Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thanks A Lot, Timmy!

Another current Washington lie that needs repeated exposure: Timmy Geithner and his boss saved the American economy. Every time US Person hears that one being repeated by the CMM, it makes him want to gag. When the banksters came to town in 2007 with bombs of financial kryptonite strapped to their chests demanding money, Washington bent over and asked "how much?". TARP was the biggest giveaway to Wall Street in history. The government lent the banks and their reckless executives trillions of dollars at vastly discounted rates. To claim that the government has made money on these transactions is quite simply more lying. Every $100 the Treasury spent bailing out Wall Street, it got back assests worth on average $66. Even people who "can't do the math" realize these transfers of wealth amount to a massive subsidy of $78 billion on the top ten TARP transactions. This figure was calculated by the Congressional Oversight Panel in its February 6, 2009 report. The banks used the windfall to grow bigger and more difficult to regulate: J.P.Morgan took over Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual; Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch and Countrywide.

To add insult to injury, a government audit released Monday found that firms receiving TARP money paid their executives excessive amounts of compensation. The Special Inspector General's office wrote executives of bailed out firms, "continue to rake in Treasury-approved multimillion dollar pay packages that often exceed guidelines" established by the TARP program. Treasury signed off on 18 pay raises for executives at General Motors Co., Ally Financial Inc. and American International Group (AIG). By the end of 2012 the government owned about 19% of GM. Two of GM's European top executives got pay raises despite the fact that division has lost more than $16 billion over the last 13 years. US Person wants to know, what "fresh talent with critical skill sets" do these executives possess? Also, can he get a job with GM? Obamados has nominated a former Citibank executive to replace Geithner at Treasury. His former bank received more government assistance than any other company, $476.2 billion

We can't know for sure what would have happened if we had political leaders with their conjones still intact who stood up to the financial terrorists threatening to blow up the world's financial system. We can only look at history. Argentina really did experience a financial meltdown in 2001. For three months its economy plunged. Banks shut and people could not get their money out. But two years later Argentina made up all the ground lost in the crisis. Then, there is the "miracle" of Iceland. Iceland told its banksters to take a walk and protected its citizenry from their cupidity. Pundits derided Iceland's audacity, predicting doom in the bond market. But four years later Iceland is thriving again. How was this accomplished, asked President Olafur Ragnar Grimson at the recent Davos bacchanal. He answered his own question, "We didn't follow the traditional, prevailing orthodoxies of the last 30 years in the Western world...We let the banks fail." Like the Good Book says more simply, "Ye cannot follow both God and Mammon." So keep watching those banksters, Mr. President, until they appear in your office with new, larger bombs of economic terror.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

COTW: Frogs Killed by Agricultural Chemicals

@ 0.1,1.0,10 x label rate; credit: Brühl et al
A new study published in Scientific Reports found commonly used agricultural chemicals kill frogs when used at recommended dosages. Scientists associated with the University of Koblenz-Landau tested seven commonly used pesticides on European common frogs (Rana temporaria) and found all of them were potentially lethal to frogs. Two fungicides, "Headline" and "Captan Omya" were particularly lethal [chart], killing all of the test subjects at recommended application levels. Amphibians of all types, especially frogs, are in decline world wide . One third of the world's amphibians are currently threatened by extinction. Scientists believe 130 amphibians have gone extinct in the last thirty years. The study warns that continuous use of agricultural chemicals for more than a century could be partly responsible for vanishing amphibians.  Habitat loss, climate change and disease pose the largest threats to their survival.  Terrestrial exposure to chemicals has a more dramatic effect on frogs compared to aquatic exposure when frogs are in their tadpole stage. "Headline", the brand name for pyraclostrobin, killed all test subjects in one hour at its labeled dosage, but all the chemicals killed at mortality rates from 20% to 100%. Pyraclostrobin is used on 90 different crops around the world.  Chemical giant BASF refused to accept the test results calling the study a "laboratory worst case scenario". Lead scientist Carsten A. Brühl said there is good evidence that frogs are in fields where chemicals are applied and sometimes applied multiple times. Up to 50% of a breeding population could be directly exposed to lethal chemicals. Depending on interception rates by plants is misleading. Even when dosages were cut by 90% 3 of the 7 chemicals were still lethal to frogs. The scientist encouraged BASF to provide researchers with interception rates in order to identify toxic risk to amphibians. Amphibians are distinct from mammals and birds because their skin is permeable allowing them to breath underwater, so chemical testing protocols for birds and mammals is not applicable. Recently European chemical testing procedures have been criticized as too simplistic. Testing on amphibians is not currently required by EU regulations.

