Friday, November 28, 2014

COTW: Black & Blue Friday Before Silly Monday

credit: RJ Matson, St.Louis Post-Dispatch

So, dear readers, now that the tryptophan coma has worn off, time to enjoy the officially unofficial, "Black Friday following Fat Thursday". Think of it as a sort of Boxing Day with discounts. On this day people will go to great lengths and perhaps even suffer bodily harm to buy 'stuff' they don't really need so they can store it in their box-rooms and garages until it is given away at the church rummage sale or Goodwill drop box later in the new year. If you are stuck with kitchen patrol and miss the retail wonderland, no worries, you still have Silly Monday to spend your dough. Enjoy!

credit: Dave Grandlund

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'Extinct' Chinchilla Rat Found At Machu Picchu

credit: Roberto Quispe
The ruins of Machu Picchu perched on a mountain top above a raging river easily invoke a sense of mystery and awe. The stones of the settlement fitted with care in such a remote location reflect a people under duress, perhaps seeking sanctuary from a disastrous fate left far below. There, another mammalian species sought refuge. Previously known only from skulls found in Inca pottery by Hiram Bingham in 1912, the arboreal chinchilla rat (Cuscomys oblativa) was thought to have gone extinct before conquistador Francisco Piszarro arrived in Peru. But like Lazarus, the chinchilla rat came back to life when a park ranger found one living near the famous archaeological site in 2009.  The rediscovery by Roberto Quispe was confirmed by scientists who searched the montane forests covering steep slopes for another living specimen in 2012. They were successful, although they believe the chinchilla rat is endangered due to a small population and habitat deforestation. Fortunately, the cat-sized rodent seems to be occupying the protected areas of Machu Picchu National Park and the Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

BLM Drops Idaho Predator Derby

The threat of a lawsuit by wildlife advocates caused the Bureau of Land Management to cancel a permit allowing an Idaho organization to conduct a predator killing derby on 3 million acres of federal land near Salmon, Idaho.  Prizes were to be awarded for the most wolves, coyotes and other predator species killed in a three day contest of up to 500 participants. Labeled a "kill fest" by wildlife advocates, organizers hoped to spread the anti-wolf obsession state-wide for five years beginning in January. Killing of wildlife for "fun" and prizes violates Idaho's own state wildlife policies condemning such brutal contests as unethical and unsound.

COTW: New Game

The Fed, bless its absent heart, wondered why so many young people are living with their parents:

courtesy: Mish Shedlock

Perhaps this next chart has somthing to do with it:

courtesy: Mish Sedlock
Or this chart:

Burden with educational debt and unable to find jobs that pay well, what real choices do millenial people have, especially when their boomer parents, whose focus was on "getting ahead", took advantage of cheap credit to buy real estate and invest in stocks. Post bubble, it is a whole new ball game. The paradigm has shifted. Now the game is about survival just as it was during the Greatest Depression. The American Dream RIP.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Afghan War Grinds On Under Commander-In-Decisive

Breaking another promise while in office the Current Occupant approved in secret an expanded combat role for American forces still in Afghanistan. He made a promise to end the combat role of the United States by 2014. Now it is unlikely the combat mission will end before 2016, if then. He has apparently given in to Pentagon demands that American military forces be allowed to engage in offensive operations against the Taliban as well as Al Qaeda. This role includes air support and ground advisors for night raids by Afghan special forces. Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai prohibited such operations after public outrage over the missions became too widespread to withstand in 2013. The new US quisling Ashraf Ghani has quietly lifted the ban on night raids. Neither the security agreements signed with NATO or the American military missions prohibit joint night raids and US military commanders ignored Karzai prohibition when they felt it necessary. There are 9800 American troops still in Afghanistan under Operation "Enduring Freedom" set to end this year. It is very likely that some military personnel will remain there beyond 2016 in advisory and training capacities. A similar situation will exist in Iraq where it is widely believed that American special forces and CIA personnel are already operating against ISIS militants. Endless war has arrived, so the warmongers will have something to celibrate this holidaze seaon.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Creature Feature: A Very Smart Bird

US Person has posted previously concerning the intelligence of Corvids {01.09.14}. Among the most intelligent of these birds, is the New Caledonian crow. (Corvus moneduloides). In this series of experiments by researchers at the University of Aukland, NZ the crows demonstrate their functional understanding of the principle of water displacement under various conditions--water versus sand, light versus heavy, narrow versus wide, solid versus hollow. These experiments show the crow's advanced cognitive abilities and tool use. In fact these crows manufacture their tools such as hooks, which they use in the wild to catch insects and larvae. If humans perform a similar behavior of shaping a three dimensional form from a natural material it is called "carving". In the last video segment a crow needs only two tries to use the hidden connection between a water filled-tube containing food and only one of two separate water columns. Could a human toddler make the functional distinction any faster?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Governments Agree on Polar Bears

credit: NBC, Svalbard male starved  
Update: The latest news on the struggle of polar bears to survive in a rapidly warming Arctic is not good. A new study says the population of southern Beaufort Sea bears has declined a terrifying 40%. Published in Ecological Applications, journal of the Ecological Society of America, the study authors conclude that within a decade (2001-2010) the number of bears has been reduced from 1500 to 900. This population is at the edge of polar bear range, so it is clear that warming is taking a heavy toll on the ice dependent bear according to a Canadian wildlife official. Subadults are being particularly hard hit says the study by lack of sea ice and low prey abundance. Unless immediate steps are taken to relieve the polar bear from other source of mortality, Earth's largest terrestrial predator is headed for extinction (14.05.11, A Refuge for Ice Bears).

{11.11.14}The Convention on Migratory Species meeting that just ended in Quito, Ecuador approved greater protections for polar bears (Ursus maritimus) who are facing extinction due to a radically warming Arctic. Appendix II listing means that signatory countries must put conservation plans in place, but does not prohibit killing bears as an Appendix I listing would require. Dr. Masha Vorontsova, head of IFAW Russia said the listing is a recognition by 120 countries that polar bears are endangered by climate change, hunting and pollution. US Person thinks the listing is an important first step but more action is needed if the polar bear is to be saved from extinction. The meeting also decided to prohibit the capture of live whales and dolphins for use as human entertainment.

