Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Continuing Crunch

A big question in my mind and probably others is how big is the investment of our "leaders" and others?
It's hard to find figures on this but there are some articles that provide some ideas:

"Henry Paulson, who was recently nominated to be the next treasury secretary, is facing a lot of tough choices. Should the former CEO of Goldman Sachs continue to promote environmental causes in an administration that loathes them? What should he say about the dollar? Should he buy a condo in Washington, or a mansion? Then there's the trickiest question of all: What should he do with the mountain of money he's earned at Goldman Sachs over the years?

Not since Nelson Rockefeller served as vice president during the Ford administration has a senior government official arrived in Washington with such a high net worth. Paulson owns some 4.58 million shares in Goldman Sachs (including restricted stock) worth about $700 million at today's price and surely has millions more in other instruments.

Conflict-of-interest laws say senior government officials can't hold on to investments that could benefit from decisions they might make. Meeting this requirement is comparatively easy for an upper-middle-class secretary of agriculture. Sell your stock in Archer Daniels Midland and direct your financial adviser to avoid it and similar stocks. But for a plutocrat who is about to become secretary of treasury, it's a much more difficult call. He can't choose the default mode that worked so well for former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who put his cash into government bonds. Treasury secretaries are forbidden from buying government debt—after all, they issue that debt. (The T-bill strategy worked out remarkably well for Greenspan, who saw his net worth rise every time he slashed rates.) And putting the money in the simplest form of investment—a dollar-denominated savings account—would be both a poor investment for Paulson and a potential conflict of interest. After all, treasury secretaries frequently discuss currency exchange rates."

Trying to find info on Bernake has proven even more opaque. According to this he has modest holdings (not):

"With his income-earning potential, this is a man who can afford to take on a little more risk.

This assessment is based on news stories written when the Federal Reserve last week released the chairman's financial disclosure form that outlines in broad terms his personal finances. The annual disclosure is mandated by law with the Federal Reserve board members reporting their assets and income within broad ranges rather than by exact figures.

News reports on release of the disclosure form highlighted Bernanke's holdings in Canadian treasury bonds. What caught my eye, however, is the fact that the bulk of his portfolio is tied up in just two funds: a large cap stock fund and a fixed-rate annuity.

The CREF Stock Large Cap Blend fund and TIAA Traditional Bernanke holds are valued each at somewhere between $500,001 and $1 million, the Associated Press reported.

Bernanke, Fed chairman since February 2006, reported total assets ranging between $1.2 million and $2.5 million. That means the CREF stock fund and the TIAA annuity together could account for up to about 80 percent of his overall portfolio, depending upon where the exact asset figures fall within the broad ranges given."

This puts the concerns of an average American somewhere in the unmeasurable range of human suffering!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Growing Planetary "Meth" Problem

It may turn out that Nature's activities will over shadow the recent implosion on Wall Street. According to the Independent massive releases of methane are now being observed for the first time off the coast of northern Siberia:

"The first evidence that millions of tons of a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere from beneath the Arctic seabed has been discovered by scientists.

The Independent has been passed details of preliminary findings suggesting that massive deposits of sub-sea methane are bubbling to the surface as the Arctic region becomes warmer and its ice retreats....

Orjan Gustafsson of Stockholm University in Sweden, one of the leaders of the expedition, described the scale of the methane emissions in an email exchange sent from the Russian research ship Jacob Smirnitskyi.

"We had a hectic finishing of the sampling programme yesterday and this past night," said Dr Gustafsson. "An extensive area of intense methane release was found. At earlier sites we had found elevated levels of dissolved methane. Yesterday, for the first time, we documented a field where the release was so intense that the methane did not have time to dissolve into the seawater but was rising as methane bubbles to the sea surface. These 'methane chimneys' were documented on echo sounder and with seismic [instruments]."

At some locations, methane concentrations reached 100 times background levels. These anomalies have been seen in the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea, covering several tens of thousands of square kilometres, amounting to millions of tons of methane, said Dr Gustafsson. "This may be of the same magnitude as presently estimated from the global ocean," he said. "Nobody knows how many more such areas exist on the extensive East Siberian continental shelves.

"The conventional thought has been that the permafrost 'lid' on the sub-sea sediments on the Siberian shelf should cap and hold the massive reservoirs of shallow methane deposits in place. The growing evidence for release of methane in this inaccessible region may suggest that the permafrost lid is starting to get perforated and thus leak methane... The permafrost now has small holes. We have found elevated levels of methane above the water surface and even more in the water just below. It is obvious that the source is the seabed."

The preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008, being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union, are being overseen by Igor Semiletov of the Far-Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1994, he has led about 10 expeditions in the Laptev Sea but during the 1990s he did not detect any elevated levels of methane. However, since 2003 he reported a rising number of methane "hotspots", which have now been confirmed using more sensitive instruments on board the Jacob Smirnitskyi."

That was two days ago, now British scientists report the existence of more methane plumes in the arctic:

"British scientists have discovered hundreds more methane "plumes" bubbling up from the Arctic seabed, in an area to the west of the Norwegian island of Svalbard. It is the second time in a week that scientists have reported methane emissions from the Arctic."

The implications of this are potentially severe:

"Underground stores of methane are important because scientists believe their sudden release has in the past been responsible for rapid increases in global temperatures, dramatic changes to the climate, and even the mass extinction of species."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Voter Suppression Underway In Wisconsin

In one of the most egregious exercises in voter suppression I've ever seen, J.B. Van Hollen, Republican State Attorney General of Wisconsin, is attempting a last minute blatant purging of voter records in the state which could affect as many as 1 million voters in Wisconsin.As noted :

"Van Hollen's suit would require election officials to conform to a recent federal law and cross check all new voter registrations or voter change of address since 2006. Opponents said that would create havoc during the election."

In a prepostorous statement on Thursday he denied consulting with Republican party officials or the McCain campaign:

"Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen said this afternoon he never discussed his lawsuit against the state's election authority with the state Republican Party or the presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona before he filed the suit.

"There was no discussion with anybody involved in leadership with the Republican Party (or the McCain campaign) about this lawsuit before it was brought," he said.

The comments from Van Hollen came just hours after Van Hollen aide Kevin St. John left open the possibility that had happened.

Van Hollen said he did not believe any of his aides discussed the matter with the party or campaign either.

"I can't say for certain what they have or haven't done with every minute of their day any more than they could speak about mine, but I have no reason to believe - none of them have reported to me - that anybody involved in the Republican Party or the McCain campaign about this lawsuit," he said."

Oh, by the way, Van Hollen is the co-chair of the McCain campaign in Wisconsin. Sensing that the credulity of even the most brain-dead observer was being streched thin a new statement was issued:

"The lead Department of Justice attorney for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s lawsuit against the state’s election authority met with Republican Party representatives about a week before filing the suit.Justice attorney Steven Means said Friday he met with Republican attorneys Chris Mohrman and Jim Troupis at their request to discuss the Government Accountability Board’s policy on checking voter information. Other Republicans participated in the meeting via conference call, but Means said he could not recall who they were.

Van Hollen sued the board last week to force it to check more voters to make sure their voter registration information matches driver’s license records. The suit could affect 241,000 to 1 million voters.

Van Hollen, a Wisconsin co-chairman of the presidential campaign of John McCain, has said the lawsuit was not motivated by partisan ties. On Thursday, he said he knew of no contacts between his agency and the Republican Party about the issue.

Since then, the department has said at least two attorneys had contact with the party before the suit was filed."

At this point citizens of some countries would be re-enacting the villagers' march on Baron von Frankenstein's castle, the Democrats, however could only muster the following somewhat less than outraged comment:

"State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke said the visit by Means to GOP lawyers showed that Republicans are “using the chief law enforcement officer of the state to do Republican shenanigans.”

Shenanigans hardly describes mass disenfranchisment of the electorate. Is it too late to call in observers from the EU or perhaps the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Big Melt 2008 Edition

The above photos are illustrations of a huge ice shelf that recently disintegrated from Ellsmere Island in the Canadian arctic last month.According to a report by the BBC the above piece is approximately 20 square miles and according to a climatologist at Trent University "these changes are irreversible under the present climate." More startling views can be found here.
Meanwhile the Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis site reports that August of 2008 has seen the second lowest extent of sea ice on record following last year's all-time (so far) record.
Most disconcerting is to observe the antics of the Republicans' nominee for V.P. as she tries to maintain her credibility with her Low Information base while at the same time not wanting to appear as totally Reality-Challenged to the muddled masses of the American political center.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Three Fests in One Week

Living in Wisconsin has some advantages besides cheese and beer and last week was a great illustration. Labor Day was marked by Labor Fest which was topped off by a visit by Barak Obama to a crowd of 20,000 enthusiastic people. His speech was short on specifics which was partially due to Hurricane Gustav, the National Disaster that wasn't, and the vacuous nature of American politics courtesy of our neutered media.

Fighting Bob Fest met for the 7th time Saturday September 6th, and was attended by a record crowd of 10,000 people who were inspired by the likes of Robert McChesney, Phil Donahue, Bill McKibben, Jim Hightower, Matt Rothschild, and Scott Ritter. Scott Ritter in particular was a compelling speaker, an embodiment of real patriotism in an era of phony bullshit, ala Bush, Cheney, and Palin. His call for all of us to become "people of interest" to the government harkens back to the words of Benjamin Franklin:

"Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither."

Lastly today we visited "Indian Summer Festival" a reminder of the true origins of America accompanied by a visitor from Yakutsk Siberia who might be closer to our roots than most of the Europeans there.