Monday, January 31, 2011

Tanzania Tells World Bank, "Nuts"

The President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete told World Bank representatives that it will go ahead with a northern route [red, map courtesy of wildlifeextra.com] for a commercial road to the banks of Lake Victoria. The northern route will bisect the famed savannah of Serengeti National Park, site of one of the last mass ungulate migrations on Earth. A recent statistical study based on computer modeling and posted at PLoS ONE shows a 35% drop in the number of herd animals which would mean a disaster for predators who rely on the migration to feed themselves. Paving and fencing will inevitably follow the road as will human settlements and agriculture thereby erecting a catastrophic barrier to migration and facilitate increased poaching. The northern route also threatens to cut off Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve from the migration which would jeopardize that country's most important source of tourism.

In response to the world outcry against the ill-conceived plan, the World Bank included a southern route around the park in its Country Assistance Strategy, indicating a willingness to help fund the alternative project. The road project is scheduled to begin in 2012. Local environmentalists welcome the alternative route [green] since it spares the inevitable destruction of wildlife and provides a greater benefit to the densely populated area adjacent to the Serengeti's southern boundaries. The route also avoids the last 400 Hadza, Africa's last true hunter-gatherers. Since Tanzanian authorities apparently are insensitive to protecting their greatest natural resource, it may come to an international travel boycott or other means of convincing officials to reroute their commercial traffic in order to save the world heritage site. Hope to see the world's greatest wildlife spectacle in person one day? Sign an on-line petition to ask for a southern route to bypass the Serengeti.

Friday, January 28, 2011

'Toontime: 2012 Decent into Hell?

[credit: Rex Babin]
The 2012 election looms like a specter awaiting the brain dead as they cross the River Styx.  The pernicious myth of Horatio Alger is the sirens' song that leads them onwards to the fatal embrace of a coalition from Hell: gun packing, constitution waving, anti-tax libertarians and wealthy, corrupt, crypto-fascist corporatists.  Both are bent on dismantling the tottering remnants of FDR's social welfare legacy.  Sarah "Reload" Palin may have stuck her mouth over her barrel after the Tucson massacre, but Obamacon must walk a political tight rope for the next two years, and the rope is fraying. The way ahead may be fraught with disaster and uncertain, but what is clear is that no amount of "competitiveness" happy talk will change the coming reckoning for our unsustainable consumption of the Earth's finite resources.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Sad End to a Noble Life

credit: USF&W
Man is a notorious and wanton killer, a fact known not only to members of his own species, but to other sentient inhabitants of Earth.  Offered for your consideration is the story of an unnamed female grey wolf whose life ended in agony last April on a rural county road in Colorado.  The wolf, just entering her breeding prime at two years old, was a traveler of epic proportions.  She had been captured and collared by researchers in Montana.  But she left her home in September, 2008 to travel an estimated 3,000 miles between four states, probably in an effort to find a mate and establish her own pack as an alpha female [map]. Young wolves often disperse and roam long distances, so biologists analyzing her collar data think she did not encounter likely mates during her travels.  She did find prey to eat during her search for a new home, including a few sheep.

What else she found killer her.  A toxicology report from the USF&W Forensic Laboratory showed she ingested Compound 1080 {8.11.09, Poisoning the Land} in Rio Blanco County.  The poison is banned because it is an indiscriminate killer of wildlife.  It was commonly used in the United States for controlling rodents and livestock predators prior to 1972.  It is still used in some states in highly controlled situations to kill predators such as coyotes and foxes.   In Colorado it is illegal.  Wolves, despite man's hatred, are federally protected animals under the Endangered Species Act.  Penalties for illegally killing a protected species are as high as a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.  If you know of someone spreading Compound 1080 call your local wildlife officials or the US Fish & Wildlife Service and ask them to investigate its use.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Senate Stops the Clock & Refuses to Change

