Monday, October 31, 2011

Chart of the Week: Fukushima Radiation Twice Reported Amount

The radioactivity released by the melted Fukushima reactors is almost double the amount reported by the Japanese government according to a new report by the Norwegian Institute of Air Research. The report used data from radiation monitoring stations in Japan and around the world as well as global meteorological data. It focused on two isotopes, ¹³³Xe and ¹³⁷Cs that have different release characteristics and behavior in the atmosphere. Although the radioactive cesium release was only 42% of the Chernobyl disaster (35.8PBq), the radioactive xenon gas release was the largest in history not associated with bomb testing. Nobel xenon gas poses a much less serious health risk to humans or the environment since it is not absorbed. Cesium, with a half-life of thirty years, is absorbed. About 19% of the estimated total fallout was deposited on Japanese soil with most of the rest falling on the North Pacific Ocean. Radioactive cesium releases peaked three to four days after the earthquake and tsunami as shown in the the chart. Contrary to Japanese claims, the spent fuel pool of #4 reactor contributed significantly to the cesium release as did the melting cores of the other damaged reactors. The Norwegian scientists say the latest estimates of radioactive fallout are attributable to the larger data set used in their study. Japanese estimates did not consider the quantities of radioactivity that drifted out over the Pacific Ocean and eventually reached North American and Europe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

'Toontime: Talent Scout

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]
Wackydoodle axes: But can he do the math?
A new report out tells us what we already know: the plutocrats are getting richer faster than ever.  They hang on to their riches by stashing it offshore*; Their lackeys in Congress are standing in line to help them bring it home tax free. Seventy-three of the 'people's representatives' from both parties are co-sponsors of a bill to give cash cow corporations another tax holiday. The proposal would cost the Treasury $40-80 billion in revenue. Of course these tax scofflaws are selling the measure as a way to create jobs, but the last tax holiday granted the corporatists in 2004 ended up a giveaway to corporate shareholders and executives. That tax break allowed U.S. firms to bring home billions in offshore profits at a tax rate of 5.25%. Its time to tax speculators and dodgers, not reward them. The tax holiday proposal shows how deep in the plutocracy's pocket our so-called representatives really are.

*havens include Netherlands, Switzerland, Bermuda, Ireland, Luxembourg, Cayman and British Virgin Islands.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Marshall Islands Creates Shark Sanctuary

The Republic of the Marshall Islands established the world's largest shark sanctuary this month. Legislation passed by the Marshall's parliament unanimously ends commercial shark fishing in all of the nation's 768,547 square miles of ocean. Sharks and rays are under increasing threat from commercial fishing. Sharks are hunted primarily for their fins, considered a delicacy in Asia. A bowl of shark fin soup can cost as much as $100. Some species of shark such as the hammerhead and white tip have lost 98% of their population. Because sharks grow slowly and produce few young, they are particularly vulnerable to slaughter. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually in the fin trade according to Pew Environment Group that is working to establish shark sanctuaries. Sharks suffer a brutal death by defining. Unable to swim without fins, they drown or die slowly from loss of blood.

credit: oceanfilmfest
The extent of the problem was made gruesomely clear when two Russian sport divers report seeing the ocean floor littered with mutilated shark carcasses in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary off the Columbia coast. The divers reported seeing ten illegal fishing boats flying Costa Rican flags near the massacre last week. Some 2,000 hammerhead, Galapagos and whale sharks are estimated by wildlife officials to have killed illegally with their fins hacked off. Divers are attracted to the World Heritage sanctuary by the schooling of hammerheads and other sharks in the area. Columbia's navy only patrols the area sporadically. When the report of the massacre came in, it dispatched a ship to the area which seized an Ecuadorian fishing boat. It was caught with 300kgs of illegal catch including sharks. Three of the Costa Rica vessels were identified by name: Marco Antonio, Jefferson and Papante.

The lesson for the Marshall Islands is that creation of a protected zone is an admirable and valuable commitment to preserving biodiversity, but enforcement of fishing restrictions is essential. That is a major hurdle for a small island nation with limited means. The new sanctuary law prohibits long lining with wire leaders, transfers of catch at sea, and landing all catch. Large fines are imposed for anyone possessing shark fins or found fishing for sharks. As a top marine predator, the shark must survive in the wild to preserve the oceans' ecological balance. Rich nations must be willing to help less fortunate ones willing to preserve habitat. The United States enjoys territorial rights for defense purposes in the islands under the 1986 compact granting sovereignty. It should be the first nation to offer aid to the Marshalls to protect its new marine reserve.

End the Fed II

More: You knew it had to happen given the police state in which we live. Just as the anti-war movement was martyred at Kent State, so now the first blood has been drawn in Oakland. The victim of repression happens to be a young, patriotic Marine who lies in hospital with a severe concussion. He is currently listed in fair condition with brain swelling. City officials nationwide are loosing their cool over the 99% Alliance. Police have been ordered to remove protestors from their encampments. That is what the Oakland police were doing Tuesday night [video] when the peaceable Marine was apparently hit in the head with a gas canister at close range. More than 100 people were arrested in the melee. Certainly ranks of vigils and marches planned for this weekend will swell in response to the violent tactics employed against citizens exercising their constitutional rights of peaceable assembly and free speech. Real change never comes cheap.

credit: Alex Schaefer
{26.10.11} Even Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank, thinks the Federal Reserve is corrupt because it is infected with plutocratic self-dealing. Stiglitz said, "If we [the World Bank] had seen a governance structure that corresponds to our Federal Reserve system, we would have been yelling and screaming and saying that country does not deserve any assistance; this is a corrupt governing structure." Well said Mr. Stiglitz. Notice he says that the problem with the Federal Reserve is structural, not incidental. That is so because the Fed's directors come from big corporations and banks like General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and others. The latest example of what commentator Mike Whitney says is "just plain evil" is the Fed's backing of teetering Bank of America's move to thrust the risk of its rotten derivatives portfolio onto a subsidiary depository institution that is FDIC insured. Of course the FDIC objected to the move because it puts taxpayers at risk of picking up the tab for B of A's counterparties. Under the amended bankruptcy rules of 2005 derivative counterparties are first in the line of creditors to take assets of a defaulting bank. So B of A's transfer amounts to another TARP-like extortion of taxpayers to save depositors. What politician is going to vote against depositors of a federally insured institution? Answer: none.

