October 30, 2007
|Al-Huseini: World Oil Production Has Peaked||Peak Oil|
Sadad al-Huseini says that global [oil] production has reached its maximum sustainable plateau and that output will start to fall within 15 years, by which time the world's oil resources will be "very severely depleted".
Strahan has a number of other articles and podcasts here.
Crop production has improved over the past 20 years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. "World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased". There will be roughly 9 billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger (halving the proportion of hungry people) would require a doubling of world food production. Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level.
There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. "Meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050." Where will it come from? "Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion's share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater." One-tenth of the world's major rivers no longer reach the sea all round the year.
Buried on page 148, I found this statement. "If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress." Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?
The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world's species; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule. But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: "if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?" [Emphasis added]
"1.8 billion people...living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025." 2025 is a lot sooner than it sounds. It's when today's infants will be graduating from high school.
We can't say we haven't been warned.
|The World Awakes||Science/Technology|
Interesting article about a visit to Google headquarters, which is pretty much a paradise for its employees. I found this passage striking — and beautful:
In the lobby area of Building 43, a flat-screen monitor features a fancy, gorgeous representation of the planet Earth, revolving on its axis. As the world turns, fountains of variously colored sparkly light shoot up from the earth's surface. The efflorescence is a real-time representation of Google search activity. The different colors represent different languages. As the United States rotates by, an explosion of red streams into the stratosphere. Mexico is a slightly less busy yellow. China is mostly asleep, Europe a riotous rainbow. Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly completely dark.
I stood with two Google employees and watched the world go round, mesmerized, once again, at the sheer spectacle of human curiosity. All over the world, people wake up, log on, and start searching. This is what we do. If one of the quintessential traits of humanity is an endless quest for more knowledge (or porn), then here is how it can look — a technicolored extravaganza, an endless tsunami of fireworks. The world as giant brain, with each search a synapse firing. [...]
Staring at that globe, I found it easy to dream of a profusion of color so thick and intense as to drench every inhabited spot on the planet. That there would be no darkness, that surely, with all the world so busily engaged in trying to find things out, that we would end up, somehow, figuring things out. I know we want to.
Bearing that image in mind, how crazily archaic it seems, the way we invest so much political and economic power in so few hands. It's like we think we're still a small band of primates living in the forest somewhere. But it's a big world out there, and it's waking up.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Condoleezza Rice says we have no plans to invade Iran. So how does that differ with what happened in Iraq? — Will Durst
October 29, 2007
|Body Armor Profiteer Indicted||Iraq Politics|
David Brooks, who made a fortune selling faulty body armor to the Army and Marines, has been indicted. Marine Corps Times:
The former CEO of the nation’s leading supplier of body armor to the U.S. military was indicted Thursday on charges of insider trading, fraud and tax evasion in a scheme that netted him more than $185 million, prosecutors said.
David H. Brooks, 53, the founder and former chief executive of DHB Industries Inc., appeared in federal court on Long Island and was ordered held without bail. His lawyer entered a not-guilty plea. [...]
The charges were outlined in a superseding indictment that also named Sandra Hatfield, 54, the former chief operating officer of DHB. The pair was accused of falsely inflating the value of the inventory of DHB’s top product, the Interceptor vest, to help meet profit margin projections. [...]
Authorities allege the scheme propelled the company’s stock from $2 a share in early 2003 to nearly $20 a share in late 2004. When the pair sold several million DHB shares at that time, Brooks made more than $185 million and Hatfield more than $5 million, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. [...]
Brooks and Hatfield also are accused of failing to report more than $10 million in bonus payments to themselves and other DHB employees to the Internal Revenue Service.
Brooks also is accused of using DHB funds to buy or lease luxury vehicles for himself and family members, and to pay for vacations, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, country club bills and family celebrations.
Prosecutors say he threw lavish bar and bat mitzvahs for his children in which entertainers like Tom Petty, Aerosmith and the Eagles performed.
Brooks, who owns more than 100 horses and races them at harness tracks around the country, also used DHB funds for his private horse racing business, prosecutors said.
At the beginning of the Iraq war, Brooks' company had a monopoly on the production of body armor. The Army and Marines eventually had to recall some 23,000 of his vests. Brooks, surprise, surprise, was a hefty contributor to Republican political campaigns.
|It's All Downhill From Here||Economy Future Politics War and Peace|
Technocrats are technocrats because they like measurable things. Thus there is a great deal of discussion of peak oil, because oil production is a measurable thing. As someone who has written about peak oil longer than most, and understood its implications better, I would be the last person to diminish the importance of physical scarcity and lessening bandwidth as a problem for the global economy. Particularly in the light of our dependence on petroleum and other carbon based forms of energy. However our present spike in oil has nothing to do with peak oil directly, but instead everything to do with a gush of dollars. Peak dollar capacity, not peak production capacity, is what is making $100/bbl the new "over/under" number among the oil traders I talk to. [...]
The present spike of oil is, to some extent, driven by offshoring and demand. This decade is really like the 1920's not the 1930's. While prosperity has not reached many in the developed world, this has been a boom time for the developing world. When America was a developing nation, we profited from similar consumption binges in the then core nations of France, Great Britain and Germany. We are making the same mistakes they did in their time in the sun.
The real reason for the spike in oil prices is the pouring of dollars into the global economy meant to bail out the banking sector without imposing any accountability on the people who run it.
The coming World War
So Bernanke pumps dollars into the system, those dollars go elsewhere, and the difference - we stagnate while others advance - makes inevitable, and at this point I say inevitable - that there will come a point where military conflict will be used by those others to evict the United States from the privileged position of having 6% of the world's population and using 25% of the world's oil. That day is coming and the question now is how many millions of people will die when it arrives. Americans have declined, and will in 2008 decline again, to do anything to stop the arrival of a real world war, to replace this fake made for cable one. There aren't many any chances left. This same was true in the 1840's and 1920's. The real instability is yet to arrive.
When it does arrive there will be several islamic states with atomic weapons and the means to deliver them. They will, as the underdogs in the conflict, have the ability politically to use these weapons, perhaps assymetrically, to bring down an order that they do not need. New York City and London are simply too tempting as targets, and the counter attack against the oil fields would destroy what we need. The arabs do not need our financial centers for much longer, we will need the oil in such a conflict.
There is at this point nothing that will be done about this. The current leadership of the US, and of Europe, is completely committed to a global conflict in the future in order to keep doing what they are doing in the present. The right that people are willing to kill for is the right to overconsume what is underpriced. The disutility of oil - in physical terms of war, pollution and scarcity - is well under priced. The price of oil will rise to just below the cost of solving the problems. It will always be a little bit cheaper to pay Saudi Arabia an oil tax not to solve the problem, than to pay ourselves to solve the problem. Just as it was always a little bit cheaper to let slavery continue than to buy it out. That is, until such time as it was clear that there were two mouths and one slice of pie. That day is inevitable, because right now many people are happily munching on the pie. Don't exclude yourself.
What's next, the short term
Short term, if you see a maniac running down the street randomly shooting people while the police look on, bet that he will keep shooting until he runs out of bullets. George Bush will keep fighting in Iraq until the second he leaves office. Congress will keep handing this maniac bullets, and the Central Bank will keep looking the other way. Don't get too attached, to your kid's left arm. [...]
Coal. Bet on coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Coal. Why? Because both China and the US have lots of it, and will want to use that to get out of dealing with their energy problems, or face economic contraction. [...]
However, this particular farce doesn't have much longer to run, already the process of buying up the financial sector by arabs and chinese interests is proceding. That means that soon the bankers and the other elite are going to start hating this expansion as much as the rest of the country...Bet that the trough after the recession will be, as the last two have been, long, slow, and hard.
This is why I shout this now: get rid of debt, and work your butt off for every bit of money you can now, because this is the last year or so that it will be really easy to do. After that, we might have an expansion, but you won't see any advantage from it.
What can our current political leadership do? Can? Lots of things. Are? Nothing.
They after all, are getting very well paid. 2004 was the most important election in your lifetime. 2008 is the least important election in your lifetime. Nothing is going to be decided. Nothing. [Emphasis added]
Have a nice day.
|Do I Hear 94?||Peak Oil|
As I write this, oil is up $1.67 on the day to $93.53.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The good news is FEMA showed up in California. The bad news is they came to fix the levees. — Will Durst
October 26, 2007
This is pretty interesting.
|Creationist Math||Humor & Fun Religion|
|FEMA Stages Fake News Conference||Politics|
FEMA deputy administrator Vice Admiral Harvey Johnson held a press conference today regarding FEMA's response to the fires in southern California. The press conference was carried live on Fox News and MSNBC.
