Monday, April 30, 2012

New Protections for Australia's Teddy

credit: Koala Beach Estate
Australia's iconic marsupial, the koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) is endangered in some regions of the country, so the government announced today it was moving to protect  the most vulnerable koalas by listing them as threatened, and listing some populations in New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory as vulnerable. Koalas now join 55 other mammal species on the national threatened species list including the humpback whale and the numbat. The states mentioned are densely populated by humans, and loss of habitat is causing the koalas problems. Koalas do not inhabit Western Australia or Tasmania. The Koala populations in Victoria and South Australia are considered abundant and not included in the new status designations. The Australia Koala Foundation estimates there are around 100,000 left living in the wild after being hunted and exterminated to near extinction in the early 20th Century. Protection of the koala from extermination was one of the first environmental issues which rallied widespread support from the Australian public. Today, habitat loss and disease, notably chlamydia, is threatening the survival of the marsupial which needs large tracts of undisturbed forest to forage for its low energy diet of eucalyptus leaves. The listing decision has been a long time coming. The federal government first considered the plight of koalas in 1996. Last year, a three year study of the koalas conservation status was completed by a Senate environment committee, the first ever parliamentary inquiry into a single species. The inquiry called for a $36 million dollar increase in funding for koala disease research. Developers will have to contend with the listings when making applications in those areas designated koala habitat.

Chart of the Week: Austerity or Bust

The commoners of Europe are putting the message out to their leaders that austerity is not working to revive their economies. The latest installment in the saga is the collapse of the Dutch coalition government. The right wing nationalist party exited government with its leader declaring no more "diktats from Brussels". Europe is in recession and austerity government budgets are intensifying the effects of recession:
Unemployment is rising as government spending decreases in an attempt to bring down national deficits.
However, most Keynesian economists hold that less spending is exactly the opposite of the fiscal policy that should be in place during enevitable down cycles.
As Keynesian Paul Krugman penned in his NYT column, "the confidence fairy has died". Many experts are admitting the myth of austerity bringing back investor confidence and thus an upswing in economic activity, is just that--a myth*. 85% debt to GDP is hardly Greece level indebtedness. Europe could still go some spending to stimulate the Continent's economies and ease the recession. France's economy is slowing down with unemployment at the highest level in twelve years and 13.5% of the population in poverty. French president Nicholas Sarkozy, unmistakably identified with the austerity policies of Brussels and Frankfurt, lost the first round in the election against his socialist rival as a result, and will probably loose the run-off. Irish unemployment is at 14.7% after three years of fiscal austerity. The founding party of the free state, Fianna Fail, has lost every one of it's seats in parliament. But as long as the plutocrats who fear only inflation are in control of the ECB stimulus spending is not going to happen. ECB head Mario Draghi told the Wall Street Journal recently, "there was no alternative to fiscal consolidation". Fiscal austerity is self-defeating, and now even the boulevardiers know it.

*On this side of the pond, Arthur Laffler, he of the infamous curve of voodoo economics, convinced "Darth' Cheney then serving in the House of Representatives, that cutting taxes on the rich would generate more tax revenue.  We all know now that the only thing the delusion generated was a ballooning federal deficit.  In 1984 after Reagan's tax cut and again in 2006 after the Bush cut, the Treasury came to the logical conclusion that tax cuts cause a loss of revenue and have no beneficial effect on the national economy.  The only question that remains in US Person's mind is did the supply-siders really believe their nonsense would work, or was it simply a cynical cover to reduce taxes on their wealthy sponsors, regardless of the national good?

Friday, April 27, 2012

'Toontime: Next Stop, Margaritaville

[credit: Paul Ramirez, Business Investor Daily]

Being President of the United States has become mostly a public relations job. With a deadlocked legislature captured by lobbyists, and a conservative lifetime cabal in control of the Supremes, a president who even has a coherent progressive economic policy, or any other policy, has little chance to pass real change. The Panic of 2008 was the crony capitalists coup de gras against the state when they successfully extorted billions of dollars from the government to save themselves from their own avarice. What remains of the national economy is a train wreck of debt, monetary devaluation, high commodity prices and low employment. As the cartoons suggest, distraction by simplistic sloganeering is all that plutocrats on both sides offer.

[credit: Clay Jones, Free-Lance Star]

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Polar Bears Show Less PCBs

There is good news for polar bears living on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have found less PCBs and related contaminants in cubs. Levels have dropped by as much as 59% between 1998 and 2008. Mother bears also show a significant drop in PCB contamination. The compounds were banned by many industrialized countries 30 years ago. They were once ubiquitous, used as coolants and insulators in electric motors and transformers. Production of PCBs has been banned since May 2004 by the Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. Levels are still considered too high for the bears' health since they affect thyroid hormones and may also reduce fertility. Polar bear milk is very high in fat content which allows polychlorinated biphenyls to be easily passed on to nursing cubs. Their favorite prey animal, seals, are also high in fat. In humans, PCBs have been linked to delayed development and lower IQs. The 2008 concentrations of PCBs in cubs was about 100-150 times higher than those known to affect thyroid hormones in human babies. Polar bears live and develop in a high stress environment where food is sparse and weather conditions often extreme. About 500 bears inhabit the main islands. A potent, man-made toxin in their habitat only makes survival more difficult. Still the results are encouraging and show once again that nature will heal itself if man cooperates.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weekend Edition: BP Concealed Caspian Blowout

NYT: heat buckles Deepwater Horizon
More: Never a department willing to pass up low lying fruit for some favorable publicity, the Justice Department filed a criminal charge against a former BP engineer who is accused of obstructing justice by deleting 200 text messages documenting the amount of oil flowing out of the crippled Macondo well. An early attempt to top kill the blowout failed in part because the company underestimated the flow rate. The criminal complaint was filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana and unsealed on Tuesday. According to the NYT story federal officials suggested there would be more criminal charges related to the disaster that killed 11 workers and spilled billions of barrels of crude oil that is poisoning the Gulf of Mexico. No charges have been filed against the company itself, however, despite evidence  company executives knew of problems with the cement used to line the well bore [below], irresponsible company decisions motivated by cost cutting, and designing a faulty deep water well. The London based international already reached a settlement of related economic claims in a consolidated civil case also filed in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

