Friday, September 28, 2012

'Toontime: Sec'ty of Splainin Stuff

[credit: Michael Ramirez, Investors Business Daily]
Bill Clinton is not even running as a wright-in, but he lit up the twits and 25 million TV viewers with his Economics 101 speech at the convention. Of course, US Person is not taken in by Billy Bob's version of recent history since one only needs to recall that his contribution to deregulating the banking industry which deregulation is responsible, in part, for the current economic mess. Yes, we are all aboard the USS Enterprise, but only 1% are in champagne class. Here are some more percentages to sum up the state of current play:

[credit: Joseph Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette]

Just one more percentage for you moochers out there: when Romney's unreported income from offshore tax havens is included in the calculations his tax rate is not 13.9%, but actually nearer 2%. Don't worry mon, be happy!
[credit: RJ Matson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Wackydoodleaxes: Anybody ready for some refs?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Russia Prohibits Frankencorn

After a ground-breaking French study of Monsanto's frankencorn that linked life-time consumption of genetically modified corn to massive tumors and organ failure in rats, Russia has banned the importation and use of GMO corn within the country. The study showed that about 50% of males and 70% of females died prematurely as a result of eating only seed modified to tolerant Monsanto's "Roundup" herbicide or drinking water treated with "Roundup" at levels approved by the US government. The study was lead by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen and published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. Besides the ban in Russia, the vice-chair of the European Commission for Agriculture, has called for the immediate ban on cultivation and import of GMO to the European Union. France recently upheld a ban on growing GMO crops.  Monsanto continues spewing its corporate line that GMO crops are safe for human consumption and "Roundup" herbicide is non-toxic to humans. The US government, captured by corporate interests, continues to ignore the scientific evidence of the dangers of GMO substances. However, other countries are taking action.  Poland, Peru and Hungary have banned or removed Monsanto's GMO products.  California has placed Proposition 37 on the ballot which proposes to label GMO products so consumers can avoid them if they so choose, and unless you are willing to risk tumors the size of golf balls, who in their right mind would not avoid them like the plague?

Injection Wells and the Poison Beneath

ProPublica is featuring a series on injections wells that are used to dispose supposedly non-hazardous wastes from oil and gas drilling operations. Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years and are now in 33 states. Pumping waste into wells is the cheapest way of handling the billions of gallons of industrial waste generated each year in the United States. There are now more than 150,000 Class 2 wells intended for non-hazardous materials. The practice is not without dangers that have been known to industry since the 1960's. Examples of accidents related to injection wells are the explosion that burned two tanker trucks and killed three workers in Rosharon, TX in 2003. An idling tractor engine ignited what was supposed to be a relatively benign mixture of water and salt, but the waste also contained flammable hydrocarbons. Hutchinson, KS was engulfed in flames in 2001 when gas accumulated in a downtown appliance store blew up. The ignition caused injection wells dotted around town to erupt like geysers from hell. Geologists determined, after the disaster that made national headlines, the eruptions were attributable to an underground gas storage field seven miles away. A utility company used subterranean salt caverns as storage space for gas, but the gas leaked out and migrated into abandoned injections wells.

In yet another example of the subsidizes given to the US fossil fuel industry, is the substantial relaxation of regulations governing waste disposal in injection wells. Because of regulatory changes drilling wastes are classified as non-hazardous regardless of what it may contain. In 1980 Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) sponsored legislation that allowed the EPA to delegate authority to states to oversee Class 2 injection wells. Louisiana collects an average fine of only $158 for violation of waste disposal rules. Also in 1980, the EPA made a temporary blanket exemption from federal hazardous waste regulations for oil and gas drilling waste permanent, handing the industry landmark cost savings. Understaffed federal or state regulators often do not monitor injection operations and operators are often ignorant or careless about the potentially hazardous materials they handle. A former EPA technical advisor called the Class 2 system "basically a paper tiger".

