Friday, September 30, 2011

'Toontime: GOP Debatathon

[credit: John Cole, Scranton Times-Tribune]
Wackydoodle axes: Can I hold Perry's sniper rifle?
The only thing the Obamatron reelection campaign has got going for it right now is the GOP parade of extremists and social Darwinists "debating" each other on national TV.  The economic news is simply depressing, and Obama jobs bill is already shredded on the floor of the tea party formerly known as the House of Representatives.  And there is this little bit of sun from Boston Consulting Group via  muddling through a global de-leveraging is not an option despite the Bundestag vote to save the EU by throwing more debt at Europe's  debt problem.  The developed world is $20 trillion in debt over the level considered to be stable, or 180% of world GDP.  Ben Bernanke's attempt to inflate our way out of the crippling debt load is failing, and a coordinated global debt restructuring will result in the bankruptcy of the big international banks.  You can bet Goldman Sachs will not let that happen.

Police Beat: Intimidate the Citizen

This Illinois man was pulled over for speeding late at night when he decided to videotape the stop. He did not know Illinois makes it a felony offense to eavesdrop without consent from all parties. Once the cop finds out he is being recorded by the driver without his permission, he promptly arrests him for felony eavesdropping. Notice that the stop was also being recorded by the cop's own dashboard video cam. The charge was dropped, but the offended citizen responds by challenging the law's constitutionality in court with the help of the ACLU [no commercial endorsement intended]:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Were the Buffalo Could Roam

A concept in conservation biology first proposed by conservation biologist Michael Soulé, "rewilding" is a process by which conservationists protect whole ecosystems through the preservation of core areas connected by corridors and in which apex predators are allowed to live unmolested. Predators are a key parameter in this formula because wildlife biologists increasingly recognize the important role apex predators have in the proper function of food chains. Removing predators from ecosystems can cause trophic cascades such as that studied in 1966 by marine biologist Robert Paine. The removal a predatory sea star from an area of Washington State coast allowed mussels to explode in number crowding out other species and creating a monoculture. Since that classic study more corroborating evidence of trophic cascades have been collected by scientists all over the world. Significant and beneficial ecosystem effects in the United States were observed at Yellowstone National Park with the re-introduction of wolves. Yellowstone showed that the removal of a single predator, the wolf, could damage a terrestrial ecosystem in many unanticipated ways. Elk were allowed to browse without the pressure of wolf predation for 75 years. Increased browsing of willows elevated stream temperatures which adversely impacted trout populations. Songbirds and beaver populations were also reduced. Restoring the wolf to the ecosystem reversed these negative trends. Even predators as small as spiders have a downward forcing effect on ecosystems that is as significant as that of plants' bottom-up control.

The recognition of re-wilding as a viable conservation model is one result of a paradigm shift. Previously ecological science was focused on the function of plant life converting solar energy into food for fauna. Of course this function is critical to life on Earth, but the forcing effects of predation are now studied with new appreciation for their ecological role. Re-wilding America's northern Great Plains is a joint project undertaken by the World Wildlife Fund. Once great bison herds covered the vast open space of America's mid-continent prairies. The buffalo were preyed upon by wolves, cougars and native Americans. Most of animal predators are now gone, as are most of the buffalo. America's Great Plains natural ecology has been replaced by an artificial culture of ranching and farming. But conservationists with local support are attempting to create conditions favorable for reintroduction and flourishing of native species in protected space. The thunder of great buffalo herds may once again be heard on the sea of grass.

The goal of the American Prairie Reserve project is to assemble large-scale private conservancies in northeast Montana that eventually could connect to 2 million acres of public grasslands creating an intact natural preserve dwarfing our largest national park that could support large numbers of bison and associated predators. World Wildlife Fund released 16 bison into the Reserve in 2005, the first to return in 120 years. Bison once numbered 30-60 million, but because of white predation for meat and hides in the 19th century, they no longer fulfill their ecological role in shaping the prairies. Existing protected areas are still too small to allow the remaining 30,000 wild buffalo their full ecological interactions. Similar circumstancesimpact pronghorn antelope, sage grouse, prairie dog, black-footed ferret, cougar, wolf, and native prairie grass. The northern Great Plains ecosystem spans five American states and two Canadian provinces, but wildlife knows no political boundaries. By establishing well-managed corridors that cross borders, human boundaries can be safely bridged by wildlife and the landscape returned to a heathy biological functioning while creating an unrivaled natural spectacle. This vision of wild America can bring economic benefits to rural communities facing social stagnation and depopulation, as the success of Namibia in increasing both wildlife and ecotourism shows. Restoring America the Beautiful is not an unworkable utopian dream, it is the good future.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saving the Canadians From Themselves

Oh Canada, why are you destroying northern Alberta? When Americans think of Canadians, they think of a friendly, easy going neighbor who likes ice hockey, beer, the great outdoors, and someone who turns a declarative sentence into an interrogatory with a monosyllable, as in, "It's beer time, eh?" But Canadians can be just as indifferent to the environment as their notoriously materialistic southern brethren. Case in point: the digging up of Alberta's boreal forest for the dirtiest of dirty fossil fuels, bitumen. America's addiction to petroleum has been rightly criticized for fueling the destruction of northern Alberta but why are Canadians, who have such a green image world wide, lobbying furiously in the halls of Washington for the Keystone XL pipeline that is planned to supply even more bitumen for processing into petroleum products? The Canadian government in a moment of soul-searching said in 2008, there was a "lack of will" to enforce its Environmental Protection Act resulting in a long term degradation of Canadian water, quality air quality, and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 58 percent of 176 long-term monitoring stations reported water quality as fair or worse. Even an independent business research group rated Canada 15 out of 17 industrial nations for its environmental protection performance. It was bottom for release of hazardous organic compounds, and its greenhouse gas emissions were double the seventeen nation average. The green image Canada earned in the 1970's with clean water initiatives is rapidly being disabused. "Greenwashing" is now the norm.

