Saturday, April 23, 2011

Beware the “Middle Ground” of the Great Budget Debate

Friday, April 22, 2011 by
by Robert Reich
How debates are framed is critical because the “center” or “middle ground” is supposedly halfway between the two extremes.

We continue to hear that the Great Budget Debate has two sides: The President and the Democrats want to cut the budget deficit mainly by increasing taxes on the rich and reducing military spending, but not by privatizing Medicare. On the other side are Paul Ryan, Republicans, and the right, who want cut the deficit by privatizing Medicare and slicing programs that benefit poorer Americans, while lowering taxes on the rich.

By this logic, the center lies just between.


According to the most recent Washington Post-ABC poll, 78 percent of Americans oppose cutting spending on Medicare as a way to reduce the debt, and 72 percent support raising taxes on the rich – including 68 percent of Independents and 54 percent of Republicans.

In other words, the center of America isn’t near halfway between the two sides. It’s overwhelmingly on the side of the President and the Democrats.

I’d wager if Americans also knew two-thirds of Ryan’s budget cuts come from programs serving lower and moderate-income Americans and over 70 percent of the savings fund tax cuts for the rich – meaning it’s really just a giant transfer from the less advantaged to the super advantaged without much deficit reduction at all – far more would be against it.

And if people knew that the Ryan plan would channel hundreds of billions of their Medicare dollars into the pockets of private for-profit heath insurers, almost everyone would be against it.

The Republican plan shouldn’t be considered one side of a great debate. It shouldn’t be considered at all. Americans don’t want it.

Which is why I get worried when I hear about so-called “bipartisan” groups on Capitol Hill seeking a grand compromise, such as the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Six.”

Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, a member of that Gang, says they’re near agreement on a plan that will chart a “middle ground” between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by the President.

Watch your wallets.

In my view, even the President doesn’t go nearly far enough in the direction most Americans would approve. All he wants to do, essentially, is end the Bush tax windfalls for the wealthy – which were designed to be ended in 2010 in any event – and close a few loopholes.

But why shouldn’t we go back to the tax rates we had thirty years ago, which required the rich to pay much higher shares of their incomes? One of the great scandals of our age is how concentrated income and wealth have become. The top 1 percent now gets twice the share of national income it took home thirty years ago.

If the super rich paid taxes at the same rates they did three decades ago, they’d contribute $350 billion more per year than they are now – amounting to trillions more over the next decade. That’s enough to ensure every young American is healthy and well-educated and that the nation’s infrastructure is up to world-class standards.

Nor does the President’s proposal go nearly far enough in cutting military spending, which is not only out of control but completely unrelated to our nation’s defense needs – fancy weapons systems designed for an age of conventional warfare; hundreds of billions of dollars for the Navy and Air Force, when most of the action is with the Army, Marines, and Special Forces; and billions more for programs no one can justify and few can understand.

If Americans understood how much they’re paying for defense and how little they’re getting, they’d demand a defense budget at least 25 percent smaller than it is today.

Finally, the President’s proposed budget doesn’t deal with the scandal of the nation’s schools in poor and middle-class communities – schools whose teachers are paid under $50,000 a year, whose classrooms are crammed, that can’t afford textbooks or science labs, that have abandoned after-school programs and courses like history and art. Most school budgets depend manly on local property taxes that continue to drop in lower-income communities. The federal government should come to their rescue.

To think of the “center” as roughly halfway between the President’s and Paul Ryan’s proposals is to ignore what Americans need and want. For our political representatives to find a ”middle ground” between the two would be a travesty.

As Offshoring Continues, US Public Peeved at "Free Market"

by Roger Bybee 
Many Americans increasingly feel like a trap door has suddenly dropped them into economic quicksand, with major corporations and their government allies pulling them further away from the middle-class security they once had.

These feelings have been heightened by a wave of public-sector union-busting laws in Wisconsin and Ohio that will encourage more private sector wage-cutting (already at a record level ), revelations about the extent of corporations “off-shoring” jobs while creating virtually no new jobs in the U.S. for the entire 1999-2009 decade and news that two-thirds of major corporations are paying no federal income taxes.

Two surveys released this week suggest an intensifying sense of impatience with the agonizingly slow recovery and a profound and growing disillusionment with Corporate America. First, a New York Times/CBS News poll shows declining faith that America is on a path to economic recovery:
Americans are more pessimistic about the nation's economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama's first two months in office...

At a time of rising gas prices, stubborn unemployment and a cacophonous debate in Washington over the federal government's ability to meet its future obligations, the poll presents stark evidence that the slow, if unsteady, gains in public confidence earlier this year that a recovery was under way are now all but gone.
The poll reflects a high degree of political disorientation and confusion among voters. While 72% of the public—including a stunning 55% of Republcians—favor President Obama’s proposal to raise taxes on incomes over $250,000, a slight majority backs Republican Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan for wrecking Medicare, which also contains relatively little-known provisions for further lowering taxes on corporations and the rich.

But Americans remain solidly clear and unified in believing that the economic recovery is not bringing meaningful benefits to folks like them, with 70 percent convinced that the country is “seriously on the wrong track.” President Obama's economic policies have a 57 percent disapproval rate, while congressional Republicans are seen even more dubiously.


Obama’s economic policies offer at least some appeal to economic fairness, but the president’s continued reliance on “private-sector job creation” seems downright absurd when corporations feel no sense of obligation to add create in the United States. “Winning the Future” for Obama’s team has meant business-friendly efforts that are utterly faling to lift decaying communities out of job loss and misery.

Prolonged unemployment—particularly high in old manufacturing towns—not only has generated understandable pessimism about the future state of the economy, but it is also propelling an increasing number of Americans to question whether the “free market” is the best economic system. Americans are growing increasingly suspicious of the giant corporations which largely shape the economy.

Thus, the polling firm Globescan found a sharp drop in the level of support for “free enterprise”:
When GlobeScan began tracking views in 2002, four in five Americans (80%) saw the free market as the best economic system for the future—the highest level of support among tracking countries. Support started to fall away in the following years and recovered slightly after the financial crisis in 2007/8, but has plummeted since 2009, falling 15 points in a year [emphasis added] so that fewer than three in five (59%) now see free market capitalism as the best system for the future.
Americans with incomes below $20,000 were particularly likely to have lost faith in the free market over the past year, with their support dropping from 76 percent to 44 percent between 2009 and 2010.
GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller commented: "America is the last place we would have expected to see such a sharp drop in trust in the free enterprise system. This is not good news for business." He added:
The poll suggest that American business is close to losing its social contract with average American families that has enabled it to prosper in the world. Inspired leadership will be needed to reverse this trend."
The breakdown of the “social contract” is evident when you look at the radical shift in General Electric’s guiding philosophy. As Steven Greenhouse noted in The Big Squeeze, in 1962 GE’s employee benefits manager wrote,
Maximizing employer security is a prime company goal. The employee who can plan his economic future with reasonable certainty is an employer’s most productive asset.
Compare that quaint attitude with the ruthless creed of Jack Welch’s, GE’s CEO from 1981 to 2001, who showed his disregard for employee loyalty when he declared, "Ideally you'd have every plant you own on a barge"  By that, he meant a readiness to seek out at a moment's notice the lowest possible wages and most pliable governments (weak regulations, low taxes, hostile to unions, etc.) anywhere on the globe.


More and more corporations are enthusiastically carrying out Welch’s strategy, as David Wessel's stunning Wall Street Journal article and chart revealed this week, generating extensive comment in progressive media (see here and here):
U.S. multinational corporations…cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show.
Given this callous disregard for the U.S. workers and communities that corporations have abandoned (as well as for the low-wage workers they degrade daily in Mexico, China and other sites of the relocated operations), the sharp, sudden drop in support for the “free market” is not mystifying at all.

Today, as America's prolonged and severe employment crisis continues, multinational corporations continue to unilaterally repudiate their side of the “social contract.”

The country's business leaders should hardly be surprised to hear Americans questioning the “free market” shield they use to justify their outrageous abandonment of American workers, their renewed attacks on decent wages by imposing two-tier wage structures, and their refusal to contribute their fair share of taxes to cope with the social damage that they are causing.

As suggested by the labor uprising in Wisconsin—now spreading to other states—working people have not only lost faith in corporations' ability to show any concern for fairness. Workers are increasingly moving from outrage to action.

Welcome to Banktopia

The Real Losers in Bernanke's Shell Game

Let's talk turkey. The dollar is getting hammered by the day. And the dollar is getting hammered by design, because the Fed wants a weaker currency to boost exports and lower the real burden of debt on the banks. (Yes, Martha, the banks are still insolvent) So, down goes the greenback, lower and lower, pushing up gas and food prices while the buying power of the average US worker vanishes down the plughole. And this process will continue for the foreseeable future because--as Obama stated earlier in the year--Washington is committed to "doubling exports in the next 5 years." Think about that: "the next 5 years". That's the same as saying that the American worker will be reduced to third-world poverty in a half decade or so. It's a death sentence.

And none of this has anything to do with lowering unemployment or raising GDP. In fact, the revisions of first quarter GDP reveal the lies behind the policy. The first announcement from the Commerce Department put GDP at 3.2%. Remember that? Now we've slipped to 1.4% and some predict the final revision could actually show negative growth. This is from the New York Times:
"Earlier this week we wrote that several prominent economic forecasters had lowered their estimates of gross domestic product growth in the first quarter of this year. Today saw even further declines. Macroeconomic Advisers, a forecasting firm, lowered its estimate to just 1.4 percent annualized, when just a few months ago they had pegged the number at 4.1 percent.
Capital Economics likewise brought its estimate down to 1 percent, writing in a client note:
Every data release last week seemed to necessitate a further downward revision to our first-quarter GDP growth forecast. By the end of the week when the dust had finally settled, that estimate was down to only 1% at an annualized pace. Indeed, there is now even a decent outside chance that the economy contracted outright." ("G.D.P. Estimates Slide Further", New York Times)
So, it's all baloney. The economy isn't growing. How could it be? Wages are flat, credit is still shrinking, (excluding student loans) and the only reason the unemployment numbers keep dropping is because more and more people are falling off the unemployment rolls. Everyone knows that. So, while there may be a slight uptick in consumption and retail; don't be fooled. It's just because it costs more to put food on the table or drive to work, not because people are scarfing up trinkets at the mall or living the highlife.

