Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chart of the Week: U.S. Drought

The US Drought Monitor shows the worse drought since the Dust Bowl affecting over half of the nation, and a record for the twelve year old map. Forecasts indicate conditions are likely to persist with further intensification this Fall. Although there has been some improvement in Texas, the drought is spreading to more areas like eastern Iowa. This is not good news for the nation's corn crop:

Corn is used in an amazing array of consumer products and foodstuffs. It is also used to feed livestock in the US. Because of the lack of good pasture, the US beef herd is down to the smallest since 1956. That may be a good thing since the US accounts for 1 of every 3 tons of grain traded in the world. World food prices are only 6% below their historic high set in February 2011:

Monday, July 30, 2012

Clean Up of Everglades Water Approved

A federal district judge approved this month a settlement of decades old lawsuits brought under the Clean Water Act to improve water quality in the Everglades. The $880 million plan allows the EPA to issue permits for water treatment and storage facilities. The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by the Miccosukee Indian tribe and an environmental group, Friends of the Everglades, in 2004.  A similar suit dates back to 1988. Soon after the ruling, EPA's Region 4 issued an approval of projects submitted by the State of Florida intended to remove excess phosphorous and monitor water quality. About 6,500 acres of new storm water treatment will be built as well as water storage for about 110,000 acre-feet. Development of the South Florida metroplex has placed great stress on the fragile marsh ecosystem, so much so that conservationists fear for the complete loss of the Everglades to development. Now, $80 million in federal money will be used to help farmers and ranchers who voluntarily conserve wetlands in the Northern Everglades Watershed.  Agriculture, especially cane sugar plantations have overloaded the wetlands with phosphorous and other nutrients from fertilizers that have caused invasive growth to choke native plants. Since 2009 the USDA has spent $373 million to restore wetlands in the northern Everglades. The additional money is intended to restore another 23,000 acres of wetlands vital to wildlife, such as the critically endangered Florida panther, and water quality. In 2008 a female panther with two cubs was photographed by Magdelana Palomino [photo] on Dinner Island, the first documented evidence of a Florida panther in the area since 1973.

Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program in 2000, a 30 year program to restore the Everglades by modifying the massive flood control system in South Florida. There was little progress under the Bush Administration due to ideology, lawsuits, federal-state jurisdictional disputes, and bureaucratic delays. The latest legal settlement may be a sign that things are now moving in the direction of actually saving the Everglades from destruction*. The current administration has asked for an additional $246 million in fiscal 2013 to fund continued action to restore the Everglades to health.

*The Everglades figure prominently in the $67 billion Florida tourism industry.  The British will spend £17 billion hosting a month-long athletic event.  The Everglades eco-system, if we take care of it, should live for millennia.

Friday, July 27, 2012

'Toontime: The Appearance of Choice

[credits: Kevin Sears, Charlotte Observer]

For those readers still attached to Reality like US Person, regardless of how bleak, and NOT "100% Americanism", some black humor to build your character:
[credit: Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader]

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Young Gorillas Out Wit Poachers

a gorilla works to break the snare spring
Young mountain gorillas living in Rwanda have learned to disable snares set by bushmeat hunters.  Field staff at Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund have observed several young gorillas from Kuryama's clan destroying snares. Previously this behavior was known only amongst silverbacks. But time and evolution marches on, and with more traumatizing experience to their credit, the knowledge of how to deactivate a trip snare is passed on to younger generations of gorillas. Two juveniles and a blackback adult worked together to deactivate snares, demonstrating an impressive cognitive ability according to a field worker that observed them. Snares present an ever present danger to gorillas. Just a few days ago a juvenile female died from her infected rope wounds despite human intervention and veterinary treatment. Her's was the second death from entrapment this year. As the picture shows, humans and gorillas are doing their part to rid the park of snares.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greenland Ice Sheet Melts Faster Than Ever

At first scientists thought it was a hoax or an error, but NASA confirmed three orbiting satellites had captured data that shows the entire ice sheet of Greenland  melting at a rate never before seen. Measurements taken on July 8th (left) indicate 97% of the ice sheet had melted some by July 12. (red areas) The pink areas indicate only one satellite detected melting there. The finding is worrisome for climatoligsts who think the Earth may be on a cataclysmic path of global warming. If the entire ice sheet of Greenland which rests on land were to melt and flow into the ocean, the world's sea levels would rise by at at least 2 meters. That is disastrous for coastal and island communities. The flooding caused by Katrina would look like a heavy rainstorm compared to a six foot rise in sea level. Greenland's ice cap is about 3,000 meters deep in the center and thins out as it reaches the sea. About half of Greenland's ice melts each summer but scientists studying the effects of climate change in Greenland view this melting event as unprecedented. Just a few days ago, an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier.

Another Earth map from NASA shows the severity and increase of fires in the United States from 2001 to this month.  The most intense fires are yellow:
Only people who are paid to deny or who are dangerously delusional can continue to deny the fact of anthropomorphic global warming.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Chart of the Week: The Real Level of Unemployment

Shadowstats.com tells us what the real unemployment level is. The government's broadest measure, U-6, and not the one usually quoted in the CMM, is a full 7% lower than the figure widely accepted as reflecting reality. You can thank another Democratic shill, Bill Clinton, for fiddling with the government's measurements of unemployment by defining long-term discouraged workers out of existence (1994), as well tearing down the Glass-Steagel wall against commercial bank speculation (1999). When the Banking Act of 1933 was repealed, Clinton said, "Glass-Steagall is no longer relevant." So much for what Bubba knew when he knew it. The Great Depression (or Contraction to use an economist's term less fraught with psychological overtones) saw US unemployment officially reach 25% by 1932. We are close to that historic high again. Over on easy street, the global rich and mega-rich, those pillars of job creation, are hiding an estimated $21 trillion in off-shore tax havens. Buddy, can you spare a million?

