Friday, August 31, 2007

And Then There was Only One

In what must be seen outside the U.S. as another defeat for justice, only one of the four enlisted Marines charged with homicide in the Haditha massacre is on trial. The cases against the other defendants have been dismissed on procedural grounds. An NCO in command charged with executing five unarmed Iraqis at close range is still facing a general court martial. The staff sergeant claims he was following approved rules of engangement and his training. Neighbors claim the five men in a car were students returning home. Marines involved in the incident originally said that the twenty four civilians were killed by stray bullets and fragments in a firefire with insurgents. Photos of the scene taken by U.S. military personnel shortly after the killings contradict that story. Nevertheless, dismissal of the prosecution for lack of evidence is a distinct possibility. Apparently the Marine Corps has made an institutional decision that convicting a Marine for homicides committed under the stress of combat would be bad for esprit de corps. Three officers have been charged with failure to investigate or report the incident. Given the recent acquital of an Army officer for a similar derelection at Abu Ghraib, its unlikely the Marine officers will be found guilty. Decisions like these make the term military justice an oxymoron.

Vox Versi: The Battle of Reports, Redux

GAO Report on Iraq due in September.
General Petraeus' Report on Iraq due in September.

Update: The House will hold hearings next week on two reports assessing the situation in Iraq. The Government Accountability Office drafted a report that gives a bleak assessment of the chances the Iraqi government will reach a national reconciliation. Only 3 of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress have been met by Iraqi officials. A second report drafted by military experts will conclude that Iraqi forces are years away from assuming responsibility for their nation's security without U.S. combat forces. Both reports will present a sombre prelude for the much anticipated Patreaus report on the lack of progress in Iraq. Anticipation was that it would be virtuoso performance, but instead his report will refrain the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq recently released. Patreaus, according to a senior military official, succeeded in having the NIE's negative security assessments "softened" to reflect some recent tactical improvements. Its obvious by now that Patreaus is a member of the Bush propaganda symphony. Congress members got an earful from their constituents during their August break. Rep. Bain (D) of Vancouver, Washington changed his position to support the surge after a guided tour of Iraq, but received a crescendo of criticism during a town hall meeting from the people in his district for his variation.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Meanwhile in Afghanistan....

Weekend Update: A new report by the UN released this week says that one province of Afghanistan, Helmand, produces an astonishing 50% of the country's opium crop and it's production is up 48% over last year. An increase in opium production was expected, but the amount is "frightening". The British, as part of a NATO force, are supposedly responsible for reconstructing Helmand, but are encountering stiff resistance from a resurgent Taliban that controls the drug trade and uses it to finance their resistence. Afghanistan now leads the world in opium production and is estimated to produce 8200 tons this year. Only China a hundred years ago had as much arable land devoted to opium production as Afghanistan. UN officials note that the Karzai government's "benign tolerance of corruption" contributes to the explosion in opium.
[first posted 11-13-06]
A report by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, a body of Afghan and international officials in charge of overseeing development and reconstruction, says that insurgent activities have increased fourfold this year. Attacks are running 600 a month and 3,700 afghans died in 2006 from the fighting. The poppy crop has also increased 59% and, of course, the insurgents are using drug money to fuel their resistance in four southern provinces.
Since good ideas are few and far between in Washington right now, I would like to second a suggestion made recently in the LA Times. The U.S. and its NATO allies should begin purchasing the entire annual poppy crop in Afghanistan. Eradication efforts have obviously failed. Afghan peasants are very loath to give up poppy farming. Its one of the few sources of cash in rural Afghanistan. If the US successfully cornered the market, two good things could be accomplished. The international heroin trade would be reduced and the insurgents would be suffer a severe reduction in their war fighting capability. Rural Afghans would see a program that brings government money directly into their village economies as a positive development instead of being disillusioned by the current lack of government help. A purchasing program would be expensive, but the expense could be reduced if the crop is resold to pharmaceutical companies that produce opium derivative medications. If we can waste billions in Iraq, we can afford to take a novel approach to an old problem in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Le Shorter: Conyers Says He's Got the Balls But Not the Votes

Compare and contrast Conyer's rather light hearted refusal to be moved with this chilling article from Nat Hentoff discussing the leaked Red Cross report in which our "democratic leaders" are facing mounting international evidence of war crimes. The black holes, waterboards, and dog boxes cannot be swept under the rug. Says a former CIA officer,"When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, can't go back to that dark a place without it changing you.":,hentoff,77643,6.html

NFL: National Felon League II

Now that convicted felon Michael Vick has entered his guilty plea to conspiracy charges before a federal judge one may make a comment about an appropriate outcome in the case. The most relevant fact is the conspiracy was to further an interstate gambling enterprise. As part of that criminal enterprise, Vick admitted killing fighting dogs. That alone is bad enough, but the inducement for Vick to plead guilty was that he would avoid also being charged with illegal interstate gambling and racketeering. The facts surrounding his financing and operation of "Bad Newz Kennels" certainly would have supported those additional charges which carry longer prison sentences.