"Davy Crockett" Barge Owner Fined

credit: Steven Lane/The Columbian
Regular readers of PNG--and there are a few of you out there--will recall the derelict barge named Davy Crockett [photo] that spilled oily pollution into the Columbia River in 2011. {"Davy Crockett"} The wheels of justice have ground on since then. The owner of the barge, Bret A. Simpson, pleaded guilty in July to two criminal violations of the Clean Water Act. Failing to report the discharge of oil is a felony offense. The spill from the partially demolished vessel caused a 295 day clean-up operation that cost taxpayers $22 million in federal money and $680,000 in state funds. Simpson is in the scrap metal business and purchased the barge, a converted liberty ship, in June 2010. He did not remove the thousands of gallons of diesel and fuel oil aboard before illegal salvaging operations began in December 2010. No one at his company, Principle Metals LLC, notified authorities when the hulk began to leak pollutants. An oil slick on the river was finally noticed and reported to authorities. The cracked vessel leaked for at least 40 days before an 850 foot cofferdam was put in place. The State of Washington is imposing a fine of $405,000 on Simpson who is awaiting sentencing in federal court on his plea agreement. An ecology department staffer told reporters the state also intends to bill Simpson for the $680,000 it spent on the clean up. Because Simpson has a record of illegally burying 30 drums of waste oil, antifreeze and spent solvent on his property, prosecutors are asking for a sentence of 13 months. Sentencing is set for March 11th in Tacoma. One positive development from the case is that it spurred the formation of a task force to survey the river for other derelict vessels. The survey located 50 potentially hazardous vessels on the lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nebraska Approves New XL Pipeline Route

The Nebraska governor approved a new route for the XL pipeline that avoids the Sand Hills region on January 22nd. He transmitted the state approval to the President and Secretary of State. Environmentalists point out the pipeline still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, a water source for millions of midwesterners. Governor Heineman's action was not unexpected despite the fact he opposed the first route submitted by TransCanada. He cited his state's environmental impact findings that emphasize economic benefits to the state while expecting "minimal environmental impacts in Nebraska".  Largely rural Nebraska is expecting $16.5 million in tax revenue from the sale of materials and up to $13 million in local property tax revenue. Conservatives rabidly support constructing the pipeline despite the severe implications for increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the possibility of toxic spills contaminating underground water sources and valuable soils. Opponents also think the economic justifications for the project are misleading or incorrect. Nebraska activists plan a cold vigil at the governor's mansion on January 29th to protest his decision. A leader of the Nebraska protestors said the governor's decision was, "a shame when a politician these days can't cross party lines even to stand up for our water and family farmers and ranchers." Expected start date for the pipeline is early 2015--just ask Ralph Nader.

Gunnison Sage Grouse Proposed for Listing

US Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed the listing of the Gunnison Sage Grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act on January 15th.  As much as 1.7 million acres of western grass lands could be designated its critical habitat. Conservationists first proposed listing the iconic bird in 2000. It is one of the most endangered birds in North America due to habitat loss; over 90% of its habitat has been lost. Grasslands and deserts are the most degraded habitats in the nation according to a 2009 Department of Interior status report.  In 2010 the Service determined that listing the grouse was warranted but precluded by higher priority actions. Some critics believed the agency backed down from listing it then because of opposition from western agricultural and business interests. The Service entered into an agreement with conservationists to schedule a final decision on listing by October 2013.  The proposal fulfills that agreement.

The Gunnison sage grouse is recognized as separate species from the Greater sage grouse since 2000. Its historic range included the brush and desert lands of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. Now it is restricted to eight small populations in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah. Only about 4000 breeding pairs remain. Protection for the bird will also aid elk, deer and antelope as they struggle to survive increasingly fragmented ranges contaminated with pollutants and invasive plant species. The human population of Gunnison County, Colorado, home to more than 80% of Gunnison sage-grouse is predicted to more than double by 2050. Cattle grazing is a major source of habitat degredation. Outright trampling of nests by cattle has been documented and the presence of livestock usually causes sage grouse to abandon their leks, or breeding grounds.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Navy Ship Stuck on Pristine Philippine Reef

It is bad enough reefs are dying all over the world due to multiple human causes; the US Navy, whose environmental record is questionable, grounds one of its minesweepers on Tubbataha Reef National Park [photo]. Fortunately for the marine creatures living there, a Malaysian tug, Vos Apollo, was able to take the USS Guardian's fuel off without spilling it. However, the 68 meter ship remains grounded and its steel haul is pulverizing the delicate coral structures beneath it. Monsoon winds are making it difficult to float the ship and it is taking water.  The ship is too damaged to tow off. Hundreds of meters of the once pristine reef have been flattened according to the WWF/Philipines. 7th Fleet Vice-Admiral Scott Swift apologized for the damage and said his agency takes environmental protection seriously. The usual post hoc investigation will look at digitized charts of the area which misplaced the location of Tubbataha Reef. WWF says additional measures should be taken to protect one of the jewels of the Coral Triangle. Sanctions that could be imposed for violating the Tubbataha Reef National Park Act including the non-payment of conservation fees. Greepeace's ship the Rainbow Warrior also ran aground on the reef in 2005. About 1000 square feet of the reef was damaged for which the environmental organization paid a $7000 fine. A representative of the Philippine government said it would seek compensation for the damage to the world-class reef from the United States.

