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The Pentagon’s Runaway Budget

By Carl Conetta | Foreign Policy In Focus | March 3, 2010

F-22 Raptor. CC Flickr photo.

With his decision to boost defense spending, President Obama is continuing the process of re-inflating the Pentagon that began in late 1998 — fully three years before the 9/11 attacks on America. The FY 2011 budget marks a milestone, however: The inflation-adjusted rise in spending since 1998 will probably exceed 100 percent in real terms by the end of the fiscal year. Taking the new budget into account, the Defense Department has been granted about $7.2 trillion since 1998, when the post-Cold War decline in defense spending ended.

The rise in spending since 1998 is unprecedented over a 48-year period. In real percentage terms, it’s as large as the Kennedy-Johnson surge (43 percent) and the Reagan increases (57 percent) combined. Whether one looks at the entire Pentagon budget or just that part not related to the wars, current spending is above the peak years of the Vietnam War era and the Reagan years. And it’s set to remain there. Looking forward, the Obama administration plans to spend more on the Pentagon over the next eight years than any administration since World War II.

Why should the Pentagon budget rise so much, so fast? Why should it be exempted from the recently announced discretionary spending freeze? And why should it be stabilizing at levels above the highest years of the Cold War?

The most ready explanation is that the War on Terrorism, and especially military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, are the cause. But these activities presently claim less than 20 percent of the Pentagon’s budget. For the period 1998-2011, overseas contingency operations have consumed less than 17 percent of all funding. Take today’s wars out of the picture entirely and the rise since 1998 is still 54 percent in real terms.

Why More Than the Cold War?

Our recent study of the post-1998 defense spending surge, An Undisciplined Defense, set out to identify the factors driving Pentagon costs upward. Much of the post-1998 surge can be attributed to a mix of policy choices and policy failures. And this belies the notion that today’s high level of spending simply reflects hard and fast security “requirements.” In short: If America’s leaders can find the will, then there is a way to substantial savings.

Four features of post-Cold War U.S. security policy have been especially important in driving putative “requirements” upward — and all admit alternative action.

  • Beginning in the 1990s, successive U.S. administrations have adopted goals and missions for the armed forces that are vaguer and more ambitious than those of the Cold War period.
  • Military modernization efforts have suffered from especially weak prioritization and poor integration. They have been distinctly undisciplined, leading to higher research, development, and equipment procurement costs.
  • Planned efforts at defense reform have been insufficient and weakly prosecuted. Thus, the savings they achieved fell far short of what was needed and possible.
  • The United States has undertaken and persevered in protracted wars of a type for which the U.S. military was ill-suited and improperly equipped.

Goal Inflation and Discordant Modernization

Following the collapse of Soviet power, America’s leaders set more ambitious goals for the U.S. military, despite its smaller size. This entailed requiring the armed services to sustain and extend their continuous global presence, improving their readiness and speed, increasing peacetime engagement activities, and preparing to conduct more types of missions quickly and in more areas. Recent U.S. strategy has looked beyond the traditional goals of defense and deterrence, seeking to use military power to actually prevent the emergence of threats and to “shape” the international environment. U.S. defense planners also elevated the importance of lesser and hypothetical threats, thus requiring the military to prepare for many more lower-probability contingencies.

These ambitions have led to the rise in Pentagon operations and maintenance (O&M) expenditures, as well as a larger-than-necessary force structure and greater equipment requirements.

One ongoing goal of the Pentagon has been to modernize forces. This ambitious modernization between 1990 and today has reflected three different imperatives or directions, and these have been poorly integrated.

  1. Big-ticket “legacy” programs conceived during the Cold War and enjoying considerable institutional momentum;
  2. New programs, like Predator drones, reflecting the potential of information and other emerging technologies; and
  3. “Adaptive” programs like mine-resistant armored vehicles, which correspond to new mission requirements, such as counterinsurgency.

The Pentagon has failed to adequately integrate these trends or prioritize among them. Instead, they have all gone forward in parallel, competing for funds. This situation puts unrelenting upward pressure on the budget. Legacy programs, which tend to be backward-looking, have predominated. Thus, despite the Pentagon’s spending $2.5 trillion on modernization between 1989 and 2003, there was a lack of preparedness for counterinsurgency and counterterrorism tasks after 2001. Notably, the decisions to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan by military means entailed a new wave of equipment purchases.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has promised to impose stricter priorities on defense acquisition. But this isn’t the first time an administration announced a “get tough” policy in this area.  For instance, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also vowed to tackle the dysfunctional acquisition process, lopping off the Army’s Crusader artillery system and Comanche helicopter program along the way. This latest reform cycle will not likely accomplish more than swapping out a few disfavored systems for a few favored ones. No actual savings will leave the Pentagon orbit.