In Europe the news just keeps getting worse, and that dear readers, will be bad news for America. There was panic selling of Spanish bonds yesterday as yields went over the 7.5% yield danger signal. The trigger was a request from the Valencia region for financial aid from Madrid. Murcia asked for help on Sunday and Catalonia appears to be next in line for aid. Talks with deep pocket Germany are scheduled for Tuesday, but Spanish officials vehemently deny their country will ask for a soverign bailout. Opinion is against them because Spain's problems go far beyond insolvent banks. Greece is about to be shoved out the door without a parachute by Germany and the IMF. Both Germany and the IMF refused new aid since Greece is not meeting fiscal targets imposed on it, and is seeking to renegotiate terms of the second loan package agreed to in March. Chancellor Merkel's Bavarian coalition partner the CSU said Germany has reached the "end of the road with Greece." Greek politicians are finally using the word "depression" in their description of the Greek economy.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Jaguars Get a Little Help

Jaguars, the Americas' largest cat and much admired by the first Americans for its ferocity, strength, and stealth once lived in the southwest of what is now the United States. That is, until the white settler began exterminating Panthera onca and then turned the pogrom over to his government's extermination specialists, the {Wildlife Services Bureau}. Jaguar range now extends from Mexico's Sonoran Desert south to Argentina. No jaguars are known to breed within US borders, but there is considerable evidence that they still visit their former home {Macho B, 02.03.10}. Therefore, conservation organizations like Panthera have been arguing to establish critical habitat for our greatest feline. Conservationists apparently have prevailed on the Fish & Wildlife Service to a small extent. Scientific American says in its July issue the Service is preparing to announce a tiny sliver of Arizona's southeast corner and adjacent southwest corner of New Mexico, as jaguar critical habitat after years of litigation. The critical designation does not include the Mogollon Rim and the Gila National Forest, both considered prime jaguar country by conservationists, but it is a start, for which  conservationists are grateful. Macho B's death may not be in vain. Welcome home, el tigre!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Joker Comes Down

an actual AR-15 painted in "Hello Kitty" colors
The midnight premier audience was happily anticipating a blockbuster full of violent action designed to transport them out of their mundane reality of Aurora, Colorado. Suddenly, out of the darkness of the theatre an AR-15 assault rifle punctured the gloom with bursts of muzzle flash like firecrackers according to a survivor. Was it real or just a practical joker in the audience? Slow seconds passed as the reality transcended the gun play on the movie screen; then bullets began impacting flesh and seats. So the desperate scramble to survive the attack began. The killer came equipped for a war: clad in black body armor, helmet, gas mask and armed with a portable arsenal of smoke grenades, semi-atomatic pistol, shotgun, and semi-auto assault rifle with a hundred round clip. Identifying with his favorite super villain, the Joker, an apparently damaged and deranged graduate student came to kill as many people as he could before being taken down himself. Perhaps he even considered achieving a bloody record of the most casualties in a mass murder; the total so far of 12 killed (including a six year-old girl) and 58 wounded, some critically, exceeds the number of casualties at Columbine High School in the 1999 mass shooting across town. The shooter planned the attack for weeks, buying 6,000 rounds and even rigging his apartment with explosive devices. All of the weapons were purchased legally by the former medical student with no police record. America has mixed itself a potent cocktail of warrior culture, easily purchased automatic weapons, and a mentally fragile public conditioned by a century of cinema in which the gun is portrayed as the great equalizer, a solution to every injustice real or imagined. The after effects of indulging ourselves are becoming harder to endure each time someone's grip on reality fails. No "aberration of nature" is necessary--just belly up to the counter and order your poison, pardner, while we fly the flag halfway up the pole.

Friday, July 20, 2012

'Toontime: Sticks and Stones, the Economy is Broke

[credit: Gary McCoy]
So far in the heat, both literal and rhetorical, the presidential candidates have directly implied that the other is a liar, a felon, or worse--did not pay any taxes for a couple of years--you choose. The name calling cannot erase the fact that United States is stumbling through its worst contraction since the Great One. It may not be as bad, but it's bad enough*.