{21.04.12} US Person is advocating a criminal prosecution of British Petroleum for the Deepwater Horizon disaster {The Gulf of Mexico is Sick, 03.04.12} because the record so far establishes that the company acted recklessly in dealing with the problematic Macondo well in deep water. His conclusion is backed up by incidents from the company's past operations in Alaska and Texas {Deepwater Horizon}. But the latest evidence of BP's corporate culture of 'damn the regulations and save money' comes from Baku in the Caspian Sea. Admittedly, operating in the Caspian Sea is not subject to the same regulatory environment as the Gulf of Mexico, but what is relevant is that BP concealed from US regulators, and the International Drilling Contractors Association that "quick dry" cement on a runaway Caspian well failed in 2008 only two years before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. BP has attempted to blame well services company Haliburton for using the cement on the Macondo blowout. BP told a federal judge that Haliburton concealed a computer model showing quick-dry cement could fail disastrously, but if BP had informed Haliburton of its experience in the Caspian Sea, the Macondo well might have been brought under control much sooner. Nitrogen injected into cement to speed drying can cause channels which allow methane to escape and blow out the well bore cap. This information comes from an exclusive report by Greg Palast writing at Palast's story is based on an interview with an eyewitness rig worker confirmed by other industry insiders. BP was able to cover-up the 2008 incident with the help of Azerbaijan authorities, other oil companies, and according to Palast, the second Bush Administration.

BP acknowledged there was an incident in 2008 but mischaracterized the event as "a gas leak in the area of the platform" in its SEC filing. Witnesses said the methane blew out through the drilling stack, engulfing the platform. The Caspian well suffered cracking of its casing allowing methane to escape into the sea. The ensuing evacuation was chaotic according to platform workers. This incident is very similar to what occurred on the Deepwater Horizon platform except there the gas ignited, killing 11 workers and releasing billions of barrels of crude oil that is still poisoning the Gulf two years later. BP's Vice-President for Operations told Congress gas releases were rare five months before the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon without mentioning the Caspian Sea incident. Workers who know about such events are reluctant to report them outside the industry for fear of being blackballed from high paying offshore jobs. But a Wikileaks cable reveals that company VP Bill Schrader told the US ambassador the emergency evacuation of the Central Azeri platform on September 17, 2008 was the biggest in BP's history. In the cable, the ambassador opined that BP was "quite fortunate to have been able to evacuate everyone [211 workers] safely and to prevent any gas ignition." Regardless of fortune, BP was focused on the $50 million per day it was losing while the platform was shut down. Cooperation of Azeri officials was secured with $75 million in bribes paid by company executives. BP's luck with fast and loose operations ran out aboard the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010.

red snapper lesion
More evidence of the long-term impacts on wildlife from the disaster in the Gulf are being discovered.  A team of scientists conducted seven cruises last July and August looking at the condition of fish in the Gulf. About 3% of the fish caught suffered gashes, ulcers and parasites symptomatic of environmental contamination. The number of sick fish rose as the surveyors moved west from Florida towards the location of the Macondo blowout. About 10% of the bottom dwelling tile fish were suffering disease. Some of the diseases marine biologists have not seen before in the Gulf such as fin rot, and large open sores. Crustacean are also suffering from lesions, lost appendages and black gunk on their gills. Gulf fishermen are concerned. You should be too because the health of the planet is inextricably connected to yours.

Former Icelandic PM Goes on Trial

Update: Former Prime Minister Geir Haarde was convicted of one criminal count against him by the Landsdomur on Monday. He was convicted of failing to take steps to assess the risks to the state after the private banking system collapsed. Haarde dismissed the conviction as a formality and said he might appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. A special parliamentary committee release a report in September alleging Haarde and former central bank head David Oddsson knew that private banks were accumulating overseas debt but that they were grossly negligent in failing to mitigate the effects.

credit: AFP
{06.03.12} Geir Haarde [photo] is facing charges of negligence related to the 2008 Panic in court. Iceland's three major banks collapsed in 2008 due to excessive foreign lending while Haarde was leader of the ruling Independence Party. A legal motion to dismiss all charges against him was denied last year and Parliament declined last week to grant a request from the current Independence Party leader to dismiss the charges. Haarde plead not guilty in June, and has steadfastly maintained the charges are politically motivated. Parliament referred the charges to a special court for trying cabinet ministers after a special investigation committee released a truth report in which it said that seven officials acted with "gross negligence" in their management of the country's financial system prior to the bank failures. The report concludes that Haarde and the central bank head knew the banks were accumulating foreign debt at a rapid pace but were failing to hedge the risks. In April 2008 there were at least five meetings between Haarde and the central bank directors. Before the crisis Iceland's banks had foreign assets worth more than nine times the nation's GDP with equivalent debts. This situation was coupled to a monetary policy that kept interest rates high causing an inflow of foreign currency that overwhelmed the central bank's foreign currency reserves. When the liquidity crisis hit in 2007, Iceland banks were left holding a bag of worthless loans and collateralized securities. Some of the loans were made to former bank heads. In 2008 Kaupthing, Landsbanki and Glitnir were taken over by the government. They were holding debt equal to more than 900% of Iceland's GDP. They were truly too big to rescue.  Iceland was forced to accept loans from the IMF to recover from the crisis. Massive public protests against the imposed austerity measures {Iceland} forced Haarde and his rightwing coalition government from office. Iceland now has its first leftwing government.