Tubbahtaha National Marine Park is one of the world's largest marine ecosystems. It hosts some 600 species of fish, 360 species of coral as well as 14 species of dolphins and whales. Endangered sea birds and marine turtles use the North Atoll as breeding grounds. The park includes a spectacular 100m wall and covers 100,000 hectares of intact coral atoll reef with 90% of all coral species in the islands. Isolated in the middle of the Sulu Sea, UNESCO recognizes its unique ecological value as one of the Philippines oldest ecological systems to survive intact to the present day. The Philippines established it as that nation's first marine protected area in 1988, and it was named a World Heritage site in 1993. The park is under the management of the Philippines' Department of National Defense.

Friday, January 25, 2013

'Toontime: Send in the Clowns

[credit: David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star]
Shocked, shocked we say, that Bouncy would dare to lip sych our nation's anthem! But like everything else in Washington, her performance was staged in advanced. The spectacle was paid for by affluent donors and corporations  who will expect a quid pro quo irregardless of the noble sentiments expressed by the Obamados in his inauguration speech. Fewer people watched this one on television than his first, perhaps indicating they are not expecting much from such an artful dodger. US Person thinks the only change on display was the First Lady's new bangs as once again the Senate failed to fundamentally reform the filibuster.  It will still take a supermajority of sixty senators to pass legislation if the minority objects:
[credit: Christopher Weyant, The Hill]
Wackydoodle sez:  Looky there, its the Egg Man!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Obamados Takes On Climate Change?

Ok, so the newly re-elected President says he wants to take on climate change: full stop, the XL Pipeline construction. The idea of bitumen from friendly Canada appeals to those concerned with energy security, but it exacts a heavy environmental toll. Combusting fuels from bitumen emits twice as much greenhouse gas per barrel than Saudi crude because it requires so much energy to turn the stuff into something burnable. Natural gas is used to melt and separate it from the sand to which it is bound, then it is chemically altered to become hydrocarbon liquid that can be further refined into fuels or piped south as "dilbit" or diluted bitumen. The international Energy Agency suggests tar sands production should not exceed 3.3 million barrels a day if the world is to reduce catastrophic global warming. Building the XL pipeline will stimulate production well beyond that limit to 5 million or more barrels a day. Carbon burning power plants produce ten times more carbon dioxide emissions than Alberta's tar sands. Nevertheless, power plant emission are declining and new plants are now subject to CO₂ emission regulation by the EPA. It would be relatively easy to administratively extend the emission rules to existing plants too. Canada's Association of Oil Producers notes the CO₂ pollution from oil sands is up 32% since 2007. Should we care if Canadians destroy Alberta's boreal forests supplying our dependence on fossil fuels? The President has apparently answered in the affirmative in his second inaugural address. Now, Mr. President about that you walk the walk?

COTW: Gun Control, A Liberal Thing

These charts show the deep political divide over gun control in the United States. Controling access to guns is anathema to red state Republicans and conservative Democrats. Let's start with the vote on the Brady Bill in 1993 that requires background checks for persons purchasing a pistol from a store or dealer:
The Brady law does not apply to purchases at gun shows, and gun advocates defeated an attempt to include the secondary market in regulation:
The conservatively controlled House failed to take action on reimposing the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The Senate narrowly approved extending the ban:
In 2008 the conservative majority of the Supreme Court greatly aided the gun cause by ruling that the Second Amendment guarantees a personal right to possess guns. The Court's majority ignored the historical context of the original provision authored by James Madison. He was concerned with the states' ability to raise and maintain effective, armed militias for the defense of the nation upon replacing the inadequate Articles of Confederation. The America of his time did not possess a huge standing army so it needed militias. This same underlying concern for militias is also responsible for the Third Amendment regarding the quartering of soldiers, hardly a live issue in the 21st century. Only jurists who have accepted originalism as their interpretive doctrine could conclude the Second Amendment means every citizen now has the right to own high-powered military weapons without limitation. The court struck down an absolute hand gun ban in Washington DC, but that does not necessarily mean gun possession cannot be regulated by the state because of a constitutional guarantee.

