31 December 2011

Finally something to like about Virginia Repubes

Many times during this campaign the GOP race for the presidential nomination has resembled a clown car crash in the middle of a B-rated one-ring circus -- and that was never more so than this last week in Virginia. I'm starting to wonder if any of the Republican candidates are serious about getting the Republican nomination -- except, that is, for "Wall Street" Romney (who the party's base hates) and "Crazy old Coot" Paul (who scares even the right-wing nuts).

Thanks to a multi-candidate comedy of errors, the only candidates who will be on the March 6th Virginia primary ballot are Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. That means those two will be splitting up the Virginia delegates, and all the other candidates will be out in the cold.

To get on the Virginia ballot a candidate needed to get at least 10,000 voter signatures (with at least 400 signatures in each of the 11 congressional districts), and those signatures had to be submitted by 5pm last Thursday. Romney turned in 16,026 signatures on Tuesday, and Paul beat the deadline on Thursday with 14,361.

Perry and Gingrich also turned in signatures by the deadline -- with Perry submitting 11,911 and Gingrich submitting 11,050. But evidently either too many were not registered voters or they didn't meet the 400 level for every congressional district, because the state Republican Party said they had both failed to qualify for the ballot.

The Perry campaign hasn't said much, but Newt Gingrich blew a gasket. He called the Virginia requirement "a failed system" and said he would be working hard to get write-in votes. That was obviously just another example of him talking without knowing what he's talking about, because the rules prohibit any write-in votes in Virginia's primary.

But as ridiculous as the Perry and Gingrich campaigns look after this fiasco, there are four other Republican presidential campaigns that look even worse. The campaigns of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Buddy Roemer didn't even bother to submit any signatures at all. That's pretty pathetic. Out of a population of more than 8 million people, they couldn't even scrape up a paltry 10,000 signatures? How is anyone in that state (and elsewhere) supposed to take their candidacies seriously?

30 December 2011

Ford Focus Electric to Boast 100 Mpg Equivalency

Environmental Leader December 15, 2011

Ford says that its Ford Focus Electric is to be the first five-passenger electric vehicle to achieve a 100 mpg equivalent rating. The automaker announced this week that production of the car is to begin at a Michigan assembly plant.
The Focus Electric should also be able to fully recharge in three-to-four hours – half the time of Nissan Leaf, according to Ford. This technology can help double the car’s range during a busy day of driving and recharging multiple times, Ford says. Ford announced a solar powered home charging option for the car in August. http://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/08/11/ford-sunpower-offer-solar-offset-system-for-focus-electric/
The company began taking orders for the 2012 Focus Electric in November through dealers in the California and New York/New Jersey markets. Deliveries to other U.S. markets are expected later in the year as production ramps up.

Neither the automakers nor the EPA factors in source efficiency or transmission losses when calculating mpg equivalency of EVs, which would bring “100 mpgs” down to more like 30-40. I’d take clean diesel over an EV any day.

Source efficiency, as in how much resource or energy it took to produce the electricity for supply? Neither does a gas vehicle or diesel, if you want to talk about that, talk about the energy it takes to find the oil-Crude oil is extracted from underground reservoirs, transported to refineries and refined into a range of petroleum products- MPG for a gas guzzling SUV or clean diesel does not take into account these factors for the energy to bring the product to diesel either. EV emits 0 tail pipe emissions, and I live in California and offset my house and EV charging with Solar PV. California does not use coal either when I charge at night, mostly low emission natural gas turbines to products. It’s the cleanest solution without a doubt, and least energy intensive.

29 December 2011


27 December 2011

24 December 2011

Shock as retreat of Arctic sea ice releases deadly greenhouse gas


Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – have been seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.

The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov, of the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.

"Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we've found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures, more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It's amazing," Dr Semiletov said. "I was most impressed by the sheer scale and high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them."

Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tonnes of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.

Dr Semiletov's team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were about eight million tonnes a year, but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the phenomenon.

In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the "fountains" or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.

"In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed," Dr Semiletov said. "We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal."

Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco

23 December 2011


22 December 2011

Koch-Fueled Americans for Prosperity Takes Credit for Bullying GOP Lawmakers into Climate Denial

Cross posted from Think Progress

The cover story of this week’s National Journal takes a deeper dive into a question we’ve explored before: What happened to the Republican consensus on climate change?
Three years ago, prominent Republicans including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Tim Pawlenty, and Sarah Palin all expressed belief in human-caused climate change. Several even voiced strong support for policies to cap and reduce carbon pollution. Today, all six of these leaders have joined the rest of the Republican Party in a sudden and near-unified retreat to silence or denial.
When contacted by the National Journal, only 65 out of all 289 GOP lawmakers in Congress would agree to be interviewed on the topic. Of those interviewed, only 19 said they believed that human activities are at least partly responsible for climate change. Of the 19, only five (or fewer than 2 percent of GOP lawmakers) attributed a “significant amount” of climate change to human activity.
So, what happened?
It’s not the science that has changed — it’s only gotten stronger. As Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council, said: The level of scientific certainty that human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change is comparable to the strength of our understanding that vaccines prevent measles and polio.
What have changed, according to the National Journal, are the types and relative strengths of pressures on GOP lawmakers. Namely, “the rise of the Tea Party, its crusade against regulations, and the influx of vast sums of money into electoral politics from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups.”
Among those groups is Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which is backed by fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, Inc. Several reports have highlighted AFP’s role in promoting fossil-fuel-friendly candidates and policies. Others have accused the organization of “astroturfing.”
Surprisingly, AFP isn’t shy about discussing its influence on electoral politics. In fact, in the National Journal article, AFP’s president, Tim Phillips, openly takes credit for bullying — literally threatening — GOP lawmakers with “political peril” should they chose to “play footsie” on climate change and clean energy:
“If you look where the situation was three years ago and where it is today, there’s been a dramatic turnaround. … We’ve made great headway. What it means for the candidates on the Republican side, is if you … buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. … And that’s our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it.”
A sudden and unified flip flop by almost an entire political party, from acceptance of climate change to silence and outright rejection, is suspect on its own. (Especially given that, to date, no scientific body of national or international standing has offered a dissenting opinion on the fundamentals of manmade warming). But here we have the president of a fossil-fuel-funded interest group flaunting his role in sparking and enforcing the GOP’s about-face on climate change and clean energy.
One has to wonder: At what point will we stop hearing about serial climate change flip flopping and start hearing about a party-wide bow to industry demands?
– Emilee Pierce, in a Political Correction (Media Matters) crosspost

21 December 2011


20 December 2011

No Comment Necessary

No Comment Necessary

19 December 2011

Occupy Sesame Street

Reposted from jobsanger

Amazingly, there are still some people who claim not to know why the Occupy Wall Street movement is necessary. Well this comment at AV Club, from a person calling him/her self Cookie Monster, puts it in the words of the famous Sesame Street character. It is the simplest explanation I have seen (and it is funny). Here is how "Cookie Monster" explains it:

Yes, there always going to be rich and poor. But we used to live in country where rich owned factory and make 30 times what factory worker make. Now we live in country where rich make money by lying about value of derivative bonds and make 3000 times what factory worker would make if factories hadn't all moved to China.
Capitalism great system. We won Cold War because people behind Iron Curtain look over wall, and see how much more plentiful and delicious cookies are in West, and how we have choice of different bakeries, not just state-owned one. It great system. It got us out of Depression, won WWII, built middle class, built country's infrastructure from highways to Hoover Dam to Oreo factory to electrifying rural South. It system that reward hard work and fair play, and everyone do fair share and everyone benefit. Rich get richer, poor get richer, everyone happy. It great system.
Then after Reagan, Republicans decide to make number one priority destroying that system. Now we have system where richest Americans ones who find ways to game system -- your friends on Wall Street -- and poorest Americans ones who thought working hard would get them American dream, when in fact it get them pink slip when job outsourced to 10-year-old in Mumbai slum. And corporations have more influence over government than people (or monsters).
It not about rich people having more money. It about how they got money. It about how they take opportunity away from rest of us, for sake of having more money. It how they willing to take risks that destroy economy -- knowing full well what could and would happen -- putting millions out of work, while creating nothing of value, and all the while crowing that they John Galt, creating wealth for everyone.
That what the soul-searching about. When Liberals run country for 30 years following New Deal, American economy double in size, and wages double along with it. That fair. When Conservatives run country for 30 years following Reagan, American economy double again, and wages stay flat. What happen to our share of money? All of it go to richest 1%. That not "there always going to be rich people". That unfair system. That why we upset. That what Occupy Sesame Street about.

18 December 2011

17 December 2011

Truth is a Bitch!