Canada's refusal to offer full protection to polar bear has come under scrutiny of the Commission for Environmental Co-operation, a body set up under the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA). Research predicts that two thirds of polar bears will be lost by 2050 due to Arctic sea ice melting. The Commission doubts sufficient consideration was given to research. In 2007 the USGS said several polar bear populations in Canada would disappear entirely. The US decared polar bears endangered in 2008. Canada, which has an active polar bear hunting trade, listed the bears as only a species of special concern in 2011 under its endangered species law. The Commission's secretariat called for an investigation of Canada's enforcement of the Species at Risk Act based on the best available science and has given the country 60 days to respond. Canada is subject to increasing international criticism for its government's resource exploitation policies. The Center for Global Development ranked Canada last amoung the world's 27 richest countries for its environmental record. Canada dropped out of the Kyoto protocol and the conservative government accused of intimidating goverrnment scientists who speak out on environmental issues.

The polar bear population on the western shore of Hudson Bay has shrunk by nearly 10% to 850 bears in under a decade. A sharper drop in the survival rate of cubs puts the entire population in danger of collapse in a few years. Government population studies as yet unreleased to the public are grim. Polar bears of western Hudson Bay have little chance of long-term survival. Hudson Bay's ice free season has expanded by about a day or the past thirty years. Last year it was 143 days long. Scientists think that when it reaches 160 days, polar bears will starve to death because they cannot hunt seal in the spring. As a result of this slow starvation, females are 88 lbs lighter than they were in the early 1980s and they are having fewer, lighter cubs that causes fewer to survive.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Toontime: Larger Principles

[credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle]
The Current Occupant's grant of temporary amnesty to a limited number of illegal immigrants who have managed to survive five years in this darwinesque country without committing serious crime, and who are willing to pay taxes, is a perfect example of just how skewed towards nativist conservatism the nation's politics has become. In former decades his actions would have been applauded by liberal elements in both parties as a rational response to a festering problem; now it is considered a treasonous or even worse a socialist usurping of Congress' constitutional powers. As he made clear in his televised address all recent Presidents have implemented deportation amnesties of various sorts. Legal scholars agree the President has the constitutional authority to do so. In reality what the "emperor" has done is belatedly act to satisfy a increasingly powerful segment of the Democratic coalition. By 2050 Anglo-americans will be a minority.

Repugnants are no dummies, they know that statistic is staring them in the face. Their strategists are resorting to some fairly clever tactics to offset the Democratic numerical advantage among current minorities. One of these tactics is the program called "Interstate Crosscheck". In the twenty-three Republican controlled states the computer system is used to prevent double voting across state lines, a legitimate device to prevent rarely committed voting fraud. Despite identifying thousands of suspects, there has not been a single conviction for double voting.  In the hands of partisan state officials the program is used to purge voting roles of tens of thousands of names. For example in North Carolina an incumbent Democratic senator was upset by a Repugnant by just 48,511 votes. Crosscheck eliminated 589,393 potential NC voters from the rolls! With numbers like that who needs policy differences? In Colorado where Senator Mark Udall (D) lost by 49,729 votes, Crosscheck deleted 300,842 names as potential double voters. No due process there, folks. Crosscheck purges swamped the margins of victory in Alaska and Georgia too. According to research by Greg Palast for Al Jazeera America these purge lists amount to nothing more than common names, many of them obviously not Anglo-amercan. An estimated 1 in 7 African-americans, 1 in 8 Asian-americans and 1 in 8 Hispanic-americans are affected.

This interstate purging of voter roles is the pet project of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), a conservative, Oxford-educated white man. Ever since Katherine Harris, a Repugnant Secretary of State for Florida, played a pivotale role in awarding the presidency to George W. Bush, the Republican Party has focused on ways of reducing the Democratic Party's numerical superiority. A cynical obsession with restrictive voter registration laws in the name of crime-fighting is the result. The Government Accountability Office estimates voter turnout in Kansas has declined 1.9% primarily among minorities and young voters because of difficult voter ID laws. The supression tactic is working as the latest midterm results show. Interstate Crosscheck has been embraced in Ohio, again considered to be decisive in the presidential election of 2016.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Conservationists Sue to Protect Walruses

courtesy: USGS
Struggling with the undeniable (except in Washington) effects of climate change six prominent conservation groups have sued the US Fish & Wildlife Service to protect Chukchi Sea walruses from damage by oil exploration. Royal Dutch Shell has conducted exploratory drilling at Hannah Shoal, a primary feeding area for the Chukchi Sea walrus colony that gathers in this area as ice receeds from the Arctic Sea in summer. Walruses (Odobenus rosmarus divergens) use sea ice as a diving platform to reach food on the continental shelf, but now sea ice has receeded north beyond the continental shelf. Water depths exceed two miles making it impossible for the walruses to feed. Deprived of their usual habitat by warming sea temperatures, walruses are returning to shore to rest after swimming out to the feeding grounds about 75 miles off the Chukchi coast. Thirty-five thousand walruses gathered at Lay Point, Alaska this summer near where more drilling may take place. {01.10.14} Shell's intial season in 2012 was marked by failure and near disaster as a drilling rig grounded on shore in a storm. {17.04.13) The company intends to return to drill its "Chukchi Sea Burger" prospect near Hannah Shoal. During 2012 operations Shell crews reported 338 sightings of a total of 8,678 walruses, many in large groups.

