Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Peace Prize Winner Sells Guns to Bahrain in Secret

AP: Humvee & M113 near Pearl Roundabout
Readers may remember that the kingdom of Bahrain used Saudi troops to help quash protesting citizens during the "Arab Spring" uprising [photo]. But the oppressive character of the country's government does not stop the Obama administration from selling it advanced weaponry in secret. Fearful that public arms sales to Bahrain would met with widespread condemnation during an election cycle, the Obama State Department is using a legal loophole to secretly sell 44 armored Humvees and over 300 advanced missles (TOW) to Bahrain. A planned $53 million arms sale was blocked by congressional opposition. State did not release details of the new sale, but only briefed a few chosen congressional offices. The US government can sell less than $1 million in arms to a foreign government without listing the sale publicly on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency website. So the Obama administration is treating the transaction as multiple sales of under $1 million to avoid publicity or objections. State claims the weapons are only for "external defense" not for use against Bahrainis, But when the first sale was being processed a video popped up on the Web showing the Bahraini military using US manufactured equipment (M113 personnel carriers) to suppress civilian dissent, making a liar out of the State Department, again. An official of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights commented to the Cable blog that selling arms to the Bahraini regime sends the wrong message to the whole Arab world and is exactly similar to Russia selling arms to Syria. He said, "Bahrain has become the United States' test on how serious they are about standing against human rights violations, and they are failing miserably." Congressional opponents of arms sales to Bahrain have introduced legislation in both chambers to prevent the secret sale being consummated.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chevron Hit with Criminal Charges

Brazil intends to charge Chevron with criminal acts related to the 2,400 barrel oil spill off the Brazil coast in the Campos basin in November of last year. As many as 12 Chevron officials may be indicted for taking irresponsible risks in the Frade field. Although the Gulf Oil Spill was over 1,000 times larger than the Frade spill, British Petroleum has had no criminal charges filed against it, and the federal civil court judge handling claims against BP has ruled out punitive damages or civil fines as a result of these suits. Last summer Judge Carl Barber dismissed a consolidated racketeering suit arising out of the Gulf oil spill. The US Justice Department said in June it would investigate whether any criminal laws were broken by BP. The Clean Water Act contains criminal penalties, but environmental protection laws are only as good as the enforcement as Brazil is demonstrating.

Europe's Second Tier

The ECB's cheap money deluge is relieving the crisis for some countries who are able to borrow at lower rates, like Italy and Spain, but the policy of exchanging 1% loans for bad collateral--similar to what the Fed did in the US--is in danger of creating a permanent debtor class of countries like Greece who will never be able to pay off its euro denominated debt bomb and will be eternally begging for mo' money from rich countries of the EU like Germany and Sweden. The situation in Greece is getting worse, not better, as the entire EU is headed for another recession, reducing government revenues and putting more and more Greeks into poverty, further reducing revenues. There are simply not enough antiques to sell to make the loan payments. European banks are getting plenty of liquidity from the ECB emergency lending operations, but the banks are only parking the money with the ECB to facilitate their own de-leveraging and meet the new reserve requirements--also similar to what happened with the TARP funds in the US. Greece's only hope of preventing future financial feudalism is to follow Iceland into repudiation, exit the zone, and pay back debts in drachmas. Of course this will drive the big banks crazy with losses, and there may be blood, but Greece is confronting its survival. This chart shows what the Baltic Index, a widely followed leading index of bulk shipping rates, shows about the near economic future for Europe:
The chart below shows the 'double dip' recession the UK is sliding into compared to its previous recession cycles while its sovereign debt total is on a parabola off the chart:

The red line is the current UK recession. It is the worst on record which does not bode well for the rest of Europe.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Weekend Edition: Snowy Owls Head South

