Friday, March 29, 2013

'Toontime: What Arctic Amplification?

[credit: Adam Zygus, Buffalo News]
Wackydoodle sez: The cold done froze ma' barakets!
Less ice at the top of the world is not just bad for polar bears, but also Americans in the northeast, British and Europeans.  Without substantial ice cover, the jet stream wanders more and dips south bringing cold air with it.  Both the US and UK weather services say the increase in Arctic Ocean temperature is responsible for the increase in snowfall and low spring temperatures.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

BP Trial Update IV

dead sperm whale 77 miles south of well*
A Halliburton supervisor testified yesterday that British Petroleum was warned omitting 15 centralizers would increase the risk of a blowout due to the creation of channels in the cement. He reminded BP's drill site supervisor that his company had recommended 21 centralizers to insure the well casing was properly placed. A Halliburton engineer advised similarly five days before the explosion saying the well had a "severe risk" of natural gas leaks with only six centralizers that BP planned to use. Government and spill victims' lawyers have argued BP was over budget and behind schedule on the Macondo well, prompting it to take unreasonable risks. The witness wavered in his testimony during cross examination, telling a BP lawyer that he did not consider channeling a "safety issue" and did not raise any objections when he was informed by BP that his company's recommendations would not be followed beyond telling BP representatives channeling in the cement would be the result of the less costly and time consuming procedure.

Responsibility for discounting the well pressure test, considered thene plus ultra diagnostic of well safety has been laid squarely at BP's feet. BP's drilling supervisor, Donald Vidrine was convinced negative readings were caused by a defective rubber valve, but an independent expert has testified, "even a layperson would be able to understand how the observed data from a negative pressure test should not have been interpreted as a successful test." The so-called "bladder effect" explanation for the bad results was shot down by experts from both sides as myth having no technical basis. Both Vidrine and Transocean's driller Robert Kalusza were charged with manslaughter of the eleven men killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Vidrine, as the well owner's representative, was in the drill shack with Transocean drill operators during the testing, but he never order the failed test to be redone on the night of April 20, 2010.

Meanwhile Halliburton accused BP of creating a diversionary "mid-trial sideshow" in response to the oil company's request for discovery sanctions. Previously in October, Judge Barbier ordered Halliburton to turn over samples of cement used to attempt a seal on the Macondo well, but apparently Halliburton thought the samples were destroyed. Allegedly, it discovered samples in existence in its Lafayette lab after the trial got underway.
*there are unconfirmed reports [photos] that BP and the government erected two secure facilities to process animal carcasses including dead whales. Whales and dolphins among other marine species are protected from unauthorized taking under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Penalties can be assessed for each willful animal taking in violation of its provisions of up $20,000. 16USC §1375

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On the Chinese Menu: Pangolin

Manis Javanica
Rich Asian foodies looking for status have settled on the poor, harmless, and rare pangolin (genus: Manis) also known as the spiny anteater to fulfill their apparently endless craving for strange food. Scaly pangolins look odd--like an unfortunate cross between a small anteater and an armadillo. They are shy and nocturnal, so they are rarely studied. But they need protection because they are vanishing in the face of a massive slaughter for chic human food and the superstitious obsession with animal keratin as a remedy. David Attenborough, renowned naturalist filmmaker said the pangolin is "the most endearing animal I have met", yet no animal shows up in the exotic meat markets and restaurants of Asia more often than the pangolin. The preparation of pangolin is gruesome in the extreme. They are kept in cages until one is ordered by an extreme diner. Sometimes they are forced fed to increase their weight They are knocked unconscious, then their throats are cut and the blood drained. They are boiled to remove the scales and the meat is cut up to use in dishes. The customer usually takes the pangolin blood home to drink as a nostrum. The pangolin fetus is considered a special delicacy.

Manis temmenicki
Despite having sharp scales for its primary means of self-defense--it rolls up into a scaly ball when threatened by a predator--it is a mammal and the only one with true scales. It feeds almost exclusively on ants and termites. So its loss will affect forest ecosystems. Conservations plans for the animal have been overlooked, but new attention is being given to help pangolins withstand the human onslaught and loss of their forest habitat. No one knows how many pangolins have died in the illegal trade but tens of thousands have been traded each year. In 2000 CITES banned the unsustainable exploitation of these charismatic and unique examples of convergent elvolution. Most traders operate with little fear of the law and even if caught face little more than confiscation of the animals. Keeping pangolins in zoos is not a solution. They rarely survive for long. Replicating their specialist diet is difficult. African pangolins [L. photo credit: Maria Diekmann] are not trafficked as much as their Asian relatives. But as Asian species become more scarce, the demand pressure will shift just as it has from tiger bones to African lion bones.

The Thai navy reported on Tuesday it intercepted 104 pangolins on the Mekong River headed for Laos to be transshipped to China. The smugglers were arrested before they were able to load their boat with the live cargo. Thailand recently hosted the CITES conference and came under heavy pressure for rampant wildlife smuggling through its territory.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Cyprus Depositors Freak, Europe Quails

credit: AFP/Getty Images
Update: E-zone leaders managed to plug another hole in the dike in what is becoming a rerun of a Keystone Cops movie. No parliamentary vote was taken since no new tax was involved, but Cyprus Popular Bank is a victim of the crisis. It will be closed, and its good assets transferred to the Bank of Cyprus. Deposits below €100,000 are protected. Deposits above that amount will be frozen and used to resolve debt. There are a lot angry, rich Russians living on Cyprus right now because the deal is essentially a confiscation of their money. Prime Minister Medvedev made Russia's dim view clear when he said, "The stealing of what already has been stolen continues." "Forced losses" are expected to raise €4.2 billion of the €5.8 billion Cyprus is required to contribute to the EU's €10 billion bailout. What is even more alarming than the confiscation is the announcement by the head of the E-zone finance ministers council that the Cyprus deal should serve as template for the rest of EU. Except for the two banks being merged, its business as usual for the rest of banks on the island beginning Thursday. Although small depositors are protected under the new terms, officials acknowledge that the bailout will push Cyprus into a deep recession and it will take years to recover.

{19.03.13}Cypriots started a run on the island's banks forcing the government to shut them down until Thursday. The reaction is to a proposal that Cypriot bank depositors pay a 6.75% tax on deposits under €100,000 and 9.9% tax over that amount in return for a $13 billion bank bailout by the EU. The nation's banks are suffering from exposure to Greece's economic meltdown. On the weekend, Cypriots rushed to ATMs to withdraw as much of their money as possible. They believe, correctly, they are being forced to pay for the sins of bankers. As one incensed Cypriot said, "I'd rather put my money in a mattress." Symptomatic of how frail Europe's financial structure is, it takes only a tiny island of people to simply say "No" to cause a drop in worldwide stock prices. This is the first time in the string of European bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland that depositors anywhere in the EU are being asked to pay for one. The plan is making the rest of Europe nervous and Cyprus's president Nicos Anastasiades called the EU's tactics to get him to agree to it, "blackmail"; a term used before to describe EU austerity demands in Greece. The EU and the IMF are demanding Cyprus raise €5.8 billion. Negative reaction was so strong that 17 EU finance ministers who approved the bailout plan held an emergency conference on Monday in which they agreed to consider a better deal for small depositors. However, the tiny Cyprus parliament overwhelmingly rejected the bailout plan today. The Cypriot finance minister headed to Moscow earlier to seek financial aid, and discuss the possibility that a Russian bank buy Cyprus Popular Bank, the biggest failing lender. Russians have serious exposure in Cyprus ($60 billion according to Zero Hedge which provides popular offshore financial services. (translation: tax avoidance and money laundering) Some EU critics say Cyprus has become Russia's "Trojan donkey" since become an EU member in 2004. But without some form of aid, it is feared Cypriot banks will fail and possibly cause panic to spread throughout Europe, the dreaded "contagion".