From the Brilliant L. David Roper

16 December 2011

15 December 2011

No Comment Necessary

13 December 2011

Why Iceland Should Be in the News, But Is Not

An Italian radio program's story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt. The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here's why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors. But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt. In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent. The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro. At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution. But only after much pain.

Geir Haarde, the Prime Minister of a Social Democratic coalition government, negotiated a two million one hundred thousand dollar loan, to which the Nordic countries added another two and a half million. But the foreign financial community pressured Iceland to impose drastic measures. The FMI and the European Union wanted to take over its debt, claiming this was the only way for the country to pay back Holland and Great Britain, who had promised to reimburse their citizens.

Protests and riots continued, eventually forcing the government to resign. Elections were brought forward to April 2009, resulting in a left-wing coalition which condemned the neoliberal economic system, but immediately gave in to its demands that Iceland pay off a total of three and a half million Euros. This required each Icelandic citizen to pay 100 Euros a month (or about $130) for fifteen years, at 5.5% interest, to pay off a debt incurred by private parties vis a vis other private parties. It was the straw that broke the reindeer’s back.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.

Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country. As Icelanders went to vote, foreign bankers threatened to block any aid from the IMF. The British government threatened to freeze Icelander savings and checking accounts. As Grimsson said: “We were told that if we refused the international community’s conditions, we would become the Cuba of the North. But if we had accepted, we would have become the Haiti of the North.” (How many times have I written that when Cubans see the dire state of their neighbor, Haiti, they count themselves lucky.)

In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt. The IMF immediately froze its loan. But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry, the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisis. Interpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.

But Icelanders didn't stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money. (The one in use had been written when Iceland gained its independence from Denmark, in 1918, the only difference with the Danish constitution being that the word ‘president’ replaced the word ‘king’.)

To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet. The constituent’s meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape. The constitution that eventually emerges from this participatory democratic process will be submitted to parliament for approval after the next elections.

Some readers will remember that Iceland’s ninth century agrarian collapse was featured in Jared Diamond’s book by the same name. Today, that country is recovering from its financial collapse in ways just the opposite of those generally considered unavoidable, as confirmed yesterday by the new head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde to Fareed Zakaria. The people of Greece have been told that the privatization of their public sector is the only solution. And those of Italy, Spain and Portugal are facing the same threat.

They should look to Iceland. Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.

That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

12 December 2011

11 December 2011

Stop Congressional "Insider Trading"

Reposted from Jobsanger

Last week it was revealed that Congress is commonly doing something that, if done by any other American, would be considered a criminal act. It is "insider trading". This is when someone uses information not available to the general public to make trades in the stock market, thereby giving themselves an unfair advantage in the market. An example of this would be when a corporate insider knows something will soon happen that will affect the market price of that company's stock. It would be illegal for him/her to use that knowledge to buy or sell that company's stock until that information is released publicly.

But the members of Congress and their aides routinely have that kind of information available to them (such as the knowledge that a new law or regulation will soon be imposed that will significantly affect a certain industry, or the knowledge that a lucrative government contract will soon be given to a certain corporation). While it would be illegal for an American citizen to use this secret information to enrich themselves by buying or selling stock, that illegality does not extend to members of Congress or their aides. And many members of Congress and their employees (of both political parties) have used "insider trading" to fill their own personal banks accounts with cold hard cash (and lots of it).

Of course this isn't the only example of Congress giving themselves perks that ordinary Americans don't enjoy. How many ordinary workers do you know that can vote themselves a raise without permission of their bosses, even in the midst of a recession? Congress can, and they don't seem to care what their bosses (the people of this country) think about it. But in spite of their usual arrogance, this insider trading story seems to have embarrassed at least some members of Congress.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-New York) have introduced a new bill in the House of Representatives. It is called the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act (STOCK Act), and it would ban any member of Congress or their aides from buying or selling stocks or commodities if they have "material nonpublic information" that relates to a company or commodity. The bill would eliminate the insider trading advantage that Congress currently enjoys over all other Americans.

But while the bill makes a lot of sense and would be supported by a large majority of Americans, don't start celebrating its passage yet. For a lot of the members of Congress this is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, and you can bet that many of them will fight tooth-and-nail to kill this bill. In fact, they are already coming up with reasons why the bill "wouldn't work", and might even be a bad idea.