[Steve Kelly, Times-Picayune]
*The link is to a NYT story about the third California town to declare bankruptcy recently. Municipalities across America are facing bankruptcy as a result of heavy borrowing to finance their operations. One of market manipulations of the so-called "free market" by banks too connected to fail are interest rates swaps that they sold to municipalities by convincing them it would save the cities money financing their debt. Indeed, if interest rates had gone up, the swaps would have saved interest expense, but because banks engaged in financial terrorism and frightened the government into lowering interest rates to the bone, interest rates have fallen to historic lows. Not only did banks threaten to blow up the system unless they got cheap money, they rigged the LIBOR rate to insure the swaps (bets) they sold to cities paid off for them. That this scheme would work is easy to understand when one considers that just four banks, JPM, CITI, BOA and GS own 96% of derivatives, and interest rate swaps compose 82% of derivatives traded. Barclays' got caught and turned states' evidence, but it is just a small part of a global racket larger than the Mafia ever was. It is time for public banks because private sector banking is killing independent nations and businesses. An example of how corrupt the current financial system is, and the collusion of governments in keeping it from collapsing, is the story of how UK's Chancellor Gordon Brown dumped half of his nation's gold reserves at bargain rates to allow an unnamed US bank to cover its potentially disastrous short position on 2 tons of gold.  Because of the UK's fire sale, the bank was able to make a profit on its naked short.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Belugas Will be Killed

The Obamanator, in another demonstration of his toadyism to big oil, has given Apache Alaska Corporation permission to conduct sonic surveys in the Cook Inlet, Alaska, home to the last 284 beluga whales. Only four years ago these whales were put on the Endangered Species list and 3,000 square miles of the Inlet declared their critical habitat. Now the National Marine Fisheries Service says the seismic survey performed with high powered air guns can take thirty whales in the first year of operations which could go on for 3 to 5 years. Just imagine, if you can, a sonic blast so loud it could make your ears bleed at close range every 10 to 12 seconds. Beluga whales live in an acoustic world. They use sound to hunt and communicate. These blasts will, without doubt, kill some of them. The killing of these whales is not just another "uncompensated externality" but a crime against nature. As long as the Obamanator's administration permits these atrocities, there will be very little support coming from voters who respect and admire the natural world. The Cook Inlet beluga whales need your help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Snake Species Located

[credit: Neang Thy/FFIU]
Reptile lovers will love the looks of this newly described snake species located in the Cardamon Mountains of Cambodia. The Cambodian kukri (Oligodon kampucheaensis) was named after its origin by native herpetologist, Neang Thy. Science was devastated by the genocidal Pol Pot regime according to Thy, so he is pleased to be able to present and describe a new species in honor of his country, Campuchea. Most kukris are dull brown, but this species is bright red with striking rings of black and white. "Kukri" is from the daggers of Nepal which are shaped similarly to the snake's fangs that it uses to puncture and eat eggs. The habitat of the newly described snake is one of the most diverse remaining rainforests in Southeast Asia. The Cardamon Mountains contain over 250 bird species as well as the Malayan sun bear, clouded leopard, Indochinese tiger and about 100 wild Asian elephants. The fact that unknown species can still found there argues persuasively for its protection and preservation. Deforestation even in protected areas is a problem in Cambodia with concessions still being granted for monoculture plantations and logging. Deforestation is at one of the highest rates in the world. Cambodia lost 9,700 square miles of rainforest between 1990 and 2005. Since 2007 less than 1,243 square miles of primary (old growth) rainforest remain and much desired by timber interests.

More:  A new paper (Zimmerman & Kormos) concludes that sustainable logging of rainforests is not economically viable or even practical given the complexities of tropical rainforest ecology. Just three rounds of logging resulted in the near extinction of desired wood species in all zones of tropical forest. When loggers plunder target trees and leave the surrounding forest undisturbed, the ecological balance responsible for nurturing those trees is disturbed. Most desired species are long lived and slow growing. They are sparsely scattered and rely on animal diversity for spreading their seed indicating large areas of undisturbed forest are vital to their survival. When these high value trees are removed, the remaining forest declines in economic value until lower level colonizers like monoculture plantations and ranches move in resulting in the clear cutting of the forest. It is an economic model similar to the one depleting the worlds ocean of fish. Low-impact logging advocated by some scientists as a "middle way" and subsidized by the UN REDD+ program is not an answer according to the study authors. Low-impact logging leaves 20-50% of the forest canopy open which has significant impacts on forest moisture. The species that replace the logged trees are frequently of low to no commercial value. Logging interests know this succession already; they engage in "cut and run" operations since they involve less expense and more short term gain. Truly sustainable forest cutting would require an interval of sixty years or more between cuts and be restricted to less than five trees per hectare. Such restriction are simply not economically sustainable on a commercial level. The study authors think selective logging by local communities is preferable to clear cutting for oil palm plantations or cattle pastures, but given that, industrial should not be subsidized since it leads in their opinion to eventual forest clearance. They suggest a temporary moratorium on cutting in primary rainforests might be helpful until a new economic model based on community logging with a long term stake in the health of the forests locals live near can be worked out and funded.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Frackenwater in PA

Yes, we have "frankenfoods", and your accompanying beverage will be "frackenwater".  A study of groundwater samples from the Marcellus shale basin where fracking operations are underway--enhanced gas recovery using hydraulic fluids--in Pennsylvania concludes that salty mineral laden fluids from deep below are seeping upward into drinking water aquifers. Although the brine was not contaminated by drilling fluids, the finding is important because it contradicts the repeated assertion by fracking supporters that the toxic drilling fluids used to force gas into well bores will be sealed beneath deep layers of impermeable rock. The authors presented geo-chemical evidence of pathways between shallow water aquifers and deep brine formations in the Alluvium, Catskill and Lock Haven aquifers in northeastern Pennsylvania. The study is based on 426 samples of saline groundwater. (Cl>20mg/L). This is the second scientific finding that the shale formation could physically allow the migration of toxic drilling fluids into drinking water supplies.  The recent study was criticized by a reviewers on the National Academy of Sciences because the authors did not draw any conclusions about the time frame involved for the migration while implicating fracking operations. A reviewer called the study, "unwittingly written to inflame the anti-drilling crowd." Sounds like a statement from a drilling advocate to US Person. Nevertheless, the study found one out of six samples contained brine nearly identical to brine originating from the Marcellus shale layer. More research into the brine migration is being undertaken.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Chart of the Week: Your Trash Says a Lot

