Monday, June 14, 2010

Obama Presses for Aid to Cities and States

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Saturday implored Congress to provide more aid to states and cities to blunt “the devastating economic impact of budget cuts” by local governments that imperil the jobs of teachers, the police, firefighters and other public employees.

In a letter to Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama said the “mounting employment crisis” in the states “could set back the pace of our economic recovery.”

Proponents of aid to the states, including some Congressional Democrats, governors and mayors, have been urging the president to weigh in on proposed legislation, initially providing up to $50 billion in assistance, which has been derailed in the House and Senate. Mr. Obama did not endorse a dollar figure, reflecting the fact that Democratic leaders were trying to determine what amount could win enough votes in their party, given Republicans’ near-unanimous opposition.

Nearly five months after Mr. Obama, in his State of the Union address, called for a final round of stimulus spending for local governments and tax cuts and lending programs for small businesses, Congress continues to haggle over several measures to create and save jobs because the economic case for stimulus has collided with lawmakers’ political fears of even higher deficits.

In his letter, the president said state and local governments had already cut 84,000 jobs this year, and would have cut more if not for assistance from the two-year $787 billion recovery act Mr. Obama signed a month after taking office.

Unlike the federal government, all but one state and most local governments are required by their laws to balance their annual budgets, and they continue to struggle against the increased costs of relief programs and lost revenues from high unemployment and home foreclosures.

Mr. Obama did not propose to offset the cost of any state aid with savings from other spending cuts or tax increases, as some conservative Democrats and Republicans have demanded. He reminded the leaders that he has proposed several ways to reduce future spending, including a three-year domestic spending freeze starting in the coming fiscal year. But his advisers, and many economists, argue that additional deficit spending is needed to keep the economy from relapsing into recession.

Making the economic case for helping the states, Mr. Obama said that if teachers and others are laid off — his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has said that without federal aid, up to 300,000 fewer teachers would be in classrooms this fall — “it will mean more costs helping these Americans look for new work, while their lost paychecks will mean less tax revenues and less demand for the products and services provided by other workers.”

He continued, “That is why the actual cost of saving state and local jobs is likely to be 20 to 40 percent below their budgetary cost.”

Mr. Obama had supported about $50 billion in aid initially — $25 billion for public employees, $23 billion of which would go for teachers’ salaries, and $25 billion to offset states’ increased costs for their share of Medicaid, the public health program for the poor, people with disabilities and many nursing home residents.

The president also urged quicker action on his proposal to expand tax breaks for small businesses and to create a $30 billion lending facility because many banks remain reluctant to lend to small businesses. And in his weekly national address, Mr. Obama called for Congress to avert a planned 21 percent pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients.

The so-called doc fix has been stalled in the Senate. If lawmakers do not approve the billions of dollars in spending, the cut is to take effect this week. Mr. Obama warned that if Republicans blocked a vote, it would “undoubtedly force some doctors to stop seeing Medicare patients altogether.”

The cut is based on a formula Congress enacted in the late 1990s to slow the growth of Medicare spending, but cuts have been deferred every year since 2003. Democrats are proposing another temporary fix as part of a package that would increase tax breaks and extend unemployment benefits.

Rolling Flatulence

I love motorcycles. I love them so much I have three of them, much to the disgust of my wife, who can think of better things to do with our garage.

However, I've never been into the whole "biker" thing. You know what I'm talking about. The guys with the earrings and big Harleys and Harley lookalikes. I've never really liked Harleys, because I find them too big, heavy, slow, and agricultural to be fun to ride. On top of that, many of the most popular models sacrifice function for style, being too uncomfortable to sit on for any distance. But I don't think the "biker" scene is about riding anyway. It's about posing. More precisely, it's about looking tough. Take a look at the magazine ads aimed at them. Nobody is smiling. They all scowl sullenly, like dyspeptic badgers.

That's why biker dudes [1] (and dudettes) go in for tattoos and ride around in packs, wearing "do-rags" and fringed leather vests and chaps. [2] It's why they load their bikes up with lots of chrome [3] from accessory catalogs and install deafeningly loud mufflers — or none at all. The noisy pipes sure aren't to make their bikes run better, for they do just the opposite, messing up the carburetion, making the engine run like a '57 Chevy with two plug wires missing.

No, it's because these guys are BAD, see? They're tough muthas, and they want you to know it. They don't mind if their two-wheeled chrome tractors set off your car alarm and wake the baby. They like that. They want you to be scared of them.

Scary stuff, kids!
Scary! ... Scarier! ... Real scary!
It's quite a phenomenon, all those middle-class salary-drones and retirees dressing up like Pirates of the Caribbean and pretending to be ex-cons. Most of the time I don't let the posing and attitude bother me, although I don't appreciate all the gratuitous throttle-blipping in residential neighborhoods. Yeah, yeah, I get it. You have a motorcycle. Also, I really hate the way some people treat me as if I were Attila the Hun when I'm on a motorcycle, thanks to all the tough-guy posturing by the biker dudes.

Anyway, once a year here in Trantor we get an overload of biker dudeness. That's during the Memorial Day weekend, when hordes of biker dudes descend on the city, clogging traffic, revving their engines, getting drunk, and generally making nuisances of themselves.

Called "Rolling Thunder" — apparently after LBJ's murderous and unsuccessful three-and-a-half-year bombing campaign of the same name that devastated North Vietnam — the gathering's ostensible purpose is "to educate the public that many American prisoners of war were left behind after all previous wars and to help correct the past and to protect future veterans from being left behind should they become prisoners of war-missing in action." Rolling Thunder was founded to force the United State to face up to the problem of Vietnam War legionaries "missing in action," or MIA.

In fact, the event seems to be a weird combination of mawkish sentimentality — including a "candlelight vigil" at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial — jingoistic speechifying in support of U.S. warmaking, and good old-fashioned debauchery. There's a huge barbecue sponsored by — what else — a Harley Davidson dealership, a "Saluting Our Troops" concert, and a "Musical Tribute to Veterans" at the Lincoln Memorial, featuring the U.S. Army Band and, of all people, Nancy Sinatra.

Between those events, groups of biker dudes roar around the city and its environs, often with gigantic flags attached to their machines, reveling in the noise of their unmuffled engines and showing off the thousand-yard stares they've been rehearsing all year. What I find amusing, however, is that many of them don't seem to know how to handle their bikes. They wobble around and drag their feet at low speeds. Many have apparently given up entirely, and have opted for expensive "trike" conversions, which add a third wheel and eliminate forever the danger of tipping over when riding slowly, scratching up your chrome, and embarrassing yourself in front of all your buddies.

You wouldn't know it looking at the biker dude circus, but the MIA question is a deadly serious issue. According to Sydney Schanberg — a renowned war correspondent and author of The Death and Life of Dith Pran, from which the Oscar-winning movie "The Killing Fields" was made — as many as 600 U.S. prisoners of war were kept behind by the North Vietnamese state after the Empire's pullout. They were held, he writes, as hostages for more than $3 billion in reparations from the United State — reparations that were promised by Nixon and Kissinger but never delivered:

There exists a telling mass of official documents, radio intercepts, witness depositions, satellite photos of rescue symbols that pilots were trained to use, electronic messages from the ground containing the individual code numbers given to airmen, a rescue mission by a special forces unit that was aborted twice by Washington — and even sworn testimony by two Defense secretaries that "men were left behind." This imposing body of evidence suggests that a large number — the documents indicate probably hundreds — of the U.S. prisoners held by Vietnam were not returned when the peace treaty was signed in January 1973 and Hanoi released 591 men.... ("McCain and the POW Cover-Up," The American Conservative, July 1, 2010 issue)
So why hasn't anything official been done about it? Schanberg says it's because of the potential for embarrassment on the part of the guvvamint: "The Pentagon had been withholding significant information from POW families for years. What's more, the Pentagon's POW/MIA operation had been publicly shamed by internal whistleblowers and POW families for holding back documents as part of a policy of 'debunking' POW intelligence even when the information was obviously credible."

Now that's an issue that anti-establishment rebels could really sink their teeth into: hundreds of legionaries abandoned by their government, left to rot and die, their families never knowing what happened to them, the truth covered up with the tacit support of the news media.