The GAO, Congress' investigative arm, recently completed its second audit of the Federal Reserve. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was responsible for the amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill allowing the GAO to audit the heretofore secret central bank, and has posted a summary of the GAO report on-line. The GAO found significant conflict of interests. GAO identified 18 former and current members of the Fed's board affiliated with banks and companies that received emergency loans during the financial crisis of 2008. The policy that allows the banking industry to elect and serve on the supposed independent Federal Reserve board creates in the circumspect phraseology of bureaucrats the "appearance of a conflict of interest". The reality is more than an appearance. Many of the directors work directly for supervised or regulated banks or own stock in them. They supervise the Federal Reserve's operations including personnel and salary decisions. They also decide how much interest to charge banks receiving loans from the Fed, and whether to extend credit to a bank at all.

'Old Hickory' slays the Second Bank
Perhaps the most blatant example of this insidious nexus between private bankers and a supposedly independent agency of government is that of Stephen Friedman. During the 2008 Panic the New York Federal Reserve Bank approved an application from Goldman Sachs to become a bank holding company which would allow it to receive near zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve system. This move was made possible by the repeal of the 1933 Glass- Steagall law which prohibited investment banks from entering commercial banking and established the FDIC. Chairman Friedman at the time also sat on the Goldman board, and owned shares in Goldman. Friedman received a waiver of the Fed's conflict of interest rules. After receiving the waiver the opportunistic Friedman continued to purchase Goldman stock. There are others examples of this incestuous self-serving by Federal Reserve members: Jeffry Immelt, CEO of General Electric, received $16 million in financing during the Panic at the time he was a director of the Federal Reserve; Jamie Dimon was on the NY Fed board when his bank, also serving in its traditional role of clearinghouse for Fed lending programs, received $30 billion in financing to acquire failing Bear Sterns. There are more such instances of insider dealing. The bailout of banks "too big to fail" shows the Federal Reserve as it is presently constituted does not serve the national interest. It has degenerated into a private banker's club with the soverign power to create money. Only eleven of the 202 directors in the period 2006-2010 represented labor and consumer interests despite a congressional mandate for a Federal Reserve board consisting of experts in labor, consumer protection, agriculture and industry. Presidents Jefferson's and Jackson's darkest fears that the Democracy would be strangled by the Money Power have come to fruition. It is time to end the Fed.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Rare Hawaiian Bird Returned to Laysan

Laysan Island in the northwest (leeward) Hawaiian Islands is known for its albatross colonies, but other birds also make the island their home such as the endangered Laysan Finch and Laysan Duck. One, the Nihoa Millerbird (Acrocephalus familiaris kingi), has been absent for over a century, but thanks to the collaborative efforts of the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy, Millerbirds were returned to Laysan in September. Twenty-four of the insectivorous songbirds were released in the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument {"Papahanaumokuakea"} as part of the overall project to restore Laysan's ecosystem that has been disrupted by guano mining, introduced species and floating garbage. Biologist also hope to insure the survival of the subspecies by establishing a separate population from its home on tiny Nihoa Island were it is severely endangered, thus solving two issues with one bird. The little brown birds (LBBs) seem to be adjusting well to their new, old home. Biologists are following them with the aid of radio tracking and will remain on the island for a year to monitor their movements and first nesting attempts. Individual birds are identified by the sequence of colored leg bands on both legs[photo].

Monday, October 24, 2011

Chart of the Week: When the Middle Crumbles II

The chart puts it all together and shows how it has been "all downhill since Nixon" in terms of income in the United States of Inequality.  With the loss of union scale jobs and declining bargaining power, the middle class has dropped to below half of aggregate income while top 1% incomes have increased disproportionately.  In terms of wealth concentration the United States is behind only ultra-capitalist Switzerland in the share of total wealth owned by the top 10%.  According to 2000 figures the top 10% own 70% of the wealth in the US.

This chart compares CEO incomes as a multiple of the average worker's:
As you can see CEO pay took off under the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton.  The AFL/CIO publishes the latest information on CEO pay at its website.  The median compensation for a CEO in all industries in early 2010 was $3.9 million while the median figure for an industrial worker is about $36,000. According to the AFL/CIO top executive median pay is now 343 times workers'. CEOs effectively set their own salaries because of interlocking directorates and compliant "outside compensation experts" who get wind of what the CEO thinks he deserves to maintain face with his peers and blowback that information to the board.  Satisfied, the CEO will hire the "expert" again for future compensation reviews or recommend his services to a colleague.  Round and round it goes, and with each pass the executives grab the golden ring.  The process is not controlled by value of services rendered or company performance.