Shortfalls in Defense Reform

Reforming the post-Cold War military was supposed to enable it to “do more for less.” Preserving the “peace dividend” — a reduction in the military budget and the application of the savings to other pressing needs — depended on it. Structural reform also was necessary because the military suffered a decrease in efficiency when it got smaller. This was due to some loss in economies of scale in support and acquisition activities.

Options for reform were plentiful. These included reducing service redundancies, streamlining command structures, and consolidating a range of support and training functions. Other worthwhile targets of reform were the Pentagon’s acquisition, logistics, and financial management systems.

But reform efforts fell short of their promise, due to institutional resistance and bureaucratic inertia. Only two initiatives — competitive sourcing and military base closures — were pursued vigorously enough to yield significant annual savings. And these savings have amounted to less than 4 percent of the current defense budget — clearly not enough to save the “peace dividend.”

The difficulty of defense reform goes to the heart of governance problems in the defense area. There is an imbalance between effective civilian and military authority, between “joint” and individual service authority, and between public and special interests. In some respects, the system is a feudalistic one. Its functioning normally depends on largesse and a fair amount of deference to “subordinate” offices. Civilian authorities might challenge and alter this configuration, but that would entail considerable political risk.

Increased Labor Costs

Why have today’s wars been so inordinately expensive in relative terms? Measured in 2010 dollars, the Korean War cost $393,000 per year for every person deployed. And the Vietnam conflict cost $256,000. By contrast, the Iraq and Afghanistan commitments have cost $792,000 per year per person.

This is due partly to America’s reliance on high-cost “volunteer” (professional) military labor, which began after the Vietnam War. This type of military is susceptible to steep increases in personnel costs if it gets bogged down in large-scale, protracted, labor-intensive wars of occupation and counterinsurgency. Combat pay, retention bonuses, and recruitment costs soar.

Overall, military personnel costs rose 50 percent in real terms between 2001 and 2010, although the military labor pool grew by less than 2 percent. This dramatic increase in labor costs calls into question any potential large-scale counterinsurgency operations, which require more, not fewer boots on the ground — unless, of course, cost is no object.

Because of the costs involved, the Pentagon has been reluctant to permanently increase the number of full-time military personnel, despite high levels of activity even before the current wars. Thus, increases in ground troops have been largely counterbalanced by reductions in Navy and Air Force personnel. Instead, the Pentagon has turned increasingly to private contractors, whose employees have assumed many of the support functions previously performed by Pentagon personnel. Since 1989, the pool of Pentagon military and civilian employees has shrunk by more than 30 percent, while the number of contract workers has probably grown by 40 percent. As a result, the total Pentagon workforce may have been re-inflated to its Cold War size, but with contract labor playing a much bigger role.

Contract labor is generally cheaper than Pentagon in-house labor, military or civilian. However, a problem routinely noted by the Government Accountability Office is that Pentagon’s financial management of contracts is weak. At any rate, whatever savings have been realized by replacing in-house labor with contract labor has been overshadowed by the overall increase in the Pentagon’s total workforce.

The re-inflation of the workforce partly registers in the budget as an unusually steep increase in operations and maintenance spending, because this account covers much of contract labor. Calculated in inflation-adjusted per person terms, operations and maintenance expenditures are 2.5 times higher today than in 1989. In absolute terms (also corrected for inflation), O&M spending has risen 75 percent since the Reagan years.

The Primacy of U.S. Military Spending

The factors outlined above have converged to give America a historically unique predominance in military spending. The United States today is responsible for nearly half of all military expenditure worldwide. In 1986, it claimed only 28 percent.

Especially notable is the changed balance between U.S. spending and the total amount spent by potential adversary states. The United States has gone from spending one-third less than its adversaries in 1986 to spending 150 percent more than potential adversary states in 1986. Had Ronald Reagan sought to achieve the ratio between U.S. and adversary spending that existed in 2006, he would have had to nearly quadruple his defense budgets. And, of course, the 2006 Pentagon’s budget hasn’t receded but instead grown by another 20 percent in real terms.