COTW: Unchain My CPI

Think US Person is off his keypad about inflation? No, no, no, my friend! It is the government that is misrepresenting inflation since among other things the core index excludes food and energy costs. The government has been monkeying around with inflation calculations for the past 35 years, and has good reason to do so. It owes $16.7 trillion. If inflation rises, interest rates follow and increases the carrying cost of that huge debt. Just look at this chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve:
What does B.O'Drama want to do about inflation? He wants to use a rate even lower than the official CPI to adjust Social Security and entitlement COLAs! While the official CPI has been flatlined at 2% the "chained" CPI is at 1.8%. This bit of prestidigitation is accomplished by assuming the consumer will substitute products when certain items get too expensive.  For example, buying chicken when beef gets too pricey.  Assuming substitution results in a calculated inflation rate which is usually lower than the actual or official rate. Fed chairman Alan Greenspan suggested this idea years ago, but coming from an alleged "liberal" President it is heresy.   Want to save Social Security? Take the cap off salaries subject to FICA!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

BP Trial Update III

credit: National Geographic
The defendants in the Gulf Oil spill disaster began presenting their case this week. The plantiffs, which include the federal government and the states of Alabama and Louisiana, planned to call an additional witness, a Hailliburton employee who is expected to testify concerning the stability of the cement slurry used by Halliburton and the records he allegedly was told not to keep. Transocean, which leased its Deepwater Horizon drilling platform to British Petroleum, began presenting evidence Monday. It called a well-control expert as its first witness. He testified that the Deepwater Horizon was a state of the art drilling platform and that the drilling crew was properly trained, contradicting an earlier government witness who said the the rig was poorly maintained and "unseaworthy". The CEO of Transocean also tesitfied on Tuesday. He told the court that his Swiss-based company agreed to plead guilty to federal offshore safety violations, pay $1 billion in Clean Water Act civil penalties and another $400 in criminal fines because he believes the rig's crew "should have done more". The evidence presented so far shows that the cement used to seal the Macondo well was faulty; a Slumberger subsidiary that supplied the drilling fluids filed a motion to have all claims against it dismissed since it contends no evidence has been presented connecting its actions to the cause of the well blowout. Judge Barbier took the request under advisement.

In related action, British Petroleum filed a motion for discovery sanctions against Halliburton for failing to disclose a cement sample possibly from the Macondo well located in its laboratory in Lafayette, Louisiana. BP said in its filling that the failure to disclose the sample "undermined the integrity of [the] proceedings" and entitled it to a ruling that the contractor's cement mix was unstable before the blowout occurred. Alabama's attorneys informed the Judge that it too would seek sanctions.

Friday, March 22, 2013

'Toontime: Iron Dome is Not So Much

[credit: Jerry Holbert]
Amid threats of attack issued by the Potemkin nation of North Korea and the United States' fear response augmenting its anti-missile defense system on the west coast comes the eyebrow raising information from Israel that its vaunted "Iron Dome" anti-missile defense system, built with American aid and technology, is not so much an "iron dome" as an iron sieve. B.O'Drama's first stop in his visit to the United States' client state was to inspect an installation of Iron Dome. Israelis claimed an official kill rate of 90%, later reduced to 87%, in the latest Gaza conflict. In light of the claimed combat effectiveness Congress pledged, in a time of domestic fiscal austerity, an additional $680 million for deployments through 2015. Congress spent an initial $275 million to begin deployment two years ago. The United States is co-producing two other anti-missle systems named "Arrow" and "David's Sling" with Israel. Not so fast, Congressmen, because Israel may be selling you billion dollar snake oil.

An increasing number of weapons experts from both the US and Israel say their studies show that Iron Dome interceptors destroyed no more than 40% of incoming rockets. Many of the rockets launched by Palestinians were simply faulty or deflected. One former weapons testing expert for the Pentagon said flatly, "No military system is 90% effective." Tamir interceptors are relatively small, only 6 inches in diameter and ten feet long, and are intended to intercept short-range rockets. The interceptors rely on explosive warheads that fragment to destroy incoming rockets, but they have to get in proximity to be effective. Last November, Gaza militants fired some 1500 rockets at Israeli territory. Israeli defense officials say Iron Dome killed 421 rockets and missed 58, apparently the remainder were not targeted by air defense commanders.

The same inflated success rate was claimed for the American anti-missle system, Patriot, during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Army said the system was 96% effective. But after M.I.T scientific analysis of videos taken of the interceptions, the Army had to back down. The same type of analysis of claimed Iron Dome intercepts was performed by both American and Israeli experts. Doubts about the success rate increased when photographs of whole rockets and warheads on the ground were located. An Israeli military analyst found an Israeli police report saying 109 rockets launched from Gaza--twice the military figure--hit urban areas. An Israeli scientist former employed by Rafael Advanced Weapons Systems Ltd., the system manufacturer concluded in a paper issued last month the kill rate was zero. It should be remembered that the Iron Dome "wonder weapon" is operating against unguided, relatively primitive rockets without countermeasures not hypersonic, nuclear tipped ICBMs. Qassam rockets are handmade in the workshops of Gaza from scrap metal and pipe [photo].  Think of your backyard skyrocket on the 4th. So, apparently what "everybody gets" according to the V.P. and "happy warrior", Joe Biden speaking at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is that it is ok to lie to protect your incredibly profitable weapons business.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Immense Elephant Massacre in Chad

US Person had to take a deep breath before posting this entry because the story is so pathetically obscene. An estimated million humans were killed in the genocide of Rwanda, but that many or more elephants have been slaughtered for their ivory tusks throughout Africa in the last forty years. The latest location of incalculable cruelty lies in Chad where poachers have killed 89 elephants, 30 of which were pregnant females. One television news report shows a dead calf still connected to its umbilical cord [PNG will not dignify the slaughter by linking to video or photos of the pornographic scenes] The perpetrators were heavily armed and on horseback, probably Chadian or Sudanese insurgents. They appear to be headed toward another unprotected area on the Cameroon border where 800 elephants live. These ruthless killers must and can be stopped if serious efforts are made by the nations whose wild heritage is being wantonly destroyed before their eyes. International help is available for the asking.

