Tuesday, December 18, 2012

US PERSON will be taking a break for the ☜HOLIDAZE.  Come back in the new cycle for more high impact blog at PERSONA NON GRATA!
(Merry Christmas, John Kerry)

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Toontime: One Nation Under the Gun

More: The President made a brief memorial address to the town of Newtown, CT gathered in the high school auditorium yesterday. The power of the gun lobby was evident as he avoided calling for reimposition of the federal assault weapon ban, but only promised to use the power of the office to consult with law enforcement and civic leaders about the carnage plaguing the United States. He made it clear, however, the country was failing to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Governor Higgenlooper (D) of Colorado also skirted the tactical weapons issue in remarks to the press. Whether they like it or not, gun control will be at the top of the agenda for the new Congress after the Senate decides if it can operate without a one senator veto. US Person has never heard a convincing argument, constitutional or otherwise, for allowing private citizens to possess quasi-military weapons designed and intended to do only one thing: kill multiple humans rapidly. Granted there is a huge number of these man-killers legally in the hands of citizens, sane or not.  However, relatively unrestricted access to these weapons is contributing to the level of slaughter and profits as even a superficial perusal of the statistics will show.  Real sportsmen should be satisfied with a bolt action rifle for hunting or marksmanship because that weapon requires greater skill to be successful. For almost two centuries in this country property owners effectively defended their legitimate interests with revolvers. Spraying a room with shotgun slugs or high velocity bullets is a desperate, irrational act unless one finds oneself in the middle of a revolution. If in the final analysis we are talking about hot-heads arming themselves against their own government, then we need to look elsewhere for answers to their fear.

Update: As more of the depressing facts become known about one of the largest mass school murders in the United States, one fact stands out from the others: the deranged shooter once again used military style, semiautomatic weapons to perpetrate horrendous slaughter. He brought with him to the Sandy Hook school a civilian version of the 5.6mm M-4 carbine (.223 "Bushmaster"), a Russian made, drum-fed, 12 gauge shot gun and two semiautomatic pistols. All of which he took from his divorced mother who was a "gun enthusiast" and was herself shot in the head while sleeping. Apparently the mother was responsible for teaching her child how to manipulate the weapons. A relative said the mother took her children target shooting. The nation may find, as the forensic evidence is analyzed, a much more deadly attack was contemplated. Had the ghoul been able to exhaust his ammunition before committing suicide, the death toll would have been much higher. But it was piteously high enough. Until America puts controls on the public possessing military weapons, these periodic massacres [link to interactive map] will continue because not all of the public is thinking straight. Talking heads of the CMM claim to be mind-boggled by the slaughter. They are dissembling for their corporate masters. The truth is gun manufacturing and importation is big business in America, and there is no political will yet to stop the profits from flowing even if it means the murder of innocents.
Wackydoodle axes: Can I get a 30 round clip with that?

{14.12.12} Twenty-seven dead including twenty children at Newtown, Connecticut.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Red Wolves Under the Gun

Sixteen endangered red wolves (Canis rufus) have been killed in North Carolina in 2012. A temporary change in state law that allows hunting of coyotes at night, appears to be contributing to the slightly built red wolf being mistaken for a coyote. The wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes even in daylight since they are similar in coat and coloration. Yearling wolves are also similar in size and weight. Seven of the wolf deaths were caused by gunshots. The red wolf is one of the world's most endangered canids. It was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but successful breeding from a remanent population found along the Gulf Coast allowed it to be introduced into the wild. A restoration program began at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina in 1987. Since then the experimental population expanded to three more wildlife refuges and other state and private property. Now about 100 red wolves live in five north eastern counties of North Carolina, and 200 wolves are still part of the captive breeding program.

Unfortunately red wolves, which are not as large as their grey wolf* relatives, interbreed with coyotes, a species not native to the region. The numerous coyote is considered a "pest species". The US Fish & Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes living in red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes will defeat effective biological control of coyotes and further jeopardize the survival of the native red wolf population. A National Forest Service ranger was fatally shot by a Georgia hunter who claimed he was shooting at coyote eye shine in the night. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a court challenge to the temporary rule allowing spotlight hunting for coyotes at night. A preliminary injunction was granted by Wake County Superior Court to stop night hunting for coyotes in the five counties that are inhabited by red wolves. A permanent rule allowing spotlight hunting of coyotes is still under consideration by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

*Grey wolves are once again being exterminated in the Rocky Mountains since loosing their protected status under the federal Endangered Species Act. Nine Yellowstone Park wolves have been killed since hunting began. The latest victim of this remorseless persecution was the Alpha female of the notable Larmar Valley pack. She was wearing a research telemetry collar when she was killed accross the Park boundary in Wyoming. Such senseless killing makes no-hunting buffer zones around the Park a necessity to protect it's beloved wildlife from UNFRIENDLY humans.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COTW: Robber Barons Redux

While bitter reactionaries in Congress make disingenuous speeches about "robo-squirrels", here at Persona Non Grata US Person chooses to emphasize the skewed relationship between wealth accumulation and tax support of the system that allows the rich to become filthy rich:
[source: G.W. Domhoff, UCSC]
What can be ascertained from the above pies is that the United States has the most unequal wealth distribution in the developed world, except for Russia and Ukraine according to Credit Suisse Research. The United States has 47% of the world's ultra-high net worth individuals (defined as more than $50million of net assets). The left-hand pie reflects this concentration of wealth: 35% of net worth is owned by the 1%. The ultra-rich have their money invested in financial assets such as stocks, bonds, derivatives and insurance. Nearly half their income comes from capital gains and dividends, on most of which they only pay 15% capital gains tax. The corporate mass media, owned by the ultra-rich, insists all Americans must cheer for the Dow-Jones because we are all in the market together. The truth is the rest of us (the bottom 80%) own only 5% of financial wealth. The so-called "democratization of stock ownership" is a myth perpetrated by those able to take advantage of an almost magical source of income.

Turning our attention to payment of taxes: the other major myth perpetrated by apologists for the plutocracy is that low taxes on the rich are necessary to produce jobs for the rest of us.  Most of the top ultra-rich (0.1%) are NOT entrepreneurs!  Only 3.6% of those taxpayers were classed as such based on 2004 tax returns. The Tax Justice Network estimates that between $21 and $32 trillion is stashed in offshore tax havens, or about $10 to $16 trillion uninvested by US citizens in businesses with jobs in this country. Not only rich individuals are paying lower taxes. Corporations are paying less taxes too. Paying federal taxes at an average 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations now pay at an annual rate of 10% which represents a annual loss of tax revenue of $250 billion. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a 2011 trading volume of $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts with absolutely no sales tax, state or federal, applied to the transactions. American taxpayers paid $4 trillion to bail out Wall Street banks! A tax of one-tenth of a penny on those transactions would pay off the federal deficit.