Vick works for an entertainment business that is heavily influenced by gambling interests. You would have to have unplugged your TV set for the past 10 years not to know that millions of dollars change hands each weekend during the season based upon the outcome of professional football games. Tony Soprano's North Jersey mob empire included lucrative take from "sports book". Vick demonstrated his propensity for criminality surrounding gambling in all its forms. He did not bet on his own performance, but he was more than willing to bet on the performance of his own animal gladiators. Dog fighting is a growing and lucrative criminal business. An estimated 40,000 Americans are involved in the illegal activity. Some prize purses can be as much as six figures. Understandably few fighting dogs receive veterinary care. Experts estimate that 9 out 10 fighting dogs are euthanized. Similarly, in the NFL money holds sway over ethics and morality. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank demonstrated that by not terminating Vick's employment for adequate cause, but only suspending him from the team indefinitely. Blank's reason of course, was money. Atlanta is suing Vick for his $22 million signing bonus. Once Vick emerges from a relatively short prison term, he will be eligible for reinstatement in the League. Baseball player Pete Rose was banned for life from major league baseball for betting on himself. A lifetime ban from pro football would be appropriate for Vick. He should not only grow up, but move on in his life. My advice would be the same if he were white. He could find a useful, new career in caring for the animals he so ruthlessly exploited for fun and profit.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Vox Versi: All Guns, No Butter

Israel received $30 billion for weapons over the next decade in a military aid package from the United States. Israel has a growing economy and economic aid to that country is scheduled to end in October 2008. The aid has no strings on use and is an increase of about 25% over current aid levels.


The Charlatan threatens to veto the extension of a popular and effective health care plan for poor children (CHAMPS-Childrens Health and Medicare Protection Act of 2007) passed by the House of Representatives, 225 to 204. Only 5 Republicans voted for passage. The bill puts $50 billion into the state run Childrens Health Insurance Program that will expire in September without reauthorization. Thousands of poor and working class children will loose their health insurance if the bill is vetoed. Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-R) said the bill represents the Democrats' "vision for the future: socialized medicine..."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Le Shorter: The Charlatan's Men

Three down, one to go.

Back to the Future--The Cold War Returns

Cold War tensions renew as Russia resumes the traditional but potentially deadly game of Eagle versus Bear with long range combat patrols by its strategic, armed bombers. In this intercept, a Norwegian F-16 pulls alongside a Tupolev Tu95MS "Bear" over the North Sea. Note the air to air missiles on the Falcon and the red star insignia on the bomber. The lower photo shows an intercept by an F2 Typhoon of No. 3 Squadron, RAF. The turboprop was originally built in 1956, but various upgraded models and modifications have kept it in service much like the B-52. The bomber has a maximum speed of 575 mph, a range of 9,400 miles, and carries cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads. In a related development, the Austrian minister of defense called the US proposal to build parts of a missile defense shield in Poland and Czech Republic, a "provocation". Russia objects to the plans and has offered to cooperate against possible missile threats by terrorists or 'rogue' states. The Kremlin thinks the missile shield could dilute Russia's strategic nuclear deterrence. In a classic instance of double- think, a US official accused the Austrian minister of "cold war thinking". George Orwell would be appaled.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dialogue with Hillary VIII: Good News

I have some good news to report to you, Senator. Your negative ratings, which have been the highest of any candidate running, Republican or Democrat, have finally been beaten. According to Rasmussen Reports Mitt Romney now enjoys the privilege of having more voters definitely voting against him for President. As you well know Senator, at this late date in our politics its just as important to have people not voting against you as voting for you. In a telephone survey 44% of voters polled said they would vote against Romney. Only 43% said they would vote against you. But you do the best job of uniting Republicans against a Democratic candidate. Seventy-six percent of Republicans said they would rather vote for a yellow dog. Congratulations!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bubble Boy

The Charlatan lives in a bubble and history is a foreign language to him. His latest scare tactic posed as a justification for continuing his irrational occupation of Iraq is more evidence of his mounting delusion. His separation from reality is fed by his psychic inability to admit responsibility for the largest and most momentous foreign policy disaster in American history. The disaster is larger than the defeat in Vietnam because the Middle East truly does have significant strategic implications for the United States. Vietnam, a poor agricultural backwater, does not possess an ocean of oil. The Charlatan said in a speech in Kansas City on Wednesday that pulling out of Iraq would cause another blood bath on the scale that occurred in Southeast Asia after the US withdrew from South Vietnam.

