Saturday, May 31, 2014

Executive Action In a Good Way

Roosevelt Island, NY
This time the CO is taking a step in the right direction by using his executive authority to step around a deadlocked Congress. According to the New York Times, he will announce on Monday a new rule to cut carbon emissions from coal burning power plants by 20%. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. This decision could be a shinning beacon in the mirk of an overly compromised term of office, or it could be offset by a later decision to go ahead with the environmentally disastrous Keystone XL pipeline project. People familiar with the rule's content say it sets a national limit on carbon pollution from power plants, but allows each state to make its own plans based on a menu of options that include adding more alternative energy to their fuel mix. Coal plants are the nation's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The rule could cause many older coal plants to shut down.

In 2010 the administration attempted to pass a carbon cap & trade scheme through Congress. Predictable, conservatives howled their disapproval and blocked it. Nevertheless the two states in the union that have cap & trade plans, California and Massachsetts, had Repugnant governors at the time the legislation was passed. Now the federal government will resort to administrative rule-making to implement the program at the national level. Gina McCarthy, the current EPA administrator, worked on the Massachusetts plan, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, for Governor Mitch Romney. He later disavowed the program when attacked by right-wing climate change deniers. Despite the crazies on the right, electric utility officials generally approve of cap & trade as a flexible way to comply with the new regulation. US Person is wary of the comoditization of carbon credits as a viable solution. Trading in credits could become more important that meeting emission reduction goals. He prefers the old school method of cap & regulate to gain real reductions in greenhouse emmissions.

Friday, May 30, 2014

'Tootime: Godzilla's a Technophobe

[credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle]
Wackydoodle sez:  Quick, try #LOL!
The King of Monsters does even own an EFD (Electronic Fetish Device*) so the the CO is wasting his time with a silly #! His party members facing re-election wish he would get their message: the economy is looks like Godzilla ate it and the VA scandal is rampant:

[credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch]
BC Idonwanna sez: Feed him Shinseki, maybe he will get tummyache!

*Marx wrote (Das Capital) that human production of commodities, whether widgets or cell phones, is the dominant social relationship in a capitalist society; so much so that commodity instead of human labor is endowed with intrinsic or mystical value (fetishism), masking the real value of the human labor required to produce the commodity. Consequently, economic relations are described through exchange in markets that appear to move of themselves via the universal equivalent for exchange--money.  Adam Smith called it the "invisible hand".  Marx characterized commodity fetishism (his term) as "the fantastic form of a relation between things" instead of a human relation between exploited worker and capitalist.   A further consequence of this is the worker, whose effort is deemed valueless by society, becomes an alienated automaton having no control over his or her productive labor.  Nature itself is objectified and reduced to commodity--raw materials to be used in production.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vast Peat Bog Discovered

Just when you think there is nothing left to discover on Earth, she surprises you. Deep in what was Joseph Conrad labeled the "heart of darkness", the Congo rainforest, a huge peat bog the size of England has been discovered. On its way to becoming coal, the peat is burnable as fuel, so stay tuned for attempts to exploit this resource. The remote bog was not discovered by intrepid bush-wacking, but by satellite in orbit. A dry season expedition was sent out from Itanga village in Congo-Brazzaville to confirm the bog's existence. It is thought to contain billions of tons of carbon dating back 10,000 years. Tropical peat bogs are unusual. A scientist from Leeds University, UK said the bog is a huge carbon sink which left undisturbed can function as long term carbon storage and keep it out of the atmosphere. Even in the 21st Century little is know about the vast Congo Basin. Peat bogs also preserve a record of past vegetation and climate, so the bog has immense scientific value. Watch this video of the discovery:

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fukushima: Hot, Hot, Hot!

A former Japanese House legislator, Hiroshi Kawauchi, told the press that the "Earth is in peril" because of the Fukushima disaster. The havoc wrought on the environment has not been fully acknowledged by the government, either said Kawuchi. The plant emitted airborne cesium radiation in excess of Hiroshima by 168 times. Waste water radiation levels are now too high to dump the water into the Pacific. Tritium radiation above the limit of 1700 Bq was discovered in one of twelve wells on Monday. Last week TEPCo reported the highest radiation levels in seawater near the plant following a previous admission that groundwater radiation levels also reached record levels. Seawater sampled was found to contain 840 Bq of strontium-90, which causes bone cancer, up from the previous high of 540Bq. Hey, don't worry, be happy!

The Japanese government has given the go ahead to build an "ice wall" around the damaged reactors to prevent ground water from reaching the flooded, contaminated buildings. The 1.5km frozen soil wall is being funded by the government at the expected cost of ¥32bn. TEPCo has dismissed concerns that the frozen soil barrier could cause the reactor buildings to sink enough to destabilize them further. The technology has been used before to stabilize soil during tunneling operations, but never used on such a scale for so long a period of time. In another move to restart the nation's nuclear reactor facilities, the Abe administration told lawmakers it will replace two members of the nuclear regulatory agency. One of the regulators to be replaced is Kunihiko Shimizu, a geologist, who has been criticized by the nuclear industry for his reluctance to restart nuclear power plants shut down since the Fukushima disaster. Shimizu has declared two plants are sited on top of active geologic faults, a position that will probably lead to their expensive decommissioning. The other regulator is Kenzo Oshima, a former under-secretary at the United Nations who will be replaced by a nuclear power engineer.