It all went smoothly; old Harvey did a heckuva job. Not surprising, considering there weren't any real reporters present, just FEMA staffers posing as reporters.
FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker interrupted at one point to caution he'd allow just "two more questions." Later, he called for a "last question."
I don't know which is creepier: that they think this is what "news" should be — a totally stage-managed hoax — or that they are such mental infants that they thought it was a neat idea and they could get away with it. Is there no adult supervision in Washington any more?
|Three-Quarters Of ARM Borrowers Are Clueless||Economy|
About $50 billion in adjustable rate mortgages reset this month, driving interest rates up for many borderline borrowers. And despite efforts to raise awareness, it doesn't look like anyone is really prepared for what's to come.
"I don't know if there's anything much [borrowers] can do," said Keith Gumbinger of HSH Associates, a publisher of mortgage related information. "Hopefully, they've been prudent about preparing for it, building a nest egg or refinancing the loan."
But most borrowers are likely to just scramble to pay the higher expenses - some of which will jump by 50 percent and come as a big surprise.
According to a survey conducted last month for the AFL-CIO by Peter D. Hart Research Associates, three quarters of borrowers have little clue about how much their payments will increase when their loans adjust. Nearly half don't know how their loans actually reset. [...]
When asked whether they were confident or worried about making their monthly mortgage payments over the next few years, 41 percent of homeowners whose adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs) had already reset said they were worried. Only 18 percent of pre-reset borrowers were concerned. [...]
But the mortgage situation can't hope to improve until banks tighten lending practices, and it doesn't look like they're quite on track. This past summer, the Mortgage Bankers Association revealed that delinquency rates for loans made in 2006 were rising.
And a new report from investment bank, Friedman, Billings, Ramsey, suggests that as conditions began to collapse during the first half of 2007, lenders still failed to vet borrowers carefully.
According to the report, lenders did not tighten underwriting standards until July or August, when the subprime crisis came to a head. As a result, delinquency rates for these most recent loans are even higher than those for 2005 and 2006.
With so many poorly underwritten loans, future delinquency rates and foreclosures could soar. And while October will be the peak year for resetting ARMs in 2007, new records will be set in early 2008; March will see more than $100 billion in resetting loans. [Emphasis added]
I love that "Hopefully, they've been prudent about preparing for it, building a nest egg or refinancing the loan." Please. If three-quarters of borrowers don't even know how much their payments will increase, I think we can assume they haven't been taking steps to prepare. They took ARM mortgages in the first place because that's all they could afford. Makes building a nest egg a little tough.
|Many-Fold Increase In US Airstrikes This Year In Iraq||Iraq|
They tried this in Vietnam, too. Keep troop deaths down by bombing from the air. Except it doesn't work (never mind the morality of it) in a counterinsurgency war. Too many civilians get killed. USA Today (via Xymphora):
The U.S. military has increased airstrikes in Iraq four-fold [sic] this year, reflecting a steep escalation in combat operations aimed at al-Qaeda and other militants.
Coalition forces launched 1,140 airstrikes in the first nine months of this year compared with 229 in all of last year, according to military statistics.
Airstrikes are up in Afghanistan, too. Coalition planes have made 2,764 bombing runs this year, up from 1,770 last year. The figures don't include strikes by helicopter gunships.
The increasing use of air power also stems from improved accuracy and smaller munitions that allow commanders to launch airstrikes against insurgents who travel in small groups and sometimes hide among civilians. [...]
"We are using air power in lieu of putting extensive forces on the ground," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Allen Peck, commander of the Air Force Doctrine Development and Education Center.
However, increased use of air power raises the chances of killing innocent civilians, said Mark Clodfelter, a professor at the National War College. Winning over the population is key to defeating insurgents.
"You don't want bombing to be a recruiting method for the insurgents," Clodfelter said. [Emphasis added]
The article says a four-fold increase, but their arithmetic's wrong. 1140 versus 229 is a five-fold increase, and that doesn't take into account the fact that the 1140 figure is for only 9 months. Extrapolate that out to a year, and the increase is more than 660%. Clearly, a sea change in tactics, one that is practically a secret here in the US.
|Do I Hear 92?||Peak Oil|
Another day, another record oil price. Up $1.40 to $91.86.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Thomas Jefferson once said: "Of course the people don't want war. But the people can be brought to the bidding of their leader. All you have to do is tell them they're being attacked and denounce the pacifists for somehow a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." I think that was Jefferson. Oh wait. That was Hermann Göring. Shoot. — Jon Stewart
October 25, 2007
|UN: "Humanity's Very Survival" At Risk||Environment|
Here's another one of those stories that deserves to be front page news all over the world, but it will probably disappear without much of a trace. No exciting visuals for the teevee. Times (UK):
The speed at which mankind has used the Earth's resources over the past 20 years has put "humanity's very survival" at risk, a study involving 1,400 scientists has concluded.
The environmental audit, for the United Nations, found that each person in the world now requires a third more land to supply his or her needs than the Earth can supply.
Thirty per cent of amphibians, 23 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are under threat of extinction, while one in ten of the world's major rivers runs dry every year before it reaches the sea.
The bleak verdict on the environment was issued as an "urgent call for action" by the United Nations Environment Programme, which said that the "point of no return" was fast approaching.
The report was drafted and researched by almost 400 scientists, all experts in their fields, whose findings were subjected to review by another 1,000 of their peers. [...]
The report assessed the impact on the environment since 1987.
Climate change was identified as one of the most pressing problems but the condition of fresh water supplies, agricultural land and biodiversity were considered to be of equal concern.
The Earth audit
- The world's population has grown by 34% to 6.7 billion in 20 years [...]
- 73,000km2 of forest is lost across the world each year – 3.5 times the size of Wales [...]
- Three million [people] die [annually] of water-related diseases
- Ten million children under 10 die [...]
- 60 per cent of the world's major rivers have been dammed or diverted
- Populations of freshwater fish have declined by 50 per cent in 20 years
- More than half of all cities exceed WHO pollution guidelines [Emphasis added]
One of the things that works against us humans is our short life span. 20 years seems like a long time to us, but it's nothing, the merest blink of an eye. And in that tiny blink of an eye, world population has increased by 1.7 billion people and freshwater fish populations have been cut in half. In 20 years. The scale and speed of what's happening defies understanding, but somehow we need to envision it. Imagine a time-lapse film of the world at large. Glaciers melting, rivers drying up, forests and topsoil disappearing, species dying off, all before your eyes, at breathtaking speed. No pause button, no rewind.
|"Like A Madman With A Razor Blade"||Iran|
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned strongly Thursday against imposing new international sanctions on Iran, in words that appeared to be a response to newly announced U.S. measures to punish Tehran.
Putin spoke hours after Washington cut off Iranian military and banking institutions from the American financial system. The U.S. said the sanctions were in response to Iran's defiance of U.N. demands to curb its nuclear program and its alleged support for terrorism.
Arriving for a summit with European Union leaders, the Russian leader did not make any direct reference to the U.S. announcement., but he said the standoff with Iran will have to be resolved through patient talks.
"Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action?" Putin asked. "Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation."
Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, has opposed a new push for a third round of U.N. sanctions over the Iranian defiance of a Security Council demand that it suspend enriching uranium. [...]
Speaking at a news conference after talks with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, Putin pointed to the long negotiations with North Korea that led to an agreement earlier this year for that communist nation to begin dismantling its nuclear facilities.
"Not long ago it didn't seem possible to resolve the situation with North Korea's nuclear program, but we have practically solved it relying on peaceful means," he said. [Emphasis added]
Bush famously said he looked Putin in the eye and got "a sense of his soul." Putin seems to have done likewise — and he sees a madman running around waving a razor blade. Which pretty much sums it up.
|Do I Hear 90?||Peak Oil|
As I write this, oil is up $2.40 on the day to $89.50.