The de facto honor system is failing to protect the public and workers. According to ProPublica's investigation more than 1,000 times in a three year period operators pumped waste into wells at pressures they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks. In 140 cases examined operators injected wells illegally or without a permit. The Rosharon case prompted an EPA investigation that eventually led to Texas Oil and Gathering, a company that planned to pass off hazardous waste as Class 2 material, thus saving it thousands of dollars in fees for Class 1 disposal. The company's owner and operations manager were convicted of conspiring to dump illegally and violating the Safe Water Drinking Act. Unfortunately, it is the exceptional case resulting in a major explosion that gets fully investigated and the culprits convicted. Despite the investigation and successful prosecution, injections wells as Rosharon later failed completely. In February, 2010 thousands of gallons of injected waste fluids bubbled up to the surface in what the Railroad Commission laconically called "a breakout". Whether the fluids that could contain solvents, acids and hydrocarbons reached underground water supplies is not yet known. More disgusting details at ProPublica's website.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Hundred Thousand March in Athens

Greeks took to the streets again on Wednesday [video]to protest the crumbling of the national economy under the heel of austerity imposed by supra-national bodies. Police threw tear gas and concussion bombs and the protestors responded with Molotov cocktails. The nationwide general strike was hailed by unions as a triumph, bringing Greece to a virtual standstill. The three month-old coalition government is under intense international pressure to impose yet more cuts on its beleaguered citizens to keep the moribund economy afloat. A decision on €11.9 billion more in cuts is expected Thursday. That amount represents 5% of the country's GDP. The extreme measures will be sent to parliament for ratification, but more mass protests are expected against the budget measures. More than 90% of Greeks polled believe the measures are unfair and a burden on the poor.

Sixty people were injured according to emergency services in Madrid Tuesday night as riot police fired rubber bullets into the crowd attempting to surround the parliament building. Spain is struggling with a prolonged recession, twenty-five percent unemployment, and separatist sentiments in Catalan, the wealthiest region of Spain. The mob outside parliament Tuesday night was relatively small since parts of the "indignado" movement did not endorse the protest.  Spain's 10 year bond yield rose .301% to almost 6% despite the ECB's pledge to buy sovereign bonds of eurozone countries experiencing financial difficulties. The liquidity being pumped into the system by both the US Federal Reserve and the ECB is clearly not relieving the economic burdens of the masses but is being diverted into financial markets where assets prices are bid up.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Costa Rica Protects Jaguars' Corridor

Costa Rica's government has officially recognized it's Jaguar Corridor by signing a memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Environment and Panthera represented by Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, the organization's CEO. He called the agreement a turning point for the future of Panthera onca throughout South America. Eighteen Latin American countries are home to jaguars which are known to travel long distances in search of food and mates. Costa Rica's location on the isthmus between two continents makes it a critical link between regions of appropriate habitat. The MOU with Costa Rica is the fourth the leading wild cat conservation organization has signed in Latin America. The goal is to connect protected wild areas from Argentina to Mexico to ensure America's largest and most culturally significant feline species' genetic diversity and survival. Other species will also benefit from the protection of wild jaguar habitat, as the cat is considered a "landscape species" meaning they require more than one type of habitat to survive and many other species depend on their presence in the landscape. Costa Rica has been internationally recognized for conservation efforts with more than 25% of its land area classified and managed for its National Biological Corridor Program.

Monday, September 24, 2012

COTW: Amazon Deforestation Jumps in August has this chart showing Amazon Basin deforestation amounts. Although the rate of deforestation had been declining, this August (orange lines) showed a sharp increase. About 522 km² was cleared, an increase of 522% over last August. Surging soy and corn prices are driving clearances as well as a weakening real making Brazilian grain exports more competitive on international markets. A comprehensive map of the Basin shows about 6% of the tropical forest, 60% of which lies within Brazil's borders, has been cleared between 2000 and 2010. The good news is that conservation and indigenous regions now cover nearly half of the Amazon's land mass. Governments need to match that official statistic with on the ground reality:

Friday, September 21, 2012

'Toontime: An Interminable Cruise

[credit: Kevin Seirs, Charlotte Observer]
Indeed! The 'toon sums up the election of 2012. A choice that is not a choice between an elitist mannequin and a hapless barker. It will come down to who alienates the least number of "moochers" who still care enough to vote. US Person always came out for Ginger, by the way. Mary Ann reminded him of a sister he never had.

