Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Quiet Victory for the Environment

a typical Wyo. coal train is about 1 mile long
The amount of electricity generated in the United States by coal-fired power plants has reached a level of 36% which is 20% less than a year ago. That is good news for cleaner air and reducing carbon dioxide. Certainly reduced economic activity is one reason for the dramatic drop as well as low prices for natural gas, coal's chief competitor, and the potential regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from US power plants by the EPA. Al-Jazerra English also credits a grass roots movement against coal plants that has stopped 166 proposed plants from going forward. Most of these citizen victories were in red states of the South and Midwest. The victories in Oklahoma came against the opposition of one of the Senate's leading climate denier, James Inhofe (R-OK).

The movement has attracted the support of billionaire politician, Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged $50 million of his own money to support the work of Beyond Coal, a national campaign at the Sierra Club that helped coordinate the efforts of local activists. Bloomberg has good reason to get involved because coal pollution kills 13,000 people every year and costs the US $100 billion in medical expenses related to respiratory problems. Stopping the construction of 166 new coal burning power plants amounts to keeping an estimated 32.25 billion tons of CO₂ from entering the atmosphere. Rather than wait for a deadlocked Congress to pass cap and trade legislation, environmentalists looked for a way to do something constructive about climate change. Stopping "King Coal" may be the most significant environmental victory since 1970 when a Republican President, Richard Nixon, signed the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts into law.

Beginning in Iowa, activists focused on the permitting process of a few high-profile plants, hoping a local victory could be the start of a larger, nationwide campaign. The state regulatory board was pressured by local activists to limit the amount of money a new coal plant could cost consumers. Denied a blank check from the state treasury, the utility company cancelled the Iowa plant projects. The same format of informed advocacy during the permit process and public pressure on state politicians who can be more easily lobbied was repeated in other states. After significant success, Beyond Coal is now looking forward to a more difficult task, that of closing existing coal-fired power plants. Its first success, in Washington state, could be a model for future negotiations. Trans-Alta, owner of the state's only coal plant, agreed to a ten year timeline for the plant's closure. Environmentalists agreed to a longer phase out to satisfy objections from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. The agreement provided for utility subsidized retraining of the plant's unionized workers in greener energy technologies.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chart of the Week: The Failed War Within A War

{28.05.12} Afghanistan will undoubtably be categorized as an American military failure on the order of Vietnam for at least three major reasons: 1) the Taliban enemy is still a viable fighting force; 2) modern nation building has failed despite the investment of billions because of corrupt quislings and a lack of widespread support from the indeginous population; 3) Afghanistan's main cash crop, opium, has not been eradicated. The map from NYT shows the amount of opium cultivation has not decreased significantly since the United States and its NATO allies invaded in 2001; Taliban control of the south is demonstrated by the high levels (red areas) of poppy cultivation there. Dismantling the narco-state was a top objective of war planners. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former special envoy to Afghanistan wrote that breaking the illicit opium economy was "essential, or all else will fail". A prescient statement that is now being fulfilled.

The last stand of the 44th Foot
Officials admit that as the US and NATO withdraw, opium cultivation will undergo a resurgence. The number of poppy free provinces reached a high of 20 in 2010. That level has dropped to 17. Improved interdiction captures only about 3.5% of the 375 tons of heroin which leaves the country every year. The West's most successful counter-narcotics operation in the Helmand River valley has coincided with a 33% decrease in poppy cultivation, but 14,000 US Marines are scheduled to leave the area by the end of this year. Whether disincentive programs will remain in operation is questionable. Meanwhile opium prices in the field are up to $320 per kilogram. A detail that speaks volumes about the insidious drug trade in Afghanistan: the British found 20,000 lbs of opium in the office of the Helmand province governor Sher Mohammed Akhundzada, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, in 2005. He was removed from office at the insistence of the British, but later Akhundzada was named to the Senate. Many Afghan power brokers including those close to Karzai are believed to be involved in the drug trade.

More: A recent report by the Pentagon's former director of intelligence assessment (he should know, right?) draws the conclusion that most of the development funds the US has showered on Afghanistan went to security forces not to the country's development. The aid was erratic, making long range projects difficult to carry out. The aid, when it did come, was "too late to prevent the rise of a major insurgency".  And there has been no systematic measurement of its effectiveness. The system "virtually invited waste, fraud and abuse".

Furthur:  Eight more Afghan civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike over the weekend. Reports from Paktia Province say a family's home was hit by a bomb during close air support of a joint ground operation, killing six children and the parents. "Collateral damage" has become a sore issue with the Afghan government and people, contributing to deteriorating relations and distrust of western forces. Likely the number of civilian casualties will increase as the United States removes ground troops and substitutes robotic warfare in its efforts to eliminate terrorists. The Obamanator has given more latitude to drone attacks in the Af-Pak theatre of operations and Yemen, where al-Qaida is very active. Since just last month there have been 14 drone strikes in Yemen and 6 in Pakistan. Now, drones attacks can be authorized on targets that possess the requisite "signature", or profile of characteristics, without identification of specific individual terrorists. So if a group of young men are attending a social function in the wrong place at the wrong time, they could be wiped out by an aerial robot. This impersonal warfare is deeply resented by a culture that places a premium on personal honor. According to convicted terrorist Faisal Shahzad, the use of drones has become a recruiting tool of choice for jihadists.  The Obamanator signs off on each drone attack outside Pakistan making him a frightening, actual version of "Dr. Strangelove".