Vietnam did not see a bloodbath after the last helicopter lifted off the apartment building at 22 Gia Long Street, Saigon. The North Vietnamese were intent on reunifying their country after a century of colonial misrule, not genocide. There were "re-education camps", executions of high ranking South Vietnamese officials, deaths in the camps, and a mass exodus of those who did not want to live under communist rule. Civil wars are inherently messy affairs. But no genocide. There was a genocide in Cambodia in which perhaps 2 millions were slaughtered by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. No one knows for sure. But what caused the genocide to occur was the secret American incursion into Cambodia that destabilised Prince Syanouk's weak regime and allowed the Maoist insurgency to succeed. Thirty years after the war to stop the dominoes from falling, Vietnam is a stable communist country with which we enjoy friendly trade relations.

Once again the Charlatan twists the facts to suit his self serving propaganda against withdrawal; just as he twisted the facts to stampede this benighted nation into war on Iraq. If any lesson is to be drawn from the defeat in Vietnam it is that the US military is a very crude tool, and not appropriate for every foreign policy objective. If our nation is to achieve a tolerable conclusion to our unjustified invasion of Iraq then the comments of an incompetent leader must be considered neither probative or even interesting.

The Era of Tough Oil

Dr. M. King Hubbert made the theory of peak oil public in 1956. The nutshell version is that since the world's supply of oil is finite, world wide production will increase until about half the supply is consumed, then production will reach a peak--at the end of the 20th century--and begin an irreversible decline. When the theory was first introduced, industry and government derided it as having little geological foundation. The US Energy Department stated in 2004 it was much more probable that any peak in oil production would not be reached until the middle of the 21st century. Industry analysts have always held out improvements in technology and increases in exploration investment as the way to avoid a supply crunch. But another aspect of the theory is that the easily recoverable oil will be consumed first. Then only supplies that exist in extreme environments and difficult to recover will remain--oil that is located deep undersea, in harsh climates, or in politically unstable regions. Developments in the industry as well as informed opinion seem to be indicating that the beginning of "tough oil" has been reached. The Wall Street Journal published an article on July 27 in which it reported the multinationals were making record quarterly profits (Exxon: $10.26 billion; Royal Dutch Shell: $8.67), but revenue and production targets are being missed across the industry because mature fields are depleting and new fields were increasingly hard and expensive to find and develop. According to the Journal , "Oil companies are struggling to find suitable opportunities to increase production while still making an adequate return."

Michael Klare, author of Blood and Oil, describes the obstacles to exploiting the world's largest new oil field outside the Middle East. The Kashagan field is located in the northern Caspian Sea off Kazakhstan and is estimated to contain 9-13 billion barrels of oil. It is the largest field to be developed since Alaska's Prudhoe Bay forty years ago. But the consortium developing it has experienced challenges from the region's harsh climate and difficult geological conditions. Oil deposits lie below a strata of high pressure gas and contain high levels of toxic hydrogen sulfide. The shallow Caspian Sea freezes over five months of the year, and is the breeding grounds for rare seals and endangered beluga sturgeon. Kazakhstan's uncertain legal structure has also created difficulties. BP pulled out of the consortium because of a tax dispute. While redistribution of it's 16% share was being negotiated, little development progress took place. Consequently, the price for launching the project has nearly doubled and initial production has been postponed until 2010. The Kazakh government was expecting "great success" in the form of billions in royalties by now, and is not happy with the delays. The Prime Minister has said he would consider replacing the Italian operator if it's execution of the project does not improve.

The giant Cantarell complex in Campeche Bay, Mexico, the largest field in the western hemisphere, is peaking. The complex was supplying 60% of Mexico's total production in 2005. In 2001 Cantarell wells were producing 9,000 barrels/day, about 9 times as much as the average Mexican well making the oil relatively inexpensive to recover. A leaked secret report by the Mexican state oil company (PEMEX) shows that the distance between the gas cap over the oil and salt water encroaching from below is closing fast. PEMEX production fell below 3 million b/d in December, 2006 for the first time in six years. The steep decline of 14-16% in the coming years at Cantarell has serious implications for the U.S. and Mexico. Mexico derives 37% of it's federal budget from oil revenue. It was exporting 1.8 bb/d mostly to the U.S. in 2005, but that level has dropped to 1.53 bb/d in 2006. Mexico has already warned U.S. importers that it will be unable to fulfill some existing contracts. Canada and Mexico are the U.S. biggest suppliers. Replacing reduced Mexican imports will be an expensive proposition.

