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FEATURE

Oil prices were manipulated, government commission charges





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The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the agency charged with "ensuring the integrity of the futures & options market," has accused the trading firm, Optiver Holding, of manipulating the prices of crude oil, heating oil and gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the first complaint announced since their recent investigation into the manipulation of oil prices began:

Washington, DC – The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced today its case against Optiver Holding BV, two of its subsidiaries, and three employees, charging them with manipulation and attempted manipulation of New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) Light Sweet Crude Oil, New York Harbor Heating Oil, and New York Harbor Gasoline futures contracts during March 2007.

The CFTC filed the civil enforcement action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against Optiver Holding BV, a global proprietary trading fund headquartered in the Netherlands, and two subsidiaries – Optiver US, LLC (Optiver), a Chicago-based corporation, and Optiver VOF, a Dutch company. The complaint also names defendants Christopher Dowson (head trader of Optiver), Randal Meijer (head of trading and supervisor of Optiver and Optiver VOF) and Bastiaan van Kempen (Chief Executive Officer of Optiver).

In May, under the backdrop of record oil prices and calls from legislators to crack down on speculative oil trading and market manipulation, the CFTC announced a wide-ranging probe into oil price manipulation. The agency says it has dozens of investigations ongoing.

The CFTC began their probe into the manipulation of oil prices amid record prices increases in May. They say they have dozens of investigations underway. This was the first announced charge against a specific company. The implication is that there are more to follow.
According to the complaint, the defendants employed a manipulative scheme commonly known as “banging” or “marking”’ the close. “Banging the close” refers to the practice of acquiring a substantial position leading up to the closing period, followed by offsetting the position before the end of the close of trading for the purpose of attempting to manipulate prices.


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EPA: Global Warming Is Endangering Americans





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by Patriot Daily
Published on Reuters

EPA administrator Stephen Johnson informed the Bush Administration last December that there is "compelling and robust" evidence that our recent temperature increases are caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions which endanger the American people:

WASHINGTON — - The head of the Environmental Protection Agency told the Bush administration in December that high levels of man-made heat-trapping gases are causing global warming and endanger the American people, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Thursday after she reviewed the EPA finding, which has not been made public.

The White House declined to open the email with the warning contained in a 38-page document because:

The document is important because the Supreme Court ruled last year that if the EPA administrator finds greenhouse gases endanger the public, then the government must regulate them — a move the administration opposes.
Last week, the EPA issued a 283-page report which details how global warming endangers Americans. The EPA Inspector General issued another report that the Bush Administration's voluntary programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "have limited potential."

The EPA report on global warming impacts explains how climate change endangers us all:

1. Temperature: Heat waves will increase while cold days and nights will become less frequent. The EPA reports a predicted increase in temperature-related morbidity and mortality, which will affect everyone. During 1979-2002, 4,780 people died from heatwaves, although the report acknowledges that the figures are underestimated because the death certificate may not always list heat as the cause of death. Moreover, heat waves may cause death by exacerbating chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular, renal, respiratory diseases, diabetes, and nervous system disorders.

While everyone will be affected by temperature extremes, certain subpopulations face an added risk: Children, older adults, impoverished populations, people with chronic medical conditions or compromised immune systems, people with mobility and cognitive constraints, outdoor workers, city dwellers, the less educated, people without access to air conditioning and recent migrants and immigrants.

One factor in heat-related mortality is age. The number of Americans over age 65 is projected to reach 13% by 2010 and 20% by 2030 or over 50 million people. The EPA reports that older Americans are more "vulnerable" to higher temperatures, which means that "heat-related mortality could increase."

City dwellers will be impacted by the urban heat island effect which will increase city temperatures by 2-10 degrees more than suburban and rural areas due to "absorption of heat by dark paved surfaces and buildings, lack of vegetation and trees, heat emitted from buildings, vehicles, and air conditioners, and reduced air flow around buildings."

The plan to reduce heat-mortalities includes "heatwave early warning systems, urban design to reduce heat loads, and enhanced services during heatwaves."

2. Extreme Climate Events: Our weather will include extreme climate events, including hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, windstorms, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, and heavy downpours. Climate change may increase hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity and storm surge levels while sea levels will rise, causing coastal and riverine floods.

The gravity of this report is illustrated by the EPA's acknowledgment of the role of climate change in increased frequency and intensity of hurricanes, indicating that, while further studies can be productive, it is time to stop debating causation and move toward taking action.