It does not matter that every single Democratic Senator returning for the 112th Congress signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking that something be done to stop the abuse of the filibuster.  When it got down to changing the filibuster rule, the best the Democratic leadership could do was a handshake deal between Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN).  Progressive senators such as  Jeff Merkley, Tom Harkin and Tom Udall, [photo] were once again undermined by their own timid leadership, frightened by potential consequences if the Democrats are in the minority after 2012. That position is logically equivalent to being against democracy expressed in the results of free, fair elections. The sellout deal is changing the rules cutting the length of time individual senators can place "holds" on legislation or nominations, barring the reading aloud of amendments to consume time, and exempting hundreds of executive branch appointments from Senate confirmation votes. But the filibuster part of the deal is the weakest tea of all: Democrats will agree to consider more Republican amendments in return for a promise not to filibuster as often. If Senator Udall and his allies succumb to Washington's default mode of more business as usual, the Senate will be reduced to an echo chamber until another election in two years changes the balance of power. The senators who want real reform should demand a vote on changing the filibuster rule with or without support from obstructionists.  At the very minimum, the Senate should not allow filibusters to be 'virtual'--not requiring expenditure of any significant effort to justify a small minority's opposition to bills having enough votes to pass under regular order. Filibuster by declaration has rendered our democracy a virtual one.

Chart of the Week: Squeezing the Middle

After being trickled on for three decades, the middle class in the United States is now behind their counterparts in other developed countries in terms of share of GDP.  GOP claims to be dead set against "income redistribution" as a socialist evil.  But the fact is income has been redistributed: to the upper levels of the income strata beginning with their corporatist hero, Ronald "Where am I?" Reagan.  Socialist countries like Japan, Sweden, Germany and France show a smaller share of GDP belonging to the ├╝ber rich.  The chart excludes capital gains.

Monday, January 24, 2011

"The World" Is Ending

credit: Nakheel
The over-the-top Dubai real estate development, "The World" is sinking back into the Persian Gulf. The millionaires playground consisting of man-made sand bars shaped to resemble a globe is "dead" according to the company that contracted with the state owned developer, Nakheel, to provide transportation services to the offshore islands. Penguin Marine lawyers said the islands are gradually sinking and the navigation channels are silting up. Of course, Nakheel disagrees with that characterization. But the global economic collapse is taking a toll. Only one of the islands is inhabited, "Greenland", owned by the ruler of Dubai. Nakheel says 70% of the "The World" is sold, but the development is definitely not as successful as another offshore folly, "The Palm". The owner who bought "Ireland" for £24m committed suicide, while the owner of "Britain" purchased for £43m is currently serving seven years for passing bad checks.

Ramming Rahm

An Illinois appeals court reversed a previous ruling by a Cook county circuit judge and the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners allowing former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to run for mayor. Emanuel has the backing of the Daley political machine, so a further appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court is most likely on the question of Emanuel's residency in Chicago. Unlike Obama, who has kept his Chicago home, Emanuel rented out his north side Chicago home during his tenure in the White House. His tenants renewed their lease just prior to Mayor Daley's announcement he would not seek reelection. State municipal law requires candidates for mayor to reside in the town for a year prior to Election Day. The 2-1 decision was a surprise to Rahm supporters. Speculation is that Gery Chico would gain the support of Daley aldermen if Emanuel is kept off the ballot. Chico has so far refused to address the issue of his opponents' residency in his campaign. Emanuel has raised the most money and attracted out of state support from Democratic corporatists such as Bill Clinton who recently urged Chicagoans at a rally to vote for a "big time" mayor.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Haiti: Is the Doctor In?

More:  Amnesty International announced Friday that the government of Haiti will  investigate crimes against humanity alleged against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. Amnesty gave Haitian prosecutor Harycidas Auguste documents pertaining to dozens of cases of torture, disappearances, executions and detentions without trial between 1971 and 1986. Amnesty has pledged to provide technical support for the investigation to insure its regularity. Current Haitian President Rene Preval expressed his commitment to bringing Duvalier to justice in 2007 after a recorded message from Duvalier asking forgiveness and suggesting he would return was broadcast around Haiti. Now Preval has his chance to strike a blow for justice at last.

