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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 39823 times)
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« Reply #60 on: Sep 04, 2012, 07:13 AM »


September 3, 2012

Project Aims to Harness the Power of Waves

By KIRK JOHNSON
NY TIMES

PORTLAND, Ore. — About 15 years ago, this environmentally conscious state with a fir tree on its license plates began pushing the idea of making renewable energy from the ocean waves that bob and swell on the Pacific horizon. But then one of the first test-buoy generators, launched with great fanfare, promptly sank. It was not a good start.

But time and technology turned the page, and now the first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the nation, designed by a New Jersey company, Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The federal permit for up to 10 generators came last month, enough, the company says, to power about 1,000 homes. When engineers are satisfied that everything is ready, a barge will carry the 260-ton pioneer to its anchoring spot about two and a half miles offshore near the city of Reedsport, on the central coast.

“All eyes are on the O.P.T. buoy,” said Jason Busch, the executive director of the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, a nonprofit state-financed group that has spent $10 million in the last six years on scientific wave-energy research and grants, including more than $430,000 to Ocean Power Technologies alone. Making lots of electricity on the buoy and getting it to shore to turn on lights would be great, Mr. Busch said. Riding out the storm-tossed seas through winter? Priceless. “It has to survive,” he said.

Adding to the breath-holding nature of the moment, energy experts and state officials said, is that Oregon is also in the final stages of a long-term coastal mapping and planning project that is aiming to produce, by late this year or early next, a blueprint for where wave energy could be encouraged or discouraged based on potential conflicts with fishing, crabbing and other marine uses.

The project’s leader, Paul Klarin, said wave technology is so new, compared to, say, wind energy, that the designs are like a curiosity shop — all over the place in creative thinking about how to get the energy contained in a wave into a wire in a way that is cost-effective and efficient.

“Some are on the seabed on the ocean floor, some are in the water column, some are sitting on the surface, some project up from the surface into the atmosphere, like wind — many different sizes, many different forms, many different footprints,” said Mr. Klarin, the marine program coordinator at the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development. “There’s no one-size-fits-all kind of plan.”

Energy development groups around the world are closely watching what happens here, because success or failure with the first United States commercial license could affect the flow of private investment by bigger companies that have mostly stayed on the shore while smaller entrepreneurs struggled in the surf. Ocean Power Technologies also will be seeking money to build more generators.

“Wave energy is very expensive to develop, and they need to see that there is a potential worldwide,” said António Sarmento, a professor at Lisbon Technical University and the director of the Wave Energy Centre, a private nonprofit group based in Portugal. “In that sense, having the first commercial deployment in the U.S. is very, very positive.”

Here in Oregon, the momentum of research appears to be increasing. Last month, the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center — financed by the United States Department of Energy in collaboration with Oregon State University and the University of Washington — deployed one of the first public wave energy testing systems in the nation, called Ocean Sentinel, about two and a half hours from Portland, in Newport. The first device tested was a half-scale prototype from a New Zealand company.

Fishing industry lobbyists and lawyers worry that a surge of wave energy could repeat what happened when hydroelectricity came to the Pacific Northwest in a big way starting in the 1930s. Builders then did not think through the dense ecological web that nature had devised around the tens of millions of salmon — suddenly blocked from their inland spawning routes — that had over millenniums become a cornerstone species for everything from bears to birds.

“Our greatest concern is that they don’t do what they did with dams — put a lot of them in the ocean and then just stand back and see what happens,” said John Holloway, the secretary of Oregon Anglers, a political action committee for recreational fishing. “We’re advocating a go-slow approach.”

What has not changed is that the Pacific Northwest still has a siren song for wave-energy dreamers in the big, consistent rolling ocean swells that define offshore waters — and make many a boater seasick — from Northern California through Washington State.

“Wave energy is essentially an accumulation of wind energy,” Charles F. Dunleavy, the chief executive at Ocean Power Technologies, said in a telephone interview. In the northern Pacific, he said, consistent winds fuel consistent waves, and the distance they travel in their rolling line creates a huge area of wave energy, or fetch, that a bobbing buoy can capture. Other places with good fetch include some areas off the coasts of Western Europe and South America.

But the project also hinges on squeezing out the tiniest of incremental efficiencies in tapping the waves as they come. On the Ocean Power Technologies buoy, which looks like a giant cannon stuffed with electronics, company engineers pursued an insight that sailors have known in their sea legs since the days of Odysseus: every wave is different.

The onboard computer in each buoy, in communication with an array of small devices called wave riders that float farther out in the ocean, adapts, or “tunes” to each incoming wave, adjusting the way the giant internal shaft rides up and down as the swell passes through. The up-and-down motion of the shaft creates the electricity, which goes to shore through a seabed cable.

In a nod to environmental concerns, the buoy was redesigned to remove all hydraulic fluids, which some critics feared could contaminate the water in the event of an accident; rack-and-pinion gears now drive the mechanics. The three anchoring tethers, said Michael G. Kelly, the vice president of operations at Ocean Power Technologies, were also built to withstand a 100-year storm, but also with enough redundancies that even if two anchors failed the third would be enough to keep the buoy in place.


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« Reply #61 on: Sep 05, 2012, 07:17 AM »

Report: Liberian forests sold off in secret logging contracts

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 5, 2012 8:04 EDT

Forty percent of Liberia’s forests have been sold off in secretive and often illegal contracts, Global Witness said Tuesday, just days after the country’s president announced a probe into the issuing of logging permits.

An investigation by the London-based natural resource watchdog has shown how, despite efforts to reform the country’s logging sector, companies have used a legal loophole to score contracts covering a quarter of the nation’s landmass.

The report comes after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced on Friday an independent probe into the controversial permits, after suspending the managing director of the Forestry Development Authority, Moses Wogbeh.

“The new logging contracts termed Private Use Permits now cover 40 percent of Liberia’s forests and almost half of Liberia’s best intact forests,” said a press release from Global Witness.

“They have given companies linked to notorious Malaysian logging giant Samling unparalleled access to some of Liberia’s most pristine forests.”

Samling and its subsidiaries have been involved in cases of illegal logging from Cambodia to Guyana to Papua New Guinea.

The Private Use Permits were designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property. But the investigation found that the 66 permits that have been issued are in fact allowing logging companies to sneak past Liberia’s carefully crafted forest laws and regulations.

“Companies holding these permits are not required to log sustainably and pay little in compensation to either the Liberian government or the people who own the forests for the right to export valuable tropical timber,” Global Witness said.

“Private Use Permits are great news for logging companies. They are very bad news for pretty much everybody else in Liberia,” said Robert Nyahn of Save My Future Foundation, which also took part in the investigation.

Liberia’s forests make up 42 percent of what is left of the Upper Guinean Rainforest – just part of a fragmented system that once covered most of west Africa but has been reduced to 12 percent of its original reach.

Deforestation has been alarming, with 70 percent of the population involved in slash-and-burn farming, the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told AFP in 2010.

While the use of “blood diamonds” to fund wars in the region is better known, it was timber that propped up armed factions, notably those of former president Charles Taylor, during 14 years of Liberian conflict that left over 250,000 people dead from 1989 to 2003.

In the nine years since the end of the conflict the Liberian government and international partners have worked hard to reform the industry, with the United States giving $30 million to help communities manage their forest resources.

The EU and the Liberian government have also recently negotiated a trade agreement meant to ensure that Liberia provides legal timber to European markets.

United Nations sanctions on the country’s timber industry were lifted in 2006 and the government issued new licences covering nine percent of the country.

Global Witness said these new contracts have failed to deliver the promised benefits to the Liberian people and that many of these companies owe significant back taxes.

Silas Siakor of Liberia’s Sustainable Development Institute said recent statements by the president on the logging scandal were “promising.”

“Too frequently, those who abuse Liberia’s natural resources have not been held to account,” he was quoted as saying in the Global Witness press statement, calling for a comprehensive independent investigation.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2010 deforestation report, Africa has lost 3.4 million hectares (8.4 million acres) of forest in the past 10 years.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #62 on: Sep 06, 2012, 07:29 AM »


September 5, 2012

For Farms in the West, Oil Wells Are Thirsty Rivals

By JACK HEALY
NYT

GREELEY, Colo. — A new race for water is rippling through the drought-scorched heartland, pitting farmers against oil and gas interests, driven by new drilling techniques that use powerful streams of water, sand and chemicals to crack the ground and release stores of oil and gas.

A single such well can require five million gallons of water, and energy companies are flocking to water auctions, farm ponds, irrigation ditches and municipal fire hydrants to get what they need.

That thirst is helping to drive an explosion of oil production here, but it is also complicating the long and emotional struggle over who drinks and who does not in the arid and fast-growing West. Farmers and environmental activists say they are worried that deep-pocketed energy companies will have purchase on increasingly scarce water supplies as they drill deep new wells that use the technique of hydraulic fracturing.

And this summer’s record-breaking drought, which dried up wells and ruined crops, has only amplified those concerns.

“It’s not a level playing field,” said Peter V. Anderson, who grows corn and alfalfa on the parched plains of eastern Colorado. “I don’t think in reality that the farmer can compete with the oil and gas companies for that water. Their return is a hell of a lot better than ours.”

But industry officials say that critics are exaggerating the effect on water supplies.

Energy producers do not — and cannot — simply snap up the rights to streams and wells at the expense of farmers or homeowners. To fill their storage tanks, they lease surplus water from cities or buy treated wastewater that would otherwise be dumped back into rivers. In some cases, they buy water rights directly from farmers or other users — a process that in Colorado requires court approval.

“This is an important use of our water — to produce energy, which is the foundation of all we do,” said Tisha Schuller, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. “Think about the big users of water — agriculture, industrial development. All these things require energy.”

In average years, farmers and ranchers like Mr. Anderson say they pay about $30 for an acre foot of water — equal to about 326,000 gallons — a price that can rise to $100 when water is scarce. Right now, oil and gas companies in parts of Colorado are paying as much as $1,000 to $2,000 for an equal amount of treated water from city pipes.

That money can be a blessing for strained local utilities and water departments, but farmers say there is no way they can afford to match those bids.

“We’re not going to be able to raise the food we need,” said Ben Rainbolt, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “How are we going to produce this with less?”

In the spring, during an annual auction of surplus water in northern Colorado, Mr. Anderson and a handful of other farmers were outbid by water haulers who supply hydraulic fracturing wells. Although Mr. Anderson ultimately got the water he needed as bids settled after the auction, the mere shadow of energy producers at the auction offered a glimpse of their growing presence in the rush for Western water.

“Energy companies are moving quickly to shore up supplies,” said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. “They’re going to find it, and they’re going to pay what they need to pay, and it’s on an order of magnitude of what crop producers can afford to pay. That changes the whole deal.”

Oil and gas companies estimate that they will use about 6.5 billion gallons of water in Colorado this year, and that figure makes up only 0.1 percent of overall water use, according to state data. Their consumption represents more water than is used making snow on the ski slopes or greening the state’s golf courses. But it is paltry compared with the deluge needed for irrigation and agriculture, which accounts for 85.5 percent of Colorado’s water use.

Still, the industry is growing fast. The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission estimates that the state’s oil and gas water needs will grow by 16 percent over the next three years.

“Water flows uphill to money,” said Mike Chiropolos, a lawyer for Western Resource Advocates, an environmental group based in Boulder. “It’s only going to get more precious and more scarce.”

