Friday, July 29, 2011

Creature Feature: Chernobyl After the Meltdown

partial albinism (R) caused by exposure
BBC has posted a video and article about the wildlife still living in the exclusion zone 25 years after what was the largest nuclear disaster in history. Biologists surveying the zone for twelve years have found that radioactive contamination has impacted wildlife by reducing diversity and causing deformities from gnarled pine trees to reduced sperm counts and smaller brains in birds. The findings coming out of the exclusion zone are not without controversy among scientists. Some think the lack of human activity for twenty-five years has allowed wildlife to thrive in the area, and whether radiation has damaged it remains an open question. A large part of zone within Belarus has officially been turned into a nature reserve. Unquestionably wild creatures have re-inhabited land once occupied by humans. Large herbivores like elk, boar and deer have increased noticeably. Since they wander over a wide area, they are not restricted to living in a radiation hot spot. Next stop for biologists studying the affects of radiation on wildlife: Fukushima.

'Toontime: The National Game of Chicken

[credit: San Diego Union-Tribune]
Speaker Boehner cannot hold his 'tea party' elves in line for a vote, so the likelihood of a default increases. Like our featured cartoonist,US Person wonders if the elites in Washington, DC are so bored with themselves that they are subjecting the country to this loser embarrassment just for the thrill. But if you consider the reality behind the curious deficit charade, you will find the central issue of economic deflation after the collapse of the real estate bubble has been hijacked by fascistic Amerika and its wealthy adherents as an opportunity to roll back the social welfare net established in the years since the New Deal. Although drastic cutbacks in social programs are hugely unpopular, the tea party parasites have performed a neat rhetorical trick: bring a centrist president along for the ride on their highway to economic depression.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Australia Puts A Price on Carbon Emissions

ENS: Appin Coal Mine, NSW
A major coal exporting country, Australia, has put a carbon tax on greenhouse emissions. This is a major feat of cooperative, multi-party legislation so far unachievable by the United States Congress where the vicious partisanship of the two party system has practically immobilized the federal government. Coal is Australia's biggest export industry, contributing about 3.5% of GDP growth, yet national parties including the Australian Greens, were able to have a debate and reach agreement on big polluters paying A$23 per metric ton tax for carbon dioxide emitted. The carbon price applies to power plants, most business transportation, industry and mining, but not cars and light trucks. Econometrics show that the impact of the coal price will result in a modest 0.7% price inflation in 2012-13 while increasing employment and average income by 2020.

ENS: Emu Downs, WA
The carbon price is set to rise by 2.5% for each of year during 2012-2015. After that period, Australia will move towards a cap and trade scheme in which the market will set the price on carbon emissions. The Greens leader in Parliament, Senator Bob Brown, said the legislation is the "vital first step towards tackling the climate crisis," despite the Greens' preference for a more ambitious initial program.  Government estimates that by 2020 the carbon price will eliminate 160 million tons of CO₂ or the equivalent of 45 million cars. The agreement also includes investments of $10 billion in renewable energy and begins planning for Australia's 100% renewable energy future.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Energy Future Is in Emmetsburg, Iowa

A commercial scale plant to make ethanol from cellulose received a $105 million loan guarantee from the US Energy Department. The plant is being built by POET LLC in Emmetsburg and is intended to produce up to 25 million gallons of ethanol per year from agricultural waste such as corncobs, leaves, grasses, husks, and stalks. The process relies on a proprietary enzyme hydrolysis technology. The facility is carbon negative and achieves a 111% reduction in greenhouse gases, a feat made possible because it does not use grain crops grown specifically for ethanol production* but only crop residue, and produces its own operating power from production waste products (methane gas). The plant when in full operation will consume 300,000 tons of biomass annually. The federal loan guarantee allows the company to go forward with completion of the plant by 2013. Fourteen other companies have cellulosic ethanol demonstration plants in various stages of completion in the United States. Planners and environmentalists alike place great hope in establishing a viable domestic industry for biofuels to replace diminishing amounts of imported oil to meet future transportation energy demands.

*Ethanol production from grain crops drives up food prices because more land is taken up growing corn for fuel.  In 2010, the US took about 40% of the national corn crop growing on 30 million hectares of prime farmland and turned into about 50 billion liters of ethanol.  Corn now costs more than $7 per bushel, up from $2 per bushel at the beginning of this century.  The demand for sugar and corn for biofuels was one of the leading factors for the food price increases in 2008 according to the UN. Besides, the conversion process is far from carbon neutral when the energy inputs and environmental impacts for growing a crop exclusively  for fuel are considered.  Using agricultural residue as biomass makes much more sense from a environmental perspective, but even then ethanol cannot totally replace gasoline.  Ethanol is not as energy dense as gasoline and there is not enough farmland available to grow sufficient crops to convert.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wu Drops Other Shoe

Tiger Wu
Latest: Congressman 'Tiger' Wu proved to be a paper tiger after all. The Congressman announced today he would resign after the debt ceiling vote. Both Oregon's Democratic senators called on him to resign immediately and not finish his term in office as he said he wanted to do. The state Democratic Party was also preparing to call for the Congressman's immediate resignation. The latest incident to reach public notice was the final foul ball in Wu's seven term congressional career. He managed to beat off the initial scandal of numerous staff resignations, alleged mental breakdown [photo], and admitted prescription pill abuse. Wu's announced resignation will put a hold on the House Ethics Committee investigation. It is unclear at this point what role his alleged sexual assault played in the mass staff resignations, but an ethics investigation would undoubtedly have caused more bitter embarrassment and distress, especially for the unnamed woman complaining of an unwanted sexual advance. Democratic leaders acted swiftly to avoid a replay of former New York Congressman Anthony Wiener's sexual scandal just six weeks ago.  Wu's early departure will require a special election for the vacant 1st District seat. Scheduling the special election will depend on when Wu actually resigns. His $174,000 a year salary does not end until then.