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FEATURE

Bush: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter"





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George W. Bush's farewell to his G8 counterparts would have sounded like an accusation by environmentalists, had it not come from the U.S. President who made this statement to the stunned G8 leaders:

President George Bush signed off with a defiant farewell over his refusal to accept global climate change targets at his last G8 summit.

As he prepared to fly out from Japan, he told his fellow leaders: "Goodbye from the world's biggest polluter."

President Bush made the private joke in the summit's closing session, senior sources said yesterday. His remarks were taken as a two-fingered salute from the President from Texas who is wedded to the oil industry.
Bush's "in your face" farewell was presented both after the outgoing U.S. president blocked specific numerical targets in the G8's endorsement of a cut in greenhouse gases and after Dr. James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Space Science's Institute announced to the G8 that the atmosphere had exceeded safe C02 limits (safe being less than 350ppm; the atmosphere at 385 and rising).

This also comes as the presumptive Republican nominee, John McCain, while touting his own green "credentials," aligns with oil industry donations in return for his support of offshore drilling; something even McCain acknowledges will not lower gas prices for up to seven years.

And as McCain's (now under the bus) economic adviser, former Texas Senator, Phil Gramm -- whose initial support of the "Enron loophole" while his wife served on the Enron Board not only led to California's manufactured energy crisis, but was what opened the door for oil speculators to push up the price of gas, and whose involvement with UBS Swiss Bank coincided with his push to deregulate the mortgage industry, leading to he current sub-prime housing crisis -- states that the economic woes caused by his own actions are: "whining" by the American people and a "mental" recession.

To which Barack Obama replied:

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Potent "Missing Greenhouse Gas" Not Regulated By Global Warming Agreements





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by Patriot Daily

A recent study has concluded that NF3 (nitrogen trifluoride), which is used in the manufacture of computers, cell phones, TVs and solar panels, can be identified as the "missing greenhouse gas." The study warns that NF3 may "cause more global warming than coal-fired power plants" because NF3 is 17,000 times "more potent than carbon dioxide." NF3 remains in our atmosphere for 550 years but it is not regulated by Kyoto or other agreements yet production of NF3 is significantly increasing. The irony is that the industry initially switched over to NF3 in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The study was conducted by University of California atmospheric chemists Michael J. Prather and Juno Hsu, who report that NF3 is a synthetic chemical which is not included in the Kyoto "basket of greenhouse gases or in national reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)." NF3 was not included in Kyoto because it was used in small amounts when the Kyoto protocol was negotiated in 1997: Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) were then used in the computer industry but 2/3 of the PFCs "escaped into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect." NF3 was viewed as an environmentally beneficial alternative:


Reacting to environmental concerns, the industry sought a substitute -- and estimated that NF3, though it had greater potential for global warming, was less likely to escape into the air.

Now, the study concluded that the signification production quantities of NF3 kick it up the scale of potential GHG impacts:

With 2008 production equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2, NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations' emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world's largest coal-fired power plants.

NF3 was previously believed to have a lifetime of 740 years, but this study calculated a shorter life of 550 years. Even knocking off 190 years leaves a substantial period of time for deleterious impacts:

What kind of impact is this suppose to have, you ask? The chemical is found to stay in the atmosphere for 550 years and there is no force of nature known to remove it. This year, nitrogen trifluoride emissions are expected to have an impact equal to Austria's CO2 output. Production of the chemical may double in 2009. The study points to a number of NF3 manufacturing facilities opening up in the US, Korea, and China. The production increase is due in part to the switch to digital television which will lead to increased LCD consumption and the disposal of older sets, some of them early LCD models.

This study is important because LCD monitors have been marketed as "environmentally friendly"

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FEATURE

Credit where it is due: The author the "surge" strategy





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John McCain speaks of his ability to "win wars" by using the "surge" as his example. This is surprising, as this was the strategy that was first implemented in 2005 by U.S. Army Colonel, H.R. McMaster, in what he called "Clear, Hold and Build," a strategy that may have reduced the insurgency had it been supported at the time.

What also make the
authorship of this strategy so important, aside from the fact that Colonel McMaster deserves credit where it is due, is the dust-up that resulted after the strategy was proposed to the Pentagon and then the White House in 2005 as a way to bring about conditions for a political solution in Iraq prior to the worst of the insurgency taking hold:
The successful strategy created by a Col. H.R. McMaster (Clear, Hold and Build), where his troops went into a city, lived among the population in small units, built trust and protected the population while they fought the insurgents.