Most middle-class Americans' source of wealth is their family home as seen in the Federal Reserve chart above. That is why the Financial Panic of 2008 and subsequent Second Great Contraction hit them the hardest. Figures are still preliminary, but according to economist Edward Wolff there has been a major 36.1% drop in wealth of the median household since the peak of the real estate bubble in 2007. The wealth of the ├╝ber-riche top 1% decreased just 11.1%. Yet seventy-five percent of Americans are burdened with over $11 trillion in consumer debt. So spare US the talk about waste in social programs until the Pentagon, the biggest waster of all goes on a food-stamp diet (average recipient cost: $4.30/day, or enough to buy one angry burger), and some semblance of fairness is restored to collecting federal tax revenue.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Japanese Reactor on Top of Active Fault

Five geologists officially tasked with reviewing the site of the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture reported Monday the fault beneath the plant showed geologically recent movement. By Japanese law nuclear plants cannot be built on active faults usually defined, among other factors, as having moved within the last 130,000 years. A fault under Reactor 2 moved in tandem with another nearby fault the panel concluded. The operating license for Reactor 1 at Tsuruga [photo] was extended ten years in 2009 and is one of 13 reactors on Wakasa Bay, the world's largest concentration of nuclear reactors. In recent years, improved seismlogy found the area riddled with geologic faults. Owner Japan Atomic Power Company has made efforts to reinforce the plant against an earthquake in the last four years; the plant opened in 1970. Even seismic retrofitting the plant is unlikely to protect it from a magnitude 9 earthquake like the one that devastated Fukushima. The company said through a spokesperson who attended the meeting at which the study results were released Atomic Power would conduct more seismic studies.

All of Japan's reactors except two are offline as a result of the unprecedented disaster. The two restarted reactors at the Oi plant may also be sitting on an active geologic fault. That situation is also being reviewed by the reconstituted Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority. If the body formally decides Tsuruga is sited above an active fault, the reactors will have to be decommissioned since it is unlikely the regulatory agency will allow a restart. Prior to Fukushima, there was a significant institutional bias against preventing nuclear plant construction based on seismic activity. Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. As one Japanese nuclear engineer put it, if construction were contingent on geologic stability "nothing would get built". So risks were taken and on March 11th of last year, Japan threw craps.

Sentiment against nuclear power is running high in Japan. Hundreds of thousand were made homeless by the Fukushima meltdowns {"Fukushima"}. Tracts of valuable agricultural land cannot be farmed. The ocean around the destroyed Fukushima plant is radioactively contaminated making consumption of seafood unsafe. The disaster caused by far the largest accidental discharge of radioactivity ever seen. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute estimates that 10¹⁵ becquerels of radioactive cesium leaked into the ocean and an equivalent amount into the atmosphere. The Hiroshima bomb is estimated to have produced 8²⁴. Eighteen months after the accident the ocean around the plant still emits around 1,000 becquerels of cesium137, a relatively high reading compared to normal background. What concerns scientists is the levels remain relatively stable indicating a source of new contamination. The plant itself is leaking 10¹² becquerels per month according to one estimate, but also radioactivity from contaminated land is washed by rain and into the sea by rivers. A third source may be the bottom of the ocean itself were radioactive material is trapped in sediment. Bottom dwelling fish are above the 100 becquerels per kilogram limit set by the government for safe consumption, but contamination varies considerably by species. Octopuses seem to have escaped while greenlings have been found with levels as high as 25kBq/kg. The implications of the persistent radiation levels are serious for the fishing industry. It lost an estimated $1.3 to $2.6billion in 2011 as a result of the nuclear accident. When can contaminated fisheries reopen is a question that cannot be answered soon.

Monday, December 10, 2012

National Sacrifice Zone: Assumption Parish, LA

credit: The Advocate
On a warm, humid night in early August the earth opened up below Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish,
Louisiana. Acres of swamp forest was swallowed and replaced with a gaping sinkhole filled with stinking water full of brine, oil and gas, and hydrogen sulfide (unmistakable smell of "rotten eggs") {flyover video}. Since then the sinkhole has grown to eight acres in size. Scientists think the failure of an underground cavern in the Napoleonville Salt Dome caused the ground to collapse dramatically. Oil and natrual gas migrated upward from natural deposits into area waterways two months before the sinkhole appeared. Vent wells have been burning off (flaring) trapped methane. So far 2.7 million cubic feet of natural gas has been burned in the atmosphere.

It is an unprecedented environmental disaster than has received little national attention. Texas Brine, a Houston based drilling and storage firm used the underground salt cavern to recover salt-laden brine used in the petrochemical industry for years.  Now, USGS experts think the company's production caused high pressures to fracture the rock and sediment above the cavern all the way to the surface.  This condition is known as a "frack-out" in the industry.  The company publicly claimed the collapse was due to natural seismic activity, and refused to take responsibility for the sinkhole.  But the earth tremors felt in the neighborhood were caused by the cavern collapse (USGS statement 25 Sept 2012).  The company has still not officially taken responsibility for the disaster.   It has "acknowledged a relationship" between the collapsed salt cavern and the sinkhole. Texas Brine has been fined for failing to meet several clean up deadlines. Failure to install a promptly install a containment system has allowed nearby waterways to be contaminated by oil and other pollutants. There is also low-level radioactive fill stored at the site, a waste production of Texas Brine's operations. At a meeting one neighborhood evacuee asked officials loudly, "You expect us to go back to our houses again? Have y'all lost your minds?" Assumption Parish has the seventh highest cancer rate among Louisiana's 64 parishes. The Bayou Corne sinkhole is not going away soon. Overburdened Nature must heal this wound because there is no "magic bullet" to fix it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

'Toontime: Fiscal Follies

[credit: R.J Matson, St. Louis Post Dispatch]
US Person recalls the the Advent calendar in the misanthropic movie "Bad Santa": the gullible fat boy expectantly opens one of his advent calendar windows to get a chocolate treat only to find the drunken "Santa" deadbeat has consumed all of them in one go. The budget negotiations in Washington remind him of that scene. Average Joe Weed is jonesing for a tax break but the political Grinches seem to take perverse delight in disappointing their constituents. The truth is the whole "fiscal cliff" imbroglio is a con.

