The United States is seeking devices to scan the bodies of terror suspects for signs of possible work with WMD agents, War is Boring reported on Thursday.
The potential "bio-intelligence chips" would ideally be able to scan people within half an hour for minute quantities of materials that could indicate whether they have handled biological or chemical arms, according to a Dec. 5 solicitation for proposals. The request came from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, which is charged with overseeing development of advanced technology for U.S. spy and law-enforcement agencies.
In addition to scanning for WMD traces, equipment from a five-year development initiative might ultimately be capable of assessing a range of biological proteins, including genetic and immune material.
The devices should be able to examine "multiple biomarkers found in physiological fluids, such as blood, saliva, sweat, feces or urine, to assay human exposure to agents and activities indicative of [chemical or biological weapons] production and handling," the solicitation states. "We hypothesize that a terrorist working with 'Threat A' (a virus) will develop distinct biological signatures from his exposure to Threat A and the environment unique to producing it."
The agency did not provide a cost estimate for the early-stage investigative effort.
Congress's lower chamber on Thursday approved a House-Senate compromise bill that would set Pentagon spending policy for fiscal 2014.
The annual defense authorization bill features a number of measures related to strategic-arms planning and weapons, including a restriction on when work can begin on converting nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to just a conventional mission; a directive that a study be conducted of alternatives to an expensive plan for modernizing two nuclear warheads; and an order to deploy a new radar to monitor missile threats from North Korea.
The legislation, which passed the House by a vote of 350-69, now awaits consideration in the Senate, which senior Senate Armed Services Committee members anticipate will happen next week, Defense News reported.
Prospects for passage in the Senate are unclear as a number of Republicans have objected to the plan by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to not allow votes on amendments to the $607 billion legislation. Supporters of fast-tracking the bill argue it is necessary to ensure that troop-compensation benefits do not expire at the end of the year.
Still, some GOP senators have demanded votes on amendments that cover such high-profile issues as more sanctions on Iran.
The House bill passed on Thursday did not include amendments, so the Senate must approve an identical version for the whole thing to be tied up before the year is over.
Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters he could not predict whether the Pentagon policy bill will be quickly approved next week.
"I don't know," said Levin, who leads his chamber's Armed Services Committee. "It depends on all the other pieces on the chess board."
The House on Thursday also approved by a vote of 333-94 a compromise budget resolution that would reduce by roughly 50 percent sequester cuts on defense spending for fiscal 2014 and 2015, Defense News separately reported.
The Pentagon stands to get back approximately $22.5 billion next year in sequestration relief if the bicameral budget deal is passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama. The department in 2015 would get $9 billion in relief.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in provided remarks said "this agreement doesn't solve every budget problem facing the department," though "it will help address our military readiness challenge by restoring funding for training and procurement -- especially in fiscal year 2014."
What’s next on nonproliferation and international security, in Washington and around the globe.
Dec. 16-20: Nonproliferation experts from the United Kingdom and beyond will converge on the Wiston House in Steyning, West Sussex, for a Wilton Park conference on this timely topic: "Towards the 2015 NPT Review Conference." Undoubtedly under discussion will be the ongoing efforts by Finnish envoy Jaakko Laajava and others to fulfill a key, but ever elusive, mandate emerging from the previous 2010 Review Conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- to convene a major international confab on banning weapons of mass destruction from the Middle East.
Dec. 17: Tired of spinning circles at Rockefeller Center? Head over to the Asia Society on Park Avenue in New York City to hear Robert Einhorn (former U.S. assistant secretary of State for nonproliferation), Hossein Mousavian (former Iranian nuclear negotiator) and Thomas Pickering (former undersecretary of State for political affairs) discuss "The U.S. and Iran: A Breakthrough Moment?" Or stay warm at home or office and watch it webcast here.
Dec. 17: Back in Washington, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on "The Navy Yard Tragedy: Examining Physical Security for Federal Facilities." Officials from the Defense and Homeland Security departments will testify, followed by a second panel featuring issue experts.