But the Rolling Thunder website says nothing about Schanberg's allegations. In fact, it says almost nothing about the lost 600 at all. There's not one word about how the United State purposely betrayed its own soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Instead, it's all about "supporting our troops" and "supporting our veterans."

And the Memorial Day weekend event is nothing more than an orgy of pro-imperial, pro-war jingoism that reaches its climax on Sunday morning, when the thousands of tough biker dudes and dudettes gather — where else? At the Pentagon. A great swath of highways around the Potomac is officially closed to normal traffic, while the biker dudes collect themselves into a gigantic, ear-splitting herd and parade themselves to the Mall, escorted by battalions of police collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime. On the overpasses over I-395, which runs from the Beltway in Virginia into the city, crowds of people wave flags, banners are hung, and fire engines are parked in support of the bikers. They are, without a doubt, the most well-loved-by-the-establishment bunch of rebels you ever saw.

Rolling Thunder's just a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Its true purpose is apparently to help ensure that "our troops" will continue to fight, suffer, and die in wars just as stupid and pointless as the war on the Vietnamese. When the surviving troops get back, they will be given parades and speeches, and then the Empire will treat them with the same kind of contempt the Vietnam vets got (and still get).

And what a sweet deal it is for our rulers. In return for defusing a potentially explosive issue, all they have to do is let a bunch of clowns take over the city for a weekend. It's a small price to pay.

Massive cleanup effort underway after oil leak in Red Butte Canyon

SALT LAKE CITY -- A massive effort is underway to clean up the damage left behind when a Chevron pipeline leaked up to 21,000 gallons of oil into Salt Lake City waterways Saturday.

Crews capped the site of a leak, which was spilling oil into Red Butte Creek. As of 4 p.m. Friday, officials said they had the flow slowed to just two to three gallons per minute.

Chevron officials have confirmed the pipeline was shut off around 7:45 a.m., but warn residual oil was still leaking at the fracture point.

Though the site of the leak has been contained, officials estimate up to 500 barrels of oil have already been released.

The Salt Lake Valley Health Department says the oil has reached the Jordan River down to 1300 South and appears to be continuing into the Great Salt Lake.

Liberty Park was closed to the public and will likely remain closed for weeks as crews work to clean up the mess.

Leak detected

Before officials knew anything was happening, Red Butte Creek was running grotesque shades of black and brown. People walking their dogs noticed a stench permeating the city's east side.

"My dog ran ahead of me and went down into the water unfortunately," said Salt Lake City resident Adrian Pulfer. "It became obvious the whole creek was awash with petroleum."

Scott Freitag, a spokesman with the Salt Lake City Fire Department, says employees at the Veterans Affairs Hospital spotted oil in the creek around 6:45 a.m. and called 911.

Fire crews responded quickly. "We put some absorbent booms into the creek there to catch what we could catch," said Freitag.

Still, an estimated 50 to 60 gallons of crude oil leaked into Red Butte Creek per minute. Crews traced the oil upstream to a 10-inch wide Chevron crude oil pipeline, which was leaking underground near Red Butte Garden by the University of Utah.

Heavy crude oil bubbled out of the ground into the creek. In a stroke of luck, a crew from Big D Construction was working nearby, unrelated to the leak.

"Right away they stopped what they were doing on their job, brought over heavy equipment and began building the dams, dikes and ponds to help us contain this," Freitag said.

At a press conference Saturday afternoon, officials reported the leak actually began around 10:00 Friday night. Chevron reported receiving high- and low-pressure alarms Friday evening.

Chevron officials still aren't sure how the leak started.

The company's refinery manager, Mark Sullivan, admitted he didn't know about the leak until the fire department called him. He gives a lot of credit to the construction team for helping contain the leak.

"Their immediate response is critical to minimizing the impact of this leak," he said.

Sullivan said Chevron took quick action as soon as news of the leak broke. "It was shut off immediately after I was made aware of it," he said.

Sullivan says the company takes full responsibility for the leak. "That means we'll take responsibility for any financial damage, for any environmental damage, for any safety concerns or impacts on people's health," he said.

"We are working tirelessly with Chevron teams to contain this spill from the critical ecological areas affected in our city." -Mayor Ralph Becker

Firefighters aren't sure if a nearby power failure Friday night was related to the leak.

The crude oil belongs to Chevron and comes from their Colorado 10-inch pipeline, which runs down Emigration Canyon and heads west over Beck Street in Salt Lake City to the company refinery.

Cleanup begins

Chevron spokesman Dan Johnson said crews were able to cap the leak and are now working on cleaning up the crude oil that spilled into the water.

Johnson also said the company will do everything in its power to figure out what happened.

"We're going to dig up and excavate that pipe. Some of us wanted to look at that tonight," Johnson said. "It's a safety issue. There are a lot of other pipes associated in that area -- water, power and natural gas -- and we were concerned if we started digging in a very confined area we could create more problems rather than solve problems."

The oil spilling into Red Butte Creek.

Chevron crews, firefighters, hazardous materials teams, and environmental crews are using sandbags and other sponge-type equipment in an attempt to contain the oil. Groupings of 6- to 8-inch absorbent booms have also been deployed along the Jordan River to minimize downstream impact.

A Chevron vacuum truck is pumping from the effected ponds, transporting the crude oil to the local Chevron refinery at 2351 N. 1100 West in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says drinking water for residents has not been affected.

"We are working tirelessly with Chevron teams to contain this spill from the critical ecological areas affected in our city," said Becker. "Our fire teams have capped the site and will work to determine the damage and best course of action."

Mayor Becker is asking for residents to stay away from Red Butte Canyon and Liberty Park so crews can adequately manage the spill, and says all water access points along Red Butte Creek, Liberty Park and the Jordan River should be avoided by humans and animals at this time.

The crude oil made its way all the way to Liberty Park, which was shut down for the first time in memory.

Officials estimate the cleanup will take weeks, and Becker says that means keeping Liberty Park closed to the public.

"This could take weeks to finish the clean up down here," Becker said. "I'm sorry to do that to the people in terms of recreational use but we want to make sure we have it clean and safe."

City officials say they are not in need of resident volunteers at this point.

Health concerns

Symptoms to watch out for
Residents are advised to call 911 only if they experience:
  • difficulty breathing
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • severe headaches

Wind from a storm front dissipated fumes during the morning and active hours of the leak. However, officials say residual fumes may be collecting.

Fire and hazmat crews have not detected any high toxicity levels in the air around the creek, but they will continue to monitor the area through the weekend. At this point, there are no concerns about fire or explosions.

Officials advise residents to only call 911 if they experience difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness and severe headaches.

Residents near the creek who are smelling petroleum odors should do everything they can to keep their homes ventilated.

Again, city officials have issued a strong warning to residents to stay away from the affected areas and to keep their pets away from the water.

The state Division of Water Quality was on site assessing damage and will issue a violation notice against Chevron, Gov. Gary Herbert said in a release. The governor said he was monitoring the spill, which he called "devastating."

As for any property damage or hotel reimbursements, Chevron has a number you can call to file claims. That number is 866-752-6340.

In addition, the public may submit comments and concerns regarding the spill by calling the Salt Lake City Joint Information Center at 801-535-7171, sending an e-mail to or filling out an online form HERE.

Residents, animals feel impact of Salt Lake City oil leak

SALT LAKE CITY -- An oil leak blackened Red Butte Creek and other Salt Lake waterways Saturday. Residents and animals in the area are feeling the impact.

A black film is covering many of yards along the creek, and in some spots, dead fish have washed up as well.

The first thing people said they noticed Saturday was the smell of oil. Residents said it was so strong, it actually woke a few of them up.

Ralph Riedel was one of those people. "I came down here and saw this beautiful mess," he said. "It looks like the Exxon Valdez spill."

Yards begin to fill with oil

Normally, in the Riedels' backyard that Red Butte Creek flows through, you can see fish in crystal clear water. You can still see fish, but the clear water is gone.

"I mean, look at it," said Marina Riedel. "You can see it's like this thick, gelatinous layer. You can see the fish struggling to breathe and swim."

Sometime early Saturday morning when Chevron's pipeline started leaking near Red Butte Canyon, all that crude oil started flowing downstream and through this once beautiful spot.

