Sunday, November 19, 2017

Senate May Approve Drilling In Alaskan Wilderness With Tax Bill

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Getty Images/Getty Images

November 18, 2017

By Scott Detrow

For all the negative headlines that 2017 have generated, Republicans are on the cusp of accomplishing two major policy goals that have eluded them for decades, at the same time.

The Senate could soon approve oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with its bill to overhaul the nation's tax code.

ANWR has long held an outsized symbolic role in the tug-of-war between environmental protection and the desire to increase domestic oil and gas drilling. In that regard, you could argue, it was the original Keystone XL Pipeline — an issue activists on both sides could rally, fundraise and organize around.
House Approves GOP Tax Overhaul, With Senate Outlook Uncertain

Legislation opening up a portion of ANWR for leasing cleared a key Senate hurdle this week, when the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved it on a 13-10 vote. The measure is tied to the budget process that Republican leaders are using to advance the tax overhaul, which means the bill would only need 51 votes – not the usual 60 – to advance in the full Senate. That means they can conceivably pass their legislation with just Republican votes.

The measure would generate $1.1 billion over the coming decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That figure would help Senate Republicans offset the cost of their proposed tax cuts. Under reconciliation rules, the tax changes can't add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, or they'd need 60 votes to advance.

Democrats are seizing on that cost disparity as they blast the bill.

"The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has been instructed to raise a billion dollars, and at the same time the Finance Committee is trying to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion with tax cuts for corporations and millionaires," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said at this week's committee hearing. "The fact our committee's contribution to that deal is about 7/100th of one percent of the Republicans' increased deficit spending shows that this is not a serious budget proposal. It's a cynical effort to open up the heart of the Artic Wildlife Refuge for oil."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican and longtime proponent of drilling in ANWR, authored the bill. She pointed out that the legislation limits drilling to a relatively small area of the reserve.

"Alaskans will do this the right way," she said ahead of the committee vote. "We will protect the environment while providing substantial economic benefits all across America."

The leasing's estimated revenue comes at an opportune time for Republicans, who are scrambling to offset the costs of their proposed tax cuts. But it's not clear whether the industry would scramble to drill new wells in ANWR.

The United States experienced an unprecedented oil and gas drilling boom over the past decade because of advances in hydraulic fracturing – or "fracking" – technology. The combination of fracking and advanced horizontal drilling unlocked previously unobtainable oil and gas reserves, and eventually flooded domestic markets. That led to a substantial drop in oil prices, and a corresponding slowdown in drilling.

Still, over the past 40 years Republicans have repeatedly tried to approve ANWR drilling and repeatedly failed. The chance to use reconciliation and pass a measure with a bare 51-vote majority may be the best opportunity the GOP ever has to reach this coveted policy goal.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Chile's New "Route of Parks" Aims to Save the Wild Beauty of Patagonia

[Reprinted from Buzzflash at Truthout. See also my own dispatches from Patagonia, including Parque Pumalin and Estancia Chacabuco, two nature preserves included in this project.]

(Photo: Tompkins Conservation)

Dispatch from Chile

The road to Parque Pumalín is festooned with dozens of whitewater waterfalls that slip down the steep cliffs into a thick forest overrun by ferns and plants with leaves as big as beach umbrellas. An active volcano threatens to wipe out the sparse human settlements that are scattered like frontier outposts, often holding populations of fewer than 100 residents. The scenery, however, suddenly changes at El Amarillo, a town of perfect picket fences, exquisitely designed bridges and hand-lettered wooden signs offering help on camping and trekking.

It is here that a 25-year experiment in environmental conservation is finally coming to fruition. Parque Pumalín is a million-acre collection of untrammelled vistas and valleys that was patched together by a pair of American conservationists whose mission, known as “wildlands philanthropy”, was to keep the lands free from industrial development.