Dec. 17-18: Gen. Robert Kehler, who just stepped down as head of U.S. Strategic Command, and Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, who directs the Navy's Strategic Systems Programs, will headline Center for Strategic and International Studies Project on Nuclear Issues' autumn 2013 conference. Featured topics will include the future of the U.S. nuclear triad, security in South Asia, civil nuclear technology and proliferation, and arms control.
Dec. 18: "Iran, Oil and the Geneva Agreement": That's the topic of an Atlantic Council event featuring Sara Vakshouri of SVB Energy International and Guy Caruso of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Barbara Slavin of the council's South Asia Center will moderate.
By Sara Sorcher
Senator Robert Menendez isn't going to let the Obama administration forget that Congress knows better when it comes to pressuring Iran.
Now, the New Jersey Democrat wants more than just new sanctions the administration is warning against -- he wants a resolution to define the "endgame" for any future deal with Iran.
Menendez has proven himself an Iran hawk, ready to buck his own party in the White House. Congress has proven before -- and could again -- that members are a formidable force on this issue.
Flash back to December 2011, when Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen were seated -- as they were again Thursday -- before a Senate panel arguing against more sanctions on Iran. At the time, they argued, members' proposed sanctions targeting foreign financial institutions that do business with the Central Bank of Iran would have unintended effects. They would splinter the global alliance working to pressure Tehran and boost oil prices -- which would give Iran more money to fund its nuclear ambitions.
But the Senate did not listen. The sanctions passed unanimously as an amendment to the fiscal 2012 defense policy bill days later.
"That amendment went on to pass 100 to zero, and it is one of the things the administration heralds today as the essence of what has gotten Iran to the negotiating table," said Menendez, now chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, at a Senate Banking Committee hearing Thursday. "I just want to put on the record my skepticism" -- about the Obama administration's opposition to new measures now as world powers negotiate with Iran -- "based on the history we've had."
Menendez has been in favor of prospective sanctions that could be imposed after the six-month window of the interim deal between world powers and Iran expires or founders. He's now calling for more. "I'm beginning to think that maybe what the Senate needs to do is define the endgame and at least what it finds as acceptable as the final status," Menendez said.
He would have help from the House, where Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are trying to similarly outline what should be in a final agreement with Iran through a resolution.
Members are deeply suspicious about the current deal on the table, which stipulates Iran will eliminate its most dangerous stockpile of uranium enriched at 20 percent and halt enrichment of stocks above 5 percent but does not preclude Iran from keeping some enrichment capability. They are worried the interim deal would give Iran an economic lifeline just as it's beginning to compromise.
At the Banking Committee hearing, Cohen defended the interim deal, insisting that the up to $7 billion in sanctions relief will not materially improve the condition of the Iranian economy. "At the end of the six-month period, we expect that Iran will be even deeper in the hole economically than it is today," he said. Iran's economic woes -- including the fact that oil exports significantly decreased, and its whole economy contracted by more than 5 percent under the crush of sanctions -- "dwarf" the limited relief offered to Iran in the deal, he said. And Cohen stressed that sanctions would continue to be enforced: Just hours before the hearing, Treasury designated a slew of companies and individuals as violators of international sanctions against Iran for providing support to its nuclear program.
What's more, Sherman promised the sanctions relief would not come in a lump sum. Even the $4.2 billion in restricted assets would come in monthly allocations to keep up with verified Iranian progress on its nuclear commitments.
And there are some signs that the Obama administration's charm offensive to convince skeptical members of Congress to hold off on new sanctions is working.
The Obama administration appeared to win a key supporter in Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) who, despite having negotiated a sanctions bill with his ranking member, Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), is willing to hold off -- for now. "I agree the administration's request for a diplomatic pause is reasonable," Johnson said. Congress must be willing to provide the administration time, he said, since "a new round of U.S. sanctions now could rupture the unity of the international coalition against Iran's nuclear program." His sanctions bill, however, could be "finalized and moved quickly" if Iran fails to comply with the agreement or negotiations collapse.
Crapo, too, said the U.S. should vigorously enforce the core of existing sanctions and "develop a plan of action in the event that negotiations do not produce the results that diplomats want."
