Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Environmentalists Go To Jail in DC

Update: NASA climate scientist, Dr. James Hansen, who has warned that burning the Alberta tar sands oil will be "game over" for arresting climate change was himself arrested outside the White House. He was participating in the protests against the Keystone XL pipeline. As of Monday, 521 activists have been hauled to jail for exercising the right to assemble and petition their government. The State Department's environmental impact study concluded the pipeline would have a minimal effect on the environment. But Dr. Hansen called the pipeline a "dirty needle" that if Obama chooses will prove he was just "green-washing all along, like the other well-oiled, coal-fired politicians". Walk the walk, Dr. Hansen.

{24.8.11}Protesters outside the White House urging the Chief Tool to disapprove the Keystone XL Pipeline {"Keystone"}have been arrested including the known activist Bill McKibben of 350.org Protests continue during a planned two week sit-in against the building of a pipeline from Alberta across the US midwest to transport highly corrosive bitumen for processing on the Gulf Coast. Arrested protestors were held 48 hours over the weekend by the Park Service Police to discourage the activists and possibly research their backgrounds against the "potential terrorist" database now in existence thanks to the fascist overreaction to the real terror attacks of ten years ago. Protesters made it clear to Obamatron that they expect him to block the pipeline or face a lack of enthusiasm for his re-election by green voters. Fifty-six more protesters went to jail today, and 2,000 insane people have signed up to exercise their First Admendment rights and risk jail. The Transport Workers Union and the Amalgamated Transit Union also oppose the pipeline's construction on grounds of environmental damage and human health. A leading climate expert says burning the Alberta tar sands as fuel would release enough carbon dioxide to make it "game over" for avoiding disastrous climate impacts.

Environmental Crossroads

What do Bolivia's President Evo Morales and United States President Barack 'Killer' Obama have in common? Very little you reply because Evo Morales enjoys a global reputation as a defender of "Pachamama", or Earth, and is an unabashed socialist leader of a developing nation. While Obama is a corporate collaborator willing to sacrifice the environment for the gain of his politcal sponsors and only gives lip service to progressive policies while pursuing imperial ones. But take a closer look. Both political leaders face a momentous decision in the area of environmental protection. In the new age of planetary warming, each decision will have immense impact.

Despite his green image, Morales wants to build a road through a national park and indigenous reserve in the headwaters of the Amazon. Know by its Spanish acronym "Tipnis", it is a wilderness of unmatched biological diversity and home to 64 native communities.  Natives living there are marching up to the capital La Paz, a trek of 400 miles, to tell El Presidente not to build the road.  Morales says the road will be built "no matter what" to integrate remote communities into Bolivia's economic future.  His categorical position comes from a leader who directed Bolivia's representatives to take a lone hard line stance at the Cancun climate conference {"Cancun"} against what he called "ecocide and genocide". Local people have boycotted the consultation process because they believe that no amount of consulting them will stop the road from destroying their forest.  The road they say will open the way for loggers, land-squatters, poachers, oil companies and other nefarious exploiters.  Bolivian conservationists have called Morales' environmental policy inconsistent. Despite writing the right of nature into the country's constitution {"Pachamama"}Bolivia is till heavily dependent on extractive industries. Crude, natural gas and tin and zinc ore are the countries main exports. President Morales was once an illiterate indigenous coca farmer and has been elected by huge majorities of poor voters.

In America the decision facing the White House's current occupant parallels the Bolivian dispute. The Keystone XL pipeline is awaiting approval, but there is a groundswell of objections from people living in the path of the pipeline that is supposed to carry America's next greatest source of oil from Alberta's tar sands--the third largest oil field in the world--south for refining on the Gulf of Mexico. Farmers, environmentalists and just 'plain folks' are very concerned about the extreme damage a ruptured pipeline transporting highly toxic, hot bitumen slurry could do to their land and water, as well as the impact of more fossil fuel burning on the climate. Burning tar sands oil will increase America's greenhouse emissions by 38 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 6 million cars. The pipe will cross six states, major rivers, and the Ogallala Aquifer, source of drinking water for 2 million Americans. Refining the gunk into burnable fuel will result in higher emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has already indicated she would approve the pipeline, but the final decision is the President's.  He was once a community organizer, who's job it was to listen to  neighborhood people and translate their desires into political action. How soon they forget.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chart of the Week: More Depression Ahead II

