Wednesday, December 31, 2008


From toxic trash in China to mountain-sized landfills in Michigan, the world is awash in waste

By William Pentland

The largest garbage dump in the world is roughly twice the size of the continental U.S.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a continent-sized constellation of discarded shoes, bottles, bags, pacifiers, plastic wrappers, toothbrushes and every other type of trash imaginable, floating in the Pacific Ocean about halfway between Hawaii and San Francisco. The ocean's swirling currents have pushed the piles of debris, accumulated detritus of sea vessels and decades of under-the-radar ocean dumping, together in loose configurations just below the water's surface.

While nobody knows for sure where it came from or how to clean it up, the sheer size of the Garbage Patch has attracted attention to the world's seldom-discussed renegade waste problem. The remains of daily life are becoming a colossal problem with increasingly global implications. Some places are running out of space to put it, and others haven't even figured out how to pick it up in the first place. From toxic trash on the streets of Guiya (in India) to the mountain-sized municipal landfills in Michigan(USA), the world is awash in waste — but not always in the places you'd expect.

Take, for example, the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Fertilizer and pesticide use by farmers in the Midwest and Great Plains states has gradually raised nutrient levels in the Mississippi's muddy waters to levels so high that algal blooms have appeared in the river drainage delta. These algal blooms deplete oxygen levels in the water to the point where it can no longer sustain fish, plants and microscopic species. Ergo, the "dead zone," an area that covers nearly 7,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

Everybody knows chemicals dumped in the wild can cause serious problems, and keeping them stored is not necessarily much safer. For decades, Africa was a major dumping grounds for toxic wastes. Since at least the early 1970s, there have been multiple cases of illicit toxic waste disposal deals between Western companies and African countries.

In 1987, for example, two Italian waste brokers, Gianfranco Raffaeli and Renato Pent, paid a Nigerian businessman, Sunday Nana, about $100 a month to store 18,000 drums of hazardous waste on his property in Nigeria. Nigerian officials discovered a cache of the illegal toxic waste, which contained high levels of PCB and dioxins, stored at the port of Koko.

Regardless of how they got there, mountains of obsolete pesticides like DDT, aldrin and chlordane remain stockpiled in poorly maintained storage facilities across much of Africa. Mali and Botswana have reported especially large stockpiles of industrial chemicals discarded as long as 40 years ago.

While some countries address legacy problems like abandoned pesticides, other countries are busy creating new ones for future generations. China and India are no exceptions.

Guiyu (China) is a cluster of interconnected villages located about an hour's drive away from the South China Sea in the northern province of Guangdong. In the past decade, Guiyu has grown from a rice farming community to an enormous hub for recycling and disposal of electronic waste, including everything from defunct hard drives to broken television sets. The amount of e-waste that flows through the "recycling" plants of Guiyu in a single year could create an acre-wide pile taller than the Statue of Liberty, according to an investigative report by Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network.

Truckloads of printers, fax machines, hard drives and all kinds of defunct electronics arrive daily in Guiyu from warehouses in the port of Nanhai, where the imported waste comes ashore in sea-going containers. Roughly half these computers and electronic components are recycled; the rest are dumped. Nobody knows for sure, but evidence suggests most of the discarded components are dumped locally, despite the substantial risk that the waste, laden with toxic lead, mercury and cadmium, will contaminate local soil and water supplies. Although Chinese officials have recently stepped up efforts to enforce a longstanding ban on e-waste imports, there has likely been more than enough damage inflicted to last generations.

The city of Alang, which sits on the western coast of Gulf of Cambay in western India, is the largest ship-scrapping yard in the world. A ship that would cost millions to demolish in North America is worth millions in a place like Alang.

The Alang shipyards dismantle hundreds of massive vessels from all over the world every year. Old ships are run ashore during high tide on a roughly six-mile-long stretch of beach; later, when the tide recedes, thousands of low-wage workers descend on them and use crude tools to strip them apart. The industry provides 30,000 jobs in Alang and produces millions of tons of recycled steel every year.

But that isn't all it produces.

Old ships are, more often than not, chock full of toxic chemicals, like insulation with asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls in hoses, foam insulation and paint. In addition, most ships contain huge quantities of heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium. If ships are not properly dismantled, they contaminate the area where they are broken down.

Although India has wrestled the shipbreaking business from yards in Europe and North America by effectively eliminating high-priced environmental safeguards, Bangladesh is now capturing more of India's business by lowering environmental standards even more dramatically.

These kinds of competing regulatory systems have reinforced a race-to-the-bottom dynamic in the waste trade, which all too often champions disposal sites with poor environmental practices.

The global trade in trash rose from 2 million tons to more than 8.5 million tons between 1993 and 2001, according to data collected by the Basel Convention. And not all of those sites are outside U.S. borders.

For example, two mega-sized landfills in Michigan — Carleton Farms in New Boston and Pine Tree Acres, slightly north of Detroit — have cornered the the waste disposal market in the Canadian province of Ontario. Michigan requires operators to maintain landfills for 30 years after they close, while Canada requires operators to monitor landfills for at least a century, and in a few cases, forever. The result: In 2006, it cost roughly $100 US to dispose of a ton of trash in Ontario, but only $10 to dispose of the same ton of trash across the border in the U.S. Michigan landfills receive enough Canadian garbage annually to fill a football stadium.

"We love Canadian garbage," Norm Folson, site manager at the Pine Tree Acres Landfill in northeast Detroit, told a reporter from Canadian Architect recently. "Tipping fees pay our salaries and pave our roads. To us, Canadian garbage is like gold." The original article can be read here: Forbes

A little comment on this article:

The headline certainly caught my attention! Twice the size of the continental United States is a damned big clump of garbage! As the above picture illustrates, if you're familiar with the US, the waste clump is more like the size of California. Of course, California is larger than a lot of countries so that's still a damned big clump of garbage.

When I was in the Navy (USN) in the early 1960s it was common practice for ships in international waters to dump garbage overboard. Often it was first burned and then jettisoned but sometimes the burning was skipped. In those days, other than some chemicals, there was little that would persist for long and even less that would float - for long - or so we believed. Food scraps, which made up the bulk of the garbage, would be eaten by something or would decompose harmlessly (we were told) and wood and paper would not hurt anything while metal refuse would simply sink to the ocean bottom and corrode away. We had little or no synthetic materials such as plastics in those days which might float and resist degradation by natural means.

That should not be taken to mean that the practice was not in some way harmful, only that it was not considered to be an issue at the time.

Fast forward a couple of decades, though, and the situation had changed dramatically: plastics were everywhere, food containers, small radios, cigarette filters, packaging materials of all kinds and many other articles in common use. I was only in the Navy until early 1966 so I have no knowledge of when the realization came that the trash was no longer harmless to the sea. The ubiquitous plastics did not break down in the same time-scale as the earlier materials did and some were well nigh indestructible, certainly not "bio-degradable". I read, several years ago, about an ocean shipping container full of plastic ducks which was lost overboard at sea and the ducks were washing ashore all over the world for years and providing information about ocean current flow, not very bio-degradable ducks apparently.

Now we have disposable plastic cigarette lighters, plastic toothbrushes, plastic shoes and plastic nearly everything which for many years has been consigned to the deep - only to be rejected by "the deep" and kept at the surface, non-biodegradable, almost immune to saltwater and sunlight and inedible until we have at least one immense flotilla of jetsam (flotsam actually) occupying a large area of the world's ocean and growing exponentially which might someday allow us to build a floating bridge to Hawaii. I admit that I would like to be able to drive to Honolulu from the mainland, but this floating continent of junk is obscene. They all say that they have no idea what can be done about it. Of course, that is a bit disingenuous because the simple answer is obvious: go get it. What they're really saying is that they don't want it and have no idea what to do with it after they get it.

There are a number of ways to look at this issue: the United States Government, through DEQ has in the past, held manufacturers responsible for the ultimate cleanup and disposal of hazardous wastes resulting from materials which they manufactured such as automotive batteries and some chemicals, they have held dealers of some of those things responsible for cleaning dump-sites, even those which were approved at the time of the dumping, contaminated with some substances and have bankrupted several businesses in the process.