Sherman and Cohen were clear that they did not want the U.S. to be seen as responsible for destroying negotiations. But Iran's own actions -- including its plans to launch a rocket next week, which Menendez called a cover for a military ballistic-weapons program -- are "provocative" and "a sign of bad faith," he said.
Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) decried how companies would soon seek to do business with Iran, and the rogue state could be considered part of the international community for keeping its bargain with world powers.
"It's an outstanding agreement for them, because in six months they're going to be a normal international entity," Corker said. "I don't see any way you hold the sanctions, but, again, obviously, we're disappointed but hopeful that somehow you can put the genie back in the bottle and end up with some type of agreement that averts warfare."
But even Corker admitted that with a full docket in the Senate, and strong opposition from the Obama administration, members may not actually take the step to go through with threats to impose sanctions.
"I realize," Corker said, "we're sort of going to a rope-a-dope here in the Senate, and that we're not actually going to do anything."
Canada's state-run atomic firm stood by controversial steps to transport more than 6,000 gallons of bomb-grade uranium waste, Postmedia News reports.
The material would be shipped from a medical-isotope production site near Ottawa to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, according to the article.
"We are dealing with experienced transportation carriers [and] experienced facilities in the U.S. to handle this material," Joan Miller, decommissioning and waste management head for Atomic Energy of Canada, told the news service.
The delivery would unfold over a number of years, using trucks traveling alone or in pairs with no more than 17 gallons of the highly radioactive material in each. Gun-toting security personnel would accompany the deliveries, which would take place each week and pause during winter months.
A central concern is the potential for an attack or a mishap to release of the hazardous waste. The cargo would include plutonium and tritium, in addition to sufficient uranium to fuel several nuclear weapons. The process of separating the weapon-grade uranium from the liquid nitric acid mixture is considered prohibitively difficult for a would-be thief, according to Postmedia News.
Canada previously hoped for a 2013 launch for the estimated $56.4 million effort to ship and recycle the material. The initiative hit delays, though, when the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission grilled Ontario extensively about the properties of the uranium waste, as well as the hardened steel tanks designed to carry it.
The surprise execution of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un's uncle suggests the country is undergoing a period of instability, the New York Times reports.
Jang Song Thaek was killed on Thursday by a machine-gun firing squad right after he was found guilty of trying to usurp power from his nephew, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a South Korean lawmaker said, citing information provided by intelligence officials. Pyongyang's state-controlled media broadcast the news of Jang's execution, describing him as "despicable human scum," CNN reported.
Widely thought to have been the second-most powerful man in North Korea, Jang was seen to have groomed his nephew for power and often acted as a family representative during visits to China. Though he was purged once before by the late Kim Jong Il only to return to power later, the public manner in which his final axing was carried out has taken aback observers of the Kim regime.
"We haven't seen anything this public or dramatic since Kim Jong Un's grandfather Kim Il Sung purged his last major rivals in the late 1950s," Columbia University Professor Charles Armstrong told the Times.
"This seems to indicate the divisions within the Kim regime were more serious than previously thought," Armstrong said.
Lee Byong-chul took a similar viewpoint: "If Kim Jong Un was sure of his control of power, he would not need to execute his uncle," said the senior fellow at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation.
Lee predicted there would be future "big and small bloody purges, and at a time like this, desperate extremists may lash out. Pyongyang is no longer safe."
North Korea's neighbors have long been concerned about stability in Pyongyang. The fear is that an abrupt regime collapse could lead to more provocations against the outside world, waves of refugees fleeing the country and -- particularly worrisome for the United States -- the proliferation of North Korea's ballistic missiles, nuclear weapon-technology and fissile material.
"If two weeks ago, we thought that North Korea was somewhat stable, I think today people feel that it's not as stable as we thought it was," Victor Cha, the Bush administration's former special envoy for North Korea policy, said in an interview with CNN.
South Korean lawmaker Suh Sang-ki said the determination to execute Jang indicates Kim has consolidated less power than his father and wanted to head off any early domestic opposition to his uncle's dismissal.