In June, the group released a study that accused Colorado of underestimating the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, saying the true figure was between 7.2 billion and 13 billion gallons per year — enough to serve as many as 296,100 people.

Despite the drought and worries about water supplies, several cities — and even farmers with water to spare — are starting to line up as eager sellers.

In July, after receiving proposals from several energy companies, Aurora, a suburb of Denver, approved a $9.5 million deal to lease 2.4 billion gallons of effluent water to the Anadarko Petroleum Corporation over five years. It did not come from drinking supplies. It was excess water that “we couldn’t capture, couldn’t store, couldn’t do anything with,” said Greg Baker, a spokesman for the city’s water department.

But the agreement — the first of its kind for Aurora — drew stiff rebukes from opponents of hydraulic fracturing.

Opponents said the Anadarko agreement would divert water that would have flowed to other users along the South Platte River and send it far from the community. Molly Markert, a city councilwoman who voted against the lease, said she was uneasy about selling municipal water to energy companies.

“I’m not a supporter of fracking,” Ms. Markert said. “I don’t want to enable them.”

For years, Greeley has leased its surplus water to farmers, construction companies and others. In 2008, the oil and gas companies started making offers, said Jon Monson, the city’s water and sewer director. Most of the water still goes to agriculture, but the city rented 1,300 acre feet to energy companies last year and is on pace to rent 1,800 acre feet — as much as 586 million gallons — this year.

It is easy math for the city: The farmers pay $30 an acre foot. The oil and gas companies pay $3,300, which will earn the city’s water department $4 million to $5 million this year.

Precious as water is, Kreg Edrington, 26, spilled only a little one recent morning as he hooked his tanker truck up to a fire hydrant in Greeley and opened the tap. Like a herd of thirsty elephants, the tankers begin lining up early to fill their steel bellies. In less than 15 minutes, Mr. Edrington’s tanker was brimming with leased city water, and he was ready to make the two-hour round trip over gravel roads to a drilling site, where he would empty the tank and turn around for more.

“That’s it,” he said. “Now I drive away.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 6, 2012

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated how many gallons of water the city of Greeley, Colo., will rent to energy companies this year. It is on pace to rent 586 million gallons of water, not 58 million gallons.
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« Reply #63 on: Sep 06, 2012, 07:42 AM »

 September 6, 2012, 12:04 am

The Slaughter of Elephants in Vietnam Is Nearly Complete

By MARK MCDONALD
IHT

HONG KONG - The plight of elephants in Africa is being explained, in graphic and saddening detail, in a new series of stories by my colleague Jeffrey Gettleman of The New York Times. "An epic elephant slaughter," he calls it, with poachers wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year for their ivory.

The killing has now reached a kind of frenzy, and even military units in central Africa are involved, gunning down elephants from their helicopters. Ivory tusks, most of them bound for China, have become the new blood diamonds.

The poachers have already done their worst in Vietnam. Along with developers, loggers, villagers and negligent bureaucrats, they have conspired to reduce the wild elephant population to just a few dozen.

Elephants are under critical threat all across Asia, especially in India and Thailand, but the situation is so exceedingly bleak in Vietnam that wildlife conservation groups have essentially thrown in the towel there.

A minuscule and poorly funded Elephant Conservation Center is located in a national park in Dak Lak Province, in south-central Vietnam, and it has been sheltering a herd of 29 elephants. But two weeks ago, a pair of elephants from that group were found slaughtered in a forest, including the herd's only remaining male, whose head, trunk and tusks were severed.

Without an adult male, Vietnamese forestry officials said, the herd is no longer "sustainable." The park's interim director said elephant poaching has now become "rampant," with six males from the herd having been killed this year.

Experts also expect that a herd of 15 elephants in southern Vietnam will soon be wiped out. In February, venturing out of a "protected" forest in Dong Nai Province, the hungry elephants tore through cornfields, sweet potato patches and sugar cane fields. Farmers ran in terror.

Marauding elephants not only tear up farms, they also trample people and attack rural homes, mostly in their search for salt and the bamboo ash from cooking fires. In turn, villagers dig deep trenches to trap and kill the elephants, and they use homemade shotguns and flame-throwers to scare the animals off.

Protection efforts in Vietnam have been nothing short of disastrous. In 1993, a herd of 13 elephants in southern Vietnam was being relocated away from its natural habitat, an area that was slated to be turned into industrial farms. Twelve of the 13 elephants died, and the lone survivor was packed off to the Saigon Zoo.

Frank Momberg, the Vietnam program manager with the British conservation group Fauna and Flora International, told me in 1999 that "local authorities are making decisions about development without any environmental concern."

"The elephants are facing extinction in Vietnam," he said, although at the time he was still hoping for some government intervention. "It's a matter of national pride. The Vietnamese don't want to be exposed internationally for letting the elephants go extinct.''

A so-called "urgent action plan" for elephant protection was adopted by the government in 2006, but it has yet to be funded and no protected land has been set aside.

Just a generation ago there were thousands of elephants roaming the upland forests and jungles. I spoke to a former Viet Cong guerrilla who once, on a pitch-black night, while evading an American patrol, unknowingly belly-crawled between the legs of a massive elephant that was straddling a jungle path.

As postwar Vietnam slowly began to open its economy, land was increasingly cleared for rice farms and coffee and rubber plantations. Factories sprang up. New dams and roads were built, and cities sprawled. Illegal loggers, too, were busy at their work, clear-cutting ancient stands of mahogany, teak and ironwood for overseas markets. The population skyrocketed, and with a population of 92 million, Vietnam today is larger than Germany. It's nearly twice the size of Spain.

In the process, the elephants have died.

Even domesticated elephants aren't safe. In April 2011, local authorities charged the owner of an elephant named Beckham with conspiring to kill the animal for its tusks, reportedly worth $24,000. The owner used Beckham to give rides to tourists at an "eco-park" in Binh Duong Province.

"The elephant was found dead in a forest in Da Lat on April 24 with its tusks and tail intact," said the Tuoi Tre newspaper. "It was tied to a tree and the ligaments in its hind legs had been cut off."

The authorities said the owner, her brother and another man had sawn off the 57-pound tusks before cremating Beckham.

Jeffrey's harrowing reporting says most of the ivory poached in Africa - as much as 70 percent - ends up in China, where the country's economic boom has created a whole new class of consumers now able to afford ivory knicknacks, chospticks and combs. A pound of ivory on the streets of Beijing, he says, now goes for $1,000.

"China is the epicenter of demand," said Robert Hormats, a senior U.S. State Department official. "Without the demand from China, this would all but dry up."
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« Reply #64 on: Sep 06, 2012, 08:01 AM »

Rainfall in the Amazon may drop by 20 percent because of deforestation

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, September 5, 2012 16:00 EDT

Deforestation may cause rainfall in the Amazonian basin to decline disastrously, British scientists said in a study published on Wednesday by the journal Nature.

Rainfall across the vast basin could lessen by 12 percent during wet seasons and 21 percent during dry seasons, potentially inflicting astronomical costs on farmers and reducing hydro-electricity output from receding river flows.

University of Leeds researcher Dominick Spracklen and colleagues put together a computer model based on satellite data of forest cover and rainfall patterns.

Air that passes over dense tropical vegetation carries at least twice as much rain as air that passes over land with sparse vegetation, they found.

The reason for this, they said, lies in a phenomenon called evapotranspiration.

Tropical forests are highly efficient at sucking water out of the soil, much of which is then delivered to the atmosphere as vapour through leaf pores.

This not only helps to keep the local humidity of the forest at a constant level — it also charges the winds with droplets which are deposited further afield as rain.

Deforested land, though, is far less effective at recycling water this way, which means the air above it is less moist.

Factoring in logging trends in the early part of the century, which indicate 40 percent of the Amazon will be deforested by 2050, the team say the loss of rainfall across the river basin, from east to west, will be dramatic.

Luiz Aragao, an environmental scientist at the University of Exeter, said the change in rainfall would be especially worrying for eastern and southern Amazonia.

On the assumption endorsed by many climatologists that global temperatures will rise by some three degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by century’s end compared to pre-industrialisation levels, the impacts there “could be huge,” he said in a commentary.

“Changes in regional climate could exacerbate drought-related tree mortality, which in turn would reduce carbon stocks, increase fire risks and lower biodiversity.

“Such changes might also directly threaten agriculture, which generates $15 billion (12 billion euros) in Amazonia, and the hydropower industry which supplies 65 percent of Brazil’s electricity.”

On the plus side, Aragao said the logging trends used in Spracklen’s model could be pessimistic, as Brazil has pledged to limit historical deforestation rates by 80 percent by 2020.
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« Reply #65 on: Sep 08, 2012, 06:34 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
09/07/2012 05:43 PM

Flexible Fossils: A New Role for Coal in German Energy Revolution

By Stefan Schultz

One of the biggest challenges of Germany's ambitious energy revolution is the fact that renewables such as wind and solar are subject to large fluctuations in output. Coal has long been considered their dirty alternative, but a new generation of power plants may herald a glowing future for the fossil fuel.

The cooling towers and smokestacks of a power plant tower over the houses in Niederaussem, a small town near Cologne in the Rhineland region of Germany. The power station could well serve as a symbol for the second wave of Germany's so-called energy revolution -- it burns coal, but not in the conventional way. The technology it uses is one that more and more conventional coal-fired power plants may come to implement in the next years, because it solves a key problem in the transition to alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Conventional power plants grind coal into dust, which is then blown into a boiler. But in Niederaussem, the pulverized coal is first stored in a silo, making it possible to control much more closely the amount that is later fed to the flame. German energy giant RWE originally built the silo in Niederaussem to make fueling its power plant easier. But the German energy revolution has lent the silo system an entirely new dimension.

A power plant with a silo can run on a low level if necessary. It can be powered down to 10 percent of its maximum output, a function that's impossible for plants without a silo. Even the most modern conventional facilities can go no lower than 35 percent of maximum performance. Operating at a capacity any less than that requires laboriously keeping the combustion going by burning oil or gas -- an option that's far too expensive.

Silos for storing coal dust represent just one of several new technologies that are helping coal-fired power plants shape up for the transition to renewable energy. Time is short. Germany's environmental revolution will mean major upheavals for coal plant operators, and the new electricity supply system will subject them to grim competition.

Fluctuations in the System

The old energy system was straightforward. Its basis was large-scale power plants, which generally produced electricity at a constant rate. They were designed to operate at full power for as long as possible -- the ideal set-up for a large coal plant. During the hours in the middle of the day when energy demand rose, gas-fired plants fed additional power into the grid. In the age of fossil fuels, the division of labor was simple.

But now the old system is being shaken up, as the energy transition leads to more and more wind turbines and solar arrays feeding into the grid. Grid operators are required by law to give priority to buying electricity from renewable sources, with the remaining demand met by coal and gas plants, as well as a decreasing number of nuclear power plants, which are due to be phased out by 2022.

This new system leads to ever greater fluctuations in power generation, with output changing with every gust of wind and every cloud that flits across the sun. Hitachi Power, a Japanese company that builds power plants, estimates these fluctuations will double or triple by the end of the decade, while at the same time the demand for electricity from non-renewable sources will drop by half between 2010 and 2020.

