Wednesday, July 30, 2014

COTW: Deadbeat Nation

US Person has been posting for years that the American middle class is in perhaps, permanent decline as membership shrinks and those still deserving the label are subjected to debt slavery. According to new research by the Urban Institute about 77 million Americans have unpaid debts in collection. That is about 35% of consumers with credit files or data reported by major credit bureaus. The average owed is $5,178. This map shows that the most collections are taking place in the southeast and southwest. In twelve southern states more than 40% of residents with a credit file have a bill in collections:
Collections can be a lot more annoying that unpleasant telephone calls. A bill sent to a collection service stays as a negative mark on a person's credit file for up to seven years which in turn hinders chances of getting credit, renting an apartment, or even be offered a job. The Urban Institute concluded that stagnant incomes are a key factor in failure to pay indebtedness. Wells Fargo bank found that after-tax income for the bottom 20% of wage earners fell during the so-called five year recovery.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Frist Effective Malaria Vaccine

The world's first effective malaria vaccine is close to being approved for widespread use by 2015. Researchers reporting in PLoS Medicine said for every 1000 cases of malaria in children 800 could be prevented by vaccine injections. The vaccine has completed a large-scale Phase III trial. Over eighteen months of follow-up RTS,S was shown to almost halve the number of malaria cases in small young children (5-17 months). The drug is intended to trigger the patient's immune system to defend against Plasmodium falciparum when it first enters the bloodstream or infects liver cells. The parasite matures and multiplies in the human liver before attacking red blood cells. The vaccine's effectiveness appears to wane over time, but studies are underway to determine if booster shots will improve its benefit. Most deaths from malaria are children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. An estimated 660,000 deaths from malaria occur each year. GlaxoSmithKline has asked the European Medicine Authority to approve the use of its vaccine. An independent expert from St. George's University of London called the vaccine a landmark since the development landscape is "littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and center". The Gates Foundation contributed more than $200 million in grants to the vaccine's development. The pharmaceutical giant GSK has invested $360 million so far and expects to spend another $260 million until development is completed.

Pangolins Are Being Eaten Into Extinction

Because of a food fad in Asia, pangolins (Manis s.) are facing extinction. Pangolin scales are also in demand by China's bizarre traditional medicine trade. IUCN in its latest "Red List" update has listed all eight species of the world's only scaly mammal as threatened by human consumption. Demand in Asia for pangolin meat is so great, that poachers are now turning to Africa where four species are found for supply. Over a million have been illegally traded in the just the last ten years. In May Chinese officials stopped a truck headed for the border of Guangdong Province. It was loaded with 189 coolers. Stuffed inside were 956 dead pangolins weighing a total of four tons.

Pangolins are the result of 70 million years of evolution and are so unique in the mammal world that they are classified in their own Order: Pholidota. They are exclusively insectivores, using their sharp claws to dig into termite mounds and a long tongue to eat the insects. Both the Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica)[photo] and the Chinese pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) are now Critically Endangered according to IUCN. There is no scientific basis for any medicinal properties of pangolin scales.

Friday, July 25, 2014

'Toontime: Mythopocalypse

Two American myths US Person finds particularly pernicious are featured in these two cartoons by Jim Morin of the Miami Herald:

BC Idonwanna sez: No peace pipe for you, either!

Anglo-americans behave as if the American continent was devoid of life when they arrived in the New World. Fact is they committed heinous genocides and environmental crimes to eliminate, reduce, and subdue the thriving native population while despoiling Nature for profit. The United States may be a child of Europa, but it was a rape not a seduction.

Wackydoodle sez: Really, Hillary's legal career was all volunteer work!

The "rags to riches" story is one endlessly exploited by eites and still appreciated by some locked in wage peonage. Hope were every it comes from is hard to dispell and if the pose helps you win the White House where rent is free and financial success assured, she also owns a bridge in the "Land of Opportunity" she wants to sell you.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Argentina's Peninsula Valdés Dedicated Biosphere Reserve

A rugged peninsula in Argentina's Patagonia region has been declared by UNESCO to be a biosphere reserve. Peninsula Valdés on the Atlantic coast has the largest breeding colony of southern sea elephants in the world. The haven also supports 70,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins, over 10,000 sea lions, 4,000 southern right whales, and 4,000 guanacos, a relative of the llama. The area is threatened by three nearby large cities and uncontrolled access by humans using off-road vehicles. The new reserve was declared last month in Sweden by the biosphere coordinating committee. It covers four million acres included a previously unprotected area known as Punta Ninfas. Wildlife Conservation Society began working in the 60s to protect the Peninsula, recognized as one of the most prolific wildlife habitats on the entire Patagonian coast. The orcas of Valdés are world famous for their unique seal pup hunting technique in which they surf [photo] and risk beaching themselves to snag pups who get too close to the waves.

Death Penalty Perversion Goes On

The US Supreme Court allowed the State of Arizona to execute Joseph Wood for committing a double murder ant it took the executioners two hours to do it. The execution made a mockery of the supposedly human method of lethal injection. States which insist on the death penalty are experiencing a raft of difficulties both pharmacological and legal since European suppliers cut off drug exports for use in executions. State authorities have had to turn to "compounding pharmacies" that are not FDA regulated for an alternate supply of lethal drugs. Wood gasped and snorted for more than an hour in the Florence, Arizona death chamber according to his lawyers. They filed an emergency stay of execution request based on his federal constitutional right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment, but the governor said Wood died in a "lawful manner". Wood gasped for air more than 600 times before dying. Some of the pharmaceuticals used to kill capital offenders paralyze the lungs. Arizona said it would use a combination of midazolam and hydromorphone. The family members of Wood's victims were unconcerned with Woods' apparent suffering. A reporter witnessing the execution said Wood looked like "a fish gulping for air." One suggest he should have been shot, another claimed his gasping sounded like snoring. Woods' attorneys sought to have the state name the drugs' manufacturer, but the US Supreme Court rejected their appeal in a last minute decision. A federal judge has ordered local officials to preserve all physical evidence of Woods' execution. In his emergency request for a stay of execution Wood argued that an anesthetic (midazolam) recently introduced into the protocol could fail to render an inmate unconscious before injection of a lethal drug, thus subjecting him to a agonizing death. Arizona like other states experiencing difficulties with drug supplies turned to midazolam after it ran out of sodium thiopental. The US manufacturer stopped making it in 2009 and European companies are forbidden to export it for death penalty purposes by EU regulation.