And the American people know what's going on; they can see through this "green shoots" charade. That's why the latest survey from the New York Times showed that the "Nation's Mood (is) at the Lowest Level in Two Years" and that "Americans are more pessimistic about the nation's economic outlook and overall direction than they have been at any time since President Obama's first two months in office when the country was still officially ensnared in the Great Recession." ("Nation's Mood at Lowest Level in Two Years, Poll Shows, New York Times)
People have lost faith in Obama, the congress, and the political process itself. They can see that the system is broken and no longer responds to the will of the people, which is why they're throwing up their hands and giving up. It's obvious. Gallup found the same thing. Here's a clip from their recent poll:
"Americans' optimism about the future direction of the U.S. economy plunged in March for the second month in a row, as the percentage of Americans saying the economy is "getting better" fell to 33% -- down from 41% in January....Optimism about the future of the economy declined across all political parties during the first quarter....Gallup's Economic Confidence Index, which includes the economic optimism measure, also plunged in March..." ("U.S. Economic Optimism Plummets in March", Gallup)
So, all the "happy-times" propaganda has had zilch effect. The public's not buying it. They know we're in a Depression. How could they not know? They're underwater on their mortgages, they can't get a loan, their kids and Uncle Arnie can't find work, and the guy in the Oval Office won't do a damn thing to help out. Is it any wonder why so many people are giving up on capitalism entirely. Just take a look at this survey from Globescan for a real shocker:
"American public support for the free market economy has dropped sharply in the past year, and is now lower than in China, according to a GlobeScan poll released today.....When GlobeScan began tracking views in 2002, four in five Americans (80%) saw the free market as the best economic system for the future—the highest level of support among tracking countries. Support started to fall away in the following years and recovered slightly after the financial crisis in 2007/8, but has plummeted since 2009, falling 15 points in a year so that fewer than three in five (59%) now see free market capitalism as the best system for the future.
GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller commented: "America is the last place we would have expected to see such a sharp drop in trust in the free enterprise system. This is not good news for business."
The results mean that a number of the world's major emerging economies have now matched or overtaken the USA in their enthusiasm for the free market. The Chinese and Brazilians, 67 per cent of whom regard the free market system as the best on offer, are now more positive about capitalism than Americans." ("Sharp Drop in American Enthusiasm for Free Market, Poll Shows", GlobeScan)
Can you believe it? The Chinese like capitalism better than Americans. How's that for irony? And, don't kid yourself, the average working slob isn't spending his evenings thumbing through the Communist Manifesto while strumming L'Internationale on his 6-string. That's nonsense. Americans are practical people. They know they're getting screwed by both parties which is why their support for capitalism has eroded even faster under Obama. It fell "15 points in a year" since 2009. Way to go, Barry. 

And things will only get worse when congress starts hacking away at the budget deficits, eliminating popular programs and services. That will just add more fuel to the fire and convince people that the system is beyond repair. Bottom line: Conditions will steadily deteriorate, activity will slow, and economy will enter a period of protracted stagflation.

But that doesn't mean Wall Street will suffer. Hell, no. The markets will continue to bubble ever-higher fueled by lavish injections of monetary stimulus from the Fed just as they have for the last 3 years. As Bloomberg reported earlier in the week, Bernanke does not plan to end QE2 at the end of June as scheduled, but will continue to recycle the proceeds from maturing mortgage-backed securities (MBS) into bond purchases to ensure that the Blue Chips continue to post record profits while 42 million workers scrape by on food-stamps, and a couple million more wait to get booted out of their homes. Sounds fair, doesn't it?

So, if it seems like the big banks are writing the policy; it's because they are. Think of it like this: The US government keeps two sets of books. One is a record of all the public's revenues and debts. The other is an off-balance sheet operation run by the Fed. When congress spends money, it must be approved through the normal democratic process. When the Fed spends money, it simply writes a check on an account backed by "the full faith and credit of the US Treasury" without any oversight or supervision. And, the debts that it rings-up, do not add to the budget deficits or force policymakers to impose constraints on the banks. No way. The $2 trillion in junk mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and other handouts the Fed has given to Wall Street since Lehman collapsed, should have sent the deficits into the stratosphere and forced the resolution (bankruptcy) of the nation's largest banks. But they didn't, because the Fed's losses are kept "off-budget", where they don't attract congress's scrutiny. So, anything goes. 

The only problem is that the Fed's trillion dollar Bank Welfare Project has led to diminished buying power and a plunging dollar. So, it would be more accurate to call QE2 a stealth tax on working people, instead of "monetary stimulus".(which it is not.) The truth is, Bernanke is deliberately flogging the dollar to help his underwater bank buddies stay afloat and to keep stocks "frothy". But the net-result is a huge loss of personal wealth for everyone else. These are the real losers in Bernanke's QE shell game.

Looking ahead, it will be more of the same. Stocks will continue to rally, the red ink on the Fed's balance sheet will continue to build, and the dollar will continue its agonizing descent into oblivion. 

The Fed is running the whole shooting match now and the rest of us are just bystanders with no say-so. 

Welcome to Banktopia.

Stripmining American Jobs

Is This Patriotic?

It is time to apply the standard of patriotism to the U.S. multinational corporations and demand that they pledge allegiance to the United States and "the Republic for which is stands…. with liberty and justice for all." This July 4, 2011 would be good day for Americans to demand such a corporate commitment.

Born and chartered in the U.S.A., these corporations rose to their giant size on the backs of American workers and vast taxpayer-subsidized research and development handouts. When they got into trouble, whether through mismanagement or corruption, these companies rushed to Washington, D.C. for bailouts from American taxpayers. When some were challenged in foreign lands, the U.S. marines came to their rescue, as depicted decades ago by two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, Marine General Smedley Butler.

So what is their message to America and its workers now? It is not gratitude or loyalty. It is "we're outta here, with your jobs and industries" to dictatorial or oligarchic regimes abroad, such as China, that know how to keep their impoverished, and abused workers under control.

Note that these company bosses have no compunction replacing U.S. workers with serf-labor, but they never replace themselves with bi-lingual executives from China, India and elsewhere who are willing to work for one-tenth or less of the huge pay packages executives get from their rubber-stamp boards of directors in the U.S.

Just this week, the Wall Street Journal headlined "Big U.S. Firms Shift Hiring Abroad." Veteran reporter, David Wessel writes:
"U.S. multinational corporations, the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers, have been hiring abroad while cutting back at home, sharpening the debate over globalization's effect on the U.S. economy. The companies cut their work forces in the U.S. by 2.9 million during the 2000s while increasing employment overseas by 2.4 million, new data from the U.S. Commerce Department show."
While Mr. Wessel acknowledges that other economies, especially in Asia, are growing rapidly, he noted that "The data also underscore the vulnerability of the U.S. economy, particularly at a time when unemployment is high and wages aren't increasing."

Keep in mind that, while receiving all the public services, subsidies and protections in this country, large corporations have been abandoning America by shifting jobs overseas and by making our country perilously and unnecessarily dependent on foreign governments that naturally put their own interests first.

For example, the drug companies no longer have any plant in the U.S. to manufacture essential raw ingredients for important antibiotics like penicillin. In 2004, Bristol-Myers Squibb closed the last such factory in East Syracuse, N.Y. The drug industry always made lots of money here. One of every two Americans are on a prescription medicine. But the pharmaceutical companies want to make more so they have moved their production to Asia.

In 2009, The New York Times reported that "the critical ingredients for most antibiotics are now made almost exclusively in China and India. The same is true for dozens of other crucial medicines, including the popular allergy medicine prednisone; metformin, for diabetes; and amlodipine, for high blood pressure.

This flight to Asia raises serious questions. Senator Sherrod Brown (Dem. Ohio) held hearings because he accurately believed that "the lack of regulation around outsourcing is a blind spot that leaves room for supply disruptions, counterfeit medicines, even bioterrorism."

Industrial scale production of Penicillin was developed by the U.S. war production board in World War II and many drug companies made it in U.S. plants, until the Chinese government lured the industry there with many freebies and weak safety regulations. A few years ago 95 Americans died from a Chinese produced counterfeit ingredient in the drug heparin, an anticlotting drug needed for surgery and dialysis.

As Belgium drug industry consultant, Enrico Polastro, told The New York Times:
"If China ever got very upset with President Obama, it could be a big problem." The Times concluded: "So for now, like it or not, China has the upper hand."
Who gave China that dominant position? U.S. multinational drug companies, who along with other big U.S. companies, pushed through Congress, with Bill Clinton's support, ratification of both NAFTA's and the World Trade Organization's "pull down" trade agreements. They created the very globalized structure that they now claim they are beholden to in order to meet the global competition. Clever, aren't they?

Other unpatriotic acts include the oil companies who, despite being given a rich oil depletion tax allowance to invest in energy in the U.S., invested in oil production overseas. The U.S. is now dependent on foreign sources for most of its petroleum. Don't forget the corporate military-industrial giants that thrive on U.S. military expansion abroad and sell modern weapons to many dictatorial regimes which they use to oppress their people and endanger our own national security.