Detectives will tell you that if you want to find information about a person that is readily available and open to the public, read that person's trash. You will find out what they eat, who they owe money to, what they read, and what products they use. The same principle applies to countries says Mother Jones:
The map shows the world's current largest solid trash makers. Of course, as the world's epitome of a consumer society the United States makes the most trash in excess of 2,000 lbs per capita annually [chart below: EPA]. Germany, the leading European economy, is close behind at 1,698 lbs. China has a way to go, but it is experiencing the largest population growth of any industrialized nation. By 2025 it may be the largest waste producing nation in the world at 562 million tons of solid waste per year.
A nation's waste stream is indicative of its resource use. Americans use 3 million sheets of paper every minute, 12,000 plastic bags every second and enough aluminum to replace the entire commercial airline fleet every three months. The size of its solid waste stream is disproportionate to its share of world population at 4.55%. We throwaway 14% of the food we buy. The good news is that America is recycling more paper than ever. 62% of paper gets recycled, and 34% of solid waste overall [chart bottom], but potentially that figure could be 86%.
Even if Americans recycled everything they could, an American would produce more waste than an average Indian. An average American uses more energy on New Year's Eve and Day than the average Tanzanian uses in an entire year. Its just the way we roll to the landfill.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Creature Feature: Snow Leopards

This video from Mongolia shows two litters of snow leopard cubs (Panthera unica). Two females, Anu and Lasya, are collared with satellite tracking devices for research purposes. Researchers quickly took measurements and will not visit the den sites again to minimize disturbance. Audio monitoring confirms the mothers are still caring for their cubs. Vital statistics are needed to plan for the survival of the species in the wild where only 4,000 or fewer survive. The research is a project of Panthera and the Snow Leopard Consevation Fund.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Badger Cull Given Green Light

A British High Court justice has rejected a petition to stop the controversial badger cull in England. An appeal by the Badger Trust is likely and a complaint by the UK Humane Society is pending before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The UK is a signatory to the European convention that is intended to protect wildlife and its habitat. The Bern Convention Secretariat said it is not satisfied with DEFRA's (UK's ministry for the environment) response to the complaint. Badgers are listed in Appendix III to the Convention which requires participating governments to protect them. The Humane Society complains the cull is unnecessary, will not eliminate TB in cattle, and the government is not enforcing stringent measures for cattle before resorting to wildlife extermination. Conservationists see the cull as a political concession to influential rural interests.

'Toontime: The Blame Game

[credit John Deering, Arkansas Democrat]
Wackydoodle axes:  Could ya'll introduce me to Vana?

The Obamanator would be in real trouble right now if his political opponent were anyone else but the rich guy from Massachusetts with offshore money who has as much charisma as as, well, a temple Mormon. The economic news is bad, therefore the Current Occupant expends most of his sound bites blaming anything but his administration. To be fair, the "Second Great Contraction" is not all his fault; he is hobbled by a freeloading political establishment more interested in posturing over the Olympic team's uniforms made in China than producing a bipartisan plan for economic recovery.

Romney is the recipient of a bizarre twist of political fate. The healthcare legislation, despised by conservatives and labeled "socialist", but which may give the Obamanator a second term after narrowly surviving a conservative Supreme Court review, was originally Governor Romney's initiative. Now he is in the awkward position, even for a seasoned politician, of running away from "Romneycare" as a presidential candidate:

[credit Steve Benson, Arizona Republic]

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Chart of the Week: Debt'o'Rama II

Why is the United States in so much debt? One answer, and there is more than one, is that the federal government does not collect as much in taxes as it did in the past.  Of course revenues go down in a "great contraction", but marginal rates are also at historic lows:
[credit: Catherine Mulbrandon]
The gray line shows corporate marginal rates and green income marginal rates at lows not seen since the 1920's.  This graph from the NYT shows what rate each income quintile is paying for all taxes:
You do not need to be an economist to see the largest drop in tax rates are for the highest earning taxpayers. Who are these people? Here is a another chart from Ms. Mulbrandon @ visualizingeconomics.com:
They are the usual suspects: CEOs (black), celebrities (blue), and hedge fund managers (red) who make more than almost anybody else. Mitt Romney is in this class of the incredibly wealthy (>99.99%). His 2010 income tax return listed a total income of $21.7 million, mostly from capital gains taxed at a ridiculously low marginal rate of 15% [see chart, yellow line]. The overwhelming majority of Americans (98%) live in households making less than $250,000 annual income. The usual justification for this huge disparity in income is that the super rich make jobs; Romney uses this chestnut to explain his tenure at the takeover firm, Bain Capital. But this chart reveals that claim to be another lie:
Currently, the top marginal income tax rate is 35%. More jobs were created back in 50's and 60's when marginal rates exceeded 50%! When is the last time a comic, actor or professional athlete gave you a job? We already have government for the rich, so it's only one small step for man to government by the rich, of the rich.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

