Friday, October 30, 2009

'Toontime: The Afghan Carrot

[credit: Matt Davies, Tribune Media Services]
On Wednesday the NYT published an article stating the brother of President Karzai, Ahmed Wali Karzai, is on the CIA payroll, and is a major player in the lucrative opium trade that finances the Taliban ($70 million a year according to CIA and DIA estimates). The drug trade has actually expanded under US domination. The Taliban cracked down on the opium trade reducing it from 4500 tons/year in 1994 to 50 tons/year in 2001 the last year they were in control. This year's harvest was over 6000 tons or 92% of the world's supply. There should be a poppy flower at the end of that string instead of a carrot.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Chart of the Week: The Great Divide

More: Speaker Nancy Pelosi is taking bows in Washington for coming up with the House version of the health care reform bill. The bill does contain a public option, but it is not the robust version progressives wanted. 5% over Medicare rates upset conservative members of her party who convinced her to back down on the provision as too low and opt for negotiation of reimbursement rates, the same version the Senate bill contains. So the majority of Americans who want a public option have gotten bills in both chambers with the government plan included; unfortunately it is the weakest version possible except for also subjecting government entry into the health insurance market to a so-called 'trigger' mechanism. Democrats have votes to spare in the House of Representatives; the close struggle will be in the Senate where the filibuster rule will be used by Repugnants in an effort to block the legislation.
Update: Business reporter Paul Kangas engaged in a classic bit of spin journalism last night on supposedly unbiased PBS. He said, "support for the public option was drying up", trying to turn 'Zion' Joe Lieberman's discredited grandstanding into an opposition movement. Senator Reid has decided to launch a public counteract by collecting signatures from millions of Americans--a clear majority--who support a public option. Go to Senator Reid's website and sign the petition. Show the entrenched business lobby in Washington and the corporate media that you mean business too. And remember, the Public Option is the compromise because single payer would be cheaper and more efficient. Just ask the French.
{posted 10.27.09} Which states will opt out of the Public Option? Good question, but US Person has consulted, not the stars, but the NY Times [chart]. Chances are one of those states colored red will be the first. Opting out will not be politically easy, but some states have conservative enough legislatures and governors, and relatively fewer uninsured like South Carolina or Utah, for the issue to become a political football. Senator Henry Reid, facing re-election in purple Nevada, did the right thing and forced opponents to come up with sixty votes to strip government insurance out of the bill he will send to the floor. His task now becomes holding sixty Senators in line for the cloture vote to end the inevitable Repugnant filibuster. US Person suggests Nebraskans who have an ounce of populist sentiment left in their bodies call or write Senator Ben Nelson (?-NE) and ask him to at least act like a Democrat and allow the bill to reach the floor for a vote on its merits. If the Senate invokes cloture, the bill will pass despite the enticements of a well-heeled insurance lobby.

Albatross Chicks Dying on Diet of Plastic

Albatross chicks are being fed by their parents as it should be on Midway Island. But thanks to the carelessness of man, the chicks are dying of starvation. Because the adults fly out over the vast stretch of North Pacific Ocean that has been turned into a garbage dump. They bring back what looks like food items, but in reality are pieces of floating plastic debris On this diet of human junk, tens of thousand of albatross chicks are choking to death, dying of toxicity, and starving. Midway is now part of the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument {7.29.09} and therefore these birds are federally protected. The island and its surrounding ocean must be cleaned up soon. Chris Jordan documented this outrage in a photo gallery. Warning: these photos are heartbreakingly explicit.

[photo: the untouched contents of an albatross chick's stomach]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pernicious Mendacity

The British are finally following the successful example of Sweden and breaking up the banks "too big to fail". Royal Bank of Scotland and Northern Rock {2.18.08}will be sold in parts to create three new banks. Northern Rock will be split into two entities and Royal Bank of Scotland will sell off a hundred or so branches. So why are Americans forced to pay for zombie banks like Citicorp to stay in business? It is not because American politicians do not understand the solution. Richard Nixon's former Secretary of the Treasury George Schultz quipped that the solution for banks too big to fail is to make them smaller. What prevents implementing the Swedish solution here is the incestuous relationship between regulators and the supposedly regulated. Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson who was the chairman of investment bank Goldman Sachs met in secret with Goldman executives at the Moscow Marriott Grand Hotel in June 2008. The meeting was billed to insiders as a social gathering, but Paulson gave bank executives inside information about the Treasury's plans to handle failed banks and his department's views on economic matters. The problem is that at the time of the meeting Paulson was subject to an ethics letter agreement in which he promised to abide by 18USC §208 and 5CFR Part 2635 not to "participate in any particular matter that has a direct or predictable effect on my financial interests..." Paulson still owned pension benefits from Goldman Sachs. When the financial system later imploded, Paulson obtained the necessary waiver to talk to bank officials about internal government business. Government watchdog groups are calling for an official investigation of the incident. Former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, when asked if current Secretary, Timothy Geithner, worked for the American people or Goldman Sachs in a media interview he replied, "Goldman Sachs".

