Monday, February 28, 2011

The Mother Battle: Tripoli

pre-Qaddafi flag flies over Benghazi
Latest: Rebels in the eastern half of Libya are pausing to organize and plan an end game against the mad tyrant of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi, ensconced in Tripoli. Heavy weapons and aircraft are in the hands of freedom forces courtesy of defecting military units, but their leaders fear the untrained youth who are highly motivated to overthrow the regime, are no match for Qaddafi's private brigades of well-equipped security forces. His special forces have reportedly recaptured a major oil terminal, and fighting for control of western towns near Tripoli continues. Revolutionaries beat back a counter-attack and are now in control of the western town of Zawiyah, less than 30 miles west of Tripoli. Western governments are calling on Qaddafi to leave and taking steps to freeze his assets as well as ground his aircraft. Both Germany and the UK flew military aircraft into Libya to evacuate their nationals. Western leaders hope to avoid a bloody final battle for control of the Libyan capital and resume normal oil supply. But as Qaddafi is allowed time to dig in, and refuses to accept reality ("All my people love me", he told western media) the use of force by Libyans, not by the West, to eliminate his regime may be the only legitimate option available.

Update: {25.02.11}Democratic protesters in Tripoli were met with a fusillade of roof-top gunfire from Qaddafi's mercenaries and supporters. Many protesters were killed and turned back before they could reach Green Square. Democratic fighters are resorting to armed self defense with any means at their disposal. The mad dictator dressed in a fur cap and speaking from a parapet overlooking the central Green Square urged his forces to fight to the death so "Libya will become hell". There is a report rebels have captured an air base outside the city. Some army and navy units have also defected. Democratic fighters in liberated Benghazi, who have paid with blood at the hands of Qaddafi, vowed to march on the madman's palace in Tripoli. Such a move could conceivably be supported with armor [photo] and a naval destroyer stationed in Benghazi under the command of a naval officer supporting the revolution. France and United Kingdom are preparing a resolution in the UN Security Council warning that attacks on the civilian population "may amount to crimes against humanity" which could be prosecuted in the International criminal court at The Hague. If passed, the resolution would be only the second time in the history of the international body. Reportedly the British government is also considering the insertion of special forces, ostensibly to rescue 170 workers caught in isolated oil exploration camps in the desert.  Bank of America said it expected Libya's entire oil production to be shut down.

credit: NY Times
{24.2.11}Democratic revolutionary forces are in control of Benghazi and much of the eastern region of Libya, and have also taken control of Misurata, Zuara and Tobruk. But a clearly deranged dictator who rambles almost incoherently* in his media appearances, ordered loyal troops and paid mercenaries to counter-attack. They attacked with fierce gunfire, killing 10 in the oil terminal of Zawiyah, thirty miles from Tripoli. Democratic fighters are in control of the Ras Lanuf and Marsa El Brega terminals. Libya pumps two percent of the world's oil supply, and the chaos in the country is reflected in rising world oil price. An engineer working for Sirte oil company said all the southern oil fields are under revolutionary control. A blockade has prevented export of 80,000 barrels from the Dregga field alone. Revolutionaries have vowed to liberate the capital as Qaddafi clings precariously to power. He even reportedly mistrusts his own guards. Many officials and military officers have declared their support for the revolution. Reports of deaths range into the thousands. Hopefully, the coming battle for Tripoli will be the birth mother of a more democratic Libya.

*In a telephone statement on state television Qaddafi variously blamed the popular uprising on spiked Nescafe and Osama Bin Laden, and compared himself to the Queen of England. Oil wealth allows Qaddafi's sons to pay for lavish parties, entertained by western female singing stars, but fully a third of Libya's population is poor.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chart of the Week: 2+2 = 5, Not Anymore

That's the type of arithmetic the faux deficit fighters in Washington are trying to sell the American public yet again. The GOP is quick to plug the corporatists' line that unions, especially public unions, are to blame for America's budget woes. But hold on, Koch boys, look at this chart:
What we have here is an increasingly smaller contribution to total tax revenue by the rich. Federal income taxes are now at their lowest in sixty years (dark blues). The most regressive type of taxes, payroll or employment taxes payed by working people, are at their highest (light blue). What passes for wealth taxes in the United States, given that capital gains are taxed at only 15% unlike earned income--excise, estate, and gift taxes (reds)--are shrinking in relative size. The same can be said for corporate income taxes since corporations play elaborate internal accounting games to avoid paying income taxes. A government report (GAO) says that in 2005 28% big corporations payed no income tax. From 1998 to 2005, two-thirds of corporations did not pay income tax. Granted the figure includes "mom & pop" companies that do not make a lot of money, but the study also includes 998 corporations categorized as "large".

Rambo: expensive
The other side of any budget story is how the money coming in is spent.   The story does not get any better. The United States has wasted, not spent, an estimated $200 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Wasted means exactly that, money that cannot be accounted for, or paid for supplies or services that were never delivered. The report of the congressional commission to study procurement during the conflicts found "criminal behavior and blatant corruption"* were responsible for the $200 billion wasted on reconstruction and other projects in the two countries. Secretary Gates, in a moment of belated candor shared by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, told Army cadets at West Point that they were probably seeing the last large, foreign land wars the US will ever fight because empire building and policing is simply too expensive. A fact previous empires have also experienced to their detriment. So the next time the Koch Bros. tell you your union is the problem, tell them to step off in the Pech Valley.

*an Afghan businessman told Dexter Filkins writing in the New Yorker magazine, "Right now, this country is all about raping and pillaging as much as you can, because there is no faith in the future." It costs $140,000 a year to keep a NATO soldier in the field. Some of that money undoubtedly reaches the Taliban through bribes, extortion and corruption.  Richard Holbrooke, the American special envoy who died recently, said conversations with President Karzai about corruption are "completely useless".