It Doesn't Rain in Chihuahua Anymore

Maybe with enough stories like these, the paid deniers in Congress and the corporate mass media will become embarrassed enough to give up, but do not count on it. The British Independent tells us that it doesn't rain in the Mexican state of Chihuahua any more. Americans think that Chihuahua is a just a vast desert south of the border full of scorpions, illegal immigrants, and narco-traffikers. Wrong again, buddy! Chihuahua is covered with vast pine forests and scrub savannah with enough rainfall to traditionally pasture livestock and grow beans, corn and some wheat [photo]. For the seven decades prior to this one the average annual precipitation was 39cms (15.3ins). In 2011 it only rained 26cms, and this year not at all. An atmospheric physicist at Mexico City's UNAM university says that Chihuahua is in a state of permanent drought.  In other words, global climate change has permanently altered Chihuahua's climate which will turn the region into a non-arable desert. The state's farmers are facing economic ruin. In a normal year Chihuahua's farmers produce 100,000 metric tons of corn; in 2011 that was down to only 500 tons. The bean harvest was also severely impacted, down to a sixth of a normal year's production. Indigenous Raramuri, who follow a traditional lifestyle of subsistence, are starving in the drought. Some of their communities have been classified by the UN as poorer than Niger, the world's poorest nation. The death toll is climbing not just from starvation, but stress-related violence and suicides. Pumping irrigation water from underground aquifers is not a long term solution. Pumped water gets more expensive the deeper the wells are drilled, and soon the underground water simply runs out. When that happens, people migrate.

Mexico, an oil producer, is only the second state in the world to vote for legally binding carbon emissions targets. Chihuahuans are dealing with the devastating effects of global warming right now. The residents of Colorado Springs who are staring at the charred remains of their expensive mountainside homes[video] burnt by the earliest and most destructive wildfire in Colorado's history should talk to their conservative politicians*. They still don't seem to get the point.
*Colorado's temperatures for June were 6.4 degrees above average making it the warmest June recorded in the state. NOAA says the last twelve months in the US have been the hottest since records began in 1895. The chance of that happening randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.  

Serengeti Road Goes to Trial

Tanzania's controversial and damaging highway project bifurcating the Serengeti National Park is going to trial before the East African Court of Justice. The road would disrupt the migration routes of millions of herbivores. A 2011 study found that the wildebeest herd of 1 million could be reduced by a third. A leaked government study estimated that by 2015 800 vehicles per day could be using the road Tanzania's objections to the court that the road is a sovereign matter were rejected. The UN, the World Bank, and the German government have all raised concerns over the impact of the highway; at one point it seemed the Tanzanian's had given up on the project, however the government only retreated, not relented. It said the road would not be paved over the critical 50 kilometer segment through the Park. Not good enough for conservationists who say if the road is graded it will eventually be paved, widened and fenced given commercial pressures. Tanzania has rebuffed international offers to help build a Serengeti highway to the eastern shore of Lake Victoria along a less environmentally sensitive route.

The suit to stop the road was brought by the Kenyan organization, Africa Network for Animal Welfare. Judge James Ogala said in his ruling that the court has jurisdiction in environmental disputes which "touch on sustainable utilization of resources including terrestrial ecosystems". Since the migration routes cross Tanzania's border with Kenya [map], a road project having undeniable impacts on migrating animals and associated predators in a transnational ecosystem is clearly a regional, not solely national concern.

Tanzania has maintained that the road is a necessary element for its plan to develop western Tanzania, a relatively isolated part of the country that suffers from poverty. The road, government claims, would help businesses to develop and provide a needed route to markets in the eastern part of the country. Poverty, population growth, and little available protein in Serengeti communities has contributed to another conservation problem: poaching of protected wildlife. Research interviews with over a thousand community members in the western Serengeti show that village people are aware that wildlife hunting is illegal and conservation important, but hunt anyway out of necessity. Legal hunting in the Serengeti is largely restricted to foreigners because the price of licenses and equipment is too high for impoverished locals and there are no established hunting quotas local people. The chances of a poacher being caught and prosecuted are low, and outweighed by the economic benefits of bush meat so the problem is persistent one for wildlife conservation. The researchers conclude that "alternative livelihood opportunities may decrease dependence on wildlife." So there lies the conundrum.

Monday, July 09, 2012


US Person does not get a great deal of pleasure from saying, "I told you so", but I did and just a few posts ago. The "invisible hand" that rules capital markets, and thus the modern world, turns out not to be Ben Bernanke's, the Illuminate's, or God's, but Barclays' Bank of London and elsewhere. A developing scandal in the City is revealing that the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), a key interest rate reference mark used by banks and financial institutions to loan to each other, trade derivatives, and set currency rates, was being consciously manipulated to Barclays' advantage, and thus by implication all of the big banks too big to fail. Every major bank participates on panels setting the LIBOR rates for 10 significant currencies; Barclays' could not have manipulated the rates without the complicity of other banks. The scandal is a pubic rip-off of astronomical proportions, and just the latest example of casino capitalism which is destroying the well-being of billions. What is worse, if there can be a worse, is that British officials had knowledge of what was going on and did nothing to stop it. Fortunately for mere mortals, Barclays' officials are cooperating with a parliamentary investigation now getting underway. The UK's Serious Fraud Office also opened an investigation. Barclays' CEO Bob Diamond and its chief operating officer have resigned, reportedly at the insistence of the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King.