Philip Yun, executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, said there is now a greater risk of Kim employing "brinksmanship" tactics. North Korea this past spring brought the region perilously close to war with its third atomic test and its repeated promises to carry out nuclear-missile strikes on South Korea and the United States.
"I think if we continue to wait for him to do things, he's going to continue to shoot missiles, and he'll probably at some point decide to test a nuclear weapon," Yun said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in provided comments said if the execution is confirmed, it would be "another example of the extreme brutality of the North Korean regime. We are following developments in North Korea closely and consulting with our allies and partners in the region."
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Thursday said he believed Jang's purge suggests North Korea might be embarking on its own "Cultural Revolution," Agence France-Presse reported.
Iran and six key governments ended talks on Thursday without agreeing on details for carrying out last month's nuclear deal, the European Union said.
"After four days of lengthy and detailed talks, reflecting the complexity of the technical issues discussed, it became clear that further work is needed," Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in comments reported by Reuters. Ashton has communicated with Iran on behalf of the six other negotiating powers: China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Experts from Iran were trying to hammer out specifics with international counterparts on how to implement the six-month arrangement, which calls for the Middle Eastern nation to restrict certain elements of its nuclear program in exchange for a degree of relief from global economic pressure. Washington and its allies hope the agreement reached last month will lead to longer-term restrictions on Iranian activities widely suspected to be geared toward development of a nuclear-arms capacity.
Mann added: "There will now be consultations in capitals, in the expectation that technical talks will continue soon."
He did not say if sticking points emerged during the meeting, which several days ago prompted signals of hope from Iranian delegates.
Speaking anonymously, one EU diplomat suggested that Tehran withdrew from the talks in response to new sanctions adopted on Thursday by the United States, Reuters reported separately.
"The Iranians have been committed to making this work," the insider said. "We are not panicking."
Focuses at the meeting included the timing and methods of International Atomic Energy Agency activities planned under the accord. The U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to expand operations in Iran to help ensure the deal's terms are being met.
By Diane Barnes
Global Security Newswire
An 18-year spending outlook for U.S. nuclear arms has shot up by $27.1 billion, and costs could rise further still, congressional auditors said this week.
Investigators found the increase by comparing the Obama administration's latest cost estimate for maintaining and updating U.S. nuclear weapons over a set period -- fiscal years 2014 through 2031 -- to the U.S. estimate from two years ago for the same timeframe, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday.
The National Nuclear Security Administration blamed the uptick from in part on a change in its calculation method. The agency -- a semiautonomous arm of the Energy Department -- noted that its projection from fiscal 2012 relied on out-of-date data based on the now-defunct Reliable Replacement Warhead program, auditors wrote in the assessment.
GAO auditors said a schedule adjustment also contributed to the cost jump, which boosted anticipated stockpile expenditures for the 18-year period from $46 billion to $73.1 billion. The Obama administration moved up plans to begin modernizing nuclear warheads for the Air Launched Cruise Missile seven years sooner -- in 2024 instead of 2031 -- bringing more of the associated costs into the time range under scrutiny.
The estimate for overall NNSA spending during the same period increased by just $19 billion, according to GAO auditors. They variation, they wrote, is due to decreases in the agency's projected spending on other agency activities, such as maintenance of the nuclear arsenal's supporting infrastructure.
They noted, though, that the agency's estimate leaves out "most of the budget estimates" for two pricey initiatives: constructing a new enriched-uranium processing plant in Tennessee, and sustaining plutonium capabilities long tied to a proposed facility that now faces cancellation.
"NNSA plans to construct these facilities or alternatives to the facilities and, as a result, NNSA’s budget estimates for the infrastructure area are not fully aligned with its modernization plans and likely underestimate the amount of funding that will be needed in future years.
The report notes several factors that could further shift NNSA cost estimates in coming years, including the agency's failure to account in its projections to date for budget cuts mandated under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Those "sequestration" reductions would crimp nuclear-weapons spending if they remain in place, the document says.