When Sweden broke up its failed banks in 1991, it took the valuable portion of bank assets and placed them up for sale. The problematic assets were split off and consolidated into 'bad banks' that received government aid. What may be amazing to Americans is that the Swedish banks did this voluntarily. Only one bank refused state aid. Swedish government intervention end up costing taxpayers nothing, and may have even turned a profit depending on how one counts the beans. Some of that kind of patriotism would be useful in the US, but Swedish bankers also viewed the decision to split up as prudent business. Nursing sick banks takes a long time and may never be successful, whereas quarantining the bad assets in separate entities took recovery half as long as expected. A year after the collapse of Lehman Bros., economists are warning that the banking crisis is no where near being over. Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel laureate, says the underlying problems have not been fixed and the "problems are worse than they were in 2007 before the crisis."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Florida Power & Light Makes Them Pay

Forty-four heads to Arcadia, Florida and the DeSoto solar power installation to celebrate the $3.4 billion funding of smart energy grid projects. But no one will be talking about the thirty percent rate increase being shoved down rate payers throats by Florida Power & Light in the midst of the worst depression since the Great one. The utility is asking for the rate increase to pay for two new nuclear power plants on the edge of Biscayne Bay National Park. The new reactors are expected to cost a total of $12.1 to $17.8 billion. Florida's Public Service Commission approved the project in March 2008. In 2006 the Florida legislature passed a measure to permit some cost recovery of nuclear power plants ahead of construction. Utilities may keep the money collected from rate payers even if the plants are never built. FPL has two existing pressurized water reactors at Turkey Point built forty years ago [photo]. They were controversial when built, and the utility faced stiff public opposition and litigation to build miles of cooling canals for the hot water ejected by the facilities. Those canals are not working as planned according to south Florida resident Alan Farago writing at Counterpunch. Similar environmental and safety issues are being raised by residents concerning the proposed units 6 and 7 sited as they are near fragile and federally protected wetlands. The permitting process is a Catch-22 for Floridians. The more objections they raise, the more the permitting process will cost which the company will pass on to rate payers in a separate add-on charge approved by the state.
[photo courtesy Florida Power & Light]

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rainforest Treaty Has Big Loophole

For alleged procedural reasons, Great Britain backed an exception in the rainforest treaty to be signed in Copenhagen that threatens to swallow the entire agreement. The Independent reports that developing countries would be allowed to count rainforest areas that have been cut down and replaced with plantations towards receiving subsidies for preservation of forest cover. Of course you do not have to be a "tree hugger" to understand that from a biological perspective, plantations are almost sterile. Nor do they measure up to rainforest in water storage or carbon storage. Environmentalists are asking the EU to restore the previous language in the upcoming final negotiations or face the consequences of paying poor countries to cut down forests for palm oil plantations [photo]. Deforestation now produces about 20% of the global annual carbon dioxide emissions--more than all the world's motorized transport. Indonesia is the world's leading perpetrator of deforestation. A mere half century ago the archipelago had 80% of its rainforest in tact. Now half of the islands' forest is gone. Although a change of regime has brought new government policies concerning forest conservation, poor management compounded by corruption and lawlessness has allowed illegal logging to flourish. Officially, Indonesia supports the UN's deforestation initiative. Some critics think the carbon credits it would receive for preserving forest will not be enough to alter the situation on the ground. Nevertheless an international agreement limiting deforestation would be a major accomplishment at the Copenhagen summit.
[Getty Images: a section of rainforest replanted with palm oil trees in Indonesia]

Latvia: From Communism to Fuedalism?

