Bonus Critter Blogging: Elephant
(Photograph by David McNew/Getty Images and published at National Geographic.)
A place for a tired old woman to try to figure things out so that the world makes a bit of sense.
Despite collapsing oil prices in recent months, Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, still managed to set a record for last year as the most profitable American corporation ever.
Exxon earned $45.2 billion in 2008, beating the record it set in 2007 for most profitable corporation, at $40.6 billion. That came despite a fourth quarter in which income fell 33 percent, owing to the steepest drop ever in oil prices, as the economy went into a tailspin.
After riding a tide of swelling earnings in recent years, the once high-flying oil sector is scrambling to adjust to a sharp downturn. Oil consumption is falling in all major developed nations as economies shrink and consumers cut back on spending.
As a result, oil prices have dropped more than 70 percent since peaking above $145 a barrel in July. On Friday, they traded at about $42 a barrel.
Because of its close attention to cost reduction and efficiency, Exxon is weathering the drop in oil prices better than most rivals. As most companies trim spending and scale back some operations, Exxon signaled it would stick with its strategy.
More than any other oil company, managers at Exxon emphasize a strict attention to containing costs, and are disciplined about their investments. As a result, the company manages to extract more dollars than its rivals out of each barrel that it pumps or refines.
The method has served the company well when times were good, and is likely to provide some shelter in a long downturn, analysts said.
The company has more than $30 billion in cash that could provide it with a strategic war chest to make acquisitions, according to analysts. Many have forecast a wave of buyouts in the sector as companies struggle to finance their projects or even to survive.
On Friday, the company signaled that its share buyback program, which totaled $8 billion in the fourth quarter, would be trimmed slightly to $7 billion in the first quarter of 2009.
Exxon pumped about 2.47 million barrels of oil a day in the fourth quarter and produced 9.8 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. Over all, oil and gas production decreased 3 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with the year-earlier period. (In some countries, Exxon is entitled to fewer barrels of oil when prices rise.)
The company started eight major projects last year, including Thunder Horse, a huge offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico.
When I was in Iraq, the most common wound behind the many Purple Hearts we awarded was the "perforated eardrum," an eardrum punctured by the concussion of a nearby explosion. In the vast majority of cases, no blood was ever shed. Seldom did these Marines ever miss a day of full duty. And yet they were all awarded the coveted medal.
A year later, back at Camp Lejeune, N.C., I was making calls to the families of wounded Marines – a difficult duty even when the wounds are minor. But I noticed during that time that I never once made a call to a family about a Marine's psychological wounds. I never got a casualty report for post-traumatic stress, despite the rising number of veteran suicides. Never once.
Why, I asked myself, if a combat wound is a combat wound no matter how small, shouldn't those people suffering from the "invisible wounds" of post-traumatic stress also receive the Purple Heart? Difficulty of diagnosis is one of the central justifications the Pentagon has given, citing the concern that fakers will tarnish the medal's image. Spilt blood cannot be faked.
But this seems an unconvincing argument not to honor those who actually do suffer from post-traumatic stress. For example, the possibility of fakers has not prevented the Department of Veterans Affairs from awarding disability payments to service members who have received a diagnosis. Why should the military itself be different?
The distinction, I suspect, lies in the deep-seated attitude toward psychological wounds. It is still difficult for many members of the military to truly believe that post-traumatic stress is, in fact, an injury and not the result of a weak or dysfunctional brain. The same culture that demands tough-mindedness also encourages skepticism toward the suggestion that the violence of war can hurt the healthiest of minds.
Labels: Humane Treatment of Animals
Turkey's PM has received a hero's welcome on his return to Istanbul after he stormed out of a debate about Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reacted angrily when he was refused the chance to respond to Israeli President Shimon Peres' defence of the operation
Thousands of people turned out in the city to greet Mr Erdogan's plane.
He told them Mr Peres' language and tone had been unacceptable, so he acted to stand up for Turkish honour.
"I only know that I have to protect the honour of Turkey and Turkish people," said Mr Erdogan.
"I am not a chief of a tribe. I am the prime minister of Turkey. I have to do what I have to do."
The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Istanbul said there had been huge anger in Turkey at Israel's operation in Gaza and there now appears to be widespread support for Mr Erdogan's actions in Davos.