Finally, don't let anyone convince you that the rich are "taxed enough already":

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend Edition: The End of the Long War

The imperial war mongers in Washington tried their best to leave boots on the ground in Iraq. In the end they made one demand the Iraqis refused to meet: legal immunity for United States military personnel. The demand speaks volumes about the arrogance of Washington's professional warriors. How a country that has experienced almost a decade of horrendous bloodletting in a civil war while occupied by a foreign power could consent to such an abrogation of sovereignty without appearing to be a neocolonial possession was completely lost on the war hawks. Of course the White House put the best spin it could on the failure of the high level negotiations for a security arrangement: Obamatron is fulfilling a promise to end the war he made in 2008. But that promise keeping appears to be almost an unintended consequence considering his Defense Secretary was pressing the Iraqis to allow as many as 20,000 US troops to stay behind as late as this month. At one point Secretary Panetta chided Iraqi leaders, saying "Damn it, make a decision." Iraqi politics was against the Pentagon getting its way on the issue. The main opposition party headed by former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi linked the immunity issue to choosing the defense minister from his party, something current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was never going to do, and Maiki's position is too weak to ignore his opposition when dealing with the Americans on such a symbolically important concession.

So the long war that never needed to be fought will end sooner, not because of ordinary Americans' desires to see their soldiers come home after 4,400 dead and billions of wasted dollars, but because the Iraqis decided they want to be treated as a sovereign nation in control of events within their borders. Some security experts believe that Iraq is not ready to maintain internal peace and defend its interests against stronger neighbors. Perhaps what is really concerning these imperialists is that Iran will end up being more influential in the region than the United States which spent so much blood and treasure there. Even without a status of forces agreement {"SOFA"}, Americans will still be in Iraq as mercenaries, contractors, embassy personnel and spies. But Iraq's future is now clearly up to its people which is the only proper conclusion to such a wasteful misadventure in "regime change". Bravo, Iraq, good luck, and if you find any WMDs be sure to let us know.

Friday, October 21, 2011

'Toontime: American Spring III

[credit: Mike Keefe, Denver Post]
Wackydoodle sez, Put some cheese on it!
Demos want to capitalize on discontent expressed by the 99% movement--we dare call it the Peoples' Alliance--but do not want to endorse a genuine grass-roots protest that may harbor anti-capitalist sentiments: witness actor Alec Baldwin visiting the protesters in New York (For which office is he not running? Stop by anytime, Alec, for an explanation of capital flows. This country operated with a decentralized banking system for the first 2 centuries of its existence. The short answer is, with computerized accounting systems in place, the capital flows would adjust just fine. BATTABING!), but President Obama is coming nowhere close. That seems a little odd to US Person considering he is running for re-election and the crowd is bound to contain a few voters. Even 'Tricky' Dick Nixon visited anti-war protesters camped at the Lincoln Memorial. Obama is photographed campaigning at fire stations. Is the subtext property is more important than people? Or perhaps he is banking on killing enough foreign terrorists to be forgiven his mismanagement of the American economy [video @ 4:22] while presiding over as little real change as possible*. As the cartoon shows, the Repugnants certainly are not about to eat their peas.

*Barack Obama took an oath of office to uphold the laws of the United States before he occupied the White House. Countrywide Financial committed outright fraud as their own internal investigators found. The company cut and pasted appraisals in order to justify mortgage loans, and inflated credit scores and incomes to sell securitized mortgages.  The company Executive Vice President in charge of the internal investigation was fired after Bank of America took over the company. Such criminal activity was not limited to a single mortgage company or bank.  Yet only a single Wall Street banker, and a minor player at that, has been prosecuted for criminal fraud, not "immoral" or "inappropriate" business practices, that resulted in the Panic of 2008 which in turn crashed the US economy.  One thousand S&L insiders went to jail in the last massive bank fraud of the 1980's.  Citi Group is the latest Wall Street bank to get away with only a fine for fraudulent practices.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Polar Bear Looses in Federal Court

credit: Steven Kazlowski, Barter Island, ANWR
Ursus Maritimus lost in a ruling by the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The court ruled that the United States does not have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect the polar bears' arctic habitat from further global warming. However the court did find that the 4(d) rule under the Endangered Species Act, promulgated by the previous regime and continued by the current administration, which states "incidental takes from [human] activities that occur outside of the current range of the species is not a prohibited act under the ESA" violates the National Environmental Protect Act. The District Court previously ruled that the polar bear is a threatened species, but it is predicted that melting polar ice will kill 10,000 bears. This summer Arctic sea ice reached its second lowest extent on record. Conservation groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity that represented the polar bear in court vowed to continue to press the current administration to grant the great white bear endangered status and use the ESA to address greenhouse gas emissions. "The Obama is going to own this issue", said one conservationist for the National Resources Defense Council.  By the court requiring a NEPA review of the rule, "the administration won't be able to hide behind a Bush-era policy on an issue the public clearly cares about."

Cleaning Up the Res and Town

First Americans are doing their part by cleaning up abandoned mines on their reservations.  A settlement was reached this month on cleanup of the Midnite Mine Superfund site on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Elevated levels of radioactivity posed a risk to human health and the environment. Members of the Spokane Tribe found uranium in 1954 and formed a company to obtain mining leases from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The tribal company joined with Newmont USA Ltd. to exploit the deposit. The mine operated from 1954 to 1964 and again from 1969 to 1981. Two open pit mines were created disturbing 350 acres of land. Clean up is expected to cost $193 million and take about ten years. EPA has already spent $25 million on the site.

The largest abandoned uranium mine on the Navajo Reservation, Northeast Church Rock Mine will be clean up according to a plan approved by the EPA.  The 125 acre mine site which includes a 1800 shaft, waste piles and ponds, most of which is on tribal land, was operated by United Nuclear Corporation from 1967 to 1982. The multi-year clean up process will include the removal of 1.4 million tons of contaminated soil into a lined and capped depository that meets the strictest standards in the country. After the work is done, the tribe will have unrestricted use of the surface again. A high health risk is present at the site from contaminated dust and radon gas. Chronic exposure to elevated levels of radioactivity can result in anemia, cataracts, bone cancer and even death. The largest release of radioactivity in US history occurred at the mine site when an earthen dam failed in 1979 releasing radioactive tailings into the Puerco River. Environmentalists say that the spill and 20 years of untreated discharges have contributed to the the long-term contamination of the river in Arizona and New Mexico.