US is in the hardball negotiating camp. It would almost be worth some domestic fiscal pain to begin cutting the Pentagon down to an appropriate and affordable size. The Senate just passed a $631 billion defense budget(98-0) while considering making seniors wait until they reach 67 to be eligible for Medicare. Only in the corrupt military-industrial conspiracy culture of Washington DC could those thoughts be held simultaneously without your head exploding. The military brass, and there are a mighty few of those, are in-fighting desperately to avoid $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years if we go over the falls in our canoe of state. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says "we are shooting ourselves in the head" if we just go back to the 2007 level of spending! To see how delusional such language is consider that only one fighter jet development, the F-35 "Lightning II" consumes 38% of the entire Defense Department procurement budget. What do the generals get for their lavish expenditure: a jet that is slower with less range and 50% smaller payload than the F-16 it is intended to replace. A credible estimate of the overall lifetime cost of the high-tech boondoggle is $1.5 trillion, or more than the gross domestic product of Spain. Need to shoot the stealthy F-35 down? Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms export agency, will sell you a mobile, low-frequency, stealth-defeating radar set for $10 million each. Over the last decade the Pentagon has spent $46 billion on equipment programs eventually canceled.  Inability to discern reality is a hallmark of schizophrenia or pathological greed.

The military is lionized by conservatives as the only branch of government that works. In reality the Pentagon gets big lip service because it is a cornucopia of lucrative contracting for the corporate arms industry. It takes a lot of cash to support the livestyles of CEOs, beribboned flag officers, and elite Washington bureaucrats, as we know. The reality is Americans achieve very little bang for their bucks, and precious little appreciation from people whose countries we destroy in our own alleged security interests. Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, told an interviewer that Americans are responsible for higher levels of terrorism in his country even after a decade of war costing 2,000 American lives. A report released Tuesday shows the total number of global terror attacks has dramatically increased during the post-9/11 era. In Libya, a country we supposedly set on the road to democracy by deposing its inconvenient dictator, our ambassador/CIA agent is killed by the very terrorists we were told we had defeated elsewhere. Despite these decidedly mixed military results, our leaders are yet again considering intervening in another foreign conflict, Syria*. So, US Person's advice to El Obamados in the budget negotiations is to stay the course for some real reform. Make the rich pay a fair share of taxes. Cut the Defense Department and end the profligate militarization of our foreign policy. Rebuild our social safety net while revitalizing America's crumbling economy with investments in a sustainable future. Damn the torpedos of the plutocracy and full speed ahead!

*Observers think the Assad regime is becoming desperate as rebels improve their ability to resist security forces with better weapons and more experienced fighters. Rebels control the eastern half of the country including several oil fields, but have yet to completely overtake a major city. Allegedly, Assad has taken chemical weapons out of stockpile and put them in deployment positions, prompting a warning from the United States about "consequences".

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Lions Facing Extinction

Etosha male credit: US Person
Botswana is leading the way imposing a moratorium on lion hunting since 2007. It is time for all countries in lion range to do the same because their numbers and their habitat are reaching dangerously low levels. A new study published in the journal Biodiversity Conservation finds the African lion (Panthera leo leo)has dropped from around 100,000 only fifty years ago to as few as 32,000 today. Habitat suitable for lion has plunged by 75%. Savannah ecosystems are undergoing conversion to agriculture and urbanization. About 24,000 of these are in ten areas in East or Southern Africa. West Africa has only about 525 lions remaining and they are absent from many national parks. West African lions are distinctive, having a genetic code more closely related to Asiatic lions. As a top predator, the presence of lions in the landscape is an indicator of ecosystem health.

Besides habitat loss as the main threat African lions' continued existence in the wild is human persecution. Lion-human conflict and poaching leads to lions being speared, poisoned or shot illegally. Trophy hunting, especially for male lions, contributes to their peril.  Killing pride males eliminates the best genetic heritage since rival males practice infanticide causes unnecessary conflict between prides and social disintegration.  About 6,000 lions are in populations where there long term existence is in doubt.  To be given a fighting chance at survival, hunting pressures should be reduced to an absolute minimum--situations involving the protection of human lives.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Deniers Running Out of Delusions

The Senate may not have been intended to operate efficiently, but it was intended to operate, Mr. Leader. There is nothing constitutional about the filibuster. In fact, the rule is something of a historical accident* which US Person advocates changing {"filibuster"}. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he would try to use the Senate's somewhat quirky rules to require actual debate to filibuster as once was the norm when the new Congress convenes in January. At it's opening the Senate can set new rules by majority vote. Reid's proposal does not go far enough, but it is an improvement over the current system where just one Senator in secret can hold up legislation supported by a majority. Obstructing the nation's business should require a Senator to at least expend hot air. As it stands, very little is getting accomplished besides dubious political theatre as the nation lurches from one crisis, self-created or not, to the next. As we all know there are life-threatening problems awaiting action while the nation's highest legislative chamber is gridlocked beyond compromise.

Exhibit A is global warming. The deniers are running out of room as yet another scientific study has concluded the effects of anthropomorphic warming of the planet are visible for willing to look. The major study with forty-seven authors using multi-displinary methods published in the journal Science (Shepard et al, 2012) concludes melting ice sheets at the poles have contributed about 20% of observed sea level rising. Sea levels are also rising because warmer water expands. All major ice sheets except East Antarctica are losing mass in a process that began sometime at the turn of this century. The loss of ice in Greenland has jumped five-fold in just the last two decades. But the delegates at the Doha, Qatar climate summit sip sweet tea in air conditioned comfort and check their stock portfolios. Global carbon dioxide from industrial sources hit a new record high this year. According to the analysis in Nature Climate Changes CO₂ leaped 3% in 2011 largely due to China's increasing emissions of 10% in 2011. China now spews out the most planet heating gases in the world.

India, as expected, is also increased emissions by 7.5% in 2011. as it's formerly agrarian economy continues to industrialize. Both Asian nations have huge populations, so the per capita amount of emissions remain below those of the United States and Europe. But both countries intend to rely on coal as a major source of power since they have proposed 818 new coal-fired generating plants. Commendably, the United States and Europe both reduced emissions last year due to economic recession and a slow switch to alternative fuels and less polluting natural gas. The reductions will not be enough to offset the massive developing Asian economies. This impasse puts the world on track to a 4-6 degree celsius increase in average temperatures. Without drastic reductions by 2020 the window of opportunity to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees will be gone, and the world will experience dangerous climate change.