Weird Weather Linked to Arctic Meltdown

Did readers in the northeast enjoy the late blast of winter after basking in 80 degree April sunshine? US Person endured two months of almost continuous cold and rain in March and April here in the northwest. So what's up with the weird weather? Besides the usual suspects like La Niña, and El Niño, scientists are becoming aware of the impacts of "Arctic Amplification" the alterations in the jet stream caused by a rapidly warming Arctic region. The Arctic has lost 40% of its ice cover in summer in just three decades. The jet stream is a river of moving air that flows between 30 north latitude and 60 degrees, separating cold air from warm. As the arctic melts the temperature difference lessens which changes the jet stream in two ways. The west to east speed of the jet streams slows. Over the North Atlantic wind speeds have dropped by about 14% since 1980. That allows weather systems to persist leading to phenomena of heavier snowfalls and longer periods of cold or hot weather. Deep troughs in the jet stream persisted over the East coast during the winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, bringing record snow fall amounts and very cold weather. This winter has been unusually warm in the northeast with much less snow fall because the region was under a ridge or northward bulge of the jet stream. At the same time in Alaska a deep trough dumped record amounts of snow. Secondly, the perturbations in the stream or 'waviness' increases allowing the intrusion of tropic air farther north, "ridges", and arctic air farther south, "troughs". These waves of air often lead to record breaking temperatures. Predicting long range weather patterns is difficult work, but a safe conclusion is that as the Earth continues to warm up because of man's activities, weather will get more "weird".

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chart of the Week: Spain in the Crossfire

Pundits tap Spain to be the next victim of "contagion" in Europe.  Here are the charts:
Spain is suffering from loan loses and a flagging economy. Unemployment is massive, nearing Depression level of 25% while one in two young persons are out of work. To add to the problem there is a flight of capital, otherwise known as a bank run, which forces the government to pay higher borrowing rates, and go begging for more EU and IMF assistance which will impose self-defeating austerity as a condition of mo' money:
This scenario has been repeated enough to be familiar, although the Spanish cause, unlike the alleged Greek profligacy the Germans love to look at down their Teutonic noses, was a housing bubble that Germans mostly financed. The Spanish government will need €35bn to see the country through the end of 2012. There are doubts the larger emergency lending funds of the ECB are big enough to rescue Spain from insolvency. It is the Continent's fourth largest economy. As one pundit put it, "Spain is in the crossfire of distrust."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Florida Panthers Safer

Florida Panther Project
A 1.3 mile segment of state highway in Florida has claimed the lives of seven critically endangered Florida panthers in just eight years. The hundred or so pumas (Puma concolor) are the last documented cougars in the eastern United States. US Person advocated building a crossing for the panthers in a previous post. {panthers} Undoubtably because of budget problems, the Florida department of transportation did not build an overpass but did install a roadside detection system that uses solar powered sensors to detect the presence of large animals near the road and alerts drivers to their presence with flashing signals on six warning signs. The system was put in place with a federal grant. Now, if the drivers will obey the law, there should be fewer panthers killed in collisions on the East Tamiami Trail (US 41). Another deadly road for panthers is County Road 832 that cuts through Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. Authorities lowered the nighttime speed limit there to allow panthers safer passage. Remember: speed kills!

Friday, April 20, 2012

'Toontime: An Innocent Abroad

[Cameron Cardow, Ottawa Citizen]
The latest atrocity in Afghanistan to hit the headlines are photos of US service personnel posing with dead Afghan fighters and body parts.  It is as if tired, demoralized soldiers are looking for ways to embarrass their government in the hopes the end will come sooner rather than later.  The photos were published in the LA Times on Wednesday.  An American paratrooper said he released the photos to draw attention to the break down of discipline and leadership.  The paper claimed it was merely doing its duty to inform the public.

[Gary Markstein, Copley News Service]
Wackydoodle sez:  Them thar size nines belong to Sgt. Gulliver!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

American Double Standards

Times of India
The elites inside the Beltway must have danced a jig when North Korea's test of a medium range ballistic missle failed. They have long agonized over the "Hermit Kingdom" getting its hands on a deliverable nuclear weapon that could be used to blackmail an ally like Japan or even to commit national suicide by indirectly attacking the United States in Taiwan or Okinawa. So too, our pols and pundits have generated media loads of angst over Iran's yet to be proven weapons program. North Korea was pilloried world-wide for testing its missile system recently; the US administration lead the chorus of disapprobation.

The case of India, however, illustrates two points: the porosity of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, and American nuclear double standards for nations deemed capitalist enough to be friendly*. India has not signed the agreement to limit the spread of nuclear weapons and there is much domestic opposition to signing it in the future. Consequently while faced with a hostile Pakistan, India developed nuclear weapons as it also developed civilian nuclear power with US help. Today it made a quantum leap in nuclear arms with the successful launch of Agni V (named after the Hindu god of fire), a long-range mobile missile designed to carry a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead over 5,000 kms. With that range it can reach Bejing and 70% of Europe. It will take a few years before the system enters India's arsenal or be launched from one of its two nuclear submarines. Nevertheless, Indians see the weapon as a useful countermeasure to China's military build up in south Asia and along the disputed Himalayan border with India. China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet. India and China recently broke off border talks. The US response to the launch has been very muted, but the fact is India is truly in the 'nuclear club' without a seat on the UN Security Council or signing up to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Yet the United States is not pressing India to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

*India has steadfastly supported US Afghanistan policies that border on the deranged. India is the only nation in the region that supports the US demand to leave Special Forces in Afghanistan until 2024. No wonder the Taliban quit the so-called peace talks because the US has never been serious about a negotiated settlement. The Saudis brought a peace offer from the Taliban in 2007 which included a pledge to disassociate from Al-Qaeda, acceptance of a timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops, and acceptance by a national unity government until elections. The offer was rejected by the Charlatan and the Obaminator. US troops in the field, tired and alienated from the war and Afghans in general, are taking matters into their own hands by committing serial atrocities. Unquestionably beyond the killing of Osama Bin Laden, the current administration has badly handled the war. The best policy it could come up with was the aping of the Charlantan's "surge" in Iraq. The gambit was a failure, since the Taliban is still an effective fighting force in control of large regions of the country. When NATO troops withdraw (Australia has already announced it is withdrawing its forces early), the trajectory of Afghanistan will be toward civil war, not peaceful reconciliation.

