Friday, May 28, 2010

Free enterprise vs. government regulation

A partial response to America's new culture war: Free enterprise vs. government control By Arthur C. Brooks - the president of the American Enterprise Institute.

There are actually a lot of Untruths in that piece by Brooks trying to be truths. It's not true, for instance, that entrepreneurs cannot flourish amidst reasonable government regulations. As R.Reich states, "Corporations are organized to maximize profits, not to achieve public goals such as environmental protection, financial trust, safety, and so on." And it's silly to suppose that corporations are going to act for the public good without regulations by the government requiring them to do so.

The anti-regulatory stance of Republicans is responsible for the Financial Crisis and BP's Gulf Oil Spill disaster. Republicans have had anti-government, corporate cronies where they should have had regulators - so of course - the system as they controlled it was inept. Not that the likes of the American Enterprise Institute will admit that. It goes against their profit-loving, pro-materialism, yea-rah propaganda.

The only problem that I see with Obama is that he has been too much like a Republican - supposing that corporations will act in the public interest when they are not required to do so. And probably because the corporations and the money are too much in control of elections and politicians, in general.

My answer is to get the the corporations out of government - not to get government out of the way of the corporations.

This is not a "New" culture war. This is the war started by Reagan - getting the rich richer and the poor poorer. A pro-materialism war.

As R.Reich wrote in his piece, How Conservatives Made the Case for Increased Regulations:

Since Ronald Reagan first opined that government was the problem rather than the solution, right-wing Republicans have blasted all forms of regulation. Now we see the consequences of years of regulatory neglect.

I guess it figures that someone who is President of the American Enterprise Institute is going to be single minded in his push for materialism. Here Brooks takes issue with Obama and what is a typical commencement theme "it's not all about the money":
...entrepreneurship can flourish only in a culture where individuals are willing to innovate and exert leadership; where people enjoy the rewards and face the consequences of their decisions; and where we can gamble the security of the status quo for a chance of future success.

Yet, in his commencement address at Arizona State University on May 13, 2009, President Obama warned against precisely such impulses: "You're taught to chase after all the usual brass rings; you try to be on this "who's who" list or that Top 100 list; you chase after the big money and you figure out how big your corner office is; you worry about whether you have a fancy enough title or a fancy enough car. That's the message that's sent each and every day, or has been in our culture for far too long -- that through material possessions, through a ruthless competition pursued only on your own behalf -- that's how you will measure success." Such ambition, he cautioned, "may lead you to compromise your values and your principles."

I appreciate the sentiment that money does not buy happiness. But for the president of the United States to actively warn young adults away from economic ambition is remarkable. And he makes clear that he seeks to change our culture.

Brooks is trying to maintain the values that advertisers have been forcing on people since the early days of TV. Retail analyst Victor Lebow wrote in the 1950s, : "Our enormously productive economy... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption... we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discared at an ever-accelerating rate."  

This is what Arthur Brooks wants to maintain. And he doesn't want anyone messing with his materialism or his profits or his entitlement philosophy.

I rather agree with his assertion that people are happier when people are able to earn money and be successful without government help. The trouble with today's economy and the economy Americans have been forced to live with since Reagan- is that people in large businesses, especially in the financial sector, people at the top of the corporate hierarchy, whether they be in law or whatever - have made enormous profits - the rest of us have had stagnant wages. The world is increasingly polarized - we've actually returned to the era of the 20s - with income inequality. This is why there needs to be redistribution through taxes. The system is too far out of wack.

Wrote Brooks:
...The new statism in America, made possible by years of drift and accelerated by the panic over the economic crisis, threatens to make us permanently poorer. But that is not the greatest danger. The real risk is that in the new culture war, we will forsake the third unalienable right set out in our Declaration of Independence: the pursuit of happiness.

Free enterprise brings happiness; redistribution does not. The reason is that only free enterprise brings earned success...If unearned money does not bring happiness, redistributing money by force won't make for a happier America -- and the redistributionists' theory of a better society through income equality falls apart.

There are various means of putting the system back into "wack" - such as making equal wages for women a reality. Having subsidized daycare. Having more a more equitable education system. Having college be free for all who are study and work for it. Having a universal, single-payer health care system. Having good health and access to health, as a right as a citizen instead of as a handout - would make people happier - esp. those with mental illnesses such as depression.

And basically - instead of making people feel like they are having to get a handout - even when they are working a full week - but with inadequate wages- would make a lot of people happier. The only people who may be made "permanently poorer" in my scenario are those in the top 1% on the income bracket - those who are feeding off the labor of the permanently poor each and every day.

There are two parts to this. Regulating corporations and providing an equitable tax system and community programs so that everyone can live in dignity. Obama and the government needs to provide leadership in this and people need to see the big picture of what is going on with corporations merely fighting for their interests - which is basically the "value" of keeping as much money as possible sequestered and controlled by those at the who already have the most.

I agree with Reich:
It's also important for the President to connect the dots -- providing Americans a clear narrative for why government is so critically important. Corporations are organized to maximize profits, not to achieve public goals such as environmental protection, financial trust, safety, and so on...

The President has an opportunity now to express appropriate indignation and to assert the importance of reasonable regulation. He should waste no time doing so.

Favorite Nature Photos

Out of a selection from the of the "greatest nature images of all time" - I like these the best:

Water lilies, Nymphaea nouchali, Okavango Delta, Botswana, by Frans Lanting

Tortoises at Dawn, Galapagos Islands, 1984, by Frans Lanting

Polar Dance, Hudson Bay, Canada, by Thomas D. Mangelsen

Thursday, May 27, 2010

" to save Indonesian rainforests"

Prince Charles brokers $1bn deal to save Indonesian rainforests in TimesOnline.UK:

Some of the world’s most endangered rainforests will be saved under a $1 billion deal inspired by the Prince of Wales, due to be announced today.

Indonesia, the country with the highest rate of deforestation, will sign an agreement under which it will stop issuing new licences for forest clearance and establish a new unit to tackle illegal logging.

The deal, which follows a rainforest summit hosted by Prince Charles at St James’s Palace last year, will test the principle of rich countries paying developing nations not to cut down their trees. Norway has agreed to give Indonesia $1 billion (£690 million) in return for a commitment to “a two-year suspension on all new concessions for conversion of peat and natural forest”.

A draft of the agreement, obtained by The Times, also sets out measures for protecting prime rainforest permanently, subject to the United Nations reaching agreement on annual payments to Indonesia. An independent inspection system will verify that Indonesia is abiding by its commitments The deal will be signed at a meeting on deforestation in Oslo attended by 50 heads of state and environment ministers as well as Prince Charles and the international financier George Soros.

The Prince will remind leaders of the link between climate change and deforestation, which contributes up to a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Prince’s Rainforests Project published a plan last November for a €25 billion (£21 billion) fund to reduce the rate of deforestation by 25 per cent by 2015. Today’s agreement marks the first stage of the plan’s implementation.

Greg Barker, the Climate Change Minister, confirmed yesterday that Britain had agreed to contribute £300 million to the fund by 2012. He said: “Stopping the destruction of forests globally is vital if we are to solve the threat posed by global climate change. Tackling deforestation is one area where we can get some real movement over the next few months.” The expansion of its palm oil and paper industries has turned Indonesia into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia loses an area of forest the size of Wales every year and the orang-utan is on the brink of extinction in Sumatra.

In 2008 Britain imported 27 million litres of Indonesian palm oil to add to diesel in order to comply with a European requirement for transport fuels to contain a rising proportion of biofuel. The requirement is being reconsidered after revelations that rising European demand for palm oil is contributing to deforestation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Media ignores Goldman Sachs’ ties to Corexit dispersant"

Posted at Bear Market Investments - Goldman Sachs & the Oil Volcano

In a recent New York Times’ article “Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup”, journalist Paula Quinlan questions why BP is using the 100 % toxic, 54 percent effective dispersant Corexit to clean up the oil when twelve other dispersants proved more effective in EPA testing.

BP spokesman Jon Pack defended the use of Corexit, which he said was decided in consultation with EPA. He called Corexit “pretty effective” and said the product had been “rigorously tested.”

“I’m not sure about the others,” Pack said. “This has been used by a number of major companies as an effective, low-toxicity dispersant.”

BP is not considering or testing other dispersants because the company’s attention is focused on plugging the leak and otherwise containing the spill, Pack said. “That has to be our primary focus right now,” he said.