Requests to implement his strategy that went up the ranks were stopped at the highest levels. The reasons given: it would take more troops and put them in more danger. Thomas Rick's reaction: you can't fight a war as a tourist." It was not implemented by the Pentagon.

The State Department representative in Iraq heard about "Clear, Hold and Build" and flew back to tell Condoleeza Rice. Rice then went before Congress and, in what turned out to be a direct challenge to Rumsfeld, formally recommended the Clear, Hold and Build strategy during a hearing that was broadcast live.

Rumsfeld quickly held a press conference where he said (paraphrase): we didn't have the troops to implement it and it wasn't our responsibility to protect the Iraqis.

The insurgency exploded.
There were generals who did not give up on the idea of "Clear, Hold and Build." They pointed to Col. McMasters' success as the only feasible strategy. When General Jack Keane went to see President George Bush about it in 2006, he came away thinking he had finally convinced him. Shortly thereafter, according to Thomas Ricks on the FRONTLINE episode, ENDGAME, Dick Cheney then talked George W. Bush out of supplying the necessary troops for success.

It was only after the new Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, and General David Petraeus came aboard that the "Clear, Hold and Build" strategy was given serious consideration and it was Petraeus, a long-time proponent of the strategy, who implemented it beginning July 4, 2007.

What is missing from the above account is any support for John McCain's implication of authorship, as presented by his constant self-identification with the "surge." While he did, early on and during the early part of the Republican primary season, support the "surge" strategy, it should be noted that it was two years after Colonel McMaster had proven its effectiveness in Tal Afar, Iraq, before it was put through, long after the time when the wider implementation of McMaster's strategy could have reduced the level of insurgency and bettered the political outcome in Iraq. Which would have, in turn, freed troops for the neglected war in Afghanistan that has now "surged" to the forefront.



FEATURE

G8 leaders endorse fifty percent emmisions cut, but with no specific targets





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The 2008 G8 Summit has ended with an agreement among the principals to endorse cutting greenhouse gas emissions fifty percent by 2050. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, host of the meeting, added a request that countries reduce their mid-term greenhouse gas emissions prior to standards being set.

The G8 rich countries said on Tuesday they want to work with the nearly 200 states involved in U.N. climate change talks to adopt a goal of at least halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The final climate communique agreed by the Group of Eight leaders at a summit in northern Japan also said mid-term goals would be needed to achieve the shared goal for 2050, but gave no numerical targets.

This puts the adaptation of actual standards within the United Nations' effort to construct a follow-up to the Kyoto Accord,the ongoing negotiations of which are set to conclude in December, 2009 at Copenhagen.

The G8 endorseme
nt follows a letter sent to the Japanese Prime Minister by NASA's James Hansen, citing new data that showed the climate had exceeded safe C02 levels (safe maximum at 350 ppm; current level is at 385 ppm) and urging the Prime Minister Fukuda to take the lead at the G8 to set specific targets. The language of the G8 statement was worded so as not to require specific targets, which will doubtless raise questions among both environmentalists and businesses that have been asking for those targets in an effort to effectively plan for future production.

The lack of specific wording was seen as a result of U.S. resistanc
e:
U.S. President George W. Bush has insisted that Washington cannot agree to binding targets unless big polluters such as China and India rein in their emissions as well.
India and China are polluters, a problem exacerbated by China's growing usage of coal fired plants and both countrys' increasing thirst for oil (charts by Dr. James Hansen, NASA):

The picture becomes more G8 centric with per capita C02 emissions by country, reflecting the individual carbon footprint within each population:


FEATURE

Australia's Climate Change Challenge





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Published on Reuters

Australia, the world's driest continent, is in danger of drying beyond its ability to sustain its agriculture. So says economist Ross Garnaut, who has warned that, should global warming go unchecked, Australia could see a 50% reduction in irrigated agriculture by 2050.
THE weight of scientific evidence tells us that Australians are facing risks of damaging climate change. The risk can be substantially reduced by strong and early action by all major economies.