U.S. multinationals that export jobs abroad, show too little regard for our country, or to the U.S. communities that sustained them for decades. Greedy corporate lobbyists continue to press for more privileges and immunities, over those held by real humans, so as to be less accountable under U.S. law for corporate crimes and other mis-behaviors.

If U.S. companies continue to expand their "rights of personhood" through U.S. Supreme Court's political decisions (eg. the latest being the notorious 5 to 4 Citizens United case opening up the floodgates of corporate cash against or for electoral candidates), then, they should be judged as "persons" and evaluated for their loyalty to their country of creation.

Since corporations are clearly "artificial" entities and not real human beings, narrower civil liberties standards can be applied to the impersonal and massive concentrations of power, capital and technology known as corporations

Independence Day July 4th presents an opportunity for a national attention to the need for calling out these runaway corporate giants who exploit for profit the patriotic sensibilities of Americans, but decline to be held any patriotic expectations or values.

Readers interested in joining such an effort for July 4, 2011 contact

The Fake Budget Debate in DC

Deep Collusion

By definition, a "debate" requires two opposing sides holding mutually exclusive opinions. In the U.S. Congress, however, real debate has all but vanished. Instead, we are subjected to endless blather that — if you listen closely — is a simple discussion over splitting hairs.

There can be no U.S. budget debate when both sides have already agreed that massive cuts to social programs — including Medicare and Social Security — will be the foundation of any plan.

With this fundamental agreement already in place, Democrats and Republicans are pathetically trying to create a division where none exists. The right wing looks especially foolish, since Obama has been furiously sprinting to the political right throughout the budget "debate," having already overtaken the right-wing deficit hawks; in response, the hawks have gotten more hawkish and restarted their rightward dash in a desperate attempt to appear in "opposition" to the right-wing President.

For example, the Republicans originally demanded that an astonishing $4 trillion be cut from the U.S. budget, mainly through cuts to social programs. Not to be outdone, Obama presented a plan that would cut $4 trillion, mainly through cuts to social programs. The furthest right are the so-called Tea Party Republicans, who want to cut $10 trillion by essentially privatizing the entire U.S. Government.

But, back to the hair splitting. Obama calls the $4 trillion Republican plan "radical," and he's right; the plan seeks to privatize Medicare, destroy Medicaid, gut other social programs, lower corporate tax rates, etc.

But Obama is a radical budget cutter too; he seeks to gut Medicare/Medicaid by $480 billion(!), slash spending for many crucial programs for the poor, and privatize public education through his corporate-sponsored Race to the Top program.

Obama is trying to make his plan seem progressive by talking about "taxing the rich," but this is a lie. Finally allowing the Bush-era tax cuts to expire is not "taxing the rich" (Bush himself planned for the cuts to have expired already, but Obama agreed to extend them.)

Obama's recent tough speech against the Republicans was the first sign of life for the President, just in time for him to begin his presidential run for 2012, which will surely be full of promises that will never see the light of day.

As the President wages a "battle" over secondary budget issues, such as how best to make $4 trillion in cuts, the main issues are already agreed upon. Economist Richard Reich helps explain:

"...the Democratic leadership in Congress refuse to refute the Republicans' big lie — that spending cuts will lead to more jobs. In fact, spending cuts now will lead to fewer jobs. They'll slow down an already-anemic recovery. That will cause immense and unnecessary suffering for millions of Americans"

"The president continues to legitimize the Republican claim that too much government spending caused the economy to tank, and that by cutting back spending we'll get the economy going again." (April 10, 2011).

This two-party big lie is not an accident, but an expression of a deeper held belief: that the U.S. government must be directed to meet the needs of the super wealthy who own U.S. corporations. Holding this belief requires that you gut social programs (since corporations hate paying taxes) and privatize everything publicly owned (so corporations can own them for profit).

As long as both Democrats and Republicans agree to these deeper beliefs, the country will shift continually to the right, with social programs and living standards evaporating. However, the stronger that labor and community groups unite and fight to save these social programs, the harder will it be to cut them; out of such a struggle will emerge practical solutions to solving the deficit problems of the country, such as dramatically increasing the taxes on the rich and corporations so that jobs can be created and social programs saved.

Odd Animal Deaths, Deformities Linked to Gulf Oil Spill?

(Really? Scientists are befuddled? They can't link these deformities and deaths to the spill? Or is it that they won't for some "mysterious" reason? Bring in different scientists then. Ones who aren't scared or easily bought off.--jef)


Scientists befuddled by dolphin deaths, diseased fish.

On the first anniversary of the Gulf oil spill, scientists are observing strange deaths and deformities in animals that could be related to the disaster, experts say.
Ker Than

Published April 19, 2011

In the past six months, the numbers of dolphin and sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico (map) have risen, and some fish that inhabit the Gulf's coral reefs have developed abnormalities.

Yet projects to document and measure the oil's effects on Gulf marine life are still in the very early stages, scientists caution. Preliminary results may not be available for months, and it may be several years before any kind of scientific consensus is reached.

Such uncertainty is not unusual for oil-spill studies, noted William Patterson, a marine biologist at the University of West Florida (UWF) in Pensacola.

"If you look at the literature surrounding the Exxon Valdez oil spill [in 1989], there are still some unknowns associated with that," Patterson said.

"What we know [in the case of Exxon Valdez] is that there was an insult to the system, that there were effects on the food web and ecosystem, and that some species have not recovered to the levels they were at before." (Related: "Exxon Valdez Anniversary: 20 Years Later, Oil Remains.")

Some of the Exxon Valdez oil's effects are circumstantial evidence, he added, "but it's pretty compelling evidence."

Mysterious Spike in Dolphin, Turtle Deaths

This winter, an alarmingly high number of bottlenose dolphins—113 at last count—washed up dead on U.S. shores, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The agency confirmed in early April that six of the bodies had Deepwater Horizon oil on them.

(Read more: "Dolphin-Baby Die-Off in Gulf Puzzles Scientists.")

"What's important to note, however, is that even though they have this oil on them, it may not be the cause of death," Blair Mase, NOAA's marine-mammal investigations coordinator, told reporters at a news briefing April 7.

"That's something the investigative team and our working groups are looking into."

So far this year scientists have also seen a rise in deaths of various species of Gulf sea turtle hatchlings. But NOAA researchers say the culprits may be contact with boats and fishing gear and possibly poisoning by toxins in algal blooms, which naturally appear in the Gulf each spring.
"The carcasses that we have looked at . . . had no visible oil on them," said Barbara Schroeder, national sea turtle coordinator for NOAA.
Fish Found With Deformed Ovaries, Missing Fins 

Meanwhile, other researchers are looking for effects of the oil on other marine species, such as fish, crustaceans, and corals.

UWF's Patterson has recently observed an increase in physical abnormalities consistent with oil exposure in red snappers that live in Gulf coral reefs.

"There are parasites showing up on the fish. They're always present, but this fall and winter we're seeing them in what appears to be higher abundances," Patterson said.

Some of the fish are suffering so severely from a disease called fin rot that entire fins are missing—something Patterson said he has never seen before. Some female red snappers also have been discovered with hardened or deformed ovaries.

(Also see "Sex-Changing Chemicals Can Wipe Out Fish, Study Shows.")

Other red snappers have strange pigmentation issues, Patterson said. "We have some images of red snappers sent to us by commercial fishermen that have black bands across the sides of the fish that is discolored skin."

These symptoms are not unusual in themselves, Patterson said, but the fact that they're appearing at what looks to be increased rates at the same time concerns him.

"Some of these things that we're seeing are classic symptoms of hydrocarbon exposure that have been documented in lab studies."

For example, the odd pigmentation could be caused by the fish's kidney or bile duct being affected or clogged by oil components.

"So it does seem to be pointing in one direction, but we don't have anything definitive yet to tell the full story."

Chuck Jagoe, an environmental toxicologist at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, is working with Patterson to test Gulf red snappers for telltale enzymes that are produced when the fish flush toxic oil components from their bodies.

"These enzymes are associated with the detoxification process," Jagoe said.

"They can give us an indication that the animal has not only been exposed to [oil] compounds, but that the compound is having some kind of biological effect."

Jagoe has just begun testing the fish, and the first results won't be available until at least early summer.

One Species Not Enough Evidence

UWF's Patterson said he also plans to investigate whether other Gulf species are exhibiting symptoms similar to those of the snappers.

Even nearly a year after the disaster, oil could still be lurking in the Gulf's waters, he added.
"Oil is not one thing," Patterson said. "It's thousands of organic compounds. Some of them are fairly [unstable] and microbes break them down very quickly, while others could persist for a long time."

(See "Why the Gulf Oil Spill Isn't Going Away.")

Finding other affected species will be crucial to making a case that the oil spill is having a systemic effect on Gulf fish species, said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a fish biologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge who was not involved in the snapper project.
"With one species, we can't really tell," Chakrabarty said.

He also noted that red snappers are already a vulnerable species due to overfishing, and that it's possible the symptoms that Patterson is seeing are due to inbreeding caused by a decreased population.

Whatever the cause of the deformities, though, "the oil spill didn't help any," he said.

Fish Populations Measured via GPS

Chakrabarty is involved in another project called Depthmap, which aims to use fish-population data collected using GPS technology before and after the spill to investigate the Gulf oil spill's impact on marine life. Museum records are also used to fill out pre-spill data.

"If, for example, 80 percent of Gulf pancake batfishes were found off the coast of Louisiana and they're not there anymore," then that could be an indication the spill negatively affected the species, he said.

And if this pattern is repeated for many fish species, it would indicate the spill has had a pervasive impact on Gulf marine life.