My view is that, since all of the plastics which float in the immense doldrum in the Pacific are ultimately made from petroleum, the Saudi Government, Iran and Iraq as suppliers of the oil and China as manufacturer of the junk should be held responsible for this pollution and made to clean it up and also fined - payable in gold or dollars - twice the cost of the clean-up while they are also required to take the stuff home with them. It seems only right to me. Of course, first we should figure out how we're going to live without imported oil or plastic ducks.

Any suggestions?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I'm feeling much better, now.

The text in red below is from "Canada Free Press" and was originally published at so I'm excerpting from an editorialized excerpt. See comments after reading...

“Barack Obama, through his selection of UFO Disclosure Advocate John Podesta as Transition team CoChair, has energized a core of the 49% of adult Americans who believe that Extraterrestrials are now visiting Earth to now see Obama as a possible “Disclosure President,” says “Another sector of opinion within the Exopolitics community believe that Obama may be used as a front man for a “Disclosure Management” psychological warfare operation by U.S. and other military intelligence agencies. Under this scenario, a false “ET Disclosure” would be rolled out with ETs as a hostile or authoritarian force, a strategy calculated to spread the arms race and war economy to outer space, and to foster a global totalitarian police state on Earth.”

“Dr. Wernher von Braun, a whistleblower, warned that the final charade of the permanent war economy after the collapse of capitalism, would be first a False War on Terror (via the False Flag Operation of 9/11): and finally a False War against the `Evil ETs.’”

Back to Grant Park on Election Night. While some were focused on the red and black dress Michelle Obama wore, others were photographing the Orbs.

“Amidst all of this grand speculation, we now have some photographic evidence of how dimensional intelligence in the dimensional ecology we live in may be viewing at least the celebrations on the evening of Nov. 4, 2008 when Barack Obama gave his Election night acknowledgement speech in Grant Park in downtown Chicago,” notes Alfred Lambremont Webre in

“The Orbs at Grant Park are evidence of Dimensional Intelligent intervention in the Exopolitical process of the Obama administration. Strategically, as humans, we must learn to think multi-dimensionally as Extraterrestrials with Exo-consciousness and see our reality as these dimensional intelligences do. There is much to revealed about Obama’s Grant Park speech that will impact the disclosure process, of the Extraterrestrial presence and of advanced ET-derived technologies.

“All of this “disclosure” is for naught without the elevation of moral insight and cosmic consciousness by humanity.

“The most hopeful sign today of the Obama presidency has not been the John Podestas or any other human in his team. Rather, it has been these Orbs--dimensional intelligences--disclosing a profound message of hope and consciousness to come at Grant Park.

“We may have some cause to hope, albeit dimensional, that Barack Obama is something more than a mere tool of the Trilateralists, by the photographic evidence.”

Someone, who might have been guessing, once said that "78% of statistics are made up on the spot" or words to that effect.

One can hope that the reference to "49 percent of adult Americans who believe that extraterrestrials are now visiting the Earth" is that type of statistic! I can accept that 49%of adult Americans might consider it possible that extraterrestrials are now visiting the Earth, but, believe it is another matter entirely...

And then we have a quote attributed to rocket scientist Wernher Magnus Maximilian Freiherr von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) (see Wikipedia if you're not sure who he was) "Dr. Wernher von Braun, a whistleblower, warned that the final charade of the permanent war economy after the collapse of capitalism, would be first a False War on Terror (via the False Flag Operation of 9/11): and finally a False War against the `Evil ETs.’”

Dr. von Braun died long before the break-up of Eastern European Communism in the late 80s and early 90s. The alleged quote appears to support the idea that the US administration was responsible for the WTC attack of Sept. 11, 2001 and that the next step in the "great conspiracy" will be to acknowledge alien contact and to assure us that they are, in fact, hostile and poised to attack us.

I am one of those who thinks it highly unlikely that over twenty-four years before the event, Dr. von Braun knew and spoke of it. Did he know of alien contact with the Earth? Your guess is as good as mine.

Dr. von Braun was raised and remained a Lutheran and as far as I can see from historical sources was not a "whistleblower" but rather a man obsessed with building and firing rockets who would work for whomever could facilitate his obsession.

He accepted the need to be an officer in the NAZI SS in wartime Germany as a prerequisite to continuing his research with state support and arranged to be captured by US forces at war's end rather than Soviet forces so he could continue his research in the United States. I have not yet found any other references to his having prophesied concerning international terrorism or extraterrestrials, if you know of any please post in "comments".

Thursday, December 25, 2008

LV Housing Prices Fall, Foreclosures Climb

"Dec 10, 2008 4:29 PM EST"

Las Vegas Housing prices have fallen to a point where they are nearly 19-percent below market fundamentals, according to a new report. In addition, foreclosures are expected to be at a record high.

The promise of "Home Sweet Home" turned sour for more than 28,000 homeowners in Clark County in 2008. The foreclosures continue to drag down the home values in Nevada.

Click here for information on upcoming foreclosure help

Click here for Federal Housing Administration's HOPE Program

"The banks have put them so ridiculously low, so it's bringing down all the neighborhoods," said broker Ronda Matthews-Wolfe, Jack Matthews & Co.

The foreclosure fallout means everyone's home is going down in value. A new report, Housing Prices in America, says the Las Vegas market is now undervalued by 18.8 percent.

"Why they really plummeted is because of the foreclosures, and the foreclosures have happened because people overpaid or got into these adjustables," Matthews-Wolfe said.

But there is a silver lining. More houses are selling. More than 2,100 homes were sold in November, although that is nearly 20-percent down from October, it is 125-percent higher than November 2007. Housing prices are also down 32-percent from a year ago.

"The price isn't all that bad either," said Bill Baldare, a home buyer. Many bank-owned homes are practical steals. Baldare is bidding on a foreclosed home listed at $32,000. The same home sold for $196,000 four years ago.

"Trying to buy a house now is way out of reach for a lot of people, including myself, but this seems to be what I've been looking for," Baldare said.

"I expect Nevada, California, Florida, and Arizona, which led this mess -- they are the ones with the most amount of subprime mortgages -- I see them to lead the market as far as recovery goes next year," said Alexis McGee, president of

Bloggers comments:

Hmmmm... House sold for $196,000 4 years ago. Bank has foreclosed on the unfortunate family which agreed to pay $196K and is offering the house for $32,000. Does anybody other than me see a questionable scenario here? If, just an "if" mind you, the bank had shown forbearance to the former mortgage slave, I mean borrower, by adjusting the principal to say $145,000 and/or lowering the interest rate to somewhere near current new mortgage rates, is there a good chance that the borrower might have been able and willing to continue paying for the house? How about if the bank had lowered the principal amount to $110K, or $100K does it seem likely that the original purchaser/mortgagee might have been able and willing to stay and pay?

Of course the bank did not do any of those things. What they did was to tell the delinquent borrower to pay up or else: "we will pitch you and your children, wife and hamsters out into the street you freaking deadbeat useless piece of offal spurned by scavengers and carrion eaters alike, you should kill yourself for being such a loser, have a nice day." So, the borrower, who probably had a very good reason (such as loss of job, medical emergency, or some such) for being a month behind in his mortgage became both hopeless and hostile toward the pitiless, mindless collectors who, almost daily, called (perhaps at his/her work)and demanded instant resolution (we'll take a check by phone) of a situation which he or she could not resolve that way.

Finally the day came when the borrower, knowing that there was no help anywhere, said something like "Why don't you just take the house?" Very soon thereafter the bank filed a foreclosure and simultaneously a move for eviction. The house became both empty and also an unpaying liability/or asset, depending upon whether you are an accountant or not, on the balance sheet.