The US economy officially grew by only 1% in Q2 according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Economic Analysis. When adjusted for inflation using the CPI deflator it shrank by -3.4%. Using even less restrictive adjustments as suggested at Shawdowstats.com (pre-1982 method) it shrank a creepy -8.6%. Wow! If this is not a second Great Depression, US Person does not want to be around when it finally gets here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

'Toontime: Melting of the Stiff Upper Lip

[John Sherffius, Boulder Daily Camera]
Its too late for the Greeks, whose country goes on sale cheap over the next weeks. A fire sale is being held for Greek state assets at the pace of one sale every 15 days. The British youth who rioted were simply trying to get theirs too. Whether Euro zone bankers can pull the Continent from another financial melt down is an open question. There are fears that Europe's banks are too weak to withstand another credit crisis, and German is opposed to take the radical step towards true fiscal union by accepting responsibility for its neighbor's debts. Last week a European bank was unable to get traditional funding and had to turn to the European Central Bank for $500 million in emergency funding. Wall Street responded to the development by dropping 400 points. It is deja vu all over again.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Social Security is A Good Thing

And it has a defender who is not negotiable, Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). He addresses the Steelworkers Union in Las Vegas:

Washington's Penis Cracked

The Washington Monument also known locally as "Washington's penis" cracked under the strain of the 5.9 earth tremor centered in northern Virginia that was felt as far away as Cincinnati. On Tuesday when the earthquake occurred, the Park Service closed the monument to visitors, and it is still closed pending structural evaluations. The obelisk is cracked in more than one place--one fissure is four feet long--and a large block at the top is standing out several inches on the inside[photo courtesy Washington Post]. Animals at the National Zoo were observed by humans to anticipate and react to the earthquake. The orangutans and gorillas were the most noticeably upset by the tremor, but the red ruffed lemurs, the most archaic of the primates, anticipated the quake by 15 minutes. Obviously, the lemurs are still closely tuned to Earth. Man should listen too, if he still can.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Monster Inside Your Brain

Worse than a zombie attack is the "brain eating amoeba", Naegleria fowleri. It is a single cell organism, not actually an amoeba, that is 95% lethal to humans. Three people have died this year from the protist that enters the brain and feeds on the tissue via warm, shallow water in which humans frolic in the southern US. It has several forms from cysts, to flagellates, to blob forms called trophozoites [photo courtesy CDC]. The protist is more closely related to Trypanosoma, the organisms that cause sleeping sickness and Chagas disease. Children infected by the microorganism exhibit headaches, nausea and high fever, and develop loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations in the later stages of infection. Death typically occurs three to seven days after the symptoms begin. Victims usually die of meningoencephalitis or swelling of the brain. The protist is not a human parasite, but through accident gets forced into nasal passages where it travels into the brain looking for food. There, it dines on neurons.  There is only record of one person surviving an infection in 1978. The primary treatment with injected anti-fungal medication amphotericin B is not entirely effective.  Fortunately, infection by Naeglaria is quite rare.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Chart of the Week: More Depression Ahead

This chart shows a strong correlation between the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index and real GDP. Both are falling now.  When real GDP growth is below 2%, past economic performance is in recession and consumers agree. With masses of unemployed looting high streets for consumer goods in England, you have to wonder what could happen here? A depression is a period of several years in which economic performance is below normal and unemployment remains high despite fiscal intervention. From 2007 to 2009 the US economy shrunk by 5.1%. The "D" word more accurately describes the current economic malaise even if it is politically out of bounds. By essentially siding with fiscal radicals in the deficit versus spending class war, the Obamatron has underperformed* to such a disappointing extent that he faces even worse news as the 2012 election approaches. He gets credit for terminating OBL, but as he should know Americans vote with their pocketbook.