On the other side of the Pacific, University of Southern California's Institute for Environmental Studies will begin collecting and monitoring kelp in the waters of Catalina Island. The effort is part of a scientific project to evaluate radioactive contamination coming from the triple meltdown at Fukushima. The first scientific indication that radioisotopes from Fukushim reached US coastal waters came from a 2011 study by two Cal State Long Beach biologists. Their study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found a significant impact on the kelp forest ecosystem. Concentrations of radioactive isotopes arriving from Japan are expected to be low, but the effect of even low levels of radiation on the coastal ecosystem is unknown. Samples of giant and bull kelp from Catalina's Big Fisherman's Cove will be processed and sent to Berkeley Lawrence National Laboratory for detailed analysis.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

COTW: Housing Bubble Returns

Central bank intervention in the form of ZIRP (zero-interest rate policy) is responsible for a re-inflation of the housing market as this chart above shows.Of course the filthy rich closest to the Fed spout get the really good deals because the money they borrow to buy housing is almost free while the rest of US downstream have to bid against all-cash investors looking for yield in a low- interest economy. Of course when the wealthy give up looking for a killing in an over-priced housing bubble, it will burst again. In the "other America", the one of low wages and long hours, the mortgage debt to wages ratio is more than double the historic ratio of about 63%:
Twenty percent of Americans buying a home are underwater meaning their home equity is exceeded by mortgage debt. They cannot participate in the inflating housing market either. This situation of diminishing returns for increasing amounts of debt is called "recovery"....If you have a minute there is a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to talk to you about.

Monday, May 26, 2014

America 0-3 This Century

US attempts to build modern nations at the point of a gun are 0-3 this century. With a record like that any professional sports manager would be fired. Yet the Current Occupant flies half way around the world in a publicity stunt on a national holiday commemorating the sacrifice of American soldiers, sailors and airmen. To say his audience is captive is understatement; after all, he practically signs their paychecks! To be proud of America's record in the benighted hinterland of Afghanistan is simply calculated deceit. Even the successful assassination of the reputed terrorist mastermind is morally dubious, when he could have been captured alive or even killed in combat in Tora Bora years earlier. From the perspective of military effectiveness the assassination took too long to accomplish, at too high a price, with too much collateral damage. The Taliban insurgency still controls large swaths of the countryside after the longest war in the nation's history.  Despite his campaign promise to remove all troops from the country by this year, the Current Occupant announced American forces will be in Afghanistan until 2016 and not coincidentally the end of his government.

Afghanistan's electoral commission had to fire more than 3,000 staff accused of fraud in the first round of the country's presidential election. Afghans voted last month to pick a successor to President Hamid Karzai who is barred from a third term after being in power for more than a decade. The independent election monitors say many complaints were ignored and the decision making process lacked transparency. The run-off is scheduled for June 14th but results will not be announced until July 22nd. The two front-running candidates are Abdullah Abdullah, an opposition leader, and former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know which candidate has the backing of the US government. Ghani claimed after the final results were released that "800,000 that should have been declared fraudulent were included in the final count." Abdullah Abdullah led the first round results by as much as 14%.

In Libya the removal of inconvenient dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi by western military intervention has not brought democracy to the country. Rather Libya is being torn apart by rival militias which refused to disarm after the dictator was tortured and killed in the field. The rebels were aided by NATO airpower and probably would not have been successful against Qaddafi's security forces without it. Last Sunday, rebels loyal to General Khalifa Haftar stormed the parliament building in Tripoli looking for General National Congress members, the majority of whom are islamists. Western news reports say Haftar is now backed by the reinstated military government of Egypt; he was formerly supported by the CIA. Fierce fighting also broke out in Benghazi leaving 36 dead. Libya, once a functioning autocracy, is now a failed state. The government has been unable to assert control and build security forces loyal to it causing authorities to rely on militias for protection. The country's prime minister was temporarily abducted last year by rival militia members.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, brought to power with the help of American arms, recently won Iraq's parliamentary election. His coalition won 92 of 328 seats in parliament. But the win does not resolve the country's deep ethnic divisions and endemic violence. Last year according to the UN, 8,868 Iraqis were killed. Maliki still needs votes from other parties to reach the needed 164 to form a government. After the last parliamentary election that took nine months and produced an ineffective coalition government. During his time in office Maliki has become increasingly authoritarian, and has little support among Sunnis and Kurds who control a larger block of votes than Maliki. On Sunday a car bomb exploded outside a liquor store in Kirkuk killing at least 12 civilians. Militant islamists often target night clubs, liquor stores, and brothels. Kirkuk is an ethnically mixed city and comparatively prosperous from oil development. One Iraqi political commentator said Iraq is, "an absolute dysfunctional mess".

Friday, May 23, 2014

'Toontime: Welcome to Hell

[credit: Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer]
Wackydoodle sez:  How 'bout them Seahawks!
Repugnants thought the Benghazi side-step would be enough to politically do in Obamarama. But as usual, NOT! What caught the somnambulant American public dreaming of Memorial daze off were the queues for treatment at VA hospitals. Some vets literally died in their beds waiting for treatment. For a nation that relies so heavily on its military to execute foreign policy, the VA is no way to run a railroad let alone a health care system.