The answer for the policy volte-face lies in the fact that Canada is still a natural resource based economy much like Russia. Mining is big business up north. Canada has 75 percent of the world's exploration and mining companies. It is the number one producer of potash, number two for sulfur and uranium, and the third largest exporter of diamonds. Mining is in Canada's blood at home and abroad. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada reported 171 major incidents abroad since 1999 involving Canadian companies. In 2010 Parliament voted down a responsible mining law which would have established standards for Canadian overseas mining. In June Canada stunned the world when it was the only developed nation to object to listing asbestos as a hazardous substance. Forty percent related to environmental degradation. An official of Imperial Oil called the tar sands project, "the engine of the Canadian economy". The open pit bitumen mines and waste reservoirs along the Athabasca River are so large that, yes, they can be seen from space. The scale of the operation is simply stupendous. Over the next 30 years the Canadian bitumen miners will excavate 1,850 square miles of virgin forest to depths of 250 feet to extract bitumen at tremendous cost in terms of energy and destruction of a natural ecosystem. Only a devastated, poisoned wasteland is left behind*. Despite being a profitable industry, the Canadian government subsidizes the operations by 1.4 billion a year, while the province of Alberta throws in another $1.1billion.

Now, aggressive Canadians are in America's heartland pressuring land owners to give them right of ways for the pipeline from Hell formerly known as Alberta. According to Andre Nikiforuk writing in OnEarth, a Canadian Company, TransCanada, threatened a Nebraska farmer who owns eighty acres in the path of the pipeline with eminent domain proceedings if he did not sign up, now. The company does not yet have a federal permit to do anything. After being told off, the Canadians had the arrogance to send a bouquet of flowers to his mother's funeral signed, "Keystone Pipeline". You don't treat a Nebraska farmer that way, not if you want to still be considered the friendly northern neighbors. The Keystone XL Pipeline is not just bad for America, its bad for Canada too. Only a friend would tell you so.

*unsurprisingly, the tar sands are producing elevated levels of toxins in the local environment.A study by lead author David Schindler found higher than normal levels of heavy metals including lead and mercury. The region's cancer rate is 30% above the provincial average. Tumors and deformities are appearing in wildlife.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Fascist Connection

credit: Scientific American
The hallmark of authentic fascism is, as Mussolini taught us, a symbiotic partnership between government and corporate interests so close that the distinction between public institutions and private commercial enterprises disappears. A good example is the US Federal Reserve Bank that functions as a government policy making organ, but is composed of private bankers. Another example is the relationship between the Pentagon and natural resource companies. The dependent relationship of international oil companies and US military forces was partly responsible for the intervention in Libya under cover of a UN humanitarian mandate. The reality is to secure the Libyan oil reserves for the West under the nominal administration of a friendly and compliant Libyan government; Qaddafi was too much of a defiant nationalist to make a good collaborator. Afghanistan is proving to be no exception to the symbiosis of private enterprise and military power{14.12.10}. US forces are escorting USGS geologists to remote locations [R photo] in southern Afghanistan still under the control of the Taliban looking for rare earth minerals. What they are finding is encouraging to western industrialists [L photo]. Potentially large deposits of minerals needed for the electronics industry have been located. While China currently dominates the world supply (97%) with ore mined at Bayan Obo, the supply in Afghanistan is estimated to be as rich as China's.

But these modern day Marco Polos come heavily armed and poised to kill. The profits from exploiting the deposits will very likely not benefit the poor locals who depend on poppy growing to scrape a living from the arid climate. The locals that are not killed, that is. One of Jeremy Morlock's accomplices in the "trophy" murders of Afghan civilians was sentenced to only seven years in prison as part of a plea deal last Thursday. Andrew Holmes was the third soldier from the 5th Stryker Brigade based at Lewis-McChord, Washington to plead guilty to war crimes committed in Kandahar province last year. His defense lawyer hopes to bring the trophy hunter home by the time he is 25 years old. Seven other soldiers face lesser charges in connection with the plotting since 2009 to kill unarmed Afghans and stage their deaths as casualties of combat.

Chart of the Week: Mo' Money in Euroland

Talk about your insolvencies! Euroland is going to need a whole lot of mo' money to keep kicking the can down the road pass what observers see as the increasing likelihood of Greek default and the possibility of European Monetary Union (EMU) breaking up as sovereign governments return to their own national currencies as a method of deflating sovereign debt. The chart shows European bank funding requirements for the next three years. It is a fact that European banks are even more leveraged than their US counterparts which are also insolvent. Recently Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup have finally, finally been downgraded for their debt quality by rating agencies. This month, Moody's downgraded two large French banks and placed a third bank on review because of their Greek exposure. And we are not talking bikinis here!

Friday, September 23, 2011

'Toontime: It's Me or 'Farmer' Perry

[credit: Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant]
Wackydoodle sez: "Nika!"

Yes, America you have a choice, but only the red or blue team. It reminds US Person the worst riots the Roman Empire ever experienced occurred in Constantinople when disgruntled citizens deprived of work took their fury out on fellow citizens supporting a rival chariot team at the Hippodrome. Was it the blue and the red team? I forget, but then, how little things change!

When US Person first went to Washington wearing his plaid suit (thank you, Steve Martin) running down corporate regulatory cheats, there were a limited number of monuments. Now, the town has become a Roman Forum of statuary or architectural googahs. Morbidly appropriate for a place wedded to the status quo ante where no real change is made, only the static and accepted commemoration of history allowed. Obamatron emphasized the establishment's aversion to change when he attempted to backtrack on his earlier commitment to a state of Palestine when in world peacemaker mode. Even a silver-tongued Indonesian demon has difficulty with that swallow. Wisely, President Abbas ignored the choking sounds coming from 1600 Penn and proceeded to apply for full United Nation's membership, a development that is long, long overdue, but will surely be vetoed by Israel's proxy in the Security Council.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Black Footed Ferrets Reestablished in Wild

credit: NY Times
Black footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), so adorable that people have ferrets as pets, are coming back to the wild thanks to conservation efforts. There were so few remaining in the early eighties that the species was thought extinct. But a captive breeding program began when a population of twenty four was discovered alive in Meeteetse, Wyoming in 1981. Eighteen survivors of the original twenty-four animals became the foundation for the estimated 1,000 now living in the wild. This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the first release of ferrets back to their native prairie habitat. Wild populations are growing, but the animal is still an endangered species. Wyoming's Shirley Basin population especially represents a remarkable success story. Two hundred twenty-eight ferrets released there from 1991 to 1994 dwindled to only five individuals in 1997, suffering from a combination of adversities including canine distemper, lack of its favorite prey the prairie dog, and low fertility rates. Ferrets tend to produce their offspring late in life. The ferrets were able to overcome these problems, their population growing by 35% annually from 2003 to 2006 to their starting number. The National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado prepares captive bred ferrets for transition to the wild through conditioning which increases their chances for survival in selected release sites on the western Great Plains. The tenacity of life is always amazing. Man need only help a little to be rewarded with recovery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Judicial Murder in Georgia

The case against killing Troy Davis, a black man, is simple but fundamental: his guilt was not established beyond a reasonable doubt. For judicial murder to have a claim to moral justification, it must not be influenced by revenge, bigotry, mistake or any other factors except those establishing an unjustified homicide with malice beyond reasonable doubt. But reasonable doubts have arisen since his conviction for a 1989 murder of a white police officer. Seven substantial doubts, in fact. For seven of the nine witnesses against him have since recanted their testimony. There is only circumstantial physical evidence implicating Troy Davis*. What is against Troy Davis is the fact that he was a black man convicted of murdering a white police officer in Georgia. It is undeniable that race plays a role in capital cases. That fact was driven home by the stay recently granted Duane Buck on death row in Texas. His guilt for a double murder is not questioned, but a state psychologist told jurors at Buck's trial that black people were more likely to be dangerous in the future. Texas is a state that prides itself on the number of executions it conducts. Its governor, now running for president, has signed 235 death warrants and said during a debate he has no doubts about his actions. He should. The former governor of Illinois commuted 167 death sentences citing doubts about the rectitude of the death penalty system. Another fact is that 138 people have been released from death row because a technology, DNA testing, has exonerated them of the capital crimes alleged against them. Nevertheless, the system of capital punishment is set on "go" for cop killers to reinforce the authority of the evolving police state; no wonder the Georgia board of pardons denied Davis' request 3 to 2 for executive clemency. Troy Davis is a textbook example of why the death penalty should be discarded, once and for all. No system of ultimate retribution this fallible should be allowed to continue. Three times Davis has been to the brink of execution in four years. He will have to face death yet again because the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to examine why Troy Davis must die. The macabre rituals to save condemned prisoners from state murder are retched to watch. To repeatedly experience them with your life in the balance has to qualify as "cruel and unusual" punishment.

*shell casings from another shooting by Davis matched casings found at the murder scene according to the testimony of a ballistics expert. No murder weapon was found.

Chart of the Week: China Trade Cost 2.8million Jobs

The U.S. trade deficit with China is staggering--it hit a new record of $273bn this year--and it is costing this country jobs in manufacturing. The Economic Policy Institute released a study that found 2.8 million jobs, largely in manufacturing, have been lost since China entered the World Trade Organization. The Alliance for American Manufacturing, a trade group alliance between the United Steelworkers Union and leading manufacturing companies, says that China's currency manipulation and trade violations are responsible for devastating inroads in the electronic parts industry which alone accounted for 44% of increase in the trade deficit between 2001 and 2010. The yuan does not float against the dollar as other currencies do, but is pegged by China to maintain a comparative trading advantage. The report estimates the yuan is 28.5% undervalued against the dollar. China is already positioning itself to be the dominant source of green technologies, such as photovoltaic cells, an industry sector identified by the Obamatron as a potential creator of many new jobs*. Instead of a green revolution creating jobs in this country, these new jobs are being created in China. Besides currency manipulation, the report cites state ownership and subsidies, intellectual property theft, and rare earth export restrictions as trade distortions that have caused the non-oil trade deficit to increase from 69.8% in 2008 to 78.3% in 2010 with a loss of 453,100 jobs, despite a global financial crisis. Unless the China trade is rebalanced, job losses will continue. Moving on the trade front against our largest creditor may prove difficult, however.

*The current administration is taking heat for a $535 million loan guarantee to a bankrupt solar company, Solyndra. Congressional Repugnants are implying that Solyndra got a loan guarantee when it was rejected by their previous administration because the largest Solyndra investor has ties to an Obama supporter. The fact is that a DOE official testified to Congress that the Bush administration selected Solydra from 143 submissions "for further development of information" and its application was eventually selected for approval by career civil service reviewers. Solydra executives have announced they will take the Fifth before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ivory Trade Flourishes

World Wildlife Fund reports that the trade in elephant ivory is escalating worldwide. More accurate statistics are available about the trade due to increased law enforcement efforts and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), a part of the CITIES trade treaty (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora). Both the Asian and African Elephants are listed on Appendix I which prohibits all commercial trade. Elephants living in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia are listed on Appendix II that permits international trade under a system of permits. These countries received permission from the CITIES Standing Committee to sell stockpiled ivory and hides under limited circumstances, so called "one-off" sales. Since the ban from commercial trade of African elephants in 1990, combined exports have averaged 670 metric tons of ivory--much more than elephants can reproduce. Elephants died at disastrous rates in the 1970s and 1980s. In Uganda's civil war, entire elephant herds were machine-gunned so their ivory could be sold for armaments. Estimated elephant population in Africa was 1.2 million in the late 1970's. Fewer than 500,000 remain today. Elephants require large amounts of land to forage and migrate long distances, making them keen competitors with humans for available resources. Today, habitat loss and human conflicts pose the greatest threat to elephants' survival in Africa, but poaching for ivory still remains a serous threat.

credit: TRAFFIC
Tanzania is the main source of ivory from the continent and Malaysia has emerged as the main transshipment point. Demand for ivory products is mostly from Chinese consumers, but a black market in the United States is reemerging after the ivory market was nearly shut down. Before the ban on commercial trade in 1988, more than $20 million worth of ivory products, mostly jewelry, entered the U.S. Several large seizures of elephant ivory have recently made news. In August 1,041 tusks equivalent to a minimum of 500 dead elephants were seized on the Tanzania island of Zanzibar headed for Malaysia [photo]. The tusks were hidden in a shipment of anchovies to discourage investigation. Also, in Hong Kong, 794 pieces of ivory tusks weighing two tons were seized. The contraband was hidden under stones labeled "non-ferrous products for factory use". And on September 5, 2011 Malaysian customs seized two containers filled with 695 elephant tusks weighing over 4500 pounds, labeled "recycled craft plastic". In Asia the most pressing problem is rapidly disappearing habitat for elephants that increases violent human-elephant conflict. One-fifth of the world's human population live in or near the forest habitat of elephants.   If elephants are to survive outside of zoos--which are essentially prisons for the highly intelligent, social creature that naturally migrates-- the poaching trade must be suppressed through a combination of aggressive, lethal law enforcement and elimination of demand for ivory products. Official corruption, weak governments, and lack of funds for wildlife management programs all contribute to a dark future for the elephant.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Creature Feature: Portraits of Kodiak

US Person offers these portraits of the wild inhabitants of Kodiak Island, Alaska {"Kodiak"} to remind viewers that all nature is worth saving.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Australia Adds New Heritage Region Humpback breaches at Kimberly Coast
Australia has added the remote and beautiful Kimberley coast country to its list of national heritage sites.  West Kimberley is recognized as a unique region because of its rare wildlife, scenic land formations, and aboriginal and immigrant heritage. The coastline is one of the last relatively unspoiled marine environments in the world along with Antarctica. The world's largest population of humpback whales give birth to their young along the wild Kimberley coast after migrating from their Antarctic feeding grounds. The designation does not prevent development in the region, and there are plans to exploit rich mineral deposits such as iron ore, bauxite, uranium and coal, as well as process natural gas. The coastal environment is still recovering from a major offshore oil spill in 2009{"Timor Sea"}. Designation of the Kimberley is the largest land heritage site made by the Australian government, and the first made with Traditional Owners' (aboriginal) consent.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In Defense of Paul Krugman

Poor Paul Krugman! He writes the obvious and is lambasted by cheap shot journalist colleagues hiding behind a lot of mass sentimentality consistent with America's narcissistic personality disorder. Of course the 9/11 has been inflated and twisted for propaganda purposes--Iraq, the war we did not need to fight--being the greatest example. Hundreds of times more innocent people in the Islamic world have died as the result of our hysterical reaction taking on an underground network of religious fanatics with the "shock and awe" of a huge conventional arsenal. A project doomed to ultimate failure. The Taliban  attacked Kabul yesterday, and Americans are still dying in Iraq despite winding down a long, bloody occupation. The Guardian newspaper of Manchester experienced a similar vituperative backlash when it "realized the war on terror would fail, bringing horror and bloodshed to millions in the process." Now that that conclusion has proven largely true, the paper may rightfully indulge in some self-satisfied 'I told you sos'. Krugman did not need to read the brickbats that he knew would be thrown at him, so he turned off his comments button. Far from being a "smug coward", Krugman had the nerve not to indulge in the maudlin exhibitionism of which corporate mass media is so fond, and correctly state a lot of people--like former mayor Rudy Giuliani and of course the Charlatan--behaved badly for their own ends. US Person thinks the 9/11 commemorations should be subdued. A lot of evil was done in vengeance and hubris in response to the despicable attacks, and it is not done yet. Ditto Paul.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chart of the Week: Europe in Tatters

The chart shows Europe has hit a wall economically speaking. Industrial production is slowing to a halt and inventories are exceeding orders in the Euro zone which is primarily an export driven economy.  This news comes at a bad time when internal disputes over bailing out Greece and the other heavily indebted nations of the Union are reaching the boiling point. There is speculation by some commentators that the European Union will break up over the question of relinquishing more sovereignty in order to back the Euro currency. Unionists got a boost when the German high court ruled recently that emergency guarantees made to Greece were not unconstitutional, but the jurists warned chancellor Angela Merkle's government that their actions so far were on the borderline. Future bailouts must have the approval of parliament's budget committee, and no permanent legal mechanisms can be set up to assume liabilities of other countries. US Person has always considered the EU to be a messy and cumbersome bureaucratic overlay on sovereign governments to achieve a common market for peaceful trade. Despite noble aspirations within its two major national pillars, Germany and France, the EU is not a "United States of Europe". The latent limitations of a Union of independent economic policies are now apparent as poorer--German critics say profligate--member nations face insolvency. Neither the leaders of France or Germany are willing to take the ultimate steps to insure financial stability because there is little support within the Union or within their own countries for real fiscal merger. But the sovereign debt crisis contagion is spreading with Italy and now France experiencing financial problems. Two major French banks heavily involved in derivative trading, Société Général and BNP Paribas, are experiencing credit constrictions as investors pull out previously available capital. Great Britain is no longer the only obstacle to creating a more perfect European Union.

Fukushima Dead Zone

You may have read it here first {"Fukushima"}, but you certainly did not get the information from the Japanese government or its corporate spin-off, TEPCo, until now--half a year after the monster earthquake destroyed four of the six nuclear reactors at the seaside Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Japan is preparing to officially announce that the evacuated 12 mile zone around the reactors is a "dead zone" or uninhabitable by humans for decades into the future. The area around Chernobyl in Ukraine has been depopulated since the 1986 accident. This means the 80,000 residents evacuated after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami caused four nuclear reactors to begin melting down will have to be permanently resettled. Many of them are still living in temporary shelters. High levels of radiation were measured throughout the zone by the government. The levels were higher than previously admitted, up to 50rems/year in Okuma, two miles away. High radiation was also measured beyond the evacuation zone in Namie, reported to be 23rems/year, far too high to allow human habitation. The Japanese government considers 2rems/year to be safe. Just how large the dead zone will be is an issue government scientists and technicians must decide in the days before the official announcement. There has been a first report of Cesium contamination in rice, Japan's staple food. The rice harvest is just beginning, and finding any contamination will add to the anxieties the ever-patient Japanese public must endure in the aftermath of history's worse nuclear accident.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Weekend Edition: What Did You Breathe In on 9/11?

credit: Scientific American
The contents of the smoke and debris plume from what was the World Trade Center was something government officials did not want you to know because of course they were anxious to open for business as usual especially on Wall Street. Ten million tons of building materials and contents burned at over 1,000 ℃ fueled by 91,000 liters of jet fuel. The North Tower was full of asbestos, used as a flame retardant on wall board. Yet on September 13th before the dust had settled then EPA administrator Christie Whitman claimed there was "no significant levels of asbestos dust in the air" and five days later she claimed the air was safe to breath. We know differently now with the many cases of "Trade Center cough" affecting an estimate one out of two workers in the aftermath. Scientific American reports that analysis of the smoke and dust samples taken a few days afterwards detected many substances harmful to human health.

Asbestos levels were 25% above the 1% threshold considered a significant risk to human health. The buildings' miles of electrical cables contained lead and electrical transformers contained PCBs. Glass covering the towers' shells was pulverized into microscopic fibers that lodged in the lungs of rescue and clean up workers. The highest levels of dioxin ever recorded anywhere were measured in the air above the smoldering pile of debris. Respiratory problems experienced by survivors and rescuers is caused by the fact that the dust was highly alkaline due to gypsum and calcite found in both drywall and cement. The pH level around the site was at 11 before a rain on September 14th reduced it to a pH of 9. Effects of alkalinity was compounded by the irritation of mucus membranes by microscopic particles. Respirators were not used or incorrectly used by rescuers, despite the EPA supplying 22,000 respirators. At the same time it was urging workers to use safety equipment for breathing, it announced to the public that the air in the vicinity of the disaster were "unlikely to suffer...adverse health effects caused by inhalation". The pile of rubble smoldered until December 19th acting in the words of atmospheric scientist like a "chemical factory...cook[ing] together the components of the buildings and their contents including enormous numbers of computers, and gave off gases of toxic metals, acids and organics." An accountant who worked next door to the site of the Towers died in December 2010. An autopsy showed he died of inflammatory lung disease. In June he was ruled to be the 2,753rd official victim of the terror attacks of 9/11.

Friday, September 09, 2011

'Toontime: Pass the Yob!

[Ned Beeler, Washington Examiner]
What plutocrats do not understand is that they have social responsibilities in addition to just making money. There is no 'invisible hand'; just their hands stuffing record amounts of cash into their companies' coffers. With the union movement nearly destroyed, and government bought out, asking them to create more jobs is like herding cats, and feral ones at that. Absent a willingness in the private sector to provide jobs, the federal government must turn to more direct means than fiscal policy which some economists do not believe works as an effective job stimulator any more because essentially the economy is already over-saturated with debt. Because consumers have been hit with real estate price collapse and unemployment, they are avoiding new debt like the plague.  Which in turn weakens an economy that relies on consumer spending [charts courtesy Council on Foreign Relations]:
[note: dotted lines represent best and worst cases]
All of this means it may be time to get serious about creating jobs as FDR did during the First Great Depression. US Person proposes a new WPA of conservation projects, infrastructure replacement and teaching, along with free retraining and placement in green, high-tech industries for those who can qualify. Where do we get the money for all this? Consider these statistics: the US has 5% of the world's population; the US economy accounts for 24% of world GDP; US military spending is 42% of the world total! That's out of line.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Pathetic Nimrod Gets Probation

a needless loss
A Florida man deliberate shot and killed a critically endangered panther while deer hunting in Georgia. He pleaded guilty to the federal crime of taking a protected species in August. The maximum fine and penalty for the crime is imprisonment up to one year and/or a fine of up to $100,000. He knew he was killing a protected and critically endangered feline. It was not a question of mistaken identity, self-defense or accident. There is no open season in Georgia for cougar. His sentence: 2 years probation and a $2000 fine. With enforcement like this, there is little hope that endangered animals can be protected and reestablished. This hunter should have been given time out from his usual life to consider the impact of his irresponsible action and hopefully to modify his behavior. The US Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission have worked to bring the Florida panther back from extinction {"Florida Panther"}. The population has been slowing growing since its low point of 30 panthers in the late '80s. DNA testing showed the panther so senselessly killed in Georgia was an offspring of Florida panther FP137. Only education and strict enforcement of existing laws protecting endangered species will be effecting in halting their decline and eventual extinction. You can help by contributing to conservation organizations and for-profit companies that donate to animal welfare programs such as ORVIS outfitters.

Russia Opens Arctic to Oil Play

Exxon-Mobil reached agreement with 'alpha' Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to replace British Petroleum as partner to Russia state oil company, OAO Rosneft for drilling rights in the Arctic, one of the last untapped oil plays in the world. Mr. Putin presided over the signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in August. His personal participation in closing the deal is seen by observers as a sign he will return to formal power in the Kremlin. Exxon granted Rosneft participation in oil shale fields and deep-water projects in the Gulf of Mexico in return. That makes Rosneft the first Russian company to participate in developing US oil deposits. The companies plan to spend $3.2 billion exploring Russia's Arctic shelf, the Black Sea, and three existing blocks in the Kara Sea off eastern Russia. With global warming rapidly melting the Arctic ice pack--the Northeast Passage along Siberia's arctic coastline is now open to shipping--drilling is becoming more technically feasible. Shell Oil was granted rights for four exploratory wells in Alaska's Beaufort Sea, claiming it could end a blowout in just 43 days with a 90% recovery rate. In the much more benign and developed conditions of the Gulf of Mexico, BP was able to recover only 10% of the spilled crude. Oil exploration in arctic conditions remains a risky business with frightful implications for the fragile Arctic environment's health.

The first oil spill drill in severe Arctic conditions took place in 2000 and was officially described as a failure by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There have been no subsequent official tests. This footage is from Oceana, the largest ocean conservation organization:

British exploration company, Cairn Energy is drilling exploratory wells off Greenland, and its oil response plan has come under heavy criticism from green activists for the company's "breathtaking irresponsibility". Greepeace, which has been actively protesting the drilling {"Greenland"} asked an oil spill expert to critique the company's response plan. The expert suggested the company has dramatically overestimated the effectiveness of any plan given harsh Arctic weather conditions and ice-cold seawater. Chemical dispersants, used extensively in the warm Gulf, will not work in near freezing seawater. Booms deployed to contain a slick do not work in rough seas or seas covered with floating ice floes. Rosneft told media that exploration will take place in complicated ice conditions and temperatures as low as minus 50℉. Arctic wildlife and native communities are faced with the inevitable oil spill with one major difference: the spill, potentially as large as the Macondo blowout, cannot be cleaned up, ever, given existing technology.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Police Beat: Destroy the Evidence

Chris Sharp was enjoying a day at the Pimlico races, when he was confronted with the spectacle of a bleeding woman being arrested on the floor of the clubhouse by Baltimore police. Chris began video taping the shocking episode, however he was noticed by the cops who detained him and confiscated his cell phone without legal justification. Putting his trust in a sergeant who reassured him, he handed over his private property. The sergeant promptly erased all his phone videos. He is now represented by the ACLU in a lawsuit against the police. Here is his reaction to the incident:

In the case of the Fullerton, CA police beating so severe the mentally-ill victim never regained consciousness and later died of his injuries, videos of the night scene were too far away or dark to provide much objective detail, but a bus surveillance camera recorded eye-witness statements shortly afterwards. The bus driver, whether intentionally or not, does an adequate job of interviewing witnesses as they board his bus:

Monday, September 05, 2011

Chart of the Week: Labor Day Blues

Of course this being the Labor Day holiday, a chart on the status of labor in America is offered for you consideration:
Readers have seen this chart before, but it is not getting any less ugly. This second Great Depression is worse by far than any previous postwar recession, and the jobs lost are not being replaced for the simple reason it is more profitable to do the same amount of production with fewer workers as this chart clearly shows:
Corporate profits hit a record $1.450 billion this quarter, and was achieved with fewer workers than ever before at a profit level of $15,278.72 per worker, up 22.3% from last year. So not only are the plutocrats issuing you pink slips, they are killing you with more pollution they do not want to prevent or clean up.  How do you spell extortion?

The Libyan Job Goes Tribal

Update:  The United States has always played a double game, as the Lakota Nation found out after signing the 1868 treaty giving them what was already theirs for "as long as the grass grows and the waters run" only for whites to overrun the Black Hills and the Yellowstone country chasing gold within a decade later.  But perhaps the game has never been played more blatantly than in the case of Libya. While noises of triumph emit from western capitals over the ouster of their onetime collaborator, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi [photo], and their rebel quislings prepare for what could be the final assault of the war on loyalist forces at Bani Walid, some very inconvenient facts are being ignored by corporate media propagandists:
  • NATO's "humanitarian mission" to prevent Gaddafi from slaughtering his own people quickly morphed into a full offensive against the dictator including western trained commando forces fighting for the rebels, some 20,000 ground support sorties by NATO warplanes, and direct resupply of rebel arms all in violation of the UN authorizing resolution; About 50,000 Libyans have died in the civil war according to the Benghazi rebels;
  • Qaddafi never used aircraft against the Libyan people, a tactic the air embargo was ostensibly intended to prevent, nor did he order Viagra fueled rape of civilians; Syrian President Assad has killed more civilians than Qaddafi did in the early stages of Libyan civil war when the rebellion was not yet fully armed;
  • Qaddafi did not plan genocide in Benghazi despite his sometimes bombastic rhetoric; he did not order mass killing of civilians in other towns his forces recaptured--Zawiya, Misrata, Ajdabiya; NATO bombing of Tripoli before it was overrun by rebels "degraded" Qaddafi forces by an esitmated 50% with 1300 killed in a single day;
  • the Tripoli Brigade which took Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli and is now in control of the city is made up of Berbers trained for two months by US Special Forces, and led by a former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group founder, Abdelhakim Belhaj; LIFG was an al-Qaeda allied group that US intelligence tracked for years when Belhaj was finally arrested in Malaysia in 2003, rendered to Thailand, and duly tortured for information; he was sent back to Libya in 2004 as part of the thawing in relations between Gaddafi and the West; all the top commanders of the Tripoli Brigade are from LIFG that fought Qaddafi forces led by assassinated rebel General Abdel Younis in Cyrenaica; LIFG officially merged with al-Qaeda in 2007;
  • Qaddafi may be beaten now, but if not captured or killed he possesses the resources and support to go into insurgency mode using the vast areas of uncontrolled desert territory where tribal affiliations (his wife is a Warfallah, Libya's largest) make a difference, thus the reason for the wild-west bounty on his head of $1.7 million;
  • the Times of London revealed the West has a devious plan for the pacification of Libya and its now heavily armed tribal factions depending in large part on defection of Gaddafi's security apparatus to the National Transitional Council and a proposed "Tripoli task force" to protect key sites (read oil installations) and arrest high level Gaddafi officials (read non-collaborators) formed and supported by the United Arab Emirates, another front oil autocracy; western oil interests are clearly anxious to scoop up Libya's underutilized oil assets as result of Gaddafi's "resource nationalism".
And so it comes full circle in this wilderness of mirrors. The United States has spent 10 years, trillions of dollars, and 5,000 American lives fighting an international network of Islamic jihadists, but because of its addiction to oil, it now arms and defends the very terrorists it was seeking to destroy behind a tattered fig leaf of R2P. (2005 UN doctrine of "responsibility to protect") In reality the intervention is all part of maintaining empire, just one of the 700 or so military actions, covert and overt, to advance the interest of the plutocracy in ever-expanding 'markets'.  Our Nobel Peace Laureate in the White House has proven no bulwark to capitalism's exigencies. Given our nation's past aggressive record it is plausible that one in seven Americans erroneously believe our government is complicit in the terror attacks of ten years ago.  Gaddafi may be oddly quaint sitting in his tent wrapped in badawi robes, but he is not stupid: he said Operation Odessey Dawn is a neo-colonial war on his state, and he is correct in that assessment.

Further: {30.8.11} UK First Post reveals that Qatari special forces were responsible for overwhelming Col. Qaddafi's compound in Tripoli yesterday. British trained Qatari commandos were seen coordinating a final NATO missile barrage prior to overrunning the Bab al-Aziziyah residence. Qatar, a western client state, has emerged as a major player in the Libyan endgame. It has supplied rebels with weapons and apparently combat forces too, contrary to the terms  of UN Resolution 1973 authorizing a "no-fly". The Arab oil emirate also hosted an international conference to discuss rebuilding post war Libya. Any pretense NATO's intervention was for humanitarian purposes only lies in tatters on the floors of Bab al-Aziziyah. The rebels are still fighting battles with Qaddafi forces inside Tripoli. If the Benghazi council can pull together rival Libyan tribes to form an effective government it will be much friendlier to western oil interests eager to resume exploitation of Libya's vast oil resources. Qaddafi's whereabouts are still unknown, but he vowed on TV audio channel to fight to victory or much more likely, martyrdom.
والله رحيم

More: {23.8.11}Who to believe? What is clear is that Libyans enjoy tweaking the nose of western media attempting to keep track of the players in the civil war. Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam [photo], reportedly in rebel custody, appeared to western journalists to claim that the government was still in control of Tripoli. It's not over until it's over.
Update: With astonishing speed not displayed before the NATO backed Benghazi rebels have entered Tripoli. Western powers are taking credit for organizing the victorious pincer movement on three fronts. Rebel fighters were often disorganized and easily dislodged by heavy weapons in the six month civil war. After intense fighting in the western mountains and eastern coastal plain, rebel forces took strategic Zawiyah and Brega. Roadways were cleared of government forces and Tripoli targets bombed by NATO air support. Informed of crumbling resistance from Muammar Qadaffi's professional troops, rebels poured into Tripoli over the weekend meeting scattered resistance. The elite Khamis Brigade loyal to Qaddafi did not put up a fight. Apparently, Benghazi rebels were aided by insurgents inside Tripoli also rising to join the revolt. The former dictator's whereabouts have not been reported, but rebels said they captured three of Qadaffi's sons. Prominent officials of Qadaffi's regime have already defected or left the country, and major western governments have already recognized the Benghazi interim council as Libya's legitimate government. The rapid fall of Qadaffi's capital marks the end of a forty two-year dictatorship that brought significant improvements to the country's standard of living as well as political oppression and official brutality. There are reports of organized fighting by government forces and the Qadadfa tribe's hold on Sirte is still unchallenged.

AFP/Getty: Younis funeral, Benghazi
{3.8.11}Western leaders were dismayed by the news of the assassination of rebel military leader Abdul Fatah Younis. The details are confused, but he was apparently killed by his own associates. Younis was suspected of working for Muammar Qaddafi. He was a member of the Obeidis tribe, the largest in Libya, and the tribe has sworn revenge for his killing. What was already a chaotic situation in Benghazi, headquarters of the uprising, has gotten noticeably worse. Now, the Libyan Tribal Council, the leadership organization for Libya's 200 tribes, is preparing to weigh in against the NATO backed rebellion. It issued a manifesto on July 26th in which it makes clear that it intends to end the civil war and expel "NATO crusaders" while achieving reforms. The Council also wrote that the Transitional Council in Benghazi, "was imposed by NATO on us and we completely reject it". The United States, France and United Kingdom have recognized the Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya. Daily bombing strikes by NATO air forces have increased since the manifesto was issued. The alliance attempted to take Col. Qaddafi off television by bombing three Tripoli TV towers at the Libyan Broadcasting Authority. The raid killed three employees and wounded 15 others. According to a western observer in the country, NATO has bombed around 1600 civilian sites including hospitals, food storage warehouses, and water distribution facilities. Rebel defectors say that NATO has lost the respect of both Libyans and Africans. The African Union has told it member nations not to respect the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Col. Qaddafi for war crimes. The rebels themselves have been accused of atrocities by Human Rights Watch.

Qaddafi's forces are fighting to retake the town of Ziltan in the western mountains. Rebel casualities are reportedly heavy. The rebels, despite close air support from western forces, have been unable to mount a sustained campaign to take Tripoli. The possibility of a partitioned Libya is becoming greater as the civil war drags on.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

'Toontime: Syria's Bloody Spring

[credit: John Sherffius, Boulder Daily Camera]
The Syrian struggle for democracy against an entrenched autocrat goes on, and the civilian casualties are mounting. Amnesty International released a report Wednesday stating 88 protesters have been killed while in the custody of Assad's security ghouls. Amnesty also alleges that many of these prisoners suffered torture before dying. The organization is calling upon the United Nations to impose sanctions against the Assad regime including freezing of his assets and an arms embargo. More than 2,000 Syrians have been killed since the non-violent protests began in March. The United Nations Commission for Human Rights voted for an investigation into crimes against humanity by Syria. The normally staid pronouncements about Syrian oppression from the US State Department got a little more lively when a "senior administration official" called the Syrian foreign minister a "shameless tool and mouthpiece of Bashar al-Assad". But it takes more than an investigation and a war of words to stop Assad's tanks.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Real Cost of Dirty Air

U.S. Health Burden Caused by Particulate Pollution from Fossil-Fueled Power Plants* 
          Illness                                                       Mean Number of Cases
Asthma (hospital admissions)                                   3,020
Pneumonia (hospital admissions)                              4,040
Asthma (emergency room visits)                              7,160
Cardiovascular ills (hospital admissions)                     9,720
Chronic bronchitis                                                 18,600
Premature deaths                                                30,100
Acute bronchitis                                                   59,000
Asthma attacks                                                  603,000
 Lower respiratory ills                                            630,000
 Upper respiratory ills                                            679,000
 Lost workdays                                                5.13 million
 Minor restricted-activity days                             26.3 million

News Story: "Obama cancels EPA Smog rules"  The Obamatron gave up again on protecting the environment and public health because job-killing business interests are against stronger rules to limit smog production. With friends like him in the White House, who needs enemies? Asking for a contribution? Well, friend you will have to wait.
*Scientific American

Wikileaks Blows Cover Off Another Massacre

Wikileaks has released a US diplomatic cable that says US troops massacred an Iraqi family during a night raid in Ishaqi, including four women and five children aged five and under on March 15, 2006. Afterwards an air strike was called in by US troops in an attempt to destroy evidence of the executions. McClatchy News reports the executions at Ishaqi were denied by U.S. officials at the time, and the United States never responded to inquiries from the U.N. concerning the incident during the heaviest fighting of 2006-07 as Iraq descended into sectarian war. By 2007 when General Petraeus took command in Baghdad, 3000 Iraqis a month were dying violent deaths. In the cable a U.N. investigator is quoted as saying an autopsy conducted at Tikrit Hospital showed the eleven residents of the house had been handcuffed and shot in the head. The cable lends credence to townspeoples' claims that the American forces involved destroyed the house after the residents had been shot. According to the U.N. war crimes investigator, troops received fire from the house that lasted about twenty five minutes. After the firefight ended, troops entered the standing house, and killed the occupants. Only then did an air raid occur which reduced it to rubble. US military spokesmen claimed at the time that an al-Qaeda-in-Iraq suspect was seized inside and the firefight that included helicopter gunships destroyed the house. Neighbors agree that an al-Qaeda member was in the home visiting the homeowner, a relative and schoolteacher. The incident was investigated by US trained Iraqi police of the Joint Coordination Center in Tikrit, but the military said the locals' version of events was "highly unlikely" and no further investigation by the US military was warranted. US military officials also refused to identify the units involved in the raid at Ishaqi, sixty miles northwest of Baghdad. So far only the known civilian massacre by US Marines at Haditha, exceeds the number executed at Ishaqi.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Washington State Has New Wolf Pack

Update: Washington State now has a fifth wolf pack. The resilient survivors are re-establishing themselves in Washington after extermination by man decades ago. The new "Smackout pack" is located in northeast Stevens County, and biologists confirmed it by tagging a two month old pup from the pack. Locals reported seeing wolf pups and hearing howling in the area. Humans became aware of wolves resettling Washington in 2008, when the Lookout pack was documented. Two more packs were documented in Pend Oreille County, the Diamond (2009) and Salmo (2010) packs. DNA testing indicates that the recently discovered Teanaway pack is descended through its alpha female to the Lookout pack. Conditions are not conducive to wolf survival next door in Idaho, however. The wolf-haters there just announced a second open season on wolves in the state. Last year's hunt was blocked by a lawsuit. Idaho may be home to as many as a thousand wolves, but state authorities want to reduce that number to as little as 150. There is no biological justification for hunting wolves to near extinction. They play a scientifically recognized role in the ecosystems they inhabit as all apex predators do. Elk herds in wolf-hating states like Idaho, Wyoming and Montana are above state objectives for 2010. The deer populations are even more robust. Sheep and cattle kills are no where near threatening the livestock industry with disaster warranting wholesale slaughter of an important and iconic species. Relieving hunter frustration as Montana Fish & Game Chairman Bob Ream admitted wolf hunts are intended to do is simply not a good enough reason to persecute wolves. Viewed from this perspective, slaughtering wolves is morally equivalent to wife beating.

courtesy: WFWD
{21.7.11}DNA testing has confirmed that Washington State has a new wolf pack, its fourth. Samples taken from a radio-collared female gray wolf indicate she is a wild wolf and not a wolf-dog hybrid. Washington is in the process of finalizing a state wolf conservation and management plan after Congress removed the wolf from the federal endangered list in a political deal with range state senators earlier this year. A draft state plan will be presented to the Fish & Wildlife Commission next month. The wolf is protected in Washington, unlike in the neighboring state of Idaho, and the lack of nationwide federal protection will subject the wolf to a confusing range of human reaction to its presence from tolerance to persecution. The new Teanaway Pack was located after reports from citizens and agency personnel of wolves in the area of the Teanaway River about 100 miles from Seattle. Remote cameras were placed by the state and non-profit organizations to capture images [photo]. Prior to the confirmation of another breeding pack, there were about 25 wolves believed to be resident in the state. Wolves were exterminated in Washington by the early 1930s.

Baby Gorilla Rescued in Rawanda

An infant mountain gorilla was poached by a Congolese and Rwandan gang last month in Rwanda, but thanks to conservation organizations including the WWF the less than one year old male was rescued. The perpetrators were arrested by Rwandan police on the border at Gisenyl. Despite a bad cough and runny nose, the infant seemed to be in good shape. Gorillas are prone to infection from humans [photo]. One of the smugglers in jail was seen to sneeze directly on the infant. The gorilla infant was taken to the Kinigi orphan care facility by veterinarians from the Mountain Gorilla Veterinarian Project for a full health assessment. Dr. Jan Ramer described the orphan male as tense, but accepting of humans and eating which are good signs for his recovery from a terrifying ordeal. There will be an investigation of those caught smuggling and their contacts. The news is a positive outcome for the nearly helpless gorilla, but it underscores the existence of an organized, clandestine trade that is wiping out rare animals in the wild for an international market. Efforts are hopefully being made to strengthen protections for wildlife in the DRC's Virunga National Park now that civil war has subsided in the region. Local residents should be recruited to aid in the protection of our wild cousins, to make the trade less profitable.