Then another group of bankers came into the picture, those whose task it is to keep the bank liquid, who decided that since the market is depressed and money needs to be raised it would be a good idea to just dump the foreclosed properties for quick cash. Looking at the market conditions: 25,000 houses on the market - no population growth - few buyers, etc. they picked a figure out of thin air and published an asking price which they felt would get immediate action either for cash or from a borrower with a 700+ FICA ergo $32K. Result? Another family homeless and possibly breaking apart due to financial stress coupled with ruined credit and another bargain for someone who was lucky enough to have failed to qualify for a loan when the market was good. Also, a large, and unnecessary loss for the bank or investor who had held the original mortgage.

My feeling is that this scenario is caused by the ego of the collectors who have zero empathy for people in financial crises and who are only interested in the brownie buttons and/or commissions they derive from wringing the payment (as agreed) month after month from the agonizing borrower until finally the borrower succumbs to despair from the stress and gives up trying to meet the demands. The result is a loss to the bank which need not and should not have happened as well as a destructive loss to the borrower's family due to the loss of their home and credit. A little humanity and consideration of mutual interest in maintaining the borrower in the home inspite of slow payments or even a modification of the loan terms would be a better solution for everyone involved except the bargain hunter.

Just my thoughts... Feel free to explain - very carefully - where I'm wrong.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

IRS: Fry's Exec Stole $65M to Pay Gambling Debts

Dec 23, 2008 3:11 PM EST

A Ferrari-driving vice president of Fry's Electronics Inc. who was allegedly such a heavyweight gambler that casinos chartered private planes to fly him to Las Vegas has been arrested on charges he embezzled more than $65 million from the retailer to fuel his lavish lifestyle and pay off debts.

Ausaf Umar Siddiqui is accused by the IRS of concocting an incredibly profitable scheme in which he cut side deals with some of Fry's suppliers, buying their goods at higher prices than they would normally get, and buying more of them than he normally would, in exchange for kickbacks of up to 31 percent of the total sales price.

The IRS alleges in a criminal complaint filed against Siddiqui that he set up a shell company that hid $65.6 million in kickback payments from five Fry's vendors from January 2005 to November 2008. Of that amount, $17.9 million was paid to subsidiaries of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates the Venetian Casino Resort, according to the criminal complaint and regulatory filings. Authorities confirmed the payments went to the casino.

Siddiqui, who lives in Palo Alto, was ordered held on $300,000 bond Monday at a hearing in U.S. District Court in San Jose. He has been in custody since Friday, when agents arrested him at Fry's headquarters in San Jose in front of stunned co-workers. The details about his Ferrari and the private jets came out during the hearing Monday.

His home phone number is unlisted, and it wasn't immediately clear whether Siddiqui had a defense lawyer. A criminal complaint is one of the preliminary investigative steps for arresting someone and securing an indictment.

A Fry's spokesman did not return a phone call from The Associated Press left after-hours.

Siddiqui has not been formally charged yet with the wire-fraud allegations laid out in the criminal complaint. Arlette Lee, spokeswoman for the IRS' Criminal Investigation division, said the judge in the case has given the government 20 days to file formal charges, which she said prosecutors intend to do.

As Fry's vice president of merchandising and operations, Siddiqui pulled down a legitimate annual salary of $225,000, supervised a staff of 120 and his team was responsible for buying all the merchandise sold in Fry's 34 stores around the U.S., according to the criminal complaint. The stores are mostly located in California and Texas.

The IRS alleges Siddiqui was able to amass so much illegal money by convincing Fry's executives that he alone should be responsible for a job that is typically handled by independent contractors -- the job of the sales representative that brokers deals with the suppliers and the stores for a cut of the total sales price.

The reps are kept independent so they're not seen as favoring one side or the other in sales negotiations, and their job can be lucrative if they're good at it, with commissions ranging from 3 to 8-percent of the total sales they bring in, according to the complaint.

The IRS claims Siddiqui started striking side deals with some of the suppliers, in which he would guarantee he'd keep their products stocked on Fry's shelves, in exchange for kickbacks in the form of steep commissions paid to a company he set up called PC International.

The alleged scheme unraveled when another Fry's executive walked into Siddiqui's office in October and saw spreadsheets on his desk outlining the payments and alleged kickbacks, according to the complaint. Siddiqui wasn't there, so the executive took the documents, contacted the IRS and handed over the evidence.

The IRS later examined Siddiqui's bank records and found that a total of $167.8 million was deposited into the bogus company's bank account. Seventy wire transfers totaling $65.6 million came from five Fry's suppliers, who were not named as defendants in the case.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

See original article here

Folks, you've got to just shake your head in astonishment that any company would allow anyone an opportunity to accomplish such a scam and you've got to marvel that their suppliers would be willing to get onboard. I'm guessing that the grift was split with the supplier's reps and they too will be on the carpet soon. There's a lot more churning in the muck than this simple statement mentions.

He guaranteed placement of their products for a consideration, bad enough, but to pay above market and take the difference in a rebate to his own corporation requires some pretty involved paper juggling and could not be done by two people however how highly placed without collusion from others in the chain. That is if either company involved had decent controls in place.

Just my thoughts...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Financial Times: “And Now for a World Government”

Published on 12-08-2008

"In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic."
-a quote from the article...

By Gideon Rachman

I have never believed that there is a secret United Nations plot to take over the US. I have never seen black helicopters hovering in the sky above Montana. But, for the first time in my life, I think the formation of some sort of world government is plausible.

A “world government” would involve much more than co-operation between nations. It would be an entity with state-like characteristics, backed by a body of laws. The European Union has already set up a continental government for 27 countries, which could be a model. The EU has a supreme court, a currency, thousands of pages of law, a large civil service and the ability to deploy military force.

So could the European model go global? There are three reasons for thinking that it might.

First, it is increasingly clear that the most difficult issues facing national governments are international in nature: there is global warming, a global financial crisis and a “global war on terror”.

Second, it could be done. The transport and communications revolutions have shrunk the world so that, as Geoffrey Blainey, an eminent Australian historian, has written: “For the first time in human history, world government of some sort is now possible.” Mr Blainey foresees an attempt to form a world government at some point in the next two centuries, which is an unusually long time horizon for the average newspaper column.

But – the third point – a change in the political atmosphere suggests that “global governance” could come much sooner than that. The financial crisis and climate change are pushing national governments towards global solutions, even in countries such as China and the US that are traditionally fierce guardians of national sovereignty.

Barack Obama, America’s president-in-waiting, does not share the Bush administration’s disdain for international agreements and treaties. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he argued that: “When the world’s sole superpower willingly restrains its power and abides by internationally agreed-upon standards of conduct, it sends a message that these are rules worth following.” The importance that Mr Obama attaches to the UN is shown by the fact that he has appointed Susan Rice, one of his closest aides, as America’s ambassador to the UN, and given her a seat in the cabinet.

A taste of the ideas doing the rounds in Obama circles is offered by a recent report from the Managing Global Insecurity project, whose small US advisory group includes John Podesta, the man heading Mr Obama’s transition team and Strobe Talbott, the president of the Brookings Institution, from which Ms Rice has just emerged.

The MGI report argues for the creation of a UN high commissioner for counter-terrorist activity, a legally binding climate-change agreement negotiated under the auspices of the UN and the creation of a 50,000-strong UN peacekeeping force. Once countries had pledged troops to this reserve army, the UN would have first call upon them.

These are the kind of ideas that get people reaching for their rifles in America’s talk-radio heartland. Aware of the political sensitivity of its ideas, the MGI report opts for soothing language. It emphasises the need for American leadership and uses the term, “responsible sovereignty” – when calling for international co-operation – rather than the more radical-sounding phrase favoured in Europe, “shared sovereignty”. It also talks about “global governance” rather than world government.

But some European thinkers think that they recognise what is going on. Jacques Attali, an adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, argues that: “Global governance is just a euphemism for global government.” As far as he is concerned, some form of global government cannot come too soon. Mr Attali believes that the “core of the international financial crisis is that we have global financial markets and no global rule of law”.

So, it seems, everything is in place. For the first time since homo sapiens began to doodle on cave walls, there is an argument, an opportunity and a means to make serious steps towards a world government.