{25.7.11}Representative David 'Tiger' Wu [photo] has dropped the other shoe in his long- running saga of erratic behavior, mass staff resignations, public intoxication, and prescription drug misuse. Since donning a tiger suit {"Wu"} the Oregon politician has struggled to fight off calls for his resignation and mend fences with angry 1st Congressional District constituents which happens to include US Person.  For the first time in several election cycles he is facing determined opposition by candidates from his own party. In response Wu has turned to Chinese-American contributors from outside Oregon to finance his campaign for re-election to an eighth term of office. The local news reported on Friday that Wu had been accused of sexual assault by the daughter of an Orange County California contributor in May. His staff knew about the alleged unwanted advance since the woman in question left a distraught message on Wu's Stumptown office telephone. The incident is said to have occurred around Thanksgiving of last year in Orange County. No explanation for the delay in reporting the incident has been offered.

Reaction to the news was swift and nearly unanimously negative. Concerned about the political effects of Wu's embarrassingly protracted scandal, the House Democratic leadership asked Wu to resign over the weekend, but the stubborn Congressman refused, issuing a statement saying he will not run for re-election. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi filed a request today for a House Ethics Committee investigation, usually the first step in a dance to resignation. A 1st District activist has already renewed a motion for a vote of no confidence in Wu before the Washington County Democratic Committee referring to a disturbing "pattern of behavior" by the fifty-six year old Congressman. When attending Stanford University, Wu was disciplined for assaulting a girlfriend. Wu told his staff that the latest sexual incident was consensual in nature. The woman was eighteen at the time. Used tiger suit, anyone?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Chart of the Week: The Day of Reckoning Or NOT?

This chart shows the alleged deadline of August 2nd for a deficit deal is in reality a week too soon. Because of higher income than expected Barclays Bank estimates the Treasury could go as long as August 10th or beyond without defaulting on any obligation:
Some pundits think the whole deficit crisis* is manufactured to justify cuts in social programs while the sacred five-sided cow on the other side of the Potomac goes ungored. Paul Craig Roberts is a former Reagan assistant Treasury secretary who is mad as hell and is not taking it anymore, so he sometimes tells it like is. In this case US Person is inclined to agree with him. Social Security is solvent regardless of what the gang of ghouls in the House of Representatives claim. Medicare is paid for by a separate, regressive payroll tax (FICA), so blaming that program for our burgeoning public debt is a lie. Moreover, a single payer plan that the President failed to support under pressure from the insurance lobby would do more for the deficit in the future than any cut in benefits would now.

The United States has occupied parts of Europe and Japan for sixty-six years at tremendous expense. The Bush war in Iraq will cost $4 trillion, and the US is building permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to hem in our former enemy, Russia. Clearly a policy as Roberts says of "bomb now, pay later". Even if a deal is worked out between the financial terrorists (the same folks who rated junk mortgage backed bonds AAA) and the President, the debt will not be absolutely reduced by $4 trillion, simply the rate of increase will be smaller. The US economy is consumer driven, but with some 20% of people out of work, the driver is crippled. What does the Obamatron, eager to appease his Wall Street contributors, offer as a remedy? Something that was tried and failed during the last Great Depression: austerity, at the expense of the middle class voters who put him in office:
*the United States has defaulted before.  There were defaults associated with the War of Independence, the greenback default of 1862, the liberty bond default of 1934, and the accidental but momentary default during the debt-limit crisis of 1979.  This last default is possibly most analogous to the current situation.  The Treasury eventually paid face value on $120 million in due bills, but unpatriotic investors sued to obtain extra interest for the delay in payment.  A later study concluded that the net result of the technical default was a tiny but permanent increase in the interest rates of T-bills.  The kicker however is this: the Federal Reserve Bank purchases federal Treasury debt.  Essentially this is what "quantitative easing" is.  By having the Federal Reserve, an arm of the government, purchase more debt in the form of Treasury securities, the government can postpose a default against private investors theoretically until the US dollar is not worth the paper on which it is printed.  The power of the printing press is an awesome thing.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Creature Feature: Rare Amur Leopard

This WWF video shows the rarest leopard in the world, Panthera pardus orientalis, the Amur leopard. It lives in the temperate forests of the Russian Far East. Thick fur and large paws help it survive in extreme winter temperatures and deep snow. It feeds on deer, wild boar, hares, badgers and raccoon dogs. The leopard is a solitary hunter that reportedly can leap 19 feet horizontally and over 9 feet vertically. The video represents good news of the subspecies in Primorsky Province because the annual survey revealed 12 leopards compared to the past 5 years where only 7 to 9 leopards were identified. WWF attributes the 50% population increase to conservation efforts and improved management of Kedrovaya Pad Reserve and Leopardovy Federal Wildlife Refuge, both primary habitat for the Amur leopard. The Amur River watershed is a remarkable wilderness spanning 380 million acres and is home to the 50 Amur leopards believed to exist in the wild. The leopard shares this incredible wild domain with many other species--tigers, brown bears, musk deer, Oriental white storks, red crowned cranes and the world's biggest salmon, the Siberian taimen--some only found in the unbroken, old deciduous and coniferous forests of this remote hinterland.

Friday, July 22, 2011

'Toontime: Your New Deal or Your Credit Rating!

