2007 - %3, January

Terngate Results Suggest Criminal Charges Against Those Who Killed Seabirds in Southern California

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 8:42 PM EST

Chased off California's beaches by hordes of Homo sapiens, terns—graceful seabirds with white bodies and flippety black crests—have resorted to nesting on barges. Last summer more than 500 baby terns, too young to fly, were massacred when someone washed them off the barges with high-pressure hoses. Two species, Caspian terns and elegant terns, lost their entire breeding season in the debacle. The Los Angeles Times reports:

State wildlife officials today said they have forwarded the results of a seven month investigation into the massacre of hundreds of young seabirds last summer to the Long Beach City attorney's office for criminal prosecution.

Only 23 birds survived in a case known as "terngate" among environmentalists who had grown frustrated with the length of the investigation and the failure of state and federal wildlife officials to preemptively prevent the loss of an entire breeding season of terns.

"This case required a lengthy investigation," California State Fish and Game Lt. Kent Smirl said. "But it's not going away. We've done an excellent investigation, one of the best this department has ever done in Long Beach."

Smirl, whose agency led the investigation that included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also said he expects charges to be filed by Long Beach city prosecutors. He declined to identify who could be charged.

"I'll be sitting in the courtroom when this case goes to trial," said Lisa Fimiani of the Audubon Society's Los Angeles chapter. "It's terrible to have to learn an important lesson in a lightning rod event like this. It tells us these birds were so desperate for nesting space they settled on barges."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare was offering a $10,000 reward for information on who was responsible for destroying the nesting colony of Caspian and Elegant terns.

This blogger once spent a 4-month breeding season living with elegant terns on an island off Mexico and I can tell you that no slacker with a high-pressure hose has ever worked as hard in a week as these birds work in a day raising their chicks. May they be sentenced in the afterlife to a hell of highwater without life jackets. Come to think of it, that's coming their way anyway with global warming.

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New Cement Design May Someday Reduce Greenhouse Gasses by 5 to 10 Percent

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 8:24 PM EST

A group of engineers at MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by focusing on the nanostructure of concrete—the world's most widely used material. As they report In the January issue of the Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, the production of cement, the primary component of concrete, accounts for 5 to 10 percent of the world's total carbon dioxide emissions, and is an important contributor to global warming. An MIT press release sums up their work:

The team reports that the source of concrete's strength and durability lies in the organization of its nanoparticles. The discovery could one day lead to a major reduction in carbon dioxide emissions during manufacturing.

"If everything depends on the organizational structure of the nanoparticles that make up concrete, rather than on the material itself, we can conceivably replace it with a material that has concrete's other characteristics-strength, durability, mass availability and low cost-but does not release so much CO2 into the atmosphere during manufacture," said Franz-Josef Ulm, the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Cement, the oldest engineered construction material, dating back to the Roman Empire, starts out as limestone and clay that are crushed to a powder and heated to a very high temperature (1500 degrees Celsius) in a kiln. At this high temperature, the mineral undergoes a transformation, storing energy in the powder. When the powder is mixed with water, the energy is released into chemical bonds to form the elementary building block of cement, calcium-silicate-hydrate (C-S-H). At the micro level, C-S-H acts as a glue to bind sand and gravel together to create concrete. Most of the carbon dioxide emissions in this manufacturing process result from heating the kiln to a temperature high enough to transfer energy into the powder.

The researchers hope to find or nanoengineer a different mineral to use in cement paste, one that doesn't require high temperatures during production, cutting carbon dioxide emissions by up to 10 percent. Now that would deserve a Nobel.

Princess Cruise Lines Pleads Guilty to Killing Humpback Whale

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 7:45 PM EST

It's a first of its kind likely to get lost amid the current and overdue clamor on climate change, but it's important nonetheless. In the summer of 2001 a Princess Cruise Lines vessel, the Dawn Princess, ran into a pregnant female humpback whale in Glacier Bay, Alaska, killing the whale well-known to researchers as Whale #68, nicknamed Snow. Snow had summered in Glacier Bay for at least the past 25 years, enjoying the safety afforded her under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. That is, until a skipper or mate on the bridge of the Dawn Princess broke the law. As The Morning Report, a compilation of daily incident reports from the National Park Service, describes:

On Monday, January 29th, Princess Cruise Lines pled guilty in U.S. District Court in Anchorage to a charge of knowingly failing to operate its vessel, the Dawn Princess, at a slow, safe speed in the summer of 2001 while near two humpback whales in the area of Glacier Bay National Park. The bloated carcass of a pregnant whale was found four days after the Princess ship sailed through the park. It had died of massive blunt trauma injuries to the right side of the head, including a fractured skull, eye socket and cervical vertebrae, all consistent with a vessel collision. The whale was identified from fluke markings as "Whale #68," which had been sighted many times in the past and was known to have frequented the area for at least 25 years. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Princess was sentenced to pay a $200,000 fine and to contribute $550,000 to the National Park Foundation as a form of community service. The funding will support marine mammal research in the park. In this first-of-its-kind prosecution, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice, along with special agents and investigators from the National Park Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, engaged in a thorough and detailed investigation, often with the assistance and cooperation of Princess. "As well as being a majestic and endangered species, the humpback whale is also a public symbol of Glacier Bay," said superintendent Tomie Lee. "Protection of these resources is of paramount importance to us. So when we began to hear witness reports of a cruise-ship colliding with a whale, then learned that this particular whale, whom researchers had first identified in 1975 and nicknamed 'Snow' because of her fluke markings, died of injuries consistent with a ship-strike, we began a dialogue with Princess and the U.S. Attorney's Office, and proceeded diligently with our investigation, so we could be sure to get things right. While these kinds of criminal convictions can result in a loss of federal contracts to service visitors in a national park, in this case we feel Princess has stepped up and made significant, voluntary operational changes that protect whales and the marine environment. We are pleased that this incident is behind us and that they will continue to offer cruises in Glacier Bay." The unlawful taking (killing) of humpback whales is prohibited by both the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The "slow, safe speed" regulation, under which this case was charged, was implemented in 2001 to support the "anti-taking" provisions of the two laws. Thus, a knowing failure to maintain a "slow, safe speed" when near humpback whales constitutes a violation of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act and carries the identical penalties of the taking violation. Such conduct is a federal Class A misdemeanor violation of law, punishable (for a corporation) by a fine of up to $200,000, restitution in an amount to be determined by the court, and up to five years probation (a person who violates this law is also subject to imprisonment for up to one year).

Kissinger Testifies on Iraq Plan; Dems Ask "What Plan?"

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 6:30 PM EST

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arrived on Capitol Hill this morning to offer his assessment on Iraq, which he's reportedly been offering to Dick Cheney and the president behind closed doors from some time now. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger, predictably, expressed optimism for the president's troop surge strategy, saying the plan is "the best way to get the maneuvering room to the changes in deployment and strategy that will be required by the evolving situation." He also endorsed the idea of building permanent military bases in Iraq, noting that the U.S. is likely to a have a military presence there "for a long time to come."

Kissinger, echoing the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, also called for diplomatic talks with countries that neighbor Iraq, including Iran and Syria. He was joined in that sentiment by Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state during the Clinton administration, who also testified at the hearing. "I think we need a surge in diplomacy," she said.

But several democrats on the committee pointed out the obvious, that the president's publicly stated strategy does not include diplomatic regional talks. In fact, said Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, "The president has explicitly rejected international diplomacy [in the region]."

Another presumptive presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, noted that members of Congress are still scratching their heads about what the president's master plan actually is. "The problem in a nutshell is that none of us view the President's projection of forces as his strategy," Obama said. "As far as I can tell no one on this committee knows what this grand strategy is."

-- Caroline Dobuzinskis

Update On Corcpork

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 3:26 PM EST

California's Second Appellate District Division Three Court has ruled in favor of Corcpork, Inc., which means that Farm Sanctuary still cannot bring suit against the company. The merits of the suit were not heard. In the meantime, the Attorney General of California remains silent. Farm Sanctuary is appealing the case to the California Supreme Court.

Global Warming: Back to the Future

| Wed Jan. 31, 2007 12:50 PM EST

Against a backdrop of more bad news about global warming coming from top scientists in Paris, the Sierra Club and American Solar Energy Society unveiled a plan in Washington this morning that would dramatically cut carbon emissions. What's so startling about their plan is that it closely tracks similar schemes put forth amidst the energy crisis of the 1970s. And those plans, in turn, were modeled on U.S. experiences with solar energy back in the 1920s. Can environmentalists in Congress override the oil industry to get any of this put into practice? It seems doubtful.

Yesterday Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight hearing on global warming depicted an administration determined to rework scientific findings to coincide with the interests of the oil industry. And while in the president's State of the Union speech he made a vague endorsement of tougher motor vehicle emissions standards, He made no mention of regulations to implement such standards. Bush, his father, and President Reagan were forthright in their opposition to government regulation across the board, including auto emissions. For years the oil and auto industries have successfully blocked tougher standards in one administration after another, and in one Congress after another (Republican and Democratic). Indeed, the two key figures in opposition to standards have been two Democrats -- John Dingell, the Michigan congressman whose wife long worked as a GM lobbyist in Washington, and who is widely viewed as the auto industry spokesman on Capitol Hill. The other powerful opponent of tougher standards has been former Senate majority leader Robert Byrd. He hails from West Virginia, the historic bastion of the coal industry, whose product creates an enormous air pollution problem.

The U.S. can reduce carbon emissions "by 1,100-1,200 million metric tons annually by 2030 with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone," according to the scheme put forward by the Sierra Club and ASES. Most of the reduction in carbon emissions
(82 percent) can be obtained by solar, wind, and increased energy efficiency. The remainder could come from biomass, bio fuels, and geothermal sources.

According to its sponsors, "this plan would achieve the U.S. share of reductions required to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels at 450-500 parts per million and limit additional average temperature rise to 1°C above 2000 levels."