Chakrabarty's team hopes to gather pre- and post-spill population data for 600 fish species in the northern Gulf, but has only begun analysis for a fraction of that number due to limited funding.

His early results suggest that of the 53 species examined so far, 43 had major populations that lived in regions that were in the path of the spill.

Deep-Sea Effects Leave Scientists in the Dark

Even if Depthmap's goals were met, however, scientists would still know only about the impact the spill had on fish that live in relatively shallow water. But the spill's largest potential damage is to deep-sea creatures, Chakrabarty said. (See pictures of deep-sea animals.)

The broken wellhead blew at 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) underwater, and plumes of gushing oil floated nearly 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) up from the seafloor, polluting different layers of water as they rose.

"We knew that the oil wouldn't last at the surface for very long, but what happened at the deep sea?" Chakrabarty said.

Of particular concern, he added, are the effects of the oil dispersants piped into the waters near the wellhead in a desperate bid to break apart the oil before it reached the surface.

"The deep sea is such a stable environment. . . . It isn't used to perturbations like this influx of [dispersants]," Chakrabarty said.

"So what the impact [is] of having [dispersants] enter that area, even momentarily, is difficult to understand."

(See "Gulf Spill Dispersants Surprisingly Long-lasting.")

Despite his concerns about the deformed fish, UWF's Patterson added that it's important for scientists not to jump to conclusions.

"As scientists, we shouldn't be unwilling to say we're not quite sure," he said.

"Instead of going out on a limb and making grand announcements, I think it's a safer approach to say, Well, these are issues that we're seeing that we're not able to attribute to any one thing, but we're concerned about them.

"And that's where we are."

Comet (C/2010-X1) Elenin's Approach - March 30, 2011-Feb 13, 2012

Here's its trajectory and timetable in a snapshot

Medical Cannabis and Its Impact on Human Health

Israeli car ad boasts and depicts running over of Palestinian kids

Thu Apr 21, 2011 - PressTV

"We'll see who can stand against you," reads the Hebrew line to the right corner of the picture.

A new photo advertisement of a Japanese Subaru car in Israel has drawn considerable outrage for its implied promotion of running over Palestinian kids.

The commercial advertisement, published by a Subaru dealership in Israel, features the scene photographed last year, when an Israeli settler struck two Palestinian children with his car in the East al-Quds (Jerusalem) neighborhood of Silwan before speeding away, Xinhua reported on Thursday.

"We'll see who can stand against you," reads the Hebrew line to the right corner of the picture.

The October incident targeted two youngsters, aged 10 and 12, breaking the younger victim's leg.

Following the attack, the victims initially resisted to be hustled into a car, which apparently meant to take them to a hospital. Palestinian youngsters fear getting into strangers' vehicles because they have seen their friends taken away by Israeli troops posed as civilians on a regular basis.

The acting Palestinian Authority (PA) Chief Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party has said the promotion of the act of aggression "is a dirty advertisement and propaganda that reached to the status of calling for [the] killing Palestinian children by running them over."

The attacker, named David Be'eri, is the director general of Elad, a hard-line real estate development conglomerate.

The organization encourages Jews to move into dense neighborhoods in East al-Quds.

East al-Quds forms part of the Palestinian territories, which Tel Aviv occupied in 1967 and later annexed despite international refusal to recognize either aggression. It has been promised as the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Comedy Club - Steve Hughes

A Government of Monsanto the devil, by Monsanto the devil, and for Monsanto the devil

By Barbara H. Peterson
Farm Wars

With help from the FDA and USDA, the biotech industry is set to completely take over our food supply with genetically modified ingredients, irrespective  of the wishes of “we the people.”

Through collusion, subterfuge, and a bit of back-door manipulation, Monsanto the devil can write it’s own ticket with the U.S. Federal Government’s stamp of approval. If the rules get in the way, then change the rules, or at least their interpretation, to fit the situation.

Monsanto the devil is now ready to grow soybeans that are genetically modified to produce omega-3 fatty acids. The fact that the company is doing this comes as no surprise, but the important thing to note is the process that the FDA goes through to approve these types of substances as Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS, is to simply rubber-stamp the Monsanto the devil application, no questions asked.
The biotechnology firm Monsanto the devil stands just one FDA approval away from growing soybeans that have been genetically modified to produce those omega-3 fatty acids that doctors are always recommending. (Forbes)
Here is a quote from the FDA GRAS approval letter recently sent to Monsanto the devil for its new soy invention:
Based on the information provided by Monsanto the devil, the agency has no questions at this time regarding Monsanto the devil’s conclusion that SDA soybean oil is GRAS under the intended conditions of use. The agency has not, however, made its own determination regarding the GRAS status of the subject use of SDA soybean oil. As always, it is the continuing responsibility of Monsanto the devil to ensure that food ingredients that the firm markets are safe, and are otherwise in compliance with all applicable legal and regulatory requirements. (FDA)
According to the FDA site, this is how the FDA’s GRAS Notification Program works:
The GRAS notification program provides a voluntary mechanism whereby a person may inform FDA of a determination that the use of a substance is GRAS, rather than petition FDA to affirm that the use of a substance is GRAS. (FDA)
Monsanto the devil does its own tests, determines its products are GRAS, and the FDA rubber stamps the results, no questions asked.

Here is a list of products that this new soy product will be put in:
The subject of the notice is stearidonic acid (SDA) soybean oil. The notice informs FDA of the view of Monsanto the devil Company (Monsanto the devil) that SDA soybean oil is GRAS, through scientific procedures, for use as an ingredient in baked goods and baking mixes, breakfast cereals and grains, cheeses, dairy product analogs, fats and oils, fish products, frozen dairy desserts and mixes, grain products and pastas, gravies and sauces, meat products, milk products, nuts and nut products, poultry products, processed fruit juices, processed vegetable products, puddings and fillings, snack foods, soft candy, and soups and soup mixes, at levels that will provide 375 milligrams (mg) of SDA per serving.1 (FDA)
Here is a chart showing foods that are already high in omega-3 fatty acids, taken from WHFoods:

Notice that fish, nuts and soy are already high in omega-3 fatty acids. Why is Monsanto the devil creating a product to “boost” these already high content items with something that they do not need more of? Could it be so that Monsanto the devil can claim even a larger percentage of the processed food chain? It seems that oil from this new and improved soybean is scheduled to be included in just about every processed food item on the shelf.

This is nothing short of a complete takeover by Monsanto the devil and the biotech industry of what was left of any non-GMO processed foods still remaining on the shelves, with the FDA paving the way through collusion and subterfuge.

But the FDA is not the only government arm that is making things easy for Monsanto the devil. Recently, GMO Alfalfa and Sugar Beets were called off the market pending an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) by the USDA. These GMO crops are currently available for spring planting, but it was a nuisance to deal with pesky court issues. So, what does the USDA do?
To satisfy the legal system’s pesky demand for environmental impact studies of novel GMO crops, the USDA has settled upon a brilliant solution: let the GMO industry conduct its own environmental impact studies, or pay other researchers to. The USDA announced the program in the Federal Register for April 7, 2011 [PDF]. (Grist)
It appears that instead of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, our Federal Government should more accurately be described as a government of Monsanto the devil, by Monsanto the devil, and for Monsanto the devil.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Kissinger Calls For US Ground Invasion Of Libya; Gas Prices to reach $7 gallon by 2012

(Not sure how much clout Kissinger has these days, but for some reason people still respect this geezer.--jef)


Paul Watson
Friday, April 22, 2011 – UPDATED 12:30 CST

Despite the fact that the United States is embroiled in three major conflicts and can barely service its own gigantic debt, with Standard and Poor this week indicating the US will soon lose its triple-A credit rating, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently spoke at three different conferences that the US needs to launch a ground invasion of Libya and keep the war running for at least another year.

According to veteran journalist Jim Tucker, whose sources have proven routinely accurate in leaking discussion topics, Kissinger gave almost the exact same speech at three different conferences over the past two weeks, first during an April 8-10 get-together at the George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs, then at an Aspen Institute session on “Values and Diplomacy” at the National Cathedral, and finally during the Bretton Woods II conference in New Hampshire.

“Kissinger, visibly depressed, gave a rationale for the war on Libya that they want to keep rolling, according to an inside source who has proved reliable for years. Both groups want the war extended through 2012 to generate turmoil throughout the Middle East and pressure the United States into attacking Iran on behalf of Israel. Which would also produce huge war profits,” writes Tucker.

With President Obama keen to oversee more “mission creep” in Libya, by sending unmanned drones to intensify the air bombardment, Kissinger made it clear that the ultimate intention was to do what Obama specifically promised would never happen, a US ground invasion.

Entering the 10th year of the occupation of Afghanistan, and with US forces still tied down in Iraq, by April 4 American taxpayers had already shelled out an estimated $608 million dollars to pay for the intervention in Libya. The expenditure shows no signs of abating as the Obama administration signals its intent to deepen U.S. involvement even as ratings agency Standard & Poor announced Monday that the U.S. risks losing its AAA credit rating because of the government’s inability to reduce the budget deficit.

 “In all three speeches, Kissinger played the reluctant damsel who was firmly convinced that the United States must put boots on the ground in Libya—among all the wars that the U.S. is already involved in,” reports Tucker.

In addition, Kissinger was keen to voice his displeasure at the fact that certain media publications had leaked the news that Al-Qaeda terrorists were playing a key role in helping the Libyan rebels and NATO fight Gaddafi. This information “being forced into the national press makes it more difficult” to sell the invasion of Libya, Kissinger said, according to Tucker’s source.