The International Energy Agency reported in its medium term market report the worrisome conclusion that because world demand for oil will outpace new oil supplies, significant shortfalls are likely to occur in the next five years. To satisfy the rising global demand and replace dwindling accessible sources, five million barrels of new oil each year will have to be produced from countries like Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, Venezuela and a few other places not likely to inspire a capitalist investor. The National Petroleum Council estimates that $20 trillion in new investment will be required between now and 2030 to extract oil from difficult locations. That calculates to $3,000 per person alive today. Go figure--half of humanity earns substantially less than that each year. As the center of production shifts to OPEC and other state controlled producers like Russia, geopolitical factors, not market factors, will come to dominate the global industry. Any way you look at it, tough oil has arrived.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Le Shorter: Chicken Little

The ice is melting, the ice is melting! AP reports that the extent of Arctic sea ice has reached another record low. Satellite photos show a coverage of 2.02 million square miles this year, down from the previous record low of 2.05 million in 2005. A spokesman for the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado said that the record melt is strong evidence of the effects of global warming. At this rate, a complete melt would occur by 2030. Top photo is 1979, bottom photo is 2003.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Le Shorter: Soccer, Iraq Style

The Iraqi national soccer team that won the Asian Cup has not played a home game in 17 years. It was assembled from professional players who play for teams outside Iraq. As Thomas Friedman drolly put it, "It's a real team for a virtual country."

The Brits Are Packing It In

Prime Minister Gordon Brown played nice with the Charlatan on his recent visit to Camp David. But he has told Parliament that the continued presence of 5,500 British soldiers in Basra Province, the last of four provinces in it's sphere of operations, depends on the advice of military commanders on the ground. The Independent reports that two British generals have told the newspaper that the advice of senior commanders to the government was British troops should be withdrawn without delay since nothing more can be accomplished in Basra. The commanders want to evacuate Basra Palace in which 500 soldiers are subjected to daily mortar and rocket attacks. Resupply convoys have become "nightly suicide missions". The remaining troops would be repositioned to the airport until they are taken home. The British have held on to the palace because the CIA was using it as a base to monitor Iran. But US intelligence operatives appear to be pulling out of the position. Americans commanders have also expressed concern about the security of the logistics route to Kuwait should Britain withdraw. Predictably, US war supporters have accused British commanders of embracing defeat. But the British think their mission was never to defeat the Shia militias now vying for control of the oil fields and the administrative center, Basra city. In the last two weeks two provincial governors have been killed in the internecine struggle for control of southern Iraq. The latest victim was a member of the Mehdi Army's rival, the Badr Organization. The militias have political links to the current Baghdad government. The Prime Minister plans to address the issue of troop withdrawal when Parliament reconvenes in October.

In an interview with Independent reporters, Maqtada al Sadr, Shia cleric and leader of the Mehdi Army militia, claimed an important role in forcing the British troops to begin withdrawal. So far this year the UK has suffered forty one soldiers killed in action. Al Sadr said that by putting troops in southern Iraq, Britain "has also put the people in their own country in danger." The cleric said that he would welcome the UN playing a role in rebuilding the country if it truly intended to help the Iraqi people, but not if it was merely "another face of the American occupation".

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Dow Jones Effect: Long Term Capital Management Revisited

The Federal Reserve Bank stepped in to pacify Wall Street swooning over the excesses of the sub prime lending market. The central bank cut the federal discount rate .5%. That move will have little effect on the cost of loans for small guys. But big banks and those who use them will pay less for credit. The largely emotional and psychologically driven stock market responded on Friday with a 200+ point rally. The rate cut reminds us of the same move the Bank made in 1998 when a giant hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management, got caught in the 1998 Russian bond default, collapsed, and sent the market south. Wall Street investment banks were left holding a $20 billion bag of potential loses. Chairman Alan Greenspan, after consulting with Wall Street bankers, took action to lessen the impact of the LTCM debacle by cutting the discount rate a half percent in two installments. Like all hedge funds, LTCM was highly leveraged and it's only raison d'etre was to make high rates of return by speculation. Then there were discussions, albeit brief ones, about whether the government's central bank should be in the business of bailing out private enterprises that take too much risk. Now there is barely a whimper of such concern despite expert opinion that the real estate bubble was fed by widespread malfeasence. Ralph Nader's remark on the Fed's compensation is pithy. He says his father asked during dinner conversation, "why will capitalism always survive?" Father provided his own answer: "Because socialism will always be used to save it."

This time the company in trouble is the nation's biggest independent mortgage lender, Countrywide Financial Corp., that built a financial empire by lending to previously unqualified borrowers and making jumbo mortgage loans (>$417,00) because it could resell them to investors hungry for higher yields. But the sub prime borrowers are now defaulting on the loans making high risk mortgage portfolios worthless. Countrywide managed to stave off insolvency by borrowing $11.5 billion in short term loans at penalty rates. But there are rumors on the Street of Broken Dreams of another investment firm facing ruin as a result of a highly leveraged mortgage portfolio. One has to admit there is hardly any incentive to be prudent when Uncle Sam is willing to bail out speculators. Economists call such a practice the "moral hazard". As Hillary so blithely observed, "they are real Americans too". And they make large campaign contributions. [Thank you, Tony Auth for the 'toon.]