The last of the Afghanistan "surge", 33,000 extra troops committed by Alibama to the failed neocolonial expedition are returning home [painting right, "Remnant of an Army"].  There are still 68,000 US forces and 40,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan.   Troop morale is low in the face of 51 "insider" killings so far this year by supposedly friendly Afghan soldiers.  Joint patrols have been curtailed by NATO as a result, a setback for US strategy.  While the US Defense Secretary claims the surge altered the Taliban's battlefield momentum, the decades-old insurgency still enjoys support and aid within the borders of another supposed ally, Pakistan, from which it can launch raids into Afghanistan at will.  Osama Bin Laden was able to successfully hide in Pakistan for almost ten years after being allowed to escape from the mountain redoubt of Tora Bora.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Second Belgium Reactor Cracked

Previously reported in this space was the discovery of a cracked Belgium reactor core {Doel3}. A second cracked reactor core has been found at Tihange 2, a 1000MW generating facility operated by GDF Suez. Belgium regulatory authorities (FANC) ordered a review of all the nation's reactors after cracks were discovered at Doel 3. The Belgium government delayed closing its oldest nuclear plant by a decade over concerns that the country would not be able to generate enough alternative energy. Two of the nation's seven reactors will be offline due to the faults. Officials now maintain there will be sufficient energy to meet the country's needs. The defunct Dutch company Rotterdam Drydock was responsible for manufacturing the latest vessel discovered to have faults. The company also manufactured vessels and equipment for 10 reactors in the United States. So far the NRC has not responded to the discovery of cracks in Europe.

In a related story, a nuclear engineer turned whistleblower claims the NRC is covering up flooding threats to domestic nuclear reactors. Last year, the Fort Calhoun facility near Omaha, NE was surrounded by Missouri flood waters. Richard Perkins, a risk analyst, says the agency falsely invoked security precautions to redact large portions of a report concerning the agency's preliminary investigation into flood risks due to upstream dam failures. Perkins suggests the real reason for the redactions was to keep the public from learning of the extent of nuclear plant vulnerabilities. The Oconee nuclear facility near Seneca, SC is viewed as particularly vulnerable to a flood caused by a dam breach. If the Oconee facility were hit by a dam breach "tsunami", it would almost certainly suffer a meltdown according to agency engineers. Flooding potential at the Fort Calhoun station, Prairie Island and Watts Bar stations were also examined in the report. It concluded that a formal investigation was warranted because "external flooding...poses a larger risk than expected to plants and public safety." The agency argues the report contains "proprietary commercial information"; however, Homeland Security has approved the releasing the report to the public without redactions.

New Monkey in Africa's Green Heart

When Conrad wrote his famous novel, Heart of Darkness, the Congo jungle was so wildly impenetrable that some Europeans found the dark, wet forests oppressive and foreboding.  The green heart of Africa is still full of surprises even in the 21st Century because extensive tracts of rainforest remain largely unexplored by researchers. One explorer, John Hart, noticed an unusual monkey called "lesula" by Mbole forest dwellers in 2007. His wife Terese blogged about the distinctive captive male with fascinating eyes in 2008 [photo above]. After contacting primatologists worldwide the conclusion was reached that the lesula monkey (Cercoipithecus lomamiensis) is new to science. It has been described in PLoS One Journal. The primate lives in the primary rainforest area of Obenge on the west bank of the Lomami River. It is small and shy so it was infrequently seen by researchers conducting large mammal surveys in the region. A member of the guenon family, it is related to owl face monkeys, but genetically distinct as it probably has been separated from relatives by impassible rivers for millions of years. Although its habitat has so far been spared from logging and mining, the lesula is threatened by the bushmeat trade [photo right]. The lesula is only the second monkey in Africa to be newly described in twenty-eight years.

orphaned juveniles
Both Harts are attempting to create a new national park that includes Obenge, referred to as TL2 after the three great rivers which border the region about twice the size of Belgium (3,470 mi²). They are underway with establishing the first protected area, Lomami National Park, with the cooperation of the Democratic Republic of Congo and local communities. The region still teams with wildlife, including endangered bonobos (Pan paniscus) which are closely related to both humans and chimpanzees, due to its remoteness.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

COTW: The Unreality Game

When the biggest news on the political scene is an aging actor's impromptu satire at the Republican Convention, you know how divorced from democracy our system has become. The real story of this election cycle, assiduously avoided by both major party candidates, is the hollowing out of the American middle class at the behest of multinational corporatists demanding ever lower labor costs. These two charts tell that story:
Median household income in constant 1967 dollars is dropping again and is only a few hundred away from the level of four decades ago.  The Federal Reserve is pumping out more fiat money to float the banksters while inflating the middle class into debt slavery.  The end result of these policies is to further enrich the top 1% or less while the rest of us struggle with decades of no growth in our incomes:
courtesy: John Quinn @
Call US Person, "Chief Anus", but the largest butt-holes are still at the top.

