Tuesday, December 18, 2012

US PERSON will be taking a break for the ☜HOLIDAZE.  Come back in the new cycle for more high impact blog at PERSONA NON GRATA!
(Merry Christmas, John Kerry)

Monday, December 17, 2012

'Toontime: One Nation Under the Gun

More: The President made a brief memorial address to the town of Newtown, CT gathered in the high school auditorium yesterday. The power of the gun lobby was evident as he avoided calling for reimposition of the federal assault weapon ban, but only promised to use the power of the office to consult with law enforcement and civic leaders about the carnage plaguing the United States. He made it clear, however, the country was failing to protect its most vulnerable citizens. Governor Higgenlooper (D) of Colorado also skirted the tactical weapons issue in remarks to the press. Whether they like it or not, gun control will be at the top of the agenda for the new Congress after the Senate decides if it can operate without a one senator veto. US Person has never heard a convincing argument, constitutional or otherwise, for allowing private citizens to possess quasi-military weapons designed and intended to do only one thing: kill multiple humans rapidly. Granted there is a huge number of these man-killers legally in the hands of citizens, sane or not.  However, relatively unrestricted access to these weapons is contributing to the level of slaughter and profits as even a superficial perusal of the statistics will show.  Real sportsmen should be satisfied with a bolt action rifle for hunting or marksmanship because that weapon requires greater skill to be successful. For almost two centuries in this country property owners effectively defended their legitimate interests with revolvers. Spraying a room with shotgun slugs or high velocity bullets is a desperate, irrational act unless one finds oneself in the middle of a revolution. If in the final analysis we are talking about hot-heads arming themselves against their own government, then we need to look elsewhere for answers to their fear.

Update: As more of the depressing facts become known about one of the largest mass school murders in the United States, one fact stands out from the others: the deranged shooter once again used military style, semiautomatic weapons to perpetrate horrendous slaughter. He brought with him to the Sandy Hook school a civilian version of the 5.6mm M-4 carbine (.223 "Bushmaster"), a Russian made, drum-fed, 12 gauge shot gun and two semiautomatic pistols. All of which he took from his divorced mother who was a "gun enthusiast" and was herself shot in the head while sleeping. Apparently the mother was responsible for teaching her child how to manipulate the weapons. A relative said the mother took her children target shooting. The nation may find, as the forensic evidence is analyzed, a much more deadly attack was contemplated. Had the ghoul been able to exhaust his ammunition before committing suicide, the death toll would have been much higher. But it was piteously high enough. Until America puts controls on the public possessing military weapons, these periodic massacres [link to interactive map] will continue because not all of the public is thinking straight. Talking heads of the CMM claim to be mind-boggled by the slaughter. They are dissembling for their corporate masters. The truth is gun manufacturing and importation is big business in America, and there is no political will yet to stop the profits from flowing even if it means the murder of innocents.
Wackydoodle axes: Can I get a 30 round clip with that?

{14.12.12} Twenty-seven dead including twenty children at Newtown, Connecticut.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Red Wolves Under the Gun

Sixteen endangered red wolves (Canis rufus) have been killed in North Carolina in 2012. A temporary change in state law that allows hunting of coyotes at night, appears to be contributing to the slightly built red wolf being mistaken for a coyote. The wolves are frequently mistaken for coyotes even in daylight since they are similar in coat and coloration. Yearling wolves are also similar in size and weight. Seven of the wolf deaths were caused by gunshots. The red wolf is one of the world's most endangered canids. It was declared extinct in the wild in 1980, but successful breeding from a remanent population found along the Gulf Coast allowed it to be introduced into the wild. A restoration program began at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina in 1987. Since then the experimental population expanded to three more wildlife refuges and other state and private property. Now about 100 red wolves live in five north eastern counties of North Carolina, and 200 wolves are still part of the captive breeding program.