Nalco spokesman Charlie Pajor said the decision on what to use was out of his company’s hands. He also declined to comment on EPA comparison tests, saying only that lab conditions cannot necessarily replicate those in the field. “The decision about what’s used is made by others — not by us,” he said.

Quinlan only looks at part of the picture. She associates BP’s investment in Nalco and oil industry representation on the board as the main reasons that Corexit was used instead of Dispirsit, which EPA testing shows to be twice as effective and a third less toxic. Yes, BP is hedging its losses with the profit it will make with its investment in Nalco, but who else benefits?
Follow the money…and the money goes to Goldman Sachs and friends. Instead, Quinlan (or her editor) goes after Exxon.

USFilter and Ondeo Nalco enter into a strategic partnership providing equipment, chemicals and service to industrial customers.
The Blackstone Group, Apollo Management L. P. and Goldman Sachs Capital Partners buy Ondeo Nalco.
Nalco Company, a recognized symbol of strength around the world, unveils new logo.

Never mind item three, the logo change executives consider one of the three most important events in Nalco’s 2003 history, hence its prominence on the Nalco corporate history webpage. Look at item number two.

If for no other reason that Goldman Sachs is newsworthy, I think that their $4.3 billion purchase of Nalco in 2003 would be worth mentioning, especially in light of their short trade on TransOcean. The shorts are another missing item in the business section of The Times, as is any information on Goldman’s role in the 9-11 put options on American and United for that matter. “All the lies that are fit to print…” on their banner would be more apropos. Seems someone is treating the demon children at GS with kid gloves.

The Chicago Boys' Free Market Theology

By Michael Hudson in Counterpunch:

Many academics recently received a petition signed by 111 University of Chicago faculty members, explaining that “without any announcement to its own community, [the University] has commissioned Ann Beha Architects, a Boston firm, to remake the Chicago Theological Seminary building into a home for the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics (MFIRE) and has renewed aggressive fund-raising activity for the controversial Institute.”

It would be hard to find a more fitting metaphor than what the press release characterizes as “conversion of the Seminary building into a temple of neoliberal economics.” Even the acronym MFIRE seems symbolically appropriate. The M might well stand for Money in Prof. Friedman’s MV = PT (Money x Velocity = Price x Transactions). And the FIRE sector comprises finance, insurance and real estate – the “free lunch” sector whose wealth the Chicago monetarists celebrate.

Classical economists characterized the rent and interest accruing to the FIRE sector as “unearned income,” headed by land rent and land-price (“capital”) gains, which John Stuart Mill described as what landlords made “in their sleep.” Milton Friedman, by contrast, insisted that “there is no such thing as a free lunch” – as if the economy were not all about a free lunch and how to get it. And the main way to get it is to dismantle the role of government and sell off the public domain – on credit.

As Charles Baudelaire quipped, the devil wins at the point where the world believes that he does not exist. Paraphrasing this we may say that free lunch rentiers achieve economic victory at the point where government regulators and economists believe that their returns do not exist – and hence, do not need to be taxed, regulated or otherwise subdued.

By “free market,” the Chicago Boys mean giving free reign to the financial sector – as opposed to the classical economists’ idea of freeing markets from rent and interest. Whereas traditional religion sought to lay down precepts for regulation, the Friedman Institute will promote deregulation. Physically replacing the theology school with a “temple of neoliberal economics” is ironic inasmuch as one tenet that all the major religions held in common at one point or other was opposition to the charging of interest. Judaism called for Clean Slates (Leviticus 25), and Christianity banned interest outright, citing the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

The Chicago Boys thus have inverted traditional theology. Yet the teaching of economics as an academic discipline began as moral philosophy courses in the 18th and 19th centuries. The leading universities of most countries were founded to train students for the ministry. The moral philosophy course evolved into political economy, dealing largely with economic reform and taxation of the unearned income accruing to vested interests as a result of legal privilege. The discipline was stripped down into “economics” largely to exclude political analysis, and the distinctions between productive and unproductive investment, earned and unearned income, value and price.

The classical economists saw rent and interest as a carry-over from Europe’s feudal conquest of the land and the privatization of money and finance into an institutionally based debt and monopoly overhead. The classical economists sought to tax away such “unearned income,” to regulate natural monopolies or shift them into the public domain.

Needless to say, this history of economic thought will not be taught at the Friedman Center. The first thing that the Chicago Boys did in Chile when they were given power after the 1973 military coup was to close down every economics department in the country – and indeed, every social science department outside of the Catholic University where they held sway. They realized that “free markets” for capital required total control of the educational curriculum, and of cultural media generally.

What free marketers realize is that without an Inquisition authority, you cannot have a “stable” free market – that is, a market free for the financial predators who presumably are targeted as the major potential donors to the U/C’s Friedman Center. Chicago School monetarists have achieved censorial power on the editorial boards of the major refereed economics journals, publication in which has become a precondition for career advancement for academic economists. The result has been to limit the scope of economics to “free market” celebration of rational choice theory and a narrow-minded “law and economics” ideology opposed to the ideas of moral justice and economic regulation that formed the basis of so much Western religion...

Who would have anticipated that economics would end up more right wing and authoritarian, more explicitly opposed to the very idea of human rights and distributive justice than theology? Or that the latter discipline itself would be so inverted? The classical economists were reformers, after all, seeking to free markets from unearned income – the “free lunch” of land rent by Europe’s hereditary aristocracies, and from monopoly rents administered by the royal trading corporations created by European governments to pay off their war debts. But the Chicago monetarists seek to deregulate monopolies and usury laws, favoring rentiers rather than the “real” economy of labor and capital. Their focus is on financial and property claims on income and on assets pledged as collateral: bank loans, stocks and bonds, for which they urge tax cuts. And to increase the market for leveraged buyouts, the Chicago Boys advocate privatizing the public domain, starting in Chile after 1973.

So what is inverted is not only the classical idea of free markets, but the economic core of early religion. Today, the Chicago Boys deem those most in need of salvation to be high finance, real estate and monopolies in their fighting to reverse the past seven centuries of classical economic reform since the Churchmen debated how to define a Just Price (socially necessary costs of production) for banks to charge back in the 13th century.

It seems largely about fund-raising, but isn’t that true of most religion nowadays? The University of Chicago was financed by John D. Rockefeller, prompting Upton Sinclair to call it “The University of Standard Oil” in The Goose Step...

Mr. Rockefeller at least duly gave his tithe to “those in need.” In a contrasting spirit, Herman Kahn’s wife, Jane, told me that once at a party, Milton Friedman replied to her suggestion of better public welfare and medical care, “Mrs. Kahn, why do you want to subsidize the production of orphans and sick people?” This is not exactly the classical religious spirit.

The problem with the Friedman Institute is that its economic doctrine rose to notoriety in the Pinochet period, the high tide of the Chicago Boys in Chile. Privatization of public enterprise, “freeing” markets from usury laws and promoting deregulation is the antithesis of nearly all religions, whose guiding purpose after all was to socialize their members and create a moral state.

Friedmanite monetarism has been characterized as a post-modern ideology which, like religion, has its own sacred cows and idols – and an Inquisition. In place of tithing of unbelievers as in Islam, we have the tax shift off the religion of finance capital onto labor standing outside its gates...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Oil and Wildlife

Photos from

"Despite Moratorium, Drilling Projects Move Ahead"

From the New York Times:

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Asked about the permits and waivers, officials at the Department of the Interior and the Minerals Management Service, which regulates drilling, pointed to public statements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, reiterating that the agency had no intention of stopping all new oil and gas production in the gulf.

Department of the Interior officials said in a statement that the moratorium was meant only to halt permits for the drilling of new wells. It was not meant to stop permits for new work on existing drilling projects like the Deepwater Horizon.

But critics say the moratorium has been violated or too narrowly defined to prevent another disaster.

With crude oil still pouring into the gulf and washing up on beaches and in wetlands, President Obama is sending Mr. Salazar and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano back to the region on Monday.

In a toughly worded warning to BP on Sunday, Mr. Salazar said at a news conference outside the company’s headquarters in Houston, “If we find they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing, we’ll push them out of the way appropriately.”

Mr. Salazar’s position conflicted with one laid out several hours earlier, by the commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Adm. Thad W. Allen, who said that the oil conglomerate’s access to the mile-deep well site meant that the government could not take over the lead in efforts to stop the leak.

“They have the eyes and ears that are down there,” the admiral said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved.”

Since the explosion, federal regulators have been harshly criticized for giving BP’s Deepwater Horizon and hundreds of other drilling projects waivers from full environmental review and for failing to provide rigorous oversight of these projects.