Update: {20.1.11}Four Haitians, including a former spokesperson for the UN Secretary General, filed charges Wednesday with the prosecutor in Port-au-Prince against Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity including systematic torture. Accuser Michele Montas was a journalist who was forced into exile in the early 1980's after the dictator closed a radio station owned by her husband. A spokesperson for Duvalier says he intends to remain in Haiti and called the criminal charges "politically motivated". Duvalier already faces charges of graft. Money he stole form the government was frozen in Swiss bank accounts ($4.6m) until the Swiss decided to give it back to Haiti after the earthquake. The debt induced return of 'Baby Doc' has roiled the already chaotic political situation in Haiti. A showdown between the dictator and former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide looms possible because Aristide is clamoring for return from exile in South Africa. The priest turned politician is still widely popular. He was ousted in a rebellion lead by former soldiers in 2004 and again in 2006. The first coup was engineered by Haiti's small and powerful creole aristocracy which was unhappy with Aristide's attempts at reform. The US and France gave their blessing to the ouster of the popular president who proved intractable*. Aristide's Haitian passport has expired, but he hopes an agreement can be reached that could permit him to return. Aristide led a pro-democracy movement against Duvalier before wining a free election in 1990. A confrontation between the foes and their respective political forces could tip devastated and impoverished Haiti over the edge into a civil war. Such a grave crisis would not be unprecedented in the nation's bloody and turbulent history. It is easy to forget that the rubble strewn, cholera racked city of Port-au-Prince was once the capital of the richest colony in the Caribbean.

{18.1.11}More than a city was destroyed by the earthquake that shook Port-au-Prince to the ground a year ago. The fragile Haitian republic is also a victim. The power vacuum created by the November election rendered inconclusive by corruption has allowed an old dictator to return. Jean-Claude 'Baby Doc' Duvalier's return on Sunday to Haiti was a surprise shock to the people of the still devastated country. His motives for return using a Haitian diplomatic passport are not yet clear. But clearly the utter failure of the Haitian government to make some order out of chaos one year after the earthquake contributed to his decision. To the government's credit, it took Duvalier into custody after two days of him being at large, but the justice system is just as broken as the presidential palace Baby Doc once occupied so ruthlessly as "president for life". He is alleged to have killed and tortured thousands of Haitians using his personal gestapo, known as the Tonton Macoutes ("Uncle Gunnysack"). He escaped the island in 1986 during a popular uprising. Duvalier was detained on a revived judicial complaint for money stolen from the treasury.

The arrest of 'Baby Doc' Duvalier is an existential test of legitimacy for the government. If it fails to prosecute Duvalier for known heinous crimes committed during his regime, then the government must be placed into an international receivership by the United Nations as a failed state. The UN, not the United States, should install a caretaker government responsible for reestablishing the rule of law and rebuilding the economy to the extent sufficient to hold new elections without significant fraud or civil unrest affecting the results. It is as if evil voodoo has an unbroken grip on the only nation founded by emancipated slaves in 1804. The return of Baby Doc is the devil knocking at Haiti's door. Prosecuting Duvalier is a way to undo the spell.

*Both Duvalier and his equally notorious father, 'Papa Doc' Duvalier, were backed by the CIA during the Cold War.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creature Feature: Paul Gets a Memorial

Paul Octopus, football tipster, got a memorial in his honor unveiled at Sea Life Aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany. The precocious cephalopod correctly predicted the outcomes of every one of Germany's games in the 2010 World Cup. Go figure--with eight arms and eyesight as good as an eagle's, the odds are you are smart.  Paul died three months ago. His ashes have been placed in a golden urn shaped like an octopus. RIP, Paul.
credit: Patrik Stollarz, via First Post.co.uk 