Albuquerque will get its first urban wildlife refuge of 570 acres along the Rio Grande River. Interior Secretary Salazar announced the designation on September 29th. The acreage is a former dairy farm and is one of the largest undeveloped tracts in metropolitan Albuquerque. It will provide habitat for the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher [photo] as well as provide urban dwellers healthy outdoor recreation opportunity and a chance to reconnect with nature. The US Fish & Wildlife Service will complete planning studies and begin purchasing the land from the private owner, estimated to cost $20 million. The project has the enthusiastic support of state and local government. The flycatcher has lost more than 90% of its habitat to human development.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Slaughter in Ohio

Once again wild creatures pay the price for man's shocking selfishness. Forty-eight animals held in captivity near Zanesville, Ohio by a deranged man were shot and killed by sheriff's deputies. The man released lions, tigers, bears, cougars, wolves and leopards from his private menagerie before committing suicide. Concerned for public safety and approaching darkness, deputies were given orders to kill the captive wild animals in a slaughter than continued all night. Only three leopards, a grizzly bear and two monkeys survived. No humans were injured. The horrific incident drives home the extreme need to strictly regulate on a national level the captivity of endangered species. Eighteen Bengal tigers were killed by law enforcement officers. There are only about 1400 wild Bengal tigers in the entire world. Ohio has some of the most lax exotic animal laws in the United States and among the highest number of injuries and deaths involving wild animals in captivity. The Humane Society of the US has advocated increased restrictions on private ownership of potentially dangerous exotic animals. The animal welfare organization criticized the Ohio governor for allowing the state ban on selling or buying exotic animals to expire in April of this year. The man's motive for releasing his captives to face destruction is unknown, but a neighbor reported that "nobody much cared for him". He had been charged over the years with animal cruelty, neglect, and allowing animals to roam. In tragic hindsight the suicide victim was not an individual of sufficient character to be entrusted with the care of rare, beautiful animals that were totally depended on him for their survival.

Effective Malaria Vaccine Coming

credit: Dennis Kunkel
The early results of a major clinical trial show that a malaria vaccine cut the risk of contracting the disease in children by half. The vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline's laboratory in Belgium and currently labeled RTS,S attempts to block the Plasmodium falciparum parasite [photo] transmitted by mosquitos which kills 800,000 people a year, mostly children. Ninety percent of cases are in sub-Saharan Africa.  The phase III trial results were published on-line in the New England Journal of Medicine. Children aged 5 years to 17 months experienced a 56% lower risk of developing clinical malaria. Six thousand children were vaccinated and followed for 12 months after the vaccination. The vaccine is a medical milestone since it is the first vaccine targeting a parasitic microorganism rather than bacteria or viruses. While initial results are encouraging, scientists say more evaluation and research is needed, and there is some question of whether philanthropists will back a vaccine that is effective only about half the time. GlaxoSmithKline has spent $300 million to develop RTS,S but hopes to bring an effective low cost vaccine to Africa by 2015. Malaria has plagued man since since the beginning of civilization and is recognized as a disease commonly associated with poverty because its victims are unable to afford preventive medications, mosquito repellants or netting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Chart of the Week: When the Middle Crumbles

Why is fundamental financial reform needed? Why End the Fed?  These charts help answer those questions:

After every previous recession manufacturing in this country accelerated [arrows]. The chart also shows the type and level of US economic activity changed at the end of the last century. American manufacturing jobs peaked in 1980 at about 19 million. That is why everything you now buy at Wal-Mart is made in China. The United States is a FIRE economy: finance, insurance, real estate and you could add healthcare. It was manufacturing that provided well paid middle class jobs, but that source of middle class income has disappeared overseas replaced by low wage rent-a-body jobs that are often temporary. This chart shows one effect of declining or no wages, less consumer spending:

Retail sales when adjusted for inflation and population [box inset] are at the same level of twelve years ago. Another effect is the increasing amount of government transfers to the 99% that is finding it increasing difficult to support itself by wage labor:

Monday, October 17, 2011

End the Fed

The 99% protest is spreading to more cities in the United States which is a good thing, but the moment is arriving for a few focused themes to emerge for dissemination to the opposition which is the corporate mass media. US Person proposes to "End the Fed". The demand could be one of a select few so as not to confuse the distracted wider public. The demand has the beauty of brevity, and it clearly focuses on the core problem of our fiat money system: money creation, so necessary for businesses to expand and thereby hire more workers, has come under the domination of big bankers through their private club, the Federal Reserve Bank. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) advocates placing the Federal Reserve within the Treasury Department. This reform would probably create more accountability for what is now an publicly unaccountable bank with the power to deflate or inflate the economy and affect the life of every US citizen. However, the proposal falls short because it does not address the problem of the concentration of wealth able to procure lackeys in high public office.