*Aaron Burr argued the Senate's rule "to move the previous question" was redundant and should be eliminated. In 1806 the Senate agreed with him, but was left without a mechanism to end debate from which the potential for filibuster sprang full grown able to wreak havoc. The first use of filibuster occurred in 1837 when the upper chamber considered the charter for the Second Bank of the United States. Senator Henry Clay attempted to end debate on the measure but was threatened with a filibuster, so he backed down. Segregationist Senator Strom "Sperm" Thurmond set the dubious filibuster record by speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Nevertheless, the bill passed. See, Congressional Research Service, Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate.(2012)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Chart of the Week: Iceland Recovery Impresses

Iceland went its own way during the worldwide financial crisis. It did not bailout its profligate bankers choosing instead to penalize their bondholders, not its citizens. It was criticized for enhancing the social safety net instead of imposing crippling austerity measures as demanded by outside financers. Now the country's economic recovery is impressing the critics. This chart shows why:
source: Council on Foreign Relations
Impressive, US Person? Yes, because the chart does not reveal the facts that the Balkan countries were a lot poorer than Iceland to start with. They have lot more catching up to do. The Balkan countries all imposed onerous austerity measures required by the European Union and creditor Sweden. It was an act of faith in the painful process of "internal devaluation": cutting state expenses and increasing productivity but keeping their currencies pegged to the Euro. In contrast, Iceland let it's banks "too big to fail" go bust, imposed capital controls to bolster it's devalued krona, and increased consumer protection by guaranteeing domestic deposits and forgiving underwater loans equivalent to 13% of GDP. Icelanders pelted their parliament with rocks, but they listened inside.

Iceland has put the needs of it's citizens ahead of markets at every juncture. As the IMF sucinctly put it, "Key to Iceland's recovery was an IMF-supported program [which] sought to ensure that the restructuring of the banks would not require Icelandic taxpayers to shoulder excessive private sector looses." The $2.1 billion IMF aid Iceland received expired in August. Unemployment is coming down, but private debt remains high and it will take time for the country to return to robust growth. The worst example of how to handle a financial crisis is Ireland. It choose to prop up corrupt banksters and guarantee all their liabilities. The government has been injecting capital ($64 billion) since while the population has been brought to the edge of peonage with imposed austerity budgets. Iceland, the little country that could, is finally getting it's economic due. Most Icelanders now do not want to join the European Union, and they are holding the perps accountable.  Iceland's special prosecutor has said it may indict as many as 90 people while 200, including the top three banksters, face criminal charges.  Is anybody in Washington paying attention?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

BP Temporarily Banned from Government Contracts

In a rare move, a major international oil company was temporarily banned from US government contracting. British Petroleum was suspended from business with the government until the company can provide evidence it federal business standards. The Environmental Protection agency made the announcement Wednesday. The action does not affect current contracts, but BP is one of the largest federal contractors with $1.47 billion worth of business in 2011, most of that comes from supplying the Defense Department with fuel, so the suspension is a blow. BP plead guilty to criminal charges recently as part of its settlement of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed eleven workers, poisoned uncounted numbers of federally protected wildlife, and contaminated hundreds of miles of Gulf shoreline. BP is the largest federal lessee in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
egg case on tail of rotifer
In a related story, a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes had determined that the dispersants used to clean up the 2010 oil spill increased the toxicity of the spilled oil by 52 times. The mixture of chemical dispersant and oil increased the mortality of rotifers, a microorganism at the base of the Gulf's food web. The findings are published in the online journal Environmental Pollution. Corexit, the oil dispersant approved by the EPA and used in the Gulf by BP was tested on five strains of rotifers. As little as 2.6% of the dispersant in a mix of oil inhibited rotifer reproduction by 50%. Rotifer eggs provide food for juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs. Researcher Roberto-Rico Martinez of UAA led the study at Georgia Tech. He said there is poor understanding of the toxicity of approved dispearsants and their toxicity to marine life maybe greatly underestimated. Dispersants were used in unprecedented volumes during the Macondo well blowout.

Friday, November 30, 2012

"Toontime: Lies and Damned Lies

[credit: Chris Britt, State Journal-Register]
It is clear by now that Ambassador Susan Rice took one for the team by depriving the Repugnant hounds of a rabbit late in the race. The secret information that Al Qaeda was behind the Benghazi terror attack was all the incentive Mitty might have needed to pass up an incumbent running heavily on his anti-terror policy in a close race. Senators McCain, Graham, and Lieberman, the three horsemen of the neocons, rejected Rice's attempts in private meetings this week to explain why she did not use the name that could not be spoken when she went on Sunday talk shows to respond to the attack. So, her ascendency to the cabinet is likely history as moderate former Repugnant Senator Chuck Hegel of Nebraska is being vetted to take the post. Hegel has been critical of his party in the past on foreign policy, and he established a personal relationship with Senator Obama during a trip to Iraq. Senator John Kerry is also rumored, but unlikely, to be in contention for nomination to the post.
[credit: John Cole, Times-Tribune]
Wackydoodle sez: Ar'in you shur'nuf?  I'm a thinkin' it were a necked lady!

COTW: The Public Debt 1940-2022

While Washington politicos attempt to score points with scary talk of "fiscal cliffs" This chart puts the current and projected public debt as a percentage of GDP in perspective. As most informed economists admit, the United States does not have a current deficit problem. It does have a serious recession problem that could be made worse by unnecessary austerity measures. The two projected paths are the CBO's two scenarios: one with higher taxes (expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the rich) and lower spending; the alternative scenario with lower taxes and higher spending. In other words, if El Obamados and Congress do nothing and allow the tax cuts to expire and allow the automatic spending cuts to occur in 2013--something which Washington is extremely practiced at doing-- the debt's baseline scenario with its downward trajectory would be the case. At least the Democrats have enough sense to prevent a stealth attack on the golden calf of American politics, Social Security, under the cloak of fiscal restraint.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wolf Phobia Moves to Midwest

Wolves never completely disappeared from the old upper Northwest. While grey wolves had to be deliberately re-introduced to the Northern Rockies at great expense, the Endangered Species Act allowed the few wolves holding out in northern Minnesota to repopulate the Great Lakes region until now there are 4,000 occupying their old habitat [map: courtesy USF&WS]. They are facing their first challenge from man.  With more numbers and the political capitulation to de-listing comes the re-establishment of trophy hunting in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota has the largest population of wolves in the Lower 48 (2,921) and the state has established two seasons for wolf hunting and trapping. Six thousand permits have been issued with a quota of 400 and already at the close of the first season 123 wolves have been killed. Minnesota charges residents only $30 for the privilege of killing a top predator. Wisconsin has set a quota of 201 wolves for a four month season.

Seventy-three Wisconsin wolves or about 10% of the estimated population have been killed in just the first two weeks of the season. Deer hunters must be ecstatic, but conservationists are upset.  As with most things associated with the wolf, a cultural symbol of great power, people have strong opinions about killing a vital part of the natural ecosystem for sport. Research has shown that wolves enrich a ecological system by raising biodiversity. Yellowstone riverine ecosystems rebounded from elk overgrazing after the re-introduction of wolves*. The return of inhumane trapping and hunting has to rationally be considered a step backward in scientific wildlife management. It is time to give wolves back the protection they need by initiating the federal listing process and let nature take its own wise course.