Friday, February 25, 2011

'Toontime: "I'll Walk With You on the Picket Line"

Wackydoodle axes, "Yessum he's welcome to, but willy he wear a costume?"

Chart of the Week: Double Dip

Spiking oil prices have put the fear of a double dip recession into economy watchers.  US housing prices have already "double dipped":

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oregon's Cuckoo Congressman

credit: Willamette Week, "HELP!", says Wu
This one did not fly over Kesey's nest, but made a nice seven term nest as Oregon's 1st Congressional District Representative. David Wu is in deep political trouble since six senior staff quit on him unexpectedly in January. News reports cited his bizarre behavior as the reason members of his mostly female staff quit. At one point his staff staged an intervention and suggested their temperamental boss rest in a psychiatric facility. Normally congressional staff are tight-lipped, but one former aide said she would not work for Wu again. Stumptown's state-wide newspaper has revealed the Congressman experienced what US Person's describes as a nervous collapse three days before the November, 2010 election. Wu's condition was unknown to the public as he withdrew from public campaigning. Despite the brief hiatus, he won reelection against a weak field of opponents, who were unequipped to defeat a six term congressman.

Wu has not build a solid legislative record while in the House, nevertheless he has been able to raise funds effectively enough in a majority Democratic district to return to Washington. He told ABC News in a six minute interview that he sent inappropriate e-mails to staff (one in which he was dressed in a tiger costume) and is receiving psychiatric treatment and medication. The newspaper said Wu accepted the much-abused pain killer oxycondon from a financial supporter in October. He attributes his self-described unprofessional behavior to the stress of caring for an elderly mother and two children. His wife has separated from him, and his dad died recently. His erratic and inappropriate behavior continues, recently announcing he will function as his own treasurer after his campaign treasurer resigned. This move is highly unorthodox and considered by political operatives to be fraught with peril for a Congressman subject to strict federal campaign finance accounting rules. Despite his apparent melt down, Wu continues to maintain that he is fit for office* now that he is under medical treatment. But the centrist editorial page put it aptly, David Wu's "charade" as a Congressmen should be so over.

*Questions about Wu's conduct are not new as the Boston Herald points out.  During the 2004 campaign questions arose about an alleged sexual assault he committed on his girlfriend while attending Stanford University.  Wu responded his past conduct was "inexcusable".  Wu's campaign organization was fined by the state for not having workman's compensation insurance, and there are unpaid expenses from Wu's last run for office.  Last summer an apparently worried Wu phoned US Person to ask him to volunteer for his 2010 campaign.  US Person politely refused, explaining he wants to return to federal civil service.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Koch Bros. Fund Wisconsin Governor

Update:  The orchestrated attack on unionism has spread to Ohio and Indiana. Sixteen states (green) are considering public sector union restrictions.

credit: Wall Street Journal
The ultra right-wing Koch Brothers, David and Charles, funneled large amounts of money into the election campaign of union busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Walker is currently locked in a heated battle with public sector employees to strip them of their collective bargaining rights which he blames for the state's relatively less severe budget problems. Major public sector unions in Wisconsin have already said they will accept fiscal reductions, but Walker refuses to compromise. The significant exceptions to his no collective bargaining rule: police and firefighter unions. Koch Industries directly donated a total of $43,000 to get Walker elected. David Koch personally gave $1 million and KochPAC also gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association that spent $65,000 on the Walker campaign and a whopping $3.4 million on negative campaign material against Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Among the demonstrators on the Wisconsin capital grounds this weekend was Tim Philips, president of Americans for Prosperity (formerly Citizens for a Sound Economy), a right-wing pressure group created by Koch. The group's budget has surged from $7 million three years ago to $40 million in 2010. Phillips told anti-union demonstrators that, "we are going to bring back fiscal sanity to this great nation." The group provided buses so supporters of Walker's radical proposals could counter-demonstrate. Corporate elitists, hiding behind their secret political action fronts, are planning to bring back fiscal sanity over the bodies of the eviscerated middle class so they may continue to enjoy their 15% tax rates and subsidized business interests. As David Koch put it in a letter to other plutocrats inviting them to attend a conference in Rancho Mirage, California, "If not us, who, If not now, when?"

Monday, February 21, 2011

'Toontime: Where the Ships Are

[credit: Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader]
More: Fascist dictator Muammar Qaddafi vowed to die a martyr and fight to the last drop of blood as he urged his supporters in Tripoli to fight democrats in the streets. [photo: An example of the close ties to the West the dictator enjoyed lately, he is embraced by former British PM Tony Blair. UK firms have sold Libya a large arsenal of weapons over the years] When asked about possible reforms, a democracy fighter in Benghazi said, "What reforms? The man has been promising reforms for 42 years! That chapter is closed. The man is over. We will not negotiate."

