances, it is the end of year. But before you dump on him read this special investigation by the Washington Post, "Top Secret America". The multi-part article describes the massive effort underway to collect data on all "US persons",
Blue light in Tennessee
including employment history, regardless of any wrongdoing. 4,058 federal state and local law enforcement organizations now have responsibility for counterterrorism. 935 of these have been created since the 2001 terror attacks. As the collected digital information inevitably spreads throughout the national security apparatus, concerns are mounting that private personal information will end up in the public domain. Mouthed off to your, boss? Argument with your wife? Careful--big brother is watching you!.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chart of the Week: It's All Relative

Now may be the best holiday retail season in three years, but the damage done to the American economy is far from being repaired. The extension of the tax relief for the middle class at the huge cost of future lost revenue from the rich should help the economy in the short term, but the federal deficit will now be even bigger. Until the last GOP administration, revenues only just kept pace with outlays:
Unless something is done to control federal spending, especially reduction of military spending, the federal deficit will escalate out of control to the point that not even the Chinese will buy US Treasury securities for fear of default. The top owner is our own Federal Reserve Bank ($891bn):
Consumer spending, usually the biggest driver of the US economy, is down because unemployment is still at very high levels compared to previous modern recessions (red line, 2007):
Some economists are worried that the lost jobs may not come back even if there is a more robust recovery. There are more Americans not working as a percentage of the total population that at any time since the 80s, and many people are simply giving up trying to find work:
Adding to the negative effect of unemployment, consumers are still in deep debt and they are de-leveraging by paying off debt or simply defaulting:
charts source: Business

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Festivus Feats of Strength"* on the Hill

ROK vessels on patrol
Latest: Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) effort to block a vote on ratifying the START II treaty failed 59-37. The vote against the measure, which would have required the reopening of negotiations, does not mean there are 67 votes for ratification at this point in the debate. Conservatives continue to insist on deleting language in the treaty's preamble that addresses the issue of missile defense. The Russians see the language as necessary to the validity of the treaty. The need for a follow-on nuclear arms treaty is made all the more apparent by the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The military situation on the peninsula is a remnant of the Cold War that could turn very hot at any moment. Russia has urged an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Sunday to address the current stand-off over military maneuvers near coastal islands in the Yellow Sea [photo]. The Senate will consider another "killer" amendment offered by James Risch (R-ID) to include tactical nuclear weapons in the treaty. This difficult subject was deliberately left off the table by the negotiating parties, so any such amendment now would require the entire treaty be renegotiated. According to Foreign Policy's The Cable blog there are between 50 and 70 treaty amendments by the GOP pending. How many will make it to the floor is a guess. Clearly the tactic is death by a thousand amendments.

More: US Person thinks Senator Reid has the schedule backwards. Nothing is more important in the lame duck session than ratifying START II. The Repugnants will use any and all excuses to delay treaty consideration because they want to be in a position to force renegotiation next year. The Senate Parliamentarian has already given treaty opponents an opening by ruling the treaty's preamble is subject to amendment. It is in the preamble that the US recognizes the interrelationship between offensive and defensive nuclear weapons, a concept Repugnants detest since it threatens the potential of making huge profits for defensive weapons. Homosexual advocates can wait a little longer for their right to openly serve in the military because if START II is not ratified, the chances of the army disappearing in a radioactive cloud of dust increase mightily. So go "duck and cover" until the nuclear arms treaty is law.

{16.12.10}The Start II treaty moved toward a ratification vote in the Senate Wednesday where the follow-on arsenal reduction agreement survived a Repugnant delaying tactic 66 to 32, Evan Bayhe (D-IN) absent. Bayhe is expected to support the treaty. Several more procedural hurdles must be overcome, as the treaty's opponents use all of their parliamentary skills to hold it hostage. The initial vote was encouraging since 67 "yes" votes will be needed for passage, but counting the number of opposition party defectors is not an exact process. Meanwhile Comrade Vladimir Vladimirovich is learning to play "Bluberry Hill", the old Fats Domino tune, on the piano while waiting for America's answer to ending the nuclear arms race and entering an era of rapprochement with our former allies.

