Thursday, July 28, 2011

This is new: tundra fires in the Arctic

28 July 2011
Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate cue
By Richard Black
BBC News

An exceptional wildfire in northern Alaska in 2007 put as much carbon into the air as the entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year, scientists say.

The Anaktuvuk River fire burned across more than 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles), doubling the extent of Alaskan tundra visited by fire since 1950.

With the Arctic warming fast, the team suggests in the journal Nature that fires could become more common.

If that happens, it could create a new climate feedback, they say.

Fires in the tundra are uncommon because the ground is covered in snow and ice for large periods of the year.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

Melting can lead to other huge changes... releasing carbon that's been frozen since the Pleistocene”

Michelle Mack University of Florida

Temperatures are low even in summer, and the ground can also remain wet after the ice has melted.

But 2007 saw unusually warm and dry conditions across much of the Arctic - resulting, among other things, in spectacularly fast melting of Arctic sea ice.

This created conditions more conducive to fire, and when lightning struck the tundra in July, the Anaktuvuk River fire ignited.

"Most tundra fires have been very small - this was an order of magnitude larger than the historical size," said Michelle Mack from the University of Florida in Gainesville, who led the research team on the Nature paper and is currently conducting further field studies in Alaska.

"In 2007, we had a hot, dry summer, there was no rain for a long period of time.

"So the tundra must have been highly flammable, with just the right conditions for fire to spread until the snow in October finally stopped it."...

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Horn of Africa aid caravan too late, again

Horn of Africa aid caravan too late, again
By Barry Malone
EL ADOW, Kenya
Jul 26, 2011

(Reuters) - A besuited U.N. official wearing well-buffed shoes crouches in the orange dust near a cluster of huts in northern Kenyan, and, as his tie wafts in the breeze, raises an iPad and carefully films the rotting carcass of a cow.

Since drought gripped the Horn of Africa, and especially since famine was declared in parts of Somalia, the international aid industry has swept in and out of refugee camps and remote hamlets in branded planes and snaking lines of white 4X4s.

This humanitarian, diplomatic and media circus is necessary every time people go hungry in Africa, analysts say, because governments -- both African and foreign -- rarely respond early enough to looming catastrophes.

Combine that with an often simplistic explanation of the causes of famine, and a growing band of aid critics say parts of Africa are doomed to a never-ending cycle of ignored early warnings, media appeals and emergency U.N. feeding -- rather than a transition to lasting self-sufficiency.

"Although humanitarian agencies are gearing themselves up to mount a response, it is far too late to address anything but the worst symptoms," Simon Levine, an analyst at the Overseas Development Institute think-tank, wrote on its website.

"Measures that could have kept animals alive -- and providing milk, and income to buy food -- would have been much cheaper than feeding malnourished children, but the time for those passed with very little investment," Levine said.

The drought gripping the region straddling Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia is the worst for 60 years, some aid groups say, and is affecting more than 12 million people. In the worst-hit area in Somalia, 3.7 million people are at risk of starvation.

"It seems once again that slow onset disasters don't get attention until they become critical," said a senior humanitarian adviser at a U.N agency in the region

"One can understand this with rapid onset disasters as they come out of the blue, but drought ... we've seen it before and we will again," said the official, who declined to be named.

The man filming the dead cow with an iPad was just one in a series of incongruous episodes when the director of the U.N. food agency, Josette Sheeran, flew for a day-trip to a small village and the world's biggest refugee camp in Dadaab to see how her organization is delivering emergency food.

Sheeran posed awkwardly next to the dead carcasses, an uneasy almost-smile on her lips as her staff snapped away with cameras and phones, watched by bemused locals.

Officials then had stilted conversations with refugees used to answering questions from Western aid workers who come with sometimes sympathetic nods, always promising that they can make things better.

"While international NGOs can be very active around humanitarian response many of them don't have a long-term development strategy for these areas," Andrew Catley, an expert on the Horn of Africa at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, told Reuters.


Reporters accompanied Sheeran, knowing they might need the iconic, loathed-by-Africans footage of the most emaciated babies they could find to get air time, or chance upon the "haunted" mother with the most dead children.

For many analysts, however, the story being told in the Horn of Africa by the humanitarian and media caravan is simplistic and misleading.