Certainly local communities are asking for help, but the Chadian government has not responded. Subsistence farmers face starvation as elephants raid their crops to stay alive.  The massacre near Tikem was not reported for days by locals. It is unfortunately another episode in an outbreak of wholesale murder of elephants by an array of bandits, poachers, and rebels who consider the illegal sale of ivory a means of financing their criminal activities. Prayers by Buddhist religious leaders in Thailand for deceased elephants are welcomed as a way of educating religious people about the African elephants' crisis of survival, but what has to change soon is the demand for ivory used to make trinkets, figurines, and jewelry. China is the main market for illegal ivory, but Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have all been places on a CITES watch list. These countries must submit detailed plans in two months and make progress by 2014 in stopping the booming illegal ivory trade which has doubled since 2007. The Secretary General of CITES said the deadlines are real, and that the standing committee is willing to consider trade sanctions if these nations fail to take action. At the recent CITES meeting in Bangkok, delegates also decided to require countries making ivory seizures to take DNA samples for analysis that would allow ivory to be traced to its origins. But China could practically end the illegal trade if it followed Thailand's decision to close down its domestic ivory market and punish citizens engaged in the illegal ivory trade. Meanwhile, organized poachers have more time to slaughter 50,000 more African elephants before decisive international action is taken to protect them from a genocide.

credit: US Person
Omitted from the list of suspect nations are the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad and Cameroon where most of the recent upturn in ivory poaching has occurred. All of these nations are plagued by armed civil conflict. An incredible 60% of forest elephants have been slaughtered for their tusks in the last ten years. In just one national park of Gabon, eleven thousand elephants have been killed since 2004. If the world is to enjoy the continued presence of wild elephants--and US Person can testify they are a joy to encounter in the wild [photo]--international action must be swift and decisive, even lethal if necessary. Right now the banditti committing the genocide face no retribution from the authorities who should be on the ground protecting the elephants from a common enemy that has zero mercy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

COTW: Eurozone Mired in the Shade

credit: Philippe Waechter
The E-zone is not out of the woods economically speaking. The red trend line shows a modest 1.9% growth rate in GDP while the blue line shows a sub-par recovery rate. Europe like the US fell off the cliff in 2008 and output has not recovered since. The E-zone is even falling off its post-crisis upward trend. No wonder a bank crisis in tiny Cyprus rattles markets so disproportionately. Another reason is Cyprus has a huge shadow economy, one that circumvents government regulation or taxation. So there is little incentive in Germany, facing a federal election in the fall, to bail out Cyprus banks with making serious financial demands on Cypriots:

Western Australia Turns Back Time

Dibblers (Parantechinus apicalis)
A precedent setting development project will be undertaken by the state of Western Australia but instead of breaking ground on Dirk Hartog Island, conservationists hopes to repair the land of the largest island in protected Shark Bay and return it four hundred years to a ecologically pristine state. The Return to 1616 project has as its goal restoration of the 63,000 hectare island to what it was when Europeans first landed there. About 13 or more ground dwelling mammals lived on the island then [photo] but the introduction of goats, sheep, cats and invasive plants changed the island's ecosystem permanently. From the 1860s until early 2000s the island was used by herders. The Cape Inscription lighthouse was built in 1910. The island also became popular with recreation seekers and in 2009 it became a national park. Only three mouse-sized  native species remain. The Department of Environment & Conservation has already taken steps to remove sheep and is working to remove 3600 goats. It wants to eradicate them by 2014. If successful Hartog Island will be the largest goat free island in the world. Removal of the domestic herbivores will improve vegetation, food and water for indigenous species. Feral cats must also be removed from the island one section at a time through a combination of fencing, baiting and trapping. The restoration plan includes weed management, vegetation reconstruction, fire management, and security protocols to prevent new introductions of invasive species. The eighty kilometer long island is situated in the Shark Bay world heritage area on the western edge of the Australian continent. The first place European came ashore in Western Australia, it is named after a Dutch sea captain who landed at Cape Inscription in 1616.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CITES Protects More Species, Fails Others

Update: Shark protections survived a last round challenge from two countries at the CITES conference that closed last week. Japan and Grenada attempted to reopen debate on protecting the oceanic whitecap and hammerhead shark that are being decimated by the shark fin trade, but failed to achieve the necessary votes. As result of the international action five shark species are now listed on Appendix II which requires permitted trade only. The next conference of the parties to the treaty occurs in 2016 hosted by South Africa. {13.03.13}Species facing threats from human harvesting got protection at the CITES conference in Bangkok. Sharks and Manta Rays were listed in Appendix II of the Convention. Five shark species including hammerhead received enough votes to be listed, but the vote in favor could be overturned in the plenary session. Sharks are being harvested at an alarming rate for their fins, considered a delicacy in China. One estimate puts the number killed at 100 million annually. Rays are killed for their gill plates which are used in the superstition of traditional Chinese medicine. Appendix II imposes stricter regulations, but not an outright ban on harvesting these animals, so listing is opposed by Asian nations particularly China and Japan.

wengé stump in DRC
Species of rosewood and ebony tress from Madagascar, Latin America and Southeast Asia were also granted protected status. Madagascar's forest cover has suffered dramatically from illegal plundering of rosewood and ebony trees. China once again is in the forefront of demand for these timber species. Smuggling of rosewood from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos has erupted in battles with Thai enforcement officials where a logging ban is in place. A single cubic meter of Siam rosewood is worth $50,000 in China. INTERPOL says the illegal logging trade is worth $30 to $100 billion each year, yet it devastates forests and disrupts societies with its associated criminal activity in drugs, weapon sales, and human trafficking. The United States, Australia and now the European Union have all banned timber harvested illegally abroad. The famous US guitar maker, Gibson, was fined $350,000 and forfeited $250,000 worth of materials for violating the ban. INTERPOL recently arrested 197 illegal loggers across a dozen Central and South American countries in its first coordinated strike against the worldwide illegal trade in timber. Operation Lead seized 50,000 cubic meters of timber worth around $8 million. But this success is outweighed by the vast amount of illegal harvesting that goes on without criminal prosecution. Greenpeace says the Democratic Republic of Congo is loosing its endangered WengĂ© tree (Millettia laurentii) to loggers that circumvent the country's moratorium on industrial logging imposed in 2002. [photo: Greenpeace]  Much of the illegal DRC timber is sold to European countries.

Also at the CITES conference, the United States lost its bid to prohibit the trade in polar bear parts from Canada. Animal welfare organizations wanted the ban to assist the survival of the species under threat from the melting of their Arctic habitat. Canada defended the hunts for polar bear as integral to the culture of indigenous Inuit. The proposed ban would have allowed hunting for food but prohibited the exportation of skins and body parts. The US acknowledged that climate change was the biggest threat to survival of the remaining 20,000 bears, but said the ban would give them a better chance to persist in the wild. Biologists expect that two-thirds of the bears will be extinct by 2050 due to climatic change. The trade in polar bear parts is expanding despite their decline in numbers. Between 2001 and 2010 37,400 specimens were traded equivalent to 5,680 bears killed or nearly two per day. Over ninety percent of the skins are exported mostly to Japan.