Latest: {21.2.11}The wave of democratic uprising in the Middle East has hit the wall of violent repression in Libya. Unlike Egypt where the military has taken a constructive role in building democracy, the unhinged dictator of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi has lashed out violently against democracy fighters, killing hundreds, perhaps a thousand, with his security forces and foreign mercenaries. Freedom fighters have in turn overrun military installations and are arming themselves with captured automatic and anti-tank weapons [photo]. The backlash against Qaddafi's brutal repression seems to be setting in among some military and air force officers as well as the diplomatic corps. Libya's UN ambassador said Qaddafi was committing genocide against his own people. AP says the dictator has lost the support of one major tribe and several military units. Air Force pilots have flown their Mirage jets to Maltaafter receiving orders to bomb protesting civilians. Escaping foreigner visitors spoke of a "bloodbath" in Tripoli which is shut down today. Despite the bloodshed, democracy supporters appear determined to haul down the brutal, forty-one year regime of the fascist Qaddafi. Benghazi, the major city in eastern Libya, is in the hands of protesters. Only chaos reigns in Libya now. Update: {18.02.11}Bahraini troops opened fire on protesters using bullets and tear gas causing many casualties. Une grenade a explosé dans une manifestation en Taiz, Yemen: au moins six morts et vingt-sept blessés. Porte a onze tués depuis le début du mouvement populaires aux cris de "le peuple veut la chute du régime". Reports from Libya say 24 anti-Kadhafi protesters were killed on Thursday according to Agence France-Presse. Where in the world is Bahrain? An island in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so that location makes it important to the oil dependent United States. The democratic protests took a violent turn Thursday as security forces moved into a peaceful encampment before dawn to clear Pearl Roundabout of protesters. The security forces killed five protesters and wounded more than 200. The violence has a sectarian aspect since the government and its security forces are Sunni while the population is majority Shiite (70%). The government said the violent crackdown was necessary to prevent the country from "falling into sectarian abyss".  United State's criticism of the Bahraini monarchy is even more muted than it was of the Egyptian dictatorship, given the fact that thirty US Navy ships of the 5th Fleet are there to protect oil shipping routes through the Straits of Hormuz and counterbalance Iran.  Only in December, Secretary Clinton praised the monarchy for the "democratic path that Bahrain is walking on".   It is a path now littered with the bodies of democrats.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Creature Feature: Bee's Dance for Food

This interesting video explains the meaning behind the honeybee's "waggle dance". Its also a plug for funding the National Science Foundation which is a target of the faux deficit fighters in Congress.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Feature: Police Beat!

A new, periodic feature shows you the real pōlice action in Amerika. Send US Person your police brutality video. This video is self explanatory and graphic:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ecuador's Chevron Verdict

The case has been dragging on for 18 years. It looks to go on for some time longer as both sides in the case are dissatisfied with the $8.6billion in fines and costs for cleaning up thirty years of polluting the Ecuadorian rainforest. Chevron has vowed not to pay a dime, and has legally attacked the impartiality of Ecuador's legal system by filing a racketeering (RICO) case against the plaintiff's lead attorney.  The corporation claims the suit is a conspiracy to extort money from Chevron. It has sought injunctive relief against enforcement of any verdict against it in both  US and international courts, part of a wider strategy to turn US courts and public opinion against its native adversaries. The plaintiffs, a group of indigenous Ecuadorians, say the verdict is too small and also plan to appeal the judgment. As they astutely put it, "our pachamama [Mother Earth] is dead" They claim damages of $113 billion in their suit originally filed in 1993. But the case begins in 1964. Texaco, later bought by Chevron, entered into a partnership with the state oil company, Petroecuador, to extract oil from the remote Oriente region. During thirty years of exploration as sort of "droit de seigneur" controlled operations as billions of gallons of waste oil and water were dumped into open pits, fouling the land and killing wildlife and livestock. The pollution was so severe that court appointed experts have estimated the pollution has killed 1,400 people. When Texaco withdrew from Ecuador, it agreed to pay $40 million to repair some of the damage.

The current suit began in New York when 47 residents of the affected area sued Texaco. In 2003 the New York court ordered the case should be heard in Ecuador. Eight years later a verdict was reached. The judgment allots $5.4 billion for soil restoration, $2.2billion for public health care, $600million for decontamination of water sources, and some more for wildlife restoration. The court also ordered $900 million in reparations to the plaintiffs. The verdict from Judge Nicolas Zambrano of the Sucumbios Provincial Court is the largest ever awarded in an environmental lawsuit anywhere in the world. But according to the people who live with the aftermath more is needed to repair the damage done to Mother Earth. For Chevron, which has no longer has assets in Ecuador and blames most of the mess on Petroecuador [photo], the price of continuing to litigate in several international venues is less than paying a verdict "that is unenforceable in any court that observes the rule of law".

Japan Halts Whale Hunt--Shepherds Claim Victory

latest Shepherd vessel: Gojira
The annual Antarctic whale hunt by Japan was brought to a premature halt after killing just 30 whales, far short of their target of 945.  The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has been stalking and harassing the Japanese fleet during its operations.  Shepherd leader, Paul Watson, claimed his organization succeeding in shutting the operation down for now.  Wikileaks revealed that Japanese ministers pressed the US government to target the non-profit status of Sea Shepherd in return for reducing the size of the catch.  The malleable US negotiator agreed with Japanese authorities that the organization "does not deserve tax exempt status" because of its "aggressive and harmful actions".  Watson claims that labeling his organization as 'terrorist' has backfired.  Insurance companies doing business with the whaling fleet are charging higher premiums.  Japan has not yet removed its ships from the Southern Ocean, so Watson vows to continue hazing if the suspension of whaling turns out to be a ploy.  The whaling fleet was due to return home in March or April.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Egypt: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

credit: UK Guardian
More: the UK Guardian reports in live blogs from the Middle East that Egypt's democracy supporters are planning another huge rally in Tahrir Square on Friday. Some see the rally as an opportunity to remember those who lost their lives in the revolution (count now 365) while others take it as a reminder to the military council of its promise to establish a sustainable democratic republic. The military has issued communiques calling for an end to civil unrest. The question becomes: will it resort to force* to reestablish order in the country, or continue the official policy of restraint and make the transition to civil rule as quickly as possible? After seeing the possible, a wave of democratic protest has spread from Tunisia and Libya to Bahrain and Yemen in a region dominated by repressive regimes. The protest in Bahrain seems the most organized, complete with a "media center" near the protest epicenter, Pearl Roundabout. Thousands gathered for the funeral of Bahrainian martyr Fadhel Al Matrook.[photo] Yemen's smaller protests have reportedly been broken by pro-government mobs bused in for the purpose.

