Tuesday, September 26, 2017

COTW: Merkel Still in Power, Barely

The xenophobic Alternative for Germany Party made substantial inroads into Angela Merkel's ruling majority after Germany's parliamentary election on Monday. Like the Conservative Party in England, Merkel's CDU/CSU will be forced to cobble a coalition government as its rival major party, Social Democrats (SPD), chose opposition over renewing a coalition with the Christian Democrats. Her party is far apart from the potential partners, the Greens and Free Democrats, on several major issues. The charts shows Germany's swing to the populist right:

Two of Germany's major corporations, Siemens and Volkswagen, expressed concern with the election results through their CEOs. Merkle's immediate task is to shore up confidence in the German economy as the euro dropped on news of the election results. Coalition building will take months and the alt-right party, which ran primarily on the issue of immigration, promises to be difficult to handle. No other German party will work with the fractious new-comers to the Bundestag.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

'Toontime: Ave, Ave Emperator!

credit Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News
BC Idonwanna sez: Him called Chief Little Finger.
Once again the bombastic White House occupant proves why he is unfit for the world's most powerful office. In his United Nations speech, he insulted the dictator of now nuclear North Korea, known to be sensitive to personal attacks, calling him a "suicidal rocket man". Kim Jung Un riposted with a few choice words, calling Trump a "deranged dotard". The world expects more of the leader of the 'free world' and they certainly did not get it from Trump; he has, in fact, brought it much closer to nuclear war. Trump's threat to "totally destroy" North Korea in a forum dedicated to world peace is beyond ironic it is revealingly criminal. As one commentator wrote, "It is the American Way." Vietnam was prologue to that fact, regardless of any and all revisionist propaganda peddled as "history" on television¹.

It is only a matter of time (six to eight months) before the North Korean regime is technically able to deliver a nuclear warhead to mainland USA. If a pre-emptive strike is made by the United States, it is unreasonable to expect China to simply sit by as its client state is reduced to radioactive ashes. When war broke out on the peninsula in 1950 after military incursions by the US-supplied South², China joined the conflict. Both sides will "pay dearly" if war reignites on the peninsula.

The exchange of derogatory personal remarks has made diplomacy all the more difficult. Trump was warned by his aides to refrain from such personal attacks in his speech; the vetted version did not contain ad-lib vile name-calling. As President Putin succinctly put it, "they would rather eat grass" than give up their weapons now. There may not be any grass to eat, if the Emperor continues to pander to his white supremacist base.

1.The US waged imperial war on Southeast Asia for thirteen years killing upwards of 5 million in an futile effort to exterminate a popular movement of national liberation from colonial oppression. The means were often atrociously cruel and included massacre, carpet bombing, assassination, free-fire zones, and chemical weapons. It was a monumental crucifixion of an impoverished peasantry that had little more than the will to resist their foreign overlords. They won the war, but largely lost their economic independence since they now supply a source of cheap labor and resources to the global capitalist "core". As Upton Sinclair accurately, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” 

2. On the morning of June 26, 1950 South Korean leaders announced that their forces had captured the North Korean town of Haeju. What they don't say is that the invasion and capture of Haeju occurred on the 25th in a surprise invasion by the South across the 38th parallel. That attack occurred two days before North Korean troops crossed the line of demarcation. ; According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, in 2004 South Korea admitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that South Korean scientists had secretly been enriching uranium. In the early 1970s, fearing the effect of US reductions of forces in South Korea, the Weapons Exploitation Committee of the South Korean government made the decision to begin developing nuclear weapons. The South Korean weapons program seems to have continued until October 1979. The North Koreans may possess as many as twenty nuclear warheads, but they have no operational system with which to deliver them against the United States' mainland. Delivering them to Seoul is an entirely different matter. The North was blasted with more explosive tonnage than was dropped during the entire Pacific Theater of WWII. Pongyang, a city of a half-million then, only had two buildings standing in 1953. Gen. MacArthur testified to Congress in 1951, “The [conventional] war in Korea has already almost destroyed that nation of 20 million people. I have never seen such devastation. I have seen, I guess, as much blood and disaster as any living man, and it just curdled my stomach, the last time I was there. After I looked at that wreckage and those thousands of women and children … I vomited.” Casualties in the north amounted to 2 million, including about 1 million civilians. Nuclear war will be much, much worse and the dying will go on for decades. Just ask the Japanese.

Friday, September 22, 2017

CAT 5 Hurricanes Are the Real Monsters

The most dangerous of these immense tropical storms are those classified as "CAT 5" meaning they contain winds in excess of 157 mph.  Those winds produce catastrophic damage to structures on land, and produce tremendous storm surges which add to their destructive power.  The 1935 category 5 hurricane was unnamed, referred to as the 'Labor Day' hurricane, it struck the Florida Keys with sustained 185 mph winds.  It is the strongest hurricane to make landfall on record.  The storm killed 423 people including veterans living in tents while building a road in the islands.  So powerful, its 15 feet storm surge swept people out to sea off the low-lying keys, and knocked a relief train off the rails.

Although it was the strongest, it was not the deadliest.  That dubious honor goes to another anonymous hurricane that flattened Galveston, TX killing an estimated six to eight thousand people in 1900. Hurricane Allen in 1980 produced winds of an astonishing 190 mph, but did not make landfall as a category 5; its amazing winds were exceed by a Pacific cyclone, Patricia, that clocked winds at 215 mph!  The categorization of hurricane power by wind speed (Saffir-Simpson scale) alone is somewhat misleading.  The amount of rainfall associated with the storm also contributes to damage.  Katrina, which came ashore as a category 3, was considered the costliest storm in US history after it flooded the city of New Orleans causing $108 billion in damage and killing 1200 people.  Harvey now holds that record of costliest.

 Hurricane Irma's distinct eye--one of the strongest storms ever in the Atlantic

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Is It the End for Atwater's Prairie Chicken?

Port Arthur, TX, credit: AP
The end-of-the-world weather the US is experiencing has been impressive to say the least.   Hurricane Harvey, officially the largest and most destructive rainfall event in the country's history, dumped over 51 inches of rain on metropolitan Houston, displaced thirty thousand people, and killed seventy so far.  Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico with 110 mph sustained winds. (Cat4) Scientists will not categorically state that global warming caused Harvey.  Attributing causes to something as chaotic as weather is problematic.  They will say, however, that global warming causes the atmosphere to hold a lot more water vapor, and elevates sea temperatures which leads to more intense precipitation events.

Then there is plight of Atwater's prairie chicken. Just southwest of Houston is the Atwater Prairie Chicken Reserve, home to the last forty-two birds of this species known to survive in the wild.  When a species population is that low, a single extreme event like Harvey could cause an extinction.  The exact state of the refuge is not known because flood waters have made it inaccessible and refuge personnel are dealing with their own flood damage.  Prairie chickens are small and nest on the ground, so they are particularly susceptible to floods.  When the last major storm poured 8-12 inches of rain on the refuge, it nearly washed them away forever.

a hatchling, courtesy USFWS
Fortune smiled on the species.  All twenty adult birds being held in pens pending release into the refuge on September 1st were gathered up and sent to the Houston Zoo for safekeeping.  At last report the birds were doing fine and gaining weight. Every year conservationists release about 300 captive bred birds into the coastal plain of southeast Texas. For these birds to see their second birthday is noteworthy, for they must survive predators like skunks and snakes who eat their young, and even vicious fire ants, which in a flood survive by rafting their bodies together by the thousands to float to new territory. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Rights of Nature

Pittsburgh today: a destination
Der Donald thought he was being clever when he attempted to justify his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord by saying he represented Pittsburgh, not Paris. The statement was unfair to the city of Pittsburgh, once a very dirty and polluted steel town, that has literally "cleaned up its act" since the days of US Steel and Andrew Carnegie. Significantly Pittsburgh is the first US city to recognize the rights of nature under law. Rather than treating nature as if it were inanimate property and not a living organism, the doctrine of the rights of nature recognizes that nature in all its forms has a right to exist, persist and regenerate. This is a doctrine that is very familiar to indigenous peoples all over the world who understand nature to be a living entity, but is just beginning to receive attention and respect it deserves in western jurisprudence.

Pittsburgh yesterday: what Donald has in mind?
How did a former steel town become a leader in the recognition of the rights of nature? It began with a community based effort to stop hydraulic fracking within the city limits of Pittsburgh. The city sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation which is being exploited by oil and gas companies. In order to bring the oil and gas to the surface from one mile down, the shale has to be fractured with high pressure water laced with toxic chemicals. The process is very polluting since it releases carcinogens like benzene, heavy metals, and radioactive ores. It has been proven to cause contamination of ground water and earth tremors.

A city councilman, Doug Shields, led the fight to pass an ordinance prohibiting drilling in Pittsburgh when a local Catholic church signed a lease to permit drilling for natural gas beneath their cemetery. Written by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, it elevates the rights of community and nature over corporate rights, challenging the state to pre-empt Pittsburgh's concept of home rule. The ordinance in several of its provisions denies the legal "personhood" of corporations seeking to drill within the city's limits. The ordinance passed the city council unanimously and was signed into law in 2010.

Pittsburgh was not the first US jurisdiction to recognize nature's legal rights. That honor goes to Tamaqua, PA a rural community that was literally being dumped on with toxic sewage sludge. Abandoned coal pits in the area were being used for the disposal of waste solids some of which came from New York and New Jersey and contained hospital and industrial wastes. A spike in diseases such as Alzheimer and cancer were detected. The borough had enough: it passed an ordinance asserting its community and banned the dumping. Under Section 7.6, "natural communities and ecosystems shall be considered persons for the enforcement of civil rights".

The doctrine of nature's legal rights has been recognized and enforced in other countries.  In April 2017 an Indian high court granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, both considered sacred by Hindus.  Similarly a New Zealand court recognized the legal personage of the Whanganui river, considered an ancestor by the Maori people. In 2008, Ecuador adopted a constitutional amendment that acknowledged nature’s right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” Bolivia followed three years later with a similarly worded law.Both refer to Pachamama, the Quechua and Aymara word for “nature” or “Mother Earth.”

In the United States, legal commentators trace the origin of the doctrine to an influential 1972 law review article by USC professor Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?, but Native American have held similar sacred beliefs for thousands of years.  Former Chief Justice William O. Douglas was obviously influenced by the concept of nature having legal rights when he wrote that natural 'objects' should have standing to sue through their representatives to preserve their existence when injury is "the subject of public outrage".

Corporations have had their personhood enshrined in US jurisprudence for two centuries.  US Person asks: is it so outrageous or radical to think that living nature--hard pressed by technology and commerce--to have the same rights as an inanimate legal fiction? Clearly, the people of Pittsburgh have come to appreciate and value a clean environment and beautiful environment in which to live, regardless of what Donald Trump has to say.