Monday, November 30, 2009

Vietnam Looses Its Elephants

A recent opinion article in the Stumptown news argued that if Vietnam is any example, then we should stay the course in Afghanistan. A picture of uniformed workers in a clean, modern Nike shoe factory was thoughtfully provided should any reader wish to doubt the author's claim of Vietnam's unqualified postwar economic success. US Person read another news story that gave him more than enough reason not to want a repeat of the "success" of Vietnam. Vietnam's Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development told workshop attendees that at the end of the war in 1975, an estimated 2,000 Asian elephants still roamed the forests. Now, that number has dropped to 80. There may have been a million elephants living across Asia as late as 1900 [map]. Predictably, deforestation and poaching are the main reasons given by the Ministry for the precipitous drop in population. The Vietnam War took a huge toll on Vietnam's forests which were bombed and defoliated with Agent Orange. Undoubtedly elephants were among the victims of the US campaign against an enemy that used the forests as a stronghold. Human population increases and economic development after the war have also been responsible for rapid loss of elephant habitat. There have been news reports of enraged elephants attacking villagers as their territories shrink. The few elephants remaining in the wild are grouped in the Central Highlands and southern Dong Nai Province. Estimates of illegal wildlife products passing through Vietnam are around 4,000 tons a year, and Vietnamese ivory prices could be the highest in the world with reports of tusks selling for up $1500 a kilogram. Smaller cut pieces are sold for as much as $1863 according to TRAFFIC, an international conservation group that monitors the trade. Selling ivory was outlawed in Vietnam in 1992, but a loophole allows traders to sell the stock in their possession prior to the ban, making law enforcement difficult.

The Fedspan Rule

Former Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan, the man credited with creating the housing bubble by maintaining a near zero discount rate after the .com bubble burst, is also the author of a widely respected rule in public finance. Greenspan and Argentinian Pablo Guidotti published a formula in a 1999 academic paper which states that governments should maintain hard currency reserves equal to at least 100% of short term foreign debt maturing within a year to avoid the possibility of default. PIMCO, the respected fund manager, thinks the Greenspan-Guidotti rule is "perhaps the single concept of reserve adequacy that has the most adherents and empirical support". Judged by that rule, the United States is in for some tough times ahead. Within the next twelve months the Treasury will have to refinance $2 trillion in short term debt, 44% of which is held by foreigners or $800 billion. Uncle Sam's pockets are deep, but not that deep. The US holds oil ($58bn), gold ($300bn) and foreign currency ($136bn) in reserve worth around $500 billion. When added to financing requirements for the current deficit spending, the total bill is $3.5 trillion or 30% of GDP in one year! Foreigners are no longer beating a path to buy US securities given what the Greenspan-Guidotti rule says about vulnerability to default. Uncle Sam will have to turn his digital presses even faster to finance the growing mountain of debt. The Federal Reserve has already "monetized" nearly $2 trillion of Treasury and mortgage debt and will have to buy more. These actions weaken the dollar further, causing foreign investors and countries to buy assets like gold and oil. Russia and India are both buying gold. China has told its huge population to buy gold. Brazil, Korea and Chile are the three largest central banks that own the least amount of gold, less than 1% of their total reserves. According to investment advisor Porter Standsberry, they may be among the next countries to abandon the dollar.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just the Facts, Ma'am

US Person is not going to argue about whether 'Goldbuckets and Bags' was fully hedged or not.* First, he does not have access to the inside information with which to conclusively argue his point. Second, the Office of Special Inspector General for TARP (SIGTARP) has in essence arrived at the same conclusion: the NY Federal Reserve Bank (aka Timmy!) made a very bad deal using taxpayer money to bail out a rapidly sinking AIG:
In other words, the decision to acquire a controlling interest in one of the world’s most complex and most troubled corporations was done with almost no independent consideration of the terms of the transaction or the impact that those terms might have on the future of AIG.
Was it a sweetheart deal to help out Timmy's friends at Goldman? Here is what Neil Barofsky, the special G-Man assigned to investigate had to say in typically guarded bureaucrat-speak on that subject:
Irrespective of their stated intent, however, there is no question that the effect of FRBNY’s decisions —indeed, the very design of the federal assistance to AIG —was that tens of billions of dollars of Government money was funneled inexorably and directly to AIG’s counterparties...Federal Reserve officials provided AIG’s counterparties with tens of billions of dollars they likely would have not otherwise received had AIG gone into bankruptcy.
The AIG bailout was badly handled by the Federal Reserve either because (a) they were outwitted in frantic circumstances by cooler heads on Wall Street; or (b) because they intentionally declined to use their considerable leverage to obtain concessions from AIG's counterparties including Goldman Sachs. The IG report says the answer is (b) because then NY Fed President Geithner's policy decisions led directly to a negotiating strategy that had little chance for success. Geithner did demand concessions from Chrysler and GM for government aid, but then he was already Secretary of the Treasury.