Its authors noted two other variables that could increase spending: a possible rise in expenses from contractor retirement funds, and "cost savings" built into budget estimates without full assessments of how to achieve them.
By Jordain Carney
The United States is targeting more than a dozen companies and individuals for violating sanctions against Iran and supporting the country's nuclear program.
The move will block the designees from engaging in transactions with U.S. individuals and will allow the United States to freeze any assets currently under its jurisdiction, as well as any that fall into its control in the future, the State and Treasury departments announced Thursday.
"Today's actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks, and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions," David Cohen, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a release.
The announcement comes as the administration continues its push to convince senators to hold off on passing additional sanctions against Iran, arguing that they would unravel progress made in the interim deal over the country's nuclear program. But Republican senators and some Democrats are continuing to call for a vote on increasing sanctions. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened to vote against the National Defense Authorization Act unless he receives assurances that a sanctions vote will be held.
A senior administration official said the decision to roll out the designations against the companies and individuals is "quite different than layering on new sanction authorities that don't currently exist."
Pushing back against the notion that companies should interpret the interim agreement as a sign that they can go to Iran to try to boost their businesses, the official said, "I hope they don't have a six-month visa.... There's just no reason to believe that Iran is now open for business. It's not."
Another senior administration official added that naming new designees while also pursuing talks about Iran's nuclear program reflects the administration's "two-track policy" of pressure and diplomacy.
The officials wouldn't speculate about what sanctions against Iran would look like under a long-term, comprehensive agreement, but they called a recent report that the interim deal would give Iran approximately $20 billion in sanctions relief "completely fantastical," adding that the administration believes the sanctions relief is between $6 billion and $7 billion if Iran can take advantage of auto and petrochemical provisions.
By Tim Alberta and Stacy Kaper
A bipartisan group of powerful House members agreed Wednesday to a resolution defining congressional expectations for a final nuclear deal with Iran.
However, a leading Democrat backed out Thursday morning, National Journal Daily has learned.
The language was agreed to Wednesday night, according to congressional aides, after a week's worth of meetings between top leaders. The talks, initiated by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, were headlined by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, and ranking Democrat Eliot Engel.
The resolution was set to be introduced on the House floor Thursday, sources said, but Hoyer insisted that his colleagues hold off. It's unclear whether Hoyer wants to delay the resolution's introduction indefinitely, or just until lawmakers return from the holiday recess in early January.
"Mr. Hoyer believes Congress has the right to express its views on what should be included in a final agreement, but that the timing was not right to move forward this week," said Stephanie Young, Hoyer's spokeswoman.
The resolution harshly admonishes Iran for violating international agreements on uranium enrichment and ballistic-missile development, and for continuing production of materials that could produce nuclear weapons. It condemns Iran for sponsoring terrorism and human-rights abuses.
The resolution expressly states that sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table, and that Congress supports diplomatic negotiations but that all options need to remain on the table.
According to aides with knowledge of the talks, Hoyer requested certain changes to the language of the resolution on Wednesday night. When they were agreed to, all four members signed off, and Hoyer asked that the announcement not be made until Thursday morning. Then, on Thursday morning, Hoyer "backed off" the agreement, an aide said.
The group, which has emphasized strong bipartisan consensus on this issue, decided to hold off on introducing the resolution without Hoyer.
"I've always said that I think it's important for foreign policy to be bipartisan whenever possible," Engel had said on Wednesday night. He said then that while the group was "close" to an agreement, nothing would be introduced until all members involved were satisfied with the product.
Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper said, "The leader is disappointed we could not move ahead with the agreed-on resolution this week, but he will continue to work with Whip Hoyer, Chairman Royce, and Congressman Engel to get it to the floor as soon as possible."
The initial Iran agreement, reached late last month, softened some economic sanctions in exchange for Iran freezing parts of its nuclear program. But that deal, designed to create six months of negotiating space to reach a broader agreement, provoked a flurry of bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill.
The resolution agreed to on Wednesday calls for imposing additional sanctions on Iran if it violates the terms of the interim deal.