Monday, May 28, 2012

Indian Rangers May Now Shoot on Sight

Maharashtra state will no longer charge forest rangers with human rights violation for shooting poachers. The decision is in response to an increase in the number of tigers killed by poachers. Fourteen tigers have been killed in India this year according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India. Last year 13 were killed.   In 2006 Sariska Tiger Reserve lost all of its 26 tigers, mostly to poaching, and in 2009 none of the 24 tigers in Panna Tiger Reserve survived poaching.   In last November two tigers were found dead in Maharashtra, a male was killed in a wire snare and a tigress died chewing through an electric power line. Tigers are critically endangered; a census estimate in 2011 is 1,706. When tigers once roamed the subcontinent in tens of thousands, that is a pitiable remnant that man seems to be incapable of protecting from extermination by the folk medicine obsession. Assam has a similar lethal force provision that some observers credit for the decline in poaching of rhinos. Maharashtra authorities will also offer payment for information about poachers and smugglers, as well as increasing the number of patrols.

Friday, May 25, 2012

'Toontime: Washington Priorities

[credit: Glenn McCoy]

Wondering what the Obamanator is doing with his time when he is not on the campaign trail raising big money from wealthy homosexual supporters? Perhaps finding a way to unblock Congress? Negotiating an end to the civil war in Syria? Ending a costly and embarrassing delay of inevitable defeat in Afghanistan? Guiding the EU out of its financial dead end?* NOT! He is playing golf, and a lot of it. He has played 1,746 holes since taking office according to the Romney campaign which has got nothing better to do than keep track of such trivia, since their candidate does not have any coherent policy proposals to advance.  Only Dwight D. Eisenhower played more golf while in the White House, and the Obamanator is no Ike.  It was Teddy Roosevelt who warned William Howard Taft not to be photographed playing golf, a game still considered a preserve of the wealthy. But obviously the current occupant is not paying attention to lessons of history.
*The Obamanator's idea of helping Europe is to "give investors confidence". In other words, the same TARP-like nonsense that did not work in the United States to lift the economy out of the worst recession in its history. What TARP accomplished was to rescue serial Wall Street fianancial debt abusers like Jamie Dimon from well deserved ignominy. Obamanator's other soundbite on the subject of Europe was the need for "a growth strategy to go alongside the need for fiscal discipline" Contradictory drivel intended to reassure economic dummies. The EU is threatening to kick Greece out of the zone if it doesn't shape up and submit to the German financial boot. All of General George Marshall's efforts to create a viable, democratic Europe from the rubble and ashes of world war seem to be in jeopardy a mere six decades later. But always time for more golf, hey, Mr. President? Four!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Pipeline from Hell Resets

Hillary has connections
TransCanada Corp. has submitted another application to the State Department to build and operate the XL Pipeline. This proposal is to connect it to an existing pipeline in Steele City, Nebraska reflecting the opposition to the previous application's route across the Ogllala Aquifer. The change of strategy has the company building the pipeline to carry Alberta bitumen south to refineries on the Gulf Coast in stages. The Obamanator lauded the company's decision to build the segment from Cushing, Okalahoma [map] after the international crossing was dissapproved because of an accelerated deadline imposed by Congress. TransCanada needs executive approval to cross the international border, however.

Nebraska's state legislature passed a bill to allow TransCanada to work with the state Department of Environmental Quality to find an alternative route that avoids the Sand Hills overlying the vital aquifer. The company submitted alternative routes to the state on April 18th. Opponents say the alternative routes still impact the Sand Hills. The department will hold a series of public meetings to provide information and allow comment. The routes have to cross the Niobrara River, parts of which are designated wild and scenic. Opposition to the pipeline has been significant in a conservative, rural state. Grass roots organizations such as BOLD Nebraska as well as national environmental organizations such as NRDC continue to oppose the project. The federal State Department will begin reviewing the new application by hiring a third-party contractor to do the work. The previous consulting company, Cardno Entrix, was criticized by opponents and State's Inspector General for having commercial ties to TransCanada.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Venison for Dinner

The human lust for deer meat takes bizarre forms. The latest example of typically primate behavior comes from Utah. The state Division of Wildlife is offering a $50 bounty for killing coyotes in order to help mule deer. Considering that human hunters kill more than 85,000 mule deer every year in Utah, one would think the way to help mule deer populations is to reduce the hunting pressure, not to kill natural predators. The bounty is not large, but more than enough to cause bored nimrods to take the field to kill coyotes. Not only is the Department offering a bounty, but also provides ruthless advice on its website to disrupt breeding coyote pairs by killing a mate during May and June when they are raising pups and may be feeding them with fawns. The scientific evidence shows that declining deer population are not due to natural predators but man-made causes such as habitat loss and overexploitation. The studies cited in support of the bounty by the state are inconsistent with each other. Truth be told, coyotes feed mostly on rabbits and other rodents, not mule deer which are too large for the coyote to handle.