*last week seven Yellowstone wolves were shot dead just outside the Park borders. Five of the animals were wearing radio collars as part of a research study. Just seven more reasons conservation organizations want the grey wolf relisted under the federal Endangered Species Act. The response of state governments to delisting is irresponsible especially after so much effort and expense has been expended bring the species back from the brink of extermination.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mountain Gorilla Population Grows

Despite human warfare impinging on their mountain redoubt endangered mountain gorillas are increasing in number. That news is a major success story for conservation.  According to Uganda's Wildlife Authority a new census shows 400 living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, entirely in Uganda. That is up from 302 counted there in 2006. Another 400 live on the Virunga Massif according to a census in 2010. The Virunga Massif encompasses three parks, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Civil war is ongoing in the DRC and violent conflict has killed both gorillas and the rangers protecting them. {"Virguna"}. Despite the unrest, population trends in the Virungas also appear to be increasing

The Bwindi population is made up of 36 families and 16 solitary males. Ten families are habituated to human visitors. Census takers in Bwindi documented night nests and took feces samples in two sweeps in 2011. Genetic testing was done on the fecal samples so the number of individuals and ages could be estimated. Bwindi is named "impenetrable" for good reason. Dense vegetation grows in steep ravines and hillsides. Swamps, rivers and ever present mud made following transects very difficult. Unhabituated gorillas are difficult to see in such lush vegetation [photo]. But because of concerted efforts by conservationists the census shows conservation is working for this endangered species. Mountain gorillas are the only great ape showing a documented increase in numbers.

Gorillas experience a number of threats from human activity such as poaching and disease transfer. Habitat loss is perhaps the greatest. There is a proposal to begin oil exploration in Virunga National Park which undoubtably increase the number of gorilla deaths. Block V is an oil exploration concession contracted to a consortioum of Soco E&P, Dominion Petroleum and Cohydro. Over 50% of the concession is within park boundaries. The UK government announced in September that it opposes oil exploration within Virunga National Park. Soco International is based in London. Under the international World Heritage Convention of which DRC is a signatory no oil or mining development of a World Heritage site is allowed. Virunga, the oldest park in Africa (1925), is a World Heritage site (1979). Currently, exploration activities have been suspended by the Congolese government.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not the End of the Line

When the celebrity tortoise, Lonesome George, died in June conservationists feared it was the end of the genetic line for the Pinta Island giant tortoise (Chelonoidis abingdoni). Not, say Yale scientists studying the genetics of Galapagos Island tortoises. After seventeen years of research, they have found seventeen tortoises including five juveniles with hybrid Pinta Island ancestry.  An article in the journal Biological Conservation describes the study of 1600 genetic samples from Wolf Volcano on Isabela in 2008. There may even be purebred Pinta tortoises living on Isabela given the large number of unsampled tortoises. How Pinta land tortoises crossed the thirty-seven mile channel between the islands is not exactly clear, but historical ship logs contain accounts of whalers throwing giant tortoises, used for food, overboard to escape pursuit. Hybridization began in the 19th century according to genetic analysis which coincides nicely with whaling activity in the region.

Galapagos National Park and its many collaborators will conduct expeditions to Pinta Wolf Volcano to sample more tortoises and bring Pinta hybrids into captivity to begin a breeding program. Theoretically, by careful breeding over time, a nearly pure Pinta tortoise could be produced for release back on its native island, a conservation dream realized. Giant land tortoises occupy an analogous ecological niche to elephants since they are the main drivers of ecological change on the isolated Enchanted Islands. The Giant Tortoise Recovery Project goal is to restore all tortoise populations on their respective islands, and re-establish sustainable populations on Pinta, Floreana and Santa Fe

Friday, November 23, 2012

'Toontime: When Christmas Goes Bad

More: Over 100 Bangladeshi garment workers manufacturing cheap clothing for western markets including "Faded Glory" jeans sold by Wal-Mart perished in a factory fire on Monday. The nine floor building had no exterior fire escapes. Some workers jumped to the deaths from the top floor to escape flames. Eerily, the conflagration is reminiscent of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York that killed 146 mostly young female immigrants working for low wages, and horrified New Yorkers. That building was also a fire trap. In the aftermath, stricter fire and building codes were implemented by the city.

In Bangladesh workers from Tazreen Fashions protested and demanded punishment for those responsible for the disaster. They blocked roads and forced other factories to close down in a suburb of Dhaka. Bangladesh is a center of the global garment industry because of its low wages and lax regulation of conditions. It has about 4500 garment factories employing 40% of the country's industrial workforce. Clothing manufacturing makes up 80% of its $24 billion in annual exports. Since 2006, 500 people have died in factory fires there. A number of large US retailers have already denied any connection to the Tuba Group, owners of the factory. Wal-Mart said it is still looking into whether its products were made at Tazreen Fashions, but trade union representatives say Wal-Mart has refused to participate in voluntary safety programs intended to protect garment workers. US consumers are unmoved by the dangerous working conditions suffered by impoverished foreigners in third world countries to make cheap consumer goods available to them. In 1993 a fire in Thailand killed 188 people, mostly young women manufacturing cheap toys for top American brands. Wal-Mart announced it had the biggest Black Friday sales in its history.
[credit: Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News]
The first retail workers strike in the company's 50 year history gets underway this Black Friday. The company is famous for it's aggressive labor practices and "always low wages". The median level pay in the US is $14.42/hour. A Wal-Mart worker earns an average $8.81/hour. The company has asked the NLRB for an injunction to stop the action, fearful it may dent it's profits on the biggest, craziest shopping day of the year. It will be interesting to see what effect the strike has since Wal-Mart is the poster child of most of retail Amerika:
The corporations are not entirely to blame for a Cratchet Christmas. A study by UC Berkeley says it would cost consumers only $12.49 a year more if Wal-Mart paid its workers a living wage of $12/hour. But Americans, by embracing Wal-Mart's business model of low wage--low prices, have chosen to follow the example of the unconverted Ebenezer Scrooge: cheap.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Frankenstorms in Our Future

The question of the moment is whether global warming had something to do with the size and intensity of hurricane Sandy. Sandy was the largest hurricane on record for the North Atlantic. The amount of damage done by flooding and high winds probably exceed the infamous Long Island Express hurricane of 1938. Most hurricanes that originate in the Atlantic's tropical waters either enter the Gulf of Mexico or follow the warm Gulf Stream up the Atlantic coast only to veer off to the northeast into the open ocean. Sandy was unusual because it did not follow the usual course into the North Atlantic but made a vicious left hook into the New Jersey coast. Meteorologists say a several factors played a role in this unusual storm track. Sandy combined with an approaching nor'easter cold front as it moved north which fed energy into the cyclonic storm system allowing it to maintain coherence despite entering colder waters. Also, a blocking arctic high pressure off Greenland contributed to steering the storm into the northeastern US coastline. Finally, the jet stream that moves from west to east at high altitude usually pushes a hurricane out to sea, but this time the jet stream was perturbed and weakened. Coupled with the coincidence of a full moon high tide that increased the size and destructiveness of it's storm surge which reached the ancient shoreline of Manhattan at Pearl Street, Sandy became a "frankenstorm" for the record books.