Monday, March 18, 2013

EU Fails to Pass Bee Killer Pesticide Ban

More: The United Kingdom's environment minister went to considerable length to stop a ban on the killer pesticide neonicotinoids by circulating a letter among the 27 EU member states prior to the vote saying there was not yet enough evidence to justify a ban. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says the pesticides should be banned because they are widely linked to decline in bees around the world. A RSPB representative said the society has been reviewing the scientific evidence for a long time; the scientific community is reaching a consensus on their adverse impact. Nevertheless the UK's ministry for the environment, DEFRA, has refused to consider either a suspension or a ban citing "no unequivocal evidence". The bad attitude is typical of government agencies captured by big corporations they regulate. One third of UK cropland is sprayed with the neonicotinoid class of systemic chemicals. The European Food Safety Agency announced that neonicotinoids "pose a number of disturbing risks to bee health", but the Swiss company Syngenta that manufactures thiamethoxam told the EU Commission their report was "fundamentally flawed". US Person thinks if left to DEFRA, the only unequivocal evidence will occur when all the bees in Britain are dead. Fortunately, the EU Health Commissioner said he wanted the ban issue to be revisited and still thinks the EU will have measures in place by July 1st.

{19.03.13}Neonicotinoids can continue to kill bees since a ban failed to past the European Union committee of experts. The United Kingdom abstained along with Germany, Bulgaria, Estonia and Finland making the final vote 13-9 with five abstentions. The votes are weighed by population in each country so a majority was not obtained in favor of the ban. In the face of a deadlock the European Commission could act on its own to impose a ban on the three most common neonicotinoids-- imidacloprid and clothianidin made by Bayer and thiamethoxam made by Syngenta. More than thirty different scientific studies have found adverse effects on bees from the systemic chemicals. Neonicotinoids attack the bees nervous system and has been implicated by a Harvard University study as a cause of sudden colony collapse disorder. The European Food Safety Authority said in January the pesticides pose a high risk to bee health. Britain's Environment Secretary said he wanted await the result of his own government's test on the effects of neonicotinoids. France, who supported the ban proposal along with Italy and Slovenia, has already banned the use of the pesticides. Bayer's imidacloprid was its top-selling insecticide in 2009 earning $770 million.

Slandering Pope Francis?

credit: Pagina 12
The Vatican's new and improved media response team {21.01.13, "Vaticangate"} was quick to denounce any and all criticisms of Father Jorge Bergoglio's relationship to the murderous Argentine junta as calumny eminating from anti-clerical sources. But Pope Francis' critics in Argentina are not easily cowed. Some documents from the era have resurfaced in Argentine media showing Jesuit leader Bergoglio took an active part in the case of two Jesuit priests singled out by the junta for reprisal. Father Francisco Jalics, suspected of contact with guerrillas, was denied renewal of his visa. The document notes that Father Bergoglio, made a "special recommendation" to not accept his request for visa renewal. Bergoglio has refuted the charge he effectively released the priests to the junta by denying them the protection of the Jesuit Order; Father Jalics, now retired in Germany, reconciled with Father Bergoglio years ago. The other priest imprisoned and tortured by the junta, Father Orlando Yorio, is dead but he told others he believed Bergoglio was partly responsible for what happened to him and Jalics. Bergoglio told biographers he interceded with authorities to protect the activist priests.

Perhaps the new Pope should be forgiven for his handling of two insubordinate radicals during a dangerous time in Argentine history. Father Superior Bergoglio certainly did not condemn neo-fasicists in power as did Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. Romero was shot dead on the steps of his cathedral by right-wing assassins in 1980. Unfortunately, despite its official teachings of social justice, the Church has a long and distasteful history of cooperation with fascists. Pope Pius XII's documented wartime collaboration comes immediately to US Person's mind. More recently, the now beatified Pope John Paul II rejected Latin American "liberation theology" as unorthodox and publicly admonished Father Ernesto Cardenal's support of the marxist Sandinista government of Nicaragua when he visited there in 1983. John Paul II was doctrinally conservative and elevated priests like Bergoglio who did not publicly protest political repression. Historically, Pope John Paul II was in the Church's mainstream opposition to "godless communism", but his opposition may have gone even further by allowing the Church to serve as cover for CIA operations against the Marxists in power in Nicaragua. Robert Perry, a former correspondent for Newsweek magazine writes about his experience of Church support for anti-Sandanista activities.

The Reagan administration was fixated on preventing the proliferation of leftist governments in its own backyard of Latin America. It had to keep its support of anti-Sandinista elements in Nicaragua clandestine if the administration was to enlist US public support for the Contra rebels. It was a classic "inside-out" operation: fomenting social upheaval internally while pressuring the Nicaraguan regime with international propaganda about its oppressive nature and conducting a debilitating economic embargo against the country. Reacting to violent demonstrations the Sandinista's closed the opposition newspaper La Prensa and the Catholic Church's radio station, both of which broadcast anti-Sandanista propaganda. US media roared its outrage at the suppression of press freedom. However, in private the US ambassador was required to testify to the open secret that the US funded and organized internal opposition in Nicaragua. Perry writes some of this support was funneled by the CIA through the Catholic Church and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. Support apart from direct military aid to the Contra rebels amounted to $10 million a year.

Obando criticized the oppressive Samoza dictatorship in the 1970s but after Pope John Paul II publicly repudiated liberation theology and the notion of a "peoples' church" he jumped into the counterrevolutionary camp with both feet. He accused the Sandinista's of "godless communism". In 1985 Pope John Paul elevated him to cardinal. In 1986 Cardinal Obando traveled to the US and gave his support to renewing US aid for Contra rebels. Being on the CIA's payroll may have also played a role in his changed politics. Congressional oversight committees found out about CIA funds going to the Nicaraguan Catholic Church, so the funding was simply transfered to within the White House as part of Col. Oliver North's secret operation. Perry says North earmarked $100,000 for Obando's needs. Of course the funding was washed through cut-outs to prevent any of it being traced directly to him. Nevertheless the Cardinal is said to have expressed fear that his receipt of CIA money would be blown eventually.

In the end it was the enterprising journalist Perry who paid for writing about the Church connection. He was subjected to his own internal investigation at Newsweek and his relationship with senior editors soured. The Vatican refuses to allow any research into its relationship with the CIA or other intelligence agencies during the 70s and 80s when thousands of Latin Americans disappeared, were murdered, or tortured into submission by their own governments. Pope Francis is conducting a charm blitzkrieg at the moment, but questions about how the Church reconciles its official social doctrine with its actions or omissions under repressive political regimes remain unanswered.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

BP Trial Update II

credit: UK Guardian
The spotlight of judicial process in New Orleans turned away from British Petroleum to its subcontractors, Halliburton and Transocean. Halliburton, a worldwide well services company provided the cement used to allegedly seal the well while Transocean operated the destroyed drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon. The shift in attention no doubt came as a relief to BP which has shelled out billions in fines and civil damages in the aftermath of the largest oil spill in US history [photo]. A Halliburton employee testified to the existence at one time of off-the-record tests that occurred in the weeks after the spill indicating the cement mix was wrong. The head of cementing operations testified that the cement mix "had a low probability of success" and did NOT represent best practices. A Halliburton lawyer told the federal court trial judge sitting without a jury that a slab of the cement in question may exist in its Lafayette, Louisiana lab. Halliburton has been under orders to provide parties and the court with samples of the cement in question.