Cantor first informed his Republican colleagues last week that he and Royce were looking for Democrats who could work with them to craft language that would "speak volumes" about congressional expectations for an agreement.
Significantly, the resolution would go much further than the interim agreement with Iran in several ways.
On the subject of enrichment, the resolution states that it is "the policy of the United States that no nation, including Iran, has an inherent right to enrich uranium."
The resolution calls for "dismantlement of Iran's nuclear infrastructure ... such that Iran is prevented from pursuing both the uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon."
The resolution notes that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported that Iran has continued to enrich uranium as recently as November, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The language also lays out the threat posed by Iran, stating that it has approximately "19,000 centrifuges, which have the capacity to enrich uranium in a matter of weeks to levels that would provide sufficient fissile material for a nuclear explosive device."
By Sara Morrison
The United Nations has finally issued its report on whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria.
The verdict: they were -- at least five times -- but we still don't know which side used them.
This was a more comprehensive report than the one the U.N. issued in September, which said that sarin gas was definitely used in the Aug. 21 attack on Damascus. Now, the U.N. says, it has found evidence that "suggests" (in the words of the 82-page U.N. report) that sarin gas was used in at least four other attacks, all in 2013: Khan al Assal on March 19, Saraqueb on April 29, Jobar on Aug. 24 and Ashrafiah Sahnaya on Aug. 25. Twenty-one people are believed to have been killed in those attacks.
The U.N.'s wording wasn't as strong in those four as it was for the site of the Aug. 21 attacks, which killed almost 1,500 people. There, the U.N. said, the evidence was "clear and convincing." At the other sites, the U.N. collected evidence that "corroborated" or was "consistent with" allegations that chemical weapons were used. Those included blood tests, samples taken from a victim's internal organs and the attack survivors' symptoms.
Much like it did in the September report, the U.N. stayed away from assigning blame for the attacks. The United States has maintained that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the Aug. 21 attacks, though Seymour Hersh recently wrote that the Obama administration hid evidence that the rebels were able to make and use sarin gas. Assad has always blamed the rebels.
Upon receiving the final report, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity. We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere. "
Ban is scheduled to say more on Friday and Monday, once he's had a chance to read the report.
After the Aug. 21 attack, Assad agreed to let the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons destroy its chemical weapons. But the weapons couldn't be destroyed in Syria, as it's in the middle of a civil war, and Albania refused to host them. Instead, the weapons will be destroyed aboard a U.S. ship somewhere in the middle of the ocean in a process an unnamed official assured reporters was "environmentally sound."
Alternately, Croatia might do it.
Yesterday, amid reports of increased fighting between rebel groups, the United States decided to stop providing non-military aid to the rebel-controlled region of northern Syria.
Reprinted with permission from The Wire. The original story can be found here.
New study looks at groundwater transport flows and their effects on estuaries in the Mississippi River Delta
By Alisha A. Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
Estuaries are some of the productive – and in many ways, some of the most complex – ecosystems in the world. The abundance and distribution of fish and wildlife within an estuary largely depends on the amount, location and frequency of freshwater inflow. The construction of flood control levees along the lower Mississippi River has severely constricted the surface freshwater flow into the surrounding basins. However, a new study published in the Journal of Hydrology, “Pathways and processes associated with the transport of groundwater in deltaic systems,” led by Alex Kolker, Ph.D., suggests that additional fresh water from the Mississippi River is introduced into these estuaries as submarine groundwater discharge through sandy paleochannels buried beneath the muddy delta surface. These findings may have important implications for the ecology of the estuaries adjacent to the Mississippi River as well as coastal restoration projects in the Mississippi River Delta.
Submarine groundwater discharge refers to the release of groundwater directly into marine waters. Much like rivers, submarine groundwater delivers fresh water, nutrients and metals to coastal waters. However, it is often invisible, as the water seeps through permeable sediments, rather than moving through confined channels on the earth’s surface. In the study, the researchers investigated several different lines of evidence to determine if submarine groundwater flux from the Mississippi River was a significant source of fresh water to Barataria Bay, a basin adjacent to the west bank of the river.