[credit: Jeff Koterba, Omaha Weird Herald]
BC Idonwanna axes: Where do I get a number?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vladimirovitch Loves Tigers!

Prince Charles may think him akin to a genocidal dictator of the mid-20th Century, but President Vladimir Putin is not all bad because he cares about Siberian tigers. The President was on hand for a photo-op when three orphaned tigers were released to the wild of the Amur forest at Zhelundinsky nature reserve. Two of three tigers, male, ran into the forest as soon as he opened their cages, the third female was reluctant to leave captivity. Clever females. Mr. Putin banged on her cage with a stick but to no avail. The President was in the far east region to inspect homes built for last year's flood victims following a visit to Beijing where he pushed through a $400bn gas supply deal. All in a days work for Vladimir. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the illogical and inaccurate comparison was "outrageous and low". Ditto.

Of course to the Prince's credit, Moscow is not without responsibility for the increasingly bloody mess in eastern Ukraine. Many of the hooded insurgents seen in the media are not Ukrainians but are Russians coming across the border. Several of these have become rather well known to the Internet thanks to their own self-promotion, and they are a bizarre bunch to say the least. The best known is Ihor Vsevolodovych Girkin aka "Strelkov" which translates roughly to "Rifleman". He takes military reenactments to a new level, actually participating in several combat operations outside Russia in Transnistria, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He is now the self-appointed Minister of Defense for the ridiculous "Peoples' Republic of Donetsk". According to Ukrainian police he is an ex-warrant officer of the GRU (some sources say he is a colonel in the reserves). His hobby is dressing up in historical military garb.

Even more silly, if he were not so dangerous, is Alexandr "Babay" Mozhayev [photo]. This rustic provincial is internationally recognizable by his resplendent beard and cossack-style fur hat. He is sort of a scary Santa Claus, armed to the teeth. "Babay" gives interviews to journalists, and denies he was ever in Georgia in 2008. Is it any wonder Putin reversed himself to support the Ukrainian presidential election process set for Sunday and pull back his army from the border? Not even he can control deranged individuals with automatic rifles at large in a failing state. Unfortunately the Ukraine is proving to be the opening act in another reenactment of the "Great Game" played by European powers of the 19th century in Central Asia. Control of vast energy resources is the motivation, made more urgent as the world's supply slowly runs out.

COTW: Amazon Protected Areas

Protection of one level or another extends to 44% of the Amazon; despite legal status some areas still suffer deforestation. Between 1998 and 2009 12,204 km² within protected zones was cleared. Damage was the most severe in "sustainable use" zones. A 2011 report from Imazon and the Instituto Socioambiental faults poor management as a contributing factor to the degradation which is still increasing [chart below] Some areas have no management plan and staffing levels are very low. Illegal logging and mining are the primary threats. Shortcomings aside, the overall rate of annual Amazon deforestation has declined by more than 75% since 2004; Brazil set aside more land for conservation than any other country on Earth during the first decade of this century, accounting for 60% of total terrestrial conservation during the decade.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Roadmap for Amazon Preservation

In the latest issue of World Wildlife,World Wildlife Fund describes a innovative process for saving the entire Amazon Basin from exploitation and eventual destruction. Brazil, working in partnership with NGOs, has launched the largest conservation effort in history known as Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA). The goal is turn 150 million acres of rainforest--more than all the US national parks combined--into sustainable use and no use protected zones. The project has been underway for a decade, and so far pieces of the Amazon about the size of California in total are protected under the program.

ARPA draws upon project funding developed, US Person is loath to say, on Wall Street.  Profit is not the bottom line in this undertaking, however; saving a living organism vital to life on the planet is.  Still the project has not achieved permanent financial stability, something no conservation of scale has ever achieved.  The financial target of $215 million is being raised from private donor partners and placed in a transition fund from which payments are made for a period of twenty-five years to pay for land and park operations. All the fancy financing is contingent on the long-term cooperation of the Brazilian government. It must increase its contributions over time until it is fully responsible for the continued existence of the program. ARPA is in essence a huge bet on the people of Brazil and their government.

WWF has been working to preserve the Amazon rainforest for forty years.  In the late 90's less than 3% of the basin benefited from protection.  WWF brought together conservationists led by Garo Batmanian, head of WWF's Brazil office, to convince the country's then President Fernando Cardozo to protect just 10% of his nation's forest.  Even this small conservation policy adopted by a rapidly developing country would have worldwide ramifications.  In 1997 President Cardozo pledged the Brazilian government would set aside 10% of forest ecosystems for protection.  ARPA was born when Larry Linden, a retiring Goldman-Sachs banker, decided to become a conservationist when WWF called.  ARPA is an ambitious attempt to flip the usual conservation efforts from reactive to proactive. Instead of reacting to exploitation threats in a process that never appears to end, ARPA protects priority areas of forest forever. US Person is pleased to know of this life commitment from so many global partners in conservation. His one criticism: the goal of 150 million acres is too small. Fully one-third of the lungs of the world--forests--must be saved from the cancer of unsustainable human exploitation. Then humans can all breath a lot easier.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Did the Fish Climb the Ladder?