Unfortunately red wolves, which are not as large as their grey wolf* relatives, interbreed with coyotes, a species not native to the region. The numerous coyote is considered a "pest species". The US Fish & Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes living in red wolf habitat. Shooting sterilized coyotes will defeat effective biological control of coyotes and further jeopardize the survival of the native red wolf population. A National Forest Service ranger was fatally shot by a Georgia hunter who claimed he was shooting at coyote eye shine in the night. The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a court challenge to the temporary rule allowing spotlight hunting for coyotes at night. A preliminary injunction was granted by Wake County Superior Court to stop night hunting for coyotes in the five counties that are inhabited by red wolves. A permanent rule allowing spotlight hunting of coyotes is still under consideration by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.

*Grey wolves are once again being exterminated in the Rocky Mountains since loosing their protected status under the federal Endangered Species Act. Nine Yellowstone Park wolves have been killed since hunting began. The latest victim of this remorseless persecution was the Alpha female of the notable Larmar Valley pack. She was wearing a research telemetry collar when she was killed accross the Park boundary in Wyoming. Such senseless killing makes no-hunting buffer zones around the Park a necessity to protect it's beloved wildlife from UNFRIENDLY humans.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

COTW: Robber Barons Redux

While bitter reactionaries in Congress make disingenuous speeches about "robo-squirrels", here at Persona Non Grata US Person chooses to emphasize the skewed relationship between wealth accumulation and tax support of the system that allows the rich to become filthy rich:
[source: G.W. Domhoff, UCSC]
What can be ascertained from the above pies is that the United States has the most unequal wealth distribution in the developed world, except for Russia and Ukraine according to Credit Suisse Research. The United States has 47% of the world's ultra-high net worth individuals (defined as more than $50million of net assets). The left-hand pie reflects this concentration of wealth: 35% of net worth is owned by the 1%. The ultra-rich have their money invested in financial assets such as stocks, bonds, derivatives and insurance. Nearly half their income comes from capital gains and dividends, on most of which they only pay 15% capital gains tax. The corporate mass media, owned by the ultra-rich, insists all Americans must cheer for the Dow-Jones because we are all in the market together. The truth is the rest of us (the bottom 80%) own only 5% of financial wealth. The so-called "democratization of stock ownership" is a myth perpetrated by those able to take advantage of an almost magical source of income.

Turning our attention to payment of taxes: the other major myth perpetrated by apologists for the plutocracy is that low taxes on the rich are necessary to produce jobs for the rest of us.  Most of the top ultra-rich (0.1%) are NOT entrepreneurs!  Only 3.6% of those taxpayers were classed as such based on 2004 tax returns. The Tax Justice Network estimates that between $21 and $32 trillion is stashed in offshore tax havens, or about $10 to $16 trillion uninvested by US citizens in businesses with jobs in this country. Not only rich individuals are paying lower taxes. Corporations are paying less taxes too. Paying federal taxes at an average 22.5% from 1987 to 2008, corporations now pay at an annual rate of 10% which represents a annual loss of tax revenue of $250 billion. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange reported a 2011 trading volume of $1 quadrillion on 3.4 billion annual contracts with absolutely no sales tax, state or federal, applied to the transactions. American taxpayers paid $4 trillion to bail out Wall Street banks! A tax of one-tenth of a penny on those transactions would pay off the federal deficit.

Most middle-class Americans' source of wealth is their family home as seen in the Federal Reserve chart above. That is why the Financial Panic of 2008 and subsequent Second Great Contraction hit them the hardest. Figures are still preliminary, but according to economist Edward Wolff there has been a major 36.1% drop in wealth of the median household since the peak of the real estate bubble in 2007. The wealth of the ├╝ber-riche top 1% decreased just 11.1%. Yet seventy-five percent of Americans are burdened with over $11 trillion in consumer debt. So spare US the talk about waste in social programs until the Pentagon, the biggest waster of all goes on a food-stamp diet (average recipient cost: $4.30/day, or enough to buy one angry burger), and some semblance of fairness is restored to collecting federal tax revenue.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Japanese Reactor on Top of Active Fault