In voicing his frustration with these regulators and vowing to change how they operate, Mr. Obama announced on May 14 a moratorium on drilling new wells and the granting of environmental waivers.

“It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies,” Mr. Obama said. “That cannot and will not happen anymore.”

“We’re also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews,” he added in reference to the environmental waivers.

But records indicated that regulators continued granting the environmental waivers and permits for types of work like that occurring on the Deepwater Horizon.

In testifying before Congress on May 18, Mr. Salazar and officials from his agency said they recognized the problems with the waivers and they intended to try to rein them in. But Mr. Salazar also said that he was limited by a statutory requirement that he said obligated his agency to process drilling requests within 30 days after they have been submitted.

“That is what has driven a number of the categorical exclusions that have been given over time in the gulf,” he said.

But critics remained unsatisfied.

Shown the data indicating that waivers and permits were still being granted, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, said he was “deeply troubled.”

“We were given the clear impression that these waivers and permits were not being granted,” said Mr. Cardin, who is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, where Mr. Salazar testified last week. “I think the presumption should be that there should be stronger environmental reviews, not weaker.”

None of the projects that have recently been granted environmental waivers have started drilling...

At least six of the drilling projects that have been given waivers in the past four weeks are for waters that are deeper — and therefore more difficult and dangerous — than where Deepwater Horizon was operating. While that rig, which was drilling at a depth just shy of 5,000 feet, was classified as a deep-water operation, many of the wells in the six projects are classified as “ultra” deep water, including four new wells at over 9,100 feet.

In explaining why they were still granting new permits for certain types of drilling on existing wells, Department of the Interior officials said some of the procedures being allowed are necessary for the safety of the existing wellbore.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Saving global fish stocks would cost 20 million jobs"

From the Guardian.UK:

UN Report says 13 million fishing boats must be retired to replenish stocks, with money redirected to retrain millions of workers.

More than 20 million people employed in the fishing industry may need to be taken out of service and retrained for other work over the next 40 years if the final collapse of fish stocks in oceans around the globe is to be avoided, the UN warned today.

The UN's environment branch, UNEP, gave a sneak preview of its green economy report that will be published in October. It said that if the world remained on its current path of over-fishing, by 2050 all fish stocks could have become uneconomic to exploit or actually extinct.

Pavan Sukhdev, who heads UNEP's green economy initiative, said: "That is not as absurd as it sounds, as already 30% of the ocean fisheries have collapsed and are producing less than 10% of their original ability."

At the heart of the UN's analysis is the $27bn of subsidies it estimates is being injected into fishing every year, mainly by developing countries. The UN says the subsidies are huge in terms of the scale of the industry – amounting to almost a third of the $85bn total value of fish caught.

Among those subsidies, the UN defines just $8bn-worth as "good" in the sense of encouraging sustainable fishing of healthy stocks. Most of the subsidies are "bad", meaning they lead to overcapacity and exploitation, and about $3bn of the subsidies are "ugly", actively leading to the depletion of fish populations.

Among the most egregious practices targeted by the report are inducements to increase the size of massive trawler fleets that are among the main culprits of overfishing, and fuel subsidies on fuel for fleets.

"We are paying ourselves to destroy the very resource on which the whole fishing industry is dependant. We are in the process of eroding the natural capital that underpins our economies," said Achim Steiner, UNEP's director.

At stake is not just the biodiversity of the oceans, but a substantial chunk of the global economy and the livelihoods that depend on it. The UN estimates there are about 35 million people directly employed in fishing, which translates to about 120 million including their households and 500 million – or about 8% of global population – taking into account indirect businesses such as packaging, freezing and transport.

It is also a huge health issue, as fish provides the main source of animal protein for 1 billion of the world's poorest people.

The paradox is that there is so much overfishing going on that the industry has become increasingly inefficient. The UN believes that by switching from large trawler fleets to more sustainable local or "artisanal" fishing, fish stocks will recover and the total size of catch will grow...

The green economy report is being prepared ahead of the Rio+20 summit, to be held in Brazil in 2012. The UN hopes that governments will come under mounting pressure over the next two years over the fish crisis.

UNEP refuses to name and shame the worst offenders in overfishing, though it says its final report will contain tables and statistics that will "enable any reader to figure out where the problem is". The Spanish and Japanese governments and the EU, which have been singled out by environmentalists for criticism, have been sent draft chapters of the report, alongside other leading fishing nations. "We are getting the message out that this will not remain unnoticed," Sukhdev said.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals"

From WDSU:

LAFITTE, La. -- More and more stories about sick fishermen are beginning to surface after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fishermen are working out in the Gulf -- many of them all day, every day -- to clean up the spill. They said they blame their ailments on the chemicals that BP is using.

One fisherman said he felt like he was going to die over the weekend.

"I've been coughing up stuff," Gary Burris said. "Your lungs fill up."

Burris, a longtime fisherman who has worked across the Gulf Coast, said he woke up Sunday night feeling drugged and disoriented.

"It was like sniffing gasoline or something, and my ears are still popping," Burris said. "I'm coughing up stuff. I feel real weak, tingling feelings."

Marine toxicologist Riki Ott said the chemicals used by BP can wreak havoc on a person's body and even lead to death.

"The volatile, organic carbons, they act like a narcotic on the brain," Ott said. "At high concentrations, what we learned in Exxon Valdez from carcasses of harbor seals and sea otters, it actually fried the brain, (and there were) brain lesions."

Rep. Charlie Melancon said he wants something done. He sent a letter to President Barack Obama's administration calling for temporary health care clinics to be set up in the area...

Burris said that when he went to a doctor after feeling ill on Sunday, the doctor told him his lungs looked like those of a three-pack-a-day smoker, and Burris said he has never smoked.

Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Oil in Pass a Loutre"


PHOTO BY TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and La. Gov. Bobby Jindal tour through the Roseau Grasses that mark the coastline of Southeast Louisiana at Pass a Loutre at the mouth of the Mississippi River where oil has washed ashore, Wednesday, May 19, 2010.

"Greenland Rapidly Rising as Ice Melt Continues"

From ScienceDaily:

Greenland is situated in the Atlantic Ocean to the northeast of Canada. It has stunning fjords on its rocky coast formed by moving glaciers, and a dense icecap up to 2 km thick that covers much of the island--pressing down the land beneath and lowering its elevation. Now, scientists at the University of Miami say Greenland's ice is melting so quickly that the land underneath is rising at an accelerated pace.

According to the study, some coastal areas are going up by nearly one inch per year and if current trends continue, that number could accelerate to as much as two inches per year by 2025, explains Tim Dixon, professor of geophysics at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) and principal investigator of the study.

"It's been known for several years that climate change is contributing to the melting of Greenland's ice sheet," Dixon says. "What's surprising, and a bit worrisome, is that the ice is melting so fast that we can actually see the land uplift in response," he says. "Even more surprising, the rise seems to be accelerating, implying that melting is accelerating."

Dixon and his collaborators share their findings in a new study titled "Accelerating uplift in the North Atlantic region as an indicator of ice loss," The paper is now available as an advanced online publication, by Nature Geoscience. The idea behind the study is that if Greenland is losing its ice cover, the resulting loss of weight causes the rocky surface beneath to rise. The same process is affecting the islands of Iceland and Svalbard, which also have ice caps, explains Shimon Wdowinski, research associate professor in the University of Miami RSMAS, and co-author of the study.

"During ice ages and in times of ice accumulation, the ice suppresses the land," Wdowinski says. "When the ice melts, the land rebounds upwards," he says. "Our study is consistent with a number of global warming indicators, confirming that ice melt and sea level rise are real and becoming significant."

...Melting of Greenland's ice contributes to global sea level rise. If the acceleration of uplift and the implied acceleration of melting continue, Greenland could soon become the largest contributor to global sea level rise, explains Yan Jiang, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Miami RSMAS and co-author of the study.

"Atlantic coast now under threat as current spreads Gulf oil slick"

From the

There was mounting evidence last night that the scale of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has grown beyond all the initial worst-case scenarios, as thousands of gallons of oil continued to gush from the sea floor.

On the island of Key West, south of Florida, coastguard officials said about three tar balls an hour were washing up on the beaches of a state park. They said the globs of concentrated oil suggest leaking crude has now become caught up in the powerful loop current and could move from the gulf up to the Atlantic coast.