Is the Baltic States economic meltdown an object lesson for Americans? Replace "Swedish and German banks" with JP Morgan Chase, Citicorp and Goldman-Sachs and "IMF" with Asia in this Max Keiser interview of Dr. Michael Hudson, economic advisor to the Latvian government:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Persona Non Grata Is Three

Thanks to all those who read this blog, and you know who you are! The actual anniversary was September 25, 2006 according to the archives, but the date passed without notice. If you have comments or suggestions to improve Persona Non Grata contact

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Insurance For You!

And finally to bring the week to a close, there is the report of Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY). Rep. Weiner from Queens and Brooklyn compiled a list of 151 members of the House and Senate that receive government funded, government administered, single-payer health care, otherwise known as Medicare. These same individuals are adamantly opposed to extending government insurance to their fellow Americans as the Public Option. Weiner remarked that, "Even in a town known for hypocrisy these Members of Congress deserve some sort of prize." But perhaps they are only following the example of 44 who has mealy-mouthed the provision since advocating it during his campaign for the Presidency*.

*See p. 7, "The Blueprint for Change: Barack Obama's Plan for America"

SNAFU: Baghdad Mega Embassy

The popular GI acronym certainly applies to the project to construct the huge US embassy in Baghdad. The building stands as an enduring symbol of the misguided and mismanaged occupation of Iraq. A Kuwait contracting firm did such shoddy and dangerous work on the building that the State Department will be paying for repairs and maintenance for years according to an IG report. Not only is the workmanship poor, but the project is $100 million over budget and the Kuwait contractor owes the State Department $134 million. Walls are cracking, the fire protection system may not work properly, and the plumbing and electrical systems do not work. The IG also blasted the Department for its total lack of oversight during construction. The Government Oversight Committee held hearings on the shocking blunders in 2007. John Owens, a foreman on the project, quit in disgust because of the abuse of migrant workers. He said, "I've never seen a project more fucked up." Ditto.

GE Brings Good Things to the Planet

Six 15 megawatt GE gas compressors will power Australia's largest natural gas storage and carbon dioxide capture facility at the immense Gorgon gas field (40 trillion cubic feet) on the west coast reports ENS. Natural gas will be extracted and delivered to shore for treatment and liquefaction. CO2 will be stripped from the gas and injected into depleted wells 1300 meters deeps to insure safe storage. Usually waste CO2 is vented directly to the atmosphere. The ambitious pilot project is intended to demonstrate the possibilities of cleaner fossil fuel burning as well as provide power and jobs to Western Australia. The project is managed by Chevron with Shell and Exxon as partners. Overall cost is expected to reach $50 billion, the largest investment ever in the region. Chevron says that the Gorgon plant will capture carbon equivalent to removing two-thirds of all vehicles from Australia's roads. The G-8 recommended 20 large scale carbon capture demonstration projects be undertaken by 2020. Australia gave the go ahead at a signing ceremony on September 14th. The plant's partners have already signed gas sales agreements with Japan, North Korea, China and India.
[image courtesy Chevron Australia]

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chart of the Week: Easy Money

Banks are not lending to businesses. Banks have tightened lending standards significantly, cutting off credit from small and medium business which account for 85% of jobs. They are also reported to still have insolvency problems despite the avalanche of fiat dollars. These conditions are reflected in the chart above. In previous recessions indicated by the gray areas, bank lending did not contract but at worse remained flat. So what are the banks doing with all the near zero interest money stuffed into their pockets by Uncle Sugar? Sending it straight back to the Federal Reserve as bond purchases to shore up reserves. If money only costs 50 basis points, but you can earn 3.5% a year on government bonds, you don't have to be a rocket scientist or a "master of the universe" to know that is a return of 3% a year risk free. The spread reached 3.7% in June, the widest since 2004. Over a twenty year period the average spread is 1.46%. Bank holdings of US Treasuries and agency securities increased $287 billion or 25% since the end of 2007 to $1.4 trillion in September according to Bloomberg. It's like butter!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Rules Clobber Citibank

Citibank may be asking for more taxpayer aid in the near future because the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued a new rule (No.166). Citibank says the new rule will have a significant effect on its consolidated financial statements going forward. According to the bank it will loose sales treatment for certain assets it sold to "qualifying special purpose entities". These entities are used by banks to move bad assets off their books. The bottom line is next year an after tax charge of $8.3 billion to retained earnings will have to be made.