Five geologists officially tasked with reviewing the site of the Tsuruga nuclear power plant in Fukui prefecture reported Monday the fault beneath the plant showed geologically recent movement. By Japanese law nuclear plants cannot be built on active faults usually defined, among other factors, as having moved within the last 130,000 years. A fault under Reactor 2 moved in tandem with another nearby fault the panel concluded. The operating license for Reactor 1 at Tsuruga [photo] was extended ten years in 2009 and is one of 13 reactors on Wakasa Bay, the world's largest concentration of nuclear reactors. In recent years, improved seismlogy found the area riddled with geologic faults. Owner Japan Atomic Power Company has made efforts to reinforce the plant against an earthquake in the last four years; the plant opened in 1970. Even seismic retrofitting the plant is unlikely to protect it from a magnitude 9 earthquake like the one that devastated Fukushima. The company said through a spokesperson who attended the meeting at which the study results were released Atomic Power would conduct more seismic studies.

All of Japan's reactors except two are offline as a result of the unprecedented disaster. The two restarted reactors at the Oi plant may also be sitting on an active geologic fault. That situation is also being reviewed by the reconstituted Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority. If the body formally decides Tsuruga is sited above an active fault, the reactors will have to be decommissioned since it is unlikely the regulatory agency will allow a restart. Prior to Fukushima, there was a significant institutional bias against preventing nuclear plant construction based on seismic activity. Japan is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. As one Japanese nuclear engineer put it, if construction were contingent on geologic stability "nothing would get built". So risks were taken and on March 11th of last year, Japan threw craps.

Sentiment against nuclear power is running high in Japan. Hundreds of thousand were made homeless by the Fukushima meltdowns {"Fukushima"}. Tracts of valuable agricultural land cannot be farmed. The ocean around the destroyed Fukushima plant is radioactively contaminated making consumption of seafood unsafe. The disaster caused by far the largest accidental discharge of radioactivity ever seen. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute estimates that 10¹⁵ becquerels of radioactive cesium leaked into the ocean and an equivalent amount into the atmosphere. The Hiroshima bomb is estimated to have produced 8²⁴. Eighteen months after the accident the ocean around the plant still emits around 1,000 becquerels of cesium137, a relatively high reading compared to normal background. What concerns scientists is the levels remain relatively stable indicating a source of new contamination. The plant itself is leaking 10¹² becquerels per month according to one estimate, but also radioactivity from contaminated land is washed by rain and into the sea by rivers. A third source may be the bottom of the ocean itself were radioactive material is trapped in sediment. Bottom dwelling fish are above the 100 becquerels per kilogram limit set by the government for safe consumption, but contamination varies considerably by species. Octopuses seem to have escaped while greenlings have been found with levels as high as 25kBq/kg. The implications of the persistent radiation levels are serious for the fishing industry. It lost an estimated $1.3 to $2.6billion in 2011 as a result of the nuclear accident. When can contaminated fisheries reopen is a question that cannot be answered soon.

Monday, December 10, 2012

National Sacrifice Zone: Assumption Parish, LA

credit: The Advocate
On a warm, humid night in early August the earth opened up below Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish,
Louisiana. Acres of swamp forest was swallowed and replaced with a gaping sinkhole filled with stinking water full of brine, oil and gas, and hydrogen sulfide (unmistakable smell of "rotten eggs") {flyover video}. Since then the sinkhole has grown to eight acres in size. Scientists think the failure of an underground cavern in the Napoleonville Salt Dome caused the ground to collapse dramatically. Oil and natrual gas migrated upward from natural deposits into area waterways two months before the sinkhole appeared. Vent wells have been burning off (flaring) trapped methane. So far 2.7 million cubic feet of natural gas has been burned in the atmosphere.