Update: Now up $3.36 to $90.46.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Screeners at the L.A. International Airport missed 75% of the fake bombs that were sent though the line. However, they did confiscate 100% of people's water bottles. — Jay Leno
October 24, 2007
|Dems Suck, Too||Iran Iraq Politics|
The other day, I got a fund-raising call from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). I told the caller I was sick of the Democrats' caving in to Bush on Iraq, Iran, torture, wiretaps, and everything else, and they weren't getting any of my money, and I hung up. What surprised me was how angry I was. I've had it with the Democrats, and I guess I'm angrier than I knew. Chris Floyd is pissed, too:
Outrage follows outrage, surrender follows surrender: Every day the unreality of our political discourse worsens, even as the reality on the ground grows more bitter and uncontainable. As we approach the anniversary of the Democrats' recapture of Congress — an event that was supposed to mark the repudiation of the Bush administration's lawless, blood-soaked enterprise — it is undeniable that the situation is actually worse now than before.
The prospect of a Democratic victory in 2006 was for many people the last, flickering hope that the degradation of the republic could be arrested and reversed within the ordinary bounds of the political system. This was always a fantasy, given the strong bipartisan nature and decades-long cultivation of greed, arrogance and militarism that has now come to its fullest bloom in the Bush administration. But desperation can crack the shell of the most hardened cynic, and no doubt there were few who did not harbor somewhere deep inside at least a small grain of hope against hope that a slap-down at the polls would give the Bush gang pause and confound its worst depredations.
One year on, we can all see how the Democrats have made a mockery of those dreams. Their epic levels of unpopularity are richly deserved. At every step they evoke the remarks of the emperor Tiberius, who, after yet another round of groveling acquiescence from the once-powerful Roman Senate, dismissed them with muttered contempt: "Men fit to be slaves." The record of the present Congress provides copious and irrefutable evidence for this judgment.
After 10 full months of Democratic command in the legislative branch -- 10 full months under the "liberal," "progressive," "antiwar" Democratic leadership -- where are we? The Iraq war, far from being ended or even curtailed, was instead escalated by Bush in the face of popular discontent and establishment unease: the first, and most egregious, Democratic surrender. Bush's illegal spying on Americans was not only not punished, it was formally legitimized by Congress, whose Democratic leaders are now hastening to give their telecom paymasters retroactive immunity for taking part in what they knew to be a massive criminal operation...The Military Commissions Act -- which eviscerated 900 years of habeas corpus, as even Arlen Specter admitted (before slavishly voting for the bill anyway) -- remains on the books, unshaken by the Democrats, despite all the cornpone about "restoring the Constitution" they've dished out for the rubes back home.
And now we stand on the brink of another senseless, useless, baseless war, this time with Iran -- a conflict that, as Juan Cole pointed out on Salon recently, is likely to make the belching hell of Iraq look like a church picnic. Dick Cheney's bellicose outburst Sunday in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies -- a reprise of many similar war dances he performed in the run-up to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq -- takes us one step closer to this new crime. But Cheney's assertions of Persian perfidy -- all of them unsubstantiated, and in the case of the nuclear program, refuted by the IAEA -- were simply the culmination of a remarkable bipartisan campaign of demonization in which the Democrats have actually taken the public lead, repeatedly castigating the administration for not being "tough enough" on Iran, and repeatedly vowing that "all options are on the table" against the mad mullahs. [...]
The Democrats have already overwhelmingly -- and officially -- accepted the administration's arguments for war against Iran. The first on-the-record embrace came in June, on a 97-0 Senate vote in favor of a saber-rattling resolution from Fightin' Joe Lieberman [that] affirmed as official fact all of the specious, unproven, ever-changing allegations of direct Iranian involvement in attacks on the American forces now occupying Iraq. [...]
But even this was not enough. A few weeks later, there was a new resolution, carefully calibrated to mesh with the all-out propaganda blitz surrounding the appearance of Gen. David Petraeus on Fox News in September. (He also put in an appearance on Capitol Hill, it seems.) Once again, the majority of Senate Democrats voted with the monolithic Republicans for yet another Lieberman-sponsored measure, which effectively if not formally authorized military action against Iran by declaring the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard a "foreign terrorist organization" and tying it to attacks on American soldiers in Iraq. [...]
Even the clueless Joe Biden...gets it. He told George Stephanopoulos Sunday that Bush will seize on the resolutions exactly as predicted: "The president's going to stand there and say ... 'Ladies and gentlemen, as the United States Congress voted, they said these guys are terrorists. I moved against them to save American lives.'"
But Bush is not the only president -- or potential president -- who might seize on the Senate votes. Last week -- just a few days before Cheney's speech -- Hillary Clinton weighed in with a "major policy article" in Foreign Affairs that regurgitated the administration's unproven allegations against Iran as indisputable fact. This too is ominous stuff, coming from a strong front-runner who not only is leading in the opinion polls but is also way out in front among an elite constituency whose support is much more important and decisive than that of the hapless hoi polloi: arms dealers. Clinton has surpassed all candidates -- including the hyper-hawkish Republican hopefuls -- in garnering cash payments from the American weapons industry, the Independent reports. Obviously, these masters of war are not expecting any drop-off in profits if Clinton takes the helm.
And indeed, beyond her "all options" thundering at Iran, Clinton has vowed to do the one thing guaranteed to breed more war, more ruin, more suffering, more "collateral damage," more terrorist blowback: keeping American forces in Iraq, come hell or high water. Clinton's "withdrawal" plan calls for retaining an unspecified number of "specialized units" in Iraq to "fight terrorism," train Iraqi forces and protect other American troops carrying out unspecified activities. Is it any wonder that she's the apple of Lockheed Martin's eye?
But in fact, the "antiwar" plans of the other "liberal" candidates -- the "serious" ones, that is -- are remarkably similar. In other words, the Democrats are promising a permanent (or in the current weasel-word jargon, "enduring") U.S. military presence in Iraq -- which of course has been one of the primary war aims of the Bush administration all along (even before it took office). Credible analysis shows that up to a million people or more have been slaughtered in this ghastly enterprise -- and still the Democrats will not act to end it or, God forbid, try to remove its perpetrators from office. Instead they will keep the red wheel of death rolling toward the ever-vanishing horizon. [...]
The game's rigged. Democrats and Republicans pretend to be different by having different positions on abortion and gay marriage. But on issues of war and peace, military spending, government surveillance, and even torture, they're peas in a pod. Fraternal twins. Coke and Pepsi. An exquisite scam: keep people excited about abortion and gay marriage to make them feel like they have a meaningful choice, then ignore what they want on everything that really matters to the Big Money that drives the system.
What's the difference between Democrats and Republicans? Democrats tell different lies to get elected. A pox on both their houses.
|IMF Head: "Abrupt Fall" In Dollar Possible||Economy|
The head of the International Monetary Fund, Rodrigo Rato, warned Monday of a potential "abrupt fall" in the US dollar that could roil the global economy.
"There are risks that an abrupt fall in the dollar could either be triggered by, or itself trigger, a loss of confidence in dollar assets," Rato said at the close of annual meetings here of the IMF and the World Bank.
The outgoing IMF managing director spoke here as the European single currency hit a new high of 1.4347 dollars and global equity markets plunged amid renewed fears a US credit crunch could pitch the world's biggest economy into recession.
"The uncertainty ... comes from downside risks that are much higher than they were six months ago. The turbulence in the credit markets is a warning that we cannot take the benign (global) economic environment of recent years for granted," Rato said on the final day of the annual meetings of the IMF and the World Bank.
"We still do not know the full effects of the decline in the housing market and the subprime problems of the US economy. Further disruption in financial markets and further falls in housing prices could lead to a global economic downturn," he said. [...]
US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, addressing the plenary session of the 185-nation twin financial institutions, also sounded a note of caution.
"We need to continue to be vigilant, because all of our capital markets are not yet functioning normally," Paulson said.
Rato warned that a global slowdown would exacerbate other existing risks, noting emerging economies' reliance on private capital inflows which are expected to reach a record 620 billion dollars this year, after a 2006 total of 573 billion, according to the Institute of International Finance.
"Some emerging economies that have relied on external financing to fund large current account deficits could be tipped into crisis by a combination of reduced demand for their exports and tighter financial market conditions," the IMF chief said. [Emphasis added]
The US dollar is the ground floor of a gigantic house of cards. If it tumbles, the ramifications will be enormous. It may be inevitable, however, as the US has been living beyond its means for years. Print up enough IOUs, and sooner or later people get fed up and say "Enough already."
|© Kent Tenney|
...awareness? ...roofbeams? ...hopes?