The Last Fragment of Forest

Every year 13 million hectares of forest are lost (32.1 million acres). Yet preserving forestland is the most cost effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the world from entering the red zone of catastrophic climate change. Argentina and Paraguay made a historic pledge on Tuesday to save the last remnant of the world's most threatened forest. The two governments agreed to work toward zero deforestation in the Atlantic Forest by implementing national legislation to enforce the commitments. Brazil has already pledged to protect 10% of the Forest and implement a zero deforestation target by 2010. The Atlantic Forest once covered 500,000 sq. kilometers (193,000 sq. miles) along the Atlantic coast of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Only about 7.4% of the forest is left today. The forest boarders major cities--Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Asuncion--so human development has taken a heavy toll on the plant and animal life. The forest is the home of more than 20,000 plant species, 1000 bird species, 372 amphibians, 350 types of fish, 197 different reptiles and 270 mammal species. The best way for developing countries to help solve the climate crisis is for them to follow the example of Argentina and Paraguay. But developing countries need the financial aid of developed nations and their commitment to reduce industrial sources of greenhouse gas.* Sounds like global teamwork to US Person. GREEN KUDOS to Argentina and Paraguay.
*greenhouse emission from developed countries rose by 1% for 2007 according to UN statistics.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Health Reform Moves Forward

The arduous process of merging the various Senate and House health care bills into two bills that can be sent to a conference committee is underway. Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker Pelosi are trying to bridge the differences between the various provisions in three important areas: reimbursement rates, employer mandates and premium affordability. Speaker Pelosi is insisting that the final House bill include a public option and has sent three different plans to the CBO for cost analysis. The three plans handle provider reimbursement in different ways: same as Medicare rates, 5% above Medicare rates, and negotiated. Predictably the CBO says the Medicare rates are the best for controlling the cost of the program as well as making premiums the most affordable. However, the plus five percent plan would also save money, about $85 billion more than market rates, and make premiums about 10% less expensive than private plans. A report by The Hill newspaper says progressives are within ten votes of passing the "robust" or plus 5% version. Senate leaders are finding out that the public option instead of insurance co-ops provides the best measure of cost control{10.9.09}, but many conservatives think government participation in the insurance market anathema to their corporate sponsors. If the Senate bill offered by the Majority Leader for a floor vote does not include a public option, most probably it will be introduced as an amendment from the floor. Incredibly the Chamber of Commerce spent $34.7 million lobbying Congress for pro-business legislation in the third quarter this year. That is more than the next 18 organizations spent together. The organization ought to be renamed the "Chamber of Influence". If you want affordable health insurance, call your representative today and ask the member to support The Public Option: insurance for the rest of US. Call 202-224-3121.
['toon by Conde Nast, Harper's Weekly. The caption reads, "The ass having put on a lion's skin roamed about the forest...frightening all the foolish animals he met with in his wanderings."]

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rising to Their Defense

The US Air Force has a recruiting moto, "aim high" and that is exactly what the Sea Shepherds are doing to protect whales from the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean. As the Society mounts its sixth season of defense, it has turned to high technology to give their sea going volunteers an edge. The Ady Gil is a breathtakingly advanced trimaran that can hit speeds of 50 knots. The boat will cruise with the flag ship Steve Irwin during "Operation Waltzing Matilda". The Shepherds hope to use the Ady Gil's speed to physically separate fast harpoon ships from targeted whales. The trimaran has already set a record for circumnavigation of the globe. The Society's goal is to shut down whaling in the Southern Ocean. With the new tech, they are another step closer to achieving that end.

NRDC Fights Bristol Bay Mine

One of the Northwest's most productive salmon habitats is under threat from the development of giant gold and copper mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska [red area on map]. The proposed Pebble Mine poses a threat to the salmon runs in the Bay as well as marine mammals. According to an NRDC spokesperson few human activities are more toxic than large scale ore mining. The proposed mine, would create a two-mile deep open pit next to Lake Iliamna which feeds a 40,000 watershed including Bristol Bay. Three of the world's tallest damns would be built to hold waste from the mine including cyanide, sulfuric acid, arsenic, and selenium. A projected 9 billion tons of toxic mining waste would be created during the mine's active phase. On the other end of the scale is the world's largest sockeye and king salmon runs up the Kvichak and Nushagak Rivers. Not only do the salmon runs support a $300 million renewable resource providing thousands of jobs to Alaskans, they are the foundation species for a vast ecosystem in southwest Alaska. Most of Alaska's iconic wildlife depend on the salmon for food--eagles, grizzly bears, wolves, beluga and orcas. Conservationists are not convinced by the Pebble Partnership's (Anglo-American Plc and Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd) reassurances of environmental responsibility. Preliminary surveys and drilling are already underway for the mine with a budget of $70 million. Former Governor Sarah Palin accepted $25,367 in gifts from mining interests according to the Washington Post. Mining interests spent $10 million defeating Proposition 4, the ballot initiative intended to reduce toxic runoff into Bristol Bay from existing copper and gold mines. Palin prominently campaigned against the measure. With gold over a $1000 an ounce the profit motivation to move ahead despite adverse environmental impacts from the mine is strong. NRDC was successful in convincing the Mexican government to stop a salt plant project proposed by Mitsubishi in the Gulf of California, the birthing grounds for gray whales.If you believe the rape of the Earth for yellow metal should be history, then click on the NRDC link in the sidebar and contribute to the fight to preserve wild America's "last frontier".