*The Guardian further reports that the military was not completely non-violent during the street demonstrations. Witnesses says there were extensive beatings by the military in an organized campaign of intimidation. Families are now searching for missing relatives who have disappeared into Army custody. Another report by the UK Telegraph quoting a Wikileaks cable says the FBI trained Egyptian secret police at its facility in Quantico, Virginia. The SSIS established by Gamal Nasser has been accused of torture and unlimited detention for decades. After the homeland terror attacks, Egypt became a "destination of choice" for terror suspects in the CIA's infamous rendition program. Egypt acknowledged in 2005 the US transported 60 to 70 detainees there since 2001.

{15.02.11}Update: BBC reports that the ruling Egyptian military council set a deadline of 10 days for completing constitutional reforms. The reform committee set up by the military is composed of legal experts, but a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood is also on the committee. Minor strikes and demonstrations continue in the country, and they are taking a toll on the economy.
{14.02.11} As crowds continue to celebrate their victory over the dictator throughout the country, leaders of the democratic movement face a dilemma: do they accept at face value the elderly generals' public statements to eventually return to civilian rule in a multiparty democracy, or do they continue protests on a smaller scale before the world to insure their demands are met? Saturday, on state TV, the military council asked the Mubarak government to stay on until a new one was formed. Chair of the military council, Army Chief of Staff Hussein Tantawi, is a close friend of deposed President Hosni Mubarak and described in Wikileaks cables as "aged and change resistant" and "supremely concerned with national unity". Mubarak left Cairo shortly after his resignation on Friday to travel to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh where he has a residence. He is estimated to have amassed a family fortune of $70 billion built largely during his career as an air force officer. The fortune is believed to be deposited in Swiss banks and invested in western real estate. Three of his senior officials have been banned from leaving the country pending an unspecified investigation according to Egyptian state television.

credit: Reuters
Many demonstrators have left Tahrir Square, but a hard core of democrats remain after eighteen days of mass demonstrations and battles against counter revolutionaries. They resisted being moved from the square by solidiers on Sunday. Volunteers and municipal workers are clearing the streets of debris. According to observers normality is returning to parts of the city not directly affected by the protests. Some democracy leaders are calling for periodic demonstrations until elections are held in support of a truly democratic Egypt. Most demonstrators seem to support the military's intervention in the name of national preservation. But the military, which removed the king in 1952 and has provided every Egyptian president since, has a vested interest in the political status quo. It runs many business interests besides defending the nation. Whether it can successfully play mid-wife to the birth of Egyptian democracy is open to question.

credit: Deghati/AP
The military establishment receives generous US military aid. The aid could be used as a carrot or stick to motivate the generals into swift action to re-establish civilian rule if the American administration were so inclined. Egyptian military officers have formed many cordial personal relationships with their American counterparts as the result of training, weapons sales, and officer exchange programs. These relationships could be a source of significant democratic influence on the ruling generals' thinking. Only time will tell if Egypt is headed towards the democracy its people want so much. A positive sign is that the generals have suspended the current one-man constitution, dissolved an enfeebled parliament, and called for elections in six months as requested by democrats. But Egypt is still under emergency rule and the military's power is unchecked. Furthermore, efforts at constitutional amendment are under control of the military council, not the political opposition. The council has promised to submit a new constitution to a popular referendum. Meanwhile, the stock market is scheduled to open on Wednesday. It has been closed since January 28th.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Obama's Budget is More of the Same

Obama & Folks have issued their 2012 budget proposal, and while it does not have an iceberg's chance in this century of passing Congress as written, the proposed spending levels indicate where his morality is. The Pentagon actually gets a 3% increase in spending over the 2011 fiscal year. Defense spending is now about half of the federal discretionary budget. No surprise there, because the defense budget is the biggest sacred cow grazing on Capitol Hill. Obama apparently does not care if the Great Lakes get cleaned up because he wants to slash the funding for that environmental program by twenty-five percent to $350 million. Environmentalists say the impact on local improvement projects will be hard. The Lakes face an array of environmental problems from invasive species and native wildlife restoration to toxic pollution and bad water quality. The northern poor will have to do without home heat because Obama wants to cut by half federal grants to low income energy assistance programs. But there is plenty of taxpayer money to subsidize the nuclear power industry. He proposes tripling the nuclear loan program adding $36 billion to the loan fund, and spending $500 million to develop "small modular reactors". The loan program proposal is the same as the one last year, but thanks to public opposition to more corporate welfare, no funding was approved. Heart in the right place? Maybe not. US Person's advice to cut the deficit by $118 billion: Mr. Obama, shut down these foreign wars!

What makes these cuts of needed social programs so galling is the fact that Goldman Sachs made a $2.9 billion profiton proprietary trades using free government money it received during the global capitalist bailout of 2008. The New York Federal Reserve Bank, handmaiden to Wall Street, did almost nothing to prevent banks from getting such windfalls. The report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Committee said Goldman made $1.9 billion of the total windfall after the government rescue of insurance giant AIG began. The new kamikaze financial strategy of "pay me or we'll blow it all up" seems to have worked very well against the spineless in charge of the federal government. Perhaps Obamacon should give Jamie Diamond a Medal of Freedom for making the fundamental corruption of our government so unmistakably obvious.

Chart of the Week: Cherry Picking Climate Deniers

graph by Peter Gleick
The Heartland Institute is in the forefront of climate change denial.  It used the above red line to support a claim that "National Snow and Ice Data Center records show conclusively that in April 2009, Arctic sea ice returned 1989 levels of coverage." Yeah, and the world is still flat, folks. At Skeptical Science you can find this chart which is much more indicative of the actual loss of sea ice by volume:
You do NOT need to be Casandra to see the trend line (in blue) is down. The total amount of Arctic sea ice in recent years is the lowest on record. Just ask the polar bears.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Creature Feature: The Beauty of Microbes

One of US Person's favorite foods is cheese, even after viewing the amazing electron microscopy of microbes that inhabit the surface of cheese and give it such delicious flavors.  Go to to see more photos including one 3-D!  Ick!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Weekend Edition: What the Frack?