But let us not get carried away. While it seems feasible that some sort of world government might emerge over the next century, any push for “global governance” in the here and now will be a painful, slow process.

There are good and bad reasons for this. The bad reason is a lack of will and determination on the part of national, political leaders who – while they might like to talk about “a planet in peril” – are ultimately still much more focused on their next election, at home.

But this “problem” also hints at a more welcome reason why making progress on global governance will be slow sledding. Even in the EU – the heartland of law-based international government – the idea remains unpopular. The EU has suffered a series of humiliating defeats in referendums, when plans for “ever closer union” have been referred to the voters. In general, the Union has progressed fastest when far-reaching deals have been agreed by technocrats and politicians – and then pushed through without direct reference to the voters. International governance tends to be effective, only when it is anti-democratic.

The world’s most pressing political problems may indeed be international in nature, but the average citizen’s political identity remains stubbornly local. Until somebody cracks this problem, that plan for world government may have to stay locked away in a safe at the UN.

Comment by the blogger:

This article brings up some interesting points and I think the the most interesting is that "International governance tends to be effective only when it is anti-democratic."

It does not address the question which immediately comes to my mind when discussing "A World Government". That question is: What would induce the people of The United States of America to willfully surrender their sovereignty to any international body, especially one so flawed as the UNO? I can think of several reasons why it would not be a good idea for us or for humanity.

Abiding by international treaties lawfully ratified under the constitution of the United States is one thing - and it is a problem in itself when those treaties are not carefully vetted to be sure that they do not compromise our national sovereignty - but surrendering sovereignty and allowing some external agency to meddle in (indeed, to dictate) how we run our country, decide if we are treating our populace in a correct manner and impose regulations from outside the country telling us how to live and who may do what inside our country is another matter entirely.

International relations are a different thing, though. Should any country take it upon itself to bomb or to invade a separate nation? I am not referring to the present US involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq as both were legitimate acts, possibly ill-advised in the case of Iraq - but legitimate. I am not so sure about Panama or Grenada and question our interference in Nicaragua and other American nations in the past.

There are many crying needs for outside intervention in todays world - several countries in sub-Saharan Africa as well as The Sudan are in a state of genocidal upheaval for reasons which are not clear to me. There is no international body which can - legally - intervene to save the people of Darfur or to help the people of Somalia or Zimbabwe out of the hopeless situations imposed by their governments. In East Asia there are a couple of other countries in similar straits. I do not think that even these obvious needs are justification for a "World Government". As nice as it would seem to be able to help all those suffering people I think that the long-term cost to all the rest of the people of the world, in accepting a "World Government," would be far too high and I doubt that their needs would be addressed anyway by such a body.

Here in the United States we have seen a constitutional government created which guaranteed equality before the law to all citizens and from the very start excluded those people who were held in chattel slavery and Native Americans from considerations of that equality, by the simple act of failing to accord to them recognition of their humanity or citizenship. It boggles the mind to consider the hypocrisy inherent in the Bill Of Rights and The Constitution when it made such elegant and general statements of equality and right only to deny both to a large population of men and women who, by accident of birth or "condition of servitude", were simply left out.

Beyond that we have watched the slow but accelerating usurpation of the rights reserved to the states by the national government since the beginning of the republic. It is true that some were made for the best of reasons: to free and enfranchise the slaves for example in the 1860s, and much later to again free and enfranchise their descendents in the 1960s. To strike down legal impediments which prevented some from voting is another example. Beyond that it is often done by threatening to withhold money for construction or maintenance unless certain changes are made in the laws of the states, such as speed limits and other seemingly small matters. The net result, though, is control by the national government beyond the legal authority constitutionally given. It is not likely that it would be very different with a "World Government" except - probably - far more oppressive.

There will always be "unusual circumstances" calling for emergency extralegal actions somewhere in the world. Unfortunately, it is likely that those circumstances would be used - repeatedly - to draw the bonds ever tighter around personal liberty everywhere if there were a "World Government" in charge. Where would be the off-setting power which would check the aspirations of the rulers? Even a country as large as the US or Russia or India or China, once having surrendered its sovereignty and having been disarmed - including the private citizens, would be unlikely to be able to stand against a government which had the weight of the entire world behind it.

Here in the US our "representatives" are held in check - to an extent - by the knowledge that we are not disarmed and that we can revolt if motivated to do so by sufficient malfeasance on their part. We have seen that a lot will be allowed of them, but they can't be sure when the limit might be exceeded. While that might seem pretty far-fetched reasoning to some, I assure you that it is not. It is inherent in the composition of the human animal that a free people can only remain free by retaining the power to oust those who would force them to conform unwillingly to some master-plan. Human history has shown us that there will always be a "master" waiting in the wings to exploit any weakness we manifest. Allowing any "World Government", in my opinion, would be manifest weakness of the first order. It would be akin to shouting, "Beat me, beat me," at a sadist convention...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Acorn Watchers Wonder What Happened to Crop

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page A01

The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn't find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing.

"I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe," he said. "But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It's a zero year. There's zero production. I've never seen anything like this before."

The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn't a climatic event. "Let's hope it's not something ghastly going on with the natural world."

To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.

"Once I started paying attention, I couldn't find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year," said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. "We're talking zero. Not a single acorn. It's really bizarre."

Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called "No acorns this year," reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. "We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird," wrote one. "None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser."

Jennifer Klepper of Annapolis even blogged about it. "Last year our trees shot down so many acorns that you were taking your life into your own hands if you went outside without a crash helmet on," she wrote this month. "But this year? Forget it."

Louise Garris lives in an Arlington neighborhood called Oakcrest, which is home to towering oak trees. When she couldn't find any acorns, she began putting out peanuts for the squirrels. Last year, oaks in metropolitan Washington produced a bumper crop of acorns, and squirrels and other urban wildlife produced an abundance of young. This year, experts said, many animals will starve.

Garris started calling nurseries. "I was worried they'd think I was crazy. But they said I wasn't the only one calling who was concerned about it," she said. "This is the first time I can remember in my lifetime not seeing any acorns drop in the fall and I'm 53. You have to wonder, is it global warming? Is it environmental? It makes you wonder what's going on."

Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust here is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. "It's sort of a mystery," Zell said.

A word about the mighty oak. Long before people paved over the area, much of the Washington region was covered by oak and hickory forests. There are at least 20 different species of oak trees in the region, and they produce acorns on different cycles: white oaks every year and red oaks every two years. Each tree, too, has its own two- to four-year cycle, producing many acorns one year and few in other years. Stressed trees, including those trying to survive extended drought conditions in the Washington region, often wildly overproduce acorns to ensure the survival of the species.

Oaks are one of the few trees that can self-pollinate and "clone" themselves. But they prefer the genetic variety that comes from the flowers of male trees pollinating the flowers of female trees. That's a dance that takes place every spring, usually in May, for anywhere from seven days to two weeks, depending on the weather.

And the weather is critical. A late frost can kill the flowers and any chance of pollination. But there was no late frost in this area last year, according to the National Weather Service. Gypsy moths and other insects can damage trees, but because the pollen is airborne, insects don't play much of a role in oak reproduction.

That leaves Simmons's theory. Last spring was so wet, he reasoned, perhaps the pollen was washed out of the air and down storm drains before it had time to do its work.

Ed Zimmer, regional forester for the Virginia Department of Forestry, doesn't buy that.

"It would have to be Noah's flood kind of rain for me to believe that. Forty days of constant rain," he said. "I don't think that could be a factor because there's so much pollen and all these trees release it at different times, depending on if they're in full sun or partial sun, or even from different places on the tree."

But last May, when the oak trees would have been busy flowering, coating cars and sidewalks with a thick dusting of golden pollen, the National Weather Service logged 10.6 inches of rain at Reagan National Airport -- three times the normal amount, making it the third wettest month on record since 1871.

Whatever the reason for no acorns, foresters and botanists are paying attention.