Friday, October 16, 2009

'Toontime: The Voices of Patriotism?

[credit: Jim Morin, The Miami Herald]
Wackydoodle sez, "Still time to sell her some life insurance!"

Wendell Potter, a former insurance industry executive turned whistle blower, is featured in a TV ad produced for Mr. Potter tells it straight: without a public option, private insurance companies will not alter their bottom line behavior. He calls the Senate Finance Committee bill, "a dream come true for the health insurance industry" because the proposals being considered in Congress now all contain a mandate for Americans to buy health insurance to achieve close to universal coverage. Of course, the insurance companies will stop at nothing to make sure that purchase is from them. Ka-ching!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chart of the Week: Where Has All the Value Gone?

This chart shows the value of the US dollar in milligrams of gold. In 1971 President Richard Nixon took the United States off the gold standard in essence to devalue the dollar and thereby reduce the fiscal burden of the Vietnam War debt. The chart clearly shows that the dollar never recovered its previous purchasing power as measured in gold, the only other international currency. This drop in value reflects the continuous use of deficit financing by the federal government--regardless of the political party in power--since World War II. By 1946 the Federal Reserve had increased M2 by $138.7 billion. By 2009 M2 has been increased to $8.236 trillion or 5,938%. Another way to understand the effects of fiat money is to assume the year 1800 as the dollar's baseline of $1. The dollar in 2009 is now worth 8 cents. Some clever analysts believe that the falling value of the dollar has given rise to a vigorous "dollar carry trade" similar to the previously lucrative "yen carry trade"--basically a currency arbitrage-- that will keep a downward pressure on the dollar for an extended period of time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Goldman at the Trough

Karl Denniger of explains how Goldman Sachs gamed the system and got paid twice for the AIG collapse:
Banks will pay out a record $140 billion in compensation this year according to the Wall Street Journal. Employees will earn an average of $143,400. Goldman Sachs is expected to rain down $23 billion on its employees. Failed AIG has a bonus pool of $198 million. Yet Repugnants refuse to extend affordable health care to middle class Americans! Is that enough to make you RISE UP! and say I"M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Is Harry Reid Hiding Something?

The Senate is a conservative body. It was intended to be so by the Founders. But it was also intended to reflect the will of the people when the people overwhelmingly favored a policy. We have that overwhelming support now for a public health insurance option. Sixty-five percent of us understand that private insurance companies have a near monopoly grip on the price of health care in the United States. Only Medicare and Medicaid stand between them and total control of the market. Monopoly control would mean health insurance companies could charge whatever they want since they are exempt from anti-trust laws (McCarran-Ferguson Act). These corporations are demonstrating their immense political power by threatening to raise premiums again, if the Congress has the temerity to pass an extension of government guaranteed health insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid seems like a nice man, but maybe he is too nice when it comes down to brass. There is a report from Jane Hamsher at that Reid is allowing a single Democratic senator to filibuster the public option in private without requiring him to take the floor of the chamber to express his opposition in public. As Hamsher said, Reid's inability or unwillingness to enforce party discipline is not only wrong, but immoral. The public has a right to know where senators stand on this crucial issue. The Senate rules as they are now constituted allow a senator to put a private "hold" on legislation they oppose. That rule needs to be changed immediately so Americans can know where their legislators stand on momentous national issues and vote accordingly. Without pubic accountability, the Senate is simply a club of mostly white men deciding the fate of the nation in secret. Rules are made to be broken, and now is the time to break this one. Democrats finally have a majority in the Senate, and they are are very close to a sixty vote majority--enough to end a filibuster. Even one Republican senator may vote with the Democrats for health care reform. We want senators to stand and be counted, not serve special interests in private. So Harry, tell Ben Nelson (?-NE)* to either vote with his party or take a hike to the other side of the isle.