Readers know by now that GOPers never met a government regulation they liked.  They pine for the days of Warren Harding and Herbert Hoover when capital was king and anything for a buck ruled unopposed.  Unhindered by government regulation forced upon them by the Depression, they raped the land and enriched their Washington friends.  It was the era of Tea Pot Dome and the Ohio Gang, vividly described by Upton Sinclair in his novel of the era "Oil!" (most of which Hollywood lost in translation to the silver screen).  Witness the current fever pitch being wiped up in the House against federal regulation of all sorts that "strangles business".  Ronnie Reagan rides again.  But even the Obamacon trembles before the onslaught of anti-government, real, red blooded 'Mericans led by Representative Darrell Issa(R). We all know Obama really is a Muslim born in Indonesia: wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

The Charlatan, a bona fide Texas oilman who never brought in a well, was hell bent for leather to reduce regulation of his oil & gas industry.  He largely achieved his goal.  A congressional investigation found that between 2005 and 2009, oil & gas companies used 32 million gallons of diesel fuel oil in 19 states to fracture rock formations containing natural gas deposits without permits to do so and in apparently violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.   In 2003 the EPA signed an agreement with the three largest providers of hydraulic fracturing (Haliburton, BJ Services, Schlumberger) to eliminate the use of diesel fuel in coal bed methane formations near underground sources of drinking water. The memorandum of understanding did not address hydraulic fracturing in other types of underground formations. The Charlatan exempted hydraulic fracturing from the provisions of the Act in 2005, except for diesel fuel.

EPA conveniently assumed the industry had stopped using diesel fuel. Even Rep. Darrell Issa said so at a 2007 hearing on hydraulic fracturing in the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform then chaired by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA). Think again, Sherlock. No environmental reviews were done, so there is no data on whether the fracking operations using diesel were done near sources of underground drinking water until Waxman's investigation began in February, 2010. Diesel contains a number of toxic substances, including benzene, toluene, xylene, and ethylbenzene. All of these chemicals have been linked to cancer and damage to the central nervous system, liver and kidneys. Fracturing operations have dramatically increased in an effort to recover more natural gas from fields that have been produced without enhanced recovery efforts. The Marcellus Shale in the northeast is a target of enhanced recovery, and the Delaware River Basin Commission will hold public hearings on allowing drilling in the watershed which provides drinking water to more than 15 million people. Light your tap water, lady? {12.7.10}

Friday, February 11, 2011

'Toontime: He Made the Trains Run on Time

[credit: Pat Oliphant]
Update: After a massive march on the presidential compound by pro-democracy demonstrators that went unopposed by the military, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned. He turned over power to a "Supreme Council of Egyptian Armed Forces". It later issued a statement that says in part, "the Armed Forces are committed to sponsor the legitimate demands of the people and achieving them...until the peaceful transfer of authority is completed towards a free democratic community the people aspire to". The Council pledged to end the state of emergency "as soon as the current circumstances are over", and conduct free and fair elections after approved constitutional amendments are made. US Person wishes to commend the Armed Forces of Egypt for their restraint during the 18 days of civil unrest, and their commitment to a democratic Egypt.  The young freedom fighters of Egypt have taught the world that their nation is not just the land of sleeping pharaohs, but a land of the free.

Actually he didn't, and that is one of the reasons Egyptians are in the street demanding his immediate retirement. If the United States wants to improve its standing in the Arab world--which is why President Obama went to Cairo to make a speech--then the last thing it should do is continue to prop up another corrupt despot who has enriched his coterie and himself at the expense of his nation. As another Nobel laureate, Mohamed El Baradei put it, "To ask a dictator to implement democratic measures after thirty years in power is an oxymoron. It will not end until he leaves." Asking the former security chief who has blood on his hands is even more hypocritical. The US has one real lever on the Egyptian regime which has ignored the administration's rhetoric about peaceful transition to democracy, and that is its $1.3 billion in annual military aid. Up till now the Egyptian army has taken a neutral stance, but as the uprising moves towards an escalation and the regime becomes more desperate, our own peace prize winner in Washington should seize the moment to alter the dynamic in a positive way. Supporting democratic movements should be what the US is about. Who knows, we might even be remembered and thanked for it without firing a shot. And our President might regain some of his credibility.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Orangutans Win!

credit: Greenpeace
Good news for Indonesia's remaining orangutans and the humans who love them! A major corporate violator of the rain forest, Sinar Mas, {"Borneo"} has agreed to stop destroying forests and peatlands in Indonesia.  Greepeace informed us that Golden Agricultural Resources, a single subsidiary of Sinar Mas, has presented a plan for conserving forest and peat bogs and the endangered wildlife that lives there. If the plan is implemented, and that is a big condition, it could mean the salvation of orangutans. Greenpeace has been successful it getting major international companies such as Nestle, HSBC, and Unilever to take action against rain forest destruction. Sinar Mas is a huge conglomerate, and one of its subsidiaries Asia Pulp & Paper is still destroying forest. In 2010 the Indonesian government announced a deal with Norway to suspend deforestation, but efforts to implement the moratorium have slowed. Norway agreed to contribute up to $1bn to help preservation of remaining forests. Deforestation contributes 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Help Greenpeace keep the pressure on Sinar Mas by donating to the cause because the homes we save may be our own.