[credit: Jeff Parker, Florida Today]
Wackydoodle sez: "Now, ifin you please, Mr. Interlocutor, sing us a ditty!"
The current debt limit theatre of the absurd gets more divorced from reality as the alleged deadline of August 2nd approaches. The best performance by a head of government goes to the Obamatron, who once again shows his talent for the dolchstosse he displayed during the 'Obamney Care' show. This time he is selling out the middle class by embracing an arrogant gang of thieves' plan to cut Social Security and Medicare. But wait for it, he also is willing to give the rich even a bigger income tax break by reducing the number of tax brackets to 3 with the highest pegged at about 28%, down from 35%. That means the few Americans fortunate enough to earn income over $350,000 per year will get a huge windfall. Way to go Mr. President: with you on center stage, the international rich do not need a substitute.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

EU Adopts Permanent Nuclear Waste Storage Law

Bellona: spent fuel shipments awaiting storage
The European Union adopted its first long-term nuclear waste storage law on July 19th. Spent fuel and high level radioactive waste will be stored deep underground and the law governing its storage will go into effect in September. Austria, Luxembourg and Sweden abstained from voting. Member states will have two years to comply and submit their national plans for approval by the European Commission, the Union's executive branch. There are 143 nuclear reactors in the EU that provide one-third of its electricity. The first European nuclear power reactor, UK's Calder Hall, began operation in 1956. These produce about 7,000 m³ of high-level waste each year. Hungary and Bulgaria export their nuclear waste to Russia [photo], and the new law will allow exports to continue provided the receiving country has a deep geological depository in operation when the waste is shipped. Export to Antarctica, Africa, Oceania or the Caribbean is ruled out. Currently, a deep depository does not exist anywhere in the world, nor is a repository under construction outside the EU. The Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was shut down by the current administration in the face of determined local opposition led by the current Senate Majority leader. According to a statement by the EU Commission, it takes about 40 years to build a proper deep geological repository. The new storage law makes IAEA safety standards legally binding and member states are required to invite regular peer review of standards.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Keystone XL Pipeline: Another Bad Idea from Big Oil

More:  The corporate vandal, British Petroleum, is fouling the Arctic again.  It reported another pipeline leak at the Lisburne field.  The pipeline was closed for maintenance, but ruptured during testing spilling methanol and oily water on the tundra which is slow growing and very sensitive to toxins.  Alaska officials said the spill amounted to 2,100 to 4,200 gallons.

{19.7.11}Big oil is now pressuring Obamatron & Folks, Inc. to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to transport a volatile mix of bitumen and natural gas across the Canadian border to their refineries on the Gulf coast. Because it is an international undertaking, Secretary of State Clinton must sign off on the deal. The environmental review conducted by the Department of State is laughable if were not funny. The EPA, constrained by government politesse, called the review  "environmentally objectionable". Development of the tar sands of Alberta is probably the most destructive human project on earth. It is literally ripping apart the boreal forest, habitat for millions of song birds as well wolves, lynx, woodland caribou, and other species too numerous to list here. Four tons of wilderness must be dug up to produce a single barrel of crude in a net energy consuming process straight out of Hell. [photo].

All of this destruction is thought necessary to feed America's addiction to oil, and provide big oil with more profits. Keystone XL, if built, will be a 2,000 mile pipe carrying toxic, highly corrosive, diluted bitumen at 150℉ across some of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the United States, including the Ogallala Aquifer, source of drinking water for millions of Americans. We have seen what can happen if a pipeline bursts. Keystone One pipeline has already ruptured 12 times in its first year of operation, and another bitumen pipe in Michigan spilled one million gallons of crude into the Kalamazoo River last year. Exxon-Mobil is cleaning up a 1,000 barrel spill from a burst pipeline under the nearly pristine and scenic Yellowstone River in Montana. That pipeline is thought to have carried tar sand crude at times, a heavy type oil more corrosive that light crude. The State Department needs to hear from Americans who still care about the health of the land and its wild and human inhabitants. Touch your inner hippie, write or call Secretary Clinton and tell her the Keystone XL pipeline is bad for America.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chart of the Week: History Rhymes & Cuckoos Migrate

A CNN survey says almost half of Americans think a Second Great Depression is likely in the near term.  US Person thinks it has already begun with a financial crisis in 2008 just as the last Great Depression began with one in 1929. The nation began climbing out of the economic depths of 1932-33 thanks to the "socialism" of the New Deal, but suffered a relapse in 1937 when Roosevelt cut back government spending after his re-election. If the right wing cuckoos in Congress get their way--with the political calculating Obamatron at the helm, that is never beyond possibility--government spending and social programs will again be cut back when the nation needs them the most.* So, in the interest of dispelling doom, this week's chart has nothing to do with economics:
credit: UK Independent
Yes, those bird loving chaps in Britain are at it again as they follow their migratory cuckoos--complete with names--to their winter homes in Africa. The BTO, British Trust for Ornithology, is tracing five cuckoos on their return migration. Clement the cuckoo is already in North Africa and preparing to cross the formidable Sahara desert and its only July! The five birds were fitted with ultralight satellite transmitters in East Anglia are being followed on line at the BTO website. All of this effort is expended because the cuckoos, like many migratory song birds all over the world, are in disastrous decline. Cuckoos in Britain--avian not human--have declined by 65% in the last two decades. One of the questions the tracking hopes to answer is if habitat loss along their 3,000 routes is contributing to their demise. Clement is surprising researchers by his early departure from Britain and his eastern route over Spain; perhaps he knows something the other cuckoos do not or is simply ill-bred. Either way, Lyster better get a move on.

*Iceland and Ireland provide relevant contrasting examples. Iceland rejected responsibility for their banksters' speculative debt; their economy is rebounding. Ireland accepted their banksters' speculative debt and consequent austerity measures; their economy is failing. Consumer spending accounts for about 53% of the Irish economy. US consumers are responsible for 70% of GDP.