Conservationists through their attorneys, Earthjustice, say that oil exploration activities will drive walruses away from the feeding area. The federal wildlife agency typically understates adverse impacts because of institutional bias. Walruses are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but the rule change being challenged allows "incidental" killings in conecting with oil and gas exploration. The groups say a finding of "no significant impact" is erroneous and arbitrary since the process failed to consider walrus travel corridors between the Shoal and coastal haulouts. [more photos]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Senate Blocks Keystone XL Bill

Landrieu: soft on oil
After a vote in the right-wing dominated House of Representatives approving the Keystone XL Pipeline project, Senate Democrats voted to block a similar bill in the Senate by one vote. The President still needs to approve any pipeline that crosses a US border. The bitumen pipeline from Alberta, Canada is an environmental disaster. Approving it would be totally inconsistent with the administration's expressed committment to reducing CO₂ emissions; but the entire oil industry and the Canadian government is pushing hard for approval. The project is considered a major link to even more exportation of bitumen, the most unclean form of petroleum. Without the high capacity pipelne direct to Gulf coast refineries, strip mining for tar sands--hugely destructive of the boreal forest, toxic, and energy intensive--is barely economic.

Even though the vote may cost the Democrats another Senate seat in oil-soaked Louisiana (Mary Landrieu, former chair of the Energy Committee, who lobbied for the bill), US Person thinks the Senate Democrats did the right thing for the country and the world. With gasoline prices projected to go below $3.00/gal [see chart], the pipeline is not needed to meet America's energy needs. Nor is it a 'job creator' as its hucksters constantly claim. If built it would create fewer than fifty permanent jobs according to the State Department, which rubber-stamped the pipe's environmental assessment. What the pipeline does do is give Canada access to international oil markets at the expense of the United States' national interest. Climate stabilization will be impossible if tar sands are exploited at the rates planned by Keystone's developers. The UN's environmental program report says the world will face "severe, widespread and irreversible" effects from climate change unless all greenhouse gas emissons fall to zero by 2100. It's no joke, Sherlock.

Monsanto's Evil Seed

More: Last week EU politicians backed a plan to ban genetically modified crops on their soil even if given Union wide approval. A previous compromise would have required negotiation with a biotech company if the member nation wanted to prohibit use of its products. The plan approved by EU's parliament would allow member states to ban cultivation of frankencrops on environmental grounds. So far Europe has only approved two GMO crops for commercial cultivation and one was later blocked by court action. Monsanto's frankenmaize MON810 is the only one grown within the EU. Spain and Portugal have been growing it for a decade. Parliamentary approval of an opt out makes it more likely that frankenfoods will remain limited on the continent. France and Germany are both opposed to GMO crops while euro-conflicted Britain favors them.

{17.11.14} Unlike timid Oregoonians, the citizens of Maui, Hawaii voted against growing or testing of GMO (genetically modified organisms) crops. Corporate giants like Monsanto poured millions of dollars into Oregon to prevent required labeling of frankenfoods. They achieved an expensive, but close victory. Their advertising tactic was the usual: fear of higher food prices, conveyed by images of trustworthy folks such as nutritionists and farmers (see graphic). The vote on Maui was close too at about 51% in favor of the moratorium. Corporations are not gracious loosers because they have huge resources with which to wage prolonged litigation. Monsanto immediately went to federal court to request an injunction against the referendum being implemented. The case is assigned to a federal magistrate that earlier invalidated a law regulating GMOs on Kauai. Maui's initiative supporters filed in state court to ensure enforcement of the winning initiative. According to their attorney, they will request the federal court delay action until the state court has had an opportunity to rule.

Monsanto owns or leases more than 3000 acres on Maui and Molokai. Dow Chemical's agronomy unit, Mycogen Seeds, would also have to shut down its development and production operations. Since 1997 Monsanto has filed about 145 lawsuits against people to protect its patented GMO seed. Monsanto is not alone in its vigorous defense of corporate "personhood" at the expense of real, if misinformed, people. The Grocery Manufacturers Association, an industry trade organization, sued the state of Vermont for implementing its GMO labeling law. Vermont's law was supposed to take effect in July of 2016. Last year Syngenta and Bayer sued the EU for placing a limited ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, shown to be lethal to bees. Just ask the tea party crazies. They will tell you if people have to die to protect corporate profits, it must be God's will.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Madness of Abenomics

These charts have stock and currency traders drooling, the rest of us mere mortals are inclined to yawn if we understand their implications at all. The US and Japan stock markets are riding a cheap money high. Appropriately on Halloween the Bank of Japan announced it would institute another round of death-defying of monetary easing otherwise rationally known as money printing. Governor Kuroda said his bank would purchase annually ¥50 trillion worth of government bonds and ¥1 trillion of exchange trading funds  (QE 11 below). The markets went wild:

charts courtesy: John Mauldin
The announcement means Japans monetary base will expand by 60 to 70 trillion a year, which means the Bank of Japan's balance sheet has expanded by 50% compared to the Federal Reserve's 25%!  That's why it is death-defying-- like the guy walking a tight rope between two skyscrapers marked "Depression" and "Hyperinflation". No other central bank has attempted printing money on this scale. It is said that Prime Minister Abe keeps a stock ticker in his office. Perhaps he needs the reassurance. What such an extreme moneytary policy is doing to his country's moribund real economy is reflected in these charts:

Some commentators are calling the latest machinations from Japan, "a Ponzi scheme", a term that term is becoming trite. Former Reagan budget director David Stockman puts it differently, "Japan is an old-age colony which is headed for bankruptcy. It has no prospect for measurable economic growth and a virtual certainty that taxes will keep is still borrowing 40¢ on every dollar it spends." The good news is that stock markets outside Japan will benefit enormously because the country plans to re-invest 50% of its $1.8 trillion pension portfolio in foreign equities; understandable when Japanese government bonds are yielding less than 1%. Governor Kuroda's Halloween trick was going nuclear on a 5-4 vote and blowing up Mr. and Mrs. Watonabe.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ebola Just a Plane Ride Away

Breaking: Dr. Martin Salia who was transported from Sierra Leon to Omaha, NE has died of his Ebola infection. Apparently, the infection was far advanced by the time of his arrival at Nebraska Medical Center, and treatment is hampered by the lack of an effective vaccine. Some are questioning the decision to fly him 5700 miles for treatment when he was critically ill. He reportedly suffered kidney failure en route. The US State Department facilitated the 16 hour flight. Efforts to save him included placing him in a ventilator, administering an experimental drug, ZMapp, and survivor-plasma transfusions. A co-missionary in Sierra Leon, said Dr. Salia's efforts to help are appreciated by Sierra Leoneans. RIP.

