Friday, November 30, 2012

"Toontime: Lies and Damned Lies

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

COTW: The Public Debt 1940-2022

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wolf Phobia Moves to Midwest

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mountain Gorilla Population Grows

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not the End of the Line

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

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

'Toontime: When Christmas Goes Bad

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Frankenstorms in Our Future

The question of the moment is whether global warming had something to do with the size and intensity of hurricane Sandy. Sandy was the largest hurricane on record for the North Atlantic. The amount of damage done by flooding and high winds probably exceed the infamous Long Island Express hurricane of 1938. Most hurricanes that originate in the Atlantic's tropical waters either enter the Gulf of Mexico or follow the warm Gulf Stream up the Atlantic coast only to veer off to the northeast into the open ocean. Sandy was unusual because it did not follow the usual course into the North Atlantic but made a vicious left hook into the New Jersey coast. Meteorologists say a several factors played a role in this unusual storm track. Sandy combined with an approaching nor'easter cold front as it moved north which fed energy into the cyclonic storm system allowing it to maintain coherence despite entering colder waters. Also, a blocking arctic high pressure off Greenland contributed to steering the storm into the northeastern US coastline. Finally, the jet stream that moves from west to east at high altitude usually pushes a hurricane out to sea, but this time the jet stream was perturbed and weakened. Coupled with the coincidence of a full moon high tide that increased the size and destructiveness of it's storm surge which reached the ancient shoreline of Manhattan at Pearl Street, Sandy became a "frankenstorm" for the record books. Arctic surface temperature trends, 1981-2008
It is the weakened jet stream that seems to be directly connected to an indisputable phenomenon of global warming: melting of the Arctic ice cap in summer. During one year, 2007, the minimum summer ice coverage dropped by 26%. Most studies now predict the Arctic Ocean will be ice free in summer by 2020 to 2040, reflecting the much more rapid rate of melting observed by satellites. The previous accepted prediction was ice free by the end of the 21st century. With the melting ice comes increasing Arctic temperatures double that recorded in the remainder of the world, referred to as "arctic amplification". Higher temperatures increase moisture release from the warming ocean and melting permafrost. In turn, atmospheric pressure in the Arctic increases and temperature gradients decrease. This combination of factors causes the polar vortex and the jet stream to weaken. When the jet stream weakens, it follows a more sinusoidal path around the globe from west to east. Meterologists observed just one such dip in the jet stream when Sandy slammed into the coast.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bridges and Tunnels Help Pronghorn Survive

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

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

EU Waits for US on Airline Pollution

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

COTW: Connecting the Dots

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Weekend Edition: Al Qaeda is Back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Botswana Says No to Trophies

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

'Toontime: Raising the Poles

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

BP Pleads to Criminal Conduct in Gulf Disaster

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

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

Washington's Shock and Awe

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fracking America from Sea to Sea

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

COTW: Is Iowa Becoming a Giant Pig Factory?

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Weekend Edition: No Rain Brought Ruin

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

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

Friday, November 09, 2012

Federal Judge Orders GMO out of Wildlife Refuges

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

'Toontime: Election 2012

[credit Lee Judge, Kansas City Star

The presidential election is finally over and the country sighs in relief. El Obamados won a decisive Electoral College victory (332 to 206) loosing only two states, Indiana and North Carolina, that he carried in 2008 but the popular vote is very close. When the counting is over the President will win the popularity contest by about 51%. It's hardly a mandate, and he has to work with a Congress that is controlled by conservatives in the lower house and gridlocked in the upper house. Hurricane Sandy played a walk-on role. Several conservative pundits have expressed the view that the weather emergency put a brake on Mitt Romney's momentum going into Election Day, but the President's crushing defeat of Governor Romney among Latino voters where he won by a margin of 44% is the take-away story of this cycle:
[credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle]
Wackydoodle sez: Ain't no app fer 'canes!