The fruitless attempts to woo Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the most vociferous opponent of nuclear arms control, have been dropped by the administration. So Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) popped up to insist on his senatorial privilege and have the entire treaty read aloud on the floor of the Senate, taking up precious floor time.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was able to derail that stunt by an agreement with the Senate Minority Leader. DeMint was not even above seeking leverage in the approach of the high Christian holiday, saying it was "sacrilegious" to debate START II this close to Christmas! Vice President Joe Biden told John Kerry (D-MA) that he would rather see the treaty defeated this year, than have it languish in a Congress that will be even more hostile to legislative accomplishments by Obamacon & Folks. Start I was approved 87-6 in 1996 after only 2 days of consideration.  The Prince of Peace has got to be shaking his head.

*people who are fans of the old hit TV sitcom, "Seinfeld"know that feats of strength are a traditional aspect of the "Holiday for the Rest of Us"

Friday, December 17, 2010

UK Subsidizes Electric Cars

Peugeot's all-electric iON
The UK government announced electric car grants amounting to a quarter of the cost of new electric cars up to a maximum of £5,000 will be available January 1st. Nine models are eligible for the grants, including Chevrolet's plug-inVolt. The metro police will drive the Vauxhall Ampera which is similar to the Volt. Nissan's all-electric Leaf is eligible, and is being manufactured in Sunderland. Ministers also announced that five more regions that will be installing charging infrastructure have successfully bid for £20 million in funds. The dream of non-polluting personal transport vehicles with the flexibility of the combustion engine is becoming a reality. The subsidies will make the UK a leading market for green transportation options.

'Toontime: Fortunate Son

[credit: Tony Auth]
Wackydoodle sez, "That's how they do!"
Out of sixteen federal judges to be presented with cases, Judge Henry Hudson was the only district court judge to reach the merits on the conservative claim that the individual mandate is an unconstitutional extension of the commerce clause. Not surprising, since he is a partisan appointed by the Bush Regime. He was modest enough to admit his decision will not be the last as the question makes its way upward through the federal judiciary. It is well he recognizes that because as a number of scholars have already pointed out, Judge Hudson made a basic error in constitutional law by conflating the legal parameters of the commerce clause with the necessary and proper clause. The fundamental constitutional question of whether the individual mandate is a reasonable way to regulate the interstate health insurance market went unanswered by Judge Hudson. Stay tuned for the Supremes.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cancun Climate Conference Ends in Consensus

With the sole objection of Bolivia, led by socialist president Evo Morales who has taken on the role of representing the world's indigenous peopleand the "rights of nature", the UN climate conference ended in a broad consensus agreement among 194 nations. Hailed as a clear mechanism for reaching a global solution to climate change, the Cancun Agreements contain several significant developments, but stop short of a binding international climate treaty, a point repeatedly made by the Bolivian delegate. Nevertheless, the Mexican meeting chair, Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, ruled against the objections of the isolated Bolivian delegate in plenary session despite the UN rule calling for consensus agreement. The Cancun Agreements are similar to the Copenhagen Accord which are intended to compliment a binding international treaty that may be reached at a later date.

The Agreements establish a temperature target for mitigation (2°C); a system of measuring, reporting and verifying emissions (MRV)--a key requirement insisted upon by the United States; an agreement on forestry and land use (REDD+); green technology transfers; and a green climate fund ($100bn by 2020) that applies to all parties, not just developing countries. For more details see this. Most observers agree that for a conference that was headed for more paralysis after the disappointing Copenhagen session, the Cancun conference is a positive sign that multilateral negotiations can lead to a binding climate compact despite an excruciating procedure. A deadlocked meeting this time would have crippled the process, perhaps permanently. Others have blamed the deadlocked US Congress for the failure to reach a final, binding treaty by now. Formally recognizing the Copenhagen reduction targets including the US pledge of just 17% by 2020 still leaves the world short of what needs to be accomplished to advert catastrophic warming. However, the Cancun Agreements are a modest "leap for mankind" in the positive direction. It is on to Durbin, South Africa for more detailed talks and golf next year, and perhaps the establishment of long overdue binding emission targets.