US Person is something of a constitutional literalist, as is Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), so he proposes to eliminate the Federal Reserve system and give its two main functions to new, separate institutions of banking and monetary policy. The power to create money should be returned to whom the Constitution gave it at the founding, Congress. One of Congress' enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8 is to "coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures." Pursuant to this explicit grant of power, a designated body of Congress should set monetary policy which directly "regulates the value" of all US money, not just coin. Granted this enumerated power has been historically interpreted to mean the power to mint coins. But in the age of computers where digital account entries expand and contract the nation's money supply, restricting the interpretation of the money clause to minting coins is nonsensical. United State Senators as the elected representatives of the people, should form a standing committee to set national monetary policy-- not a secretive, unaccountable group of private bankers who sit in the Federal Reserve as the Federal Open Market Committee. The Senate's Standing Committee on Monetary Policy, chaired by a member of the President's choosing, could then seek ratification of their decision by simple majority vote in Congress which would then direct the US Treasury to implement its policy decisions on money supply. The banking utility functions of the Federal Reserve should devolve to a system of state banks that might also include regional institutions to facilitate interstate and foreign transactions. A system of state banks existed in the United States before the Federal Reserve was created in 1913. North Dakota's banking needs in the middle of an energy boom are currently being met by a public bank with great success. Regulated state banks would be much more responsive to the business and consumer needs of their residents than a few behemoth banks in New York to big to fail or serve. The bankers of Wall Street that have such unwarranted power over our political system would be significantly reduced in their political influence, and unable to engage in extortion of the 99% that occurred in the Panic of 2008.   Whatever the final shape of the fundamental bank reform, it is now clear even at street level, the current structure of the Federal Reserve is dysfunctional and needs to be replaced.

Friday, October 14, 2011

'Toontime: American Spring II

[credit: Mike Lukovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Wackdoodle sez, "Shucks, Mr. Jamie done took ma other home."
Update: Operation Hose-Down has been postponed[vid] by the corporate owners.

The inevitable establishment reaction to "Occupy Wall Street" has begun as Mayor Bloomberg directed his rent-a-cop force to evict protestors that have occupied Zuccotti Park for a month. The development company that owns the park said it plans to power wash the park section by section beginning at 7am. The company said protestors would be allowed to return after the washing, but it plans to enforce regulations that have been ignored: no tarps, no sleeping bags, no camping. The nation has witnessed the use of city police officers on "paid detail" to private companies as violent enforcers against the primarily young, peaceful protesters. The NYPD said it will make arrests if the corporate owner of Zuccotti Park requests help to remove occupiers. Corporations pay an average of $37/hour to employ an NYPD officer while the City gets a 10% administrative fee on top. Some of the biggest names on the Street like Goldman, the Exchange and even Lehman Bros. have used paid detail cops. All that is missing are the brown shirts and the "T" word.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Clockwork Orange Terror

It is just like clockwork. Need to boost public approval ratings? Need to distract from public protests and insurmountable economic problems? Announce yet another "terrorist plot" du jour and scare the public into the equivalent of a deer caught in the headlights. So the Obamatron, doing his best imitation of the Charlatan, threatens Iran with retaliation of unspecified sort for an alleged plot involving two Iranians allegedly connected to the Iranian regime, allegedly paying the other boogeymen nearer home, a Mexican drug cartel, Los Zetas, to put a hit on the Saudi ambassador in Washington. The next thing he will be saying is "either you are with us or against us", and have his U.N. ambassador hold up the check. The down side to this dubious public relations stunt is that once the claims are publicly made by a government, it cannot back down easily, even if the charges are puerile.  Sorry Mr. Obama, that's one wolf too many, and a "pattern of behavior".

Real criminals, like BP, go unpunished because its executives write campaign finance checks. Readers may remember that a surplus Liberty ship converted to a barge named the {"Davy Crockett"} broke up and spilled thirty-three thousand gallons of fuel oil into the Columbia River after its financially stressed owner abandoned salvage attempts. Sure enough, that owner has been criminally indicted by the Federal District Attorney for Western Washington on two counts of unlawfully violating the Clean Water Act. The spill was made worse by the owner's failure to take action to protect the barge from further structural damage or report the spill.  Clean up costs amounted to $20 million. So he had it coming. But a multinational company earning billions a year in profit need not worry about criminal charges coming out of the US Justice Department run by the politically sensitive Eric Holder despite the incredible damage to the Gulf ecosystem and fishing industry, eleven deaths on board the Deepwater Horizon, 4.7 million barrels of toxic crude oil spilled into the sea, and an official investigating commission conclusion that BP and its contractors are culpable in numerous ways for not preventing the disaster from occurring. Incredibly, BP is allowed to bid on new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. In Washington it is politically easier to start a war than reform an economy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Keystone XL Pipeline: Stripped from the Land, Shipped Overseas

More: The State Department has admitted that its favorable environmental impact assessment was produced by a consultant with economic ties to TransCanada, the proposed pipeline builder. Cardno Entrix the hired contractor describes TransCanada as a major client in its marketing materials. The study released in August found that the pipeline would have "limited adverse effects" on the environment if operated in accordance with regulations. It is common practice for companies wanting to build projects to be involved in assigning and paying for impact analysis, but legal experts say Cardno Entrix, which also provides spill response services, has a conflict of interest because of its financial interest in the decision outcome. TransCanada chief Washington lobbyist is Paul Elliot, a top official in Secretary Clinton's failed presidential bid. Environmentalists say the study understated the impact of a spill of corrosive, hot bitumen. A bitumen spill into the Kalamazoo River has posed an extremely difficult cleanup problem, running beyond budget and schedule. A thirty five mile stretch of river has been closed since July, and cleanup costs have run over $500 million. There are more than 100 significant spills per year from pipeline facilities, a record going back more than 20 years.