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Good news for the terrorists: Undercover agents posing as passengers were able to get simulated bombs through the screening process here at LAX 75% of the time — but not one drop of shampoo. — Bill Maher
October 23, 2007
This story made my day. Reuters:
Ecuador's leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador's Pacific coast.
Correa has refused to renew Washington's lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.
"We'll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base," Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.
"If there's no problem having foreign soldiers on a country's soil, surely they'll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States." [...]
Correa, a popular leftist economist, had promised to cut off his arm before extending the lease that ends in 2009 and has called U.S. President George W. Bush a "dimwit". [Emphasis added]
The fires in southern California are alarming. Now multiply them by a thousand. Guardian:
Veteran Amazon pilots such as Fernando Galvao Bezerra are hard men to shock. During 20 years in aviation Mr Bezerra, 45, has ferried prostitutes and wildcat miners to remote, lawless goldmines. He has taxied wealthy loggers between ranches, lost countless colleagues to malaria and once survived when his plane plummeted out of the sky. But as his 10-seater Cessna banked over a vast expanse of burning rainforest in the state of Mato Grosso, the pilot, who now works for the environmental group Greenpeace, was virtually speechless. "Holy shit," he blurted over the plane's PA system, as the plane swung sharply to the right towards an image of destruction which owed more to a scene from Apocalypse Now than the Amazon rainforest. "Just look at the size of what this guy is burning."
It is burning season in Brazil, and across the Amazon region, where illegal loggers, cattle ranchers and a growing number of soy producers continue their advance into their world's largest tropical forest, similar scenes are taking place. In August government satellites registered 16,592 fires across Brazil, the overwhelming majority in the Amazon.
For environmentalists the fires are one of the first indications that deforestation is once again on the rise. Over the last two years fears for the future of the Amazon have been tempered by news of a reduction in deforestation. In August the Brazilian government heralded a 30% drop in rainforest destruction - the result, it said, of a government deforestation plan launched in March 2004. The plan outlined the creation of conservation units and 19 anti-deforestation units in deforestation hotspots such as Novo Progresso and Apui. [...]
Already there are signs that rainforest destruction is gathering speed. Deforestation in the states of Mato Grosso and Para is reportedly rising, with chainsaws and forest fires levelling thousands of hectares of pristine forest. Figures released last week by Brazil's space agency, INPE, show that between May and July of this year there was a 200% rise in deforestation in Mato Grosso.
Further north, in the Amazon state of Para, local ranchers and environmental activists claim a similar process is under way. Flying over the south-western corner of Para the tell-tale signs that logging continues at a staggering rate are everywhere: in the illegal dirt tracks that trail through the forest and the trucks that are dotted along them; in the charred trees that litter the landscape; and most strikingly in the newly deforested areas, which have turned the landscape into a messy patchwork of dark green and dull brown.
"It [the level of deforestation] is definitely going to rise," said Agamenon da Silva Menezes, the president of the Rural Workers Union in the Amazon town of Novo Progresso and one of the region's most powerful farmers.
"Lula [president of Brazil) says what he says because it is beneficial for him. But this year they have chopped down much more. What I am supposed to say to the guys [to stop them?]" added Mr Menezes.
Mr Menezes compared the illegal actions of the loggers to the American invasion of Iraq. If George Bush could attack a country out of financial interest, why could the loggers not do the same to the rainforest, he wondered. [...]
Activists claim that the spike in deforestation is a sign that the government's action plan has been largely ineffective. They argue that the recent reductions owe more to external economic factors such as the market price of soy and beef.
With ranchers now looking to cash in on rising prices, Marcelo Marquesini, a former inspector for Ibama (Brazilian ministry of the environment's enforcement agency) who now works for Greenpeace, says the outlook for the rainforest is bleak. [...]
He described the idea that a policy of "zero deforestation" could be introduced as "the biggest load of rubbish I have ever heard". Mr Menezes asked: "Where is he [President Lula] going to get 30,000 soldiers from to police the insides of this whole forest?"
Three thousand feet over the burning forest Paulo Adario, the Amazon director of Greenpeace, let out a sigh of resignation. "It's like a scene from a world war," he said gazing down at the forest, which now more resembled the aftermath of a napalm bombing.
"It is forbidden to sell cocaine, it's illegal to deal marijuana and it's illegal to molest little children," Mr Adario added with mix of frustration and irony. "And, as you can see, it is also illegal to destroy the Amazon rainforest." [Emphasis added]
Stories like this make me despair for our future. Individuals continue to act on their own short-term self-interest even though the sum total of all of their actions amounts to collective suicide. We see this everywhere. People figure their little drop in the bucket won't make a measurable difference, so why be a martyr? Why not take the path of least resistance? Why not not cash in?
So individual choices inexorably lead to collective ruin. Somehow, the common good and the individual good need to be brought into alignment. It's hard to see that happening, though, without one of two things. Either people need to accept a vision of collective solidarity that so thoroughly informs their actions that they wouldn't think of taking the selfish path — or drastically coercive measures need to be taken. The first seems improbable, the second (rightly) unacceptable. So we race ahead, gobbling everything we can get our hands on.
Me, I vote for vision. We need to zoom out, see the big picture.
This is our home. All of us together. There is no escape hatch.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
The Turkish Parliament has voted to approve the idea of invading Iraq. President Bush was furious. He said, "What kind of country takes a vote before it invades Iraq?" — Bill Maher
October 22, 2007
|Oceans Absorbing Much Less CO2||Environment|
Another day, another global warming surprise. And, as usual, the surprise is that we're worse off than we thought.
The BBC reports that the world's oceans are absorbing much less CO2 than they did just ten years ago:
The amount of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the world's oceans has reduced, scientists have said. University of East Anglia researchers gauged CO2 absorption through more than 90,000 measurements from merchant ships equipped with automatic instruments.
Results of their 10-year study in the North Atlantic show CO2 uptake halved between the mid-90s and 2000 to 2005.
Scientists believe global warming might get worse if the oceans soak up less of the greenhouse gas.
Researchers said the findings, published in a paper for the Journal of Geophysical Research, were surprising and worrying because there were grounds for believing that, in time, the ocean might become saturated with our emissions.
BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin said: "The researchers don't know if the change is due to climate change or to natural variations.
"But they say it is a tremendous surprise and very worrying because there were grounds for believing that in time the ocean might become 'saturated' with our emissions - unable to soak up any more."
He said that would "leave all our emissions to warm the atmosphere".
Of all the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, only half of it stays there; the rest goes into carbon sinks.
There are two major natural carbon sinks: the oceans and the land "biosphere". They are equivalent in size, each absorbing a quarter of all CO2 emissions. [Emphasis added]
It's remarkable, really, that all of the surprises have been on one side — things being worse than projected — instead of more or less randomly distributed. It would appear that scientists have a built-in tendency to be conservative in their projections. Nobody wants to cry wolf. But when the wolf's at the door, it's time.
|Tests Show High Chemical Levels In Kids' Bodies||Environment Science/Technology|
As increasingly sensitive tests become available for monitoring the levels of industrial chemicals in people's systems, the results are cause for alarm. CNN:
Michelle Hammond and Jeremiah Holland were intrigued when a friend at the Oakland Tribune asked them and their two young children to take part in a cutting-edge study to measure the industrial chemicals in their bodies.
"In the beginning, I wasn't worried at all; I was fascinated," Hammond, 37, recalled.
But that fascination soon changed to fear, as tests revealed that their children -- Rowan, then 18 months, and Mikaela, then 5 -- had chemical exposure levels up to seven times those of their parents.
"[Rowan's] been on this planet for 18 months, and he's loaded with a chemical I've never heard of," Holland, 37, said. "He had two to three times the level of flame retardants in his body that's been known to cause thyroid dysfunction in lab rats."
The technology to test for these flame retardants -- known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) -- and other industrial chemicals is less than 10 years old. Environmentalists call it "body burden" testing, an allusion to the chemical "burden," or legacy of toxins, running through our bloodstream. Scientists refer to this testing as "biomonitoring."
Most Americans haven't heard of body burden testing, but it's a hot topic among environmentalists and public health experts who warn that the industrial chemicals we come into contact with every day are accumulating in our bodies and endangering our health in ways we have yet to understand.