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Votes Delayed and Denied

credit: Detroit News
Political post-mortems are blazoned across the CMM, but here at PNG the message is: the election system is still broken. Even El Obamados recognized this fact in his Chicago victory speech. Citizens in Florida, the perennial wrench in the machine, stood in line until after the candidates' closing speeches were made and audiences had gone home. Despite some improvement in Florida's voting systems they remain plagued by poor management, lack of capacity and systemic dysfunction. The most populous counties have the biggest problems. The fact most Florida elections are run by partisan supervisors contribute to the failure. Florida election supervisors defend themselves by point to the large volume in urban counties, the length of time taken by voters at the polls, and the complex ballots as responsible for the delays. In Miami-Dade County there were more than 405,000 voters on Election Day, another 237,000 who voted early, and 210,000 absentee balloters. The complex ballot was 10 pages long. Southern California has a larger and more racially diverse population, but does not have the same voting problems as Florida. Florida, with 29 electorial votes, will be a closely watched, contested state as long as the red-blue political divide continues. The United States is a federal system and constitutionally elections are a matter of state and local governments. However, it has been obvious since the 2000 presidential election that some minimum federal standards are necessary in elections for federal office to ensure full and fair access to the ballot box. Virginia and Rhode Island also had long lines and confusion. Chicago, home base for the President, was plagued with irate election officials, a crashed city election website, and delays in voting.

In Virginia, a swing state in which the presidential election was heavily contested, there were long lines for voting. Some voters in River Oaks precinct of bellweather Prince William County gave up after waiting in the cold for four hours after the polls closed. Voting finished around 10:45pm. Confusion about a new ID requirement was blamed for some delays, but in Prince William only 22 provisional ballots were cast. Statewide, only 366 provisional ballots were cast out of the most ever submitted in a Virginia election. Bit checking for proper residency and filling out change of address forms took more time than in previous elections. Virginia is expected to play a prominent role in the 2016 election too. Contrast the situation there to Oregon, a blue state that votes by mail. Voting in person also takes place on Election Day, but there are no lines to vote. Results of a county's vote are known within a few hours of the polls closing.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Californians Fail to Label Frankenfood

Environmentalists were disappointed last night when California voters decided not to require labeling of genetically modified food. It was a defeat for common sense by big money from the biotech and food industry. Corporate Amerika bought a last minute deluge of negative TV ads that defeated Proposition 37. The proposition had been doing well in opinion polls in the weeks before Tuesday's vote; a September 27th poll found over 60% of respondents supported the proposition. On election night it was defeated 53% to 47%. Monsanto, Pepsi, DuPont and Kraft, among other corporate titans, spent $40 million to keep GMO labeling out of California. That amount was five times the money spent in support of Prop 37. Monsanto, a leading developer of GMO products, also made large contributions to defeat Oregon's Measure 27 in 2002. Supporters claim that the food industry used scare tactics of higher food prices to defeat a law intended to keep consumers informed of what they are putting into their bodies. An estimated 70% of processed foods contain some genetically altered ingrediant, typically corn, soybeans or canola oil. As a famous nutritionist once said, "you are what you eat". If the initiative had passed, labeling would have certainly followed throughout the country since California is such a large segment of the US market. Europe has required labeling of GMO food since 1997. The FDA rejected labeling in 1992. A recent study found rats developed large tumors and other health problems when fed a diet of genetically modified corn. {"Frankencorn"}

US-Russia Link National Parks

courtesy: US National Park Service
In Validvostok at the APEC summit this September, Russia and the United States reached an unprecedented agreement. They will formally link the proposed four million acre Beringia National Park in Chukotka with the Bering Land Bridge National and Cape Krusenstern National Monument in Alaska totalling 3.2 million acres. Under the transnational boundary agreement kinship ties, cultural traditions, subsistence lifestyles and languages of indigenous people on both sides of the Bering Strait will be preserved as well as conserving indigenous wildlife. The idea was first discussed in 1990 by President Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush, but after the demise of the Soviet Union no further progress was made towards a transnational reserve. The plan was reactivated by the current US administration and President Dmitry Medvedev. At their meeting in Deauville, France on the occasion of the G-8 conference in 2011, Presidents Obama and Medvedev issued a joint statement saying they would increase interaction between national agencies responsible for protecting natural resources in the region and facilitate the movement of native peoples between the two nations.

As late as 12,000 years ago when sea levels were lower, Beringia, as the area is known by geologists, was the bridge used by natives, plants, and animals to cross into the Americas from Asia. Remains of Beringia still exist on both side of the Bering Strait. Humans and wildlife share a common ancestry and depend on the same environment. Establishment of a transnational reserve by the United States and Russia recognizes this indelible natural link. Secretaries Clinton and Lavrov were also able to sign an agreement to enhance cooperation of activities in Antarctica. For the first time the two countries will jointly conduct the inspection of foreign facilities in Antarctica.