These naysayers tell us that it would be very hard to prove that a member of Congress or their aides had used insider information in making trades. And they say that Congress might just make many more things secret from the public to cover their tracks after making insider trades. These are actually fairly good arguments. We already know that many Wall Street executives engage in insider trading but are rarely caught, and authorities would be even more reluctant to make an accusation against a member of Congress. And the government already keeps too many things secret that should be public knowledge.

But even if both of those things are true, they are nothing more than excuses for failing to address the problem. Insider trading is wrong and should be outlawed no matter how hard it is to prove. And it is just as wrong for Congress as it is for everyone else. While not all insider trades are caught, some are and that acts as a deterrent to other who would consider it. As for Congress trying to cover their illegal acts with government secrecy, there are ways to expose that (remember WikiLeaks?).

The truth is that there is an easy way to overcome both of those arguments. Just amend the STOCK Act to outlaw all trading of stocks and commodities by members of Congress and their aides and immediate family members (whether insider trading is used or not). I know there will be some that will say this would be unfair, and that members of Congress should have the right to make money by honest trading just like other Americans. I disagree.

These men and women were not sent to Congress to make themselves rich. They were sent there because they told the voters they wanted to serve their country, and they are well-paid for that service. A member of Congress is paid nearly $170,000 a year (plus expenses, perks, and benefits). The salary alone is three times the average wage of the bottom 99% of Americans. If this is not sufficient remuneration for their service to their country, then I question if their running for office was really a desire to serve -- and they should resign (and then they could trade to their hearts desire).

Government service should not be the path to riches, and for millions of government workers at all levels it isn't. They work for salaries lower than they could get in private industry because they have a desire to serve their country and their fellow citizens -- and they retire on a modest income after that life of service. Why should it be different for members of Congress (or their aides)?

10 December 2011

The Teabagger Pledge

08 December 2011

The thought leaders of the conservative alternative knowledge system

“But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat. Outside the system, social scientists worry that the U.S. is hardening into one of the most rigid class societies in the Western world, in which the children of the poor have less chance of escape than in France, Germany, or even England. Inside the system, the U.S. remains (to borrow the words of Senator Marco Rubio) “the only place in the world where it doesn’t matter who your parents were or where you came from.” — David Frum

06 December 2011


05 December 2011


04 December 2011

Reposted from No Corporate Rule

"The two greatest visions of a future dystopia were George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” The debate, between those who watched our descent towards corporate totalitarianism, was who was right. Would we be, as Orwell wrote, dominated by a repressive surveillance and security state that used crude and violent forms of control? Or would we be, as Huxley envisioned, entranced by entertainment and spectacle, captivated by technology and seduced by profligate consumption to embrace our own oppression? It turns out Orwell and Huxley were both right. Huxley saw the first stage of our enslavement. Orwell saw the second."
------ Chris Hedges, from 2011: A Brave New Dystopia, Truthdig 12/27/10

By now, you've probably seen the video of the obviously intentional and grotesque behavior by campus police at the University of California in Davis.This video, originally only available through fringe progressive blogs and websites, has finally seen the light of day within the corporate-owned mainstream media -- mainly because it has gone viral on the Internet. As with anything accusatory or demeaning of the corporate-state, unless there's no further chance of ignoring or omitting the obvious (as in the case of the Occupy movement), the corporate media is forced to undraw the curtain and reveal the events -- although, not necessarily, and often not, the truth and reasons behind them.

The question I want to ask is this: When this kind of despicable behavior is conducted by those entrusted to serve and protect us from criminal activities, and equally important, is condoned and approved by their superiors and those we supposedly elect, when and where is the line drawn that separates us from the inhumane and state-sanctioned slippery slope toward totalitarianism and demagoguery?