Friday, July 15, 2011

'Toontime: Asleep at the Wheel

[credit: Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer]
One of the underlying reasons the Fukushima disaster is so severe, is the collusive relationship between the regulated utility and government regulators. But that is not only the case in Japan. The United States also suffers from a captured regulatory body, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. There is little doubt among experts that a Fukushima sized crisis could occur in the United States given that reactor designs and safety provisions are similar. Neither nation adequately addresses the problem of low probability, but extreme accidents--the so-called "black swan". US safety regulations are based on design parameters, and do not adequately address accidents beyond ones reactors are designed to withstand, an example being "station blackout" or when a plant loses both grid and emergency power to operate cooling systems. This is exactly what happened at Fukushima when the tsunami flooded underground emergency diesel generators. The NRC has a history of complacency. Nearly ten years after the terror attacks, US nuclear plant owners have yet to complete security upgrades mandated by the agency because of granted time extensions. The Union of Concerned Scientists has issued 23 recommendations to insure nuclear safety and security in the United States.  Commissioners would be well advised to consider their adoption, now.

Congress is currently considering new subsidies for nuclear power. One of those subsidies is for the design of smaller (~500MW), modular design reactors touted as the solution to the prohibitive capital cost of nuclear power. Modular design does not solve the inherent problems of artificial nuclear power: complexity, lengthy lead times due in part to regulation, permanent waste disposal, and radioactive fuel lethality. Contrary to rumor, US Person is not anti-nuclear any more than he is bad for business, however he does not think more nuclear power plants should be built until the current fleet is upgraded or decommissioned. If in the future more nuclear generation capacity is a necessity, then what is needed now is certified design, not modular. By certified design he means one, two or perhaps three types of plants whose design is complete and certified for operation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. A utility wanting to build a nuclear plant using one of these pre-approved designs in the United States would experience a much shorter path to licensing. Variations or modifications from the approved design would, of course, be subject to regulatory review. Small, practical modifications not affecting safety or design integrity could perhaps be approved on-site by a government engineer-inspector. As new technologies become available and proven, the certified designs could be updated or replaced. Risk of catastrophic failure in these circumstances would be rightly shared between the public and private enterprise.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Libyan War on Back Burner

AP: Qaddafi supporters in Tripoli
Further:  The failure of NATO bombs to dislodge Qaddafi, who has popular support especially in Tripoli where he darts around town in an open jeep, is now embarrassingly apparent.  Our
Nobel Prize winner followed the French lead into this debacle. Pro-American President Sarkozy was in turn sold a bill of goods by a gadfly philosophe, Bernard-Henry Levi, who naively informed his leader upon return from Benghazi that Libya's oil was up for grabs.  Apparently European intelligence services also overestimated the degree of the military's dissatisfaction with the maverick Libyan leader.  Consequently, the western alliance is in public disarray over the intervention.  French defense minister, Gerard Longuet, told a domestic TV audience that "we must now sit around a table", the military operation having failed in it's objective.  Even the suspect Benghazis are offering to let Col. Qaddafi stay in country provided he gives up power, a step back from their previous ultimatum.  Italy is becoming increasingly uncomfortable with its role as airbase for the NATO attacks.  It is the destination for thousands of Libyan refugees among whom may be a bomber or two if Qaddafi's threats to take the fight to Europe hold any water.  Germany never supported military intervention on the side of the disorganized tribal insurrectionists. The United States as usual is playing at both ends. Its alleged "support role", sold at home to placate nervous politicians and provide legal cover, is in fact crucial to the NATO military effort.  It controls all of the military bandwidth used for command and control, and has designated 80% of the targets for French aviators.  33 of 41 tanker aircraft are American, as are all of the drones, and the laser guidance kits for bombs*. It supplies its allies with replacement munitions.  On the other hand, there is very little political will to escalate a stalemated military situation especially when Obamatron and his party are in deadlock with their political opponents over the federal deficit, another opera buffa of their own making.
*figures provided by journalist Alexander Cockburn writing at

More: {7.7.11}Italy's prime minister, Silvio 'Bunga-bunga' Berlusconi said Thursday he was against the Libyan war before he was for it. NATO is using bases in southern Italy to stage air raids on Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi without a decisive effect in the months old civil war. Berlusconi said his hands were tied by a vote of the Italian parliament supporting the intervention. His comments reveal the fragility of the alliance regarding the Libyan bombing campaign. Berlusconi went on to say that he was in general agreement with Chancelor's Merkel's position to support a humanitarian aerial interdiction, but not a military campaign supporting rebels with tactical air support. Most observers believe that the war will end when residents of Tripoli, the capital and Qaddafi's power base, revolt against their leader. No signs of that happening yet. Rebel gains on the ground towards the capital are not sufficient to alter the balance of power.

{5.7.11} Over the cancelled 4th of July recess, the Senate again delayed debate on an authorization for the as of now illegal Libyan conflict that is in it's fourth month. According to the Cable blog, a vote will not be held until after the August recess since the senators are locked in closed door debate about raising the debt ceiling. The Libyan war puts conservative and liberals senators alike in an uncomfortable political position. War hawks reflexively support military operations, but their constituents are clearly tired of endless military interventions, especially when their health benefits are threatened with cuts to reduce the federal deficit. Democrats are under pressure to support the President who attacked Libya without seeking congressional authorization. Obamatron & Folks' position that the US intervention does not constitute "hostilities" under the War Powers Act is ludicrous, and its fallback argument that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional is embarrassing since it passed a Democratically controlled Congress over a Republican presidential veto. The American people deserve to have this issue debated and their representatives go on record. Arrogantly kicking the can down the road is killing people.