*Goldman told SIGTARP it had purchased additional risk protection against an AIG default. Of the $22.1 billion of credit default swaps outstanding in November 2008, $13.9 billion was resolved with the help of government financing of AIG (Maiden Lane III). Goldman also received $8.4 billion in collateral from AIG. Goldman estimated it was still short $1.2 billion based on its estimated value of AIG swaps held. But it purchased protection from third parties that would have paid it slightly more than $1.2 billion in the event of an AIG default. Thus, Goldman did not consider itself "materially at risk if AIG in fact defaulted." The government countered this embarrassing claim by saying an AIG default would have triggered a systemic collapse making it difficult for Goldman to collect on its third party protection, and devaluing further CDOs that remained on its books listed at $5.5 billion. Barofsky Report at 17.

Friday, November 27, 2009

'Toontime: Doing What They Do Best

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Dubai Suspends Debt Payments

The sheikdom that would be New York of the desert announced on Wednesday that it was suspending debts payments by its largest corporate entity, Dubai World, for six months. Market observers have known for months that Dubai was in trouble because it is a city state built not on sand, but debt. World markets reacted predictably on the news today with stocks slumping and credit default swaps soaring. Nearly $50bn in debt is due in the next three years and the sheiks do not have the money. Standard & Poor's said the suspension could be considered a default, and downgraded a host of Dubai government entities. Dubai could be headed the way of Iceland. Meanwhile gold soared to a new high of $1195.13 after Sri Lanka's central bank said it would purchase IMF gold for sale.

[image: luxury hotels under construction in Dubai]

Progress Made Towards Green Energy Future

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado has released a state by state report showing progress toward renewable energy development in the United States. Renewable resources supplied only 8.5% of total electricity generation in 2007 with a 70% share of that amount attributable to hydroelectric generation. By 2007 24 states were generating at least one gigawatt of renewable electricity from non-hydro sources. California generates the most non-hydro renewable energy. Washington generates the most renewable energy if hydro is included. The greatest growth has been in the wind sector, and because of the abundant wind energy on the Great Plains, South Dakota leads in overall growth of non-hydro renewable energy generation. The pie chart shows that most of America's energy comes from the burning of coal. Clearly, much more clean development needs to occur if proposed carbon emission limits are to be met. Biomass, or the generation of power from waste materials, is expanding and offers an opportunity for further growth in regions without significant hydro, wind or geothermal sources as in the western United States. States which offer net metering to electricity customers and have a renewable energy portfolio mandate showed greater growth in renewable energy generation than states without these policies. The report contains numerous analytical charts and an extensive appendix listing clean energy resources.
[image credit: ENS]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Chart of the Week: House Price Declines Since 2007

Wackdoodle sez: "I'll trade ya a poke of tulip bulbs fer your house"
Think that other store of value, your federally insured bank account, is safe? Think again, dear reader. The FDIC is officially broke according to its third quarter reports. Its deposit insurance fund went negative by $8.2 billion. Bank failures have cost FDIC $28 billion so far this year. In the second quarter of 2009 the number of problem banks grew from to 416 from 305 in the first quarter, the highest since the S&L crisis in 1994. Because of increasing commercial real estate losses the agency expects bank failures to cost about $100 billion over the next four years. Yet Forty-four fights on in the "graveyard of empire". It ain't me, babe.

Huntin' & Fishin' Barbie in Eschaton

The new darling of the corporate media is doing it again. In an interview with Barbara Walters on ABC, the telegenic small town beauty queen turned politician said that Israel should be allowed to expand settlements into occupied Palestinian territory because "that population of Israel is going to grow as Jewish people flock to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead." Apparently she has been rereading the Book of Revelations, since her fundamentalist indoctrination permeates that quote. Mrs Palin is expecting an imminent Armageddon when the forces of heaven descend upon Zion (Jerusalem) to do battle with the forces of Gog and Magog to found the "new Jerusalem":
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison...and muster the troops of Gog and Magog...[He] surrounded the beloved city where God's people were encamped...Then I saw new heaven and a new earth. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God. Revelations 20*
The allegorical passages of Revelation have proven fertile ground for persons having a doctrinal commitment to literalness. The problem becomes more than a theological discussion of angels on pinheads, however, when persons such as Mrs. Palin attempt to effect political policy in conformity with their peculiar weltanshauung. One television mavin recently released from federal prison felt compelled to call Mrs. Palin "confused" and "dangerous", while hard line Israeli leaders considered her comments on illegal settlements "clear and well-intentioned". Proving once again that it all depends on whose ox is at the altar being slaughtered.
*The New American Bible, St. Joseph's Ed.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Long and Winding Road

It entirely fitting that Majority Leader Henry Reid invoked the memories of President Harry S. Truman and Senator Edward M. Kennedy in his comments to the press after the historic cloture vote yesterday evening (60-39) allowing floor debate on the Senate's version of health care reform legislation. In 1945 President Truman sent a long message to the 79th Congress advocating a national health insurance plan. Senator Kennedy is recognized as the statesman who dedicated his career to making health care reform a reality. He did not live to see a bill passed, but he knew the goal was in sight before he died. President Truman began his remarks as follows:
Millions of our citizens do not now have a full measure of opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. Millions do not now have the protection or security against the economic effects of sickness. The time has arrived for action to help them attain that opportunity and that protection...In the past, the benefits of modern medical science have not been enjoyed by our citizens with any degree of equality. Nor are they today. Nor will they be in the future--unless government is bold enough to do something about it...We should resolve that the health of this Nation is a national concern; that financial barriers in the way of attaining health shall be removed; that the health of all its citizens deserves the help of all the Nation.
The words written over sixty years ago, unfortunately for many Americans, are still true today. But at long last redressing the social inequity to which Senator Kennedy dedicated his public life may be upon us.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Norway and Guyana Save Forest