Year of the Tiger: China's Tiger Death Camps

NYT: Tigers in a Chinese slaughterhouse
Every tiger conservationist knows that the insatiable demand for tiger parts comes primarily from China. The demand is so great that it fuels an international trade in dead tigers and their body parts that will cause the extinction of the tiger through out its home range in the near future. For five thousand years Chinese traditional practitioners have considered tigers to contain magical properties. A liquor made from tiger bone and rice alcohol can sell for as much as $136, and it is sold openly in Guangxi and beyond. Officially, products made with tiger parts are banned since 1993, but investigations by conservationists reveal that the illegal trade is increasing. The International Fund For Animal Welfare concluded in its 2006 report that law enforcement to prevent the trade is sporadic and in some areas non-existent. A domestic supply of tiger parts stimulates the demand for wild tiger carcasses, since Chinese folk medicine tenants recommend wild ingredients as more potent. Tiger breeding farms are in operation in China that contain about 5,000 tigers, but none of these will be restored to the wild. In reality the captive breeding facilities little more than slaughter houses. The largest breeding operation is Xiongsen Tiger & Bear Mountain Village, opened in 1993 with state participation [photo].  There, about 1500 tigers roam treeless fenced enclosures awaiting death. Until two years ago, the so-called park sold tiger steaks in its restaurant before bad publicity stopped the practice. Xiongsen's winery produces some 200,000 bottles of "rare animal bone" liquor a year. Despite participation of China in efforts to double wild tiger numbers by 2022, this inhuman and indefensible domestic trade in farmed tiger parts goes on unabated. President Obama should take up this matter with the Chinese president Hu Jintao, before he ends his official visit to the United States.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Environmental Protection Shifts to Agencies

With the Senate deadlocked beyond functioning, and the House in the hands of a radical conservative majority, the battle to protect the environment is shifting to the federal agencies charged with regulatory authority. The EPA revoked the permit of Mingo-Logan Coal Company (a subsidiary of Arch Coal, Inc. the second largest US coal company) to remove a mountain top to mine coal at the company's Spruce No. 1 mine. The permit was originally granted in 2007, but operations were delayed by court review. The agency said its final determination was made after extensive scientific study and 50,000 public comments. The agency was unable to resolve impact mitigation with the company after a year of negotiations. The decision said that the mine would use destructive practices which would jeopardize public health and clean water. In its findings, EPA estimated more than six miles of high-quality streams would have been buried by the removal of 2,200 acres of mountain and forest. The agency has only used its power to deny permit authority in 12 cases and none of the previous ones involved a project that had already received provisional approval.
cement worker in Albany, NY

On another front, a GOP representative in the House introduced a bill (H.R. 97) that would prohibit the agency from regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the agency may legally do so under its delegated authority to regulate air pollution. Using their latest favorite rubric, "job killing" --which should actually read "profit killing"-- the attractive, blue-eyed Congress lady from Tennessee joined her colleagues in attacking the EPA's efforts to stem greenhouse emissions in the absence of comprehensive climate legislation passing Congress. EPA declared last year that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health because of their effect on global climate conditions. Ask the people in Queensland, Australia or Brazil if climate change is a reality. GOP members also want to rollback cement plant emission standards. The final rules would reduce plant emissions of mercury, hydrogen chloride and particulate matter by more than 90%. EPA estimates the new rules would prevent 2,500 premature deaths and thousands of cases of heart and respiratory illness.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Chart of the Week: Real Unemployment

During the Great Depression, unemployment neared 30% (37% of all non-farm workers).  Now, in the Second Great Depression, the government will only officially admit to a rate of about 10%.  Many economists believe that the official U3 number grossly underestimates the actual number of unemployed.  For one reason, the figure does not include those individuals who have been employed for extended periods of time.   Since they are considered to be out of the workforce since Clinton eliminated them in 1994.  U6 is a broader index that includes the underemployed and short-term discouraged workers.  But shadowstatistics.com provides us with a broader measure that includes all of the U3 and U6 categories. The blue line below is approaching the unemployment levels not seen since the First Great Depression:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Weekend Edition: More Rhinos Die for Their Horn