The endgame of the war in Libya is to further isolate Iran in preparation for a US-led attack carried out in the name of protecting Israel. Kissinger was keen to make the connection between Libya and Iran in his speeches, claiming that Gaddafi’s conduct “may tempt the Iranian regime to speed its development of a nuclear weapon. Rogue states have to remain convinced of our determination to resist nuclear proliferation.”

In addition to developments in Libya, reporter Jim Tucker divulged the fact that Kissinger and his fellow elitists were determined to run the price of gas up at $7 dollars a gallon via a combination of soaring oil prices and a crumbling US dollar. To ensure Americans have their living standards lowered as part of a planned “post-industrial revolution,” the middle east needs to be kept in a permanent state of flux, causing energy costs to remain unstable.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why Did Obama Choose Outsourcing Champion Jeffrey Immelt as Jobs Advisor?

 by Noel Brinkerhoff, ALLGOV

President Barack Obama’s choice of Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric, to chair the newly-created President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has drawn criticism for many reasons.

GE is a model for what’s wrong with corporate America these days, writes Shahien Nasiripour at The Huffington Post. It’s a company “that’s hoarding cash, sending jobs overseas, relying on taxpayer bailouts and paying less taxes than envisioned.”

On the issue of shipping jobs overseas, GE’s actions are particularly glaring. The company regularly tops the list of transnational corporations ranked by the size of their foreign asset holdings, as it receives more of its revenues and profits from abroad than from its U.S. operations. Also, the majority of its 304,000 employees are based overseas.

Between 2005 and 2009, the U.S. employee share of GE’s total workforce dropped from 51% to 44%. In 2009 and 2010, GE shuttered 28 manufacturing plants in the U.S.

Dave Lindorff at This Can’t Be Happening says GE “is not an American company. It is a foreign company that happens to be headquartered in the U.S.”

First 3-D porn released in theatres...

(This makes me giggle quite a bit...--jef)

...Beats ‘Avatar’ record in Hong Kong

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, April 21st, 2011

HONG KONG (AFP) – A Hong Kong movie billed as the world's first 3D porn film has broken the city's first-day box office record previously set by Hollywood blockbuster Avatar.

3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy took in HK$2.8 million ($360,000) on its first day last week, outpacing director James Cameron's science fiction epic which drew HK$2.6 million, the porn movie's publicist told AFP Thursday.

The film has taken more than HK$15 million since its release, she added.

Curious movie-goers from all walks of life -- office workers, retirees and students -- stood in long queues outside Hong Kong cinemas on the film's first day last week, eager to catch an eyeful of the steamy 3D action.

Loosely based on a piece of classical Chinese erotic literature, the $3.2-million Cantonese-language movie features orgies, swinging and some very graphic sex scenes.

Set in the Ming dynasty, the film chronicles the story of a young man who, after being introduced to the erotic world of an aristocrat, realises his ex-wife is the love of his life.

The film stars Japanese adult actresses Yukiko Suo and Saori Hara.

The movie, which opened in Taiwan last Friday, and has sparked strong interest in many Asian markets, including Japan and South Korea, as well as Europe and the United States, according to the producer.

Travel operators were reportedly organising moviegoing excursions to Hong Kong and Taiwan for tourists from mainland China, where strict censorship rules prevent any screening of the film.
3-D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy opened ahead of reported plans by other filmmakers to produce similar 3D porn movies.

Italian director Tinto Brass has announced he is to produce a 3D remake of his 1979 erotic film Caligula, while Hustler plans to release a pornographic spoof of Avatar, the top-grossing movie of all time.

A Developing Health Crisis Across the Gulf Coast

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by Inter Press Service
by Stephen Bradberry

NEW ORLEANS - Days after the BP oil disaster began, on Apr. 20, 2010, BP and the U.S. administration pledged that Gulf Coast communities would be made whole. One year later that promise remains unfulfilled: across the Gulf there is a developing health crisis as a result of the oil spill.

Our state and federal governments, and BP itself, must demonstrate the will to take actions promised a year ago.

The BP spill poured over 170 million gallons of crude oil and immeasurable amounts of toxic gases into the waters and atmosphere of the Gulf of Mexico, in addition to the two million gallons of chemical dispersants used in the response operations, the full impact of which is yet unknown. For coastal communities exposed to these poisons, and that continue to find oil in their marshes and fishing nets, the health impact, we can be sure, will be severe and long term.

Oil and chemical exposure is widespread among residents across the U.S. Coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen were exposed during the cleanup; families have been exposed along the beaches, bayous, and canals; entire communities along the shores and marshes continue to be exposed.

Oil exposure causes health consequences that range from chronic issues, such as acute headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, irritation of the eyes and throat, and vomiting, to more severe conditions, including reproductive problems, respiratory and nervous system failure, liver and kidney disorders, blood disorders, and several types of cancer. We know that the life-threatening volatile chemicals (VOCs) found in BP's oil are carcinogens.

While the federal government has taken some important steps, such as reaching out to local residents through the Ecosystem Restoration Task Force and establishing the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, directed at compensating economic loss, coastal communities are still bearing the brunt of the costs of the disaster.

The Centers for Disease Control has developed a surveillance system to track the health of cleanup workers, but has no similar programme for the rest of the affected population. We have yet to see a systematic response by local, state, and federal governments, and BP, to treat those in our communities who are coming down with these symptoms.

Our doctors have not had the support needed to appropriately document and track these symptoms. Instead, our neighbours are told to take pain-relievers, and some say they have been discouraged by health professionals from attributing their conditions to the oil disaster. All the while, we continue to hear of cleanup workers and coastal residents suffering from a pattern of symptoms that includes skin rashes, vomiting, and respiratory problems.

Communities and organisations across the Gulf are pushing for greater leadership in responding to the developing health crisis. To date, there is no agency - state or federal - that is taking the lead in coordinating a regional initiative to screen, treat, care for, and support disaster victims.

Coastal communities - which are rural - are in need of immediate treatment that is adequate, affordable, and accessible. Such treatment is currently available in only very limited areas, such as in certain neighbourhoods of New Orleans. Funds are desperately needed to ensure the continuation, and expansion, of such care, especially for the uninsured.

There are also low-cost, community-based healthcare models that are being sparsely implemented at the local level, but for such initiatives to respond effectively to the magnitude of the BP disaster requires the political will of states and the federal government. BP can and should pay the bill, and the U.S. Congress should take the lead to ensure that sufficient Clean Water Act fine revenues go directly to affected Gulf Coast communities.

A disaster of such proportions also will certainly have an enormous impact on mental health among Gulf residents, including high levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic anxiety. Making these communities whole requires both immediate treatment and a sustained medical intervention.

Volunteers, Gulf advocates, and healthcare professionals have tirelessly worked to document the impact themselves. Doctors and toxicologists testing the blood of disaster victims in coastal communities report alarmingly high levels of VOCs.

Dr. Wilma Subra, a MacArthur Fellow and chemist, reports finding amounts of VOCs at five to ten times in excess of the national average. One survey of 954 Louisiana residents found nearly half of the respondents reported an unusually sudden and severe increase in coughing, skin and eye irritation, and headaches following the BP spill. The dramatic appearance of such symptoms is consistent with chemical exposure.

Partnerships of community and national groups are developing programmes to bring low-cost and immediate treatment to those who need it most. An initiative by the Jefferson healthcare clinic, the Alliance Institute, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is one such effort - but making coastal communities whole requires intervention on a much larger scale.

Countries around the world recognise a right to adequate healthcare for all; when a corporation violates that right and does so in an egregious manner, it is our obligation to ensure that the full harm is remedied.

Our government and BP must carry through on their promise that coastal communities will be fully compensated for what has been imposed on them, and this must include provision of adequate, affordable, and accessible healthcare.

Spiderlegs - Just Let Me Know...(from 2000)

The first "hit" single by Spiderlegs in 2000. Off the album From Something Precious to Something So Despised. 11 years later, they get round to making a video, a low budget one at that!

30 Hornets vs 30,000 Bees

This Modern World

by Tom Tomorrow

A Guide for the Herbal Medicine Closet

By James Wesley, Rawles on April 20, 2011
So you stock up on a year’s supply of medications. What then? There comes a tremendous sense of confidence when you know how to find and grow your own “medicines”. I have to begin with my very favorite herb and actually most common “weed”; though, weed is a dirty word in my vocabulary! You will find that most of the plants we consider nuisances are some of the most beneficial herbs for healing. This article has an emphasis on herbs for respiratory ailments.

Herbs You Can Find Growing Wild
Plantain can be found virtually anywhere in the United States and every continent except Antarctica. And no, I’m not talking about the banana. Over 200 varieties and all equally potent. Long-leaf is the most common in the US. Plantain is a powerful astringent. Used by our ancient ancestors to heal--the bites of mad dogs, staph infection, snake bites and venomous creatures, bee stings, abscesses, boils, congestion in the lungs, the list goes on forever! We had what we believed to be an breakout of methicillin-resistant staph (MRSA) over a year ago, and using only plantain (external and internal), tea tree oil (external), and clove (internal) we were able to completely eradicate it! NO antibiotics, NO topical creams….and not a single breakout since. I would never want to be without plantain! Can also be used for earaches, and has been said to restore quite decayed hearing when it’s infusion is placed into the ears.

It’s Uses: expectorant, astringent, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, anodyne, styptic, diuretic, the list goes on.

How to use it: Direct Poultice: If you’re outside and you get stung by a bee, spider, snake, anything you want to pull the venom out immediately, grab a few leaves (it usually grows anywhere, though you may have to walk around a while to find it) chew them up in your mouth until they are nice and juicy J and then place on the area you want to draw the poison out of. You will be amazed at how quickly this helps with pain!! I am highly allergic to bees, and every year somehow I get stung. If I apply plantain asap, usually there is very minimal swelling, and very little pain.