Climate activists shaking their heads over the unevent that will take place in Copenhagen next month, may take some solace in the unprecedented agreement reached by Norway and former British colony Guyana. Guyana has an intact rain forest larger than England and in return for preserving it, Norway will invest $250 million in the country to development a low carbon economy. Both countries intend the agreement to set an example for other north-south partnerships to save tropical forests worldwide. President Bharrat Jagdeo offered the UK a similar deal in 2007, but the debt ridden British government failed to make any headway on the proposal. The President credited the British newspaper, The Independent [image], with bringing his nation's forest to the forefront of conservation efforts. Small and relatively undeveloped, countries like Guyana lack the financial means to place large tracts of land off limits to development. But it is these remaining tracts of undisturbed forest than mean the difference between an Earth like something from the dystopian film "Blade Runner" or an idyllic Eden hosting technologically advanced and sustainable human cultures*. Under the agreement with Norway, Guyana will halt deforestation and increase efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions from forest activities. Tropical deforestation accounts for one-fifth of all carbon emission--more than all of the transport sector including aviation. GREEN KUDOS are in order for Norway and Guyana!
*a recent study released by international researchers says the Earth is on track for a 6℃ rise in temperature by 2100, a catastrophic condition.
[photo credit: www.treehugger. com; Iwokrama Reserve, Guyana]

Friday, November 20, 2009

Creature Feature: Woody Takes a Long Shower

Enquiring minds want to know, is it warm or is it cold?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Senate's Health Care Bill

Like all compromises necessary to garner support from fence sitters in Congress, the Senate health care bill is not as strong as progressives would like, but it does preserve a government health plan as part of the proposed health insurance exchanges. The public option is not as robust as it started out, primarily because the legislation requires reimbursement rates be negotiated with the private health insurance sector, and allows states to drop out of the program by passing their own legislation. All legal residents will be required to have health insurance by 2014 or face fines. Employers with more than 50 employees would have to pay $750 per full-time worker if any of them obtained subsidized coverage through the exchanges. By these mandates and changes to Medicare and Medicaid, the bill intends to cover 94% of Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects that only one out of eight people purchasing coverage through the exchanges will enroll in the public plan. It also estimates, perhaps overly so, that seventeen states will opt out leaving only two-thirds of the population residing in states where the public plan is available. CBO expects premiums for the public plan to be slightly higher than private plans offered in the exchanges since the premiums must cover the cost of claims, administration, and a contingency reserve. The plan will have lower administration costs, but will attract "a less healthy pool of enrollees" due to "less management of utilization" by the Department of Health & Human Services. Progressives can only hope that California opts out and leads the way to a more efficient single payer system in the future. But Senator Henry Reid's version is at least half a loaf better than none. According to the rating by CBO, the plan does save the government money: $130 billion between 2010 to 2019. US Person predicts that a bill close to the Senate plan in content will come out of conference committee minus the unacceptable (and perhaps unconstitutional) limitation on private funding of abortion that House conservatives forced onto its bill as political ransom for passage.

Yes, We Did Torture

A positive development to report from the anti-torture front: Attorney General Holder has announced that the Office of Professional Responsibility report on the role of Department of Justice attorneys in justifying the use of torture in violation of international and federal law should be publicly released by the end of the November. This is only a first step toward holding US officials accountable for their implementation of torture as official US policy in the so-called "Global War on Terror":

The administration also did the right thing by deciding to try major terrorists in federal criminal court in Manhattan and not by military commission in a private chamber of the Guantanamo gulag. The public criminal trial is sine qua non for reestablishing the rule of law after eight years of an installed regime that shredded the Constitution in the name of national security. If Americans are to remain a free people, they cannot afford to be afraid, despite political opinions--no matter how asinine--to the contrary. The US criminal justice system has prosecuted 195 terrorists since the attacks of September 11, 2001 with a 91% conviction rate.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

China, the Ugly

Want to know why our biggest trading partner and creditor can produce so many consumer products cheaply, flooding our market to the point of endangering the health of our own economy? Beside cheap labor, industrial production in China enjoys the freedom to dump and pollute where and when it likes. These graphic photos by a Chinese freelance photographer are examples of what economists hygienically refer to as "uncompensated externalities" which make extremely low costs of production possible. The Chinese waste their land because Americans buy their stuff in container ship loads. Think about Earth that the next time you head to Wal-Mart to do your Christmas shopping.
[credit: Lu Guang; an elder covers his nose against the smell of the polluted Yellow River]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chart of the Week: Let Them Eat Prozac

Conventional economic wisdom is that full employment and inflation are correlated. Workers with money in their pockets bid up prices--a case of increased demand for limited supply (demand-pull in Keynesian terms). There are other sorts of inflation, notably relevant now as the Fed drastically expands the money supply, is monetary inflation. Here is a chart which shows the inverse relationship between the Federal Funds rate, a key tool used by the Fed to control inflation, and employment. As you can see the Federal Reserve usually does not increase the discount rate until after a peak has been reached in unemployment. You are at the top of the red line on the right. Think of it as a greater misery leading indicator.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Americans Want a Strong Public Option

Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il) conducted an on-line poll to find out what kind of public health insurance plan we want. The poll was not intended to be scientific, but US Person thinks its a good representation of what progressive voters want, so he shares the results here:
  • Out of a possible 10 the average ranking for a fifty state fully funded public option was 8.56;
  • 65% of respondents completely opposed any "trigger" mechanism because they know it will never be used;
  • an "opt-out" public option as proposed by Senator Henry Reid scored 5 out of 10 while an opt-in provision supported by the insurance industry handmaiden Ben Nelson (?-NE) scored 2.3.
The poll counted 83,954 responses. The message is clear: American want real reform.

