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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

ONE Haiti phone conference

Hi, all:

I'll have a food blog up tomorrow, but I wanted to comment on ONE.org and the phone conference that we just finished.

While it wasn't as informative as I was hoping for, and while there were a lot too many people promoting their own organizations, it was an interesting and thought-provoking hour. Bill Frist has been down there for a week, operating on people and helping get the hospitals and clinics back into some sort of shape to resume helping people. Rep. Meeks spoke on the international communities and his work to get them to forgive Haiti's indebtedness so that the work of rebuilding can go forward without interruption. He also spoke about the need to get a non-corrupt government into place, so that the Haitians can finally move forward in self-governance. Dr. Joia Mukherjee from Partners in Health talked about the need to educate women on health issues. David Meltzer from the Red Cross was also online, talking about what was going on with their relief efforts.

ONE is a great organization. I'm looking forward to seeing just where they go with this one. I would have liked to hear more concrete ideas, but this was just, basically, a get-acquainted set up. The ONLY thing that I wanted to hear that wasn't brought up was just who was going to be accountable for the flow of money, and how it was spent. Maybe that will be addressed in another phone conversation. I'm certainly going to suggest it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

THIS COULD BE THE END OF EVERYTHING FOR EVERYBODY

I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing political posts lately, mainly because I’m a lot more invested in other things, such as the environment, and the non-profit green business co-op that I’m trying to get going to help the people of Haiti. So, I haven’t really been paying a lot of close attention to the general nonsense that goes on in this country regarding the “POLITICAL FOLLIES”. Haven’t been paying a lot of attention to SCOTUS, either; I actually thought that they were sensible folks.

Well, gangers, it turns out that I was wrong on both counts. I should have been paying attention to the POLITICAL FOLLIES, and I most definitely should have been paying attention to SCOTUS. First, the politics: a braying jackass who posed for a nude photo spread has been elected to Ted Kennedy’s senate seat as of Tuesday of this week. What was even worse was his “humourous” attempt to pimp his daughters out during his acceptance speech. Worse even than that was Harry Reid saying that the Senate would hold up a vote on health care until Senator Brown was sworn in and seated. Guess that we can now kiss any health care reform GOODBYE. For good and forever.

What’s even worse is the SCOTUS decision of yesterday – OUR generation’s “Dred Scott” decision. "The Supreme Court has just predicted the winners of the next November election," Sen. Chuck Schumer announced yesterday morning. "It won't be Republicans. It won't be Democrats. It will be Corporate America."

The NEW YORK TIMES calls this “a momentous 5 to 4 decision”. I wouldn’t have been that polite. This is a disaster of Biblical, epic and cataclysmic proportions. The Roberts court has completely overturned the federal ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns, ruling that forbidding corporations from spending money to support or undermine political candidates amounts to censorship. Corporations, the court ruled, should enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

How ‘bout that, folks? ExxonMobil is just as much a person as you or I am. Just ONE tiny little problem: We, as persons, are responsible for our actions. ExxonMobil isn’t – and they’re not GOING to be, either.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the Supreme Court rejects "the argument that political speech of corporations or other associations should be treated differently under the First Amendment simply because such associations are not 'natural persons’." Bob Edgar, head of the watchdog group Common Cause, called it "the Superbowl of really bad decisions." Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign called it an "immoral decision" that will make an already untenable mix of money and politics even worse.

"This is the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in the history of the Supreme Court," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. "With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy."

Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, argued just last month that President Obama might never have been elected if these new rules had been in place last November:

“Candidate Barack Obama was one sharp speaker, but he would not have been heard, and certainly would not have won, without the astonishing outpouring of donations from two million Americans. It was an unprecedented uprising-by-PayPal, overwhelming the old fat-cat sources of funding.

Well, kiss that small-donor revolution goodbye. If the Supreme Court votes as expected, progressive list serves won't stand a chance against the resources of new 'citizens' such as CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation. Maybe UBS (United Bank of Switzerland), which faces U.S. criminal prosecution and a billion-dollar fine for fraud, might be tempted to invest in a few Senate seats."

Just as an aside here, most of these good folks on SCOTUS are the ones that gave us all eight years of misery, jingoism, cowboy politics, BOTH of the wars that we’re STILL fighting – and in which our children are STILL dying – in Afghanistan and Iraq, under the Bu$hit regime. Basically, what this court in its majority opinion has done is give the big corporations an unlimited license to buy politicians by spending whatever it takes to get their candidates, who will vote the company’s line, elected. It’s the end of free discourse in this country if it’s allowed to stand. Once the big corporations have bought the political process, it’s only a matter of time before the Federal bans on who can own what communications companies are gone.