Ice Free Arctic Sea by 2015

In an email to The Guardian newspaper, a Cambridge professor and Arctic ice expert, Prof. Peter Wadhams said the final collapse of Arctic sea ice in summer will occur within four years. The "global disaster" is now developing as the sea ice shrinks to new lows with each melting cycle. He first predicted the collapse of summer sea ice in 2007 when the previous record reached 4.7km² This year the ice extent has dropped unexpectedly to less than 3.5km². Ice thickness records from submarines passing beneath the ice sheet at first suggested the summer ice might last fifty more years, but the summer melting rate has overtaken winter ice formation. The Arctic Sea will be ice free in the summer months of August to September by 2015-16. While an ice-free Arctic for two months will aid shipping and resource exploration, the acceleration of global warming is serious. Not only will the sea water temperature rise, but continental margins composed of permafrost will melt releasing tons of trapped methane which traps much more solar radiation than CO₂ Wadhams says the world must urgently consider new ways to reduce global warming including various climatic engineering schemes such as cloud seeding. In another Arctic development, Shell Oil announced it is curtailing its plan to start exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The company got off to a slow start this year and experienced considerable opposition from environmentalists who criticized the attempt when the company could not demonstrate it was capable of responding to an major oil spill in harsh Arctic conditions.  In fact, the latest operational mishap for Shell was the damaging of a dome intended to contain an oil spill.  They will be back.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Okapi Killers Captured

US Person posted previously about the raid on the headquarters of Okapi Wildlife Reserve in which
rebels led by "Morgan", a nom de guerre for Paul Sadala, killed two park rangers and 15 rare Okapi.{"Okapi"} UN Radio reported that the Congolese army has captured the rebel leader and 16 of his men. The raid destroyed the headquarters and fifteen of the endangered Okapi [photo] kept at Epulu Breeding and Research Station were all killed. The rare giraffe-like forest animals served as a genetic reservoir and ambassadors to visitors. The Reserve has been a World Heritage Site since 1997 and is home to many endangered creatures including the nomadic Mbuti pygmies. The future of the research station is uncertain and dependent on security conditions in the area.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Weekend Edition: Change Comes to the Masai Mara

When Hemingway titled his collection of African stories, "The Green Hills of Africa", he must have been thinking of the Mara in the wet season. For the Mara is touchingly beautiful when the grass is long, the animals sleek and healthy, and the Serengheti hills blue on the distant horizon. So it is now on the African high plains. Rain has been unusually abundant this season, and the usual migration patterns of the herbivores disrupted. Wildebeest herds are still in Tanzania's Serengeti where it is raining in what is supposed to be the dry season. More zebras seem to remain in the Mara where their numbers are exceptionally large. Topi are dropping their calves when the usual time for mass delivery is November. The herds arrived late this year as they did last year. Cats are sleeping with hyenas--no, not really--but there is enough abundance for cheetah mother Narasha to raise four cubs, an unusually large litter for a cheetah.

cheetah cubs
members of the Marsh Pride
Sadly not all the change is good. About two dozen companies run licensed safari camps for tourists in the Mara reserve. There are about 15 hot-air balloon operations. While tourism has been good for the Kenyan economy and provided profit motivation for protecting the animals that live there, the high volume of visitors in what has become Africa's premier wildlife watching destination is taking its toll on the landscape and the wildlife. Certainly wildlife is benefiting is some ways. Elephants with long, gleaming white tusks US Person had the privilege to visit are the calmest and most approachable he has seen in five African safaris. Their families consist of several generations compared to those decimated and orphaned by poachers elsewhere. Lion prides are large and stable enough to be named after their habitual territory such as the "Marsh Pride" made famous by the BBC But off road vehicles full of photographing tourists are rutting the landscape. Erosion of the Mara by heavy vehicle traffic is severe especially at water crossings and track intersections. In the wet, the black Mara soils turns to heavy, slippery muck that easily incapacitates a carelessly driven Land Cruiser. As other guides go around to avoid the morass, the rutted area spreads. Balloon flights are becoming more popular with visitors, and while their operation has less ground impact, their looming presence at low altitude scares the animals according to experienced guides.