Elephant Walk

No, not the 1954 film melodrama* starring the irrepressible Elizabeth Taylor, but the actual migration corridors used by generations of intelligent and sensitive elephants. An Indian high court ruled in favor of elephants over land developers, prohibiting construction blocking their routes on the Segur Plateau and around Mudumalai tiger reserve. According to wildlife officials only four corridors will be secured by the interim ruling among the 88 passages listed as critical by the Wildlife Trust of India. Conservationists have been working to purchase private land across India to connect protected areas for the pachyderm residents of India.

*Even though the film concerns a tea plantation manse built athwart a traditional elephant path in Ceylon, the elephants in the poster appear to be African, but reality never stopped Hollywood.

Copenhagen Doomed to Failure

World governments are acknowledging that the climate summit in Copenhagen will not produce a binding agreement primarily because the United States Congress has not passed pending climate legislation with emission targets. Congress is capable of focusing on only one major piece of legislation at a time, and that focus has been occupied by health insurance reform. If the summit can produce an agreement on limiting deforestation, it will be a major accomplishment. El Mensaje de Merida, from the site of the Ninth World Wilderness Conference to Copenhagen delegates, is that nature conservation on a large, interconnected scale is an effective strategy for mitigating climate change. Conservationists also endorsed 350ppm as the level of CO2 that is acceptable if wide spread ecological destruction is to be avoided. Host country Denmark has proposed achieving a political statement of intent on climate action followed by a second conference at the end of 2010 to forge a legal pact. While our government dithers, the Greenland ice pack is melting into the sea at an accelerating rate.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Japanese Whaling May Be Axed

The corrupt Japanese whaling program operates under a cover of "scientific research" in order to fit within an exception to the international whaling moratorium imposed in 1986. However, the program is not self-sustaining and requires a government subsidy of about $780 million to the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Fund to keep the discredited Institute for Cetacean Research going. A spending review committee has recommended that the subsidy be eliminated. The final decision on funding rests with the Cabinet Office. Greenpeace, which was instrumental in achieving the moratorium, has determined that whale meat from "research" vessels is being sold by crew members for personal profit. Two Greenpeace activists, Toru Suzuki and Junichi Sato, are awaiting trial for their undercover work in exposing the corruption of the whaling program. They are charged with theft and trespass. Whaling is on the agenda of items to be discussed by President Obama with Prime Minister Hatoyama during his state visit.

Creature Feature: Cat Blogging Friday

The world's first video taken of the rare and elusive bay cat endemic to Borneo and threatened by deforestation. Researchers Andrew Hearn and Jo Ross of the Global Canopy Programme caught Catopuma badia in a camera trap. The cat was not photographed in the wild until 1998. Watch closely; the video only lasts seven seconds, and if you blink you will only see the reddish brown cat's tail:

The bay cat is only one of several small cat species whose habitat is threatened by palm oil plantations. Four out of five felids endemic to Borneo are vulnerable to extinction. A new species of clouded leopard was found last year. Conservationists are hoping to preserve a large area of intact forest before plantations and logging destroy most of Borneo's forest cover.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Terrible Cost

The palm oil industry is rapidly denuding Southeast Asia, destroying the rainforest and replacing it with unsustainable monoculture plantations to produce a commodity used in cooking, foodstuffs and as a fuel. When the rainforest is torn down, the homes of endangered orangutans are also wiped out. That is bad enough, but the torture and abuse of orphaned orangutan infants uncovered on Borneo is truly sickening. Workers killed two mothers to eat them. Two of the infants [photo, International Animal Rescue] was found by conservationists beaten, emaciated and dehydrated. Helen was hog tied to a pole. Another younger infant apparently escaped the workers, but less than a year old, the orangutan undoubtedly died of starvation in the forest. Thankfully the rescued infants are recovering from their ordeal. Helen's wounds are responding well to antibiotics, and learning that not all homo sapiens are predators. They are the lucky ones because countless more primates are dying in captivity from similar torture and neglect. International Animal Rescue has signed an agreement with the Indonesian Forestry Department to set up a permanent rescue center in West Kalimantan where there is none at present. The group is also working on a proposal for research into suitable sites where orangutans can be released into protected areas of remaining forest.