So, all of y’all out there in ReaderLand: suppose you tell me what’s going to happen to free speech here? Or would you prefer me to tell YOU what will happen?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A GREEN RESPONSE TO A BLACK TRAGEDY

I have been absolutely and unutterably appalled at the amount of people that have been so callous about the situation in Haiti. Especially that fat fuck, Limbaugh, and Pat Robertson's remarks. GODDESS, there are people DEAD down there - one entire school of CHILDREN that were killed so dead and squashed so thoroughly that they're not even going to bother to try and excavate the school! People are dying, and, NO, it's NOT our responsibility to do anything - but it is our right, our privilege and our duty to alleviate suffering whenever and whereever we can. Y'know what's sick - I had the same thoughts that I'm sure a lot of the rest of the world did after I first heard about this horrendous disaster. WHAT an opportunity for them! Colin Powell, on the day after the quake hit was on the Situation Room on CNN, and made an offhand remark that REALLY resonated with me and apparently a LOT of other people as well; he said that, this time, he doesn't see any better future for Haiti unless it's either a UN Free Zone or an American protectorate. That is what it's going to come down to, ultimately.

They're going to have to scrape everything down to bedrock and start all over again -so, let's get ALL the green tech companies involved in the rebuilding effort. Let's USE Frank Lloyd Wright's floating foundation that he developed FOR earthquake country, let's take our companies down there, and build schools and TEACH these folks how to read, write and do maths - by the time the factories are built with their help, they will be able to build their own tech bases. Let's set up company towns with decent housing - that we can teach them HOW to build, with decent sanitation, ditto, and reforest and regrass the slopes, which we can ALSO teach them how to do. Put the windpower tech in place, put solar power in place, teach them engineering, GET the AFL-CIO involved with setting up apprentice programs to teach them skills and trades as well! Desalinization plants for fresh, clean water, clean up their rivers at the same time and put in fresh-water pearl farms, teach them sustainable farming practices, and GET THEIR GODDESS-DAMNED political system OUT of the way together with the damnable bastards that have bled them dry for the last 100 years. Set up clinics in the company towns, and get American residents down there to run them - and let them write off their student loans year for year. Ditto dentists and any other medical professionals that want to give back something to the poorest of the poor.

TEACH them how to be self-sufficient; they're not stupid, and we're the country that's going to have to do it because the only other alternative is throwing the job to China - and that's something that NOBODY deserves to have happen to them. FIRST, get rid of their government as it stands now. With protectorate status, it's going to be gone anyhow. Then, go there and set up industries of all kinds - manufacturing, textiles, organic farming, coffee plantations, sugar cane for biomass for biofuels and green building materials, algae farms ditto, for biofuels and silage for the animals - the possibilities are endless. KIVA could help immensely with that as well, with microloans. So could a veritable HOST of other green financing organizations.

I'm asking all of y'all out there that read my tweets and this blog to help me with this idea as well: A green non-profit co-op, with a plan that can be presented to the Powers That Be, including financing and funding for the businesses that are willing to be involved in the rebuilding efforts, when they start. FIRST thing that has got to be done AFTER clean water and sewerage projects are in place is rebuild all the schools, and TEACH them all to read, write, do math and generally give them the tools, which they do not have at this point to become self-sufficient. Once that's done, the rest will follow.

"Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for a day. TEACH a man to fish, and you have fed him for life."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BUGGIES IN THE BIOFUELS MIX – OH, MY!!!!

Don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but WonderWife and I are avid gardeners. We’ve got about 1 ½ acres in a truck garden set-up at the farm, and most of our backyard is taken up with fruit trees and a garden. There’s something wonderfully soothing and interesting in watching things grow, even if the weed population sometimes outstrips the food production.

Last year, we had about 1/3 of both of our gardens planted in several different varieties of corn, and we didn’t harvest any more than a bushel from each plot to due to a pesky little critter called the western corn rootworm beetle, which is a pest that feasts on corn roots and corn silk. They are black, small, and have pointed snouts that look like sharp knives on each side. "The rotation-resistant rootworm is the population that is most familiar and troublesome to farmers in Illinois," said Joseph Spencer, an insect behaviorist at the State Natural History Survey and co-author on the study with former Survey scientist Sathyamurthy Raghu.
"This form is spreading across the Corn Belt, putting a greater area of U.S. corn production at risk each year. The worst rootworm was happy on Miscanthus," Spencer said.

OK, so who is Miscanthus and why should anybody care about it?

The western corn rootworm beetle that feasts on corn roots and corn silk, and additionally costs growers more than $1 billion annually in the U.S., also can survive on the perennial grass Miscanthus x giganteus, a potential biofuels crop that would likely be grown alongside corn because the two are complimentary crops. Rootworm beetle larvae can survive to adulthood on Miscanthus rhizomes, and adult beetles will lay their eggs at the base of Miscanthus plants grown near cornfields, the researchers found. Their study, in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS ONE, is the first to identify Miscanthus as a host of the corn rootworm. This is NOT a good thing, either, since the beetles migrate.