Audubon's Snowy Owls
In a rare event called an "irruption" thousands of beautiful snowy owls {Bubo scandiacus} are migrating south. Usually the large owls stay year round in their circumpolar tundra, but occasionally some do migrate south, but the numbers this year are unprecedented. Scientists are scratching their head for an explanation. Some think it may be due to the more than normally severe winter weather or increased competition from a boom in owl populations, but no one knows for sure. The migration is a rare treat for birdwatchers on both coasts and in the midwest as the all white owls with five foot wingspans soar overhead or roost on rooftops. Snowy owls have been seen as far south as Oklahoma. An owl expert called the event the most significant for wildlife in two decades. A plethora of lemmings last year caused the snowy owl population to increase too. Some breeding pairs hatched as many as seven offspring compared to the usual one or two. The increase in owl sightings has brought human enthusiasts out to see the fascinating sight. The gawking has contributed to local economies, but the migration has a dark side too. There are accounts of emaciated owls weighing only a third of their normal weight and the usual lethal collisions with man's civilization.

Friday, January 27, 2012

'Toontime: the Sorry State of the Union

[credit: Nate Beeler, Washington Examiner]
And your option is....
[credit: Daryl Cagle, The Cagle Post]
But thanks to mo' money ($5million) from casino owner Sheldon Adelson, Newt is turning the Florida primary into a deadheat. Newt is shooting at Romney with both barrels, blasting Romney for investing in Goldman Sachs' Strategic Income Fund, 24% of which is in mortgage backed securities including adjustable rate mortgages from defunct lenders like Bear Stearns, Countrywide, Indy Mac and Washington Mutual. All of these were leading players in the sub-prime market which collapsed in the 2008 panic. Countrywide ranked first and Washington Mutual ranked fifth. About 5,000 foreclosure cases were filed in 2010 for Miami-Dade County alone (about 13% of Florida's population) on loans originated by these lenders. Nothing to get hung about; its capitalism...or maybe the curse of Cain!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Hope For Rhinos in Nepal

WWF says in a press release that zero rhinos were poached during 2011 in Nepal. Conservation organizations working with the Nepalese government recognized the achievement of six different enforcement agencies with awards on January 7th. One female rhino was presumed poached from Manas National Park, but park staff and enforcement officials searched on foot for two weeks for the rhino whose radio collar ceased to give off a signal. She was eventually found wallowing in a pond inside the park boundaries. Two other one-horned Asia rhinos were translocated to Manas in January to join the eight living there since 2008, part of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 joint project of the government of Assam, WWF, US Fish & Wildlife Services and the International Rhino Foundation [photo].  The rhinos are considered vulnerable by the IUCN because of habitat loss and ivory poaching. About 2900 are believed to still exist in India and Nepal. GREEN KUDOS to Nepal!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Living Up to Their Rep

Their case undermined by sympathetic testimony that portrayed the last Hadditha massacre marine as just following his training, prosecutors allowed Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich to plead to a lesser charge of dereliction of duty. All other charges, including voluntary manslaughter were dropped {"And Then There Were None"}. The plea agreement is the last sad chapter in a Marine white wash of the killing 24 Iraqi civilians in which Wuterich allegedly told his squad to 'shoot first and ask questions later' after a fellow marine was killed by an IED. Ten women and children were killed as the enraged marines went house to house spraying the residences with automatic weapon fire and grenades. Seven other marines were charged with various crimes related to the incident; six were cases were dismissed, one marine was acquitted. An official 2007 investigation of the Hadditha massacre by US Army Major General Eldon Bargewell concluded there was "serious misconduct" at all levels of the chain of command.

Local Alaskans Vote Against Pebble Mine

The proposed open pit mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay was voted down by locals in a ballot initiative. At risk are the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world. Residents of Lake and Peninsula Borough where the huge mine would be operated by Anglo-American Mining Co. voted in October against any large scale mining despite an intense public relations campaign by a consortium of mining interests named Pebble Partnership. The miners also resorted to legal action to block the initiative but a state court ruled against them. The mine would generate an estimated 10 billion tons of waste material that would have to be stored indefinitely on top of an active earthquake zone. The salmon industry, worth $450 million in economic activity, is overwhelmingly against the mine proposal. Mine pollution also threatens the survival of the last 340 beluga whales living in Cook Inlet. Despite the initiative results and a statement by its CEO that the mine would not be excavated if locals are against it, Anglo-American has returned to court to invalidate the results. It claims it has a legal right to pollute salmon streams with contaminated mining wastes, and end a sustainable way of life that has existed for thousands of years. The fight is not yet over; go to StopPebble.org.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Who Needs Due Process?