Remote Region Home to Snow Leopards

WCS: a snow leopard marks territory
If you look at a map of Afghanistan, perhaps before you pack your backpack and helmet, there is a narrow spike of land or salient that juts deep into China between Pakistan and Turkistan. That is the Wakhan Corridor, a mountainous region created by imperial map drawers that has a population of about 12,000 and is known for its abundant wildlife. There is no modern road through the Corridor, only historical trade routes to China that have been closed to traffic for a hundred years. Marco Polo traversed the Wakhan, and at the turn of the last century, as many as 100 pony loads crossed annually to China. The United States has asked China to reopen the Corridor so it can chase Taliban in the region more easily. China has resisted re-opening the area probably because of unrest in the bordering province of Xinjiang. While human activity is kept to a minimum, wildlife has thrived. A survey of the Wakhan by the Wildlife Conservation Society has found snow leopards in 16 different locations, the first photographic record of snow leopards in Afghanistan. Snow leopards are endangered of course, threatened by retaliatory killing for livestock predation and the fur and pet trades. The population of the elusive felines is roughly estimated between 4500 to 7500 surviving in the wild. Their numbers have dropped about 20% over the last 16 years despite living among the highest mountains in Asia.  WCS is preparing an integrated management plan that includes training rangers and a livestock insurance fund to insure a future for these solitary, beautiful cats.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fukushima: The Untold Story

Reuters: steam from Unit 3
The sequence of events that emerged from the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power station has been fairly consistent: the tsunami breached protective sea walls and knocked out diesel generators providing emergency power to circulation pumps which shut down all cooling of spent fuel pools and the reactor cores leading to partial meltdowns in three reactors. But another sequence is reported by The Atlantic Wire with serious implications for all older nuclear plants in quake-prone Japan. During the forty minutes after the earthquake and the arrival of the tsunami, was the structural integrity of the aging reactors already compromised? Workers speaking on condition of anonymity told the authors Adelstein & Nakajima that piping was seriously damaged in one of the reactors by the earthquake that came in two waves of tremendous shaking. Some of the bursting pipes were cold water supply pipes according to the workers. Oxygen tanks stored on-site exploded. Also, the walls of one of the reactor buildings started to collapse before the tsunami hit. TEPCo is loath to admit any structural damage caused by the earthquake alone because of the dozens of reactors its runs, some are of the same or similar vintage and design as Fukushima Unit I. In 2007, a 6.8 magnitude quake damaged the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, causing a difficult fire and leakage of radiation. The possibility of an even stronger tremblor doing serious structural damage resulting in a reactor meltdown could hardly be classified as "unforeseeable" when the company knew the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant had been built over a fault line capable of a magnitude 7 earthquake.

Reuters: monitoring radioactivity
TEPCo is a monopolistic company that began as a public utility in 1951, consequently it has close institutional ties to the government which explains why it has survived a nuclear disaster so large that any ordinary company would have collapsed. At a June 28th stockholders meeting in Tokyo an angry shareholder told the chairman, "Jump into a reactor and die!". After which, Tsunehisa Katsumata was duly reelected as chairman. In 2003 his company was reported to have falsified safety data at dozens of reactors. For over two decades the utility consistently falsified data pertaining to cracks in core structures at 13 nuclear reactors. The plants were temporarily shut for government inspections, but no criminal actions were taken. Later the company admitted to 199 more occasions when it falsified technical data. Nevertheless, TEPCo has escaped bankruptcy and shifted part of the burden of reparations to taxpayers, all with the help of the Japanese government. There are reports that TEPCo is using yakuza supplied labor. TEPCo is representative of everything that is wrong with Japanese society: collusion, corruption, secrecy, weak government and social stasis. But even for a company accustomed to lying and using it powerful influence with media and politicians to protect itself, TEPCo has dropped the ball at Fukushima. The first meltdown is now known to have occurred within a few days of March 11, when the magnitude 9 earthquake leveled northeastern Japan. It did not confirm the suspicions of outside experts until May 12th and only then because a IAEA team announced it was going to Japan to conduct its own investigation of the incident. Whether TEPCo will survive intact remains to be seen as tens of thousands of Japanese loose their homes and livelihoods to nuclear fallout and public anger rises. The Tokyo prosecutors office has begun a preliminary criminal negligence investigation as evidence emerges that TEPCo knew a severe earthquake would damage the reactors and cause a meltdown. The company's response after the event has been deemed insufficient, prompting a high ranking advisor to the prime minister to recommended that all nuclear power in the country be nationalized. Perhaps this time, 'so sorry' will not be enough.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tax Whimps

Washington is full of tax wimps. Politicians are beholding for their cushion of privilege to corporations who pay their tabs while their overlords complain constantly about being taxed too much. Here is a tax fact, not from the obviously unreliable US PERSON, but the very conservative non-profit Citizens for Tax Justice. Officially, and in no other way related to reality, corporations pay a marginal tax rate of 35% which is at the high end compared to other developed countries. But, and this is a big but, hardly no corporation worth its tax lawyers' fees pays that much. In fact twelve of the biggest corporations[1] in America payed an effective rate of just 1.5% on $171 billion in profits during the period 2008-2010. All but two of these companies paid no tax for at least one year during the period, and eight reported net tax benefits (federal income taxes were negative) over the period. The highest effective tax rate paid was 14.2% by Exxon-Mobil. As an industry oil companies enjoy tremendous tax breaks intended to stimulate exploration. Even their own oil patch buddy the Charlatan said that with oil over $55 a barrel, no tax incentives to drill were necessary. Current prices are almost double that threshold. If Washington were not run by craven politicians constantly on the make for contributions, eliminating the federal deficit would be a no-brainer. Cut out the tax giveaways[2] for the rich and corporate and stop spending money on foolish, endless wars that accomplish very little except to keep arms manufacturers in business (Was it necessary to wage war in Afghanistan for ten years to kill one man?). But no, the supposed fearless killer of Osama offers to sacrifice Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security to the budget ax. The deficit reduction theatre going on right now in Washington is a shameful race to the trough of campaign finance.