Meanwhile, an oceanographic research ship reported sighting a 10km (six-mile) plume lurking at depths below 1,000 metres and invisible from the surface.

The evidence of spreading environmental damage grew even more compelling with the release of fresh video showing thick clouds of oil billowing from the ruptured well.

The Obama administration responded by doubling the no-fishing zone to 19% of the waters in the gulf.

Fighting the spill is risky. Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, acknowledged that authorities were relying heavily on Corexit, a chemical banned in the UK because of its effects on limpets and other sea life.

"There has been a real reliance on them, maybe more than anybody thought would ever happen," she told the Senate environment and public works committee.

The mounting evidence forced administration officials to admit for the first time yesterday that they had underestimated the risks of offshore drilling.

In two highly charged hearings in the Senate, Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, conceded there had been failures in oversight by the agency responsible for policing offshore drilling. "We need to clean up that house," he said...

The White House this week intensified its efforts to limit the potential political damage on November's mid-term elections by backing an independent commission to investigate the disaster. In testimony yesterday defensive actions also included dogged resistance by administration officials to senators' demands to provide estimates of the size of the spill.

The stonewalling went beyond the Senate hearings. For the past 48 hours, officials have resisted reports by scientists that the spill could have entered the loop current, or downplayed their significance.

There are quite a few news stories claiming that the tar balls are not from this spill. But they don't say where they are from. If there haven't been tar balls and now there are - that is rather a stretch (wishful thinking?) to say they are not from "Deepwater Horizon".

Monday, May 17, 2010

"ADHD in kids linked to pesticide exposure"

The Montreal Gazette:

MONTREAL – Children exposed to common pesticides used on fruits and vegetables could have a higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, a new study has found.

The risk is present even at very low exposure, said lead author Maryse Bouchard of the Université de Montréal, a post-doctoral student at Harvard University.

Apart from a handful of studies on the subject that looked at specific groups with high exposure – for example, children of agricultural workers or living near crop fields – there previously was little data about pesticides and children’s health, Bouchard said.

“This is the average American child ... with no particular source of exposure that we know of,” Bouchard said of the study published in the journal Pediatrics Monday.

Bouchard’s findings show exposure is harmful even at levels commonly found in children’s environment.

Children are uniquely sensitive to pesticides – even small amounts can affect brain development. Pound for pound of body weight, infants and children eat, drink and breathe more than adults.

Bouchard and her colleagues looked at a sample of 1,139 children between 8 and 15 years and their measures of urine for metabolites of pesticides known as organophosphates.

The compounds turned up in the urine of 94 per cent of the children.

Those with higher residues of pesticide in their urine were at higher risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder – for which they were taking medication, Bouchard said.

Parents said their children had learning difficulties and behaviour problems including inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

The surprise, Bouchard said, was that the effect was noted at really low levels of pesticides.

“They had double the risk compared to those with no detectable levels of pesticide,” Bouchard said.

Organophosphate compounds have been used as insecticides in agriculture and in chemical warfare.

Some pesticides persist in the body. But not organophosphates. These are metabolized and eliminated quickly, which means that if found in urine, exposure had occurred within a few days, explained Robin Walker of the Canadian Institute of Child Health and chair of the pediatric health unit for the Canadian Pediatrics Society.

“That means that the children who had the highest levels probably were ingesting the pesticide in a fairly continuous fashion,” said Walker, who did not participate in the study.

“That’s worrisome. We’re not talking about acute toxicity. We’re much more concerned about the impact on the developing organism of low-level, continuous exposure.”

While earlier studies have shown links between pesticides and a broad range of neurdevelopmental issues, Bouchard’s team honed in on ADHD, behaviour and cognitive function.

The study does not prove pesticides cause ADHD but the link is significant, Walker said.

Also, the study did not determine how children were exposed, but researchers speculate the major source is diet and the environment.

Researchers noted high concentrations of pesticide were previously found in frozen blueberries, strawberries and celery.

Children are smaller, shorter, closer to the ground. Also, they tend to play in grass and dirt, and put toys and hands in their mouths, activities that can significantly increase their exposure to pesticides.

Plus, their bodies are not fully developed and they may not be able to excrete toxins like adults do.

People can limit pesticide exposure by eating organically grown foods, washing fruits and vegetables before eating them and reducing the use of pesticides in their homes and gardens.

The study is further proof that provinces should follow Quebec’s lead in banning lawn and garden pesticides, Walker said.

The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster / Gulf Stream Loop Current


Whys and Hows RE: the Gulf Oil Disaster

A synopsis of a "60 Minutes" Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster by Keith Pickering @ Daily Kos:

1 - This was the second attempt to drill a well in about the same spot. The first well had to be abandoned because the well had been drilled too fast (under pressure from BP to bring the well in quickly). Result: the rock fractured, causing loss of control of pressure in the well. Twenty-five million bucks down the drain, said BP to the crew. So they had to try again, in a rock formation known to be problematic.

2 - Early on while drilling the second well (the one that eventually blew up) an accident damaged part of the blowout preventer (BOP). According to Williams, they were conducting a routine test of the annular, a ring of rubber that closes around the well at the top of the BOP stack. While the annular was closed, thus closing off the well, a driller accidentally pushed a joystick, which pulled the pipe casing up through the rubber seal at very high pressure. A short time later, after drilling had resumed, pieces of rubber began coming up from the bottom of the well. A drilling supervisor told Williams that the rubber debris was "no big deal".

3 - The BOP has two redundant electronics boxes, called pods, which communicate with the surface. These are critical devices which trigger the BOP to close the well in emergency. One of the two pods was problematic and occasionally inoperable. The batteries on the BOP were also weak.

4 - The well was in the process of being closed with cement plugs when the blowout occurred. The day of the blowout, there was a disagreement between the Transocean supervisor and the BP supervisor over how that should be accomplished. The Transocean guy wanted to keep mud in the well (i.e., keep pressure in the well) during the cementing. The BP guy wanted the mud pulled from the well for cementing, because it was faster and they were already behind schedule. The BP guy won the argument. If pressure had been maintained in the well during the cementing operation, the blowout would not have occurred.

From another forum posted from another forum:

BP contracted Schlumberger (SLB) to run the Cement Bond Log (CBL) test that was the final test on the plug that was skipped. The people testifying have been very coy about mentioning this, and you'll see why.

SLB is an extremely highly regarded (and incredibly expensive) service company. They place a high standard on safety and train their workers to shut down unsafe operations.

SLB gets out to the Deepwater Horizon to run the CBL, and they find the well still
kicking heavily, which it should not be that late in the operation. SLB orders the"company man" (BP's man on the scene that runs the operation) to dump kill fluid down the well and shut-in the well. The company man refuses. SLB in the very next sentence asks for a helo to take all SLB personel back to shore. The company man says there are no more helo's scheduled for the rest of the week (translation: you're here to do a job, now do it). SLB gets on the horn to shore, calls SLB's corporate HQ, and gets a helo flown out there at SLB's expense and takes all SLB personel to shore.

6 hours later, the platform explodes.

Gulf Oil Disaster Update

There is a tube that was inserted into the gushing well that is allowing recovery of app. one-fifth of the oil. It is being piped a mile up to a tanker at the surface of the water. (Other remedies had been tried and failed to do anything.)

There are also fears that the oil has gotten into the current that could take the oil to and through the Florida Keys and out to the Atlantic. If it isn't already in the current - it is near. It is probably inevitable at this point given the quantity of oil that has gushed out.

Gulf Oil Spreading into Major Current is New Worry

Meanwhile, the head of BP and other conservatives like to think that it's no big deal. (??????!?!?!?!?!??!?!? - arrrrrgghhhhhh):

The boss of BP has claimed its Gulf of Mexico oil spill is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean".

Chief executive Tony Hayward also admitted his job is on the line because of the disaster, set to be the worst oil spill in history.

He said: "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean.

"The amount of oil and dispersant is tiny in relation to the water volume."

First off - the Gulf is not an ocean, and second - it is a disaster of the highest magnitude if it ruins even half of the beaches of the Gulf (which it probably will - and possibly the entire Gulf) and ruins the environment and ecosystems for millions of animals. It makes me sick that people with such authority and power are so callous.

From other windbags:

Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) speculated that the spill may have just been God's doing: “From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented."
(Um - "God" didn't drill a hole in the Gulf)

"The ocean will take care of this on its own if it was left alone and left out there. It's natural. It's as natural as the ocean water is." (Rush Limbaugh - who also suggested it was an environmental conspiracy - to fend off more drilling).
(Again, it's not "natural" to have that amount of oil flooded into the environment - and it would take nature decades if not centuries to get back to normal).