Here's what Senate leader Lindsey Graham (R) thinks of due process rights for US citizens suspected of terrorist activities or sympathies:

"If you are an American citizen and you betray your country, you're going to be questioned about what you know...and you are not going to be given a lawyer if our national security interests dictate that you not be given a lawyer and go into the criminal justice system, because we're not fighting crime, we're fighting a war."
The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Bill) of 2012 in sectinos 1031, 1032, 1033-35 gives the president the authority to indefinitely detain anyone, anywhere in the world as an "unlawful combatant"--a black hole category invented by the Charlatan's legal goons to circumvent the Geneva Conventions--if he merely suspects someone of being a terrorist, having terrorist sympathies, or substantially supports "associated forces". These vague but elastic descriptions are not defined in the bill. So theoretically, you or someone you love who volunteers for the ACLU which blew the whistle on the NDAA provisions could be taken away in the dead of night and subjected to rendition, enhanced interrogation, or imprisonment without trial. No proof is required, just mere presidential paranoia. Sound impossible or simply is a bad joke by a TV clown? No, it is real and pending before the United State's Congress now. Section 1031 et seq is a recodification of the infamous Authorization to Use Military Force passed by voice vote of Congress in the hysterical aftermath of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Not since the days of the Red Scare has the United States government gone so far to strip way the civil rights of its citizens. Defenders say the NDAA forbids detention of US citizens, but the language of the bill clearly makes military detention of a US citizen in the United States an option available to the executive branch. Ask the seven senators who voted against the bill if it categorically forbids military detention of US citizens. (Coburn, Harkin, Lee, Merkley, Paul, Sanders, and Wyden) It is way past time to end the national nightmare of eternal war before America becomes the next Third Reich. Then it will be too late. Tell the constitutional scholar occupying the White House to condemn this fascist bill to the trash heap of history.

Chart of the Week: Frac You

source: marketoracle.co.uk
This chart allegedly shows the chemical composition of typical gas shale fracking fluid.  The article containing the chart is an apologia for the industry, but US Person asks, would you want any of these things--like "surfactant", "gelling agent" or "acid"--in your drinking water?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weekend Edition: Russia's Spring or American Meddling?

Posted previously was the unusual story of large scale demonstrations in Moscow {12.12.11} protesting fraud in the parliamentary elections, and Vladimir Putin's move to resume the presidency of the Russian Federation after handing off the office to his protege, Medvedev, to skirt constitutional term limits. Putin cried foul when Secretary of State Clinton publicly said the December 4th elections were unfair even before international election monitors transmitted their reports. Putin claimed to know that many of the youthful protesters and their organizations received funding from the United States. This claim was largely discounted by western media as the rhetoric of a politician and former KGB agent shaken by an uncharacteristic show of domestic dissatisfaction. But F. William Engdahl author of A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order" writes that there may be more to Putin's claim of active interference in internal Russian politics than the United States is willing to admit. The innocuously named National Endowment for Democracy was created during the Reagan years by CIA director Bill Casey. Casey saw the non-profit foundation as a means to advance Washington's global agenda other than by direct CIA action which was often ineffective or counterproductive. The majority of funds for NED comes from US taxpayers, and as one founder put it to Washington Post's David Ignatius, "a lot of what we do today [1991] was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA." Members of its board are drawn from Washington's military-intelligence community. The current chairman of NED is John Bohn, former CEO of the Moody's bond rating agency.

NED can be found operating all over Russia according to Engdahl. It operates a high profile press center in Moscow that other international NGOs can use as a resource and conference space. It funds numerous youth advocacy programs and legislative workshops to assist youth engaging in political activities. In 2010, the latest year for which figures are published, it officially spent $2,783,000 on such programs across Russia. In a country not accustomed to 'pay for play' politics conducted largely through expensive mass media, that is lot of money solely devoted to political action. NED is also critically involved in funding 'independent' polling by the Levada Center and election monitoring. Without such monitoring, there would be no ability to claim election fraud. It finances in part the Regional Civic Organization in Defense of Democratic Rights and Liberties (GOLOS) intended to monitor the press, political agitation, and the activity of electoral commissions.

