The Uighurs have apparently finally found a home:

The United States has won an agreement to transfer up to 17 Chinese Muslims from the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Palau, a sparsely populated archipelago in the North Pacific, according to a statement released by Palau to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

....The agreement opens the door to the largest single transfer of Guantánamo prisoners and is the first major deal on detainees since President Obama pledged upon taking office in January to close the prison within a year.

It also gives Mr. Obama some relief on an issue that has become a political hot button among Congressional Republicans and even some Democrats, who have noisily protested against releasing what they call potentially dangerous extremists on American soil or transferring them to prisons in the United States.

According to Palau's UN representative, "Palau is paradise."  Better than Cuba, anyway.

The Treasury Department made headlines today announcing that 10 mega-banks will be allowed to repay their TARP funds. These banks—among them JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, American Express, and Bank of New York Mellon—will return an estimated $68.3 billion to the government’s coffers, almost triple what the Treasury initially estimated.

So what do Obama, Geithner, Summers, and the rest of the gang have in mind for that $68.3 billion? Well, according to Obama's remarks today, the government can save its money and spend it, too:

This [repayment] is not a sign that our troubles are over—far from it... But it is a positive sign. We're seeing an initial return on a few of these investments. We're restoring funds to the Treasury where they'll be available to safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability. And as this money is returned, we'll see our national debt lessened by $68 billionbillions of dollars that this generation will not have to borrow and future generations will not have to repay.

Huh? The $68 billion in repayments are apparently going back to the Treasury to "safeguard against continuing risks to financial stability." This is most likely doublespeak for TARP II, the newest round of bailouts that uses TARP repayments from healthier banks to subsidize the weaker ones. Yet at the same time it's subsidizing banks, that $68 billion is also going to reduce the national debt. This doesn't quite add up.

Obama's contradictory comments on the bailout also fuels the criticism that the government really doesn't have a coherent vision for the bailout, but instead sees it as a endlessly spinning revolving door for taxpayer money coming from and going out to struggling banks. Stay tuned here for more updates on the bailout, and where that $68 billion in taxpayer dollars is really headed.

(H/T Paul Kiel, ProPublica)

"Don't Mess With Texas," perhaps the most famous state slogan in history, began as an anti-littering campaign. Having grown up in the Lone Star State, I remember a TV ad showing two fighter jets swooping over a highway, presumably about to strafe some guy who tossed a can out of his pickup. Well, turns out San Francisco is about to do Texas one better. Today, the city's Board of Supervisors made it illegal not only to throw that can out the window, but also in the trash; a new law will require you to recycle it. I can't wait for the bus ads featuring a gun-packing hippie: Don't mess with San Francisco.

Of course, San Francisco's strong recycling norms aren't unique along the Left Coast, which, as we noted in our recent Waste Issue, takes those curvy green arrows much more seriously than folks in New York. Recycling is already mandatory in San Diego and Seattle, where trash collectors shame offending homeowners by posting notes on their trash bins and leaving them unemptied on the curb. Still, San Francisco might up the ante. SF Weekly notes that its proposed fines for not recycling--$100 to $500--are ten times higher than Seattle's.

San Francisco is already the least trashy city in America. In May, it announced that it recycles 72 percent of its waste.  And most homeowners and more than a fifth of apartment dwellers compost (under the new law, everyone will). Fascinated by how the city where I live achieves such high numbers, I recently began following my garbage. I've tracked it from the can at my apartment building to its eventual reincarnation, learning a lot along the way about the obstacles to going "zero waste," as the city hopes to by 2020. Check back tomorrow for the first installment of this colorful--and stinky--trash saga, which will appear on this site throughout the week.

Exposure to dioxins during pregnancy harms the cells in breast tissue which in turn impairs the ability to initiate breastfeeding or to produce enough milk.

The data are demonstrated only in mice at this point. But the researchers from the U of Rochester Medical Center believe dioxin exposure may account for at least some of the 3 to 6 million mothers worldwide who cannot breastfeed.

The study is published online in Toxicological Sciences and shows that dioxin has a profound effect on breast tissue by causing mammary cells to stop their natural cycle of proliferation as early as six days into pregnancy and lasting through mid-pregnancy. Exposure to dioxin causes mice to produce 50 percent fewer new epithelial cells. Normally mammary glands cells proliferate rapidly during early to mid-pregnancy. Dioxin also alters the induction of milk-producing genes that occurs around the ninth day of pregnancy.

Dioxins are generated by the incineration of municipal and medical waste, especially plastics, and emitted through the air to settle onto crops, pastures, and waterways. People acquire the toxins through eating contaminated meat, dairy products, fish, and shellfish. The toxin settles in the fatty tissues and natural elimination occurs extremely slowly.