Soon the demand for electricity will likely no longer be enough to keep all the existing coal-fired plants in business, and those that want to continue selling as much conventionally generated energy as possible in this shrinking market must be able to react quickly to fluctuations in supply and consumption. Once this was something only gas-fired plants were able to do, but coal-fired plants are now preparing to challenge them for the role of a flexible provider that can make up shortfalls. Coal and gas power, once partners, are suddenly becoming competitors in a shrinking market.

Steel Walls and Dust Silos

Coal dust silos are the first step. When combined with other technologies, they make it possible for coal-fired plants to hold their own against the competition in the new era of power generation. "The demand for these solutions has increased sharply," says Wolfgang Schreier, Hitachi Power's managing director for Europe. "Two of Germany's four major energy providers have expressed interest."

In addition to these silos, power plant operators are also interested in technologies that speed up their facilities' reaction times. This is accomplished, for example, with special steel alloys that mean the walls of the coal-fired boilers can be made thinner. The result is boilers that can withstand the rapid and extreme changes in temperatures that occur when the power plant's output is adjusted up or down, since more power means higher temperatures.

In the past, these walls were generally thick, designed to allow the plants to operate at full power for as long as possible without requiring maintenance. Flexibility wasn't important, and performance could be adjusted up or down by a maximum of 3 to 4 percent per minute.

All that is set to change. Thinner walls and other technologies make it possible to adjust performance by more than 10 percent. For a 1,000-megawatt power plant, that means 100 megawatts a minute -- enough flexibility to keep supply stable even when faced with extreme fluctuations.

More CO2 or Less?

Other techniques are currently being tested as well, for example special boilers that can burn not only coal but biomass as well, improving CO2 emissions rates. The cost of comprehensively converting a coal-fired plant in this way is in the high double-digit millions, according to industry experts, but it's an investment that can pay off for plant operators within just a few years.

The only question is whether this technological revolution is also the best solution for the climate. Coal-fired plants still emit one-and-a-half to two times as much carbon dioxide as gas-fired plants. The cost of producing electricity with gas-fired plants is, on the other hand, considerably higher than with coal-fired plants, which means they must charge higher prices as well.

If coal manages to replace gas as the flexible energy source which can compensate for fluctuations in the power supply, then more than one gas-fired plant may go bankrupt. Paradoxically, Germany would likely then end up emitting more CO2 overall.
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« Reply #66 on: Sep 08, 2012, 06:36 AM »


UN: World needs reserves twice the size of Argentina to save endangered animals

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Friday, September 7, 2012 16:44 EDT

The world must look to designate an area twice the size of Argentina as nature reserves, or we will have little chance of establishing enough protected areas for wildlife and fish to stave off a disastrous loss of species, according to an analysis of natural and marine reserves.

In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, the amount of land with protected status rose from 8.8% to 12.7%, while the amount of sea protected was increased from 0.9% to 4%, according to a report by the United Nations environment programme (Unep) and others, published at the World Conservation Congress on Friday.

Yet according to international targets adopted in 2010, that proportion must increase to 17% and 10% respectively by the end of this decade. On current rates of progress, this target looks very unlikely to be met. In order to meet the goals – which some analysts say will not even be enough to prevent rampant species loss – an area more than twice the size of Argentina would have to be designated on land as reserves, and at sea an area greater than Australia would need to be put under marine protection in order to meet the internationally set targets.

The report also concluded that about half of the world’s important sites for biodiversity are still unprotected.

Julia Marton-Lefèvre, director-general of the IUCN, which is hosting the conference and co-authored the report, said establishing reserves and other forms of protection was an effective way of conserving species that are under threat. “Protected areas have contributed significantly to conservation of the world’s biodiversity and an increase in their coverage and effectiveness is vital to a thriving planet and communities for the future. These rich natural areas are very important for people, who rely on them for food and clean water, climate regulation and reducing the impacts of natural disasters.”

According to the report, much progress has been made in setting up and governing protected areas. But the wide range of ways of designating nature reserves in different countries, and the difficulty of establishing marine reserves, which often require cross-border cooperation and fraught negotiations over fishing rights, has made it hard to judge how well these initiatives are functioning.

Also at the conference, the World Bank’s vice president for sustainable development, Rachel Kyte, issued a challenge to conservation groups, calling on them to forge closer links with businesses in order to achieve their aims. Conservation organisations have long been suspicious of businesses, seeing them as more likely to exploit valuable species and habitats for their own gain than to strive to protect them, even if paying lip service to environmental goals. Some are also reluctant to follow the World Bank’s lead in attempting to put a value on the natural world, as a way of encouraging governments and the private sector to protect natural resources.

But Kyte said that the future for conservation lay in co-operating with the business world, and called on activists to “get out of their comfort zones”. She said: “The need for action is overcoming global political sclerosis. Companies working in developing countries are increasingly investing in biodiversity expertise, in community development, environmental restoration and long-term conservation capacity building.”

The two-week conference, held every four years, is expected to have 10,000 visitors. Some of the more controversial subjects to be discussed include the issue of conservation groups such as the IUCN working more closely with, and receiving funding, from businesses.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Lion in nature reserve via Shutterstock]


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« Reply #67 on: Sep 08, 2012, 06:51 AM »

In the USA....

The corporate media in American has been, and will be, doing all that it can to have candidate Romney installed as the next president of that country. Here is but one example:


September 07, 2012 05:00 PM

Politico: CBS News Hires Frank Luntz For Election Coverage

By Susie Madrak

I don't know about you, but I've had enough of Republican policy architects appearing on the airwaves as if they were dispassionate bystanders. And Frank Luntz is perhaps the worst (see here, here, here and here). He doesn't simply message public opinion - he molds and shapes it. So I think it's important to contact CBS News and tell them what we think of hiring someone with a history of such rotten, anti-American agendas:

    CBS News has reportedly hired Frank Luntz, the Republican strategist and pollster best known for helping Republicans craft often-deceptive messaging to torpedo liberal policies. In his post announcing the move, Politico media reporter Dylan Byers writes that Luntz will "make a number of appearances across the network between now and Election Day." Luntz's hiring comes only a few months after New York Times Magazine contributor Robert Draper reported that Luntz orchestrated a 2009 meeting where prominent Republicans formulated a plan to win back Congress and the White House.

    In his book Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives, Draper reported that Luntz "organized a dinner" on Obama's inauguration night featuring a handful of "the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers." The attendees -- which included current vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan -- reportedly emerged from the nearly four hour dinner "almost giddily" after having agreed on "a way forward." According to Draper, the Republican plan involved showing "united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies," with an eventual goal of defeating Obama and taking back the Senate in 2012:

        Luntz had organized the dinner - telling the invitees, "You'll have nothing to do that night, and right now we don't matter anyway, so let's all be irrelevant together." He had selected these men because they were among the Republican Party's most energetic thinkers - and because they all got along with Luntz, who could be difficult. Three times during the 2008 election cycle, Sean Hannity had thrown him off the set at Fox Studios. The top Republican in the House, Minority Leader John Boehner, had nurtured a dislike of Luntz for more than a decade. No one had to ask why Boehner wasn't at the Caucus Room that evening.

        [...]The dinner lasted nearly four hours. They parted company almost giddily. The Republicans had agreed on a way forward: Go after Geithner. (And indeed Kyl did, the next day: "Would you answer my question rather than dancing around it - please?")

        Show united and unyielding opposition to the president's economic policies. (Eight days later, Minority Whip Cantor would hold the House Republicans to a unanimous No against Obama's economic stimulus plan.)

        Begin attacking vulnerable Democrats on the airwaves. (The first National Republican Congressional Committee attack ads would run in less than two months.)

        Win the spear point of the House in 2010. Jab Obama relentlessly in 2011. Win the White House and the Senate in 2012.

        "You will remember this day," Newt Gingrich proclaimed to the others as they said goodbye. "You'll remember this days as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown." [Do Not Ask What Good We Do, pp. xvi-xix]

    The inauguration night dinner was also reported in Election 2012: The Battle Begins by Real Clear Politics reporters Tom Bevan and Carl Cannon.Now, less than four years after this meeting, CBS will be inviting Luntz onto their airwaves as an "analyst."

No, I don't think so. CBS needs to hear from us.

and another

September 07, 2012 03:00 PM

If It's Sunday, It's Gonna Be Conservative

By Nicole Belle

So we just got done with the Democratic National Convention. By any measure, the convention was a rousing success, especially in comparison to the Republican National Convention the week before. The Romney/Ryan ticket got no real measurable bounce from their convention and then made the rather inexplicable choice to . Meanwhile, the Obama campaign is ramping up their appearances and bringing on attack dog Rahm Emanuel to spearhead the strategy to close the fundraising gap.

So while still riding this convention high, with aggressive campaigning and pumped up proxies, who would you supposed is the most natural person to book this Sunday on ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos? Republican vice presidential candidate and official campaign liar Paul Ryan.

Wait, what?

Typical Sunday morning bias. It's been documented over and over and it never gets any better:

    Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a New York-based liberal organization, says that NBC's "Meet the Press," CBS' "Face the Nation," ABC's "This Week" and "Fox News Sunday" are "failing miserably" at getting diverse guests.

    "[F]rom June 2011 through February 2012, FAIR found a distinct conservative, white and male skew" on the shows. Eighty-six percent of the guests booked for one-on-one interviews were male and 92% were white, FAIR says. Of the guests who were identified as having a partisan affiliation, 70% were Republican.

    "The Sunday morning shows are the showcase debate programs for the national news networks," FAIR's Peter Hart wrote in a statement. "It's a shame they aren't interested in having many actual debates."

Damn straight. Maybe I'd feel a little better if George Stephanopoulos was better at his job and could offer up a tough interview on the massive amount of lies and the vague, fuzzy math of Ryan's economics plan. But we have post after post of Stephanopoulos' weak-kneed Villager speak to know that Ryan will repeat lies without consequence. Hell, I doubt Ryan would have even bothered to agree to the interview if he wasn't confident of that.

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Originally published Friday, September 7, 2012 at 5:31 AM    

Hiring slows in August, putting pressure on Fed

American employers cut back sharply on hiring last month, crushing hopes that the job market was improving and putting more pressure on the Federal Reserve to give the sluggish economy another jolt.

By PAUL WISEMAN and CHRISTOPHER S RUGABER
AP Economics Writers

WASHINGTON —

American employers cut back sharply on hiring last month, crushing hopes that the job market was improving and putting more pressure on the Federal Reserve to give the sluggish economy another jolt.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers added just 96,000 jobs in August, down from 141,000 in July and too few to keep up with population growth. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, but only because many people gave up looking for work, so they were no longer counted as unemployed.

The latest numbers were "downright dismal," TD Economics senior economist James Marple said in a description echoed by many others.

The economy remains hobbled in the aftermath of the deepest recession since the 1930s and simply isn't expanding fast enough to spark more hiring. Consumers, whose spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity, have been whittling down debts and spending cautiously. The government reported last week that economic growth clocked a disappointing 1.7 percent annual pace in the April-June quarter.

The economy is expected to grow at an annual rate of around 2 percent for the rest of the year, consistent with only 90,000 new jobs a month.

The disappointing numbers are a blow to President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. Unemployment is down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, but no incumbent president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has faced re-election with unemployment higher than 7.8 percent.

Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney declared that "the weak jobs report is devastating news for American workers and American families ... a harsh indictment of the president's handling of the economy."