Chart of the Week: The Foreign Banks Bailed by US Fed

This chart from shows the thirty five foreign banks that received direct emergency short term loans from the US Fed that amounted to $350 billion in US taxpayer money. The three largest recipients were UBS (Swiss), Dexia SA (Belgium), and BNP Paribus (French). This is just part of the incredibly huge iceberg of $12.3 trillion in emergency loans that the Fed made to shore up the crumbling global banking cartel during the financial crisis of 2007. All of the near zero interest loans were made with US taxpayer money, but without oversight or approval by Congress and in many cases without security or with security that was essentially worthless. And now the American people will have to pay for this private banking bonanza by working longer, for lower wages, and paying higher taxes and health care costs while the plutocracy passes on its ill-gotten wealth to future generations at low tax rates. Such a deal!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why the War Goes On

Afghanistan does not have oil, but what it does have is valuable minerals in abundance.  Of course one of the most valuable is gold, and western capitalists have made the first move to exploit the occupation of Afghanistan by western forces.  On Monday Afghan officials approved a multi-million dollar contract.  Ten capitalists from United States and Britain are investing an estimated $50 million to mine gold in Dushi district of Baghlan province says Afghanistan's minister of mines.  The DoD has put a conservative $1 trillion price on the deposits of iron, copper, cobalt, gold, and rare earth minerals that have gone unexploited because almost continuous social unrest in the country.  The Soviets estimated Afghanistan's gold reserves at $25 billion alone.  China recently closed a $3bn deal to mine copper at Aynak, thought to be one of the world's largest undeveloped reserves.  JP Morgan promoted the project, and production is estimated to take place within a year.

EPA Allowed Clothianidin to Kill Bees

Honey bees gather corn dust 
An EPA internal memo leaked Wednesday confirms that the agency allowed the use of clothianidin manufactured by German chemical giant Bayer.{"honeybees"} Bayer made $262 million in sales of the agricultural pesticide in 2009. The chemical is toxic to honeybees. Widely used on the 88 million acres of industrial corn seed grown in the US, the chemical is taken into the plants vascular system and is expressed in the plant's nectar and pollen. Clothianidin is relatively new on the market, but is also commonly used on canola, soy, sugar beets, wheat and sunflowers--all widely planted crops. It joins a host of other chemicals used by industrial farming to control insects. The exact cause or causes of honeybee colony collapse has not yet been determined, but increasing evidence points to toxic exposure overwhelming the bees' immune system making them vulnerable to viruses and parasites. The memo was given to a Colorado bee keeper, and shows that the agency ignored the warnings of in-house scientists about the dangers of clothianidin.

states affected by colony collapse
In 2003 according to Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNIA) government scientists recommended not registering the pesticide for use until a full evaluation of toxicity was done on bees. They considered the pesticide's effects "persistent", and "toxic to honeybees". The agency decided not to wait for an evaluation of a complete bee life cycle (63 days) and granted "conditional" registration status. The condition on the registration was that Bayer complete such a life cycle study. Predictably, the corporation did not complete the study until 2007 when bee colony collapse was well underway. In the lucrative interim, millions of acres had been treated. Bee experts consider the study to be laughable. The leaked memo shows that EPA scientists agree. Conducted in Canada on canola, which is not the bees' favorite plant, the experiment was poorly constructed with no effective control mechanisms. Based on this single manufacturer's sponsored study, the pesticide was granted full registration status for use as a seed treatment for corn on April 22, 2010. Despite the well founded concerns of its own scientists, indications are that agency will not change the chemical's registration. Germany, France, Italy and Slovenia have already suspended its use. So much for science based policy making.

Monday, December 13, 2010

US Aided "Butcher of Lyon", Klaus Barbie to Escape

It was known amongst students of modern history and intelligence circles that the United States aided and abetted Nazi war criminals for its own purposes after World War II. Now two government reports, one from the Department of Justice and another from the National Archives confirm in detail the extent of US-Nazi collaboration in the aftermath of the Cold War. The United States created a safe haven for high level Nazis that could be put to use by the US  against the Soviet Union in counterespionage or technical endeavors. The Justice Department strove for four years to keep its report secret.  Ironically, one of the justifications used by the United States for the invasion of Afghanistan was the Taliban's creation of a safe haven for international terrorists. A scholar on the subject of the laws of war, law professor and former JAG officer, Jordan J. Paust, says the United States clearly violated its constitutional and international treaty obligations by giving aid to Nazi war criminals.