The report goes on to say "renewable energy has the potential to provide approximately 40 percent of the U.S. electric need projected for 2030 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA)."

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They Don't Have Ham Sandwiches in the Muslim World, or Petraeus is Nothing More Than an Easy Out

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 9:12 PM EST

Last week, the American Prospect's Spencer Ackerman wrote that Iraq is a waste of General David Petraeus' time and expertise and that we should send him to Afghanistan where his expertise will not be lost on "cauterizing a wound" and "population protection." In fact, he makes this analogy:

"This is like hiring Spanish avant-garde chef Ferran Adria to whip up a ham sandwich."

I do think "God is unfair" to Petraeus, to use Ackerman's words, but I think unfair, moreso, for the following reason: Petraeus has been set up. Last week, following his confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made it clear that it is a setup indeed. "If it can't be done under General Petraeus, then it cannot be done at all."

Oh, I get it, so if we fail in Iraq it will no longer be the fault of the Bush administration's years of incompetence before, during and after the war (all of which is thoroughly documented in the Mother Jones timeline). This is the same criticism that has been made about Bush's escalation of troops, that the administration can claim, "we sent 20,000 troops, what more can we do?" Now, they have an even better scapegoat -- the most revered General in the United States Army. That seems fair. "Look, if Petraeus couldn't do it, there was nothing more that possibly could have been done," they'll say, as they wipe their hands clean. What is even more infuriating is that maybe it can be done, maybe Petraeus' insurgency doctrine has all the answers or he has several other tricks up his sleeve. But if the administration's past actions have been any indication of how well they support their military leaders in Iraq, it doesn't matter what the doctrine looks like, Petraeus won't be given the resources or the freedom to show us how talented he really is. Not to mention that it really is way too late for a Hail Mary.

More on Bush Administration's Anti-Global Warming Pressure on Scientists

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 8:07 PM EST

James Ridgeway wrote earlier today about Henry Waxman's ongoing oversight hearings that are looking into the government's role in distorting climate research. In his post, Jim mentioned the new Union of Concerned Scientists report that found the Bush Administration pressured scientists in a number of agencies to suppress evidence of global warming. ThinkProgress has culled some details. Synergy!

46 percent of government scientists "personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words 'climate change,' 'global warming,' or other similar terms from a variety of communications."
46 percent "perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work."
25 percent "perceived or personally experienced situations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific findings."

-- Jonathan Stein

The Sex Workers' Art Show: Making Sex Arty

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 7:47 PM EST

The other night, I sat on the cold floor of the San Francisco arts organization CellSpace listening to a woman with red, neon hair announce the first act of the evening to a packed house. She introduced herself as Annie Oakley, curator of The Sex Workers' Art Show, an event that originated in Olympia, Washington, in 1998. The cabaret-style show, comprised of everything from spoken word to burlesque and multi-media performance art, is made by people who work in many areas of the sex industry. It tours the country every year busting stereotypes about sex work and sex workers (and by extension, about what constitutes art) town-by-town and college-by-college. The show's aim is "to dispel the myth that [sex workers] are anything short of artists, innovators, and geniuses!"

The artists and innovators who I witnessed perform at the San Francisco show didn't try to make art sexy, but rather they made sex arty. Some of the performances, namely the burlesque acts, were presented with a quantity of glamour, while others exposed the realities of sex work in a more sobering manner. An eloquently rendered story entitled "Melho's Place," by writer and performance artist Amber Dawn started the evening off by shedding light on the humanity of sex work. Burlesque performer Miss Dirty Martini wowed the audience with her stylized fan dance. The art in the show really came to light when the fleet-footed performer hailing from Japan who calls herself Cono Snatch Zubobinskaya danced her way onto the stage with a humorous drag king number. San Francisco author Kirk Read delivered a raunchy yet tender spoken word piece about the closing night of the Circle J sex club in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood. He presented this little piece of history to the audience like a gift, revealing aspects of a community those who are not gay men in San Francisco will never have occasion to be a part of.

If the goal of the show is to illuminate the intricacies of sex work while revealing sex workers as artists, the group of individuals touring with this year's show certainly have accomplished a few things. The performances are varied and nuanced, portraying sex work in a way that transcends either positive or negative representation. At times the show was steamy and funny, and at others it was serious or sad. Like most things in life, sex work contains a complicated set of experiences that this set of performers articulated through story, movement, and song.

-- Rose Miller

And You Thought There Was No Way Bush Could Grab More Power

| Tue Jan. 30, 2007 7:38 PM EST

The front page story in tomorrow's New York Times will be an announcement and examination of George W. Bush's signing of a directive that gives him even greater control over much greater control over "the rules that the federal government develops to regulate public health, safety."

Bush has now declared that every federal regulatory agency must have a regulatory policy office headed by a political appointee. This will tighten the presidential control that already shocked anyone paying attention, especially with regard to the so-called Envrionmental Protection Agency, which is now merely a large sham supported by taxpayers.

Read all about it in tomorrow's Times.