*of course that characterization is from the perspective of an air-breathing person progressive. A look at Obamatron's list of largest campaign contributors in the last presidential campaign explains his policy choices from health care insurance (no public sector competition) to Wall Street regulation (too big to fail and no return to Glass-Siegel):
Goldman Sachs     $994,795
Citigroup Inc         $701,290
JPMorgan Chase     $695,132
Sidley Austin Llp    $588,598
UBS AG               $543,219
Wilmerhale Llp      $542,618
Skadden, Arps       $530,839
Morgan Stanley      $514,881
General Electric      $499,130
Latham &Watkins   $493,835
Obamatron & Folks, Inc. through the Federal Reserve returned the largest of Wall Street by secretly lending firms its $1.2 trillion in public money to help prevent their collapse during the global financial crisis.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Weekend Edition: Your Own Worse Enemy

Our fourth branch of government, the Pentagon has, in a paroxysm of unlikely candor, reported that it has indirectly funded the enemy in Afghanistan with $360 million. Your tax money the Taliban and its supporters used to kill  American military personnel. As part of the Obamatron's nation building effort in a land far, far away the US has awarded $31 billion in contracts to Afghan businesses to give the backward country a modern economy. Eventually some of this money has ended up in the hands of people tied into the Taliban or criminal networks. Task Force 2010 is the military's best effort to get an estimate of how much military spending has been diverted to the enemy or stolen. Most of the money was lost to profiteering, bribery and extortion with half flowing through one contract, "Host Nation Trucking". A warlord named "Rohullah" received $1.7 million in protection payments because he controls the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, the two largest cities in Afghanistan. If payments up to $1500 per truck were not made to "Rohullah" the convoys were attacked by his soldiers of fortune. No doubt the Pentagon's estimate of money wasted in Afghanistan is far too low.

The US spends$50 million to kill one Taliban fighter according to a simple calculation. How is that metric possible, you ask in disbelief? Consider one cogent example. In the Tangi Valley earlier this month a single Taliban fighter living in the field on flatbread and goat, armed with a surplus RPG, shot down a CH-47 helicopter (cost new, $32 million; renovated, $8.5 million) carrying 38 US and Afghan soldiers. Thirty Americans died in the crash, including elite SEAL commandos, (cost to train each: $1 million, approximately) making it the deadliest single action in the ten year war. The US retaliated of course, but it took an international manhunt and an F-16 sortie (cost to fly: around $5,000/hr.) to kill the fighter and his small unit leader. Millions for warlords and warmongers, not a dollar for working people at home.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alaska's Emerald Isle: The Bear Facts

A relatively successful cohabitation is taking place on Kodiak Island off the Alaskan Peninsula. A unique subspecies of brown bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) has lived on Kodiak, a submerged spine of the Kenai Mountains, for at least 12,000 years. Humans have lived there for only 7500 years. Today, there are about 3500 brown bears or about 1 for every square mile. Most live within the boundaries of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge established in 1941 to protect the bears and the other native species: eagle, otter, fox, ermine and all five species of Pacific salmon. The Refuge is a roadless wilderness of almost 2 million square miles or about two-thirds of the island. Its many fjords and inlets are ringed by steep mountains that abruptly rise up to four thousand feet above the sea. The island is covered in lush vegetation from sedges to alders, cottonwoods, birch, spruce, wildflowers and berries--a worthy kingdom for the great bear that roams free except for domination by man. The Kodiak bear is still hunted and each year about 180 are killed, 70% of which are males. The practice is controversial among conservationists, but Alaska sportsmen and their representatives are absolutely convinced the hunt insures a healthy, if not respectful and lucrative, bear population. Local biologists think the bear population, while relatively stable, is reaching the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. One indication may be fewer observed juvenile bears (3-5 years old) than in previous years*. Male bears kill and sometimes consume cubs. Infanticide brings sows back into estrous thus providing competing males another opportunity to mate; otherwise cubs stay with their mother for 3 years.