"We are the humans in a dangerous and unnatural experiment in the United States, and I think it's unconscionable," said Dr. Leo Trasande, assistant director of the Center for Children's Health and the Environment at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Dr. Trasande says that industrial toxins could be leading to more childhood disease and disorders.
"We are in an epidemic of environmentally mediated disease among American children today," he said. "Rates of asthma, childhood cancers, birth defects and developmental disorders have exponentially increased, and it can't be explained by changes in the human genome. So what has changed? All the chemicals we're being exposed to." [...]
Dr. Trasande said children up to six years old are most at risk because their vital organs and immune system are still developing and because they depend more heavily on their environments than adults do.
"Pound for pound, they eat more food, they drink more water, they breathe in more air," he said. "And so [children] carry a higher body burden than we do."
Studies on the health effects of PBDEs are only just beginning, but many countries have heeded the warning signs they see in animal studies. Sweden banned PBDEs in 1998. The European Union banned most PBDEs in 2004. In the United States, the sole manufacturer of two kinds of PBDEs voluntarily stopped making them in 2004. A third kind, Deca, is still used in the U.S. in electrical equipment, construction material, mattresses and textiles.
Another class of chemicals that showed up in high levels in the Holland children is known as phthalates. These are plasticizers, the softening agents found in many plastic bottles, kitchenware, toys, medical devices, personal care products and cosmetics. In lab animals, phthalates have been associated with reproductive defects, obesity and early puberty. But like PBDEs, little is known about what they do to humans and specifically children.
Russ Hauser, an associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, has done some of the few human studies on low-level phthalate exposure. His preliminary research shows that phthalates may contribute to infertility in men. A study led by Shanna Swan of the University of Rochester in New York shows that prenatal exposure to phthalates in males may be associated with impaired testicular function and with a defect that shortens the space between the genitals and anus. [...]
"I'm angry at my government for failing to regulate chemicals that are in mass production and in consumer products." Hammond says. "I don't think it should have to be up to me to worry about what's in my couch." [Emphasis added]
These kids weren't living on a toxic waste dump. The chemicals in their systems came from the normal stuff around them: their mattresses, pajamas, plastic bottles and toys. Sticking our heads in the sand won't fix it.
|Amen To That||Ethics|
It was obvious to Aristotle, 2300 years ago.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
According to a new report, security screeners at our nation's airports — this is scary — failed to find fake bombs hidden on undercover agents 60% of the time. President Bush said today, "Well, who cares about fake bombs?" — Jay Leno
October 18, 2007
|Not Feeling Well|
Haven't been feeling well the last couple of days, but I'll be back.
Meanwhile, oil's up to $89.50 a barrel, and Bush is talking about World War III.
October 17, 2007
|Housing Slump Worsens — Again||Economy|
A sampling of today's housing news...
The confidence of U.S. home builders has been shaken to its lowest point since records began 22 years ago, a housing trade group said Tuesday.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that new home construction fell to its lowest rate in 14 years last month. Housing starts dropped 10.2% to an annual rate of 1.191 million in September. Economists expected a rate of 1.285 million.
Compared to September last year, the number of building permit applications - an indication of future activity in the US housing market - plummeted by 30.8 per cent and fell 7.3 per cent below August. [...]
Building permits fell 7.3 per cent, the sharpest decline since January 1995, to an annual rate of 1.226 million and 30.8 per cent below last year.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Last week, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to fight global warming. Congratulations to Al Gore. Not to be outdone, today the oil companies named President Bush "Man of The Year." — Jay Leno
October 16, 2007
|Do I Hear 88?||Peak Oil|
As I write this, oil is up another $1.34 to $87.47 a barrel, after flirting with $88 a barrel earlier in the day.
Update: Now $87.82.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
I think I know why you're happy tonight: 'cause Al Gore won the Nobel prize. Al Gore won the Nobel prize. Or, as President Bush announced it, "Sweden is with the terrorists." No, the president did not say that. What he said was, "The Nobel Prize is just a theory. It needs more study." — Bill Maher
October 15, 2007
|Reassurance||Environment Humor & Fun|
|The Real Rudy: FDNY Radios||9/11, "War On Terror" Politics|
Be sure to catch Rudy's moment of testimony near the end. The guy never stops lying.
Now go sign the petition.
|Oil Smashes Price Record||Peak Oil|
As I write this, oil is up almost 3% on the day to a whopping $86.13. 86 bucks a barrel. Not a typo.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Yesterday, Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the environment. Then, in a stunning reversal, the Supreme Court awarded it to George Bush. — Amy Poehler
October 12, 2007
|Statement From The Nobel Laureate||Environment|
Email from Al Gore:
I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This award is even more meaningful because I have the honor of sharing it with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world's pre-eminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis — a group whose members have worked tirelessly and selflessly for many years. We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level.
My wife, Tipper, and I will donate 100 percent of the proceeds of the award to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan non-profit organization that is devoted to changing public opinion in the U.S. and around the world about the urgency of solving the climate crisis. [Emphasis added]
I like that: global warming provides "our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level." It remains to be seen if humanity will make the leap, but global warming will certainly be, as they say, a teaching moment. On a global scale.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
One of President Bush's closest advisers said that Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is going to have trouble getting elected 'cause his last name is Huckabee. He said the only way it could be worse is if his name was George W. Huckabee. — Conan O'Brien
October 11, 2007
|Neocon Gold||Humor & Fun|
|Oil Top $83 A Barrel||Peak Oil|
As I write this, oil is up more than $2 for the day, to $83.33 a barrel.
|Past Peak||Peak Oil|
A very interesting post on yesterday's Oil Drum summarizes world oil production over the last seven years. First, a graph:
Each band shows, for a country or group of countries, the difference between its production level and its minimum production level over the period covered by the graph. The authors call this "incremental" production. The baseline is the thin grey bar at the bottom. Taking the baseline and stacking the incremental production bands on top gives total production.
There's a thick black line about two-thirds of the way up. The countries below the line are in decline (or at least not growing). Notice how steeply the black line begins to fall starting in 2005: the declining countries are declining rapidly. (Production in those countries is 3.8 million barrels per day less than it was just 2.5 years ago.) That decline needs to be offset by growth elsewhere just to maintain the status quo. The countries below the black line include: US, Indonesia, Australia, Denmark, Argentina, Oman, Colombia, Gabon, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, UK, Norway, Iran, Malaysia, Mexico, Ecuador, Vietnam, Qatar, India, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iraq, and some others.
The bands above the black line are areas where production is still growing. These include: China, Russia, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Eq. Guinea, Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan, Angola, Azerbaijan. Some, like China and Russia, are expected to peak in the next few years. Others, like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, are likely to hit a plateau because of pipeline constraints. Hence, the ability of these growth regions to continue making up for decline elsewhere is doubtful.
The bottom, maroon band is the US. Notice the sharp dip in late 2005. That's when Katrina hit, taking out a lot of production in the Gulf. The authors adjusted their figures by extrapolating what US production would have looked like were it not for Katrina and got this:
Without the dip caused by Katrina, it looks like world production peaked in the latter half of 2005. I.e., Katrina obscured that fact that we're already past peak.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Hybrid vehicles are so quiet at slow speeds that blind people say they are a safety risk. Again, this is another issue I don't think President Bush understands. Like today, Bush said, "Maybe blind people shouldn't be driving them." — Jay Leno
October 10, 2007
|What Is It With These People?||Politics|
I'll give him one thing. He showed imagination.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
During a recent speech, President Bush said, "My job is a decision-making job. As a result, I have made a lot of decisions." Apparently, Bush's decision that day was to write his own speech. — Conan O'Brien
October 09, 2007
|Waiting On The Decider||Iran Politics|
As we wait to see what Bush/Cheney will do vis-a-vis Iran, we read that former Mexican President Vicente Fox calls Bush "quite simply the cockiest man I have ever met in my life," while Bush tells his biographer he's "an October-November man." I.e., we may not have long to wait. David Bromwich:
Once again the president and vice president are ahead of us. Iraq is no longer on their minds. That chapter closed when Petraeus and Crocker administered the sedatives in Washington. Besides, Iraq had become tiresome to George W. Bush. The committee hearings in September were a necessary cover to tie down American soldiers in the Middle East. His excuse was signed by Congress, and now he is home clear.
The dates can only be guessed. November for the triggering incident, December for the trip to the U.N., February for the ultimatum, perhaps March again for the strikes. The repetition would suit his taste for boyish acts of defiance.