It is an unprecedented environmental disaster than has received little national attention. Texas Brine, a Houston based drilling and storage firm used the underground salt cavern to recover salt-laden brine used in the petrochemical industry for years.  Now, USGS experts think the company's production caused high pressures to fracture the rock and sediment above the cavern all the way to the surface.  This condition is known as a "frack-out" in the industry.  The company publicly claimed the collapse was due to natural seismic activity, and refused to take responsibility for the sinkhole.  But the earth tremors felt in the neighborhood were caused by the cavern collapse (USGS statement 25 Sept 2012).  The company has still not officially taken responsibility for the disaster.   It has "acknowledged a relationship" between the collapsed salt cavern and the sinkhole. Texas Brine has been fined for failing to meet several clean up deadlines. Failure to install a promptly install a containment system has allowed nearby waterways to be contaminated by oil and other pollutants. There is also low-level radioactive fill stored at the site, a waste production of Texas Brine's operations. At a meeting one neighborhood evacuee asked officials loudly, "You expect us to go back to our houses again? Have y'all lost your minds?" Assumption Parish has the seventh highest cancer rate among Louisiana's 64 parishes. The Bayou Corne sinkhole is not going away soon. Overburdened Nature must heal this wound because there is no "magic bullet" to fix it.

Friday, December 07, 2012

'Toontime: Fiscal Follies

[credit: R.J Matson, St. Louis Post Dispatch]
US Person recalls the the Advent calendar in the misanthropic movie "Bad Santa": the gullible fat boy expectantly opens one of his advent calendar windows to get a chocolate treat only to find the drunken "Santa" deadbeat has consumed all of them in one go. The budget negotiations in Washington remind him of that scene. Average Joe Weed is jonesing for a tax break but the political Grinches seem to take perverse delight in disappointing their constituents. The truth is the whole "fiscal cliff" imbroglio is a con.

US is in the hardball negotiating camp. It would almost be worth some domestic fiscal pain to begin cutting the Pentagon down to an appropriate and affordable size. The Senate just passed a $631 billion defense budget(98-0) while considering making seniors wait until they reach 67 to be eligible for Medicare. Only in the corrupt military-industrial conspiracy culture of Washington DC could those thoughts be held simultaneously without your head exploding. The military brass, and there are a mighty few of those, are in-fighting desperately to avoid $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years if we go over the falls in our canoe of state. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says "we are shooting ourselves in the head" if we just go back to the 2007 level of spending! To see how delusional such language is consider that only one fighter jet development, the F-35 "Lightning II" consumes 38% of the entire Defense Department procurement budget. What do the generals get for their lavish expenditure: a jet that is slower with less range and 50% smaller payload than the F-16 it is intended to replace. A credible estimate of the overall lifetime cost of the high-tech boondoggle is $1.5 trillion, or more than the gross domestic product of Spain. Need to shoot the stealthy F-35 down? Rosoboronexport, the Russian arms export agency, will sell you a mobile, low-frequency, stealth-defeating radar set for $10 million each. Over the last decade the Pentagon has spent $46 billion on equipment programs eventually canceled.  Inability to discern reality is a hallmark of schizophrenia or pathological greed.

The military is lionized by conservatives as the only branch of government that works. In reality the Pentagon gets big lip service because it is a cornucopia of lucrative contracting for the corporate arms industry. It takes a lot of cash to support the livestyles of CEOs, beribboned flag officers, and elite Washington bureaucrats, as we know. The reality is Americans achieve very little bang for their bucks, and precious little appreciation from people whose countries we destroy in our own alleged security interests. Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, told an interviewer that Americans are responsible for higher levels of terrorism in his country even after a decade of war costing 2,000 American lives. A report released Tuesday shows the total number of global terror attacks has dramatically increased during the post-9/11 era. In Libya, a country we supposedly set on the road to democracy by deposing its inconvenient dictator, our ambassador/CIA agent is killed by the very terrorists we were told we had defeated elsewhere. Despite these decidedly mixed military results, our leaders are yet again considering intervening in another foreign conflict, Syria*. So, US Person's advice to El Obamados in the budget negotiations is to stay the course for some real reform. Make the rich pay a fair share of taxes. Cut the Defense Department and end the profligate militarization of our foreign policy. Rebuild our social safety net while revitalizing America's crumbling economy with investments in a sustainable future. Damn the torpedos of the plutocracy and full speed ahead!