After decades of cajoling urban residents, multinational businesses and small farmers to colonise and exploit these corners of wild Patagonia, the Chilean government has made a U-turn and announced a massive conservation campaign. Spurred by the gift of Parque Pumalín, which is the largest private donation of land to a government in Latin America, the Chilean president, Michelle Bachelet, signed an agreement to create five new national parks and join the million acres of Pumalín with 10 million acres of federal land. All this land will be placed under strict environmental protection as newly designated national parklands. In one stroke, the amount of protected land in Chile has doubled.

The protected areas are 5,000 times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park and include volcanoes, virgin forests and miles of wild coastline. Even the combined size of Yosemite and Yellowstone national parks would be less than one third of the land preserved by Bachelet.

Standing before glacier-topped mountains and steep granite faces reminiscent of Yosemite, Bachelet praised US philanthropists Doug Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins for their decades-long campaign to preserve swaths of wild Patagonia. Doug Tompkins, who died in a kayak accident in December 2015, was singled out by Bachelet as a visionary who battled accusations and attempts to sabotage his conservation dream. “Doug, we did it – and I should say, we finally did it,’” said Bachelet, as she signed an accord to convert Tompkins’ privately owned Parque Pumalín into a Chilean national park. “Today,” she said, “we are bequeathing to the country the greatest creation of protected areas in our history.”

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of clothing company Patagonia and long-time climbing partner of Tompkins, was ecstatic as he watched the announcement. “Just today, Chile went from 11 million protected acres to 21 million. That puts Chile right up there with Costa Rica in terms of the percentage of protected lands,” said Chouinard, who described the donations by Tompkins Conservation as historic. “No other human has ever created this many acres of protected wildlands [through private philanthropy] and he did not do it with the stroke of a pen. These are tourist-ready parks with trails and cabins and infrastructure.”

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins smiled broadly as she addressed hundreds of environmental activists, local residents and park employees at the entrance to the new national park. “I wish my husband Doug, whose vision inspired today’s historic pledge, were here on this memorable day. Our team and I feel his absence deeply,” she said. “National parks exist in almost every country in the world. Some of them are battered, some are ill-funded, probably most. But they exist. And by and large, that holds the firmest, most consistent possibility for longevity in terms of terrestrial conservation.”

The audience applauded wildly as she described the conservation accord as a crucial first step towards uniting 17 Chilean national parks in what will be known as “the route of parks”. “This is unprecedented and will become one of the most famous routes in the world, connecting up communities and bringing new economic activity to each region. There is no long-term conservation possible unless neighbouring communities find that their best interests are served. National parks have proven to be a strong source of national pride, creating honour and admiration throughout their citizenry.”

With foreign tourism booming in Chile, the route of the park's concept is expected to consolidate what today is a haphazard and largely unorganised tourist circuit stretching for 2,400km from the city of Puerto Montt in the north to the Beagle Channel astride Tierra del Fuego in southernmost Chile. “National parks are the gold standard of conservation,” said Hernán Mladinic, who spent years working to persuade the Chilean government to preserve intact ecosystems in southern Chile. “For every dollar you invest in national parks, you get 10 back; it’s more profitable than copper.”

The transition from private park to national park will be incremental over the next two years as Chilean government officials seek to maintain the aesthetics and design with which Tompkins infused Parque Pumalín.

Employing an American concept known as “wild and scenic highways”, the new parks will seek to implement a design aesthetic that includes scenic lookout points, artfully designed signage and attempts to have roads follow the contours of the land rather than ripping straight lines through the rugged terrain.

While there was no opposition to the announcement of the new park, Tompkins had long faced bitter resistance. Local politicians accused him of harbouring secret plans to kick settlers off their land or create a dump for radioactive material. Others alleged that Tompkins planned to create a Jewish homeland or wanted to breed a mixed-race beast by crossing African lions with Patagonian pumas to attack  local livestock. “I remember a local farmer saying that Doug flew his plane so low that it wouldn’t be hard to wait on the hillside with a Mauser and shoot it down,” said Laura Casanova, a hotel operator in El Amarillo, who knew Tompkins for some 20 years.