Diplomacy, to Bush, is one of those words you had to learn to say in school, like "serious consideration" and "concerted effort." There isn't any glamour in it, no kick. He intends to bomb Iran. He tells us so in every other speech and in everything he doesn't say and doesn't do. [...]
[The Democrats] won a mandate to stop an illegal war, but they let the war be widened; and they are about to consent to another war, before they ask for another mandate.
The president does not wait and he doesn't ask permission. In early February 2007, according to Robert Draper in his biography Dead Certain, Bush was looking to the end of the year, and to Iran: "I'm an October-November man." He had already factored in the pause for the summer, and the soothing September explanations. "The danger," he told Draper, "is that the United States won't stay engaged." But engagement means war: "People come to the office and say, 'Let us promote stability — that's more important.' The problem is that in an ideological war, stability isn't the answer to the root cause of why people kill and terrorize."
The only answer that goes to the root cause, Bush told his biographer, is to add more instability, the right kind of instability. After two wars and a proxy war, none of them yet successful, a lesser man might shrink from further dealing in blood; but in February, Bush was prepared: "I'm not afraid to make decisions."
Soon he will decide again. It is going to happen unless the lawmakers, the media, and those corporations that know they will find a war with Iran the reverse of profitable, overcome their lethargy and admit that this is really happening and decide to stop him. [Emphasis added]
Nobody seems to remark on how crazy it is, in this supposed democracy, that we're all in the dark, awaiting a unilateral decision by the man in the Oval Office. That's not how it's supposed to work. We might as well be Germans wondering what Der Fuhrer has in store for us. Der Fuhrer. The Decider.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
While out on the campaign trail, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says that Republicans have to start acting like Republicans. I don't know, last week they avoided a debate with black people. You can't get more Republican than that. — Jay Leno
October 08, 2007
|The Secret History Of The War On Cancer||Corporations, Globalization Ethics Science/Technology|
Over the weekend, I picked up a new book called The Secret History of the War on Cancer by Devra Davis, an epidemiologist who heads the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh. It looked like something I'd want to write about on the blog, but who knows how soon I'll get to it. So many books, so little time. But today, Salon comes to the rescue with a review and interview. This is a long excerpt, but it's important:
Davis, who is a professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and formerly served in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, argues that the United States' $40 billion "war on cancer" has focused far too much on treatment, and not nearly enough on prevention....For instance, in the late '60s, three years after the surgeon general declared that smoking causes cancer, the United States spent $30 million of taxpayer money to create a safer cigarette, essentially doing the tobacco companies' research and development for them. Needless to say, this effort failed, but it succeeded in giving the tobacco companies cover, assuring smokers that a safer cigarette was just around the corner.
Davis argues that again and again, from tobacco to benzene to asbestos, the profit motive has trumped concerns about public health, delaying, sometimes for decades, the containment of avoidable hazards. And, as in the current scientific "debate" about global warming, the legitimate need for ongoing scientific research about many possible carcinogens has been exploited by industry to promote the idea that there's really no need to worry.
In "The Secret History of the War on Cancer," we meet one of the foremost epidemiologists of the 20th century, who is revealed after his death to have been on the take from Monsanto to the tune of $1,500 a day, and we visit the site of former towns that have literally disappeared, like Times Beach, Mo., which since being declared a toxic waste site, has been incinerated, reduced to some grass, geraniums and tulips -- the only signs that anyone ever once lived there. [...]
Salon: In the U.S., one out of every two men and one out of every three women will develop cancer in their lifetimes....Testicular cancer in men under age 40 has risen 50 percent in a decade. What are the theories about why there might be such a radical increase?
Davis: In the United States and Japan, there has been a significant decline in the birth of baby boys. What does this have to do with testicular cancer? Well, there's a theory of testicular dysgenesis, which means that there is something on the Y chromosome that is transmitted to boys that is affecting their overall health, and it may affect whether or not a boy sperm works to fertilize an egg...And these things are likely to be related to early life exposures to hormone-mimicking chemicals....There's recently been a report from the Arctic Assessment of many more girls than boys being born. If something is affecting such an exquisitely sensitive part of human biology, then what else is it doing to us?
Salon: When we read about a study that says XYZ substance causes cancer in rats, how should we interpret it?
Davis: We differ from rodents by about 300 genes. That's it. The differences aren't nearly as big as some people would like you to think.
We use animal research to develop drugs. But when it comes to evidence that something causes cancer in an animal, something that might be used in our schools and homes, we say: "Well, wait. We better get proof of human harm." How can we say that we'll rely on animal studies when we're trying to invent drugs, and then deny their relevance to us when we're trying to predict, and prevent, human harms?
Salon: What's the alternative?
Davis: The alternative is to do experiments on people, or worse, which is what we are doing -- a vast uncontrolled experiment. We will never be able to answer many of these questions, because there is no control group. Who isn't exposed to cellphones? Who isn't exposed to aspartame? Who's not exposed to solar radiation? And that makes it very difficult to do studies of human health consequences. It really does. [...]
Salon: Why do you have concerns about aspartame, the artificial sweetener in many soft drinks and other low-calorie foods? [...]
Davis: In 1977, Richard Merrill, who later became dean of the University of Virginia Law School, was the chief counsel of the Food and Drug Administration, and he formally asked the U.S. attorney to convene a grand jury to decide whether or not to indict the producer of aspartame, G.D. Searle, for misrepresenting "findings, concealing material facts and making false statements" in aspartame safety tests.
This is not some left-wing group. This is the actual chief counsel of the FDA asking the U.S. attorney's office to convene a grand jury. It never happened, because by the time the grand jury was ready to be convened we had a new president. That president was Reagan, and within a month of Reagan taking office, he had a proposal from a guy you might have heard of named Donald Rumsfeld [who was then chief operating officer of Searle].
And Jan. 22, 1981, one day after Reagan's inauguration -- one day -- Searle reapplied for FDA approval. Prior to that, every single request for approval was turned down by all the scientists ever looking at the data. That's a fact. There's no dispute about that fact. And then, it gets approved May 19, 1981.
Remember what happened with the Reagan revolution? It was: "We need to get the government off our backs." One of the backs it got off of was suppressing the aspartame industry. Later, many of the people who worked at the FDA to evaluate aspartame ended up going to work for the company producing it. [...]
The thing that I'm most concerned about is the latest study from Italy. A typical rat study runs two years; that would be getting your rat to about my age: 60. People live now to their 90s. This study started their exposure when they were babies, like what we do now in the United States with aspartame, and let the rats live out their natural lifetimes until they were 3 years old.
And when they did that they found a significant increase in tumors that occurred only in that third year of life. Of course, the European Food Safety Authority, which sounds very independent, says the study is worthless. But I looked up the background on the people involved with the European Food Safety Authority, and many of them work directly for the food industry.
The Ramazzini Foundation, a toxicology institute, which did the study, is not known to be radical. Unlike most other sources of information in toxicology, it's truly independent. It is not funded by Monsanto. And what they found is that there is significant increase in lymphomas and leukemia, and that the increase comes not from consuming 800 cans of soda a day, but from consuming fairly moderate amounts of aspartame in these animals' lifetimes. They had 1,800 animals, and some of them were just consuming the equivalent of two cans of soda a day, two yogurts, 10 pieces of chewing gum. And at that level of consumption, there was a significant increase in cancer, and it only showed up in older rats.
Salon: How have recent court rulings made it harder to try to prevent cancer?
Davis: We have gone backward since the '70s. In the '70s, in the decision on lead in gasoline, the court said we could use experimental evidence that something was a threat to human health in order to prevent harm. The court repeatedly ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could use theories, models and estimates to prevent harm.
Now, we have to prove that harm has already happened before taking action to prevent additional harm. In the area of cancer this is a travesty, since most cancer in adults takes five, 10, 20 or 30 years [to develop]. It means that we have no opportunity to prevent cancer, because we must prove through human evidence that it's already happened....Ninety percent of all claims now for toxic torts are denied. [...]
I'm very, very concerned about the overuse of diagnostic radiation, especially in children. For example, CT scans [CAT scans] of the head and the abdomen. Now, obviously if you have a child with a potentially fatal head injury or a stomach bleed, you can use a CT scan.
Most people don't realize that a CT scan to the head of a baby can give you between 200 and 4,000 chest X-rays at once. And therefore they should be used in a much more limited way. And guess who agrees with me? The American College of Radiology has called for reducing the use of diagnostic radiation in children. [...]
