Saturday, January 31, 2015

'Toontime: Franklin for President

credit: Tom Toles
Wackydoodle sez: An' apathy her runnin' mate!

By the time the Paris Peace Treaty was ratified in 1789, Benjamin was near death. Two younger founders were in line to serve as the new republic's chief executive.  Franklin was acclaimed a hero of the Revolution, having served his country in multiple capacities, and critically as ambassador to France for nine years.  His intellect as a man of science and author was internationally recognized.  He loved culture, women and drink.  We could use an enlightened man like Benjamin at the helm these days.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Raul Castro Demands Base Closure

Part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War was the establishment of a United States naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Monroe Doctrine dictated that the United States was the hemisphere's protecting power, and after it expelled the last colonial ruler in the Americas (except for its blood cousins in Canada), it needed a place to coal and resupply warships patrolling the American "sphere of influence". The revolutionary leaders of Cuba were intelligent enough not to pick a fight with the colossus of the north so Guantanamo as a US enclave exists today. American politicians like to talk about the lease the US has on the premises, but the Cubans have not accepted the annual payments except one since the Revolution of 1959. Reportedly the rent checks were stuffed into Commandante Fidel Castro's desk drawer.  One was mistakenly cashed during the Revolution.

Under the terms of the 1903 treaty, Cuba retains ultimate sovereignty over the territory. This agreement allows the United States to do anything necessary, "to fit the premises for use as coaling or naval stations only, and for no other purpose." The construction of permanent detention facilities by the United States in 2002 to house prisoners from the wars in the Middle East makes the original lease voidable. Camp Delta is definitely not a naval brig of any plausible description. Cubans view the lease as void from ab initio since it was obtained under duress and threat of continued military occupation. After the war in 1899 the US occupied the island to quash insurrection, reducing it to a virtual colony before installing a friendly government. Now that the Current Occupant has made belated overtures to normalize relations between the two nations, the question of the continued occupation of Guantanamo Bay cannot be avoided.

President Raul Castro, 83, brother of the Commandante, seized the historical moment by demanding at a recent Latin American summit meeting that Guantanamo be returned to Cuba as part of any rehabilitation of bilateral relations. He also asked for compensation for the damage done to the Cuban economy by the United States' fifty-year trade embargo. One would think that the Current Occupant's promise to close the gulag would coincide partly with Cuba's demands--NOT--for several reasons. While the number of releases and relocations has increased recently, there are still over a 100 prisoners in the detention camp. A conservative Congress operating under antique notions of patriotism has made it illegal to house the remaining prisoners on the mainland. Few other countries are willing to take the human remains of jihad in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those that are willing to repatriate their nationals are immersed in Islamic insurrection, so the objection that harden extremists may return to the battle zone is in a few cases legitimate. Congress has refused to fund the gulag's closure; perhaps they would fund reopening Alcatraz?

Whether Cuba's demand to close an active US military base will undermine the initiative begun on December 17th remains to be seen. There are many right-wing ideologues in the US government and military that resist any change in relations with "Marxist types". Fidel Castro, who is in good health at age 89 [2014 photo], wrote a letter to a student organization endorsing the high-level talks to end one of the last anachronisms of the Cold War. He said while he "does not trust United States' politics", he will not reject an opportunity to restore peace and prosperity. The revolutionary leader survived multiple assassination plots by the CIA during his presidency*. Viva Fidel!

*See e.g. Operation Mongoose, a CIA operation to destabilize Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro was approved by the Kennedy administration. This hostile policy had its roots in the Eisenhower administration that in 1960 approved covert raids, sabotage, and training of a guerrilla force to be use against the communist government. The effort had an initial budget of $13 million. The American Mafia, which had lost confiscated assets in Cuba, was brought in to the covert effort to overthrow the revolution by Allen Dulles, then Director of CIA. The operation had its headquarters at CIA's JM/WAVE station in Miami; head of the station was agent Ted Shackley. The operation was the directed responsibility of General Edward Landsdale, a trusted Kennedy military advisor. It was this covert US effort that prompted Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev to send Castro military aid to stave off the expected attack. The aid eventually included ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. Several prominent Kennedy assassination investigators conclude that it was this Mafia connection and the abject failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion that eventually blewback and resulted in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. US Person agrees with this revision of official history. {05.12.06 Dead Kennedys II, III, Epilogue}

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Creature Feature: African Golden Cat