credit: NZ Rhino Fund
There has been a significant increase in the number of rhinos killed for their horn in Africa, and wildlife officials are pointing to the influx of Chinese laborers. In a new scramble for Africa reminiscent of the European colonization, China is buying up all the resources it can including agricultural land on the continent. The chief ranger of Lewa, a private reserve north of Nairobi says the influx of Chinese workers has reignited the demand for horn. It can be sold for thousands of dollars on the black market, and criminal gangs are responding by poaching with sophisticated equipment such as night vision scopes, silenced automatic weapons, and aircraft.  The increased poaching is not committed by a few starving subsistence farmers hunting for bush meat.  The gangs are organized with established international supply routes to Asia. Rhino horn has long been considered an aphrodisiac.  Recently it has been claimed to possess cancer curing properties despite no medical evidence to support the claim.  Even in South Africa where rhinos are in the greatest number, poaching is becoming unsustainable. The southern white rhino was brought back from the edge of extinction in the wild from less than 100 in the late 19th century to more than 21,000 today. But the northern white rhino, once plentiful in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is thought to be extinct in the wild. The black rhino [photo], thanks also to intensive conservation efforts, has increased in numbers from 2,500 to 4,200. It was once the most numerous herbivore in Africa with 70,000 continent wide. Namibia is the only southern African country to report no significant increase in illegal rhino hunting. Since 2005 an estimated 900 rhinos have been poached across Africa.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Finally, A Point of Agreement

A prominent gun advocate who was counsel in the 2008 Supreme Court case re-interpreting the Second Amendment, has come out for regulating high capacity magazines. There is nothing in the Second Amendment or the conservative court's broad interpretation of it that prevents restricting the type of firearms equipment that is generally available to the public. Robert Levy admitted that Justice Scalia's view of the Second Amendment permits some regulation. US Person previously stated {12.10.06; Wack Jobs with Guns}, America can no longer indulge its "wild west" mentality when a large segment of the public is too mentally unstable to possess high powered weapons safely. Police face a violent populace that is as well equipped as they are, and that fact is frightening. We have taken away their edge in an orgy of big government paranoia fueled by politicians for their own selfish ends. It is time to re-establish some trust and give up private ownership of military arms. US Person advocates reinstating the assault weapons ban to include semi-automatic pistols. If you want to commit suicide, shoot a target or a burglar, use a revolver. Even 'Dirty Harry' used a revolver to make his day! Australia banned assault rifles in 1996, buying back over half a million weapons. Their homicide by gun rate has dropped almost in half. The US federal assault weapons ban lapsed in 2004, permitting the proliferation of high capacity magazines and other military paraphernalia. The latest shooting spree resulting in elite casualties is enough reason to reinstate the ban. Bills banning high capacity magazines are introduced into the House and Senate by Democratic members. Obama & Folks are silent on the issue so far, despite a promise during the 2008 campaign to reinstate the assault weapons ban. The Oval Office syndrome strikes again.

Where Has all the Oil Gone?

credit: Erika Blumenfeld
Its still on the beaches and in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, my friends.  The dispersant used by BP contractors with the approval of the federal government, Corexit, is banned as a toxin in 19 countries.  BP used 1.9million gallons of it to sink the crude oil spilled. Truthout tested water samples from the Gulf and all showed contamination with crude oil and chemicals from dispersant (ethylene glycol, photo). Officials took a tour of Barataria Bay on January 7th where crude oil continues to destroy fragile marsh. The scene angered Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser so much he got into an argument on camera with a NOAA official. He called the plan to clean up the Bay, "bullshit". US federal officials have called the waters, beaches and seafood safe and open to the public. Truth or tone? You decide.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

UK Oil Companies Plan Exploration in Africa's Oldest Park

a mountain gorilla family: Orvis
World Wildlife Fund called on two UK oil companies, SOCO and Dominion, to give up their plans to explore for oil in Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is home to the famous mountain gorillas as well as numerous other rare species. The plans threaten the last 200 gorillas who live in a lush cloud forest covering the flanks of extinct volcanoes. Costly conservation efforts have been made to protect the first World Heritage site and its wild inhabitants, even during the middle of a vicious civil insurrection. Hundreds of park rangers have died to protect wildlife. All these laudable achievements might be undermined by oil exploration. About 30,000 local fishermen fish sustainably in the park's Lake Edward. Exploration will undoubtedly adversely impact their livelihoods and culture too. Mountain gorillas attract millions in hard currency to the impoverished DRC, but they are at risk of infections from admiring human visitors as well as the snares and bullets of bush meat hunters.  Help US Person protect the gorillas by funding their wild veterinary care. Click the Orvis link above.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Rule of Law?