{6/10/11}A lot of the justification for building the XL pipeline across America's heartland to the Gulf Coast is faux patriot raving about making American "energy independent" by sourcing our oil from a dedicated ally, Canada. Turns out that big oil wants to build it to make mo' money from oil exports. The pipeline will not lessen American dependence on foreign oil. Oil Change International has published a report based on information gathered from the US Energy Department and Canada's National Energy Board. Corporate disclosures and analysis of the demands in the international oil market show Keystone XL is an export pipeline. Higher fuel economy standards and economic recession have slowed US domestic demand for fuels as domestic oil and gas production increases. The US has its own large oil shale and bitumen deposits. Recently a huge bitumen deposit has been located in North Dakota. Valero Energy, the major customer for dirty tar sand crude, has detailed its export strategy to investors. Valero's Port Arthur refinery is in a Foreign Trade Zone, so naturally the company is anxious to refine and export oil tax free to Europe and Latin America. Valero has contracted to take at least 100,000 barrels of crude from the pipeline a day until 2030, the only US customer of the six who have jointly committed to purchase 76% of the pipeline's initial capacity. The others, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total, Canadian producers, an international oil trading firm, and the Saudi government all intend to ship their share of dirty crude overseas. Oil is a fungible product and in this age it circulates globally. The only way to reduce America's dependence on oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce consumption of all fossil fuels, regardless of the ultimate source. That fact makes any argument that the sacrifice of the boreal forest and risking contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer is necessary for national security a red herring.
Nebraska's Sand Hills: bury me here!
Environmental groups sued the U.S. government yesterday to stop the construction of the pipeline. The Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth and the Western Nebraska Resources Council are asking the U.S. District Court for Nebraska to stop TransCanada from mowing the proposed right of way before it even has federal permission to begin construction. The company has responded that it was "implementing conservation measures" to protect the "American burying beetle" and that mowing does not constitute construction.  In reality it is attempting to put the Obamatron in a corner with political momentum.

Chart of the Week: The Slice Gets Smaller for US

[credit: G. Domhoff, UCSC]
The 99% people camping out in several U.S. cites may not know it, but the pie charts above show why they feel the way they do. These are based on 2007 figures, but the distribution of wealth has gotten even more skewed since the financial panic of 2008 caused the "too big to fail" bailouts for ├╝ber-rich Wall Street bankers. In the first quarter of 2011, corporations boosted a 31% profit growth and a 31% reduction in taxes because of outsourcing to low tax rate countries.  About 40% of the S&P 500 profits come from overseas operations. In 2010 CEO compensation rose by 30%. Preliminary figures indicate that as of April 2010 there has been a 36.1% drop in median household wealth compared to just 11.1% for the rich 1% as a result of the Second Great Depression.

The red slice shows that the rich, or top 1%, have three times the net worth of 80% of the population and six times the financial wealth. Financial wealth is defined as net worth minus owner-occupied housing since it is not easy to convert a home to cash in the near term. Most middle class wealth is in family homes (62%). The plutocrats--people in the top tenth of the top 1% or net worth of $24 million and above--do not earn their income from salaries. Either it is returns from financial investments, corporate stock compensation plans, real estate, business profit sharing, or inherited wealth. Their income is taxed at lower capital gains rates and sheltered in offshore tax havens compared to ordinary wage or salary income of the 99%. It is not unusual for these fortunate few to pay effective federal income tax rates of zero or borrow large sums of money at near zero interest. Politicians, dependent on private campaign financing, are servants to this cynical aristocracy of greed. That is why we have a leading presidential candidate who can stupidly claim "Corporations are people" and still get elected. {"Mitt Romney"} The plutocrats are truly powerful because the laws that burden the 99.9%, allow them to protect and increase their wealth through perpetual trusts and other legal means, while extending their influence over our government "of the people". When you think of power and wealth in America look at the back of the dollar bill. You will see the pyramid and the all-seeing eye perched at the top. That is not the eye of God.

Friday, October 07, 2011

'Toontime: American Spring

[credit: Cameron Cardow, Ottawa Citizen]
Wackydoodle axes: Do they serve cake with that?
In scenes of policy brutality[video] not witnessed since the Days of Rage and other anti-Vietnam War protests, New York's finest wailed on Occupy Wall Street protestors with pepper spray and batons. If the enfeebled remnants of the American left and the labor movement can coalesce around the youthful avant guarde, lend organization, funding, and political coherence to a truly grass roots action against the corporatist state, then America will experience a springtime in which democracy is born again. Occupy Wall Street has been accused by the right of being incoherent, self-involved, and a toxic form of "free floating radicalism". All of these condemnations have been heard before since they were hurled at the anti-war movement of the Sixties and Seventies. They are equally inaccurate now. Occupy Wall Street, unlike the TaxedEnoughAlready party, is not a front organization for plutocrats. The ultra-right Koch Brothers, who are the ideological heirs of their father's extremist John Birch Society, are known to have funded and organized their less wealthy extremists. Relentlessly promoted by corporate propaganda organs like Fox Spews, the TEA party managed to rest control of the lower house of Congress proving once again that money wins elections. In contrast, a generation of marginalized Americans are relearning the responsibilities of citizenship in a real democracy on the streets of lower Manhattan, largely without corporate mass media coverage of the process. Give them some time and the demands will be made and perhaps their representatives elected. Their democratic instincts are true. As a first step they have listed their grievances in emulation of the American colonists who declared separation from the Crown of England. Those of us onlookers who are also fed up and can't take it anymore can at least provide the willing with blankets and food.