*Why Ben Nelson? Admittedly it is an educated guess, but he fits the profile. Nelson consistently voted with Repugnants during the Regime. He represents a Midwestern conservative stronghold, and the major metro area in his constituency is politically dominated by a major insurance company, Mutual of Omaha. Its time to rip the cover off Ben Nelson.

End of the Greenback Era

Update: Central banks are moving away from the greenback as a reserve currency. Bloomberg reports that central banks used the Euro for half their currency accumulations over the spring and summer. The Yen accounted for 12%. The trend away from the dollar appears to be accelerating, further pressuring the dollar and causing its largest two quarter drop in 20 years. Gold, the other international currency, has now busted its $1000 trading ceiling and projections are for the metal to increase gains, perhaps to a level of $1500/ounce. Gold has tripled in value over the last eight years. The concern abroad is the fiscal bind that the United States is in. Treasury is offering a record amount of debt to finance this year ($1.4tr), and the economy appears to require yet more fiscal stimulus to recover. With a savings rate near zero, financing is supplied by foreign countries and investors. This situation is causing central bankers and foreign investors to diversify away from the dollar. The falling dollar is good for US exports and makes paying the debt back cheaper in the short run, until investors begin demanding higher returns to buy dollar denominated notes.

{First post 10.7.09} One of the realities of the current financial crisis is that despite bushel loads of new dollars the Fed is creating to bailout the banks (by one informed count $17.5 trillion), the United States is being spared a raging case of inflation. This economic paradox is due to the fact that the world does big business in dollars. Besides investing in dollar securities, the world pays for oil in dollars. But the Gulf Arabs are planning to put an end to the greenback as the world's reserve currency by replacing petrodollars with a basket of currencies including gold, the Euro, the Chinese yuan, and the Japanese yen. According to an exclusive story by the British Independent newspaper secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank chiefs in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme {A New World Money, 3.23.09}. Gold prices have recently surged. The United States will no doubt resist the new tender arrangements since the dollars exalted status as the reserve currency gives it unparalleled fiscal flexibility. US objections will exacerbate relations with the world's emerging superpower, China. China imports 60% of its oil, mostly from Russia and the Middle East. Its exports account for 10% of imports to the Middle East. China is resolutely backing the new currency arrangement in order to decouple itself from deteriorating US fiscal policy. In a sign of the emerging oil producer revolt against dollar hegemony, Iran has recently announced that its foreign currency reserves will be held in Euros. The current deadline for the currency transition is set for 2018.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bangkok Talks Fail to Resolve Key Climate Issues

The United Nations' latest round of negotiations ended in Bangkok last week without resolving major issues blocking progress before the Copenhagen conference. A global deal is supposed to be reached there in December to replace the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period that expires in 2012. Emission reduction targets and financing the underdeveloped world's compliance remain unresolved. The US is practically unable to commit to any specific target until Congress acts on two pending pieces of climate legislation the Kerry-Boxer bill in the Senate and the Waxman-Markey bill in the House. Neither bill meets the Kyoto Protocol's mandate of an average 5.2% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels. Congress is now locked in a divisive battle over healthcare reform legislation. Substantial progress was reported on the language of a new global agreement, but the commitments for funds and emission levels are missing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

CBO Says Co-Ops Not Effective

The Congressional Budget Office, the non-partisan score keeper of the fiscal impacts of bills before Congress, says that the cooperatives proposed by the insurance industry Senator from Montana, Max Baucus, would probably not achieve the market presence necessary to influence "total enrollment in the insurance exchanges or federal costs"{Obama's True Color, 8.17.09}. In contrast a robust public insurance plan option would be more effective in reducing the total cost of the program. It could net $150 billion in savings over ten years. Consequently Democrats searching for common ground between the progressive and conservative wings are entertaining an idea to let the states run the public option program with an opt-out provision*. Senator Schumer (D-NY) told media that the idea was "being seriously considered". States which decide not to have the national public option plan would have to develop their own or face flight to states offering such low cost coverage to their residents. Medicaid, which provides poor people with health care and is a jointly funded federal-state program, has a similar opt-out provision but all 50 states have chosen to go with the program since 1982. Arizona was the last state to join up and none have dropped out. Got federal highways, Arizona? Got federal stimulus money, Texas? The Public Option: it's good for the federal deficit, good for health care providers, and good for Americans.

*Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has collected the signatures of 30 senators who support a robust public option. In his letter to Majority Leader Reid he writes, "As it stands, the health insurance market is dominated by a handful of for-profit health insurers that are exempt from the anti-trust laws that ensure robust competition in other markets across the United States. Without a not-for-profit public insurance alternative that competes with these insurers based on premium rates and quality, insurers will have free rein to increase insurance premiums and drive up the cost of federal subsidies tied to those premiums. This is simply not fiscally sustainable." Ask your senator if he or she is supporting the public option.

'Toontime: Reoccuring Quagmire

[credit: Jeff Danzinger]
Wackydoodle sez: Tell 'em just pass checkpoint '69 in Charlie Ville.

Senator John Kerry (D-MA) held a hearing on Wednesday, the ninth anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. He invited some former CIA experts to testify on the status of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and what alternatives there are to another "surge" or increase in US troop levels. Repugnants in their characteristic misinterpretation of events credit the "doubling down" by the Charlatan for reducing violence in Iraq: a delusion based on leader worship. The killing tapered because the Shias and Sunnis decided to stop fighting each other. Paying the Sunni militia large sums of money to end their insurgency helped more than any increase in American military presence. What Wackydoodle is suggesting in his own pithy way, is the same approach suggested by Kerry's witnesses: a non-military response led by Afghans to infiltrate and turn Afghans loyal to Al Qaeda or eliminate them by other means. One witness said, "I think many of them are young men who could be won over, and would just as soon take a paycheck from the local governor and serve in the militia as they would with the Taliban." Right now, Al Qaeda is in hiding in Pakistan according to the testimony. One means of preventing its effective return is to leave in country hunter-killer teams composed of experienced US agents, acclimatized special forces and Afghans whose sole covert mission would be to deny Al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan. In short the overall effort must be perceived to be conducted by Afghans, as the Vietnamese War was turned over to the South after Tet demonstrated the true status of the conflict. Afghans are notoriously xenophobic, and a majority of them want foreign troops out of the country within two years. There is legislation pending in Congress to establish executive accountability for the conflict. HR 2404 requires Defense Secretary Gates to submit an exit strategy to Congress. So far Congress has given 44 a free pass in conducting the war. One way for 44 to EARN the peace prize he was just awarded is to reject the safe political choice of more troops, and begin ending American conventional military involvement in yet another unwinable war.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

California Goes Green Big Time

California, our 'golden state', is often viewed as America's leading economy and the vanguard of social change. That image has recently taken a beating because of its budget crisis which could not be resolved until banks began refusing to accept state warrants as legal tender. Nevertheless, the California Utilities Commission has authorized a large chunk of money to make energy efficiency a permanent part of the California lifestyle. The calculus to achieve energy independence requires a large factor of energy conservation. The more energy Americans conserve and use efficiently the fewer barrels of imported foreign oil, and a greater percentage of total energy demand that can be met using clean alternative sources. Last Thursday, the Commission launched the largest energy efficiency effort in our nation's history. It approved $3.1 billion for an energy efficiency budget for Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric Company, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Gas Company. The Commission hopes to achieve savings of about 7,000 gigawatt hours of electricity and 150 million therms of natural gas. These savings equal approximately three 500 megawatt power plants and three million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. The effort to make California energy efficient on a statewide scale includes an unprecedented program to retrofit private residences. The goal there is to reduce energy consumption by 20% for 130,000 homes by 2012. All of these efforts are driven by the state's commitment in its Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 25% in 2020. Once again California sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Lucky Tiger

Look at the photo on the left. It shows a Malaysian tiger (Panthera tigris) caught in a snare. You do not need an over-active imagination to understand that an animal in this man-made hell will die a slow and very painful death. Fortunately, this magnificent and now rare tiger was saved by the same hand that fashioned the tool that would have ended it's life in a most cruel way. A regular anti-poaching patrol by the World Wildlife Fund found the five year old male tiger still live but it's ensared paw badly injured. Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Park officers released the tiger under sedation and took it to the Malacca Zoo for treatment and recovery.