"It's unbelievable. It's hard to imagine," Ralph Riedel said. "You see the Gulf spill and it seems so far away, and now this is right in my backyard."

One of the big concerns was crude oil getting into the Jordan River, but along 500 South at least, disaster crews have set booms into the water to try and stop the oil.

It seems to be working. The oil is on the left side, but as it makes its way to the boom, less and less of it goes to the right side.

Ralph Riedel

"Right now, they seemed to have contained it here at Liberty Pond. I think the long-term concern is very minimized," said Mike Roach with the Division of Wildlife Resources.

But still, it's going to take a long time to clean up the mess.

Residents react to leak

Gloria Santa Cruz, who lives across from Liberty Park on 1300 South, came home from the Farmers Market to the sight of flashing lights and fire department tape right across the street.

"It's just a little eerie to drive home to this and see things that you only see on the news, in other parts of the country or the world," Santa Cruz said.

A man who came to the park to run but was turned away described the situation as "sobering," both for his use of the park, but also because of the environmental impact.

Ralph and Marina Riedel's backyard pond was turned black by the oil from Saturday's leak.

"This is terrible. It's a catastrophe," said Salt Lake City resident Christian Pulfer.

Pulfer couldn't believe it when he saw so much black oil flowing down Red Butte Creek. He says living so close to it, the smell has already given him a headache.

"The whole neighborhood smells," he said. "Our house smells like somebody poured gasoline on the floor."

Pulfer decided to take a walk to get away from the fumes.

The fish in Riedels' backyard pond, however, couldn't get away that easily. The Riedels fished them out and put them in another pond not attached to the creek. For some fish, it was already too late.

"They were kind of my pets, but not much I can do about it now," Ralph Riedel said.

Officials with the Division of Wildlife Resources say starting Sunday, they will begin an assessment to try and get an idea of the damage to fish along the creek and at Liberty Park.

Liberty Park wildlife covered in oil

Their biggest concern is the geese and ducks that live near the pond.

The leak forced the closure of Liberty Park around 10 a.m., where oil has coated dozens of birds who have made their home on the pond there. Among them are about 150 Canada Geese who were set to be moved to a bird refuge Sunday.

"Virtually every goose has some oil on it," said Tom Aldridge, migratory game bird coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "A lot of them are just coated from about the water line, but there are a number of birds that started preening and have oil completely covering their bodies."

Aldridge said nearly 100 birds were captured and moved to holding areas at Hogle Zoo, where volunteers have begun cleaning them up.

Some birds needed two or three washings. Veterinarians are concerned young ducklings could have ingested oil.

"We've had a little problem with the very young ducks," said Dr. Nancy Carpenter, associate director of animal health at Hogle Zoo, "the ones that are a week of age. Some are OK, some of them are not. So we are watching them very closely."

A few very young birds did not survive. The birds that do will be checked by veterinarians before being released.

The DWR moves migrating geese from the pond every year and takes them to more outlying wetlands. Aldridge showed up at the park Saturday morning when he smelled and saw the oil, then saw the birds.

A pair of baby ducks is cleaned off by a volunteer at Hogle Zoo.

"A number of young have been produced here and we're trying to make plans to get them to places that are a bit cleaner to live," he said.

Zoo workers, as well as staff from Tracy Aviary and Wasatch Exotic Pet Care, could spend days cleaning up to 150 birds.

The spill also caused concern at Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park.

"The flamingos have moved inside just as a precaution. We are seeing signs of oil on some of our water," said Tim Brown, executive director of Tracy Aviary.

Aldridge said oil has been detected in the Jordan River and as far away as the Farmington Bay Bird Refuge.

Emergency responders have placed oil-absorbing booms across the rivers and some waterways in hopes of containing the spill.

Dealing with affected animals

The City Emergency Operations Center released tips on how to handle an animal affected by the oil:

  • Wear gloves when in contact with the animal
  • Prepare warm water and liquid dish soap (not dishwasher soap) in a nearby place or small tub
  • Wearing gloves, wash the animal gently
  • Call your veterinarian to discuss specific treatment if animal contamination has occurred

70,000 litres of petrol spilt at mine

The Northern Territory Department of Resources says it is investigating an unleaded fuel spill at the Rio Tinto Alcan alumina mine and refinery at Nhulunbuy, on the Gove Peninsula.

The department says it was informed by Rio Tinto on Friday that about 70,000 litres of petrol had leaked into the ground from one of the mine's fuel containers.

The tank farm's infrastructure dates back to the 1960s and it is believed the leak occured due to equipment failure.

Department spokesman Alistair Trier says the spill is significant, and the department is investigating.

"That's a serious concern to us, because fuel entering the environment is a serious environmental risk," he said.

"We directed them to take immediate action to primarily to clean it up to get it out of the environment.

"From there we will move into an investigation into the underlying causes."

He says Rio Tinto Alcan has been instructed to dig recovery pits around the area for the fuel to leak into, and remove the fuel from the environment.

The company has also been asked to investigate the integrity of other containers at the site.

"As far as we are aware the others are OK at this stage," he said

“I Am Going to Hunt That Son of a Bitch Down Like a ‘Coon”

Dean Blanchard, aka the Lousiana Shrimp King, is losing millions of dollars because of the oil leak, and he has some sharp words for BP’s CEO Tony Hayward:

“He took away everything I love most in the world. I am going to hunt that son of a bitch down like a ‘coon.”

“He wants his life back after all he has done to us? The hell with him.”

According to the UK Guardian, Blanchard’s company accounts for 11% of the US shrimp supply and his only job now is to deliver fuel and water to BP clean up crews.

Mr. Blanchard is itching for a fight, and rightly so. With the media’s focus currently on plugging the leak, how many barrels are actually spewing, and the adverse effects on wildlife, no one is talking about the economic impact.

Mr. Blanchard’s firm employs the services of over 6000 fisherman, so it is safe to assume that they, too, have lost their livelihood. It is highly likely that millions of people are going to be severly hurt economically, ranging from those who catch our seafood, to those who transport, then cook, and then serve the food, as well as all of the periphery businesses that depend on the gulf coast. Add to that the imminent price increase of seafood, and subsequently other foods that will need to compensate for lack of supply, and you’ll have an already stretched consumer having to cough up even more money for an important food staple: meat.

This is not only an environmental and ecological disaster, but likely an economic catastrophe that is not yet fully understood.

Residents to Chevron: Clean up the mess

A leak from Chevron's underground oil pipeline may have gone undetected for hours as it spilled 50 gallons of crude a minute Saturday into Salt Lake City's Red Butte Creek.

The oil blackened the east-side creek, stained scores of birds, prompted the closure of Liberty Park and sent oil as far west as the Jordan River.

"This is extremely harmful," said disgusted resident Peter G. Hayes, a biology teacher who showed oily rocks from his creek-side home to Chevron officials at Liberty Park. "I want to know when are you going to send someone to my backyard and clean up my mess because I can't even live in my house because of the smell."

Chevron pledged to clean up the 6-mile mess, but the company could not quantify

the damage. As of late Saturday, Chevron said the leak had been stopped. But company representatives could not say when it began, how much oil spilled into city waterways and why -- despite pipeline monitors -- it apparently took hours to learn of the accident.

Cleanup crews planned to work throughout the night.

Neighbors near Liberty Park -- more than 3 miles from the source near Red Butte Garden -- said they noticed an odor about 4 a.m., said Chevron spokesman Mark Sullivan.

The spill first was reported about 6:45 a.m. by staff at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said Salt Lake City Fire Department spokesman Scott Freitag. It was flowing 30 to 40 feet downhill into the creek from the ground above a buried pipeline just south of Red Butte Garden, near the greenhouses and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

About 50 gallons of oil a minute were flowing from the pipeline when responders arrived, Freitag said. A nearby construction crew was flagged down to help build makeshift dams and dikes near the source, reducing the flow to 20 to 25 gallons a minute by midmorning, Freitag said.

Sullivan said Chevron shut down the pipeline just before 8 a.m. after the Fire Department notified the

Photo Gallery
company of the spill.

By then, oil had reached Liberty Park's pond, drenching Canada geese and Mallard ducks. At least 150 birds were rescued from the pond and taken to Hogle Zoo to be cleaned. Some were goslings and chicks as young as a week old.