Monday was the ninth anniversary of the first captives arriving at the Guantanamo Bay gulag. It is, next to slavery and Japanese-American internment, the most shameful chapter in America's checkered civil rights history. While the nation's media is obsessed with the mass shooting at Tucson that killed six, including a federal judge and a nine year old girl, and severely wounded a member of Congress, the 173 men imprisoned for suspicion of terrorism continues indefinitely midst a strange limbo of denial and partisan wrangling. Polticos like to talk a lot about the "rule of law", but when the subject of trying these men in courts of law or releasing them, they run for the cover of popular rhetoric about fighting terrorism. None of the allegations against the captives has seen the light of day, let alone their veracity tested in a US courtroom. Eighty-nine of the remaining captives have already been administratively cleared for release. Forty-four promised to close down Guantanamo, yet nine years later it is still open.  The political barriers to closure are getting higher.  He reluctantly signed a war funding measure that prohibits the administration using appropriated funds to bring detainees onto US soil for trial or to send them to third countries.

The nation also has a bad case of adult attention deficit concerning the president who tortured.  Despite his public admission that he approved the use of torture, Forty-three does not face any concerted prosecution or even investigation of  serious, confessed breaches of international and domestic criminal law despite  legal obligations to do so, including the current President's oath of office. The former government lawyers who wrote the legal memos justifying the use of torture are also enjoying impunity for their aiding and abetting of a war crime.  And they remain professionally employed.  Any talk in America either from the current President or his minions about "the rule of law" is just that--talk.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

'Toontime: Arizona Is Glock Heaven!

No, pardner, you don't even need a permit to carry! So run out there, Gomer, and buy yourself a couple of Glocks, one for each hand, and some thirty round extended clips to boot. That's 62 rounds of heart stoppin' firepower at your finger tips! Have fun, but remember, some folks are "pretty good shots" even if they are a little loco!
Wackydoodle sez: "Rhetoric don't kill people, nuts with guns do."

Monday, January 10, 2011

India Approves More Tiger Reserves

Tiger at home in Biligiri Ranganatha, ENS
The Indian government gave approval in principle to four more tiger reserves* and requested proposals to protect the critically endangered felines. Setting aside much needed habitat does not by any means insure the Indian tigers' survival in the wild. Poaching is still rampant, and tiger-human conflicts account for many tiger deaths each year. The latest estimate using improved techniques is that there are only 1,411 wild tigers in India compared to the estimate of 45,000 animals at the beginning of the last century. The government's "Project Tiger" was set up in 1973 with the creation of the first reserve, Palamau Tiger Reserve. In 2003 the reserve had 42 tigers, now it contains only 6. India now has 38 tiger reserves in 17 states. The reserves are set up on a core and buffer model in which all human disturbances of biota are prohibited in the core areas, while human activity is restricted in buffer zones. Tigers need large areas of forested land to survive and procreate. Under Project Tiger, states are given financial assistance for the relocation of villages from core areas. Last year, government provided funds for relocating five villages in five different states.

*Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple Sanctuary (17 tigers); Pilibhit on the Nepal border (36); Ratapani teak forest (22); Sunabeda forest (32)

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Chart of the Week: Guns vs. Butter