*Observers think the Assad regime is becoming desperate as rebels improve their ability to resist security forces with better weapons and more experienced fighters. Rebels control the eastern half of the country including several oil fields, but have yet to completely overtake a major city. Allegedly, Assad has taken chemical weapons out of stockpile and put them in deployment positions, prompting a warning from the United States about "consequences".

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Lions Facing Extinction

Etosha male credit: US Person
Botswana is leading the way imposing a moratorium on lion hunting since 2007. It is time for all countries in lion range to do the same because their numbers and their habitat are reaching dangerously low levels. A new study published in the journal Biodiversity Conservation finds the African lion (Panthera leo leo)has dropped from around 100,000 only fifty years ago to as few as 32,000 today. Habitat suitable for lion has plunged by 75%. Savannah ecosystems are undergoing conversion to agriculture and urbanization. About 24,000 of these are in ten areas in East or Southern Africa. West Africa has only about 525 lions remaining and they are absent from many national parks. West African lions are distinctive, having a genetic code more closely related to Asiatic lions. As a top predator, the presence of lions in the landscape is an indicator of ecosystem health.

Besides habitat loss as the main threat African lions' continued existence in the wild is human persecution. Lion-human conflict and poaching leads to lions being speared, poisoned or shot illegally. Trophy hunting, especially for male lions, contributes to their peril.  Killing pride males eliminates the best genetic heritage since rival males practice infanticide causes unnecessary conflict between prides and social disintegration.  About 6,000 lions are in populations where there long term existence is in doubt.  To be given a fighting chance at survival, hunting pressures should be reduced to an absolute minimum--situations involving the protection of human lives.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Deniers Running Out of Delusions

The Senate may not have been intended to operate efficiently, but it was intended to operate, Mr. Leader. There is nothing constitutional about the filibuster. In fact, the rule is something of a historical accident* which US Person advocates changing {"filibuster"}. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he would try to use the Senate's somewhat quirky rules to require actual debate to filibuster as once was the norm when the new Congress convenes in January. At it's opening the Senate can set new rules by majority vote. Reid's proposal does not go far enough, but it is an improvement over the current system where just one Senator in secret can hold up legislation supported by a majority. Obstructing the nation's business should require a Senator to at least expend hot air. As it stands, very little is getting accomplished besides dubious political theatre as the nation lurches from one crisis, self-created or not, to the next. As we all know there are life-threatening problems awaiting action while the nation's highest legislative chamber is gridlocked beyond compromise.

Exhibit A is global warming. The deniers are running out of room as yet another scientific study has concluded the effects of anthropomorphic warming of the planet are visible for willing to look. The major study with forty-seven authors using multi-displinary methods published in the journal Science (Shepard et al, 2012) concludes melting ice sheets at the poles have contributed about 20% of observed sea level rising. Sea levels are also rising because warmer water expands. All major ice sheets except East Antarctica are losing mass in a process that began sometime at the turn of this century. The loss of ice in Greenland has jumped five-fold in just the last two decades. But the delegates at the Doha, Qatar climate summit sip sweet tea in air conditioned comfort and check their stock portfolios. Global carbon dioxide from industrial sources hit a new record high this year. According to the analysis in Nature Climate Changes CO₂ leaped 3% in 2011 largely due to China's increasing emissions of 10% in 2011. China now spews out the most planet heating gases in the world.

India, as expected, is also increased emissions by 7.5% in 2011. as it's formerly agrarian economy continues to industrialize. Both Asian nations have huge populations, so the per capita amount of emissions remain below those of the United States and Europe. But both countries intend to rely on coal as a major source of power since they have proposed 818 new coal-fired generating plants. Commendably, the United States and Europe both reduced emissions last year due to economic recession and a slow switch to alternative fuels and less polluting natural gas. The reductions will not be enough to offset the massive developing Asian economies. This impasse puts the world on track to a 4-6 degree celsius increase in average temperatures. Without drastic reductions by 2020 the window of opportunity to limit temperature increase to 2 degrees will be gone, and the world will experience dangerous climate change.