[1]American Electric Power, Boeing, Dupot, Exxon-Mobil, FedEx, General Electric, Honeywell International, IBM, United Technologies, Verizon Communications, Wells Fargo and Yahoo.
[2] Some of the more ridiculous subsidies for the rich defended by Repugnants: accelerated depreciation for thoroughbred horse breeders; accelerated depreciation for corporate jets; mortgage interest deductions for vacation homes and yachts, and offshore tax havens.

Severe Drought Creates Millions of Refugees

Somali refugees are flooding across the Kenyan border to overcrowded camps in search of water and food.  The worst drought in sixty years has caused a human tide of 10,000 a week to arrive in Kenya's northeastern province, overwhelming limited resources and spreading disease. More than half the refugees are children suffering from malnutrition. The United Nations estimates that 10 million people in the Horn of Africa are caught in a deadly squeeze of soaring food prices and failed rains. In Ethiopia the food price index increased by 41% last month, and the price of grain in Kenya's drought affected areas is 30 to 80% more than the five year average. International aid agencies are working to stave off mass fatalities, but money, water and food are in short supply. The Dadaab refugee camp alone sprawls for over 30 miles bursting with 367,000 registered refugees, a living hell that some desperately poor Africans have walked to for twenty-two days in hope of receiving help. What is perhaps more frightening is that the drought which caused this humanitarian crisis if becoming almost an annual occurrence. There have been five droughts in the last seven years. Of course contributing to the intensity of the crisis is the fact that Somalia is a failed state, shattered by decades of war. Even relatively rich Kenya has little infrastructure in the northeast. Despite the bleak prospects for the region, international aid donors are often slow to respond to appeals until a crisis develops.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chart of the Week: A Recession Like No Other

Readers have seen this chart before but it is not getting any better so US Person posts it again. In fact this single metric, not Romney {"Mormon"} or any other Repugnant candidate, can defeat the Obamatron. Job creation in this country, to put it in a word, is pathetic. All previous recessions are nothing to compared to this Second Great Depression. Yes, it could be a lot worse: unemployment at 30% instead of the official 9%, and by some measures double that. However, Obama & Folks, Inc. have swallowed the "confidence fairy" as economist Paul Krugman describes the Hoover-like prescription of fiscal austerity to instill financial sector confidence.  Once again, workers are being sacrificed on the altars of Mammon.  Even one of the Repugnants' leading apologists, David Brooks, says of their inexplicable opposition to some revenue increases in return for significant social benefit cuts, that his political party may no longer be "a normal party" but a faction for "psychological protest" that has separated itself from "normal rules of evidence and ancient habits of our nation".  In US Person's experience cognitive dissonance never bothered a conservative.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Police Beat: Another Day, Another Take Down

Update: The citizen shot by a Stumptown cop with a color-coded beanbag shotgun loaded with a lethal shot round is now in stable condition at a local hospital. He was shot in the thigh and buttocks, not in the head as previously reported. However, the wounds damaged the man's sciatic nerve which will probably cause permanent loss of mobility according to physicians. The shell wading was embedded in one of his crippling wounds, indicating he was shot at close range. The only explanation offered so far by the cops is that the suspect "failed to obey commands" and the lethal ammunition was a "tragic mistake". The suspect was running from the apparently hotheaded police when shot more than once. Police are allowed to load their own ammunition when withdrawing a shotgun from the armory. Regular shotguns and bean-bag shotguns are not similar in shape, size or color. Less lethal guns are orange colored and the ammunition is also distinctively colored and labeled as less lethal. Stumptown has paid out millions in police liability claims over the recent past prompting both internal and external reviews of training and procedures. This latest case of excessive force will result in another claim and possible litigation for violation of the citizen's civil rights. Obviously, an official apology is simply not enough if you are hobbled for life.

{2.7.11}Phoenix cops respond to public intoxication by slamming a female bystander to the ground with brutal force. It is obvious police in America believe they have the license to freely abuse the public regardless of the circumstances. The perpetrator of this shocking official violence is Patrick Larrison:

In Stumptown, a man was shot with a shotgun blast to the head and is in critical condition. A police shot the man with a bean bag shotgun loaded with buckshot instead of less lethal ammunition. The man was chased by police after a report was received he was "behaving suspiciously" around children in a local park. Police claim the shooting was an innocent mistake, yet their shotgun ammunition is conspicuously labeled and color coded. The city's bureau is already under investigation by the US Department of Justice for several civilian deaths under questionable circumstances.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Fracking May Have Caused Earthquakes

credit: Getty Images
More:  France became the first country in the world to ban hydraulic fracturing as a method to recover natural gas from shale rock.  The French Senate voted along party lines to join the National Assembly in banning the process on June 30th.  Drilling permit holders must notify the government in two months what extraction technique they use or face automatic revocation of their permits.

{1.6.11}The residents and visitors of Blackpool, the traditional British seaside resort, are definitely not accustomed to the earth shaking beneath their feet. British ministers put a halt to nearby experimental fracking in methane bearing shales after two minor earthquakes occurred in the last two months. The process of hydraulic fracturing of source rock to release natural gas is highly controversial in Europe, although its use in the United States is widespread and increasing. A ban on fracking is under consideration by the French Senate after already passing the Assembly. Near Blackpool, a 1.5 temblor occurred last week and a 2.3 earthquake occurred in April in the same area. The British Geological Service said both events were within 2 kms of the drilling site and at shallow depth. It also said that hydraulic fracturing is known to trigger small earthquakes. The drilling company is cooperating with a scientific investigation of the events. Some British politicians have dismissed concerns about the safety of fracking as "hot air". But then they can't light their tap water, can they?