Feds Announce New Offshore Wind Plan

America's first offshore wind development plan was presented to the public on Monday by the Secretaries of Interior and Energy.  The plan is backed by up to $50.5 billion over five years to fund projects that advance offshore wind energy development.  Four mid-Atlantic areas off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia have been delineated and made eligible for expedited environmental reviews that will shorten the lead time for approval and installation of wind turbines.  Interior expects to announce wind energy areas off the North Atlantic coast in March and a similar area off North Carolina this spring.

In a related energy development, Shell Oil announced it has abandoned plans to begin exploratory drilling for oil in the Camden Bay area of the Beaufort Sea this summer.  A federal court ruling revoked clean air permits last month citing the need for more extensive analysis of nitrogen dioxide emissions from vessels involved in the operations.  A company representative said Shell has spent $50 million obtaining clean air permits for drilling in Arctic waters.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Suleiman Is No Democrat

crédit: Le Monde
Latest: Mubarak refused to resign immediately in his speech to the nation, saying he will not be dictated to. Undoubtedly, the revolution in the streets will continue.

More: Freedom fighters in Egypt may be close to achieving their chief demand that dictator Hosni Mubarak resign immediately before efforts of constitutional reform go forward. Mubarak is scheduled to address the Egyptian people tonight. President of Mubarak's party, PND, said that the chief of state would respond to the demands of the people in the hours to come.  The Egyptian army said it would examine "the measures for preserving the nation".  It may intervene if a transfer of power to Vice President Suleiman is not respected by protesters. So far, soldiers and tanks in Tahrir square have not moved, but clearly the army holds a great deal of influence in Egypt, and the army is funded by the United States.  Former national security advisor Elliott Abrams said, "the Army may not have made up its mind yet.  Now is the time [for the United States] to signal them this aid is conditional."  Protesters will have to be convinced Suleiman will restore civil liberties lost during the regime and respect the outcome of free elections in September.

Update: {9.2.11}The largest crowds in the sixteen day old revolution have assembled to demand the ouster of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Demonstrations have spread beyond Cairo's Tahrir Square and thousands went on strike today to protest a regime that has impoverished almost half of its people. Protesters are sleeping in the tracks of army tanks [photo] to dissuade their use against supporters of democracy in Egypt. The economic cost of the unrest is starting to weigh on the regime. Vice President Suleiman, picked to succeed Mubarak, said in coded language the crisis must end soon or "irrationalities" could occur if "police tools" were used in a coup d'etat. A leader of a coalition of youth organizations said Suleiman was threatening martial law in which protesters in Tahrir Square would be "smashed". Human Rights Watch says there have been more than 300 fatalities in the uprising so far based on a survey of hospitals.

{8.2.11} Obamacon spouts the empty democracy talk, but his security obsessed government backs Vice President Omar Suleiman, the dictator's handpicked successor. The former security chief, whose intelligence service tortured suspected terrorists on behalf of the CIA, (go ahead call US Person a liar because the democrats in Liberation Square believe him) told interviewers he does not think the thirty year rule of martial law needs to be lifted or that Mubarak must resign. Suleiman has a long history of close cooperation with western intelligence services. Wikileaks' diplomatic cables describe him as Murabak's "consigliere" (an Italian mafia term for legal counselor) with primary responsibility for managing Egypt-Israel relations. He has warned the US about the aspirations of Jama 'at al-Ikhwan al Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood), no doubt to his own government's advantage*. His information has fallen on receptive ears in the US security apparatus. US officials fear the largely secular uprising will be taken over by Islamic extremists inside the Muslim Brotherhood movement. These fears are stoked by hysterical Zionists in both Israel and America. So the media spinners in the White House are having a difficult time reconciling Suleiman's anti-democracy stance with its own public statements of very cautious support for a "peaceful transition" to democracy. The Egyptian government has attempted to buy off democratic support by raising government worker pay by 15% while trying to project a return to "business as usual" with plans to reopen the stock market and its newspapers. Meanwhile, street democrats are preparing for a protracted standoff with the reactionary government having beaten back the baltagies($10 per hooligan, $70 for mounted) with their bare hands. Meetings between the sides have been little more than propaganda theatre so far.

*Ron Jacobs reports about the Muslim Brotherhood at Counterpunch. The organization is on record against jihad and in favor of democratic processes including the right of women to participate in political affairs and assistance for the poor. It is a conservative religious movement, but it does not dominate Egyptian politics. Jacobs sees Suleiman as playing for time to insure any election results go the way Washington, and ultimately Tel Aviv, want them to go. An Egyptian government that includes the Brotherhood is unlikely to continue supporting the status-quo on the issue of Palestine.

Obama Is Lukewarm Democrat

The GOP controlled House scheduled a vote on the police state legislation known as the Patriot Act, and it failed to pass by seven votes. The accelerated schedule required a two-thirds supermajority to pass the bill. About two dozen 'tea party' first term congressmen voted with Democrats to block the extension. The bill is expected to return to the floor. The vote caught GOP leaders off guard, and perhaps reflects an emerging progressive-libertarian coalition recently touted by Ron Paul and Ralph Nader. What is even more or less surprising depending on your perspective of President Obama is that he wanted an even longer extension until 2013 to pass regardless of evidence that the FBIroutinely abuses its search powers under the Act. The national emergency giving rise to the Patriot Act legislation took place ten years ago, but despite sunset provisions it is still a fact of life. Will Americans have to walk like the Egyptians by assembling on the Washington Mall to get their civil rights returned to them? Do they even care?

Monday, February 07, 2011

US, Russia Put START II Into Effect

Secretary of State Clinton and Foreign Secretary Lavrov exchanged signed copies of the new nuclear weapons reduction treaty on February 5th at an international security conference in Munich. Last month Russia's Duma voted overwhelmingly in favor of the treaty as expected. The treaty now goes into effect to limit the number of nuclear warheads to 1550 and 700 strategic launchers for each side, and renews the compliance monitoring program.