One of the most prominent of these perpetrators was Klaus Barbie [photo], known as the Butcher of Lyon for his torture of prisoners including Jean Moulin, a high ranking member of the French Resistance. He is thought to be responsible for the death of up to 4,000 people. Barbie became an agent for the US Army Counterintelligence Corps in 1947, and escaped to Argentina using a "rat line" organized by US intelligence. Barbie died in jail serving a life sentence after a public trial in France in 1977. The war time background of former UN Secretary-General and Austria President Kurt Waldheim became publicly known in 1986, however the OSS knew of his alleged Nazi connections from the time he turned himself in to British forces occupying southern Austria at the end of the war. Waldheim maintained his innocence of any war crimes to his death.

The US intelligence effort to infiltrate the East German Communist Party, "Project Happiness" (largely a failure) included other Nazi criminals such Rudolf Mildner, responsible for the execution of thousands of suspected Polish resisters. Mildner escaped from an internment camp in 1946, probably because of lenient treatment by American officials according to the National Archives report, "Hitlers Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, US Intelligence and the Cold War". The CIA moved to protect Mykola Lebed, a Ukrainian fascist leader, from a criminal investigation by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. He worked for US intelligence throughout the 1980's despite being "a well known sadist and collaborator of the Germans". Only a few known Nazi collaborators have ever deported or extradited for prosecution abroad by the United States. Former prison guards, John Demjanjuk ("Ivan the Terrible"), Feodor Fedorenko and Tartu camp commander Karl Linnas are examples. However, no former Nazi or collaborator has been prosecuted by the courts of the United States, despite this nation's ability and obligation to do so under the laws of war incorporated by 10 U.S.C. §818 and a prior codification in 1916. See Ex parte Quirin (1942). A co-author of "Hitler's Shadow" called the aid rendered Nazis by American agents "systematic"--part of an intense effort to counter what was then considered to be the existential threat of spreading communism.

The truly sad part of this continuing post world war narrative is that nothing has really changed in America.  The guilty--whether it be a president who tortures, pillaging Wall Street bankers, playboy oil company executives, fraudulent mortgage companies, crooked accountants--none of them have been prosecuted for the massive crimes committed and which contribute mightily to this empire's eventual demise.  It will join its predecessors on the trash heap of history, another victim of rot from within.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Brazil Makes Progress Protecting Amazon

Chac Mool takes it easy in Cancun
More: The disarray over the future of the Kyoto Protocol threatens even a final draft of the REDD agreement. Russia joined Japan in publicly announcing it would not sign on to a continuation of the only binding agreement in existence for slowing global warming. Canada is named as a third country working privately against extending the Kyoto agreement. The problem continues to be the economic gap between rich and poor nations. Rich nations are expected to pay for avoided emissions in the developing world, but actual payments have been slow in coming. At an event intended to celebrate the progress being made against deforestations the financing issue was outed publicly in an exchange between Norway's prime minister and Guyana's president. Guyana was promised $250 million to preserve its entire rainforest, an area about the size of England {"Guyana"}. However, there is no sign of the first payment of $30 million even though Guyana has met the preconditions. The slow payment by Norway is becoming a political nightmare for President Jagdeo. He told the audience, "It's a nightmare.  It is a test of the sincerity of the developed world, and the delivery on the development assistance has been abysmal." Norway's Stoltenberg suggested the slow payment was due to his country's insistence on results. US negotiators also demand that a system to monitor and verify emission cuts be put into place. Despite the bureaucratic problems, big business generally endorses efforts to preserve forests as a shortcut method to doing something about climate change. Developed countries have pledged $4.5bn for forest conservation projects. President Jagdeo called the complicated process to obtain assistance "humiliating".