There is clearly a drought, they say, but the reason tens of thousands of people are leaving their homes in search of food is also because a festering insurgency in Somalia -- along with the forced recruitment of youths -- is making things worse.

Much of southern and central Somalia is controlled by al Shabaab Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda who imposed a ban on food aid in 2010. They have since lifted the ban but maintained the embargo on the WFP, calling it a "spy agency."

"This is not political," Sheeran briefed frontline aid workers in northern Kenya, saying that responding to the crisis was all that mattered now. "It's about saving lives."

Al Shabaab accused the United Nations last week of exaggerating the severity of the drought and said it would not allow agencies with "hidden agendas" to return.

Part of the problem, analysts say, is that much of the funding for WFP, and some other aid agencies, comes from the United States, opening them to charges of skewed objectives.

"What they are really interested in is security in Somalia. Since 9/11 a development for security agenda has come in with big donors like USAID and (Britain's) DFID," said a former senior aid worker in the Horn of Africa.

"Humanitarian issues and real development have basically played second fiddle to their security agendas," he said.

The State Department website says that although USAID is independent, it "receives general direction and overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary."

According to WFP's website, the United States has contributed 45 percent of its government funding since the start of 2007 -- or $7.3 billion out of $16.3 billion.

Analysts say that, without tackling the political complications that influence the distribution of food aid, and even the use of the word "famine," droughts will remain difficult both to prevent and to manage.

"Whilst it is tempting to say that the causes of the crisis are natural causes, it's much more difficult to look at the man-made causes of the crisis such as governance, conflict and economic trends," Catley said.

Several senior aid officials spoken to by Reuters did not want to be named when criticizing the aid system for fear of losing their jobs or being banned entry by African governments, but said the industry desperately needed an overhaul.

"Some of these organizations have been in these regions for 20/25 years and they're doing the same things today that they were doing 25 years ago," one said.

"If you were in any other sector -- and you had such a terrible impact -- you'd be out of business."

(Editing by David Clarke)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Eric Cantor: A debt ceiling shonda

Michael Takiff says threatening to pull the trigger unless you get your way is immoral
Jul 22, 2011
Eric Cantor: A debt ceiling shonda
By Michael Takiff

These days Eric Cantor is steering the United States Treasury to default -- and the world economy to catastrophe -- as he defends to the death the sacred right of corporate jet owners to amortize their aircraft over five years instead of seven. Not long ago he was giving George W. Bush all the credit for killing bin Laden. Before that he was threatening to shut down the government over the budget bill. Earlier he claimed that the House of Representatives could make law without the approval of the Senate or the president.

Jul 22, 2011 07:45 ET
Eric Cantor: A debt ceiling shonda
By Michael Takiff

Eric Cantor: A debt ceiling shonda
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, center, flanked by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, left, and House Speaker John Boehner, right

These days Eric Cantor is steering the United States Treasury to default -- and the world economy to catastrophe -- as he defends to the death the sacred right of corporate jet owners to amortize their aircraft over five years instead of seven. Not long ago he was giving George W. Bush all the credit for killing bin Laden. Before that he was threatening to shut down the government over the budget bill. Earlier he claimed that the House of Representatives could make law without the approval of the Senate or the president.

Am I the only Jew in America who finds the House majority leader deeply embarrassing to our people? Am I the only tribe member who considers this smarmy yutz today’s numero-uno shonda fur die goyim?

Shonda what?

* * *

My father used to tell us a morality tale. Not long after the events of November 22 and 24, 1963, our rabbi attended an interfaith meeting of clergymen from our midsize New Jersey town. He later reported to his congregation a conversation he’d had at the gathering. “The Protestant minister,” Dad would say, “said to the rabbi, ‘I see one of your people got Lee Harvey Oswald.’ Jack Ruby was Jewish, you know. [Right, Dad, I know from the other 18 times you’ve told me the story.] And the rabbi said, ‘Yes, and I see one of yours got the president.’”

It was an article of faith among American Jews of my parents’ generation -- people who came of age in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, when the best country clubs and colleges and suburbs and law firms still remained unpolluted by the Hebrew menace -- that the bad example of any Jew (e.g., Jack Ruby, né Rubenstein) casts disgrace on every Jew, even though no one generalizes about Christians on the basis of a single bad apple (e.g., Lee Harvey Oswald). (Or even a string of bad apples: “Man, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson ... all the way to Clinton and Bush and Obama. Those dirty Christian bastards control the government!”) Our shtetl-minded insecurity survives today -- if not among all of us, if not as centrally in our lives -- when anti-Semitism, in the West, anyway, is but a bad memory. (Right, Mel Gibson, Oliver Stone, Julian Assange, Helen Thomas, John Galliano, and Charlie Sheen?)

When a Jew is publicly bad -- especially publicly really bad -- large numbers of the rest of us Jews cringe. That Jew becomes a shonda fur die goyim -- a disgrace for the non-Jews, an example for the gentiles to latch onto as evidence that every one of us is out to control their banks, run their newspapers, and make matzoh from the blood of their children. Think of the long list of Jewish financial miscreants of the past 25 years -- Ivan Boesky, Mike Milken, Bernie Madoff, the gonifs at Goldman Sachs. Let’s see, rich Jewish financiers screwing millions of ordinary people -- gee, that doesn’t play into any pernicious stereotypes about Jews, does it?

It’s gotten to the point that when I read about a swindler who is not one of us I’m ecstatic. A while ago the New York Times reported on the trial of an allegedly crooked defense contractor named Brooks: “A goy!” I said after reading the first paragraph. “Thank goodness. Keep reading.” I did, drooling with schadenfreude. Oh, this was a juicy one: According to the charges, he and another employee pulled down $190 million via stock fraud. To top it off, his company, which makes body armor for our troops in Afghanistan, allegedly paid out more than $6 million to cover his personal expenses, including plastic surgery for his wife and pornographic videos for his son.

But then came one last example of his obscene conspicuous consumption. The guy spent millions -- hiring 50 Cent and Aerosmith as entertainment -- on his daughter’s bat mitzvah. Bat mitzvah? So Brooks isn’t Brooks at all -- he’s Brodsky or Bernstein or Bergman or Buxbaum, whose grandfather changed his name years ago so he could be one of the goys. Such a shonda!

And the neocons. Oy, the neocons. Do so many of these momzers, so keen on sending other parents’ children off to war, have to be tribe members? Ken Adelman, William Kristol, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Robert Kagan, Elliot Abrams, Scooter Libby, and the Podhoretzes...

In other words, Ivan Boesky, you should know better. In other words, William Kristol, reread the list of sins -- the al chaits -- we reel off on Yom Kippur. In other words, Eric Cantor, didn’t you learn anything from your upbringing? Were you out on your shul’s front steps enjoying a smoke when your rabbi sermonized about the Jewish obligation to lead an honorable life?

Evidently you didn’t learn, because if you had, you’d share my belief that just as Jews should not stage multibillion-dollar Ponzi schemes, so they should not threaten to bring about world economic calamity for no better reason than to curry favor among a bunch of mouth-breathing fanatics who don’t know a principle of economics from a pulled-pork sandwich. You’d understand that a man who counts himself among the People of the Book, a people that has won Nobel Prizes in a ratio as much as a hundred times its share of the world’s population, should not dismiss the learned opinions of credentialed economists who warn of dire consequences should Congress not do its duty and protect the full faith and credit of the American dollar. You’d know, without being told, that pointing a gun at working people everywhere and threatening to pull the trigger unless you get your way is immoral...

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fox News Bias Exposed By Leaked Memos

Fox News Bias Exposed By Leaked Memos
Uploaded Dec 10, 2010

Cenk Uygur (host of The Young Turks) discusses leaked memos from Fox News that expose a clear right wing conservative agenda.

You and I know that Fox News is not fair and balanced, they do conservative programming.

Propaganda. That's exactly what Fox News Channel does. And this is yet another case of overwhelming evidence of that.

The Perils of Polar Bears’ Longer Swims

July 20, 2011
The Perils of Polar Bears’ Longer Swims
New York Times

In arguments over the impact of climate change, some of the images commonly associated with those clashes have attracted skeptical critiques, perhaps none more so than those of polar bears forced to swim longer distances because their sea ice habitat is melting. Some skeptics point out that polar bears are born swimmers and that the worries of environmentalists are therefore overdone.

Now comes a new study from researchers at the United States Geological Survey and the World Wildlife Fund indicating, after tracking a small sample of bears wearing radio collars, that the swims have indeed grown longer over the last six years. Five of the 11 mothers swimming with cubs lost the cubs along the way, and one bear even swam 427 miles to reach sea ice...

Bonuses for Billionaires

Bonuses for Billionaires
New York Times
July 20, 2011

The first few times I heard House Republicans talk about our budget me, I worried that they had plunged off the deep end. But as I kept on listening, a buzzer went off in my mind, and I came to understand how much sense the Tea Party caucus makes.
Damon Winter/The New York Times

Why would we impose “job-crushing taxes” on wealthy Americans just to pay for luxuries like federal prisons? Why end the “carried interest” tax loophole for financiers, just to pay for unemployment benefits — especially when those same selfless tycoons are buying yachts and thus creating jobs for all the rest of us?

Hmmm. The truth is that House Republicans don’t actually go far enough. They should follow the logic of their more visionary members with steps like these:

BONUSES FOR BILLIONAIRES Republicans won’t extend unemployment benefits, even in the worst downturn in 70 years, because that makes people lazy about finding jobs. They’re right: We should be creating incentives for Americans to rise up the food chain by sending hefty checks to every new billionaire. This could be paid for with a tax surcharge on regular working folks. It’s the least we can do.

Likewise, the government should take sterner measures against the persistent jobless. Don’t just let their unemployment benefits expire. Take their homes!

Oh, never mind! Silly me! The banks are already doing that.

LET JOBS TRICKLE DOWN Leftist pundits say that House Republicans don’t have a jobs plan. That’s unfair! Granted, the Republican-sponsored Cut, Cap and Balance Act would eliminate 700,000 jobs in just its first year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, but those analysts are no doubt liberals. America’s richest 400 people own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans, and the affluent would feel renewed confidence if the Republican plan passed. We’d see a hiring bonanza. Each of those wealthy people might hire an extra pool attendant. That’s 400 jobs right there!

Cut, Cap and Balance would go even further than the Ryan budget plan in starving the beast of government. Sure, that’ll mean cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other programs, but so what? Who needs food safety? How do we know we really need air traffic control unless we try a day without it?

ROOT OUT SOCIALISM Republicans have been working to end Medicare as we know it but need to examine other reckless entitlements, such as our socialized education system, in which public schools fritter resources on classes like economics and foreign languages. As a former Texas governor, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, is said to have declared when she opposed the teaching of foreign languages: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us.”

For that matter, who needs socialized police and fire services? We could slash job-crushing taxes at the local level and simply let the free market take over:

“9-1-1, may I help you?” “Yes, help! My house is burning down!” “Very good, sir. I can offer you one fire engine for $5,995, or two for just $10,000.” “Help! My family’s inside. Send three fire engines! Just hurry!” “Yes, sir. Let me just run your credit card first. And if you require the fire trucks immediately, there’s a 50 percent ‘rush’ surcharge.”

CHILL OUT ABOUT THE DEBT CEILING House Republicans like Michele Bachmann are right: If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, some solution will turn up. As Representative Austin Scott, a Republican from Georgia, observes: “In the end, the sun is going to come up tomorrow.”

We got through the Great Depression, didn’t we? It looked pretty hopeless in 1929, but in just a dozen years World War II bailed us out with an economic stimulus. Something like that’ll come along for us, too. Ya gotta have faith.

CONSIDER ASSET SALES While Democrats are harrumphing about “default,” Republicans have sagely noted that there are alternatives in front of our noses. For example, why raise taxes on hard-pressed managers of hedge funds when the government can sell assets?

Fort Knox alone has 4,600 tons of gold, which I figure is worth around $235 billion. That’s enough to pay our military budget for four months! And selling Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon would buy us time as well.

RENT OUT CONGRESS If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, we could also auction members of Congress for day jobs: Are you a financier who wants someone to flip burgers (steaks?) at your child’s birthday party? Why, here’s Eric Cantor! Many members of Congress already work on behalf of tycoons, and this way the revenue would flow to the Treasury.

Finally, if we risk default, let’s rent out the Capitol for weddings to raise money for the public good. Wouldn’t it be nice to see something positive emerge from the House?

I invite you to visit my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.