The fact that the death penalty in the United States is a broken institution is so obvious that federal judges are ruling it unconstitutional. The latest ruling comes from California were federal judge Cormac J. Carney vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones saying the system leaves inmates with uncertain fates often for decades making the system cruel and therefore violative of the Eight Amendment. Judge Carney observed in his opinion that executions in California are so infrequent and delays so extraordinary that the penalty is deprived of any deterrent or retributive effect. 285 inmates on California's death row have been waiting for death longer than Jones. A state commission reviewing the California death penalty came to the same conclusions as Judge Carney. Nevertheless, conservative states like Texas and Oklamhoma continue to insist on using it to placate victims' families bent on revenge and the politicians' vindictive constituents. Judge Carney's decision will be appealed, but in the interim no death penalty executions will be carried out in California.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

COTW: Baltic Dry Index

Never heard of it, and why is it important? Is it a new brand of gin? Allow US to explain. Market aficionados consider the Baltic Dry Bulk Index to be a reliable predictor (leading indicator) of global GDP, one reason being it is devoid of speculative content. People do not ordinarily charter freighters unless they have actual goods to move. It measures the cost of shipping major raw materials and grain (dry bulk) by sea all over the world in 23 shipping routes. The Index originated from a committee of merchants that met in Threadneedle Street, London at first in the coffeehouse of Virginia & Baltick. The Index is at its lowest point since 1986:

World GDP growth expectations are collapsing and trade volumes slowing, but if you prefer the happy talk coming from Washington that everything is getting better all the time--well, its your dime.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Obama Does Not Care About Nature

An outrageous remark from a discredited, copy-cat blogger? Or perhaps an accurate summary of the Current Occupant's ambivalent, compromised attitude towards the adverse impact of climate change caused by fossil fuel burning. Presented for your consideration are two cases of elucidation:

PBS:  the latest climate-denial victim
Case One: A bureaucrat in the Rocky Mountain Region of the US Fish & Wildlife denies climate change is reducing snowfall in the critical denning areas of the wolverine in a seventeen page memo directing field scientists to reverse their conclusions on loss of habitat. Scientists have been urging the FWS to list American wolverines as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The federal bureaucracy left over from the Charlatan's reign in power has denied the wolverine protection twice and Rocky Mountain Regional Director Noreen Walsh is maintaining that policy line in her latest directive to field biologists. Walsh writes that although there is significant evidence climate change is impacting snowfalls and their persistence in the wolverine's range--avoiding the mistake of denying the undeniable--she concludes, "there is enough uncertainty about specific [not] draw definitive conclusions" and calls the scientists' conclusion about reduction of wolverine habitat because of climate change "speculation".  A huge amount of ideologically driven mental energy is needed to twist reality beyond recognition, but Walsh manages it. Another example further along in her memo-writing tour de force occurs when she again accepts reality by writing, "Therefore [there are projected loss] of areas with snow cover persisting until May 15th of 31% and 63%...", but then rejects the logical inference of habitat loss by blithely stating, "its not clear to me this actually represents an equivalent loss of habitat". Her memo exhibits a type of conditioned response that prohibits any recognition of climate change as constraining economic exploitation of Nature.

The most credible scientific data coming from satellite telemetry shows an absolute wolverine dependence on deep snow for denning purposes. Persistent spring snow, defined as lasting until May 15th, is as as close as humans can get to a scientifically valid indicator for critical wolverine habitat of any available. The largest density of wolverines below the Canadian border is in Glacier National Park, Montana. Its well studied glaciers are retreating so fast that researchers predict with confidence they will be gone by 2020. The glaciers are melting because snowfall is decreasing and temperatures are rising. There is no speculation about those facts. Walsh relies on comments from the wolf-killing fortress of wildlife haters, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game--emphasis on "Game" as in killing wildlife for fun and profit--to justify her directive to reverse course on listing the wolverine. She concludes, but of course only after "reviewing available information", that she is "unable to make a reliable prediction about how climate change will impact wolverine habitat into the foreseeable future." Seventeen pages of rhetorical nitpicking and logical legerdemain is spewed forth to support her arrogant bottom line: "I cannot support the recommendation that we list the wolverine as threatened." She seems to take pleasure in pointing out her anti-conservation diktat is supported by two other directors in Region Eight and One as well as state wildlife incumbents. The more they deny, the more destruction of the natural world, and Noreen Walsh will use her keyboard to kill again.

AP: the losers, an Atlantic right whale & calf
Case Two: Unable to say no to oil companies that provide his free lunch the Current Occupant has approved the use of whale killing sonic surveys for the Atlantic Ocean. Oil exploration has been kept off the Atlantic shelf for the most part due to concerns for protection of the coastline that is home to millions. That will change as exploration begins in earnest for new fossil fuel deposits to exploit. Hydrosonic blasts that travel hundreds of miles underwater are the geophysicist's tool of choice to find oil, but the problem is they kill marine mammals. The sonic cannons used to create seismic surveys will damage and perhaps even kill many turtles, whales, seals and dolphins that live in the coastal waters of the eastern US. Oil companies want the data to prepare for the lease sales of 2018 when the decades old ban against drilling of the Atlantic coast ends.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management admits an estimated 138,000 sea creatures, including nine of the last 500 North Atlantic right whales will be harmed by the weeks of sonic blasts louder than a jet engine every ten seconds reverberating into the deep and into the delicate hearing and sonar structures of sea mammals. The southern coastal states of Virginia and the Carolinas asked for the surveys. For now, New Jersey and New England are resisting exploration efforts. Whales give birth off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Marine turtles use Florida beaches to lay their eggs. Once a whale's hearing is destroyed by sonic blasts, the animal is done since it needs hearing to locate food, communication and navigation. Limited exploration of the Atlantic continental shelf in the 1980's failed to locate commercial oil and gas deposits, but the industry sees a bonanza of 4.72bn barrels of recoverable oil and 37.51tn cubic feet of gas lying offshore. Environmentalists are justifiably skeptical of the Current Occupant because actions like opening the Atlantic coast to oil and gas development cancel out all his happy talk.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