But they say they're not worried yet. "What's there to worry about?" said Alan Whittemire, a botanist at the U.S. Arboretum. "If you're a squirrel, it's a big worry. But it's no problem for the oak tree. They live a long time. They'll produce acorns again when they're ready to."

White oaks can live as long as 300 years. Faster-growing red oaks can reach 200. And it takes only one acorn to make a tree, he said, which in an urban area with little open space is often more than enough.

"This is probably just a low year, a biological event, and it'll go away," Zimmer said. "But if this were to continue another two, three, four years, you might have to ask yourself what's going on, whether it is an indication of something bigger."

Foresters survey acorns, nuts and berries for their annual "mast" report that helps wildlife managers figure out how much food there might be for deer, bear and other wildlife. Those reports can fluctuate, and the foresters have noticed how "spotty" it is this year in parts of Northern Virginia.

"This is interesting enough to ask some questions and pay attention to," said Adam Downing, forestry and natural resources agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. "Fortunately, natural systems are resilient. Oaks are tough."

* * *

Rachel Tolman, a naturalist at Long Branch, smeared a big glop of peanut butter on one of the nature center's trees. She grabbed handfuls of store-bought hazelnuts and placed them atop boxes to attract the tiny, nocturnal flying squirrels that tend to mass in the oaks every winter. Within seconds, the squirrels dive-bombed in from nearby trees, legs outstretched like fist-size silvery-gray sky divers. "They're so much more willing to be seen this year," Tolman said. "It's because they're so hungry."

Tolman was the first naturalist to notice that there were no acorns or hickory nuts this year. Each fall, starting in September, she takes daily walks through the forest to collect nuts and acorns to feed the flying squirrels and other animals at the center through the winter. This year, she found nothing. "I'm hoping this is just some weird anomaly," she said.

Hazelnuts gone and peanut butter licked clean, the still-hungry flying squirrels scampered high into the tree canopy and chirped angrily for more.

Original article

How about in your area? If you live in an area where there are nut trees, are there nuts this year?
I used to live on the central coast of California where there are large numbers of oak trees and lots of acorns. Atascadero, do you have acorns this year? How about Paso Robles, are there nuts - no, I mean acorns...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Russian analyst predicts decline and breakup of U.S.

19:31 | 24/ 11/ 2008

Print version

MOSCOW, November 24 (RIA Novosti) - A leading Russian political analyst has said the economic turmoil in the United States has confirmed his long-held view that the country is heading for collapse, and will divide into separate parts.

Professor Igor Panarin said in an interview with the respected daily Izvestia published on Monday: "The dollar is not secured by anything. The country's foreign debt has grown like an avalanche, even though in the early 1980s there was no debt. By 1998, when I first made my prediction, it had exceeded $2 trillion. Now it is more than 11 trillion. This is a pyramid that can only collapse."

The paper said Panarin's dire predictions for the U.S. economy, initially made at an international conference in Australia 10 years ago at a time when the economy appeared strong, have been given more credence by this year's events.

When asked when the U.S. economy would collapse, Panarin said: "It is already collapsing. Due to the financial crisis, three of the largest and oldest five banks on Wall Street have already ceased to exist, and two are barely surviving. Their losses are the biggest in history. Now what we will see is a change in the regulatory system on a global financial scale: America will no longer be the world's financial regulator."

When asked who would replace the U.S. in regulating world markets, he said: "Two countries could assume this role: China, with its vast reserves, and Russia, which could play the role of a regulator in Eurasia."

Asked why he expected the U.S. to break up into separate parts, he said: "A whole range of reasons. Firstly, the financial problems in the U.S. will get worse. Millions of citizens there have lost their savings. Prices and unemployment are on the rise. General Motors and Ford are on the verge of collapse, and this means that whole cities will be left without work. Governors are already insistently demanding money from the federal center. Dissatisfaction is growing, and at the moment it is only being held back by the elections and the hope that Obama can work miracles. But by spring, it will be clear that there are no miracles."

He also cited the "vulnerable political setup", "lack of unified national laws", and "divisions among the elite, which have become clear in these crisis conditions."

He predicted that the U.S. will break up into six parts - the Pacific coast, with its growing Chinese population; the South, with its Hispanics; Texas, where independence movements are on the rise; the Atlantic coast, with its distinct and separate mentality; five of the poorer central states with their large Native American populations; and the northern states, where the influence from Canada is strong.

He even suggested that "we could claim Alaska - it was only granted on lease, after all."

On the fate of the U.S. dollar, he said: "In 2006 a secret agreement was reached between Canada, Mexico and the U.S. on a common Amero currency as a new monetary unit. This could signal preparations to replace the dollar. The one-hundred dollar bills that have flooded the world could be simply frozen. Under the pretext, let's say, that terrorists are forging them and they need to be checked."

When asked how Russia should react to his vision of the future, Panarin said: "Develop the ruble as a regional currency. Create a fully functioning oil exchange, trading in rubles... We must break the strings tying us to the financial Titanic, which in my view will soon sink."

Panarin, 60, is a professor at the Diplomatic Academy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and has authored several books on information warfare.

Perhaps it's just my suspicious nature, but, the article (to me, at least) - even allowing for the current economic chaos-cum-rathole that the US is experiencing - seems to be a blend of wishful thinking from an old aparatchik and practitioner of the art upon which he has written, i.e. "Information Warfare."

There are, of course, real problems with which to deal and there are also wide gulfs of belief and experience separating various factions of the US population. Is collapse and fragmentation of the nation - politically as opposed to economically - facing us in the very short run. Well, my crystal skull, oops... I mean "crystal ball" is cloudy today - or maybe it's just the shadow of a UFO overhead.

Somehow, I don't think we have reached "critical mass" yet for the explosion which would obliterate The United States of America. I could be wrong. Maybe the treasury's coup de etat
will prove to be the straw that broke the camel's back and we will soon see the "amero" coins in circulation and a different logo on the helmets of the military patrolling our cities and towns.

It remains to be seen, of course, but for all the people betting and/or investing in the imminent demise of the USA: Get a good hedge on that bet, you'll probably need it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

2900 Year Old Stele Reveals Ancient Theological Belief

Funerary monument reveals Iron Age belief that the soul lived in the stone

November 18, 2008

Discovery in Turkey Comes from Major Iron Age Site

Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab that provides the first written evidence in the region that people believed the soul was separate from the body.

University of Chicago researchers will describe the discovery, a testimony created by an Iron Age official that includes an incised image of the man, on Nov. 22-23 at conferences of biblical and Middle Eastern archaeological scholars in Boston.

The Neubauer Expedition of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago found the 800-pound basalt stele, 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide, at Zincirli (pronounced "Zin-jeer-lee"), the site of the ancient city of Sam'al. Once the capital of a prosperous kingdom, it is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.

The stele is the first of its kind to be found intact in its original location, enabling scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century B.C. At the time, vast empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, and cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians became part of a vibrant mix.

The man featured on the stele was probably cremated, a practice that Jewish and other cultures shun because of a belief in the unity of body and soul. According to the inscription, the soul of the deceased resided in the stele.

"The stele is in almost pristine condition. It is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus provides an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture," said David Schloen, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute and Director of the University's Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli.

Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele's 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on "Paleographical Studies in the Near East."

German archaeologists first excavated the 100-acre site in the 1890s and unearthed massive city walls, gates and palaces. A number of royal inscriptions and other finds are now on display in museums in Istanbul and Berlin. Schloen and his team from the University of Chicago have excavated Zincirli for two months annually since 2006.

"Zincirli is a remarkable site," said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. "Because no other cities were built on top of it, we have excellent Iron Age materials right under the surface. It is rare also in having written evidence together with artistic and archaeological evidence from the Iron Age. Having all of that information helps an archaeologist study the ethnicity of the inhabitants, trade and migration, as well as the relationships of the groups who lived there."

The stele was discovered last summer in a small room that had been converted into a mortuary shrine for the royal official Kuttamuwa, self-described in the inscription as a "servant" of King Panamuwa of the eighth century B.C. It was found in the outer part of the walled city in a domestic area—most likely the house of Kuttamuwa himself—far from the royal palaces, where inscriptions had previously been found.