NED also hosted Washington conferences featuring high profile opposition leaders like Boris Nemtsov. Duma member Nemtsov co-created the Russian protest organization Solidarnost which is leading the anti-corruption campaign focused on Putin. But he is far from being clean himself, having been involved in shady business dealings and using his influence to help business associates charged with crimes. Yet Obama favored Nemtsov with a personal meeting in 2009 and an invitation to speak at the influential foreign policy club, the New York Council on Foreign Relations. Obama also met former chess champion and Solidarnost co-founder Garry Kasparov, a member of a neo-conservative Washington think tank focusing on security issues. Yale educated blogger Alexi Navalny is the current poster boy of the Russian opposition for western media, but he admits being on the payroll of NED in 2007-08. Nemtzov, Navalny, and Putin's former finance minister Alexei Kudrin were all involved in organizing the December 25th Moscow rally that drew perhaps 120,000 protesters.

The question of the existence of real democracy in Russia aside, would Americans be sanguine about an foreign non-profit organization with ties to the Russian Federal Security Service funding Occupy Wall Street, hosting conferences for candidates, organizing political protests, or monitoring the voting in any state of the Union? US Person seriously doubts that type of foreign influence would be tolerated here. Despite all the money and activity, the State Department still incredibly claims the United States has "zero interest" in influencing Russian domestic politics. Perhaps Prime Minister Putin doth not protest too much when he tells the US to back off its attempt at full-spectrum dominance of the "new world order".

Friday, January 20, 2012

'Toontime: Imagine all the Newt

Wackydoodle sez: Give 'em enough money, he'll make ya disappear!
The return of the Newt in South Carolina is like Romney's worst nightmare, and this time he's jet fueled with cash from zionist billionaire Sheldon Adelson thanks to the crack-brained decision in Citizens United. South Carolina is awash in Gingrich attack ads because Adelson, the 16th richest person in the world, plunked down $13 million for Gingrich's on and off campaign for president. That is enough money for the ethically challenged former Speaker to declare Palestinians "an invented people". The ridiculous rhetoric is red meat for Adelson; his widely read Israeli newspaper has been pounding the war drums for an attack on Iran and he takes a very dim view of negotiating with Palestine. Only Mitt's tax returns could do "15%" Romney more damage than Newt who is the doughboy made of kryptonite. Gingrich's campaign was also aided by Gov. Rick Perry dropping out and giving him his endorsement. Silly season rolls on.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Washington State Tallies 27 Wolves

Good news: The state's Department of Fish & Wildlife completed an end of year survey that shows at least 27 wolves in five packs are now living in Washington. The population includes three successful breeding pairs defined as an adult male and female with at least two pups that survive until the end of a calendar year. Fifteen breeding pairs documented for three consecutive years is the goal of the state's recently adopted wolf management plan. The grey wolf is protected by the state throughout Washington and federally listed as endangered in the western two-thirds of the state.

Bad news: Florida panthers continue to die at an alarming rate. Three critically endangered panthers have been killed already in 2012. The state Conservation Commission confirmed that two were killed by vehicle collisions in Collier County, where the largest concentration of panthers live, and a third panther killed in a fight with another panther. Cats will fight to defend territory, but drivers account for the largest number of dead panthers. In 2011, nine of the confirmed deaths out of 24 were due to collisions. Estimates are now that 100 to 160 panthers remain alive, an unsustainable number, but up from the nadir of 30 in the 1970's. State wildlife authorities continue to work to increase habitat, a crucial requirement if panthers are to survive in Florida. Consideration should also be given to building safe wildlife crossings in areas of known high panther activity to reduce the number of panther fatalities due to careless drivers.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Keystone XL Derailed