Latest: {14.11.14}A doctor working in Sierra Leon and diagnosed with Ebola will be transported to Omaha, NE for treatment at the Nebraska Medical Center. The doctor reportedly lives in Maryland and is a permanent resident of the US. He was working at Kissy United Methodist Hospital, Freetown as a general surgeon. When patients found out about the case, they fled the 60 bed hospital. The surgeon will be the third Ebola patient admitted to the Omaha hospital and the 10th person to be treated in the United States. The New York doctor who contracted the disease last has been released from hospital. The surgeon from Sierra Leon is expected to arrive Saturday. He tested positive for the disease on November 10th after exhibiting symptoms for a few days. Five other doctors in Sierra Leon have died of Ebola infections. The Omaha hospital was chosen because it is one of only four equipped to handle highly dangerous diseases, two of the other hospitals, at Emory University, Atlanta and National Institutes of Health, Maryland are in 21 day isolation periods.

Yet More: {29.10.14}The irrational reactions to the Ebola epidemic were topped yet again when a nurse exposed to the Ebola virus in West Africa refused to submit voluntarily to a twenty-one day quarantine at her home in Maine. So the Maine governor sent in the state police to enforce her isolation at home. Nurse Kaci Hickox told reporters she was not going to be "bullied by politicians" after she tested negative on arrival in New Jersey. The combative nurse threatened to go to court to gain her freedom if the quarantine was not lifted by Thursday morning. New Jersey's Governor Christie told her to go ahead and get in line. To emphasize her uncooperative behavior she went for a bike ride in her home town on Thursday. At the executive rental in Washington, DC the Current Occupant told Americans that there may be more Ebola cases, adding it was impossible to "hermetically seal ourselves off"; We can certainly make it more difficult to contract the disease by reducing the flow of unofficial travelers to and from West Africa*. Not wanting to appear argumentative, Mr. President, but how much are you willing to bet that Australia has fewer reported cases of Ebola infection per capita than the United States by the time this epidemic is over? California became the latest state to implement a 21 day quarantine for persons who have personal contact with an infected individual. US Person wonders is there is a death wish operating at the White House?

*Exit screening of international travelers in the airports of the three infected West African capitals would be an acceptable less "draconian" alternative to a visa ban such as implemented by Australia.  Given the confused politics of the region, the chances of that happening are small.

Further:{29.10.14} Australia has announced a visa ban for travelers from affected West African countries, while the Current Occupant attempted to explain the contradictory approaches takes by the US Army and some states on imposing temporary quarantines for soldiers and medics returning from the region. Soldiers are required to spend three weeks at a facility in Italy before returning to the US. The CO told reporters soldiers have to follow orders while medical personnel have civil rights to be considered. Let that be a lesson to any young person thinking of joining the Army. Predictably Australia is being criticized as discriminatory for its visa action, but the government's immigration minister told parliament the government was working to protect Australians. There is an understandable shortage of health care workers willing to go the region to fight the deadly epidemic; any medic willing to run the risk of contagon while treating victims should understand the need for a relatively brief period of isolation to help stop Ebola's spread to uninfected countries. New federal guidelines says medics returning from treating patients in West Africa should be monitored but not quarantined. New Jersey and New York, two of the states adopting a quarantine policy said they will continue their course. The two nurses that contracted the disease from 'Patient Zero' in Dallas have been released after recovery. No hospitals west of Denver have been designated to receive Ebola victims and only twenty-four out of 100 public health labs are ready to test for the deadly virus.

More: {8.10.14}Thomas Eric Duncan, the first US Ebola victim  has died in Texas. RIP. The LA Times reports that some scientists who have studied the Ebola virus say that CDC assurances the disease is not an airborne infection are premature. The virus could mutate rapidly once it passes through multiple human hosts, something it has never done before.  This epidemic has already killed more people than all previous outbreaks combined.* Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak among research monkeys tortured in Virginia said there was insufficient data to exclude the possibility that it can spread through air in tight quarters. Like an airplane cabin, doctor? Dr. Phillip Russell, a former biological weapons virologist, said there are too many unknowns to be dogmatic about the way the virus spreads. Infected individuals could become desperate to reach the United States or Europe by air transportation in the hope of receiving experimental treatment not available in West Africa. Initial symptoms of infection such as fever or headache could be masked by the use of readily available analgesics. If more infections turn up here, its time to raise the watery drawbridge in US Person's humble opinion. The general of the army's Africa Command, David Rodriguez, said American troops will be supporting aid efforts in the infected region for "about a year" or until it the epidemic is under control. Controlled exceptions to an air travel quarantine can therefore be made for official business or humanitarian relief. Tell that to the White House, and damn the profit margins.

Latest: {06.10.14}Turns out the latest US victim had contact with an estimated fifty people, not five as first reported by corporate media. These are under medical surveillance. Thomas Duncan's condition is listed as critical, and he is on a respirator "fighting for his life" in Texas. An expert in infectious diseases from the National Institutes of Health said she would not be surprised if someone in contact with the first US case comes down with the disease. Other scientists have said, based on air traffic data and disease spread information, there is a 75% chance the disease will reach France by October 24th and a 50% chance the hemorragic fever will hit Britian. Of course that is bad news for the United States because the volume of cross-Atlantic travel from those two countries is enormous. The epidemic is spreading very quickly in West Africa with about 5 new cases a day reported from Liberia. So far 7200 people are reportedly infected. Without advance treatment with experimental drugs the disease is almost always fatal. So far the WHO has not recommended restrictions on air travel from the infected area. Although procedures are in place to handle a disease outbreak in this country, they do not include air travel embargoes. Is that because corporate profits are impacted? You decide.

Update:{30.09.14}It was predictable in an age of intercontinental air travel, but nevertheless avoidable if quicker and more effective action had been taken to stop the disease spread on the African continent. WHO reports more than 6,000 cases of Ebola infection and more than 3,000 deaths in West Africa, but those numbers are consided to be a vast underestimate of the epidemic. The first diagnosed case of Ebola infection in the US is reported from Dallas, Texas. The male patient left Liberia on September 19th and arrived in the US the next day. Four days later he exhibited symptoms of infection. He was isolated by the 28th and is reported critically ill. The CDC is considering experimental treatment; an American doctor and nurse infected in Liberia while treating the sick survived after being returned to the US to receive advanced treatment. Centers for Disease Control insists the patient was not contagious while traveling since he did not show symptoms until four days after arriving. A CDC spokesperson said, "there is zero risk of transmission on the flight". However, initial symptoms of the disease (fever, fatigue, headache) are not disease specific and can be mistaken for ordinary flu or malaria. The Ebola virus can remain incubated for up to 21 days without causing symptoms. A patient is not considered to be contagious until symptoms are apparent.

credit: AP
{30.07.14} The deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leon that has been rampaging for five months is getting worse. Twelve hundred cases have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO), 729 of those were fatal. A recent victim, Samuel Brisbane was a leading Liberian doctor who was fighting the epidemic. In Sierra Leon, Ebola expert Sheik Umar Kahn also succumbed to the disease. An American physician in Liberia, Kent Brantly is gravely ill despite extensive precautions taken against infection [photo]. Brantly served as the director of an Ebola isolation unit in Monrovia, Liberia. Ebola can be fatal in up to 90% of cases; with expert medical care the fatality rate can be reduced to just 60%. Dr. Brantly is religious and has asked for prayers to help him and those who are caring for him survive the scourge. Elsewhere in Liberia, medical personnel fled from the deadly disease.

credit: BBC
What is even more frighting is that Ebola [molecular model, right] is only a plane ride across the Atlantic from arriving in the United States. That alarming possibility was brought home when a Liberian civil servant with dual citizenship died from from infection before he could board a plane from Lagos, Nigeria to attend his daughters' birthday party in Coon Rapids, MN. The naturalized Liberian took ill on connecting flights from Liberia to Lagos via Togo. He was quarantined at a hospital after collapsing in Lagos airport. He died of Ebola infection on July 25th; after his death the hospital was evacuated and closed for sanitation. The civil servant had been caring for his sick sister. According to his wife in Minnesota, he did not know she was infected with Ebola that begins with a sore throat and fever, but deteriorates to vomiting, diarrhea and internal and external bleeding. Authorities estimate the infected traveler came into contact with forty-five people during his journey.

*Previous outbreaks in Africa have occurred in isolated villages where fruit bats are consumed as a source of protein. Scientists think that fruit bats are unaffected carriers of the virus. The first known outbreak of the deadly disease occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo over thirty years ago. Investigating scientists then determined the disease was spread by contact with infected patients or their bodily fluids. The head of the CDC said that this was the worst epidemic he has seen since AIDS. The unaswered question is why more effort was not made to stop the disease spread in West Africa before it entered international commerce. Hyperbole? NOT!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tru'merica: 1959 Kitchen Debate

With relations between the USA and Russia at a nadir not experienced since the Cuban Missle Crisis, it is perhaps useful to view this videotape of the frank and even humorous exchange between the world's leading capitalist and the world's leading communist that took place in Moscow at a US trade exhibition in 1959. Conversation,on and off camera between the main antagonists began in a modern kitchen display at the expostion, hence the incident's name. Vice President Nixon takes the opportunity to brag about America's new technology, color television and color video tape. Khrushchev, ever playing the Russian rustic, responds simply "Harasho!"; he knew he was dealing with a very tricky American lawyer. At one point in his extemporaneous remarks Khrushchev playfully waves "bye-bye" as he claims the Soviet Union will pass America in its rapid modernization of Russian society. Nixon politely responds by implying the Chairman is an habitual bombast.

Part one of the video can be seen here. Unfortunately the simultaneous English translation for the Vice President is not entirely audible in that segment. The world could use more direct, candid exchanges between leaders like this one recorded at the height of the Cold War in a time of renewed east-west confrontation.

Friday, November 14, 2014

'Toontime: Chew This

credit: Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News
Wackydoodle axes:  Is that your ass?
The Current Occupant is suffering end-of-term blues. You can see it in his body language: he chews gum at world economic summits. Bully-boy Putin appears gallant in comparison. The charm of the office without corners is gone; Americans are dissatisfied with the Current Occupant's performance and the ones who voted (only 36.6% of the eligible population, a record low) turned the midterm into a referendum on his administration (CBS exit poll data). Even more shocking to those in power is that Americans appear to be loosing faith in capitalism thanks to two big business political parties that trade power every two years. If the CO escapes an impeachment effort instigated by the cockamamie tea drinkers in his last two years of office he will have to consider that a success. As Alexander Cockburn observed six years ago, "never has the dead hand of the past had a 'reform' candidate so firmly by the windpipe." So when are you buying your new Maserati, neighbor?

credit: Taylor Jones
BC Idonwanna sez: Send for medicine man!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Detroit Bankruptcy Plan Bad for Workers

US Person said the Detroit bankruptcy managers would attack the pension plans of city workers and it has come to pass. {26.07.13, Detroit Pensioners on the Block} Last Friday court approval was given to Detroit's plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Judge Rhodes said the plan was a model for the entire country. Perhaps because it protects banks and bondholders at the expense of the city's wage peons. The city has 23,500 retired workers and some of them have lost as much as $100,000 in pension benefits. Health care for retirees has been essentially eliminated. Detroit's labor groups are planning an appeal of city's plan of adjustment. The state constitution guarantees workers' pension rights. Even if successful the city has no money to pay pensions at the former level. The plan also contemplates turning over Detroit's lauded art collection to private foundations, expedites water shutoffs to make water bureau privatization more feasible, and places valuable city real estate such as Belle Isle under control of state or regional authorities.

The city has been operating under the diktat of an emergency manager. Even Judge Rhodes tacitly admitted in his ruling that democracy had been suspended for technical reasons when he wrote, "It is now time to restore democracy to the people of the city of Detroit." One critic of the plan said "I personally think they [leaders behind the bankruptcy] all need to go to jail." So much for "inalienable rights".

Creature Feature: Swaison's Warbler Beats the Odds

A rare event these days, a native US songbird, the Swainson's warbler, is increasing in numbers. A research review that complied data from twenty years of field studies suggest the warbler will be able to survive in short rotation pine plantations to the end of the 21st century. It was thought that the rare bird was restricted to dense forest in the southeastern US and its wintering range in the Carribean, but the studies show that it is found in a wide range of habitats including loblolly pine plantations used as managed source of wood. Researchers think that there is a period of seven to eight years when these artificial forests are dense enough to suppor the warbler. When these forests are harvested, the warbler is able to move to adjacent forested areas. The Swainson's is now considered a success story in a habitat once believed to be barren from a biological standpoint. About 90,000 breeding individuals are sparsely distributed across fifteen states. The small, olive brown bird with pale underparts is secretive, but has a loud and distinctive song. Male Swainson's defend large territories for a small bird, ranging in size from 7 to 44 acres.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Solar Gains in US

Solar power now makes economic sense in the United States if electricity price from the grid exceeds 15¢/kwhr even in northern states like New York and New Jersey where there is less sunshine than in the southwest. Deutsche Bank recently concluded that solar power will be as cheap or cheaper than grid electricity in every state except three. Residential rooftop solar installation is booming--growing on average 66% a year--because solar panels are less expensive and installation costs can be avoided altogether with a lease-back arrangement. So much residential solar is being installed that utilities are beginning to grumble about "freeloading" solar owners. Hawaii's largest utility has blocked new solar arrays from hooking up to the grid. The problem say the utilities is that solar people are not paying their share of the cost of grid maintenance. Most solar installation only cover about half a household's electricity use. Arizona Public Service says that each solar home places an economic burden on conventional homeowners of as much as $1000 a year in Arizona.

The distribution cost issue is not just limited to Arizona. About 40 states allow property owners to sell back to the grid, and most regulators require utilities to buy it even though solar is an intermittent power source. If solar arrays where to become as ubiquitous as chimneys, utilities could become merely electric grid custodians with little prospect for profitable energy generation. The Edison Electric Institute, an industry funded research group, concluded last year that Americans getting off the grid could push electric utilities into a spiral of fewer sales to cover maintenance of a decrepit 20th century grid system. That scenario is probably biased. Solar only accounts for less than one quarter of one percent of electricity generated in the US, but the amount of sunlight has the potential to provide 100 times the US annual power demand. Regulators, at least in Arizona, seem willing to allow electric utilities to recoup distributive costs from solar customers. In November of 2013 Arizona's utility commission voted to impose a charge of 70¢ per kw of installed solar or an average of $75 a month, which solar users promptly called a "sun tax". APS calculated that the grid costs $60 a month per household.

Other countries experiencing a solar boom, Germany, Australia and Spain, are experiencing similar cost woes. {15.05.14, Yes Virginia, It Can Be Done}  Given the disagreeable prospect that the grid could become "an antiquated back-up system of 130 million wooden poles" in the future, utilities are beginning a push-back against roof-top solar. Federal solar subsidies are scheduled to end in 2016, but if private installation costs drop to 50¢ per watt and improved home storage devices become widely available, a solar nation could be a reality.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Orcas Dying from Starvation

The orca whale population in Puget Sound is declining alarmingly. The Southern Resident population is at its lowest level in thirty years of 78 individuals. No new calves have been born to the three pods since 2012, and two new deaths in pod L (Lulu and Indigo) were confirmed. It seems their social structure is also splitering from the stress of what appears to be starvation due to a decline in chinook salmon, their preferred food. Historically all three pods, J,K and L came together in the San Juan Islands to feed and socialize, but for the past few years the pods have divided up into small groups, often staying far apart. Orca society is strongly matrilineal. So far martrilines of grandmothers, mothers and offspring have stayed together. Transient orcas seem to be faring better. They travel in small groups feeding on marine mammals, and their groups are growing larger. The coastal orcas of Puget Sound carry a heavy load of toxins in their bodies, but observers say its not toxins that are responsible for the population decline. Researchers have developed a computer model based on the diet of fish-eating orcas with a seawater contamination level of less than 0.5 becquerels/m³. Based on the model orcas will carry Cesium 137 levels exceeding the Canadian guideline of 1,000 becquerels/kg for seafood consumption within thirty years, the isotope's halflife.

COTW: "Radiation Significant"

Radiation reaching North American shores from Fukushima is considered significant by Canadian scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The concentrations are several orders of magnitude below those that would be considered an immediate health threat to humans. However, radiation from the multiple meltdown is expected to persist for years.  No state or federal agency is testing Pacific waters for radiation. However, Wood Hole Oceanographic Institute reported that 50% of samples from around the West Coast test positive. The closest sample to shore was taken 100 miles due west of Eureka, CA [blue dots above].  About fifty samples were collected offshore from Dutch Harbor, AS to Eureka.  The amount of cesium-134 found, the isotope considered to be a signature of the Fukushima disaster, is less than 2 Bq/m³.  That is a level about 1000 times lower than the limit set by the EPA for drinking water.  Levels of 10 million becquerels were measured off Japan in 2011.  As contaminated water plume travels accross the Pacific it is being diluted.

A marine chemist at the University of Victoria, Canada said the latest calculations indicate Fukushima has released 80 quadrillion becquerels of radiation into the environment, more than the estimated amount released by the Chernobyl disaster.  Fukishima radiation in trace amounts have been detected in Alaska salmon.  After years of denial Fukushima officials recently admitted around 400 metric tons of radioactive water has been flowing into the Pacifc every day for nearly 4 years.

The Sexual History of the Spider Orchid

When the Repugnants took over Congress in the Midterm election, the chairmanships of the various committees where the real work of legislating takes place were handed over by the Democrats. The Senate's environment committee will now be chaired by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), a committed climate denier. His belief that climate change is "the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" is apparently religiously based since he believes he is doing the the Lord's work; no doubt it has more commercial basis since Okalhoma is one of the United State's largest producers of fossil fuels. Never mind that Pope Benedict has declared that there is a global responsibility to combat the threatening catastrophe of climate change. But then Inhofe could be forgiven for ignoring the head of the Roman Catholic Church since he is a Presbyterian. Even the Presbyterians issued a resolution in 2008 calling for Christians "to act NOW [emphasis original] to lead the way in reducing our energy usage", and "aspire to live carbon neutral lives" as part of Christian witness. Perhaps Senator Inhofe would lay aside his deliberate ignorance for a moment to consider the historical record and current plight of the humble Spider Orchid (Ophrys sphegodes).

England is the home of inveterate record-keepers going back to Roman times. So it was not unusual that biological researchers studying the relationship of an orchid and a miner bee (Andrena nigroaenea) would consult museum records of pressed flowers and bee collections dating back to 1848. What Dr. Karen Robbirt and her colleagues of the Royal Botanic Gardens and University of East Anglia found is that rising temperatures cause both orchid and bee to flower and fly earlier in the spring. Temperature change affects the bees more, which leads to a mismatch sexually speaking. The orchid uses sexual deceit to attract the bee into "pseudocoupulation", thus pollinating it. The flower resembles a miner bee in color and shape and emits a bee pheromone. [photos: Getty images].

The research published in Current Biology is the first confirmation based on long term data that climate change can disrupt pollination and relationships between species. The orchid now flowers six days earlier for every 1℃ increase in spring temperature, but the male miner bee that does the psuedocopulating emerges nine days earlier. Female miner bees that usually emerged later than the male bees, emerge 15 days earlier. Result: the bees are having real sex and not pollinating the orchid that relies on the "little buggers" for its reproductive success. Not good news because three-quarters of all food crops rely on pollination. In the UK alone the free fertilization provided by pollinators like bees is estimated to be worth £430 million a year.

Science has found disturbing effects of global warming on natural synchronicities in other species such as oak trees, winter moths and great tits; puffins and herring, guillemots and sand eels; the red admiral butterfly and stinging nettle. Are all of these species in on the "great hoax" too, Senator? Or are these creatures of God trying to tell us that as the dominate species of the planet with a Biblical mandate to care for it, we are failing miserably.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Creature Feature: Tiny Ball of Fluff No. 681

The Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, is caring for a baby sea otter found abandoned by its mother. Weighing only two pounds when rescued, aquarium staff quickly began to give her the calories and attention she needs to return to the wild. Amazingly an animal highly adapted to a marine enviornment has to be taught how to swim! Fortunately as this video shows, they float rather well thanks to their luxuriant fur coats.

'Toontime: Inconvenient Muslims...and Republicans

[credit Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune]
BC Idonwanna sez: Buffalo Soldier need big stick.
Both sides are promising to work together, but as Americans know to their increasing dismay, Washington is full of hot air and very little bipartisanship. making them very disaffected towards politics as the game is played there. Ralph Nader, when ran as an independent for president, once quipped that their was not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties. US Person subscribed to his view before the "tea party" faction and puppetmasters the Koch Brothers turned the Republican Party, the party of Eisenhower and Dirksen, into a revanchist club for the rich and fascist. Opposing such right-wing extremism, the Democratic Party should have no trouble winning national elections, but it does. Part of the problem is the Democrats have drifted a long way from their moorings in the labor and populist movements of the previous century. Their big money supporters are wealthy entrepreneurs, financiers, entertainers, and CEOs--the same class that supports the GOP. Liberal rhetoric that captured the White House could only inspire voters for a short time in contrast to very mixed results. Instead of hope and change, we got Obamacare and gridlock.

[credit: Pat Oliphant]
Wackydoodle sez: Hey, I'm supposed to be the Oracle!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

COTW: The Midterm

This graphic from The Economist is self-explanatory. The midterm election results are a stinging defeat for the Current Occupant who made too many promises he could not or did not carry out in his one-and-a-half terms in office, and the right's deny (voting rights) and spend (campaigns) strategy proved effective:

US Person will take the opportunity to make a few predictions.  Money can still buy elections, it is just more expensive.  This midterm will probably be the most expensive in US history. Gridlock will continue in Washington since the Republicans do not control a filibuster-proof majority. The budget, containing one or more "poison pills", will provoke threats of another government shut down. The alphabet culture wars will continue to distract from any real progress on urgent issues. The stock market will continue to go up to the delight of the plutocrats who now own almost everything. Oh yeah, look for "boots on the ground" perhaps in Ukraine, as the world spirals into Cold War II: Revenge of the Neocons. So if you got it in Alaska, Oregon or DC, smoke it, and have a happy holidaze!
credit: Jeff Danzinger

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Curtains for US Policy in Northern Syria

credit: Institute for the Study of War
US supported Syrian rebels have been defeated by Jabhat al-Nursa, a faction aligned with al-Qaeda, in their main northern strongholds. The rout of moderate rebels in Idlib province appears to be the death blow to the administration's strategy of selective support for moderate rebels fighting Bashir Assad's Syrian government. Al-Nusra is regarded by Syrians as less radical than ISIS, and when the US hit their main base as part of its expanded air war, the organization garnered increased support from the people of Idlib. Another moderate group, Harakat Hazm, a recipient of CIA support, lost its headquarters Saturday night. The group received training in Qatar as well as US weapons. Harakat Hazm fighters were surrounded and fled without a fight. Reports say large amounts of US-supplied weapons, including TOW antitank missiles, were captured by al-Nusra fighters. Western-backed Syrian Revolutionary Front gave up its villages in Jabal al-Zawiya on Saturday.

Idlib was the last northern province in which moderate rebels maintained a significant presence. They cooperatively ejected ISIS from the region in January. Now, except for a narrow strip around Aleppo, ISIS reigns over Syria's north. Western support has never been enough to make a tactical deference for the moderates and the war against the spread of ISIS is beginning to take priority. The US finds itself without a credible ground presence in the country to fight both enemies. The administration maybe forced to conceed defeat in Syria and concentrate on stopping ISIS in Iraq. What is clear is that it needs a proxy army on the ground superior to ISIS capabilities.

The Iraqi army is totally disfunctional; members kickback part of their salaries to their superiors so they do not have to show up and then take second jobs. The closest thing to an effective fighting force the West could support is the Kurd peshmerga. They demonstrated their willingness to defeat ISIS by preventing the capture of Kobane with the help of US air strikes. If US leaders adopt the 'save Iraq' alternative, the US will face the same difficult situation it faced in Vietnam and Afghanistan, a capable insurgent force with refuges across an international border. The other alternatives are aligning with Assad, a moral disaster, or returning US soldiers to a ethnic and sectarian conflict, a political disaster. (The United States has quietly ceased its investigation of Assad's alleged war crimes and the dictator has indicated his willingness to be nice to US) Or, we could just toss the Eisenhower Doctrine in the can and let Allah sort them out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

NOAA Cleans Up Junk in Monument

Chevron Butterflyfish at French Frigate Schoals, credit: James Watt
Crews from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have cleared 57 tons of debris from northwest Hawaii's new Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Mounument.{29.7.09} During the 33 day mission a team of divers focused on areas that collect marine debris mostly discarded fishing tackle and nets around Maro Reef, Pearl, Hermes and Midway atolls. At Pearl and Hermes the divers rescued three sea turtles entangled in nets. On Midway the clean-up effort netted over six tons of plastic. Midway albatross chicks are dying from eating plastic. {29.10.09} Beaches in the monument are heavily littered with buoys, bottles, flip-flops, plastic toys and crates. Disused nets weighing thousands of pounds have destroyed coral. One collected net alone weighed 11.5 tons. NOAA's ship, the Oscar Elton Sette was filled to the brim with collected debris; there is still more waiting to be removed.

The remote northwest Hawaii Islands are habitat for more than 7000 marine species. An estimated 52 metric tons of derelict fishing gear accumulates in these waters and beaches each year due to prevailing currents and winds. NOAA has led a clean-up mission each year since 1996. During that time the agency has removed a staggering 904 tons of derelict gear and debris. The debris poses a threat to endangered wildlife and coral reefs, which are the healthiest and least disturbed remaining in the United States. The collected junk will be burned as fuel to generate electricity.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Scientist Snitches on GMOs

A former research scientist for Agriculture Canada, Thierry Vrain, says there is a growing body of research in Europe and Russia showing diets containing engineered corn or soya causes serious health problems leading to premature death in laboratory animals. Inserting genes into a plant's genome causes it to generate proteins that are defective or worse, toxic. Bt corn's Cry proteins have been found to be absolutely toxic for mammalian blood. Another study linked them to higher rates of leukemia. Engineered grains are already in most processed foods. That is why labeling is so important. It's the only way consumers have of to avoid consuming "frankenfood".

GMOs are mostly engineered to increase their tolerance of herbicides and pesticides used in increasingly large amounts by industrial agriculture. These poisons are not good for the planet, its wildlife, or humans.  Monsanto's herbicide "RoundUp" is a magnesium chelator (glyphosate) that deprives plants and organisims, some of them beneficial, of necessary minerals in the soil. New evidence shows that it also chelates maganesium from humans that eat RoundUp tolerant GMOs. Why is consuming plants able to withstand a witches' brew of toxic chemicals considered progress? Because huge international companies like Monsanto make huge profits from selling the chemicals to global argiculture. Given that profit motive it is easy to understand why corporations are willing to spend millions fighting labeling initiatives in state after state--truth labels are bad for business.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Tru'merica: The Magic Wand of Money Creation

The Federal Reserve recently annouced it is ending "quantative easing", an obsfucation of virtual money printing intended to counteract the financial Panic of 2008. History often provides enlightening perspective. The Panic of 1907, in which there was a damaging run on banks by depositors demanding gold and silver for their banknotes, is said to a major reason for establishing the fourth central bank in the United States (counting the Bank of North America that operated under the Articles), the Federal Reserve System. The existence of a central bank is not per se dangerous to democracy, but the private ownership of the central bank by plutocrats is as warned by Jefferson, Jackson and other statesmen. Nor is deficit spending for national purposes a bad thing unless there is too much of it. US Person does not wish to be identified as a 'spaz' who wants to return to the gold standard even if he would get to meet Alan Greenspan.

The 1907 Panic was created by JP Morgan's rumour-mongering against a competitor, the Knickerbocker Trust Co. Morgan's bank functioned as the nation's central banker in the absence of such an institution. When legislation was called for to solve the nation's currency problems, the "Money Power" {17.10.11, End the Fed} composed of the three largest New York banks, including Morgan's and the Rothschilds' (via banker Paul Warburg), made sure it created favorable legislation at a 1910 secret meeting on Jekyll Island, Georgia to insure control of a national central bank. Incredibly the 1913 National Reserve Act that resulted from the bankers' scheming also gave the Reserve the power to regulate the nation's money supply, more power than the original conspirators dreamed possible.

The Federal Reserve System a century later has no government oversight and does not answer to elected political leaders. Federal Reserve's leaders such as the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which sets the nation's monetary policy, are largely chosen by the private member banks not the government. So it is the banksters who bailed themselves out of a speculative 2008 Panic using money ($3 trillion according to GAO) they "printed" by issuing public debt--a veritable magic wand to conjure money into existence at the expense of taxpayers. Watch these brief videos and join US Person when he says, don't just end quantitative easing, but end the Fed!