Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Safety Concerns over Chinese-Made Fireworks

Just another product from China that endangers our people:

Last summer, it was Chinese-made toys, pet food and meat that caused concern. This July 4th holiday, there are new worries about the overly explosive nature of its fireworks. This week, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a report saying it found that nearly half of the shipments they inspected coming from China do not meet Federal safety guidelines. That's especially worrying since, according the American Pyrotechnic Association, 98 percent of fireworks used in backyards and front lawns across America are manufactured in China. NEWSWEEK's Caitlin McDevitt spoke with Scott Wolfson, a chief spokesman for the Commission about its findings and why this Independence Day could be more volatile than in previous years.

In the Commission's test of 400 Chinese shipments, 46 percent of were found to be non-compliant. That seems quite high. What were some common violations?
Wolfson: There are very strict mandatory standards for how much flash powder can be in consumer fireworks. Flash powder is the main ingredient that gives it its explosive nature. We often look for those that are over-packed. There are also standards that deal with stability. The fuse length also has to meet a standard, and there has to be certain labeling.

What's allowable under Federal standards?
Under Federal standards for legal consumer fireworks, there should only be 50 mg of flash powder or less in firecrackers, which stay on the ground and can produce a snake like effect. Aerial fireworks must contain 130 mg or less.

Some of the fireworks you found head for the consumer market was actually commercial grade, meaning they were more explosive and volatile. How are such fireworks ending up in the hands of consumers?
The CPSC has seen unscrupulous sellers willing to provide professional fireworks to consumers. It is actually a felony to sell professional fireworks to a person who does not have the appropriate license. It is also a felony to buy professional grade fireworks without a license.

Are there particular brands or kinds of fireworks that consumers should be wary of?
Anytime a product proves to be volatile the CPSC seeks to remove that product from the marketplace. The CPSC strongly encourages consumers to only use consumer grade fireworks and to use them as intended and directed.

What should people do if they suspect they may have such fireworks?
Consumers should only purchase fireworks from an approved source. They should look for fireworks with brightly colored wrapping, that has the clear and legible name of the product and only buy products out the front door - Consumers should avoid buying products in plain wrapping with no identifiable marking and being sold out the back door.

Bush now Wants U.S. Troops to Fight Until They Die in Afghanistan

It used to be that U.S. troops kept being sent to Iraq to fight and die, or until too mangled to fight again. Now King George wants to do it in Afghanistan. And in the end, it will be for nothing. We will never be able to defeat the Taliban in a country that has never been conquered; with no central government. And we will lose both wars because we don't have the resources to fight two wars in countries where we don't speak the language and the population is hostile towards us. Our troops are just cannon fodder just as they were in Vietnam.

The Pentagon has extended the tour of 2,200 Marines in Afghanistan, after insisting for months the unit would come home on time.

The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is doing combat operations in the volatile south, will stay an extra 30 days and come home in early November rather than October, Marine Col. David Lapan confirmed Thursday.

Military leaders as recently as Wednesday stressed the need for additional troops in Afghanistan. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has often praised the work of the 24th M.E.U. in fighting Taliban militants in Helmand Province.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, has repeatedly said he did not intend to extend or replace the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan, calling their deployment there an extraordinary, one-time effort to help tamp down the increasing violence in the south.

Asked about the possibility of an extension in early May, Gates said he would "be loathe to do that." He added that "no one has suggested even the possibility of extending that rotation."

Lapan said Thursday that commanders in Afghanistan asked that the Marines stay longer.

[...]The Pentagon has said that more U.S. forces cannot be sent to the Afghan fight until decisions are made to further reduce troop levels in Iraq. In the last two months, violence in Afghanistan has led to more U.S. and coalition casualties there than in Iraq, and June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since the war began.

"The Taliban and their supporters have, without question, grown more effective and more aggressive in recent weeks ... as the casualty figures clearly demonstrate," Mullen told a Pentagon press conference Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the politicians just play politics:
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama waded into controversy on Thursday over his plans to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq, first saying he might "refine" his views but later declaring his stance had remained unchanged for more than a year.

Obama was forced to call reporters back for a second news conference in Fargo, North Dakota, after he initially left open the possibility of revising his 16-month timetable for pulling U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

"Let me be as clear as I can be. I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the joint chiefs of staff in and I will give them a new mission and that is to end this war," Obama told reporters in his second news conference.

But he added: "I would be a poor commander in chief if I didn't take facts on the ground into account."