'technical' style, Saugatucket R., Rhode Island
One of the ecological problems with dams is they block the migration of fish upstream to spawn. When the fish in question is a valuable human food source such as salmon, the problem becomes acute. Fish ladders were introduced at least by the 17th century in France according to records. The first fish ladder in the United States was installed in Rhode Island on the Pawtuxet River made from wood. More recent fish ladders are usually constructed from concrete and rebar and their lies the rub. Some fish such as paddlefish are electrically sensitive to reinforcing metal used in the construction that prevents its use by paddlefish. When the City of Providence replaced the wood ladder with reinforced concrete in the twenties, paddlefish numbers in the Pawtuxet collapsed. Fish ladders can be intimidating structures to fish since they are not natural and wreak of man's presence. If the flow over a narrow ladder is too strong it can exhaust already weak spawning fish, preventing the completion of their life journey. Some even require the participation of human volunteers with nets to lift the stranded fish up over the dam [above photo credit: Rebecca Kessler]. Undoubtably, the haul is an extremely stressful experience for the fish.

The old Kenyon Mill Dam in Richmond, Rhode Island blocked shad and herring and at one time Atlantic salmon since the 1700s. Of a run of thousands only a few hundred survived. The Pawcatuck River salmon run did not make it. A new ecologically sensitive fish ladder was built to aid the remaining fish. Unlike the typical narrow concrete and metal contraption that scare away more fish than those willing to traverse, the new Kenyon Mill fish way mimics a natural stream bed. Boulders sweep out in arcs across the river to create a series of elevated pools which increase in elevation from the natural river bed until they top the five foot dam. Not completely natural looking because of uniformity and concrete retaining walls, the created rapids nevertheless are designed to accommodate the swimming abilities and habits of shad and herring. Despite the considerable effort to create a easier overpass for fish at Kenyon Mill, three other dams downstream from it still block fish trying to enter the river according to the US National Marine Fisheries Services. Populations of 24 North American migratory fish species are at 10% of their historic size. Alewives, blueback herring, shad, trout, smelt, eels, lamprey, sturgeon and other diadromous species have been prevented from reproducing by man's barriers, overfishing, and pollution. In New England alone there are 25,000 dams, many of which are relics or no longer serve a need. About half are privately owned. If America wants fish to dine on fish in the future it is time to invest in dam removal and stream restoration. Where dams cannot be practically removed because of cost or countervailing values like recreation or power, natural fishways that incite more fish to cross man's obstacle are clearly an answer to the problem of declining migrating fish populations. Natural fishways won't work in every situation, particularly for high dams, but they will work in many places.

modern fishway on Neste R., France
The Kenyon Mill Dam was not removed because the current textile mill owner uses the impounded water for fire suppression. Removal would have cost less than the $925,000 to build the aesthetic fishway. Experts admit that older fish ladder designs were basically "pulled out of a hat" with little regard for the fish's abilities or preferences. The natural approach to fishways originated in Europe in the 1970s. In North America a few fishways were completed by the 1990s. Design is now informed by biomechanics and animal behavior that varies between species. Shad nor herring jump higher than a foot, but herring can navigate turbulence well while shad avoid turbulence. If a fishway is designed naturally, it should allow up to 94% of fish to pass on their way to reproducing. While the Pawcatuck's runs are far from being restored--something needs to be done to the downstream dams--the state is restocking the river with fish and three dams are now fish friendlier. True, fishways are still artificial structures, but the fish seem to like them more.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

True America: Victor's Justice

Not even the Nazis went far as the Japanese in the development and deployment of biological warfare agents. Unit 731 was a top secret installation approved by the Japanese Emperor located in Harbin, Manchuria. There Japanese military personnel under the command of Lt. General Shiro Ishii, developed germ weapons, including bubonic plague, that were used against Chinese civilians during World War II killing a million or more Chinese. Vivisections without anesthesia were performed on infected prisoners of war (termed "logs" by the Japanese) to study the anatomical effects of their germ agents and develop more lethal strains. More despicable than the immunity afforded Nazi scientists working in the German missile program ("Operation Paperclip"), was the American government's decision to not prosecute Unit 731 researchers as war criminals in return for their unique data. Unable to obtain Ishii from US custody, to its credit the Soviet Union captured and prosecuted twelve of these war criminals in 1949. The Khabarovsk trials which ended in convictions and life sentences were denounced as "communistic propaganda" by Occupation Commander Douglas MacArthur. Some of the rescued experimenters from Unit 731 were employed by the United States and went on to enjoy prestigious careers in post-war Japan.This History Channel documentary the Japanese government's inhumanity to man:

The information obtained from the Japanese was used by the US Army in its biological weapons program at Ft. Detrick, Maryland. Although biological warfare was dropped by 1969, testing of chemical agents such as LSD continued under the auspices of the CIA ("Operation Artichoke") into the 1970's. The Ft. Detrick program included human testing on volunteers who were mostly conscripts with religious scruples against combat. During "Operation Whitecoat" the human guinea pigs were exposed to Q fever and tularemia as well as vaccine studies for encephalitis, plague, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever other diseases.

Friday, May 16, 2014

'Toontime: Commander-in-Whaa?