What may be concluded from these charts is the Democratic majority in the Senate must be willing to address the filibuster issue first, if it hopes to legislate on the issue of gun control. Without the ability to pass a bill over the certain objections of conservative senators, Democrats will not be in a position to gain enough House support to achieve a compromise. Meanwhile, Americans fearing a liberal instigated ban of some sort, are stocking up on guns. Unsurprising in a nation that equates a warm gun with freedom. The National Shooting Sports Federation is the official business lobby of the firearms industry:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Jewel of the Amazon: Manuripi Wildlife Reserve

World Wildlife Fund says the Manuripi Wildlife Reserve in Bolivia is an example of sustainable use of a healthy rainforest. Situated between the Manuripi and Madre de Dio Rivers the two million acres of rainforest and floodplain contain an astonishing array of natural treasures. Scarlet macaws fly overhead a canopy full of rare monkeys while the stealthy, powerful jaguar patrols his territory beneath. There are 538 recorded species of plant life. WWF set out in 2004 to protect priority areas in the headwaters of the Amazon; at the base of the Andes, it is a region of diverse topography and high rainfall that provides the mighty river with its source of life. Manuripi was one of ten areas selected by WWF on which to focus its conservation efforts. Manuripi sits in the front lines of unsustainable exploitation by man. Rampant artesian gold mining, poorly planned infrastructure development, destructive agricultural activities and other "get rich quick" schemes threaten the health of the entire region.

One species of the plant kingdom, however, is the key to maintaining Manuripi's unspoiled landscape. The castaña tree (Bertholletia excelsa) produces the Brazil nut prized by humans as well as wildlife. Contrary to its name, eighty percent of Brazil nuts come from Bolivia's Amazon, and Manuripi accounts for one-sixth of the global export market. Castaña trees require an intact rain forest surrounding them to achieve pollination and produce the economically valuable nut, so human inhabitants make it a priority to protect the forest where castañas grow. Every treasure has its seekers and every January through March zafreros--Brazil nut pickers--descend on the forests to assist locals in the harvest. Inevitable conflicts arise and environmental damage occurs. WWF has worked with local communities to promote sustainable harvests, achieve organic certification and fair trade status, and expand markets to insure reliable incomes. All of this can be accomplished while protecting a healthy forest which produces a tasty food for man.

Mali: The Latest Front Against Jihad

Latest:   The final assault on the isolated desert gas plant in Algeria took place Saturday in a wash of blood. According to Reuters eighty people died in the assaults including more than 50 hostages. French defense minister Jean-Yves LeDrain said the hostage taking was an "act of war". In a related development British Prime Minister David Cameron put UK forces on alert for deployment to Mali. On Monday Malian units re-entered the town of Douentza after four months of control by Islamist rebels.

Update: {18.1.13}French air forces dislodged the Islamists holding the village of Diabaly. According to reports from Mali the fighters fled early this morning abandoning arms and vehicles. Militants also abandoned Konna Thursday night, a town Mali's army failed to retake before France intervened in the struggle. Troops from the west African nations of Chad and Nigeria began arriving in the capital of Bamako on Thursday. Al Qaeda linked jihadists took foreign nationals hostage in Algeria in retaliation for that nation granting France use of its airspace. Algerian forces stormed the natural gas plant were they were held today. Some 30 hostages including one American were killed along with 18 jihadists. There are apparently some hostages still being held. AP reports 100 out of 132 captives have been freed.

{16.1.13}French forces struck back at Islamic insurrectionists in the former colony of Mali last week. The insurrectionists, some connected to Al Qaeda, control the country's Sahel north and were steadily advancing south before French warplanes began operations. Now, French troops are actively engaged on the ground with their Mali army allies attempting to wrest control of the village of Diabaly from the militants who captured it on Monday.[map] They have lodged themselves amongst the civilian population making airstrikes too risky. French officers are impressed by the sophistication and discipline of the battle-tested jihadists, some of whom are coming to the fight from across Mali's borders with Algeria and Mauritania. According to reports from Mali, the southern part of the country which is ethnically distinct from the Arab and Tuareg Sahel region generally supports the intervention by their former colonial masters since the Bamako government was in danger of falling to the Islamic militants. The national government has been in disarray since an army officer coup last year, and asked France to aid it in combating insurrectionists. The north historically chaffed under rule from the south. Nomadic Tuareg rebelled against what they consider their marginalization in a poor, corrupt country. The latest 2012 uprising occurred when seasoned Tuareg fighters for Muammar Gaddafi returned home with Libyan weapons. They ousted the national army in the north and imposed sharia law. The main actor is reported to be Ansar Dine, an armed militia group under the command of Iyad Ag Ghali, a Tuareg chief who established a modus vivendi with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb.