Infusion: You have a chest cold and you need help getting rid of lung congestion. Gather a large handful of leaves and pour boiling water over. Let sit at least 30 minutes…the longer the better. Drain the liquid-this is what you drink. Sweeten if you need to. It also helps with lung congestion to make a poultice from the leaves and place on your chest for as long as you can bear to leave it on.

Tincture: Winter is coming and you want to store some plantain in your cupboard for that upcoming cold/infection. Of course you can dry the leaves if you want. However, a tincture is much more potent. Fill an entire mason jar full of the leaves, seeds, roots, and pour vodka until they are completely covered. Let macerate for 5 weeks, shaking the jar once a day, and keeping it out of sunlight in a cool place. Drain liquid out. For just external uses you can do the same thing with olive oil. And if you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute it for apple cider vinegar.

For identification, go here.

Elderberry can be found throughout North America. It prefers moist ground, so you will usually find it alongside creeks, rivers, and streams. An infusion made from the berries is an excellent remedy for cold and flu season. An infusion made from the flowers is a wonderful eyewash for conjunctivitis. Elderberry is absolutely wonderful for the respiratory system! A powerful immune-booster. Every time I feel a cold coming on I go straight to elderberry tea! Typically within a few hours I feel myself again!

It’s Uses: Leaves: emollient, vulnerary (topically), strong purgative, expectorant, diuretic, diaphoretic. Flowers: diaphoretic, anti-catarrhal, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory.
Berries: Diaphoretic, immune-building, laxative, anti-rheumatic.

How to use it: Syrup: Place around 5 oz. Fresh berries, or 3-4 oz. dried berries in a mason jar, cover with boiling water. Allow to sit over-night. Drain out the liquid, and reheat slightly. Add about ½ c honey. Now you have your infusion. If you have it I add about 15 drops of grapefruit seed extract (GSE). It adds many benefits in aiding your immune system as well as preserving your infusion longer. Adults take 1-2 tablespoons every few hours, children around 2 tsp. Store in your refrigerator. Will last at least a month.
For identification, go here.

Honeysuckle If you can’t find  Elderberry near you, or the birds get to the berries before you can,  Honeysuckle can work quite nicely as a substitute. The flowers are traditionally used for bacterial dysentery, urinary disorders, eliminating toxins from the body, colds, fevers, flu, asthma, coughs, chest congestion, and laryngitis. It can be used as an external wash for boils, infected wounds, swelling, scabies, tumors, and rheumatism. The flowers have components that help to lower blood cholesterol, as well as being anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-tuberculostatic.

How to use it: You can make a tea from the flowers. The berries, however, are toxic. So stay away from those. The leaves are fine as well, however the flowers are much more potent.
Tincture: Fill a mason jar with flowers, cover with brandy. Shake once a day, keeping in a cool, dark place, for around 5-6 weeks. Strain though a cheesecloth or a T-shirt, and you can add (but not necessary) 10-15 drops of GSE.

Syrup: The same way as the elderberry syrup, only fill the entire jar with flowers.

Mullein Is another of my favorites. It grows throughout the Northern tier and Eastern half of the United States. It is a strong, self-sowing biennial. You will find it particularly on road sides (though I wouldn’t gather mine here), waste grounds, pasture fences; it typically grows in poor soils, and even sandy soils.  

The leaves  are used for asthma, allergies, bronchitis,  coughs, croup, pulmonary diseases, mild sedative, antihistamine, swelling, pain, and the list goes on.

The seeds  rapidly pass through the intestines and have been used successfully in intestinal obstructions. However, some say that with repeated use they can be toxic. They have a pretty strong narcotic effect as well. Dr. Christopher states that it is the “only herb known to man that has remarkable narcotic properties without being poisonous or harmful. Great painkiller and nervous soporific, calming and quieting all inflamed and irritated tissues.” They are also used in asthma and infantile convulsions.  

The Flowers are excellent for earaches and ear infections.

How to use it: Poultice from the leaves. Tear a few leaves pretty finely, pour just enough hot water to barely wet. When it cools enough to touch, apply to affected area.

Tea: Put one or two leaves in hot water and allow to steep for around 20 minutes. Remove the leaves, and sweeten if you need to.

Infusion: Gather the flowers every day (there will be new buds each day) and place in olive oil. Place in a warm spot, but not to where the sunlight is hitting it directly. What I do is place it either in the sun under a cardboard box, or in my car under a blanket or cardboard box. Shake daily and allow to infuse for about 3-4 weeks. Strain though a cheesecloth or old T-shirt. This is what you use for ear infections. Works like a charm!

Preserve the leaves by allowing to dry. Just KEEP THEM OUT OF SUNLIGHT. I cannot emphasize this enough. It applies to all herbs, and it is very important because the sun creates oxidation, which eventually leeches out all the minerals and nutrients in the herb.
For identification, go here.

Red Clover is absolutely powerful. It relaxes the nerves, and the entire nervous system. Can be used as a sedative. It has also been used quite successfully to fight cancer. It is a marvelous preventative for health problems, and a great wash for sores. It is especially good for pertussis (whooping cough), and it can be drunk freely. It is also wonderful externally for burns, sore, athlete’s foot, and ulcers. An anti-spasmodic and expectorant, also good for asthma.

How to use it: Tea: made from the blossoms. Place 4-5 blossoms in a cup of hot water. Steep for 20 minutes. Sweeten if desired.

Tincture: Fill a mason jar with only the blossoms (the other parts are not harmful, however, it is the blossoms that are the most potent), cover with vodka. Let sit in cool, dark spot for 4-6 weeks, shaking daily. Strain through cheesecloth or old T-shirt.

Preserve the flowers by drying.

For identification, go here.

Blackberry Is known to prevent fluid loss during dysentery. It is also well known for stopping gastric bleeding. Regular consumption of the berries (can make a tincture) can aid in killing off the free radicals that are linked with the development or heart disease and cancer. However, the leaves and roots are wonderful too! Absolutely wonderful for colds and flu. It is also used for fever, arthritis, gout, pain, and infections.

It’s Uses: Astringent, tonic, alterative, anti-emetic, hemostatic, anti-abortive, parturient (leaves).

How to use it: Tea from the leaves and woody part of the bramble is wonderful for diarrhea. Tea from the berries is wonderful for colds and flus.

Leaf Tincture: Fill jar with leaves and roots, cover with either cider vinegar or vodka. Process goes as all other tinctures. Used for fever, arthritis, gout, and diarrhea. Used topically for pain. 1 tsp./hour until fever drops.

Berry Tincture: Same as above, only with berries instead of leaves and roots. Used for colds, flu, and infections.

Herbs You Should Grow at Home
Not that you shouldn’t be trying to grow any of the others. Red Clover, for example is an easy, important herb that you can and should be growing now. It’s in the other list, however, because it can easily be found in the wild.

Oregano is used for coughs and colds, degenerative arthritis, rheumatism, upset stomach, urinary tract infections, sore throats, infections, fever, vomiting, jaundice, and asthma attacks. It is an antiseptic, antiviral, and anti-microbial. Strong anti-oxidant.

How to use it: Tincture made from the leaves for coughs, rheumatism, bronchitis, asthma, infections, and sore throat.

Tea  3 cups of boiling water over 1 cup fresh leaves (or half cup dried leaves), steep 20 minutes. Take ½ cup three times a day.

Infusion Made with olive oil from the leaves is a powerful antiseptic externally, and effective antibiotic internally..

Lobelia is probably the most vital plant that you should be growing. Especially if you or your child, or someone you know, has asthma. I have asthma and this is what I rely on for TEOTWAWKI. Inhalers will be hard to come by, and I know what a down hill slide asthma can be when you have nothing to treat it. Lobelia can be balanced by taking it with cayenne.

It’s Uses: Anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic, expectorant, emetic, bronchodilator, nervine (a Stimulant, in small doses, but a Relaxant, in large doses), diaphoretic, diuretic, cathartic, and astringent.

How to use it: Tincture: Fill jar with herb, and cover with apple cider vinegar. Lobelia’s components work the absolute best with apple cider vinegar. It is important that you don’t allow it to get too warm, either. The structure of lobelia is lost when it is heated even slightly, so take care. It only needs to macerate for two weeks.

The tincture can be used for such a wide variety of ailments. Such as asthma, croup, infections, boils, sedative, lockjaw, ringworm, hepatitis, and convulsions. It is excellent for convulsions. Can be rubbed on the body or placed in the mouth and the body will absorb it quickly, relieving convulsions. Rubbing the tincture on the shoulders of a restless child is wonderful for helping him calm down and go to sleep. It also helps to rub on the gums of a teething baby. Especially good for croup and respiratory ailments.

Preserve through drying.

JWR Adds: Be adviswed that Lobelia is poisonous in high doses.

Comfrey I would not want to be without this marvelous herb! A powerful allantoin and traditional healer. About a year and a half ago I had a complete humeral spiral fracture. Needless to say it was extremely painful, and I had been told that it would take at least 10-12 weeks for it to heal enough to have moderate use out of it. Everything I read, most sufferers from this break never had 100% use of their arm even after two years of healing and therapy. Not to mention the lingering pain they had on cold or wet days. After 1 week of healing I was able to begin applying comfrey poultices to the break (I had a removable cast). After only seven weeks I was able to remove the brace that supported my arm, and I had no pain! I didn’t even do physical therapy (other than daily push-ups in my workout regime). My arm is now stronger than it ever was, and I have no pain from it whatsoever!

It’s Uses: Mucilaginous, vulnerary, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, anti-psoriatic, astringent, expectorant, anti-tumor, cell proliferant, nutritive, and hemostatic. Amazing healer.