The research team, from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey, tested several rootworm beetle populations on Miscanthus, adding rootworm eggs to potted Miscanthus and corn plants in a greenhouse setting. Here’s what they found out – and it’s NOT good news:

Rootworms from all populations survived to adulthood on the Miscanthus plants, including a strain that is behaviorally resistant to crop rotation. (Rather than remaining true to cornfields, rotation-resistant rootworms also will lay their eggs in soybean fields and other rotated crops, allowing the larvae to feed on corn planted in those fields the following spring.) This, again, is NOT a good thing, either for the production of stock for biofuel production, or, more importantly, production of food stuffs for people to eat.

"The rotation-resistant rootworm is the population that is most familiar and troublesome to farmers in Illinois," said Joseph Spencer, an insect behaviorist at the State Natural History Survey and co-author on the study with former Survey scientist Sathyamurthy Raghu. "This form is spreading across the Corn Belt, putting a greater area of U.S. corn production at risk each year. The worst rootworm was happy on Miscanthus," Spencer said.

Although the researchers found about 70 percent fewer adult rootworm beetles on the Miscanthus plants than on the corn plants grown in the greenhouse, the fact that rootworms could survive at all on this perennial grass was a revelation, Spencer said. "That we can get as many insects as we were getting tells us that this plant is not a bad host for these insects," he added.

Some adults emerged from the Miscanthus slightly earlier than they appeared on corn. More emerged slightly later than those on corn, Spencer said, but the timing of their emergence was close enough that "there's the possibility that adults coming off these two crops could interact." This interaction could be good or bad for corn growers, Spencer said (Personal opinion here: NOT GOOD). If the rootworms that grow up on Miscanthus carry genes that make them susceptible to transgenic corn or to any sort of insecticides used on corn and they mate with rootworm beetles in a cornfield, it could help slow development of resistance to insecticides or transgenic corn among their offspring.

On the other hand, the acres devoted to Miscanthus could function as a vast, perennial reservoir of rootworm beetles - with devastating consequences for corn growers. To determine if the western corn rootworm would lay its eggs in a Miscanthus field, the researchers placed potted Miscanthus plants in rows next to a cornfield during the egg-laying period. Late in the season, before the corn was harvested but after the rootworm adults were all dead, the researchers counted rootworm eggs in the soil around the corn and Miscanthus plants, and in the space between the rows of plants. "There was no difference in the mean number of western corn rootworm eggs laid at the base of Miscanthus and maize in the field," the authors wrote. The implications for corn growers are not yet known, "but these findings brought it home to us that much more study is needed," Spencer said. "Before we put something out in the environment that could result in pest problems increasing on corn, we need to more fully appreciate the ecology and potential interactions in the environment."
So, why is this important? Well, first of all, ecological concerns aside, it’s a proven fact that, short of using DDT on the various different kinds of bugs that are infesting the grain fields, there’s nothing that will kill everything indiscriminately. It’s like trying to bug bomb cockroaches; there are always survivors, and those survivors are resistant to the chemicals used. Even if you vary the chemicals every time, or use different chemicals in concert, there are always survivors, and they are resistant to the chemicals as well. Eventually, as the survivors breed, their progeny becomes completely immune to any chemical or chemical mix that is currently publicly available. Unless a neurotoxin like Chlordane or Bt is used every time, and within a 3 week period, eventually the cockroaches come back, worse than ever.

Same thing is true of any insect species. They are incredibly adaptable and they do survive. According to the US Department of Agriculture, corn rootworms cause $1 billion in lost revenue each year, which includes $800 million in yield loss and $200 million in cost of treatment for corn growers. Lower yields means less feedstock for biofuels and for farm animal and human consumption. Put the Miscanthus next to a cornfield, and you are, basically, doubling the potential losses because the Miscanthus beetles hatch earlier, live longer, and migrate. To the grain field.
So, crop rotation doesn’t really work and using chemicals only works for a while – and, even if there’s only one generation of the beetles every year, the ones in the grass hatch earlier and migrate while the ones in the grain fields hatch later, and both sets eat until they start laying eggs.

So, what to do about this? At this point, nobody knows. All that we can do at this point is study the critter. Maybe genetic manipulation will be used, to make the generations progressively more sterile until they die out altogether. Only problem with that is this: What will Mother Nature come up with that will be worse?

Monday, January 11, 2010

CLANG CLANG CLANG – ROUND ONE COMMENCES

((ANNOUNCER)): GOOD EVENING, ladies and gentlemen, WELCOME to this edition of CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTS. Our first card of this year is a RILLY big show!

