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Environmental Scientist

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The VW van goes to the great junkyard in the sky — that’s it for the microbus

The Volkswagen microbus, that zany cultural icon of the flower-power Sixties and, more soberly, the workhorse of small businesses worldwide for more than 60 years, will finally give it up and head for the barn.

In December, according to this piece from Der Spiegel, Volkswagen’s operation in Brazil, the only country where the old buses are still made, will end production of the old Type 2 transporter, that rattling and wheezing contraption that nonetheless performed in a mostly faithful manner. The reason for axing the old bus is fairly mundane, too, but just as predictable in the 21st century nanny state — starting in 2014, cars made in Brazil must have standard anti-lock brakes and air bags, something VW apparently decided not to do on the less-than-modern microbus. (It would be soooooo out of character, anyway, to have a charming car like that with ABS and air bags.)

So it’s the end of an era. The VW microbus, known variously as the Kombi or the Bulli or just the Bus, was a binge kind of vehicle — it held an extraordinary amount of stuff and you could cram a lot of people into it for one of those Sixties events, whether you were heading for a demonstration or a Jefferson Airplane concert.

My sister generously loaned me her 1963 23-window (including 8 skylights) microbus one winter and I drove it from New York to Colorado, where it spent a hardy year in service as a college town errand-runner, party-runner, beerkeg-runner, date-runner, all without breaking a sweat. In terms of contemporary auto safety, those things were incredibly dangerous — the only thing between the driver and the car you were about to hit was the front-of-the-bus sheet metal a few inches from your knees. The engine was in the rear. But they were fun, they were useful and they reeked with character.



Is there an ape for that? Orangutans plan trips


WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s the ape equivalent of Google Maps and Facebook. The night before a big trip, Arno the orangutan plots his journey and lets others know where he is going with a long, whooping call.

What he and his orangutan buddies do in the forests of Sumatra tells scientists that advance trip planning and social networking aren’t just human traits,

A new study of 15 wild male orangutans finds that they routinely plot out their next day treks and share their plans in long calls, so females can come by or track them, and competitive males can steer clear.

The researchers closely followed the males as they traveled on 320 days during the 1990s. The results were published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.


1 Percent of America's Power Plants Emit 33 Percent of Energy Industry's Carbon

—By Thomas Stackpole

Less than 1 percent of US power plants produce nearly a third of the energy industry's carbon emissions, according to a new report released Tuesday. "If the 50 most-polluting U.S. power plants were an independent nation," reads the report from Environment America Research & Policy Center, an independent nonprofit, "they would be the seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind Germany and ahead of South Korea." The vast majority of the top 100 offenders—98 of them in fact—are coal plants.

The report, which comes in advance of a Environmental Protection Agency proposal on emissions standards for new power plants expected later this month, claims that cleaning up the biggest polluters could have an outsized impact on reducing greenhouse gases. A March EPA proposal suggested capping carbon production at 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour produced for new plants. That's well below the 3,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour the dirtiest existing plants produce. Standards for existing plants are in the works, too—the EPA's proposal is supposed to be submitted by June 2014 and finalized the following year. Even if the standards are weakened in the approval process, the average coal plant still produces more than twice as much carbon than allowed by the cap. That means new coal plants are "highly unlikely" to meet the EPA's target, according to the report.

Today, the 50 dirtiest plants in the United States—all coal-fired—account for 2 percent of the world's energy-related carbon pollution each year. That's equal to the annual emissions from half of America's 240 million cars. The 100 dirtiest plants—a tiny fraction of the country's 6,000 power plants—account for a fifth of all US carbon emissions. According to the report, curbing the emissions of the worst offenders in the United States "is one of the most effective ways to reduce U.S. global warming pollution…reducing the risk that emissions will reach a level that triggers dangerous, irreversible climate change impacts."

The United States has been trending away from coal, and a recent spate of bankruptcies and closings have thrown the future of coal-fired plants, and their potential for profit, into question. If the new EPA standards don't change the US energy landscape, it's possible that glut of cheap natural gas and looming expensive upgrades for coal plants will.



House Republicans Push To Include Monsanto Protection Act In New Spending Bill

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans will include an extension of the so-called Monsanto Protection Act in the spending bill designed to avert a government shutdown, according to text of the legislation released Wednesday by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

The Monsanto measure was originally enacted into law in March by being slipped into the previous spending resolution, which is now set to expire.

Since its quiet passage, the Monsanto Protection Act has become a target of intense opposition. Monsanto is a global seed and herbicide company that specializes in genetically modified crops. The law effectively prevents judges from placing injunctions on genetically modified seeds even if they are deemed unsafe. Monsanto has argued that it is unfair to single out the company in the nickname for the law, which is officially known as the Farmer Assurance Provision, when other major agribusiness players also support it.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) has waged a campaign against the measure and told HuffPost he plans to fight its reenactment.



Three Infuriating Facts About Wall Street CEOs Five Years After The Crisis

Five years ago this week, the investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. declared bankruptcy and triggered the financial collapse that brought us the Great Recession. Things have turned out quite well for former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld and four other industry executives whose work contributed substantially to the cycle of subprime lending and financial swindling that caused the crisis. Fuld and his colleagues haven’t just avoided legal repercussions for the crisis. They’re also among the wealthiest people in the country.

As part of a series commemorating the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) published a look at Fuld and executives from Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and Bank of America on Tuesday. Here are three infuriating facts CPI unearthed about the masters of the financial universe.