Obama said August's hiring was "not good enough" and it's "a long tough journey" to recover from the recession that officially ended more than three years ago.

Despite the bad report, stock prices rose, most likely on expectations the Fed will act next week. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 14.64 points to 13,306.64. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 5.80 to 1,437.92.

The job market got off to a strong start this year. Employers added an average 226,000 jobs a month from January through March. But they couldn't sustain that pace, and hiring slowed to a monthly average of 67,000 from April through June.

It looked like things got back on track in July, when the government initially reported 163,000 new jobs, but the Labor Department revised that gain down by 22,000 on Friday.

The August jobs report looks even uglier upon closer inspection. The unemployment rate fell largely because 368,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force. The government counts people without jobs as "unemployed" only if they are actively looking for work.

The percentage of adult Americans either working or seeking work fell from 63.7 percent in July to 63.5 percent in August. That was the lowest percentage in 31 years. The percentage has been falling steadily since peaking at 67.3 percent in 2000.

"A declining labor force is not (a) sign of an improving economy," says Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors.

Hourly pay fell. Manufacturers cut 15,000 jobs, the most in two years. And temporary help jobs, which often signal where the job market is headed, dropped by 4,900 in August.

The economy lost 7,000 more government jobs last month. Since the recession ended in June 2009, federal, state and local governments have slashed 670,000 jobs, partially offsetting hiring by private companies.

It's the first time since World War II that governments have shed jobs this deep into an economic recovery. At this point - three years and two months- into the nine previous postwar recoveries, government jobs had risen an average of 8 percent. This time, they're down 3 percent.

Most of the government cuts have been made by states and localities. Some school districts in Pennsylvania, for example, have had to lay off teachers after the state cut subsidies.

Kayla Middleton, 26, was one of about 70 teachers furloughed this year by the Reading School District. Middleton says because she has such little seniority "I knew there was no way I was escaping."

The job creation and unemployment numbers come from separate surveys. One asks mostly large companies and government agencies how many people they employed during the month. This survey produces the number of jobs gained or lost.

The other is the household survey. Government workers ask whether the adults in a household have a job. Those who don't are asked whether they're looking for one. If they are, they're considered unemployed. If they aren't, they're not considered in the workforce and aren't counted as unemployed. The household survey produces each month's unemployment rate.

The downbeat jobs news convinced many economists that the Fed will come to the rescue. At its last meeting, the Fed's policy committee decided that action "would likely be warranted fairly soon" unless it saw evidence of "a substantial and sustainable strengthening" of the economy. Many economists expect the Fed to announce a third round of bond purchases at its Sept. 12-13 meeting. The goal would be to drive down long-term interest rates to stimulate borrowing and spending.

Anthony Chan, chief economist at Chase Wealth Management, said further Fed action would likely send stock prices up, making consumers feel wealthier and more willing to spend.

As bad as things are, they could get worse.

Europe is in or close to a full-blown recession, which could dent the exports that have been one of the U.S. economy's few sources of strength. And a debt crisis threatens to force several European countries to stop using the euro currency. The breakup of the 17-country eurozone could cause a global financial panic as countries replaced solid euros with local currencies of dubious value.

Political bickering in Washington could plunge the U.S. economy back into recession if Democrats and Republicans can't reach a budget deal by the end of the year. Under rules designed to force a compromise, failure to reach agreement would trigger $600 billion worth of spending cuts and tax hikes starting next year. The draconian moves would send the economy over a so-called fiscal cliff and probably into recession.

Still, Sherry Cooper, chief economist at BMO Financial Group, saw reasons for optimism. Europe could be rescued by the European Central Bank, she says.

On Thursday, ECB President Mario Draghi unveiled an ambitious plan to buy unlimited amounts of European government bonds to help lower borrowing costs for countries straining to manage their debts.

Cooper also noted that "the U.S. housing market is finally on the upswing."

Pinnacle Homes, a construction-management company in Las Vegas, shrank from 20 employees to seven after the housing market collapsed five years ago. Company president Frank Wyatt says business is slowly picking up, but "we're not ready to add anybody yet."

For now, the American economy remains sluggish, and 12.5 million Americans are locked out of jobs. Megan Baker, 23, of Warrenton, Va., has "been applying to jobs almost nonstop" since she graduated from college last year. She hasn't landed one yet. Usually, she doesn't even hear back.

"I have applied to so many jobs that I've lost track," she says. "I try to tailor my resume and cover letters to each job, but now I am just becoming discouraged and want to give up."

---

Associated Press Writers Martin Crutsinger in Washington and Peter Jackson in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this story.

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Originally published Friday, September 7, 2012 at 10:42 AM
  
Romney, Obama in battle for working-class whites

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are working feverishly for an increasingly smaller but crucial slice of the electorate - white, working-class voters.

By THOMAS BEAUMONT

Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa —

President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are working feverishly for an increasingly smaller but crucial slice of the electorate - white, working-class voters.

These clock-punching voters - from Iowa's tiny manufacturing cities to Virginia coal country to pockets of Ohio reliant on the auto industry - are considered the potential tipping point in battleground states that will decide the winner on Nov. 6. These voters are also critical to turning less competitive states such as Michigan into suddenly swing states in the final stretch.

Romney is trying to expand what polls show is an advantage for the Republican while Obama hopes to narrow the gap. Both candidates are trying to pit these voters against their opponent by stoking a sense of economic and social unfairness, and also by calling on surrogates with stronger ties to these voters. It's why Romney has seized on Obama's decision to give states greater flexibility on welfare work requirements and why Obama turned to former President Bill Clinton, long popular with working-class voters, to make the case for his second-term bid.

"In the richest country in the history of the world, this Obama economy has crushed the middle class," Romney said in accepting the Republican presidential nomination.

Obama counters that Romney's opposition to a federal bailout of U.S. automakers hurts his chances with working-class whites.

"I stood with American manufacturing. I believed in you. I bet on you," Obama told an audience in Toledo, Ohio, an automotive manufacturing hub within sight of Michigan, on Labor Day.

These voters are a hodge-podge of union households and gun-rights advocates, often from rural areas and smaller cities. They are found in a handful of competitive states where neither candidate has an appreciable advantage, including northern Florida and northwest and southeast Ohio. They are also found in key counties in states that have voted Democratic in presidential elections since the 1980s but are seen as more competitive this year. Those include areas outside Madison and Milwaukee in southern Wisconsin, mixed-income suburbs outside Detroit and rural parts of western Pennsylvania.

Neither Romney nor Obama has a natural connection with them.

Both are Harvard-educated and wealthy. But Obama, an African American raised politically in Chicago's Democratic network, has struggled with these voters. Obama famously dismissed their misgivings about his candidacy in 2008, saying "they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Romney, the son of a former governor and car company president, made a fortune as a private equity firm executive before serving a term as Massachusetts governor.

Romney's profile varies from these working-class voters who are less educated and from smaller cities and rural areas.

He put himself more in league with NASCAR owners, noting his friends who own teams, than fans in February while attending the Daytona 500 in Florida.

But he'll seek to endear himself again to the sport's largely white audience Saturday, when he plans to attend the Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond, Va.

Still, he has a commanding lead among these voters: 57 percent preferred the Republican, compared to 35 percent for Obama, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll last month. Romney's support is on par with what 2008 Republican nominee John McCain received from this group, but Obama is doing worse, according to exit polls that showed him at 40 percent four years ago.

Romney sought an edge with Obama's decision to allow states to apply for waivers seeking flexibility in how to administer welfare work requirements, a key part of the sweeping welfare realignment President Bill Clinton signed in 1996.

Rick Santorum, who performed well among working-class whites during his unsuccessful bid for the GOP presidential nomination, has led the Romney campaign's charge that Obama supports lifting the work requirement, a claim widely debunked by independent fact-checking groups.

"(Obama) showed us once again he believes in government handouts and dependency by waiving the work requirement for welfare," Santorum said during his speech to the Republican convention.

Diane Carnes of Chillicothe, Ohio, in the state's rural south, said there is a cultural disconnect with Obama. "Southern Ohio is full of people who are disgusted with this president walking away from welfare reform," said Carnes, a Republican. "We are working people, who believe in work."

Santorum vigorously dismissed suggestions of racial politics, although Carnes and other Republicans said some rural white voters in swing states still harbor racial opposition to Obama.

Obama's policies fall outside this bloc's comfort zone, said Steve Schmidt, who managed McCain's 2008 campaign.

"President Obama is totally out of touch with these people in a fundamental way," Schmidt said. "In this environment, Romney's team is wise to be focused on this group."

Romney was in Chillicothe, the heart of southern Ohio, last month, promising to loosen restrictions on oil, coal and natural gas development industries. That signals to many voters here the promise of well-paying jobs in counties where unemployment has run well above the state and national averages.

Romney's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan is seen as another direct appeal. Ryan is from Janesville, Wis., a manufacturing hub between Madison, Wis., and Chicago.

"Remember when he said people in the Midwest, people like us like to cling to their guns and religion?" Ryan said of Obama while campaigning in Iowa this week. "This Catholic deer hunter is darn proud of that. Guilty as charged."

Many of these conservative Democrats helped elect Republican Ronald Reagan president in 1980.

But since then, a Republican has not won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Ryan's place on the ticket, and Romney's direct appeals to working-class whites, may not tip the state to the GOP in November, but they could force Obama to spend money to capture states critical to his re-election chances.

This voting bloc has shrunk dramatically as a share of the overall electorate, now more diverse and college-educated. In 1980, 63 percent of voters were white, non-college-educated. In 2008, they made up just 39 percent. And Obama performs far better with minority voters.

Obama, in turn, is trying to hold down Romney's margins. He talks about his wife Michelle's upbringing in a working-class home on Chicago's South Side.

His campaign is working to undercut the businessman Romney's jobs argument by contending that the private-sector experience Romney touts was often at the expense of working families. Romney's former private equity firm Bain Capital helped launch some national chains, but also shuttered some plants.

"I continue to believe Gov. Romney is going to struggle in all the Midwestern states given his stance on the issues," Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina said in an interview.

Obama also has two weapons in his arsenal and is deploying them strategically.

Vice President Joe Biden, long a popular figure to working-class Democrats, grew up in Scranton, Pa., and has jabbed hard at Romney's credibility with these voters.

"Out of touch? Swiss bank account, untold millions in the Cayman Islands. Who's out of touch, man?" Biden said recently.

Clinton stars in an Obama campaign ad and was the prime-time speaker at the convention on Wednesday night. Clinton's profile as a former Arkansas governor helped him as a candidate. His wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, performed better than Obama with working-class whites in places like Pennsylvania and West Virginia during their battle for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Romney advisers said Clinton is the strongest counter-punch Obama has with these voters.

The former president went hard after them hard in his convention speech, using the term "middle class" no less than 10 times.

Clinton directed his closing pitch to them: "If you want a winner-take-all, you're-on-your-own society, you should support the Republican ticket. But if you want a country of shared opportunities and shared responsibility, a we're-all-in-this-together society, you should vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden."

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Ohio Secretary of State apologizes for trying to stifle early voting

By Stephen C. Webster
Friday, September 7, 2012 16:03 EDT

Ohio Secretary of State John Husted said in court documents filed Friday that he’s really, really sorry for refusing to allow early voting preparations in Ohio, and promises not to do it again unless another court gives him permission.