Update:{8.12.10}Negotiators at the Cancun climate conference are closing in on an agreement to take strong action against tropical deforestation. According to the US representative, a draft agreement has been presented for ministerial approval. The REDD ("reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation") agreement negotiations began in Bali three years ago and have entered a final, crucial stage. If a final agreement is reached, it would be a major accomplishment for a conference not expected to produce much progress on combating global warming. Deforestation is considered to be responsible for about 15% of the world's warming pollution.
Burning forest in Para State, Brazil (ENS)

{6.12.10}Brazil's space agency INPE, said in its annual report that deforestation of the Amazon Basin reached a record low of 2,490 square mile between August 2009 and July 2010, marking the third consecutive year deforestation has reached new lows. President Lula da Silva said at a press conference the good news will be presented to the Cancun climate conference "to raise the tone of the international negotiations". Deforestation is a critical part of Brazil's efforts to reduce national emissions. Official calculations are that meeting deforestation targets could reduce Brazil's emissions by up to 24.7%. Brazil is taking a leading role in the creation of protected areas in tropical forests. Nearly 75% of the 700,000 square kilometers of protected areas worldwide since 2003 are located in Brazil. President Lula is proud of Brazil's move from a global warming culprit to a leader in emissions reduction among developing nations. Part of the credit goes to Norway, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which agreed to give Brazil as much as $1 billion over five years to reduce deforestation. The funding has allowed compensation of farmers, ranchers and others whose living depends on clearing forest. Norway's contribution to protect tropical forests dwarfs the United States by a ratio of 100 to 1 per capita.

While Brazil is brought good news to the 16th UN climate conference, Japan shocked it last Monday with a show of petulance, telling delegates that it will not abide by the Kyoto Protocol beyond its expiration in 2012. Japan is irked that the two major emitters, United States and China, have failed to ratify the agreement since it was adopted in December 1997. The Kyoto agreement went into effect in February 2005, and as of 2010 191 nations have ratified the protocol. Environmentalists are appalled at Japan's unexpected lack of commitment. The US representative said the United States remains committed to the President's pledge of a 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels by 2020. That pledge is significantly less than what the Kyoto Protocol provides--an average 5.2% above 1990 levels for 37 industrialized countries.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Indigenous Peruvians Win Right to Sue in US Court

Indigenous amazonians suing Occidental Petroleum for environmental damage to the rainforest were given the go ahead on December 6th by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to pursue their claims in Los Angeles federal court. Los Angeles is the headquarters of the international oil company. The Achaur's claims were dismissed by a lower federal court that ruled the cause should be litigated in Peru, but the federal appeals court disagreed. The Peruvian judiciary has never awarded compensation for environmental harm to indigenous people.  The Ninth Circuit cited "the general corruption in the Peruvian judicial system", and a lack of practical remedy for plaintiffs in Peru.  Plaintiffs allege that Occidental caused severe injury to their environment by dumping a daily average of 850,000 barrels of toxic waste water into the rainforest and waterways over a 30 year period, inducing acid rain by flaring gas, and improperly storing waste in unlined pits causing widespread lead and cadmium poisoning. The case, Carijano v. Occidental Petroleum, was originally filed in May 2007 in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

Halliburton Will Pay Another Bribe to Keep Former CEO Out of Jail

Of course the Nigerians are calling the payment a "settlement" of the financial crime charges pending against former CEO and Regime hatchet man, Dick Cheney. This week the government of the notoriously corrupt oil state filed charges against Cheney for alleged bribery estimated at $180 million. The charges alleged that the former engineering subsidiary of Halliburton, KBR (Kellogg, Brown & Root), paid bribes to government officials to secure a $6 billion natural gas plant contract. KBR pleaded guilty in US court to the same bribes last year and paid a $382 million fine. If Cheney were convicted of the charges in the sixteen count indictment, he would face up to three years in a Nigerian prison. Nigeria does not recognize the familiar US legal concept of plea bargaining, so any settlement will be out of court. The possibility of yet another "deal" has enraged anti-corruption activists in Nigeria, although other foreign company executives have paid their way out of jail. Siemans AG agreed to pay $46.5 million last month to settle charges that it had bribed some Nigerian officials with €17.5 million. Bilfinger Berger AG, another German firm named in the same case as Halliburton, has already paid $26 million to have the charges against its executive dropped. Seems Nigeria has got it covered coming and going.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

'Toontime: The 'Change' Mat

[credit:  Rex Babin]
Wackydoodle axes, "Did yo'all wipe your feets first?"