'Toontime: Deep Do-Do

[credit: Tim Eagan]
Watching a television show about an auction of collectible cars in which rare vintage vehicles sold for millions of dollars, US Person was reminded about what the rich do with their extra cash. A wealthy patron boasted about how he combined his hobby of car collecting with "community action" by training picked high-schoolers to restore his vehicles and polish the chrome. He called it skills training the teenagers could take with them. Just goes to prove that in an Amerika with lowered expectations, you too can be a rich man's chrome polisher!

But wait, if you are a hedge fun manager it gets even better!  There is a loophole in the tax code that Repugnants, the rich man's lackey, are fighting tooth and nail to preserve.  Managers are compensated in part by bonuses based on a percentage of their funds' profit.  Despite being a performance based compensation, i.e. wages, these bonuses are treated as long term capital gains and taxed at only 15% instead of 35% for earned income.  This pernicious "carried interest" loophole costs the federal government an estimated $20 billion or more over ten years.  If the 25 richest hedge fund managers had to pay ordinary earned income tax it would raise $4 billion or the combined income of 441,000 middle class families.  You do not have to be a commie to be angry about such flagrant economic injustice.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Creature Feature: Cheeze!

David Slatter was on a photo shoot in Sulawesi, Indonesia when he was befriended by a troop of black crested macaques, an endangered species that lives in social groups. After Slatter walked with the troop for three days, the curious primates began examining his equipment and before he knew it one of the budding photographers started taking pictures, including self-portraits. Sick mohawk, dude:

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

NRDC Says 2nd Highest Level of Beach Closings

artistic credit: Robert E. Kennedy
Natural Resources Defense Council has issued an annual report on the quality of water at US beaches for 21 years (Testing the Waters). 2010 had the second highest number of closings and advisories in the history of the report with a 29% increase over the previous year. More than two-thirds of closings and warnings were caused by bacteria levels exceeding safety standards. The source for the offending bacteria is, as you might have guessed already, sewage outflows and storm water runoff.  EPA estimates that 3.5 million people get ill from contact with water polluted with raw sewage. Illnesses associated with polluted beach water include gastrointestinal infections, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis.  One study found fecal contamination at Los Angeles and Orange County beaches caused over a million excess cases of gastrointestinal illnesses annually.  Southern California has the worst three offending beaches in the nation, while the Great Lakes region has the most contaminated shore waters.  A beach frequented by US Person at one time, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware [image] has some of the nation's best water quality with perfect test results for the past three years.  The Gulf Coast is suffering the after effects of the historic Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April, 2010.  Four beaches in Louisiana remain closed due to oil and three beaches in Florida remain under an oil spill advisory. Most Gulf Coast advisories and closures were lifted by the end of last year.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Chart of the Week: America For the Rich II

Seventy-three people have died for every person killed in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. So who is paying for all this "national security"?...the middle class. Even though the tea party fringe adopted the rubric, "we are Taxed Enough Already" they are paying less in taxes that ever in post WWII America in terms of marginal tax rates:
This chart also destroys the deadbeat myth that less tax on the rich produces more jobs. When the rich have more discretionary income they invest it to obtain capital gains taxed at a ridiculously low rate of 15%, or buy luxury goods such as art, collectibles, mansions, or boats and cars:
Tea party agitators are correct to say the rich pay the most taxes on absolute terms, but in comparison to the rest of the developed world, that is not saying much:
The United States is well below the OECD average and Europe for the amount of tax revenue collected as a percentage of GDP and is right there with bankrupt Greece.  The equitable principle of progressive taxation has been accepted in this country since the institution of the federal income tax in 1913. The rich should pay more as a matter of social justice.  But the middle class is increasingly being left behind in socio-economic terms. This chart shows the increasing cost of sending a child to college, a traditional route for upward mobility:
Young people not able to afford college often enter the military as a means of advancing themselves.  It is well recognized that in periods of economic recession, military recruitment levels rise (R.Moffet). But should that avenue be closed, or volunteers come home from imperial expeditions maimed or mentally disturbed there is a path that leads completely downhill, namely prison.  The United States has the world's highest incarceration rates for men, particularly minorities and mostly for drug crimes:

However you want to slice or dice, a massive underclass is being created in the United States without jobs, burden by indebtedness, and or opportunity for "the pursuit of happiness" The Horatio Alger myth was created when this country still had a frontier into which it could economically expand. Historically when conditions of class oppression prevail, there ultimately is social upheaval.  Tsarist Russia is the leading modern example, but something similar is going on now in Greece. The latest standoff over social justice in the United States continues. Whether the current social condition is one created by economic misfortune or the conscious efforts of economic elites to preserve their unfair advantage is the question still to be answered. The history of the Agrarian Revolt at the end of the 19th century suggests the latter. Americans commemorate their independence on July 4th, but their knowledge of their deep history is famously fuzzy. Yes, Paul Revere "rode those horses and rang them bells" (sort of). However, the American colonies' revolt against the English monarchy was motivated primarily for trade and taxation grievances, led by the colonial elite composed of southern landed gentry and northern merchants. Their noble rhetoric inspired less fortunate colonists to fight for independence. Their guiding Enlightenment principles were worthy save for the backward compromise with slavery. But it was not a revolt of the laboring masses. Perhaps that revolution is yet to come.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Chart of the Week: America For the Rich