The Kodiak bear is perhaps the largest brown bear in the world due to its relative isolation and plentiful food sources. A boar or male bear can stand 10 feet tall and weigh 1500lbs while females or sows are 20% smaller and 30% lighter. Bears famously hibernate during the winter when food is scarce, but some males do stay awake in winter. Emerging from their dens in April or May bears begin dinning with a salad of mixed greens: sedge grass, forbes and tubers. In summer the bears consume the abundant berry crop. Then, in late summer and fall they feast on spawning salmon. Kodiak bears seldom expend the energy necessary to chase and kill other mammals for food. They will scavenge carcasses as any Kodiak deer hunter will attest. Bears eat the most nutritious parts of their food for maximum weight gain. Brains, skin and eggs are the favored parts of salmon. The internal organs of elk and deer are also on their varied menu.

Undoubtedly hunting has had an effect on bear behavior. US Person had the privilege of seeing and photographing upwards of 70 bears during his short trek into the island's pristine interior, but the substantial majority of these were sows. The few males that were spotted were reluctant to reveal themselves in the presence of humans. On Kodiak boars seem to have learned to be extra wary of man. Naturalist Enos Mills spent thirty years tracking the grizzly (Ursus arctos horribilis) in the Rockies and Alaska unarmed. He found the personable bear to be even-tempered excepted when threatened, starving, or defending cubs. In his classic field study, Grizzly, he considers the brown bear to be North America's most intelligent wild animal, with an intelligence exceeding that of the dog to which it is distantly related. Kodiak bears gather in groups when fishing for migrating salmon in bays and inlets. Consequently they have developed complex communications and social structure to avoid fatal conflicts. When you possess three inch canines and four inch claws coupled to enormous strength, conflict avoidance is essential behavior. Mills believed the grizzly bear did not deserve the onerous reputation of solitary killer legend had endowed. Normally a brown bear is intensely curious while maintaining a vigilance of the surroundings with its superb nose and excellent ears. But bears are equally capable of ignoring man if they are occupied with a survival task like fishing and man does nothing to interfere. Twice US Person observed large bears at close range running away when they became fully aware of human presence. The record of human-bear conflict on the island supports this accurate view of the brown bear's behavior. In the last several decades there have been only a handful of mauling incidents and only one fatality. According to a local fisherman, the fatality occurred when a hunter actively objected to a bear taking his deer carcass.

Despite the tolerance, even respect, humans give Kodiak's great bears today, historically humans have waged war on the animal "that stands upright" and is so much more physically powerful than themselves. Kodiak's native Alutiiqs hunted the bear with bow, spear and enormous courage. Bear was an esteemed adversary whose spirit was appeased by leaving his head in the field. Russian settlers were encouraged to bring bear dogs from the homeland to protect livestock. Commercial exploitation of bears occurred throughout the 19th century. In the 1930s bears faced extermination by ranchers wanting to reduce the number of cattle kills. At one point bears were shot from airplanes, and ranchers proposed erecting a 9 foot fence to bisect the island to create a "bear free zone". Fortunately, the improbable proposal was never implemented.  Ranchers got the surplus fencing material. Except for the annual hunt, efforts to artificially control the bear population ended in the mid-60s.

Kodiak is a marvelously beautiful island that is still mostly wild. That is not to say there are no problems in Eden. The Alaskan king crab bonanza was centered in Kodiak a few decades ago; now that the resource has been depleted the action has moved further west to Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians. The salmon run at Karluk Lake collapsed from over-fishing a few years ago and attempts to bring it back are achieving mixed results. Kittiwakes, a species of seagull, have not bred in five years on Kodiak*. Often a failed breeding season indicates a lack of food or other environmental stress. Local biologists are concerned about the duration of the lapse in breeding. Nevertheless, the persistence of a large apex predator such as the great Kodiak brown bear is testament to the ability of man to transcend his own limitations and live in relative harmony with nature.