At an earlier news conference, the Illinois senator had said he could "refine" his stance after he visits Iraq.

Bush Supported Iraq Oil Deal Benefiting his Texas Friend

More proof that Iraq war was about oil:

U.S. officials condoned Hunt Oil Co. efforts to obtain an exploration deal with Iraq’s Kurdish regional government, contrary to public statements discouraging it, according to documents cited by a congressional committee.

When the agreement was announced in September, it was criticized as undermining efforts to strengthen Iraq central government, which still had no national oil revenue-sharing law.

Bush administration officials expressed public concern and denied any knowledge of the contract.

On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman released e-mails and letters obtained by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that appeared to show the opposite.

“Contrary to the denials of administration officials, advisors to the president and officials in the State and Commerce Departments knew about Hunt Oil’s interest in the Kurdish region months before the contract was executed,” Waxman, a California Democrat, wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

[...]“You and other administration officials have denied playing any role in these contracts. In the case of Hunt Oil, however, similar denials appear to have been misleading,” Waxman wrote.

This follows recent news that Western oil companies would get access to Iraq's large reserves.
Iraq is close to signing oil service deals with several major Western oil companies in an effort to boost its output capacity, the country's oil ministry said Thursday — the first major Iraqi contracts with big Western companies since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

[...]The deals, once signed, are something of a stopgap measure to help Iraq begin to increase production until the country is able to approve a new national oil law — now held up by political squabbles among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

But they also could mark the beginning of an important long-term toehold by big Western companies into Iraq's potentially lucrative oil industry, by giving the companies a bidding advantage over other companies in the future.

You can tell the fix is in when the Iraqi government is trying to cover-up the deal:
Iraq's oil ministry spokesman would not name the companies set to get the deals.

But last December, four major companies — Royal Dutch Shell PLC, BP PLC, ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. — submitted technical and financial proposals for the five oil fields and received counterproposals from the Iraqi side.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Shell, BP and Exxon Mobil, plus Total, were the four major companies close to signing deals, along with Chevron and some smaller companies.

We are in a Recession. Are We Headed for a Depression?

Today on Morning Joe, Mark Haynes, pointed out why we are in a recession (stock market down 20% from highs, 400,000 applications for unemployment insurance). When do we start worrying? When have the candidates mentioned the crisis? Or even used the word, crisis? What is the Congress doing? Forget Bush. He don't care. Wake up, folks.

Employers cut payrolls by 62,000 in June, the sixth straight month of nationwide job losses, underscoring the economy’s fragile state. The unemployment rate held steady at 5.5 percent.

The latest snapshot of business conditions, released by the Labor Department on Thursday, showed continued caution on the part of employers who are chafing under high energy prices and are uncertain about how long the economy will be stuck in a sluggish mode, reflecting fallout from housing, credit and financial troubles.

Heavy job losses in construction, manufacturing and financial services, along with cutbacks in retailing, eclipsed job gains in education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and government.

[...]The jobless rate spiked to 5.5 percent in May. That marked the biggest over-the-month increase in two decades and left the rate at its highest since October 2004.

Job losses in both April and May turned out to be considerably deeper than had been thought. Payrolls dropped by 67,000 in April, versus the 28,000 previously reported. And, losses in May came to 62,000, rather than the 49,000 initially estimated.

So far this year, the economy has lost a total of 438,00 jobs, an average of 73,000 a month.

But the crisis isn't limited to the United States, eventhough it began here. We need a global consensus on what to do. We have to stop the collapse of the U.S dollar. And, of course, something has to be done about oil prices. Why isn't the government(s) doing something about runaway prices?
Global stocks fell Thursday as the price of oil rose above $145 a barrel for the first time.

Investors were unwilling to make major bets as they awaited an interest rate decision from the European Central Bank and an important employment report from the United States.

“Rising oil prices aren’t good for anyone,” said Steven Vanneste, an economist at Fortis in Brussels. “In addition to the higher energy costs that businesses face, employees are going to be asking for wage increases, which will double the cost burden on companies.”

U.S. crude oil futures for August delivery rose $1.80 to $145.37, beating the record of $144.57 a barrel set Wednesday in New York.

The situation in Japan is particularly disconcerting:
Japan's key stock index extended its sell-off to an 11th straight session Thursday — its longest slide in 54 years.

[...]The Nikkei has lost more than eight percent of its value over the 11-day fall, which is the longest losing streak since the index stumbled for 15 straight trading days starting April 28, 1954.