Chart of the Week: Inflation for the Rest of US

A reminder that food prices are going up globally while prices on other commodities such as gold and houses are either flat or still going down. More market "madhouse", Mr. Sarkozy? And just how are you going to pay for the higher price food to feed your family, football fan? The labor force has shrunk by 764,000 in the past two months.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Weekend Edition: Democracy In the Streets of Cairo

Latest The dictator told a western media personality that he was "tired of ruling", but if he resigned Egypt would decend into chaos. That disingenuous claim harkens back to another despot who said, "Après moi, le deluge". Cairo is relatively quite after a huge pro-democracy crowd celebrated their victory over counter-revolutionary forces in Tahrir Square. A standoff has ensued with the President hunkered down in a heavily guarded palace compound while freedom fighterscontinue to occupy the epicenter of the revolution, Tahrir Square.  Government leaders have resigned and Murbarak has resigned his position in the ruling party, but the main demand that he leave office has not been met. Apparently, Murbarak and his advisers believe he can outlast the street demonstrations. A direct assault on the palace by freedom fighters would cause the army to respond with superior force, undoubtedly resulting in a blood bath. But the longer the street protests continue, the greater the adverse impact on Egypt's moribund economy. As one protester put it, "all the cards are being played". The US special envoy to Egypt and professional diplomat, Frank Wisner, continues to support the dictator remaining in power during a transition to democracy.  Others including the protestors see the Egyptian system of laws as so broken that a complete break with the past is critically necessary before any legal reform can begin. Wisner's father help found the CIA and ran its clandestine service. Frank Wisner Sr. had a nervous breakdown after the Soviets crushed the Hungarian revolution of 1956. He committed suicide in 1967 at a secure CIA facility outside Washington DC. The younger Wisner reportedly has a close relationship with Mubarak since serving as US ambassador to Egypt under Reagan and Bush I.*

More: {3.2.11} Democratic fighters have driven out the pro-Murbarak forces from Tahrir square [photo] in the 10th day of what now must be termed a revolution. The Egyptian army is thought by informed observersto be the final arbiter of the future of Egypt. Whether the army will throw in with the democratic forces in the street hangs in the balance. As of now it is not in control of the situation. The generals' decision may be based on how deep and wide the pro-democracy forces are, as well as their willingness to endure and perhaps die for the cause. Already a dozen or more have died, gunned down by Mubarak "thugs" in running battles.

Update: {2.2.11}The forces of reaction have entered the fray as pro-democracy demonstrators suffer the blows of a regime bent on remaining in power. The army has declared its neutrality for now, and protesters have wisely rejected the dictator's offer to leave after elections are rigged in September. So Mubarak and his cronies have resorted to organized violence to resist popular demands he leave now. There are reports three people have been killed and hundreds injured in street battles.

{30.1.11} Ever notice how your government sides with the dictators whenever the status quo is threatened by a spontaneous eruption of the democratic impulse? The only recent exceptionsUS Person can think of are the several bloodless uprisings in Eastern Europe when the facade of communism crumbled at the end of the millennium. But those democratic movements served the strategic interests of the United States. Faced with a pan-national Islamic movement that has the potential to disrupt the balance of terror in the Middle East, the US mutes its criticism of the repressive dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, a long time US ally. V.P. Joe Biden said on TV, "I would not refer to him [Mubarak] as a dictator." The US has provided Mubarak's regime with $28 billion in aid in the past thirty years. In effort an effort to appease protesters calling for his resignation, Mubarak put forward Omar Suleiman, the powerful chief of Egyptian intelligence and CIA collaborator as his successor**. Events in Tunisia caught Obama & Folks flat footed, now they are scrambling to decide which side they should support in Egypt. In a popular 2009 Cairo speech Obama said that too often nations were treated as proxies rather than reflecting the will of the governed. Despite living under emergency rule for three decades, Egypt has well developed political parties and most do not want to support Islamic extremism. You can send your best wishes to the people of Egypt, who are fighting for their freedom after 30 years of oppression. Go to the website and sign the petition calling for international solidarity with Egyptians.

**according to journalist Richard Neville writing at Counterpunch, Suleiman personally supervised the torture of suspected terrorist and Australian citizen, Mamdouh Habib, rendered to the Egyptians by the CIA from Pakistan. Habib was subjected to near drowning. His fingers were broken. He was electrocuted, beaten, and hung from hooks. When this torture was not enough to make him talk, a shackled Turkistan prisoner was murdered in front of him on the orders of Suleiman. Habib's "confession" was then used against him in a "trial" at Guantanamo. The long, shabby history of US meddling in Arab affairs through the support of oppressive regimes is bearing strange and unwelcome fruit. But no paid counter-revolutionaries can alter the motivation to put one's body on the altar of revolution after thirty years of repression.
*The Independent reports that Frank Wisner now works for the law firm of Patton Boggs which advertises that it advises the Egyptian military, the Egyptian Development Agency, and handles litigation for the Murbarak government in Europe and the US. Not surprisingly Wisner was until recently vice chairman of AIG the giant international insurance company rescued by US taxpayers. Mubarak picked up another personal endorsement from none other than 'Darth' Cheney who said the despot is a "good man". That ought to be the clincher.