Birds were cleaned up to three times in "kiddie pools" with water and Dawn dish soap, said Nancy Carpenter, director of the zoo's animal health services. The birds will be released at a new location by state wildlife workers.

"Most of the birds are doing pretty well," she said. "It's quite an amazing thing to see so many birds in one place and then to have them oiled like this."

Oil streamed from Liberty Park into the Jordan River. It was spotted as far north

as 500 South, Freitag said.

"It's a tragedy. It is horrible." said J.T. Martin, chairman of the Salt Lake City Council. "The whole river corridor is contaminated. It is a major catastrophe for this area and for the city."

State water quality scientists were taking samples to determine oil concentrations. Depending on amounts, the spill could disrupt the food chain for the long term, killing bottom-dwelling invertebrates that feed fish, said Walt Baker, director of the state Division of Water Quality.

For the short term, birds may be in even more trouble, he warned. "If they are covered with oil, they cannot fly and cannot float, so you may even have birds drown."

Thomas Kurrus, who lives on Yale Avenue

along the creek, rescued his pet African goose Ernie on Saturday morning.

"He and I spent 20 minutes in the bathtub with Dawn detergent," Kurrus said. "This stuff is unbelievably messy."

Ernie was squeaky clean and squawking loudly Saturday afternoon, itching to get back in the creek but blocked by Kurrus' garden fence. His mate, Chloe, had stuck to the nest and avoided the oil.

"It amazes me," Kurrus said, "that they run a pipeline across a major waterway without some kind of protection."

Kurrus, 69, also helped a neighbor rescue trout from a backyard pond. He wondered how the spill would affect vegetation and 100-year-old trees along the creek.

"It just brings home the unbelievability of what's

Photo Gallery
going on in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

Sullivan, who also lives along the creek, said cleanup "may take some weeks; it may take a month."

"Chevron is taking full responsibility ... for any financial damage, environmental damage, safety concerns, impacts on health ... and cleanup."

Gases from the crude oil did not reach concentrations Saturday that would pose a health risk, but fumes could be collecting, according to a news release from the Salt Lake City Police Department. Fire crews were monitoring toxicity levels.

Symptoms of exposure include difficulty breathing, nausea, dizziness and severe headaches. Anyone exhibiting those symptoms and at risk of exposure were advised to call 911. Royal DeLegge, Salt Lake Valley Health Department's environmental health director, said people with respiratory problems should avoid inhaling fumes from the spill.

Red Butte Creek does not flow into any drinking supply, but DeLegge warned residents not to allow children or animals to ingest contaminated stream or river water. Pet owners were asked to contact their veterinarians if animals are exposed to the oil.

Crews had positioned absorbent booms throughout the contamination path and, as a precautionary measure, on the Jordan River as far north as the Utah Fairpark, said Jeff Niermeyer, the city's director of public utilities.

"We do not want it to get into the Great Salt Lake," Freitag said. There, the lack of a current could allow oil to accumulate and affect even larger bird populations at the world-class flyway. However, he said, the oil appear to be stopped in the Jordan River.

River activist Jeff Salt planned to check out the Jordan River on Saturday night.

"What happens with the Jordan River that's of concern is the water feeds into the duck clubs and to Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area," he said. "Hopefully, there are preventive measures being installed at the key locations along the Jordan River to contain the oil before we get to the wildlife areas."

Residents were urged to avoid affected areas of the Jordan River, while Liberty Park and Red Butte Creek were expected to remain closed at least through today.

Red Butte Garden remained open to visitors, said Dianne Crosby, the botanical attraction's assistant director of visitor services, Freitag said, but there was no known risk of fire or explosions from the spill.

Freitag credited Big D Construction -- the crews who rushed to erect the dams and dikes in the early morning -- with providing "critical" aid in the spill.

"They were able to contain a lot of it," Freitag said. "This would have been much worse."

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker jetted back to Salt Lake City from a mayors conference Saturday in Oklahoma City to address the spill.

"We will get to the bottom of how this happened," Becker vowed. "And we will address necessary measures to make sure the community continues to be protected in the future. We are not going to rest until we see the cleanup complete. We will obviously work with Chevron but we're not going to leave this to Chevron."

Tribune reporter Steven Oberbeck contributed to this story.

Key questions and answers about the spill

Where and when did the spill occur?

Oil leaked from an underground pipeline near Red Butte Garden and flowed into Red Butte Creek and, eventually, the Jordan River. Early reports say the leak may have started as early as Friday at about 10 p.m., but officials later backed away from that. The city's emergency crews were notified Saturday shortly before 7 a.m. Chevron says it found out about the leak in its pipeline about an hour later.

How much oil leaked?

Early reports said at least 21,000 gallons, but without knowing when the spill began, it was impossible to say for sure.

Is the leak stopped?

Yes. Chevron shut down the pipeline Saturday morning and crews were capturing the residual crude at the scene.

What was affected?

Oil poured into Red Butte Creek, then flowed into the pond at Liberty Park and, farther west, the Jordan River. Crews closed the creek and the park and advised residents to steer clear of the Jordan River. They apparently succeeded in stopping the oil from flowing to the Great Salt Lake. Homes along the waterways also suffered damage.

What about wildlife?

The oil stained about 150 birds, mostly Canada geese and ducks at Liberty Park, including chicks as young as a week old. Untold fish were affected in the waterways.

How long will the cleanup take?

Officials say weeks. Liberty Park and Red Butte Creek will remain closed through at least Sunday.

Who will pay for it?

Chevron vows to cover the cleanup tab and other financial and environmental costs.

Who do you call with claims or other questions about the spill?

Chevron has set up a hot line at 866-752-6340. Information is available at the city's website:

Israel: Gaza ship raid inquiry will have international input

The Israeli commission investigating its armed raid on aid ships bound for Gaza will include international participation, Israel's vice premier said in an interview published Sunday in Turkey.

"There will be international elements in the commission that is going to be formed. For the moment it is not totally clear but the commission will be composed of five Israelis and two or three foreigners," Dan Meridor, who also is responsible for intelligence services, told the Turkish newspaper Habertürk. "They will be foreign specialists respected for their knowledge on these subjects."

Israel has been under pressure from Turkey and other countries to agree to an independent, international commission to investigate the Israeli army's May 31 raid on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in which eight Turks and one U.S. citizen of Turkish decent were killed.

The Israelis have said they would hold their own inquiry into the raid on the ships, which were challenging Israel's blockade of Gaza imposed when the militant Hamas group took control of the strip of Palestinian territory.

However, according to Israeli media, Israel and the United States are close to an accord on creating a commission that would include two foreign observers, an American and probably a European, and would be headed by a retired judge of Israel's supreme court, Yaakov Tirkel.

While Ankara has demanded an apology from Israel for the deadly raid, Meridor expressed "regrets" in the newspaper interview but said responsibility for the violence rested on some of the ship's passengers. "What happened is a tragedy. I am very sad, I regret it. No one wanted it or expected it. These events should never have happened," Meridor said.

"But if some terrorists got on the ship and attacked our soldiers, I think that they, not us, must apologize," he said, adding that Turkey's Islamist humanitarian organization İHH, which chartered the ship on which the violence took place, was identified by Israel several years ago as having ties to terrorist groups.

Barak Cancels Trip to France after Threat of Lawsuit over Flotilla Raid

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a trip to an arms trading fair in France after French passengers of the Freedom Flotilla attacked two weeks ago said they plan to file a lawsuit against the state of Israel for war crimes.

Ehud Barak (photo from
Ehud Barak (photo from

The French humanitarian aid activists said they will file the lawsuit against Israel in the International Court of Justice in the Hague for the actions of Israeli forces which boarded and attacked ships in international waters on a humanitarian aid mission, killing nine. They demanded that French police have Barak arrested at the airport upon his arrival in the country.

A spokesperson for the French activists, Lillian Glock, told reporters, "I speak on behalf of a group of international lawyers who will go to the International Court of Justice on the Israeli attack on the aid ships what constitutes without doubt a war crime and justifies our move in the International Court of Justice."