'Toontime: The London Whale

Wackydoodle sez:  They give y'all a homosexual marriage certificate too!
Update: Jamie 'Show me the money' Dimon has suspended JP Morgan-Chase's share buyback program as the big bank's losses on the 'London Whale' derivative trades mount past $7 billion. The bank was set to buy back $15 billion in shares to meet new international rules on reserves. The Daily Telegraph reports that the head of risk management for the department incurring the losses, Irv Goldman was previously fired from a rival, Cantor Fitzgerald, for a major conflict of interest. He was found to be trading for his own account the same shares as he was trading for his firm. He is expected to resign from JP Morgan within a short time. The former head of Morgan's London trading department, Ina Drew, contracted Lyme disease in 2010. Her long periods of absence left the office in chaos. To add to the problem was the intense strife between the New York headquarters and London offices. The term 'London Whale' was the nickname of the London based trader, Bruno Iksil, who took huge derivative bets on a corporate debt index totaling $100 billion. Now, JP Morgan is in the extremely disadvantaged circumstances of unwinding its loosing trades against rival traders who know the bank's positions and are willing to increase their profits at the expense of the bank "too big to fail". Way to manage, Jamie!*

{18-05-12}The US financial structure coming close to collapse in 2007 was a symptom of the unregulated speculation known as over-the-counter derivatives trading. The notional amount of derivative contracts outstanding at any one time can only be estimated, but JP Morgan's loss of $2 billion--which billionaire New York Mayor Bloomberg described as a "hiccup"--in the bank's City of London office gives some idea of the magnitude of the trading. According to CEO Dimon what is good for JPMorgan-Chase is good for the country. Dimon's bank has spent nearly $10 million since the beginning of 2011 on lobbying, mostly focused against the Volcker Rule that would largely prohibit risky proprietary trading by a federally insured bank. Even if the Volcker Rule were passed in the face of intense Wall Street opposition, Morgan's loosing gamble would probably be legal under a hedging loophole JP Morgan sponsored. Dimon has not explained what client position it was hedging with the "London Whale". The unregulated trading also goes a long way towards explaining why no major executive on Wall Street has been called to account for the abusive practices in the sub-prime mortgage securitization frenzy. Here is another fact recently disclosed that may also explain the absence of regulatory enforcement: the Obamanator has a checking account reported to be between $500,000 and $1,000,000 at, wait for it, JPMorgan-Chase. That makes him one of the 1% and Jamie Dimon his favorite banker, does it not?
*Dimon may be the poster-boy for what is wrong with America's financial system, but he is by no means alone. John Corzine former governor of New Jersey walked off with a cool $3 million in cash including a $1.25 million bonus despite his firm MF Global declaring bankruptcy. MF Global was exposed as having $1.6 billion shortage of customer funds. Corzine's total pay package in the last year of the company totaled $8 million, most of that tied to now worthless MF Global stock. Despite a 27% decline over three years and a 44% decline for 2011 in the value of Citigroup's stock, CEO Vikram Pandit was paid $43 million in 2011.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Sky Will Fall if Pentagon Budget Cut

With sequestration of funds on the horizon, the Pentagon's apologists are lobbying hard for exempting the military from the $55 billion in automatic budget cuts for all government spending set to begin in 2013. The $1 trillion reduction in defense spending has war mongers gasping for breath already. Defense Secretary Panetta said the military spending cuts over a decade would result in the smallest number of ships since 1915, the smallest army since 1940 and the smallest Air Force in its history as a separate service. Is that a bad thing? US Person does not think so, since we have an economy that needs rebuilding to be more energy efficient, less polluting, and employ more people. The reduction is large, but in the perspective of a $700 billion annual operation, it is not too large. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone consume $115 billion; so in the big picture, a $100 billion cut per year over 10 is hardly a pacifist's dream. Let's look at the charts:

While the absolute size of the Pentagon's budget may decrease as a percentage of GDP the chart hides the fact that the level of spending on the US military has expanded in recent years as this charts shows in 2010 constant dollars :
Even with the proposed cuts in spending the US military complex will still consume 3 to 4% of our national product because the reductions are expected to come from increases in the absolute size of future Pentagon budgets. As this chart shows, the baseline budget (ex war appropriations) will actually grow through FY2017:

This modest reduction in force size--it would still be overwhelmingly the world's largest military--will not stop the military-industrial minions from fighting for every last dollar they can squeeze from Congress.  Their favorite bludgeon is: military spending creates jobs. That is undeniable, but at what cost to America?