The researchers found that there were localized sources of fresh groundwater into the bay and the flux of groundwater varied over time. Investigation into the unseen geology of the bay indicated that the input of submarine groundwater into Barataria Bay was associated with more permeable sandy sediments that were remnants of distributary channels and other sandy deposits built prior to the leveeing of the river system. The results also suggest that the variable nature of the submarine freshwater discharge into the bay is linked to river stage, where high water levels in the river are associated with increased groundwater flow. Overall, the study evidence suggests that while the flux of groundwater into Barataria Bay may be limited by river stage and the presence of sandy paleochannels, submarine groundwater was a major source of freshwater into the bay, with results suggesting fresh groundwater flux exceeds the limited surface water inputs.
The importance of submarine groundwater as a freshwater source in the delta may have very important implications for the ecology of the estuaries adjacent to the river. The transitional environments between freshwater and saltwater, estuaries – influenced by a combination of freshwater flow, rainfall, tides, winds, waves and storm events – are some of the most dynamic ecosystems on earth. This is undeniably the case in the Mississippi River Delta, where estuarine conditions vary day to day, week to week and year to year. In addition to these factors that drive estuarine conditions throughout the world, the Mississippi River Delta’s estuaries are also affected by devastating wetland loss and encroaching salt water from the Gulf of Mexico which, when combined with the severely limited freshwater inputs, has shifted the abundance and distribution of the assortment of fish and wildlife that depend on the estuary.
It’s morning in Rome, and commuters are heading to the tube station on their way to work. Today, there’s some special entertainment in store for them – a short video with a catchy tune and a clear message: it’s time to wake up to corruption. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the Dominican Republic, crowds […]
Steve H. Hanke
It seems as though each passing day brings yet another piece of bad economic news coming out of Venezuela. For months, I have been tracking the decline of Venezuela’s economy and its currency, the bolivar. As if a collapsing currency, and the resulting inflation and empty shelves weren’t bad enough, Venezuela is now struggling with massive blackouts. Forget the Whig interpretation of history; Venezuela supports the schoolboys’ interpretation: "it’s just one damn thing after another."
“The Venezuelan house of cards has begun to collapse.”
Venezuela’s downward economic spiral began in earnest when Hugo Chavez imposed his "unique" brand of socialism on Venezuela.
For years, the country has sustained a massive social spending program, combined with costly price and labor-market controls, as well as an aggressive foreign aid strategy. This fiscal house of cards has been kept afloat—barely—by oil revenues. But, as the price tag of the regime has grown, the country has dipped more and more into the coffers of its state-owned oil company, PDVSA, and (increasingly) relied on the country’s central bank to fill the fiscal gap. This has resulted in a steady decline in the bolivar’s value — a decline that only accelerated as news of Chavez’s failing health began to emerge. Hugo Chavez died on March 5, 2013 — sending shockwaves through the Venezuelan economy. Not surprisingly, in the months since his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, took the reigns as Venezuela’s new president, the Venezuelan house of cards has begun to collapse.
The black market exchange rate between the bolivar (VEF) and the U.S. dollar (USD) tells the tale. Indeed, the bolivar has lost 64.5% of its value on the black market since Chavez’s death (see the accompanying chart).
This, in turn, has brought about very high inflation in Venezuela. At present, the implied annual inflation rate is actually in the triple digits, coming in at a whopping 297%(see the accompanying chart).
This rate is over five times higher than the most recent official annual inflation rate of 54% reported by the government and echoed by the international financial press. Indeed, as I read today’s Financial Times (9 December 2013), the figure "54%" stares me in the face. Why? The answer is straightforward: the Venezuelan censors are effective. Perhaps not as effective as the Chinese censors. But, effective nevertheless. The Caracas-based reporters I speak to regularly tell me that the news organizations actually do most of the work themselves — self censorship — to avoid having their reporters in Caracas being given the boot.
The government has responded to its economic woes by imposing ever-tougher price controls to artificially suppress inflation. But, these policies are nothing new. For years, the government has set the price for a number of goods. For example, premium gasoline is fixed at only 5.8 U.S. cents per gallon — that’s cheaper than a gallon of potable water in Caracas.