The controversial Keystone XL pipeline application should be rejected until new environmental studies are completed, the State Department is expected to announce today. Congress had sought to expedite a decision from the administration by including a provision in the payroll tax bill requiring a decision on the project by mid-February. The State Department says that deadline is unrealistic given the complex issues of economics, safety and environmental impact, so it will recommend rejecting the project until the studies are completed. The administration came under intense pressure to stop the project from environmentalists who consider it another huge potential source of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic oil spills. Conservative supporters claim the project will generate thousands of jobs. Two dozen Democratic legislators wrote to the President urging him to disapprove the project as not in the national interest. Activist Bill McKibben who went to jail along with hundreds of others to protest the pipeline said the expected decision was a "brave call" by a conciliatory president in the face of Big Oil's threats to exact political consequences.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

2011 Sets Record for Illegal Ivory

The international monitoring organization, TRAFFIC, says 2011 set a global record for large seizures of illegal ivory, reflecting the sharp increase in the illegal ivory trade since 2007. In 2011 there were at least 13 seizures over 800 kgs, representing the deaths of more than 2500 elephants. Hopefully, these seizures also indicate an increase in effectiveness of enforcement efforts. Recent seizures were at the port of Mombasa, Kenya where 727 pieces of ivory were discovered on December 21st in a container destined for Asia. Malaysian customs officials [photo] seized close to half a ton of ivory exported from Cape Town, South Africa on January 9th. This was the third ivory seizure at Port Klang, Malaysia in just over six months. Most of the illegal ivory comes from Africa and is shipped to Thailand and China. TRAFFIC has been keeping records on the ivory trade for the CITIES convention for twenty-three years. Rising demand for ivory and the involvement of criminal gangs with international connections are responsible for the rising deaths of elephants for their ivory. Once final figures have been tallied to include smaller ivory seizures, 2011 could be the worst year on record for elephants.

In a related development, Kenya Wildlife Service rangers are hunting the suspects of the killing of a community ranger, Abdullahi Mohammed, during a shoot out on the Rukinga Ranch occurring on January 13th. Another ranger was seriously injured in the exchange. Rangers were following the bloody trail of an injured elephant and human footprints when they were ambushed by the poachers. The poachers were equipped with an AK-47 and two clips of ammunition found stashed under a bush on an adjoining ranch. Rukinga ranch is part of the Kasigau Corridor forest restoration project area that allows animals to travel between Tsavo East and West National Parks. The owner of Rukinga ranch, Wildlife Works, employs local people in a garment factory as well as rangers to protect the wildlife. The project is part of the UN's REDD program (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries)

Russia Criticizes US For Guantanamo Gulag

More: A French judge, Sophie Clement, has requested access to information from Guantanamo Bay justifying the detention and transfer of three French citizens to the gulag. The men were detained at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in 2001. The French citizens have made allegations of torture, and the Convention on Torture of which the US is a signatory permits universal jurisdiction to investigate torture claims of citizens by other countries. Nizar Sassi, Mourad Benchellali, and Khaled Ben Mustapha say they were subjected to sexual abuse, beatings and sleep deprivation. The men were returned to France in 2005 where they were sentenced to one year in prison on terrorism charges in 2011.

{17.01.12}Operating from a position of intimate familiarity with gulags, the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the US human rights record in a report. The twenty pages addressing the US record said the continued existence of the Guantanamo detention center was the main human rights problem, but also mentioned "longstanding systematic problems" such as racial discrimination, corruption, and a "flawed electoral system". Russia has been criticized for similar human rights failures by international bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

On a more cooperative note, the Russian tanker Renda began delivering fuel to Nome, Alaska after being escorted through the pack ice by an American breaker. Nome would have been without fuel until break up in April without the Renda coming to the city's aid. Normal fuel delivery was cancelled by rough weather in a particularly severe storm season.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chart of the Week: Same Ol' Euro Blues

The financial news from Europe is not getting any better, as the technocrats continue to muddle through the debt crisis. France lost its AAA credit rating last week in the latest round of credit downgrades. The Greeks are on strike again to protest the destruction of their economy at the hands of banksters otherwise known as "austerity". The Greek government needs €14.5 billion in March just to keep its debts current. Talks between the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Greek government have hit an impasse over the size of investor losses. The dire situation has some financial pundits predicting a Greek default will occur.  More than $75 billion has left the country already as people move their savings abroad, and there are grave doubts the country has the political will to stay the painful course set for it by "the troika"--ECB, IMF and the EU.  If the country implodes, it could loose up to 60% of its GDP. This chart shows why there is turmoil in Euroland:
If the current crisis can be boiled down to one cause, it is the existence of too much debt compared to economic growth, or to put it another way, economic growth based on credit expansion and not actual production of goods. France has been borrowing money since the 1970's to pay for current operating budgets.