The Pentagon has spent more on research and development than any other government entity on Earth since the Second World War. Some of that has proved very valuable to the rest of the nation's economy. Jet aircraft, developed for the military, are now a commonplace mode of transportation. The Internet as we know it was incubated for 35 years by Pentagon R&D. No profit company could have afforded such a long-term investment without return. Equally undisputed is the fact that the Pentagon is wasteful. Fully one-fourth of its service contracts put out for bid in 2010 were awarded to a single bidder. Cost overruns in 2009-10 reached $70 billion, or the size of the State Department's foreign affairs budget for the same period. The F-22 Raptor, the most advanced operational US jet fighter, was built at a per unit cost of about $200 million each*. The jet has been grounded and is still operationally restricted for oxygen system problems that will require an expensive fleet retrofit.  The expensive fighter has never been tested in combat.  Robert Pollin, an economist writing in the Nation says for every $1 billion spent on the military, 11,200 jobs are created within the US economy. That same amount spent on clean energy development would create 16,800 jobs.  It is time for America to get the economy off the military joy juice and get to work creating a healthier, more peaceful future for the planet.

*Early estimates were headlined at a bargain $140 million each. GAO says the cost of the jet is more like $415 million each while an industry source says the last F-22s produced cost about half that much. The production run was limited to 188 due to program cost overruns.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Weekend Edition: More Hope for the Devil

Tasmania's devil (Sarcophilus harisii) is locked in a battle for wild survival that it seems to be doomed to loose. A fatal form of viral cancer that is thought to be transmitted through facial bites from infected animals has decimated the population of Devils on its last remaining island home. Since the cancer was discovered, 84% of the marsupials have died. Devils went extinct on the Australian mainland in the 1600s. US Person posted previously about hope to develope a vaccine from the serum of what appeared to be a resistant individual male, but those hopes were dashed when he, too, succumbed to the disease. {02.04.12, Hope for the Devil} When Cedric got sick, attention turned to isolating the remaining healthy population in the island's northwest, but late last year the disease reached there too, eliminating the possibility that a quarantine would be successful in stoping the infection. About 500 Devils are held by zoos worldwide, insuring a healthy genetic reservoir when the animal faces predicted extinction in the wild in about 25 years. Conservationists have not given up the fight, and are looking for other remote locations in which to save healthy, wild Devils. Maria Island, a wildlife rich island 5 kilometers off Tasmania's eastern coast, is a candidate for relocation in the government's "Save the Devil" program. The plan is somewhat controversial since some conservation groups think relocating a carnivorous and naturally aggressive marsupial to a 115 square kilometer island would be too costly for birds and other animals already living there.

Enter the Packer family into the Devil's saga. They have made a fortune in gambling and media; but their donation of 1200 acres of farmland in a pristine national park to the devil conservation cause may prove to be the "Devils' Ark", and their greatest contribution to humanity. Located in mainland Barrington Tops the alpine forested hills are much like the Devils' island habitat. The plan is to keep 6-10 animals in pens two to three football fields in size that are heavily vegetated and surrounded by devil-proof fencing. Breeding is optimized to ensure healthy genetic lines, but otherwise the animals are left to themselves with a carcass provided a regular intervals for feeding. This absence of extensive human interaction and sharing of territory insures the animals remain wild and develop proper behavioral skills since they have to fight with other devils for food and mating rights. So far, in the first year of operation, 24 joeys were produced. Breeding success indicates the devils are adapting to their new home. Currently there are 100 devils in the ark and plans are to reach 350 by 2016 with room for a thousand. Eventually the hope is to begin returning healthy animals to their original Tasmanian home in 30 or so years, when the disease and its victims have died out. The rapid spread of the cancer and its lethality is a lesson for managing other genetically vulnerable and isolated wildlife like the koala. Because of its geographic isolation and population bottlenecks, the Tasmanian Devil is in-bred[1]; consequently a deadly virus is able to spread rapidly between mammals that are "immunological clones".

[1] Lachish, S.; Miller, K.; Storfer, A.; Goldizen, A.; Jones, M. (2010).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Creature Feature: Towhee

watercolor sketch, gary.thesix
An obsessive egg collector was banned from Scotland for life during breeding season for collecting rare bird eggs from nests. The man from East London plead guilty to taking 20 wild bird eggs from Rum island in 2011. In addition to the ban he was ordered to serve two six months jail terms, consecutively. He was caught stealing eggs from the manx shearwater, meadow pipit, and willow warbler. Matthew Gonshaw holds the record in the UK for the most time spent 'inside' for egg collecting. The latest incident was his fifth conviction making him the nation's most notorious egg thief. Rum is practically uninhabited by humans with a population of just 35 living in 10,000 hectares of mountainous terrain, but it has the world's largest manx shearwater colony. Gonshaw was spotted by an island deer researcher walking into a gull colony and picking up eggs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Greek Tragedy Continues