Russia Makes Room for Leopards

credit: ALTA Amur Leopard Conservation
More:  the new Land of the Leopard Park established by the Russian Federation covers all of the Amur leopards' breeding areas and about 60% of the critically endangered cat's remaining habitat.  The park includes ten resident tigers, as well as zones for  economic development and recreational opportunities.  WWF has been advocating for a reserve to protect Amur leopards and tigers since 2001.  Go to this link to see a slideshow of leopards where they belong--in the wild.

{18.04.12}Russia has created a new park for Amur leopards and tigers in the nation's far east. Over a thousand square miles of land are now protected as habitat. The "Land of the Leopard Park" was created on April 8th when three existing reserves were merged with previously unprotected land along the Chinese border and in the northeast portion of the critically endangered Amur leopard's range. [map] Only an estimated thirty of the leopards (Panthera pardus orientalis) cling to life in forests wedged between the Sea of Japan and Jinlin Province in China. The population remains stable despite human encroachment and habitat loss. Amur tigers range over a larger area, including a small population that regularly crosses the border into China's Hunchun Reserve. There are indications that northeast China's population of big cats has started to recover, and there are plans to reintroduce leopards in or near Lazovsky Nature Reserve in south Sikhote Alin. Wildlife Conservation Society is supporting the Russian government's efforts to preserve the remaining cats in the wild with studies and programs intended to protect both leopards and tigers. Conservationists praised the decision, saying the new park will provide a critical refuge for some of the most endangered big cats on the planet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sumatran Tiger Campaign Meets Success

Melbourne Zoo
In February, WWF identified twenty US grocery chains that stock paper products branded by Paseo and Livi, two of the fastest growing brands of toilet paper in the US. Asia Pulp & Paper makes the products and it is destroying Sumatran rain forest in the process. AP&P participated in laying the foundation for the Senepis Tiger Sanctuary, but was caught red-handed in 2011 by Indonesian environmental coalition, Eyes on the Forest,  clear cutting within the sanctuary's borders. These forests are the last home of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae). Within four weeks of being told of the company's destructive practices, 15 of the 20 chains stopped buying Paseo and AP has made a public committment to avoid AP&P fibre for its private-label brands. US Person urges his readers who want the Sumatran tiger to survive not to buy these  brands of paper products. If your regular store stocks these products, ask the store manager to stop selling them, and tell the manager why buying responsibly produced products is so important for our planet's future. WWF has produced a map and instructions for identifying retailers who still sell AP&P paper products. Ask yourself this: what is more important to you, the survival a magnificent animal in its natural home, or another brand of toilet paper among an already bewildering illusion of choice? Your voice counts and your actions on behalf of Mother Nature work! So this Earth Day do something that matters.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bahrain Cracks Down

Last year's Formula One Grand Prix in Bahrain was cancelled due to street protests. This year's event is under fire from human rights activists too. F1 is very popular in the rest of the world, unlike NASCAR, and the race generates revenue and prestige for Bahrain's Sunni regime. Last Friday a boy was shot in the chest and another severely beaten during clashes with police. Thousands of demonstrators defied government and attended a funeral for an activist killed last week. Another activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is reportedly near death as a result of a hunger strike. Nevertheless, F1 officials endorse the regime by continuing to back the race. Race participants are reportedly nervous about racing in Bahrain during the unrest. A Bahrain rights activist said, they [the government] has [sic] put profits and their interests before human rights." The Bahrain Center for Human Rights said the number of people killed in anti-government activity this year exceeds the number killed in all of last year. The United States continues to send military aid to the country.

Uncle Sam's Credit Card

This chart looks at Uncle Sammy's credit card known as "Greenbacks". He is on a spending spree:

Since the Obamanator took office the US has added $5 trillion to the national debt. Some analysts think we will reach the current debt ceiling (red line) of $16.4 trillion by September of this year. What is he spending it on? Guns, not butter:
Very colorful, no? All this spending on our military has produced only a virtual stalemate in Afghanistan after ten years of war as the Taliban's spring offensive attacks prove. Seems we should be getting a lot more bang for your buck. Here is the kicker: the amount of our debt purchased by foreigners through soverign bonds is falling. In 2009 foreign purchases amounted to 6% of GDP, since then this percentage has declined to about 1%. The Federal Reserve is making up the shortfall by buying Treasuries. In 2011 it bought 61% of all government debt. Caesar made the same move to pay for his legions: he steadily debased Roman gold coins. This is the modern version of money printing.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Creature Feature: "Catwalk"

orignal watercolor available,
inquire at
Corbett Tiger Reserve in northern India has the highest tiger density in India with 17.8 tigers per 100 sq. miles. It is part of the Teral Arc Landscape that spreads along the Nepal border from the River Yamuna in the west to River Bhagmati in the east. WWF-India funds the Interim Relief Scheme which compensates villagers for cattle kills, and the area surrounding Corbett has some of the highest cattle kill rates in the world with an average kill rate of 1000 per year. Human-tiger conflict as a result of increased tourism is also a problem. Mushrooming resorts in the area will choke vital corridors like the Kosi River corridor used extensively by tigers and prevent their free movement across the landscape. Two villages in the Kosi River corridor are proposed to be translocated to reduce conflicts with tigers, and the seasonal migration of elephants. It is good to know that the tiger on the path is not the last tiger walking.

Friday, April 13, 2012

'Toontime: The Last Chance Saloon

[credit: Steven Benson, Arizona Republic]
Wackydoodle sez: That boy has amazin' flexibility!