The inscription reads in part: "I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, ... a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, ... and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …" It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.

The finding sheds a striking new light on Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife. In this case, it was the belief that the enduring identity or "soul" of the deceased inhabited the monument on which his image was carved and on which his final words were recorded.

The stele was set against a stone wall in the corner of the small room, with its protruding tenon or "tab" still inserted into a slot in a flagstone platform. A handsome, bearded figure, Kuttamuwa is depicted on the stele wearing a tasseled cap and fringed cloak and raising a cup of wine in his right hand. He is seated on a chair in front of a table laden with food, symbolizing the pleasant afterlife he expected to enjoy. Beside him is his inscription, elegantly carved in raised relief, enjoining upon his descendants the regular duty of bringing food for his soul. Indeed, in front of the stele were remains of food offerings and fragments of polished stone bowls of the type depicted on Kuttamuwa's table.

According to Schloen, the stele vividly demonstrates that Iron Age Sam'al, located in the border zone between Anatolia and Syria, inherited both Semitic and Indo-European cultural traditions. Kuttamuwa and his king, Panamuwa, had non-Semitic names, reflecting the migration of Indo-European speakers into the region centuries earlier under the Hittite Empire based in central Anatolia (modern Turkey), which had conquered the region.

But by the eighth century B.C., they were speaking the local West Semitic dialect and were fully integrated into local culture. Kuttumuwa's inscription shows a fascinating mixture of non-Semitic and Semitic cultural elements, including a belief in the enduring human soul—which did not inhabit the bones of the deceased, as in traditional Semitic thought, but inhabited his stone monument, possibly because the remains of the deceased were cremated. Cremation was considered to be abhorrent in the Old Testament and in traditional West Semitic culture, but there is archaeological evidence for Indo-European-style cremation in neighboring Iron Age sites, although not yet at Zincirli itself.

In future excavation campaigns, the Zincirli team, generously supported by University trustee Joseph Neubauer and his wife Jeanette, plans to excavate large areas of the site in order to understand the social and economic organization of the city and its cultural development over the centuries. Schloen and his associate director Amir Fink hope to illuminate Iron Age culture more widely through this richly documented ancient city.

See original article and photos here.

There are some great photographs on the The University of Chicago website as well as other items of interest.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Economic stress blamed for murder/suicide...

Amanda Hernandez, Reporter
NLV Murder/Suicide a Result of Economic Stress

Updated: Nov 13, 2008 07:12 AM

Eyewitness News has learned that a couple found dead in the desert on Monday had lost their home in foreclosure.

North Las Vegas Police found the pair near Losee Road and I-215. At the time, police wouldn't say how they died. But the deaths have now been confirmed as a murder/suicide, triggered by a lost job and home foreclosure.

Pushed past the point of desperation, Jeff Lingle spent the day after his 38th birthday in the desert with the woman he loved.

A family friend says the two were common law married and had fallen on hard times. Lingle had lost his job, eventually forcing the couple to join the thousands of others who lost their home to foreclosure.

They moved in with a neighbor, but things never improved and so Jeff wrote a note saying, "We couldn't do this anymore and we swore we would die together."

He then included a map of where they could be found.

It's the ultimate cost of the faltering economy and psychologists warn when both members of a couple are drawn down by a situation, it's hard to feel like there is a way out.

"The worst thing that can happen is for two people to get into a cycle of hopelessness, where they start to reinforce each others depression and drag themselves down," said Psychologist Dr. David Gosse. "If that downward spiral goes down too far, then it can eventually lead to hopelessness and suicidal thoughts and in some cases actual suicide."

Dr. Gosse works with people dealing with depression, some of it brought on by the recent economy. He warns that when things feel hopeless is when you need to reach out the most, "When people are going through stressful life events, one of the best things they can do to shield themselves from the stress is to reach out. Unfortunately, a lot of times when people are under stress they tend to withdraw and that is one of the worse things they can do."

He recommends that when people begin to feel hopeless they reach out to family and friends, especially if their partner is also struggling. Because sometimes hope can be found with a little help.


The Clark County Coroner has identifed the second body found in the desert area of North Las Vegas on Monday.

The woman, 44-year-old Teresa Graciela Mullis, was found alongside 38-year-old Jeffrey Lingle. Police say the deaths were the result of a murder suicide.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Johnson Thermo-electrochemical Converter system earns honors

Beyond ‘Super Soaker’: Johnson Thermo-electrochemical
Converter system earns honors. Called JTEC.

Exerpted from an article by Bo Emerson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Monday, October 27, 2008

Lonnie Johnson has some impressive hard science credentials.
He’s worked for the Strategic Air Command and for NASA’s Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, outfitting missions to Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. He holds about
100 patents, many of them in that arcane spot where chemistry, electricity
and physics cross into the marketplace. And his latest invention appears to
do the impossible: generating electricity with no fuel and no moving parts.

Even among the geniuses who gathered to honor him and his new thermo-
electrochemical converter at a “Breakthrough Awards” banquet in Manhattan
this month, the Atlanta scientist’s new invention was ignored when his most
famous device was revealed.

“What?” they cried. “You invented the Super Soaker?”
He’s still known as Mr. Squirt Gun.

Johnson’s share (he licensed the Soaker’s design to Larami, later bought by
Hasbro) won him the financial independence to pursue his own ideas, which
is how the Johnson Thermo-electrochemical Converter system —
- JTEC for short —- was born.

“This is a whole new family of technology,” said the NSF’s Paul Werbos.
“It’s like discovering a new continent. You don’t know what’s there, but
you sure want to explore it to find out.”

Johnson’s device can potentially work with even modest temperature
differentials —- say, between body heat and ambient air —- to power implanted
medical devices such as pacemakers. If successful, at high heat it would
generate Con Edison-scale output. It also would run backward for refrigeration
purposes: put in electricity to generate heat loss for, say, wearable air

Paired with a parabolic solar array to generate heat, it could create virtually
limitless emission-free power.


Most electricity is generated using heat to power a mechanical device,
such as a piston or a turbine. The JTEC uses heat to force ions through
a special membrane. “It’s a totally new way of generating electricity
from heat,” Paul Werbos told Popular Mechanics. The JTEC includes
two closed hydrogen cells or “stacks” attached to pairs of electrodes.
One is a low-temperature stack, the other is high-temperature. Current
compresses hydrogen in the low-temperature stack, ionizing the
hydrogen and forcing its protons through the membrane to the high-
temperature stack, where the hydrogen expands. Current is generated
as electrons are freed. The high-temperature end generates more
power than the low-temperature end uses —- creating an excess that
can cool beer or run TVs and washing machines. Hydrogen is neither
burned nor added, and emissions are zero.

Born: Oct. 6, 1949, Mobile
Residence: Ansley Park

Education: Tuskegee University, with degrees in mechanical engineering
and nuclear engineering

Career: Research engineer with Oak Ridge National Laboratories; engineer
at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; nuclear safety engineer with U.S. Air
Force; officer with the Strategic Air Command; flight test engineer Edward’s
Air Force Base.

Businesses: Johnson Research and Development, Johnson Electro-Mechanical
Systems, Excellatron Solid State LLC

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Archaeology update

Infectious finds at ancient site
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

credit: I. Hershkovitz

DNA evidence of human tuberculosis from the 9,000
year-old bones of a woman and an infant suggests
the disease appeared in humans much earlier than
had been thought. Work at the ancient village of
Atlit-Yam, off the Mediterranean coast of Israel,
which has been covered by water for the past
several thousand years, yielded the skeletons.

credit: I. Hershkovitz
Ancient Stone Shrine?
A semi-circular construction made of stones,
some more than two meters tall, dominated the
center of the long submerged city of Atlit-Yam
and might have hosted ritual ceremonies.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Paulson tries again

Unlike the UK plan, the revamped American bail-out puts banks first and taxpayers second...