03 December 2011

The Top 0.1% Of The Nation Earn Half Of All Capital Gains

Capital gains are the key ingredient of income disparity in the US-- and the force behind the winner takes all mantra of our economic system. If you want even out earning power in the U.S, you have to raise the 15% capital gains tax.
Income and wealth disparities become even more absurd if we look at the top 0.1% of the nation's earners-- rather than the more common 1%. The top 0.1%-- about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million-- are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
It's crystal clear that the Bush tax reduction on capital gains and dividend income in 2003 was the cutting edge policy that has created the immense increase in net worth of corporate executives, Wall St. professionals and other entrepreneurs.
The reduction in the tax from 20% to 15% continued the step-by-step tradition of cutting this tax to create more wealth. It had first been reduced from 35% in 1978 at a time of stock market and economic stagnation to 28% . Again 1981, at the start of the Reagan era, it was reduced again to 20%-- raised back to 28% in 1987, on the eve of the October 19 232% crash in the market. In 1997 Clinton agreed to reduce it back to 20%, which move was an inducement for the explosion of hedge funds and private equity firms-- the most "rapidly rising cohort within the top 1 per cent."
Make no mistake; the battle that is to be fought over the coming attempt to reverse this reduction in capital gains will be bloody and intense. The facts are clear according to the Congressional Budget Office more than 80% of the increase in income inequality was the result of an increase in the share of household income from capital gains. In fact, you can go so far as to claim that "Capital Gains income is the most unevenly distributed-- and volatile-- source of household income," according to Laura D'Andrea Tyson, University of California business professor and former chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Clinton.
No wonder the super wealthy plutocrats obtained the largest share of national income-- 25% of the nation's wealth- greater than any other industrial nation in the the period of 1979 to 2005. Make no mistake; after unemployment-- this disparity between the 1%-- 3 million-- or the 0.1%-- the 300,000-- and the other 312 million citizens of the U.S. has become the major theme of the Occupy Wall Street movement-- and an important national debate.
I commend you to the late Justice Louis Brandeis warning to the nation that " We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." We have to make up our minds to restore a higher, fairer capital gains tax to the wealthiest investor class-- or ultimately face increased social unrest.

02 December 2011

Timeline of a mass extinction

Since the first organisms appeared on Earth approximately 3.8 billion years ago, life on the planet has had some close calls. In the last 500 million years, Earth has undergone five mass extinctions, including the event 66 million years ago that wiped out the dinosaurs. And while most scientists agree that a giant asteroid was responsible for that extinction, there’s much less consensus on what caused an even more devastating extinction more than 185 million years earlier.

The end-Permian extinction occurred 252.2 million years ago, decimating 90 percent of marine and terrestrial species, from snails and small crustaceans to early forms of lizards and amphibians. c Possible causes include immense volcanic eruptions, rapid depletion of oxygen in the oceans, and — an unlikely option — an asteroid collision.

While the causes of this global catastrophe are unknown, an MIT-led team of researchers has now established that the end-Permian extinction was extremely rapid, triggering massive die-outs both in the oceans and on land in less than 20,000 years — the blink of an eye in geologic time. The researchers also found that this time period coincides with a massive buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which likely triggered the simultaneous collapse of species in the oceans and on land.

With further calculations, the group found that the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the atmosphere during the end-Permian extinction was slightly below today’s rate of carbon dioxide release into the atmosphere due to fossil fuel emissions. Over tens of thousands of years, increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide during the Permian period likely triggered severe global warming, accelerating species extinctions.

The researchers also discovered evidence of simultaneous and widespread wildfires that may have added to end-Permian global warming, triggering what they deem “catastrophic” soil erosion and making environments extremely arid and inhospitable.

The researchers present their findings this week in Science, and say the new timescale may help scientists home in on the end-Permian extinction’s likely causes.

“People have never known how long extinctions lasted,” says Sam Bowring, the Robert R. Schrock Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT. “Many people think maybe millions of years, but this is tens of thousands of years. There’s a lot of controversy about what caused [the end-Permian extinction], but whatever caused it, this is a fundamental constraint on it. It had to have been something that happened very quickly.”

Rocks in a hard place

Bowring worked with a group of American and Chinese researchers to pinpoint the extinction’s duration. The group analyzed volcanic ash beds from Meishan, a region in southern China where an old limestone quarry exposes rocks containing abundant fossils from the Permian period, as well as the very first fossils that signified a recovery from extinction, during the Triassic period. The rocks of the region have been widely studied as the best global example of the Permian-Triassic Boundary (PTB).

The group collected clay samples from ash beds both above and below rock layers from the PTB. In the lab, they separated out zircon, a robust mineral that can survive intense geological processes. Zircon contains trace amounts of uranium, which can be used to date the rocks in which it is found. Bowring and his colleagues analyzed 300 of the “best-looking” grains of zircon, and found the rocks above and below the mass-extinction period spanned only a 20,000-year phase.