Crackpots United

Some more evidence that the GOP is being taken over by fringe groups and fascist extremists from Mother Jones. Assorted nuts and tea baggers got a friendly welcome from GOP legislators on the steps of the Capital last week when they showed up to protest the painful progress being made on relieving America's healthcare crisis. Their placards are messages are sinking to new lows in our political debate--many of racial content insulting to the President--which already takes place at an elementary level. Their latest frenzy is truly laughable if not so ridiculous. The tea baggers have embraced the fringe political theories of a former KGB analyst, Dr. Igor Panarin, an academic and alleged expert on the United States. He holds forth on a weekly radio show and television appearances from Moscow about his pet theory that the United States will collapse around the year 2010 and splinter into separate regional states as did the Soviet Union in 1992. According to Dr. Panaran, who is a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US will break up along regional, ethnic and cultural faults. His reasoning for the breakup:
A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."
The veterans of the Grand Army must be turing in their graves upon hearing this agitprop. Of course the Civil War is the great subject of revisionist history in Texas. There the tea baggers sponsored Panarin to speak at the Houston Hilton. The fringe right media have also cited Panarin's opinions from the Drudge Report to Chuck Baldwin, a perennial also ran of the Conservative Party. The small detail that Panarin puts the locus of Hispanic unrest in the southeast rather than in the northern portion of Mexico annexed by the United States after the Mexican War ought to tell you something about the quality of his analysis.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

End the Anti-War 'Treason' Rhetoric

US Person is truly disgusted with Washington politicans bashing the principled opposition to the Vietnam War by an entire generation of young Americans. Forty-four did it again on this Veterans Day, addressing the people gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for the traditional wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown. Denigrating millions of Americans who stood up to their government to end a war that was immoral and unjustified has itself become tradition:

"If we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that there have been times where we as a nation have betrayed that sacred trust," "Our Vietnam veterans served with great honor. They often came home greeted not with gratitude or support, but with condemnation and neglect. That's something that will never happen again."

Many Americans at the time of Vietnam were emotionally opposed to the continuation of bloodshed. They were ashamed of their country killing millions of Vietnamese. If some took their frustrations out on individual returning soldiers, that was wrong, but entirely understandable. They saw their patriotic duty as convincing their leaders to end the war. To their everlasting credit they succeeded. The American anti-war movement did not loose a war by betraying servicemen*. To think that is to dismiss the extreme sacrifice of the Vietnamese who wanted an end to colonialism whether under France or as a client state of the U.S. fighting the Cold War.

Incredibly less than fifty years later, The United States is having a deja vu moment again with Forty-four playing the role of LBJ. He is about to send more young Americans to pay in blood for the mistaken notion that to do otherwise would fail "to do right by them". Accusing anti-war Americans of treason by implication to garner support for continuing the confused war in Afghanistan is a reprehensible political maneuver. Afghanistan is probably more of a quagmire than Vietnam. At least there was a South Vietnamese army that on occasion fought well with American support. The history of Afghanistan's impoverished tribal struggle against foreign powers goes back centuries. They are just as motivated as the communists were to push the foreign invader out. It may be just possible that they do not want a western style democracy imposed on them. And once again the American people are saying no more war. Will it take another Kent State for the authorities to represent the desires of the people who elected them? Their mind set is as hard as the stone monuments for the dead to which they pay so much tribute. The living can go die in a faraway desert land.

*Repugnant Senator Tom Coburn (OK) has put a hold on a major veterans' benefit bill, drawing the ire of 13 military and veteran groups

Nepal Protects Tigers

The government of Nepal has expanded the Bardia National Park by 900 sq.kms. (347.5 sq.m.) specifically for tiger habitat. The first ever national census showed 121 adult tigers living in four protected areas of Nepal. WWF urged the government to increase habitat and anti-poaching efforts. It will also establish a National Tiger Conservation Authority and a Wildlife Crime Control Commission. Government sees the success of tiger conservation tied to the livelihoods of local communities. WWF believes that Nepal can be successful in doubling the number of endangered tigers and sees Nepal's commitment to tiger survival as an important example for other countries in tiger range where remnant populations are hanging in the balance. GREEN KUDOS to Nepal for helping one of nature's most magnificent animals survive.
[photo courtesy: PBS]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New Joe McCarthy

Former Democratic Senator 'Zion' Joe Lieberman is fast becoming the new Joe McCarthy. This Joe is not hunting alleged communists infiltrating our government, but "sleeper" Muslim terrorists bent on destroying our nation from within. Lieberman got more face time on Fox Spews for his precipitous statements about Ft. Hood mass killer Nidal Hasan's motivations. Shouting "Allah Akbar" is enough to label you a domestic terrorist according to Joe. Would a mass murderer shouting "Jesus is Lord" be categorized in Joe's book as a terrorist? US Person doubts it, even though Joe is a devout Jew. As Army Chief of Staff George Casey said, we all want to know what drove a trained officer and psychiatrist to such violent behavior*, but also "we need to be very, very careful here in these early days and let the investigation take its course." Most of the damage has already been done by Hasan, but irresponsibly claiming that the shooting was "the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11" chills our already strained relations with American Muslims in and out of the Armed Services. There are indications that Hasan was experiencing emotional distress and that he holds extreme views of America's wars in Central Asia which the Army knew about but ignored However, Maj. Hasan, as a US citizen, is entitled to due process of law, not trial by sound bytes from a reactionary politician.