*according to Harry Dodge III, veteran Kodiak guide and bear expert. If you wish to donate to the cause of preserving the bear and its wild domain you may contribute to the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, c/o Vic Barnes, Trust Administrator, Box 1546 Westcliffe, CO 81252.  All photos courtesy US Person.

Friday, August 05, 2011

When US Person goes on safari, Persona Non Grata comes temporarily to a halt.  That's because there is no substitute.  Not just a punk with a blog, he is a man on a mission.  Come back later this month and allow him to guide you to more news the plutocracy does not want you to know at Persona Non Grata.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Whale Wars Resume

Iceland suspended its fin whale hunt pending developments in Japan's whale meat market, but the 2011 minke whale hunt opened in April and so far 32 minke whales have been slaughtered [photo courtesy Greenpeace].  Since resuming whaling in 2006 Icelandic hunters have killed 280 endangered fin whales.  Iceland whaling is indisputably commercial in nature so it violates the International Whaling Commission ban.  The US Secretary of Commerce has recommended to the President trade sanctions against Iceland. Conservationists are calling on Obama to implement the recommendations.  The US government has received over a quarter million protests from the public against Iceland's whaling industry.  Iceland has temporarily stopped whaling before (2007), only to return with larger boats, larger quotas, and a full-on export business.

On the other side of the planet, Japan announced it will resume what it calls "scientific research", commercial whaling by another name, in the Southern Ocean.  The ban on commercial whaling permits taking of whales for scientific research.  Japanese whalers will again meet their nemesis, the Sea Shepherd Society, which has successfully curtailed Japan's whaling operations in what it calls the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.  Japan made the announcement at the annual meeting of the IWC this month.  In February the Japanese fleet left the Southern Ocean six weeks ahead of schedule with taking only a fraction of their self-imposed quota of whales because of confrontations with Sea Shepherd vessels.  Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said the objective is not to harm Japanese whalers, but "to sink the Japanese whaling fleet economically and bankrupt their illegal activities."  More than commercial whaling threatens cetaceans.  Pollution and noise from oil exploration off Sakhalin Island in the North Pacific threaten the fewer than 130 Western North Pacific gray whales.  Shipping collisions in the North Atlantic threaten the 300 or fewer right whales which migrate off America's busy eastern seaboard.  Over 300,000 cetaceans are killed each year by entanglement in fishing tackle.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lethal Dose at Fukushima

credit: NYT
The highest ever levels of radiation have been recorded at Fukushima-Daiichi. 1000 rems/hour (10Sieverts/hr.) is considered a lethal dose. The measurement was made at the base of the ventilation stack for Units 1&2. The actual readings may be even higher since detectors were pegged at their maximum of 10 Sierverts. Its unclear how many workers have been exposed to such extreme levels without knowledge. Workers sent in to confirm the measurements received 400 millirems in just a few minutes of exposure. TEPCo admitted it does not know how much radiation is being emitted by the melting reactors. It has however minimized exposure issues in the past. The government has ordered a halt to sales of beef from Fukushima Prefecture. Some Cesium137 contaminated meat reached the consumer market and has been consumed. Cs₁₃₇ has a biological half life of 70 days. Japanese clearly do not trust TEPCo or the government to keep them reliably informed about radiation dangers, so they are buying dosimeters to do their own testing. What they are finding is that radioactive fallout has spread wider and is higher than officials have disclosed up until now.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Weekend Edition: "A Revolution of Orphans"

credit: worldwidehippies.com
Update: The bloodiest day so far in Hama occurred on Sunday as Syrian tanks shelled protestors on the eve of Ramadan. Casualty estimates are 100 killed in Hama. Security force operations are continuing in that city to remove street barricades erected by protestors. Protestors are arming themselves to resist. Syrian President Assad praised his troops on Monday, Army Day, despite worldwide condemnation of the violent suppression. But Arab regimes in the region have been loath to criticize Assad. In the five month uprising 1600 civilians have been killed and 369 members of the army and security forces. Bahrain's reigning royal family crushed that country's nascent revolt with the help of Saudi troops, while protestors in Yemen have been checked by Ali Abdullah Saleh's death grip on power. Egypt's military regency has sent riot police back into Tahrir Square to disrupt four weeks of continued protests over the slow pace of real change. The "Arab Spring" is becoming more of a long winter of discontent.