The chart below shows an interesting dilemma of our times in the US:
Is it the chicken or the egg? Companies need increased revenues to hire additional workers without cutting their profits. Sales are surely highly correlated to employment, but without wages only the rich can consume conspicuously. One can only buy so many Picasso's before one becomes simply tasteless. Meanwhile the 99% go to jail without passing "Go".

Friday, January 13, 2012

'Toontime: Romney, the Job Killer

[credit: Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Now we know the whole truth about 1%er Mitt Romney. Not only does he wear special underwear, speak out of both sides of his mouth, but he kills jobs to boot. As the CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital, Inc. he specialized in vulture capitalism: buying and taking apart failing companies and selling them for the price of their assets. In these raids the work force is usually an expense to be eliminated. That's why he loves firing people. He said so himself. If he incidentally created some jobs while making Bain money off the corporate take-overs, it was with the aid of corporate welfare. Twenty-two percent of the companies Bain took over eventually went bankrupt.

On the other side of the political carousel we have an incumbent who never created a job in his life, married to an angry scourge so ruthless she pushed charity cases out the door of the University of Chicago Medical Center when she was the hospital's VP for Community Affairs.
Michelle Obama created, along with Obama friend Valerie Jarrett, a "South Side Health Collaborative" program that redirected welfare patients away from the medical center to community hospitals and clinics so the medical center could offer it's beds to patients who had the ability to pay for profitable procedures. President of the American College of Emergency Physicians called the program dangerously close to "patient dumping", an illegal practice since the passage of the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act, and a blatant effort to prefer wealthy patients over poor ones to enhance revenue. The program used counselors whose job it was to convince poor patients to seek treatment elsewhere. It even provided bus service to shuttle the unwanted poor to other facilities. The program was so successful in generating more income for the medical center she hired Obama political adviser David Axelrod to conduct a public relations campaign under the benign title of "Urban Health Initiative" to sell the program to the public and other health care providers; the profit motive driving the campaign was pure Machiavellian. With a for-profit medicine advocate like her at the President's ear, the public option did not stand a chance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creature Feature: Smallest Frog Discovered

Science Journal PLoS ONE reports that a tiny, tiny frog was discovered in the tropical rainforest of Papua, New Guinea. It should be emphasized that this frog is small, only 7.7 mm (.303 inches) in length. It could crawl into the barrel of your .30-06 and never be seen again, or sit on a dime and give you change. Paedophryne amauensis was discovered by Chris Austin of Louisiana State University, who admitted the frog was hard to find on the rainforest floor among the leaf litter. It is colored dark brown and sounds like an insect when it calls. The diminutive hopper occupies a unique niche in the forest ecosystem, and is more evidence of nature's amazing evolutionary profundity.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

War With Iran Looms Closer

A nuclear scientist working at Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility was assassinated in Tehran today. Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan died when a motorcyclist stuck a magnetic mine on the side of his Peugeot 406 in traffic. Fingers will be pointed at Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency which has a long history of successful extra-territorial assassinations. Israel expects Iran will have a workable nuclear weapon by the end of 2012*. According to Iran it has achieved the uranium enrichment level of 20% at a new underground facility outside Qom that it says is invulnerable to the most sophisticated ground penetrating bombs. This latest ratchet in the war of nerves between Iran and the West is ominous as both sides seemingly move toward a military confrontation. A few days ago Iran said it would impose the death penalty on a US spy, Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a former marine with dual citizenship. Economic sanctions are having some effect on the regime in Tehran as the rial has dropped to a new low on currency exchanges and the government has begun to stockpile oil against the US threat to cut off imports of Iranian oil. These developments may all be bluster and posturing, but given the stakes and the narrow confines of the Straits of Hormuz, there is little room for error. By a well known symbolic action reminiscent of the Cold War, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists [image] moved the Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight, now set at five minutes before catastrophe, citing the failure of nations to control nuclear proliferation. The last time the hands were moved was in January 2010 when it was pushed back one minute to six minutes before the hour. The clock was initially set in 1947 at seven minutes to midnight.