Friday, August 17, 2007

NFL: National Felon League

Further Developments: Michael Vick's co-defendants in the dog fighting case have plead guilty to criminal charges today and stated under oath that the former professional football star helped kill eight dogs. The money and property for the kennel operation was supplied by Vick. Prosecutors have put the tongs to Vick offering him a plea negotiation in which he will serve one year in prison or face an additional RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization) charge that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison. Its time to walk the walk, Ookie. (photo of rescued pit bull, Max and friend)
[first posted 7/21/07]
Atlanta Falcons QB, Michael Vick, aka "Ookie", was indicted Tuesday for operating a dog fighting venture in Richmond, Virginia federal court. The indictment charges that Vick and three friends conspired during 2001-07 to operate "Bad Newz Kennels" in Smithfield, Virginia for the purposes of breeding, training and fighting pit bulls. The indictment also charged them with interstate transportation of pit bulls for the purpose of animal fighting. The prize purses for the owners of surviving dogs were as much as $26,000.

Dogs that did not perform well were executed by drowning, gunshot, electrocution or in one case, slamming the dog to the ground. The indictment contains statements by three confidential witnesses that saw eight pit bulls cruelly killed. Vick's property was raided once by local law enforcement which found 55 dogs in the kennel. Vick's arraignment and bond hearing on the felony charges is set for opening day of the Falcon's training camp, July 26. Help exploited dogs like those at "Bad Newz Kennels" by asking the NFL to make a prominent object lesson of Michael Vick. If convicted, life time banishment from the field of mega bucks for his heartless cruelty, arrogant disregard for other life, and monstrous greed would not be an excessive penalty in addition to the criminal ones.
Weekend Update: On Thursday Nike, the sporting goods giant, issued a statement saying it would delay releasing the NFL quarterback's Vick shoe but will not pull existing Vick endorsed goods or suspend it's multimillion dollar endorsement deal despite what it termed "highly disturbing" charges against the pro athlete. The company cited "due process" concerns for Vick as justification. Such concerns are at best misguided, since such contracts are a private, commercial agreement and depend heavily on an athlete promoting a positive public image. Many such agreements have escape clauses usually refereed to as a "morals clause" which would allow the company to terminate the contract in the event of adverse publicity caused by the endorser. The Humane Society reports that 130,000 messages demanding the athlete's suspension had been sent to the NFL from its website. Vick is the second highest paid quarterback in the league.

Fast Track on Death Row

Alberto 'Gonzo' Gonzales, the Attorney General who cannot be trusted, may get the power to speed up state executions of prisoners on death row under new rules now being finalized. Under a provision of the infamous and misnamed "Patriot Act" reauthorized last year, the Attorney General who is the chief federal prosecutor, instead of a federal judge, is empowered to determine whether a defendant has received adequate legal counsel so the state can speed up the execution of a convict given a death sentence. It can take from twenty to twenty-five years for a defendant to exhaust his federal appeals before being executed in some Federal Circuits like the Ninth. The time period for appealing from state court to the federal level is cut from a year to six months. Strict deadlines are also imposed for federal judges to decide capital case appeals.

There are about 3350 death row inmates in the U.S. California has more than 600 that cost the state an extra $57.5 million a year to incarcerate. The state adapted it's gas chamber for use in lethal injection executions, but currently there is a moratorium on executions there. A legal challenge in federal court has been mounted that claims the injections violate the constitutional standard against "cruel and unusual punishment". Nationwide executions have been declining in number since the mid 1990s. Gonzales was a state supreme court judge in Texas before becoming Attorney General. That state has executed more prisoners than most countries except China. The Charlatan, aka the 'Compassionate Conservative', signed the death warrants of 152 prisoners while governor, a record number. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Arlen Spectre, both vocal critics of the Attorney General, have asked the Justice Department to delay implementation of the rules until October so adequate guidelines for approving a state's request for expediting executions can be drafted.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Le Shorter: War Monger

And the mushroom cloud over Iran will only be this big.....

Le Shorter: Darth in His Own Words

I could not have said it better Mr. Vice. On April 15, 1994 you explained to an interviewer why Daddy Bush did not roll on to Baghdad after our global military quickly pushed Saddam's fifth rate army out of Kuwait. You were not in charge then, so you dutifully backed your boss' decision not to occupy Iraq. The terms you used were starkly prescient. Removing Saddam's government would probably cause "pieces of Iraq to fly off" into the control of neighbors. You even used the Q word ("quagmire") to describe the situation in which American occupation forces would find themselves post Saddam. And finally you said removing Saddam was not worth "many more dead Americans".