healthy elephants
a crowd watches cheetahs
monitor lizard
Human activity which interferes with normal behavior honed by evolution to insure survival is a major threat to the continued existence of wild fauna on the Mara plain. US Person personally witnessed the disruption of a female leopard's gazelle hunt. Twenty-four vehicles radio equipped vehicles surrounded a patch of tall grass in which the leopard was stalking her prey. She gave up when the noisy vehicles spooked the gazelles. Guides often claim that cats ignore cars, but then they have no choice but to do so. The most intrusive visitors are those in the detested white minibuses emanating from Nairobi on day trips. They worm their way to the front with little regard for proximity to the animal or the view of fellow observers. At least a dozen of surrounded lions resting in the long grass. The scene was such a disturbing harbinger of mass tourism run amok that US directed his guide to not join the crowd. When a rare black rhino was spotted trotting across the fields, eight vehicles gave chase at once. Rhinos are car shy, so the big male ran at a top speed of 35-40kmh for several minutes trying to get away from the speedier cruisers. Fortunately for the lumbering beast the morning was cool and he did not overheat. US Person cannot deny he was thrilled by a potentially fatal encounter. One knows there are perhaps too many visitors to the Masai Mara Reserve in high season when the birds are able to perfectly mimic the sound of motorized camera shutters. If Kenya is to preserve the wild that has made it justly popular with visitors, it needs to impose greater control on tourism in the Masai Mara to make sure conservation remains its paramount purpose and not let it become just another outdoor zoo.
photos courtesy US Person

Friday, September 14, 2012

'Toontime: Another PR Exercise

The DNC National Convention came and went away quietly while US Person was in Kenya asking if Alibama is really a Kenyan. The most interesting reply was, "we don't talk about him anymore." Same here, bro! Here are some funny takes on the conventions by the credited 'toonists: The first shows who thinks she is the actual candidate and who is the front:
credit: Steve Benson
The second depicts the real results of all the expensive hullabaloo on both sides:
credit: Mark Streeter, Savannah Morning News]

In an all out bid to bribe corporatists into hiring more people, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve announced the third round of money printing in the form of buying up forty billion worth of mortgage bonds. The Wall Street Casino immediately jumped at the idea of more cheap money coming their way. The Fed's own policy committee predicted that the move will not bring the unemployment rate below the official 8% in the near future.

Administration Refuses to Help Polar Bears

credit: Paul Souders/Guardian
The trade in polar bear parts continues to thrive in part because the current US administration refuses to renew a resolution to ban the trade.  The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species will convene in Thailand next March, but the US Fish & Wildlife Service is still officially undecided on the subject despite expressed public support for a ban on trade.  Polar bears face multiple threats to their continued existence, not the least of which is the warming of their Arctic habitat.  Scientists predict that two-thirds of the current population will be gone by 2050; nevertheless countries like Canada, that still allows trophy hunting of the endangered bear, trade in their fur and other body parts.  Recently, a pair of pelts sold for a record $16,000 at auction.  Some Inuit communities have licenses to kill as many as thirty bears a year.  Unless some relief is given to the bears by man, the polar bear is doomed to extinction in the wild. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence rapid melting of sea ice is putting the bears under extreme stress.  Reports of increased cannibalism have been registered, and this National Geographic video is but another example of environmental stress.  A starving female with a dependent cub challenges a full grow male for food, something that would not ordinarily take place in normal climatic conditions.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

U.S. Person will be off for the next several weeks as he goes on safari to witness one of the wild kingdom's enduring spectacles: the migration across the Masai Mara of Kenya. Come back later this month for more "'high impact" blog at Persona Non Grata.