After Greek elections failed to produce a winning party with enough parliamentary support to govern, world-wide financial markets dived in heavy sell-offs. Greek political leaders have until Thursday to put together some sort of coalition government, but efforts so far have proved futile. Failure means another election will be scheduled for June 17th. Leftist Syriza has steadfastly maintained that it represents the voters rejection of EU bailouts based on imposed austerity measures, and has refused to join any government accepting the loan conditions. It received a plurality of votes in the election. A smaller left-wing party, Democratic Left, is standing by Syriza for now.  The socialist PASOK and Democratic Left are two deputies short of a ruling majority in the chamber. The EU governing body has said the Greeks have to take the conditions or contemplate leaving the single currency zone. Without money from the EU, Greece will run out of euros to pay its debt interest as early as next month when a €2 billion rollover in short term borrowing and €600 million in interest on EU and IMF loans come due.  Under the terms of the EU emergency funding, a new Greek government must spell out how it will save €11 billion next month.  A national default will be momentous, but EU officials are beginning to consider Greece's exit as inevitable.

Can Greece do an Icelandic turnaround?
Debt bailouts for Greece are not just unpopular with Greeks. The party of German Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a significant defeat in the North Rhine-Westphalia state election on Sunday. The state contains about a fifth of Germany's population. Christian Democrats received about 26% of the vote, down from 35% in 2010. Opposition Social Democrats and Greens secured enough seats to form a coalition. Merkel's government and the Bundesbank have largely been responsible for the onerous Greek rescue.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Sixth Great Extinction

There is a recent report, "The Living Planet Index", from World Wildlife Fund and the London Zoological Society that spells out the bad news for other life on Earth. Species are becoming extinct at a rate 10,000 times faster than natural {08.05.07}. Biodiversity, especially in the tropics, has declined by about 30% since 1970. We as a species consume resources at a rate of 1.5 times Earth every year. The scientific teams tracked nearly 4,000 species, and conclude the causes of the increased extinctions are all aspects of human activity on the planet: climate change, pollution, destruction of habitat, spread of invasive species, and overexploitation. The ultimate impact of biodiversity loss on human life cannot be denied. Food supplies will become more vulnerable to pests and disease, and water will be in irregular or short supply. International pledges to reduce loss of biodiversity are already moot given the current rate of resource exploitation. Nations attending the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn will have to confront an embarrassing failure to take effective action.

critically endangered Goliath grouper
A case in point are the sub-family of groupers (Epiphelinae). Groupers are large fish related to sea bass often inhabiting coral reefs. Their meat is highly regarded; consequently they are being fished to near extinction by man. A team from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has studied 163 grouper species worldwide for ten years. They report that 20 species are at risk of extinction if human predation continues at current levels. An additional 22 species are near threatened. The study results are published in the journal, Fish and Fisheries. The animals suffer from a human perception that the world's ocean resources are infinite, which cannot be farther from the truth. The scientists estimate that 90,000,000 groupers were caught in 2009. Often they are sold in markets still dying and are the highest priced. But groupers are top reef predators and play a large role in their ecosystems. They are also very slow breeders, taking 5-10 years to mature which makes them vulnerable to population collapse when they are overfished. Grouper farming has not mitigated the depletion of wild stocks. It is up to humans to make better culinary choices and avoid species whose existence hangs in the balance. US Person simplifies the equation for the math challenged: healthy wildlife = healthy humans.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Chart of the Week: The Pain in Spain

Appropriately naming themselves "the Indignants", Spaniards took to the streets to show their government what they think of austerity measures imposed by the overlay of Brussels bureaucracy on their elected government. These charts sum up what is happening to the Spanish economy:
Spain's dire straits are different from the Greek.  Spain is not overly indebted as Greece is; its public debt is below the EU average of 84% of GDP. It has less government debt than the UK. The key difference is that the UK never joined the European monetary union; therefore the UK central bank still controls the relative value of the pound sterling in the last resort; and so the UK cannot be forced into a liquidity crisis. The European economic slow down has hit Spain hard, the chart above shows a return to contraction. Spain's good times in the earlier part of this decade were fueled by a real estate development boom. Real estate prices tripled between 1996 and 2007. This sector is now contracting rapidly as this construction employment chart--often these jobs held by young people--shows:
Unemployment is at a multi-decade high and at 50% for young workers. Loss of monetary sovereignty means the austerity pain in Spain falls mainly on unemployed workers. But the other major problem confronting Spain is the high level of bad loans held by Spanish banks:
The conservative Spanish government was forced to take over the nation's fourth largest bank, Bankia, which itself had been cobbled together from seven failed cajas.  It was given a €3 billion capital infusion and still failed.  Only about half of its real estate loans were performing according to public figures.  The possibility of a run on Spanish banks makes German investors very nervous because Germany is the major lender to Spain:
Investors are demanding a premium (4.95% vs. 2.05% for Germany) to continue lending to Spain which makes the government's problem of paying off debt and financing deficit spending of 5% of its GDP more difficult. Because it is locked into the Eurozone, Spain cannot simply devalue the paseta thereby making its idle labor force and exports more competitive. To compound the problem of no economic growth, the government has swallowed the austerity pill by agreeing to one of the biggest program of spending cuts and tax increases in its history. It is like watching an entire nation do the Michael Jackson moonwalk--all forward motion, but he goes backwards. In future, Spain's leaders may be asking themselves the same question Greek leaders are asking now, "is there life beyond the Euro?"