*Leon Panetta, now Secretary of Defense, slipped on the Face the Nation interview program by saying that Iran is not pursuing the development of an atomic bomb, but rather "nuclear capability". That assessment is contrary to the broadcast jingoism of war hawks in Washington. The International Atomic Agency (IAEA) made statements last year suggesting that Iran was getting closer to building a nuclear weapon, but former agency personnel disputed that inference as misleading. Scientist Vyacheslav Danilenko firmly denied on Radio Free Europe that a containment chamber for hydrodynamic testing of trigger devices had been built with his participation at the Parchan military complex in 2000. Robert Kelly, a former inspector for the agency and nuclear engineer also said the claim was misleading. Testing of explosive initiation devices is customarily done outdoors for safety reasons. Danilenko is known for his work with the explosive synthesis of nanodiamonds, a process that uses a containment chamber. In 2008 an IAEA member state handed in a purported Iranian document describing a 2003 test of a possible implosion system for a nuclear weapon. The member state is believed by informed sources to be Israel. We have been here before. {"Niger Documents"}

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Creature Feature: Homeless Leopard Attacks

This female leopard mauled two people and killed a third in the town of Guwahati in Assam, India. Wild animal attacks are common in India because out of control human development is taking living space from wildlife. To the Indians credit, and perhaps because of religious scruples, they did not destroy this wayward leopard; but tranquilized her, treated her wounds, and sent her back to the remaining forest [below]. In the United States she would have been summarily destroyed as a dangerous nuisance. Just recently, two malnourished cougars that were seen close to human settlement at John Day, Oregon were shot without any injuries to humans.  The cougars were hunted for six hours before being located and killed.  Notice the man's partially detached scalp; he was treated at hospital and released.
[credit: theweek.co.uk]

Monday, January 09, 2012

Chart of the Week: Occupy Your Home

Now is not the time to sell your home as prices are still deflating. The widely followed Schiller Index fell 3.4% for the year. Only Washington, DC home of the perpetually employed, and economically devastated Detroit saw price increases:

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Last Haditha Massacre Defendant Goes On Trial

Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich is the last Marine to go to trial in connection with the 2005 murder of 24 Iraqis including an old man in a wheel chair and small children living in the Euphrates River town of {Haditha}. Jury selection began Friday from among a panel of combat veterans. To date none of the eight Marines charged in connection with the killings has been convicted of a crime. That fact was the deal breaker for Iraqi officials faced with American demands for legal immunity before the Pentagon would leave troops behind to bolster the fragile Iraqi government. Wuterich was the squad leader of marines which shot five unarmed Iraqi men then cleared houses with automatic gunfire and grenades after a IED killed a fellow marine in the convoy. Since the court martial process began--stalled for years by legal arguments over the admissibility of his CBS News "60 Minutes" interview--Wuterich has been manning a desk at the 1st Marine HQ, Camp Pendleton, awaiting trial.

What was recently found in an Iraqi dump has shed more light on American forces' treatment of Iraqi civilians during the nine year occupation of Iraq. A resourceful New York Times reporter shifting through the debris left by departing American troops found four hundred pages of interrogation of American military personnel in a junkyard outside Baghdad. The attendant was using the supposedly classified secret documents as fuel to cook his dinner. The papers appear to be official investigation into the Haditha atrocity, but the US military refused to confirm that fact, claiming the papers were still classified despite being found discarded in a junkyard. What the Q and As show is Iraqi civilians were being killed regularly during the war. In the transcripts, a US major general described the killings as "the cost of doing business". Soldiers and marines, unsurprisingly, became either paralyzed or dehumanized as the violence escalated. Bodies piled up as troops began to fire on civilians indiscriminately while some of their comrades took pictures. Clearly, the Americans did not understand or appreciate the foreign culture they had invaded. Consequently, the Haditha killings were considered by the Americans to be unremarkable. Then Anbar Province commander, General Johnson, did not examine the Haditha deaths because "it [civilian casualties] happened all the time...throughout the country". Anbar Province, where Haditha is located, was the epicenter of the Sunni insurgency; 1335 Americans were killed in Anbar alone.