That was the result of Judge Peter C. Economus’s ruling Friday, which concluded a hearing that saw Sec. Husted rebuked by attorneys for the Obama campaign in a stinging victory over Republican voter suppression efforts.

“Plaintiffs will suffer irreparable injury if in-person early voting is not restored the last three days before Election Day, and there is no definitive evidence before the Court that elections boards will be tremendously burdened,” Judge Economus wrote. “Certainly, the public interest is served by restoring in person early voting to all Ohio voters.” He added that letting all Ohioans have access to early voting meets the standard of keeping voting “uniform, accessible for all, fair, and secure.”

Those last words are what Husted typically says when justifying the state’s odd struggle with early voting, which he’s moved to shut down for three days leading up to the presidential election. Judge Economus ordered Husted to restore early voting in a ruling issued last Friday, but Husted sent a memo to staff saying he would not comply with the order until a pending appeal could be resolved.

Reacting to Husted’s defiance, the judge ordered him to personally appear in court next week to explain himself. That apparently got his attention. Husted’s attorneys insisted on Friday that he immediately rescinded his earlier memo, effectively allowing Ohio elections officials to move forward with early voting preparations.

“The Secretary’s intention was not to create a stay of this Court’s Order,” Husted’s attorneys explain in a court filing obtained by the Election Law Blog. “The Secretary intends to pursue his differences with this Court’s judgment only through the expedited appeal process put in place by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. To the extent that Directive 2012-40 could be read to imply any different compliance disposition, the Secretary apologizes to the federal district court for creating that misimpression”.

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US declares Haqqani network a terrorist body

The Obama administration declared Friday that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network of militants is a terrorist body despite misgivings about how the largely symbolic act could further stall planned Afghan peace talks or put yet another chill on the United States' already fragile counterterrorism alliance with Islamabad.

By BRADLEY KLAPPER and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press
WASHINGTON —

The Obama administration declared Friday that the Pakistan-based Haqqani network of militants is a terrorist body despite misgivings about how the largely symbolic act could further stall planned Afghan peace talks or put yet another chill on the United States' already fragile counterterrorism alliance with Islamabad.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's decision, signed Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline set by Congress, bans Americans from doing business with members of the group and blocks any assets it holds in the United States. The order, which will go into effect within 10 days, completes an odyssey of sorts for the Haqqanis from the days they partnered with the CIA during the Cold War and were hailed as freedom fighters.

Clinton, whose advisers were of two minds about whether the designation was the right path, said in a statement Friday that the U.S. will "also continue our robust campaign of diplomatic, military and intelligence pressure on the network, demonstrating the United States' resolve to degrade the organization's ability to execute violent attacks."

Enraged by a string of high-profile attacks on U.S. and NATO troops, Congress insisted Clinton deliver a report on whether the Haqqanis should be designated a terrorist organization and all of its members subjected to U.S. financial sanctions.

A subsidiary of the Taliban and based in the remote North Waziristan region of Pakistan, the Haqqani network is responsible for several attacks in Kabul, including last September's rocket-propelled grenade assault on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters. American officials estimate its force at 2,000 to 4,000 fighters and say it maintains close relationships with al-Qaida.

U.S. defense officials said the administration doesn't believe the Haqqanis have designs to attack the United States. But they said the group shelters al-Qaida and other militant groups, allowing them to plan and train for possible operations targeting the U.S.

The U.S. already has sanctioned many Haqqani leaders and is pursuing its members militarily. But it resisted the terrorist designation because of worries that it could jeopardize reconciliation efforts between the U.S. government and insurgents in Afghanistan, and ruffle feathers with Pakistan, the Haqqanis' longtime benefactor.

"The only reservation - and it's only a mild one - is whether this complicates reconciliation at all," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "I see only a very small downside to the designation and that's more than offset by the financial pressure on the network."

Friday's decision also could complicate talks to free the only U.S. prisoner of war from the Afghan conflict, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a 26-year-old from Idaho who has been held by the Haqqanis since 2009.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell dodged questions about reported Haqqani threats to further mistreat Bergdhal as a result of the designation but said the U.S. was doing everything it could to free him.

"He's just been held for too long," Ventrell told reporters.

American officials have held talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of the network's founder, Jalauddin Haqqani, to try to further peace talks with the Taliban, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the negotiation attempts. The designation does not stop the U.S. from meeting with the Haqqanis, who've been among the least interested in talking reconciliation before American troops make an almost complete withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, officials said.

Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The designation risks straining U.S.-Pakistan relations. Last year, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen argued that the Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistani intelligence - the most far-reaching volley in a long dispute between Washington and Islamabad.

Other U.S. officials dispute that assessment but still accuse Islamabad of giving the network a free hand in North Waziristan region and providing it some logistical support. The accusation could take on added significance now that the Haqqanis are officially a foreign terrorist organization - something the U.S. hasn't issued for the Taliban.

Sherry Rehman, the Pakistani ambassador in Washington, brushed off the designation, calling it an internal U.S. matter and noting that Haqqanis are not Pakistani nationals.

"It's not our business," she said, but added that Pakistan would maintain its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States.

Islamabad says that its forces are stretched thin in fighting an insurgency that already has killed more than 30,000 people and that it cannot also take on the Haqqanis near the Afghan border. Many analysts attribute the military's reluctance to take them on to historical ties and an assessment that the group can be an important ally in Afghanistan after U.S. and allied forces withdraw.

Imtiaz Gul, head of the Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security Studies, predicted little additional fallout in a relationship that has suffered severe blows in the last 20 months, including a CIA contractor's killing of two Pakistanis, the unilateral U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden and NATO's accidental killing of two dozen Pakistani soldiers. But he said the U.S. sanctions wouldn't prompt a Pakistani crackdown or hurt the Haqqanis significantly.

"They are not a corporate sector entity maintaining bank accounts and working via the Internet doing banking transactions online," said Gul. "They operate covertly through intermediaries."

Fighters for the head of the network, Jalauddin Haqqani, were among the leading recipients of CIA money during the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, when U.S. money helped finance Afghan rebels. They ousted the Russians in February 1989, overthrowing the Moscow-backed government in Kabul three years later before turning their guns on each other.

Haqqani developed extensive foreign contacts over the years, getting money, weapons and supplies from Pakistani intelligence and serving as justice minister after the Soviets left, and minister of tribal and border affairs after Taliban fundamentalists seized power in 1996. He joined the Taliban insurgency when the U.S. helped overthrow the regime after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Since then, the network has developed a sophisticated, mafia-style financing operation that relies on extortion, kidnapping, smuggling and legitimate businesses, according to a recent report by the Combating Terrorism Center in West Point, N.Y.

Last month, the U.S. scored a major counterterror success when an unmanned drone strike in Pakistan near the Afghan border killed one of Haqqani's sons, Badruddin, considered the group's No. 3.

The State Department said in May 2011 that Badruddin Haqqani sat on the Miram Shah Shura, a group that controls all Haqqani network activities and coordinates attacks in southeastern Afghanistan. It also blamed him for the 2008 kidnapping of New York Times reporter David Rohde.

The U.S. already had designated Haqqani and his sons individually as terrorists, but Congress wanted tougher action. In July, it set a deadline to prod the administration into imposing blanket sanctions on the group.

---

Lee reported from Vladivostok, Russia. Associated Press writers Sebastian Abbot and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad, and Kimberly Dozier and Donna Cassata in Washington contributed to this report.--

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Originally published September 7, 2012 at 6:11 PM | Page modified September 7, 2012 at 6:16 PM  

Wary US looks to calm rising tensions in Asia

Alarmed by a rise in nationalist sentiment around the Asia-Pacific, the Obama administration is looking for Russia to play a greater role in the region as it seeks to quell growing maritime tensions.

By MATTHEW LEE

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia —

Alarmed by a rise in nationalist sentiment around the Asia-Pacific, the Obama administration is looking for Russia to play a greater role in the region as it seeks to quell growing maritime tensions.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is to meet on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at meeting of Pacific Rim leaders to gauge Moscow's intentions as it looks increasingly east after decades of European orientation. U.S. officials say they would welcome more sustained Russian engagement in Asia.

Clinton has spent the last week in the Asia-Pacific urging peaceful resolutions to competing territorial claims between China and its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea. In Vladivostok, she will see the leaders of U.S. allies Japan and South Korea which are embroiled in their own dispute.

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a tale of total corruption .. caused by out of control 'capitalism' ......

Top Bank Lawyer’s E-Mails Show Washington’s Inside Game

By Robert Schmidt and Jesse Hamilton - 2012-09-05T15:25:36Z
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

It had been two days since U.S. lawmakers negotiated all night to finish rules that would reshape the business of Wall Street. The 20-hour session left legislators, aides, lobbyists and regulators exhausted. Almost no one had a grip on all the details.

Then Annette Nazareth stepped in. That Sunday morning, she e-mailed a dozen Securities and Exchange Commission officials about the bill that would become the 2,300-page Dodd-Frank Act.

Nazareth, herself a former SEC commissioner, represents the biggest banks and securities firms as a partner in the Washington office of Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP. She attached an annotated copy of the measure to her June 27, 2010, e-mail, marking changes made during the wee hours. It could be an invaluable tool for an agency hard-pressed to analyze the bill on a tight deadline.

“In case you would find it helpful,” Nazareth wrote to the group, many of them ex-colleagues.

Two hours later, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro responded: “Thanks. We have our work cut out for us.”

Dodd-Frank, which took effect in July 2010, would shape the SEC’s agenda for the next two years as it labored to write some 100 regulations the law required. It also opened opportunities for Nazareth. With her connections and longtime SEC experience, she emerged as the preeminent legal advocate for financial services firms as they sought to scale back the new rules.

With Nazareth on board, Davis Polk was hired as outside counsel on Dodd-Frank by the six largest U.S. banks and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the Wall Street trade group, according to the law firm’s website. The firm also performed work for foreign lenders including Credit Suisse Group AG (CS) and Deutsche Bank AG.
Friendly E-Mails

Nazareth’s e-mails to Schapiro and then-SEC General Counsel and Senior Policy Director David Becker, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Bloomberg News, demonstrate how lobbyists and lawyers draw on bonds they formed in government service to gain access for clients, and how they work to maintain those ties.

It’s “a real advantage” to send a familiar face into the agency, said Adam Pritchard, a University of Michigan law professor and ex-SEC lawyer. “If I’m a client, I’m very pleased. I’m willing to pay top dollar for that.”

Rather than making specific policy requests, Nazareth’s messages asked for meetings, offered her firm’s products and opined on the debate in Congress. She told Becker the prospect of a consumer finance protection agency made her “feel ill” and that she’d asked Sifma, the Wall Street trade group, to “trash” a proposal for an investor advocacy office at the SEC.
Translating Washington

Officials routinely leave federal agencies, Congress and the White House to work for the industries they once supervised. While that path is well-trod and legal -- with some time restrictions -- it still provokes handwringing in Washington. Nazareth’s communications provide an inside look at what happens when the revolving door spins.

Nazareth, 56, declined to discuss specific e-mails. She said that people like herself who have worked for both sides are valuable because they can “better translate to their clients” what the SEC is trying to achieve.

“It’s unfortunate where we are in an environment now where everybody thinks that is nefarious,” Nazareth said.

Nazareth added that she “absolutely” doesn’t get favorable treatment.

“I am not batting a thousand, let’s put it that way,” she said. “And I respect that.”
Displaying Clout

Nazareth and her colleagues at Davis Polk played a central role as the financial industry shaped its Dodd-Frank priorities, helping write more than 80 comment letters to regulators. The firm’s clients, including Sifma, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp., targeted rules such as the so-called Volcker ban on proprietary trading, arguing it could create excessive burdens on banks, choke off business and hurt the economy.

The Volcker rule has yet to be completed, along with other key Dodd-Frank components such as swap-trading and mortgage regulations, meaning the success of the banking pushback won’t be fully measured until next year at the earliest.

In May, Nazareth was named as the top woman lawyer in financial regulation at the Americas Women in Business Law awards in New York. Public disclosures from the SEC also underline her clout. In 2009 and 2010, she attended 11 meetings with Schapiro -- twice as many as any single competitor in the law and lobbying business -- according to the chairman’s appointment calendar. Since Dodd-Frank was enacted, Nazareth has taken executives from firms including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Credit Suisse to the SEC, agency memos show.

Schapiro Contacts

Nazareth has also attended meetings at the Federal Reserve and represents clients at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, where she has met with Chairman Gary Gensler among other officials, according to public disclosures.

Lynn Turner, a former SEC chief accountant who is critical of the banks’ agenda, said that Nazareth is “at the top of that list of influential attorneys” who have access to regulators as former SEC officials.

John Nester, an SEC spokesman, said those who used to work at the commission don’t get special access to the chairman. Schapiro “knows a lot of people in government, law, academia and consumer advocacy” and it’s not surprising that she e-mails and meets with some of them, he said.

“In the end, whether she or anyone in the agency agrees with a particular viewpoint or a specific request depends on whether it furthers the mission of the agency,” Nester said.
‘Fantastic, Mary’

In her e-mails, Nazareth blended the personal and professional. For instance, she sympathized with Schapiro over a “frustrating” New York Times article in one message, and in another offered to sell the SEC a Davis Polk Web product “at an appropriate government rate.”

The overlap was sometimes evident in Nazareth’s salutations, which varied from “Dear SEC friends” and “Dear Mary and David” to “Hello All.” On March 10, 2010, for example, she wrote to “Chairman Schapiro” asking if she’d take a meeting with Credit Suisse “to discuss the SEC’s concept release on equity market structure.” After Schapiro agreed, Nazareth wrote back: “Fantastic, Mary!”

Schapiro answered the e-mails in a business-like way. The more numerous exchanges between Nazareth and Becker, who are friends, display an easy banter and a familiarity developed over the years.

Becker, now a partner at the Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP law firm in Washington, declined to comment for this story. His biography on the firm’s website says he was “intimately involved” in financial regulatory reform at the SEC and “served a central role in the commission’s efforts to implement the Dodd-Frank Act.”
‘Nap Time’

Early in the Dodd-Frank debate, in November 2009, Nazareth forwarded a summary of a Senate proposal to Becker, who noted that the actual text ran to 1,100 pages. “More nap time for me,” he wrote.

That prompted Nazareth to ask, “Yea, but what about me? No rest for the outside counsel.”

Becker responded about 25 minutes later with an offer to connect Nazareth with the agency’s newly named director of trading and markets, who had worked with Becker in private practice. “I’m going to encourage Robert Cook to call you for the scoop,” he wrote. Cook said through an SEC spokesman that he doesn’t recall discussing the Davis Polk document with anyone at the time.
Bush Appointment

Nazareth joined Davis Polk in September 2008, eight months after leaving the five-member commission. A graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School, she began her career at the same law firm in 1981, then moved to Wall Street, working at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Salomon Smith Barney. (SPFSDX)

She joined the SEC in 1998 as an aide to then-chairman Arthur Levitt and the next year became director of the trading and markets division. (Levitt is a board member of Bloomberg LP, parent of Bloomberg News.) President George W. Bush appointed her to a Democratic seat on the SEC in 2005.

Nazareth is married to former Federal Reserve Board Vice Chairman Roger Ferguson Jr., now chief executive officer of TIAA-CREF, the manager of retirement funds for employees of nonprofits. Some e-mails refer to a party they host during the December holidays, where regulators and lawyers mingle.

In one note, Nazareth jokingly told Becker, “We expect Greenspan to lead us in a sing-along,” referring to former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. When Becker gave his regrets for her 2010 party he noted that, “In truth, I enjoy your holiday parties very much, not to mention seeing the host and hostess. It’s the only place I get to see famous economists.”
Not ‘Door-Opener’

Nazareth isn’t a registered lobbyist -- a designation that is triggered under federal rules when a person spends 20 percent or more of his or her time engaged in “lobbying activities” for a client over a three-month period.

Other Davis Polk attorneys have filed documents with Congress registering as lobbyists on behalf of Sifma, the finance trade association. Sifma paid Davis Polk $1.3 million from November 2009 through October 2010, its tax filings show.

Nazareth said she doesn’t lobby. “I am not a door opener,” she said. “I am a substantive lawyer.”

Andrew DeSouza, a Sifma spokesman, declined to comment on Nazareth’s work.

There’s no indication Nazareth violated the federal ethics law that bars senior officials from representing clients before their agency for one year after they leave.

The law imposes a two-year ban on the most senior officials, including cabinet heads, the vice president and top members of the White House staff. President Barack Obama has expanded the two-year ban to his appointees, meaning that if Nazareth had been named by Obama she wouldn’t have been able to represent clients at the SEC until 2010.

Powerful Agency

“Every one of those commissioners should have the two-year ban,” said Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics lawyer in the Bush administration and is now a professor at University of Minnesota Law School. “They are in charge of a very powerful independent agency.”

Painter said the longer time-out would help reduce the influence that former SEC leaders might have on the people they worked with at the agency. That could diminish any advantage over others seeking the attention of the regulators.

The potential for a high-paying job after an SEC stint helps the agency recruit people with expertise in arcane areas. SEC pay scales generally can’t compete with industry; they top out at about $240,000 for staff and $156,000 for commissioners. At Davis Polk, profits per partner reached $2.3 million in 2011, according to the American Lawyer magazine.
‘Economic Opportunities’

The SEC gets “top-notch, high-quality people because it’s fun, because it’s challenging, because it’s exciting and because of the economic opportunities after they leave,” said David Gourevitch, a former agency enforcement lawyer who is now in private practice in New York.

Gourevitch, in comments echoed by other SEC alumni, said the back-and-forth between the industry and the commission doesn’t help ex-officials tip the scale toward their clients.

“There clearly is a revolving door,” he said. “I don’t see it influencing the results.”

Others aren’t so sure. Markets are so complex that regulators operate under an “informational disadvantage” with those they police, and it’s natural for SEC officials to listen more closely to lawyers and lobbyists who once worked at the agency, said Pritchard, the Michigan law professor.

Nazareth is recognized as an expert since she ran the SEC’s markets division before she served as a commissioner. “She knows how to pitch the arguments to the SEC in a way that they’re likely to respond to,” Pritchard said.

Marketing Push

The e-mails reviewed by Bloomberg News begin in February 2009, just as Dodd-Frank was being crafted by the Obama administration and half a dozen agencies, and end in May 2011, when the public records request originally was made.

The time period coincided with an effort by Davis Polk, a New York-based firm that has long represented prominent Wall Street clients, to market its financial regulatory work. It sought to outdistance rival Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, people in the legal and banking industries say. Besides JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, Davis Polk has done work for Citigroup Inc. (C) and Morgan Stanley (MS) on Dodd-Frank matters.

The correspondence illustrates how Nazareth tended her relationships and pushed for access. She was able to arrange an unscheduled meeting with Becker on June 24, 2009, when she e- mailed him from the SEC’s lobby: “My meeting has just ended with Trading and Markets. Do you have time to meet?”
Five minutes later, Becker replied, “I do.”
‘Very Peculiar’

The next month, on July 11, Nazareth e-mailed Becker to offer “just some Saturday morning thoughts” about the Treasury Department’s draft of the regulatory bill, noting that she found it “very peculiar in places, causing me to believe that it was not written by the SEC or fully vetted.”

That included a section of the legislation concerning whether brokers should have a fiduciary duty to their clients. Sifma was fighting to make sure brokers weren’t covered by the same requirement as investment advisers.

“The language is broad enough to suggest that any compensation creates a conflict of interest,” Nazareth wrote. “Are these services now going to be provided for free?”

Becker responded that the draft was left vague on purpose, to give the SEC the authority to set the rules itself, rather than have Congress do it. Still, he told Nazareth: “This has been unbelievably messy.”
Observing Schapiro

After a month had gone by without any e-mails, Nazareth contacted Becker at 5:46 a.m. on Aug. 13.

“You never call. You never write. Do you have any time for lunch?” she wrote. They met the following week at an eatery in Washington’s Union Station, which is connected to the SEC offices.

Nazareth and Becker sometimes discussed Schapiro. In October 2009, Nazareth wrote that the chairman appeared “really exhausted and downbeat” when she spoke to a New York conference sponsored by Sifma. “It must be very difficult,” Nazareth said in the e-mail.

Becker responded that it “is an impossible job” to be SEC chairman.

“The demands from various quarters are strident and irreconcilable, and the agency, as you well know, is a huge management challenge,” he added.

Nazareth’s e-mails to Becker and Schapiro increased when there were developments on Capitol Hill. On November 10, 2009, then-Senator Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, released his 1,100-page version of the regulatory bill.

Investor Advocate

The next morning Nazareth sent the copy of her firm’s bill summary to Becker, Schapiro and the four other SEC commissioners.

“Thanks, this is very helpful,” Schapiro responded.

Becker told Nazareth that the summary was “really good” and noted that it “should go into extensive detail about the inanity of the Investor Advocate,” a new SEC position dedicated to protecting investors.

“Give me time!” Nazareth replied. “I have also asked Sifma to trash it. They need to understand how terrible it could be for all.” The idea stayed in the bill, though the agency has yet to fill the job.

Congress continued to work on the bill into 2010. As lawmakers neared a deal to create a new consumer agency to police products like credit cards and mortgages, Nazareth forwarded Becker a news article about the agreement. “I am beginning to feel ill!” she wrote on March 1.
‘Overworked Friends’

Toward the end of the month, when a later version of the Senate bill was released, Nazareth sent Becker and Schapiro another Davis Polk document outlining changes. “To assist all of my overworked friends at the commission,” Nazareth wrote. She passed along four more during the next few months.

President Obama signed Dodd-Frank on July 21, 2010, ending the legislative fight but opening a new front for banks and their lobbyists at the rule-making agencies. Nazareth marked the occasion with an e-mail to Schapiro, copied to Becker.

“Dear Mary, today is certainly a big day!” she wrote. “Congratulations on the end of the beginning.”

In the message, Nazareth offered to come in and give a demonstration of the Davis Polk Web product to track the regulatory developments.

Schapiro, responding the next evening, said she would defer to Becker on the meeting. “Hope you are well,” she concluded, prompting Nazareth to reply, “Thanks Mary, I always defer to David as well!”

Schapiro then replied: “It’s the safest thing to do!”

The SEC never purchased the product, the agency said.

Other E-Mails

The e-mails include matters beyond Dodd-Frank.