These calculations suggest that the United States’ recent levels of defense expenditure are largely detached from other nation’s efforts to build military power. And the wars explain only a small part of the difference. Instead, the divergence points to a change in what the US defense establishment hopes to accomplish by means of military power, how fast, and how far afield.

Can We Roll Back Pentagon Spending?

America’s singular investment in the means of war hasn’t purchased clear and sure progress toward a more secure and stable world. Nor has it purchased an efficient military closely adapted to the current security environment. That the nation should persist down this road for more than a decade suggests a lapse in attention to the strategic costs and benefits associated with its chosen defense posture. It’s as though the nation had trillions to burn.

The road not taken during the past 15 years would have involved a more forceful and thorough-going approach to defense reform. A more sensible Pentagon strategy would take a more disciplined approach to equipment acquisition that better integrated the various trends and service plans, and tailored them more closely to new conditions. And the United States as a whole would have demonstrated greater restraint and greater specificity in defining post-Cold War military goals and missions.

A permissive spending environment has been a necessary precondition for Pentagon bloat, which several political realities have helped generate and sustain. First, and obviously, the September 2001 attacks overrode any tendencies to suggest economizing on defense. Curiously, though, Gallup polls show that public support for increased defense spending was higher in the two years prior to the attacks than in the two years after. Support has receded significantly since then, but this hasn’t spurred a serious re-evaluation of the budget.

At present, both Democratic and Republican leaders are disinclined — each for their own reasons — to press for Pentagon budget reform and restraint. There is little political gain in it, and much political risk. In this calculation, the balance of raw public opinion is less important than the capacity of the contending parties to excite and mobilize it.

Emerging fiscal realities may soon focus more critical attention on how the nation allocates its resources among competing goals, military and non-military. And the recent freeze on most discretionary spending suggests the contours of the coming battle: It will be the Pentagon versus everything else. In this light, our most important finding is that much of the surge in Pentagon spending since 1998 has been a matter of choice and will, not a matter of national security “requirements.” This puts the ball back in the political court, where it belongs. If there is to be progress in rebalancing our budget, it will depend on pressuring the administration and Congress to deliver real change that matters.

This article is an updated summary of An Undisciplined Defense: Understanding the $2 Trillion Surge in US Defense Spending. The report, with complete citations, is available at the project’s website.

Carl Conetta is co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Militarism, Progressive Hypocrite | 1 Comment

A question to the USGS and NPR

Watts Up With That | March 3, 2010

Which of these states is closest to 20,000 square kilometers in area?

WUWT reader “DC” points us to this Gore-esque pronouncement from a USGS scientist about “Antarctic ice loss”.

Jane Ferrigno of the U.S. Geological Survey in a National Public Radio interview (Audio clip available)

Ms. FERRIGNO: The fact that the ice shelves are changing on the peninsula is a significant signal that global change, climate warming, is affecting the ice cover of Antarctica. It’s affecting first the area that’s towards the north, that’s slightly warmer, but the effect of the warming has traveled from the northern part of the peninsula to the southern part of the peninsula, where it’s colder.

“RAZ: Give us a sense of how much ice [on the Antarctic peninsula] has been lost over the past, say, 10 years.

Ms. FERRIGNO: I think I’ll go back 20 years, and in the last 20 years, I would say at least 20,000 square kilometers of ice has been lost, and that’s comparable to an area somewhere between the state of Texas and the state of Alaska.

RAZ: So about the size of the state of Texas in terms of ice has been lost in the past 20 years. ”

It gets better.

Ms. FERRIGNO: Well, this is a fairly small amount of ice when you consider the whole Antarctic continent consists of about 13 million square kilometers of ice.

RAZ: I mean, it sounds so dramatic, the size of Texas, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FERRIGNO: It is. It is very dramatic, and it is larger than the size of Texas, but when you consider the entire Antarctic ice sheet, it’s still a fairly minimal amount. But the thing that we’re really interested in seeing is that this is a sort of a red flag because if the warming continues, if the retreat continues, if the amount of ice on the continent starts to flow into the water, then there will be substantial impact to the sea level.

RAZ: That’s Jane Ferrigno. She is a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Jane Ferrigno, thanks for coming in.

Ms. FERRIGNO: Thank you.

Ms. Ferrigno might do well to have a look at this map of the USA and Antarctica compared at Texas A&M University’s Polar Science program to get a sense of scale.