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Weekend Edition: Uncle Sam's Exterminators

In a previous post US Person referred to the Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services as the "SS" of agribusiness {23.02.12}.  Some readers may have thought that to be excessively severe rhetoric, but journalist Tom Knudson writing in the Sacramento Bee tells why the description is not out of bounds. Each year more than 100,000 animals are exterminated by the agency as alleged "problem" wildlife. The techniques used by the Service are brutal and indiscriminate. Each year pets are injured by traps, snares, and the diabolical M-44 that ejects sodium cyanide into the mouth of whatever tugs at the bait. [graphics: Sacramento Bee].Since 2000 agents have killed nearly a million coyotes, millions of birds, and thousands of 300 other species [below]. Scientists who have study the agency's war on wildlife think it is ineffective and degrades ecosystems by diminishing biodiversity and inviting disease. For example coyote populations continue to increase despite intensive lethal control. Where coyotes have been reduced, rodents and feral cats tend to thrive. In Nevada's Granite Range, the agency spent half a million killing 45 mountain lions from the air to supposedly help mule deer, a big game hunting favorite. Despite the eradication of one the West's most iconic predators, the mule deer population was left unaffected. The agency tends to operate without public oversight, priding itself on efficiency.

The federal government began the lethal campaign when Congress allocated $125,000 to exterminate wolves in Nevada, hoping to increase beef production for World War I. The program became popular with ranchers, so President Herbert Hoover, being a good Republican, started a new government agency named the Branch of Predator and Rodent Control, mandated to eradicate a wide range of inconvenient wildlife ranging from mountain lions to prairie dogs. The zeal of federal hunters and trappers got so out of control that a panel of scientists wrote in a 1964 report to the Department of Interior that the program had become "an end in itself and no longer a balanced component". President Nixon banned the use of poison for federal predator control, but President Ford amended the order to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, the same substance used to kill convicts in California's infamous gas chamber. M-44s were banned in California in 1998 but the Service still uses them elsewhere including Indian land. Killing has continued on a massive scale at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. It is time to stop indescriminate killing preditors as vermin because biological science says it is the ecologically wrong practice. You can help end the slaughter by asking Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR) or Representative John Campbell (R-CA) to revive a bill to cut all federal funding for lethal predator control

Friday, May 11, 2012

'Toontime: Evolution, Washington Style

[credit: R.J.Matson, St.Louis Post Dispatch]
The kerfuffle in the corporate mainstream media (CMM) over homosexual marriage is jejune. Beaten to the soundbite by his opportunistic Vice President, the Obamanator "evolved" overnight to rake in more campaign money from rich people living unconventional--some would say unchristian--lifestyles. It is evolution of the Washington kind, and intended to keep the voters unfocused on the real issues confronting the state, most of which are intractable given the idealogical and structural deadlock that immobilizes our federal government. One of the most prominent homosexual politicians in Washington Barney Frank (D-MA), who will retire from the House of Representatives this year, said he would not invite the Obamanator to his same sex marriage blaming the absence of an invitation on the President's intimidating security entourage, not ideology or sexual orientation.
[credit: Daryl Cagle,]

Furthur: We may "all be Greeks now", but Greek voters made their displeasure with neo-liberal hacks desperate to extract more wealth for their bankster overlords known at the ballot box. The left coalition party, Syriza, was the big winner, while the Socialist party (PASOK) that backed EU imposed austerity measures, the big looser. PASOK lost 119 MPs. Syriza campaigned on a platform to immediately suspend debt repayment for a period of three to five years, cancel austerity measures imposed since 2010, and nationalize a significant part of the Greek banking sector.  Syriza now has 52 MPs up from 13, and is seeking to put together a coalition of the left-center to govern. The election results are seen by pundits and markets--the DAX responded negatively--as an unequivocal repudiation of the EU bailout.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

End of an Era

If you can tear yourself away from the synthetic culture wars that pass for political debate in this country, there was a real milestone to note in Japan this week. For the first time since 1970, Japan stopped producing nuclear power. May 5th was the date of the last day of nuclear power generation when Tomari No. 3 in Hokkaido was shut down. Japanese nuclear plants produced thirty percent of the nation's electricity. Thousands of anti-nuclear protesters have forced this action on the government in the deadly aftermath of the Fukushima triple meltdowns. Government has not ruled out restarting reactors if Japan suffers electricity shortages.  But Japanese nuclear activists are adamant about keeping nuclear power in its unexpectedly sudden grave. Nuclear decisions in Japan are made on the basis of local consensus. Industry and government leaders have been arguing for a restart of Ohi units 3 and 4 located in sparsely populated Fukui prefecture, north of Osaka. Without the restarts, Kansai Electric Power will be 16.3% short of peak demand this summer based on government estimates. 67% of the prefecture opposes the restart according to an Asahi Shimbun newspaper poll. Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, has become a standard bearing for citizens opposing nuclear power, calling the reactivation "absolutely unreasonable". 63% of polled Japanese do not trust government safety standards.