Monday, November 05, 2012

COTW: As the Tax Burden Shifts

US Person is often amazed at the ability of right-wing 'free marketeers' to twist logical arguments to fit their ideology. Mitt Romney is a leading example*. It is no secret that corporations have successfully shifted the US tax burden from themselves to individuals, but corporatists claim that that shift is a statistical artifact because of the shift in the form of business ownership away from C corporations to S and LLC corporations which feature flow-through taxation, i.e. the corporations do not pay income tax, but individual owners who received net corporate income pay income tax on their share. C corporations are big businesses, and in the United States where capital is extremely concentrated, they still do most of the business as these charts make clear:
[credit: Richard D. Wolff]
Limited Partnerships and S corporations are small businesses. In 2004 75% of businesses were organized as flow-through enterprises up from 60% in 1994. C corporations still do the most business in terms of receipts:
What is not an artifact is that corporations pay less income tax now than since World War II when corporations paid 50% more income tax than individuals. In 1943 total corporate income tax paid was (in millions, OMB statistics) $9,557; individuals paid $6,505. In 2008 corporations paid a total of $304,346 in taxes while individuals paid $1,145,747. The trend towards individuals paying more income tax than corporate businesses began shortly after the national emergency of depression and world war passed into history.

What free-marketeers refuse to accept is the economic lesson of the post-war world: capitalism does not work well without government to regulate it. It can even become predatory, as we have seen with the near collapse of the US economy caused by malignant securities speculation. Government spending in the United States as a percentage of GDP increased from about 17% in 1948 to 29.5% by 1970. That period includes administrations of both major parties. Post-war domestic spending in the US parallels a similar, stronger trend in Europe as it recovered from war's devastation. As a result of government participation in the economy, poverty fell from 51% of Americans in the Depression to just 17% in 1965. Government spending not only achieved laudatory social ends, but also encouraged private enterprise with substantial investment. Spending for research and development increased from 2.4% of total spending in 1948 to 11.7% by 1965. A congressional committee estimated in 1959 that the government was funding 85% of electronics research and development. Throughout the post-war period until about 1970 when stagnation set in the United States experienced 3 to 4% growth in GDP. Capitalism did not do it alone; remember that when you cast your vote.

*Mitt Romney wrote a 2008 editorial in the New York Times entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt". Yet despite his free-market posturing he and his wife gained at least $15.3 million from the rescue of the auto industry. The Nation provides the deal's damning details in its November 5th issue. Hedge funds, including Elliott Management directed by Paul Singer, gained control of GM parts supplier Delphi Automotive. Singer is a big contributor to the GOP. Delphi was formerly a subsidiary of GM, and its auto parts such as steering wheel assemblies remain essential to GM's production. In 2009 Singer led hedge investors into buying up Delphi stock using bonds acquired when Delphi went bankrupt in 2005. Since Delphi had defaulted on them, the bonds were considered junk so Singer and fellow investors were able to buy them at a distressed price of 20 cents on the dollar.
Two years later in 2011 the investors sold their stock for $22 a share. Of course this was after the government rescued General Motors, and indirectly, Delphi. GM was allowed to give troubled but indespensible Delphi $2.8 billion in TARP funds and forgave the company $4.5 billion in liabilities. Not only that, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation was compelled to take over union workers' pension rights because the controlling hedge fund investors refused to pay the pension program shortfall of $7 billion or anymore pensions. Exactly how much the Romneys made on the Delphi deal is not clear because the relevant tax return for 2009 has not been made public. The Romneys were invested in Elliot Management before the bargain basement purchase of Delphi and they were all in when Delphi went public in November 2011. Assuming the investment with Elliot Management was at least $1 million as indicated on their tax returns from released years that investment is now worth $15.3 million
at current Delphi stock prices. The auto czar who oversaw GM's bailout likened the demands of Singer and other Delphi bondholders to "extortion demands by Barbary pirates." It is an example of vulture capitalism at its worst; Mittster, perceived by wing-nuts as John Galt with hair, gorged on the public carcass. Instead of making good on its pension obligations this year, Delphi, relieved of billions in liabilities at taxpayer expense, and flush with $1.4 billion cash bought $972 million worth of auto part plants in Asia from--wait for it--Bain Capital, Romney's former firm.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Toontime: When Nature Calls

US Person's offer is still good Mr. President, but now that Sandy has blown you ashore perhaps western swing is not your favorite tune anymore:
  [credit: Joep Bertrams, Amsterdam, Het Parool]

It is hard to estimate who has more wind, Mitt Romney or the frankenstorm that left the Northeast wet and wild, but his statement about cutting FEMA surely has to register in the mind of even the most vacillating American voter confused about the moral role of government in her society:
[credit: Chris Britt, State Journal Register]
Wackydoodle axes: Ya' all needin' some flood insurance?