The team is looking into whether the harm occurs directly in the breast or if it's found throughout the body but manifests uniquely in the fatty mammary tissue. They're also studying a hypothesis that dioxin exposure might cancel the protection pregnancy normally awards against breast cancer.

Makes the UN's call to ban all plastic bags seem farsighted. So how about banning municipal- and medical-waste incinerators?

Quote of the Day

From Sarah Palin, responding to a question from Fox News' Sean Hannity:

Hannity: Tim Geithner got laughed at in China last week.  Is this even more than you thought was going to be in terms of where the president would take the economy?

Palin: What's more than I thought would be is, we're hearing a lot of good rhetoric.  A lot of this is wrapped in good rhetoric, but we're not seeing those actions, and this many months into the new administration, quite disappointed, quite frustrated with not seeing those actions to rein in spending, slow down the growth of government. Instead, China's Sean it's the complete opposite. It's expanding at such a large degree that if Americans aren't paying attention, unfortunately, our country could evolve into something that we do not even recognize, certainly that is so far from what the founders of our country had in mind for us.

Damn, I love Sarah Palin.  This doesn't even begin to make any sense.  I very sincerely hope that she stays on the public stage as a face of the Republican Party for a very, very long time.

UPDATE: My bad.  I transcribed this wrong — and without the China reference it does make sense.  A little garbled, but still comprehensible.  My apologies.

Quick hit: a UN environment official wants ALL the plastic bags in the world banned immediately due to the damage they cause to oceans and wildlife. Plastic bags, as we've reported before, is a problem in oceans not only because there's so much of it, but because wildlife eat it and feed it to their young, resulting in starvation. The UN official's statement was accompanied by a new UN report that shows plastic makes up 80% of all litter found in the ocean.  

Things are all smiles in North Korea. At least that's the impression you get from Kim Jong Nam, eldest son of the "Dear Leader," Kim Jong Il. His father has suffered a stroke, but remains at the helm of his fantasy land, while a secret transition of power is underway. Such things are touchy subjects in countries like the Hermit Kingdom, where leaders are not so much political figures as living gods. Pyongyang has indicated that Kim Jong Il's youngest son, Jong Un, is likely to inherit the mantle of the North Korea's national deity.

Does this trouble Kim Jong Nam? Not at all! He knows the score. Reports indicate he fell out of favor after being caught in Tokyo's international airport with a fake passport in 2001. Rumors abound that he fled North Korea, but even this is unconfirmed. To hear him tell it, he's just a traveling man, a pleasure seeker untroubled at being passed over by his loving father. A Japanese television crew caught up with him earlier this week, where Nam smiled as he denied his defection to Japan and brushed aside any hard feelings at his father. "Sorry, I am not interested in the politics," he says. You can watch the interview on the BBC's website.

We're Still at War

Iraq and Afghanistan aren't in the news as much as they once were, but it's important to remember that our troops are still there.

Spc. Andrew HarveySpc. Andrew Harvey, a 1st Infantry Soldier, patrols along steep cliffs of the Korengal Valley's surrounding mountains during Operation Viper Shake, Afghanistan, April 21, 2009. Photo courtesy army.mil.

Guest blogger Mark Follman writes frequently about current affairs and culture at markfollman.com.

The June issue of the Atlantic has a look at the mind-blowing Oasis of the Seas, a gargantuan ocean liner forthcoming from cruise company Royal Caribbean International. Its unprecedented scale of apparent luxury surely required feats of engineering. But any awe that inspires would seem to wash away with apprehension of the ship’s untold economic and ecological hubris.

A decade ago, a large cruise ship typically carried in the neighborhood of 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members. But in an industry intently focused on swelling its profits no matter the non-fiscal costs, bigger is always better. Ordered in 2006 for $1.4 billion (on the crest ahead of the economic meltdown), the Oasis leaves those old numbers far in its wake. “In November,” writes Rory Nugent, “Royal Caribbean will take delivery of a true sea monster. Now in its final phase of construction, the Oasis of the Seas will be the biggest (longest, tallest, widest, heaviest) passenger ship ever built—and the most expensive. It will dwarf Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and cast shadows dockside atop 20-story buildings. A crew of 2,165 will tend the expectations of up to 6,296 passengers.” 

The broken-window theory has a helper in these lean times for cities across the land: Legos! Yes, another reason to love the timeless plastic construction pieces: Industrious folk are filling cracks and holes in buildings with colorful lego randoms in Berlin. Very cool. Next up, giant legos in potholes? Watch out, KFC!