Joseph Stiglitz - The Guardian - October 16, 2008

Gordon Brown has won plaudits over recent days for inspiring the turnaround in Hank Paulson's thinking that saw him progress from his "cash for trash" plan - derided by almost every economist, and many respected financiers - to a capital injection approach. The international pressure brought to bear on America may indeed have contributed to Paulson's volte-face. But Paulson figured he could reshape the UK approach in a way that was even better for America's banks than his original cash strategy. The fact that US taxpayers might get trashed in the process is simply part of the collateral damage that has been a hallmark of the Bush administration.

Will this bail-out be enough? We don't know. The banks have engaged in such non-transparency that not even they really know the shape they are in. Every day there are more foreclosures - Paulson's plan did little about that. That means new holes in the balance sheets are being opened up as old holes get filled. There is a consensus that our economic downturn will get worse, much worse; and in every economic downturn, bankruptcies go up. So even if the banks had exercised prudent lending - and we know that many didn't - they would be faced with more losses.

Britain showed at least that it still believed in some sort of system of accountability: heads of banks resigned. Nothing like this in the US. Britain understood that it made no sense to pour money into banks and have them pour out money to shareholders. The US only restricted the banks from increasing their dividends. The Treasury has sought to create a picture for the public of toughness, yet behind the scenes it is busy reassuring the banks not to worry, that it's all part of a show to keep voters and Congress placated. What is clear is that we will not have voting shares. Wall Street will have our money, but we will not have a full say in what should be done with it. A glance at the banks' recent track record of managing risk gives taxpayers every reason to be concerned.

For all the show of toughness, the details suggest the US taxpayer got a raw deal. There is no comparison with the terms that Warren Buffett secured when he provided capital to Goldman Sachs. Buffett got a warrant - the right to buy in the future at a price that was even below the depressed price at the time. Paulson got for the US a warrant to buy in the future - at whatever the prevailing price at the time. The whole point of the warrant is so we participate in some of the upside, as the economy recovers from the crisis, and as the financial system starts to work.

The Paulson plan responded to Congress's demand to have something like a warrant, but as a matter of form, not substance. Buffett got warrants equal to 100% of the value of what he put in. America's taxpayers got just 15%. Moreover, as George Soros has pointed out, in a few years time, when the economy is recovered, the banks shouldn't need to turn to the government for capital. The government should have issued convertible shares that gave the right to the government to automatically share in the gain in share price.

Whether we were cheated or not, the banks now have our money. The next Congress will have two major tasks ahead. The first is to make sure that if the taxpayer loses on the deal, financial markets pay. The second is designing new regulations and a new regulatory system. Many in Wall Street have said that this should be postponed to a later date. We have a leaky boat, some argue, we need to fix that first. True, but we also know that there are really problems in the steering mechanism (and the captains who steer it) - if we don't fix those, we will crash on some other rocks before getting into port. Why should anyone have confidence in a banking system which has failed so badly, when nothing is being done to affect incentives? Many of those who urge postponing dealing with the reform of regulations really hope that, once the crisis is passed, business will return to usual, and nothing will be done. That's what happened after the last global financial crisis.

There is a hope: the last financial crisis happened in distant regions of the world. Then it was the taxpayers in Thailand, Korea and Indonesia who had to pick up the tab for the financial markets' bad lending; this time it is taxpayers in the US and Europe. They are angry, and well they should be. Hopefully, our democracies are strong enough to overcome the power of money and special interests, and we will prove able to build the new regulatory system that the world needs if we are to have a prosperous and stable global economy in the 21st century.

• Joseph E Stiglitz is university professor at Columbia University and recipient of the Nobel memorial prize in economic science in 2001. He was chief economist at the World Bank at the time of the last global financial crisis.

Credit Woes Hit Oil Supply Chain, Push Prices Down - temporarily!

LONDON (Dow Jones)--Already suffering amid a global financial meltdown, oil and gas prices are feeling further pressure as the scarcity of credit squeezes the supply chain that has long provided support for them.

Most observers see the drop in the oil price - which Thursday fell - as collateral damage from weakening consumption, itself driven by the credit crunch. But the link between the two may be more direct: The banking crisis is reducing financial flows that normally propped up the oil price.

Banks are either refusing or tightening up credit conditions in a long chain that starts in the ports of oil-producing Middle Eastern and African countries, goes through tankers and refineries and ends up in gas stations in Europe and the U.S. Less crude is being purchased while buying is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of companies - mostly oil majors and large retailers - that are able to bargain for lower prices.

"The credit crunch is putting on a brake at every level of supply," said Antoine Halff, deputy head of research at brokerage Fimat USA. "Levels of credit are evaporating, so producers and refiners are having a hard time selling -they want to make sure their customers are good for the money," Halff added.

"The oil trade relies on credit lines, so the freezing of credit is making the system less optimal," agreed Olivier Jakob, an analyst at Petromatrix.

Cash-rich majors are set to gain more bargaining power with national oil companies, as the latter are now less willing to deal with credit-starved smaller players, said crude traders and an oil industry banker. "Those who don't have their own oil (as possible collateral) are in trouble. Nobody wants to sell to them," said the banker. In contrast to pure traders who rely on letters of credit or credit lines for spot cargoes, oil majors are both buyers and sellers, meaning they have their own cash and crude reserves.

Shippers - who bring tankers from the ports to consuming countries - are also seeing a reduction of available credit, with some of them going under as a result. On Monday, For instance, well-known Swedish company Svithoid Tankers went into liquidation after facing an immediate liquidity shortage. Global shipping loans dropped 23% to $13.31 billion in the first half of 2008 from the same period last year, according to data from Reuters Loan Pricing Corp., leading to a scarcity of available capacity for shipping.

"Even with the credit crunch, there is still a capacity crunch," said Drewry Shipping Consultants Ltd. in a report last week.

To make matters worse, some of the major investments banks that are currently under stress - such as Morgan Stanley (MS) - are also an important part of the oil chain. "They hold storage, are active physical traders and some of them actively participate in the physical delivery process," said Petromatrix's Jakob. A large refinery such as U.K. chemicals producer Ineos Group Ltd.'s Grangemounth in Scotland relies on supply from Morgan Stanley. Earlier this month, Ineos itself faced speculation that the company could be close to breaching the covenants on its loan agreements, though the company has said this wouldn't happen.

Indeed, refiners appear to have been affected even more than traders. In a report last week, the International Energy Agency said refiners who rely on letters of credit to facilitate product exports are finding these "increasingly difficult to obtain," the Paris-based agency said, and that higher interest rates are reducing their ability to maximize the value of production. "Were such practices to become widespread it could potentially lead to some refiners cutting runs for financial reasons, despite apparently healthy product margins and demand for products," the IEA said.

Though consumers sometimes feel massive profits are being made at the pump, the credit crunch is also pushing many gas stations owners to the end of their tether and reducing their ability to buy refined products. Jeff Lenard, vice president for communications at the U.S. Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, said "the challenges (of gas station owners) are now accelerated by the credit crunch." Many distributors are passing the impact of tightened credit conditions on to their clients.

In testimony before members of the House of Representatives in May, Bill Douglass, chief executive of Texas-based Douglass Distributing Co., said distributors servicing retailers are "running into their own credit limits in their efforts to keep their customers supplied with fuel" and as a result, have cut the time for making payments from 10 days to seven or fewer.

So far, Tim Rogers, owner of California-based distributor and retailer Tower Energy Group Corp., can consider himself lucky. Rogers said this week he expects to sign a new, $150 million credit line Friday. But it took longer than a previous line because it involved four banks instead of two and the interests will be higher - two points above the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, instead of 1.5 points before.

But when banks fail to renew credit lines, it can trigger a domino effect as experienced by Atlanta-based natural gas marketer Catalyst Energy Group Inc. earlier this month. Catalyst filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after its credit line with independent distributor Constellation Energy was suddenly ended. Constellation was a trading partner of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH), and its stock price collapsed with the fall of Lehman, precipitating its own sellout toBerkshire Hathaway's (BRKA) MidAmerican Energy Holding Co. Catalyst itself is now being sold to fellow retailer MX Energy Inc.