Japan operated 54 reactors, 17 of which were damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami or where shut down at government request.
On Wednesday Japan's government approved a $12.6 billion bailout for TEPCo, the operator of Fukushima Daiichi. The expected move to temporary state control will prevent TEPCo from collapsing. The government will become the majority shareholder and force the company to follow a restructuring plan that includes management changes, rate increases, and $41.4 billion in cost cutting. The TEPCo monopoly provides electricity to northeast Japan including Tokyo.

The the latest news confirming that new nuclear construction is economically unsustainable is the conclusion of French developer EDF that the cost of building a nuclear power plant is £7 billion, up from £4.5 last year. According to a Citi Group analyst that cost makes building new plants in the UK commercially nonviable, exceeding the cost of offshore wind power. Only with taxpayer subsidization such as that available in the United States makes nuclear economic sense.  A tentatively approved loan guarantee for the new Vogtle plants in Georgia is running into problems because owner-operator Southern Company wants all financial risk of construction shifted to taxpayers.  The nuclear power generation industry is clearly an industry whose moment under the sun has past.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Creature Feature: American Avocet

The Klamath Basin has been such an conservation mess for so long, US Person missed posting this story earlier and that was remiss of him. The lack of rain required officials managing the Klamath National Wildlife Refuge to drastically reduce the amount of water available in the wetlands for migrating waterfowl and wading birds this past winter. The largest die off in a decade resulted with up to 20,000 birds dying of avian cholera. The reason for the natural disaster is water is also reserved for irrigation and the preservation of fish habitat. Overuse of a scarce resource has resulted in a systemic imbalance in the Basin that has exited for decades. The Refuge was the first established in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt, and it has lost 80% of its original wetlands; even so commercial farming is allowed by the USF&WS within the refuge boundaries without benefit to wildlife. Lack of rain and prior water rights on the Upper Klamath Lake left the wetlands dry during peak migration season. Volunteers and staff picked up 3,500 carcasses between February and April to prevent the disease from spreading further. About 2 million birds use the Klamath Basin during their migrations. Snow goose, American coot and widgeon, northern pintail and white fronted goose were the species most impacted by mismanagement.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Chart of the Week: The Broken Economy

The Obamanator will have to do some fast talking and fancy walking on the campaign trail because 'Kid Economy' {17.06.11} is doing some damage to his midsection. Obamanator answers the re-election bell this week, and the charts below tell the score. Housing prices are down, reflecting not only a faltering economy, but the drag on the market of thousands of underwater debtors trying to unload their major lifetime investment. The increase in middle class wealth provided by the real estate boom of the oughts has exploded. Increasing home equity masked the real structural inequalities of the American economy. Only the rich are still getting rich in the current economy and only the rich are still spending; for a GDP that is 70% consumer spending that is bad news. The Dow Jones casino hit a four year high on May Day. Nine cities and both composite Schiller-Price indexes hit nine-year lows last month:

The recent increase in jobs during the mild winter months, hailed by the CMM as a sign of economic recovery, was an artifact of climate change induced optimism more than an increase in economic activity. Most of the April gains were in low-wage sectors like retail and restaurants where jobs are often temporary. Lost family income jobs are not being replaced as companies have learned to cut costs with less labor:
For the first time since the Great Depression, there has been no job growth for a decade.  That statistical fact makes this recession different from all others:
Productivity gains are going to the owners of capital, not workers. Stimulus spending is a dirty word in Washington, a city suffering from the latest inducement of budget austerity delusion. The sycophants of the plutocracy would rather let you eat cake than, for example, pass a financial transactions tax or end Repugnant tax cuts for the rich which could pay for a greener economic rebuilding. When the major spending cuts take effect in 2013, America's stalling economy will fall off the cliff, says Robert Reich, the former Labor Secretary. Someone should explain the concept of marginal utility of money to politicians, if you can get their attention away from the cameras.