[credit: Randy Bish, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]
Wackydoodle axes: Got a medal for that?
About equally pathetic--no, not Kabuki Benghazi--is the idea that real world events can be affected by sofa kings pushing a few buttons on their electronic fetish machines (EFMs):

[credit: Eric Allie, Pioneer Press]

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yes Virginia, It Can Be Done

world's largest rotor (75m)
Many Americans are skeptical that an economy as big as the United States has can be run on mostly renewable sources of energy. Evidence is piling up that a developed country with a modern economy can be green. Germany has Europe's largest economy and its most industrialized. It is proving right now that green power works. On Sunday, Germany set another record of renewable energy use as 75% of the nation's overall electrical demand by midday was supplied by renewable sources. According to one monitoring company electricity prices actually went down in much of the afternoon. Germany produces twice the amount of green energy than the United States which is hell-bent on drilling and fracking its landscape into desert in the name of "energy independence"; a phantom it will never catch as long as it depends on fungible hydrocarbons sold in a global market. Germany will achieve further records in green energy production as it continues its policy of Energiewende to power the country almost entirely with renewable sources by 2050.

One technical factor holding the United States back is its legacy energy grid which would have difficulties handling a large proportion of fluctuating energy production. Yet the United States has more potential solar energy than Germany, known for its leaden skies. At the end of 2012 the country had installed more solar power capacity in the world thanks to large government incentives. In contrast the United States still allows hugely profitable international oil companies a depletion allowance among other lucrative US tax subsidies. In 2013 the American oil and gas industry averaged 20 spills per day. German solar power has reached grid parity meaning once all costs are accounted for the price of commercial solar is equal to retail electricity rates. Citizens pay a surcharge for clean energy, but have the opportunity to gain it back by installing their own photovoltaic system for as little as $600. Citizens, cooperatives and communities own more than half of German renewable capacity which is one reason monopolistic fossil fuel companies are desperately fighting society-wide conversion to renewable energy in the United States.  Wind power in Germany reached record output levels last year, accounting for 39% of electricity supply on a single December day. [photo above: Seimens] Critics of Germany's energy transformation point out that coal burning has increased in Germany to supply its base load, and that the ambitious German renewable energy goals including phasing out nuclear power are only possible if there is reduction in demand. However, green energy experts point out that Germany is only temporarily replacing expensive natural gas. German power prices for 2014 sagged 17% as renewable production surged and consumption fell to 2009 levels.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

COTW: The Ukrainian Connection

US Person is already known for his "anti-business" rants. So he will post this item without comment other than to refer his readers to his previous posts concerning one of the causes of the Ukrainian civil war: "Burisma Holdings, Ukraine's largest private gas producer has expanded its Board of Directors by bringing on Mr. R. Hunter Biden as a new director." Need he say more other than Hunter is the fortunate son? Need a second opinion? Ask retired Colonel and former aide to Colin Powell, now Professor, Lawrence Wilkerson, who says oligarchs control US foreign policy because war or just international volatility is profitable. Or how about former National Security Adviser, 'Zbig' Brzezinski? He wrote: "America's global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained." Toward that end, the coup in Kiev was western instigated, supported by neo-Nazi militias, and regardless of the anti-Russian propaganda the corporate talking heads spew from their digitized bully pulpits. For a quarter of a century, Ukraine has been the football in a game of geopolitical domination between East and West according to the Financial Times.

Besides highlighting western corporatists' efforts to capture Ukrainian oil and gas, the crisis in Ukraine is bringing to a head Russia's efforts to escape the petrodollar strait jacket. Russia's Ministry of Finances is ready to begin phasing in the role of the Russian ruble in export operations while reducing the share of dollar-denominated transactions. On April 24th the government organized a special meeting whose subject was finding a solution for "de-dollarizing" Russian export transactions. The meeting was chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Of course such efforts depend on cooperation from Russian trading partners. China is ready to sign contracts with payments in a currency other than dollars and so is Iran. President Putin will visit Beijing on May 20th and bilateral trade will be on the top of his agenda.

Western sanctions will be ultimately ineffective against a resource-rich nation like Russia. Trade between the US and Russia is only 1% of US trade. Some large US companies rely on Russian natural resources such as Boeing which plans to buy $18bn worth of Siberian titanium and has already invested $7bn in Russia. However, Europe is much more vulnerable to Russian economic retaliation [chart below]. A gas cutoff by Gazprom, which it threatened recently, would wipe out Ukraine's supply and severely disrupt supplies to the EU. The recent delivery of crude oil from the Russia Arctic was made to Total, a French international oil company. Russia's ability to drive economic wedges between western allies is demonstrated by the French government's announcement this week that is will deliver two Mistral helicopter carriers despite requests to cancel the sale. Russia also conducts a significant grain export trade with Europe. Its gold bullion reserves and gold mining capacity pose a significant restraint for western financial oligarchs dependent on the dollar maintaining it value in international exchange. Some reasons why the sanctions imposed so far are targeted at individual allies of the "new Hitler", Vladimir Putin, not entire economic sectors. Ukraine is a dangerous geopolitical game that can spin out of control at any moment. President Putin must avoid loosing his balance to the West by invading a region obviously partial to Moscow.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Greenpeace Greets First Load of Arctic Oil

Forty-four Greenpeace activists were arrested in Rotterdam as Russian ice tanker Mikhail Ulyanov arrived in the port carrying the first load of crude from Russia's Arctic. On April 18th, Gazprom loaded the tanker with the first cargo of oil from the Prirazlomnoye field in the Pechora Sea, the first hydrocarbon development on the Russian Arctic shelf [photo: Gazprom Neft]. President Putin himself gave the order to start loading Sovkomflot's specially designed ice-class tanker, underlining the importance of Arctic resource development to Russian government policy. Later, during a meeting of the Russian Security Council he ordered that private companies be allowed to establish private armed security forces to protect infrastructure and ships*. The measure is seen as a response to the Greenpeace demonstration last September in which 28 activists were arrested by Russian special forces who boarded their ship in international waters. They were held for two months on charges of piracy and "hooliganism" by Russian authorities in Murmansk. Their ship, Arctic Sunrise, is still detained in Murmansk. At the meeting President Putin said the Arctic "is a concentration of practically all aspects of national security". Russia has gained a lead over exploitation of the melting Arctic since the leading western petroleum company, Shell, cancelled plans to continue its exploration program this year after an accident caused its advanced Arctic drilling platform to ground near Kodiak Island. Putin also announced plans to "revive the Northern Sea route" by building a new Arctic seaport, Sabetta, and an LPG facility. He finally mentioned environmental protection of the fragile Arctic is an essential condition of operations, and that Prirazlomnaya has "zero waste", proving Russian technology is capable of minimizing environmental risks. The Prirazlomnaya platform is just 30 miles from a nature reserve.

Greenpeace activists are not convinced by Russian claims of technical infallibility. On May 1, after the Ulyanov entered Rotterdam harbor, 20 activists positioned their rubber inflatables between the dock and the tanker to prevent offloading the crude. [photo: Neugebauer/Greenpeace] Earlier, protestors painted "no Arctic oil" in large white letters on the tanker's hull. Dutch security forceably boarded the Rainbow Warrior and arrested demonstrators including a few that had also participated in the "Arctic Thirty" protest. Gazprom management says their Arctic platform is redundantly designed with a reinforced caisson and a wet method of storage that eliminates the possibility of explosions. The cassion can hold 94,000 tons of crude. Greenpeace says that spills are not the only concern; continued human reliance on fossil fuels made possible by new exploitation will make global climate change more intense.

*President Putin is taking threats, regardless of the source, against oil production facilities seriously. Dimitry Yarosh, a Ukrainian far-right leader and presidential candidate threatened to blow up pipelines from Russia into Europe via Ukraine. Putin responded by placing Yarosh on an international terrorist list. He told his Security Council, "Nothing can be treated as trivia here." Putin has ordered the restoration of several airfield above the Arctic Circle and a military base on Novosibirsk.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Oklahoma Botches Execution

Update: Oklahoma's Criminal Court of Appeals approved a six month stay of execution for a death-row inmate while an investigation into the tortuous death of Clayton Lockett takes place. The state's Attorney General urged that executions be suspended while the investigation is conducted. The governor originally granted Charles Warner a two week stay. Several jurisdictions, both state and federal, are looking into the issues of security, safety and lethality of drugs compounded especially for executions. Since the source of supply was cut off from abroad, the execution machinery in the United States has clanked to almost a complete stop due to drug shortages and forced changes in execution protocols. The difficulties have increased the public profile of executions and opposition to the death penalty on humanitarian grounds.

NYT: McAlester Pen
{01.05.14}Clayton D. Lockett was essentially tortured to death by the state of Oklahoma. It took the man forty-three minutes to die from supposedly lethal injection. He died of a heart attack in the chamber. The so-called execution was insisted upon by a state determined for ideological reasons not reveal the source of its chemical weapons. Recent studies, agonizing inmate deaths, and a cut-off in drug supply from Europe have thrown a wrench into the state apparatus for executions in Amerika. The EU horrified by the barbaric practice that will not die, has refused to provide anymore lethal chemicals to Amerika. Belarus is the only European country that carries out executions--a gunshot to the head. Lockett was the latest case in a history of botched procedures. Apparently an intravenous line or the vein itself failed. But he was declared unconscious by the state's doctor after midazolam, a sedative, was injected on Wednesday evening. Then the executioners proceeded to inject two more drugs, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride, intended to paralyze and stop the cardiac muscle. But Mr. Lockett regained consciousness and attempted to get up from the gurney in obvious pain. Without total sedation the second drugs are known to cause agonizing suffocation and pain. Because of the horror of Mr. Lockett's death a second inmate scheduled to die was stayed for two weeks. The White House condemned the macabre theater as inhumane. The governor promised an investigation but then assigned the matter to the state's public safety commissioner.

The appeals for disclosures about the drug sources prior to the scheduled executions put the state of Oklahoma into a frenzy. Officials are concerned about security for companies providing the drugs. The governor defied the Supreme Court's stay of the executions while it considered the disclosure controversy. Lawyers for the convicts say without knowing information about the supplier it was impossible to know if the drugs were safe and effective. The state's attorney general called the requests for information a "delaying tactic". A conservative state legislator threatened to impeach the justices for interfering in the planned executions. Both men committed particularly gruesome murders, but revenge, official or otherwise, never justifies a homicide. Both the AMA and the Society of Anesthesiologists say members should not take part in executions.

Friday, May 09, 2014

BP Spill Kills Estimated 800,000 Birds

NYT: oiled pelican tries to fly
Audubon tells US that the Deepwater Horizon disaster killed an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 coastal waterbirds in just the first three months of the prolonged oil spill. The scientific study used two different modeling methods and is the first public estimate of the damage down to the Gulf Coast ecosystem by British Petroleum. Government and corporate studies are not yet publicly available for comparison purposes. The study was conducted for two law firms representing clients with environmental claims against BP. As expected, the company criticized the findings as too high. Carcass to death ratios are typically at 10 to 1 or lower, but the study makes the case for a significantly higher ratiodue to factors like the sheer size of the area affected, scavenging, surface oil burning, and wind and ocean currents sweeping the area of carcasses. What cannot be disputed is that the Gulf Coast ecosystem was deeply injured by the spill and it will take decades to recover.

Audubon, Vicki Caligure
Restoration efforts are taking place. The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation was entrusted with $2.6 billion to spend on projects in the five states affected. Audubon received some of that money for shorebird habitat restoration in Florida and Mississippi. More funding will be released later this year. The National Resources Damage Assessment will take years to complete, but hopefully it will be a through scientific review of the damage to the ecosystem. The polluter will be required to pay to restore the ecosystem to its state before the oil spill. The Clean Water Act violations are still be contested by BP because the are potentially very large--upwards of $15bn--depending on the outcome of the civil liability trial. The last trial phase is scheduled to begin in January, 2015. This will be a very expensive mistake for a polluter that tended to scoff at environmental responsibility before their rig exploded in flames on April 20, 2010 killing eleven workers besides the huge numbers of defenseless wild creatures.

'Toontime: The Ticket Gets More Expensive

[credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch]
Wackydoodle axes:  Got an app for that?
The average American college graduate is in debt $35,000 for their education. That burden comes at a time when good jobs are hard to find. And the cost of higher education is going up at a remarkable pace. Since US Person graduated from law school college tuition and fees have risen 1,120%, four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index. In comparison over the same time period health care costs have increased 601% and food 244%. A healthy democracy depends on an educated electorate to counteract an entrenched corporate plutocracy; a dumbed-down populace is easier to control. These days America's democracy is snake bit.
[Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette]
'BC' Idonwanna sez: Godzilla still king of monsters!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Lone Male Finds Mate With Help From Friends

credit: Zoological Society of London
He is not the most handsome fish in the tank, but he was the only Mangarahara cichlid (Ptychochromis insolitus) swimming save one other male, in the London Zoo's aquarium. He needed urgent help to find his mate because the species was considered extinct in his native Madagascar. The Zoo launched an appeal to find other Mangarahara cichilds in the world and got a large response. A Madagascar businessman told the Zoo he had seen the fish in northern Madagascar. An expedition was launched with the help of the British Embassy in Madagascar and the Toronto Zoo. After days of searching the expedition found a tiny stream disconnected from the Mangarahara River. Locals helped cordon off sections of the remnant steam with nets and examine captured fish. Eventually, the last remaining Mangarahara cichlids were found in the wild. It was a shocking discovery since most of the fish's native habitat is destroyed. The river now resembles its desert surrounds, a result of deforestation and intensive agricultural overuse. The pool in which the tiny number of the remaining cichilds live is non-flowing and not ideal for their survival, but they found the water source and managed to hang on until found by the Zoo's searchers. The Zoo's aquarium curator said they are doing all they can to protect the remaining fish. Eighteen cichlids are now housed in a private aquaculture facility in Madagascar, and a plan for their conservation and captive breeding is being developed. Back in London, the Zoo's male no doubt anxiously awaits his new mate from home.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Climate Assessment: No Good News

The Third National Climate Assessment was released by the White House and it contains some alarming news. Officially, the number and strength of extreme weather events have increased over the past 50 years in line with predictions by climate scientists that global warming would perturb and intensify weather patterns. Between 1958 and 2012 the amount of precipitation falling in heavy storms increased by 71% in New England while the West is drying out. Record smashing summer temperatures in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 even increased at night, not allowing the sun baked Earth to release heat to the atmosphere. The US is warmer now since record keeping began.  According to the report's lead author, "There is no equivocation. It is fundamentally the pace of observations of extreme weather that makes it clear it is not natural variability." The national assessment reiterates the conclusion reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that climate change is reality and "driven primarily by human activity".

Not that these repeated conclusions by scientists will make any difference to the climate denial industry driven by corporate cash. Only the Congressional Record makes global warming a 50-50 proposition, an impressive achievement of propaganda and influence peddling. The national impacts from global warming are numerous and varied, and most carry a hefty price tag. While there are longer growing seasons in the future for the Midwest, the Northwest shellfish industry is suffering now from increased ocean acidification. Flooding events like the ones that just occurred in the South destroy infrastructure that is expensive to replace. Fighting forest fires that are increasing in frequency and size is also very expensive. Healthy forests are critical carbon sinks, but they are loosing their capacity to cope with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide. About five million people live only one meter above current high tides which will get higher as ocean levels increase.

While the assessment gives more reasons to reject projects that increase greenhouse gas emissions, the Current Occupant has decided to duck the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline decision until after the mid-term elections. The US State Department gave federal agencies more time to review the proposal before issuing a permit to the pipeline which when fully operational will carry about 830,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day from Alberta across Nebraska to the pipe's southern leg already approved by the administration and under construction [AP photo]. Recently, a Nebraska district court judge ruled that the state's pipeline siting law violates the state constitution.  The State Department has been widely criticized for issuing a environmental impact statement written by an energy industry contractor that found the pipeline would have no net environmental impact. Clearly that is a ludicrous conclusion which turns environmental assessments on energy projects into rubber-stamp exercises. Conservative Speaker Boner says the project has overwhelming public support because it will create jobs. Maybe some of those jobs will be bitumen spill clean-up projects.

Decline of Wildlife Means More Disease

It has been known since the Middle Ages that rodents carry disease and rodents often live in proximity to humans (especially if you leave your chickens' feed exposed). So you do not have to be a rocket scientist to hypothesize that declines in large wildlife that affect the size of rodent populations plays a role in suppressing the spread of disease to humans. Another kind of scientist studying wildlife on the East African savannas found exactly that expected correlation. When numbers of large animals decreased an increase in the risk of human disease regularly followed. An ecologist from the University of California, Santa Barbara and her team studied the effect of large wildlife on rodent populations and Bartonellosis a group of bacterial pathogens. Rodent populations explode in the absence of large animals. When elephants, giraffe and zebra are kept of out large areas of land in Kenya, rodent populations double which of course doubles the number of disease carrying fleas. The relationship even has a name, "rodentation" and can occur anywhere not just on the African savannas. And now that the entire world is connected by a few days of air travel at the most the outbreak of coronavirus diseases like SARS and MERS in remote rural locations poses a threat to urban human populations in cities like New York and Los Angeles. The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online edition.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

True America: Seattle Offers $15/hr!

Seattle has a long history of progressive politics going back beyond the "Wobblies"; unlike some smaller left coast cities that talk the talk, Seattle walks the walk too. Seattle civic leaders stepped up and proposed to raise it's minimum municipal wage to $15.00/hr over the next decade. Tips can only be counted by businesses as wages for the next five years. The move by Mayor Ed Murry was blessed by both labor and business groups and announced Thursday afternoon. A coalition called "15 Now" and led by the only socialist member of the City Council, Kshama Sawant pledged if the deal falls short of their expectations, an immediate wage hike initiative will be placed before city voters in November. Sawant's initiative would allow employers with fewer than 250 workers to phase in higher wages over 3 years but the full rate would be imposed immediately on larger businesses. Sawant opposed the deal to phase in higher wages, but there were 21 votes in favor of the measure in the working group raging from labor organizations to a venture capitalist. The City Council must vote to approve the measure. Currently 102,000 workers in Seattle earn less than $15 an hour. Raising their wages will insert about a half a billion extra spending money into Washington's economy. So how much did the Super Bowl raise?

Chart of the Week: Putin's Dream of "Novorossiya"?

The Current Occupant continues to blame Russia for the revolt in Ukraine, but that allegation is rather naive or extremely cynical for what is happening in eastern Ukraine is an ethnic separatist uprising. It may be advised and supported by Moscow but that does not belie the fact that pro-Russian separatists consider themselves Russians.  A "green man" was asked by a BBC reporter where he came from.  He replied, "Ukraine" but then added with a smile, "Actually there's no such nationality as Ukrainian. That's an Austrian-Hungarian deception. [referring to the 19th century European empire that included Ukraine] We're all Russian. And this land isn't Ukraine: it's Novorossiya--and we will defend it." To see the "New Russia" this green man is on about, look at the map:

Ukraine has effectively lost control of the eastern third of its territory. Pro-Russians activists have basically walked into official buildings and taken them over. There are reports of local Ukrainian officials failing to cooperate with Kiev's directives and riot police surrendering in Donetsk. If Moscow is orchestrating the revolt, its certainly has the strong support of ethnic Russian Ukrainians. The country is undeniably enfeebled by internal political division and official corruption. The United States naively stirred the pot in Kiev for its own commercial interests and now it's boiling over: Ukranians in the west are distrusted as fascists and Ukrainians in the east are derided as Soviet holdouts.

If Russia wants to re-establish historical "Novorossiya"--which US Person doubts--it is already part the way home. Swallowing such a large chunk of an impoverished country would cost the Kremlin billions--much easier to exert influence from across an international border without budgetary responsibilities. The Kremlin calls this arrangement Ukraine's "federalization" which would allow it to exert a good deal of influence over eastern regional governments. Putin referred to "Novorossiya" in his annual call-in show claiming "only God knows" why Novorossiya was incorporated into the Ukrainian soviet republic. God knows he dissembles. Putin should know of the Soviet policy of "Korenization", the bolsheviks apportioning territories in accordance with their ethnic composition which gave the region to Ukraine in 1922. An 1897 Russian imperial census showed Novorossiya was composed of a majority of ethnic Ukrainians. Under Stalin's reign of terror the region suffered major loss of population. After the WWII the region was redeveloped and many settlers came from other regions of the Soviet Union, and their cultural identity came with them. Their lies the rub.

Friday, May 02, 2014

'Toontime: Ultimate App

[credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post]
BC Idonwanna sez: Beware, trickle flows downstream!

[credit: Jerry Holbert, Boston Herald] 

The best Speaker 'Boner' can come up with is more warmed-over Benghazi theater while the US infrastructure crumbles, civil war overtakes Ukraine, and thousands march in Red Square in support of the real Vladimirovich.