How power changes one's perspective.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Last Elephant

In an impressive technical gambit that is the beginning of the biggest colonial scramble since Africa in the 19th century, Russia planted a titanium version of its national flag on the floor of the Arctic Sea beneath the North Pole using two deep submersibles, Mir 1 and 2. The subs reached a depth of 14,000 feet to drop the flag canister a fortnight ago. A conservative British daily called the expedition "a stunt" and the Canadian Foreign Minister derided the perilous mission saying that planting flags to represent territorial claims is behavior out of the 15th century. Nevertheless, the Russians made a very public claim to the seabed beneath the North Pole because the stakes are extremely high. The Arctic seafloor may be the last "elephant", the euphemism oilmen use for a large, rich oil and gas field. Estimates of the amount of petroleum beneath the ice range from one fifth to one fourth of the planet's undiscovered reserves. There are five nations with Arctic territory--United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway-- that want to stake claims to the seafloor. The US Geological Survey estimates that at current rates of warming drilling under Greenland's northeast shelf can begin in 2022.

All of these nations hope to claim portions of the seabed under Article 76 of the Law of the Sea, a UN convention that has been signed by 155 countries as of July. Despite drafting much of it in the 1970's the United States has not ratified the treaty. Conservative opposition in Congress sees the treaty as unduly restricting U.S. options. That position may change now that recovering Arctic oil is becoming feasible. Making a valid claim to the seabed under the convention hinges on presenting detailed scientific evidence such as geologic, seismic, and bathymetric data that demonstrates your continental landmass extends undersea. The Russians have claimed publicly precisely that since the 1920s when they published maps showing that the Lomonosov Ridge, a 1,100 mile long undersea mountain range that bisects the Arctic, belongs to Russia. It submitted a formal claim to the UN in 2001, but that was rejected as premature and Russia was asked to provide more supporting data. The claim would cover 460,000 square miles of the Arctic Ocean. A six week expedition ending in June allegedly provided a breakthrough in information needed to support the claim. But the deputy director of Russia's Institute of Ocean Geology said that the earliest it could present a credible claim was 2010. The latest expedition can be seen as a confirmation of Russian intent to perfect it's claim.

The U.S. also has significant stakes in the Arctic. It has scanned the Arctic seabed with multi-beam sonar since 2003. The Alaskan shelf alone contains an estimated $650 billions worth of petroleum, and the U.S. has an eagle eye on the fabled Northwest Passage which is slowly clearing of permanent ice. Shipping to and from Asia via the Northwest Passage and its Eurasian counterpart, the Northeast Passage could drastically cut time and cost. Canada considers the northwest route it's own since the inter-island straits are within the 200 mile exclusive zone. While it accepts Canada's territorial claim, the U.S. considers the NW Passage to be subject to "innocent passage" as a active strait like Gibraltar, or the Dardanelles, under the Law of the Sea. A 1969 crossing by the reinforced tanker S.S. Manhattan caused Canada to pass legislation in 1970 asserting the right to control Arctic traffic. More recent crossings led to an informal agreement that the U.S. will notify Canada of transits and Canada will not deny permission. U.S. subs regularly use the Passage, but these transits are probably not announced. China has adopted the same innocent passage position and recently sent a large ice breaker, the Snow Dragon, into the Passage where it disembarked passengers at a Canadian settlement. All of this global interest has prompted Canada to conduct "show the flag" military operations in its far northern regions such as Devon Island. Prime Minister Harper recently said his government will adopt a "use it or lose it policy" and build two new military bases and six armed patrol vessels for the region.

Despite a dispute over the ownership of Han Island off Greenland, Canada and Denmark are cooperating to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge is actually connected to Canada's Ellesmere Island and Denmark's Greenland. Denmark claims the North Pole itself. A Danish Geological Survey expedition to collect gravity, seismic and bathymetric data set sail this month from Tromsoe, Norway supported by Swedish and Russian ice breakers. Norway has filed a 96,000 square mile seabed claim under Article 76 backed up with bathymetric data last year. An estimated 21 billion tons of coal sits in Ellesmere Island. Inuit hunters poke holes in the ground to release methane gas which they light to produce heat for warmth. North to the Pole, the next black gold rush is on.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Vox Versi: What Price, Security?

The C-17A Globemaster III is the newest cargo jet in the US Air Force. The total procurement program cost $62 billion dollars for 180 aircraft. The program was plagued by cost overruns, schedule delays and technical problems. An example of the technical problems encountered was that prime contractor McDonald Douglas (now Boeing) did not specify the software language to be used for the C-17. Consequently, subcontractors delivered software written in every known computer language of the time. Equipment integration was a nightmare, and resulted in the most computerized aircraft ever built--the giant aircraft only has a crew of three --relying on 19 different embedded computers.