One Democratic House member called the tax deal a "king's ransom". Indeed. Their party leader appears all too ready to placate the plutocrats in the hope of renewing his lease on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. He gave up the 55% estate tax rate scheduled to take effect at the end of the year for a much more generous 35% when he could have settled for something more. Forty-four also agreed to drop the tax credit for the poorest workers (<$20,000 single, <$40,000 family) and replace it with a one year payroll tax holiday. But the New York Times said the effect will be a small tax increase for poor Americans attempting to earn their living. Wait, there is more good news for those unfortunates on Wall Street. The 15% capital gains tax cap remains in place. So if you earn money by stealing it with a laptop you only pay half of what you would pay in taxes had you earned it with the sweat of your brow. Sounds like your cow is mooing. What this bonanza for the rich will do for the current economic recession no one in official Washington has explained satisfactorily since the days of Ronald Reagan's trickled.

More: Here is a passage from Obamacon at his most disingenuous. It reminds US Person of Clintonesque triangulation, pitting the operative political factions against each other hoping you got the calculus right and you end up with a voting majority:
"Somehow this notion that we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate we had during health care," Obama said. "This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where I finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats have been fighting for for 100 years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn't get that would have affected maybe a couple million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people, and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise. Now if that's the standard against which we are measuring success or core principles, then let's face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves and sanctimonious about ourselves about how good our intentions are, how tough we are."
First off, it is the public option debate again because the problem is the same: when push comes to shove, Obamacon caves. The public option was the quid pro quo for progressives in the Democratic Party. The insurance industry was dead set against it because they knew the competition would act as a drag on profits. IF the President had fought harder for the crucial provision which he supported during his campaign, then we would now have a real "signature" victory not just a rhetorical one: low cost public health insurance in return for mandatory coverage. This is not about appearing tough, it is about basic social justice. Obama assumes that his "reform" is going to produce lower insurance premiums. But the actual experience in Massachusetts with a similar insurance scheme is that health insurance costs have gone up. Further, he assumes that only a few Americans would have opted for less expensive non-profit insurance. He must be using Goldbag's crystal ball for that conclusion posing as fact. His willingness to placate Washington's almighty business interests is a far cry from bringing change to our nation's politics. It is simply more of the same old politics, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Did he have to give away billions in future tax revenue to the hereditary wealthy to obtain a temporary economic stimulus?  He could have struck a blow for deficit reduction, and the equitable principal of progressive taxation by simply allowing the wealthy's tax holiday to end. But his heart is not in the right place, despite the assurance of Mrs. Obama to the contrary. Forty-four personally identifies* with the elitists whose interests he so clearly protects.
AP: Their royal highnesses react to protestors.
*Professor of Economics William Galbraith puts it succinctly: "His [Obama's] presidential campaign was, after all, from the beginning financed from Wall Street. He chose his team, knowing exactly who they were. And this tells us what we need to know, about who he really is."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Chart of the Week: Inflation for the Rest of US

Close readers of this blog will recall that US Person warned that Goldbags & Sacks was establishing a food commodity futures market, the effect of such speculative trading would effectively increase food prices, just as it did to winter wheat prices in the United States.  This chart shows the increase in world food prices is approaching the crisis highs of 2008.  But most of the inflation in food prices is taking place in Asia, as shown below:
China has already imposed food price controls.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Forty-four Keeps Promises--to Nuclear Industry

Always passing "GO"
While adding massively ($900B) to the US deficit by giving the party of the rich a two year extension of their tax holiday*, Obamacon is seeking to keep his promises to the nuclear power industry by giving it $9 billion more in loan guarantees. The funding is buried in the "continuing resolution" needed to keep the federal government operating. This is the administration's fourth attempt to give away more taxpayer money to an industry that cannot make nuclear energy economic without federal subsidies. The Department of Energy has not even exhausted its current fund at the Federal Financing Bank ($10.2B remains available) because potential nuclear power plant builders cannot make the huge capital requirements payoff in the current economic climate. This money would go to giant international corporations like Electricité de France, Westinghouse (owned by Toshiba) and General Electric. Congress apparently has not gotten the message that the American public is fed up with corporate welfare while ordinary Americans go without. Tell your representatives no dirty nuke loans:

*the ultra-wealthy also get an estate tax break just for deserts: the federal estate tax is capped at 35% down from 55% and there is a $5 million exemption meaning less than a tenth of 1% of estates in the US will pay federal inheritance taxes. Sweet.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Forty-four Is Willing to Abandon Wolves!