[P]olar bears in the Arctic are showing up as hermaphrodites with toxic waste in their bodies that would qualify them for burial in a hazardous waste site. How do you think that they're getting exposed to these pollutants? They don't work at factories. But they are at the top of the polar food chain, and pollutants go up through the food chain stored in fat from the little fish to the big fish to the walrus to the polar bear. Ultimately, they're making it very clear that pollutants don't need passports, and that you can't ban toxic materials in one nation. It has to be a global policy. [...]
I've developed a theory of Xeno estrogen, named for the Greek word for "foreign." Basically, all of the risk factors that have been identified for breast cancer, except radiation, are related to the total lifetime exposure to hormones. So, the earlier in life you get your period and the later in life you go through menopause, the more hormones you're exposed to in your lifetime, and the greater your risk of breast cancer. The more alcohol you drink in your lifetime -- alcohol is highly estrogenic -- the greater your risk of breast cancer. The less exercise you get -- exercise lowers the amount of circulating estrogen -- the more estrogen in your life. The more fat in your body, the more estrogen, because fat is estrogenic. [...]
Why are more young girls going into puberty at an earlier age? Why are more young girls developing breasts? There are several reasons to think that hormones in personal care products may be playing a role, particularly for breast cancer in young black women.
Some black baby girls were found to have breasts between ages 1 and 3, and when Dr. Chandra Tiwary, who was a pediatric endocrinologist with the Air Force at Brooks Air Force Base, interviewed the mothers he found out the mothers were all putting a cream on the girls' scalps. And we don't know what the hell for sure was in all those creams then, but Dr. Tiwary found when the mother stopped using the cream, the breasts went away.
If something is making the breasts grow in a baby, what is it doing to others in terms of promoting growth at the wrong time, or promoting an improper or excessive amount of breast growth that could lead to cancer?
Salon: Why are you concerned about cellphones?
Davis: I can't tell you that cellphones are safe, and I can't tell you that they are harmful. That's the problem. The reason I can't is that there isn't really independent information, and the cellphone industry has been so quick to spin information.
Studies that you hear about that don't find a risk are often extremely limited, like the Danish Cancer Study. That's a ridiculous study. Anybody who used a cellphone for work was kicked out of the study, which is crazy, because those are the highest users. And they put all of these people together who were not using it for business -- the high users, the low users -- and they didn't find anything.
A study just released from France showed that people who used a cellphone for 10 or more years have double the risk of brain cancer. And people who owned two or more cellphones had more than double the risk of brain cancer. The level of this increase wasn't what we call statistically significant, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't important. [Emphasis added]
Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is the way we all hear things that ought to fundamentally adjust our way of thinking about the world, but with all the other input that's flooding our attention, most of it utterly trivial, the important thing soon fades from awareness. It's not forgotten exactly, but it's no longer in the foreground, and it's certainly not acted on.
For example. We all know that cigarette companies worked for decades to suppress information linking smoking and cancer. But we don't fully take on board the implications. These actions were taken by ordinary human beings in a corporate setting. The group-think and peer pressure of the workplace, the desire to get ahead or even just to put food on the table, the boundless human capacity for denial and rationalization, these things were enough to cause ordinary people to conspire in activities that killed many thousands of their company's customers. But here's the thing: there was nothing special about tobacco companies. Any number of modern corporations have similar internal dynamics, with similar results. So we shouldn't be surprised to learn that any number of other corporations have knowingly downplayed or falsified information about the harmful effects of their products. This is what happens when you have powerful institutions whose sole guiding principle is to maximize profit. The tobacco company story is repeated over and over again. Connect the dots.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
President Bush, for some reason, has vetoed the Child Health Insurance Plan. I believe his comment was, "Childrens do get sick, but childrens do get better again." — Jay Leno
October 05, 2007
|The End Of Cheap Oil||Peak Oil|
The chief economist at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce says we should expect $100 a barrel oil by the end of next year, and it's likely to be three-digit prices from then on out. AP (via John Robb):
Oil prices could top $100 a barrel by the end of next year and remain above that point for years to come, the chief economist of Canadian investment bank CIBC World Markets said Tuesday.
Jeffrey Rubin said rising demand within oil-rich nations such as Mexico, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia will put pressure on global oil prices in the coming years. That, combined with the increased cost of pulling petroleum from reserves deep under the sea or wringing it out of oil sands in Canada, will keep oil prices high even if demand in the Western world remains constant.
"We're in a world of triple digit oil prices for the foreseeable future," Rubin said during a speech to investors here.
Rubin said oil exports from OPEC countries, Russia and Mexico will likely decline by about 3 million barrels per day over the next five years. The biggest drop, he expects, will come from Mexico, a key U.S. supplier.
"Of the 3 million barrels, we're probably talking about 2 million barrels are going to come directly out of U.S. supplies," he said.
Rubin expects Mexican oil imports to the U.S. will dry up by about 2012. Some of that decline will be made up by imports from other parts of the world, but the lions' share — nearly a third of all U.S. oil imports — will come from Canadian oil sands, he predicted.
But replacing relatively easy-to-refine liquid crude with petroleum from oil sands is certain to increase costs, he said. By the end of the decade, Canadian oil sands are likely to represent the world's largest source of new oil supplies, he said.
"We're basically replacing low-cost oil with high-cost oil," he said.
Looking ahead, Rubin expects crude oil prices to average as much as $90 a barrel next year, rising to around $100 by the end of 2008. That would represent an increase of nearly 25 percent over Tuesday's settlement price of $80.05 a barrel for light, sweet crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
"Triple digit prices is not a spike," he said. "Triple digit oil prices is what is going to be required to maintain, let alone grow, world oil supplies." [Emphasis added]
What does this mean? John Robb summarizes nicely:
Over the past one hundred years, we have been able to plow through obstacles and limits to growth by throwing cheap energy at them (which makes even inefficient increases in social/economic complexity viable). What happens when energy isn't cheap anymore, but rather moderately expensive? Do those past increases in complexity come back to haunt us? Yes.
It would be hard to overstate the extent to which life in the developed world is organized around the availability of cheap energy. Mega-cities, sprawling suburbs, globalization itself. Most of what we consume comes to us from hundreds or thousands of miles away. And it's not just a question of energy. Oil is the raw material from which plastics, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals are manufactured.
We're like the dinosaurs, just before the asteroid hit. Not that we're doomed, but we're about to experience rapid, nonlinear changes in an environment we depend on for our very survival. Our adaptation to that environment has been cultural and technological rather than biological, a crucial advantage over the dinosaurs. But the challenge will be substantial, and we don't have a lot of time. Given the rate at which oil is consumed, most of us are going to be surprised by how quickly we burn through what's left.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
This week's "Alpha Dog" is President George W. Bush. Now it goes without saying that President Bush could be my "Alpha Dog" every week. He has certainly left his mark all over this country, but now he has outdone even himself. You see, for years the Left has accused the Bush administration of doing nothing on global warming. As if intimidating scientists is nothing. But the president cares just as much about climate change as Al Gore. He just would have called his documentary "How Inconvenient That The Science Isn't In Yet." This week, President Bush proved how much he cares by hosting a global warming summit, where he asked the rest of the world to follow him on climate change. And that takes glacier-sized balls — pre-global warming. The president set a clear goal to reduce emissions [on screen: Bush saying, "By setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it. By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal."] Next summer, the goal will be finalized. At this rate, we should be able to take action on global warming by... January 20, 2009. In one day, the president leapt from the back of the pack to the lead husky, leaving the rest of the world staring at his swinging sack. So Mr. President, for leading us to a bold commitment to finalize a goal for future possible action to solve global warming, you, sir, are my "Alpha Dog" of the week. — Stephen Colbert
October 04, 2007
|Heart Of Darkness||9/11, "War On Terror" Iran Palestine/Middle East|
You can't listen to Neocon éminence grise Norman Podhoretz, our bloodthirsty warmonger-in-chief, who says he "hopes and prays" that the US will bomb Iran, who never shuts up about his fantasy that the US is fighting for its very life in "World War IV" against "Islamofascism" — you can't listen to all his bluster and hyperbole and half-assed machismo and not conclude that the guy's wildly over-compensating for something. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the guy's nuts.