Friday, May 04, 2012

'Toontime: Mission Accomplished, Redux

[credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle]
Wackydoodle sez, "I got me some parts too I can show y'all!"
One of the least attractive characteristics of American democracy, as such, is: politicians pandering to the lowest common instincts of the masses. There is an unfortunate strain of perverse exhibitionism in the American character and apparently our "warrior" President is not an exception. The head on the wall belonged to a frustrated, isolated and increasingly irrelevant leader of international jihad, but has cost America dearly to put it there.
[credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune]
In case you have buried your head in your television set or other distraction, it is the "Land of the Free" that now has a President who claims doit du roi to kill his subjects suspected of terrorism without due process of any kind; allows Wall Street malfeasance that endangers the national economy to go unpunished while thousands of fraudulently induced home mortgages are foreclosed without debtor relief; authorizes surveillance of law-abiding citizens to an extent that rivals the security apparatus of Cold War Germany (East and West); accepts the policy of New York City police to stop and search without probable cause (600,000 stops last year of mostly Blacks and Latinos); obtains 1,745 secret warrants in 2011 for wiretaps and searches from the secret "Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court" which did not reject any of the requests, an increase over requests in 2010 of 1,579; and permits the use of excessive force on citizens naive enough to take their grievances against the proto-facist state into the street as they were lead to believe they had a constitutional right to do. News item: A San Diego college student was detained and forgotten in a DEA cell for four days without food, water or toilet. To prevent dehydration he was forced to drink his own urine. Daniel Chong was not charged with any crime. Yes, it's a brave new Amerika, and it is not a beautiful.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Chickens Are Not Machines

Several states have passed humane laws prohibiting or regulating the use of battery cages for laying hens. The egg industry is fighting back by introducing into Congress a bill intended to keep hens where they think they belong, in cramped metal cages. In these metal boxes they live out an unimaginable existence without the ability to stretch their legs and wings or engage in normal behavior, laying eggs until they die. Supporters of the legislation, HR3798, claim that cages will be "enriched" and lead to eventual banning of battery cages by 2030. No so, according to the Human Farming Association. The bill's effect if passed by Congress would be to preempt state humane laws that already prohibit the use of inhumane cages. The bill also purports to improve air quality in egg factory warehouses, but in actuality does nothing to reduce harmful levels of ammonia. It merely adopts the United Egg Producers standards which are too high for animal health. Under the bill's provisions producers could label their eggs with the misleading label "enriched cages" when the cages are nothing more than larger metal cages. Finally the industry proposal has no criminal penalties for egregious cases of abuse and cruelty and shifts control of egg factories to the captured federal agency, US Department of Agriculture. Wonder why free range eggs taste better? The simple answer is, the chickens are happier and healthier. US Person uses only cage-free eggs. You should too. Help stop the "rotten egg" bill before industry succeeds in inserting it into the 'must pass' farm bill without discussion or debate. Go to and tell your representatives to vote no on HR 3798.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

More Dead Elephants in Central Africa

Poachers slaughtered twenty-two elephants of Garamba National Park in Democratic Republic of Congo last month. The carcasses were discovered by aerial survey and ground patrols conducted after collared elephants monitored daily by satellite did not move for twenty-four hours. All the elephants were killed within a day or two of eachother and included eighteen adults and four calves. The poachers were apparently experienced and armed with AK-47 assault rifles, killing the elephants with a few shots to the head. A substantial reward has been offered for information and villagers were interviewed to obtain information about the poachers. The park is located in a politically volatile area where the armed forces of several countries and the Lord's Resistance Army are operating. The Park shelters two to three thousand remaining elephants, one of the largest populations in Central Africa. Until this incident the Park was spared the onslaught of mass slaughter across West and Central Africa.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Idaho Obsessive War on Wolves

Conservationists saw it coming. The federal delisting of grey wolves has resulted in in unethical and unconscionable slaughter of wolves in Idaho, the most virulent wolf-hating state. Almost half the state's wolves, four hundred, have been killed in one year. Idaho wants to drive down the wolf population to an extremely low level of 150. That figure is not based on biological science, but on the human greed for elk and the revenue generated by elk and other big game hunters. Federal officials were naive to rely on Idaho officials' representations to maintain between 518 and 732 wolves, and the Obama administration was complicit in a poltical decision to delist wolvesin the Northern Rockies by doing nothing to stop Congress from taking such unprecedented action. The state has returned to its traditional policy of treating a ecologically necessary predator as vermin to be eradicated. This policy means no quotas on the number of wolves killed in most of the state, wolf killing for 8-10 months of the year including denning season in some areas, using aerial slaughter to wipe out entire packs. If wolves were people, Idaho's irrational wolf policy is genocide*. Help Defenders of Wildlife, help wolves by putting political pressure on Idaho Governor "Butch" Otter. Sign the Defenders petition to stop the slaughter now or post a message on the Governor's Facebook page.

 *in stark contrast that justifies the use of strong language, the citizens of Michigan, a state with a wolf population of about 550 living in the Upper Peninsula, responded to a poll conducted by Michigan State and Michigan Technological Universities. 82% agreed wolves have value even though 78% of residents contacted also believed wolves could be hunted if biologists concluded the population could sustain a hunt. Nothing in the name of sportsmanship or management justifies the harsh, inhumane treatment Idaho is imposing on Canis lupis residing within its borders.