Glock added, “Israel needs to stop this bloody escalation and the only solution is international law. We want to stop Israel and punish the leaders who participated in this process. Our move is aimed at specific persons, mainly leaders, as well as those who carried out the orders, because it is not possible to hide behind a chain of command. The peace activists who were transporting essential goods to Gaza are protected under UN Security Council Resolution 1860 condemning the blockade, and therefore these activists did not violate the law”.

Originally Barak had refused calls to cancel his trip to France, during which he was scheduled to open a new 'Israeli booth' at the Eurosatory arms fair in Paris, which opens this week. The arms fair itself has come under fire by peace activists in Europe as the showcase event of the 'Merchants of Death', as they term international weapons dealers. Several years ago, peace activists bought a tank and attempted to drive it into the fair to disrupt the event, and security has been increased significantly since then. A Fox News report on the arms fair two years ago claimed that the Israeli booth boasted the most scantily-clad women carrying weaponry that Israeli arms companies and the Israeli government hoped to sell in the international market.

In his last trip to Paris, Ehud Barak was criticized by the Israeli state comptroller for his extravagant expenses at the Paris Air Show in 2009. According to expense reports of the trip, Barak booked one of the most expensive hotels in Paris, and one-third of the rooms booked were not used. The State Comptroller's report found that $254,000 was spent on empty rooms and other entirely superfluous expenses.

British Petroleum's "Smart Pig"

The Brilliantly Profitable Timing of the Alaska Oil Pipeline Shutdown

Is the Alaska Pipeline corroded? You bet it is. Has been for more than a decade. Did British Petroleum shut the pipe yesterday to turn a quick buck on its negligence, to profit off the disaster it created? Just ask the "smart pig."

Years ago, I had the unhappy job of leading an investigation of British Petroleum's management of the Alaska pipeline system. I was working for the Chugach villages, the Alaskan Natives who own the shoreline slimed by the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker grounding.

Even then, courageous government inspectors and pipeline workers were screaming about corrosion all through the pipeline. I say "courageous" because BP, which owns 46% of the pipe and is supposed to manage the system, had a habit of hunting down and destroying the careers of those who warn of pipeline problems.

In one case, BP's CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe's tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP's acts were "reminiscent of Nazi Germany."

This was not an isolated case. Captain James Woodle, once in charge of the pipe's Valdez terminus, was blackmailed into resigning the post when he complained of disastrous conditions there. The weapon used on Woodle was a file of faked evidence of marital infidelity. Nice guys, eh?

Now let's talk timing. BP's suddenly discovered corrosion necessitating an emergency shut-down of the line is the same corrosion Dan Lawn has been screaming about for 15 years. Lawn is a steel-eyed government inspector who has kept his job only because his union's lawyers have kept BP from having his head.

Indeed, it's pretty darn hard for BP to claim it is surprised to find corrosion this week when Lawn issued a damning report on corrosion right after a leak and spill were discovered on March 2 of this year.

Why shut the pipe now? The timing of a sudden inspection and fix of a decade-long problem has a suspicious smell. A precipitous shutdown in mid-summer, in the middle of Middle East war(s), is guaranteed to raise prices and reap monster profits for BP. The price of crude jumped $2.22 a barrel on the shutdown news to over $76. How lucky for BP which sells four million barrels of oil a day. Had BP completed its inspection and repairs a couple years back -- say, after Dan Lawn's tenth warning -- the oil market would have hardly noticed.

But $2 a barrel is just the beginning of BP's shut-down bonus. The Alaskan oil was destined for the California market which now faces a supply crisis at the very height of the summer travel season. The big winner is ARCO petroleum, the largest retailer in the Golden State. ARCO is a 100%-owned subsidiary of ... British Petroleum.

BP could have fixed the pipeline problem this past winter, after their latest corrosion-caused oil spill. But then ARCO would have lost the summertime supply-squeeze windfall.

Enron Corporation was infamous for deliberately timing repairs to maximize profit. Would BP also manipulate the market in such a crude manner? Some US prosecutors think they did so in the US propane market. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) just six weeks ago charged the company with approving an Enron-style scheme to crank up the price of propane sold in poor rural communities in the US. One former BP exec has pleaded guilty.

Lord Browne, the imperious CEO of BP, has apologized for that scam, for the Alaska spill, for this week's shutdown and for the deaths in 2005 of 15 workers at the company's mortally sloppy refinery operation at Texas City, Texas.

I don't want readers to think BP isn't civic-minded. The company's US CEO, Bob Malone, was Co-Chairman of the Bush re-election campaign in Alaska. Mr. Bush, in turn, was so impressed with BP's care of Alaska's environment that he pushed again to open the state's arctic wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling by the BP consortium.

Indeed, you can go to Alaska today and see for yourself the evidence of BP's care of the wilderness. You can smell it: the crude oil still on the beaches from the Exxon Valdez spill.

Exxon took all the blame for the spill because they were dumb enough to have the company's name on the ship. But it was BP's pipeline managers who filed reports that oil spill containment equipment was sitting right at the site of the grounding near Bligh Island. However, the reports were bogus, the equipment wasn't there and so the beaches were poisoned. At the time, our investigators uncovered four-volume's worth of faked safety reports and concluded that BP was at least as culpable as Exxon for the 1,200 miles of oil-destroyed coastline.

Nevertheless, m'Lord Browne preens himself with his corporation's environmental record. We know BP cares about nature because they have lots of photos of solar panels in their annual reports -- and they've painted every one of their gas stations green.

The green paint-job is supposed to represent the oil giant's love of Mother Nature. But the good Lord, Mr. Browne, knows it stands for the color of the Yankee dollar.

BP claims the profitable timing of its Alaska pipe shutdown can be explained because they've only now run a "smart pig" through the pipes to locate the corrosion. The "pig" is an electronic drone that BP should have been using continuously, though they had not done so for 14 years. The fact that, in the middle of an oil crisis, they've run it through now, forcing the shutdown, reminds me, when I consider Lord Browne's closeness to George Bush, that the company's pig is indeed, very, very smart.

LOS ALAMOS Plutonium could be missing from lab

600-plus pounds unaccounted for, activist group says

Enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear bombs hasn't been accounted for at the UC-run Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and may be missing, an activist group says in a new report.

There is no evidence that the weapons-grade plutonium has been stolen or diverted for illegal purposes, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research said. However, the amount of unaccounted-for plutonium -- more than 600 pounds, and possibly several times that -- is so great that it raises "a vast security issue," the group said in a report to be made public today.

The institute, which is based in Takoma Park, Md., says it compared data from five publicly available reports and documents issued by the U.S. Energy Department and Los Alamos from 1996 to 2004 and found inconsistencies in them. It says the records aren't clear on what the lab did with the plutonium, a byproduct of nuclear bomb research at Los Alamos.

A spokesman for UC, which manages the national laboratories at Los Alamos and Livermore for the Energy Department, did not address the report's specifics but said the New Mexico lab tracks nuclear material "to a minute quantity."

The report says there are several possible explanations for what happened to the plutonium. They include:

-- It was discarded in unsafe amounts in landfills at the Los Alamos lab. It is legal to discard weapons-grade plutonium in landfills, one of which is 40 feet deep, as long as the substance is sufficiently diluted. However, if a landfill holds too much plutonium, the material can eventually contaminate the environment -- for example by leeching into groundwater or being absorbed by the roots of plants -- study co-author Arjun Makhijani said in an interview.

-- It was shipped to an Energy Department burial site in a New Mexico salt mine, without accurate records of such shipments being kept.

-- It was stolen or otherwise shipped off site for unknown reasons.

"If it has left the site, then it obviously has the most grievous security implications," Makhijani said. "I cannot say that it has left the site, but the government has the responsibility to ensure that it has not.

"And the University (of California) obviously has a responsibility in this. It should be a grave embarrassment for the university to be sitting on numbers like this and discrepancies like this, and not have resolved them."

UC spokesman Chris Harrington said Los Alamos "does an annual inventory of special nuclear materials which is overseen by (the Energy Department). These inventories have been occurring for 20-plus years. Special nuclear materials are carefully tracked to a minute quantity."

The report concludes that at least 661 pounds of plutonium generated at the lab over the last half-century is not accounted for. The atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945 contained about 13 pounds of plutonium.