In February 2011, Nazareth forwarded Schapiro an exchange with New York Times reporter Edward Wyatt, who was writing an SEC story. Wyatt asked Nazareth to let him use a laudatory comment she had given him about Schapiro.

Nazareth asked Wyatt to include the name of her law firm. She objected to his identifying her solely as someone who “represents clients before the commission,” saying it might imply she was praising the chairman to benefit clients. “That is not the case,” Nazareth wrote. “I believe what I said.”

When she sent the e-mails to Schapiro two minutes later, Nazareth wrote: “The following seems to indicate that at least part of the piece will be positive.”

Schapiro replied: “Thanks so much. I have fingers (and toes) crossed.”

‘Remarkably Narrow’

However, the story, released online later that day, Feb. 2, was mainly about how the SEC failed to properly account for its finances.

“It’s hard to imagine that I gave him an hour of my time, talked about real issues from market structure to rules and lots in between and this is what he produces,” Schapiro wrote to Nazareth.

Nazareth called the article “remarkably narrow and largely off the point,” and added that, “the good news is that it says very little and therefore will not get much attention.”

Schapiro then thanked Nazareth: “I really, really appreciate your comments.”

In an interview, Wyatt said he wrote “a tough story” and added, “What Annette Nazareth does with her e-mails is her decision.”

In another set of e-mails, Becker wrote Nazareth in November 2009 to “beg for help” in finding an attorney with a background in administrative law to work at the SEC.

Nazareth passed along a name and said, “we can give her a call to let her know that you would like to speak to her.”

Becker replied: “You are a peach.”

‘Very Flattering’

In March 2010, Nazareth sent Becker a message on a Saturday afternoon that said she had “been getting pressure from headhunters” to consider taking a new job.

“I told them you would be great,” Nazareth told Becker. “You may get a call.”
She signed off, “Your Faithful PR Department.”

Becker, responding two minutes later, demurred.

“That’s very flattering,” he wrote. “Probably out of the question.”

In February 2011, as Becker prepared to leave his post at the SEC and return to his law firm, he e-mailed Nazareth asking if she’d seen the press announcement.

Nazareth wrote back: “Yup! And I talked Mary off the ledge.”

It was the second time Becker had left the agency. He had been general counsel from 2000 to 2002 before rejoining the SEC in 2009 to be Schapiro’s top lawyer.
‘Degree of Influence’

Becker publicly addressed the revolving door at an Oct. 8, 2010, Cleveland conference on securities regulation, where he sat next to Nazareth on the panel. The two discussed the event in advance, the e-mails show. Becker’s remarks were prompted by suggestions from participants that the agency’s enforcers tend to go easy on firms represented by former SEC lawyers.

“When you’re an SEC alum, particularly someone who’s high- level, certainly your clients think you have a certain degree of influence,” Becker told the conference at Case Western Reserve University’s law school. “I have told them this: What you’re getting from me is good lawyering. I’m not in the influence business.”

While SEC officials may be more likely to return phone calls from former colleagues, “they don’t do anything for me that they wouldn’t otherwise do,” Becker said.

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« Reply #68 on: Sep 09, 2012, 08:03 AM »

Apparently human's have not destroyed enough of our planet yet .........

Threat to wildlife haven in ‘scariest place on Earth’

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 9, 2012 0:50 EDT

An unlikely and unique cradle of biodiversity that runs the length of the world’s most heavily-militarised border is being threatened by encroaching development, conservation experts say.

Once described by former US president Bill Clinton as “the scariest place on Earth”, the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean peninsula between North and South was created after the 1950-1953 Korean War.

Four kilometres (2.5 miles) wide and 248 kilometres long, it is a depopulated no-man’s land of heavily-fortified fences and bristling with the landmines and listening posts of two nations that technically remain at war.

As a military buffer zone, it remains an area of profound Cold War hostility, but its man-made isolation has also created an accidental park recognised as one of the most well-preserved, temperate habitats on Earth.

Cutting across mountains, prairies, swamps, lakes and tidal marshes, it has become a protected home for an astonishing variety of plants and animals, including 82 endangered species such as the red-crowned crane and the Amur leopard.

Now experts attending the ongoing World Conservation Congress on South Korea’s southern Jeju island, say redevelopment of land bordering the DMZ is putting the future of the wildlife haven at risk.

“The DMZ is so impressive in biodiversity in terms of its ecosystem due to its remoteness and no human impact,” Uwe Riecken, director of biotope protection at the German Federal Agency for Nature told a Congress workshop.

“But on the other hand, the DMZ is facing a lot of potential threats arising from future possible access, including development,” he warned.

The immediate threat is to the large strips of land that form a “civilian restricted zone” adjoining the DMZ on both sides.

Once fertile farmland abandoned after the war, the restricted zone has, over the past 60 years, reverted back to forest and natural wetlands, providing a crucial habitat for the DMZ wildlife.

“But now this is being converted back to agricultural or ginseng farms, changing the habitat of both the wild animals and plants,” said Park Eun-Jin, an environmentalist at South Korea’s Gyeonggi Research Institute.

Although relations between North and South remain volatile, recent efforts to reduce tensions have resulted in more permits being granted for land-use in the restricted zone.

“More pressure for inter-Korean economic development in the area is also going to pose a challenge in terms of maintaining a balance between development and preservation,” Park said.

Aside from land conversion, Park said proposals for modern canals and roads would have an enormous impact on the amphibians, reptiles and birds that inhabit the area.

Experts at the conservation congress said the two Koreas would have to try to work together to prevent human resettlement of the area from disrupting the delicately-balanced ecosystem created over the past six decades.

Jeong Hoi-Seong, president of the South Korean Institute for the Environment and Civilization, said the South should consider “economic incentives” to ensure the impoverished North’s cooperation.

“The South needs to find a way to incorporate economic benefits with environmental cooperation because the environment is not North Korea’s priority,” Jeong said.

South Korea has sought international recognition of the DMZ region as a UNESCO biosphere reserve, but the UN body has demurred, citing territorial uncertainties among other factors.

In a presentation to the congress in Jeju, the executive director of UNESCO’s Natural Sciences Sector, Han Qunli, said this did not mean the area could not be granted special status in the future.

“There is a promising long-term perspective in the DMZ — once all parties are convinced — that the area could be turned from a symbol of confrontation to a bridge of connection… and a best example of biodiversity conservation,” Han said.

Ironically, an enduring peace between North and South Korea could hold the biggest threat of all to the DMZ ecosystem in the form of eventual reunification of the peninsula.

If reunification were to happen before it receives the status of an internationally protected site, peace might end up destroying the very haven that war accidentally created.
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« Reply #69 on: Sep 09, 2012, 08:09 AM »

Cyprus offers safe haven for endangered turtles

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, September 9, 2012 7:55 EDT

On a late August evening, thousands of baby endangered sea turtles flip, flop and somersault down the sands of this protected beach in northern Cyprus as excited onlookers cheer them on.

“Go on little turtle! A couple of inches and there you go!” yells Elliott Evlyn-Bufton, a 12-year-old Briton whose family came to the holiday island to watch the green turtles and loggerheads hatching.

Hundreds of sea turtles hatch each summer on the island’s beaches, both in the Turkish north and the internationally-recognised south, to the delight of environmentalists and tourists alike.

The success story is shared, but for different reasons on an island that was divided by a 1974 invasion of its northern third by Turkish mainland troops.

Elliott brought baby turtles to the sea with the Society for Protection of Turtles (SPOT), a turtle conservation project on Alagadi beach near the picturesque harbour town of Kyrenia in northern Cyprus.

The tiny hatchlings, once placed on the beach, frantically flap their flippers to reach the sea. They had been rescued that afternoon from their shallow nest in the sand.

“Only one hatchling in a thousand makes it until adulthood, that’s why we try and increase their survival rate as much as possible,” said Sara Toule, an Aberdeen biology graduate who helps SPOT.

Not all the babies had the same strength. Some set out energetically for the Mediterranean sea, others lay motionless until the waves snatched them away.

At night, baby turtles know their way thanks to the moon’s reflection on the sea. When there is no moon, they are guided by the torch of a volunteer standing waist-deep in the sea.

Cyprus is home to more than 30 percent of the Mediterranean’s loggerhead (caretta caretta) nests and more than 20 percent of those of green turtles (chelonia mydas), according to figures provided by environmentalists on the two sides of the island.

Both species are endangered, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says, mainly due to intensive fishing.

After a mother turtle lays its eggs, metal grids are placed over the nests to prevent scavenging from foxes and other creatures.

“If we don’t protect them, 60 percent of the eggs will get eaten,” says Chelsea Crossingham, an English university student and SPOT volunteer.

“Since 2006, there has been an explosion in the number of turtles’ hatchlings in the protected areas. Only in Cyprus, in all the Mediterranean area, has there been such an increase,” said Andreas Demetropoulos, who along with Myroula Hadjichristophorou is in charge of turtle conservation in southern Cyprus.

“The number of turtles’ nests on our beaches is very high. This shows that our efforts, since the 1990s, have paid off,” said Hasibe Kuset-Oglu, their counterpart on the other side of the island.

“The most difficult thing has been to persuade politicians to ban tourism construction,” she said.

“Some people want to get rich fast and have pressured the politicians. Now it’s better. We are also expecting a grant from an EU project that aims to protect all the species on our coasts.”

“Paradoxically, our advantage, here in north Cyprus, is that we have less money than in the other part, so we attract fewer property developers,” explained Kuset-Oglu.

On both sides of the island, environmentalists have tried to combat heavy construction and mass tourism, which pose a threat to nests and mislead new hatchlings with lights that lure them away from the sea.

“Greece, Turkey and Cyprus are massive tourism destinations for Europeans. And turtles nest mainly on these beaches,” said Robin Snape, a SPOT member and researcher from Exeter University in southwest England.

In the relatively affluent south, turtles have been legally protected since 1971, Demetropoulos said, and fishing and tourism development are regulated. In the north, conservation started later and depends on research projects like SPOT.

Demetropoulos underlined the importance of protecting nesting beaches. Turtles return to nest on the beaches where they were born, 20 or even 40 years later, “mainly thanks to geomagnetic forces,” he said.


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« Reply #70 on: Sep 09, 2012, 08:10 AM »

Overfishing pushes tuna stocks to the brink: experts

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, September 8, 2012 18:18 EDT

Global tuna stocks are fast reaching the limits of fishing sustainability, decimated by an absence of comprehensive, science-based catch limits, conservation experts warned Saturday.

Five of the world’s eight tuna species are already classified as threatened or nearly threatened with extinction, according to the Red List of Threatened Species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

At the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress currently underway in South Korea’s southern Jeju Island, experts said partial quotas currently in place were inadequate and uninformed.

“The problem is, there is lack of science-based catch limits to ensure effective management and conservation,” said Amanda Nickson, Director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Pew Environment Group.

The five Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) that manage the global tuna fishing industry do have some measures in place, including restricting the catch of certain species to the amount caught in a previously defined year.

They also operate “input controls” that, among other things, limit the number of fishing vessels, but Nickson argued these were ineffective as they simply provided an incentive to develop more effective fishing methods.

While acknowledging that scientific data on tuna stocks was “imperfect”, Nickson said the UN Fish Stocks Agreement specifically provided for the setting of catch limits if the evidence in favour was compelling enough.

“There is sufficient science available to set precautionary limits,” Nickson said.