In THIS corner, weighing in at 1 million pounds, is the state of Minnesota. In the opposing corner, weighing in at 500k pounds, is the state of North Dakota. What’s at stake? The future of clean air and coal-fired electrical generation!

Yes indeedy, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it's round one in the 2010 fight against global warming!!! and Minnesota has landed the first punch against coal-fired electricity that crosses its borders!!! The state is trying to put an UN-American tax on carbon dioxide turned out by coal plants in North Dakota!!! Geez, folks, what’s MORE important that electrical power generation done by dirty coal plants? Breatheable air? Ladies and gentlemen, global warming and climate change are figments of a spin-doctor’s fevered imagination!

Sad to say, that’s precisely what’s being said nowadays about climate change and global warming. It’s a figment of the overheated imaginations of hucksters like Al Gore and the climatological scientific community. There’s even a very heated discussion going on LinkedIn ( The White House group, Anti-Climate Change E-mails) regarding the subject. Spin doctors and overheated discussions aside, Minnesota is showing some backbone regarding the “clean coal” industry. I for one am glad to see it, even if it basically comes to naught.

There’s been a lot of howling and yowling about carbon tariffs in the past from sovereign nations that want to stick a tax on items that are produced in polluting industries. Minnesota's move is the first of its kind from a state. Right this cosmic instant, state laws don’t mandate a carbon tariff, it just provides the framework to create such a pricing mechanism IF a tax on carbon emissions becomes necessary in the future. Minnesota is currently looking at pricing guidelines for a likely utility rate increase in 2012, and is seriously hoping to pressure its neighbor to the west to drop coal and embrace renewable energy sources. North Dakota has ample wind energy potential and has even been called the "Saudi Arabia of Wind." It’s even windier there than it is in Texas, which is saying something. The fee, which would be formulated as and perform similarly to a regular tax, would probably range in price from $4 to $34 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions that are produced by coal-fired power plants in North Dakota. Right now, there are seven operating coal plants and six active coal plant proposals in North Dakota, according to CoalSwarm, an information portal on coal issues.

There are a lot of economists and climate scientists that have argued in favor of a global carbon tax. Paul Krugman of The New York Times, for example, has advocated for imposing a carbon tariff on China in hopes it will help the country curb their growing carbon output. Likewise, consumer advocate Ralph Nader has supported a carbon tax and is in opposition to a market based carbon-trading system. This is the first new idea that ol’ Ralphie-baby’s come up with in his life, and it’s a really good one.

"A tax on CO2 emissions - not a cap-and-trade system - offers the best prospect of meaningfully engaging China and the U.S., while avoiding the prospect of unhinged environmental protectionism," wrote Nader and Toby Heaps in a December 2008 issue of The Wall Street Journal. "An effective, harmonized tax on C02 emissions must stabilize the growth of atmospheric concentrations of GHGs [greenhouse gases] by no later than 2020. The tax must also be adjusted annually, by a global body, according to this objective."

What’s hilarious about the entire thing is that, in the end, this tax will probably prove to be unConstitutional. You heard me right: UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

According to Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, "No State shall, without the consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws ..." If such an argument holds up, the carbon tariff could and in all probability WOULD be deemed unconstitutional if not accepted by Congress. And, gangers, somehow I DO NOT think that it will be accepted, by Congress or anybody else, for that matter.

This isn’t the first time that proposed carbon taxes, or carbon tariffs as well, have been met with outrage, and it probably won’t be the last, either. Last July, the United States Chamber of Commerce spoke out about the prospect of taxing imports from polluting countries. "We urge the Senate to refrain from including provisions that could negatively impact U.S. relations with key trading partners and disrupt the global trading systems," the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Foreign Trade Council, and two other groups wrote in a letter to Senate leaders. "Climate change is a global problem that calls for international cooperation, not unilateral ultimatums."

The scientific community, of course, has an entirely different viewpoint. According to Physicians for Social Responsibility, coal pollutants damage every major organ in the human body and contribute to four of the top five leading causes of death in the United States, not to mention climate change.

North Dakota ranks No. 8 in the US for the levels of toxic metals in the state's coal waste. This waste goes everywhere: into the air, the soil, the groundwater, and is carried everywhere that the wind blows, the water flows and animal feed is sold. Not to mention, of course, that the milk and meat industries feed this crap – the contaminated feed – to their animals, which means that the kiddos are getting a great daily dose of heavy metals and other contaminants in their milk, the people that buy beef, chicken, pork and other meats from North Dakota are eating the same contaminants in their food, and nothing is, basically, being done to stop more coal-fired plants from coming online to create more pollution that isn’t being remediated, so more and more people will get sick, and not be able to breathe, so that . . . fill in the blank here.

Personally, I’m a’rootin’ for Minnesota to win this round. I’d rather pay more for clean, pollution-free power than a lot less for the same product. See, I’d rather breathe.