Michael Brown, director of FEMA during the Bush years, told FOX News' Neil Cavuto: "This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, 'I'm gonna shut it down because it's too dangerous. This president has never supported big oil, he's never supported offshore drilling, and now he has an excuse to shut it back down."
(that is just stupid and ignorant - as if anyone WANTS a disaster like this. If if wakes people up to the problems - then yes - that is a good result - but only so that more of the same doesn't happen. If the Republicansd have their way - this will be used as an excuse to drill more - because the Gulf will already be ruined.)

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) saw the disaster as an opportunity to call for expanded offshore drilling: “This tragedy should remind us that America needs a real, comprehensive energy plan, like Republicans’ ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy."
(the Republican leaders do not have a clue about our need to protect the world in which we live - they are only about protecting their profit and protecting their "life-style".)

Tony Hayward, CEO of BP, the company that owns the oil rig that caused this whole mess, told the BBC that it wasn't their mess, but they'll go ahead and clean it up anyways: “This was not our accident … This was not our drilling rig. This was not our equipment. It was not our people, our systems or our processes. This was Transocean’s rig. Their systems. Their people. Their equipment.”
(Besides being overall responsible for what happened out there - it was their manager that made the ultimate disaster-creating decisions).

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Sex, Lies and Oil Spills"

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.- Huffington Post:

A common spin in the right wing coverage of BP's oil spill is a gleeful suggestion that the gulf blowout is Obama's Katrina.

In truth, culpability for the disaster can more accurately be laid at the Bush Administration's doorstep. For eight years, George Bush's presidency infected the oil industry's oversight agency, the Minerals Management Service, with a septic culture of corruption from which it has yet to recover. Oil patch alumnae in the White House encouraged agency personnel to engineer weakened safeguards that directly contributed to the gulf catastrophe.

The absence of an acoustical regulator -- a remotely triggered dead man's switch that might have closed off BP's gushing pipe at its sea floor wellhead when the manual switch failed (the fire and explosion on the drilling platform may have prevented the dying workers from pushing the button) -- was directly attributable to industry pandering by the Bush team. Acoustic switches are required by law for all offshore rigs off Brazil and in Norway's North Sea operations. BP uses the device voluntarily in Britain's North Sea and elsewhere in the world as do other big players like Holland's Shell and France's Total. In 2000, the Minerals Management Service while weighing a comprehensive rulemaking for drilling safety, deemed the acoustic mechanism "essential" and proposed to mandate the mechanism on all gulf rigs.

Then, between January and March of 2001, incoming Vice President Dick Cheney conducted secret meetings with over 100 oil industry officials allowing them to draft a wish list of industry demands to be implemented by the oil friendly administration. Cheney also used that time to re-staff the Minerals Management Service with oil industry toadies including a cabal of his Wyoming carbon cronies. In 2003, newly reconstituted Minerals Management Service genuflected to the oil cartel by recommending the removal of the proposed requirement for acoustic switches. The Minerals Management Service's 2003 study concluded that "acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly."

The acoustic trigger costs about $500,000. Estimated costs of the oil spill to Gulf Coast residents are now upward of $14 billion to gulf state communities. Bush's 2005 energy bill officially dropped the requirement for the acoustic switch off devices explaining that the industry's existing practices are "failsafe."

Bending over for Big Oil became the ideological posture of the Bush White House, and, under Cheney's cruel whip, the practice trickled down through the regulatory bureaucracy. The Minerals Management Service -- the poster child for "agency capture phenomena" -- hopped into bed with the regulated industry -- literally. A 2009 investigation of the Minerals Management Service found that agency officials "frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives." Three reports by the Inspector General describe an open bazaar of payoffs, bribes and kickbacks spiced with scenes of female employees providing sexual favors to industry big wigs who in turn rewarded government workers with illegal contracts. In one incident reported by the Inspector General, agency employees got so drunk at a Shell sponsored golf event that they could not drive home and had to sleep in hotel rooms paid for by Shell.

Pervasive intercourse also characterized their financial relations. Industry lobbyists underwrote lavish parties and showered agency employees with illegal gifts, and lucrative personal contracts and treated them to regular golf, ski, and paintball outings, trips to rock concerts and professional sports events. The Inspector General characterized this orgy of wheeling and dealing as "a culture of ethical failure" that cost taxpayers millions in royalty fees and produced reams of bad science to justify unregulated deep water drilling in the gulf.

It is charitable to characterize the ethics of these government officials as "elastic." They seemed not to have existed at all. The Inspector General reported with some astonishment that Bush's crew at the MMS, when confronted with the laundry list of bribery, public theft and sexual and financial favors to and from industry "showed no remorse."

BP's confidence in lax government oversight by a badly compromised agency still staffed with Bush era holdovers may have prompted the company to take two other dangerous shortcuts. First, BP failed to install a deep hole shut off valve -- another fail-safe that might have averted the spill. And second, BP's reported willingness to violate the law by drilling to depths of 22,000-25,000 feet instead of the 18,000 feet maximum depth allowed by its permit may have contributed to this catastrophe.

And wherever there's a national tragedy involving oil, Cheney's offshore company Halliburton is never far afield. In fact, stay tuned; Halliburton may emerge as the primary villain in this caper. The blow out occurred shortly after Halliburton completed an operation to reinforce drilling hole casing with concrete slurry. This is a sensitive process that, according to government experts, can trigger catastrophic blowouts if not performed attentively. According to the Minerals Management Service, 18 of 39 blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico since 1996 were attributed to poor workmanship injecting cement around the metal pipe. Halliburton is currently under investigation by the Australian government for a massive blowout in the Timor Sea in 2005 caused by its faulty application of concrete casing.

The Obama administration has assigned nearly 2,000 federal personnel from the Coast Guard, the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, EPA, NOAA and Department of Interior to deal with the spill -- an impressive response. Still, the current White House is not without fault -- the government should, for example, be requiring a far greater deployment of absorbent booms. But the real culprit in this villainy is a negligent industry, the festering ethics of the Bush Administration and poor oversight by an agency corrupted by eight years of grotesque subservience to Big Oil.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Jellyfish and Oil Don't Mix

Photos by Carolyn Cole from the

Dead jellyfish float in the waters off the Chandeleur Islands.

Oil surrounds parts of Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands in the Gulf of Mexico.

A boat makes its way along the edge of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico near the Chandeleur Islands.

Jellyfish can survive and even thrive with a lot of crap that civilization throws their way. But not oil.

Gulf Oil Disaster 5 times / 10 times larger than 1st Estimate

NPR says the spill is at least 10 times larger that the BP first suggested. Other sources say 5 times.

The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is at least 10 times the size of official estimates, according to an exclusive NPR analysis.

At NPR's request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

NPR's Richard Harris talks to Michele Norris on All Things Considered
[3 min 45 sec]

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it's not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.

"There's potentially some fluctuation back and forth between methane and oil," Wereley said.

But assuming that the lion's share of the material coming out of the pipe is oil, Wereley's calculations show that the official estimates are too low.

"We're talking more than a factor-of-10 difference between what I calculate and the number that's being thrown around," he said.

At least two other calculations support him.

Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he'd like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.

Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley's, it is in the same ballpark.

"I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day," he said.

Chiang called the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day "almost certainly incorrect."

Given this flow rate, it seems this is a spill of unprecedented proportions in U.S. waters.

"It would just take a few days, at most a week, for it to exceed the Exxon Valdez's record," Chiang said...

This new, much larger number suggests that capturing — and cleaning up — this oil may be a much bigger challenge than anyone has let on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

With Obama, Regulations Are Back in Fashion

What some (ie Chief Justice Roberts) may call Paternalism or the "Nanny State" - I think of as Law and Order. Reasonable regulations so that our shared commons are not destroyed and to protect the health of workers and citizens.

By Eric Lipton - New York Times:

In a burst of rule-making, federal agencies have toughened or proposed new standards to protect Americans from tainted eggs, safeguard construction workers from crane accidents, prevent injuries from baby walkers and even protect polar bears from extinction.

Over the last year, the Obama administration has pressed forward on hundreds of new mandates, while also stepping up enforcement of rules by increasing the ranks of inspectors and imposing higher fines for violations.

A new age of regulation is well under way in Washington, a fact somewhat obscured by the high-profile debates over the health care overhaul and financial oversight system and by fresh calls for greater federal vigilance spurred by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the deaths of coal miners in West Virginia.

The surge in rule-making has resulted from an unusual confluence of factors, from repeated outbreaks of food-borne illnesses to workplace disasters. Some industry groups, wanting foreign competitors to adhere to the same standards they must meet, have backed new federal mandates. The push for some of the measures began at the end of the Bush administration, a tacit acknowledgment that its deregulatory agenda had gone too far.

Still, the new aggressiveness reflects the new cops on the beat, and the contrast with the Bush administration is an intentionally sharp one. While the Bush administration mostly favored voluntary compliance by industry, senior Obama administration officials argue that carefully crafted regulation can be a positive force.

“We start from the perspective that we all want a cleaner environment, longer lives, improved safety,” said Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, which reviews major regulations. “Smart regulation can make people’s lives better off.”

But complaints from industry leaders are intensifying. Manufacturers, home builders, toymakers and others say that Washington has been overzealous about imposing new requirements, and they warn of serious consequences for businesses and consumers.

“I am all for clean water, but this really isn’t helping,” said Bobby Bowling IV, president of the Tropicana Building Corporation in El Paso, who objects to rules adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency last year requiring larger construction sites to prevent turbid storm-water runoff. “All this is one more obstacle to development,” Mr. Bowling said.

The National Association of Manufacturers made a similar complaint about the cost of many of the new proposed mandates. “Dollars spent on compliance with cumbersome regulations are dollars not spent on hiring new employees,” said Erin Streeter, a spokeswoman for the group.

Obama administration officials reject the criticism, saying that the benefits associated with the dozens of major rules adopted between President Obama’s inauguration and the end of 2009 outweigh the costs by an estimated $3.1 billion, a savings they assert is greater than that attributed to new regulations in the first years of the Clinton and Bush administrations.

They arrived at that figure by factoring in upfront costs — like the price of stronger brake systems being mandated in new tractor-trailers — with the estimated long-term savings — like reduced property damage and an estimated 227 fewer highway deaths each year.

“I don’t want to put anyone out of business,” said Inez Tenenbaum, chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, who was appointed by Mr. Obama. “But if anything will help the marketplace, it is to make sure that people have confidence in the products that they buy.”

The Environmental Protection Agency is perhaps the most aggressive advocate of the new regulatory philosophy in Washington. It has moved quickly to reverse or strengthen Bush administration policies on power plant pollution, lead paint and toxic chemical discharges.

Last month, along with the Transportation Department, the agency mandated that automakers significantly cut greenhouse-gas emissions while increasing fuel economy standards, an issue the Bush administration had put on hold, citing the industry’s weakened financial condition. The car companies pronounced themselves happy with the result because it eliminated the possibility of even stricter regulation by California and about a dozen other states.

The agency’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, has made clear that she would prefer to have Congress tackle climate change through broad legislation in what would be one of the largest regulatory actions in American history. But if Congress fails to pass a law, she has already started the process of mandating standards on her own.

The shift is also evident at major agencies charged with policing worker safety, health and consumer products. Many of the rules those agencies have adopted or are now pushing to impose — including a requirement that farmers refrigerate eggs and kill rodents to combat salmonella contamination on eggshells, which sickens 79,000 people a year — languished during previous administrations.

Now, a newly muscular Food and Drug Administration will have more authority, money and staff for greater scrutiny of products. Since bottoming out at 1,309 inspectors in the 2007 fiscal year, the agency now has 1,800 inspectors with 150 more on the way. Inspections rose 5 percent in 2009 after years of declines and are expected to increase steadily in coming years.

David Michaels, who became head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in December, has asked Congress to allow the agency to impose much larger fines and criminal penalties on employers that knowingly leave their workers at risk. The agency also is adding dozens of inspectors.

“Fourteen workers die every day in preventable events all across the country,” Dr. Michaels said. “We have to turn up the volume to make it very clear that OSHA is on the job.”

.....Other conservative critics have assailed the administration as creating a big-government nanny state that threatens the nation’s global competitiveness. James L. Gattuso, an expert on regulatory policy at the Heritage Foundation, said the Obama administration was most likely inflating the cost savings and other benefits associated with many of its rule changes, disguising the negative impact they are having on the economy.....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"Sex & Drugs & the Spill"

By Paul Krugman- New York Times:

...There is a common thread running through Katrina and the gulf spill — namely, the collapse in government competence and effectiveness that took place during the Bush years.

The full story of the Deepwater Horizon blowout is still emerging. But it’s already obvious both that BP failed to take adequate precautions, and that federal regulators made no effort to ensure that such precautions were taken.

For years, the Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that oversees drilling in the gulf, minimized the environmental risks of drilling. It failed to require a backup shutdown system that is standard in much of the rest of the world, even though its own staff declared such a system necessary. It exempted many offshore drillers from the requirement that they file plans to deal with major oil spills. And it specifically allowed BP to drill Deepwater Horizon without a detailed environmental analysis.

Surely, however, none of this — except, possibly, that last exemption, granted early in the Obama administration — surprises anyone who followed the history of the Interior Department during the Bush years.

For the Bush administration was, to a large degree, run by and for the extractive industries — and I’m not just talking about Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Crucially, management of Interior was turned over to lobbyists, most notably J. Steven Griles, a coal-industry lobbyist who became deputy secretary and effectively ran the department. (In 2007 Mr. Griles pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his ties to Jack Abramoff.)

Given this history, it’s not surprising that the Minerals Management Service became subservient to the oil industry — although what actually happened is almost too lurid to believe. According to reports by Interior’s inspector general, abuses at the agency went beyond undue influence: there was “a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” — cocaine, sexual relationships with industry representatives, and more. Protecting the environment was presumably the last thing on these government employees’ minds.

Now, President Obama isn’t completely innocent of blame in the current spill. As I said, BP received an environmental waiver for Deepwater Horizon after Mr. Obama took office. It’s true that he’d only been in the White House for two and half months, and the Senate wouldn’t confirm the new head of the Minerals Management Service until four months later. But the fact that the administration hadn’t yet had time to put its stamp on the agency should have led to extra caution about giving the go-ahead to projects with possible environmental risks.

And it’s worth noting that environmentalists were bitterly disappointed when Mr. Obama chose Ken Salazar as secretary of the interior. They feared that he would be too friendly to mineral and agricultural interests, that his appointment meant that there wouldn’t be a sharp break with Bush-era policies — and in this one instance at least, they seem to have been right...

What really needs to change is our whole attitude toward government. For the troubles at Interior weren’t unique: they were part of a broader pattern that includes the failure of banking regulation and the transformation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a much-admired organization during the Clinton years, into a cruel joke. And the common theme in all these stories is the degradation of effective government by antigovernment ideology.

Mr. Obama understands this: he gave an especially eloquent defense of government at the University of Michigan’s commencement, declaring among other things that “government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them.”

Yet antigovernment ideology remains all too prevalent, despite the havoc it has wrought. In fact, it has been making a comeback with the rise of the Tea Party movement. If there’s any silver lining to the disaster in the gulf, it is that it may serve as a wake-up call, a reminder that we need politicians who believe in good government, because there are some jobs only the government can do.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

"The Crisis Comes Ashore" by Al Gore

From the New Republic:

The continuing undersea gusher of oil 50 miles off the shores of Louisiana is not the only source of dangerous uncontrolled pollution spewing into the environment. Worldwide, the amount of man-made CO2 being spilled every three seconds into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet equals the highest current estimate of the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo well every day. Indeed, the average American coal-fired power generating plant gushes more than three times as much global-warming pollution into the atmosphere each day—and there are over 1,400 of them.

Just as the oil companies told us that deep-water drilling was safe, they tell us that it’s perfectly all right to dump 90 million tons of CO2 into the air of the world every 24 hours. Even as the oil spill continues to grow—even as BP warns that the flow could increase multi-fold, to 60,000 barrels per day, and that it may continue for months—the head of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, says, "Nothing has changed. When we get back to the politics of energy, oil and natural gas are essential to the economy and our way of life." His reaction reminds me of the day Elvis Presley died. Upon hearing the tragic news, Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, said, “This changes nothing.”

However, both the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the CO2 spill into the global atmosphere are causing profound and harmful changes—directly and indirectly. The oil is having a direct impact on fish, shellfish, turtles, seabirds, coral reefs, marshes, and the entire web of life in the Gulf Coast. The indirect effects include the loss of jobs in the fishing and tourism industries; the destruction of the health, vitality, and rich culture of communities in the region; imminent bankruptcies; vast environmental damage expected to persist for decades; and the disruption of seafood markets nationwide.

And, of course, the consequences of our ravenous consumption of oil are even larger. Starting 40 years ago, when America's domestic oil production peaked, our dependence on foreign oil has steadily grown. We are now draining our economy of several hundred billion dollars a year in order to purchase foreign oil in a global market dominated by the huge reserves owned by sovereign states in the Persian Gulf. This enormous and increasing transfer of wealth contributes heavily to our trade and current-account deficits, and enriches regimes in the most unstable region of the world, helping to finance both terrorism and Iran’s relentless effort to build a nuclear arsenal.

The profound risk to our national and economic security posed by the prospect of the world’s sudden loss of access to Persian Gulf oil contributed greatly to the strategic miscalculations and public deceptions that led to our costly invasion of Iraq, including the reckless diversion of military and intelligence assets from Afghanistan before our mission there was accomplished.

I am far from the only one who believes that it is not too much of a stretch to link the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and northwestern Pakistan—and even last week’s attempted bombing in Times Square—to a long chain of events triggered in part by our decision to allow ourselves to become so dependent on foreign oil.

Here at home, the illusion that we can meaningfully reduce our dependence on foreign oil by taking extraordinary risks to develop deep reserves in the Outer Continental Shelf is illuminated by the illustration below. The addition to oil company profits may be significant, but the benefits to our national security are trivial. Meanwhile, our increasing appetite for coal is also creating environmental and human catastrophes. The obscene practice known as “mountaintop mining,” for instance, is not only defacing the landscape of Appalachia but also destroying streams throughout the region and poisoning the drinking water of many communities.

The direct consequences of burning these vast and ever-growing amounts of oil and coal are a buildup of heat in the atmosphere worldwide and the increased acidity of the oceans. (Although the world has yet to focus on ocean acidification, the problem is terrifying. Thirty million of the 90 million tons of CO2 being spilled each day end up in the oceans as carbonic acid, changing the pH level by more than at any time in the last many millions of years, thus inflicting every form of life in the ocean that makes a shell or a reef with a kind of osteoporosis—interfering with their ability to transform calcium carbonate into the hard structures upon which their life depends—that threatens the survival of many species of zooplankton at the base of the ocean food chain.)..

Scientists are always careful in the way they describe the cause-and-effect relationship between global warming and such events (the flood in Nashville, TN): It is a mistake, they say, to attribute any single extreme weather event only to global warming, because there is large natural variability in weather—but the odds of extremely large downpours, scientists repeatedly insist, are steadily increasing with global warming, and such events are predicted to become far more common with each passing decade because when water evaporates from the warmer oceans, warmer air holds more of it. Average humidity worldwide has already increased by 4 percent since 1970, and each additional degree Fahrenheit increases it by another 3 percent-4 percent. The range of increases in global average temperature during this century is estimated at between 2˚ Fahrenheit to 11.5˚ Fahrenheit. The high end of this range would be utterly catastrophic, threatening the survival of civilization as we know it.

Even now, the hydrological cycle of the entire globe is being radically altered. The timing and predictability of rainfall is changing in ways that are already beginning to disrupt agriculture—particularly subsistence agriculture in developing countries. Crop failures and food insecurity are increasing ominously in many regions where farmers are no longer able to rely on the clockwork intervals of rainy seasons and dry seasons they learned from previous generations.

The record snowfalls last winter in the northeastern United States also fit into the same pattern. Indeed, the Northeast has long been included among the regions of the world predicted to experience the most dramatic increases in precipitation...

One important difference between the oil spill and the CO2 spill is that petroleum is visible on the surface of the sea and carries a distinctive odor now filling the nostrils of people on shore. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is invisible, odorless, tasteless, and has no price tag. It is all too easily put “out of sight and out of mind.” Because the impacts of global warming are distributed globally, they often masquerade as an abstraction. And because the length of time between causes and consequences is longer than we are used to dealing with, we are vulnerable to the illusion that we have the luxury of time before we begin to respond.

But neither assumption is correct. Most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases is stored in the oceans and reemerges over time into the atmosphere. As a result, we are capable-–through inaction—of making truly disastrous consequences inevitable long before the worst impacts are manifested. Our perception of the dangers of the climate crisis therefore relies on our ability to understand and trust the conclusions reached by the most elaborate and impressive scientific assessment in the history of our civilization.

In other words, rather than relying on visceral responses, we have to draw upon our capacity for reasoning, communicating clearly with one another, forming a global consensus on the basis of science, and making a choice in favor of preventive action on a global scale...

This epic public contest between the broad public interest and a small but powerful special interest has taken place during a time when American democracy has grown sclerotic. The role of money in our politics has exploded to a dangerous level. Our democratic conversation is now dominated by expensive 30-second television commercials, which consume two-thirds of the campaign budgets of candidates in both political parties. The only reliable source of such large sums of campaign cash is business lobbies. Most members of the House and Senate facing competitive election contests are forced to spend several hours each day asking special interests for money to finance their campaigns. Instead of participating in committee hearings, floor debates, and Burkean reflection on the impact of the questions being considered, they spend their time as supplicants. Though many struggle to resist the influence their donors intend to have on their decision-making process, all too frequently human nature takes its course.

Their constituents now spend an average of five hours per day watching television—which is, of course, why campaigns in both political parties spend most of their money on TV advertising. Viewers also absorb political messages from the same special interests that are wining and dining and contributing to their elected officials. The largest carbon polluters have, for the last 17 years, sought to manipulate public opinion with a massive and continuing propaganda campaign, using TV advertisements and all other forms of mass persuasion. It is a game plan spelled out in one of their internal documents, which was leaked to an enterprising reporter, that stated: “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.” In other words, they have mimicked the strategy pioneered by the tobacco industry, which undermined the scientific consensus linking the smoking of cigarettes with diseases of the lung and heart—successfully delaying appropriate health measures for almost 40 years after the landmark surgeon general’s report of 1964.

Meanwhile, many other countries—including China—have developed national strategies for leading the historic shift from oil and coal to renewable forms of energy, higher levels of efficiency, smart grids and fast trains, sustainable agriculture and forestry.

Here in the United States, the House of Representatives has passed a meaningful plan to move America in the same direction and reestablish our capacity to provide leadership in the world community on the most important issue facing the world today. The Senate, however, has struggled for the last 17 months to find enough votes to take up its own version of the same legislative plan. The unpleasant reality now spilling onto the shores of the Gulf Coast is creating public outrage and may also be generating a new opportunity to pass legislation, just as the oil spill 20 years ago from the Exxon Valdez created public momentum sufficient to overcome the anti-environment special interests. There is new hope that by the time the gusher from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is capped, so will carbon emissions from the burning of oil and coal...

Friday, May 07, 2010

"Britain's rarest wild flower gets special police protection"


The Lady's Slipper orchid at Silverdale Golf Course in Carnfoth, Lancashire, is the last remaining flowering plant in the country.
Although experts have tried to re-introduce the purple and yellow bloom in other areas, none of them have flowered.

Lancashire Police is now mounting a three-pronged defence of the flower amid concerns thieves may strike in May or June when the plant flowers.

Officers have been ordered to 'ensure the safety' of the orchid by including it in their routine foot patrols, meaning they will pass it every hour or so.

Police will also tag the 100-year-old orchid with a coded security mark so that anyone who tries to sell a cutting to wildflower collectors can be caught.

The force is also considering spending thousands of pounds on CCTV cameras to keep a 24-hour watch on the orchid, which is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

PC Tony Marsh, beat manager for the area, told Police Review: "We will be doing passing patrols, putting up deterrent notices, warning people about the offences and (asking them) to report any suspicious activity."

The orchid has been given a unique log number on the police computer system - which will alert the duty officer whenever a report concerning the flower is received.

Last June a thief took a cutting from the plant, leaving it with just six flowers, and in 2004 a collector tried to dig up the entire plant by its roots, but managed to get away with just a part of the plant.

PC Marsh added: "The biggest threat is collectors. When flowers were taken last year, we think purely just to press and put in a book, the value on the crime report was thousands of pounds."

PC Marsh has even circled the rare orchid with police crime scene tape in a bid to deter potential thieves.

PC Duncan Thomas, wildlife officer for Lancashire Constabulary, said the orchid - whose Latin name is Cypripedium calceolus - was "incredibly important".

He said: "The Lady Slipper orchid is an incredibly important plant, having survived for over a hundred years when all other plants were thought extinct. It is iconic to many people who enjoy wildlife in Britain.

"People travel from all ends of the country on what is almost a pilgrimage to view the plant in bloom and are often overcome with emotion at the sight.

"We have been monitoring this amazing plant for a number of years and you can't help being impressed by not only its rarity but the incredible display when flowering.

"Climate change deniers accused of McCarthyism"

By Louise Gray at

In a letter published in the journal Science, more than 250 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel Prize laureates, condemned the increase in "political assaults" on scientists who argue greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet.

The 'climategate' scandal and mistakes by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have led to a surge in attacks on climate scientists around the world.

In the US politicians have called for a criminal investigation of climate scientists, while in the UK eminent professors have received hate mail and even death threats.

In a strongly worded letter, the group of scientists likened the situation to the 'McCarthy era' in the US where anyone suspected of communist links was threatened with persecution. The period in the 1950s was named after the anti-communist pursuits of Senator Joseph McCarthy.

"We call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them," the letter read.

The defence of climate science comes after a number of scandals cast doubt on the theory of man-made global warming. Emails stolen from the University of East Anglia (UEA) appeared to show scientists were willing to exaggerate temperature change in a scandal known as 'climategate', although two separate inquiries have found no evidence of misconduct.

The scientists fear the scandals have led to a witch hunt against those involved.

James Inhofe, a US senator and long-standing climate sceptic, has called for a criminal investigation of climate scientists. Professor Phil Jones, the head of the Climatic Research Unit at the UEA, said he considered suicide after receiving hate mail and death threats.

Worst of all, they fear politicians and interest groups in industry are using doubt over climate science to prevent the world from acting to reduce the threat of global warming.

"Society has two choices: we can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option."

The letter points out that there is uncertainty attached to theory of evolution and the Big Bang. But like these theories, climate change has been "overwhelmingly" accepted by scientists.

"There is compelling, comprehensive and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend," they said.

"Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence."

...But the planet would pay a much higher price in the long run than it could afford if it ignored the need for action to save the wildlife the world depended on, the organisation warned.

Speaking ahead of a meeting of the scientific advisory body for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the IUCN said governments had failed to meet targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Republicans won't be nudged into cutting home energy"


It was hailed as a breakthrough in the fight to cut carbon emissions. In 2007, researchers found that heavy electricity users cut their consumption after being told that they used more energy than their neighbours. Almost a million US households have since received similar feedback and have cut electricity use by an average of 2.5 per cent.

But a new study has identified a wrinkle in the plan: the feedback only seems to work with liberals. Conservatives tend to ignore it. Some even respond by using more energy.

The findings come from a study of over 80,000 Californian households, just under half of which received feedback on energy use. Overall, the technique worked: households who got the feedback cut electricity by around 2 per cent, say Dora Costa and Matthew Kahn at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But important difference emerged when Costa and Kahn looked at the political leanings of those in the survey. Homeowners who identified themselves as Republicans cut energy use by just 0.4 per cent on average. And those Republicans who showed no practical interest in environmental causes – people who did not donate to environmental groups and did not choose to pay extra for renewable energy – even increased electricity use by 0.75 per cent.

Wesley Schultz at California State University in San Marcos, one of the researchers behind the 2007 finding, is not surprised by the result. He says that some Republicans have a negative view of the environmental movement and so might want to distance themselves from a green-themed campaign. Using more electricity could be an act of defiance, whether conscious or subconscious.

The result does not negate the usefulness of such psychological "nudges", adds Schultz. But it does suggest that feedback needs to be tailored to specific groups. "No one is immune to social pressure," says Schultz. "Even among those that increased electricity use there is a nudge that would work."

It is not clear what that nudge would be, however. It could be a focus on the financial savings that come with reduced electricity use, suggests Costa. Or it could be a pitch that equated less energy use with increased self-sufficiency, says Robert Gifford at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

But such nudges simply may not work in conservative parts of the US, Costa concludes. She says that other energy-saving schemes will need to implemented as well, such as tougher building codes. Unlike nudges, which do not place a financial burden on homeowners and buyers, these other approaches can drive up the price of homes and so are not always popular. "It may be that we have to do other politically difficult things," she warns.

Organic, Small Farmers Threatened by FDA Regulation

WASHINGTON - Small farmers in California who have led a national movement away from industrial agriculture face a looming crackdown on food safety that they say is geared to big corporate farms and will make it harder for them to survive.

The small growers, many of whom grow dozens of different kinds of vegetables and fruits, say the inherent benefits of their size, and their sensitivity to extra costs, are being ignored.

They are fighting to carve out a sanctuary in legislation that would bring farmers under the strict purview of the Food and Drug Administration, an agency more familiar with pharmaceuticals than food and local farms.

A bill before the Senate is riding a bipartisan groundswell created by recent outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella and other contamination in everything from fresh spinach to cookie dough.

And the small farmers face opponents in consumer groups, victims of food contamination, large growers and the Obama administration, who say no farm and no food should get a pass on safety.

An even tougher version of the legislation passed the House last summer. Now, a behind-the-scenes battle is raging in the Senate over how to regulate small and organic growers without ruining them - and still protect consumers.

If two versions of the overhaul pass, Congress would work to merge them.

The legislation would mandate a range of programs intended to bolster food safety. The FDA would gain greater authority to regulate how products are grown, stored, transported, inspected, traced from farm to table and recalled when needed.

But biologically diverse and organic growers argue that the problems that have plagued the food industry lie elsewhere.

They point to the sale of bagged vegetables, cut fruit and other processed food in which vast quantities of produce from different farms are mixed, sealed in containers and shipped long distances, creating a host for harmful bacteria.

The legislation does not address what some experts suspect is the source of E. coli contamination: the large, confined animal feeding operations that are breeding grounds for E. coli and are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the FDA.

"It does not take on the industrial animal industry and the abuses going on," said Tom Willey of T&D Willey Farms in Madera, an organic grower of Mediterranean vegetables. "The really dangerous organisms we're dealing with out here, and trying to protect our produce and other foodstuffs from, are coming out the rear end of domestic animals."

No one in Congress or the administration has yielded in a bureaucratic turf battle between the Department of Agriculture, which regulates meat, poultry and eggs, and the FDA, which regulates all other food.

The controversy began with the spinach E. coli outbreak near San Juan Bautista in 2006 that left four people dead, 35 people with acute kidney failure and 103 hospitalized. The bacteria, known as E. coli O157:H7, first appeared in hamburger meat in the early 1980s and migrated to produce, mainly lettuce and other leafy greens that are cut, mixed and bagged for the convenience of shoppers.

Since then, there have been dozens of contamination cases, leading Congress to rewrite food safety laws by giving much more power to the FDA. But small growers worry that they, and consumers, will suffer in the sweep of reform.

"How do we trust that the FDA is going to know about things that the San Francisco Bay Area has been very progressive on - the field to fork, fresh, grow local, buy local - all of that?" said Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel. "The organic people are feeling that the regulations the FDA may promulgate will be so safety oriented, it'll put them out of business." .....

However, a UC Davis study last year by Shermain Hardesty and Yoko Kusunose found that the rules have put smaller growers at a disadvantage because their compliance costs are spread over fewer acres. Hardesty said costs may be as high as $100 an acre.

Large produce buyers such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's have gone much further than the industry standards. They have imposed rules of their own that have forced many California farmers who supply them to fence off waterways, poison wildlife to keep animals out of fields and destroy crop hedgerows that support beneficial insects.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said Monday the administration is keeping a "close watch" on these so-called "super metrics," acknowledging that they have harmed the environment but said, "nobody gets a pass on food safety."

Increasing the danger

Willey, the Madera farmer, argued that many food safety rules tend "to push us to embrace a paradigm of sterility," which, in the long run, increases the danger.

"When you create microbial vacuums, they can be even more easily taken over by pathogenic organisms," he said. "In organic agriculture, we depend tremendously on a cooperative effort with beneficial microorganisms. My whole soil fertility system is based on that. Actually, soil fertility planetwide is based on that."

Efforts to modify proposed rules to make compliance easier for biologically diversified farms have been more successful in the Senate than in the House. New language that requires the FDA to consider farm size, crop diversity, organic requirements and other issues has been added.

"While none of these things in themselves solves the cause for concern, they certainly point strongly in the direction of the FDA needing to take into account these considerations," said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Hoefner called the House bill a one-size-fits-all approach that would be a "complete disaster" for small farms.