There are two separate sets of allegations of wrong doing according to Forbes. First, and the more economically significant, is that Barclays' traders provided false information to the British Banking Association which is responsible for LIBOR to benefit their trading books from 2005 until 2009. The attempted manipulations were small--one or two basis points--but enough to create additional profit on high volume trading. Barclays' is the unfortunate first bank to be caught chiseling. Clearly an immoral and unethical practice that should be criminal and punishable by penal incarceration.

The second set of allegations is in the line of classic fraudulent inducement. In the depths of the Global Financial Panic of 2007, Barclays', among other banks, deliberately tried to influence LIBOR down to make themselves look less vulnerable to the bank crisis. Minutes from a meeting of the Bank of England's money market committee show, "several group members thought that LIBOR fixings had been lower than actual traded interbank rates through the period of stress." That innocuous sounding statement is heresy in the world of international finance. To suggest the LIBOR rates on which trillions of dollars of financial transactions including credit cards transactions are based was "fiddled" is a massive breach of public trust. Diamond admitted feeling "physically ill" when he discovered this month his traders fiddled the rate, but denies any personal culpability.  His claim of not knowing about rate fixing until a month ago is contradicted by a senior executive whistleblower at Barclays'. In an interview with the Independent the banker said several people brought their concerns about fixing to their directors who were required by company rules to pass the information to their superiors, so Diamond should have known in 2008 about the fixing.

A year after this minutes were recorded Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England, called Bob Diamond. Diamond's released note of the phone call says he asked Tucker to make sure banks were providing quotes representing real transactions in the market. Allegedly Tucker responded to the request, "Oh, that would be worse." Tucker also allegedly went on to say that he was receiving calls from unspecified "senior Whitehall officials" about Barclays' high rate submissions. Barclays' executives construed this communication to mean the government wanted lower LIBOR rates to stimulate business. Lack of liquidity was an extreme problem during the Panic and the condition contributed to the collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland. Despite RBS being propped up against bankruptcy by the B of E with secret emergency loans totaling £62billion it reported LIBOR figures showing it could borrow at rates less than Barclays' was paying, a ridiculous proposition.

The scandal has taken on political overtones. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne claimed Ed Balls, the Labor shadow Chancellor knew about the rigging since he was a City minister during the Panic. Balls angrily denied the claim at the dispatch box on Thursday, calling the accusation "cheap and partisan".While the politicians on both sides of the Atlantic attempt to make political gains out of the scandal, the best result for the rest of us is a return to the regulations of Glass-Steagall in which banks invested with public trust and public guarantees are forbidden to engage in financial speculation. Because the "invisible hand" is stealing money right out of your pocket.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Alberta's Plan to Kill Wolves

Alberta has clearly been lost to the relentless exploitation of the tar sands by corporations bent on extracting a profit regardless of the environmental costs. The latest atrocity against nature to be revealed is a plan to kill roughly about 6,000 wolves over the next five years ostensibly to protect woodland caribou. In reality caribou habitat is being destroyed by development at an unprecedented rate. Watch this DeSmogBlog video to understand the dirty politics and the "ethical oil campaign" propaganda behind Canada's cynical folly:

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Weekend Edition: God's Particle?

US Person recalls the echos of triumph surrounding the "discovery" of cold fusion in 1989. Hailed as the ultimate clean solution to our energy problems, the sun in a test tube turned out to be little more than a hoax ("pathological science"), another of a historically long line of disreputable claims in the field of science. Creationists are found of referring to the checkered record of scientists too eager for acclaim and financial reward as they attempt to dismantle the evidentiary edifice of evolution or the impacts of global warming. Just a year ago it was claimed by European scientists, some of them connected with CERN (European Center for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland, super luminal neutrinos were discovered. The claim was greeted with justifiable skepticism by most of the particle physics community since such a discovery would put Einstein's special theory of relativity by which we understand the universe into doubt. Indeed, the OPERA program claim was subjected to rigorous scrutiny and a measurement error was discovered, not faster than light neutrinos.

Higgs congratulates physicist Fabiola Gianotti
Now, after 40 years of searching and billions spent, CERN scientists using the biggest accelerator ever invented, the Large Hadron Collider, claim to have smashed two protons traveling at the speed of light to produce the "God Particle", or more humbly, Higgs' boson. The claim that the elusive boson has been found is a landmark development in science akin to the discovery of the structure of DNA.  Higgs' boson is fundamental to the "Standard Model" of physics--or how the universe exists--because it is this sub-atomic particle which gives every other its mass. The discovery is presented as provisional, but CERN scientists associated with the effort and the $10.5 billion accelerator are jubilant [photo, top] because the degree of confidence in an actual discovery is at the 5 sigma level--less than one in three million chance the results are random. Two sets of experiments independently confirmed the existence of a new sub-atomic particle with a mass of about 133 times that of a proton equivalent to 125.3 GeV. The Standard Model predicted the mass of a Higgs' particle to be 125.5 GeV.  A neat, much desired conformation to quantum mechanical equations to be sure. However, the Standard Model also predicts more than one tyoe of Higgs' boson. Thus, CERN scientists are cautious about the exact identity of the new particle pending further research. Nevertheless, celebrity physicist Steven Hawking admitted he would have to pay up on his bet of $100 that the Higgs' would never be found.