How to use it: Poultice made from the leaves applied to cleaned wound. Will heal extremely quickly. Even better if combined with plantain. The plantain removes the toxins, while comfrey heals.

Neither of the lists is by any means exhaustive. There are so many herbs I would love to write about, but these are some of the top of my list.

Remember, when dealing with herbs, you are being your own doctor, so be sure to:
  1. Do the requisite research.
  2. Identify the plants with absolute certainty.
  3. Label tinctures clearly with ingredients and dates prepared.  

Big Pharma set to take over medical marijuana market

By David Edwards - RAW Story
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Just as the federal government is clamping down on medical marijuana dispensaries, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) may be set to give Big Pharma the clearance to take over the market.

In 2007, GW Pharmaceuticals announced that it partnered with Otsuka to bring "Sativex" -- or liquefied marijuana -- to the U.S. The companies recently completed Phase II efficacy and safety trials testing and began discussion with the FDA for Phase III testing. Phase III is generally thought to be the final step before the drug can be marketed in the U.S.

"GW Pharmaceuticals plc (AIM: GWP) today announces the initiation of the Phase III clinical trials programme of Sativex in the treatment of pain in patients with advanced cancer, who experience inadequate analgesia during optimized chronic opioid therapy," GW said in a statement. "This indication represents the initial target indication for Sativex in the United States."

Sativex is the brand name for a drug derived from cannabis sativa. It's an extract from the whole plant cannabis, not a synthetic compound. Even GW defines the drug (.pdf) as marijuana.

Yet as the FDA is poised to approve the drug for Big Pharma, state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries that provide relief for thousands of Americans are under attack by other federal agencies.

Lynette Shaw, the owner and founder of Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana (MAMM) in Fairfax, California, was stunned when the IRS audited her 2008 and 2009 tax returns and disallowed the foundation's business deductions, then demanded millions of dollars in back taxes.

The IRS pursued her under § 280E of the federal tax code, which states that no business deductions will be allowed for companies "trafficking in controlled substances".

Shaw is now suing the IRS to prevent them from destroying the entire medical marijuana industry.

Last week, the Justice Department even threatened to prosecute state employees who license medical marijuana dispensaries.

As a result, Washington state Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) said she would veto a bill that would have allowed the state to license growers.

In February, marijuana advocacy group NORML warned that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intended to legalize marijuana for Big Pharma only.

"The DEA's intent is to expand the federal government's schedule III listing to include pharmaceutical products containing naturally derived formations of THC while simultaneously maintain existing criminal prohibitions on the plant itself," Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wrote at AlterNet.

IPhones Track Everywhere You Go; Franken Presses Apple re. Privacy (2 articles)

By Tim F., Balloon Juice
Posted on April 20, 2011

Since the iOS4 update last June, iPhones track everywhere you go and store it in an easy-to-hack-or-subpoena format. It is practically invisible to most users and you can’t disable it or get rid of the data. Why? Apple won’t say.

Whatever. Me and my $15 cell phone will live happily on stale twinkies and soup cans with torn-off labels for years after your idevices calmly direct the rest of you to check out a nearby ‘reprocessing center’ for AWESOME EXCLUSIVE DEALS on the iPad3.


Via commenter Joel, here is a more clear explanation of the problem from the people who discovered it.
What’s so bad about this?

The most immediate problem is that this data is stored in an easily-readable form on your machine. Any other program you run or user with access to your machine can look through it.

The more fundamental problem is that Apple are collecting this information at all. Cell-phone providers collect similar data almost inevitably as part of their operations, but it’s kept behind their firewall. It normally requires a court order to gain access to it, whereas this is available to anyone who can get their hands on your phone or computer.

By passively logging your location without your permission, Apple have made it possible for anyone from a jealous spouse to a private investigator to get a detailed picture of your movements.


Sen. Franken presses Apple on privacy

Posted at 4:59 PM on April 20, 2011 by Brett Neely

After security researchers revealed today that Apple's best-selling iPhone and iPad devices contain a hidden file that secretly records the location of its user, DFL Sen. Al Franken wrote a letter to Apple CEO Steve Jobs demanding an explanation.

Franken wrote:
"Anyone who gains access to this single file could likely determine the location of a user's home, the businesses he frequents, the doctors he visits, the schools his children attend, and the trips he has taken--over the past months or even a year."
He went on to ask that Apple provide information on how the location data is being collected and used and why consumers weren't told that their personal information was being collected.

As head of the newly-formed Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, Franken is in a position to keep this issue alive, including calling public hearings, if he's not happy with Apple's response to the letter.

Coincidentally, Apple released its most recent quarterly results today. The company said it sold over 18 million iPhones and over four million iPads.

You can read the entire letter Franken wrote to Jobs here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Congress Fails To Pass A Single Oil Spill Law (2 articles)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 by Huffington Post
by Marcus Baram

NEW YORK -- Soon after his son Gordon died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion last April, Keith Jones made eight trips to Washington D.C. to push for stronger safety measures in offshore oil drilling and to increase the compensation paid to victims of the tragic accident. He met with President Obama, who apologized for the families' "unimaginable grief" and cradled Gordon's baby boy Maxwell in his arms.

In the year since the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history, Congress hasn't adopted any major laws on oil and gas drilling -- despite introducing more than 150 bills to improve the safety and oversight of offshore drilling and holding more than 60 hearings to discuss the spill's causes and consequences with regulators, oil company officials, grieving relatives and Gulf-area fishermen. When Jones arrived on Capitol Hill, he says he was mobbed by Senators and Representatives eager to express their condolences and to promise that they would swiftly pass legislation to make sure such a tragedy never happens again.

He is still waiting.

In the year since the worst environmental disaster in the nation's history, Congress hasn't adopted any major laws on oil and gas drilling -- despite introducing more than 150 bills to improve the safety and oversight of offshore drilling and holding more than 60 hearings to discuss the spill's causes and consequences with regulators, oil company officials, grieving relatives and Gulf-area fishermen.

"Nothing has happened," said Jones, speaking by phone from his law office in Baton Rouge. "When oil was still gushing out of the Gulf, everybody wanted to do everything right, to do whatever they could to keep that from happening again. But that was then. Now, everybody is back to drilling more, making more money and not worrying about safety. That attitude is what cost the lives of 11 men and caused the biggest environmental disaster in our history," he said.
Jones traces the inaction to political gridlock and to the nation’s fading attention span. He claims that as soon as the gushing undersea well was capped and the nonstop TV coverage slowed to a trickle in July, he no longer commanded the same attention.

"I remember the day they capped that well -- those images had been up in the corner of every TV screen, all that oil gushing into the ocean -- I stopped seeing senators and congressmen and started seeing staffers."

In January, President Obama's oil spill commission released a slew of recommendations for changes that would seek to ensure safer drilling operations, provide better spill response, lift the existing liability cap on oil companies and secure funding for coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf. Yet though bipartisan leaders of the commission have personally lobbied members of Congress, no major legislation has been adopted. Lawmakers did accept the commission's recommendation for a budget increase for the federal agency with oversight of offshore drilling.
"I am disappointed," said oil spill commission co-chairman William Reilly, a former EPA administrator under President George H.W. Bush. He added that he is worried by House Natural Resources Committee chair Rep. Doc Hastings’ (R-Wash.) intention “to wait until all the investigations are resolved before developing his own legislation. One hopes that it will be responsive to the commission's recommendations," Reilly said.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) that would enact many of the commission's recommendations has little chance of passing, given the Republican majority in the House.
Markey expressed his disappointment at the lack of a legislative response in a statement provided to The Huffington Post:

"One year after the BP spill began, the American people and the citizens of the Gulf shouldn't believe that another major spill couldn't occur, or that our response wouldn't be as sub-par as it was during last summer's spill. Many holes still exist in our offshore drilling safety regime, and another spill could happen again."

About 18 months after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 -- the largest spill in the nation's history at the time -- Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act, which required companies to detail their spill-prevention and spill-cleanup plans, notes Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser at Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group.

"You're seeing Congress pretend that Deepwater never happened," he said. "You're seeing them say, 'Let's take similar risks in sensitive areas, in spite of what happened.’”

Just last week, the House Natural Resources Committee passed three bills to accelerate the offshore drilling permitting process and open up new areas to drilling off the coasts of California, Florida, Massachusetts and North Carolina. The bill's sponsor, Hastings, says his legislation increases safety oversight by writing a requirement for government permitting of offshore drilling projects into federal law.

The legislation, which would require federal regulators to act on offshore drilling permits within 30 days, alarmed environmentalists and members of the administration who expressed their concern that it rushes an important process.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar blamed Republicans for having a "sense of amnesia" about last year's spill, adding, "much of the legislation that I have seen being bandied around, especially with the House Republicans, is almost as if the Deepwater Horizon Macondo well incident never happened."

The opposition to new legislation that requires stricter oversight largely stems from the anti-regulatory zeal of conservative lawmakers and from the influence of the oil industry, say congressional staffers from both parties.

In 2010, the oil and gas industry spent more than $146 million to lobby the federal government and donated $28 million to federal campaigns, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
"The lobbying is relentless and continuous on the Hill," says John Amos, a former oil industry geologist who heads the SkyTruth environmental group. "And the public sector groups are no match for the well-oiled machine that the American Petroleum Institute is."

Shortly before he introduced his legislation, Hastings held a closed-door, invitation-only meeting with top energy lobbyists, Politico reported. A spokesperson for Hastings did not return several requests for comment.

And BP is back to making contributions to politicians -- largely to GOP leaders -- breaking a self-imposed moratorium on such donations in the wake of the oil spill. The oil giant gave $5,000 contributions to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), among others.

Last week, Louisiana's senators, Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R), introduced legislation that calls for dedicating at least 80 percent of BP penalties paid under the Clean Water Act to Gulf states to restore the coastal ecosystem and its economies damaged by the spill.

