MOTOR CONTROL: General Motors, the former paragon of American capitalism, filed for bankruptcy protection this morning, and under President Obama's restructuring plan the United States will own 60 percent of the 100-year-old company. It's the culmination of a long downfall for GM, begun after its 1950s heyday when, as the NY Times writes, it "lost its feel for reading the American car market it helped create" and lost customers to efficient Japanese automakers and their efficient cars. GM launched Saturn in the '90s and dabbled reluctantly with electric vehicles, but it wasn't enough. The company now has just $82.3 billion in assets compared with $172.8 billion in debts. Obama hopes to salvage a lean sliver of GM by nationalizing it temporarily, but that will involve laying off 21,000 union workers, closing 12 to 20 factories and shutting down 40 percent of its 6,000 dealerships. Company executives tell the Detroit Free Press that bankruptcy won't slow down GM's progress on glimmers of hope such as the Chevy Volt, a plug-un hybrid due out in 2010. (Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Detroit Free Press)

CHRYSLER: The transformation of GM's Motown neighbor, several weeks ahead in its own bankruptcy proceedings, took a leap forward today as a U.S. bankruptcy judge approved the new company that will be owned by Fiat, U.S. and Canadian taxpayers, and the United Auto Workers. The sale's closing is slated for June 15. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

CARBON BANKS: Maybe money does grow on trees after all. The LA Times reports today about how the Van Eck forest in California's Humboldt County is doing well by doing good — as its trees and greenery absorb carbon dioxide from the air, the forest's managers have calculated that benefit and sold it to climate-conscious people and businesses trying to offset their own carbon footprints. The forest has made $2 million so far by letting its customers breathe easier about causing 185,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Van Eck is a towering example of how a forest can be a "carbon bank," turning a profit simply by turning CO2 into oxygen and cellulose. (Source: Los Angeles Times)  

STONE COAL: One of the saving graces of coal ash is that it can be recycled to use in concrete or asphalt for a wide range of construction projects such as building foundations, parking lots and sidewalks. But as the Nashville Tennessean reports, this recycled coal ash may not be much safer than the billion gallons of raw coal slurry that flooded across East Tennessee last December. Mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins are found in this ash, and while the TVA says their concentrations are too low to pose health risks, some state officials say there isn't enough information to be sure about that. (Source: Nashville Tennessean)

BACKS AGAINST THE DRYWALL: As if the housing crisis wasn't enough hard luck for Florida homeowners, many believe the houses themselves are now turning against them. While no scientific study has yet linked it to health problems, Chinese-made drywall is driving hordes of families from their homes in Florida and 18 other states, thanks to its toxic contents — sulfur and volatile organic compounds — that cause foul stenches, corrode copper and may be carcinogenic. The Miami Herald takes an in-depth look today at the homeowners stuck between a Sheetrock and a hard place. (Source: Miami Herald)

BOT THE FARM: Don't expect Terminator robots to bring you your next CSA basket of tomatoes, but robotic farmhands may not be far off, New Scientist reports today. The technology's cost is getting practical, public opinion is warming up and researchers are finally able to get their droids to successfully navigate uneven outdoor environments well enough to bobble through cornfields and apple orchards. (Source: New Scientist

GROWING DISEASE: Even an army of robotic farmhands can't stop swine flu, bird flu or any other microbiological crops that may surface on one of the country's many concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In examining the safety of intensive farming practices, the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette looks at the recent swine flu outbreak/panic, and at Indiana's own menagerie of condensed animal populations that are regularly pumped full of antibiotics. Industry advocates say the drugs are needed to ward off disease, but they also ironically can help microbes develop antibiotic resistance. And the Washington Post reports today that public health experts are rethinking the definition of "pandemic," since the swine-flu curveball caught so many people off-guard, even after millions had been spent preparing for a fastball from bird flu. (Source: Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Washington Post)

MILLENNIUM FALCONS: Birds of prey don't let go of a good nesting spot when they find one. Scientists have long known that raptors will return to the same nesting site year after year, but a new study using radio-carbon dating has determined gyrofalcons in the U.K. have been nesting in the same place for millennia, some even holding steady for 2,500 years. (Source: New Scientist)

Russell McLendon 

(Photo: General Motors headquarters in Detroit. Courtesy Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

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