The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.
These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.
The investigation’s other findings include:
* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.
* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.
* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space. Continue reading Top Secret America: A hidden world, growing beyond control
Second-quarter profits at oil giant Royal Dutch Shell have almost doubled after the firm completed a year-long corporate restructuring programme. The firm reported profits of $4.5bn (£2.9bn) on a current cost of supplies basis, up from $2.3bn a year ago.
Chief executive Peter Voser also defended deep sea oil drilling in the wake of rival BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Meanwhile, US oil giant Exxon Mobil reported quarterly profits of $7.6bn. Continue reading Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon profits almost double
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has ordered a total of 5 billion rubles ($165 million) to be disbursed from the federal budget to the central Russian areas worst affected by wildfires, his spokesman said on Friday. Continue reading Putin takes control of wildfire crisis 2010
Scientists have found signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain. Continue reading Scientists Find Evidence That Oil And Dispersant Mix Is Making Its Way Into The Foodchain
As natural gas exploration expands throughout our energy-starved nation — from the West and now into the South and Northeast — many folks living in drilling country are rightfully expressing concern that their groundwater may be susceptible to pollution from the fracking fluids that are central to drilling operations. These are very legitimate fears, as HBO’s critically acclaimed documentary Gasland so graphically shows. And yet, to date, the Republican Party has expressed a rather callous “drill first, never ask questions later” attitude — callous, even for the GOP.
The analysis and response of several ‘experts’ to the failure of the Democrats to pass any sort of climate legislation despite the oil companies being at their lowest ebb of popular support in decades.
This is how a climate bill dies. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the bad news: “We don’t have the votes.” Without a single Republican backing the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, the Senate’s version of a comprehensive energy bill, there was no point taking it to the floor, he explained. For now, there was no way to move forward.
Reid’s announcement dealt a devastating blow to those hoping the United States would lead the way in aggressively curbing the greenhouse gases that scientists say are dangerously warming the planet. With time running out before 2012, when the current global climate treaty expires, negotiating a new agreement just got much harder.
So who’s to blame? Was it just a poorly crafted bill? Was there ever a chance Republicans would sign on to cap and trade? Did Barack Obama’s administration drop the ball? Or was it environmental groups themselves, who failed to persuade the public that now was the time to act?
FP asked five experts who have closely followed the debate for their verdict. Here’s what they told us:
Click here for: Bill McKibben, Christine Todd Whitman, Bruce Babbitt, Stuart Eizenstat, Paul J. Saunders, and Michael A. Levi.
This was never going to be an easy task. Dealing seriously with climate change means damaging the business model of the most profitable business the world has ever seen — fossil fuel — as well as disrupting the lives of every citizen to one degree or another.
Given that, we in the environmental community have made a mistake over the years in assuming that it would take an essentially “inside game” to win. That is, most of the big groups focused most of their efforts inside the Beltway, with expert lobbying of all kinds. The theory, I think, was that the simple fact that scientists explained we faced the worst problem ever, and that economists explained that we could deal with it, would be enough to win that action. But it wasn’t.
We also needed — and still need, more than ever — an outside game, a big mass movement to get lots of people involved across the United States (and the world, since the dynamic is the same everywhere) in pushing for change. We took a first stab at it last year with our Global Day of Action and showed it wasn’t impossible — 5,200 demonstrations in 181 countries on the same day, “the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet’s history.” But that was just a start — we’re glad that people from around the broader movement are joining in on 10-10-10 (Oct. 10) for a big Global Work Party. It’s an attempt to send a message to our leaders: “We’re getting to work; what about you?” And in the United States this year that message will be delivered in an indignant tone. The Senate acted shamefully, but not surprisingly. We need to change the power equation, and since we’ll never match ExxonMobil for cash, we’d better do it with bodies and spirit.
Bill McKibben is an environmentalist and scholar in residence at Middlebury College. He is author most recently of The Bill McKibben Reader.
I’ve got a number of links to post that constitute a pretty complete news history of the Gulf Oil Spill; I need to somehow put them in order and they should of course eventually go to DailyDisaster….
Investigations into the gulf oil disaster are multiplying. The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Research Council announced yesterday that they are assembling an expert committee of academic and industry engineers to take a technical look into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill.
The report was requested by the Department of the Interior to feed into the joint investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service (MMS); it will also be used by the presidential oil spill commission. The committee will be chaired by marine engineer Donald Winter, a former naval secretary and Northrop Grumman executive who is now at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
So far, a total of nine oil spill investigations have been launched by the president, BP, Congress, and various federal agencies; according to NAE, this one will look into practices and technologies, including the ill-fated “blowout preventer,” that might have lead to the explosion, with an eye toward preventing future blowouts. Winter and a few other members plan to attend the joint investigation’s next hearing, from 19 to 23 July, in Kenner, Louisiana—a hearing in May included witnesses from MMS, BP, and Transocean, among others. The committee expects to turn in a first report before 31 October, and a final report before 1 June of next year.