This week's Chart of the Week is in two parts, examining the relationship between government spending, taxation, and their sociological effect. As these charts are being posted, the state government of Minnesota is in complete shutdown, the second time in six years, as a result of impasse over taxing the wealthy versus cutting government social programs. Many pundits consider the crisis in Minnesota to be a preamble to the looming shutdown of the federal government because radical congressional conservatives refuse to raise the federal debt ceiling without tax increases and draconian cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. The first charts show how US government spends most of its money in comparison to other countries:
The US spends almost as much on defense as Russia and China combined when measured as a percentage of GDP. Since the US economy is larger than all others except China, this translates into by far more money spent on the military than any other possible adversary. The current wars in Afghanistan/Pakistan and Iraq will cost at least $3.7 trillion and perhaps as much as $4.4 trillion, not including interest on the debt necessary for financing according to a study by Brown University. The following shows where the US stands in relation to other countries and the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development) average for the public share of expenditure for health care:
Modern developed countries provide about 75% of the money spent on health care. In remarkable contrast the world's richest nation, the United States, provides less than half of each dollar spent on health care. Only Greece spends less, a country which is effectively bankrupt. The US ranks at the top for private expenditure on health care:
In 2006 the per capita spending on health care in the US was $6,714 a year. What these charts show is that America has the most expensive health care in the world, and most of it is not paid for by the government. Our tax dollars go to finance a huge, wasteful, military-industrial complex used to fight unpopular wars of choice with an expensive professional army. Nevertheless, radical conservatives want to cut comparatively meager government health benefits even more to balance the skyrocketing deficit caused by tax cuts for the wealthy and three concurrent wars. Americans are getting fed up with the situation:
The next post will show you charts of the revenue side of this addiction to debt-financed war mongering.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Weekend Update: Polar Bears Only "Threatened"

Science predicts as many as 15,000 polar bears could die as a result of climate change melting ice caps.  But a federal judge wrote he was powerless to substitute his judgment for the US Fish & Wildlife Service which found the bear to be "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act and not "endangered" which would afford them the Act's maximum protection. Judge Sullivan upheld the agency's determination saying it was operating at "the edge of science". Plaintiff conservation groups including NRDC and Greenpeace wanted the federal government to extend the bear an endangered finding since their evidence shows the polar bears is already headed toward eventual extinction. Their population across the Arctic is now around 25,000. Despite the grim outlook, the state of Alaska argued that the polar bear should not be protected at all given the current health of the species. Trophy hunting continues unabated. Scientists are all but certain the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in the summertime by 2030. 2011 is on course to break the all time record for lowest ice coverage set in 2007.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Tanzania Turns Toward Preservation

credit: Eyes on
Tanzania faces considerable world-wide opposition to its proposal to build a paved highway smack through the middle of Serengeti National Park. {"Serengeti highway"} The government has backed off the proposal somewhat by announcing that the road through the park will be unpaved with gates manned by rangers to avoid disturbing the annual migration through the 53km section of the road in the park. Earlier UNESCO, the organization which oversees world heritage sites, said the highway plan would be reconsidered leading many conservationists to uncork the champagne to celebrate saving another intact ecosystem from destruction. But the road has not gone away, it has merely morphed into something perhaps more salable. Regardless of park rangers in control of traffic, there will be inevitable collisions between wildlife and vehicles, especially at night. And there will be inevitable demands to keep the road open for the maximum amount of time, thus increasing the chances for conflict. The dust raised by vehicle traffic will be shockingly terrific for man or beast courageous enough to cross the road to get to the other side. Tanzanian officials seem not to appreciate the millions of dollars generated by wildlife tourism [photo] since they rejected an offer from the World Bank to finance a southern by-pass avoiding the park altogether. The member of parliament representing the Serengeti region, Kebwe Stephen Kebwe says the road is badly needed by the 300,000 residents he represents. Over 2 million animals follow the rains from southern Kenya across the plains into central Tanzania every year.  Without sounding too judgmental, US Person thinks that Tanzania would be proud enough of its incredible wild heritage to find another way.

Please, Mercy for the PIgs!

US Person does not make a habit of posting videos or pictures for their shock value or to appeal to perverted interest.  The animal welfare group Mercy for Animals has release a shocking video of a factory pig farm operating in Iowa. The video is extremely graphic and disturbing. The reality of these incredibly cruel practices, which take place all over the country and not just in Iowa, must be exposed and hopefully stopped because of public outrage. Iowa legislators at the behest of agricultural interests are attempting to pass a bill, not to end the cruelty, but conceal it by silencing whistleblowers who document animal abuse.  Iowa's existing statutes prohibiting animal cruelty largely exempt farm animals.  Some of the incredibly cruel and inhuman treatment of intelligent pigs witnessed by an undercover investigator:
  • Mother sows confined to barren metal crates barely larger than their own bodies – unable to turn around or lie down comfortably for nearly their entire lives;
  • Workers ripping out the testicles of conscious piglets without the use of painkillers;
  • Piglets suffering with herniated intestines, due to botched castration;
  • Conscious piglets having their tails painfully sliced into and yanked off with dull clippers;
  • Large, open, pus-filled wounds and pressure sores;
  • Sick and injured pigs left to languish and slowly die without proper veterinary care;
  • Mother pigs – physically taxed from constant birthing – suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses;
  • Management training workers to throw piglets across the room 
You can help stop these abusive practices by contributing to Mercy for Animals,  the Humane Farming Association, or a similar animal welfare group that specializes in protecting farm animals. Humans owe a moral debt to  take care of them and treat them with respect until their lives are ended so our lives can go on.