Tag Archive: Environment


In addition to his usual amazingly funny physics-related humor, xkcd has published a very handy comparison chart that helps to visualize the relative doses for a variety of different types of radiation exposer. Click on the image to be brought to the full-size chart on xkcd’s site.

Radiation dose comparison sheet (xkcd)

Radiation symbol (Cary Bass, via Wikipedia)

Why this Article?

The terrible tragedy in Japan has sparked a huge discussion about nuclear power, radioactivity and nuclear meltdown. Unfortunately, major media in the United States continually report about “high doses” and “low doses” without quoting any actual measurements of radiation radiation levels. This is probably due to the fact that most reporters do not understand nuclear power and radiation themselves. It is a huge problem because it does not provide the public with the detailed information that it would need in order to fully understand the measurements and how it would affect their own health and livelihood.

One unfortunate result of this nebulous reporting, whether it is intentional or not, is that it is rather easy to scare people with the mere mention of the word “radiation” simply because it is very easy to scare people with things that they do not understand. On the other hand, people with a better understanding of radiation will recognize that the level of risk arising from radiation is dependent on the type, the length and the amount of exposure to it. They will be able to compare the measurements of reported radiation doses with background levels. Except in certain tragic circumstances, this generally means that people can be less fearful and more conscientious about their radiation risk.

In this article, I will describe where radiation comes from, a number of ways in which it is measured and what the likely risks are for various levels of exposure. This piece is not really a news article in and of itself, but it is intended to be a guide to help interpret news in those rare cases where the press actually reports the numbers that you need to know.

First, let’s look at the different types of particles that make up the atom and the forces that make them stick together. The complicated part of quantum physics is in making calculations and in deriving physical laws to explain them. Understanding how they work is not so bad, give it a try. : )

Subatomic Particles

One aim of physics is to try to understand the Universe by looking at how its constituents interact. By the 1970s, physicists had put together a detailed model, called the Standard Model, (we physicists sometimes have problems with creativity when it comes to naming things) that describes all of the known fundamental particles and their interactions.

Fundamental particles are simply particles that we believe can not be divided into smaller parts. They are broken down into two major categories, depending on a property called spin: Fermions and Bosons. Spin is a measure of the intrinsic angular momentum of a particle. According quantum mechanics, subatomic particles can only have certain values of spin. Fermions are particles with spins of 1/2, 3/2, 5/2 and so on, while Bosons are particles with spins of 0, 1, 2, and so on, and particles from either of these two families have very different properties.

Fermions can broken into a couple of subgroups, called Leptons and Quarks. These groups are determined by the amount of electric charge that they carry. The Leptons include the electron and its cousins, the muon and the tauon (usually the tau). Each lepton is associated with another particle called a neutrino. Neutrinos are particles that rarely interact with matter. In fact to be sure that you would capture a neutrino about 60% of the time, you would need a lead wall roughly 8 light-years thick! That is 47 trillion miles.

The other subgroup, the Quarks, are a group of particles with electrical charges of either +2/3 or -1/3. They make up subatomic particles like protons and neutrons.

Fermions (Spin = 1/2, 3/2, 5/2, etc.)

Leptons (Spin = 1/2)
Flavor Symbol Mass (GeV/c2) Electric Charge
Electron e 0.000511 -1
Electron Neutrino νe <1×10-8 0
Muon μ 0.106 -1
Muon Neutrino νμ <0.0002 0
Tau τ 1.7771 -1
Tau Neutrino ντ <0.02 0
Quarks (Spin = 1/2)
Flavor Symbol Mass (GeV/c2) Electric Charge
Up u 0.003 +2/3
Down d 0.006 -1/3
Charm c 1.3 +2/3
Strange s 0.1 -1/3
Top t 175 +2/3
Bottom b 4.3 -1/3

All of the matter that you deal with every day, whether it is atoms inside you, the air you breathe, or even those in the Earth itself, are all made of Fermions. How all of those particles interact is determined by force-carrying particles, the Bosons. There are four fundamental forces that we know of right now. Two are likely fairly familiar from everyday experience and two are not so familiar: Gravity, Electromagnetism, the Weak Nuclear Force and the Strong Nuclear Force. Most people deal with gravity and electromagnetism every day, but few people worry about the weak and strong forces, but the weak and strong forces govern radioactive decay.

Each Boson carries a separate force. Here is a summary:

Bosons (Spin = 0, 1, 2, etc.)

Name Symbol Mass (GeV/c2) Electric Charge Spin Forces carried
Photon γ 0 0 1 Electromagnetic Force
W-minus W 80.4 -1 1 Weak Nuclear
W-plus W+ 80.4 +1 1 Weak Nuclear
Z-nought Z0 91.187 0 1 Weak Nuclear
Gluon g 0 0 1 Strong Nuclear
Graviton G 0 0 2 Gravity (not yet detected)

A particle such as an electron would not experience the electromagnetic force, for example, if it did not interact with photons. A person feels the pull of gravity from the Earth because we think that Earth is continuously emitting a very large number of gravitons that interact with the particles that make up a person. Without those graviton interactions, there would be no gravity. Physicists believe that the particles in the two tables above can fully explain all of the interactions between all of the objects in the Universe (possibly excluding Dark Energy and Dark Matter, but that is another story). It is only a matter of working out the details to try to understand how the Universe works, though there are complications because – well – it turns out that the interactions can be complicated. It is still good to have goals!

E = mc2

Einstein proposed his most famous equation during his annus mirabilis (miracle year) when he wrote four papers that set the groundwork for 20th century physics. Inertia is the resistance of an object to changes in motion. We measure this resistance with the quantity mass. E = mc2 says that any object with a mass, m, has a certain amount of energy, E, locked up in that mass. It is a lot of energy per unit mass, because c is the speed of light and light happens to be quite fast: c = 3.0×108 m/s = 186,000 mile/sec!

It happens one gram of sugar has 2.4 Calories (kcal) of chemical energy in it and when we eat sugar, that is roughly how much energy we gain from it. If we measure that in Joules (J, the SI unit for energy), we have 10,000 J of chemical energy in a gram of sugar. But one gram of any substance has (0.001kg)*(3.0×108 m/s)2 = 9×1013 J of energy locked up in its mass! That is roughly enough energy to supply the United States with power for three days!

The tables above give the masses of each particle in units of GeV/c2 (giga-electron volts). The prefix giga- means billion, so 1 GeV = 109eV. And one electron volt is defined as the amount of kinetic energy that a single electron gains from a voltage drop of 1 Volt. So you can see that this definition of mass came after E=mc2. It is possible to use these conversions:

1 eV = 1.6×10-19 J – a really small unit!
1 GeV/c2 = 1.783×10-27 kg – roughly the mass of a proton

These are reallly small units, but remember that a cubic centimeter has something like 1023 = 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms!

All of the above particles have an anti-matter equivalent that has the same mass but opposite electric charge. When a particle collides with an anti-particle, both particles annihilate, giving off photons with total energy E=mc2. Photons are their own anti-particles, too.

Nuclear power allows us to tap a little bit of that energy that is stored in mass, but first let us take a look at atoms to see how.

Baryons

Now that we have covered the subatomic particles, let’s make atoms. Most people learn in middle school that atoms are composed of protons, neutrons and electrons. The Protons and neutrons reside in the nucleus at the center of the atom and the electrons move around in the electron cloud that surrounds it. Protons and neutrons are (very) roughly 2000 times heavier than an electron so they carry most of the mass of of the atom, considering that an electrically neutral atom has the same number of protons and electrons.

When we talk about nuclear power, we are primarily concerned about the nucleus of the atom. So we are going to ignore the electrons in the electron clouds for now, however we will occasionally encounter electrons that are created by nuclear reactions.

Protons and Neutrons are particles called Baryons. Baryons are composed of three quarks (Mesons are particles made with two quarks). Here is how it works: A proton is made from two up quarks and one down quark. Up quarks have charges of +2/3 and a down quark has a charge of -1/3, so if you add up the charges, you get: 2/3 + 2/3 – 1/3 = +1. Neutrons are made of two downs and one up, so they are electrically neutral.

But wait a second! If you have 2 ups and 1 down, that only adds up to (2*(0.003) + 0.006) GeV/c2 = 0.012 GeV/c2 of mass, but a proton has a mass of about 1 GeV/c2! It does not add up, and here is why. Experiments have confirmed that the quarks in a proton and a neutron are held together by the strong nuclear force, carried by gluons. It is a complex set of interactions, but simply put, the interactions keeping the quarks together are very high energy, so high in energy that they account for the rest of the mass!

Atomic Nuclei and Radioactive Decay

β-decay (Wikipedia)

It also happens that a neutron is about 0.14% more massive than a proton. This corresponds to a mass of about 15 MeV/c2 (1000 MeV = 1 GeV), so if we could convert a neutron into a proton, we should get some energy out (1n -> 1p + 1e + 1νe). In fact, this happens with free neutrons because they are unstable because of interactions governed by the weak nuclear force. A free neutron will decay into a proton, an electron, and an anti-electron neutrino with a half-life of around 8 minutes. (The half-life is the time over which half a collection of one type of particles will convert into other types of particles.) This is the iconic reaction in one form of β-decay (beta-decay), known as β-decay. Another form of β-decay is β+-decay: Energy + 1p -> 1n + 1e + νe, where a proton absorbs energy that causes it to break into a neutron, an anti-election (also called a positron) and an electron neutrino. β+-decays can not occur in isolation. You will often see electrons referred to by the term “β-particles”.

The simplest atomic nucleus is that of Hydrogen, just a single proton. We do not usually see single neutrons around unless we are near a radioactive source because neutrons are unstable as we have mentioned. Protons are stable, however, so we do see Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the Universe.

Atomic nuclei are held together by the “residual strong nuclear force”, which is a manifestation of the strong nuclear force itself. Nuclei are held together by virtual mesons that carry gluons between protons and neutrons inside. There is a lot of activity taking place inside a nucleus all of the time!

It is possible to create an atom with the same chemical properties as single-proton Hydrogen if we add neutrons to the nucleus. These are isotopes, nuclei with the same total charge (which governs the chemistry) but differing numbers of neutrons. For example, Deuterium, another isotope of Hydrogen, has one proton and one neutron. It is nearly identical to Hydrogen chemically, but it is much more rare than plain, old Hydrogen because at some point, a free neutron would only have about 8 minutes to latch onto a proton to form it. Another isotope, Tritium, has one proton and two neutrons, and that is even more rare.

α-decay (Wikipedia)

Helium normally has a pair of protons and a pair of neutrons. It has other isotopes, but it happens that the normal Helium nucleus is very stable and when bigger atoms break apart, they often do so by giving off Helium nuclei, or α-particles (alpha-particles). That process is known as α-decay.

Heavy elements such as Uranium (U) have a very large number of protons (92) and often even more neutrons. 235U, for example has 143 neutrons! Nuclei with either too many or too few neutrons relative to the number of protons are unstable. In addition, large nuclei are often unstable simply because the strong nuclear force is a very short range interaction. If a nucleus is too large, the strong force can not hold it together effectively. This means that there is a “Band of Stability” for atomic nuclei, shown here by plotting the number of neutrons against the number of protons in known isotopes. The colors indicate whether each isotope is stable (black squares) or if not, their primary modes of decay.

The Band of Stability of Nuclear Isotopes, showing observed isotopes (Wikipedia)

Other atoms may split into components that are larger than α-particles. For example, 235U can break into a Krypton-92 (92Kr) nucleus, a Barium-141 (141Ba) nucleus. This is known as fission. The inverse process if known as fusion.

During most of these different types of radioactive decays, high-energy photons are released that are known as γ-radiation or γ-rays. Each one of these decay modes results in different energetics, so when we are concerned about how radioactive decay effects the human body, we need to worry about the specific consequences of human exposure to α-, β- and γ-radiation.

Effects of radiation on Humans

So suppose you are walking along a path in a forest far from any radiation source. You just happen to be carrying your trusty Geiger Counter and decide to turn it on just for fun. You will hear the Geiger Counter click sporadically and you may be shocked to find that the clicks increase when you move the Geiger Counter closer to your body. There are radioactive isotopes everywhere! Background levels of radiation are generally due to trace isotopes found in rocks, cosmic rays that reach earth from space, and any life form will have some 13C (Carbon-13). In fact the process of live itself bioaccumulates 13C. Well, a quick check of the Band of Stability graph shows that an isotope of Carbon-13 (with 6 protons and 7 neutrons), will β-decay to form stable 12C. The half-life of Carbon is about 5730 years. About 1.1% of all Carbon on Earth is in the form of Carbon-13 and by comparing the abundance of carbon in biological material with that of the world at large, it is possible to date the material through Carbon Dating. The electrons that are released in the β-decay can be picked up by the Geiger Counter.

The Geiger Counter will essentially count the number of decays it detects per unit time, measured with the SI unit of the Becquerel (Bq). 1 Bq = one decay per second. While this unit gives the number of radioactive decays taking place per unit time, it does not indicate anything about their effect. In order to do that, we need to take into account how much energy the decay products are carrying and how much of that energy is absorbed by the human body.

A typical human body produces about 4,000 Bq of activity, due to 40K (Potassium-40) beta decays alone.

The SI units for the dose of radiation that are absorbed by the human body are Grays (Gy). 1 Gy = 1 J/kg. It is strictly a measure of the total energy deposited in the body and does not quantify the net effect of the radiation. In order to understand the effects, we will need to look at the differences in how each type of radiation interacts with the body.

A high-energy photon (γ-radiation) that is absorbed by body tissues generally breaks apart the molecules it strikes. The radicals (essentially the electrically charged pieces of broken molecules) that are created when this happen can then react chemically with other molecules around them. The overall effect is limited relative to other forms of radiation, however, because a single ion gives rise to a small number of radicals so there is little overall damage from a single γ-ray relative to other forms of radiation. γ-rays can also scatter off molecules through the Compton Scattering, which frees lower energy recoil electrons that can interact with molecules in tissue.

Gamma radiation is usually not completely absorbed by the human body. That is how it is possible for medical X-rays to work, because only a fraction of the X-rays are absorbed by the body while the rest pass through. Some of those that do pass through expose a piece of film or a detector to create an image.

A β-ray (an electron) does similar damage to a photon, but for different reasons. They do not usually penetrate as deeply, though electrons carry some momentum, and they carry electric charge that can ionize some molecules as they pass near them. In other cases, the electron can be absorbed by a molecule or scatter other electrons to create radicals.

A high-energy neutron that is released by radioactive decay has a lot of momentum. When it smashes into tissue, a game of molecular bumper cars ensues. If the neutron has enough energy, then it is possible to break molecular bonds and to release reactive radicals into the body. Given the fact that neutrons can have a good deal of momentum, they generally produce more radicals than a single γ-ray. Neutrons can deposit their energy deep in tissue and are readily absorbed by some isotopes found in the body. This can cause further radioactive decays.

Protons do carry roughly the same momentum as a neutron, they also carry electric charge that results in ionization. They do more damage than electrons but do not penetrate as deeply as neutrons due to their electric charge.

α-particles and heavy nuclei cause the worst damage because they have the most momentum, but they penetrate the least. These particles carry a ton of momentum and they break up molecules and create radicals until they are stopped. They are highly likely to interact with the tissue rather than pass through it.

When determining the net effect on the body, one also has to consider that the different types of tissue in the body each react differently to radiation at different energies. Studies have been done in an attempt to average the effects over the body and these have led to a standards regarding the Relative Biological Effectiveness (RBE) of the various types of radiation. These are used to determine the equivalent absorbed does, given in Sieverts (Sv). 1 Sv = 1 J/kg just like Grays, only now the dose in Grays is multiplied by a weighting factor, WR, to account for the relative impact of various sorts of radiation on the body. (Sieverts can be related to the outdated unit, the rem with 1 mSv = 0.1 rem.) These weights are determined by experimentation under ideal circumstances compared to the relatively complex circumstances found inside a nuclear reactor, but they do offer insight to the impact on people nonetheless.

Typical background doses vary from place to place, depending on which specific isotopes can be found in the local environment, but Wikipedia gives some general levels that can be used as guidelines if you read dosage numbers in the press. These can be found in the table here, where doses are given in mSv/yr unless otherwise noted for one-time total doses.

Wikipedia has an excellent table that describes the types of symptoms, timescales and fatality rates of radiation sickness. Radiation doses above ~1000 mSv can cause radiation sickness. The higher the dose, the worse the symptoms. Doses up to about 2000 mSv can cause nausea, dizziness, fatigue and a reduced white blood cell count. 5% of people die within a month of receiving 2000 mSv of radiation. Doses between 2000 and 6000 mSv can cause cognitive impairment, purpura, hemorrhage and skin loss and above 5000 mSv, fatality becomes nearly certain, though the period of suffering can last up to a month. Higher doses lead to increasingly severe symptoms. Doses above ~30,000 mSv can cause seizures and death within 48 hours.

The geometry of a nuclear power plant such as the Fukushima-I plant can lend to dramatic variations in radiation levels on site. This is due to the fact that concrete, metal and water shield their surroundings from radiation to different degrees. Given the complicated geometry of a nuclear power plant, there could be low-radiation regions very near high-radiation areas. It is very difficult to calculate the dosage that any worker would have received because one would need to know the radiation level at every single point along that worker’s path through the course of the day. Radiation detecting badges are helpful, but the relative dose that an individual receives can vary from one side of his or her body to the other.

The situation in Fukushima-I is especially complicated because there has been a good deal of damage to the plant. Several large Hydrogen gas explosions have spread trace radioactive material far from the plant, but it typically becomes less concentrated if it is spread over a large area – unless an explosion launches a chunk of radioactive material skyward.

The situation further from the plant is generally a bit easier to estimate because the distribution should typically be a bit smoother than the conditions inside the plant. I must include the caveat that I said estimate, not predict. If a measurement is made far away from the plant, material will be dispersed relatively uniformly around a field, for example, so radiation measurements will be more indicative of nearby surrounding areas. There can still be large-scale variations in dispersal patters. Wind currents could blow radioactive material in either one general direction, or it could be widely dispersed, carried aloft at high altitudes as it was in the case of Chernobyl.

Dispersal of Radioactive Material after Chernobyl. The human body has a natural radioactivity of ~4kBq. (UNEP)

The primary variable in long-range dispersal is how high the radioactive material is sent by explosions at the plant. Chernobyl experienced a large explosion that sent radioactive material high aloft, where it could be dispersed over a wide area for a long period of time. The explosions in Japan have not been nearly as large, though some radioactivity has been detected within ~100km or so from the site that has led to some precautionary measures. Clearly, the fewer explosions that take place in the reactors, the better off everyone will be because there will be less dispersal of radioactive material.

Protecting yourself

Unless otherwise necessary, it is generally best to avoid radioactive material and to avoid areas that have high levels of radiation. In an emergency, however, it is generally best to find a way to shield yourself from the radiation and this means placing material in between you and the radiation source. All material absorbs some radiation, but it is best to use dense materials because they tend to be more effective. How much radiation is absorbed by a material is measured by its “Halving Thickness”, or the thickness of that material to reduce gamma radiation by a factor of 2. If a material can stop a gamma ray, it can generally stop everything else. An effective fallout shelter using 1 m of dirt accounts for ten halving thicknesses, decreasing the effective radiation fluence by a factor of ~1000.

I hope that this is useful to people who are interested in learning a bit more about radiation and radioactivity. I believe that if people know its effects and how one can treat it properly and protect one’s self, that it tends to alleviate unnecessary fear. The world will not end if the Japanese plants were to go into meltdown. A meltdown would imply significant environmental impacts, and it may also mean that there would be a portion of Japan that will be unlivable. People living outside of Japan are not likely to be significantly affected, except in the absolute worst case scenario. Good luck to everyone working to prevent a meltdown, and please be safe.

Michele Bachmann (Alan.com)

As the winter clouds slowly give way to springtime sun, the United States is waking up to a nightmarish political climate. The Republicans have taken over more state legislatures than at any time since the Great Depression, and well… It looks like that is where we are heading there again. Why? Because the GOP, rebranded by the Kochs’ Tea Party after the intense failures of the Bush Administration plummeted the country to new depths, has retaken control in a November 2010 election in which liberals stayed home.

Uh... wah?!

The Tea Partiers have never been much for civil discussion – here are Tea Baggers waiting to get in at a Health Care Town Hall event in Missouri. Of course, these people were encouraged to behave abysmally by the Tea Party itself – and some were even paid to do it! (Learn how!)

Buoyed by a self-declared national mandate, the Tea Party is now beginning hard work on important new legislation across the country – all guaranteed to either send the U.S. backward to a preliterate tribal society or a post-industrial, pre-Rapture apocalyptic nightmare state. Let’s take a quick look at some of the bills making their way through some state legislatures around the country.

Montana

We have already reported on some of the interesting bills under consideration in Montana. These include important issues such as legalizing hunting with spears and guns with silencers. Tea Partiers like guns… a bit too much… so they have decided that the state government should allow guns in schools, in the state Capitol, and as if that was not enough safety, there is also a proposal to create armed militias in every town.

Tea Partiers do not like regulations very much because the Tea Party benefactors, the Koch Brothers, pollute a lot. So it should not be much of a surprise that there is an attempt to nullify federal laws, including federal environmental regulations. The state is also planning to eradicate incentives to promote the development of wind power and it would also like the government to demonstrate that it has obtained National Park land legally, lest glaciers be allowed a chance to be conserved.

South Dakota

Tea Baggers do not like women very much either. Women in South Dakota may soon be forced to listen to a Christian sermon about abortions prior to obtaining one – of course – it was not as if the decision was tragic enough in and of itself.

Another bill, an interesting and creative combination of Tea Party misogyny and love for guns would have legalized killing abortion doctors as well as defund Planned Parenthood. This law has been tabled… for now…

Texas

And then there is Texas. They do stupid in Texas BIG! Its Board of Education is a joke and it is difficult to understand how students that go through their schools will have the knowledge that they will need to thrive in competitive, technical fields such as biomedical engineering, much less pass a college entrance exam with the state’s reinforcement of creationism in the schools and rewriting of American history in the state educational standards. Oh, and despite the fact that Thomas Jefferson had written the Declaration of Independence and that as president, he doubled the size of the United States in the Louisiana purchase (including some territory in Texas itself) he is no longer recognized as a founding father because he also happened to be suspiciously liberal and agnostic.

Only weeks after the Gabriel Giffords shooting and with shootings on college campuses in the news annually, Texas has decided to allow concealed guns on college campuses within the state.

While we’re discussing guns, there are also bills that will enable guns on party boats and bills that nullify (there is that word again!) federal laws that apply to guns and ammo made in Texas. That should make it easier for the Branch Davidians to regroup in Waco without any pesky ATF interference.

But how can one be satisfied with guns and treating women like trash alone? There are plenty of other groups to discriminate against! That’s why Texas may make it illegal to be gay in the National Guard (Virginia is trying this one too). Sorry gays, no playtime with guns for you in this middle finger to that Kenyan guy. A bill by Leo Berman would make it illegal to run for president in Texas unless it was possible to see your original, legal birth certificate. But the question is would they believe it is real if the candidate has dark skin?

And there are Tea Partiers in Texas who believe that the immigration situation should be remedied. Why? Because the Arizona bill does not go far enough because it does not have the death penalty for illegal immigration.

Oklahoma

In neighboring Oklahoma, where the public passed an amendment to the state constitution banning the adoption of shariah law, because that was apparently a problem with muslims comprising 0.16% of the state.

Of course, there are new gun proposals, too. Because people may soon be able to carry guns everywhere: College classes, grocery stores (watch out! that pineapple looks OVERRIPE!), and even bars! They deserve bonus points for combining guns and booze.

Don’t worry – illegal immigration proposals were scuttled when the Chamber of Commerce intervened! And women have already been forced to listen to ultrasounds and hear a discussion of a fetus before having an abortion – even if you were a rape or incest victim.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, there is a new bill to make it very difficult for students to vote! A new law would allow students to vote in New Hampshire if their parents happened to have a previously established residence in the town where the student lived. Since students generally move away from home and live in the town where they go to school, that means they may be barred from voting at all if they go to school in New Hampshire. And if that were not enough, Election Day registration would also be banned for students that did not understand that their voting rights have been infringed. According to the Republican House Speaker, William O’Brien, well here is a clip from the Washington Post:

New Hampshire’s new Republican state House speaker is pretty clear about what he thinks of college kids and how they vote. They’re “foolish,” Speaker William O’Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”

Ohio

In Ohio, Republicans have turned on police and firefighters. This is all about union busting. (They have already gone for state employees including teachers).

Tennessee

In Tennessee, Tea Partiers are all about pooh-poohing slavery. Speaking of slavery, the Tea Party there is also gunning for teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Missouri

In Missouri, a new proposal would eliminate child labor laws for children under 14. Children looking to earn a buck could work up to 80 hours a week! Just think of all of the wonderful free-market capitalism that they could enjoy during their formative years without an education! The bill also specifically allows children under the age of 16 to work in the hotel industry, after hours. Yes, it specifically goes out of its way to mention that. Oh, and the law would bar the Missouri Division of Labor Standards from making sure that employers of children provide safe working conditions.

Missouri is also considering a compact with Arizona and Tennessee that would oppose the adoption of federal Health Care Reform, in another nullification move.

Utah

The same month in which a U.S. Congressional Representative was shot in the head just to the south, the state of Utah voted on a state firearm. They picked a Browning M1911 semiautomatic pistol. How tasteful!

And with guns comes hating women. Did you know that miscarriages are like natural abortions? That is why it is now possible that a woman who has a miscarriage will face murder charges.

Georgia

Oh, and Utah was a lightweight – women who have a miscarriage in Georgia could get the death penalty.

The Georgia Tea Party would also like to enact a few other provisions, including: The “Energy Freedom of Choice Legislation”, which would prohibit cap-and-trade limits to greenhouse emissions; an Arizona-style anti-immigration law (papieren bitte!); tax cuts everywhere, including property taxes!

Arizona

Arizona is the home of crazy. They have already sold several state buildings, including the state Capitol, to private firms so that the state can rent from them at higher cost in perpetuity!

It is possible to carry concealed weapons to bars now. But don’t think of buying beer, cigarettes of any “niceties of life” if you are welfare – you will lose your funding. Oh, and a children’s health insurance program has been repealed for 38,000 kids. This means that billions of dollars in Medicare money may be withheld by the federal government. In other words, Arizona is keeping the government out of Arizonan Medicare – we’ll see how that goes amongst the geriatric population there.

There is now also a law that requires abortion doctors to report the names of women who undergo abortions.

And there is the anti-immigration law that allows anyone caught while brown to be arrested if they are not carrying their documentation at all times.

Minnesota

In Minnesota, the new Tea Party legislature is not happy with the Democratic Governor’s plan to raise taxes on the wealthy.

Michele Bachmann and other Republican Congressional delegation members are planning to defund the EPA

In attacks on women, Republicans have decided to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, regardless of wether the child will survive more than a few minutes anyway. The bill will be vetoed by the governor, but you can’t blame them for making a statement, can you?

Another Republican, Senator John Carlson of Bemidji, decided that he would introduce a bill that would repeal pay equity for women. Why is it that the Tea Party hates women so much? Here is what he said, from the Minnesota Independent:

“That bill’s been pulled and it won’t see the light of day,” Carlson said Saturday at an Education Minnesota event, the Bemidji Pioneer reports. “I would admit I didn’t do my homework very well.”

“So I author the bill, put it in the hopper, and the next thing I know, all hell breaks loose,” he said. “And I deserve it for being naïve. Quite honestly, I deserve that. I did it with good intentions.”

“Obviously, I’ve been married for 32 years, I have a daughter out in the workforce, and I have a granddaughter — I can’t believe anyone would think I would harm that relationship,” Carlson said.

I wonder just what those good intentions were that would have lowered wages for half of the human race for the simple fact they were not male.

Not to be outdone with misogyny, the Tea Baggers want to get the gays too! They plan to introduce an anti-gay marriage amendment.

Federal Government

With the 2012 elections coming up and the Republicans hoping that Obama will fail, they are planning a budget that is a poison pill for the current economic recovery.

Republicans also plan to send us back a century or two, by cutting scientific researh – especially climate change science and monitoring. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood also take political hits from the government. Meanwhile, nearly a million jobs are on the line with draconian cuts aimed at breaking unions, eliminating programs for the poor. If that were not enough, the GOP plans dire cuts to education and infrastructure development.

The Republicans would also like to defund the EPA for their Koch brother masters. They have even replaced recyclable food containers in the Congressional dining room with non-recyclable styrofoam, provided by an affiliate of Koch Industries. Since they are also planning to slash funding to toxicology clinics, one blogger suggests that the GOP is simply trying to poison America. Considering their impact on the nation so far, it seems that it is safe to say “Mission Accomplished”.

George W. Bush - Mission Accomplished (Wikipedia)

A Taurus XL Rocket on its last successful launch in 2004 (Wikipedia)

Failures on Climate Change

NASA lost another payload that was to be launched to orbit on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket on Friday because the nose cone failed to separate en route to orbit. The rocket was carrying the Glory satellite, a member of a cluster of satellites to study climate change, in this case by observing aerosol abundances in the atmosphere. Aerosols reflect light from the Sun before the light can be absorbed by the ground. Three out of the last four launches on the Taurus XL have failed for the same reason, and two of them were carrying a satellite that was intended to study Climate Change and the third was to study ozone in the atmosphere. This has led to some people to discuss conspiracy theories. Regardless, there is now a good deal of concern that important measurements needed to better forecast climate change will not occur in a timely fashion due to these launch failures and due to the $600 million cuts to NASA climate observational programs by Congressional Republicans (who do not believe in Climate Change, but do believe in Biblical Unicorns). NASA is trying to defend itself from claims of incompetence, which frankly happens a lot when budget cuts lead to cutting corners. Says Rick Obenschain, Deputy Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

“To make any connection between our investigation of the 2009 … mishap and Friday’s failure of the Glory launch at this time would be purely speculative and wholly inappropriate.”

Of course. It would be wholly inappropriate to consider that a mishap due to one failure of a nose cone separation with another on the same launch system carrying the same type of satellite. That is the statement of a bureaucrat trying to defend his bureau.

During the presentation of the results of the inquiry, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman embarrassed the NASA community with a simple and elegant description of the problem that destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger – stiffness in seals on the rocket boosters at low temperatures. Watch here:

His work on the committee led to another perspective, encapsulated in bullet points from the Challenger Disaster investigation

Shrinking and unpredictable budgets became problematic. NASA was consistently asked to do more with less (the eternal hope of budget administrators everywhere).

The Reagan administration put more and more pressure on NASA to keep a regular schedule of launches. President Reagan’s dream of space weapons was dependent on keeping to the schedule. Launch delays became more problematic for NASA administrators.

The “can-do attitude” of the 1960s became a “make-do attitude.” Cost-saving mechanisms became the norm. Engineer salaries did not keep pace with inflation, and out-sourcing became commonplace.

Budget cuts made redundant safety systems less desirable. If the engineers found a mechanical problem, the classification of the problem became not just an issue of safety, but also of budget. So if a mechanical problem occurred, but didn’t immediately endanger life, it could be classified as a “concern” rather than a “problem.” In other words, if it didn’t work like we expected, but nothing bad happened, then we’ll just ignore it.

The o-rings had been a concern before. Cracks had been found in the o-rings after previous flights. However, since no disasters had happened, the cracks were seen as “normal,” rather than a “problem.”

–Courtesy of problems.olhoff.com

In essence (and I’m paraphrasing Feynman here): Continued budget cuts eliminate redundant checks and balances in systems that were there to ensure safety. Cutting back too much on the budget for an exploratory program like NASA guarantees there will be problems.

We should understand that the Challenger Disaster occurred during the lifetimes of all of the Members of Congress. It is known that scaling back programs leads to technical trouble. Therefore, scaling back Climate funding is a useful fait accompli for a Climate Change denying Congressman who calls for deep cuts to science budgets. The subsequent claim that either the net result was unexpected or that they have confidence that an organization can do more with less only serves to led plausible deniability to the Congressman. Yet most Climate Change denying Congressmen receive a good deal of campaign funding from oil companies that would be adversely impacted should there be a viable renewable alternative to oil – and these same companies lobby Congress intensely on the issue of Climate Change.

In short – whether by direct or indirect interference is no matter but the oil companies who hold the GOP purse strings are setting back Climate Change research upon which rely in order to better understand human impact on its own surroundings.

This video, from RSA Animate, discusses the cognitive science behind empathy. There are some surprises in the video, including the fact that there are similarities between humans and animals in their empathic response.

Sure, the word ’empathy’ got a bad rap from the “greed is good” crowd, but never underestimate the power of politics for self-promotion to turn a noble virtue into something scorned. Hopefully this video will help restore it to the prominence it deserves:
RSA Animate: The Empathic Civilisation

Code Pink Protest the Koch Brothers (Crystal Chatham, AP)

In two previous articles, Meet the Kochs, the billionaires who fund the Tea Party and Who are the Koch Brothers?, we have highlighted the corporate interests and the political actions of the Koch brothers. Well, there is more to the story. Back in the 1980s, David and Charles Koch were vying with their brother, Bill Koch, for control of Koch Industries. The fact that Bill was forced out of the country left a bit of a rift between the brothers, even if he is incredibly wealthy as well. A CBS News 60 Minutes episode dealt with the feud. Bill Koch accused Koch Industries of earning a minimum of $230 million bilking the government out of oil by falsifying the amount and quality of the oil it was purchasing from federal lands. A note for Libertarians: This is only possible when companies are allowed to police themselves.

Koch Industries was convicted not only of stealing oil, but also for cutting back on safety for the sake of cost. In 2000, Koch Industries was hit with the largest fine ever under the Clean Water Act for spilling 3 million gallons of crude oil in six states.

In another incident:

“They don’t care for any loss of human life. Like I said, it was the buck that counted for them,” says Danny Smalley. He had the extreme misfortune of living near a Koch Industries underground pipeline that ran through Texas. In August, 1996, Smalley was home with his daughter Danielle and her friend Jason Stone. Danielle was packing to leave for school the next day – the first person in her family to go to college.

She and Jason started smelling gas. It was butane, pouring from a corroded Koch Industries high pressure pipeline, 200 yards from their home. Jason and Danielle set out in a pickup truck to find help. But their truck set off the butane, and caused an explosion.

Danny Smalley filed suit against Koch Industries. His attorney, Ted Lyon, says the investigation exposed a pattern of negligence and coverup involving the pipeline known as Sterling One. Lyon describes the pipeline as like “Swiss Cheese.”

In April, 2001, the Koch Petroleum Group was fined for releasing benzene at a chemical plant in Texas. But that is not the only time that has happened. Greenpeace lists Koch Industries’ long and inglorious environmental record.

The Kochs are actively working to construct a major oil pipeline from the Tar Sands of Alberta to their refineries in Texas. The pipeline would pass through the heart of the Ogallala
aquifer that provides water to much of the central United States and they plan to put the pipeline under the aquifer… but the area is prone to earthquakes. If you are worried, do not worry: Koch Industries is seeking redactions of environmental regulations and they are buying political campaigns to have the project approved.

The long history of Koch Industries acting in an environmentally negligent and politically active way seems to be a perfect combination for corruption. Given the immense amounts of money that the Koch brothers funnel to their political operations, we should be wary of their influence on public elections. This is especially true when we consider the effects of their proposals to essentially void the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

It is time for a public investigation into the Koch brothers financial support for the Tea Party as well as for a close inspection of safety at their plants across the country. The U.S. Government should get involved in there investigation because the public should not be forced to rely on groups like Anonymous, who are monitoring the Koch’s computer networks now, when the Government is supposed to work in the best interests of the people.

Glenn Beck talks apocalypse porn (Rachel Maddow Show, via YouTube)

In new developments regarding Wisconsin, the Koch brothers, showing no small amount of irony or chutzpah, passed on this message to the public through the National Review:

“With the Left trying to intimidate the Koch brothers to back off of their support for freedom and signaling to others that this is what happens if you oppose the administration and its allies, we have no choice but to continue to fight,” says Richard Fink, the executive vice president of Koch Industries. “We will not step back at all. We firmly believe that economic freedom has benefited the overwhelming majority of society, including workers, who earn higher wages when you have open and free markets. When government grows as it has with the Bush and Obama administrations, that is what destroys prosperity.”

That is right, freedom is slavery. And not having the ability to bargain for wages apparently increases them…somehow. It is plainly apparent what is taking place here. Don’t you see? The billionaire Koch brothers are the real victims here. Just because they have simply paid a puppet to eliminate the jobs of those fat cat teachers and nurse’s aides, redact environmental regulations and curtail public health care so that they can pay a lower marginal tax rate, they are made out to be the bad guys. Oh, and buying state power plants so that they can sell power back to the state at a higher cost and hefty personal profit would be nice, too. Can you believe the insensitivity of those liberals out there? What does a billionaire have to do these days to make a living? Work?

True to form, their fight apparently continues: Governor Walker is now attacking state health programs, including programs for the disabled. Disabled rights activists protested inside the state GOP headquarters in Madison Friday. As we reported yesterday, Walker also has his sights on the state’s currently healthy employee insurance fund. And the attack on collective bargaining continues, even if the state is about to lose $46 million in federal money specifically because it is ending collective bargaining rights for workers! Now THAT is a way to balance a budget!

What we are seeing is a natural end of unbalanced conservatism. The United States is in a race to the 19th century, when the 20th was its greatest time and while other nations are aiming for the 22nd. The conservative movement has become so rapt with its regressive economic dogma that it hires people like Glenn Beck to spew his apocalyptic violence porn because teachers and nurses are marching to retain their rights to collectively bargain for their salaries – “IT IS THE APOCALYPSE I TELL YOU!” We now live in an age where a teacher who claims that he or she has the right to earn a living wage represents the ‘mark of the beast’. That is just how unbalanced the right is and that is why it must be stopped. If enough people march, protest, right representatives and demand investigations, they can be stopped.

David Koch (New Yorker)

In the aftermath of Wisconsin Governor’s phone call with a David Koch impersonator, we now know that Scott Walker is a puppet. The Koch’s have purchased his election, with a combination of both direct funding and indirect funding through the Kochs’ vast network of right-wing organizations. We can only speculate on the Kochs’ true motivations, but if the talking points listed on their think tank websites give any indication, it involves a dismantling and part and parcel sale of government assets to private interests as well as an assault on environmental regulations. The New Yorker published an excellent article about the Koch Brothers last August. This exposé is quite illuminating in that it brings up a number of issues, including the roots of their interest in the Libertarian movement, how they gained political influence, and how they have now been able to buy elections across the country.

New Yorker: Covert Operations, The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama

Naomi Klein (TED)

Literature is filled with strange tales of monsters lurking in the woods or other elements and the lengths to which lost travelers must go in order to survive in the vast, deep wilderness. Wildlife in these stories is as plentiful as it is dangerous. Bears, wolves and large cats bound into the man versus nature conflict whenever the unsuspecting wayfarer’s attention and strength are at an ebb. Living off the land in a foreign environment, without the resources and safety of the village are portrayed as an existential test of strength, tenacity and pluck against the unknown dangers of the gigantic world beyond the meadows in the immediate vicinity of the hero(ine)’s hamlet.

"The Voyage of Life - Childhood" by Thomas Cole (1842) (National Gallery of Art, via Wikipedia)

The narrative was first developed by the enscription of Epic of Gilgamesh into clay cuneiform tablets around 2600 BCE, though it is more famously rendered in Homer’s relatively recent 800 BCE Odyssey. Somehow this narrative has survived despite the passage of nearly a thousand generations of people over forty-seven centuries without regard to the massive changes in technology and the scale of human populations since those times. The first paragraph of the Odyssey, as translated by Samuel Butler begins:

Tell me, O muse, of that ingenious hero who travelled far and wide after he had sacked the famous town of Troy. Many cities did he visit, and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted; moreover he suffered much by sea while trying to save his own life and bring his men safely home

The world population never exceeded 15 million people before the development of agriculture in northern Africa by ~ 12,000BCE. That is 25% less than the population of the New York Metro Area today. The world population has increased fully 460 times that value in the intervening years. There were only about 450 million people by the time that Little Red Riding Hood was first told in the 14th century CE.

Energy use per person was nil at the time of Gilgamesh but now average power consumption among 300 million Americans is 12,000W per person, roughly twice that of the average Western European, nine times that of the average Chinese person and twelve times that of the average Indian. But as 2.4 billion Chinese and Indians seek a better life, we risk the prospect of requiring 11 America-equivalents of power consumption within 30 years. The world’s biome is already fracturing at the current capacity of 5 America-equivalents and in all honesty, it can not sustain even one for the long term.

The solution is simple: Convert to wind and solar power and decetralize consumption in society. It is possible and we can do it. The investment would be no more than that which created the vast petroleum network we use to fill our cars every day. But because we would no longer need to purchase power, this is a tremendous problem for petrochemical companies who have worked with the Tea Party to introduce legislation to eliminate wind power in Montana and soon Wisconsin and other states. This means that as we continue to consume oil, we take greater and greater risks with our environment. We are told that everything will be ok – do not worry about climate change. Climate has changed before! Stay the course!

Google Maps image of Tar Sand Extraction near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada (Google Maps)

Disappointingly, the major news media, who display big oil advertisements have obfuscated the issue, it is simpley the nature of a for profit institution to seek profit over truth. These companies do not want change because they are doing well enough as it is and their executives are incredibly wealthy. CEOs will always be able to afford food, even when no one else can. Their advertising is like the veritable wolf in grandma’s garb as Little Red Riding Hood walks into the house with butter and cakes.

Still, Environmental degradation is plainly visible if we simply pay attention. The BP Oil Disaster is a clear and ominous sign and another is much less widely known – the Alberta Tar (Oil) Sands. The U.S. has reduced its consumption of oil from the Middle East, but it now consumes far dirtier oil (it creates 3x the carbon dioxide of normal oil in production and use) and we are stripping bare vast regions of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. The impact can be seen from space. Gray area in the Google Map Image are current extraction sites near Fort McMurray. The small brown rectangles you see surrounded by green forest regions that are being logged before becoming new strip mines.

Picking up from where we left off in the first paragraph of Odyssey:

but do what he might he could not save his men, for they perished through their own sheer folly in eating the cattle of the Sun-god Hyperion; so the god prevented them from ever reaching home. Tell me, too, about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

Alberta Aerial view of tar sands extraction in Alberta (Garth Lenz)

We no longer live in the world of Little Red Riding Hood. We no longer fear the woods because they are small, fragile and finite. They do not house predators anymore. Large animals that are not livestock have been allowed to remain only in a few reservations around the world that cover a small fraction of the Earth’s surface. Humans have taken over and we are now a geological force. It can be seen in the form of the road grid on any plane flight, it can be seen in the images of tar sands extraction and it can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico. There are few expansive horizons and they are no longer threatening. We have reached a new physical limit in which we do have a profound effect on our surroundings. That means that we have new responsibilities to care for the Earth if we wish to keep it as a home: We need to change the narrative.

There is one thing that we should keep: Ulysses was the only member of his crew that returned home. Homer makes it abundantly clear that it was due to his creativity, his leadership, and his foresight that he found his way back to Ithaca. If you read Odyssey carefully, you will find that while his crew were staging a man vs. nature drama, Ulysses was primarily concerned with the part about man vs. self – especially when traveling near the Sirens.

Please watch this excellent and informative talk on risk and the environment by Naomi Klein as part of the TED lecture series.

References
I am using Wikipedia simply to illustrate how easy it is to find this information. Other resources include governmental regulatory websites, newspapers, blogs, magazines, and published studies.
Wikipedia: Current Energy Use
Wikipedia: World Population
Wikipedia: Tar Sands

Rubber Duck, Osaka 2009 (Florentijn Hofman, artist)

Nineteen years ago, in January, 1992, a 50,000 ton giant freighter struggled through 40-foot waves in heavy seas 500 miles south of the Aleutian Islands. Twelve shipping containers on top of the deck fell off the ship as it listed and fell to the ocean. One container that held 7,200 cardboard and plastic packages must have opened. Within a short time, the packages fell apart, releasing their contents, bathtub toys, to float on the seven seas. The 28,800 colorful beavers, frogs, turtles and (of course) rubber duckies have allowed oceanographers to gain new insights on the nature of ocean currents around the world and they have helped advance computer modeling of earth’s climate system. This article by Donovan Hohn for Harpers is well worth a read.

Koch Industries (Green Market)

Koch Industries is a private company, the second largest one in the U.S. behind Cargill, and it has revenues on the order of $100 billion per year. Yet you may not have heard of the company because it keeps a rather low profile. Why might this be, you ask? Here is a rundown of the industries they are involved in: Petrochemicals, mining, lumber, fertilizers and distribution (trucking) and several others. You see, Koch Industries is one of the largest, most heavily polluting companies in the world and it is completely wedded to the use of fossil fuels.

According to Wikipedia, their subsidiaries include:

Georgia-Pacific paper and pulp company, maker of Brawny paper towels, Angel Soft toilet paper, Mardi Gras napkins and towels and Quilted Northern toilet paper.

Invista, a polymer and fibers company that makes Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fiber, among other products.

Koch Pipeline Company LP, that owns and operates 4,000 miles of pipeline used to transport oil, natural gas liquids and chemicals.

Flint Hill Resources LP, that operates oil refineries in six states.

Koch Fertilizer, LLC, owns or has interests in fertilizer plants the United States, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and Italy, among others. In October 2010, a plant in Venezuela was nationalized by the government.

The company was founded by Fred C. Koch in 1940 and his sons, Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch now run the company and they are both billionaires. The family has long been very politically active. Fred Koch was a huge ultra-right-wing libertarian and he was an original member of the John Birch Society (now headquartered in Grand Chute, Wisconsin), which worked on things like distributing flyers entitled “What’s Wrong With Civil Rights?” in which it used Red Scare tactics to attempt to convince people that the 1960s Civil Rights Movement was, you know, a bad and scary thing. They said it would lead to Communists infiltrating the highest levels of government. Sound familiar? They also argued against the Civil Rights Act because they claimed that it violated the Tenth Amendment (essentially state’s rights) and that it should be countered by Nullification. So that was the father and the sons have sprouted from the same roots.

Owning a heavily polluting company with a poor record on labor, the Koch Brothers would be forced to pay a few billion dollars in carbon taxes if a carbon regulation mechanism were adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, they seek to end the EPA, which regulates companies through the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, among other regulations.

Why do we have the EPA? So that the sky over our cities does not look like this one did circa 1970. It was also because the Cuyahoga River started on fire a few times in Cleveland by the 1960s. Rivers, normally constituted of water are not typically meant to burn.

Anyway, the Koch Brothers have found that it is cheaper for them to wreck the American political system than it is to clean up their companies or to seek to improve labor standards. By simply doling out a few hundred million dollars to PACs and political organizations that intend to create “smaller government”. Otherwise, they would have to pay billions to convert to more sustainable practices. Why do they like smaller government? Because governments that do not have much funding can not regulate wealthy billionaires with highly polluting companies.

The Koch Brothers also hate paying the taxes that they can easily afford. So the Koch Brothers are very active in politics these days. Below is a list of the conservative foundations and political organizations that they have founded, that they fund, and that they run. Each of these organizations hires people to go onto cable TV to misinform the public. If you see a pundit on cable news from one of these groups, you know that they are trying to convince you to agree to something that is bad for you. They talk about “small government”, they spread the lie that Climate Change is not real, to misinform the public on health care by shouting “Death Panels!”, and try to convince people that they should allow Social Security to be handled by the same banks that should have gone bankrupt two years ago, and the list goes on and on.

Americans for Prosperity (David Koch is Chairman of the Board of Trustees, this organization spent $40 million on Tea Party candidates including Scott Walker. They also paid people to shout down Congressional Representatives who were trying to talk about health care reform with their constituents.)

Patients United (Fought against a single-payer health care system)

Citizens for a Sound Economy (Co-founded by D. Koch and funded with millions for activities including campaigns in the 1980s that argued that acid rain was a hoax – this spun off to form Citizens for the Environment)

Cato Institute (The Kochs founded it – this organization intends to privatize Social Security, they oppose the Kyoto Protocol, and claim Climate Change is a hoax)

Federalist Society (The Kochs are key donors for this organization which wants to see an “originalist constitution” – remember the original constitution did not allow women’s suffrage and african americans were slaves, but most of all they like Supreme Court Rulings that claim big companies are people like you and me.)

Mercatus Center (This group believes that truckers should not have limited hours behind the wheel, nor should drinking water have EPA-regulated arsenic limits, and they did not believe the US government should have cleaned up the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina)

Institute for Humane Studies (They think government should not regulate the environment and that private companies can police themselves)

Institute for Justice (They support originalist judges and seek greater rights for private companies)

Alexis de Tocqueville Institution (Fights taxes on corporations, denies climate change, and promotes military spending by the U.S. government)

Institute for Energy Research (Seeks to create a privatized, free market and unregulated energy system in the U.S. they also support off-shore oil drilling)

Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (Another group that believes that big corporations can protect the environment on their own, free of regulations that make them do it)

Heritage Foundation (A group that sought to halt nuclear nonproliferation, supports the invasion of Afghanistan, Chile and Haiti, promotes war profiteering, and seeks the privatization of public infrastructure and entitlement programs, they do not like unions either, but they love free, unregulated markets.)

Manhattan Institute (Promotes free-market (unregulated and private) solutions to the economy, energy, education and health care)

George C. Marshall Institute (A conservative think tank – they supported the Star Wars defense initiative, deny climate change, denied acid rain and did not believe in the ozone hole)

Reason Foundation (They believe in free markets, no unions and commercial education)

American Enterprise Institute (They believe in privatized and unregulated everything, war profiteering, ending labor right, they deny global warming, seek to repeal environmental regulations, and for the kicker Dick Cheney is a trustee)

Aspen Institute (here, the Koch brothers wine and dine with politicians in person. After a meeting last year with Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two justices wrote an opinion for the Citizens United ruling giving companies the right to spend an unlimited amount of money on public elections. That money, funneled through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Progress gave you all of the Tea Party candidates that are trying to break unions, privatize Social Security, deregulate Wall Street, defund the Department of Education, end the EPA and reinstitute child labor.)

You should do your best to boycott each of the above products and institutions. The only way to regain politcal influence for live, breathing human beings and to eliminate corporate control of elections is to make it more expensive for companies to mess with our political system. If a company supports policies that are bad for the public, the public should make them pay a high premium in the form of lost revenue. Good luck!

The Real News discusses the Obama budget, in which spending will be held flat for 5 years. Considering the growth of the American population, this could be a real issue. In addition, there is not nearly enough funding for investment in clean energy and infrastructure to account for his goals listed in the State of the Union Address. There is some speculation that he has given up far too much ground to the Republicans on the politics of the spending issue, especially considering that the Republicans created the structural deficits and that the real economic problems that we now face were due to the banking crisis.

A Texaco station in the Lago Agrio oil field in 1967 (El Comercio, Quito)

Welcome to a portion of the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador. The American oil giant Texaco kept produced water, that is contaminated water brought up from the ground along with oil, in open pits rather than sending it back into the ground. The practice contaminated regional water supplies and led to a marked increase of illness, especially cancer, within the area. Texaco’s current owner, Chevron, has just been ordered to pay the Ecuadorian government $8 billion in fines as a result of the pollution that accumulated from 1967 to 1993.

Save NPR and PBS!

President Obama released his federal budget proposal Monday. The proposal includes an 11% increase for education, but also possessed a large number of cuts across the board – including caps on funding for the war in Afghanistan. The Republican response from the one they tout as their budget guru designee, Paul Ryan, was a bit too quick not to involve posturing. During the next few weeks, Congress with hash the details with the Administration, but some noted economists are up in arms over federal fiscal policy this recession. The EPA gets big cuts in either case, while the security state is alive and well. Though Obama does criticize the Republicans for not investing in infrastructure and education, school superintendents in the state of Texas are about to face the largest cuts to education since World War II. The Republican cuts are so targeted and so draconian that some wonder whether this is all part of a Republican ploy to ensure that Obama fails? On a side note, other nations such as France and Germany, who spent a good deal on investment in infrastructure to get out of the recession, left the recession in 2009. We will discuss the corresponding lack of stimulus and investment in the US in a piece coming out later this week.

There are new protests across the Middle East today, in a “day of rage” in Bahrain, the fourth day of protests in Yemen, and crowds were dispersed with tear gas and possibly hired thugs in Iran. In Egypt, rifts begin to form as the military asks workers and students now protesting for higher wages and the right to unionize to disperse while Hosni Mubarak now faces the challenge to pocket his cash and run before European banks are able to freeze his assets for repatriation to Egypt. What is a dictator to do? The Middle East is not alone as thousands of Italians, especially women, protest Premier Silvio Berlusconi after a sordid sex scandal, involving a 17-year-old girl.

NATO ships have seized a major pirate ship off the coast of Somalia, a libertarian paradise. And in Ecuador, a court rules that Chevron must pay the nation $8 billion in fines due to the massive environmental harm done by Texaco, a company now owned by Chevron.

The day after: How did you celebrate your Valentine’s Day?

One big piece of news was rather quietly reported this past week. It was mentioned a bit more loudly in the British press than the American press. What came out was a WikiLeaks report in the Guardian that exposed diplomatic cables between the US and Saudi Arabia indicating that the Saudis had overestimated their Known Reserves of oil by 40%. That is, they led the world to believe that they had more oil than they really possessed. While this was already suspected, the ramifications are alarming because the Saudis can no longer pump enough oil to keep prices low. It also means the the world is at Peak Oil, where it has used up roughly half of all the oil that had ever been underground and that production now becomes increasingly difficult, expensive and environmentally risky. The BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico during the summer of 2010 and the terrible environmental impact of the excavation of tar sands in northern Canada are only the earliest examples of the lengths to which society will need to go if it does not divest its reliance on fossil fuels. Yet American oil companies are funding efforts to get the public to stop believing that some of the adverse effects, like Climate Change, are even taking place. For more information, check out this great series of videos produced by The Nation.