Physicsworld.com: Arctic surface temperature trends, 1981-2008
It is the weakened jet stream that seems to be directly connected to an indisputable phenomenon of global warming: melting of the Arctic ice cap in summer. During one year, 2007, the minimum summer ice coverage dropped by 26%. Most studies now predict the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in summer by 2020 to 2040, reflecting the much more rapid rate of melting observed by satellites. The previous accepted prediction was ice free by the end of the 21st century. With the melting ice comes increasing Arctic temperatures double that recorded in the remainder of the world, referred to as "arctic amplification". Higher temperatures increase moisture release from the warming ocean and melting permafrost. In turn, atmospheric pressure in the Arctic increases and temperature gradients decrease. This combination of factors causes the polar vortex and the jet stream to weaken. When the jet stream weakens, it follows a more sinusoidal path around the globe from west to east. Meterologists observed just one such dip in the jet stream when Sandy slammed into the coast.

These jet stream waves can allow weather to get stalled in one place. Readers may recall the "snomaggedon" of 2010 that shut down Washington, DC for a week. The new record setting loss of Arctic sea ice this year enhances the probability of severe winter weather in the United States as cold arctic air is able to push it's way more easily to mid-latitudes. These altered climatic conditions do not bode well for the eastern seaboard which often experiences nor'easter storms in winter that bring very cold temperatures and heavy snow. In this way, winter storms could be amplified by the effects of global warming.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bridges and Tunnels Help Pronghorn Survive

credit: Jeff Burrell/WCS
New crossings of US Highway 191 in Trapper's Point, Wyoming are helping pronghorn antelope from becoming road kill. The structures are the result of years of cooperation between conservationists, government officials and highway users. The Wildlife Conservation Society helped in locating the crossings based on data about pronghorns' preferred migration routes between the Upper Green River basin where they winter and Grand Teton National Park. This 93 mile corridor known as the "Path of the Pronghorn" is the only federally designated migration corridor in the nation. Critically endangered wildlife in other parts of the country could benefit from erection of similar structures, particularly in South Florida where the panther is hanging on by a thread. One state highway in Florida has claimed the seven panthers in eight years, increasing the likelyhood the feline's will go extinct in the wild. {"Florida panther"}

Over the course of five years WCS scientists used GPS tracking collars to collect the antelope migration data. Trapper's Point was a historic bottleneck causing thousands of pronghorn to cross traffic on Hwy 191, thus creating a dangerous situation for drivers and animals. There are now eight crossings along a thirteen mile stretch of highway in addition to an eight foot high barrier fence to channel animals safely over and under the highway. Two overpasses and 6 underpasses will accommodate not only pronghorn but moose, mule deer, elk, and perhaps one day, bison. The overpasses were located and designed specifically for the antelope.  They apparently approve the structures since they are using them to get to the other side of the road safely [photo].  In the 19th century there were perhaps 35 million pronghorn, now only 700,000 remain and half of those live in Wyoming.  The new crossings will ensure the 6,000 year old migration survives as part of this nation's wild heritage.

EU Waits for US on Airline Pollution

The EU was going to implement a charge on airlines emitting greenhouse gases for flights in and out of member states beginning next year. The International Civil Aviation Organization meet last Friday to discuss measures for curbing CO₂ pollution from airline operations. The result of the meeting was that the Council announced a delay in EU implementation of the regulations requiring tracking of and charging for airline emissions for one year until 2013, as "a measure of good faith" in order to reach an agreement with the United States and other nations on aviation pollution. Last December the European Court of Justice upheld the EU's law forcing foreign airlines using EU airports to pay for emissions after several US and Canadian airlines filed for judicial review of the rules. The United States' reaction to the regulation of a fast growing source of carbon dioxide pollution is somewhat predictable given its head in the sand approach to global warming in general. Congress has passed a bill prohibiting the United States from complying with the European regulations. The bill awaits action by El Obamados. Whether presidential action on global warming is just more campaign hot air will soon be apparent.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

COTW: Connecting the Dots

This map comes to PNG from ProPublica.com:
It shows the location of significant pipeline accidents since 1986. The nation has about 2.5 million miles of pipelines [map, below; hazardous in red]. Notice the lack of pipeline carrying hazardous material in the region of the Ogallala Aquifer underlying the Nebraska Sand Hills. One of reasons the original application was rejected was local opposition from Nebraskan activists, farmers and ranchers concerned about the effects of a large spill on precious groundwater supplies. The administration will reconsidering the XL Keystone pipeline application intended to bring toxic, high temperature bitumen slurry south to Gulf coast refineries in the new year.
Environmentalists, who put significant pressure on El Obamados during his first term to deny the transnational project a go-ahead, are planning to demonstrate near the White House on Sunday by encircling his residence with a giant inflatable pipeline. (Who says they do not have a sense of humor?) Protestors want the President to make good on his promise to make climate change a priority of his second term. Critics of the pipeline project say it will dramatically increase the nation's carbon emissions by committing it to expanded fossil fuel production from Alberta's tar sands deposits. Supporters see it as a sure route to domestic energy independence. Al Gore, author and climate change advocate, has spoken out against the project, saying that it is the dirtiest source of liquid fuel imaginable and incompatible with reducing emissions causing global warming.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weekend Edition: Al Qaeda is Back!

The world press is only now beginning to connect the dots between the Libyan consulate bombing, General Petraeus' demise, the Israeli attack on Gaza, and the Syrian civil war. It is indeed a complicated and confusing scene in the Middle East but the portrait that forms when the pieces fall into place is that of Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda's flag @ Benghazi Courthouse

According to reports the US consulate in Benghazi attacked on September 11, 2012 was a cover for a CIA operation. After the fall of Gaddafi, the CIA began an operation to secure heavy weaponry looted from the dictator's arsenals. CIA was obviously concerned that the weaponry not reach terrorists organizations operating in eastern Libya. Gaddafi claimed before NATO stopped his plans to clean out the city that it was a stronghold of Al Qaeda terrorists. Previously, West Point Miitary Academy corroborated that claim with a study of the origins of jihadist fighters. The CIA operation was headquartered in a fortified annex about 1 mile from the Ambassador Chris Stevens' rented villa. Both installations were attacked by Al Qeada terrorists. Thirty-seven personnel escaped but four Americans including the Ambassador were killed. Stevens may have been a CIA operative himself. He was the official liaison with Abdelhakim Belhadj of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, now disbanded. Some of its former fighters may have participated The group Ansar al-Shariah is being blamed for the attack. Syrian rebels are using heavy weaponry obtained from Libya including SA-7 surface-to-air missiles. Not only are weapons coming from Libya, but also jihadist fighters.

