Thursday, February 27, 2014

Norwegian Trend: Electric Cars

Nissan's Leaf in an Oslo showroom
Norway is a low-density, socialist state that enjoys cross-country skiing as its national sport. As such it also enjoys widespread public health and an environment that is cleaner than most. Norwegians aim to to keep it that way because they are buying electric cars at a remarkable rate. The Tesla Model S, a luxury saloon which garnered Consumer Reports' Best Car of the Year award, and the economy hatch Nissan Leaf outsold all other cars including petrol fueled. In keeping with its business model, the Norwegian government is helping in a big way by providing incentives worth $8,300 per vehicle according to the Guardian. Drivers of electric cars even enjoy free parking in city centers and use of reserved bus lanes! Statistics indicate over 21,000 electric vehicles are registered in a country of 5 million people. That compares to only 70,000 electric cars registered in the US with a population of 313 million. Sales run at over 1200 vehicles a month. Both Volkswagen and BMW are rushing to introduce their own electric cars to cash in on Norway's new love for EVs. The love affair may end, however, when 50,000 zero emission cars are registered; at that point the government will start withdrawing incentives. Even electric vehicles pose problems if there are too many of them. In Oslo, they are dominating traffic lanes reserved for buses, and unoccupied charging stands are getting harder to find, just like
parking spaces.

A related news story: China's air pollution is twenty times worse than the WorldHealth Organization recommends. Persistent smog is smothering six northern provinces and even impeding photosynthesis in plants. Experts warn that the pollution will not lift until Thursday. In Beijing particulates rose to 505 μg/m³. WHO recommends a safe level of just 25. The smog has closed schools and airports in Harbin where visibility was reduced to below 50m in some parts of the city. An associate professor at China's Agricultural University said that if current smog levels persist, Chinese agriculture will be exposed to conditions "somewhat similar to nuclear winter".

Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him--Sirach 15:17

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

COTW: The Panic of 2008 Revisited

Phoenix Capital Research: the dreaded expanding wedge formation
'Big Calculator' Idonwanna sez: DTX40 + JRBs = W/X

Readers of this space will often see US Person refer to the financial crisis lately passed as the "Panic of 2008", because it was exactly that. Say the words "financial panic" and people might think of depositors lining up outside desperately trying to get their money out of a bank that has closed its doors to business. Such scenes actually occurred in 1933 which led FDR to declare a nationwide bank holiday. This time around it was not banks and depositors that panicked, but players higher up the financial food chain: broker-dealers and repo markets. Repo is an abbreviation of repurchase agreement. Investment bankers and others sell securities for short term capital loans (typically a day to three months) which they can pay off at a higher price by repurchasing the collateralized securities. The difference between the spot price and the forward price is essentially the interest on the loan. They are recognized a single transaction in contrast to a sale and purchase for tax purposes. These deals have become essential to the operation of world-wide financial markets. Often dealers use repos to establish a long position in bonds without using their own capital to pay for the purchase; conversely they can take a short position in bonds by using a reverse repo (dealers buy securities).

What happened in 2008 was a meltdown of the repo markets. New York Fed Chairman William C. Dudley described the panic that gripped the market: "Higher margins on repo and increased collateral calls due to credit ratings downgrades reduced the quality of assets that could be financed in repo markets and elsewhere, prompting further asset sales. As wholesale investors started to exit, this set in motion a bad dynamic--a fire sale of assets that cut into earnings and capital." In less oblique terms, the actual value of assets being pledge came into doubt, so lenders began increasing the demands for collateral and higher resale prices. Unable to finance their suspect securities in the repo market, banks began hoarding liquidity fearing investors would run against them. Former Chair Ben Bernanke said, "What was different about this crisis was that the institutional structure was different. It wasn't banks and depositors [as in the thirties], it was broker-dealers and repo markets. It was money market funds and commercial paper."

Why did this happen? The short answer is, as the New York Fed tells us at length in their 2013 report, the banks and big investors in the financial world like their arbitrage this way. It may be risky business, but the shadow banking system helps them avoid taxes, avoid holding capital for collateral, avoid regulation, and make more money which always is the bottom line. The New York Fed: "Intermediaries create liquidity in the shadow banking system by levering up the collateral value of their assets. However the liquidity creation comes at the cost of financial fragility as fluctuations in uncertainty cause a flight to quality from shadow liabilities to safe assets." "Black-box banking" may risk the entire economy but why should banksters care when they can extort the federal government into giving them $13 trillion bailouts? All the ballyhooed financial reform that took place in the aftermath of the Panic of 2008 is supposed to prevent such financial terrorism, but do not bet your house on it. The problem with the $7 trillion-a-day repo market has not gone away since the 2008 Panic. The solution to the problem is of course, real market regulation not window dressing. If entities like hedge funds, money market funds, insurance companies, and pension funds want to act like commercial banks and lend money they should be regulated like commercial banks including meeting capital requirements. Even those "pinko" editors at Bloomberg think so.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bears Cross the Road in Canada

a grizzly sow and cub cross overpass in Banff NP
Now that there are forty-four wildlife crossings in Canada's Banff National Park, both species of North American bear are crossing the road. Of course curious minds want to know why since chickens have already piqued their interest. US Person allows such persons one guess. Hint: it's not for food! Yes, friends, bears cross the road to meet mates according to researchers at Montana State University. They gathered 10,000 hair samples from black and grizzly bears and tracked the flow of genes. Their study was published in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society B". This study according to one of the researchers is the first time science has shown animals using the man-made crossings are breeding on the other side [photo courtesy MSU]. This is good news since crossing the road ensures populations either side of the human barrier are not genetically isolated. The study is the best evidence yet that crossings work and are beneficial to wildlife. The Canadian crossings are the most extensive network of wildlife crossings on Earth. Obviously, the crossings reduce collisions with motorists too.

The study was the final paper in a series conducted since 1996 studying the impact of Trans-Canadian highway crossings on bears  Individual bears showed more comfort than others in using the man-made structures. One male black bear was particularly enthusiastic. Genetic testing revealed he mated with five different females and sired 11 cubs. As expected, black bears seemed much less wary of human construction than grizzlies. 47% of black bears used the crossings while only 27% of grizzlies crossed the highway. DNA was extracted from hair samples collected at wire snares and compared to samples collected throughout the surrounding forest on both sides of the highway. The millions it cost to construct overpasses for wildlife is apparently well spent as far as bears are concerned.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Nebraska Judge Strikes Down Law Allowing Keystone XL

credit: Matt Wuerker
In 2012 the State of Nebraska adopted a law allowing the Keystone XL pipeline project to pass through the state; LB 1161 was passed by the state's unique unicameral legislature and effectively allowed the governor to bypass the state's Major Oil Pipeline Siting Act to select pipeline routes. However, a state district judge in Lancaster County found that stripping the power away from Public Service Commission was a violation of the state constitution (Article IV-20). The governor and other defendants in the case have filed an appeal with the state's supreme court. The revised route of the controversial and damaging Keystone XL pipeline passes through the state near enviramagingonmentally sensitive areas including the Niobrara River, a segment of which is federally designated wild and scenic, and the Ogallala aquifer beneath the Sand Hills.

CBO Minimum Wage Study Is Biased

This is what happens when you do not do your own research. The Congressional Budget Office released a study that said raising the federal minimum wage (something US Person has advocated in this space) to $10.10/hr would allow 16.5 million Americans more purchasing power and lift 900,000 or more out of poverty. All well and good, but the study also said it would cost 500,000 jobs. Immediately the corporatists and their handmaidens in Congress jumped on that figure and said, "I told you so." Not so fast, matey. That conclusion was based on a survey of other economic work on the subject and the CBO simply pulled a number it liked out of the ether or black matter, which ever you prefer. The appendix to the report does not explain the methodology used because there was none. The meta-number of employment elasticity (-.75) is a little below estimates used in papers by Neumark & Wascher, Sabia & Burhauser, but higher than those used in papers by Dube, Reich and others. After the CBO report came out, several economists such as Michael Reich, former Labor Secretary and a professor at Berkeley, criticized it for making arbitrary assumptions. Increasing wages leads to major reductions in turnover which is expensive for employers given lost productivity and training costs, but the report does make it clear it includes those savings. US Person is not an economist but does he have to be to think the multiplier effect of higher wages will outstrip any temporary reduction of workers due to higher labor costs? NOT.  Don't believe him, ask Wal-Mart!

'Toontime: Finally, the Winter Olympics Are Almost Over!

[credit: Plante, Tulsa World]
BC Idonwanna sez: Put a body on Hall 23!

Yes, friends, as the latest installment of that extravaganza of dilettantism and privilege known as the Winter Olympics melts into the red sunset of a greenhouse-gas warmed Earth at Sochi, we bid farewell to a time when the Russian hockey team was not NHL Team B, Inc.; shed our last tears for cheesy voiceovers describing the romanticized sacrifice of professional athletes; and take our leave of a land where demonstrators are whipped by Cossacks in the streets, stray dogs are shot on sight, and gays are kept officially in the closet.

[John Cole, The Times-Tribune]
Wackydoodle axes: Didn't they do that routine at Salt Lake?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

COTW: Got Shots?

US Person remembers when as a child he took so many shots he could only lay on the floor and groan! What does not kill you, only make you stronger, right? Now parents are increasingly opting for not vaccinating their school age children motivated in part by scare stories about deadly side effects such as autism from some vaccines. One of the most laudable accomplishments of modern medicine is the elimination of once virulent diseases like smallpox and polio using vaccines. To be effective vaccinations have to be widespread among the population. For example the required immunity rate for pertussis which is making a big come back in the vaccine-free northwest where mommy knows best is 93-95%. California's vacination rate has been dropping since 2008. In 2010 California reported an outbreak of pertussis (whopping cough) in which 10 infants died, the worst mortality rate from this disease in 60 years. Without sufficient levels of vaccination there is no "herd immunity". It is one thing to refuse to fluoridate your water, another to increase the chances of transmitting a deadly disease. Oregon recently took legislative action to require immunizations for school children. These two charts from Mother Jones show the alarming trend in the US against vaccination. US Person thinks your dumb is showing, again:

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Nations Take Action to Stop Slaughter

courtesy: Interpol
A cooperative sting operation in Africa netted the arrest of 400 suspects involved in wildlife crime and a large amount of contraband as well as intelligence about the operation of crime networks responsible for wildlife trafficking. Operation Cobra II involved investigators from 28 countries, UN organizations and Interpol. Using the World Customs Organizations secure computer network CENcomm, the participants coordinated their operational activities and shared intelligence. The operation seized 36 rhino horns, over three metric tons of elephant tusks, 10,000 turtles, 1,000 skins of protected animals, and 200 tons of rosewood logs. Of course it would be much better if the animals represented by these remains were still living. This partial success comes at a time when 46 nations came together in London at the invitation of Prince Charles and the government last week to combat world wildlife crime that is threatening the existence of many beloved species such as the elephant, tiger and rhino. Head of Interpol Mireille Ballestrazzi told the gathered national leaders that cooperation was absolutely essential to combat "trafficking activities fostered by expanding crime networks, profits and weak criminal sanctions". On a global basis the illegal ivory trade has more than doubled since 2007. Wildlife trafficking is estimated to be the fourth largest international crime in the world. Perhaps as many as 35,000 elephants were killed in 2012. For 2013 the shocking number is estimated to be 100 a day! Elephants will not survive this mass slaughter. For its part, the current administration announced earlier this month it will ban the commercial trading of ivory in the United States. Anyone proposing to sell elephant ivory or rhino horn in the US must show that it is exempt from the ban. Antiques are exempt but they must have provenance of at least 100 years. The next step is to ban elephant trophy hunting. It is undeniable that most trophies are taken by rich western nimrods. Given the current onslaught by illegal hunters, legal hunting of elephants is simple unconscionable and in humane.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hungry Bears Contribute to Arctic Bird Decline

Birds across the Arctic are experiencing increasing stress related to climate change that contributes to foraging and reproductive failures according to Canadian researchers. The reasons for the decline in murres, falcons, ptarmigans, gulls and skuas are not altogether understood, but one reason is perfectly clear: hungry polar bears unable to hunt seals because of declining sea ice are gobbling up hundreds of birds' eggs. A researcher with Environment Canada witnessed a polar bear rampage through 300 eider duck nests each containing four to five eggs. Nearly all of the eggs were consumed in a forty eight hour period.  Ground nesting birds are easy targets, but cliff dwellers are not save either. Thick-billed murres are loosing their eggs to bears that walk over the edge and along ledges to raid nests. Polar bears prefer red seal meat, but they must remain land bound until the sea freezes over. Now freeze-over is thirty days late and thaw is thirty days earlier forcing bears to find other food sources. Bear incursions into nesting areas have increased seven times since the 1980s.

Bears are not the only reason for some Arctic bird specie's declines. As many as sixty percent of adult peregrines in the Yukon are not nesting. Collapsing prey cycles may be a reason. Higher Arctic temperatures have an impact on vegetation which in turn affects the rodent populations on which predatory birds depend for food. A team of Danish scientists recently documented how a lemming collapse at two Greenland sites resulted in a 98% drop in snowy owls. Lemmings are sensitive to snow conditions because it provides insulation for nestlings. Increasing amounts of rain on the west coast of Hudson Bay are is causing up to a third of peregrine chicks to die of hypothermia. Their downy white coats are well adapted for snow cover, but wet down provides little insulation value. Ivory gulls like bears maybe suffering from retreating sea ice which makes it more difficult to fish. Evidence of high mercury levels in seal carcasses which the gulls scavenge could be another factor in their population declines.

The circumpolar Arctic is remote and vast, encompassing multiple international borders, so scientific research there is fragmented. Add to these diplomatic, logistical and funding problems the complexity of the natural relationships involved and it is easy to understand why man is unprepared for the rapid changes taking place. To obtain a clearer picture of what is happening to Arctic wildlife as a result of climate change, international cooperation and more intensive study is needed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

True America: Got Estrogen?

Plastics. The one word given to inspire Dustin Hoffman's alienated character in the classic film, The Graduate. Plastics, a multi-billion dollar industry, are environmentally ubiquitous and generally thought to be a harmless boon to humankind. But as science delves into the effects of plastics on wildlife and human development, evidence is being collected that some plastics disrupt the mammalian endoncrine system. Bisphenol-A was the first ingredient in polycarbonate plastics to be identified as an estrogen-like substance in 1937, when it was first synthesized. Despite this knowledge BPA was grandfathered in as safe when Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act in 1976. In 1996, zoologist Theo Colborn finds that synthetic hormones in plastics, pesticides, and other manufactured products disrupt the endocrine system in animals, leading to disease and reproductive problems. Yet it was not until 2006 that the EPA convened a panel of thirty-eight scientists which concluded 95% of humans have an exposure to BPA within the range associated with disease in animals. Canada labled BPA a "dangerous substance" in 2008, but because of chemical industry pressure and sponsored research, it was not until 2012 that the FDA banned the use of this one chemical in baby bottles. Of course a myriad of other products are still made with BPA. Substitutes such as PET (polyethylene terephthalate) have also be found to leach synthetic estrogen. Many other plastics have tested positive for estrogenic activity. (See Mother Jones, March/April 2014 issue). Low sperm counts, no male sex drive, or early puberty, anyone? This Swedish documentary discusses the dangers posed by unrestrained, chronic exposure to common plastics:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

'Toontime: When the World Is Your Trough

[credit: Horsey, LA Times]
Big Cheese Idonwanna sez: Jays nest in tall trees above wild cats until rain comes!

Wackdoodle sez:  Wha' we a'have here iz, a failure ta co'mun'cate! 

Martin Scorsese's obsession with organized criminals and his latest paean to greed aside, the stories of Wall Street decadence get more obnoxious than before: the elevator operator at Goldman Sachs just inked a deal with Simon & Schuster!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Very Cruel and Extremely Unusual

Further:An Oklahoma federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday against a Tulsa compounding pharmacy from supplying a drug to the Missouri Department of Corrections for an upcoming execution. The suit filed by Missouri death row inmate Michael Taylor argues that pentobarbital would inflict inhumane pain during his execution. The pharmacy was also ordered to respond to the restraining order, but it is not clear what the drug is or even if The Apothecary Shoppe in Tulsa is Missouri's supplier. The state is maintaining secrecy concerning the supplier's identity. Oklahoma inmate Michael Lee Wilson told his executioners that he felt his whole body was burning within 20 seconds of receiving the fatal injection of phenobarbital on January 9th.

More: {10.02.14}Florida's high court ordered an evidentiary review of the state's use of midazolam, a sedative, in capital punishment by injection. Convict Paul Howell's appeal for a stay was lifted and he was scheduled for execution on February 26th before the state supreme court ordered the evidentiary hearing on the question: does the use of midazolam in the the three drug mixture violates the defendant's protection against "cruel and unusual" punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Only Florida uses the drug in a three drug protocol. Ohio and Louisiana currently use it their two drug procedure. The court wants information from the drug manufacturer concerning its use in executions. A suit was filed in Ohio by the children of Douglas McGuire last week when the two drug combination reportedly caused him to suffer visibly during his execution. A shortage of sodium thiopental has caused several states to modify their execution procedures. American manufacturers stopped making the drug in the US in 2009. Hospira, the last manufacturer supplying the drug for lethal injections stopped importation in January of 2011 In 2011 DEA seized Georgia's supply of the drug to investigate whether it was properly imported. Kentucky and Tennessee turned in their supplies after the seizure.

{30.01.14}States seeking to execute prisoners are having increasing difficulties finding the drugs potent enough to kill quickly and allegedly without pain. Some manufacturers of lethal drugs are refusing to supply them for executions, so authorities are turning to untested and unregulated drugs from compounding pharmacies. Compounded drugs are not approved by the FDA, and the state procurement process is being shrouded in official secrecy. When Ohio executed Dennis McGuire, it used a mixture of two untried drugs because the maker of the previously used drug refused to supply it for capital punishment. The lethal cocktail did not work very well. McGuire took 15 minutes to die and appeared to suffer from air starvation as he snorted and gasped. Ohio used an intravenous dose of the sedative midazolam and the painkiller hydromorphone. Last year, Missouri scheduled to kill two convicted murderers using propofol, a common anesthetic, but changed plans after the German manufacturer asked for the drug to be return on the grounds the company would risk EU sanctions. Missouri turned to pentobarbital supplied by an unregulated compounding pharmacy. Lethal injection is now the primary method of execution in 32 states after previously used methods were judged to be too inhuman. The electrocution of murderer John Evans in Alabama took 14 minutes. Sparks and flames flew from his head as three attempts were made to end his life. Twice a pulse was found on his charred body. Jimmy Lee Gray convulsed for minutes in Mississippi's gas chamber and banged his head repeatedly against a steel pole before expiring.

However, death penalty opponents are concerned lethal injections can cause extreme pain, and untested combinations may increase the risk of cruel and unusual punishment. In December 2006 it took 34 minutes and a second round of injections for Angel Diaz to die in Florida. An autopsy showed the first injections were botched: his arms showed chemical burns and needles were pushed through veins into soft tissue. He probably died from progressive suffocation and experienced potassium-induced sensation of burning according to a research paper. Several inmates have survived botched executions to tell of their painfully barbaric experiences. Execution states employed a three drug formula for decades until a US company that supplied one of the key ingredients, the barbiturate sodium thiopental, stopped making it. EU manufacturers have sought to block the use of their products for executions in the US. Research has shown that the death penalty is significantly more expensive than life-long incarceration. California has spent about $4 billion to maintain capital punishment since 1978, but has executed only 13 prisoners. The Arkansas Attorney General, whose state has not executed a prisoner since 2005, describes the capital punishment system in the US as "completely broken".

Moje Valentýnka

Jako zlaté včely jsem poháněn Columbinský vašima očima;
Pokud sen květina minut chodil na zázraky, ta včela by letět do jeho lásku; 
Teď když zjistil, že chce moje zmatení ve své silné křídel; 
Budeš moje Valentýnka?

Market for Ivory Also in US

illegal ivory seized at JFK
US Person thinks it is a great public relations stunt to crush tons of seized ivory.  It does not cost a lot to put on the media event and talk is cheap as we all know. The fact is the United States has a illegal ivory market second only to China and other Asian countries, and little has been done to change that fact. Ivory trading is largely unmonitored in the US. The ability and willingness of sellers and consumers to identify pre-1976 ivory is questionable at best. It is legal to sell Asian elephant ivory before that date when Asian elephants were listed as endangered under the ESA. The cut-off date is 1989 for importing African ivory. Antique lovers will be pleased to know that antique ivory more than 100 years old is still legal to buy and sell.

courtesy: US Person
Perhaps the casual treatment of ivory will end
now that the administration has announced it will change regulations soon to ban interstate sales of all ivory except certified antiques; limit tusk trophies to two per hunter; cut off commercial imports of antique ivory; and increase certification requirements for the remaining trade. Americans can go into swank stores in major US cities and find ivory for sale. Between 2009 and 2012, 7,500 ivory carvings and 1,746 trophies were legally brought into the US. Thousands more ivory pieces and loose tusks were imported illegally during the same period according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Determining the difference between legal and illegal ivory is often difficult for law enforcement officials, and the motivation to evade is substantial when ivory is currently valued at $1500/lb. The law requires the government to prove a defendant knew ivory in his possession was illegal, often an impossible task. One of the proposed regulatory changes will put the burden on the possessor to show the ivory is legal. Placing limits on sport hunting of elephants is unpopular in Congress since it is populated with wealthy nimrods who enjoy boasting of their privilege to kill Earth's largest land mammal with a high powered rifle at a distance. Ending any market in the United States except for certified antiques would make enforcing the ban against commercial ivory much easier to enforce. A complete prohibition might convince other ivory market countries to follow our example, and it would even save a few elephants too at a time when every individual counts.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yellowstone Park Slaughters Wild Bison

The almost inexplicable mismanagement of America's last wild bison herd living in Yellowstone National Park continues with the announcement of the Park's plan to slaughter 600 to 800 bison to keep the population down between 3,000 and 3,500 animals. Buffalo advocates say this limit is nowhere near the natural carrying capacity of the ecosystem and is politically derived, not based on science. Perhaps to make the slaughter more publicly acceptable, it will be conducted by native tribes under an agreement with the Park Service. The justification for this inhuman treatment is the usual scare word, brucellosis. Need US Person repeat the fact that there has never been one documented case of wild bison transmitting the disease to cattle? Other wildlife, such as elk, carry brucellosis, yet are not slaughtered and are left to migrate and commingle with cattle. This culturally ingrained mistreatment continues year upon year with millions spent on a useless Interagency Bison "Management" plan that forcibly prevents natural migration, subjects the animals to hazing from the air, and captures large numbers for quarantine and slaughter. Nearly 7200 wild bison have been eliminated from the last wild bison population since 1985. It is the only population to remain genetically free of cattle genes. Currently there are about 4400 buffalo living in Yellowstone. Before their near extermination, an estimated 30 to 60 million buffalo ranged from Canada to Mexico on the Great Plains; by 1890 that number was reduced to only 1,000. The slaughter of the buffalo is one of this country's greatest crimes against nature*, and incredibly a crime that continues to this day.

*a non-exhaustive list, not in order of gravity, includes: the chemical defoliation of Vietnamese forests; the over-appropriation of the Colorado River; the industrial pollution of the Gulf of Mexico; genocide of the American Indian; the extirpation of the passenger pigeon; atmospheric nuclear weapons testing; the Dust Bowl; the many Superfund sites that remain untreated; the persecution of the grey wolf etc. 

Unusual Number of Whales Stranded in Florida

courtesy: NOAA
Fearing that pilot whales and other whale species may have contracted morbillivirus that has affected
dolphins in the northeast, marine biologists are perplexed by what has caused 93 whales to be stranded in the last two months. They have ruled out Navy sonar, however, since no exercises were being conducted near the strandings; however, storms can disorient them. 91 of the whales were stranded in two incidents. On December 4th 43 pilot whales were caught in the shallows of Everglades National Park. Nine died. Four days later 11 pilot of whales of the same pod beached at Snipe Point and all of those died. Between January 19th and 22nd, 12 pilot whales beached between Naples and Fort Myers. Eight died in that episode. On the 25th, twenty-five more whales believed to be of the same pod were found dead on Kice Island. Pilot whales, despite their name, are apparently notorious for going aground. There are records of mass strandings in New England going back to Puritan settlements. Two sperm whales were found dead during the same time period.  Pilot and sperm whales are deep divers and rarely come near shallow water.  If they do, it is generally because something is distressing the mammals say experts. On average, Florida has 200 whales each year strand on its coast with a mass episode occurring about every three years.  Biologists took tissue samples for examination from the beached whales.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Bumblebees Are High Altitude Flyers

Thought Bombus was a genus of slow flying insects that look awkward in the air? Think again, Sherlock. True, they have oversized bodies and comparatively tiny wings, but some of the 250 species of Bombus are capable of flying over the Himalayas. Bumblebees in Nepal occurr naturally as high as 5600m where the air is thin. Scientists supported in part by National Geographic captured six males of the species Bombus impetuosus at 10,600 feet [photo] and studied their flying in a pressure chamber where the atmosphere could be reduced in increments corresponding to an increase in altitude of 1500 feet. Their results were published in the journal, Biology Letters (Dillon & Dudley). All of the tested bees could fly above 7500m. Three of the intrepid insect aviators flew at altitudes in excess of 8,000 meters, and two of the six managed an altitude exceeding the peak of Mt. Everest! The bees achieved lift in the rarified atmospheres by increasing the angular amplitude of their wing motion (wider flaps). Having a large thorax seemed to also give a slight advantage. That they are able to perform this prodigy of high-altitude flight when their bodies' need for oxygen is at its peak is remarkable. The study authors suggest that this ability to fly at high altitudes aid alpine bees in long-distance foraging across elevation gradients, and produces sudden bursts of speed required in mating and predator avoidance. Whether female bumblebees can perform at extreme altitudes with their smaller bodies and wing size remains to be studied.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

COTW: Wally World Collapse

When the US consumer is out of work, he can't order cable TV. When he can't order cable TV, he gets frustrated. When he is frustrated, he goes outside and does stupid things. Don't do stupid things! But that advice does stop retail office builders, as this chart shows:

The bar chart on the left shows that traffic in retail stores at malls was down during the holidaze, usually the make or break period for retailers. Yet retail space builders increased the amount of floor space available by 43.8 million square feet in 2013. Fewer people are traversing the 109,500 shopping mega-marts that cover our land. When consumers are responsible for 70% of the nation's GDP, no amount of almost-free money from the Fed issued to its private bank stockholders is going to turn that statistic around. The consumer is busted because he is out of work, or his real income has declined. The boom before the bust was financed by debt and rising home equities. That free lunch ended in 2008. Now she is spending more money on gasoline and food than techogadgets:

Gas prices are 150% higher than they were in the early 2000 and that impacts the cost of almost everything including food. The sad fact is the middle class is shrinking, regardless of Barry Soetoro's rhetoric. The labor force has shrunk dramatically over the last fourteen years as this chart shows:

charts source: James Quinn,
To compound the problem of the falling number of decent wage earners is the demographic reality that the United States population bulge known as the "baby boomers" are about to enter their golden years without substantial savings (<$50,000) and when elderly people spend less (about 40% less than the peak spending period of 45-54 for those over 65). Frustrated with the facts? You bet.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

True America: When DDT Was Fun!

DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-tricholoroethane) was so effective against insect pests, people were painting it on their window screens! Kids, unaware of the serious health effects, ran behind fogging trucks when municipalities sprayed neighborhoods to kill mosquitoes. US Person was guilty of this incredibly stupid play and offers only his youthful naivete and parental ignorance as an excuse. People exposed to high amounts on their skin or by breathing airborne particles experienced dizziness, sweating, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Animal testing shows that long-term moderate exposure damages the liver and can affect reproduction. DDT is lipophilic, so it accumulates in fatty tissues. DDT was first synthesized in 1874, but its insecticidal properties were not discovered until 1939 by a Swiss chemist who received the 1948 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery. It was used extensively during the war to control malaria and typhus. Sherwin Williams, the paint company, began marketing DDT as a paintable product in the mid-1940s under the trade name "Pestroy". At its peak of use, DDT was registered for use on 334 agricultural commodities and about 85,000 tons of it was produced in the US. DDT was banned in the US in 1972. It is now only to be used in case of public health emergencies. Of course the ecological effects of such an inundation were not known for decades until Rachel Carson, a federal government biologist and other conservationists sounded the alarm. Her 1962 book "Silent Spring" is now a classic of conservation. Carson's book and reputation was viciously attacked by chemical companies. The our national symbol, the bald eagle, was almost extirpated by DDT because it weakened the shell of its eggs. The eagle was just one of the more prominent wildlife victims of indescriminate use of DDT. DDT is now known to be a probable human carcinogen. Something similar to the case of DDT is occurring with the continued use of neonicotinoid pesticides despite increasing scientific evidence it is contributing to the demise of the honeybee.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Creature Feature: Hidden Culture of Chimpanzees Located

In what could be a discovery of unintended consequences, biologists sponsored by the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology trekked hundreds of miles through mostly pristine Bili-Uele rainforest to find a large culture of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) thriving. Protected by uncharted wilderness on the border between the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, the chimpanzees were not studied until the previous decade. It may be the last large continuous population of chimps in Africa, referred to by one of the researchers as a "mega-culture". Perhaps thousands of these apes share a common set of customs and behaviors across an area of 50,000 square kilometers. Camera traps show the unusually large chimpanzees feasting on leopard, building ground nests, and enjoying a delicacy, giant African snails. This video shows a mother with her baby gather insects using a tool, a prepared twig. Infant chimps learn their culture by watching adults carefully:

The cameras also recorded a wealth of other wildlife including forest elephants, red river and giant forest hogs. Human threats to this actual Eden were never very remote. Some cameras were lost when a gang of poachers entered the area and burned the researchers' camp. Elephant skulls marked the active presence of ivory poachers. The bushmeat trade is taking an incredible toll on primates. 440 chimps a year are being killed in the southern part of the forest each year according to Cleve Hicks, a primatologist who headed the team. He told interviewers that the pristine region needs a minimum of twenty rangers to control humans hunting. Prime Minister David Cameron and Prince Charles will host a summit this month of 50 heads of state in an effort to gain political commitments and money to combat the mass destruction of wildlife at the hands of organized criminals and insurgents. Stoping the slaughter will take sustained, concerted effort because the illegal trade in wildlife parts is worth an estimated $19 billion a year. Elephant ivory and rhino horn are now worth more than diamonds or gold.

'Toontime: Alternate Economy

[credit: Joe Koterba, Omaha World-Herald]
BC Idonwanna sez: J's fly over blue demons to rain on red storm!
And Repugnants will not even vote to extend unemployment benefits! Employers can afford to be real picky since there are three applicants for each job opening. What is the economic miracle cure being offered by the current occupant, Barry Soetoro? See below, but beware of side effects. Consult your local witch doctor if you experience any of these conditions:

[credit: Glenn McCoy]
Wackydoodle sez: My doctor uses a rock!

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Syria Stalls Chemical Weapons Removal

Latest Syria's foreign ministry signed an agreement yesterday to dispose of chemical weapons within the country. Russia, Syria's ally, also announced the agreement. OPWC reported two weapons shipments were made in January but the pace is not fast enough to complete the disposal by March 1st. OPCW's Director said at the executive council meeting last Friday a way had to be found to allow Syria to meet its obligations under the international agreement to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal. Presumably, this latest announcement is the way forward on the process. Significant international resources have been committed to disposal of the weapons at sea. The Council agreed to reconvene on 21 February to continue deliberations.

{1.02.14}More: US Person is always suspicious of any organization that runs only on unanimous consent. It is a formula for stasis. But weapons experts say that is the way the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) operates. The executive council has only voted to take action twice in its history. Syria knows this and is willing to drag the removal process out to gain any advantage it can wring out of the ponderous international system. The existence of a large stockpile of chemical weapons is one reason to keep the regime in power, and it has attempted to bargain for additional military equipment it says is needed to ship the chemicals to the coast. The UN voted for penalties if Syria violates the accord, but Russia already has warned that it wants 100% proof of any alleged violations by Syria. The United States is now in a political position in which unilateral military strikes are off the table. That leaves enforcing the agreement to destroy Syria's stockpile to the OPWC. It has powers to address non-compliance including challenge inspections, but it has never invoked those powers, and never before in the middle of a civil war. OPWC procedures also call for intensive consultations with the alleged violator, a process that could go on for months or even years as in the case of Iranian dictator Saddam Hussein who played cat-and-mouse with UN inspectors before the United States invaded his country. A key deadline for exporting Syria's deadliest chemical agents and ingredients has already been missed. It is on the verge of missing a deadline on February 5th for removal of less toxic chemicals. Syrian recalcitrance should not be surprising given that what is left of the country is run by a dictator willing to gas and starve his own. The MV Cape Ray, the ship that will do the detoxification at sea, has already set sail from Norfolk for the Mediterranean. The world is waiting, Mr. Assad.

{30.01.14}Despite controlling most of the territory, the Syrian government is behind schedule on its promise to give up its chemical weapons. Only 4% of the stockpile has reached the port of Latakia and transported offshore by Norwegian and Danish ships. Concern is rising that the beleaguered government may try to use its stockpile as a bargaining chip in the deadlocked peace talks. The weapons are due to be removed by June 30th. The UN backed deal to destroy the stockpile was reached between the United States and Russia after a major chemical attack was carried out by the government in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta last summer. However, subsequent investigation by UN weapons inspectors has determined chemical weapons have been used by both sides in the civil war. Apart from assessing blame, the government is responsible for packing and transporting the weapons to Latakia. The weapons are supposed to be destroyed at sea by the US since dumping them violates the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention since no country was willing to accept responsibility for their destruction. Mobile units for destroying chemical weapons are available. Russia was the original source of Syria's chemical arsenal and has a chemical weapons destruction facility at Shchuch'ye. According to reports its destruction program is already running at full capacity handling Russia's extensive arsenal. Defense Secretary Hagel said he asked Russia's defense minister to influence the Syrian government to comply with the agreement. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that oversees the removal operation is meeting at the Hague to discuss the lack of progress. Only about 16 tons out of a total of 630 tons have been delivered for destruction so far.

Bolivia Creates World's Largest Protected Wetlands

Green Kudos go to Bolivia for creating 6.9 million hectare protected wetland, Llanos de Moxos, in the Amazon basin. WWF presented its Gift to the Earth award to Bolivia for outstanding conservation leadership. Bolivia has committed to preserving 15 million hectares of wetlands under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty for conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The country, though relatively poor, has been recognized for its laudable environmental policies.

Davos: A Green Beginning?

Davos is the last place one would think a progressive idea for saving the world from climate change would be put on the table. The idyllic Swiss village is the annual stage for the world's privileged elite to flaunt their wealth and status. But of all people the head of the World Bank, hardly a conservation oriented organization, Jim Yong Kim, called for a price on carbon at the World Economic Forum. US Person has long advocated placing a price on carbon emissions so they can be integrated into global price mechanisms and taxed. Right now carbon is completely 'out of the box' when economic decisions are made in board rooms. He also asked for financial regulators to begin requiring companies to disclose their climate related risks, and for greater use of green bonds in investment portfolios. Green bonds finance various climate adaptations and mitigation projects. He wants green investments to rise frm $20 billion to $50 billion by the time of a new international climate agreement is reached in Paris, 2015. Governments agreed to seal a deal by 2015 to begin bringing down global greenhouse gas emissions. The UN's top climate official, Christiana Figueres, was optimistic that this year's World Economic Forum would be the beginning of international efforts to transition to a low-carbon world. Not a moment too soon either. UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who visited the Phillipines and saw for himself the destruction wrought by a climate intensified typhoon, called global warming an "existential threat" to humanity. Globally, weather related losses and damage have risen from about $50 billion a year in the 1980s to close to $200 billion a year over the last decade. You do not have to be a Davos-goer to help achieve a low-carbon world by asking the EPA to adopt carbon emission limits on new power plants in the United States.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

COTW: Long Train A'Comin

Reuters did an analysis of the amount bitumen shipped by rail versus the proposed Keystone XL pipe.  It PNG's chart of the week:

Keystone, as the chart demonstrates graphically, is indeed "XL". Keystone's estimated volume per day of 830,000 barrels is equivalent to 1,383 rail cars!  Projected capacity dwarfs rail car capacity which is much more expensive. Experts believe alternative transportation methods such as rail will economically constrain exploitation of the tar sands deposits and consequently reduce the amount of CO₂ entering the atmosphere from this fossil fuel source.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Keystone Pipeline XL Gets Another Green Light

The State Department warmed over the greenwash contained in the draft EIS and served it up again in its supplemental statement on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project. The bottom line from State is the erroneous conclusion that the pipeline, if built, is "unlikely to affect the rate of extraction in oil sands areas." So why build such a huge project if the bitumen can be shipped out by other means? The petroleum industry wants the pipeline for two very basic economic reasons: a high volume pipeline is the cheapest way to get bitumen to refineries which is important when the Canadian product must be competitively priced on the international market. Secondly, extraction of bitumen is expensive and in order to fully exploit the Alberta deposits, a transport system must be able to handle high volumes.

Shipping by rail is not an economic alternative and would likely constrict the amount of bitumen eventually mined. Shipments from Canada to the Gulf Coast by rail have not exceeded 30,000 barrels per day in any of the past 12 months according to the US Energy Information Administration. Seventy-five percent of Canadian heavy crude is processed in the Midwest. Keystone XL is expected to carry 830,000 barrels a day south to the Gulf. Canadian oil and gas producers are counting on this huge increase in capacity facilitated by the pipeline. Its industry association forecasted a doubling of bitumen production rates to 3.1 billion barrels/day by 2020 and 5.0 billion bpd by 2030. The fact is Keystone XL, or something like it, is essential to the full economic exploitation of the dirty energy in the Alberta tar sands. The Canadian producers are pursuing other routes in an effort to reach international markets. However these routes, notably the trans-Rockies route to British Columbia, are also running into stiff environmental opposition. But thanks to our corporate owned national government, Canadian oil men view the international route south to be more feasible.

The supplemental EIS admits, because it would be incredible to do otherwise, the pipeline "would contribute to cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions". That is an understatement of ecologically disastrous proportions. Not only is bitumen the dirtiest liquid fuel on the planet because it contains high amounts of sulphur, heavy metals, and other environmentally toxic waste products, (not called "heavy crude" for nothing) refining it requires huge inputs of energy and produces petcoke as a byproduct. Petcoke, when not being dumped onto air-polluting tips is burned in places like China where it fouls the air with even more heat-trapping gases. The pipeline will emit 181 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year or as much as 51 coal fired generating plants.

Of course, lost in all the happy talk of no significant impacts from the State Department are the permanent, long-term adverse effects the pipeline would have on wildlife and other natural assets such as dark night skies and no anthropogenic noise. In a letter to State the Interior Department expressed concern that the statement fails to adequately assess the project's impact on the Niobrara River, Verdigre Creek, and Missouri River, segments of which are managed by the National Park Service as wild and scenic. The existing Keystone Oil pipeline has had fourteen leaks disclosed in the draft EIS to the date of Interior's letter. The letter goes on to mention the many species including migratory birds and their habitat that would be severely impacted should a spill occur.  But as far as the State Department is concerned building the Keystone XL is a foregone conclusion.

The Waiting Becomes Too Much

Not too long ago US Person posted about the scandal involving Air Force launch officers. Their hands rest upon the nation's nuclear trigger. It is not everyone's cup of tea to sit locked inside a concrete and steel tube buried for twenty-four hours beneath the northern prairie waiting for presidential orders to destroy civilization. [photo]. So the tedium and stress apparently is taking its toll on morale. AP reports the Pentagon has been forced to pull from duty nearly one out of five missile launch officers for drug use or cheating on proficiency tests. Presidential orders to loose the nuclear weapon are to be carried out within two minutes. The number implicated has doubled since January 9th when the investigation was publicly announced. 92 officers assigned to Malmstrom AFB, Montana are charged with being involved in cheating. Two launch officers were implicated in illegal drug use and suspended from duties. Malmstrom is the base for 150 Minuteman III ICBMs or one-third of the nation's ICBM force. Each missile carries a warhead 27 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb and can incinerate everything within in a 50 mile radius. Blast, heat and radiation would kill everything for hundreds of more miles. It is an awesome job to say the least with little room for error as Defense Secretary Hagel noted during a visit to another missile base in Wyoming.

Troublemakers within US Strategic Command are not just junior officers. Commander Maj. Gen. Michael Carey went on a drunken binge in Moscow during a US-Russian nuclear security exercise. Other officers who saw Carey said he cavorted with questionable women at a bar, demanded to be allowed to play with the band, and insulted his Russian hosts with remarks about whistleblower Edward Snowden and Russia's ally Syria. Vice Admiral James Giardina, second in command at Strategic Command, was fired for gambling with fake casino chips. Top Pentagon commanders point to a widening social gap between a professionalized armed forces and the civilian population they are supposed to protect as a source of disillusionment within the military. The unpopular and unsuccessful Iraq and Afghanistan wars have no doubt contributed to this unease. Admiral Michael Mullen, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Weekly Standard America needs to adopt two years of mandatory national service to prevent an isolated military from becoming "a disaster for America" and a danger to democracy. US Person could not agree more.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

True America: "A Chocolate Baby"

US Person has refrained from lending any form of credence to the "birthers" campaign to smear Barry Soetoro because he knows what it is like to be the target of a character assassination campaign. At this late date, however, rabid research from the right is making it increasing clear that there is something very--irregular--about the Current Occupant's background; but then there is nothing criminal about being adopted by an Indonesian stepfather. The most eye opening factoid posted on the web so far in his humble opinion, exceeding Soetoro's Kenyan hospital certificate of live birth displaying a baby's footprint (NOT the fake "Republic of Kenya" birth registration), is this article by a former defense contractor, Tom Fife. Raving of a homophobic, right-wing zealot--you decide. If The Current Occupant was Marxist trained you certainly cannot attest by his record in the White House. And if this unverifiable, inflammtory anecdote proves anything, it proves Soviet intelligence was aware of Barack Hussein Obama II, aka Barry Soetoro, long before Americans were. So whose your long-legged mack daddy now?