Bowring says now that researchers are able to precisely date the end-Permian extinction, scientists will have to re-examine old theories. For example, many believe the extinction may have been triggered by large volcanic eruptions in Siberia that covered 2 million square kilometers of Earth — an area roughly three times the size of Texas.

“In the old days you could say, ‘Oh, it’s about the same time, therefore it’s cause and effect,’” Bowring says. “But now that we can date [the extinction] to plus or minus 20,000 years, you can’t just say ‘about the same.’ You have to demonstrate it’s exactly the same.”

‘Something unusual going on’

The group also analyzed carbon-isotope data from rocks in southern China and found that within the same period, the oceans and atmosphere experienced a large influx of carbon dioxide. Dan Rothman, a professor of geophysics in EAPS, calculated the average rate at which carbon dioxide entered the oceans and atmosphere at the time, finding it to be somewhat less than today’s influx due to fossil fuel emissions.

“The rate of injection of CO2 into the late Permian system is probably similar to the anthropogenic rate of injection of CO2 now,” Rothman says. “It’s just that it went on for … 10,000 years.”

Rothman says the total amount of CO2 pumped into Earth over this time period was so immense that it’s not immediately clear where it all came from.

“It’s just not easy to imagine,” Rothman says. “Even if you put all the world’s known coal deposits on top of a volcano, you still wouldn’t come close. So something unusual was going on.”

David Bottjer, professor of earth sciences and biological sciences at the University of Southern California, views the group’s results as strong evidence for one of the extinction’s most likely causes.

“This is the most precise set of dates that have been produced for analysis of the end-Permian mass extinction,” Bottjer says. “Because these dates are analyzed in conjunction with geochemical and fossil information they provide unique evidence … that this mass extinction was probably caused by an enormous input of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans caused by volcanic eruptions.”

01 December 2011


By Ted McLaughlin

Republican congressmen/women like to talk a lot about class warfare. Their talk is really code for keeping the rich in the advantageous position they have, and preventing any new laws that might distribute income and wealth more evenly throughout the population. After years of funneling the nation's riches into the pockets of the rich, the very idea of "economic justice" is anathema to them.

But the truth is that there is a class warfare going on, and it has been happening for the last thirty years -- a war directed by Republicans on behalf of the 1% and waged against American workers. It started with Reagan's initiation of trickle-down economics about 1980, and was kicked into high gear in the presidency of George W. Bush. Over that thirty year period the income of the 1% of richest Americans has increased by over 270%, while the wages of the bottom 80% of Americans has been stagnant (and has actually dropped in the power of what those wages will purchase).

Republicans now want to blame the recession for the economic hurt that is being felt by far too many Americans. And in a way, that is partially true. But the truth is that the recession (brought on by the Republican economic policies) just hastened a process that was already well under way before the recession hit in late 2007. A report by the Economic Policy Institute tells us that during the period between 2000 and 2007 (before the recession hit), the real median income of working-age households fell by $2,114. That's a drop of over $176 a month, and that is a drop in real dollars, not purchasing power.

But while the Republican policies were making the rich richer and lowering the wages of workers, perhaps the most insidious and tragic effect of these policies has been to swell the ranks of the poor. We now have more than 46 million people who depend on the government food stamp program to put food on the table, and more than 15% of the total United States population now lives below the poverty line.

President Johnson's War on Poverty had been reducing the number and percentage of people living in poverty in America since the 1960's. Poverty hadn't been wiped out, but the country was starting to get a handle on it. Now, thanks to the Republican economic policies, all of those gains have been wiped out and we are now once again at record levels of poverty in America.

And most tragic of all is the number of children who are being forced into poverty. Thanks to Republicans blocking job creation, denying extensions of unemployment benefits, and slashing the funding of many social programs, the number of children being thrown into poverty is reaching disastrous proportions. In just one year more than a million children were added to poverty rolls -- from 14.7 million children in 2009 to 15.7 million children in 2010.

This means that currently more than 20% (or one in every five) of all American children now live in poverty. In some states, like Texas, that rate is 25% (one in every four) or 1.8 million children -- and Texas is a state the Republicans hail as being the beneficiary of a Republican economic "miracle". The fact is that in Texas and in the nation the Republican policies may be good for the corporations and the rich, but they have been an economic disaster for everyone else.

The Republicans have driven the American economy into a deep ditch. How much longer will we allow them to force our economy to stay in that ditch? Can we really afford to let them retain even a semblance of power?