Why does a President of the United States threaten Iran with the "last chance" to avoid attack when when there is no objective evidence that an Iranian policy to obtain nuclear weapons exists? Could it have something to do with their oil? The Obaminator recently informed Iran they must give up their inalienable treaty right to civilian nuclear power by closing the Fordow enrichment facility and surrendering their stockpile of 20% enriched--not weapons grade--uranium. Iranian officials understandably responded that such demands are "irrational". Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2003 condemning nuclear weapons as un-Islamic. For Shitte Muslims, his word is law. Even our own intelligence establishment has concluded on more than one occasion that Iran does not have an active nuclear weapons program since 2003. Israeli intelligence reached the same conclusion. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has never found evidence of a weapons program notwithstanding a recent report mischaracterized as damning by neoconservative and other assorted war mongers. The report made much of IAEA inspectors being denied access to a military base which was examined in 2004, 2005 and 2006. It repeats the bugaboo of a laptop computer allegedly containing the design for a warhead; such material can be easily faked and it comes from a biased source, the Mujahaddin Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian exile group. It is the Niger {yellowcake} story all over again. None of this information appears widespread in the corporate mass media (CMM). The confrontation with Iran is there repeatedly portrayed as a fight for existential survival in the face of a nuclear armed nation ruled by religious fanatics, a storyline eerily similar to the media blitz before the Iraq invasion. In a world that literally turns on crude oil, the operative answer for apparent American disconnect with reality lies in the control of the most important commodity in the world.

credit: Ron Hera,
Iran, the world's third largest oil exporter, and the major supplier of China and India, lies outside U.S. control. Iran refuses to sell its oil for US dollars for reasons stretching back half a century to the CIA inspired coup against the elected Iranian government. Proponents of a war with Iran surely have not lost sight of the fact that if Iranian oil were traded in dollars, the financial effect after an initial spike would be to moderate the price of crude oil, extend leverage over the main consumers of Iranian oil, ease pressure on the beleaguered US economy, and perhaps most importantly, extend the status of the US dollar as the world's reserve currency. In March, the US unilaterally removed Iran from banking's SWIFT system, effectively cutting it off from world commerce. But as world trade fragments into trading blocs, and crude oil and gold prices increase due to central bank fiat money policies, the central position of the dollar weakens. If the dollar's preeminent reserve status breaks down, the US is in position to resort to violent action.

The importance of oil in geopolitics can be encapsulated in just one map of Iran and its neighbors in the Middle East [above]. Each star represents a US military installation. Iran is surrounded by more than 40 American bases not to mention a fleet of US warships in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. A war against Iran before it 'goes nuclear', even if the inevitability is only in the minds of actual Dr. Strangeloves, could accomplish what financial weapons cannot completely accomplish: continued world hegemony based on unlimited credit. The malaise of sovereign debt crisis currently confined to Europe could become America's problem in the future. Unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities of the federal government are currently estimated to be more than $63 trillion. Although the extremely expensive occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan are scheduled to be history by 2014, neoconservative foreign policies have largely been endorsed by the current occupant. No one from the previous administration has been called to account for lies told to the American public justifying the Iraq War and Occupation; no former official has been prosecuted for authorizing torture; the President now claims the unprecedent and unconstitutional right to kill US citizens merely suspected of terrorism; the Guantanomo gulag still operates ten years later. He told AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby, "I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests. I do not bluff." He won't need to because after his last election in 2012, the Obamanator will definitely have more flexibility.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poachers Prevail in Cameroon

More:  It appears the death toll of elephants may reach half the estimated population of 1,000 in Bouba Ndjida National Park caused by a cross border poaching raid that lasted eight weeks thanks to the ineptitude of Cameroon's government. The raiders are believed to be Sudanese and Chadian rebels seeking ivory to pay for their arms.  In response to the raids, the park warden, the Governor of the Northern Province and the regional representative for the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife have been replaced.  A real solution to save the remaining elephants will require cooperation between Chad and Cameroon since Sena Oura National Park in Chad borders Bouba Ndjida National Park.  Not since the bad days of of the ghoul Idi Amin has there been such a wholesale slaughter of elephants.  An estimated 75% of Uganda's elephants were lost during the cruelty of his rule.

{10.04.12}Cameroon's Army took on the poachers last month, but apparently lost the battle in Bouba Ndjida National Park. Ten elephants were killed during the exchange of gunfire, but poachers were unable to remove the tusks of the mostly young elephants. The gangs of poachers are armed with automatic weapons and are riding horses. Villagers say the Sudanese poachers plan to collect as much ivory as they can until the end of March. As many as 400 elephants have already been slaughtered. Cameroon's army is inexperienced in this type of operation, and authorities ignored warnings from conservationists. A similar slaughter took place in Chad's Zakouma National Park in 2005 and 2009. The incidents demonstrate the insecure borders Cameroon shares with Chad because of rebel activity. A veterinarian with the IFAW inspecting the crime scene said the elephant slaughter was indiscriminate. Trunks were removed with a machete, causing the victim to suffocate and suffer a slow, agonizing death.

BLM Delays Wind Farm

credit: Brian Ertz
The China Mountain Wind Project has been delayed for two years by the Bureau of Land Management to wait for the completion of environmental impact statements. The site is in Elko County, Nevada and straddles the border with Idaho.  The Brown's Bench area[photo] is sage grouse habitat, a species on the verge of being listed as endangered. Forty-two percent of the sage grouse population in a management area is within the project site. Land management agencies have been wrestling with conservationist efforts to list the bird whose habitat is rapidly disappearing in the West.  A listing would have dramatic impact on a whole range of human use proposals, most significantly energy development. A county commissioner was quoted as saying he was very concerned that "a stupid bird" could kill a project that would bring jobs to his county.  The company proposing the wind farm said at a public meeting the project's first phase would provide 750 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why America is Dumber than Before

The buzz du jour is the rising cost of college and the mounting debt used by students to pay for it. US Person participates with these revealing charts:
credit: Mother Jones
The above shows annual tuition in thousands of $s. Costs have climbed steadily, especially for private higher education. But student debt has mushroomed. In the last decade student debt has quintupled.  For the first time, Americans owe more for their education than credit card debt. Consequently, this chart shows delinquencies for student loans are also increasing:
The last pie chart shows the amount of debt categorized by age group, with the under forty burdened with more than 65% of the outstanding student debt and fewer jobs to pay for it all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Polar Bears Catch Mystery Virus

USGS: Barrow bear with infection
It appears that an unknown virus that infected seals and walruses has jumped to polar bears. Last summer about 60 seals were found dead on the coast of Alaska and another 75 diseased. USGS Scientists working in the Beaufort Sea near Barrow, Alaska have now found nine polar bears with oozing lesions and fur loss, the same symptoms prompting the federal government to declare an unusual mortality event for seals in 2011. Walruses were also infected but apparently did not die from the disease. Biologists have collected blood and tissue samples to try and determine if the polar bear illness is in fact related to what killed the seals. The latest tests have ruled out toxic algae blooms. The infection is most common around the bears' muzzle and face, ears, eyes and neck.