While his relationship with Chilean authorities was rocky at times, both Tompkins and his partner Kris found wide success across South America. In Argentina they worked closely with the national government to create Monte Léon national park and had several other large-scale projects reaching completion including Iberá National Park in Corrientes.

In Argentina, Kris Tompkins oversees  programmes to reintroduce endangered species including jaguars, giant anteaters, peccaries, tapirs and pampas deer. Known as “rewilding”, the programme has been extremely successful as species on the brink of extinction, including the pampas deer and the giant anteater, are now thriving.

“What I would like to do is change the way national parks look at rewilding everywhere in the world where there are extirpated [locally extinct] species and make it one of the goals of national parks everywhere, to rewild,” she said. “As they say, landscape without wildlife is just scenery.”

The Chilean move stands in stark contrast to the policies of US president Donald Trump, who has rejected global warming, plans to slash the budget of the US Environmental Protection Agency and is seeking to reverse preservation accords signed by the Obama administration.

“It is not just US citizens who have to resist Trump and the influence of extreme right-wing Republicans and the intrinsic selfishness, blindness, anti-science, anti-environment attitude that have recently gotten the upper hand in the States,” said Lito Tejada-Flores, a renowned mountain climber and photographer who was a lifelong friend of Tompkins. “I find it very encouraging that we have some smart leaders in South America – on both sides of the Andes – who have said ‘Yes, conservation is important and science is real’.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Update on Doe Run in La Oroya, Peru

Doe Run smelting plant at La Oroya, Peru
The Doe Run facility in La Oroya, Peru. Credit: Courtesy Tim Campion

(This article appears on the St. Louis Public Radio.)

Former Doe Run subsidiary criticized for smelter pollution in Peru

By Véronique LaCapra

Updated 10:51 a.m. July 20 to clarify ownership of smelter

Missouri lead producer Doe Run is back under scrutiny for pollution resulting from metal smelting operations by its former subsidiary in Peru.

A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives heard testimony today about the environmental and health effects of pollution from the Peruvian smelter — and discussed the joint responsibility of Doe Run and the Peruvian government for cleaning it up.

Saint Louis University environmental health expert Fernando Serrano has studied environmental pollution near the Doe Run Peru smelter — and its impacts on about 35,000 people in and around the small town of La Oroya.

“And the results indicated that practically the entire population of La Oroya was exposed to elevated levels of toxic metals,” Serrano said.

Serrano says residents’ blood levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic exceeded any acceptable health standards. He says the soils in the entire valley around the smelter are still highly contaminated.

St. Louis-based Doe Run said it would not be appropriate for it to comment on this story because it no longer owns the Peru facility. The company owned the Peruvian smelter for about a decade starting in 1997.

Parent company The Renco Group also declined to comment.

Both the St. Louis-based Doe Run Resources Corporation and Doe Run Peru are owned by The Renco Group, which is embroiled in litigation related to environmental contamination in La Oroya.

The smelter has operated in La Oroya since 1922.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welfare State

For those who condemn the American welfare state and the deadbeats who leech off the system.

Have you, your children, your parents or grandparents ever enjoyed the benefits of social security, Medicare, pensions, etc. Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever benefited from being protected by insurance? Then thank the welfare state.

Have you ever traveled public highways, used public utilities, enjoyed commercial media such as TV and radio? Thank the welfare state.

Have you, your children, your parents or your grandparents attended public schools? Thank the welfare state.

Have you ever enjoyed national or state parks, forests, beaches? Thank the welfare state.

Is your air, water and soil cleaner than it once was? Thank the welfare state.

Are you secure in knowing that, if necessary, the military will defend your freedoms? Thank the welfare state.