Also revealed in testimony was the fact that a Halliburton mud logger missed a "gas kick", or sudden increase in gas pressure in the well, while he took a smoking break. He failed to report the kick to the drilling floor. Regardless of Halliburton's culpability in the disaster, BP was undisputedly in charge as owner of the Macondo well, and Halliburton acted as its independent contractor in the well cementing process. BP supervisors could have halted the cementing at any time. An independent expert called by the government said BP should have called a halt. Asked directly by a government lawyer, "Does this mean to you that BP absolved itself of responsibility for the cement job by relying on Halliburton's services?" "No sir, it did not." replied the expert.

A marine safety expert testified that Transocean and its crew violated numerous federal and international maritime safety regulations and concluded the crew was incompetent and the vessel unseaworthy. He also said the drilling rig's maintenance records clearly show the vessel "was in deplorable condition". Undoubtably his testimony will be contradicted by Transocean's own expert witness on the subject.

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Toontime: Pennies from Heaven

[credit: Steve Breen, San Diego Union-Tribune]
That is about all Joe Sixpac can expect from the Bubble 3.0 economy. The Wall Street bonanza is fueled by QE3 ($85 billion a month) which is another way of saying printing mo' money. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or even a hedge fund manager to turn a profit on near zero percent money from Uncle Sam. The Congressional Budget Office says the real economy--not the casino running on joy juice--will grow by only 1.4%. Recovery from the Second Great Contraction will take until 2017 and cost us $7.5 trillion or one half of the nation's annual GDP. The CBO also expects official unemployment to remain at 7.5%. There is a great debate over how much government deficit spending can spur economic activity. America has deficit spent for so long some economists think its economic effect has lessened. Like an alcoholic who needs to drink more to get comfortable. And as in the drug case, the nation's recovery will be long and difficult.

Unfortunate Detroit, once the Mecca of America's industrial empire, is now wallowing in poverty. Everyone who could afford to leave has left the city; only America's underclass remains. A third of Detroiters live in poverty and 17% are unemployed. Unable to raise revenue from its impoverished residents despite having the highest legal tax rates in Michigan on property and income, the city has closed almost half its schools since 2005 and the number of police reduced by half between 2000 and 2008. Only 57 of over 300 parks will open this year. The entire city departments of health and human services have been cut for the current fiscal year. This bitter austerity is still not enough for Detroit to pay operating costs; it has simply shrunk too much to support the budget of a much larger city. It is $14 billion in debt. Detroiters feel they have been deserted by the rest of America, and indeed this country is unique among western developed countries for its willingness to cut losses and leave the unfortunate behind. Perhaps it is a psychological legacy from hard days on the frontier trail where stragglers were left to fend for themselves.

"Pikes Peak or Bust" was more bust than riches. The vast majority of wealth seekers who did not strike it rich resorted to laboring for wages from union-busting robber barons like J.D. Rockefeller*. This is how austerity works: it enriches the rich by denying the working poor. The policy is aided and abetted by politicians who owe their livelihood to plutocrats. If they do well protecting their masters' interests they get to join the club. Former Security and Exchange Commission chief Mary Shapiro joins the board of General Electric. She entirely missed Maddoff's biggest Ponzi scheme in American history, did nothing to regulate high frequency trading or derivatives, and failed to implement the very modest reform regulations of the Dodd-Frank legislation. But who cares, right? The Dow is up and so is the S&P! Happy days are here again and we will all be rich. Don't count on it, buddy; you do not have to visit Greece, just ask someone from Detroit.

 *after Baldwin-Felts detectives and the Colorado National Guard burned out striking miners at Ludlow killing women and children huddled in makeshift bunkers beneath their canvas tents, Rockefeller sent Rockefeller Jr. to attempt to quell further violence. Rather than adopt his father's hard anti-union line, Junior agreed to conciliate the miners and address their grievances in an internal process. In return the miners gave up their attempt to unionize. Rockefeller Jr. was amply rewarded by his father for keeping unions out of his Colorado Fuel & Iron mining operations.  A modest monument to those loosing their lives the cause to live better ones was erected by the UMWA on the site of the tent colony two years after the massacre in 1916.  For more on Colorado's often violent anti-labor history in which the police powers of the state were used as an employers' weapon against unions see the Wikipedia entry, "Colorado Labor Wars".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

More Hope for the Devil

credit: Devil Ark
US Person has been following the struggle of the Tasmanian Devil species (Sarcophilus harrisii) to survive the fatal spread of a contagious cancer. Humans trying to help the marsupial in its plight have resorted to a quarantine of healthy animals on the mainland as a genetic reservoir. The disease has devastated all of Tasmania's endangered devil population with sightings of the marsupial down by 85%. Only the second contagious form of cancer known to science (the other infects dogs) it is transmitted by bites from an infected devil. Often these occur on the face in territorial and mating fights resulting in hideous facial tumors. The disease is 100% fatal in a matter of months.

Scientists first thought the lack of devil genetic diversity played a role in their immune system's inability to detect invading tumor cells. However, a consortium of universities studying the problem have made an important discovery. Their published research says devil cancer cells lack histocompatiblity complex cells (MHC) that are present on the surface of nearly every mammalian cell. Because the tumor cells do not have these molecules, they avoid detection by the devils' immune system. Tumor cells still have the genetic code for these molecules but it is suppressed. When proteins that trigger immune response such as interferon-gamma are introduced, the tumor cells are forced to express MHC molecules. Scientists involved in the research hope the discovery will provide a pathway to developing a vaccine for the devils. Obstacles to a cure remain because the cancer is evolving rapidly and vaccinating a wild population like the feisty devil is not an easy task. The research goes on because devils need human help to survive the deadly plague, but study has human implications too since it is only a matter of time before a human strain of contagious cancer emerges from the invisible world.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lake Vostok Contains New Bacteria

Russian scientists [photo credit: AFP] drilling into Lake Vostok beneath the ice of Antarctica have found a bacteria new to science. The genetics laboratory in St. Petersburg declared samples of the life form to be distinct from known forms. Vostok is believed to have been completely covered by ice for more than a million years. The Russians drilled almost four kilometers to reach the lake's surface. Scientist see Lake Vostok as a possible terrestrial analog for bodies of liquid water that may exist elsewhere in the solar system, notably on Saturn's moon of Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa. Samples containing a bacteria that is 86% distinct from known types were taken in May 2012. A confirming sample is planned to be retrieved in this year's expedition.

More bacteria related news closer to home: the Center for Disease Control reports a new strain of drug resistant germs, carbapenem-resistent Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) spreading in US hospitals and care facilities. Enterobacteriaceae is a large family of bacteria which inhabit human gastrointestinal tracts. The most commonly reported genera are Escherichia, Klebsiella, and Enterobacter. CRE can transmit its drug resistance to ordinary germs like E. coli  Patients who get CRE infections in their bloodstream have a 50% mortality rate. In care facilities bacteria are transmitted by hands and infected equipment such as catheters. Between 2001 and 2011 the proportion of resistant cases of enterobacterial infection more than tripled in the US. In 2011 klebsiella pneumoniae overtook a National Institutes of Health hospital in Bethesda, MD infecting eighteen patients and killing six. The CDC director named these new, super microorganisms "nightmare bacteria". The "attorney from hell", US Person suggests "bacteria from hell" would be more descriptive. So far the infections have been limited to healthcare facilities but have the potential to move into the population at large if uncontrolled. Forty-two states have CRE cases.