Here’s the story on all the Southern hemisphere sea ice, which includes all Antarctic sea ice, from Cryosphere today:

click for a larger image

Maybe Ms. Ferrigno will be embarrassed enough by her geographic ineptitude and will heed Gavin Schmidt’s advice and stop trying to “persuade the public“.


Just The Facts :

Also of note. Arctic Sea Ice Extent is on an upswing;

and just a hair away from the arbitrary normal range used by NCIDC:

Global Sea Ice Area appears to be making a run on average;

and Antarctic Sea Ice Extent is above average:

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | Comments Off on A question to the USGS and NPR

Why all this media manipulation being directed against Hugo Chavez?

By Carlos M. Pietri | Vheadline | March 3, 2010

Yesterday’s news headlined Spanish judge accuses Venezuela of supporting ETA and FARC — published in the vast majority of the Venezuelan and Spanish neo-liberal media — is nothing more than an impressive though well-planned media drive against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In the legal proceedings, the judge declared, that illegal collaboration between the Venezuelan government and both groups has been clearly documented.  Apparently he gleaned the “information” from what was found in the Raul Reyes laptop and refers to ETA member, Arturo Cubillas Fontan who resides in Venezuela and was given a position in “public administration” as head of a Agriculture & Lands (MAT) rural office in 2005.

Why is all this media manipulation being directed against Chavez?

Any Spaniard knows that under an agreement signed in 1989 by Felipe Gonzalez for the Spanish Government and then Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, Venezuela accepted several alleged ETA members into political exile.  Perez’ political organization, the conservative Accion Democratica, is today a major participant in Venezuela’s political opposition in cahoots with Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol … currently in the Spanish Government.  The agreement stated that any of those deported to Venezuela were not to be extradited, if according to the two countries laws their alleged crimes were subject to the Statute of Limitations … which they are!

Arturo Cubillas Fontan has resided in Venezuela since the agreement was enacted in 1989. Twelve months after arriving to ‘safe haven’ in Venezuela, he was married to a Venezuelan woman and could therefore claim legal Venezuelan citizenship since he had no criminal history and was not sought by the national court of Spain. He became a Venezuelan national before President Chavez came to power, although (in 2006) the nationality was reversed by order of the Chavez government at the request of Spain.

The minor employment that Arturo Cubillas Fontan had had in the Venezuelan administration simply shows that the Venezuelan government’s acted in full accord with the 1989 agreement — which was promoted by both Felipe Gonzalez and Carlos Andres Perez — to also guarantee constitutional rights to all nationalized Venezuelans.

To back up my assertion with regard to media manipulation, I must remind VHeadline readers that Judge Velazco already knows that the Spanish Parliament previously approved legal limitations on international judicial action by Spain other than where there are Spanish victims, or where the perpetrators are subject to national (Spanish) jurisdiction … neither of which apply to Cubillas Fontan.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering | 1 Comment

Red herring in Mamilla case

Richard Congress | March 2, 2010

Martin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center has lately produced a 1945 article in the Palestine Post– later the Jerusalem Post–describing Muslim plans to build a commercial center on a portion of the Mamilla Cemetery that Hier now covets for his… Museum of Tolerance. Hier is saying, Hey, Muslims were prepared to desecrate this site, why can’t we? Richard Congress, who is active on a committee in support of Mamilla petitioners to international bodies, responds:

1) The most obvious point is that whatever was planned, the center was never built. Hier doesn’t seem to think that’s of any importance. Why wasn’t it built?  Maybe too many people objected, just as we are objecting now. Maybe it was nothing but a lot of hot air that got one sensational newspaper article in 1945.

2) Hier seems proud of his “gotcha” moment when he says “what chutzpa” that the same people who wanted to build on top of the Mamilla Cemetery are now telling Jews not to build on the same cemetery. This speaks volumes about Hier’s stereotyping of all Muslims… and it’s also nonsensical: the people (Moslems, Christians, and Jews among others) who are protesting the desecration of Mamilla now are not the same as the ones who supposedly in 1945 wanted to build on top of Mamilla. They are the opposite and would have protested against any building project in 1945 as well.