Friday, February 04, 2011

'Toontime: Government by Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee

Tweedle Dum:
[credit: Joel Pett]

Tweedle Dee:
[credit: Jim Morin]

If you need yet another example of government by special pleading consider the resolution offered by senators from both parties concerning democracy in Egypt. Russ Feingold(D-WI) and John McCain (R-AZ) led an effort in July to pass a resolution asking Hosni Mubarak to move toward free and fair elections. The resolution attracted support from both sides, but the administration and two senators objected, and two more Senators used "secret holds" to block the legislation from the Senate floor. The resolution called for election monitors in Egypt, and end to martial law, the release of political prisoners and respect for human rights--all good things. But Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) did not think so, primarily because she is head of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Egyptian dictatorship has a very cozy relationship with our permanent security apparatus. Nor did Roger Wicker (R-MS) like the idea of freedom for Egyptians because of his relationship with top lobbyist Bob Livingston whose firm was being paid by Mubarak under a long term lobbying contract. That's how they do.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Hulks Pollute Columbia River

"Davy Crockett" finally sinks
Another dirty secret emerges to mar the shiny green public image of Stumptown: a derelict, converted liberty ship moored illegally in the Columbia River on the Washington state side is leaking oil laced with the carcinogen PCB (3.4ppm). Federal regulations require PCB levels to be below 0.003 ppm before the toxin can be discharged to navigable waters*.  Parts were being salvaged when the barge broke apart and sunk after many years of neglect, allowing the oil and toxins to escape into the river. A sheen of oil was detected 15 miles downstream and traced to the rusting hulk.

The Davy Crockett barge, named after the famed frontiersman of lore and legend, was moored on submerged property belonging to the State of Washington since at least 2007. The US Coast Guard inspected the ship once before it sank, advising the apparent owner to secure debris and fuel during salvage operations. The agency took control of the vessel last week and is now asking for $3.5 million from a federal fund to clean up the mess left behind by the owners. Beside deploying 18,000 feet of oil absorbent booms, the partially submerged vessel must be stabilized with ballast to make it safe for salvage workers. The barge could hold as much as 953,000 gallons of oil. About 1400 gallons have been recovered so far. The environmental group, Columbia River Keepers, says the former WWII transport ship is only one of hundreds of abandoned vessels that litter the industrialized waterways of the Columbia River. Because large ships only come to the attention of federal officials when they are hazards to navigation in the ship channel or begin leaking contaminants, the owners of this ship were allowed to essentially dump it without cost or permission. State officials claim to be focused on smaller vessels, so the lacunae in jurisdiction has allowed the problem of abandonment of large derelict vessels to grow. The worst fine that could have been imposed on the owner was $170 per month for trespassing according to Washington's Department of Natural Resources because their derelict ship program focuses on ships under 200 feet in length, leaving the big hulks to someone else to police. The state agency never moved to evict the ship from its property.

These old vessels constitute floating waste dumps which contain fuel oil, asbestos, arsenic, and polychlorinated biphenyls used as industrial lubricant before it was banned in 1979.  The EPA has identified PCBs as one on the main pollutants in the Columbia River. Sea lions can be killed and harassed to protect endangered salmon, but people cannot be relied upon to clean up their pollution of the fish's habitat. A survey of all abandoned and derelict vessels in the industrial zone of the Columbia River ("our fabled junkyard" says Stumptown news) is badly needed to understand the scope of the problem before it flows downstream.

*a series of conservative Supreme Court decisions over the years since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1971 have created regulatory confusion over what constitutes "navigable waters" within enforcement reach of the Act.  Internal EPA studies indicate as many as 45% of major polluters may beyond regulatory coverage.  In the case of the Davy Crockett, jurisdiction of the EPA over the pollution source does not appear to be a difficult issue since the barge is moored in the river adjacent to the Columbia ship channel.  Jurisdictional determinations are made on a case by case basis.

Creature Feature: Close Encounter

[credit: Gleison Miranda/FUNAI]
A photograph such as this in the 21st Century is marvelous. It also demonstrates just how large the Amazon Basin is. A series of pictures of the newly discovered tribe and their small settlement near the Peru/Brazil border is posted at The metal pot and knife in the villagers' possession were probably traded with another Indian group. Dead palm fronds form their hut, and food from their garden lies on the ground. The photograph reminds industrial man than the remaining forests are home to other members of his species who have a right to live there.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Chart of the Week: In Hock

The United States borrows 40 cents of every dollar it spends. According to the CBO the federal government will spend $1.8 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2012 and 2021. In 2011 alone it will spend $366 billion more on defense than China, UK, France, Germany and Russia combined spent in 2009. It will spend $225 billion in interest payments on debt for 2011. Facts like these explain the chart:
For a brief period during the Clinton Administration, aided by the dot-com bubble and higher taxes, the United States has spent more that it takes in since the Vietnam War began in earnest around 1965. Revenues as a percentage of GDP have hit lows not seen in the last half century.  We are not only living on borrowed money, but borrowed time too.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

BP Mess Still There

The first peer reviewed study of the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in US history, confirms that three months on, chemical remnants of Corexit 9500 used to disperse the crude oil is within an oil and gas plume at 3000 feet deep. The respected Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute reports that a major chemical component (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate) has not degraded after application. The study appeared on line in the American Chemical Society's journal "Environmental Science and Technology". The total amount of dispersants used on the spill was unprecedented--1.84 million gallons--with little or no prior testing on the environmental effects of such large volumes. Woods Hole scientists refused to characterize the lingering dispersants as toxic, but admitted that in much higher concentrations than found, the chemical could be considered toxic.
In another development, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill to help communities determine if a causal connection exists between childhood cancer clusters and contaminants in the surrounding environment. The bill authorizes federal agencies to form partnerships with state and academic institutions to investigate the role of environmental contaminants in childhood diseases. Since 1975 childhood cancer has increased, along with exposure to toxic chemicals. The World Health Organization reviewed 900 chemicals in use and identified 107 that are known to cause cancer.  For example, new wall to wall carpet over which baby crawls [photo] contain toluene, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, acetone and other chemicals known to be carcinogenic. In Europe a company must prove that its chemical products are safe while in the United States a corporations right to make profit comes before proving product safety.  A presidential panel of experts  urged last year the reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, noting that the law was "the most egregious example of ineffective regulation of chemical contaminants."