True America: Beyond Orwell's 1984

This video is of the Guardian's latest interview with self-exiled freedom fighter, Ed Snowden who says he is willing to stand trial if the government allows him to present a public interest justification for his revelations of security state surveillance of private US persons:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Detroit Cuts Water Supply

"Laissez-les boire du lac."
The bankrupt city of Detroit is cutting the water supply to households behind on their bills. Nearly half the cities residents fall into that category. Delinquent customers owe Detroit Water and Sewage Department about $118 million and the Department wants to increase shutoffs to 3,000 a month. Shut-offs began at the end of March with little publicity. A UN panel has condemned the disconnections as a violation of basic human rights*. Many residents accuse the city of sinister motives. They say the city wants to privatize water supply and drive low income people out of Detroit to make way for gentrification and corporate profits. Debt associated with the water department amounts to $5.7bn or one-third of the debt that pushed the one-time "Motor City" into federal bankruptcy court. Continued shut-offs could lead to a health emergency which is no less ironic than it is heartless considering Detroit sits adjacent to Lake Erie the tenth largest fresh water lake in the world. However, Lake Erie water is far from potable; water quality has improved since the 1960s. The department says collections are up 45-50% compared to previous years. Nevertheless, bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes said in court the shutoffs were generating bad publicity and told the department to offer more repayment options. Water officials are due back in federal court on Monday.

"No justice, no peace!"
Residents are fighting back. Community water stations have emerged, and on Friday protestors blocked the entrance to Homrich, Inc. the city's contractor for shutting-off water connections. The city is paying the demolition company $6m for its services. An earlier direct action led to the arrest of ten residents. It is only a matter of time before city police use force to break up water demonstrations. Organizers are going door to door to connect people to crisis resources. Canadians will be sending a "water convoy" to Detroit later this month to help Detroiters needing water in what they call a solidarity action. Detroit is now 83% black and many of those residents are impoverished, so even if they wanted to pay for their water, they cannot afford the rates. The city council recently voted to increase water rates 8.7%. The average monthly bill for a family of four is $75, almost double the national average.

*Those basic human rights include the right to employment expressed in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them; They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance. Micah 2:2

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thailand's Illegal Ivory Market Expands

The latest investigation by TRAFFIC, the organization responsible for monitoring compliance with CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) shows a significant increase in the availability of ivory products and a steep rise in the number of outlets selling ivory in Bankok.  The investigation report concludes the vast majority of ivory being sold in Thailand is illegal under the Convention. Thailand is failing to live up to its international commitments says a senior director at TRAFFIC despite having two decades to reform its outdated ivory regulations.  Official corruption plays a large role in Thailand's inability to police its domestic market.  A seventy-five year old law permits the sale of ivory from domesticated Asian elephants--often the ivory left over from tusk trimming--but there is no system in place to distinguish this source of ivory from illegal ivory entering the country from Africa. Since 2008 more than 13 tons of African elephant ivory has been seized in Thailand.

courtesy: US Person
To meet this increasing human demand for elephant ivory, African herds are being decimated by organized criminal gangs equipped with military weapons. There is a direct link between insurgent groups destabilizing fragile nations and poaching; profits from ivory sales are used to finance fighting. Some African parks have lost up to 90% of their elephants. Last year over 30,000 elephants died for their tusks. Less than half a million still survive on a continent that once was home to millions. It is a devastation equivalent to that inflicted upon the American bison in the 19th century. Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional creatures with strong familia bonds. When entire families are wiped out by poachers any survivors are severely traumatized. The recent ban proposed by the current administration has encountered incredibly insensitive opposition from interest who profit from the status quo. If they are successful in keeping US trade in ivory going, African elephants will face extinction. You can help defeat these merchants of death by telling your legislators that you want the ivory trade shut down beginning at home. Ivory gleams beautifully white, but the only place it belongs is in an elephant's mouth.

'Toontime: Rupert Murdoch's Nightmare

[credit: Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News]
Wackydoodle sez: Wake up Mr. Murdoch, your yacht is docked on Wall Street!

Thanks to plutocrat Rupert Murdoch's billions Australia, once a world leader in enacting legislation to combat climate change, is now under the charge of a deeply unpopular Liberal-National coalition government, which is committed to making Australia king of coal in Asia. During a recent visit to Canada and the United States, Prime Minister Tony Abbot stood next to the Canadian PM and scoffed at the danger global warming poses to the world. Abbott has even called the science of climate change, "crap". At home he is on course to abolish the world's first legislated carbon price. Salon details the successful efforts of Murdoch-owned media to discredit the previous Labor government that succeeded in passing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.  The Australian conservative political campaign cribbed the Tea Party's tactics in the US. Polls show Tony Abbot to be the least popular prime minister in forty years.  The record hot weather for May, normally a cool fall month down under, is not going to help his numbers.   Australians are once again demanding action on climate legislation.

[credit: Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant]
BC Idonwanna sez; No worries, he already hot head!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Queensland Goes Negative for Electricity

screen capture: Australian Energy Market Operator

Queensland, Australia briefly achieved a negative wholesale price for electricity in the middle of the day when its hot. How is that possible? Queensland has 1.1GW of solar panels installed over more than 350,000 buildings making rooftop solar the biggest power station in the state. As a whole Australia has 3.4GW on 1.2m buildings. Currently coal supplies Australia with 80% of its energy needs, but dropping photovoltaic prices has caused a boom in rooftop solar insulation. About 15% of solar customers are asking about their own storage equipment that would allow them to go off grid. Australia has high network costs (19¢kW/h and lots of sun, so it is leading the move to clean solar energy. Few coal companies are reporting profits, so the utility industry is fighting back. A Green MP in Victoria's parliament raised the issue of utility companies refusing solar system connections or charging high tariffs for connection. Twenty-two instances were cited where Powercorp, the local distributor, either rejected outright applications for connection of solar arrays or forced the array to be downsized. US utilities are taking a different approach to combatting consumer energy independence, and preempt the solar market by building their own commercial solar arrays. Solar generated electricity is becoming cheaper than natural gas generated electricity even in a time of plentiful gas supply in the United States. Australia projects that their cost of solar electricity will eventually drop to around 10¢kW/h! At that price even free coal could not compete with solar power. Believe US Person, a corporate thug like Mr. Peabody is not going to give it away; he would rather make residential solar installations costly or even illegal.

While writing of legalities: the Iowa Supreme Court, an influential juridical body in the Midwest, has ruled that purchase power agreements (PPA) are legal. Briefly, such an agreement allows a homeowner or a farmer or even a municipality to have installed a solar array that the installer will maintain. The owner gets to buy the electricity from the solar installation at a reduced price. The beauty of the deal is that there are no initial capital outlays for the owner since the array is owned by the installer. Utility companies do not like PPAs because to them the installer is acting like a utility by selling power. Being alert, Interstate Power and Light Company objected to the PPA Dubuque signed with installer Eagle Point. The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed with Interstate saying Dubuque would still be connected to their grid and still be customer, but perhaps not such a large one. In their view Eagle Point was not a 600 lb gorilla that had cornered Dubuque officials and beat them over the head with cornstalks until they signed on the dotted line. Indeed IPL lost 600,000kW/h in sales since Dubuque turned on their rooftop solar panels. 23 states now permit PPAs and Iowa's ruling is expected to influence the law in Minnesota and Wisconsin  That is called free market, my friend.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Department of Interior Issues Bison Report

The United States Department of Interior, whose seal bears the iconic image of the buffalo (Bison bison) says buffalo are no longer threatened by extinction, but "more substantial work remains to more fully restore the species to its cultural and ecological role on appropriate landscapes." It urged cooperation from all interested parties to promote the survival of healthy, wild herds. The report was welcomed by conservationists as a positive sign the federal government is willing to cooperate in herd and habitat restoration. In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt and others convened a group at the Bronx Zoo interested in saving the buffalo from extinction. An animal that roamed the American continent in tens of millions from the Pleistocene era was nearly exterminated by man. By the turn of the 20th century, plains bison numbered less than 1100. The DOI report outlines the current status of 10,000 wild bison in 17 herds in 12 states or about one-third the number in conservation herds. Most bison live in commercial herds. Full restoration, meaning an initial wild population in excess of a million animals will mean the rehabilitation and closure to development of large tracts of land in the west. Those opportunities exist now with enough commitment from governments, tribes, landowners, and conservationists who want the wild buffalo, Spirit of the West, to return to its rightful place on the American plains.

Return of the Polar Vortex?

The eastern US will experience autumn temperatures in July this week as a huge influx of colder arctic air reaches across the easter half of the nation.  Meterologists are debating whether this is a return of the polar vortex {22.11.12, Frankenstorms in Our Future} or just an unusual perturbation of the jet stream caused by Typhoon Neoguri.  The polar vortex brought extreme cold to the northeast last January.  Regardless of what label is used, the condition is causing extreme hot and dry weather in the west increasing the number and size of wildfires.  California is already suffering a record drought.  Some research says there is a correlation between Arctic warming, weakening west to east winds at high latitude and a wavy jet stream that occasionally dips deep into the central North American continent.  Those who have ears should hear.  Matthew 13

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hamas Shows Off Drone; Sides Agree to Consider Ceasefire

Latest:  Israel continues ground attack with bombardment from air, land and sea.  Palestinian casualties rise past 600+

Update: Bombing by Israel resumes.  200+ dead in Gaza.

15.07.14 The militant group controlling Gaza, Hamas, showed the media its latest weapon, a modified Iranian drone called the Ababil-1 [photo]. Potentially more accurate than the unguided rockets it is using against Israel, a armed drone is also more susceptible to conventional air interception. Israel claimed it has shot down an unidentified drone over the Negev. Hamas claims it has flown a sortie over the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces in Tel Aviv. Israel is deeply concerned over Hamas' increasing offensive capability. They already possess intermediate range rockets capable of reaching Israel's main population triangle, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa [map]. Allegedly Fadjr-5s were supplied by Hamas' sponsor, Iran. When Hamas first began rocket attacks on Israel in 2001, the Qassam rocket could barely reach targets just on the other side of the border.

Up until now, Israel has felt relatively immune from damaging rocket attacks;Israelis are said to be enjoying their nation's air strikes on Gaza as a form of spectator sport. But their sense of safety is rapidly eroding. Israel faces a tactical problem attempting to neutralize the threat posed by rocketry. Gaza is honeycombed with deep tunnels were rockets and rocket parts can be stored safely. Aerial bombardment is of limited usefulness and risks a humanitarian backlash from civilian casualties. Israel's vaunted intelligence capability has not been able to pinpoint the location of rocket stockpiles, either.  Reasons Israel was forced to send commandos into Gaza on a search and destroy mission. The trump card is, however, a mass rocket barrage launched by Hamas that could overwhelm Israel's "Iron Dome" missile defense and cause high civilian casualties deep in Israel's heartland. Such a barrage could be launched in response to a ground invasion by Israel's army in a "use or loose" situation. Hamas has fired about 1000 rockets at Israel in the current conflict and is willing to fire more.
AP: fans watch at Sderot

The mass barrage scenario is apparently causing Israeli officials to think twice about a military invasion of the veritable ant hill that is the Gaza Strip. Israel is said to be seriously considering Egypt's ceasefire proposal. A ceasefire would begin at 9am Tuesday, with border crossings opened. Within forty-eight hours of the ceasefire becoming effective, talks are to be held in Cairo. Hamas' response has been non-committal, but is not an outright rejection. Some Gaza officials want better terms such as the opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza because the ants now have tiny pincers with which to prick the Israeli lion.

COTW: Global Warming Makes Earth Less Hospitable

These charts from UK's show how global warming is making the Earth less hospitable for humans:

key: dark blue, floods; light blue, earth movement (wet); green storms; yellow drought;
red, extreme temperature; orange, wildfires
About 80% of the 3,496 reported disasters in the last decade were caused by flooding and large storms. Disasters are becoming more expensive too, about 5.5 times more expensive than the seventies due to more coastal development and greater damage. Five of the costliest global disasters occurred in the US by storms wreaking $246bn worth of havoc. Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Andrew are the top three most damaging storms on record:

Fortunately, the United States if far down the list of most deaths due to climate conditions. The deadliest disasters still occur in poor countries unable to mobilize aid and evacuations effectively. Drought in East Africa of the 70's and 80's claimed over half a million people in Mozambique, Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan. However, developed nations are not immune to killer climate change; Russia lost 55,736 people to record heat in 2010.  Heat waves did not even register as a cause of death in the 70's.  Now, they are next to storms as the leading killer of humans.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

True America: Poisoned by the Corporate Fairy Tales

Update: The Iraqi parliament remains deadlocked as Nouri al-Maliki attempts to gather votes to form a government and give himself a third term as Prime Minister despite his widespread unpopularity. Vote counters in his own party says Maliki has about 155 votes of the needed 165, but splits are appearing within the Shiite block. Meanwhile, militants lead by ISIS are attacking Dhuluiya a Sunni town forty-six miles northeast of Baghdad.

13.07.14 What is most interesting about this brief video that summarizes the shocking success of ISIS is the segment that shows US cultural preoccupation with trivia--celebrity, media, sports and news filler--while jihadist groups conquer great swaths of the Middle East. The "broad and concerted" campaign of the Charlatan against Islamic extremism has been demonstrated a failure. Note also the candid comments of 'Darth' Cheney about the decision of the 41st Occupant not to march into Baghdad after liberating Kuwait {warning--graphic violence}:

Friday, July 11, 2014

'Toontime: All the Kings Horses...

credit: Signe Wilkerson
...Cannot put Iraq back together again.  The last decade of US blood and treasure sucked into the map of Iraq has been for nought. Iraq is crumbling before the eyes of the neocons who dragged America into a war it did not need to fight. They sold their hubristic cool-aide to a feckless White House Occupant determined to do his dad one better. Kurds, who have never lost sight of their goal--an independent Kurdistan--have seized two oil fields in the north and Kurdish MPs have withdrawn from Iraq's central government. They have also announced plans to hold referendums in northwest areas abandoned by the Iraqi army during the advance of ISIS and its allies. The two seized fields produced about 400,000 barrels a day.

A "hysterical" al-Maliki made the mistake on Wednesday of calling the Kurdish provincial capital Irbill a haven for ISIS. The Kurds promptly ceased their participation in government.  Without the Kurds it will be nearly impossible for al-Maliki to form a coalition majority in parliament. The Iraqi Foreign Minister who is a Kurdish politician told Reuters that the "country is now literally divided into three states--Kurdish, a black state, and Baghdad". Five years ago the United States said ISIS, an al-Qaeda splinter, was on the verge of strategic defeat! Today the jihadist group bombs Baghdad regularly and controls Mosul, the country's second city. More important that territory, the organization is hugely rich. The capture of Mosul added perhaps $2bn to its coffers. While taking Baghdad would be extremely difficult for a group thought to number ten to fifteen thousand men, the discredited and ineffective Iraqi army cannot retake Mosul. Their American advisors have even counseled against such a counterattack. ISIS is now attacking Baquba just 37 miles from Baghdad and two large Sunni suburbs of Amiriya and Khadra. The longer the fighting continues, the weaker the central government becomes.
credit: Jerry Holbert
Wackydoodle sez: Someone tell him giggling during photo-ops is out-of-bounds!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

European Bison Return to Wild

European bison (Bison bonasus) that once fed Cro-magnon and Neanderthal alike are being reintroduced to the wild of Europe in the 21st century. Wild bison were exterminated by 1927; the last lowland subspecies bison was shot in Poland's Bialowieza Forest. All living bison are descended from the last 54 individuals who lived in captivity. Captive breeding programs in zoos and reintroductions have caused a gradual increase in wild populations. There are about 3200 now living in the wild.  Reintroductions have already established herds in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia. In May this year reintroduction of bison began in Romania. Six females from Kent, England and Cork, Ireland were transported to Romania's Carpathian Mountains.   Altogether seventeen bison from five countries were transplanted to Romania. The project was managed by Aspinall Foundation which has successfully reintroduced species in Africa.

Bisons join the red lynx of Spain as a European rewilding success story. For a poor country such as Romania preservation of the wild is not a trivial undertaking, a large part of the communal land of the Municipality of Armenis was set aside for wildlife.  So local people take tremendous pride in their nascent bison herd.  The Tarcu Mountains herd now has a new member. A male calf was born in June [center of photo]. The intermediate goal is bring bison to the Tarcu Mountains preserve over a ten year period to reach 500 animals by 2024. Eventually, if the plan is fully realized, there will be a completely wild herd roaming the mountainsides once again after a two and a half century absence from Romania.  GREEN KUDOS go to Armenis, Romania.

True America: "The F-35 is a Turkey"

More: The UK is holding a big airshow (Farnborough) this month but the Pentagon's favorite lemon will not be going to show off. The entire fleet of expensive duds is grounded due to an unexplained engine fire at Elgin AFB, Florida. The aircraft's development has been plagued with problems and cost overruns from the start. The current per unit cost is now $398.6bn or a $49bn increase per year since work began in 2006. That price will undoubtably rise as cutbacks in the number of plane orders is inevitable. The life span of the jet is estimated at 55 years; operation and maintenance of the high-tech fighter over its life will cost the US over $1trillion. The entire Manhattan Project cost about $55bn in today's dollars; every homeless person in America could be provided a $600,000 home for the same amount of money. But support for the aircraft is so strong on the Hill that there is even a bipartisan fan club of 49 members called the Joint Strike Fighter Caucus dedicated to keeping the program going. Some of those congressmen are die-hard fiscal radicals, but when it comes to the JSF, they bow before its altar of waste, fraud and abuse. Fetishes do come in all shapes and sizes. The Pentagon will be saved one embarrassing moment however, the superior Russian Su-27 will not be going to Farnborough either due to tensions over the Ukraine. Cost for a new Su-27sK is $37m

29.06.14 The Pentagon has its pocketbook open for the super-expensive and supposedly stealthy F-35 "Lightening II" (@$300m+ea.) This ill-conceived, multi-role jet is supposed to be unbeatable in the air, guaranteeing air superiority for US this century as well as perform close air-support and fighter-bomber missions. The truth is a 1950's Mig-21 can out maneuver the F-35, and as a close air support platform it is laughable because it has such high fuel consumption and flies too fast. Low frequency radars built in 1942 can detect modern stealth fighters. Serbia shot down a supposedly stealthy F-117 ("Vega 31") during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign. Russia sells improved, mobile versions of these radars to any country with cash. Stealth is a largely a myth, but used as justification for huge non-competitive procurement awards to major manufacturers, in this case Lockheed-Martin. So says Pierre Sprey, a designer of the successful and much less expensive F-16 Fighting Falcon, the result of a competitive procurement process. Sprey also developed the specifications for the A-10 "Thunderbolt II", a widely respected ground attack jet:

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Air Pollution Affects the Mind

Feeling a bit confused or even a little besides yourself? Air pollution could be the cause. Feeble humor aside, a new science study says exposure to air pollution damages the brain of developing mice.   That's not a joke. Researchers at University of Rochester concluded that mice exposed to fine particle pollution in their first two weeks of life developed brain abnormalities consistent with patterns found in humans suffering from schizophrenia and autism. The effects were mainly observed in male mice. This finding is consistent with statistics showing boys and men more likely to be diagnosed with these disorders. The study is published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Atmospheric particulates like those produced by power plants, industries and vehicles damaged the development of white matter in the mice brain. Brain cavities filled with neural fluids were enlarged up to three times normal size. Dilation of cranial ventricles has been linked to human schizophrenia and autism. Breathing contaminated air also increased the level of a neurotransmitter, glutamate. Glutamate is found in abnormally high levels both of these disorders. The level of pollution in the experiments matched that found at rush hour in a medium sized US city. A previous study at University of Southern California and the University of California found that children living the first year of their lives in areas of high atmospheric pollution were three times more likely to develop autism than children starting out in cleaner environments. Health experts are disturbed by the growing level of autism found in human populations. Whether this "autism epidemic" is due to better detection methods or combination of environmental causes is not fully understood. However, the study's lead author, Dr. Cory-Slechta, suggested changes to air pollution regulation should be considered.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Brazil Blitzed by Germany

The Brazilian team must have thought before the game that God played on their side because for about 10 minutes in the first half they inexplicably watched as the typically accurate and organized German players put five goals in the back of their net. Even Ronaldo's scoring record was broken by seemingly immortal Miroslav Klose (16). By the end of ninety minutes, Germany had shocked Brazil at Belo Horizonte, 7-1. The scoreline broke a World Cup semifinal record for most goals scored by a side. Brazil's side collapsed after Thomas Müller's first goal with eleven minutes gone. That early score was not in the samba team's imagined script of the game; commentator's called them "mentally fragile" as "Selecao" played with almost schoolyard casualness on defense throughout the first half. The "beautiful game" finally turned ugly for Brazil, ending a competitive home winning streak intact since 1975.

What this famous defeat will bring to the host nation is a period of self-examination about what futböl means to Brazil and what it should mean. As a developing nation, Brazil faces many real challenges now and in the future. It's leaders spent over $14 billion on venues and preparations, a figure inflated by corruption and incompetence. That amount is equivalent to 61% of what Brazil budgeted for education and 30% for healthcare. The favelas (slums) are patrolled by security police prepared to persecute FIFA protestors for "terrorism". Professional soccer is after all, only a corporate entertainment and God does not play.

COTW: Voting in the USA Still A Problem

Fifty years after brave college students got on buses to participate in "Freedom Summer" and help disenfranchised blacks in Mississippi obtain their constitutional right to vote, southern states have passed new laws making voting for minorities problematic. Last year in the case of Shelby County v. Holder the conservative Supreme Court majority ruled that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was no longer needed since voter restrictions based on race were only a historical feature of southern culture. The Section Five provision struck down required the approval of any new voter laws by the United States Justice Department in nine states prior to the  legislation in question being enforced by state authorities; surely this requirement rankled conservative states rights advocates as well as white supremacists. The federal review requirement was seen by them as a legacy of Reconstruction. Forty-eight hours after Section Five clearance was struck down, six of the nine affected states (all in the south) took steps to restrict voting rights. Poll taxes and literacy tests intended to discourage minority voting may be passe, but discriminatory intent is not. Modern discrimination is more subtle and takes the form of superficially neutral regulations like voter ID. Conservative congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) (banana-fana-fo-fanny) who is the chair of the House Judiciary Committee is in no hurry to replace Section Five with something similar but constitutional. He views the suit provision left intact by the Supreme Court sufficient to guarantee minority citizens the right to vote. Thus the Senate's bill to amend the Voting Rights Act remains stalled in the lower house. Want to vote? Get a lawyer.

Voter suppression is just one tool in the box of conservative plutocrats that would totally control public policy in the USA. Money is the other major monkey wrench. The fighting Koch curs of Wichita, Kansas have plenty of cash and they want to spend it on influencing the 2014 mid-term election. At a retreat in posh Laguna Beach, California last week the Kochs and their right-wing allies announced a plan to raise $290m to buy mid-term political campaigns. As owners of a vast oil and gas conglomerate ($70bn), the Kochs also have a vested interest in opposing any legislation or regulation curbing carbon pollution. They fund groups like the American Energy Alliance that targets politicians supporting a carbon tax. A new initiative under another arm of their interlocking network of political action groups will spend money to repeal state renewable energy standards and block implementation of EPA's proposed regulation to cut carbon emissions from power plants. Of course all their covert machinations have been made possible by a conservative Supreme Court that handed down from their life tenured seats the democracy killing Citizens United decision. A government of the people? Think again, or you too may soon be living in a cardboard box with a plastic sheet for a roof.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

True America: The Polar Bear Expedition, 1918-1919

Think United States soldiers have never directly fought Russian forces? Ronald Reagan thought so, but think again. A forgotten epilogue to WWI is the North Russian Expedition. The ostensible peace-lover and anti-interventionist President Woodrow Wilson sent 5,000 US Army soldiers to North Russia where they engaged Bolshevik troops. Wilson mistakenly allowed US troops to be used under British command; the American soldiers were thrown into the Russian civil war to reopen an eastern front. Apparently his advisors convinced Wilson that Germany had installed the Soviets in power to end their participation in the war; Germany indeed allowed Lenin to cross Germany from exile in Switzerland in a sealed train. Wilson was also convinced that an allied intervention would lead to an anti-Bolshivik uprising among the Russian people. American leadership completely misunderstood the nature of events in Russia. The uprising never occurred. The 339 Infantry Regiment, who later adopted the sobriquet "Polar Bears", fought on the Divina and Volga Rivers in North Russia and suffered 210 casualties including 70 deaths from the raging flu pandemic of the time. One of the significant facts of this ill-fated intervention is that it caused dissension among US soldiers once the Armistice was signed with Germany on November 11, 1918. Many began to write home complaining about the severe conditions, low morale, and the lack of justification for continued fighting against a former ally in the world war that had signed a peace treaty (Brest-Litovsk) almost a year earlier.

Their demands to come home reached the newspapers and in Washington, DC their representatives raised the issue in Congress. Early in 1919 the complaining, which is not unusual among soldiers, exploded to the level of action. Mutinies in the Allied ranks became frequent. Four soldiers in Company B of the 339th drew up a petition protesting their continued intervention in the Russian civil war and were threatened with court martial, a potential death by firing squad. About 290 soldiers were said to be in sympathy. The newspapers exploded the story into a mutiny (Washington Post 11.04.19) Faced with concerted decent at home and horrendous conditions in the field, President Wilson directed the withdrawal of the 339th from North Russia. In April, 1919 a US Army general arrived in Archangel with orders for a withdrawal at the earliest possible moment. By early June most of the American expeditionary force sailed for Brest and then New York. The 8,000 British volunteers sent in to take their positions were soon overrun by the Red Army, which recaptured Murmansk and Archangel. The Russian government eventually repatriated the bodies of fallen US servicemen not already recovered in 1934. The last Polar Bear veteran died in 2003. The lesson of this forgotten, but important saga of western military history: when soldiers refuse to fight, intervention is infeasible.

Friday, July 04, 2014

'Toontime: USA Joins "Futbol" Fans

[credit: Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star]
Wackydoodle sez: Kicked in by one of his recess players!
Something like 25 million people tuned in to watch the US soccer team loose to Belgium's experienced "futbolers" in the round of sixteen of the World Cup. Even the Current Occupant took a break to watch the game. That is larger than the audience for the Stanley Cup hockey game or the NBA basketball finals. Team USA is still a work in progress, and did well to get into the round of 16 even if it was on goal differential. They won only one group game outright against lowly Ghana, so it was no surprise when they were eliminated by low-scoring Belgium in overtime. The USA has actually been playing international soccer since 1930 when surprisingly it achieved the semifinals by beating Belgium and Paraguay in the first World Cup, won by Uruguay against Argentina, 4-2. Several powerful European teams did not attend the tournament due to economic depression at home. Only France and Yugoslavia traveled to Montevideo. In those days, players still had day jobs! Unarguably the World Cup is as big as the Summer Olympics in the world of international sport. Reluctantly 'merican sports fans, bored to tears with their own somnambulant summertime game, baseball, have developed an appreciation for the often fast paced, anxiety-ridden sport of "futbol" even if they don't understand its offside rule:

[credit: Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette]

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Creature Feature: Animal Morality

Zoos put tremendous stress on their inmates that they would not experience in the wild. Zoo administrators have been very slow to realize the mental health of their "guests" is just as important as their physical condition. This unwillingness to recognize animal mental health issues may be changing, albeit slowly. Dr. Vint Virga, a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior, has found a niche as a consultant to animal parks and zoos. When a captive exhibits behavioral problems, Dr. Vint Varga is called in to diagnose and treat.  Conditions range from anxiety and depression to phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Humans are not the only ones taking Prozac! This link contains an article and video about his unique practice.

Enlightened zoo practices aside, the morality of exhibiting wild animals to the public is troubling. Science now knows that many higher animals possesses consciousness and emotional lives. This conclusion of leading animal researchers was formally expressed in the Cambridge Declaration. Disputes about what is consciousness in animals remain among scientists, but that does not deny the general scientific consensus about the existence of animal higher intelligence. If animals do suffer from captivity how can it be justified morally? Preservation of bio-diversity and public education are often mentioned as justifications. Certainly these justifications were not present when ancient kings and elites created private menageries, the forerunners of zoos. Human entertainment, often cruel, was the reason for their existence. Is it not more moral to preserve man's co-owners of Earth in their natural environment? Once it was believed only man engaged in moral behavior; science has found that some higher animals also act with empathy and reciprocity, the pillars of morality. As their custodians humans have a basic moral obligation to treat animals with the respect they deserve. Psalms 50,10-11. Dr. Frans de Waal discusses the science findings:

Chinese Poachers Caught with 500+ Marine Turtles

Three hundred seventy eight were dead when the Filipino police caught up with the poachers on the South China Sea.  One hundred seventy-seven surviving turtles have been released.  The incident sparked international tension between the Philippines and China over the disputed waters where the poachers were arrested last Friday.  The Philippine's Interior Secretary defended the actions of the police who were on routine patrol fifty-six miles from the coast.  Both China and the Philippines are signatories to CITES that protects marine turtles.  Two species were found on the poacher's boat, Hawksbill and Green sea turtles.  The Green marine turtle, Chelonia mydas is categorized as Endangered by the IUCN. The turtles were found bound with plastic tape through their eye sockets.  Eleven poachers were charged and two release because they were minors.

Those charged could face 12-20 years for poaching the critically endangered Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). China, which takes a lax approach to endanger species protection and has a booming trade in animal parts, has demanded the release of the poachers and their boat, calling their arrest on Banyue Reef near Palawan Island "provocative". Palawan is within the Philippine's exclusive economic zone.  Because of man's predation and habitat degradation, marine turtles are being pushed to extinction. Of the seven marine turtles two are listed as Critically Endangered, two Endangered, two as Vulnerable and one unclassified due to lack of data. All seven are listed in Appendix I of the treaty which means commercial trade in all marine turtles is illegal.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

COTW: Pigs in Heaven

US Person was recently disturbed by an article in a popular national magazine claiming the wealth gap is a myth. The author wrote that perceptions of wealth inequality were not entirely justified when middle-class upward mobility can be found in studied tax returns over time. Anyway you want to slice the pie and especially if financial wealth is considered [above], the American rich are becoming obscenely wealthy at the expense of the middle class. The expanding pie myth is one perpetrated by the author. The wealthiest are becoming wealthier at a rate that far exceeds that experienced at lower percentiles [lower charts].

This is not merely happenstance but a direct result of government policy and the domination of the national economy by a private central bank using a monetary regime of low-interest loans and declining dollar value. Woodrow Wilson explained succinctly: "A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is privately concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all of our activities are in the hands of a few men...a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men." Our government shelled out $27 billion for GM; $23 billion for AIG; $91 billion for Fannie Mae; and $51 billion for Freddie Mac. (2012 figures). Yes, a few of these aid packages, notably to the big banks who were able to re-inflate the stock markets with the free money, returned profits of $19 billion, but that is outweighed by the losses and future costs of the bailout program. CIT's bankruptcy less than a year after its rescue cost us $2.3 billion. Chrysler came in second at $1.3 billion. The auto industry will post losses close to $20 billion eventually according to the Treasury Department and Congressional Budget Office estimates.

One bank, Central Pacific Financial in which former Senator Daniel Inouye (HI-D) owned stock, received $135m in aid under TARP. The program is reserved for otherwise healthy institutions experiencing cash flow difficulties. Central Pacific Financial was not a healthy institution, but got TARP money anyway after a call from Inouye's office.  The bank promptly collapsed, costing taxpayers $61m--chump change thrown in the pig trough that is TARP.  Another example of how political influence trumps common sense in Washington is South Financial Group. The bank received $347m in 2008 about a month after its CEO Mack Whittle retired with a $18m "golden parachute". Taxpayers lost $200 on their investment in that bank, but Whittle kept his $18m. US Person will be cancelling his subscription because of this bit of shallow analysis. Amos,2:6: They sell a just man for silver and the poor man for a pair of sandals.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Iraq War Reignites

The failure that is Iraq is brought home again to America. More US troops are being sent to the war zone to prevent the capture of Baghdad and protect American interests. About five hundred more will be joining the 300 "advisors" already approved bring total troop strength to 800. The Pentagon denies any intention to use air strikes to save the central government; however a new operations center is being establish in the country's far north at Duhok near Syria and Turkey. US Person thinks mission creep is well underway.

Bombing of Anbar Province, center of the Sunni resistance, by the USAF may not far off*. Iraq's parliament met Tuesday for only two hours in the Green Zone fort before Sunni and Kurd delegations walked out on an intransigent Nouri al-Maliki. The acting speaker declared a lack of a quorum in the 328 member legislature. Maliki controls only about a third of those delegates. The head of the al-Maliki bloc at one point shouted in typical hyperbole, "We will crush with our shoes the heads of the those who drowned the Iraq flag," apparently referring to the Kurdish peshmerga who is dedicated to creating an independent Kurdish state. The United Nations tallied more than 2400 people killed in June. That is the largest number of dead since the United States military left the country in 2011. ISIS fighters have attacked the holiest Shia shrine at Samarra, the al-Askari (Golden Dome) mosque with mortars. Destruction of the mosque precipitated an unrestrained civil war in 2006. The Iraqi government claims its forces have driven out ISIS from Tikrit.

The jihadists attempting to erect a Islamic state in the desert are hampered by sectarian loyalty, lack of oil to fund operations, and fewer numbers. Both the major oil fields in the north and south are respectively under Kurdish or government control. But because the Baghdad government is so unpopular and its army disaffected, the jihadists have enjoyed an outsized success in areas where Sunnis are in the majority. As they approach the environs of Baghdad where Shia are more numerous and willing to fight, their progress will slacken. But the point is made in blood. The government largely created by the United States and propped up by its military might cannot stand on its own. Even if the jihadists fail to capture the city, the Kurds will insist on their independence. The future of Iraq seems to be that of a confederation of three states, divided on sectarian lines. This is not a result that could not have been foreseen years ago by American politicians and military leaders. Even Vice-President Joe Biden suggested this configuration as a solution to the sectarian strife threatening the central government when he was a senator. Readers old enough to remember the Vietnam defeat will recall that just when the US thought it was winning the war against the North, the Tet Offensive took place to remind us the war was not yet over. It seems Washington never learns.

*Iraq took delivery on Saturday of the first five Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack fighters at a cost of $500m. The planes are used and nearing their retirement age. An unconfirmed report is that six more advanced Su-30 jets (a two-seat variant of the Su-27) have also been sent into Iraq. Russian pilots will not fly the planes; Iraq has a cadre of qualified Su-25 drivers from the Iran-Iraq war. The US sold Iraq 36 supersonic F-16s for $3bn but they are not scheduled to arrive until September. When your government is in peril, slow and reliable is better. The Russian "Rooks" fit the bill.