Healthy Wolves Eat Less Beef

Studies of the feeding habits of wolves that have returned to Germany in the last ten years show that livestock make up less than 1% of their diets. The head of the Zoology Department at Senckenberg Museum of Natural History said over 3,000 samples of wolf scat were collected and tested for undigested remnants of animal prey such as hair, bones, hooves and teeth. Zoologists were able to determine that wild ungulates accounted for over 96% of the wolves' prey, the majority being roe deer followed by red deer and wild boar. Hares made up a small portion of their diet. Wolves will not risk injury by trying to take well guarded livestock as long as there is sufficient wild prey according to the head of the Department in Görlitz. Wolves migrating from Poland to the German region of Lusatia have also changed their diet. In Poland wolves primarily eat red deer while in Germany they eat roe deer. The explanation for the dietary change lies in habitat differences. In Germany, the forested areas tend to be smaller and crossed with paths and fields that provide a more open habitat that roe deer prefer. The dietary adaptation was made in less than two generation of wolves, but it has taken more than ten years for the German wolves to feel at home enough to begin breeding. Legal protections were introduced for them in 1990. At present about nine wolf packs live in Lusatia on the Muskau Heath, a military training area, with about 34 pups.

Bees Suffer From Neonicotinoids

More: A million or more petitioners asked the EPA to suspend the use of clothianidin a neonicotinoid pesticide that harms bees. EPA granted conditional registration of the chemical in 2003, but petitioners say EPA has ignored evidence that its use poses significant risks to honeybees. Clothianidin is a systemic pesticide that permeates a plant's flowers and leaves, leaving residues in nectar and pollen which is then eaten by young bees. The doses are sub-lethal but scientists are concerned about the effects of chronic exposure. Scientists studying colony collapse disorder have tested samples of pollen and are finding a broad range of man-made substances including insecticides, fungicides and herbicides that are impairing honeybees' ability to forage and navigate.  The profit zombies will deny until the last honeybee disappears; this is a Rachel Carson moment that requires immediate action.

{04.04.12} US Person has posted before about the impact of systemic chemicals on {honeybees} which contributes to sudden colony collapse syndrome. Two new studies published in Science confirm the pernicious effect of the class of pesticides known as neonicotinides. The pesticides are widely used on flowering crops. Because of its effect on bees, Italy Germany and France have banned the pesticide. The University of Stirling study concludes there is an urgent need to use alternatives whenever possible. As in the US, British bees are big contributors to pollination of food crops; the value of their services is estimated at £200 million pounds just in the UK; worldwide that figure is £128bn annually. In 2010 88 million acres of corn and 53 million acres of wheat growing in the US were treated with the long lasting, systemic chemicals that affect the bees' nervous systems. Last year the US Department of Agriculture completed a study showing bees dosed with neonicotinoids are much more susceptible to disease. The results of that study were published only two months ago.

The Stirling study found that doses at levels expected in the field of imidacloprid, a common neonicotinoid, reduced the production of bumble bee queen bees critical to survival by a drastic 85% compared to control colonies. Such mortality rates can cause colonies to collapse. Queen bumble bees are the only survivors of winter since they hibernate in their underground hives. They begin producing new workers in the spring. A French study by the National Institute for Agronomic Research looked at another neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, and its affect on honey bees. The sub-lethal dosing affected the bees' homing abilities to such an extent that mortality was increased by two to three times. The French study used very high tech to achieve results by gluing tiny radio frequency transmitters to the thorax of their study subjects. Despite three peer-reviewed studies showing the lethal effect of neonicotinoids, Bayer CropScience, the leading maker of the chemicals refutes the conclusions reached. A spokesman called the research "inconsistent with earlier results". Beekeepers working with the Center for Food Safety have filed a petition asking the EPA to ban the pesticide clothianidin.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Who is ALEC?

ALEC is a corporate front organization, not an individual. The name stands for American Legislative Exchange Council and one of its goals is to "foster Jeffersonian principles of free markets and limited government...". ALEC is responsible for the so-called "stand your ground" gun laws that allowed a Florida deputy wannabe to shoot and kill an unarmed black youth in his neighborhood without facing criminal charges. The organization was created by the Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich in 1973. It is funded by conservative organizations including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. Koch Industries is a member of ALEC's "private enterprise board" that also includes Peabody Energy, AT&T, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and WalMart. ALEC works by proposing model legislation to state legislators, often too unmotivated, or worse too ignorant, to write their own bills. ALEC is very active in the area of voter suppression, or what it would term "vote fraud" suppression. Some of its legislative proposals create restrictive voter ID requirements, residency restrictions, curtailment of early voting, gaming of the antiquated electoral college system, and laws making mass voter registration difficult or impossible. All this is spite of the statistical fact that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. Actual fraud by voters, as opposed to clerical or bureaucratic errors in the complex voting process, is punishable as a federal felony. Risking a five year prison sentence or $10,000 fine or both is just not worth it to most people regardless of how politically motivated they are. In a statewide investigation by a Republican attorney general in Wisconsin only 20 voters cases of actual fraud have been charged out of 3 million votes cast in 2008. Nevertheless the issue has become a right-wing bete noir because the reactionary voting bloc has become desperate to offset its lack of numbers. Rather than seeking to persuade new voters on the issues, right wingers are attempting to restrict polling access. ALEC produced a voter ID "model" bill (also known as the "photo ID" bill) that conservative state legislators are attempting to pass in various incarnations. Seven states have enacted laws recently that disenfranchise student voters or make more difficult for them to vote. Conservative poltical organizations like the Wisconsin Patriot Coalition list ALEC as the source of its voter ID proposal. In Florida and Texas lawmakers have succeeded in placing new restrictions on non-profit organizations helping new voters to register. Kansas, Alabama and Tennessee increased the amount of documentation required for residents to prove citizenship. Fewer than a third of Americans own a passport, and citizens who do not have a birth certificate would have to pay for a duplicate in order to vote. An estimated 25% of African-Americans do not possess a current and valid form of government issued ID. Georgia reduced early voting from 45 to 21 days, Wisconsin shortened their period by 16 days, and Ohio reduced its period from 35 to 11 days. The list of voting restrictions intended to disenfranchise the young, or impoverished goes on. As Paul Weyrich succinctly said, "I don't want everybody to vote."