3) Referring to the 1945 Jerusalem Post article, Hier says that a “Supreme Muslim Council” had approved building on top of the Mamilla Cemetery. However, this Supreme Muslim Council (appointed by the British Mandate authorities) had no Muslim clerics among it and there also was no Mufti in office. Only a Mufti would have had the religious authority to approve building on the Mamilla Cemetery. It is part of the historical record that the last Supreme Muslim Council headed by a Mufti was dissolved by the British Mandate Authority in 1937.

4)Tthe 1945, non-clerical, British-appointed Supreme Muslim Council did not have the authority to issue a religious fatwa (or ruling) that would have had the power to make any big changes in the status quo. The only thing this 1945 SMC could do is administer Islamic waqf affairs.

5) In 1944, the British Mandate put the Mamilla Cemetery on its list of Antiquities. The British Mandate was the only lawful governing authority at that time. Why would the put it on an antiquities list in 1944 and then allow the destruction of the cemetery the following year? Why doesn’t Hier say that the Mandate approved the building of this commercial center? Most likely because they did not.

6) A final question is why is this one 65-year-old article the only mention of any project by Muslim businessmen, backed by Muslim clerics to build on the Mamilla Cemetery site? Was it ever a serious plan to begin with? There is no evidence that it was.

Information for this piece comes from research done by Asem Khalidi in Jerusalem.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Deception | Comments Off on Red herring in Mamilla case

Watching Certain People

By Bob Herbert | New York Times | March 1, 2010

From 2004 through 2009, in a policy that has gotten completely out of control, New York City police officers stopped people on the street and checked them out nearly three million times, frisking and otherwise humiliating many of them.

Upward of 90 percent of the people stopped are completely innocent of any wrongdoing. And yet the New York Police Department is compounding this intolerable indignity by compiling an enormous and permanent computerized database of these encounters between innocent New Yorkers and the police.

Not only are most of the people innocent, but a vast majority are either black or Hispanic. There is no defense for this policy. It’s a gruesome, racist practice that should offend all New Yorkers, and it should cease.

Police Department statistics show that 2,798,461 stops were made in that six-year period. In 2,467,150 of those instances, the people stopped had done nothing wrong. That’s 88.2 percent of all stops over six years. Black people were stopped during that period a staggering 1,444,559 times. Hispanics accounted for 843,817 of the stops and whites 287,218.

While crime has been going down, the number of people getting stopped by the police is going up. Last year, more than 575,000 stops were made — a record. But 504,594 of those stops were of people who had done nothing wrong. They had committed no crime, were issued no summonses and were carrying no weapons or illegal substances.

Still, day after day, the cops continue harassing and degrading these innocent New Yorkers, often making them line up against walls, or lean spread-eagled on the hoods of cars, or sprawl face down in the street to be searched like criminals in front of curious, sometimes frightened, sometimes giggling, sometimes outraged onlookers.

If the police officers were treating white middle-class or wealthy individuals this way, the movers and shakers in this town would be apoplectic. The mayor would be called to account in an atmosphere of thunderous outrage, and the police commissioner would be gone.

But the people getting stopped and frisked are mostly young, and most of them are black or brown and poor. So Police Commissioner Ray Kelly could feel completely comfortable with his department issuing the order in 2006 that reports of all stops and frisks be forwarded and compiled “for input into the Department’s database.”

“They have been collecting the names and all sorts of other information about everybody who is stopped and frisked on the streets,” said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is fighting the department’s stop-and-frisk policy and its compiling of data on people who are innocent. “This is a massive database of innocent, overwhelmingly black and Latino people,” she said.

Police Commissioner Kelly has made it clear that this monstrous database, growing by a half-million or so stops each year, is to be a permanent feature of the department’s operations. In a letter last summer to Peter Vallone Jr., the chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, the commissioner said:

“Information contained in the stop, question and frisk database remains there indefinitely, for use in future investigations. Therefore, there are no existing Police Department guidelines that mandate the removal of information once it has been entered into the database.”

He added, “Information contained within the stop, question and frisk database is used primarily by department investigators during the course of a criminal investigation.”

So the department is collecting random information on innocent, primarily poor, black and brown New Yorkers for use in some anticipated future criminal investigation. But it is not collecting and storing massive amounts of information on innocent middle-class or wealthy white people. Why is that, exactly?

Councilman Vallone is a supporter of the stop-and-frisk policy, but he is concerned about the innocent people in the database. As he told me on Monday, “I don’t support the indefinite keeping of this information regarding people who were not arrested or charged with any crime.”

The Police Department has no intention of changing its policy. A spokesman for Commissioner Kelly told me that information collected when the police stop an innocent individual “may be useful” in future investigations. The stored data may become useful “in the same way” that license plate information is useful, he said.

He cited the hypothetical example of someone in the course of a criminal investigation saying that he or she was at “a certain place at a certain time.” The information permanently stored in the stop-and-frisk database, he said, could help the police determine if “they were or they weren’t.”

His example would suggest that the innocent people stopped are nevertheless permanently under suspicion, which is, of course, the case.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism | 1 Comment

Video: Is Peace Out Of Reach?

60 Minutes’ Bob Simon

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Timeless or most popular, Video | 2 Comments

Israel urges US to act alone, as anti-Iran bids fail

Press TV – March 3, 2010

As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tours Latin America to recruit support for new international sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, Tel Aviv urges Washington to adopt Cuba-like embargos against Tehran.

Israel and the US accuse Iran of seeking nuclear arms, as Tel Aviv threatens to attack Iranian nuclear installations and Washington warns of keeping ‘all options on the table,’ including economic sanctions and military measures.

Iran, however, says its program, which is extensively monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is directed at the civilian applications of the technology. The country has also called on all nuclear powers to abandon atomic weaponry and eliminate all such arsenal.

Clinton, meanwhile, is on a five-day tour of Latin America. She was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Washington is working “expeditiously and thoroughly” to rally support for new Iran sanctions.

She has arrived in Brazil, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), to win support for the sanctions. Brazil has repeatedly said that Iran is entitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Although the IAEA says it continues to verify the non-diversion of Iran’s nuclear material, the UNSC has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on the country.

Amid the intensified efforts by the US to impose fresh sanctions, China has appeared to reject the calls to support such a measure. Beijing argues that more negotiations are required to resolve the nuclear issue.

Israel, meanwhile, said Tuesday that the US should impose unilateral sanctions on Iran to isolate the country the same way it acted alone on Cuba 50 years ago, Reuters reported.

“We are a little worried by the pace of developments in the international arena,” Lieberman told reporters. “I think that from now on Israel should perhaps change its Iran policy a little, and we should ask the United States to adopt the Cuban model … Here the United States alone can do everything in order to stop this (Iranian) program.”

Iranian officials have argued that favorite US pressure tactics such as sanctions are outdated and no longer relevant in the global economy as they have been proven futile in the last three attempts against the Islamic Republic. They insist that imposing new sanctions on Iran will further expose the irrelevancy of the UN as a viable international body.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | Comments Off on Israel urges US to act alone, as anti-Iran bids fail

More Stark Evidence of the Hazards of Atrazine

By David A. Fahrenthold | The Washington Post | March 2, 2010

Washington – A new study shows that male frogs exposed to the herbicide atrazine – commonly found in U.S. rivers and streams – can make a startling developmental U-turn, turning female so completely that they can mate with other males and lay viable eggs.

The study will focus new attention on concerns about atrazine, which is applied to an estimated 75 percent of American cornfields. Its manufacturer, the Swiss agricultural giant Syngenta, says the product is safe for wildlife, and for people who are exposed to small amounts in drinking water.

In recent years, however, some studies have seemed to show that atrazine can drive natural hormone systems haywire in fish, birds, rats and frogs. In some cases, male animals exposed to the chemical developed female characteristics.

The study led by Tyrone Hayes, a professor at the University of California, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It showed an even starker transformation: Among a group of male African clawed frogs raised in water tainted with atrazine, he said, a fraction grew up to look and act like females.

“Ten percent of the chromosomal males become completely, functionally female,” Hayes said in a telephone interview. “They can lay eggs (and) they mate with other males.”

The offspring of those unions were all male, he said, since both parents were genetically male. No female frogs were treated with atrazine in the study.

The other 90 percent of the exposed frogs retained some male features, Hayes said, but often showed signs of “feminization,” including lower testosterone levels and fertility. When pitted head-to-head against males that had not been exposed to atrazine, the atrazine-treated males frequently lost out in competition for female frogs.

Hayes said the reason for these changes could be that atrazine, when absorbed through a frog’s skin, helps produce an enzyme that converts an unusual amount of testosterone into estrogen.

Those findings run counter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s pronouncement in 2007 that atrazine does not cause problems in amphibian development.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | Environmentalism | Comments Off on More Stark Evidence of the Hazards of Atrazine