This chart shows clearly the large discrepancy between welfare spending and national defense spending by the federal government. Since the end of the Korean War, defense spending has rarely been reduced, as Congress members whose constituencies depend on this American form of business subsidization {"military Keynesianism"} have consistently voted against large defense spending cuts, while decrying aid to the chronically unemployed, widows, and orphans as wasteful or worse, immoral. But the moment of truth may have arrived, at last. Even Pentagon leaders are now willing to at least slow the almost continuous growth of defense spending in the face of unsustainable debt. The Pentagon is budgeted to received $530 billion for fiscal year 2011 if Congress fails to pass a budget before March. The base defense budget before the Charlatan's two wars began, FY2000, was $400 billion. Secretary Gates' "efficiency" proposals amount to $78 billion ($54b of that figure is attributable to the federal pay freeze), but that is not enough to actually reduce spending. Obama & Folks have approved the Pentagon requesting $554 billion for fiscal 2012. With the right energized by fiscal conservatives, and the left fighting for more social spending, there may be a critical mass building for putting defense spending on the chopping block. Some weapon programs that could be cut without affecting capabilities are: the design flawed F-35 VSTOL aircraft; the V-22 Osprey which in the words of Secretary Gates is "a turkey" without a clear mission; the unnecessary amphibious Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle; the huge stockpile of nuclear warheads that cost $50 million a year to maintain and which one retired Chief of Staff called "militarily useless"; the missile defense program which costs $10 billion a year and has failed yet another significant test; and the Navy's two planned nuclear carriers (a third is already building) as the US already has by far the largest Naval air arm in the world, and "no other country has even one comparable ship" (the US operates 11). In addition, almost all of US armed forces stationed in Europe should be removed at a time when European nations are actively reducing the size of their own military establishments. These sacred cows can and should be reduced in size or eliminated.  A few "welfare queens" will never cost this much.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Mystery of the Falling Birds in Beebee, AK

The story is right out of Hitchcock: birds gone wild, then falling dead out the sky. But the mystery is no mystery--just vindictive mischief by local yahoos. US Person concludes this after reading various news reports about the thousands of red winged blackbirds that fell dead on the small town of Beebee, Arkansas. The verdict of wildlife experts after examination of remains is the birds died of "acute physical trauma", not poisoning, aliens, or some unexplainable cause. News reports also said Beebee is near a roost of thousands of blackbirds. Undoubtedly, some residents found that many birds in one place noisy and dirty.

As usual for a New Years' Eve, rubes became erratic with fireworks. One report quoted a resident as saying, "everybody and their brother" was shooting off their supply. Several very large reports where heard that night. The noisy celebration was perfect cover for vindictive vandals. A likely scenario is that some persons unknown to outsiders stole into the roost undercover of darkness and fireworks explosions. There, they lit fuses on several large charges and departed. The loud reports scared the peacefully sleeping birds literally out of their wits. In the melee of escape the flock collided into each other and man made structures. Some of the traumatized birds made it to Kentucky and Louisiana before succumbing to extreme stress. Anything for a yuck, right? The fact is birds are dying off at an alarming rate even without persecution by bored numskulls. The US Geological Service reports 90 or more events of mass wildlife mortality including 5 incidents of at least 1,000 birds dying in 2010.

Chart of the Week: US Debt Ceiling

This chart is rather mundane, but the revival brand of fire breathing conservatives on Capitol Hill will fill the airwaves with talk about the US debt ceiling. It will have to be raised (currently at $14.29 trillion) or the US will face default on its obligations, now approaching the danger zone of 100% of GDP.  The event was routine, but raising it now is good for some pontificating soundbites.  The wingnuts seem to keep forgetting that a Democratic president balanced the books before the Charlatan was installed and started two wars. The fact is that voting for deficits, but against Treasury borrowing by not raising the debt limit would increase the cost of federal borrowing since bond purchasers would factor in the increased risk of default by demanding higher interest rates on US securities.  Max Keiser is a hard money fanatic that touts returning to gold and silver, but his take on the debt ceiling is entertaining as well as informing.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Commission Report Identifies Key BP Errors

The presidential commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster released findings to the public Thursday that confirms the conclusion posted previously {"Deepwater Horizon"} that not merely negligence was responsible for the disaster, but intentional cost saving decisions that caused the United State's largest oil spill. British Petroleum had never drilled in the Mississippi Canyon before, and the Macondo well proved a difficult one due to fragile rock formations that cracked easily under too much pressure. The strata's fragility also required a lighter cement mixture than ordinary be used to seal the well. The errors cited in the report are:
  • Deciding to use six spacers to hold the drill pipe in the center of the well bore rather than the 21 Halliburton recommended.
  • Not waiting for the results of stability tests on a cement mixture before pouring it into the well.
  • Not running a specialized test to be sure the cement was secure once it had been poured despite having a capable subcontractor on board the rig.
  • Avoiding expensive disposal requirements by using unusual materials in the final steps of sealing the well instead of those required by industry standards.
  • Removing heavy drilling mud from the drill pipe before a key plug had been set thus allowing natural gas an avenue of escape.
  • Setting a surface cement plug deeper that regulations called for.
  • Not installing other physical barriers that would have blocked the oil flow, such as an additional set of ram sheers.
  • Not recognizing the need for further tests to resolve conflicting testing information.
The commission also blamed a lax regulatory environment over the course of several administrations which prevented more resources, personnel and training being applied to regulating a technically complex industry.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Another Year, Another Congress