I just didn't realize how nuts. Via Glenn Greenwald, here's an excerpt from an essay of Podhoretz's from 1963, when he was already 33 years old and editor-in-chief of Commentary. It's one of the most appalling things I've ever read:
To me, at the age of twelve, it seemed very clear that Negores were better off than Jews — indeed, than all whites....[I]n my world it was the whites, the Italians and Jews, who feared the Negroes, not the other way around. The Negroes were tougher than we were, more ruthless, and on the whole were better athletes....I was still afraid of Negroes. And I still hated them with all my heart....
The orphanage across the street is torn down, a city housing project begins to rise in its place, and on the marvelous vacant lot next to the old orphanage they are building a playground....A week later, some us are swatting flies on the playground's inadequate little ball field. A gang of Negro kids, pretty much our own age, enter from the other side and order us out of the park. We refuse, proudly and indignantly, with superb masculine fervor. There is a fight, they win, and we retreat, half whimpering, half with bravado. My first nauseating experience of cowardice...
Gradually we abandon the place and use the streets instead. The streets are safer, though we do not admit this to ourselves. We are not, after all, sissies — the most dreaded epithet of an American boyhood...
That day in school the teacher had asked a surly Negro boy named Quentin a question he was unable to answer. As usual I had waved my arm eagerly...and, the right answer bursting from my lips, I was held up lovingly by the teacher as an example to the class. I had seen Quentin's face — a very dark, very cruel, very Oriental-looking face — harden, and there had been enough threat in his eyes to make me run all the way home for fear that he might catch me outside....
For me as a child the life lived on the other side of the playground and down the block on Ralph Avenue seemed the very embodiment of the values of the street — free, independent, reckless, brave, masculine, erotic....
The hatred I still feel for Negroes is the hardest of all the old feelings to face or admit, and it is the most hidden and the most overlarded by the conscious attitudes into which I have succeeded in willing myself. It no longer has, as for me it once did, any cause or justification (except, perhaps that I am constantly being denied my right to an honest expression of the things I earned the right as a child to feel). How, then, do I know that this hatred has never entirely disappeared? I know it from the insane rage that can stir in me at the thought of Negro anti-Semitism; I know it from the disgusting prurience that can stir in me at the sight of a mixed couple; and I know it from the violence that can stir in me whenever I encounter that special brand of paranoid touchiness to which many Negroes are prone....
There were plenty of bad boys among the whites — this was, after all, a neighborhood with a long tradition of crime as a career open to aspiring talents — but the Negroes were really bad, bad in a way that beckoned to one, and made one feel inadequate. [Emphasis in the original]
What a twisted, malevolent little shit. Bush gave this guy the Presidential Medal of Freedom and just recently sought his counsel on Iran. Rudy Giuliani made him his Senior Foreign Policy Advisor. How many Iranians and brown-skinned others will have to die because of the psychosexual disfigurement of Podhoretz and people like him?
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
October 03, 2007
|Pending Home Sales Drop Is "Big News"||Economy|
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research:
The 6.5 percent drop in August pending home sales is big news. The drop in the index, which measures the number of contracts signed, follows a 10.7 percent drop reported for July. This is a truly extraordinary two-month decline of 16.5 percent. This is a new index (it began in 2000), so it is easily the sharpest fall on record, but it would likely have been the sharpest two month decline in contracts at any point in the post-war era. The actual falloff in sales is likely to be even larger, since a high percentage of these contracts will not close because buyers cannot arrange financing.
While it's possible that sales may stabilize and even rise back somewhat now that the mortgage markets are in somewhat better shape, they are now down more than 20 percent from year ago levels in this index and by more than 30 percent from the year-round average in 2005. The idea that the economy will somehow brush off a decline of this magnitude and keep moving along at a healthy pace seems almost bizarre. With consumption growth weak, equipment investment flat, and non-residential investment peaking, there is little other trade driven by a falling dollar (and thereby higher import prices) to sustain growth. [Emphasis added]
But what I really want to know is who's going to get custody: Britney or K-Fed.
When they said No Child Left Behind, I didn't think they meant Neil Bush.
|The Emptiest Of Suits||Media|
There's a good chance you've already seen this, but if not:
Like a thousand fingernails on a thousand blackboards. But huge props to Jon Stewart.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
Here's good news: George W. Bush says that he is committed to fighting global warming. Yeah, well, he nipped that in the bud, didn't he? President Bush says he's really going to buckle down now and fight global warming. As a matter of fact, he announced today he's sending 20,000 troops to the sun. — David Letterman
October 02, 2007
|What Ahmadinajad Said At Columbia||Iran|
I didn't see, hear, or read Ahmadinajad's speech at Columbia, so like most of us, pretty much the only thing I knew about it was that he apparently said Iran has no homosexuals. The mainstream narrative is that the guy's crazy. So I was very interested to read this, from Col. Patrick Lang:
What Ahmadinajad Said At Columbia
I listened to it all.
His remarks were "bracketed" for me by those of Bollinger (the Columbia president) who sought to distance himself from any possible accusation of hospitality and Nora O'Donnell (MSNBC anchor) who sought to distance herself from any possible accusation of neutrality.
- Scholars should seek the truth.
- That he does not dispute the facts of the Holocaust, but that he thinks that scholarship should continue on the details and on the effect on his part of the world. He particularly stressed the innocence of the Palestinian people in the matter of the Holocaust. Since scholarship continues on the matter of this subject (the Holocaust) under the sponsorship of the US Holocaust Museum, this was an interesting point.
- He said that the nature of Palestine/Israel should be determined by referendum among "Jewish Palestinians, Muslim Palestinians and Christian Palestinians." This is a variation on the long standing Arab desire for either a bi-national state or a state that is not specifically a Jewish state. He did not specify whether his referendum would include Palestinians of the diaspora. That, of course, would make a difference in the outcome.
- He said that the Iranian nuclear enrichment program was forced on them by foreign defaults on agreements for nuclear electric assistance. He said that the Iranian sites are all under IAEA inspection and will remain that way. He also said that the concentration level of their enrichment did not meet the requirement for weapons production.
- He abjured the idea of nuclear weapons and said they do not want any. Presumably the IAEA inspection regime applies.
- When challenged on Iranian government support of international terrorist groups, he said that Iran herself is the victim of extensive terrorist attack sponsored by foreign governments. He clearly had in mind the MEK. He said that all parties should stop this kind of activity. There may have been an implied offer in that. The Persians are subtle people. Perhaps they are too subtle for his audience.
- He accepted the idea of wide negotiations with the US to resolve all differences.
- In response to a challenge by Bollinger, he invited Columbia to send delegations of faculty and students to any or all of Iran's 400 universities.
- He insisted that Iranian women are free. [...]
It was quite a performance. If this were a presidential debate, I would judge him the winner based on rhetorical skill and coolness under fire. The student audience got quieter and quieter as he spoke. There was no booing at the end.
On the whole I think this event was meaningless. I think that the die is cast and that this will have no effect on the international game. [Emphasis added]
Lang is a serious guy, with about as impressive a resume as one could imagine in the fields of US military intelligence and the Middle East. But everybody "knows" that Ahmadinajad's crazy and evil and a threat to world peace.
As Seymour Hersh put it in an interview with Der Spiegel:
We have this wonderful capacity in America to Hitlerize people. We had Hitler, and since Hitler we've had about 20 of them. Khrushchev and Mao and of course Stalin, and for a little while Gadhafi was our Hitler. And now we have this guy Ahmadinejad.
Small wonder elites hold us in contempt when we let ourselves be manipulated the way we do. They crank up the media machine and the herd moves wherever they want it to go. No questions, no resistance.
|© Kent Tenney|
|Today's Bush Joke||Humor & Fun|
On this program in the past, we have occasionally ribbed our current president. But it's in no way indicative of any real feelings about the president's abilities or policies. It's nothing personal — until now. Yesterday, surrounded by school children, speaking in defense of his education policy, the president said this [on screen: Bush saying, "Childrens do learn."] Childrens do learn. Oh does they. "Childrens do learn" while talking about education. Let me tell you something, sir, myself and this show, we don't need your charity. I have a full staff of very talented writers and producers working for me and we can't even make that funnier by taking that out of context. There is going to come a day when everyone here is going to need keen observation and wit to ridicule you. But when that day comes, all we're going to have are tired puns and goofy looks, because, as you would say, we're suffering from the soft bigotry of low expectorations. So please sir, change — for the childrens. — Jon Stewart