In yet another example of Obamacon's weak kneed approach to governance, he is permitting his Secretary of Interior and former Colorado rancher, Ken Salazar, to negotiate with the governors of Idaho and Montana to take over the "management" of wolves and remove them from the federal Endangered Species Act list. If an agreement is reached, it is tantamount to a death warrant because both states want to eliminate the grey wolf. State officials categorize the predator merely as a "cow killer" and not an integral organism of a healthy ecosystem. What Obamacon apparently does not understand is he lost control of Congress because he did not deliver on his progressive agenda, but rather sought to appease conservatives with half-measures. His health reform scheme without a low cost Public Option is Exhibit A.  Exhibit B is the failure to protect the outer-continental shelf from reckless oil operators like BP.  Exhibit C is the rescue of Wall Street banks at the expense of the American middle class.  Going even further to placate extremist conservatives by allowing them to slaughter wolves will further alienate his progressive voter base. In short his political advantage over the modern Calamity Jane, Sarah Palin, is rapidly disappearing. That is quite an accomplishment in just two short years. Tell your senators that you want wolves protected from human persecution in the West.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

'Toontime: The New Santa Elves

[credit: Tony Auth]
It gets better:  Ron Kyl (R-AZ) is now linking a vote on the START II treaty to a deal on keeping the tax cuts for the rich in place until at least the next presidential election.  He is literally playing a game of chicken with our nation's existence.  As Prime Minister Putin put it to Larry King, voting against the treaty is, "Dumb."  But then we have dumb and dumber in this country, and some of the latter occupy Senate seats.  There is a report from the State Department that a deal to bring the treaty to the floor on December 13th for ratification is close, but Kyl's insistence on tax breaks for the rich remains a sticking point.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Star Wars Is Not Dead

Ever notice how we as a nation we keep returning to old policy controversies?  Part of the quaintness of our political duopoly. One such controversy with zombie-like endurance is Ronnie Raygun's program of space based defense. The idea is still alive and costing money.  But only the Pentagon knows how much. The political elite in the Washington kabuki theatre is singing the deficit reduction refrain for all their worth. Meanwhile across the river, the US Air Force is building a space plane for which there is no clear mission. One observer said he personally thinks the orbiter is just "a new toy for geeks in the military". Named the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, it is a remotely controllable rocket-plane hybrid that enter earth orbit, maneuver and return under its own power. The idea of a hypersonic space plane was considered 25 years ago, but discarded when rocket scientists figured out that much cheaper satellites could do the same job except return a payload to Earth. One possible mission for the space plane is clear: carrying weapons such as guided bombs or hyperkinetic tungsten weapons (incredibly called "rods from God") into space. But experts discount this possibility, offering the orbiter's small payload (500lbs), and vulnerability to antiaircraft fire during its reentry glide as reasons. The space shuttle, which belongs to NASA, can fit two X-37B into its cargo bay. Still, some experts see its potential as a formidable unmanned "space fighter"--able to dismantle or disrupt multiple enemy satellites in a single mission, land for servicing and re-armament and return rapidly to space. The craft could also ferry various spying equipment into orbit with greater mission flexibility to enhance this nation's global situational awareness.

USAF did not give up on the project, and is getting ready to bring the first X-37B to earth after an eight month mission. Apparently, the Air Force thinks the craft is a "good idea" despite its limitations, since it has ordered a second prototype for testing. The entire program is shrouded in top secrecy, so the cost of the program is publicly unknown. NASA began a joint development program with Boeing in 1999 for $173 million. The project was handed off to the Air Force in 2006. An estimate for a single X-37B launch aboard an Atlas V booster is $100 million. The X-37B is not the first remotely controlled space vehicle to return to a landing from space. The Soviet "Buran" (Blizzard) space shuttle accomplished that feat way back in 1988. After making only one flight, the Russian spacecraft was destroyed in a hanger collapse in 2002. One thing is clear from the longevity of such programs: the US military continues towards extending air superiority into space, risking a new more deadly phase of the Cold War at huge costs.