With smaller players diminishing in numbers - 6,000 gas stations have disappeared in the U.S. in the past two years - the largest of the survivors, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), may have the upper hand in negotiations with sellers of products. Lenard said those large buyers, facing less competition, can "probably" negotiate lower prices. "If you can get more of the same product, you can get a discount," he said.

-By Benoit Faucon and Angela Henshall, Dow Jones Newswires; +44-20-7842-9266;

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wall Street banks in $70bn staff payout

Pay and bonus deals equivalent to 10% of US government bail-out package
Simon Bowers The Guardian, Saturday October 18 2008

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn (£40bn), a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned.

Staff at six banks including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup are in line to pick up the payouts despite being the beneficiaries of a $700bn bail-out from the US government that has already prompted criticism. The government's cash has been poured in on the condition that excessive executive pay would be curbed.

Pay plans for bankers have been disclosed in recent corporate statements. Pressure on the US firms to review preparations for annual bonuses increased yesterday when Germany's Deutsche Bank said many of its leading traders would join Josef Ackermann, its chief executive, in waiving millions of euros in annual payouts.

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed.

At one point last week the Morgan Stanley $10.7bn pay pot for the year to date was greater than the entire stock market value of the business. In effect, staff, on receiving their remuneration, could club together and buy the bank.

In the first nine months of the year Citigroup, which employs thousands of staff in the UK, accrued $25.9bn for salaries and bonuses, an increase on the previous year of 4%. Earlier this week the bank accepted a $25bn investment by the US government as part of its bail-out plan.

At Goldman Sachs the figure was $11.4bn, Morgan Stanley $10.73bn, JP Morgan $6.53bn and Merrill Lynch $11.7bn. At Merrill, which was on the point of going bust last month before being taken over by Bank of America, the total accrued in the last quarter grew 76% to $3.49bn. At Morgan Stanley, the amount put aside for staff compensation also grew in the last quarter to the end of August by 3% to $3.7bn.

Days before it collapsed into bankruptcy protection a month ago Lehman Brothers revealed $6.12bn of staff pay plans in its corporate filings. These payouts, the bank insisted, were justified despite net revenue collapsing from $14.9bn to a net outgoing of $64m.

None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

Many critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions. One source said: "That's a fair question - and it may well be that by the end of the year the banks start review the situation."

Much of the anger about investment banking bonuses has focused on boardroom executives such as former Lehman boss Dick Fuld, who was paid $485m in salary, bonuses and options between 2000 and 2007.

Last year Merrill Lynch's chairman Stan O'Neal retired after announcing losses of $8bn, taking a final pay deal worth $161m. Citigroup boss Chuck Prince left last year with a $38m in bonuses, shares and options after multibillion-dollar write-downs. In Britain, Bob Diamond, Barclays president, is one of the few investment bankers whose pay is public. Last year he received a salary of £250,000, but his total pay, including bonuses, reached £36m.


None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well."

You have to wonder: in light of the above explanation of how the bonuses are earned, If Mr. O'Neal earned a 161 Million dollar bonus for presiding over a loss of 8 Billion dollars, how much do you have to lose to earn $200 Million?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Humans Wore Shoes 40,000 Years Ago

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

Humans were wearing shoes at least 10,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to a new study. The evidence comes from a 40,000-year-old human fossil with delicate toe bones indicative of habitual shoe-wearing, experts say.

A previous study of anatomical changes in toe bone structure had dated the use of shoes to about 30,000 years ago. Now the dainty-toed fossil from China suggests that at least some humans were sporting protective footwear 10,000 years further back than thought, during a time when both modern humans and Neandertals occupied portions of Europe and Asia.

Study author Erik Trinkaus, a paleoanthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said the scarcity of toe bone fossils makes it hard to determine when habitual shoe-wearing became widespread.

However, he noted, even Neandertals may have been strapping on sandals.

"Earlier humans, including Neanderthals, show [some] evidence of occasionally wearing shoes," Trinkaus said. Regular shoe use may have become common by 40,000 years ago, but "we still have no [additional] evidence from that time period—one way or the other," the scientist said.

The study by Trinkaus and Chinese co-author Hong Shang appears in the July issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Read the rest of the story...

That gives you some hope, doesn't it, that our ancestors were smart enough to put something on their feet when walking in the snow. I'm betting that they didn't finance their caves with adjustable rate mortgages either... Or maybe they did and that's why the world is full of empty caves with brown lawns in front.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Edward Lawrence, Reporter
Bill Heard's Las Vegas Car Dealerships Close

Updated: Sep 24, 2008 05:54 PM

One of the largest car dealerships in the nation has become the latest casualty of the economy. Bill Heard Enterprises closed all of its dealerships nationwide Wednesday. That includes two in Las Vegas: Bill Heard Chevrolet and Vista Chevrolet in northwest part of the city.

At noon Wednesday, without warning, the general manager walked on to the showroom floor and told employees to lock up. They were closing.

The general manager would not comment on the situation, but the main office in Atlanta, Georgia released a statement. It says Bill Heard closed all 13 of its dealerships across the nation, putting 2,700 people out of work.

Read a statement from Bill Heard Enterprises

The statement blames Chevrolet for offering mostly heavy trucks and sport utility vehicles which guzzle gas. It goes on to say rising gas prices, the bad economy, and crisis in the banking and financial markets pushed the company to close. However, reports out of Tampa and Arizona say GMAC pulled financing to the dealership.

Former employees say they did not get any severance or pay checks. They were just told to leave.

"You are sitting there working and someone tells you we are closing the doors, wrap everything up. It's a shock," said former fleet manager Cliff Toosley. "We heard rumors they were closing. They closed the Scottsdale store about two weeks ago. They told all of us that we were ok -- everything is fine. They gave us the pep talk."

Obviously, it was not ok. Toosley has a mortgage and says he will try to keep a positive attitude. He called some contacts at other dealerships and has a meeting set up for a new job.

The spokesman for the company says they have not made a decision on what to do with the new cars on the lot.

All of the cars in the service department were towed and delivered back to the customers.

People are still showing up to buy cars and try to get service, but they are being turned away.

Original Story Here

My take on this:

Apparently the downturn in Las Vegas' economy is cutting far deeper than is we have realized! If one drives around and through residential neighborhoods one cannot avoid the browned lawns and "Foreclosure" signs. The amount of empty commercial space, left by failed small businesses, is becoming painfully obvious when visiting any of our multitude of neighborhood strip malls.

It reminds me of the 1981 - 1982 spring in Portland, Oregon when high interest rates and lack of building activity all but brought commerce to a dead halt. Our timber industry was at a standstill, loggers laid off, lumber mills closed and home prices plummeted.

Auto dealers who had survived the 1970s post oil embargo slump in car sales were forced out of business by sheer lack of customers who could, or would, buy a new car with interest rates near 30 percent. Unemployment was rife and commercial space was available, cheap and empty.

Now twenty-six years later we are seeing Las Vegas, Nevada - long thought recession-proof - suffering a similar fate.

Unemployment - historically and recently - in the very low four percentages, now tops six percent and is still gaining as Autumn starts and we head into the Winter doldrums. For those who don't know: the Las Vegas metropolitan area has a population of approximately 1.5 million people and until very recently anyone who wanted a job could find one.

Fortunately the visitors still come. Unfortunately the numbers are down and slipping lower. Passenger traffic at MacLaren Airport is off about ten percent from last years "same-month" figures. Hotel occupancy is down and several large resort construction projects are on "hold" or are cancelled.

Now, the good news: Folks, Las Vegas is open for business and is still a vacation bargain! If you enjoy bright lights, great restaurants, world-class entertainment and maybe a little gaming, some call it gambling, you will find it here and the hotels are offering reduced prices to help you enjoy it all. If you're getting a little too old for another trip to Disneyland, or just want to try something different: Try Las Vegas!