“If we wait five, 10 years for the science to be perfect, in the case of some species we may not have anything left to manage,” she added.

The Atlantic bluefin species, which can live to 40 years old and grow to more than four metres (13 feet) long, is in the gravest danger of disappearing with stocks estimated in some areas to have halved over four decades.

It is so highly prized by sushi-loving Japanese that a 269-kilogram (592-pound) fish went for a record 56.49 million yen ($737,000 at the time) in January auctions.

“The message is that some tuna species are in bad shape,” said Bruce Collette, chair of the IUCN Tuna and Billfish Specialist Group.

“Long living and high value tunas are threatened by over exploitation and under regulation by the regional agencies,” Collette warned.

The global tuna industry is an economic juggernaut, with fishing in the Pacific Ocean alone — accounting for 65 percent of the global commercial catch — worth around $5.5 billion a year.

Toshio Katsukawa, a fisheries expert from Mie University in Japan, said only urgent international cooperation could safeguard the future of the Pacific bluefin tuna.

“Immediate action is necessary” because the risk of commercial extinction is immediate, Katsukawa said.
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« Reply #71 on: Sep 10, 2012, 06:48 AM »

Caribbean coral reefs face collapse

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Sunday, September 9, 2012 23:24 EDT

Caribbean coral reefs are in danger of disappearing, depriving the world of one of its most beautiful and productive ecosystems

Caribbean coral reefs – which make up one of the world’s most colourful, vivid and productive ecosystems – are on the verge of collapse, with less than 10% of the reef area showing live coral cover.

With so little growth left, the reefs are in danger of utter devastation unless urgent action is taken, conservationists warned. They said the drastic loss was the result of severe environmental problems, including over-exploitation, pollution from agricultural run-off and other sources, and climate change.

The decline of the reefs has been rapid: in the 1970s, more than 50% showed live coral cover, compared with 8% in the newly completed survey. The scientists who carried it out warned there was no sign of the rate of coral death slowing.

Coral reefs are a particularly valuable part of the marine ecosystem because they act as nurseries for younger fish, providing food sources and protection from predators until the fish have grown large enough to fend better for themselves. They are also a source of revenue from tourism and leisure.

Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the global marine and polar programme at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which published the research, said: “The major causes of coral decline are well known and include overfishing, pollution, disease and bleaching caused by rising temperatures resulting from the burning of fossil fuels. Looking forward, there is an urgent need to immediately and drastically reduce all human impacts [in the area] if coral reefs and the vitally important fisheries that depend on them are to survive in the decades to come.”

Warnings over the poor state of the world’s coral reefs have become more frequent in the past decades as pollution, increasing pressure on fish stocks, and the effects of global warming on the marine environment – in the form of higher sea temperatures and slightly elevated levels of acidity in the ocean – have taken their toll.

Last year, scientists estimated that 75% of the Caribbean’s coral reefs were in danger, along with 95% of those in south-east Asia. That research, from the World Resources Institute, predicted that by 2050 virtually all of the world’s coral reefs would be in danger.

This decline is likely to have severe impacts on coastal villages, particularly in developing countries, where many people depend on the reefs for fishing and tourism. Globally, about 275 million people live within 19 miles of a reef.

IUCN, which is holding its quadrennial World Conservation Congress on Jeju island in South Korea this week, said swift action was vital. The organisation called for catch quotas to limit fishing, more marine-protected areas where fishing would be banned, and measures that would halt the run-off of fertilisers from farmland around the coast. To save reefs around the world, moves to stave off global warming would also be needed, the group said.

On a few of the more remote Caribbean reefs, the situation is less dire. In the Netherlands Antilles, Cayman Islands and a few other places, the die-off has been slower, with up to 30% coverage of live coral still remaining. The scientists noted that these reefs were in areas less exposed to human impact from fishing and pollution, as well as to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The report – compiled by 36 scientists from 18 countries – was the work of the IUCN-coordinated Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

© Guardian News and Media 2012

[Green Sea Turtle swimming over Coral Reef, via Shutterstock.com.]


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« Reply #72 on: Sep 10, 2012, 06:49 AM »


British scientist calls for ‘major nuclear program’ to head off climate change

By Terry Macalister, The Guardian
Sunday, September 9, 2012 18:00 EDT

A leading British academic has called for accelerated research into futuristic geo-engineering and a worldwide nuclear power station “binge” to avoid runaway global warming.

Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at Cambridge University, said both potential solutions had inherent dangers but were now vital as time was running out.

“It is very, very depressing that politicians and the public are attuned to the threat of climate change even less than they were 20 years ago when Margaret Thatcher sounded the alarm. Co2 levels are rising at a faster than exponential rate, and yet politicians only want to take utterly trivial steps such as banning plastic bags and building a few windfarms,” he said.

“I am very suspicious of using technology to solve problems created by technology, given that we have messed up so much in the past but having done almost nothing for two decades we need to adopt more desperate measures such as considering geo-engineering techniques as well as conducting a major nuclear programme.”

Geo-engineering techniques such as whitening clouds by adding fine sprays of water vapour, or adding aerosols to the upper atmosphere have been ridiculed in some quarters but welcomed elsewhere. Wadhams proposes the use of thorium-fuelled reactors, being tested in India, which are said to be safer because they do not result in a proliferation of weapons-grade plutonium, experts say. Also, under certain circumstances, the waste from thorium reactors is less dangerous and remains radioactive for hundreds rather than thousands of years.

Wadhams, who is also head of the polar ocean physics group at Cambridge and has just returned from a field trip to Greenland, was reacting to evidence that Arctic sea ice cover had reached a record low this summer.

This latest rate of loss is 50% higher than most scenarios outlined by other polar scientists and coincide with alarming new reports about a “vast reservoir” of the potent greenhouse gas, methane, that could be released in Antarctica if the ice melts equally quickly there. Greenpeace said last night that it agreed with the academic’s concerns but not with his solutions.

“Professor Wadhams is right that we’re in a big hole and the recent record sea ice low in the Arctic is a clear warning that we need to act. But it would be cheaper, safer and easier to stop digging and drilling for more fossil fuels,” said Ben Ayliffe, the group’s senior polar campaigner.

“We already have the technologies, from ultra-efficient vehicles to state-of-the-art clean energy generation, to make the deep cuts in greenhouse gases that are needed to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Unfortunately, we’re still lacking the political and business will to implement them,” he added.

Wadhams, who has done pioneering work on polar ice thinning using British naval submarines from 1976 onwards, said these latest satellite findings confirmed his own dire predictions.

And they feed into the alarming scenarios that the Arctic Methane Emergency Group have been warning about.

“What we are now seeing is a fast collapse of the sea ice that means we could see a complete loss during the summer by 2015 – rather than the 20 to 30 years talked about by the UK Meteorological Office. This would speed up ocean warming and Greenland ice cap melt and increase global ocean levels considerably as well as warming the seabed and releasing more methane.”

Asked whether the latest evidence made a ban on drilling for carbon-releasing oil and gas necessary as Greenpeace has contended, Wadhams said “philosophically” such exploration made little sense. “We have been conducting a global experiment with the burning of fossil fuels and the results are already disastrous and this would accelerate them,” he argued saying that there were also practical worries because of the enormous difficulty of dealing with any spillage or a blowout under moving ice where oil would get trapped inside the ice in a kind of inaccessible “oil sandwich’.

But he said at least that companies such as Shell had shown some responsibility by carefully planning its expected exploration in the Chukotka Sea off Alaska and had shown a willingness to use ready-made containment domes that could cap off a well if anything went wrong. He was more fearful about drilling methods in the Russian Arctic where environmental concerns were lower down the agenda.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
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« Reply #73 on: Sep 11, 2012, 06:35 AM »

Conservationists release plea to save 100 most threatened species

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:43 EDT

Conservation experts released a list Tuesday of the world’s 100 most threatened species and warned that only a changed public and government mindset could save them from imminent extinction.

The list compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in a report titled “Priceless or Worthless?” comprised 100 animals, plants and fungi deemed first in line for extinction.

“All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back,” said the report’s co-author, Ellen Butcher.

“If we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist,” Butcher said.

The ZSL report was released in Jeju Island in South Korea where some 8,000 government officials, NGOs, scientists and business chiefs from 170 nations are gathered for the World Conservation Congress.

Conservationists fear those species included in the list, like the Tarzan’s Chameleon from Madagascar and the Pigmy Three-toed Sloth from Panama, will be allowed to die out because they provide humans with no obvious benefits.

While monetising nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the ZSL report said.

“The whole world has become more utilitarian and looking for what nature can do for us,” ZSL’s director of conservation, Jonathan Baillie, told AFP by telephone.

“Governments have to step up to the plate and declare whether these species are priceless or worthless; whether we have a right to drive them to extinction,” Baillie said.

“If we can’t save the 100 most threatened, what hope is there for the rest of life on the planet?” he added.

The Jeju congress, held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is taking place against a drumbeat of scientific warnings that a mass extinction looms.

In a report issued at the Rio+20 world summit in June, the IUCN said that out of 63,837 species it had assessed, 19,817 run the risk of extinction due to depleted habitat, hunting and climate change.

At threat are 41 percent of amphibian species, 33 percent of reef-building corals, 25 percent of mammals, 20 percent of plants and 13 percent of birds, the update of the prestigious “Red List” said.

Many are essential for humans, providing food and work and a gene pool for better crops and new medicines, it said.

Experts say that only a fraction of Earth’s millions of species, many of them microscopic, have been formally identified.

In recent years, biologists have found new species of frogs and birds in tropical forests — proof that the planet’s full biodiversity is only partly known.

UN members pledged under the Millennium Development Goals to brake the rate of loss in species by 2010, but fell badly short of the mark.

After this failure, they set a “strategic plan for biodiversity” under which they vowed to prevent the extinction of “most known species.”

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


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« Reply #74 on: Sep 11, 2012, 06:50 AM »


Australia acts to stop super-trawler

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:55 EDT

The Australian government Tuesday announced plans to change its environmental protection laws to prevent a controversial super-trawler from fishing in its waters.

The 9,500-tonne FV Margiris, recently reflagged as the Abel Tasman, is currently docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia, but under the new laws would not be able to fish until new scientific research had been carried out.

Environment Minister Tony Burke earlier sought legal advice about whether he could intervene over concerns that dolphins, seals, seabirds and other marine life would inadvertently get swept up in the ship’s huge nets.

But he was limited by the current legislation, prompting new laws to be introduced to parliament later Tuesday that, if passed, would extend his powers.

“If we get this wrong there are risks to the environment, to commercial operators and to everyone who loves fishing and they are risks I am not prepared to take,” Burke said.

“There has never been a fishing vessel of this capacity in Australia before and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act needs to be updated so that it can deal with it.”

The amendment would prohibit the 143-metre (469-foot) trawler from fishing in Australian waters until a further assessment over its impact was undertaken by an expert panel.

“While that work is being undertaken the relevant fishing activity cannot take place within Australian waters for a period of up to two years,” Burke said.

There were protests among conservation groups and local fishermen when it was announced earlier this year that the ship would fish off Tasmania, and Greenpeace protesters tried to prevent it docking in Port Lincoln.

The Australian Fisheries Management Authority has dismissed concerns about over-fishing, saying the trawler would be allowed to catch just 10 percent of available fish and would have little, if any, impact on the broader ecosystem.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]
 

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