New Orleans' water and sewer system is in danger of collapse after the salt water intrusion caused by hurricane Katrina. The corroded system is being held together by "tape, glue and spit". The city is losing 50 million gallons of water a day to leaks, and raw sewage is leaking out of sewer pipes at an undetermined rate. The system was in bad shape before the storm. EPA had ordered roughly $650 million in improvements in the 1990's. The cost to fix the system is estimated at $5.7 billion over twenty five years. FEMA has set aside $150 million for repairs so far, noting that it only has responsibility to restore the system to its condition before the storm. The local water and sewer agency would have to raise water bills by as much as 80% to begin raising enough money for repairs.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Baiji is No More

The BBC reports that the Yangtze River dolphin, known as baiji in China, has apparently gone extinct. Its the first mega fauna extinction since the Caribbean monk seal disappeared from the planet in the fifties. Lipotes vexillifer was a member of an ancient mammal family, Lipotedae, that separated from whales and other dolphins 40-20 million years ago. The species was down to about 17 individuals. A six week scientific acoustic and visual survey in the polluted lower Yangtze river sighted no river dolphins in 3500 km of waterway above Shanghai. The only captive river dolphin known as 'Chi Chi' died in 2002. The disappearance of the river dolphin is scientifically significant since it represented an entire evolutionary branch of the tree of life. The extinction is also another example of man's inability to coexist with other species on this planet.

Scientists believe that the dolphin was the victim of overfishing, human persecution, pollution, dam construction and shipping traffic. It was nearly blind, and its primitive sonar was easily confused by engine noise. While there may be few surviving individuals missed by the survey teams, the inability to detect them after an intensive search, "indicates that the prospect of finding and translocating them has all but vanished" said a co-author of the London Zoological Society report. Plans were being made to rescue the critically endangered mammal by translocating the few remaining dolphins to an oxbow lake which was part of the Yangtze River until 1970's. But moving wild animals to a safe haven is an expensive endeavor and time ran out on the dolphin.

Trying to Put Humpty Dumpty Together Again

The much anticipated Petraeus report is becoming increasingly irrelevant as political developments in Iraq overtake it. The General has said that there is no military solution to Iraq's lack of political cohesiveness. The presumptive unity government of Nouri Al Maliki continues to crumble in Baghdad. Five cabinet ministers of the moderate, secular Iraqiya coalition have pulled out of cabinet meetings, joining six Sunni ministers who began a boycott last week. These defections bring the total number of ministers detaching themselves from the Shitte lead government coalition to seventeen.

Meanwhile in autonomous Kurdistan, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) prompted more threats from Turkish nationalists to cross the border and engage them in Iraq. Turkey has massed thousands of troops along its southern borders in preparation for such an incursion. The PKK has been fighting for a Kurdish ethnic homeland since 1984 although its origins go back to the seventies. Eighty Turkish soldiers have died in skirmishes. There have been conflicting reports that the US is arming the Iranian branch of the Party (PJAK) in its fight against Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the northern Kurdistan province of Iran. Al Maliki promised Turkish officials in a memorandum signed during his visit to Ankara to take action against the 4,000 or so separatists, but in reality his splintering government can do very little to stop either the PKK or the Turkish military. Kurdistan will, no doubt, seek complete independence from Iraq when Kurdish leaders believe the timing is most favorable.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reply to Saint Mitt

What we want sir, is a rationalized health care system. What we have is a patched Rube Goldberg device that should be a disgrace to the richest nation on Earth. When a small island nation that has coped with a half century of near total economic boycott can manage to provide good health care for all its citizens, while our nation leaves 50 millions without health insurance, something is terribly wrong. What is wrong is that our leaders are willing to put their fellow citizens at risk for the sake of profit. Only fundamental, systemic change of the health care system can correct the injustice. Viva Fidel.

Too Marxist for you? Perhaps this opinion from a Wall Street journalist and former Dow Jones reporter, Eric Weiner, is more persuasive:
Our health insurance system essentially allows the private sector to dictate who gets covered. Insurance companies spend vast amounts of money determining the risk of covering each patient and trying to deny claims of the patients they do cover. Meanwhile, anyone who falls through the cracks is handed over to the government. This is by far the most costly health care system in the world, accounting for 16% of our gross domestic product in 2004, which is more than twice the average of the 30 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). If you ever wanted empirical proof of how inefficient our health care system is, there you have it.
Nota Bene, Ms. H.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Roll Call of Spineless Anti-Democrats

The following Democrats voted to give the imperial Charlatan even more power to spy without a warrant on American citizens: Evan Bayh (Indiana); Tom Carper (Delaware); Bob Casey (Pennsylvania); Kent Conrad (North Dakota); Dianne Feinstein (California); Daniel Inouye (Hawai‘i); Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota); Nancy Mary Landrieu (Louisiana); Blanche Lincoln (Arkansas); Claire McCaskill (Missouri); Barbara Mikulski (Maryland); Bill Nelson (Florida); Ben Nelson (Nebraska); Mark Pryor (Arkansas); Ken Salazar (Colorado); Jim Webb (Virginia).