Without that action, it is probable that Australians, over the 21st century and beyond, will experience disruption in their prosperity and enjoyment of life, and to longstanding patterns in their lives.
Garnaut went on to write that "effective international action is necessary if the risks of dangerous climate change are to be held to acceptable levels, but deeply problematic." He cites the fact that international cooperation is the minimum requirement for the resolution to a global crisis. He refers to it as a "prisoners' dilemma" where each individual country benefits from self-interest, trying to do less of the mitigation itself, while others do more.

"If all countries act on this basis, without forethought and cooperation, there will be no resolution of the dilemma. We will all judge the outcome, in the fullness of time, to be insufficient and unsatisfactory."

Garnaut is calling for one of the most ambitious carbon trading schemes yet proposed, set to start by 2010. He says that Australia's heartland cannot be preserved without this action. He wants the trading regime to be broad-based, to include both energy and transport, earning complaints from business groups who say the scheme could put them at a disadvantage to the rest of the world (ergo: prisoners' dilemma) and have warned of blackouts and bankruptcies.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's government campaigned on the commitment to mitigate climate change and, as such, are expected to institute some form of carbon trading, the scope of which is to be determined. The Garnaut report is expected to be part of that review.

The Rudd government has several other considerations; political, economic, scientific, environmental...

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FEATURE

James Hansen to the G8: We've passed safe C02 levels





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Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

On the eve the annual G8 Summit where NASA's Dr. James Hansen will announce that we've passed safe C02 levels (safe being maximum 350 ppm; we're now at 385 ppm), Hansen has penned a comprehensive letter (PDF) to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, host of the G8 Summit, requesting his leadership in addressing his findings:
Dear Prime Minister [Fukuda],

Your leadership, and continued leadership by Japan, is needed on the matter of climate change, a matter with ramifications for life on our planet, including all species. Prospects for today’s children, and especially the world’s poor, hinge upon success in stabilizing climate. ~snip~

Japan has been a strong supporter of actions to mitigate dangerous climate change, including the Kyoto Protocol. It is not Japan’s fault that international action has failed so far to slow emission of dangerous gases. But as the host for the upcoming G8 meeting, you can initiate discussion of an approach that could meet the challenge humanity faces.

The past approach, and extensions now under discussion, are fatally flawed and would doom our children and grandchildren to an increasingly impoverished life on a more desolate planet. Clear thinking and bold leadership of the international community are essential in the next 1-2 years to change the course of human history.
The letter, which includes extensive supporting data, opens with current climate status: the loss of sea ice, the approaching tipping points, the effects on people and wildlife, the unstoppable sea level rise, shifting of climate zones, species extinctions, loss of glaciers, water supply for hundreds of millions, droughts and forest fires, rains and floods, intensified thunderstorms, tornadoes and tropical storms.

My address tomorrow to the United Nations University G8 Symposium summarizes scientific data revealing that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million), and is likely less than that. Implications for energy policy are profound, as atmospheric CO2 is already 385 ppm.
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Obama and My Achy Breaky Heart





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Last week I was quoting the great poet Emily Dickinson to express my unease about the Obama campaign's swing to the right which is now erroneously called the middle. The radical right has been falsely claiming that ours is a conservative country -- forgetting that we were born in revolution and have thrived on revolutionary invention, innovation, the expansion of human rights and the use of talents that cross racial and class barriers. As a sign of how far the right wing has succeeded in creating a new reality, this past Sunday The New York Times Magazine in its cover story anointed Rush Limbaugh a genial voice of America, a good guy disguised as a snarling bully, just an entertainer at heart, a kind of genius rap artist, a seller of right wing political products with a heart of gold and a toilet seat to match. So much for the judgment of the Times and its editors, and the effectiveness of the past years of conservative propaganda.

I hate to join Limbaugh's knee jerk attacks on Obama but I've had some doubts lately, and though reluctant to express them, I've never had a doubt that I could hold back on. What Limbaugh mocks in Obama is what drew me to him, the idealism, and the possibility of his leading America with fresh insights and courageous decisions. I am one among many who saw in Obama a chance for America's moral and economic restoration, and like most folks who give their heart to someone, I don't take easy to disappointment. So I am abandoning Emily Dickinson and going hard core today, quoting the lyrics of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus's "Achy Breaky Heart," a song that has survived the early nineties better than Bill Clinton's reputation as a great politician. Sorry Emily, I love you dearly, but sometimes there is nothing but country music to tell it like it is. I offer a few of its choice lyrics. It's a plea for Barack not to toy with my affections and to stay the Barack who won my heart.