"The security implications . . . are extremely serious, since less than 2 percent of the lowest unaccounted-for plutonium is enough to make one nuclear bomb," the report said.

The problem of plutonium accounting began worrying lab critics in the mid-1990s, when Energy Department officials released lab records as part of the Clinton administration's openness initiative.

Critics found they had trouble determining exactly what the lab was doing with the plutonium waste that is generated during the manufacture of spherical plutonium "pits," the fissile triggers of nuclear bombs.

Makhijani said he and colleagues from two other activist groups hoped the problem would be resolved in August 2004, when they sent a letter of complaint to then-Los Alamos Director G. Peter Nanos. Nanos was trying to reform lab operations after highly publicized scandals over UC management of Los Alamos.

Nanos and lab officials did not respond, though, and nine months later Nanos left for a different job. Makhijani said he and associates had decided to make their report public to dramatize federal officials' failure to resolve the puzzle of the missing plutonium.

Makhijani received his engineering doctorate at UC Berkeley with specialization in plasma physics and nuclear fusion. The institute is funded by sources including the Ford Foundation and San Francisco's Ploughshares Fund.

UC has joined Bechtel National and other industrial partners in a bid to retain its contract to run Los Alamos, in a competition against a consortium consisting of Lockheed-Martin, the University of Texas, several New Mexico universities and various industrial partners.

Makhijani says he isn't taking sides in the competition but that he would prefer the weapons labs be run by industrial contractors rather than universities. The reason, he said, is that university connections to the weapons labs tend to lead to restraints on free inquiry and speech within the universities.

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You Really Want Government Drilling for Oil?

You've got to hand it to the people who really dislike free markets. They see them everywhere (under every bed?) and especially wherever any serious problem arises. That no free market exists within a thousand miles makes no difference whatsoever.

Take the oil spill in the Gulf. Market opponents are having a field day. They say this finally demonstrates the need for government to run things. Private firms can't be trusted.

But it looks more like government can't be trusted. The central government is, in law and in fact, the owner of the part in the Gulf where BP drilled for oil. (I didn't say it was the legitimate owner.) The owner leased its property to a private company, BP, with a bad safety record (though a good one for sucking up to the environmentalist establishment and bureaucrats) and issued permits for the drilling operation. It then failed to keep a sharp eye on what BP and subcontractors Transocean and Halliburton were doing to its property. That might have something to do with the fact that government regulators don't have the sort of relationship to "their" property that real private owners do, and they can always be counted on to get friendly with those they regulate. The Minerals Management Service in the Interior Department has a special conflict of interest: It makes money off the drilling it permits and regulates. Thus it could benefit from decisions that are bad for the public.

So what failed here, the market or the State? The call isn't even close. The free market was nowhere near the scene. It has an airtight alibi. It didn't exist.

Now with some effort you might get a die-hard anti-market person to concede this. So we move to the next step. What should replace the current hybrid (government-corporate) system? I see only two choices: full government management or full market management. Full government management wouldn't appear terribly promising, considering that the current problems are traceable back to government management already. How would things change substantially if, instead of contracting out the drilling to a nominally private company, the government instead hired the personnel itself and paid them directly from the U.S. Treasury? Who cares if the rig says "BP, " "Transocean," or "U.S. Government" on it? The same fallible people would be in the same position to make the same fateful mistakes. Not much would have changed.

Incentives Matter

That's because what matters is incentives, not whether a worker is on the government payroll. Why assume that civil service employees know more or care more than people paid by corporations?

But, it will be said, the government workers will have a mandate to protect the environment and the public. Okay, let's go with that. Let's say the decision-makers are environmental hawks who really don't like oil drilling anywhere. They'll be tough: no drilling unless it's 100 percent safe. Leaving aside the obvious problem with this standard, that policy would have costs. The risk of oil spills may drop to zero, but we might have to forgo certain important benefits in the process. Poor people, say, might have their prospects dimmed by more expensive energy.

Is the tradeoff worth it? How do we go about answering that question? Government is no help here. It can certainly impose a plan, but constructing a plan beneficial to the public would be like playing darts in the dark. What bureaucrats think is good for us may not actually be good for us, no matter how much they care. Mises and Hayek covered this in their writings on state socialism and economic calculation.

Things are sure looking bleak. Government assurances are worthless whether it contracts out for drilling or does it itself. That leaves only the free market. Can it be trusted?

First off, let's remember that we live in the real world. There are no iron-clad guarantees. The best we can hope for is relative security. Option A can't be perfect. All we can ask is that it is better than Options B, C, and D. But how do we decide? When people conclude that government management is the best alternative, knowingly or not they have rigged the game. They are comparing the messy real world in which free markets would operate to an impossible government-managed smooth-running utopia, where regulators have complete knowledge and total dedication to the public interest. This is the Nirvana Fallacy, and the problem with it is that utopia isn't on the table.

What is on the table are two options: an arrangement where incentives align economic activity with the public interest and one where they don't. Now which setup seems more promising? One where personnel risk no capital, face no prospects of bankruptcy, and procure their revenue by force (taxation) after flattering members of special-interest-serving congressmen? Or one where: capital had to be raised from wary investors in a competitive environment, insurance would be priced according to risk, products would have to be sold to buyers who are free to say no, and full and strict liability would haunt every decision, with bankruptcy always looming and no government bailout are even implied?

When you come down to it, the choice is really rather easy.

Copyright © 2010 Foundation for Economic Education

Obama As Moral Dupe – Will Erdogan Blink?


A recent article by Patrick Cockburn, one of the ablest reporters covering the Middle East, provides an excellent character portrait of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. It is certainly consistent with what little I have been able to learn about this fascinating politician. Regardless of what you may think of Erdogan, and he has many detractors (I am not one), he is certainly establishing himself as an influential world leader who must be reckoned with in an emerging multi-polar world.

Cockburn’s report is must reading, because Erdogan has maneuvered himself onto the moral high ground in a very serious crisis he did not create. Consider please the following:

By standing tall against Israel’s murderous commando attack on the unarmed ship in international waters that was carrying aid to the besieged inhabitants of Gaza, and by promising to be on another ship trying to break the blockade, Erdogan has set an example that contrasts sharply with the latest generation of pusillanimous leaders in the United States. They have refused to condemn Israel’s attack, even though a US citizen was among those murdered — thus continuing the pattern of unprincipled moral weakness that began when President Johnson refused to act decisively after the Israelis deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters in June 1967, murdering over 30 American sailors.

Not surprisingly, Erdogan has become the newest bête noire of the neocons. They have embarked on a concerted effort in their media outlets to smear him as well as to trash our relations with Turkey, starting with screeds in the Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard. Their hypocrisy is stunning. Many of these same neocons assiduously cultivated the so-called strategic Israeli-Turkish alliance in the 1990s and, in fact, lobbied Congress on the behalf of Turkey. AIPAC is lobbying Congress for a resolution of support for Israel’s attack, or failing that, is pressuring congressmen to not criticize Israel. AIPAC and the neocons are also stoking up the Armenian lobby to criticize the modern Turkish Republic for the genocidal crimes which occurred during the waning days of a decrepit Ottoman Empire. This is logically equivalent to criticizing German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Adolf Hitler’s crimes. Some congressmen have already made strong public statements of support for Israel, and by extension a condemnation for Turkey, while the majority — like the good Germans of the 1930s — have done likewise by remaining silent. Israel just hoisted Obama on his petard (again) by requesting increased arms aid from the United States which, of course, will be rubber stamped by a compliant Congress. Meanwhile, according to the Jerusalem Post, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, just threatened to sink any Turkish warships carrying Erdogan, if it was escorting another flotilla of aid ships trying to break the blockade of Gaza. The threat is serious, because it was made on Israeli Army Radio, an outlet for policy pronouncements intended to lather up the Israeli citizens for battle.

To add final insult to this march of folly, Sheera Fenkle just reported that the blockade of Gaza is not about stopping arms shipments to Hamas, because in her words, ‘McClatchy obtained an Israeli government document that describes the blockade not as a security measure but as “economic warfare” against the Islamist group Hamas, which rules the Palestinian territory.’ Put another way, Israel’s own documents suggest that the Israeli government understands the blockade is about an illegal collective punishment of the Gazan people for having the temerity to elect Hamas to govern Gaza in a free election. Ironically, it was the short-sighted Israelis who promoted Hamas in its early years during the late 1980s as a tactical means to divide and weaken Palestinian allegiances to the PLO.

So Turkey and Israel are maneuvering themselves and the United States into a trap between the moral high ground and the moral low ground for very different reasons. In the eyes of most of the world, Turkey is playing a constructive grand strategic card, while Israel is playing a destructive strategic card. One holds out hope for peace and justice while the other continues its warlike business as usual. But there is more. An Israeli attack on Turkey would be also an attack on the NATO Alliance. Under the terms of the NATO Treaty, such an attack should trigger what is known as an Article 5 response — an attack on a NATO ally is an attack on all. This is what the US used to justify a NATO response to 9-11 in Afghanistan, even though the Afghan case was far less clear than the Turkish-Israeli imbroglio, because the Taliban was at most an accomplice to the 9-11 crime and may not have known about it in advance. If Israel carries through on its threat to attack a NATO warship, it would be a clear act of war. If the US (and the rest of NATO) does not respond, you can kiss NATO and Turkey goodbye, and the US would lose moral standing in the world to a greater degree than that engineered by George Bush and his fellow neocon travelers — which is no small achievement. Nobody could ever trust the United States to live up to its formal treaty obligations. Our relations with Russia and China would be weakened dangerously, and Iran’s position in the Middle East would be strengthened. The fall of dominoes would go on in all sorts of directions.

To borrow the unforgettable words of British Foreign Minister Edward Grey in the fateful summer of 1914, “the lights are going out all over” the Middle East, in NATO headquarters, and in the White House (assuming they were turned on). If Erdogan presses forward with his public promise to be on another Gaza aid ship or an escorting Turkish warship and if Israel acts on its threat to sink the ship carrying him, then like the chain of events of August 1914, the march to war could very well take on a life of its own.

We know what Israel will do if, as is likely, the US stands passively on the sidelines again, so the questions of the hour seem to be: Will Erdogan blink? Will the US force him to blink?

Study Cockburn’s report and judge for yourself if blinking is a part of Erdogan’s character, particularly, when he has maneuvered himself onto the moral high ground, and it is obvious to all but a few that the low grounders, like PM Netanyau, are playing the hapless Mr. Obama for a moral dupe — again.

Japan PM Naoto Kan warns of 'collapse' under debt pile

Japan is at "risk of collapse" under its huge debt mountain, the country's new prime minister has said.

Naoto Kan, in his first major speech since taking over, said Japan needed a financial restructuring to avert a Greece-style crisis.

"Our country's outstanding public debt is huge... our public finances have become the worst of any developed country," he said.

After years of borrowing, Japan's debt is twice its gross domestic product.

"It is difficult to continue our fiscal policies by heavily relying on the issuance of government bonds," said Mr Kan, Japan's former finance minister.

"Like the confusion in the eurozone triggered by Greece, there is a risk of collapse if we leave the increase of the public debt untouched and then lose the trust of the bond markets," he said.

No Greece

Despite the prime minister's hair-raising words, markets did not bat an eyelid, with the Japanese yen, the Nikkei stock market index and Japanese government bonds unmoved.

"Fiscal austerity measures are long overdue," said Chris Scicluna, deputy head of economics at Daiwa Capital Markets in London.

He forecasts that the government's budget deficit will be 8% of GDP this year, a number that Mr Kan has promised to reduce to zero by the end of the decade.

However, Mr Scicluna said the government does not face any immediate fiscal crisis, unlike some European countries, and probably will not start tackling its budget deficit for at least another year or two.

Unlike Greece or Spain, Japan is a net lender to the rest of the world, to the tune of 2.5% of its GDP last year.

Cheap borrowing

The Japanese government is effectively the only borrower in Japan, and raises all of the money it needs from the savings of its own citizens.


  • Government debt: 200% of GDP
  • Government deficit: 8% of GDP
  • External surplus: 2.5-3.5% of GDP
  • GDP growth: 3%
  • Inflation: -1.5%
  • 30-year bond yield: 2%

Source: Daiwa

Some 95% of the government's debts are held by Japanese investors, and the government can currently borrow for 30 years at a mere 2% interest rate.

But Mr Scicluna says Japan does have serious medium-term problems related to its ageing population.

As more and more Japanese citizens retire in the next few years, they are likely to start selling their government bonds to pay for their retirements.

This means that Japan will need to start borrowing from the rest of the world, and the government may have a hard time convincing foreign lenders to let it borrow at such a low interest rate.

Tax reform

Mr Kan did not detail the fiscal changes he may impose to revive Japan's economy after years to stagnation.

But in the past Mr Kan has advocated increasing Japan's sales tax, a move that would be unpopular.

He said: "It is unavoidable to launch a full reform of the tax system. If we maintain the current level of issuance of new bonds, outstanding debt will surpass 200% of GDP in a few years.

"It's been 20 years since the collapse of the bubble economy in the early 1990s. Because the Japanese economy had been in the doldrums, people have lost the trust they had and fear the uncertainty of the future," he said.

Who will spend?

The Japanese austerity plans may not be welcome elsewhere in the world.

Over the weekend, US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner called on surplus countries - like Japan, Germany and China - to do more to increase spending.

Yet Germany has announced plans to cut its budget deficit by 3% of GDP over the next four years, while China's trade surplus has grown even further, according to data for May.

With Japan also now looking to wield the fiscal axe, some may wonder who is actually going to spend money in the world economy.

BP's Dispersants Are Used Already ---- For GM Crops


Corexit EC9527A is 30-60% 2-Butoxyethanol by weight. 2-B ( I will use the abbreviation 2-B ) is a main ingredient in many fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides ( especially Roundup ), insecticides, fuels, fungicides, cosmetics & leather treatment , and oddly enough, it is commonly used for " handling " oil spills .

The main argument for the use of COREXIT products, I have heard , is based on the studies of algae and microbial life in the Gulf . This logic is blind to the consideration of the 4 crucial things. The proliferation rate of oleophillic microbial life ( The specific bacteria to the deep-water Gulf, Deltaproteobacteria, and the powerhouse shallow water oil eater Alcanivorax borkumensis ) when faced with an overabundance of food, the specific hydrocarbons they actually eat, the depth and temperatures at which they thrive, and how 2-B can kill them all before they get a chance to eat. People presenting these arguments also don't understand how the food chain works. Microbes secrete their own surfactant molecules to break up the oil before consuming the hydrocarbons. Other microbes don't make surfactants but devour oil already broken into small enough globs—including those broken down by Alcanivorax. These microbes cannot proliferate until the Oxygen is depleted from the water. The colder temp loving microbes eat only short-chain hydrocarbons like gases, and the warmer clime-preferring ones are easily killed by 2-B. In order for these cold temp loving microbes to digest Hydrocarbon gases, these gases must first be produced. The gases they actually do eat are methane (CH4 ) ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10). They gases they produce are Hydrogen Cyanide and Hydrogen Sulfide.

The breakdown products of COREXIT are CO2 and Carbon Monoxide, neither of which stay suspended in salt-water at 5k' +, nor do the indigenous bacteria in the Gulf eat them. What does stay suspended in water is 2-B.

So that argument is moot.

2-B has never been tested on any type of marine life for longer than 9 days, and the effects that are known, is that it's mutagenic , teragenic and carcinogenic. As far as the testing on humans or other mammals , there is plenty, it's all below. Of course if you don't care, then don't read it.

In the United States, the primary manufacturers of 2-B are : Eastman Chemical, Dow Chemical and Equistar. Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences LLC, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, are in partnership to develop GM crops. Monsanto sales of GM seeds in the US cover 90% of the market.There are also projects being undertaken by Makhteshim Agan, an Israeli bio-engineering firm purchased by Cibus Global .

Here is Monsanto's sales report for the first 2 quarters of 2009, so you can see the scope of 2-B's use in the states.

