Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Gerald Celente & Gargamel: Separated at Birth?
Thanks to Stephen Colbert for pointing this out on his show earlier this month...
A Konformist Kontributor & the dude who terrorizes Smurf Village
What's your favorite place to go hiking? Mine is Arches in Southern Utah. I went there with some friends about a month ago. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Delicate Arch had been blown up by a mining company, it's remains dumped into the Colorado River along with tons of chemicals and pollutants, choking off the mighty river.
Obviously, that didn't happen - because our predecessors, in their wisdom, protected Arches as a national park. Sadly, most of the mountains of Appalachia don't have that protection - and the scene I described happens there every day.
It's mountaintop removal mining. And it has to be stopped. Click the link below, or paste it into your browser, and tell EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson we need to ban this horrific practice:
To date, mountaintop removal mining has destroyed 800 miles of Appalachian mountains, and poisoned or choked 1200 miles of rivers and waterways.
It's a national disgrace to treat our wild treasures this way - and it needs to be stopped. The Obama Administration's EPA is undertaking a review of hundreds of mountaintop removal mining permits - a good first step.
Make your voice heard - tell the EPA we need a permanent ban on mountaintop removal mining.
Environmental Action Organizer
Test driving the electric Tesla Roadster in Silicon Valley
By Matt Nauman
What defines a sports car? Until recently, it was design, performance and sound the deep, throaty rumble of a Corvette's V-8, for example, or the machined purr of a Porsche 911 Turbo.
Then came the electric and electrifying Tesla Roadster. A half-day spent thrashing a Tesla on the curvy ribbons of road above Palo Alto and Woodside was enough to convince me that silence is golden.
And breath-taking. And scary.
The Roadster, in production since mid-2008 and now equipped with a re-engineered transmission, makes a strong statement about the future of driving.
Here's a car that can go very, very fast 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with a top speed electronically limited at 125 mph yet all of its power comes from electricity. For a starting price of $109,000 the one I tested was about $122,000 with options and delivery charge you can get a two-seat machine that you can drive nearly 250 miles between charges.
Me? Starting from Tesla's Menlo Park showroom, which ironically used to be a Chevrolet dealership, I headed for the hills. Sand Hill Road is nearby, a neat juxtaposition as some venture capitalists were early backers of Tesla. The Roadster, painted a shade called electric blue that might be found on a Prada handbag, oozes athletic elegance, not AIG bonus excess.
Then it was onto I-280 before heading to Page Mill Road, Skyline Boulevard and other mountain roads. In all, I spent more than three hours behind the wheel, logging about 100 miles.
When I handed the keys back at the dealership, the range estimator said it had enough juice left for about 80 more miles. But I'm guessing the kind of aggressive driving that the Tesla encourages might have led to small reduction in range.
Using a 220-volt charger that most owners have installed at their homes, it takes about four hours to fully charge Tesla's battery pack. Owners get a small extension cord for quick "fill ups," although it would take about 36 hours to charge from empty to full using a standard household 110-volt outlet.
Built on the chassis of the Lotus Elise, the Tesla Roadster is a small, low-to-the-ground ride. Its rounded front end features hood louvers and jewel-like lights under a large covering. The rear is similarly subtle, with an unobstrusive spoiler and three round lights on each side. Neither the Tesla logo on the hood nor the TESLA in block letters on the trunk lid scream for attention.
Getting inside the Tesla's cabin required a bit of acrobatic skill that I'm surely missing. Think Steve Wozniak on "Dancing With The Stars.'' You step down and into the driver's seat, while sliding under the steering wheel. Getting out is easier, but not much.
Once inside, though, I found a comfortable seating position that fit with the sporty nature of the car. Our tester had Microfiber seats, and on this sunny afternoon, they were a better choice than the standard leather chairs that can make for a hot ride.
The interior design reflects a car that's functional, rather than overly luxurious. Four round air vents. Two gauges easily seen through the three-spoke, leather-wrapped Momo steering wheel. The JVC stereo/navigation system had good sound, but an after-market feel with its tiny buttons. I switched it off, and concentrated on the driving experience.
Between driver and passenger, knobs control temperature and air flow. With the Roadster's top down on this sunny afternoon, I ignored these functions as well. The shifter is remarkably simple up for reverse, the middle notch for neutral and down for drive.
Spend some time on the Tesla's informative www.teslamotors.com Web site, and the simplicity of electric driving is revealed. While an internal-combustion engine might have 100 moving parts, the Tesla's powertrain has one, its rotor.
Indeed, four components move this machine. The battery pack contains 6,831 lithium-ion cells, which I'm sure are happier here than running some spreadsheet on a laptop. The 115-pound motor is designed to be efficient, making sure 85 to 95 percent of the car's power goes to moving its wheels. The transmission, which was an early bugaboo for Tesla, is now finalized as a single-speed gearbox. Finally, the power electronics module is the big brain in the trunk, managing acceleration, torque, regenerative braking and charging.
For a driver, it all works seamlessly. Put key in ignition, check your mirrors, stomp on what used to be called the gas pedal and drive. There's no clutch pedal, nor any feeling of changing gears. Torque is outlandish, and instantaneous.
Instead of a roaring V-8, you hear mostly road noise air rushing around you, tires on pavement, an occasional "wow" or "whee" from your passenger. Indeed, the high-pitch whine from the electric powerplant reminds some of a washing-machine on a full spin cycle.
To me, it's a pleasant reminder of driving a car without a gas tank, without a tailpipe, without a need to be smog checked.
Handling was precise and the ride was tight, as you'd expect from a six-figure sports car. I'm not sure the brakes were as muscular as on some other cars on its class.
I was the first newspaper reporter to drive a Tesla back in 2006 when it was a novelty, an electric car that wasn't ready for primetime. Back in a finished version, I quickly appreciated the advancements, including working gauges, door handles and a sound system.
But my first impression didn't change. Fast? Check. Good looking? Check. Silent? Check. An afternoon drive? I'll take it.
Contact Matt Nauman at (408) 920-5701 or at mnauman@...
Pot-related questions deluge W.H.
By JOHN WARD ANDERSON
When the White House put out a call for town hall questions, it might not have been expecting this.
The more than 92,000 people who responded either have a Cheech and Chong sense of humor or there is a deep concern in America undetected by the media about the decriminalization of marijuana, its possible use for medicinal purposes and its potential as a new source of tax revenue.
Given the opportunity to say what's really on their minds without going through the filter of the mainstream media, people "buzzed up" a series of questions that seemed to suggest broad interest in legalizing marijuana and taxing it.
In this moment of national economic crisis, the top four questions under the heading of "Financial security" concerned marijuana; on the budget, people voted up questions about marijuana to positions 1-4; marijuana was in the first and third positions under "jobs"; people boosted a plug for legalizing marijuana to No. 2 under "health care reform." And questions about decriminalizing pot occupied spots 1 and 2 under "green jobs and energy."
After taking questions lower on the list, Obama addressed the pot issue head-on, noting the huge number of questions about marijuana legalization and remarking with a chuckle, "I don't know what that says about the online audience."
"The answer is no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," he said, as the audience in the room applauded and joined him in a laugh.
It seems part of the popularity of marijuana questions was fueled by NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which was urging its members to vote for questions supporting the legalization of cannabis.
"WhiteHouse.gov is once again asking the public to pose questions directly to President Obama via its `Open For Questions` service," the organization said on its website. "The topic of this week's forum is the national economy and, not surprisingly, many of you have already put forward questions to the president regarding the taxation and regulation of cannabis."
"Please take a moment right now to log on the WhiteHouse.gov/OpenForQuestions and vote for the questions above, as well as others pertaining to the need to regulate cannabis. Let the president know that millions of American voters believe that the time has come to tax and regulate marijuana. Help us send the White House a message our elected leaders can't ignore," the statement said.
Sen. Webb: Prisons a 'national disgrace,' must be reformed
Stephen C. Webster
Thursday March 26, 2009
Proposed commission would seek to bring prison populations down, 'overhaul drug criminalization'
Even as President Barack Obama slapped down the hopes of American marijuana consumers as to his position on legalization, Senator Jim Webb (D-Va) was quietly preparing to introduce major legislation which has the potential to dramatically alter US drug laws.
Calling the US criminal justice system "a national disgrace," two US senators called for a top-to-bottom review with an eye on reforms aimed at reducing America's vast prison population.
Senator Webb, backed by Republican Senator Arlen Specter, introduced legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel that would conduct an 18-month assessment and offer concrete recommendations for reform.
Sen. Webb's legislation enjoys not just bipartisan support, but "quiet encouragement from President Barack Obama," reported The Virginian-Pilot.
"America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace," Webb said, noting that the United States has five percent of the world's population but 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
According to a document released by Sen. Webb's office, "Its task will be to propose concrete, wide-ranging reforms to responsibly reduce the overall incarceration rate; improve federal and local responses to international and domestic gang violence; restructure our approach to drug policy; improve the treatment of mental illness; improve prison administration, and establish a system for reintegrating ex-offenders."
The Virginia lawmaker noted soaring numbers of drug offenders in prison, and charged that four times more mentally ill people are incarcerated than are in mental health hospitals.
"We are doing something drastically wrong," said Webb, whose plan also aims to improve the US response to armed gangs, especially drug-related groups, as it seeks to bring the prison population down from about 2.4 million people.
"The high-level commission created by the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009 legislation will be comprised of experts in fields including criminal justice, law enforcement, public heath, national security, prison administration, social services, prisoner reentry, and victims' rights," read a statement from Webb's office. "It will be led by a chairperson to be appointed by the President. The Majority and Minority Leaders in the House and Senate, and the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations will appoint the remaining members of the commission."
About five million people are on probation or parole.
"We are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail," said Webb.
"Despite the president's flippant comments today, the grievous harms of marijuana prohibition are no laughing matter," said Jack Cole, a former undercover narcotics officer and founding member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, in a statement to RAW STORY. "Certainly, the 800,000 people arrested last year on marijuana charges find nothing funny about it, nor do the millions of Americans struggling in this sluggish economy. It would be an enormous economic stimulus if we stopped wasting so much money arresting and locking people up for nonviolent drug offenses and instead brought in new tax revenue from legal sales, just as we did when ended alcohol prohibition 75 years ago during the Great Depression."
"Other supporters include the current Judiciary panel head, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois," noted the Times-Dispatch.
"In Webb's home state, prison population has been growing steadily since 1995, when Virginia dumped parole for fixed sentences -- an initiative of the Republican former governor Webb narrowly defeated in 2006: George Allen."
"Webb has succeeded in pushing major legislation through Congress before, as his 21st Century GI Bill passed last year," noted The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder. "And it's hard for anyone to accuse the former Navy secretary of not being 'tough' enough."
Sen. Webb's office has published the legislation online.
US backing for world currency stuns markets
US Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner shocked global markets by revealing that Washington is "quite open" to Chinese proposals for the gradual development of a global reserve currency run by the International Monetary Fund.
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
27 Mar 2009
The dollar plunged instantly against the euro, yen, and sterling as the comments flashed across trading screens. David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC, said the apparent policy shift amounts to an earthquake in geo-finance.
"The mere fact that the US Treasury Secretary is even entertaining thoughts that the dollar may cease being the anchor of the global monetary system has caused consternation," he said.
Gold price spikes as dollar falls Mr Geithner later qualified his remarks, insisting that the dollar would remain the "world's dominant reserve currency ... for a long period of time" but the seeds of doubt have been sown.
The markets appear baffled by the confused statements emanating from Washington. President Barack Obama told a new conference hours earlier that there was no threat to the reserve status of the dollar.
"I don't believe that there is a need for a global currency. The reason the dollar is strong right now is because investors consider the United States the strongest economy in the world with the most stable political system in the world," he said.
The Chinese proposal, outlined this week by central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, calls for a "super-sovereign reserve currency" under IMF management, turning the Fund into a sort of world central bank.
The idea is that the IMF should activate its dormant powers to issue Special Drawing Rights. These SDRs would expand their role over time, becoming a "widely-accepted means of payments".
Mr Bloom said that any switch towards use of SDRs has direct implications for the currency markets. At the moment, 65pc of the world's $6.8 trillion stash of foreign reserves is held in dollars. But the dollar makes up just 42pc of the basket weighting of SDRs. So any SDR purchase under current rules must favour the euro, yen and sterling.
Beijing has the backing of Russia and a clutch of emerging powers in Asia and Latin America. Economists have toyed with such schemes before but the issue has vaulted to the top of the political agenda as creditor states around the world takes fright at the extreme measures now being adopted by the Federal Reserve, especially the decision to buy US government debt directly with printed money.
Mr Bloom said the US is discovering that the sensitivities of creditors cannot be ignored. "China holds almost 30pc of the world's entire reserves. What they say matters," he said.
Mr Geithner's friendly comments about the SDR plan seem intended to soothe Chinese feelings after a spat in January over alleged currency manipulation by Beijing, but he will now have to explain his own categorical assurance to Congress on Tuesday that he would not countenance any moves towards a world currency.
PORT AUTHORITY DOING AWAY WITH FREEDOM TOWER NAME
March 26, 2009
Freedom is so passe at Ground Zero.
Once hailed as a beacon of rebirth in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the Freedom Tower's patriotic name has been swapped out for the more marketable One World Trade Center, officials at the Port Authority conceded today.
But more than seven years after the terror attacks and amid an effort to market the iconic tower to international tenants, sentiment gave way to practicality.
"As we market the building, we will ensure that the building is presented in the best possible way," said Port Authority Chairman Anthony Coscia.
"One World Trade center is its address. It's the address that we're using. Its on the one that's easiest for people to identify with and frankly we've gotten a very interested and warm reception to it."
Port Authority officials addressed the name change after signing a lease with the Chinese firm, Vantone Industrial, which is the first private tenant to take space in the 2.6 million square foot tower. Vantone will lease 190,000 square feet over six floors.
Robalini's Note: This past week Obama has really shown his hand. After handing Wall Street bankers a massive looting opportunity with the toxic asset program, he demands yet more layoffs for auto workers at the Big Three...
MARCH 29, 2009
Automaker Aid Hinges on Restructuring, Obama Says
By NEIL KING JR.
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is prepared to give struggling U.S. automakers billions more in aid, but only if all sides show that they are ready to make sacrifices to assure the companies have a viable future.
Speaking the day before he announces his first assessment of the fates of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, Mr. Obama said on CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday that he intends to lay out "a set of sacrifices from all parties involved -- management, labor, shareholders, creditors, suppliers, dealers."
The industry, he said, must "take serious restructuring steps now in order to preserve a brighter future down the road." The two companies "are not there yet," he added.
The president's auto task force has spent more than a month digging into the restructuring plans of GM and Chrysler while trying to assess when the steep plunge in car sales might end. The two companies received a total of $17.4 billion in government loans in December, and have requested another $22 billion to keep them going through this year. Of that, GM is seeking $16.6 billion more, while Chrysler has asked for $5 billion more.
On Monday, President Obama will lay out the administration's interim conclusions on the companies' viability and the many steps that need to be taken to return the companies to health. The president is likely to hold off on granting new loans to preserve leverage in ongoing negotiations, particularly with the thousands of bondholders who hold a total of about $28 billion in GM debt.
The government is pressuring the bondholders to agree to an equity swap that would reduce GM's debt load by two-thirds.
Analysts said GM likely has enough cash on hand to weather at least another month before its need for more government aid becomes urgent. Chrysler, which is owned by Cerberus Capital Management, may need another infusion of cash sooner. Ford Motor Co. has not sought federal assistance.
Both GM and Chrysler are negotiating with the United Autoworkers union to accept a range of cost-cutting measures, including a greatly reduced workforce, lower wages, and a revamped health-care fund for retirees.
The U.S. auto industry, hardly robust to start with, has been reeling from a plunge in car sales over the last six months. Sales in February were down about 40% over the same month last year. The drop has sent shock waves through the hundreds of smaller parts companies that supply the big auto makers. To keep the sector afloat, the administration recently announced a $5 billion financing facility to help suppliers cover their expenses.
`We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry," President Obama said on Sunday. "But it's got to be one that's realistically designed to weather this storm and to emergeat the other endmuch more lean, mean, and competitive than it currently is.''
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who is nominally in charge of overseeing the auto bailout, on Sunday said the government was prepared to lend more money "if we believe it's going to provide the basis for a stronger industry in the future that's not going to rely on government support."
The administration is not expected on Monday to deliver a comprehensive blueprint for where the industry needs to go in the months and years ahead. Instead, administration officials said, the announcement will lay out the parameters of an overall deal, including some firm deadlines. The administration is expected to hold out the threat of having the companies enter into Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring if certain tough compromises are not made over the next month.
The original December loans were given under the agreement that all sides would strike a compromise deal by March 31, but the administration is taking advantage of a clause allowing all sides another month to negotiate.
"It was unrealistic to renegotiate a new labor agreement and the unsecured debt in so short a time," said Sean McAlinden, chief economist with the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research. "That has never happened before."
GM and Chrysler are meant to submit by Tuesday assessments of where their restructuring efforts are heading. In February, both companies put forward plans for paring back their operations, reducing their workforces and eliminating vehicle models. Chrysler is mulling a potential alliance with Italy's Fiat SpA.
Write to Neil King Jr. at neil.king@...