The moment is right for a new declaration of independence from banker oppression because the edifice of casino capitalism maybe crumbling. Former U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Robert Shapiro was interviewed by the BBC.[video]In it Shapiro said there is a "1 in 3 chance" that a financial meltdown occurs in Europe, which in his view "would be be significantly more serious" than the crisis in 2008, if the sovereign debt crisis is not addressed by a fundamental restructuring of the monetary union. His sentiments were echoed by Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, who said, "This is the most serious financial crisis we've seen, at least since 1930's, if not ever." The €440 billion bailout fund is already considered to small to handle the crisis, yet it is not even fully approved by European parliaments. And there is fierce opposition in Germany to the ECB using leverage to increase its impact. The Fitch rating agency has cut Italy's credit rating by one level (A+) and Spain's by two(AA-) with a negative outlook for both countries. No one really knows what the American bank exposure to European banks is in the murky world of derivative trading created by the orgy of financial deregulation at the end of the last century. But what is now becoming undeniable is that the Emperor of Finance wears no clothes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Potential Forensic Breakthrough Against Poaching

credit: Susannah Ireland
Scientists in Scotland have announced that for the first time human DNA in trace amounts have been isolated from an animal carcass. Illegal hunting of endangered animals is a huge worldwide problem, contributing to the disastrous decline in population of iconic species that have body parts wanted by humans. Stopping or even reducing poaching is a difficult law enforcement task complicated by wild terrain, clever poachers, and lack of evidence connecting individuals to a crime. University of Strathclyde Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry has developed a method of detecting low levels of human DNA from a carcass, thus increasing chances that an individual poacher can be identified. Scientists looked for traces of DNA from volunteers who had participated in the annual cull of deer in Scotland. The chances of a DNA profile detected by the method being randomly found within a human population are less than one in a billion making the test very reliable. Research was funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, British Association for Shooting & Conservation and the British Deer Society. The research paper describing the method is published in the journal, "Science and Justice".

credit: AFP
The method was developed to aid Scottish police track down deer poachers, but could be applied anywhere in the world where there are protected animals suffering from illegal human predation, such as South Africa where organized rhino poaching for horn is at the highest levels in 16 years. South Africa lost a record 333 rhinoceros to poachers last year, triple the number of deaths in 2009. This year already 309 rhinos have been killed {"rhinos"}. The crises prompted the South African government to call out the army to help rangers protect rhinos and to send the message the government is serious about ending the illegal trade. A serial poacher "Lucky" Maseko was shot and killed by Swaziland police recently. Two other rhino poachers were also killed by Swaziland police. Maseko was wanted in South Africa for attempted murder and environmental crimes including the death of ten rhinos.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

'Drill, Baby Drill' is Poisoning US

There has been an explosion in domestic natural gas drilling. The number of wells being drilled has doubled in ten years to over 34,000. The new drilling is having an adverse impact on humans living near the operations which are reaching beyond isolated rural communities into heavily populated areas of Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Colorado, and even the suburbs of Fort Worth. Besides fouled water from fracking, complaints of bad odors and health effects have increased. The EPA has doubled its estimates of the amount of methane gas leaked from drilling equipment. In one ambient air survey conducted in Garfield County, Colorado in 2008 at the request of county officials, 14 sites were monitored. Fifteen contaminants including carcinogens such as benzene, and tetrachloroethene were detected at above normal amounts but below thresholds for unacceptable cancer risk. The report recommended that the concentrations warranted "careful evaluation and exposure monitoring" because residents of the affected areas are repeatedly exposed. Epidemeology in this area is difficult since effects are transitory and can be caused by a number of environmental or individual health conditions. Regulatory exemptions granted the industry make data collection difficult. Trade secrecy and lack of cooperation also poses problems.
Battlement Mesa, CO
Colorado's Oil & Gas Conservation Commission received over four hundred complaints related to drilling operations between 2006 and 2008. The state of Colorado monitored air quality in Garfield County, the site of intense drilling operations, without finding any pollution that exceeded standards. Yet symptoms experienced by residents ranged from intense fatigue, burning eyes, severe headaches, numbness in extremities, and painful skin blisters to a rare adrenal tumor. In the last case a drilling company using a suspected chemical in its fracking fluid settled with the individual for a multi-million dollar amount. Colorado fined the company for failing to contain its waste fluids properly. When asked by residents to study the health impacts of more drilling on Battlement Messa, the county decided to fund another study in 2010 by the Colorado School of Public Health focused on a small defined area with a plan to collect long term data once drilling began. An inconvenient conclusion was reached in the draft report released in February, 2011. The emissions from drilling would likely be high enough to cause disease including birth defects, neurological and respiratory problems, and cancer in the community. As one county commissioner phrased it things "got political" fast. The county commission decided not to extend the research contract after a commissioner seen to be a supporter of more health research was defeated for re-election. So a final report was never made. Drilling companies informed state environment officials they would not cooperate with the proposed long-term data collection unless the draft authors were replaced and the research started over. The state abandoned its application for federal funding of the research. A class action suit was filed against Antero Resources this month alleging that the company's gas drilling in Battlement Mesa threaten the health of 5,000 residents of the unincorporated retirement community near Parachute in western Garfield County.

Video: Another Oil Slick at Macondo Well

Update:  In response to press reports that an oil slick was seen in the vicinity [below] of the Macondo well that was capped on July 15, 2010, remotely control video cameras were sent to the site for an inspection of the wellhead and the relief well drilled nearby.  Officials from the disaster response team that includes federal and state officials watched the live video feeds.  No new hydrocarbon leaks were detected from the abandoned wells.  Small nitrogen bubbles were seen that are consistent with the use of nitrified foam used to set the wells' surface cement casing.  The videotape footage is posted at a US Coast Guard public relations webpage.

{2.9.11}British Petroleum denies that the blowout finally plugged last summer is leaking again.  But this video from a non-profit named "" shows a large oil slick at the location. This video confirms a previous video from a boat at the scene showing oil blooms reaching the surface:

Monday, October 03, 2011

Chart of the Week: Euro Doom

Why should you care about the possible collapse of the Euro zone? These charts explain:
U.S. banks are tied to their European counterparts, like it or not. If major European banks like SocGen go under, it will be another Lehman Bros. moment for the world financial system. Bloomberg says that global investors in its Global Poll of 1,031 anticipate Europe's debt crisis will precipitate another economic slump (75%), with a third responding that the current debt crisis will derail the world economy over the next year.