*Aaron Burr argued the Senate's rule "to move the previous question" was redundant and should be eliminated. In 1806 the Senate agreed with him, but was left without a mechanism to end debate from which the potential for filibuster sprang full grown able to wreak havoc. The first use of filibuster occurred in 1837 when the upper chamber considered the charter for the Second Bank of the United States. Senator Henry Clay attempted to end debate on the measure but was threatened with a filibuster, so he backed down. Segregationist Senator Strom "Sperm" Thurmond set the dubious filibuster record by speaking for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Nevertheless, the bill passed. See, Congressional Research Service, Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate.(2012)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Chart of the Week: Iceland Recovery Impresses

Iceland went its own way during the worldwide financial crisis. It did not bailout its profligate bankers choosing instead to penalize their bondholders, not its citizens. It was criticized for enhancing the social safety net instead of imposing crippling austerity measures as demanded by outside financers. Now the country's economic recovery is impressing the critics. This chart shows why:
source: Council on Foreign Relations
Impressive, US Person? Yes, because the chart does not reveal the facts that the Balkan countries were a lot poorer than Iceland to start with. They have lot more catching up to do. The Balkan countries all imposed onerous austerity measures required by the European Union and creditor Sweden. It was an act of faith in the painful process of "internal devaluation": cutting state expenses and increasing productivity but keeping their currencies pegged to the Euro. In contrast, Iceland let it's banks "too big to fail" go bust, imposed capital controls to bolster it's devalued krona, and increased consumer protection by guaranteeing domestic deposits and forgiving underwater loans equivalent to 13% of GDP. Icelanders pelted their parliament with rocks, but they listened inside.

Iceland has put the needs of it's citizens ahead of markets at every juncture. As the IMF sucinctly put it, "Key to Iceland's recovery was an IMF-supported program [which] sought to ensure that the restructuring of the banks would not require Icelandic taxpayers to shoulder excessive private sector looses." The $2.1 billion IMF aid Iceland received expired in August. Unemployment is coming down, but private debt remains high and it will take time for the country to return to robust growth. The worst example of how to handle a financial crisis is Ireland. It choose to prop up corrupt banksters and guarantee all their liabilities. The government has been injecting capital ($64 billion) since while the population has been brought to the edge of peonage with imposed austerity budgets. Iceland, the little country that could, is finally getting it's economic due. Most Icelanders now do not want to join the European Union, and they are holding the perps accountable.  Iceland's special prosecutor has said it may indict as many as 90 people while 200, including the top three banksters, face criminal charges.  Is anybody in Washington paying attention?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

BP Temporarily Banned from Government Contracts

In a rare move, a major international oil company was temporarily banned from US government contracting. British Petroleum was suspended from business with the government until the company can provide evidence it federal business standards. The Environmental Protection agency made the announcement Wednesday. The action does not affect current contracts, but BP is one of the largest federal contractors with $1.47 billion worth of business in 2011, most of that comes from supplying the Defense Department with fuel, so the suspension is a blow. BP plead guilty to criminal charges recently as part of its settlement of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed eleven workers, poisoned uncounted numbers of federally protected wildlife, and contaminated hundreds of miles of Gulf shoreline. BP is the largest federal lessee in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
egg case on tail of rotifer
In a related story, a study from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes had determined that the dispersants used to clean up the 2010 oil spill increased the toxicity of the spilled oil by 52 times. The mixture of chemical dispersant and oil increased the mortality of rotifers, a microorganism at the base of the Gulf's food web. The findings are published in the online journal Environmental Pollution. Corexit, the oil dispersant approved by the EPA and used in the Gulf by BP was tested on five strains of rotifers. As little as 2.6% of the dispersant in a mix of oil inhibited rotifer reproduction by 50%. Rotifer eggs provide food for juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs. Researcher Roberto-Rico Martinez of UAA led the study at Georgia Tech. He said there is poor understanding of the toxicity of approved dispearsants and their toxicity to marine life maybe greatly underestimated. Dispersants were used in unprecedented volumes during the Macondo well blowout.