1. Dick Fuld walked away with half a billion dollars and three homes. Fuld’s $529 million fortune is actually a lot less than he could have been worth had he been able to cash out all of his stock before the Lehman bankruptcy. He had been paid $889.5 million in salary and stock between 2000 and 2007, and at one point his stock options were worth a full $900 million. CPI offers a digital tour of Fuld’s three homes: mansions in Greenwich, Connecticut and Jupiter Island, Florida, and a ranch in Sun Valley, Idaho. When Lehman settled for $90 million with former investors who the firm had deceived through an accounting trick approved by Fuld, it was an insurance company that paid, not executives like Fuld.

2. The former Bear Stearns CEO who walked away with over $300 million plays high-stakes bridge in retirement. Jimmy Cayne oversaw Bear Stearns’s massive gambling on home loans and related financial products prior to the company’s collapse. Today, he oversees a different sort of gambling. Cayne is the number 22-ranked bridge player in the world. He walked away from the company two months before it went belly up, having cashed out $289 million in stock and received another $87.5 million in direct cash bonuses from 2000 to 2007. Cayne and his wife own two Manhattan apartments, a mansion on the Jersey shore, and a $2.75 million condo in Boca Raton, Florida. “He’s paid no judgments or settlements from any lawsuits,” CPI reports.



Crime Pays

Top Dem: Colorado losses due to 'voter suppression, pure and simple'

By Jonathan Easley

Successful recall elections Tuesday of two Democratic state senators in Colorado were because of “voter suppression, pure and simple,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Wednesday.

Wasserman Schultz blamed lawsuits filed by opponents of gun control to prevent voters from mailing in ballots, the late announcement of polling locations, and “efforts by the NRA, the Koch brothers and other right wing groups who know that when more people vote, Democrats win.”

“The recall elections in Colorado were defined by the vast array of obstacles that special interests threw in the way of voters for the purpose of reversing the will of the legislature and the people,” Wasserman Schultz, a Democratic lawmaker from Florida, said in a statement. “This was voter suppression, pure and simple.”

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/other-races/321567-top-dem-blames-colorado-defeats-on-voter-suppression-pure-and-simple

Booming oil production (Fracking) boosted GDP estimate, White House advisers say

Two of President Obama’s top economic advisers are crediting increasing petroleum production with the rosier estimate for second quarter economic performance announced this week.

“This is yet another reminder that the President’s focus on increasing America’s energy independence is not just a critical national security strategy, it is also part of an economic plan to create jobs, expand growth and cut the trade deficit,” Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jason Furman and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling wrote in a blog post on Thursday.

The United States petroleum trade deficit hit a record low in June as booming domestic oil production displaced imports and exports of refined petroleum products increased.

That played a significant role in revising U.S. gross domestic product growth in the second quarter to 2.5, up from 1.7 percent, said Furman and Sperling.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/e2-wire/e2-wire/319649-booming-oil-production-boosted-gdp-estimate-white-house-advisers-say

Economists line up behind Yellen for Fed chief

By Peter Schroeder

A group of roughly 300 economists are urging President Obama to nominate Janet Yellen as the next head of the Federal Reserve.

In an open letter that is still gathering signatures, the group calls the Fed's vice chairwoman "superbly qualified" to take the top spot, citing her track record, as well as her ability to work well with others.

"In our opinion, she is the best possible leader for the Federal Reserve Board at this critical time in our nation's history," the letter stated.

The letter, posted online by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a think tank devoted to women's issues, is still gathering signatures, but has already attracted support from some recognizable names in Washington.

Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/on-the-money/economy/321599-economists-line-up-behind-yellen

Graffiti of crashing planes placed on downtown 9-11 monument

Lafayette police are trying to find out who placed two cardboard cutout images of crashing planes at the 9-11 Memorial in downtown Lafayette.

The 3D graffiti was apparently placed at the monument overnight. Police say they are in the process of removing it.

The stabilizer on each plane includes a reference to the New World Order conspiracy theory--the Eye of Providence and the initials "NWO." For some, this theory includes the belief that the 9-11 attacks were carried out by the United States Government.

The 9-11 monument is a 1-by-100 scale of both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It includes three beams from the World Trade Center, limestone from the Pentagon, and soil from the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, field in which Flight 93 crashed.


There is also a cutout image of Bush with a detonator in his hand....

WSJ op-ed writer Elizabeth O’Bagy fired for resume lie

The Syria researcher whose Wall Street Journal op-piece was cited by Secretary of State John Kerry and Sen. John McCain during congressional hearings about the use of force has been fired from the Institute for the Study of War for lying about having a Ph.D., the group announced on Wednesday.

“The Institute for the Study of War has learned and confirmed that, contrary to her representations, Ms. Elizabeth O’Bagy does not in fact have a Ph.D. degree from Georgetown University,” the institute said in a statement. “ISW has accordingly terminated Ms. O’Bagy’s employment, effective immediately.”

O’Bagy’s Aug. 30 op-ed piece for the Journal, “On the Front Lines of Syria’s Civil War,” was cited by both Kerry and McCain last week. McCain read from the piece last Tuesday to Kerry, calling it “an important op-ed by Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy.” The next day, Kerry also brought up the piece before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and described it as a “very interesting article” and recommended that members read it.

But the piece had also come under fire for misrepresenting her affiliations. Originally the op-ed only listed O’Bagy, 26, as only “a senior analyst” at the ISW, later adding a clarification that disclosed her connection to a Syrian rebel advocacy group.

Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/wall-street-journal-elizabeth-obagy-fired-96637.html
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