Professor emeritus Peter Higgs, 83, who conceptualized the boson in 1964, never liked the name, "God Particle" notwithstanding his atheism. As Der Spiegel acutely wrote, matter only comprises 4% of the universe, the rest is composed of dark matter and dark energy of which man knows nothing. Higgs, a winner of the prestigious Dirac Medal, is an odds-on favorite to win a Nobel Prize now that the particle he theorized on a rainy weekend in Scotland has been located. Dr. Higgs and six other physicists developed the theory of the Higgs field, which if collided with enough energy, they thought would produce a fragile, but heavy sub-atomic particle. Higgs shed a tear at the seminar announcing the confirmation of his "one big idea", something he did not think would happen in his lifetime. The boson, because its exact physical mass was unknown and its life span in the millionth of second, eluded stalking scientists at CERN's Large Electron Positron Collider and the Tevatron at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Both of these accelerators are now shut down. The Large Hadron Collider was created in part to search for the Higg's boson. That a "boson-like" particle has been detected to a great degree of certainty is a vindication of man's current mathematical model of nature, but what is absolutely certain is more questions about the ultimate nature of the Creation will be asked than ever answered by mankind.

Friday, July 06, 2012

'Toontime: Through a Screen, Lightly

[credit: Rachel Gold, Tiroler Tagezeitung]
US Person must admit he enjoyed the telecasts of the European Cup which ended last week with the favorite, Spain, winning over a spent Italy which unexpectedly beat Germany to reach the championship game. Watching from afar one could not notice the Eurozone is in a deep financial crisis. The modern stadiums in Poland and Ukraine were filled by enthusiastic fans with painted faces and humorous costumes. Mid-field seats at the final in Kiev were reportedly going for $4500; Spain has Depression- level unemployment. But who wants to think about austerity when there is a good football match to watch? The next distraction: the London Olympics.

Money talks as readers know and the talking is the loudest on the side of the party of the plutocrats. Mitt Romney et al raised a staggering $100 million in June, topping their May effort of $77 million. Citizens United is working like a charm, Chief:
[credit: Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
The character above resembles billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, reported to have donated $10 million to the fascist Koch brothers who have pledged to bring down the "socialist Obama" if it takes every oil well they own. Adelson donated a whopping $21 million to a super PAC promoting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and another $10 million to a super PAC backing Mitt Romney. Buddy, can you spare a million?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

South Korea Joins Japan's Charade

South Korea announced it would begin 'scientific whaling' a codeword for commercial whaling of Minke whales in its coastal waters. Korea already kills an estimated 200 whales a year as "bycatch" another codeword for incidental killing when fishing for other species. Officially whales are off limits to Korean fisherman, but if reported the bycatch in the nets can be sold. A whale is thought to bring $100,000 on the open market, so there is plenty of economic incentive to accidentally kill whales. Why the scientific community in South Korea would need more specimens than 200 a year is thus beyond credible explanation. What the government is attempting to do is grandfather the existing gray trade and make it legal trade. The New Zealand Foreign Minister called it "commercial whaling in drag". There is little doubt the decision is a maneuver around South Korea's obligations under the IWC ban on whaling similar to Japan's circumvention. Informed suspicion is that the whale catch is much more than 200 a year. Researchers estimate in a 2007 study that between 1999 and 2003, 827 whales were killed and sold for meat. Ulsan is Korea's whaling capital with an annual festival dedicated to whaling culture.  At nearby Bangudae, petroglyphs suggest whaling goes back 8,000 years.  Whale meat was consumed to prevent famine during World War II.   Traditions die hard in the Orient.[photo: whale meat in Ulsan market] South Korea's deplorable decision puts more onus on the International Whaling Commission to take effective action against efforts to circumvent and discredit the international ban.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Poaching War Escalates

Two rangers and 13 endangered okapi [photo] were killed when militiamen attacked the Okapi Wildlife Reserve near the village of Epulu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on June 24th. Four other persons were killed including the wife of one of the rangers. Some of the okapi were residents of the station for twenty-three years where they served as specie ambassadors to help educate visitors and locals about the rainforest and its inhabitants. John Lukas, head of the Reserve, said the attacks were in retaliation for efforts to stop elephant poaching and illegal gold mining. The army and UN troops are pursuing the murderers, but they must proceed with caution since the Mai Mai Simba bandits took over 30 local villagers hostage to help transport loot through the forest. Led by a man named Morgan the militia are armed with automatic weapons which they purchase with money gotten from the illegal and deplorable trade in elephant ivory that is threatening to destroy surviving elephants continent-wide.

Conservation work has taken on a dangerous edge in recent years as field researchers, activists, and staff face the possibility of death at the hands of thwarted poachers, exploiters and militia living off the land. Global Witness counts 711 persons killed defending land and forest rights between 2002 and 2011. Last year alone 106 were killed, the highest number in ten years. In the DRC a conflict between villagers and a logging company resulted in beatings and rapes by state security forces. Seventy-year old Frederic Moloma Tuka was killed, but very few such deaths result in legal prosecutions. Two months ago Cambodian forest advocate, Chut Wutty, was shot dead while escorting journalists to the scene of illegal logging. The Cambodian military has provided various versions of what happened when Wutty was stopped by military police. One of its soldiers was also killed in the confrontation.