Some lawmakers from both parties have argued that new legislation should await the results of several ongoing investigations into the accident by the National Academy of Engineering and the Chemical Safety Board. Though the same caution was preached in advance of the oil spill commission's findings in January, no new legislation has been proposed. Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) expressed his concern about the tendency in Washington for incidents to prompt new laws "and a whole new level of bureaucracy. ... There's no question we need to improve oversight, but I rather doubt that a new law is a good thing," he told the Shreveport Times. "That's sort of a knee-jerk reaction we have in Washington."

Offshore drilling watchdog SkyTruth's John Amos, whose satellite-imagery exposed the true extent of the spill, advocates legislation that requires stronger oversight of deepwater drilling but agreed it “may be appropriate to keep your powder dry while the Chemical Safety Board [probe] is still going on."

Some of the presidential oil spill commission's recommendations have been adopted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, the regulatory agency that oversees offshore drilling. Led by former prosecutor Michael Bromwich, the successor agency to the scandal-prone Minerals Management Service has won praise for ramping up oversight, though critics claim that it still depends too much on industry-written standards and has not yet revamped its oil spill response plans. Since imposing new safety and environmental rules, the bureau has approved 46 new shallow-water wells and 10 permits for deepwater drilling projects that had been blocked by Obama's moratorium in the wake of the oil spill.

Among Jones's biggest frustrations was to witness first-hand the collapse of an uncontroversial bill to change an archaic law, the Death on the High Seas Act, that limits the damages that the families of the 11 victims of the Deepwater Horizon can recover. After passing the House, the bill was held up in the Senate due to lobbying by cruise lines and shipping companies until Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-Del.) adjusted it to only apply to the Deepwater victims. But one senator, Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) blocked the body from voting on it in December, just before the end of the congressional session.

Jones said that he tried to talk to the senator but "he didn't have time for me." One of DeMint's staffers told Jones that the senator objected because he did not believe that Congress should pass laws that have a retroactive effect, the staffer claimed.

"That's a lie," thundered Jones, explaining that DeMint voted in the House to pass legislation in 2000 that amended the liability for aviation accidents to make it retroactive by five years. And a week after blocking the bill to amend the Death on the High Seas Act, DeMint supported the legislation to help treat 9/11 first responders.

DeMint was also the only senator who prevented a vote by unanimous consent on a bill that would have given President Obama's oil spill commission subpoena power -- a spokesman later said that DeMint himself did not object to the provision but that he was acting on behalf of "members of the Republican conference." He eventually lifted the block and the measure passed. A similar measure had earlier passed the House by a vote of 420-1.
A spokesperson for DeMint declined several requests for comment.

Former Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) who voted for the bill to amend the Death on the High Seas Act, says he was stunned that it didn't pass, especially since it appears that there was negligence.

"How do you tell these people that you and your children don't get a thing?” he asked. “In good conscience, it's difficult for me to understand."


3,200 Gulf Wells Unplugged, Unprotected
by Jeff Donn

More than 3,200 oil and gas wells classified as active lie abandoned beneath the Gulf of Mexico, with no cement plugging to help prevent leaks that could threaten the same waters fouled by last year's BP spill, The Associated Press has learned.

These wells likely pose an even greater environmental threat than the 27,000 wells in the Gulf that have been plugged and classified officially as "permanently abandoned" or "temporarily abandoned." Those sealed wells were first tallied and reported as a major leaking threat in an investigative report by the AP in July.

The unplugged wells haven't been used for at least five years, and there are no plans to restore production on them, according to the federal government. Operators have not been required to plug the wells because their leases have not expired.

As a result, there is little to prevent powerful leaks from pushing to the surface. Even depleted wells can repressurize from work on nearby wells or shifts in oil or gas layers beneath the surface, petroleum engineers say. But no one is watching to make sure that doesn't happen.
The addition of the unused but officially active wells, as documented in a list provided to the AP by federal officials under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, means at least three-fifths of the 50,000 wells ever drilled in the Gulf have been left behind with no routine monitoring for leaks.

The 27,000 decommissioned wells were drilled mostly on federal leases that have now expired. Government rules for expired leases on the sea floor require operators to plug the wells or make plans to reuse them within a year. In its original report, the AP documented how oil and gas companies regularly flouted the rules regarding temporary abandonment, with some wells "temporarily abandoned" since the 1950s.

Rules for unexpired leases are different, and have allowed operators to simply walk away from idle wells. Some of the roughly 3,200 unsealed wells contained in the latest list were drilled 60 years ago, and most are more than 10 years old.

Federal regulators described idle wells on active leases as a "potential threat" to the environment in a September letter to operators announcing a new program, dubbed "Idle Iron," to plug them within three years. The letter said the program would cover more than 3,000 idle wells but didn't say what kind of wells would be included or whether the wells already contained at least some cement plugging.

The list of specific wells covered by the Idle Iron initiative was provided to the AP by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which regulates oil and gas leases on federal lands on the sea floor.

BOEMRE refused to provide the list when the AP first requested it in September. The agency said at the time that it first wanted to verify with gas and oil companies that the wells were correctly classified. The AP argued that the FOIA provides access to records as they exist at the time of the request, but the agency still refused to release the material.

In finally providing the list last month, BOEMRE said the wells had been "verified." But several weeks later, a representative of the agency, Eileen Angelico, contacted the AP and said it had mistakenly released the original unverified list.

It is that version — a listing of wells as they were classified in September without any challenges from the industry — that the AP has analyzed and used as a basis for this story. Angelico said the verified list wasn't yet ready, despite the earlier assurance that the released list had been checked by operators.

The list cites the American Petroleum Institute number of 3,253 oil or gas wells targeted by the initiative in September. Ninety-nine percent of them, or 3,212, were classified as completed wells. Most were drilled for regular production, but a few were exploratory.

Just 41 of the Idle Iron wells — 1 percent — were already classified in September as "temporarily abandoned."

When wells are drilled, they are lined with metal casing, which is then encased in cement to further shore up the borehole.

Whole segments of wells that are permanently abandoned are plugged with additional lengths of cement — known as plugs — to prevent any oil or gas from pushing its way to the top. Then, the top of the casing is sheared off, and a cap is placed over it.

When wells are temporarily abandoned, fewer cement plugs are placed, so it is easier to drill through the plugs and resume production, if desired.

The typical well in the Iron Idle program is finished only with a wellhead, which is the top of the metal lining, and perhaps a device called a tree, a faucet-like rig equipped with valves to open and shut the flow of hydrocarbons during production.

Federal regulators have acknowledged that even some plugged wells have leaked in the past. And, as the AP disclosed last summer, there is no routine monitoring of abandoned wells — plugged or unplugged.

The oil and gas industry generally views plugging on unexpired leases as an inconvenience and prefers the freedom to resume operations at any time on such wells.

When BP's Deepwater Horizon well blew in the Gulf last April 20, it was being temporarily abandoned to await later production. A poor cement plugging job has been identified as a chief cause of the deadly explosion and spill.

Engineers say the metal and cement lining inside abandoned wells, as well as the plugs, can break down over time and allow leaking. Petroleum or corrosive brine, which is even saltier than sea water, can leak from under the sea floor, harming aquatic life.

The most dramatic threat from the Idle Iron wells is a gusher akin to the BP spill, though probably on a smaller scale, specialists say.

Roger N. Anderson, an energy geophysicist at Columbia University, said he worries about a catastrophic failure of the cement lining in the unplugged wells. "The one thing we don't know very much about is how the cement will age. Highways only last so long, and the cement starts to degrade," he said.

Another danger is that many of the unused Idle Iron wells may be slowly leaking, hurting sea creatures that have adapted to the natural petroleum seepage from the sea floor, but not to higher amounts. "Elevated chronic leaks from thousands of sources spread widely across the Gulf can have much more impact than single spills," said Doug Rader, an ecologist for the Environmental Defense Fund.

A third danger is that hurricanes or other storms will wreck underwater structures and make them leak.

David Pettit, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the lack of oversight of unused wells makes him nervous.

"I have no idea how badly they may be leaking," he said, adding that federal regulators should start with checking some of the oldest wells.

Under the Idle Iron program, operators can choose to seal the wells with a complete series of plugs and sheared-off well lining for permanent abandonment, or with fewer plugs for temporary abandonment.

As a third choice, they may apply limited plugs strategically around the oil or gas zones within the well — but must then seal the well more thoroughly within two more years.

It's not clear if companies would be required to fully seal the Idle Iron wells that are already listed as temporarily abandoned.

Under the new rules, future wells that drop out of production on active leases also must be sealed within three years.

Gene Beck, a petroleum engineer at Texas A&M University who used to work in the petroleum industry, said many companies won't like the Idle Iron program "because it's going to cost a lot of money." It is not clear how much, but companies will have to spend at least $3 billion to permanently plug wells on both active and expired federal leases, according to earlier BOEMRE estimates.

Apache Corp., which operates the most Idle Iron wells with 587 in its portfolio, foresees spending $317 million to plug and decommission its own assets in the Gulf just this year.
Drew Hunger, who manages Gulf decommissioning work for Apache, said he views the timetable of the Idle Iron program as reasonably ambitious, but he added that it also appears to allow for "the limitations on available contractor equipment and manpower."

He said industry complaints about the program revolve around the paperwork and the limited size of BOEMRE's staffing to process it.

Chevron U.S.A., the company with the second-highest number of wells in the program at 528, did not respond to a request for comment. BP has 24 such wells and also did not respond.
Federal officials have said little about how the new program will be enforced. Neither the BOEMRE nor the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors sea pollution, responded to repeated requests for interviews about the program.