Thank you all for taking our Republic another step down the slippery slope to a police state. Buffaloed by the minority's selective leak, these weak sisters voted for legislation that goes far beyond the "fixes" the Regime said it wanted in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and basically legitimizes the heretofore illegal domestic spying by the National Security Agency. We are now beyond the nadir of the dark days of Nixon. So if you have any foreign family or friends, be careful what you say if you call or e mail them because Big Brother is listening and watching.

Vox Versi: What Price, Security?

The United States Air Force is replacing it's F-15 Eagle jet fighter even though none of the 918 air superiority fighters will exceed their economic service lives until 2014. The F-22A Raptor is the world's most advanced, and most expensive, jet fighter. The total cost of the program is estimated to be $70 billion dollars for 178 planes.


Afghanistan will have another record opium poppy crop this year, up 15% from last year. Afghanistan supplies an amazing 95% of the world's crop. It's street value is estimated to be $38 billion if entirely converted into heroin.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Vox Versi: What Price, Security?

The Navy's new Invincible class (CVN-21) carrier, Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is estimated to cost $5.6 billion to design and $8.1 billion to construct. The Navy plans constructing two more of these "units". CVN 79 is scheduled for commission in 2018 and CVN-80 is scheduled to enter service several years after that. The Navy has twelve Nimitz class (nuclear powered) carriers now in active service.


The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that repair all of the 75,000 bridges in the U.S rated structurally deficient would require $9.4 billion per year for the next 20 years.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Le Shorter: Cheney Impeachment Count Now 34

Thirty four members of Congress have now signed on to Dennis Kucinich's HR 333, the bill to impeach 'Darth' Cheney. But Speaker Pelosi continues to block efforts to bring the bill to the floor. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) is now a co-sponsor and the fourth member of the House Judiciary Committee to ask for articles against the Vice President. Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) has signed as a co-sponsor, and is also sponsoring a bill to seek impeachment of the Attorney General for his perjury regarding the illegal domestic spying by the NSA.
Weekend Update: Two more House Judiciary Committee members have signed HR 333, Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) The committee has 23 Democrats and 17 Republican members.

Vox Versi: He's 6' 6" and a Professional (Actor)

The Ronald Reagan Chorus


The 'Law and Order' Man.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Le Shorter: Infrastructure gets a D

The United States spends $10 billion a month in Iraq. The Iraqis are refusing to maintain infrastructure given to them by the U.S. This aging interstate bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River on Wednesday. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure an overall "D" grade in a recent report. Clearly this bridge deserves an "F" for failure.

District of Bizarro XVII: Another Sell Out

The road to making Detroit automakers meet tougher fuel efficiency standards just got a little longer under the gavel of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. No one in their right mind is disputing that drastic increases in vehicle fuel efficiency are needed if the twin problems of foreign oil dependency and global warming are to be ameliorated (don't believe me, ask the National Petroleum Council). Ms Pelosi just said no to Rep. Edward Markey's (D-MA) bill that would mandate a 35 mpg improvement in CAFE standards for both cars and light trucks by 2019. That's only an average 10 mpg improvement in 12 years. Yet the industry continues to whine about costs and shrinking market share. They said the same things when seat belts, crash bumpers, and air bags were required by law. The godesslike powers of Ms. Pelosi are not to tampered with, however. She said she prefers the Senate bill which is a weaker compromise desired by lobbying automakers. The Senate leaves it to regulators to decide what energy efficiency standards are to be met by industry after 2020. So industry lobbyists can haunt the halls of DOT and EPA instead of Capitol Hill--away from the glare of TV lights and prying reporters. The Senate did away with the original requirement that automakers achieve annual 4% increases after 2020. Plug in hybrid owners and alternative fuel producers also lost a $29 billion tax incentive package as part of the compromise wanted by the money power.

That's Senate Majority Leader Reid using his government supplied Chevrolet Suburban (arrow) to cross the street (longer arrow) on Capitol Hill to attend a press conference. The Suburban weighs an enormous 3 tons and has an EPA rating of 15 mpg/city. The odds of an effective piece of legislation surviving the conference process where powerful industry advocate and House Energy Committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell is waiting to pounce just got longer too. Thanks for your inspired leadership Ms. Pelosi, and my, don't you look ravishing today with your big hammer.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Le Shorter: If you can't stand the Heat...

Tony Snow, the Regime's video mouthpiece is full of pithy sound bites. In the 'Gonzo' perjury case, he could not see the light if someone was shinning it in his face. So, Tony if you can stand the heat, you should see the light at the end of the tunnel.