America's mistaken image of the filibuster
The new 112th Congress gets underway today. The GOP controlled House goes through the motions of repealing "Obamacare"[1] while the Senate ponders much needed changes to its tortuous parliamentary rules. Most rational people consider the filibuster rule as it now stands broken. Rather than protecting minority rights, it allows a minority to block popular legislation without hardly lifting a finger, let alone reading from the DC phone book [photo: Actor Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington][2] US Person has called for reform before {"filibuster"}, and now is the perfect time to address the issue, since the Constitution allows the Senate to pass a rule change at the beginning of a new Congress with a simple majority (Article I, Section 5, Clause 2). In the period 2007-2008, there was a record 139 cloture votes filed, and 136 filed in 2009-10. Compare this record to only 7 cloture votes in the 1969-70 Senate session midst the divisive years of the Vietnam War. Some observers think that a rule changed accomplished without opposition support would be bad precedent as they project yet another GOP victory in 2012. But Democrats would be well advised to pass a new filibuster rule they could live with as the minority now, while they have the votes, if they expect to accomplish anything in the remaining two years of Obamacon's tenure in office. The filibuster rule was not a part of the Founders' plan for the legislative branch, and it has clearly outgrown its usefulness in modern times.

[1]The repeal vote is not the only theatre planned by the so-called Tea Partiers. New House leaders will allow the reading of the entire Constitution into the record. The recitation will cost an estimated $1 million, but it plays well with the "hicks" who were hoodwinked yet again by well-heeled corporate sycophants posing as populist saviors of the Republic. A prominent Washington lobbying firm held an invitation-only fiesta for incoming GOP Congressmen featuring a country western singing star as entertainment. A book of tickets fetched a donation of $50,000. The hegemony of pecuniary interests in American politics goes back to the original 1773 "Tea Party" at Boston harbor, when William Molineux, a sometime hardware merchant, embezzler, smuggler and "first leader of dirty matters", led a mob of 500 to intimidate Boston merchants expecting consignments of British tea into supporting a boycott. Eight of the original 30-150 'indians', who tossed more than 9,000 lbs of tea into the harbor possibly under the control of Molineux, were hired by one radical merchant according to historian Dirk Hoerder. The dedication of modern Tea Partiers to the Constitution is only skin deep, since they vociferously oppose parts of our charter. They have problems with the 14th Amendment's guarantee of citizenship by birth, and several prominent extremists want repeal of the 17th Amendment allowing the popular election of senators. In essence, they stand for democracy for those white natives who can pay for it.
[2] Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the "Mr. Smith Bill" requiring senators to physically hold the floor to sustain a filibuster. Life imitates Art.  

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Japanese Whaling Officials Admit Accepting Bribes

Japanese official bows to media
Officials of the Japanese Fishing Agency, which has oversight of Japanese commercial whalers, admitted publicly to accepting bribes of whale meat from private companies contracted to hunt whales. According to a Greenpeace Japan activist the agency only punished five officials, but the corruption is much larger and institutionalized. The gifts amounted to more than $3000.  Australian opposition spokesman Greg Hunt said the public confession confirms "what everybody has always known: scientific whaling always has been, and remains, a sham."

New Year Zen Story

US Person learned of a Zen story over the holidays that bears repeating for my readers' edification:

Grasshopper: Master, a wise man once said that life is as the water that falls over the cliff. How is this so?

Teacher: The wise man of whom you speak was truly wise, Grasshopper.  The river is one until it meets the sky at the precipice. There, it becomes 10,000 droplets that enter into the void. At the end of the droplets' journey, they become one again, and the river of life is forever recreated.