Anbar is also the location of Fallujah, the site of the most violent engagements of the war. After Blackwater mercenaries where dragged through the streets and their bodies burned and hanged from a Euphrates River bridge, the American military loosed havoc on Fallujah in 2004. Residents still have not forgotten or forgiven Americans for the brutal destruction of their town. In two major battles American marines struggled to control the city. The urban warfare left it pulverized and hundreds of Iraqi civilians dead. The majority of destroyed homes have been rebuilt, but many factories are still shuttered. Apartment buildings lie in heaps of rubble. The US trained Iraqi army still controls the Sunni bastion, fueling local resentment. Given the lack of accountability of the US military in Iraq, it is no wonder Iraqi politicians found it politically impossible to grant legal immunity to American military personnel.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Weekend Edition: Hawaiian Monk Seals Killed

credit: Kauai Monk Seal Watch
An outbreak of endangered monk seal slaughter has erupted on the Hawaiian Islands. Two {monk seals} were found clubbed to death on a remote shore of Molokai, and another carcass found on Kauai. Another possible killing on rural Molokai is being investigated. There is no known motive, but resentment among fishermen of the protected fish eating seals is well known, and there is an erroneous belief among locals that the monk seals are not native to Hawaii. The population of monk seals is plummeting. Current estimates are around 1100 and at the current rate of mortality the seal will be extinct in 50-100 years.

NOAA has made two proposals to save the seal from rapid extinction. One is to relocate monk seals from the remote atolls of the northwest where survival rates of pups are at an unsustainable level of 20% to the waters around the more populated islands where their are fewer sharks and large fish competitors. Only 80 to 100 seals are believed to inhabit the waters around the main islands. The other proposal is to expand federally protected critical habitat for the seals to parts of the main islands. Locals, unhappy with the federal rules protecting the state mammal, believe the federal government is again improperly dictating to Hawaiians. Some respected elder islanders claim the monk seal was not present when they were growing up, but archeological digs show bones in middens dated as far back as the 15th century. The native creation chant, which names all the creatures known to Hawaiians, mentions a creature like the monk seal. Monk seals appear to be congregating around Molokai during the past few years. The beautiful rural island with stunning, sheer sea cliffs is inhabited by only 7,000 humans, many of whom hunt, fish and gather their food (unemployment on the island is over 15%). The seals are coming in conflict with human subsistence fishing, and the federal proposal to designate main island critical habitat is making the situation more acute according to islanders. Nevertheless, the state government is preparing a reward for information leading to the conviction of monk seal killers. The last person to be convicted killed a pregnant monk seal which had the temerity to sun on the Kauai resident's favorite fishing beach in 2009. He was sentenced to only 90 days and a $25 fine. In 2010 a state law was passed making it a class C felony for anyone killing the state marine mammal. Federal law provides for fines of up to $50,000 and five years in prison.

Friday, January 06, 2012

'Toontime: Who is that Fat Kid in the Window?

GOP Flavor of the Month © Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle,Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, GOP, Republican, Republican Presidential Candidates, Election 2012, flavor of the month
[credit: Rick McKee, The Augusta Chronicle]
Nice try, Stephan Colbert (Stə-FON KOL-burt)but his goat is still in the barn, says US Person. US liked the sombrero, but in return he offers an unambiguous 'toon to keep his readers amused as we come to the end of Christmas and the beginning of political silly season. As one person said in response to a question at the airport about who won the Iowa Caucuses, she replied, "I don't know, it's politics". Must be a football fan!