Friday, April 06, 2012

Flooded Nuke More Damaged Than Reported

credit: AP
Readers will remember the flooding of the {Ft. Calhoun} nuclear power plant by the Missouri River last June. The plant has been shut down since last April when routine refueling maintenance was scheduled to be performed, but the flood and a subsequent fire caused more damage to the facility than the owner Omaha Public Power District admitted at the time.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has imposed strict oversight on the facility. Inspections are expected to last into the summer. OPPD has made changes to its flood defenses and completed damage repairs which must be approved by the agency. The fire knocked out the cooling system for used fuel and the smoke and soot from the fire disabled the back up systems. Failure of spent fuel cooling systems caused a meltdown of Fukushima #4 after the earthquake and tsunami hit. NRC said plant officials were too slow to notify emergency response teams about the fire. Other problems include a failed electrical part during a 2010 test, and public warning sirens that do not always work. Restart of the plant is expected in the fall of this year.

'Toontime: Out of Options

[credit: Jim Morin, The Miami Herald]
As Romney collects more delegates with three wins in the latest round of primaries, Repugnant insiders are coming to grips with running a presidential candidate who lost the party's nomination against conservative Senator John McCain who lost to Obama in 2008. Paradoxically, Romney has destroyed his once respectable moderate credentials in his pursuit of right-wing primary votes. Santorum may win his home state of Pennsylvania, but he has already indicated he would be satisfied with the VP slot since he knows he cannot prevail against the Romney money machine. Disarray on the right notwithstanding, the Obamanator is not invincible. There are a lot of disaffected Democrats who would rather just not vote, than vote for someone who has broken so many promises made in his first presidential campaign and has accomplished only two significant agenda items in his first term: kill OBL, and pass 'Romneycare', which will no doubt be gutted by the conservative ideologue chorus known as the Supreme Court.

Readers may recall Obama promised to raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour in 2008. The wage has not gone up since 2009 when the last of the raises under the Charlatan were implemented. In 1968 the minimum wage was more than $10 an hour when adjusted for inflation. Even the CEO of Walmart called for an increaseof the minimum wage in 2005, recognizing his low-income customers, "don't have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks". Henry Ford, that American friend of fascism*, paid his Detroit workers $5 a day in 1914, primarily to keep unions out of his business. But a worker could buy a T-model with four months' pay. Today, a minimum wage worker needs a year's pay to buy the lowest-priced Ford Fiesta. The demise of the American middle class in the last half of the 20th century is a sad, sad story; the Obamanator, shackled like a latter day saint by his Wall Street and big business sponsors, has done precious little to change it.

*Henry sent Adolph Hitler a birthday present of $50,000. Hitler was something of a Ford fan since Ford helped him rearm the Wehrmacht. Hitler allegedly kept a copy of Ford's 1920 anti-semitic tirade, "The International Jew" on his desk. In 1938 Ford was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle by Hitler's representatives on his birthday. Ford never returned the medal even after WWII.  William E. Dodd, US ambassador to Germany in the 30s wrote to FDR about the fascist dream American plutocrats nurtured, "A clique of US industrialists is hell-bent to bring a fascist state to supplant our democratic government and is working closely with the fascist regime in Germany and Italy. I have had plenty of opportunity in my post in Berlin to witness how close some of our American ruling families are to the Nazi regime." Beside Ford were fellow fascist sympathizers: Charles Lindbergh, Graeme Howard of General Motors, the duPonts, William Randolph Hurst, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, John Rockefeller, Andrew Mellon, Prescott Bush and Thomas J. Watson of IBM.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Greek Tragedy: Suicide Becomes an Answer

On Wednesday just after 9 in the morning a retired Greek pharmacist committed suicide with a bullet to his head in the Syntagma, the central square in the heart of Athens. He left an unsigned note in which he said his advanced age did not allow him to take dynamic action against the economic austerity being imposed on his country. Dimitris Christoulas also said, "if a Greek picked up a Kalashnikov, I would be right behind him". He claimed the stringent economic measures left him without a pension for which he paid, so he wanted to end his life with dignity and not be forced to scavenge from garbage cans for his subsistence. His suicide has caused an outpouring of emotion in Greece. A note posted to a cypress near where his body lay claimed Dimitris Christoulas death was, "not a suicide but a political assassination". Christoulas died only a day after an Italian woman threw herself off her balcony to her death in Sicily reportedly as protest against her montly pension being cut. Several studies have shown an increase in the rate of suicide in Greece due to the social dislocation caused by the on-going economic crisis. Still, the Greek suicide rate is lower than that of northern European countries. One in five Greeks are unemployed. The prospect that Europe will be able to whether the economic crisis received a blow from the FTSE ("footsie") when stock prices closed down 2.3%, the largest drop in four months, and a disappointing sovereign bond auction was held in Spain. Spain is widely seen by financial analysts as the next European domino to fall.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bering Sea Canyons Maybe Protected

credit: Greenpeace, MV Esperanza
US Person is always happy to report some good conservation news. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council initiated a process to evaluate protections for the Bering Sea's undersea canyons. The Council took the action Tuesday in response to an outpouring of concern from more than twenty organizations including food giant, Safeway. A recent study sponsored by the University of California-Santa Barbara, Greenpeace, and NOAA provided scientific evidence of the high density of deep sea corals in the canyons which provide habitat for fish and other marine life. Two of the world's largest submerged canyons, Zhemchug and Pribilof incise the continental shelf a mile deep causing currents and upwelling to interact producing abundant marine life. [photo: giant pacific octopus resting on anemones and sponges at 1132 feet] The study authors noted that the remote canyons already show signs of benthic disturbance from fishing trawlers as deep as 3,280 feet. Deep sea corals and sponges recovery very slowly from damage caused by fishing gear. The science team surveyed the canyon floors for three weeks using piloted mini-subs and diving robots. It identified 15 species of coral and collected 20 sponge species, a few not thought to exist in the Bering Sea. The Council appears ready to reassess its current fishery management to protect these grand canyons from further damage once the scientific review is completed. The Council, which can set fishing quotas and set aside protected areas, last considered the canyons in 2006, and is reported to be seeking the best scientific understanding of the function the two canyons play in the larger Bering Sea ecosystem, but it is unclear how long the review will take. Little is known about the canyons and the life they support, yet Shell Oil is preparing to begin drilling for oil in the Bering Sea this summer.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The Gulf of Mexico is Sick

Out of sight, out of mind and that is how British Petroleum wants to keep it. But the lack of new stories from the Gulf about the aftermath of the largest accidental oil spill in history definitely does not mean everything is back to normal.

The new normal for the Gulf includes severely ill bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay [photo: NOAA].  According to NOAA and its partners, a comprehensive physical of 32 Barataria dolphins show that many of them are underweight, anemic and some symptoms of liver and lung disease. Nearly half also have abnormally low levels of hormones that help regulate stress response, metabolism and immune function. More than 675 dolphins have stranded in the northern Gulf since 2010. The usual number is 74 dolphins per year. The magnitude of the strandings is unprecedented and cannot be attributed to the common causes of high dolphin mortality, morbillivirus and marine biotoxins. Barataria Bay was heavily impacted by spilled crude oil for a long time compared to other areas of the Gulf such as Sarasota Bay, Florida where scientist also assessed dolphin health.  The same severe health problems are not showing up there. Dolphins exposed to high levels of toxic crude oil inhale its fumes, ingest it while feeding, eat whole contaminated fish, and absorb toxins through their skin. The probable cause is fairly hard to deny, but a final report for Barataria Bay is expected in six months. British Petroleum and the US Coast Guard declared the Bay clean last fall, but in March photos were published in the Times-Picayune showing oil sheens in the the wetlands.

The Macondo blowout also killed off nearby coral colonies.  A study funded by Bureau of Ocean Management and NOAA found coral colonies less than a mile southwest of the Macondo well are dead or dying, showing "widespread signs of stress". A chemical analysis of the brown flocculent material (decomposing crude oil) covering the corals shows "strong evidence that this material comes from the Macando well." This not merely 'anecdotal evidence' that can be dismissed as hysteria. But coastal residents have not stopped reporting what they find on their beaches regardless of what an international oil giant thinks of their credibility. Oiled sea turtles are washing ashore in Mississippi. Resident Charles Taylor got fed up with his local corporate media outlet when his photos of dead sea turtles were ignored. He told his local news station, "I am sending these pictures again" of four dead turtles in Waveland. He continued in his letter, "I have no way of proving that these turtles were killed by BP, but it seems funny that any news we see and try to report that might cast a bad light on BP simply does not get reported." It is more than just funny, Charley, it is part of BP's media management.

tarballs marked with red dye
Finally, do not forget about those 'harmless' tar balls on the beach. Scientists at Auburn University confirmed the presence of a deadly bacteria, Vibro vulnificus in the tar balls [photo: Auburn U.] The bacteria is the same one that causes illness and death from eating bad oysters. According to the Center for Disease Control V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. The tar balls examined contained concentrations of the bacteria more than 100 times greater than surrounding seawater. What British Petroleum did to the Gulf of Mexico as a proximate result of its deliberate recklessness is quite simply an environmental crime. Whether this present president who owes so much to his corporate sponsors has the moral fortitude to prosecute the perpetrator is very much in doubt.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The New Economic Recovery

The corporate mass media is full of positive stories about the so-called economic recovery underway in the United States. Look at this chart and tell US Person you still believe it:
Yes, there is an upturn at the end of the line, but compare that to the drop in real median income since 2008. The truth is that the recent increase in retail sales (8.2%), led by vehicle sales (9.2%), is once again fueled by consumer debt. $24billion in new car loans were made in the 2011/Q4. A whopping 45% of auto loans went to subprime borrowers. Not that the federal government is doing any better than households. February saw the biggest deficit ever in US history. No other government could get away with this kind of debt overload because only it can issue the world's reserve currency:
The economic reality of the Obama administration has been a massive shift of wealth from the middle class to corporations and the wealthy. Even the much touted bailouts of the auto industry came at a huge cost to unionized labor. The bailout was predicated on the United Auto Workers agreeing to a 50% wage cut and reduced pension and benefits for all new workers. The wage cutting and layoff frenzy proceeded to public sector workers, a popular target of corporatists since the PATCO strike. Wisconsin public employees are still fighting to remove their boss, the governor, because he stripped them of collective bargaining rights. The unfairness of the so-called recovery is seen in this stark statistic: in 2011/Q3 the share of GDP going to corporate profits was the largest at 10.3% since the 1960s while the share going to wages, 45.3%, the lowest on record. According to Reuters in 2010 the income of the super rich rose by 21.5% over the previous year, while the bottom 90% fell by 0.4%. National income did rise in 2010, but 37% of it was pocketed by just 15,600 families. More people are working, but as Ben Bernanke admitted recently at a business conference in DC, the improvement is due mostly to a decline in layoffs. This last chart shows where a lot of that GDP is going: