China Chokes on a Coal-Fired Boom

December 31, 2006

In regards to global warming, take my word for this: the end-game is China. What China does (or does not do) is what will shape the rest of the world in the years to come.

China, with its enormous economy, is a net-energy importer. As such, they are making deals hand-over fist with literally anyone who can supply them with energy, even if they are far away from them, i.e. Canadian tar sands.

Given the above scenario, it’s no wonder that China has horrible environmental problems:

Toxic cloud of progress can be seen from space

A great coal rush is under way across China on a scale not seen anywhere since the 19th century.

Its consequences have been detected half a world away in toxic clouds so big that they can seen from space, drifting across the Pacific to California laden with microscopic particles of chemicals that cause cancer and diseases of the heart and lung.

Nonetheless, the Chinese plan to build no fewer than 500 new coal-fired power stations, adding to some 2,000, most of them unmodernised, that spew smoke, carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.

They have a toxic cloud so big that it can even be seen from space, and what to they do? Build more power plants, specifically coal-powered plants, which are even more toxic. Coal is used because it is cheap and plentiful (thus far that is) but as mentioned it is horribly toxic. It is used because oil is peaking throughout the world, and China – along with the rest of the world – is in a frantic scramble for oil.

Of course, there are consequences from all this coal-burning:

China had a hot and disastrous year in 2006, with average temperatures the highest since 1951, state media reported Sunday.

Xinhua News Agency said temperatures were on average 1 degree higher than in normal years. Meteorological officials were quoted as saying there was less rain than normal, down 16 millimeters (half an inch) from an average year.

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2006: A Violent Year for Aid Workers

December 31, 2006

This is sort of a follow-up on a previous post of mine, “International aid work a deadly profession“. From Reuters’ AlertNet:

Violence against aid workers reached its highest level in a decade in 2006, as conflict escalated in Sudan’s western Darfur region, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, new figures show.

There were 90 major incidents in 2006, compared with 72 in 2005 and 66 in 2004, according to New York University’s Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which have measured violence directed at aid operations since 1997.

[…]Over the year, 83 aid workers were killed – the highest number since 2003 – 78 were wounded and 52 kidnapped. Afghanistan had the greatest number of aid worker deaths at 26, followed by Sri Lanka with 23 and Sudan with 15.

With what’s going on in the Middle East, folks would think that Iraq accounts for a large share of attacks, but this is incorrect:

Sudan accounted for over 40 percent of major attacks in 2006. Recent weeks have seen a spate of raids on aid agency compounds and vehicles in Darfur, where conflict has uprooted some 2.5 million people.


Saddam Hussein Hanging Video – war porn for you (NOT!)

December 30, 2006

Yeah right, like if I’m going to link to the real video. You can get your “war porn” elsewhere – it was bad when he killed people, and it is bad to derive some sense of happiness from watching him hang. So have some fun instead… it’s Christmas.

I’m glad he’s gone, but actually I would have him alive – yes alive. You know why? Because George Bush the elder, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney (through Halliburton) were waist-deep in shady businesses with him. What do prosecutors do when they get a big fish? Have them squeal the other big fishes. I’m sure Saddam was willing to offer plenty of incriminating documents in order to save his neck…

Update: There is another Saddam Hussein video… just what we need.


50 Dumbest Things Bush Ever Said

December 30, 2006

President Bush and his d’oh moments…

This is from Democratic Underground – the list is hilarious and quite comprehensive – and for rounding out a list of the stupid things Bush says to just 50 is deserving of a prize:

50. “I promise you I will listen to what has been said here, even though I wasn’t here.” —at the President’s Economic Forum in Waco, Texas, Aug. 13, 2002

49. “We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.” —Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001

48. “You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” —Townsend, Tenn., Feb. 21, 2001

47. “We both use Colgate toothpaste.” —after a reporter asked what he had in common with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Camp David, Md., Feb. 23, 2001

46. “Tribal sovereignty means that; it’s sovereign. I mean, you’re a — you’ve been given sovereignty, and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity. And therefore the relationship between the federal government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.” —Washington, D.C., Aug. 6, 2004

45. “I glance at the headlines just to kind of get a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves.” —Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2003

44. “I’m the commander — see, I don’t need to explain — I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being president.” —as quoted in Bob Woodward’s Bush at War

43. “I am here to make an announcement that this Thursday, ticket counters and airplanes will fly out of Ronald Reagan Airport.” —Washington, D.C., Oct. 3, 2001

42. “The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself.” —Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 29, 2003

41. “I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. It’s pretty darn strong. I mean, the people see a better future.” —Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2004

40. “Oh, no, we’re not going to have any casualties.” —discussing the Iraq war with Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson, as quoted by Robertson

Read the rest of this entry »


Big Pharma not making enough money…

December 30, 2006

Of our suffering that is:

Whenever critics complain about the high cost of prescription drugs, the pharmaceutical industry’s standard defense is that companies have to plow so much money into researching innovative new medicines. But a recently released report from the Government Accountability Office casts doubt on that rationale. Yes the industry is spending heavily on R&D, the GAO found, but it turns out big pharma isn’t actually generating such a good return on their investments.

The congressional watchdog agency’s 48-page study came up with disturbing numbers. From 1993-2004, spending by U.S. drug companies on research and development jumped 147%, from $16 billion to nearly $40 billion annually. But the number of applications the pharmaceutical firms submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for potentially groundbreaking new drugs during that 10-year period increased only a meager 7%. And since 1995, the applications for these innovative drugs have been dropping each year. “The productivity of research and development investments has declined,” the GAO concluded.

This is essentially what the American Medical Student Association has been saying all along.


Bratz dolls just stopped being cool…

December 30, 2006

Ok, and with this posting I acknowledge I may stop being “cool” with plenty of readers that bought those cute Bratz dolls over Barbie dolls for Christmas. While Barbie dolls are still more popular, and profitable, than Bratz dolls, many people buy them for a myriad of reasons – such as their ethnic diversity, or because they just party and shop and nothing else – but unfortunately, like many toys, they are manufactured under the worst conditions possible:

The pouty Bratz dolls so popular as Christmas presents are made at a factory in southern China where workers are obliged to toil up to 94 hours a week, among other violations, a labour rights group said in a report released Friday.

The report by U.S.-based China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee details allegations of harsh working conditions, especially during peak delivery months, and of violations of workers’ rights to injury and health insurance.

That’s 94 hours of work a week! And as you can guess, none of these workers has a trust fund. In fact, they get paid 51.5 cents an hour.

The report by China Labour Watch and the National Labour Committee is available here and let me tell you, it is more damning than a sperm-stained blue dress. They included everything, and I mean everything in the report – including pictures of the “cheat sheets” given to the workers in order to fool labor monitors!

And what about the workers? Well, they are definitely protesting, but unfortunately their bosses are not listening:

There was already a strike in June 2006, when workers who had more than ten years employment at the Hua Tai factory walked out demanding that the management pay their health insurance and pension as is required by law. The workers wanted to march to the local labor bureau to present their just demands, but were blocked and prevented from doing so by the Nanling Village public security forces.

[…]Now management is demanding that every worker quit and wait out one month before returning as a “new” worker, who will be given a temporary contract limited to less than eight months. Already some workers are being kept on month-to-month contracts.

There’s going to be another strike on January 2007, so watch this space.

By the way, does that sound like Wal-Mart, keeping all workers as temps and not paying them their full benefits? If you guessed “yes”, give yourself a pat on the traps. There are reasons they are keeping their mouth shut:

There is another dirty little secret behind the Bratz dolls—a secret that MGA, Wal-Mart and Toys R Us do not want us to know: It’s that the workers in China are paid just 17 cents for each doll they assemble, and that the total cost to produce the doll is $3.01. When the Bratz dolls enter the U.S., the companies mark the price up by 428 percent—another $12.88—and retail the dolls for at least $15.89. It’s a good deal for the companies and a very bad deal for the young workers in China, and—for more than one reason—for parents and children across the United States and Europe.

The National Labour Committes does some outstanding work, so please support them if you can.

They even made a video of Bratz Yasmin and Cloe discussing their life at the factory, which is hilarious (note I said hilarious, and not “professional” but then again making videos is not in their job description)

All work and no play would make a Bratz doll, well, not a Bratz doll. But if Bratz could speak, they would sing the Sweatshop Blues:

* Routine 13 ½ to 15 1/2 –hour shifts, seven days a week.
* Workers at the factory 94 ½ hours a week.
* Paid just 51 ½ cents an hour and $4.13 a day.
* Workers denied work injury and health insurance, in direct violation of China’s law.
* Taking a sick day results in loss of three days’ wages.
* Workers failing to meet their production goals must remain working—unpaid—until the target is met.
* Workers are not allowed paid days off to get married.
* Ten workers share a small dorm room, sleeping on metal bunk beds. There is no shower or TV.
* If a worker breaks a doll, she is docked five hours’ wages.
* Before the gullible Wal-Mart auditors arrive, the workers are provided a Cheat Sheet with a list of the “correct” answers, which they must memorize.
* Now the factory wants to fire every worker and then bring them back as temporary workers with contracts limited to just one to eight months—which will strip them of any legal rights they have. The workers are planning to strike in January 2007.
* The workers are paid just 17 cents for each Bratz doll they assemble.
* The total cost of production for a Bratz doll made in China is $3.01. When the doll enters the U.S., the companies mark up the cost by another 428 percent, adding $12.88, for a retail price of $15.89.

Don’t let these assholes get away with this. Drop them a note and tell ’em who sent you while you are at it.

Company contact information:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Lee Scott, CEO
702 SW 8th Street
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716
Phone: 479-273-4000
Email Wal-Mart 

Toys R Us, Inc.
Gerald L. Storch, Chairman and CEO
One Geoffrey Way
Wayne, New Jersey 07470-2030
Phone: 973-617-3500
Email Toys R Us

MGA Entertainment
Isaac Larian, CEO
16380 Roscoe Blvd., Suite 200
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Phone: 818-894-2525
Email MGA


Ice shelf collapse sends chills…

December 30, 2006

To the Canadians that is:

An ancient ice shelf has cracked off northern Ellesmere Island, creating an enormous 66-square-kilometre ice island and leaving a trail of icy blocks in its wake.

“It really is incredible,” said Warwick Vincent of Universite Laval, one of the few people to have laid eyes on the scene. “It’s like a cruise missile has come down and hit the ice shelf.”

The breakup was so powerful, earthquake monitors 250 kilometres away picked up the tremors as the 3,000- to 4,500-year-old shelf tore away from its fjord on Ellesmere.

It broke up 16 months ago, but no one was present to see it. The scientists say they are only now making public details after piecing together what occurred using seismic monitors and Canadian and U.S. satellites.

They say the ice shelf collapse, suspected to have been caused by global warming, is the biggest in Canada in 30 years and is indicative of the transformation under way on Ellesmere, Canada’s most northern land mass.

Do the Great Lakes have to run dry before the U.S. realizes global warming is real?