Do you feel comforted knowing that if you lose everything, there is a church, charity, or non-profit you might turn to for assistance? Thank the welfare state.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Gas prices and the Keystone XL Pipeline

Is it merely coincidence that gas prices have been escalating at alarming rates (with few justifications in the underlying fundamentals), precisely as the oil industry is trying to ram through approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline? Experts cite concerns about Iran's threat to shut down the Straits of Hormuz. And speculators play a larger role than ever (despite restrictions that were to be applied to speculators under Dodd-Frank.) But the run-up in prices at the pump defy explanation with these factors alone. After all, Americans are burning substantially less gasoline than in the recent past.

We have here the perfect timing. A Presidential Campaign in which the opposition candidates can stoke the fears of their constituents. Americans are being warned that $5.00-a-gallon gasoline may be just around the corner. But if we build the pipeline, prices will come down. (And Newt Gingrich tells us he'll deliver $2.50 gasoline to Americans!)

I think what we are seeing here is TransCanada (the pipeline owner) doing the bidding of the petroleum oligopoly. The oil companies need their Alberta tar sands oil to reach the world market (not necessarily the American market, which is already glutted to such an extent that we are exporting gasoline.)

It's curious that one of TransCanada's lobbyists formerly worked as a deputy campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, and that it is Clinton's State Department that ultimately makes the call on the international pipeline treaty. And the Obama campaign has hired another former TransCanada lobbyist for his 2012 Presidential bid.

The tar sands oil production is unlikely, in the near term, to impact the global market price for oil. There won't be enough of it flowing. And it is NOT in the interest of oil companies to increase production to the point of putting downward pressure on oil prices.

But the Keystone XL pipeline (and the embattled Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline across British Columbia) will deliver some of the heaviest and dirtiest oil to refineries, enabling Canada to sell on the world market. The risks of spills and pollution from refining are born by the people along the pipeline's route. Land stolen by eminent domain will subsidize the oil companies. The price of gasoline is unlikely to fall, as this is set according to global supply and demand, the product flowing to the highest bidders.

For the oil companies, time is of the essence. The relatively new tar sands industry is largely unregulated. But as the world community awakens to the devastation being visited upon the Canada's boreal forests, and the immense conversion of sequestered to free atmospheric CO2 resulting from this mining, the tar sands mining will eventually be severely curtailed, if not terminated.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Keystone XL has Republicans representing the 1%

Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

Republicans' latest effort to fast-track approval for the construction of the Keystone XL "Tar Sands" Pipeline, prove without a shadow of a doubt that Republican leaders in Congress are working for corporate interests, that is, "the 1%".

Most Americans are not up in arms demanding the construction of this 1,600-mile pipeline, from the open pits of Northern Alberta's tar sands mines to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In fact, most Americans expressing an opinion are outraged that this expensive and risky infrastructure may be built upon our soil to support and encourage the dirtiest oil production on the planet. TransCanada, the company building it, has already experienced many oil spills. (It's no wonder Canada has now bowed out of the Kyoto Protocol. Along with Australia and the U.S., they have one of the World's highest per capita CO2 emissions rates.)

Nebraskans have spoken out about potential contamination of the critical Ogallala Aquifer. But this merely focuses on the Midwest. The potential for destruction is far greater, and in fact is advancing across Northern Alberta (as seen above.)

The ones who are vocal are the oil industry lobbyists, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican legislators who represent oil industry interests.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Neanderthal in Congress

There is absolutely NO connection between Senator Inhofe's conclusions about climate change, his decade-long personal campaign of climate change denial, and Oklahoma's powerful fossil fuel industry.

As former Chairman and current ranking member on the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works, you can be assured Senator Inhofe sees protecting the health of our planet as one of his foremost responsibilities. Inhofe refers to the great work Marc Morano and CFACT are doing in Durban to assure that no progress is made toward a global climate treaty. He cites the CFACT "Special Report: The A to Z Climate Reality Check". (CFACT has been largely funded by Exxon-Mobil to counter environmental efforts. Marc Morano, former producer for Rush Limbaugh, famed "Swift Boater", and spokesperson for Inhofe's Senate Committee, also authors the Climate Depot Project for CFACT.)