[photo: Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, VA which Hasan attended while stationed a Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC]
*the suicide rate for male veterans is twice the civilian rate.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Chart of the Week: No Mo' Credit

[credit: The Market]
Consumer credit is taking a swan dive as illustrated in the chart. Revolving credit, which are credit cards, is decreasing at an annual rate of 10%. This is not good news for an economy that is heavily dependent on consumer purchases, representing over 70% of GDP.

AIG Given Sweetheart Deal by NY Fed

Its pretty obvious to students of the financial meltdown in 2008 that the government blinked when confronted by the banksters armed with "weapons of mass financial destruction" (credit default swaps). AIG was literally drowning in collateral calls on the billions of CDS it wrote. Perhaps scared out of their wits, or simply helping out distressed colleagues and friends, the New York Federal Reserve gave AIG par value for its CDS junk when the New York insurance regulator had mediated deals at 13¢ because a default by AIG would have resulted in financial chaos. This is how the GAO described the situation in its September 2009 report on the crisis:
Critics of the government’s assistance have noted that by providing assistance to AIG for the purpose of providing or returning cash collateral to counterparties, the government was indirectly assisting the counterparties, and they questioned the efficiency of this approach. Some noted that banks that had bought CDS contracts from other failed insurers were paid 13 cents on the dollar in deals mediated by New York’s insurance regulator, whereas AIG’s counterparties were paid market value. They said that new capital to AIG in effect served as direct infusions to the counterparties, including foreign financial institutions [notably Societe Generale and Deutsche Bank]. Conversely, Federal Reserve officials believed that if AIG had failed to pay the collateral amounts due, it would have been in default of its agreements, which could have resulted in AIG’s counterparties forcing it into bankruptcy. Moreover, they believed that the unfolding crisis warranted swift action to prevent a total collapse of the financial system given its fragile state at that time.
Essentially, the government was forced into the corner by the free-booting banksters who created the Wild West private debt machine with the blessing of Alan 'Fedspan' and his cohorts. "Help us, patriots all, or die!" was their cry, and Timmy said "Sirs, aye, aye", despite Goldman Sachs being fully hedged against their AIG exposure. CFO David Viniar told investors in a conference call that Goldman was protected: "We limited our overall credit exposure to AIG through a combination of collateral and market hedges. There would have been no credit losses if AIG had failed."

Sunday, November 08, 2009

The Poisoning of the Land

NRDC tells us that the Department of Agriculture spends $100 million annually to kill wildlife that agribusiness deems to be "pests". The division, inappropriately named"Wildlife Services", spreads poisons across millions of acres of public lands. Its agents use two of the most lethal toxins known, Compound 1080 and sodium cyanide intending to kill predators, but which are indiscriminate and kill any animal that comes in contact with them. If you and your dog should be walking in a national forest and your friend becomes the victim of a M-44 spring loaded trap, be prepared to bury your dog. The fiendish device shoots a pellet of cyanide directly into the investigating animal's mouth, insuring a painful and slow death. Help NRDC convince Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop the senseless poisoning of our environment in favor of more effective and less indiscriminate methods of controlling wildlife populations.
[photo courtesy of USDA]

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Public Option: Now You See It, Now You Don't

It is inevitable in Washington, DC: a good idea will get deformed beyond recognition by compromise and expediency. So it goes with the public option that is part of the House reform bill that may be voted on today. What started as a compromise to single payer health insurance, the public option was intended to be an efficient, low cost counter-balance to the inequities and waste of a broken system of private health insurance. After the political machinations on Capitol Hill, it has become an expensive boutique program that will not be serious competition for the private insurance industry, but will actually funnel millions of new customers into a system that does only two things well: produce profits and pay exorbitant salaries for executives. America, far from having the "best health system in the world"--a monstrous myth--is 31st in life expectancy, 37th in infant mortality, and 34th in maternal mortality according to the World Health Organization. One authoritative study put us dead last among 19 developed nations in avoiding "preventable deaths". The Congressional Budget Office has concluded the public plan in the House bill will cost more than private plans and only 6 million people will sign up. Forty-four promised us a public system that would cover one out of four Americans. Now it is one out of fifty. At first public subsidies were to be used only for enrolling in the government plan. That idea was hijacked by the insurance industry, so now only private insurance can be purchased with subsidies. Speaker Pelosi said it best, private insurance companies "are going to get 50 million new customers, many subsidized by the taxpayers" because of the individual mandate to buy insurance.

Unable to completely stop this farcical intrusion into their captive market, the insurance business and its lobbyists have now focused on minimizing in every way possible the effect of any government plan that makes it past the Senate filibuster to the conference committee. They will do this by seeking to impose a trigger mechanism to prevent any government competition until insurance companies allow it through their own shear incompetence, and by limiting the number of Americans eligible to participate in the public plan. They will also insist that their industry continue to be protected from anti-trust laws despite their collusive market behavior. Insurance lobbyists have already succeeded in increasing the premiums for public health insurance by requiring reimbursement rates be negotiated with the private sector instead of being fixed by Medicare rates. Senate Majority Leader Reid still does not have the necessary votes in hand to guarantee a sixty vote super majority, so he is delaying presenting the Senate bill on the floor for debate. Senators dependent on insurance companies, like former insurance executive Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are withholding their vote, hoping to gain these further concessions. Even if states are allowed to opt out of this corporate welfare, they will not be able to opt for a single payer system because Nancy Pelosi quashed an amendment passed out of committee that would have allowed it--this despite the official position of the California state Democratic Party supporting single payer reform. The state legislature has twice passed single payer bills only to be vetoed by the 'Governator'.

Whatever public option comes out of the process will be emasculated beyond recognition, thus insuring a continuation of outrageous corporate overcharging for health care in America. AARP is supporting the House bill primarily because it fixes the "doughnut hole" in Medicare Part D. The AMA is supporting the bill because of the devil they do not know and a promised increase in Medicare reimbursement rates. What real choice do unemployed persons (the official rate has reached 10% for only the second time since WWII) not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid have when the market and Congress is controlled by oligopolists with unlimited funds? Answer: None, and that is why Lady Liberty is covering her face in shame.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Australia Fails to Stop Leak

Update: Late news reports say the West Atlas well was finally plugged on November 3rd. The Australian government has formed a commission to investigate the incident.

For over two months a leaking oil well in the Timor Sea has been allowed to pollute some the world's last pristine ocean. The rig in the Montara field off the Kimberly Coast has been spilling oil since August 21st. All attempts to stop the spill have failed probably due to the depth of the leak at 2.6 kilometers below the surface and the 25 centimeter diameter of the well bore. The flow is estimated at 2000 barrels a day by independent experts. Dolphins, migratory sea birds and sea snakes have been observed swimming through the surface slick. Australia may be attempting to sweep news of the spill under the carpet since it is located in such an isolated corner of the globe. Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association claimed that the recent WWF survey of the area found no evidence of harm to marine life. Dr. Gilly Llewellyn, head of the ecological survey, said this was clearly a false representation. "Wildlife is dying and hundreds, if not thousands of dolphins, seabirds and sea-snakes are being exposed to toxic oil." The expedition found 17 species of seabird, four crustacean and five marine reptile species including two threatened marine turtles. Ocean oil spills continue to impact an ecosystem for decades after the event as the Valdez spill has demonstrated {3.25.09}. PTTEP Australasia, the Thai company responsible for the spill has reported high levels of mortality among contaminated seabirds. Australian conservationists have been critical of the attempts at plugging the leak, one saying "It's turning into a farce and the big players need to step in because this is an environmental disaster for marine life off the Kimberly Coast." The spill is Australia's third worst on record.
[photo: WA News]

Creature Feature: Chimpanzees Grieve

Why is this troop of rescued chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Center staring at what is happening on the other side of the fence? The chimp Dorothy, in the wheelbarrow, is being taken to her burial. She died of heart failure well past the age of forty. The female will apparently be missed by her friends.
[credit: National Geographic]

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Al Gore, Guru of Greenbacks Too

The questions about Al Gore milking his high profile advocacy for carbon cap legislation* for all the green he can are getting louder. Last night on the Daily Show with Jon, Gore was selling his latest book on the subject of climate change. As posted here previously {11.14.07}, Al Gore is a partner in the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers, a big player in developing alternative energy companies. Some of those companies like Fisker and Silver Springs Networks are receiving millions in government investment. He also co-founded Generation Investment Management, a London based firm with holdings in green energy companies. Of course Gore maintains that his business activities and climate advocacy are compatible, saying he has put his money where his mouth is for thirty years. Gore also earns in excess of $100,000 a year for his speaking engagements, and his book and film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth was a smash hit. The scale of his wealth can be gauged from a single investment of $35 million in Capricorn Investment Group, another private equity fund focused on green tech. It is perhaps inevitable that he would earn along with accolades the enmity of the right who can use the fact of Gore's great wealth to undercut his credibility on climate and energy issues.

*Because pending carbon cap and trade legislation creates another type of market subject to speculation and unregulated derivatives trading, US Person has previously expressed his preference {6.29.09} for a carbon tax scheme that would be more efficient, easier to police, and would provide needed revenue to invest directly in clean technologies. By the way, big Al will get one of the first deluxe hybrid "Karmas" by Fisker to buzz off the Finnish assembly line. Sweet.

African Neighbors Protect Unique Ecosystem

Africa's first transnational marine conservation area was created by South Africa and Mozambique to protect a two hundred mile length of shoreline and beaches on the continent's southeast coast from Maputo Bay in Mozambique to Cape St. Lucia in South Africa. The area contains important fish breeding grounds in southern Mozambique as well as egg laying beaches for threatened leatherback and loggerhead marine turtles. iSimangaliso Wetlands Park in South Africa is now connected to the conservation area and protects the country's remaining swamp forests in Africa's largest estuarine system. The 332,000 hectare park is home to 526 bird species, 25,000 year old coastal dunes that are among the highest in the world, and three major lake systems. Plans are to further protect the sensitive area by creating Africa's first trans-boundary marine World Heritage Site according to ENS. GREEN KUDOS to South Africa and Mozambique
[photo credit: Ponta do Ouro Protected Area, Mozambique, ENS]

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Sarah Palin's Got No Mojo

Yesterday, Repugnants gained two governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, but more importantly they lost the close special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District. Sarah Palin and her right wing supporters intervened on behalf of a conservative male forcing a moderate woman from the race. Dierdre Scozzafava was the original candidate, but she was forced to withdraw after her rival received $1 million from the laissez faire "Club for Growth" and celebrity media attacks on Scozzafava by the emotionally unstable Glen Beck, and drug-addicted racist Rush Limbaugh. Scozzafava supported abortion rights and gay marriage, as well as 44's stimulus package. She endorsed the Democratic candidate after withdrawing from the race. Democrat Bill Owens won the race with about 49% of the vote, the first time a Democrat has held the seat in more than a century. The defeat blunts the drive led by former Governor Palin to completely take over the increasingly rightist Republican Party.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Building a New Green Economy

Now that the FIRE economy has proved a bust for the majority of Americans, we need to find ways to revitalize our manufacturing base. Means to accomplish this national priority include replacing our aging electric grid, retrofiting existing buildings and homes to increase energy efficiency, moving away from the exclusive use of the internal combustion engine for transportation, and manufacturing alternative energy generation systems. So why is the Wall Street Journal bellowing about China building wind turbines in Texas? Believe US Person, the deal is nothing to be proud of, but is symptomatic of our deteriorating economic competitiveness. Countries that do not manufacture most of their goods at home end up at the bottom of the heap. Russia experienced this painful condition when the Soviet system collapsed. Importing almost all of its consumer goods led to devaluation of the ruble and default on international loans. The effects of the default were felt even in the bastion of capitalism, Wall Street, with the collapse of Long Term Capital Management.

A-Power Energy Generation Systems, Ltd. will supply 240 2.5 megawatt wind turbines for a 36,000 acre wind farm in West Texas. The Export-Import Bank of China is also providing $1.5 billion in financing, not Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or JP Morgan Chase. The sad fact is that the United States lost its lead in wind turbine manufacturing in the 1980s when government subsidies for alternative energy development trickled out. Despite renewal of a production tax credit which has stimulated development recently, in the three quarters of 2009 there were 33% fewer announced expansions of U.S. turbine factories compared to 2008. The U.S. managing partner of the Texas wind farm development will nevertheless seek tax credits and aid from the federal stimulus package.

Wind power is gaining traction in the US. Total installation capacity is rated at 31,000 megawatts, worth about 10 nuclear power plants of power. Of the 51 farms currently under construction that have announced their turbine contractor GE is supplying 21. The industry's lobby group says a firm national commitment to renewable energy is still needed from Washington. A spokesperson for the American Alliance for Manufacturing wrote in a letter to 44 that he was "deeply shocked" that efforts to revitalize our industrial base were being "unseated by subsidized imports seeking to capitalize on demand for clean energy products". China is also exporting an increasing number of photovoltaic panels at lower prices than domestically produced panels. Robert Kennedy Jr., addressing the Solar Power 09 Conference in Anaheim, CA last week said that America is in an "arms race with China" to make inexpensive and efficient solar panels. Giving manufacturing business to our biggest foreign creditor is not the way to give a green light to clean energy independence, but it is one way to keep them from dumping the dollar. The President may have to explain this situation to the voters in Newton, Iowa*.

[photo credit: Iowa wind farm, AP.]
*Iowa ranks second behind Texas in total installed wind power capacity followed by California, Minnesota and Oregon. Newton hosts a structural tower manufacturer whose products are used in the wind power industry. The Maytag plant closed several years ago.

Monday, November 02, 2009

A Home for Polar Bears

The American public wants polar bears protected now that global warming is melting the sea ice earlier every year making it extremely difficult for the bears to hunt for seals. Three conservation organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) sued the federal government to gain more protection for the marine mammal {5.21.08}. On October 22nd the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed to designate more than 200,000 square mile of Alaska's arctic coast as critical habitat for Ursus maritimus. While the designation proposal has generally pleased conservationists, Alaska officials are upset. Alaska's Attorney General Dan Sullivan said the designation will essentially turn the state "into the world's largest zoo". It is the largest designation ever made for a species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

However, in the same week the same Department of Interior through its Minerals Management Service (MMS) approved oil company plans for exploratory drilling in the Beaufort Sea. The MMS said it will allow Shell to drill for oil and gas in the far western reaches of Camden Bay. Drilling in the Chukchi Sea has been delayed while the MMS reviews Shell's plan for next year. The U.S. has two polar bear populations, one in the Southern Beaufort Sea and the other in the Chukchi Sea. An attorney for one of the plaintiffs said the Department's actions were "schizophrenic" since it declared a commitment to preserving the species under threat from climate change while allowing industrial operations in their proposed critical habitat. If a bear's coat is contaminated by spilled crude, it is put at risk of dying from hypothermia. When bears are stranded on land unable to hunt in open seas, human-bear conflicts increase. Included in of the partial settlement of the suit is the requirement to finalize guidelines for non-lethal deterrence of polar bears deemed to be a threat to public safety. Public comments on the habitat designation will be accepted for a period of sixty days once an official notice is made. If you wish to comment on the designation, consult the agency's website. US Person suggests you ask USF&W to ban all importation of polar bear trophies into the United States, and work through the Oslo Agreement to further reduce sport and subsistence hunting. Since 1994 more than 800 dead polar bears have been imported as trophies into the United States, and natives in Canada sell about 14% of their permits to sport hunting guides. The USGS predicts that two-thirds of the world's polar bears will disappear by 2050 due to loss of sea ice habitat. The polar bear is a powerful apex predator, but is time to help the great white bear avoid extinction.