Of course none of this information was public before the re-election of El Obamados. Nevertheless, American intelligence officials, including General Petraeus, knew within hours of the attack that it was conducted by Al Qaeda linked terrorists. White House officials were informed . The cover story put out and signed off on by Petraeus and other top security officials was that the attack was a spontaneous, violent demonstration "by extremists" against an anti-Islamic video. These half-truths were repeated by UN Ambassador Susan Rice in television interviews and the cover story was widely repeated in the CMM. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committe on Friday, Petraeus said the talking points provided by the CIA were amended to delete references to terrorists since that was classified information. He also said his resignation over an extra-marital affair did not affect his statements concerning the consulate attack. At one point, the breaking scandal caused his scheduled testimony before Congress to be canceled.

It is vert unlikely his resignation was part of an administration cover-up of its handling of the Benghazi terrorist connection. An extra-marital affair would have cost Petraeus his top secret security clearance. There are great lamentations in Washington over the loss of the hero. In US Person's book and inmany other commentators', the celebrity general is over-blown. Patraeus is credited with averting disaster in Iraq by his "surge" tactic, but it has been repeatedly stated that pivot was made by the Iraqis themselves who decided to stop aiding Al Qaeda and stop killing each other. The "surge" was repeated again in Afghanistan for the lack of any better ideas, and its re-run has proved equally fruitless. In short, General Patraeus is no James Bond.

The Syrian government claimed since the beginning of the uprising that it was instigated and conducted by terrorists. That claim was disbelieved by independent observers at first, but it is becoming increasingly true as Sunni jihadists make they way into a civil war that is now sectarian in nature. Since the civil war began, 35 car bombings and 10 confirmed suicide bombings, the organization's signature weapon, are claimed by Al Qaeda. A low-level Al Qaeda fighter who was interviewed recently in Iraq said that their goal is to establish a Syrian-Iraqi Islamic state, a goal also stated by the Al Nusra Front for the People of the Levant, the major affiliate operating in Syria. Then, according to the Iraqi fighter, their attention will turn to defeating Israel to liberate Palestine. An official high in the Iraqi government admitted that Al Qaeda operating in Iraq is the same as that operating in Syria. A Turkish border crossing at Bab al Hawa recently captured by Syrian rebels has become a jihadist rendezvous point.

Which brings us to the last dot, Israel. Israel used the puritanical uproar and distraction of the Petraeus sex scandal to cover its launch of a drone raid that killed the Hamas military leader Ahmad Ja'abari. Not a serendipitous event, but an assassination requiring months of careful planning and data collection. It now appears that a second Gaza invasion is underway intended to further "degrade" Hamas, a client of Iran, in "Operation Pillar of Cloud". Before he was killed Ja'abari told peace envoys he was interested in a long-term cease fire with Israel. It is clear that the US will go to just about any lengths to topple the revolutionary Islamic state of Iran which on a propaganda level at least is dedicated to eliminating Israel. Attacking Iran's allies directly or through surrogates is an effective way to isolate and weaken that country, already burdened by economic sanctions. Israel and the US are training and supporting Iranian terrorists (MEK) who are trying to topple the Iranian government. The record of the US supporting terrorists and using false flag operationsto gain its geopolitical goals is long and dark. Its decades long effort to defeat Iran is no different.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Botswana Says No to Trophies

Botswana's President Lt. Gen. Ian Khama announced in his State of the Nation address on November 5th that commercial hunting of wildlife on public lands will end in 2014. He said in part that, "the shooting of wild game purely for sport and trophies is no longer compatible with our commitment to preserve local fauna as a national treasure, which should be treated as such." If only other African nations could reach the same humane conclusion. But even a conservationist must admit that Botswana is relatively rich in resources and that abundance facilitates such a visionary policy change. Recent research relied upon by the government showed that in the Okovango Delta has catastrophic species loss over the past fifteen years. Eleven species have declined by 61% since a survey in 1996 of the Ngamiland district. Safari outfits and hunters are outraged, but the decision has been expected for some time. Lion hunting was suspended in 2007. If the President's words are read closely, hunting will evidently be allowed to continue on private land. How the ban will be implemented in practice will evolve over time. Nevertheless it would be a tragedy if Botswana's trophy hunting ban deteriorates into the abhorrent practice of canned hunts so common in South Africa and elsewhere. Green Kudos to Botswana!

'Toontime: Raising the Poles

[credit: Bob Tonroe]
Ah, if it were only so! Two weeks and one election later there are still residents in the northeast without electric power. El Obamados visited again to reassure dispossessed citizens that federal help will be given to them so they can recover from the Sandy superstorm.  About 120,000 homes are still dark in New York and New Jersey.  Residents without power protested in front of the Long Island Power Company this past weekend.  The utility said on Monday that it had restored power to 97% if its customers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

BP Pleads to Criminal Conduct in Gulf Disaster

British Petroleum Corporation agreed to plead guilty to 11 felony counts of misconduct or neglect related to the deaths of 11 workers in the explosion and fire that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and caused the largest oil spill in US history. Under the agreement BP will pay $4.5 billion in fines, also the largest in US history for a single criminal case. Most of that money will go towards environmental remediation efforts. In addition the company will submit to government oversight of its ethics and safety practices for a period of four years. Two company employees were also charged with manslaughter for each man who died. The government alleges they were negligent in supervising negative pressure tests intended to seal the runaway Macondo well.

Significantly, the deal does not include the potentially largest liability the company faces from the disaster. Under the Clean Water Act the company could face civil fines ranging from $1000 to $4300 a barrel of oil spilled if the company is found to have acted with gross negligence. Since an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil escaped into the Gulf of Mexico BP could be assessed as much as $21 billion. Potential liability under the Oil Pollution Act is even greater at more than $31 billion. As of now the government intends to go to trial in February on the pollution claims. Also left unresolved is the company's eligibility to perform government contracts now that it pleaded guilty to criminal misconduct. Contract debarment or disqualification from federal contracting is rarely imposed, but appropriate in the case of BP which has demonstrated a corporate tendency to cut costs when regulations or safety rules are involved in operational decisions.  BP increased its corporate reserve for costs and claims related to the spill to $42 billion. It's stock price remained relatively unchanged at market close on Thursday.