"Oh, you can tell your friends just what a fool I've been

And laugh and joke about me on the phone...

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart

I just don't think it'd understand...

You can tell your Ma I've moved to Arkansas

Or you can tell your dog to bite my leg...

But don't tell my heart, my achy breaky heart

I just don't think it'd understand...

Ooo"
Here are a few steps on the road to heartbreak. Obama fudging on FISA, fudging on the Court's gun control strike-down, the faith based charity funding -- no way that it doesn't compromise the separation of church and state. So far Obama seems to be testing the waters, seeing what will work for him in order to gain more independent voters, while still keeping his core beliefs intact. There's some fudging going on here but not yet the world-class flip-flopping such as George W. promising the electorate that he would have nothing to do with nation building.

Flip flopping as we know it today is the exclusive province of John McCain: once anti-torture, now pro torture, once a friend of judicial moderates now the would be appointer of more Roberts/Alito justices, enemy of evangelical bullies, now a man who never met a right wing evangelist he wouldn't hug. He's the undisputed champ of the flip-flop. I am expecting Obama to continue to speak out about the wrongs of torture, the obscenity of the oil profits, and the forlorn and forgotten American worker reeling under NAFTA. I expect him to stand fast on the Bill of Rights and see the Constitution as a living document, not as the Dead Sea Scrolls. I am looking over my left shoulder and I don't like some of what I see calling itself "moderation" because it looks like a losing strategy shaped by experts whose expertise is in knowing how to lose elections.

Of course over my right shoulder is John McCain, a gas bag who in the name of fuel economy has become a wind-bag. Give him presidential power and that arrogant political hack (Keating Five) disguised as a maverick will complete the wreckage of the country that George W. Bush set in motion. Right now the pussycat press seems content to live with its McCain delusions. He is their revered POW and affable guest on Saturday Night Live. So who cares if he has no plans for this economically distraught country? So what if he is clueless? How bad can he be? Plenty! He is more dangerous than Dick Cheney because he wears a smile over his sneer, tells jokes that cover his irrational explosiveness, and carries his ignorance with senatorial pride. He doesn't have a notion as to what he will do to extricate us from the myriad economic and global messes of his predecessors, other than appoint more repressive, right wing judges to the court. What will a McCain Presidency accomplish in its first hundred days? If he sweeps in some additional Republican Congressmen and Senators we will finally have that offshore and Alaskan drilling that will ultimately end up in millions of Chinese and Indian cars that will complete the polluting of a suffocating universe. And of course there will be more tax breaks to stimulate the economy at Cartier and Tiffany? Against such a man there is no choice for me. Obama with all his flaws and his threat to my achy breaky heart keeps my vote. I suppose I'm just a fool for love.

__________________________________________________________________________

Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist, has won two Emmy Awards, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.
__________________________________________________________________________

FEATURE

Permafrost Threatened by Retreat of Arctic Sea Ice





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Published on Reuters, Huffington Post, IBS, USAToday

A new study by the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research has warned that the integrity of carbon and methane sequestering permafrost is threatened by the rapid retreat of Arctic Sea Ice. This comes at the same time as warnings that this summer may see the first ice-free North Pole for the first time in recorded history.


The rate of climate warming over northern Alaska, Canada, and Russia could more than triple during extended episodes of rapid sea ice loss, according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The findings raise concerns about the thawing of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil, and the potential consequences for sensitive ecosystems, human infrastructure, and the release of additional greenhouse gases.

“The rapid loss of sea ice can trigger widespread changes that would be felt across the region,” said Andrew Slater, NSIDC research scientist and a co-author on the study, which was led by David Lawrence of NCAR. The findings will be published Friday in Geophysical Research Letters.

Last summer, Arctic sea ice extent shrank to a record low. From August to October last year, air temperatures over land in the western Arctic were also unusually warm, reaching more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the 1978-2006 average. This led the researchers to question whether the unusually low sea ice extent and warm land temperatures were related.

The report's findings show a link between rapid sea ice loss and an increased rate of global warming, potentially moving up to 900 miles inland and in areas where permafrost is already at risk, i.e. central Alaska, where periods of abrupt sea ice loss could lead to uncontrolled soil thaw.
Thawing permafrost may have a range of impacts, including buckled highways and destabilized houses, as well as changes to the delicate balance of life in the Arctic...

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