Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Romney standard: 4 percent unemployment, 500k jobs per month

With the April unemployment report released this morning, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told voters in Pennsylvania that the slight drop in the unemployment rate is not cause for celebration.

Mitt Romney set some high standards for himself in reaction to Friday's lackluster jobs report from April.
The economy added 115,000 jobs in April, a number that fell below expectations and prompted worries of a slowdown in hiring. While the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent, that was driven in part by people leaving the workforce.
Those numbers carry political significance, with only six months left until the election. In separate reactions to the April figures, Romney set standards that he thought represented what's acceptable.
The Romney standard, in short, would see the economy add 500,000 jobs per month. The former Massachusetts governor said that an unemployment rate above 4 percent is unacceptable.
"We should be seeing numbers in the 500,000 jobs created-per-month. This is way, way, way off from what should happen in a normal recovery," Romney said this morning on Fox News.
At an afternoon event in Pittsburgh, Romney said of the news that the unemployment rate had fallen to 8.1 percent: "Normally, that would be cause for celebration, but anything near 8 percent or over 4 percent is not cause for celebration."
The lowest the unemployment rate hit over the last decade was 4.4 percent, last achieved in May of 2007.
The high point of jobs added in the last decade came in May 2010, when the economy added 516,000 nonfarm payroll positions.

UN official: US must return control of sacred lands to Native Americans

Wow what would that do to all the public parks, to the farms, open ranges, and I could just see the congress doing this. HA< HA HA
Personally, I believe we cheated the Indians out of everything, they had.  We conquered  them, took their lands, killed their buffalo off and then decided they deserved little reservations, and practically no rights.  They have had to live in abstract poverty, because of the white man. 

Ed Menard, Park Ranger

A United Nations official says sacred lands -- like the Black Hills of Dakota, which includes Mount Rushmore -- should be returned to Native American control.

The United States must do more to heal the wounds of indigenous peoples caused by more than a century of oppression, including restoring control over lands Native Americans consider to be sacred, according to a U.N. human rights investigator.

James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, just completed a 12-day visit to the United States where he met with representatives of indigenous peoples in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. He also met with U.S. government officials.

"I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced," Anaya said in a statement issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva Friday.
That oppression, he said, has included the seizure of lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the loss of languages, violation of treaties, and brutality, all grounded in racial discrimination.

Anaya welcomed the U.S. decision to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 and other steps the government has taken, but said more was needed.

'History of oppression'

His findings will be included in a final report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council. While not binding, the recommendations carry moral weight that can influence governments.
"It is clear that this history does not just blemish the past, but translates into present day disadvantage for indigenous peoples in the country," Anaya said.

 "There have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression, and that there is still much healing that needs to be done," he said.

Game hunt for sacred white buffaloes riles Native groups
In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where some Native Americans depend on hunting and fishing, Anaya said tribes face "ever-greater threats ... due to a growing surge of competing interests, and in some cases incompatible extractive activities, over these lands and resources."

"In Alaska, indigenous peoples complain about a complex and overly restrictive state regulatory apparatus that impedes their access to subsistence resources (fish and wildlife)," he said.

Native American tribe gets permit to kill bald eagles

Mining for natural resources in parts of the country has also caused serious problems for indigenous peoples.

"Past uncontrolled and irresponsible extractive activities, including uranium mining in the Southwest, have resulted in the contamination of indigenous peoples' water sources and other resources, and in numerous documented negative health effects among Native Americans," he said.

Mount Rushmore
He said indigenous peoples feel they have too little control over geographic regions considered sacred to them, like the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Anaya suggested such lands should be returned to Native peoples.

"Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples' socioeconomic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity," Anaya said.

"Continued efforts to resolve, clarify, and strengthen the protection of indigenous lands, resources, and sacred sites should be made," he added.

How genocide wiped out a Native American population

Mount Rushmore, a popular tourist attraction, is located in the Black Hills, which the Sioux tribe consider to be sacred and have territorial claims to based on an 1868 treaty. Shortly after that treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the region. U.S. Congress eventually passed a law taking over the land.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the seizure of the land was illegal and ordered the government to pay compensation. But the Sioux rejected the money and has continued to demand the return of the now public lands.

Anaya said he will make specific recommendations on these and other issues in a full report later this year.

US carries lessons of Iraq into Honduras drug war

New bases reflect what American military has learned in decade of conflict

Image: Honduran soldiers at Forward Operating Base Mocoron

Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Honduran soldiers at Forward Operating Base Mocoron, one of three outposts the United States military has built to battle cocaine trafficking.

updated 52 minutes ago
The United States military has brought lessons from the past decade of conflict to the drug war being fought in the wilderness of Miskito Indian country, constructing this remote base camp with little public notice but with the support of the Honduran government. 

It is one of three new forward bases here — one in the rain forest, one on the savanna and one along the coast — each in a crucial location to interdict smugglers moving cocaine toward the United States from South America.

Honduras is the latest focal point in America’s drug war. As Mexico puts the squeeze on narcotics barons using its territory as a transit hub, more than 90 percent of the cocaine from Colombia and Venezuela bound for the United States passes through Central America. More than a third of those narcotics make their way through Honduras, a country with vast ungoverned areas — and one of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world.

This new offensive, emerging just as the United States military winds down its conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and is moving to confront emerging threats, also showcases the nation’s new way of war: small-footprint missions with limited numbers of troops, partnerships with foreign military and police forces that take the lead in security operations, and narrowly defined goals, whether aimed at insurgents, terrorists or criminal groups that threaten American interests.

The effort draws on hard lessons learned from a decade of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq, where troops were moved from giant bases to outposts scattered across remote, hostile areas so they could face off against insurgents.

But the mission here has been adapted to strict rules of engagement prohibiting American combat in Central America, a delicate issue given Washington’s messy history in Honduras, which was the base for the secret operation once run by Oliver North to funnel money and arms to rebels fighting in neighboring Nicaragua. Some skeptics still worry that the American military might accidentally empower thuggish elements of local security forces.

In past drug operations, helicopters ferrying Honduran and American antinarcotics squads took off from the capital, Tegucigalpa, whenever an intelligence task force identified radar tracks of a smuggler’s aircraft. The three-hour flights required to reach cartel rendezvous points did not leave much idle time to spot airplanes as they unloaded tons of cocaine to dugout canoes, which then paddled downriver beneath the jungle canopy to meet fast boats and submersibles at the coast for the trip north.
In creating the new outposts — patterned on the forward bases in Iraq and Afghanistan that gave troops a small, secure home on insurgent turf — spartan but comfortable barracks were built. Giant tanks hold 4,500 gallons of helicopter fuel. Solar panels augment generators. Each site supports two-week rotations for 55 people, all no more than 30 to 45 minutes’ flying time from most smuggling handoff points.

Before his assignment to Central America, Col. Ross A. Brown spent 2005 and 2006 in Iraq as commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment’s Third Squadron, responsible for southern Baghdad. It was a time so violent that President George W. Bush ordered an increase in troop levels to retake the initiative.

Image: Honduran officer in a suburb of Tegucigalpa

Tomas Munita for The New York Times

An officer in a suburb of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Colonel Brown is now commander of Joint Task Force-Bravo, where he and just 600 troops are responsible for the military’s efforts across all of Central America. He is under orders to maintain a discreet footprint, supporting local authorities and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which leads the American counternarcotics mission.

American troops here cannot fire except in self-defense, and they are barred from responding with force even if Honduran or Drug Enforcement Administration agents are in danger. Within these prohibitions, the military marshals personnel, helicopters, surveillance airplanes and logistical support that Honduras and even the State Department and D.E.A. cannot.

“By countering transnational organized crime, we promote stability, which is necessary for external investment, economic growth and minimizing violence,” Colonel Brown said. “We also are disrupting and deterring the potential nexus between transnational organized criminals and terrorists who would do harm to our country.”

To reach Forward Operating Base Mocoron, an Army Black Hawk helicopter flew through fog-shrouded canyons, over triple-canopy rain forest and across savannas that bore dozens of 200-yard scratches — pirate runways for drug smugglers.

Conducting operations during a recent day at the outpost were members of the Honduran Tactical Response Team, the nation’s top-tier counternarcotics unit. They were working alongside the Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team, or FAST, created by the Drug Enforcement Administration to disrupt the poppy trade in Afghanistan. With the campaign in Afghanistan winding down — and with lowered expectations of what Washington can do to halt heroin trafficking there — FAST members were in Honduras to plan interdiction missions in Central America.

And Honduran Special Operations forces, with trainers from American Special Forces — the Army’s Green Berets — were ferried from the outpost by Honduran helicopters to plant explosives that would cut craters into smugglers’ runways. Honduran infantrymen provided security for the outpost, which remains under Honduran command.

Image: A U.S. helicopter in Puerto Castilla, Honduras

Tomas Munita for The New York Ti

An American task force member refuels a Black Hawk helicopter in Puerto Castilla, Honduras.

Those missions were conducted amid reminders of the dirty wars of the 1980s. One such reminder was a delegation of Congressional staff members visiting recently to assess local forces’ respect of human rights. Legislation prohibits United States military assistance to foreign forces that violate human rights, so before Joint Task Force-Bravo can cooperate with Central American militaries, they must be certified by American embassies in the countries where those operations are to take place.

Another reminder sits across the runway at Soto Cano Air Base, the large Honduran base outside the capital that hosts a local military academy and Colonel Brown’s headquarters. Behind a high fence is a compound once used by Mr. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel at the center of the Iran-contra operation, a clandestine effort to sell weapons to Iran and divert profits to support rebels in Nicaragua, despite legislation prohibiting assistance to the group because of human rights abuses. Today, tropical undergrowth is erasing traces of the secret base.

But that history still casts a shadow, skeptics of the American effort say.
“We know from the Reagan years that the infrastructure of the country of Honduras — both its governance machinery as well as its security forces — simply is not strong enough, is not corruption-proof enough, is not anti-venal enough to be a bastion of democracy,” said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a policy research group in Washington.

The American ambassador to Honduras, Lisa J. Kubiske, is responsible for bringing order to the complex and sometimes competing mix of interagency programs, and she oversees compliance with human rights legislation. She described the Honduran armed forces as “eager and capable partners in this joint effort.”

Video: Mexico’s ‘war next door’ is closer than you think 
  One of those partners, Cmdr. Pablo Rodríguez of the Honduran Navy, is the senior officer at the second of the forward bases, at Puerto Castilla on the coast. He pointed to his “bonus fleet” of several dozen vessels seized from smugglers, the fastest of which were retrofitted with Kevlar armor over outboard engines and mounts for machine guns for chasing drug runners. The improvements were financed by the State Department.
“We have limitations on how quickly we can move, even when we get strong indications of a shipment of drugs,” Commander Rodríguez said. “We can’t do anything without air support. So that’s why it’s very important to have the United States coming in here.”

Permanent American deployments overseas are shrinking to match a smaller Pentagon budget — and missions will increasingly reflect partnership efforts traditionally assigned to Special Operations forces. A significant effort is the presence of 200 of those troops assigned as trainers across Central America.

The third forward base, at El Aguacate in central Honduras, has sprung from an abandoned airstrip used by the C.I.A. during the Reagan era.

Video: Debate rages over Mexico 'spillover violence' in US 
  Narcotics cartels, transnational organized crime and gang violence are designated as threats by the United States and Central American governments, with a broader consensus than when that base was built — in an era when the region was viewed through a narrow prism of communism and anticommunism.

“The drug demand in the United States certainly exacerbates challenges placed upon our neighboring countries fighting against these organizations — and why it is so important that we partner with them in their countering efforts,” said Vice Adm. Joseph D. Kernan, the No. 2 officer at Southern Command, which is responsible for military activities in Central and South America.

Before this assignment, Admiral Kernan spent years in Navy SEAL combat units, and he sees the effort to combat drug cartels as necessary to preventing terrorists from co-opting criminal groups for attacks in this hemisphere.

There are “insidious” parallels between regional criminal organizations and terror networks, Admiral Kernan said. “They operate without regard to borders,” he said, in order to smuggle drugs, people, weapons and money.

US claims 'unprecedented' success in test for new fuel source

U.S. Geological Survey

Scientists have been studying methane hydrates for years, including this drill used to estimate how much there might be under the Arctic permafrost.

Could the future of cleaner fossil fuel really be frozen crystals now trapped in ocean sediments and under permafrost?

Backed by an oil industry giant, the Obama administration recently tested a drilling technique in Alaska's Arctic that it says might eventually unlock "a vast, entirely untapped resource that holds enormous potential for U.S. economic and energy security." Some experts believe the reserves could provide domestic fuel for hundreds of years to come.

U.S. Geological Survey

Natural gas is released from methane hydrates.

Those crystals, known as methane hydrates, contain natural gas but so far releasing that fuel has been an expensive proposition.

The drilling has its environmental critics, but there’s also a climate bonus: The technique requires injecting carbon dioxide into the ground, thereby creating a new way to remove the warming gas from the atmosphere.

"You're storing the CO2, and also liberating the natural gas," Christopher Smith, the Energy Department's oil and natural gas deputy assistant secretary, told "It's kind of a two-for-one."

The Energy Department, in a statement last week, trumpeted it as "a successful, unprecedented test" and vowed to pump at least $6 million more into future testing.
"While this is just the beginning, this research could potentially yield significant new supplies of natural gas," Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced.

ConocoPhillips, the oil company that worked on the test at its oil facility in Alaska's North Slope, was hopeful the technique could become economically feasible for producing natural gas, a fuel that's much cleaner than petroleum.

"Many experts believe that methane hydrates hold significant potential to supply the world with clean fossil fuel," spokesman Davy Kong told "The completion of this successful test of technology is an important step in developing production technology to access this potential resource while sequestering carbon dioxide."

But even the CO2 bonus doesn't convince environmentalists worried about a reliance on fossil fuels -- the key source for manmade carbon dioxide emissions.

"Finding new ways to produce fossil fuels doesn't change the fact that we can't transfer to the atmosphere all the carbon in the fuels we already have without causing catastrophic climate disruption," Dan Lashof, a climate analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told

"Rather than perpetually seeking new sources of fossil fuel, our federal research dollars should be going into carbon-free energy sources" like solar and wind, added Brendan Cummings, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that's tied climate impacts to its petitions to protect wildlife.

Cummings also worries about inadvertent releases of methane, which is even more powerful as a warming gas than CO2.

Alaska's Arctic is the U.S. area "most under stress from warming," he added. "Even if we could safely develop and install infrastructure there, we're still industrializing an area that essentially should be left alone."

Methane hydrate fans include Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

It has "great potential and not much danger" compared to conventional natural gas, he said. "Extracting energy and sequestering CO2 is win-win situation."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Senate energy committee, noted that future testing needs to look at issues like soil stability, but overall she was bullish.
"If we can bring this technology to commercialization, it would truly be a game changer for America," she said in a statement.

"Taken together, U.S. lands and waters contain a quarter of the world’s methane hydrates -- enough to power America for 1,000 years at current rates of energy consumption," her office added.

Related: US wants 'fracking' on fed lands to list chemicals

Alaska alone could hold 600 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates onshore, the office stated, citing U.S. Geological Survey estimates. That's potentially three times more than the known natural gas deposits in Alaska.

The state also estimates a whopping 200,000 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates lie under Alaskan waters. That reflects that fact that the vast majority of methane hydrates -- the U.S. Geological Survey estimates 99 percent -- are in ocean sediments.

Related: Keystone pipeline application is back for US review

A key obstacle for Alaska, and many other areas, is that natural gas pipelines would have to be built. Moreover, today's low natural gas prices due to a saturated market mean little investment incentive, at least for now.











U.S. Geological Survey

A methane hydrate crystal is seen in sediment pulled up by a core drill.

Smith, the Energy Department official, said the testing done earlier this year was notable because it was the first to produce natural gas for 30 days straight. Previous tests had only been able to do that for a few days, and the longer run should make for better analysis, he said.

"The next steps will be determined by what we learn" in the lab over the next few months, he added.

One hydrate expert who had been skeptical said the test showed him that it is possible to remove a costly step: melting, or dissociating, methane from the hydrates to get the fuel.
"The advantage I see is that the need to dissociate hydrates in order to recover the gas will be reduced and probably eliminated," Gerald Holder, dean of engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, told

Having worked with the Energy Department on hydrates, Holder also said the process shouldn't have any environmental impacts "beyond what drilling for conventional gas entails."
So when might we see commercial production? "I would guess decades," he said.
"One decade would be optimistic," he added, "but not absurd."