He then accused the moderator of not allowing him to speak and said he did not think he would return to Davos.
A military judge at Guantanamo Bay Thursday rejected President Barack Obama's request to suspend the trial of a Saudi accused in the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, the Pentagon said.
"Judge James Pohl denied the motion" put forward by the prosecution at the request of Obama to suspend the trial for 120 days, said Defense Department spokesman J.D. Gordon, confirming a report by The Washington Post.
The October 2000 attack on the Cole left 17 people dead and injured many more.
He was arrested in 2002, and held in a secret CIA prison before being transfered to the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, southern Cuba.
Following Judge Pohl's decision, the new administration will now have to decide whether to withdraw the charges against Nashiri or not.
The Supreme Court has held that these detainees must be given 'habeas corpus' rights. They have not had the right to know charges or evidence against them, and have been held without charges.
Republicans point to appropriations like $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $20 million for sodding the National Mall, $400 million for climate change research and $200 million for contraception programs as "longstanding liberal spending priorities," according to Pence.
Congressional leaders are now dropping the provision that would have provided $200 million worth of contraceptives to low-income families, according to a senior administration official and a Democratic official on Capitol Hill.
Alarmed by spiraling drug violence along their shared border, U.S. and Mexican officials say they foresee an enhanced U.S. role in the battle against powerful cartels, including joint operations that could involve private American contractors or U.S. military and intelligence personnel.
The U.S. and Mexican officials say their cooperation could go beyond the current practice of "sharing intelligence." They say that historical concerns about Mexican sovereignty may be overcome by the challenge in restoring stability to key regions, particularly along the border.
Several officials, interviewed separately and on the condition of anonymity, stressed that specifics about an enhanced U.S. role remain unclear and that the timing is also unclear and will largely depend on the widening violence.
But "everything is on the table," one Mexican official said, including "joint operations."
"I agree with that statement," said a senior U.S. counternarcotics official agrees. "I think the cooperation is unprecedented, and it's yielding unprecedented results."
The number of gangland slayings more than doubled in 2008 from the previous year, to more than 5,700. U.S. officials say they view the violence as a national security threat because routes to transport drugs north could be exploited by terrorists.
Underscoring those concerns are new alarms being sounded, including a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command that says lack of security puts Mexico and Pakistan at risk of becoming failed states.
That assessment is challenged by senior U.S. and Mexican officials, including Mexico's Interior Minister Fernando Francisco Gómez Mont and Garza.
"Mexico is not even close to becoming a failed state," Garza said. "You can bet there will be more violence, but we need to be supportive of this administration's efforts and build alliances with Mexico, not slip back into a climate where we blame first and think later."
Next month, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, a Washington research organization, will recommend that both governments "establish joint or combined binational law enforcement units capable of quick response to cartel activity."
To deal with issues of mistrust, one analyst suggested, the U.S. government will need to allow Mexican federal law enforcement investigators on U.S. soil, albeit in limited roles.
Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a political consultant, predicted that "joint operations on both sides of the border will be a key decision made by the Obama and Calderón administrations in the months to come. Otherwise, joint operations will be unacceptable for the Mexicans."
Mexican agents are already being posted in key U.S. agencies, he said.
"We're talking about a transnational threat that doesn't stop on the Mexican side," he added.
Speaking yesterday at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, Cassidy noted how the promises made when the Clinton administration was promoting China's accession to the WTO have been turned on their head. "Claims were made that U.S. exports of goods to China would increase substantially," he recalled, "creating jobs in the higher-paying export sector." Instead, American manufacturers shuttered factories here and opened them in China, while China's undervaluation of its currency guaranteed that U.S. products would not be sold there. Indeed, Cassidy added, U.S. exports to China "consist primarily of raw materials" -- hardly the product of superior U.S. technology and production.
What Cassidy offered yesterday was a more full-throated version of a critique that has begun, tentatively, to emerge from the Obama administration: that the U.S.-China economic relationship is flawed, in part, as Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has said, because China manipulates its currency to make its exports cheaper and ours unsustainably pricey. That's a clear shift in policy, since currency manipulation, which generally has a far greater effect on the price of internationally traded goods than tariffs do, was a wrong that the Bush administration was loath to right. As Thea Lee, the AFL-CIO's chief international economist, has pointed out, the U.S. trade representative's office has for years routinely referred complaints about currency manipulation to the Treasury, which has referred them to the International Monetary Fund, which, according to a report in Monday's Financial Times, has not discussed China's currency policy since 2006.
Such a discussion would be of more than academic interest, since the economic relationship between the United States and China is the linchpin of the global economy -- that is, a central cause of the global economic crisis. China produces and we consume; China takes the proceeds from our consumption and lends it back to us, not so we can produce more -- American multinationals would prefer the Chinese do that -- but so we can take on more debt and continue to consume.
Last week, the House Appropriations Committee voted almost unanimously to require the use of U.S.-made steel in the infrastructure projects included in the stimulus, unless the U.S. industry -- which is running at 43 percent of capacity -- was unable to supply it. You might think that American business, beyond the steel industry, would welcome such language, but, in fact, using Americans' tax dollars to stimulate American production looks like the last thing globalized American business wants. A letter opposing "Buy American" provisions in the stimulus has been signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and several other such groups.
The only mystery here is why the Chamber and the Roundtable aren't compelled to register as foreign lobbyists. Of all the terms we could use to describe them, "American" certainly does not spring to mind.
For all those conservatives who believe Ronald Reagan said government is the problem. Think again.
I'd like to hear from my conservative friends what they think of this.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Republicans love to invoke Reagan, but if he’s watching right now, the Gipper is probably “smacking himself on the forehead, rolling his eyes and wondering who in the world these clowns are,” speculates former GOP Congressman (and longtime Reagan backer) Mickey Edwards in the LA Times. Today’s would-be Reaganites believe all government “is the problem,” and that small government is inherently better than big. “This is all errant nonsense,” writes Edwards, “wrong in every conceivable way.”
“In America, government is us,” Edwards reasons. What matters isn’t the size of government, but the limits of its powers. Bush Republicans obviously don’t get this, but Reagan did. In his famous inaugural, he said that “in the present crisis…government is the problem.” But he went on to say, “Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work.” A sentiment echoed by Obama in his address.
Reagan wouldn't recognize this GOP
The Gipper may be the patron saint of Limbaugh and Coulter, but he'd be amazed at what's been done in his name.
"The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party." - Mickey Edwards
By Mickey Edwards
January 24, 2009
In my mind's eye, I can see Ronald Reagan, wearing wings and a Stetson, perched on a cloud and watching all the goings-on down here in his old earthly home. Laughing, rolling his eyes and whacking his forehead over the absurdities he sees, he's watching his old political party as it twists itself into ever more complex knots, punctuated only by pauses to invoke the Gipper's name. It's been said that God would be amazed by what his followers ascribe to him; believe me, Reagan would be similarly amazed by what his most fervent admirers cite in their desire to be seen as true-blue Reaganites.On the premise that simple is best, many Republicans have reduced their operating philosophy to two essentials: First, government is bad (it's "the problem"); second, big government is the worst and small government is better (although because government itself is bad, it may be assumed that small government is only marginally preferable). This is all errant nonsense. It is wrong in every conceivable way and violative of the Constitution, American exceptionalism, freedom, conservatism, Reaganism and common sense.
In America, government is ... us. What is "exceptional" about America is the depth of its commitment to the principle of self-government; we elect the government, we replace it or its members when they displease us, and by our threats or support, we help steer what government does.A shocker: The Constitution, which we love for the limits it places on government power, not only constrains government, it empowers it. Limited government is not no government. And limited government is not "small" government. Simply building roads, maintaining a military, operating courts, delivering the mail and doing other things specifically mandated by the Constitution for America's 300 million people make it impossible to keep government "small." It is boundaries that protect freedom. Small governments can be oppressive, and large ones can diminish freedoms. It is the boundaries, not the numbers, that matter.What would Reagan think of this? Wasn't it he who warned that government is the problem? Well, permit me. I directed the joint House-Senate policy advisory committees for the Reagan presidential campaign. I was part of his congressional steering committee. I sat with him in his hotel room in Manchester, N.H., the night he won that state's all-important primary. I knew him before he was governor of California and before I was a member of Congress. Let me introduce you to Ronald Reagan.
Reagan, who spent 16 years in government, actually said this:"In the present crisis," referring specifically to the high taxes and high levels of federal spending that had marked the Carter administration, "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." He then went on to say: "Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work." Government, he said, "must provide opportunity." He was not rejecting government, he was calling -- as Barack Obama did Tuesday -- for better management of government, for wiser decisions.
At the same time, we have to be respectful of those who were in that Sept. 11 frame of mind, who thought they were saving lives -- and maybe were -- and who, in any case, were doing what the nation and its leaders wanted. It is imperative that our intelligence agents not have to fear that a sincere effort will result in their being hauled before some congressional committee or a grand jury. We want the finest people in these jobs -- not time-stampers who take no chances.
The best suggestion for how to proceed comes from David Cole of Georgetown Law School. Writing in the Jan. 15 New York Review of Books, he proposed that either the president or Congress appoint a blue-ribbon commission, arm it with subpoena power, and turn it loose to find out what went wrong, what (if anything) went right and to report not only to Congress but to us. We were the ones, remember, who just wanted to be kept safe. So, it is important, as well as fair, not to punish those who did what we wanted done -- back when we lived, scared to death, in a place called the Past.
Labels: Public Transportation
New investment in energy infrastructure to improve and modernize the delivery grid coupled with an expansive plan for ending our reliance on carbon based fuels, especially coal, is imperative now -- not at some point in the future. America must develop solar, wind, and nuclear power on a scale large enough to eliminate any possibility of new coal fired plants coming on line until (and if) carbon sequestration, so-called "clean coal" becomes an viable option. For all the talk of "clean coal" it does not yet exist, consequently coal remains by far the dirtiest carbon fuel and the greatest contributor to greenhouse gases. Even worse, there's enough of it left in the ground to turn the Earth into Venus if we burn it all.
Indications are that infrastructure and sustainable production initiatives will be a significant part of the economic stimulus plan President Obama will introduce. At that point the question becomes, will Congress and the American people give our new President and his administration the support necessary to embark on the path to a long term sustainable future not only for ourselves, but the world?
The urgency of this can not be overstated. Seemingly every day now, a new scientific study or paper is published (peer reviewed) with ever more alarming results as climate forcing mechanisms kick in far sooner than previously anticipated. Scenarios predicting an ice-free North Pole by 2025 have been fed into the shredder as the lack of ice-cover and subsequent loss of solar reflectivity lead to faster ever accelerating melting. The consensus now has the top of the world ice-free by 2015.
She is expected to name Washington, D.C., lawyer and climate change and environmental expert Todd Stern. Stern served in a variety of positions during the Clinton administration, including the President's Coordinator for Climate Change. Stern was the chief negotiator at the 1997 Kyoto climate change talks.
In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee two weeks ago, Clinton promised senators that the Obama administration will take the lead at U.N. climate change negotiations scheduled for December in Copehangen.
"We will have a climate change envoy negotiator, because we want to elevate it," she said, "and we want to have one person who will lead our international efforts.
The first batch of the $16.2 million awarded, more than $5 million, was given in 2005 to a loose coalition of sheriffs who split the take evenly, regardless of crime rates. The rest was given out in grants to several counties. And several million dollars more are in the pipeline.
Presidio County, whose sheriff and four deputies cover 3,856 square miles of West Texas and protect about 1,000 people, received $336,875 to fight the one crime, an aggravated assault, that occurred in the county in 2006.
But in the Rio Grande Valley’s urban Hidalgo County, across the river from the sites of several deadly Mexican shootouts, got about the same amount, spread over three years, for its more than 250 deputies to fight 7,160 violent crimes.
"I expressed my displeasure at the time," Sheriff Lupe Trevino said. "But that’s the way it goes. We used the money the best way we could, and you do what you have to."
The Associated Press obtained a county-by-county breakdown of state spending on border crime in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
According to spending records, several departments, including Presidio County, bought night-vision goggles, radar units and radios, along with heavy-duty four-wheel-drive trucks and other off-road vehicles. They put some money in their overtime budgets.
Hudspeth County, with a population of about 3,300 and 41 crimes in 2006, spent $22,300 on a Ford Mustang GT outfitted as a police car.
The sheriffs say they need the money to match the equipment and budgets of larger departments in Texas. The state says that the money will be used to prevent crimes and that even trespassing and vandalism in sleepy counties could be signs of Mexican organized crime seeping across the Rio Grande.
But critics say some of that money was misdirected.
"This shouldn’t be border socialism," said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington. "It has to be based on need."
Republicans appear to have overplayed their hand when blocking the expansion of a children's health care program last year.
They face the likelihood that Democrats in the coming weeks will pass a bill that they dislike even more.
With more Democrats in Congress and President Barack Obama in the White House, GOP lawmakers don't have the numbers or a veto threat to do anything about it.
The Senate planned to begin debate as early as Monday on a bill that would increase spending on the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $31.5 billion over the next 4 1/2 years.
Congress approved a similar bill in late 2007 that former President George W. Bush vetoed. The House fell about 15 votes shy of overriding the veto. But the current legislation contains some important changes.
It is friendlier to states that want to cover children in families with incomes exceeding three times the federal poverty level — $63,600 for a family of four.
Also, the bill calls for covering children of legal immigrants now barred from government-sponsored insurance until they have been in the country at least five years.
The two provisions have angered Senate Republicans, including some who disagreed with Bush and worked closely with Democrats on expanding the program in 2007. Democrats have countered that 90 percent of the bill to be debated in the week ahead is based on legislation that previously had broad bipartisan support in the both the Senate and House.
"It's the 10 percent that represents barbed wire and a heck of a burr underneath our saddles," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
SCHIP was designed to provide health coverage to families with incomes too high to quality for Medicaid, but not enough to afford private insurance. Federal money for the program expires March 31.
When Congress sought to renew the program in late 2007, Bush said it needed to be refocused on the working poor. So he vetoed the first bill that lawmakers sent him. Lawmakers went back to work and agreed to limit federal dollars to health coverage for families earning less than three times the federal poverty level.
But Bush vetoed that bill, too.
Now that income limit is gone in the legislation moving through Congress. States can used SCHIP to cover children of any income level. When they do move higher than three times the poverty level, states will get the payment rates they normally get through Medicaid instead of the rate they get for SCHIP, which is higher.
As President Barack Obama reverses some of ex-President George W. Bush’s most controversial “war on terror” policies, a consensus seems to be building among Democratic congressional leaders that further investigations are needed into Bush’s use of torture and other potential crimes.
On Wednesday – the first working day of the Obama administration – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support funding and staff for additional fact-finding by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which last month released a report tracing abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, decision to exclude terror suspects from Geneva Convention protections.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who issued that report, echoed Reid’s comments, saying “there needs to be an accounting of torture in this country.” Levin, D-Michigan, also said he intends to encourage the Justice Department and incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate torture practices that took place while Bush was in office.
Two other key Democrats joined in this growing chorus of lawmakers saying that serious investigations should be conducted.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech, “As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.”
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters: "Looking at what has been done is necessary.”
On Jan. 18, two days before Obama’s inauguration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’s plan to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the “broad range” of policies pursued by the Bush administration “under claims of unreviewable war powers.”
In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi specifically endorsed a probe into the politicization of the Justice Department, but didn’t spell out a position on Conyers's plan to examine the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, which could prove embarrassing to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders who were briefed by the CIA about these tactics.
Still, when Wallace cited Obama’s apparent unwillingness to investigate the Bush administration, Pelosi responded: “I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the — for example, the Justice Department, to go unreviewed. Past is prologue. We learn from it. And my views on the subject — I don't think that Mr. Obama and Mr. Conyers are that far apart.”
The emerging consensus among top congressional Democrats for some form of investigation into Bush’s controversial policies has surprised some progressives who had written off the leadership long ago for blocking impeachment hearings and other proposals for holding Bush and his subordinates accountable.
Additional evidence about the Bush administration’s actions is expected to become available in the coming weeks as the Obama administration loosens the secrecy that has surrounded Bush’s “war on terror,” a phrase that Obama and his team have effectively dropped from Washington’s lexicon.
Obama’s aides have indicated that there soon may be a “public airing” of secret Justice Department legal opinions and other documents that provided the underpinning for the Bush administration’s brutal interrogation policies.
Levin also indicated that he expects to release the full Armed Services Committee report – covering an 18-month investigation – in about two or three weeks. Levin added that he would ask the Senate Intelligence Committee to conduct its own investigation of torture as implemented by the CIA.