I'm certain Senator Inhofe is fighting hard to reduce Big Government, the largest employer in his state. Here are a few more Neanderthals the Occupy Movement should be targeting.

From Wikipedia:

Oklahoma is the nation's third-largest producer of natural gas, fifth-largest producer of crude oil, and has the second-greatest number of active drilling rigs, and ranks fifth in crude oil reserves. While the state ranked eighth for installed wind energy capacity in 2011, it is at the bottom of states in usage of renewable energy, with 94 percent of its electricity being generated by non-renewable sources in 2009, including 25 percent from coal and 46 percent from natural gas. Ranking 13th for total energy consumption per capita in 2009, Oklahoma's energy costs were 8th lowest in the nation. As a whole, the oil energy industry contributes $35 billion to Oklahoma's gross domestic product, and employees of Oklahoma oil-related companies earn an average of twice the state's typical yearly income. In 2009, the state had 83,700 commercial oil wells churning 65.374 million barrels (10,393,600 m3) of crude oil. Eight and a half percent of the nation's natural gas supply is held in Oklahoma, with 1.673 trillion cubic feet (47.4 km3) being produced in 2009.

According to Forbes Magazine, Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corporation, Chesapeake Energy Corporation, and SandRidge Energy Corporation are the largest private oil-related companies in the nation, and all of Oklahoma's Fortune 500 companies are energy-related. Tulsa's ONEOK and Williams Companies are the state's largest and second-largest companies respectively, also ranking as the nation's second and third-largest companies in the field of energy, according to Fortune Magazine. The magazine also placed Devon Energy as the second-largest company in the mining and crude oil-producing industry in the nation, while Chesapeake Energy ranks seventh respectively in that sector and Oklahoma Gas & Electric ranks as the 25th-largest gas and electric utility company.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

And half a world away, in Hawaii...

Brother Drew presents SURFER Poll's Lifetime Achievement Award to John Severson.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Farewell Cousin Becky

On the left, our dear cousin Rebecca Pfohl (aka Becky, Rebecky, Beckles, Becca). 1951 - 2011

More remembrances of Becky in this blog.

In Memory of Rebecca M. Pfohl website.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tax the poor

This past week it was announced that, to compensate for the loss of State funding, the University of California Regents will consider a proposal to increase University tuition 80% over the next three to four years.

In a country that holds sacred the profits of the wealthy, that refuses to even consider asking them to pay their fair share, this outrageous tax on those who are struggling to become financially responsible adults is a pure manifestation of the greed of the few controlling the welfare of the many. The same scenario is playing out in public education institutions across this nation, condemning our young to a life of debt and powerlessness before they've even begun.

This is something that should fill every American with shame.

It is legitimate cause for revolution.

Friday, July 08, 2011

President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Farewell Address - January 17, 1961

The address is memorable for Eisenhower's warning about the threat of the burgeoning military-industrial complex (a term he introduced). That portion of the speech begins at the 8:20 mark. His sentiments seem sincere and heartfelt, in contrast to the cynicism pervading today's political landscape. (I know, I know, the 50s and early 60s were not such rosy times either!)

(Thanks to Tim S. for the link.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Arizona haboob

The "haboob" or dust storm that struck Phoenix today. This is the type of weather event I was caught in on my motorcycle in Northeastern Arizona a few years ago. Today's was much more substantial!

(See also: HD time lapse video by Mike Olbinski.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the Last Drop

Syncrude's oil sands operations, Fort McMurray, Alberta. Photo by: David Dodge, CPAWS

This story about Alberta's tar sands produced by Al Jazeera, will introduce Americans to their largest source of imported oil - Canadian tar, or oil sands. Clearly, the petroleum industry has made every effort to bury this story (as they un-bury their black gold.)



Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Circumference of Home

 Coincidentally, soon after beginning walking tours of my Santa Rosa hometown, I heard a story on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To the Best of Our Knowledge". It was an interview with Kurt Hoelting, author of The Circumference of Home. After learning the magnitude of his personal "carbon footprint", Hoelting drew a 100-kilometer radius circle around his home on Whidbey Island near Seattle, and vowed that, for a full year, he would abandon his car and, under his own power "live locally", exploring and rediscovering his immediate environment. After hearing the story, and recognizing a kindred spirit, I immediately ordered the book from the library.

When I asked Drew (who, of course, lives on Whidbey Island) if he knew Hoelting, he said he certainly did and even offered some assistance on Hoelting's book. Drew reminded me of an article he had written back in 1997. At the time, Drew joined Hoelting on a kayak adventure in Alaska's Inside Passage and wrote about it in the New Age Journal.

Late in the book, I see Hoelting quotes Drew in a chapter epigraph, and pays further tribute to him in the book's Acknowledgments.

Anyway, this is a fascinating journey, both internal and external, as the author struggles to reconcile his membership in modern American society with ancient traditions of respect and reverence for the natural world.
With just the slightest shift in consciousness, Hoelting's discoveries and revelations during this year "in circumference" are accessible to each of us.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chile court suspends Patagonian HidroAysen dam project

The confluence of the rivers Neff and Baker in awesome Patagonia. Photo taken during my Americas Trip in 2006.

At roughly the same time as my visit to Rancho Chacabuco, Lisa Pike of Patagonia (the company) dispatched A Letter From Chacabuco, which spoke of the threat of development in the region. Then, I was unaware of plans for hydroelectric projects here. Had I known of intentions to dam these rivers, I would indeed have been sickened.


BBC News Latin America & Caribbean

20 June 2011

A court in Chile has ordered the suspension of a multi-billion-dollar dam project in the south of the country, following objections by legislators and environmentalists.

The five dams are to be built on two rivers in the sparsely-populated Aysen area of Chilean Patagonia.

The project was approved in May, after heavy backing from President Sebastian Pinera.

But the court has now ruled it needs to review the approval process.

It is not clear how long the court will take to decide on the matter.

The project has sparked a number of protests, some of which have seen violent clashes between demonstrators and the security forces.

The government says the dams are needed to meet the country's increasing demand for electricity.

But environmentalists say they will damage the area's fragile ecology and its tourist potential.

They also say the energy produced will be used mainly for the country's mining industry.

Rugged beauty

The five dams will be built on two fast flowing rivers that run into the Pacific - two on the river Baker, and three on the river Pascua.

They drain lakes in a region that is famous for its rugged beauty - a landscape of glaciers, ice-fields, mountains and fjords.

The dam project, which is a joint venture between a Chilean company and a Spanish-owed one, will cost some $3bn (£1.85bn) and is designed to generate 2,750MW of power.

The company, HidroAysen, says the project "represents a cost-effective, sustainable, reliable, and ecologically viable source of energy".

It says it involves flooding nearly 60 sq km (23 sq miles) of land, but will provide 4,000 jobs at its peak.

But other potential sticking points lie ahead for the company.

Correspondents say one of these could be approval to build the more than 2,000km (1,240 miles) of power lines needed to carry the electricity generated from the dams to the capital, Santiago.

Friday, June 17, 2011

America is not at war in Libya?

Wreckage of U.S. Air Force F-15E lost March 21, 2011 in Libya. Source: REUTERS / Suhaib Salem

It is outrageous that the Obama Administration, as the Bush Administration before it (and all Administrations have since World War II), is using nuanced legal interpretations to consolidate power in the Executive and erode the balance of powers prescribed in the U.S. Constitution.

Under guidance from Executive Branch legal counsel, President Obama has declared that, in ordering military operations in Libya, he has not violated The War Powers Act of 1973 (let alone the United States Constitution!)

The War Powers Act Serves to permit the President, as Commander in Chief, to act expeditiously to defend against a threat to our nation or our armed forces. It requires that the President seek the approval of Congress within a specified period following the commencement of hostilities.

The Act was the People's response to the illegal actions of the Nixon Administration  which, without the support of Congress or the American People, escalated combat operations in Vietnam, secretly expanding them into Laos and Cambodia, in clear violation of national and international law.

But debate about the intent of the War Powers Act is merely a sideshow here. The President is clearly in violation of the United States Constitution, an impeachable offense. As Commander in Chief, he unilaterally (without Congressional authorization) decided to attack a nation that was not threatening the United States.

According to the Constitution, only Congress can "declare war". (The War Powers Act, attempted to address the ambiguities between "declared" and increasingly common "undeclared" wars. Under the Act, the Executive Branch would be allowed to initiate military action when our nation or our armed forces were subject to imminent threat, but it required The President obtain Congressional approval within 60 days following the onset of hostilities, or terminate operations. Upon request, an extension to 90 days might be granted.)

Since 1973, galled by this blatant attempt to restrain the President, the ever-more-monarchical Executive has defied Congressional attempts to challenge or reign in its power.

Among the current justifications the White House is testing: the duration of American air "combat operations" were of insufficient duration to require the mandated Congressional approval. (A nuclear attack and retaliation could be finished within an hour. Is that also subject to the "duration test"?)

Now, it is claimed that NATO is leading the assault on Libya and that the U.S. is merely providing intelligence (from CIA "boots on the ground", it's suspected), logistical support and, no doubt, materiel. (Iran-Contra or Bay of Pigs revisited?) Again, a distraction from the crime of waging war without authorization. (It should be noted that the U.S. provides 75% of NATO's funding.)

In the present examples of Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan (incredible!) we see the "Unitary Executive", (the idealized vision of an omnipotent Executive Branch promoted by Neoconservatives) consolidating its grip on the Nation's "command and control apparatus." Unchecked, this concentration of power threatens the freedom not only of all Americans, but of all nations.

This is not Obama's doing. It is the office and the "Fortress America" culture he has stepped into. The collapse of democracy in this country began decades ago. But, contrary to his campaign (and current) rhetoric, he submits to the precedent of making decisions that lead to further consolidation of power and, inevitably, the violent scenes we are witnessing in the Middle East and Northern Africa.

As I watch citizens rise up against dictators in the "Arab Spring", I have to ask: would Americans ever have the courage to stand up to their government? I am afraid we are a nation of cowards, preferring comfort, convenience and entertainment to confronting the powers that are increasingly stealing our freedoms, our fortunes and our future.

I suggest the citizens of Libya start collecting the scrap metals, plastics and electronics from ordinance falling upon their land. These remnants will provide positive identification of those nations who are "at war".

For once I agree with John Boehner: Obama's statement "doesn't pass the straight-face test." More importantly, President Obama's unconstitutional war and, further, declaration of immunity from accountability under the War Powers Act is an impeachable offense.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Plastic: A Toxic Love Story

(Click above to hear the author on "Fresh Air")
"But it wasn't clear to me just how plastic my world had become until I decided to go an entire day without touching anything plastic. The absurdity of this experiment became apparent about ten seconds into the appointed morning when I shuffled bleary-eyed into the bathroom: the toilet seat was plastic. I quickly revised my plan. I would spend the day writing down everything I touched that was plastic.

Within forty-five minutes, I had filled an entire page in my Penway Composition Book...

By the end of the day...the list included 196 entries..."

This fascinating look at the everyday encounters with plastics in our environment traces the history, development and our tortured love affair with plastics. Freinkel takes us to the refineries that produce the building blocks, the laboratories that develop the complex polymer chains, to manufacturing plants, wholesale and retail operations, municipal waste  treatment facilities, recycling operations and also explores the unintended consequences of our "one-way waste stream".

The account is a fairly balanced look at both the immense value and convenience and even environmental benefits plastics have brought to our lives, and the serious challenges such an abundant material has created in terms of health (with a thorough discussion of phthalates and other plasticizers), the environment and promotion of a "disposable world".

She gives considerable coverage to the search for solutions to plastic's "persistence" in the environment and development of alternatives to petroleum-based resins, weighing the merits of each line of research and development.

It's an entertaining and very educational work of investigative journalism.

Friday, June 10, 2011

"Occupying Iraq, State Department-Style"

U.S. Embassy, Baghdad (one of 21 buildings in the 104-acre compound)

A Frat House With Guns in Baghdad
By Peter Van Buren
Published on

Way out on the edge of Forward Operating Base Hammer, where I lived for much of my year in Iraq as a Provincial Reconstruction Team leader for the U.S. Department of State, there were several small hills, lumps of raised dirt on the otherwise frying-pan-flat desert. These were “tells,” ancient garbage dumps and fallen buildings.

Thousands of years ago, people in the region used sun-dried bricks to build homes and walls. Those bricks had a lifespan of about 20 years before they began to crumble, at which point locals just built anew atop the old foundation. Do that for a while, and soon enough your buildings are sitting on a small hill.

At night, the tell area was very dark, as we avoided artificial light in order not to give passing insurgents easy targets. In that darkness, you could imagine the earliest inhabitants of what was now our base looking at the night sky and be reminded that we were not the first to move into Iraq from afar. It was also a promise across time that someday someone would undoubtedly sit atop our own ruins and wonder whatever happened to the Americans.

From that ancient debris field, recall the almost forgotten run-up to the American invasion, the now-ridiculous threats about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Secretary of State Colin Powell lying away his own and America’s prestige at the U.N., those "Mission-Accomplished" days when the Marines tore down Saddam’s statue and conquered Baghdad, the darker times as civil society imploded and Iraq devolved into civil war, the endless rounds of purple fingers for stage-managed elections that meant little, the Surge and the ugly stalemate that followed, fading to gray as President George W. Bush negotiated a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011 and the seeming end of his dreams of a Pax Americana in the Greater Middle East.

Now, with less than seven months left until that withdrawal moment, Washington debates whether to honor the agreement, or -- if only we can get the Iraqi government to ask us to stay -- to leave a decent-sized contingent of soldiers occupying some of the massive bases the Pentagon built hoping for permanent occupancy.

To the extent that any attention is paid to Iraq here in Snooki’s America, the debate over whether eight years of war entitles the U.S. military to some kind of Iraqi squatter’s rights is the story that will undoubtedly get most of the press in the coming months.

How This Won’t End

Even if the troops do finally leave, the question is: Will that actually bring the U.S. occupation of Iraq to a close? During the invasion of 2003, a younger David Petraeus famously asked a reporter: “Tell me how this ends.”

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Unusual June weather

A low pressure system parked 200 miles or so west of San Francisco this morning, bringing a good soaking to the area.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gayngs and White Hinterland at The Independent, San Francisco

The Minneapolis-based rock group Gayngs performed at The Independent in San Francisco Wednesday night. It was their first visit to San Francisco. I became aware of Gayngs during the past year, after hearing a track by the Rosebuds in the film Easier with Practice. That led, via Ivan Howard's connection with both bands, to my stumbling upon Gayngs. It's a remarkably tight ensemble of talented musicians who display a high level of sophistication and precision. A year ago they released their acclaimed debut album "Relayted". (Apparently all the tracks were recorded at a tempo of 69 beats per minute, 69BPM, adagio to classical musicians.) Wednesday's playlist was entirely from the album.

Though I arranged with the band's manager to get a "photo pass", at the door I learned that photography with SLRs is limited to the first three songs "then you have to move away from the stage". (Except for flash use, cellphones and small point-and-shoot cameras are not restricted.) I knew that it was a sold-out show, but when I saw the crowd swell to capacity just as Gayngs was about to come out, I decided it wasn't worth jostling just for a blog photo. So I parked myself in the balcony and (under the influence of a couple beers and an atmosphere laced with marijuana smoke,) took some long, slow shots. Next time, I'm simply going to enjoy the music (and maybe jump into the crowd and get jostled!)

Gayngs open with
"The Gaudy Side of Town". Ryan Olsen, co-founder, with the Mac.