Monday, March 11, 2013

BP Trial Update I

An independent expert consultant to the oil industry testified last Wednesday that the cement pumped into the Macondo well was not given enough time to harden before a negative pressure test was run, allowing oil and gas to eject out of the well bore and explode. The explosion and ensuring fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and killed eleven workers. The expert also identified at least nine major errors committed during the cementing that when combined caused the blowout. Witness for the government, Glen Benge, testified British Petroleum was most at fault since it designed the cementing job, oversaw the work, and exercised final decision making authority. He also blamed Halliburton who provided the cementing material.

According to the witness, BP engineers accepted additional risks thinking remedial work could be done later, but the blowout radically invalidated their assumptions. They used an inappropriate heavy cement mix left over from previous operations and reduced the number of centralizers from Halliburton's recommended 21 to just six placed in the bore hole. That decision weakened the cement seal on one side leaving a channel filled with drilling mud that hydrocarbons under immense pressure could blow out to the surface.[trial graphic, above: gray cement, brown drilling mud] Benge also said too little mud was used, only sixty barrels, compared to other BP wells in the Gulf which used one hundred to two hundred barrels. The heavy cement was foamed with nitrogen injection, but when combined with the synthetic oil-based mud that contained a surfactant the foamed cement could be destabilized.

The negative pressure test registered two readings of pressures greater than expected if the Macondo well were completely sealed. Other experts are scheduled to testify for the government this week including an expert on blowout preventers.

COTW: AFRICOM Spells Adventure

This graphic [full size here]encapsulates the extent of unrest and resources in sub-saharan Africa. The region, the operational responsibility of AFRICOM, is rife with insurgent activity some of which is sponsored by Al-Qaeda or its offshoots. The social discontent fueling the conflicts extends back to colonial days when Europeans drew boundaries deliberately intended to weaken tribal or ethnic affinities and make native populations more tractable to centralized colonial administration. The Tuareg uprising in Mali is but one example. The colonial "scramble for Africa" is long gone but the region still interests neo-colonial powers because it contains much natural wealth including oil, gas, gold and uranium.

LeMonde: decouverte un cache des armes
So far the French expedition in Mali has met little resistance. Militants apparently knew they could not defeat a Malian army whose backbone is stiffened by professional French troops including Legionnaires, recognized as among the best counterinsurgency forces in the world. In a captured document allegedly left behind in Timbuktu by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) a senior commander says a foreign intervention would force it to "rear bases" since it would exceed "our military and financial and structural capabilities for the time being". But the war in Mali is far from over.  A significant counter-attack against Malian troops took place in the northern city of Gao last month as well as suicide bombings, and there are reports of transborder cooperation with the Nigerian rebel group Boko Haram. As outside forces continue to secure population centers the rebels will increasingly turn to asymmetrical warfare. Mali is a tragically weak state undermined by alliances between the political elite, smugglers, and drug dealers. The Tuareq disaffection extends into the army where armed clashes occurred between pro- and anti-coup factions in the capital of Bamako. Malian troops are also using the intervention as a means to exact revenge on Tuareg and Arab populations in the north. French troops are unlikely to withdraw soon in the face of a deteriorating security situation.
[credit: Franklin Spinney @ Counterpunch]
Pilatus P-12 @ Cannon AFB, NM
American enthusiasm for involvement in Africa cooled after the infamous 1993 "Blackhawk down" incident in Mogadishu, but increasing terrorist activity in northern Africa has caused the Pentagon it to increase its presence on the continent. The NATO supported overthrow of Libya's Muammar Qaddafi has triggered a migration of African islamist fighters and their weapons back to countries with unsettled ethnic conflicts. The US presence has been in the form of civilian contractors who blend in more easily than lumbering soldiers in camouflage fatigues toting bulging rucksacks. This phase of simply spying on activity of interest [graphic above] is ending. In October of last year B.O'Drama sent in one hundred special forces to hunt for the deranged Joseph Kony, a Ugandan rebel. The search for him and his "Lord's Resistence Army" from the air extends back until at least 2009 under the code name, "Tusker Sand". AFRICOM's surveillance operation against AQIM is coded, "Creek Sand" and operates in Mali from a base in Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso. Little is publicly known about these operations since AFRICOM maintains secrecy about them. Last year Congress appropriated $50million for DOD to expand and enhance its efforts to bring Kony down, and it has also given military aid to Niger and Burkino Faso. About a dozen air bases have been established in Africa since 2007 [map below]. Up until this year the surveillance was conducted by manned aircraft using mostly Pilatus PC-12 turboprops [photo], innocuous looking civilian aircraft flying out of existing airport facilities. In February, 2013 B.O'Drama announced the US will be building a drone base in Niger.
[credit: Washington Post, full size here]
The new drone base is located for now in the capital of Niamey and about one hundred personnel have already been sent there to begin preparations. The US says that the drones are for unarmed surveillance, but an unconfirmed report says that a "mystery air strike" took place in June 2012which killed seven AQIM fighters traveling in a northern Mali vehicle convoy. Many pundits consider America's next war to be against Iran, but Africa looks to be the more likely battlefield in America's longest war.

Friday, March 08, 2013

'Toontime: Political Follies

Two 'toons that sum up events in the past week, one significant the other not. The death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after a long struggle with cancer puts the world's fourth largest exporter of oil politically adrift; while in the theatre of the absurd once known as the United States Senate, Repugnant colleagues thought Senator Rand Paul's filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to CIA's top post a sophomoric stinker.
[credit: Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer]

[credit: Jack Ohman, Sacramento Bee]
Wackydoodle sez, Quick boys, grab yer AR-15s!
Paul was upset that he did not get a satisfactory answer from Attorney 
General Holder on the question of whether the President could use a drone strike against a citizen on American soil. Apparently Rand Paul has not read his Constitution lately. If he did he would find in Article IV, Section 4 this little tidbit: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them...against domestic Violence."  Insurrection anyone?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Geneticists Help Lions to a Better Life

Free at last?
The archaic Addis Abba zoo is a squalid Victorian era menagerie where animals are confined in penitentiary conditions to just exist. Anyone going there to gawk at the inmates is at best callous and at worst emotionally disturbed. The lions spend day after monotonous day behind bars in a 4x5x2.5m den with concrete floors. Their is no separate maternity cage and the sexes are separated. They are fed 10 kilos of boned beef a day and water. These unfortunate prisoners are descended from the lions collected by the last Ethiopian monarch, Emperor Haile Selassie, who captured lions from the wild and imprisoned them at his palaces in the 1940s. But now there is hope for these lions. The Addis mayor reached out to the sister city of Leipzig because his zoo was under pressure from complaints about the poor conditions. Leipzig Zoo sent veterinarians to check on the lions' health.

Being scientists, they were curious about the lions' genetic heritage due to their distinct appearance: the males have large dark brown manes down their chest and shoulders, extending the length of the belly [photo: Klaus Eulenberger]. They are smaller in body size and mass compared to eastern and southern African lions. Could these zoo lions be the last true relatives of the Barbary lion or South African Cape lion, both now extinct? Or even more provocative, could these few inmates hanging on to existence be a previously unknown subspecies? If they are genetically distinct they would deserve better conditions if only for the unemotional, scientific reasons of conservation value and need. Conservation resources are very limited and must be distributed where they will benefit endangered species the most--call it, endangered species triage.  So genetic samples were taken from the lions for analysis.