Washington's Shock and Awe

"Saving the Guns" at Maiwand
While Washington, a city of wingless drones and worker-bees, is easily titillated by the private indiscretions of its hero generalsUS Person questions how a general responsible for a failed counterinsurgency in Afghanistan can be put on the same pedestal as, for example, an Admiral Lord Nelson. Notwithstanding, the larger question of how far the government can invade citizens' private lives and read private communications is completely ignored by breathless corporate talking heads. The Electronic Communications Privacy Act allows federal law enforcement to intercept and read personal electronic information with only an administrative subpoena, a loophole that should be fixed. In the case of General Petraeus the FBI determined in early days that no classified information was compromised. The investigation should have ended there, but in the worst tradition of J. Edgar Hoover the snooping continued into what is essentially a private failing, and the affair it is now being blown up by the CMM into a melodramatic sex scandal worthy of Congressional prying. Official Washington has lost any sense of proper perspective when it comes to sex, and especially sex engaged in by politically ambitious individuals.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fracking America from Sea to Sea

source: Word Energy Outlook
The latest authoritative report from the International Energy Agency says the United States could become energy independent by 2035 if unconventional recovery of hydrocarbons by hydraulic fracturing of oil shales continues apace. Fracking [chart at right] will push oil production up from 8.1 million barrels a day to 11.1 million while gas extraction will increase from 604 to 747 billion cubic meters a day. Fracking is known to cause damage to water supplies, maladies related to toxins, and even earth tremors. The IEA also said in its report that hydrocarbon emissions rose globally by 3.2% thanks to fossil fuel consumption subsidies of $523 billion in 2011. The subsidies insure that fossil fuels will remain entrenched as the world's dominate energy source. The current trend is towards emission of 37 gigatons of CO₂ by 2035 which equates to a global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees Celsius, well above the two degree increase climate experts think would allow humans to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

COTW: Is Iowa Becoming a Giant Pig Factory?

These charts are provided by Mother Jones. They show the incrediable amount of consolidation in the Iowa pork industry, but with little benefit to the state's overall economy. The number of hog farms, often small family run operations, has dropped since 1980. There were almost 50,000 hog farms in Iowa in 1982, now that number is down below 9,000. Yet the state is selling more hogs than ever. The number of hogs sold in Iowa has more than doubled in the period 1982-2007. And there are more factory farms than ever, increasing by a more than a factor of ten. These statistics mean family operations on traditional farms where other crops are also produced have sold out to the big four pork producers or adopted factory techniques themselves:
The economies of scale have driven down hog prices which is good news for the pork consumer, but the factory operations have also driven down local economies besides creating a host of serious environmental problems. People living within smelling distance of a fetid factory farm have higher blood pressure Factory farms buy a third fewer goods from local business per hog than small, family farms. Wages for meat packers have also dropped dramatically from over $50,000 per year in 1982 to just over $30,000 in 2007.

All is not well down on the Iowa farm and old McDonald has been replaced by faceless corporations that do most of their procurement out of the state. Factory farming is not bringing riches to Iowans in return for the environmental degradation of their state.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weekend Edition: No Rain Brought Ruin

Archeologists and anthropologists studying the Classic Maya have often expressed the hypothesis that the highly developed Maya cities of the classic period, (300 AD to 1000 AD), collapsed due to a combination of factors of which climate change, specifically drought, played a leading role. Up until now no consensus has been reached among experts. That may change after a new study published in "Science" by an international team has concluded severe drought was the factor causing social unrest and upheaval ending in mass depopulation of the cities. The drought was severe enough to overwhelm water storage facilities in a region without rivers. Mayan civilization was able to increase agricultural production to an extent that allowed development of densely populated urban centers connected by a road systems. High rainfall amounts allowed the civilization to reach its height between 440 and 660 AD. A drying trend began that lasted between 660 and 1000. The progressively drier climate lead to depletion of resources resulting in political destabilization and war. According to the researchers, years of hardship during a century long drought beginning in 1020 sealed the fate of the Classic Maya.

Their conclusion is supported by natural climate recordings and better understanding of Maya inscriptions covering their surviving pottery, monuments and stelae. Scientists were able to integrate these two data sources to re-construct what was happening in human society at a period of significant climate change. Chemical analysis of stalagmite layers, similar to the growth rings of trees, near Uxbenka and other major Maya centers show increases in war and unrest were associated with periods of drought. Stalagmites grow by the continuous dripping of calcareous water that creates a precipitation record over time. Stalagmites from Yok Balum cave were examined in the study. Other natural climate records corroborate the latest findings of severe drought. Studies of Yucatan lake bed cores show a severe 200 year drought from AD 800 to 1000. Another recent study using computer modeling to estimate rainfall and evaporation rates between 800 and 950 shows a period of modest rainfall decline. Because the Classic Maya civilization was built in tropical swampland without continuous water supply it was highly dependent on rainfall to replenish extensive water management and intensive agricultural systems. Even a modest decline in rainfall of 25-40% could have been enough to disrupt human society. There are critics of the climate change theory as the explanation for the Mayan collapse. They refer to the northern Yucatan cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Coba which continued to thrive after the lowland cities to the south were depopulated. Regardless of the explanation of the demise, the success of such an advanced culture over two millennia in an unfavorable environment is an amazing achievement containing survival lessons, not doomsday prophecies, to be heeded by modern man.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Federal Judge Orders GMO out of Wildlife Refuges

A federal court ordered the US Fish & Wildlife Service to halt the planting of genetically modified plants in national wildlife refuges in the Service's Southeast region. District Judge James Boasberg also directed mitigation of environmental damage caused by cultivation of GMO crops. Contrary to popular notions about wildlife refuges, enabling federal laws allow the cultivation of crops not only as food for migrating birds but also as commercial operations under cooperative agreements. The decision is the clumination of a lawsuit brought by the public interest group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). USF&WS did not dispute the legality of planting GM crops, but instead argued in court that the end of the 2012 planting season mooted the case, but the court was not impressed with the agency's legalistic approach. The judicial edict remains in effect until the Service complies with the National Wildlife Refuge Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. To mitigate harm to twenty-five refuges in ten southeastern states the Service must inventory and catalog the sites of genetically modified crops and the pesticides used. They also must identify volunteer GM plants that have escaped from the refuges into surrounding areas. This decision is the latest of a series against GM crops on refuges. Interest groups have successfully in eliminating genetically modified crops on 75 refuges in thirty states, and litigation is continuing. The Secretary of Interior has been petitioned to prohibit the practice nationwide.