Mali's army has been mauled by the insurrectionists, and the army's failure to retake the town of Konna prompted French intervention last Friday. France plans to assemble a west African force approved by the UN (ECOWAS) to take the lead in combatting the militants. There are about 800 French soldiers now deployed of a projected 2500 man force, equal to their peak deployment in Afghanistan. Insurgents number a few thousand. Whether the Islamic militants will be routed or the fight deteriorates into a prolonged standoff remains to be determined. President François Hollande, a socialist, is sensitive to charges of neocolonial interference in Mali, insisting that France has no interest in a "bygone era" and that its intervention is "under exceptional circumstances and for a limited time." Nevertheless, the possibility of a militant Islamist rump state so close to France's uranium supply in Niger must figure in Élysée's calculations. The United States may give France logistical support according to the Pentagon. Just think, now you know where in the world is Timbuktu!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Former Ukranian PM Charged with Murder

Yulia Tymoshenko, the erstwhile populist prime minister of Ukraine [photo right] was charged with murder on Friday. Former prime minister Yevhen Shcherban was killed in a contract style murder at the Donetsk airport in 1996. The attractive former prime minister is accused of organizing and ordering the hit on Scherban. Tymoshenko, who has became a darling of western feminists [photo below], is serving a seven year prison sentence on corruption charges, and is also awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion but that trial has been postponed multiple times since it was convened in April. Tymoshenko has steadfastly maintained her innocence of all charges and her lawyers allege the prosecutions are part of a political vendetta by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych who is "looking for a scapegoat". Yanukovych defeated Tymoshenko in a run-off election in 2010. The Ukranian Supreme Court upheld Tymoshenko's conviction for abuse of office in August, but the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling for her release from prison claiming that Tymoshenko's role in the "Orange Revolution" of 2004 subjected her and more than a dozen other political leaders to prosecution for "normal political decision making". While prime minister she signed a natural gas deal with Russia allegedly without cabinet approval. The deal proved to be detrimental to Ukraine's economy. Before running for office Tymoshenko was a prominent gas trader and Shcherban was one of Ukraine's richest men. His alleged assassination appeared to be for business reasons. Europe's Court of Human Rights is expected to rule Tymoshenko's current imprisonment is illegal within the next few weeks. The European Union has called her imprisonment "selective justice".

Friday, January 18, 2013

'Toontime: Out of the Gun Closet

[credit: Randall Enos]
Wackdoodle axes: Does that there last four hours?
Nothing brings goons out of the closet like gun control. A hysterical legislator even brandished an AK-47 in the air on the floor of Congress. A coded reference to the ghost of the communist menace or even the new boogeyman of Islamic jihad? You decide. The NRA, which is primarily a lobbying front for the small arms industry, is attempting to pervert arguments for controlling paramiitary weapons available at your nearest Walmart, as it is wont to do, into an attack on the Second Amendment. There is absolutely nothing in Second Amendment jurisprudence which guarantees a private citizen an unrestricted right to possess a rapid-fire weapon originally intended for battlefield use. Even Switzerland with a genuine state militia regulates militia weapons and ammunition when a trained member decides to buy his firearm. If an outright ban on assault weapons cannot be achieved in this Congress, at a minimum assault rifles should be nationally registered and restrictions placed on both their transfer and magazine capacity:
[credit: Steve Breen, San Diego Union-Tribune]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

2012 Conservation Victories

NRDC informs US of the following environmental and conservation victories in 2012:

  • new CAFE standards for cars and light trucks will help double fuel economy and reduce the amount of carbon emissions contributing to global warming;
  • new standards for emissions of mercury, lead and other toxins emitted by coal burning power plants;
  • rejection of the XL bitumen pipeline route as submitted to the State Department for approval;
  • a massive resort development on the coast of the Sea of Cortez was rejected by the Mexican government, saving the only living coral reef in the Gulf of California from destruction, and more protections granted for the grey whale nursery in San Ignacio lagoon;
  • a chain of underwater parks off the coast of California was created, one of the most ambitious marine preservation efforts in history;
  • Iceland was pressured to drop plans to hunt endangered fin whales in 2012;
  • winning a major court case limiting the widespread overuse of antibiotics in livestock;
  • preservation of a pristine region of the Rocky Mountains from Exxon-Mobil plans for an industrial transportation corridor.
See a video of these accomplishments at and become part of the fight to make a world of difference.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chart of the Week: Debt Ceiling Two-Up

Everyone in Punditville (Washington, DC) is talking about it so here are the graphs. What PNG readers need to know is the debt ceiling is mostly a rhetorical exercise. The two-up played between the national parties places the blame for the debt on the majority party, totally ignoring the fact that the deficit spending causing the need for an increase in the debt ceiling has already been approved by the Congress. The wonks at the Post committed a graphical error in this otherwise instructive graph; see if you can spot it:
The debt ceiling has been raised 39 times since 1980: 34 times under those well-known fiscal conservatives Ronald Raygun and The Charlatan. The signal amid the noise is that the US is rapidly approaching the 100% of GDP threshold the investing world considers a danger zone:
Japan's public debt was 230% of its GDP in 2011. Still, in the current US situation in which a lot of dollars are owed overseas ($1.13 trillion to Japan, $1 trillion to China, or a net international indebtness of $4.03 trillion, 2011 figures) more deficit spending is not an optimal solution. Agreed, the $1 trillion platinum coin idea is a cynical response to Repugnant propaganda, but it does reveal a mindset common in Washington: as long as the government can create money by manipulating central bank accounts, it can go on spending. Eventually foreign bond buyers and dollar holders will get nervous and stop financing our profligate ways. Krugman claims he does not see any inflation, but then the price of food and gas are not even included in the consumer price index! What is needed is more revenue or less spending or both.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Indigenous Will Die for Their Forest

credits: UK Guardian
Betrayed by their own chief, who signed a contract with the one of the biggest oil companies in South America, the Kichwa tribe of Sani Isla, Ecquador are fighting a loosing battle against the national oil company, Petroamazonas. The company will begin prospecting on their territory for oil on January 15th while protected by security forces. According to a British woman who married the tribe's shaman and runs the tribe's eco-lodge, eighty percent of the Kichwa oppose exploration and rejected company offers in two meetings late last year. They are mounting a last ditch legal effort to stop the exploration but the task seems insurmountable. The tribe was using blowguns only two generations ago, but they say they are determined to fight to the death for their 70,000 hectares of pristine rainforest located near Yasuni National Park. Shaman Partricio Jipa says violent confrontation "is certain to end tragically. We prefer passive resistance, but this may not be possible...Our lawyers have sent them [Petroamazonas] letters and they won't even talk to us in Quito." Biologists think the Kichwas' land contains a wider variety of life [photo gallery] than all of North America.

But what is more important than life is oil and there are significant deposits beneath Yasuni, perhaps as much as a billion barrels. An oil deposit worth $7.2 billion was recently discovered inside the Park boundaries. Ecuador is one of the few countries that legally recognizes nature's right to survive. President Rafael Correa championed a plan to keep the fossil fuel in the ground if consuming countries would pay Ecuador half the value of the deposit over thirteen years. Since the proposal was made, few oil consuming nations have contributed, probably viewing the novel initiative as a subtle form of blackmail by a poor country. The Yashuni-ITT Initiative has raised only about $200 million. So, the access roads move closer to the Park while the Kichwa amateurs contemplate their chances against professional killers.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Weekend Edition: San Onofre NGS, Waiting to Close

credit:  Getty Images
Built on the seashore near San Clemente before tsunamis were even considered a threat to nuclear power plants and on top of a geologic fault to boot, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has been closed since last January when a radiation leak lead to the discovery of seriously deteriorating steam generator tubes. Published findings show more than 3,400 internal steam generator tubes have suffered some sort of damage. Even pro-nuclear federal regulators do not consider the station safe enough to resume operation. Co-owner Southern California Edison has asked permission to restart Unit 2 at 70% because it is loosing big money on the plant. Federal regulators replied that the generating tubes must retain structural integrity "during the full range of normal operating condition" in order to pass inspection. Failure of the generating tubes could release radioactivity into the surroundings. Given the materials and design used to manufacture the steam generators it is unlikely that 100% performance level can be achieved.Mitsubishi turned a generator upgrade into a fiasco using inferior metals and inadequate design. The plant cost SC Edison $670 million for the overhaul in 2009 and 2010, but decaying tubes in new equipment were found two years later. Decay also forced the plant to shut down and dismantle Unit 1 in 1992 even though the tubes were designed to last until at least 2004. San Onofre is destined to become the latest tombstone of the nuclear power industry*. Killed off not by wild-eyed tree huggers, but steely-eyed financial analysts with sharp pencils. The bottom line is simply this: nuclear power stations are too expensive to build. German pro-nuclear experts predicted shortages when eight of its reactors were shut down in accordance with the nation's official decision to grow green. Not surprisingly, Germany now has lower energy prices and more supply. It is even helping France, the epitome of a nuclear power country, meet its power demands.

California's Public Utilities Commission held an initial meeting last Tuesday to determine if rate payers are entitled to a refund for some of the money they have paid SC Edison during the outage. Its customers are paying more than $1.1 billion a year in costs related to the plant. Edison is resisting the refund question arguing it should be delayed and consolidated with the company's general rate case not due until mid 2014. The Commission said the investigation into San Onofre will probably be broken into four segments with the first phase focused on expenses in 2012. It will hold a public meeting in Costa Mesa on February 21st when the public will have an opportunity to make comments on the prolonged outage and its cost.

*Fort Calhoun is still off line after suffering flooding last year. Kewaunee's owners will shut its plant due to economic reasons. Vermont Yankee is under intense citizen attack after their Senate voted to pull its operating license. Virginia's two nuclear power plants were hit by an earthquake that exceeded their design specifications. Indian Point experienced a transformer explosion causing oil to leak into the Hudson. The owner agreed to pay a $1.2 million penalty. The touted "nuclear renaissance" has become a nuclear dark age filled with increasingly decrepit nuclear reactors.

Friday, January 11, 2013

'Toontime: Two Sides of the Same Fetish

[credit: Steve Benson]
No wonder Obamados chose to route his official reaction to the Newtown massacre of innocents through the Vice President and executive action! Trying to push gun control legislation in a sullen, fundamentally dysfunctional Congress would indeed be an unpleasant way to begin a second term. Irrational reaction against attempts to control the availability of military style weapons is not only motivated by profit, but also by citizens suffering basic insecurity from living in a society that still accepts economic "survival of the most fortunate" as its dominant mode of social organization and refuses to alter the psychology of a violent, militaristic heritage engrained in popular culture and founding 18th Century jurisprudence:
[credit: Cameron Cardow,Ottawa Citizen]
An elucidating example is Switzerland. It definitely has a militia culture because the country does not have a standing army. The vast majority of males participate in compulsory military training and militia weapons are kept in the home. Ammunition for the Sig 500 assault rifle or the Sig-Sauer P220 pistol is retained by the government only since 2007. Militiamen have the option of buying their personal weapon when they muster out, but the automatic function is removed to convert the rifle to semi-automatic operation, and of course a federal license is issued for that weapon. Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, third or fourth behind the United States depending on the data set to which one refers. Yet it has much fewer per capita deaths due to shooting:
Switzerland's rate includes suicides which occur at a higher rate than in the USA.  Only Mexico, in the grip of a violent drug war, has a higher death rate due to guns than the USA.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Democracy Aids Orcas to Escape

credit: AP, link to more photos
Eleven killer whales or orcas, two adults and nine younger individuals, were discovered Wednesday morning trapped in the ice of Hudson's Bay. The whales were taking turns breathing through a 30ft hole that was shrinking. The Inuit village of Inukjuak was about 19 miles from the site of the life or death struggle to survive. Inukjuak's mayor, Peter Inukpuk asked the Canadian government for help, and a team of experts was dispatched to investigate whether it was possible to save the orcas from drowning. The whales appeared to be looking for a way out, as their appearances above water took place at irregular intervals. The mayor's suggestion to send an icebreaker to lead the orcas to open water was cooly dismissed as complicated, expensive and if one were sent, it might not arrive in time. The nearest breaker was 36 hours away. While the central government pondered whether it could afford a rescue, the local people decided at a public meeting to take action. The villagers prepared to cut a half mile of breathing holes to open water using chain saws and propellers. Fortune smiled on the orcas and their willing rescuers as a change in current broke up the death trap naturally and the orcas swam away to breath again another day.

Chart of the Week: 2012 Hottest Ever

The chart shows 2012 is officially the hottest year on record for the United States.  The Midwest and Great Plains was the hottest part of mainland USA and is consistent with the on-going drought in that region.  2012 was also the second most extreme weather year behind 1988, with 11 weather-related disasters that each cost the economy $1 billion or more in emergency and recovery costs and caused 349 deaths.

In the land of "No worries" it's even hotter!  Hot hot is it?  So hot the Australian Meteorological Service had to come up with a new color for its temperature charts:
The vivid purple in South Australia indicates a predicted temperature of 52 Celsius or 125 for Fahrenheit fans.  Australia's previous record of 50.7 was set in January 1960.  Wildfires are raging across New South Wales and Tasmania.  Climate change is an undeniable factor in these extreme weather events.  The European heatwave of 2003 that caused 32,000 premature deaths was made at least two times more likely to occur by climate change.  It was the hottest summer ever recorded in Europe with temperatures consistently above 100℉, and the Continent's biggest natural disaster since the Black Death.   According to climate models that summer will be the "new normal" by 2040.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Buffalo Allowed to Roam

Trailblazer, credit: Yellowstone Gate News
A federal District Court judge ruled dismissed two lawsuits against Montana's decision to allow Yellowstone buffalo to roam 70,000 acres outside the Park's boundaries on Monday. District Judge E.W. Phillips issued a ruling that allows migrating buffalo to forage during the winter in Gardiner Basin which is mostly US Forest Service land north of the Park. In the past bison leaving the Park in search of forage were subject to slaughter. Park County officials and local ranchers objected to the state's policy reversal citing possible property damage and public safety. Judge Phillips wrote in Park County Stockgrowers v. Montana the state has no statutory obligation to protect residents from wildlife and that the level of private property interference does not rise to a substantial and unreasonable level in a state with still abundant wildlife. The decision's impact will be closely watched in Wyoming where buffalo also roam outside Yellowstone Park boundaries.

Yellowstone's northern buffalo herd is growing, and in the opinion of some managers growing too large for the available ecosystem. National Park biologists recommended culling 450 females from the herd at the November management plan meeting. The herd is estimated at 4,200 individuals in two main groups, one near Old Faithful and another that lives in the Lamar Valley and Yellowstone River drainage. Hunting and predation is not reducing the herd size enough according to the Park Service. Killing bison is unpopular with conservationists and the general public. Conservationists want the government to open up more land for the Yellowstone bison to disperse across the landscape, but local agricultural interests are resisting that suggestion. Last year Montana's governor blocked the shipment of slaughtered Park buffalo on state highways. There is an environmental assessment underway at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife Parks and the Montana Department of Livestock to study the impact of buffalo inhabiting lands adjacent or near the National Park year-round. The assessment is due in March. The federal court decision is significant for these efforts to expand habitat for buffalo in Montana*.

*Update: Annoying insurance company telly commercials notwithstanding US Person does not advocate allowing buffalo herds run loose in populated areas. No self-respecting buffalo would live in a human suburb anyway.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Kenyan Elephant Family Massacred

Masai Mara elephant family, credit: US Person
In the worst poaching atrocity since the 1980's a Kenyan elephant family of 11 members was slaughtered for their ivory. The dead included a two month old baby. Kenya Wildlife Services said the ten poachers where armed with AK-47s and an assortment of guns. Rangers are pursuing the gang but so far they have not been apprehended or killed. A kilogram of ivory can bring $2500 on the black market as Asian demand for ivory increases despite widespread efforts to stop the illegal trade. Ivory trade has been outlawed since 1989 when elephant populations plummeted from the millions in mid-century to only 600,000 by the 1980s. It is estimated 472,000 elephants still live in Africa. A head ranger said speculators often try to stockpile ivory in advance of a CITES meeting, betting the international organization will lift the ban on trading in ivory. The Convention is scheduled to meet in March.

Grounded Drilling Rig Refloated

Predictions of oil spill disaster off the coast of Alaska came perilously close to reality last week. The drilling rig Kulluk was towed south from the Beaufort Sea when it got caught in near hurricane conditions. The two vessels towing the Kulluk were dragged towards shore in thirty foot seas and high winds. Ship crews cut the rig loose to avoid disaster. The Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak Island on Alaska's south coast [photo courtesy USCG]. The island is uninhabited, but is habitat for endangered whales and seabirds. Shell's drill rig contains 143,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of hydraulic fluid. The rig remained grounded for a week in bad weather before salvage crews were able to refloat it late Sunday night. It is now being towed to Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak where it will undergo inspection and repairs. Kiliuda Bay is also a pristine body of water accessible only by float plane or boat. Kulluk has been issued three pollution enforcement warnings. A recent Coast Guard inspection found 19 deficiencies in electrical and maintenance systems.

Another drilling rig operated by Noble Drilling for Shell Oil in Alaska, the drill ship Noble Discoverer, is being investigated for pollution violations. The ship was plagued with equipment violations upon inspection in Seattle, but proceeded north after correcting the deficiencies. In Dutch Harbor, Alaska the ship nearly grounded and then caught fire. It was issued a warning for a pollution source and finally detained in port for repairs. The ship is now in Seward undergoing further repairs. The issue of drilling in the Arctic has received considerable attention from environmentalists concerned about the impact of an oil spill in harsh conditions that make an effective clean up nearly impossible. Both the NRDC and the Wilderness Society asked the Obama Administration to put a hold on future approvals of oil exploration in the the Arctic Ocean. The near loss of the Kulluk and other accidents emphasize the huge risks involved in operating in remote, environmentally sensitive areas.

Monday, January 07, 2013

When Elephants Morn

Most Americans who are pet guardians are never amazed by the consciousness exhibited by their loved companions. The fact is advanced mammals such as primates, whales, elephants, horses, pigs, cats and dogs are sentient beings. Several world religions including Buddhism recognize their thinking and emotional existence. Finally, science has done so too. To think animals have consciousness is no longer immature or pendantic anthropomorphism. In late August last year, eminent international scientists gathered at Cambridge University to sign the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. They wrote that the absence of a hyper-developed neocortex that man possesses does not preclude a biological organism from experiencing conscious states and exhibiting intentional behavior. Cross-species friendships formed by animals in captivity and in the wild have been a revelation for humans. Behaviors that closely resemble human grief have been observed in primates as well as domesticated animals when a member of their group dies. Elephants quietly fondle the bones of their deceased relatives.  The Declaration is a belated major milestone for the recognition of higher animals' legal rights.

This recognition by humans of animal consciousness means animals have to be treated differently than they are currently. At a minimum animals should be treated according to a code of ethical human behavior. What this code of conduct means is still being worked out. Some animal advocates suggest higher order companion animals must be treated in the same way an autistic child would be treated. Whether "euthanasia" practiced on a mass scale in pounds and shelters can be tolerated or continued research using animal subjects is problematical. Current slaughtering and confinement practices in the livestock industry will also have to be reviewed and reformed to comply with our new scientific understanding of the lives of animals.