{23.7.11} The continuing mass demonstrations against Syria's dictator are getting larger and have spread throughout the country. 1400 people have died in the uprising against the 40 year dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. Friday has become a regular day of street demonstrations as it did in Egypt and Tunisia. It may be that the movement has reached a critical mass, but the government shows no sign of giving up. It did show restraint in Hamas, a largely Sunni city, that was the scene for a massacre of 10,000 civilians by Bashar's father and predecessor in power in 1982. This Friday tens of thousands rallied in the streets of Hamas unopposed while fellow protesters dodged bullets in Homs. The past week in Homs has been bloody: an estimated 40 people killed by security forces. The government seems to be putting a priority on holding Homs, a town of mixed religious sects including its own Alawite sect, that lies between Damascus and Aleppo.

While western powers have been keen to enter militarily a civil war on the side of insurrectionists in Libya, their reaction to the Syrian uprising has been much more subdued. The difference reflects the importance western governments place on a stable Arab regime next door to Israel. The thought of a Syrian popular government more Islamist and more hostile to the Jewish state provokes fear and loathing in western capitals. The fact that the repressive al-Assad regime has blood on its hands is a very secondary consideration. Further, Syria has no oil to motivate western dirtbag politicians eager to intervene. Assad's security forces remain loyal for the most part, with some defections by conscripts reluctant to shoot their brothers, and he is firmly in control of Damascus and the second city of Aleppo. The lack of help from western governments prompted one activist to tell a journalist, "We are a revolution of orphans". على الله

Chart of the Week: America's Growth Industry

More: US Person can still say this in America. The President is a loser. Not only that, he cannot negotiate worth a plug nickel. In the final hour budget deal he gave up $900 billion in spending cuts during an economic depression for a promise from a political party dominated by extremists to consider tax revenue increases in the future. Those of you who enjoyed Popeye cartoons will recall Whimpy's perennial promise to "gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today". At one point in the negotiations, Speaker Boehner offered $800 billion in revenue increases. Obamatron rejected that, going for "something big". What he got in the end was left holding the bag because pressure to protect worldwide financial markets became too great not to cut a deal before the artificially imposed deadline. The deficit ceiling was a hostage the GOP could never have afforded to shoot as the Wall Street Journal glibly assessed. Obama could have asked for ceiling adjustment earlier without the pressure of a deadline in return for extending the Charlatan's tax cut for the rich which is partly responsible for the burgeoning federal deficit.{"debt ceiling"} To achieve a last minute deal, he was forced to put Medicare cuts on the table. For now the cuts are limited to affecting providers only. Certainly the warmongers will fight tooth and nail for every dollar their golden goose spends in the promised Pentagon spending debates.  Incredibly, the deal contains an additional $50 billion for the Pentagon to spend.  And in another humiliation, Democrats will be forced to vote on the radical right's hobby-horse of unnecessarily restrictive balanced budget constitutional amendment. What used to be a pro-forma ritual of raising the nation's borrowing capacity has been turned into a policy stick fiscal reactionaries will use to beat weak, compromised presidents into submission. When the deal is finally implemented it will be a disaster for the country, and the repercussions will be felt by Democrats at the polls in 2012.

Earlier: Ignoring the theatre of the absurd in Washington for a moment (you know that a deal will be done eventually because the government cannot afford to pay higher interest) US Person turns his attention in this week's chart to America's growth industry, prisons. Look at the chart:
America incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation on Earth. The federal gulag is operating at 137% of capacity, while the state with the largest prison population, California, is currently operating at 170% of capacity. Between 1987 and 2007 the national prison population tripled. America spends more on its prison system ($600bn) than it does on Medicare ($452b) or Medicaid ($275bn). Talk about a welfare program!