There is continued debate in the scientific community about the distinctiveness of various lion populations. However, the genetic investigation of the "Addis Abba Fifteen" conducted by an international team of scientists, paid off for the lions. The geneticists concluded the Addis lions are a genetically distinct population, different from both Asian and African lions, "a breed apart". In their published results, the investigators argued for immediate conservation action including a breeding program to preserve this unique species. The Addis lions will be moved from their prison and receive much improved care at modern facilities where they can thirve, reproduce, and enjoy a better quality of life. Leipzig Zoo helped design the new installation. Construction started in 2012 and is scheduled to be finished this year. Helping lions live reasonable lives in captivity is expensive and only justified because wild lions are rapidly disappearing. Wild lion population has decreased from around 100,000 fifty years ago to 32,000 or less now. Someday these few survivors of their kind, if man ever achieves enlightenment, may once again roam Ethiopia wild and free while humans look on, perhaps with a small amount of envy, from behind their protective fence.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

All Guns, No Butter

Washington is awash in jeremiads over the sequester; pillars of Zion are beating the Iran war drum; the White House closes its doors to tourists It lends perspective to the cacophony of austerity to remind one of the incredible amounts of money the United States has wasted attempting to build a modern democratic nation in Iraq. Ten years after our troops departure and $60 billion in taxpayer money spent for reconstruction, Iraq is still a mess. Even Iraq's leaders question whether US efforts to rebuild the nation were worth the cost.

Of course the genesis of the Charlatan's war of choice was inauspicious from the start. The decision to invade Iraq arose from the unilateralism of a few Pentagon leaders, notably then Secretary Dick "Darth" Cheney, his aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby and the Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz expressed in their manifesto, "Defense Policy Guidance". Accusing dictator Saddam Hussein of harboring weapons of mass destruction was simply a pretext to justify the invasion. The Desert Storm operation conducted a decade before by the Charlatan's father and former CIA director George H.W. Bush destroyed Iraq's capacity to manufacture weapons of mass destruction and Saddam did not attempt to rebuild it. Even more to the point, Hussein proved himself to be no friend of Al Qaeda which he considered composed of dangerous foreign meddlers. The senior Bush shelved the guidance of the neoconservatives after the manifesto was leaked to the Los Angeles Times.

When his son rose to power, the Charlatan quickly adopted the neoconservative agenda of US hegemony, including the principle of preemptive strike. His defense establishment was dominated by neoconservative zealots like Douglas Feith, Steve Cambone, Richard Perle and the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. A special office, the Office of Special Plans, was created in the Pentagon whose major purpose was to compile a brief for the invasion of Iraq. One lone moderate was in a position of authority within the Charlatan's defense establishment, General Colin Powell, and he was largely circumvented or ignored by the warmongers. Eventually even General Powell was impressed with the task of presenting the United State's largely exaggerated, circumstantial case for war to the United Nations. The failed oilman from Texas was determined to be a "war president" greater than his father even if he had to lie to the world to accomplish his mission¹.

The end of Cold War confrontations with the Soviet Union provided America with an opportunity to readjust its militaristic priorities to domestic programs and return to fiscal responsibility. Instead, under the leadership of an insecure megalomanic, America got a huge expansion of federal spending for fighting two distant wars simultaneously. Overall, the US has spent $767 billion on Iraq since the 2003 invasion according to the Congressional Budget Office. A private research group, National Priorities Project, estimates the war's cost at $811 billion. In his final report to Congress, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said the $90 billion spent on Iraq reconstruction projects was largely misspent: "Not enough was accomplished for the size of the funds expended." An understated assessment echoed by Iraq leaders. A Kurdish leader told auditors, "You think if you throw money at a problem, you can fix it. It [reconstruction] was just not strategic thinking." One might even conclude, X-brand thinking, because the Inspector Generals' report exposes astonishing levels of fraud and waste in Iraq. Some notable examples are:

  • the Khan Bani Sa'ad prison began building in 2004 but was abandoned after three years because of increased fighting in Diyala Province. The $40 million project now sits in ruins with no Iraqi plans for completing it;
  • a $108 million wastewater treatment facility in Fallujah has taken eight years longer than planned to construct and will only service 9,000 homes. An additional $87million will be needed to hook up the rest of the city;
  • rebuilding of a pipeline that was severed during the invasion under the Tigris River was deemed geologically prone to fail. It did, and replacing the pipeline and al-Fatah bridge that carried it cost an additional $29 million;
  • a former US Army officer led a ring of corruption at reconstruction headquarters, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, that defrauded the US of tens of millions in kickbacks. Twenty-two criminal convictions were connected to government contracts for bottled water and other supplies.
Such is the senseless profligacy that occurs when a foreign power attempts to rebuild a country it has destroyed in war during an ensuing civil war ignited when the ruthless but unifying national dictator was toppled. Reconstruction in Iraq was poorly organized and even more poorly executed; wags referred to US policy as "ad hocracy". Supposedly run by the State Department, the vast majority of Iraq reconstruction projects were paid for by the Department of Defense. Unfortunately it too controls rebuilding Afghanistan, where taxpayers have spent $90 billion to date². The war bill has come due, and similar to a drunken weekend in Vegas, the bill is enormous. Tell Johnny the wars are why he can't visit the White House anymore.

1. Accomplishing his mission including sending in American Special Forces officers with experience in torture gained from advising Central American counterinsurgency forces during that region's "Dirty Wars". They were to advise mostly Shia police paramilitaries attempting to quell a rising Sunni insurgency. The police commandos became infamous for their torture and execution of prisoners at detention centers set up around the country with the help of these American advisors. The Guardian newspaper identifies retired colonels James Steele and James H. Coffman as advisors to Iraqi police commandos. It is the first time American military officers have been directly implicated in human rights abuses by Iraqi security forces. General in Command David Petraeus is said to have been aware of torture of detainees by Iraqi special police, At one point their victims were broadcast on national television in an ultimate reality show of sorts titled, "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice". Petraeus is also said to have personally ordered through an interpreter that television broadcast of tortured detainees stop. Col. Steele was deemed important enough to the administration's efforts in Iraq that Secretary Defense Rumsfeld forwarded his memos directly to Cheney and Bush for "texture". [video] 
2. there is no reason to believe that reconstruction will be managed any better in Afghanistan. Waste and fraud is almost certain to be as bad or worse as in the Iraq case because Afghanistan's central government is weaker and native tribalism has a ancient tradition of theft, smuggling and corruption. The United States is faced with the problem of what to do with 750,000 pieces of major military hardware when it withdraws from the country supposedly by 2014. It is unthinkable to leave it behind where some of it will become the property of the Taliban and Al Qaeda almost immediately. To transport trucks, armor and aircraft out of the enemy's reach could cost as much as $5.7 billion. But destroying $36 billion in military equipment seems equally ridiculous.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Creature Feature: Wildlife Crime

More: Bangkok, Thailand is hosting the CITES conference and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra used the international forum to announce that Thailand will start a legislative process to end ivory trade in her country.  WWF credited the move to  1.5 million supporters (including Leonardo DiCaprio and US Person) who signed a petition to ask the Thai government to ban the legal trade in ivory.  Currently the country is the world's largest unregulated ivory market in the world and serves both as an end user and transshipper of ivory products.  Thailand allows trade in ivory from domesticated Asia elephants, but conservationists say the legal trade provides cover for traffickers in illegal ivory.  Without effective, consistent enforcement bans on trading ivory will not save elephants and rhinos from extinction in the wild.  It is an urgent crisis, so political leaders need to follow up their pledges with swift action.  In her welcoming speech on Monday, Minister Shinawatra recognized her country's elephant culture and the established scientific fact that elephants are sentient beings with complex emotional lives.  She said elephants deserve more caring treatment from humans.  Indeed!

{31.2.13}This World Wildlife Fund video shows the tragic business of wildlife trafficking which unsurprisingly is connected to insurrectionist activity in Africa. The Empire already has a substantial military presence in Africa with special ops forces and advisors fighting insurrectionists threatening sources of valuable commoditites. It is time those assets were turned against wildlife poachers, a real embodiment of evil.

Appeals Court Says Polar Bears Not Endangered

The refusing to substitute its judgment for the responsible agency's the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on Friday the Fish & Wildlife Service used reasonable decision making by listing the polar bear {Ursus maritimus} as only "threatened" by global warming. The Arctic ice cap is melting rapidly making it near impossible for the bears to hunt seals. Conservation groups want the bear declared "endangered" so it can receive the benefit of the highest level of protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency conducted a three year review of the polar bears plight and concluded it was likely to become endangered in the future. Melting ice cap will kill a third of existing polar bears thought to number 20,000-25,000 according to one estimate. Oil companies definitely do not want increased protection for the bear since habitat would have to be set aside for it and that action could interfere with their plans to drill for oil. Oil companies are already exempted from incidental taking of small numbers of walruses and bears under a regulation upheld by the Ninth Circuit in August 2012. This latest ruling demonstrates the plutocracy's concerted effort to keep an ice free Arctic region open to exploitation for oil. In US Person's humble opinion that policy was confirmed when the oil patch Charlatan, and Alaska's wild woman Sarah Palin, opposed efforts to control warming to preserve Arctic habitat for wildlife. Their tortured reading of the Endangered Species Act motivated by potential oil profits was upheld by a federal court, and the current administration decided to keep the Section 4(d) rule challenged by conservation organizations.

Monday, March 04, 2013

COTW: The Future Is Now for the Arctic

Satellite imagery (European Space Agency's CryoSat 2) has confirmed the prediction of computer modeling that the total volume of Arctic sea ice is declining rapidly. The total volume is now one-fifth of the 1980 level. If the trend continues the Arctic will be ice free in summer within the decade which will result in more rapid global warming with characteristic extreme, prolonged weather events.
credit: Stroeve et al
The area of ice cover has been shrinking over the last decade too, reaching a record minimum in September 2012, but the volume decease is more troubling since it indicates sea ice is becoming progressively thiner more rapidly than previously thought. Warmer arctic temperatures also mean vast areas of permafrost will begin thawing thereby releasing even more carbon to the atmosphere. This amplification loop will intensify the effects of global warming including significantly raising sea levels. If the ice sheet on Greenland melts--and many climate scientists think it will--sea levels will rise twenty feet or enough to flood lower Manhattan, all of New Orleans, and other coastal population centers worldwide. Greenland is at a tipping point now with surface melting at the highest elevations and in record extent:
credit: J.E. Box et al
melt index = the number of days melting occurred x area melting occurred

Friday, March 01, 2013

Putting the Grease on Keystone XL

Breaking: Environmentalists cannot be truly surprised by the State Department's supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for the Keystone Pipeline that like the original version finds burning oil strip-mined from the Alberta oil sands is "unlikely to have a substantial impact" on the planet's climate. While the finding is not related to reality, it makes clear the fix is in to build the pipeline. Even the timing of the SEIS Friday afternoon release is suspicious with Secretary Kerry on the other side of the world and official Washington heads up their sequester. B. O'Drama has a few short months to make a final decision, so it will be an uphill battle for Americans who want him to live up to his rhetoric about doing something to counteract climate change. He could make no more decisive first step than denying a permit for the 800,000 barrel a day carbon bomb from the oil industry. Even the lubricating report admits making oil from bituminous sands produces 5 to 19% more greenhouse gas emissions than other crude oil sources.

Normally cautious Time magazine put it bluntly, "There are many climate problems a President cannot solve, but Keystone isn't one of them. It's a choice between Big Oil and a more sustainable planet." Royal Dutch Shell reported in 2006 that its oil sands unit made an after tax profit of $21.75 per barrel, or almost double the company's worldwide profit per barrel. Pressure against approving this disaster in the making has to be applied consistently and often to overcome the paid influence of the oil industry. It is no accident that Secretary Kerry's first official visit in Washington from another foreign leader was the Canadian foreign minister on February 8th. The Canadian government is counting on approval of the pipeline to expand strip-mining of its oil sand deposits, contrary to the State Department's assessment. The Athabasca, Cold Lake, and Peace River deposits in Alberta are enormous. One estimate is the unconventional oil in the sands is seven times that of Saudi Arabia's reserves, and there is an insatiable market for all that oil just south of the border. The problem is how to transport bitumen to the nearest capable refineries cost effectively. XL is intended unlock the oil sands' vast economic value.

Nine refineries at the pipeline's southern terminus are equipped to produce petcoke or synthetic coal, a waste product of refining bitumen that when combusted will emit 13% more CO₂ than the State Department even considered in its recycled SEIS. The largest global petcoke trader in the world is Oxbow Carbon Corporation owned by--wait for it--William Koch brother of Charles and David. The US exported 8.6 million tons of petcoke to China in nine months, most of which was probably burned in coal-fueled power plants because it is 25% cheaper than conventional coal. Oxbow Carbon spent over $1.3 million on Washington lobbyists in 2012 while contributing $4.25 million to GOP super-PACs making it the largest corporate contributor to this relatively new form of political bribery. Tapping into the dirty bitumen now would guarantee the United States will be dependent on oil for generations to come. Public comment on the project is only for a period of 45 days, so you need to make your voice heard if you care about the future of Earth. Send comments to: US Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Room 2726, Attention: Genevieve Walker, NEPA Coordinator or


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Creature Feature: Why Does a Linx Cross the Road?

Rare pictures of a Canadian lynx and her blue-eyed cub in Banff National Park come to PNG from Parks Canada via The sequence demostrates just how flexible a cat can be and that highway fencing, while not perfect, is very effective in reducing vehicle collisions with large mamals. Fence and wildlife overpasses on the Trans-Canada highway installed since 1996 have reduced collisions by 80% for large mammals and 96% for elk and deer. Good news indeed for both humans and creatures! Alert drivers called Parks Canada dispatch line prompting an animal welfare officer to immediately go to the scene and keep the lynxes out of danger until they disappeared back into their forest home.