This chart shows the unsettling comparison between this year's market and 2008 when the credit panic hit. As the protesters down on Wall Street have apparently figured out, the rentier class is bleeding them dry, (Ireland paid unsecured bond holders in the insolvent Bank of Ireland about $2 billion last week as part of its cave-in to the demands of international financiers three years ago. Stephen Friedman, who had to resign as Chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, gave his former employer, Goldman Sachs $10 billion of taxpayers' money to help it avoid collapse.) and if another round of financial panic erupts, which it probably will with Europe as the fuse this time, they can permanently camp in Wall Street because they will be out of jobs, homes, money and luck. An appropriate venue in which to build the most prominent Hooverville of the 21st century. You can't tell the players without a program, so here it is in one diagram courtesy of the NY Times:

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Japan's Government "Scared" of Telling Truth

That is what Professor Kenichi Matsumoto told Australia's ABC News. Matsumoto, a former special advisor to the cabinet said the government knew for months that people who lived in the Fukushima exclusion zone would not be able to return for 10 to 20 years because of contamination, but could not bring itself to level with the evacuees. He also revealed that TEPCo wanted to abandon the plant at the height of the crisis, but the request to do so was rejected. Meanwhile, the jury-rigged cooling system has managed to bring the reactors' temperature levels to below the boiling point for the first time since March 11th. Nevertheless, the company is nowhere near a cold shut down of the crippled reactors. Radiation releases continue, but they are much lower levels than earlier.

Brazil Judge Stops Amazon Dam

BBC: Kaiapo Indians protest dam 
Judge Carlos Castro Martins of the Federal Court of the First Region ordered the work on the 11,000Mw Belo Monte dam, the third largest hydroelectric project in the world, to stop. The judge cited the damage to fishing by indigenous people. The dam is one of sixty the Brazilian government wants to build in the next twenty years in the Amazon Basin. Despite the drastic effect the dam would have on fish species, some only found in the Amazon, it would be one of the most inefficient dams ever constructed in Brazil. Belo Monte would only produce electricity 39% of the year due to low flow of the Xingu River during the dry season. To insure adequate water flows, more upstream reservoirs would have to be built, affecting more people and destroying more rainforest. Campaigners against he dam say 50,000 people would be made homeless as 190 square miles would be flooded. The Brazilian environment agency backed the proposal.

Weekend Edition: 2 US Citizens Killed by Their Own Government

Reaper control station
Two United States citizens were killed by a drone attack in northern Yemen on Friday. One of them was almost certainly al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki who was put on the CIA 'kill list' by the previous American regime. But the other, probably American citizen Samir Khan of Pakastani origin and editor of al-Qaeda's English online magazine, was not specifically targeted for elimination. The Reaper drones were operated by the CIA from a new secret base in the Arabian Peninsula. Their controllers fired Hellfire missiles at a car in which the two citizens were traveling. Reports from the isolated scene say the car was nearly destroyed and the bodies burned. Al-Awaki was hunted for two years by Yemeni and U.S. Special Forces. He had the support of local villagers who protected him and helped him escape from one commando operation where he was surrounded by Yemeni forces. He also survived a drone attack in May.

The moral and legal basis for killing US citizens deemed to be terrorists is controversial*. What is clear is that each terror leader eliminated inspires others to join the jihadi movement. Major Nidal Malik Hasan who killed 13 people during a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas exchanged e-mails with al-Awlaki before the shootings. Faisal Shazad, another Pakistani-American who attempted a bombing of Times Square in 2010 cited native born al-Awlaki as an inspiration. The American Civil Liberties Union condemned the summary executions without trial. It attempted to challenge the decision to target al-Awlaki in federal court but failed despite the case raising the "stark" question of "whether the president could order the assassination of a U.S. citizen without first affording him any form of judicial process whatsoever based on the mere assertion that he is a dangerous member of a terrorist organization". Whether the US government could be held legally liable for the death of Samir Khan is also an open question given that it enjoys limited immunity from liability for its sovereign functions.

Yemen is in a condition of civil revolt. President Ali Abdullah Saleh is resisting repeated calls for his departure from power by protestors, but he is also critical to U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in Yemen. Saleh returned from Saudi Arabia where he was recovering from wounds received in an assassination attempt when the drone strike occurred. Hampered by sovereign boundaries, indigenous sympathizers, duplicitous allies, and high cost of ineffective conventional warfare, the U.S. is increasingly turning to drone operations to dismember the al-Qaeda leadership cadre. It now operates some 7,000 unmanned aircraft.

*the Fifth Amendment guarantees a person's life, liberty or property shall not be denied without due process of law. Previous cases of turncoats deprived of due process or subjected to summary procedures involved actual, declared wars. The Justice Department has declared the execution legal as an act of national self-defense during wartime. Presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said in New Hampshire, "I don't think that's a good way to deal with our problems"....But if the American people accept this blindly and casually--that we now have an accepted practice of the president assassination people who he thinks are bad guys--I think it's sad." Its more than sad, its degenerate, harking back to the days of the divine right of kings. Ron Paul mentioned that Awlaki had contact with the so-called "underwear bomber". All reports confirm that the “underwear bomber” was walked onto the airliner by an official, despite the fact that the “underwear bomber” had no passport. No investigation was ever conducted by the FBI, CIA, or anyone into why a passenger without a passport was allowed on an international flight. The latest scare is the "model airplane bomber" who allegedly planned to blow up fortified buildings with less than five pounds of C4, all under the oversight of FBI undercover agents. The purpose of these fake plots is to keep dumbed-down Americans in a constant state of compliant fear. So don't forget to undress before entering the airport peep booth, otherwise you will be fondled for national security.