The snare was set by poachers on a forested ridge not far from a highway that cuts through the Belum Temengor forest, a priority habitat identified in the Malaysia's National Tiger Action Plan. But the forest is not systematically patrolled, and poachers find easy access from the nearby Malaysia-Thai border and the Gerik-Jeli highway. More than one hundred snares have been removed from the forest and ten poachers arrested in the last nine months. The estimate for remaining Malaysian tigers is 500 or less. The rescued individual demonstrates the need for strict law enforcement in areas where poaching is rampant. With human patrols to protect it, the Malaysian tiger has a fighting chance to survive in the wild. US Person contributes to WWF because it funds patrols like the one that rescued the male tiger caught in man's devilish device. Do You?

[photo credit: WWF]

Monday, October 05, 2009

Oregon Expands Puma Persecution

The frontier mentality of kill all large predators that may pose a threat to man or his property is alive and well in Oregon. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission announced plans to expand its cougar hunt beyond the counties of Heppner, Ontario, and Jackson. So far it has paid $310,000 to professional hunters to cull the number of indigenous big cats. The state estimates up to 22 have been killed each year since the program began in 2006. Wildlife officials are recommending four more areas to hunt cougars and wants to kill 90 a year in these areas. The rationale is to increase numbers of prey species that man also hunts--elk and mule deer. A staff report said that the "administrative removals" in Jackson County, location of the small city of Medford, did not cause a decline in human conflict reports. The perception is that the population of mountain lions is increasing, characterized by the report as "more robust than at any time in recent history". The total population is estimated a 6,000. Apparently, the people of Oregon enjoy seeing big cats, but only if they are safely locked up in a zoo. Stumptown zoo's new "Predators of the Serengeti" exhibit is getting raves. But allowing a beautiful predator to exist unmolested in the wild makes too many ordinary folks plain nervous. Eventually the only domestic mountain lions to be seen will be in a zoo display next to there extinct African relatives.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Chesapeake Bay Still Polluted

Twenty years after restoration efforts began, the waters of Chesapeake Bay are still rated as "very poor" in quality with only 21% of established goals met. Given the dense urban population and intense agriculture around the shores of the Bay [map], it is carrying a heavy load of pollutants ranging from contaminated storm sewer runoff to agricultural pesticides and fertilizer nutrients. The water quality also reflects eight years of lax enforcement during the Regime's hold on power. However some progress in cleaning up this body of water can now be reported. The Hampton Roads Sanitation District based in Virginia Beach entered into a settlement with the EPA agreeing to pay a $900,000 fine and take remedial action for overflows into the Bay and its tributaries from its sewage collection and treatment facilities. In a joint complaint the State of Virginia and the United States alleged the District illegally discharged nine million gallons of untreated sewage into the Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The discharges occurred on at least 249 occasions since 2003. The District was also alleged to have caused or contributed to 118 overflows of municipal sewage when its system exceeded capacity, and the wastes backed up and flowed out of manholes and other locations in the serviced municipalities. The settlement requires the District to replace and upgrade infrastructure where inspections show a material risk of failure.

The EPA also announced that it will begin working on a clean water plan for the entire Chesapeake drainage covering 64,000 sq. miles. The plan was called for in ten year old consent decrees that required establishing total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for impaired waters. EPA estimates that the plan will establish 92 TMDLs for impaired Bay and tributary segments as well as setting an aggregate standard for loading of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment to achieve the desired Bay water quality. EPA is working with the affected states, and the Chesapeake Bay Commission in an attempt to reach consensus on the TMDL targets. Let it not take another twenty years.

[image: Woods Hole Institute]

Friday, October 02, 2009

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Elephant Poaching on the Rise

Conservationists criticized the decision to allow an exemption to the CITIES treaty for the one time sale of stockpiled ivory to China and Japan by four south African countries in 2008 {Death to Elephants, 7.16.08} The experts believed that allowing the sale to go forward would put pressure to supply more ivory to the illegal trade. That is what has happened. Poaching elephants for their ivory has risen across the continent. In Kenya 125 have been killed for ivory this year compared to 47 in 2007 and 98 in 2008. Other species also suffer as investigations show that elephant killers take everything in their wake such as buffalo, rhinos and antelopes. Two recent airport seizures in Kenya and Ethiopia of illegal ivory amounted to one ton. Kenya's Wildlife Service seized 61 whole tusks at a Kenya Airways warehouse. The tusks were packed in crates and mislabeled for shipment to Bangkok, Thailand via Addis Ababa. Authorities seized a similar size shipment in Addis Ababa bound for Bangkok by the same consignee two days earlier.
[photo: bull elephant in Mahango NP, Namibia]