While these controls ostensibly keep prices on official markets low, they have ultimately led to empty shelves. Indeed, as the accompanying chart shows, approximately 22.4% of goods are simply not available in Venezuelan stores. This index should remind everyone of the Paul McCartney classic, "Back in the USSR."
In addition to scarcity, price controls can lead to unintended political consequences down the road. For example, once price controls are implemented, it is very difficult to remove them without generating popular unrest — just consider the 1989 riots in Venezuela when President Carlos Perez attempted to remove price controls.
Recently, in a panicked, misguided response to the country’s economic problems, Maduro sought, and was granted, emergency powers over the economy. His first move was to set a cap on corporate profits, although this is somewhat of a diversionary tactic, since inflation eats away at corporate profits and return on investment
Don’t be fooled by the "high" nominal returns which have been generated on the Caracas Stock Exchange since Maduro’s inauguration. It is the real, inflation-adjusted returns that matter — and real returns have tanked over the past year (see the accompanying chart).
Maduro has also taken aim at the auto industry, signing a decree to regulate car production "from the factory door to the place of sale". In consequence, the government has begun to fix prices for cars and crack down on those who sell at market prices. It will be interesting to see who Maduro blames when this results in a shortage of new cars.
This choice between "fair" prices and arrest is now the norm for business owners in Venezuela. The most outrageous instance of this took place in early November, when government security forces occupied local electronics stores and began handing out TVs and other wares at "fair" (read: rock-bottom) prices. Hebert Garcia, head of the High Commission for the People’s Defense of the Economy, put it bluntly: "We have to guarantee that everybody has a plasma television and the latest-generation fridge."
Not surprisingly, the masses lined up around the block for their piece of the government’s action. Too bad the government has failed to provide enough electricity to power the plunder. In most countries, this would be called government theft. But, under Maduro’s reign of Marxism, this redistribution has become business as usual.
Despite frequent references to the late Hugo Chavez’s "Bolivarian" revolution, the Maduro playbook is nothing more than a rehashing of Marx and Engels’ ten-point plan. This was laid out in the Communist Manifesto — a crystal-clear road map of where they wanted to take their adherents. Once you reflect on the Manifesto’s ten-point plan, you realize that Maduro (and many other politicians elsewhere) aren’t very original.
- Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.
- A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
- Abolition of all right of inheritance.
- Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
- Centralization of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly.
- Centralization of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the state.
- Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state; the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
- Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
- Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.
- Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of child factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc
The results of these Manifesto-like policies are clear. The World Bank ranked Venezuela a dismal 181 out of 189 in its 2014 "Doing Business" rankings. This puts Venezuela well behind such war-torn nations as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
While Maduro may think of himself as modern-day Robin Hood, he has a lot more in common with Edward John Smith, captain of the RMS Titanic. That said, the economic misery created by adherence to the Communist Manifesto can take a long time to sink a ship (think USSR).
If you have doubts, just reflect on the continued popular support for the Maduro regime. On the first weekend of December, Venezuela held elections for 337 mayoral contests, and Maduro’s ruling socialist party (PSUV) trounced the opposition. Maduro came away from these victories stating that his "economic offensive" against private businesses would continue and that "We’re going in with guns blazing, so watch out."
Sadly, even with triple digit inflation, Maduro may be right. After all, Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia embraced the Manifesto, and it resulted in hyperinflation — which peaked at 313,000,000% per month in January 1994. And Slobo held on until 2000. Then there is Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. He’s been around for 33 years, even though his adherence to the Manifesto’s mandates generated the secondhighest hyperinflation in the world — peaking at 98% per day in November 2008.
So, don’t hold your breath waiting for an uprising in Venezuela because of high inflation and economic misery. Short of $50 per barrel oil, the Titanic called Venezuela might stay afloat for longer than you think, before it inevitably sinks.Steve H. Hanke is Professor of Applied Economics at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. He is also a Senior Fellow and Director of the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @Steve_Hanke