The committee is still gathering members from the fields of geoengineering, systems engineering, naval engineering, and petroleum engineering. Those appointed so far are:
* Chryssostomos Chryssostomidis, Doherty Professor of Ocean Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Chryssostomidis established an MIT lab for developing technology and systems for autonomous underwater vehicles.
* David E. Daniel, president of the University of Texas, Dallas, and an NAE member. Daniel is a geoengineer with expertise in drilling fluids.
* Rear Admiral Thomas J. Eccles, chief engineer and deputy commander for naval systems engineering of the the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command. Eccles has managed Navy programs in deep-ocean engineering and submarine technology.
* Roger L. McCarthy, private engineering consultant and NAE member. McCarthy previously investigated oil disasters such as Exxon Valdez, Amoco Cadiz, and the explosion of the Piper Alpha oil platform in the North Sea.
* Najmedin Meshkati, professor of engineering at the University of Southern California. Meshkati studies risk reduction in the nuclear power, aviation, and petrochemical industries.
* M. Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, Burt and Deedee McMurtry Professor and chair of the department of management science and engineering at Stanford University, and an NAE member. Paté-Cornell studies human and organizational factors in failure.
* Jocelyn E. Scott, chief engineer and vice president at DuPont. Scott has worked in research and development and operations at Dupont.
* Mark D. Zoback, Benjamin M. Page Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University. Zoback studies stresses in rock and the mechanics of faults and georeservoirs.
For more on the gulf oil spill, see our full coverage.
By Tom Chivers
Original Telegraph article Published: 3:30PM BST 12 Jul 2010
Postosuchus (left) and Desmatosuchus, two early reptile species that went extinct before the dinosaurs’ rule. Mass extinctions hit Earth every 27 million years, say palaeontologists.
Postosuchus (left) and Desmatosuchus, two early reptile species that went extinct before the dinosaurs’ rule. Mass extinctions hit Earth every 27 million years, say palaeontologists. Photo: REUTERS
Graph showing extinction events from the last 500 million years.
Graph showing extinction events from the last 500 million years.
An artist’s impression of an asteroid striking the Earth. Earth hit by catastrophe ‘every 27m years’
An artist’s impression of an asteroid striking the Earth. The study suggests that a celestial body is not responsible for the extinctions. Photo: REUTERS
For at least the last 500 million years, say Adrian Melott, an astrophysicist at the University of Kansas, and Richard Bambach, a palaeontologist at the Smithsonian Institute, there has been a burst of extinctions every 27 million years.
Periodic mass extinctions have been posited before, and it has been suggested that it means the Sun has a huge, dark neighbour which orbits it every 27 million years, each time knocking a shower of comets out of the Oort Cloud at the fringes of the solar system and sending them crashing into Earth. This hypothetical dark satellite was called “Nemesis”.
The ‘Mojoceratops’ is named
Comet ‘unlikely to wipe out Earth’
Snow Britain: 3,000 firms could be forced to close because of snow
Europe’s tourist spots hit as Britons holiday at home.
TUC study reveals jobless rise at seaside
Wales defies tourist drought
But the regularity of the extinctions and the timescale they occur over – the 500 million years examined by Dr Melott and Dr Bambach is almost double that earlier studies have looked at – seem to rule that out.
This is because in the last 500 million years the Sun has had close encounters with many other, known stars. The gravitational pull of these stars would have affected the orbit of Nemesis, causing it to lose the regular 27 million year cycle. The peak should either have been slowly changed by up to 20 per cent, causing it to smear out over the aeons, or to suddenly change, giving two or more peaks on a single cycle. Instead, it is based around a regular 27 million year cycle, with a 99 per cent chance that it’s not random chance. The researchers say: “Fossil data, which motivated the idea of Nemesis, now militate against it.”
This implies that it is not a hidden celestial body, but something closer to home, since it is unlikely that anything in space would maintain such a regular heartbeat over so long a time.
The extinctions range from utter catastrophe, devastating the majority of species on Earth, to smaller ones like the most recent, which destroyed 10 per cent of known species. And while they happen once every 27 million years, they do not arrive on cue, but up to 10 million years either side of the due date.
However, there is no immediate panic. The last such event took place 10 million years ago, so there should be plenty of time to work out what is going on before the next one comes.
The paper is published in the journal Solar and Stellar Astrophysics. Story via The Register and Technology Review.