Gabon burned its stock of 1200 confiscated ivory tusks last week as a message to the world about how Gabon will deal with wildlife crime. President Ali Bongo said his country does not want "our children to inherit an empty forest". The Wildlife Conservation Society recently reported that monitored elephant populations in central Africa were cut in half between 2006 and 2011. Elephant poaching is at its worst levels in a decade according to TRAFFIC and MIKE two programs that monitor elephant populations. The good news in this bleak picture of extermination is that seizures of illegal ivory are up--in 2011 there were 14 large scale seizures amounting to 24 tons of ivory--but successful prosecutions of organized crime syndicates must be obtained if elephants and other seriously endangered animals are to be saved from extinction by the greed of man.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Chart of the Week: Debt'O'Rama

Commentator John Quinn @ marketoracle.uk.com posted these charts to show the massive transfer of debt that has taken place since 2007. Debt in the domestic financial sector has declined dramatically (black line) while household debt has increased despite what the talking heads on CMM say. Consumers have added $27 billion of credit card debt and $300 billion of additional student loans since 2008 (red line). Wall Street has dumped $4.3 trillion of toxic debt and $1 trillion of mortgage and credit card debt onto the taxpayers' back via the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve. Nevertheless, total debt has gone up, not down:
The global finance system no longer operates to allocate capital towards beneficial projects that enhance the world's standard of living; it operates as a self-serving casino that encourages speculation and rewards the greed of the world's six thousand or so plutocrats. (see Rothkopf's "Superclass") This dysfunctional system in which capital is traded as a commodity and not used to produce social value is what Marx predicted as the "comodification of capital" in the decadent stages of capitalism. The truth is that markets are not infallible, nor guided by an "invisible hand" to be unerringly efficient because the standard free-market economic model contains a fundamental misconception: humans are social animals not utterly rational, autonomous individuals making discrete decisions about utility. No wonder Allan Greenspan, himself not of the Christian evangelical tradition, had a crisis of faith!

That debt can become so onerous as to usurp democracy is not a new phenomenon in the world. Take the case of Newfoundland. The once independent island nation had the oldest parliament in the British Empire save Westminster, but in 1933 after the collapse of fish prices, debt servicing consumed 59% of the nation's revenues. The country defaulted on its external sovereign debt in 1936. The British government formed a commission to examine the status and future of tiny but independent Newfoundland. It recommended among other things that Newfoundland's government be suspended. And so 280,000 free, white, English-speaking people lost their sovereignty when Great Britain used its powers of the crown to federate Newfoundland with Canada. The United States used gunboats and the Monroe doctrine to impose a fiscal protectorate on the Dominican Republic, control its customs houses, and eventually occupy the country in 1916. Nicaragua and Haiti faced similar fates at the hands of Uncle Sam. In the most recent international financial crisis, only Iceland, having the advantage of a small, but politically active populace, has managed to hold on to control of it finances and thereby its sovereignty by showing the international banksters were to get off.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Weekend Edition: Another Lousy Ambassador

Another American diplomat bit the dust Friday when the ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration, resigned under the cloud of a highly critical performance report by the State Department's Inspector General's office. State Department sources said it is the worst review of an ambassador's performance by the IG in several years. Gration was supposed to be one of the top three security advisors to the Obamanator, along with retired Air Force General Merrill McPeak and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig. Nevertheless, Gration is just one of several high profile ambassadors to loose their comfortable positions after questions about their performance were raised. {01.03.12}

Gration apparently rubbed his embassy staff the wrong way with a penchant for micromanagement and operation outside established protocols. Gration even when so far as to set up an office in an embassy bathroom in order to conduct official business on his own laptop computer beyond the notice of his communications staff. A staffer summoned to Gration's unconventional workroom was required to sit on the throne. He is alleged to have exhibited erratic, controlling, and sometimes bullying behavior: he ordered all tables adjusted to the same height, ordered all clocks recalibrated, and told his staff he would "shoot them in the head" if they did not follow orders, an undiplomatic hyperbole which generated a formal complaint from staff. Attrition rates in the Nairobi Embassy were staggering; some staff even accepted transfers to Iraq and Afghanistan, referred to as "shit holes" among veteran State Department hands, to get away from the Kenyan post.

Gration is a former fighter-pilot instructor who retired from the military in 2006. He became an Obama acolyte during an extended African trip with the then Senator. Apparently the smoothly glib Obama so impressed him, he changed his political affiliation. One pundit described Gration as "the most mystical believer" in the Obamacon. Gration's slavish admiration netted him the post of Special Envoy to Sudan, thus he began his second career as a diplomat. Many considered his approach to sensitive negotiations over the independence of South Sudan incredibly naive. He was transferred to Kenya in February 2011, after lobbying for the ambassadorial appointment. Clearly Gration's abrasive personality and unconventional work habits may have been compatiable with the cockpit, but they rapidly became a liability for the administration, adulatory relationship with the President notwithstanding. Kenya faces potentially violent upheavals during the prelude to the 2013 national elections, and is considered to be a key player in controlling the failed state of Somalia.