2-B is the very same chemical used as an adjuvient in herbicides like Roundup. Most genetically modified crops like. Roundup-Ready Corn. as well as a majority of the cotton, oilseed and vegetable crops in the continental US. are engineered to resist Roundup. Monsanto also pushed for the passage of laws preventing farmers from saving their own seed without state regulations, thus forcing many to purchase Monsanto GM seedstock. The plants are also engineered to be sterile, forcing farmers to purchase expensive seedstock for every growing season. The official name for these seeds is the " Terminator ' series.

Throughout 2004 and 2005, Monsanto filed lawsuits against many farmers in Canada and the U.S. on the grounds of patent infringement, specifically the farmers' sale of seed containing Monsanto's patented genes. In some cases, farmers claimed the seed was unknowingly sown by wind carrying the seeds from neighboring crops, a claim rejected in Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser. These instances began in the mid to late 1990s, with one of the most significant cases being decided in Monsanto's favor by the Canadian Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote in late May 2004, that court ruled that "by cultivating a plant containing the patented gene and composed of the patented cells without license, the appellants (canola farmer Percy Schmeiser) deprived the respondents of the full enjoyment of the patent." With this ruling, the Canadian courts followed the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision on patent issues involving plants and genes.

Please read the rest at The OtheЯ News.

Be seeing you.

Thai government tells US it's in charge

WASHINGTON — A special envoy from Thailand has sought US support in the country's political crisis, discouraging the kingdom's longtime ally from trying to mediate in the wake of bloody street protests.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva dispatched Kiat Sittheeamorn to Washington to make the case that so-called Red Shirt protesters who occupied central Bangkok for weeks included armed and Marxist elements.

Kiat, who met with members of Congress and President Barack Obama's administration on Friday, said that the Thai government welcomed US "suggestions" but was pursuing its own reconciliation plan.

"We ourselves also see some difficulties in negotiating and discussing with the Red Shirts," Kiat told AFP. "If the US extends a helping hand, I don't know if it will have different results."

"There is also the risk that it might complicate the issue even further," said Kiat, who is Thailand's trade negotiator.

Kiat recalled Thailand's reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks when "our friends were in trouble."

Did "we have concern that from now on we should advise our people not to come to the United States? Are we concerned that the United States government cannot handle the situation? Certainly not," he said.

"We always respect the decisions of any government; it's their right. But obviously it would be nice to see that... when your friends are in difficulties, we get all the support you can," he said.

The army broke up the Reds' rally on May 19 after weeks of protracted negotiations broke down. The clashes left 89 people dead.

During the crisis, Thailand summoned the US ambassador to protest after Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia, met Red Shirts on a brief visit to Bangkok.

Kiat said that while "the intention of Mr. Campbell is good," he believes that the State Department has since gained a "better understanding" of the situation.

Scot Marciel, Campbell's deputy in charge of Southeast Asia, told Congress that the United States has engaged all sides in Thailand and supported Abhisit's plan for reconciliation.

"The United States can be a source of support as the Thai work to resolve the issues that still divide them, but it is the Thai people themselves who must make the difficult choices on how to proceed," Marciel said.

The reconciliation plan includes early elections, although Kiat said they were unlikely to be held this year.

Marciel admitted that in 25 years working on Southeast Asia, "I'm not sure I've encountered a situation as complex as the one in Thailand right now in terms of trying to understand the politics."

The Red Shirts include rural Thais who say they are disenfranchised by the political system. Some 36 buildings were torched in the mayhem last month, including the stock exchange.

Kiat said that some Red Shirts had "legitimate grievances," but they did not constitute a "straight-forward demonstration" as they included armed groups and "Marxist-Leninist ideologists."

Senator Jim Webb, who heads the Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, recently visited Thailand and agreed that aspects of the Red Shirts were "classic Marxist."

"You had the incitement of people based on poor versus the rich in a country that has made enormous advances over the last 30 years," Webb said.

Thailand is one of the oldest allies of the United States and assisted during the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

Catharin Dalpino, director of the Thai studies program at Georgetown University, said the United States had a stake in Thailand's stability but needed to exercise restraint.

Unlike many other countries since the Cold War, Thailand transitioned to democracy without foreign involvement, she said.

"The current political situation is still highly charged and extremely complex and high-profile attempts by an external actor to change the dynamic are likely to be counter-productive. Moreover, it runs counter to Thai sensitivities," she said.

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

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Schumer’s Sippenhaftung and the Children of Gaza

"Gaza" is an abstraction to most Israelis, including [partisans of Israel like] Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. A majority of the 1.5 million Gazans is not even from Gaza, but rather is from what is now Israel.

Americans do not know, and perhaps do not care, that 68% of Gazans are refugees living in 8 refugee camps, who were ethnically cleansed and violently expelled from their homes in 1947-48, in what is now Israel. And no, they were not combatants, just civilians caught up in a civil war of sorts. They lost massive amounts of property and their homes, which would now be worth billions, but have never received a dime from the Israelis in reparations or compensation. Then in winter of 2008-2009, the Israeli military destroyed one in every eight Palestinian homes, rendering even more people homeless.

Schumer accuses the Gazans of not 'recognizing’ Israel, which is sort of like accusing the pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico of not 'recognizing’ BP. If Schumer wants the recognition and good will of the Gazans, he should arrange for them to be paid for the homes and farms out of which they were chased by the Israelis, who made them homeless refugees in a kind of vast concentration camp in Gaza, and are now half-starving them.

Think Progress reveals that Schumer told an Orthodox audience:

' SCHUMER: The Palestinian people still don’t believe in the Jewish state, in a two-state solution. More do than before, but a majority still do not. Their fundamental view is, the Europeans treated the Jews badly and gave them our land — this is Palestinian thinking [...] They don’t believe in the Torah, in David [...] You have to force them to say Israel is here to stay. The boycott of Gaza to me has another purpose — obviously the first purpose is to prevent Hamas from getting weapons by which they will use to hurt Israel — but the second is actually to show the Palestinians that when there’s some moderation and cooperation, they can have an economic advancement. When there’s total war against Israel, which Hamas wages, they’re going to get nowhere. And to me, since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas, while certainly there should be humanitarian aid and people not starving to death, to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.

So anything short of 'starving to death’, i.e. mass extermination in the camps, is all right as long as it convinces the enemy?

How about something short of starving to death, such as 10% of children being stunted from malnutrition? Would that be worth it? Or a majority of Gazans being 'food insecure’ according to the United Nations? [pdf]. Both are the current situation, which is supported by Schumer.

How about Gaza children Looking for food in garbage?

Some 56% of Gazans are children, who hardly voted for Hamas but whom Schumer wishes to punish economically.

Meanwhile, Schumer doesn’t recognize a Palestinian state, but he nevertheless gets three solid meals a day.

Sen. Charles Schumer at crumpets and tea

As Think Progress explained, nothing Schumer said is true. A majority of Palestinians favors a two-state solution. Moreover, Palestinians are Christians and Muslims, who do in fact acknowledge the Torah (the Hebrew Bible, which the Qur’an praises as full of guidance and light) and David (whom the Qur’an calls "Da’ud.") Schumer is shamelessly ignorant about Palestinian culture, but it is true that they do not draw from David’s existence or from the Qur’an’s praise of the Torah or Bible the same conclusion as contemporary political Zionists or Jewish nationalists, that Jews have a right to expel local people from Palestine and usurp their property without compensation. But then virtually no Jews drew such a conclusion in the United States until after World War II, and most diaspora Jews rejected such an idea until that era.

As for the idea that all Gazans, including children, should be economically punished until they agree with Schumer’s Zionism, there is only one way that makes sense. Since the children of Gaza did not vote for Hamas, if they are being punished for Hamas’s crimes, then it must be because they are related to Hamas members.

Punishing people because they are related to enemies of the state is called in German Sippenhaft or Sippenhaftung. Look it up. I don’t usually like such analogies from the 1930s and 1940s in Europe to contemporary Zionist thinking because they inevitably offend even a sympathetic Jewish audience. But it should be noted that Sippenhaftung was implemented against gentile German family members of dissidents such as those involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, and that Stalin also deployed the tactic of punishing relatives of perceived dissidents. And there is no other way to read Schumer’s prescription for putting Gazan children on a diet than as a contemporary form of Sippenhaftung.

And it is shameful, and he deserves the comparison for these inhumane sentiments.

Here is the video of Schumer saying what he said: