Thursday, June 30, 2011

Its Official: 2011 Extreme Weather Year

As if you did not know already, the US government has officially acknowledged that 2011 is one of the most extreme weather years on record. The year is not yet half over and already there have been eight weather related disasters causing over $32 billion in damages.  This year has witnessed the sixth highest number of deaths due to tornadoes, and the hurricane season just beginning is expected to be a significant one. Weather extremes have become more frequent in the United States since 1980. One reason for this is global climate change that has warmed the Earth's oceans causing more evaporation. The additional water vapor in the atmosphere causes rain and snow events to be larger and more intense. Computer modeling of climate change effects predict both intense precipitation and severe drought in different regions of this country. But other weather influences are also at work making attribution for extreme weather a difficult call. Scientists from the US and Europe are now investigating the causal link, unsatisfied with merely saying extreme weather is consistent with global climate change. This year's La Niña was a strong one, causing spring temperatures in the Northwest to be significantly cooler with more precipitation while the Southwest suffers from drought. Texas is dealing with the worst drought in 45 years and it is expected to continue into midsummer. 1.5 million acres of the state have burned. The region of extreme drought extends into Arizona, southern Oklahoma, western Louisiana and southern Arkansas.  Or, if you do not want to accept climate change as an inconvenient fact, you could just blame  wildfires on the Mexicans!

Concerns Mounting for Ft. Calhoun Plant

Update: Just as at Fukushima, the story about an endangered nuclear power plant is coming out in drips and drabs. CNN now reports that a water filled berm sixteen feet in width at the base and eight feet high collapsed on Sunday when a piece of machinery came in contact with it. OPPD officials are saying that the plant is still protected "to the level it would have been if the aqua berm had not been added." Of course that tortured syntax says nothing about the original level of reactor protection or why the berm was added. Last October the owner was cited by the NRC for inadequate flood preparations. A ten mile evacuation zone was declared at the plant site.

On the other side of the world three reactor cores and four fuel assemblies are melting at Fukushima and fallout is now reaching the west coast of the United States. Radioactive isotopes blown across the Pacific from the disaster zone are now detected in foodstuffs in the US. A respected nuclear engineer stated that "Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind". No overstatement there because the slag at the bottom of the containments, if it has not already melted through, contains extremely radioactive isotopes that have half lives of hundreds of years and in the case of plutonium239, 24,100 years! But the real extent of the disaster did not stop the nuclear apologists in the British government from colluding with the industry to minimize the disaster's impact. Japanese engineers were aware of the Mark I design flaws for years but did nothing to correct them.  The failed design at Fukushima is shared with 23 older GE plants still operating in the US.  Still taking Exelon Corporation contributions, Mr. President?

{27.6.11}This video is from ABC news and highlights the growing concern that the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant {"Ft. Calhoun"} near Omaha, NE may suffer a disasterous breakdown if floodwaters penetrate the reactor's containment building and cause a loss of power accident. Emergency generators were required to cool spent fuel tanks when floodwaters penetrated a barrier protecting electrical transformers (No commercial endorsement intended):

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Conservative Sixth Circuit Upholds 'Obamneycare'

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a fire breathing states right advocate, sitting on the conservative Sixth Circuit Federal Appeals bench upheld 'Obamneycare' against a constitutional challenge today. Cutting to the heart of the matter, Judge Sutton ruled that the mandatory purchase provision does not violate the Constitution because it is a proper exertion of Congress' power to regulate interstate commerce. The case is significant because this conservative judge spent most of his unfriendly legal career preventing people from holding states accountable in federal court for depriving them of Medicaid coverage. He wrote in relevant part, "No matter how you slice the relevant market--as obtaining health care, as paying for health care, as insuring for health care--all of these activities affect interstate commerce in a substantial way." Judge Sutton went on to say that the distinction between an a requirement to act--purchase health insurance--and a prohibition against an act--do not discriminate against minorities in interstate commerce--has no basis in constitutional law. That conclusion scuttles most all constitutional challenges to the Affordable Care Act. The court did not reach the question of whether the provision was a permissible tax (a weaker argument).  Unless the conservative majority of the Supremos are willing to overrule their own, Obamneycare is reality. Just don't expect it to be effective in holding down health care costs.

Humans Responsible for Tasmanian Devils' Cancer

credit: Yale Environment 360
US Person reported previously about the epidemic of facial cancer that is wiping out Tasmania's Devil (Sacrcophilus harrisii). {"Tasmanian devil"}. Hope blossomed briefly of cure based on the immunity of one devil from which a vaccine could be made to inoculate the remaining population, but the apparently resistant animal, named "Cedric", eventually succumbed to the cancer. The fierce little marsupials are hotheads, and scientists speculate that the disease is transmitted through bites on the face, making it an extremely rare form of cancer, only one of three known to be transmissible by contact. The resulting cancer tumors have killed about 66% of the population. Some experts believe the disease could make the devil extinct in the wild within 25 years. The devil is endemic to Tasmania, but not always tolerated by man. Like the coyote and the wolf in America, it suffered bounty hunting in the 19th century and strychnine poisoning in the early 20th. So the devil has passed through several population bottlenecks since the arrival of the white man on Tasmania. Now, after sequencing of the animal's genome has been accomplished, biologists think that low genetic diversity caused by man's persecution has left the animal vulnerable to disease. It is widely held by biologists that low diversity is associated with endangerment of a species. A scientist at the University of Sydney said that devils are essentially clones of each other, so tumors are able to pass between without triggering an immune response. The devil has been declared endangered by the Australian and Tasmanian governments, and a captive breeding program established to insure the survival of a cancer free population that could repopulate Tasmania should the wild animals die out.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Madagascar Is Treasure Island of Biodiversity

The World Wildlife Fund has released a colorful report revealing the incredible diversity of life still found on the island nation of Madagascar. Scientific work to inventory and study Madagascar's wildlife has been intense as habitat destruction takes an increasing toll on wild residents of the world's fourth largest island, about the size of France. 615 new species discoveries were made within the last decade. The island has four distinct regions of international biological importance: rain forests along the eastern coast, central highlands with volcanic mountains, coves along the northwest coast with broad plains inland, and a tropical dry desert in the southwest. With such an array of a distinct habitats and ancient history of evolutionary isolation, immense biological diversity is to be expected. The island is home to 250,000 species, more than 70% of which are endemic or exclusively native. All 50 known species of lemur (Latin for 'night spirits') are found only on Madagascar including the incredibly small Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, only lately discovered in 2000 [photo]. WWF has been active on the island for 47 years working with local communities to protect the island's treasure trove of wildlife. Despite years of conservation efforts, Madagascar has lost 90% of its original forest cover leading to increased erosion and sedimentation of coastal reefs.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chart of the Week: Oil Price Wars

This chart shows the number of giant oil fields discovered and the volume of recoverable resource by decade and the decline in discoveries and the decreasing volume of new oil available as expected for any finite, non-renewable resource:
Recent price escalation in the cost of gasoline reflect several factors: declining crude oil supply, seasonal demand, refinery production capacity, and speculation in the global market. Speculation is primarily driven by the political and financial situation of the moment, particularly in the Middle East. This chart shows the correlation:

The release of crude oil stock from national petroleum reserves is a response to the disruption of the market caused by the Libyan civil war and resulting speculation of oil price rise.  After the statement by the International Energy Agency that it would inject 60 million barrels into the global market, Brent crude futures for August fell by more than $8, while US crude fell below $100 a barrel after reaching $114 in May.  Only 30% of oil delivery contracts are purchased by an oil user according to the CFTC; the remaining 70% are purchased by speculators who never take possession but merely flip the contract for a profit.  American consumption has flattened since the financial crisis of 2008, and refineries have excess capacity, yet gasoline prices where rising prior to the decision to dump more oil onto the international market. Some oil traders blame speculators for price rises not related to supply and demand.  The case against petroleum speculation gets even more interesting when one realizes that Koch Industries, America's second largest private corporation driven by the radical laissez-faire ideology of the the Koch Bros., invented oil index price swaps in a deal with Chase Manhattan Bank in 1986, and lobbied heavily to prevent derivative trading regulation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Libyan Job

Latest:Even though the House rejected limiting funding for the war, 180-238, opposition to the war among House Democrats is high, and there were enough votes to pass a defunding measure. Some Democrats stuck with the president, at least 70 according toForeign Policy's Cableblog, because the measure voted on was too weak.  The measure did not cut off all funds and provided legal authorization for everything the United States is currently doing militarily in Libya such as refueling warplanes and providing airborne command and control. One hundred forty-nine Democrats voted no to limit funding for the Libyan intervention including the majority of the CPC. The Congressional Progressive Caucus called upon the House to fulfill its constitutional duty to "hold the purse strings and the right to declare war", and asked the president to immediately end the war. Interpreting the vote to be an endorsement of the war by the House, as Secretary Clinton attempted to do, would be to ignore the clear sentiment of its Democratic members to completely halt US involvement.

Even More: {24.6.11}You would have to be a hopeless romantic (US Person is NOT) to have anticipated the scope of the vote against the war in Libya by members of the House of Representatives. The Obamatron lost 70 of his own Democratic members to the stunning repudiation, 295-123 against authorizing war on Libya's tyrant Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Madam Secretary of State's last ditch effort on the Hill to convince members to vote for authorization did not make a difference. Rank and file members said the President broke the law by not seeking formal congressional approval for the war, now in its third month and long beyond the time limitation contained in the War Powers Act. The House is also expected to vote on a measure to cut funding for the operation, but even if that passes the House, it has little chance of passing the Democratically controlled Senate. Senator McCain (R-AZ) called Obamatron & Folks, Inc.'s position that the US military operation against Libya does not qualify as "hostilities" under the Act, "foolishness". US Person could not agree more. The loss of Libyan oil output since February represents a greater disruption to global oil supply than the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, an International Energy Agency official told Reuters.

Our side? 
Further: {23.6.11}Madame Secretary of State asks members of Congress who want to vote on the Libyan intervention, "who's side are you on?" The rhetorical inquiry is easily answered: on the side of the US Constitution, Madame Secretary. It appears both Houses are moving towards a vote on whether to authorize US participation in the air attack on Libya. The House is set to vote on two measures, one defunding the operation, and the other granting limited authority to continuing warring on tyrant Muammar Qaddafi and his forces. Cutting off funds is politically unpalatable, so odds are the authorization will pass. Better late than never, and at least the House will be on record as supporting yet another foreign intervention that looks suspiciously like a neocolonial resource grab while trying to justify cutting Medicare and Medicaid. In the Senate, an authorization for limited hostilities has been prepared by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and introduced into the Senate yesterday, but it will take weeks for the resolution to come up for a vote. Senators are erratic on the legality and application of the War Powers Act, but at least a former Vietnam aviator, John McCain (R) knows a war when he sees one, and it will continue until Congress gives its thumbs up or down on Libya which is what the War Powers Act intends.

More:  The Senate may be finally rousing itself into action, unsatisfied with the multiple-page explanations of Obamatron & Folks, Inc. of why it does not need to comply with federal law for warring against Libyan dictator, Muammar Qaddafi.  It is reported that the President overruled two of his senior White House lawyers to authorize US participation in the Libyan campaign without complying with the strictures of the War Powers Act.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, John Kerry, responded to a request from Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) for a hearing on the question of the applicability of the War Powers Act to the Libyan conflict.  Senators are not buying the argument that because US military personnel are not pulling the triggers, the constitutional requirement of congressional authorization for continued hostilities does not apply.  There is an effort underway in the House to defund the Libyan intervention.  The Senate has yet to come up with war authorization language that could be voted up or down.

Update:{16.6.11}Once again in Washington up is down, black is white and doublethink reins supreme. In communications responding to mounting congressional criticism of the Libyan intervention, Obamatron & Folks, Inc. absurdly claims it is not engaged in hostilities in Libya, so the War Powers Act does not apply. In doublethink terms that means aerial refueling of allied warplanes, providing airborne command, control, and reconnaissance for close air support of rebel troops, and occasionally launching a drone missile are not "hostilities". The argument is so absurd it would be funny if people were not dying as a result of these non-hostile acts. The Libyan military intervention has already cost $716 million, and by September 1st will have cost $1.1 billion at this rate. Please, Mr. Obamatron, don't treat us all like congressmen! A bipartisan group of ten legislators have filed suit against the administration for overstepping its constitutional war making powers.

{15.6.11} An explanation so embarrassingly obvious, even the corporate media must admit that oil plays a central role in the reasons for the Nobel peace laureate's splendid little war against Muammar Qaddafi. When the rebel council came to Washington four weeks ago to speak to the US-Libya Business Council to discuss funding and recognition, one of the businesses represented at the meeting was ConocoPhilips, among other oil companies, according to a lobbyist that represents the Benghazi rebels. At another meeting, rebel chief economic policymaker, Ali Tarhouni, assured Washington that existing oil contracts would be honored.

After the bombing of Libya by Ronald 'Raygun' in retaliation for the Lockerbie attack, the American oil patch made overtures to Qaddafi to allow their return to the Libyan oil fields they spent millions developing. Qaddafi cut a deal with the Charlatan in 2004, hoping the return of occidental oil companies would boost his nation's declining oil production. But Qaddafi, an Arab nationalist in the Nasser mold, drove tough deals to the point some corporations were thinking it was no longer profitable to operate in Libya. In 2007 the US State Department noted an increase in "resource nationalism" on the part of Qaddafi. Nevertheless, Libya has the largest African reserves, some 43.6 billion barrels, and the best drilling prospects. Libyan crude is sweet and light, a veritable Pinot Noir of oil that can sell at a premium. By 2008, US joint ventures accounted for 510,000 barrels of the daily Libyan production of 1.7 million barrels according to Wikileaks cables. Now those same companies are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the outcome of the Libyan intervention. Need it be mentioned once more that the entire world is facing rapidly diminishing supplies of crude oil while consumption increases?

funeral outside Brega, credit: NYT
The obvious solution to the intractability of Col. Qaddafi's nationalism is to remove its source. But regime change has had a bad name since 2003. US legionaries are still dying for it eight years later in Iraq. Fortunately for the Nobel peace laureate living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the UN provided a convenient humanitarian pretext for regime change in Libya*. Leaked diplomatic cables thoughtfully provided the public by Julian Assange and his associates repeatedly show the US government working to promote the interests of Western corporations in the developing world and occupied countries. Libya is yet another example of "the Empire" putting profit ahead of people. All this is not to say that House Speaker Boehner calling the President on the Libyan intervention is a genuine desire to end the killing by both sides in Libya. No, Boehner is acting out of cynical partisan advantage as his party gears up to challenge the 'Killer of bin Laden' for his second term. But at least somebody in power is asking the right question: is the use of US Armed Forces to kill Qaddafi without congressional authorization legal under our constitutional system? The answer is, no.

*Germany joined Russia to abstain from the vote on the UN resolution establishing a no-fly zone to prevent a putative humanitarian disaster in Libya. But in a move that may be realpolitik in actionGermany recently gave diplomatic recognition to the rebel National Transitional Council. The Wall Street dominated IMF is imposing austerity measures on Greece in return for loans to allow it to meet its financial obligations. Deutsche Bank is heavily invested in Greek bonds. If Greece repudiated its EU membership and repaid in New Drachmas, defaulted on its bonds, or was allowed to restructure its debt, the German state bank would loose billions. Scratch a little harder, Madame Chancelor! Meanwhile, the NATO air attack is having limited success in dislodging the tyrant. The Colonel appeared on television last week playing chess with the World Federation president (using a Sicilian defense). After twelve weeks of bombing, the lights are still on and the air conditioning is working.

Weekend Edition: MPs Vote to End Circus Exploitation of Animals

The Independent: no pushover
The British newspaper The Independent began a petition to end the use of wild animals in circuses and collected more than 32,000 signatures from Britons who are famously protective of animals. But the campaign ran into a roadblock when David Cameron's conservative government balked at supporting the wild animal ban in the House of Commons. Perseverance in the face of commercial opposition paid off as members of all parties voted to protect wild animals from exhibitionism, Thursday. Campaigners hailed the vote as a "historic victory for animal welfare and protection" and it came amidst "beastly" efforts to bully Tory backbenchers into voting against the measure. One sponsoring MP, Mr. Mark Pritchard, revealed he was even offered a "trivial" government job to cajole him into withdrawing the motion. The strong arm tactics backfired and the PM suffered a humiliating defeat in a free vote. Prime Minister Cameron is a keen hunter and shooter according to the Independent. Democracy works when people in power have some backbone to do the right thing. As Mr. Pritchard put it, "I may be just a council house lad...but that background gave me a backbone and thick skin." If Cameron's ministers follow the dictates of the House, it means an end to the 39 wild animal circuses that operate in the UK today.

Friday, June 24, 2011

'Toontime: Trickled On

[credit: Joel Pett, Lexington, KY Herald]
Wackdoodle sez, "I herd of ettin' yer cake too, but this is ridiklis!"
The Economic Policy Institute released a memorandum earlier this month examining the economic effects of the Charlatan's tax cuts for the rich on their tenth anniversary, June 7th. In a sentence, the authors Fieldhouse and Porter, conclude that the cuts are expensive, ineffective and unfair. The tax cuts were billed by their captured legislative supporters as a program for job creation. But the economic expansion attributed to them has the worst wage and salary growth for any postwar expansion despite an increase in productivity of 15.4%. Total employment increased less than 1%, barely keeping pace with population growth. However, the top one tenth of a percent income earners (above $9.5 million) captured 24% of the income gains while the bottom 90% earned just 13% of total income gains. Real wages for men in the bottom 50th percentile actually fell 0.5%. The national unemployment rate has never returned to precession levels, and the US has spent $400 billion in additional interest to finance the cuts.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Monk Seals Affected by Neurotoxin

courtesy: NOAA
The drastic decline in Hawaii's critically endangered monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi) population may have a natural cause. Ciguatoxins are potent neurotoxins concentrated in fish eaten by the seal. Scientists from NOAA suspect that seals are exposed to significant levels that may play a role in their collapsing population. Numbers of monk seals in the Hawaiian islands are estimated at between 1100 and 1200. Samples were collected from dead and live animals to be analyzed at NOAA's National Center for Coastal Ocean Science. Both sample groups showed ciguatoxin activity. Monk seals are endemic to the islands and efforts have been made to stabilize their population which is declining at 4% per year. Environmental degradation is a factor in their declining health, but the neurotoxin presents a challenge to species management. More study of causation is needed according to Charles Littnan, lead researcher for NOAA. The only previous report of ciguatoxin exposure was in 1978. In humans ciguatera poisoning is an illness associated with eating fish that contain toxins produced by a marine microalgea, Gambierdiscus toxicus. It is not unusual for marine invertebrates to release toxins as a defense mechanism, some of which can be deadly to mammals, when under environmental stress. It is well known that reefs all over the world are dying due to pollution and seawater temperature increases. In 2010 a massive die off killed an estimated 16% of the world's coral reefs.

Google Steps Up

Readers probably know that the world wide web is one of this nation's biggest energy users; by some calculations it even consumes more than air travel. But Google, which only exists because of the advent of personal computing, is putting up $280 million to help finance domestic use of solar power. Google and SolarCity, a solar energy company, is creating a fund to extend solar lease and power purchase agreements to homeowners who want to use solar power, but do not wish or cannot afford the substantial up-front investment to purchase a system. The fund provides several lease options, including a $0 down lease. Google has been progressive in its investment policies to help renewable energy compete in the marketplace. It has invested $680 million in renewable energy projects according to a company spokesperson. SolarCity has outlets on both coasts and Texas with more than 15,000 projects underway. By creating the fund both companies are setting an example for the largest 200 American businesses with more than $1 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Time to "Pack the Old Kit Bag"

Afghan President Karzai has made it perfectly clear: the American "occupiers" are not wanted in Afghanistan.  Our President should keep that foremost in his mind as he prepares to announce the first installment of US troop withdrawals from the land where empires go to die.  Now that the figurehead of jihadist terror rests with the fishes and negotiations are underway with the Taliban, there is nothing else to accomplish in Afghanistan.  The goal of moulding a modern democracy from the clay of a Muslim tribal refuge was never realistic or achievable regardless of what our careerist military bureaucrats say.  No general wants a blot on his copy book.  Americans are tired of the longest war in a far away place which has no connection to their security other than as a hideaway for terrorists numbering less than several hundred, and pressure in Congress to end the war sooner is mounting.  As Commander in Chief, the President needs to make it clear to his generals that the time for making Afghans responsible for their future has finally come.  $120 billion a year, not to mention the lives lost, to build a nation the Afghan tribesmen do not want is an ethnocentric extravagance the US can no longer afford.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"We Are Kamakaze."

The inherent weakness of the GE Mark I design, recognized at the time of its first licensing in the United States, is referred to by this anonymous, heroic worker who admits his participation in a "myth of infallible safety" in an interview with Al Jazeera. He describes his willingness to be a nuclear "kamikaze":

Regardless of official cover-ups, the distortion of health effect statistics, and fraudulent death tolls, "nuclear radiation is the most carcinogenic toxin that exists", and this Japanese worker knows it. So does the president of the Italian Association of Medical Oncology from whom this quote comes.  In retrospect, there was an official understatement of the effects of the second worst nuclear disaster in history at Chernobyl. Independent research of the health effects contradicts the earlier UN studies which minimized mortality (only 4,000 attributable, fatal cancer cases)  In reality, approximately one million casualties resulted from the 1986 disaster in the Ukraine (Yablokov, 2009, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences).  Fukushima Prefecture is much more densely populated than the region around Chernobyl.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weekend Edition: Nebraska Nuc Looses Cool

credit: AP
Update: Early Sunday morning the Nebraska Public Power District, owner of the Cooper Nuclear Power Plant, declared a "notification of unusual event" for their station, the lowest level emergency alert recognized by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The water level at the nuclear plant rose almost three feet over the weekend. The Missouri River levee near the plant was overtopped by flood waters and is at risk of washing away.  Upriver, OPPD remains confident that its flood barriers will protect the Ft. Calhoun station, "far above where this [flood] is projected to go".  There have been no radioactive releases, and the utility took the precaution of flooding the containment to keep fuel rods cool since the reactor was already off line for refueling.

{18.6.11}Omaha is the home of the College World Series, Warren Buffett, juicy steaks with a side of spaghetti, and the Ft. Calhoun nuclear power plant. The flooding Missouri River caused emergency measures to be put into place at the riverside* power plant, and Pro Publica reports that an electrical fire on Tuesday knocked out cooling for a spent fuel holding pool. The problem was nowhere near the catastrophe of Fukushima where lack of power for an extended period caused circulating pumps to shut off and fuel rods to melt. Power was restored after 90 minutes, and pool temperatures increased by only 2℉. However, fires at nuclear plants and the amount of spent fuel piling up at the nation's 104 commercial nuclear power plants continue to be of high concern. Ft. Calhoun, a 478 megawatt reactor, has been shut down since April for refueling and will stay shutdown until the river subsides. The reactor remains dryeven though surrounded by flood waters according to federal officials.  Omaha Public Power District, the plant owner, has taken steps to shore up flood barriers and protect diesel generators used for emergency power.  The Cooper plant near Brownsville where flood waters are not as high, remains in operation.

*nuclear power plants are often located near bodies of water because of their critical need for water to cool reactors and fuel rods. Nuclear power generation is the most water intensive of common methods of power generation including hydroelectric. The use of water in large amounts by nuclear plants has negative impacts for marine life and water quality. Thirty-six states face water shortages in the future.

Chart of the Week: Fallout Spreads

Minimization and denial of the Fukushima meltdown disaster is backfiring on TEPCo, the nuclear plant owner, and the Japanese government as more "hotspots" of radioactivity are located in areas not within the evacuation zone. The government response so far has been to raise levels of permissible exposure. It increased the allowable limit from 1mSv/year to 20mSv/year. This citizen generated chart shows areas of measured high radiation to the northwest of the zone in red and orange:
source: NIRS
A Japanese newspaper reports that children in Koriyama City, 50kms from the Fukushima Daiichi plant are suffering from nosebleed, diarrhea, and lethargy--common symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Creature Feature: Do It Again!

This cat is so fascinated by the sound and motion of a flushing toilet, she wants you to do it again:

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Toontime: In This Corner, 'Killer' Barack...

[credit: John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune]
He should be so lucky to only have Mitt Romney as his plausible opponent. But the reality of this election cycle is that Obama has alienated a large segment of his base with conservative policies on everything from financial bailouts for big business to another war in the oil zone. But the sputtering economy and high unemployment is the sucker punch he has to dance around.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Buffalo Get Room to Roam

credit: NRDC
Yellowstone's growing wild bison herd will at last be left peacefully alone to graze in the Gardiner Basin outside the Park's Montana boundaries for the first time in decades. Federal, state and tribal authorities were able to agree for the benefit of our national icon, that the herd can now roam across 75,000 more acres foraging for winter food. Wildlife advocates are thrilled with the agreement since our buffaloes will not have to suffer annual harassment operations intended to confine them within the park, or senseless death at the hands of hired government killers or intolerant thrill seekers {"Yellowstone"}. Of course the optimum solution to Yellowstone Park's diminishing space is to expand the Park to the natural boundaries of the Yellowstone Basin ecosystem as far as practical [map]. Development of a major natural gas field is already approaching the park's southern boarders, but expansion is now still possible without sacrificing a major domestic energy source. The $1 billion the US is illegally spending to bomb Col. Qaddafi out of existence could be better spent to purchase more land for a cultural treasure, instead of treating wild buffaloes like a public nuisance*. The first piece of land that should be acquired is Horse Butte outside the park's western border with Montana. Hundreds of buffaloes graze and give birth there in the winter and spring, but are chased out by agents in May, allegedly to protect livestock. The reality is there are no cattle grazing there, and there is no documented transmission of brucellosis from bison to cattle despite what ranchers' think. Yup, old ways die hard.

*the USDA spends millions each year killing off predators and other animals considered inconvenient for farmers and ranchers.  The big bison bull in the lower right photo was killed by USDA agents in Idaho.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

California Condors Dying From Lead Poisoning

Great effort and expense has been made to bring the "Thunderbird", or California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) back from extinction in the wild. But condors released into the wild from captive breeding programs are dying from lead poisoning. Six condors tested in early May had toxic levels of lead in the bodies, and three died of lead poisoning. The others recovered from chelation treatment and were released. X-rays showed that the scavengers had numerous lead projectiles in their system, probably as a result of eating animals that had been shot. One bird had 18 shotgun pellets in it's digestive system. Even a small amount of lead can kill a condor. Chronic poisoning paralyses the digestive tract leading to starvation and death. The testing of the birds was prompted by a report of a hiker seeing a dead breeding male condor in the Grand Canyon. Thirty birds were tested by the Peregrine Fund condor recovery program in Arizona. Hunters have responded to Arizona's Fish & Wildlife officials request to use non-lead ammunition in condor country and to remove carcasses from the field, but the testing shows compliance is not 100%.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Fukushima Multiple Meltdown

Nat.Geo.: Unit 4
Fewer posts on the Fukushima-Daichi meltdown does not mean the disaster is going away. It simply reflects the extreme gravity of the situation and the fact that the evasive owner of the utility, TEPCo, is essentially powerless to do anything constructive to stabilize what has become a giant source of radioactive fallout that is slowly poisoning the surrounding sea and countryside. That is the difference between the damage caused by the March 11th earthquake and tsunami and the destruction of the nuclear power plant. Ordinary debris can be cleaned up and dumped in landfills to clear the way for reconstruction. Nuclear waste and debris keep emitting toxins for hundreds of years. As US Person wrote previously, the area around Fukushima has become a nuclear sacrifice zone out to a radius of about 30 miles. Two more towns, Minamisoma City and Date City will probably have to be evacuated because of high radiation levels in the soil. Both are outside the current evacuation zone. Inside the plant itself, radiation levels exceed 400rems/hr, far too high for humans to work safely even wearing protective gear. Temperatures inside the melting reactors, 1,2, and 3 are above the boiling point of water, so radioactive steam continues to be emitted and radioactive water leaked to the surrounding environment. Unit 4 did not meltdown because there were no fuel rods in the reactor core at the time of the earthquake.

Chart of the Week: Who Is Paying Taxes?

Federal tax revenue from corporations fell from between 5 and 6 percent of GDP in the 1950s to 1.2% of GDP in 2008. As this chart from the 2008 Budget of the United States shows, the collapse of corporate income tax revenue has been replaced by regressive payroll taxes, which provided more than one-third of revenue in 2008 compared to just one-tenth in the 1950s, while the individual income tax has remained relatively constant, contributing about half of total federal revenue:
Excise taxes, that affect the wealthy more than any other socio-economic strata, were also higher in the 1950s, contributing 19% of total tax revenue in 1950 compared to less than 3% in recent years. The Bush Era tax cuts provided even greater tax relief for the rich. This chart show the extent of the federal debt attributable to lost tax revenue in tax cuts [yellow] for the rich:

If right wing super patriots now want to cut the deficit*, they need to direct their representatives in Congress to do two relatively simple things (in anyplace except Washington DC): end the imperial wars in the Middle East and Africa, and let the tax breaks for the rich expire. But what are the Repugnants offering the American public as a solution to the deficits created by their profligate administration? More of the same trickle down nonsense that got us into this jam.  To reinforce the message of the declining economic status of the working class in America is this final chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing the collapse of wages as a share of the national income:

*It was Vice President 'Darth' Cheney that reportedly told a White House conference considering a second round of tax cuts that, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter"His boss, the Charlatan, created the largest public debt in the history of the Republic at the time. Forty-two percent of the explosion in debt is attributable to his program of tax relief for America's wealthy. The cuts were incredibly sold as a job creation program! The economy did not add a single new job during the three years of the Charlatan's tax cuts. Now, fewer numbers of Americans are working since the First Great Depression.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Police Beat: "That Was Not Necessary."

An obviously intoxicated woman driver is arrested by police. She is handcuffed behind her back when an arresting officer slams her into a roadside wall:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Creature Feature: Who's the Monkey?

People who love animals know that highly intelligent wild animals have a sense of dignity. These performing monkeys in Jakarta are denied that basic dignity by their human captors. Their "Topeng Monyet" masters are among the poorest of the urban poor, and these pictures from First Post UKshow animal exploitation at its most heart wrenching level.

They are trained to walk on their hind legs by tying their front limbs behind their backs. The monkeys are kept chained in cramp cages in a section of Jakarta's slums known as "Monkey City". Their performance of various human behaviors bring donations from passers-by.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Kiwis Breed More Kiwis

credit: Mike Heydon/Jet Productions
New Zealanders were called "Kiwis" in the WWII after their national bird. Such a strange little bird too: flightless, nocturnal, and a recluse living in dense rainforest. But New Zealanders have put a mighty effort into breeding the bird to replace declining numbers in the wild due to habitat loss and introduced predators. This year has produced a bumper crop of kiwis, 14, at the Pukaha-Mount Bruce wildlife refuge. This breeding season was the most successful since 2003. Caretakers were rewarded with an extra surprise, a rare all white kiwi chick, thought to be the first raised in captivity [photo]. Maori tribal elders see the chick as a 'tohu' or sign of new beginnings. Named "Manakura" it will be released to the 940 hectare native forest refuge when it reaches suitable weight. The chick is not albino, but the progeny of a race of kiwis from Little Barrier Island that have white markings. The chick's all white feathers may be an evolutionary disadvantage since it will standout midst the dark of the forest floor.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Not Welcomed in Oregon

ODFW: Imnaha pups
The few grey wolves inhabiting the remote northeastern part of the state are getting the same cold shoulder from Oregon immigrating Californians got late in the last century. The Imnaha pack, thought to have escaped from their own private Idaho in 1999, is composed of 10-14 adults, sub-adults and numerous pups.  Four are radio collared and all of them are closely monitored by state wildlife officials who apparently are extremely nervous about human-wolf conflict close to home. A dead calf was found over the weekend near Joseph, Oregon.  Wildlife officials determined the death to be caused by a wolf not wearing a collar since radio telemetry indicates the pack is moving south away from Joseph and area ranches full of young calves. So a hunt will be organized to kill another wolf. Two other wolves have already been killed this year making it difficult for conservationists to understand how Oregon is supposed to be following a wolf conservation plan when there are so few wolves (about 25) and so many ranchers with itchy trigger fingers.
anti-wolf propaganda in Wallowa 

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has a goal of delisting the species from the state's Endangered Species Act. Its wolf management plan permits lethal removal when there is a chronic predation problem and non-lethal measures have failed. Grey wolves were removed from federal protection by an act of Congress in April making the wolf the first species to be removed by an act of Congress. State wildlife officials attribute four livestock losses to wolves this year, but hunting permits have been issued to twenty-four ranchers claiming losses. These permits allow ranchers to shoot wolves caught in the act of predation on livestock, but none have actually witnessed an attack. Conservation groups defending the wolf are not convinced that all non-lethal measures are being exhausted. Thousands of wolves have been shot in the Northern Rockies by ranchers or government wildlife agents since federal reintroduction began*. In the southwest where wolves were reintroduced from a captive breeding program in 1998, scofflaws have killed 35 wolves including two alpha males, yet only two poachers have been caught and prosecuted for their crimes. Last year, a US Forest Service visitor center near Joseph in Wallowa County burned to the ground. Domestic dogs kill more livestock than wolves in Oregon, but nobody is hunting them to extinction.

*Some states like Montana claim to be adopting a biological approach that includes culling to "wolf management", but others like Idaho have declared an open season on the wolf that has nothing to do with preserving the species.  The wolf has a well defined biological function in healthy ecosystems.  When wolves are persecuted by man the balance of nature is upset causing further problems such as overpopulation of herbivores.  It is not just 'touchy feely' sentimentalism that causes conservationists to defend wolf populations, nor should it be "little red riding hood syndrome" that causes their unjustified destruction.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Brazil Backslides

MODIS image of Matto Grosso
Brazil has had a forest code since 1934 that determines how much rain forest a farmer or rancher can clear for agricultural purposes. The code was amended in 1965 to require 80% of Amazon rain forest land remain forested. Such a law is uniquely progressive for a developing nation, but the lower house of the legislature has passed amendments allowing small farmers to clear more land from hilltops and riverbanks. The legislation is sponsored by the head of the Brazilian Communist Party. Despite the economic equity motivating the proposals, Brazilian environmentalists have labeled the amendments "retrograde". Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, the first female president of Brazil, has promised to veto the legislation if it passes the Senate and still contains an amnesty provision for illegal land clearing prior 2008. Land clearances have reached alarming new highs with five times the amount of deforestation taking place during March and April of this year compared to the same time period last year. The biggest rise was in the Mato Grosso region [satellite image: NASA] where forest is being replaced with soya plantations, a transformation driven by spiraling commodity prices. At the moment a hectare of soya can yield $630 in profit. A staggering 405.6 sq. km of forest was destroyed in April alone.  Less than a year ago Brazil was proudly announcing the lowest rate of deforestation on record. Agriculturalists appear to be rushing to cut down forest, expecting the changes in the law to protect them for their environmental crimes. Recently two prominent rain forest defenders Ribeiro da Silva and Maria do Espirito Santo were killed in an ambush near their home.  Da Silva had predicted his demise at the hands of loggers six months before his murder.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Chart of the Week: Where the Oil Is

More:  The US House of Representatives under the speakership of John Boehner (R) passed a resolution with votes from both parties rebuking the Obamatron for not seeking an authorization from Congress to participate in the Libyan intervention.  Obamatron & Folks, Inc. called the resolution unhelpful and unnecessary since their position is the War Powers Act does not apply to the war in Libya.

Now that Washington had the Memorial Day recess to estimate the size of Congressman's Wiener's 'package'[1], perhaps Congress can turn its short attention span to passing a resolution authorizing the United States to legally wage war against Libya[2]. The War Powers Act still has not been complied with, and the maximum ninety day period for the use of US troops without a congressional authorization has expired. NATO has already voted to extend operations for another 90 days, but that is a case of the tail wagging the dog. Support for the NATO air offensive against Qaddafi is not uniform within the alliance. Our closest allies are the most willing to use force to remove Qaddafi. France, which is Libya's largest oil customer, led the diplomatic effort for UN Security Council action, but the Tory government in the UK was also vociferous in demanding a "no-fly" resolution on ostensibly humanitarian grounds. Talking tough and acting tough are always two different propositions. Only 15 member states out of 28 are contributing in some way to the military operation in Libya. Only seven are conducting air strikes[3]. Eastern Europe, with Germany prominently in their company, is absent from the BBC's list of belligerents. Germany also abstained from the Security Council vote to authorize intervention, but reportedly supports aerial interdiction.

As the chart suggests this conflict is about Libya's oil production.  Since the civil war began in the north, oil production has slowed to a trickle as fighting occurs around key oil installations, notably the terminal of Raz Lanuf [map].  Both the rebels and Qaddafi are counting on oil money to fund their operations since Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves. Qaddafi has threatened to sue any company buying oil from the rebels. The rebels hope to use the Arabian Gulf Oil Company as an outlet and Qatar has offered to assist the rebel council with oil sales of doubtful title. Rebels are also negotiating with the British government to take possession of hundreds of millions of dinars printed in the UK. The nation's dictator definitely has the advantage in ready money; early in the rebellion his government gave away $400 to every family, while loyalists in Tripoli go as much as $13,500, a car, and a gun.  Qaddafi's foreign mercenaries are paid $10,000 to sign on and a daily wage of up to $1000. The country's cash reserves are believed to be in the "tens of billions" according to Ibrahim Dabbashi, a deputy UN representative who defected. Gold reserves are also huge, but less liquid. Dabbashi says Qaddafi is believed to have stashed gold and money in shipping containers and sent it south to the desert in the 1990s.

As the song rightly says, "send money, guns and lawyers". For its part the UN, which authorized western intervention in the civil war, sent in UN investigators to assess the allegations of war crimes. Perhaps predictably the subsequent report says both sides have committed abuses that would constitute war crimes, but the rebels' crimes are not as numerous as those of the government's. Neither side is prepared to give in at this point. South African President Jacob Zuma talked to Col. Qaddafi last week, but Qaddafi told him emphatically he would not leave Libya, believing the war to be a neocolonial resource grab while his departure from power is the main condition set by NATO and the rebels for any ceasefire. How long can Qaddafi continue to resist is now the question. Food and water supplies will become critical the longer the four month old conflict continues. Qaddafi appears firmly in control of the capital, Tripoli, and his government despite the defection of his oil minister. According to the Libyan government NATO has killed 718 civilians and wounded 4,067, 433 seriously in its "humanitarian" efforts.

[1]the Congressman neither confirms or denies the estimates. US Person points to the Congressman's other prominent appendage as an indication of the size of his endowment.
[2] Narrow statutory interpretation arguments that the War Powers Act excepts the Libya intervention from its terms because the intervention is being pursued under the authority of NATO or the UN are inapposite. The UN charter is not self enforcing and there is no pre-existing statutory authority authorizing the use of the US Armed Forces to enforce its provisions. Likewise, the exception in the Act's Section 8 for participation in military headquarter operations is prima facianot meant to include actual combat operations. If Congress wants to issue standing authorization for the President to use US Armed Forces to enforce UN Security Council resolutions, it may do so, but it has not done so to date. The Founding Fathers, in our federal papers, envisaged the executive war power to be executed according to statutory authority given by Congress, thus the limitations imposed on unauthorized war in the War Powers Act.
[3] US, Canada, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, UK, France. UK, France and Italy have also sent military advisers to aid the rebel cause.  Al Jazerra has posted a video in which non-Arabs are seen in the company of rebel forces.  Presumably these are western advisers or forward air controllers.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Creature Feature: Let's Play!

What is special about Alaska is, of course, not Sarah 'It's all about ME' Palin, a woman so ambitious she could not even afford to complete her term of public office, but the immense wilderness and the creatures that live there. People living in Anchorage are lucky to have the conveniences of modern civilization and still encounter wild creatures like these twin moose calves enjoying a romp in the lawn sprinkler under the watchful eye of their mother just as human children would on a hot day. Thanks to the sensitive Alaskan who posted this wonderful video (music by Allison Krauss):

Thursday, June 02, 2011

'Toontime: America, the Blind

[credit Jim Morin, Miami Herald]
The "Arab Spring" is bringing hope to millions of Arabs suffering oppression, but it is also exposing the glaring inconsistencies in United States foreign policy. America is unrelenting in its military efforts, or "diplomacy by other means" to depose Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, accusing him of loosing his legitimacy because of his crimes against humanity, but Obama & Folks, Inc. is apparently looking for the oil when it comes to the gross human rights violations of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. A journalist, Khaled Sid Mohand, reports his experiences "Dans les geoles de Bachar Al-Assad" to Le Monde:
Je découvre avec stupéfaction que mes geôliers sont intoxiqués par leur propre propagande. Ne savent-ils pas que l'Arabie saoudite s'est rapprochée de la Syrie, que Damas a soutenu l'invasion militaire saoudienne à Bahreïn? N'ont-ils pas entendu la secrétaire d'Etat américaine, Hillary Clinton, dépeindre le president Bachar Al-Assad sous les traits d'un vrai réformateur"? Ils me réinstallent sur ma chaise, me bandent les yeux et fixent des fils électriques sur plusieurs endroits de mon corps, parties génitales comprises, et j'attends, terrifié, une décharge électrique qui ne viendra pas. C'était une simulation. Ce que je prenais pour des électrodes n'étaient que les câbles de mon ordinateur...."Raconte-moi tout--Que voulez vous savoir?--Tout! Depuis le début...depuis ta naissance."
Bahrein's monarchy is no example of enlightened rule either. Backed by Saudi troops the Sunni rulers are making life very difficult for the rebellious Shia minority. By one count twenty-seven Shia mosques and meeting places have been wrecked. Is America objecting? Not so much because Bahrain is the home port of the US Fifth Fleet.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Weird Weather: Is Climate Change to Blame?

Killer tornadoes, epic floods, and now hurricanes! Is it the end times or just predicted changes in climate due to global warming? The short answer is that no one knows for sure, but computer climate models based on data of increases in global temperature show that the an increase in participation levels and storm intensity is expected. No unbiased observer may deny that the last thirty years has exhibited an increasing average global temperature pattern. The first decade of this century was the hottest decade on record since reliable record keeping began in the late 1800's. At the same time global levels of atmospheric CO₂ are steadily increasing [chart]. The latest numbers available for carbon emissions are grim. Despite the global economic crisis of 2008, carbon emissions reached a record high in 2010.  The prospects for limiting global warming to less than the 2℃ agreed to at the Cancun climate talks appear unobtainable now.

Because climate is a long term phenomenon and weather is a daily variable the link between warming and more violent and frequent storms is not readily apparent. There can be intermittent cooling cycles within the long term warming trend. But global warming increases ocean evaporation and the amount of water the atmosphere can hold; that is why global warming is often referred to as the "greenhouse effect". Increased amounts of atmospheric water vapor create conditions for heavier and more frequent precipitation over some areas of the Earth while other areas experience severe droughts. In the United States the amount of precipitation in the heaviest 1% of storms is three times what is was between 1957 and 2007. The northeastern US has experienced a 67% increase in the amount of rain or snow during the heaviest 1% of storms. Of course when the amount of precipitation increases, floods are more extensive and take more lives. The link between tornadoes and climate change is not as established since they are very intense but short lived phenomena whose formation mechanism is not completely understood. Tornadoes are associated with severe thunderstorms which form when hot, moist air near the Earth's surface rises to react with cold, dry air aloft. A rotational wind source such as a strong westerly jet stream colliding with rising warm, humid air gives rise to tornadoes such as the ones that ripped through the southeast in April and May. If greenhouse emissions continue unabated scientists think that precipitation in the heaviest storms will increase by 40%. The presence of more water vapor and associated energy is therefore available to intensify storm activity.  Clearly, more severe storms are becoming the new normal.