GOP: Let Them Eat Cake

So you want to know what the GOP stands for as a political party? Here it is in a nutshell: $830 billion in tax cuts for the rich, but no extension of unemployment benefits for workers costing $12.5 billion. In fact, the bias of the Repugnants towards the wealthy is so strong that a GOP state politician likened the unemployed to stray animals, saying, "you're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or person ample food supply." Even if every position in the economy were filled, most workers would not be able to work because there is such a large labor surplus. Contrary to creating parasitic "hobos", unemployment benefits contribute mightily to economic growth. Think US Person an unreliable source? Then ask super rich investor Warren Buffet. He says the "trickle down" economic theory, where the rich are made richer in hopes the wider economy will benefit, does not work. In contrast, economists say the economy grows by almost $2 for every dollar spent on benefit payments because recipients spend it almost immediately on necessities. On the list of 11 fiscal measures analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office for stimulating economic growth, unemployment benefits are at the top for effectiveness. Our national political discourse has become so skewed it resembles a passage from Lewis Carol.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Chart of the Week: Europe Under Debt Gun

Update: Although ultimately it will not change matters, Irish workers demonstrated their displeasure with their political leaders' enslavement to foreign bondholders Saturday. Activist Brian Denny said at the rally that attracted between 50,000 and 100,000 at the Dublin GPO, the bailout was "an example of monopoly finance capital effectively running the country." That point was reinforced by the latest Wikileaks disclosure of US diplomatic cables, which show politicians all over the world reacting to the opinion of "markets", a pseudonym for bankers, hedge fund managers, billionaire investors, and currency speculators. The deal reached with the EU late Sunday means the Irish government will have to pay 5.8% on its loan as well as pay €17.5bn to the banks for the privilege of demonstrating its "fiscal responsibility". Irish workers are upset with their union leaders for going along with the government's austerity measures. Trade union representatives were heckled on stage for their collaboration.  The chart below shows global capital does not have a lot of confidence in the EU bailout preventing an Irish default.  Credit swaps can be thought of as insurance against a Irish bond default, and the cost of the insurance is increasing.  This development is only overshadowed by the cost of insuring Greek debt in the form of credit default swaps that has surged to €1million.
credit: Martin Weiss @
{29.11.10}Ireland, once the "Celtic Tiger" no too long ago, was put through two years of austerity measures to cure its sovereign debt problem (that originated in the private banks' financing of a Irish real estate bubble) without success. Resort to €85bn more debt from the IMF and the European Central Bank (German capitalists) on condition of even more stringent economic measures proved necessary. Greece is currently on just this sort of toxic economic life support. Some candid economists like Paul Krugman are pointing out austerity only handicaps an economy's ability to repay. Eventually bond default may occur which will require bondholders to take a "haircut" as debt restructuring is quaintly called by financiers. Either that previously unthinkable event takes place or the entire Euro structure could break apart as member nations drop out of the single currency to reduce crushing debt via devaluation of sovereign currency. Iceland was able to devalue its own currency and force bondholders (plutocrats) to share in the pain, something which Ireland has not done so far. Understanding the world wide financial system is not an easy subject.  And even if you took economic or business courses in college, those probably did not discuss the international debt/money banking system in the way Damon Vrable does in his video series entitled, "Debunking Money". It's an eye-opening chalk talk with a disturbing message. Full of football distraction? Give it a view.

Wolf Hate: An Old West Tradition

Hatred of wolves in the American West is reaching new levels of intensity.  Wolves are confronting a cultural enmity that goes back to the white man's immigration to America, and one that is not going away peacefully. Two Montana Senators, Baucus and Tester, are using a political stealth tactic to pressure their colleagues into voting for removing the grey wolves protected status under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho. They are moving to attach an amendment (S.3864) to the spending bill that is coming up for a vote in the next two weeks. Senators that might ordinarily vote against removing protections for the wolf in a stand alone bill might succumb to voting for the measure if buried in an omnibus spending bill. Congress has never before removed an animal from the Endangered Species list. Wolves are nowhere near reaching historic population levels, and still need protection from persecution. Call your senators and ask them to vote against the measure.