This maybe the first video ever of the reclusive African Golden cat (Profelis aurata) hunting in the daytime. Its target is a red colobus monkey feeding on dead wood. The camera trap video is in slow motion to give you a better view of the extremely fast cat running to attack from the left of the camera; the monkey escapes with its life. The cat inhabits moist tropical forests and is a close relative of the caracal and serval. Golden cats are impacted by the bushmeat trade, and as primarily terrestrial hunters are vulnerable to snares.  From the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mali Says Its Free of Ebola

Latest: One of the positive facts in the current Ebola pandemic is that the virus is relatively difficult to transmit. That life-saving limitation may change say Institut Pasteur scientists studying the virus. Blood samples from Guinea are beginning to be genetically sequenced and show that the virus is changing dramatically. Ebola is an RNA-type virus like influenza which mutate rapidly. A previous study in Sierra Leone shows that Ebola mutated considerably in the first 24 days of the outbreak In several known cases the infected individuals are asymptomatic. Such people could spread the virus further before they are detected, if at all. The greatest fear is that over time the Ebola virus could mutate to become an airborne desease. So far there is no evidence that is happening. Ebola is only known to be passed through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected persons. The survival rate of the pandemic is currently 40%. One of the new Ebola vaccines being worked on is a modification of a widely used measles vaccine. A measles outbreak is spreading through seven western states and is attributed by some health experts as a consequence of low vaccination rates amoung children.

{19.01.15}Mali's health minister declared Sunday that his country is free of the Ebola pandemic, forty-two days after the last patient tested negative for the virus. The World Health Organization counts 8400 killed by the outbreak in West Africa. Mali shares a border with Guinea which together with Liberia and Sierra Leone is the epicenter of the pandemic. The disease entered the country through a two-year old girl from Guinea who died in Kayes, Mali.

Guinea announced it will reopen schools Monday because the situation has improved according to its health minister who attended an economic summit of West African states. Liberia has said it will reopen schools next month. Sierra Leone is the hardest hit of the three nations and it has no plans to reopen schools yet. In a recent 24 hour monitoring period, 16 new Ebola cases were discovered in Sierra Leone. The current Ebola virus pandemic is the worst in world history with more than 21,000 reported cases. Actual cases of hemoragic fever are probably twice that number.

At least fifty hot-spots of infection remain in the region. Progress is being made against the disease as people are educated in how the disease spreads. Local communities are asked to change their rituals and burial practices which allow contact with bodily fluids containing Ebola viruses. Scientists think that a resevoir of the viral strain exists in fruit bats of the region which are considered a prime bush meat delicacy. Butchering of these mammals puts people into contact with their blood and other fluids that may contain live viruses. So natives may also have to change their eating habits too. Health workers say they are beginning to note changes in behavior as a result of their education efforts. Meanwhile, vaccine development is going forward with final trials expected to take place in the next month or two. At this stage in development, two vaccines, one made by GlaxoSmithKline and the other licensed by Merck, appear to be safe.

Police Beat: Buyea!

Latest: The Bernalillo County prosecutor who filed murder charges against two cops has been targeted by them for special treatment. The District Attorney's office is already experiencing a lack of cooperation from cops who refused admittance to a prosecutor at a murder scene. They said to do so would constitute a "conflict of interest" and compromise the investigation. The county is experiencing a spat of police homicides eight times the rate of New York City. A in-depth article in the New Yorker  tells how DA Kari Brandenburg faces personal pressures including a police investigation of her for allegely bribing a witness in retaliation for her unusual decision to file charges in the killing of homeless James Boyd. The responsible police detective admitted the bribery case was very weak, but expressed hope it would destroy her career. It is a fact of 'Merican life that police are rarely punished for inappropriate use of deadly force. This despite the fact the US Justice Department has broad authority since 1994 to investigate and prosecute local departments for misconduct. (42USC 14141-14142) The treatment of Kari Brandenburg and her prosecutors is one reason why.

Update: {14.01.15}Two Bernalillo County cops will face a murder rap for killing homeless James Boyd outside Albuquerque, NM. A dash cam caught one of them saying he was going to shoot the "lunatic in the penis with a shotgun". The "officer" did not know the camera was rolling.

More: {10.04.14}The Justice Department issued a highly critical report about the Albuquerque, New Mexico police department Thursday saying the department had a practice of using excessive force and acting recklessly. That conclusion is restrained considering the Albuquerque cops have killed 23 people in the last four years. The Justice Department found after a sixteen month civil rights investigation that the department often used force against people who posed no threat but were emotionally or mentally unstable. Officers escalated confrontations needlessly, ending in deadly force being inappropriately used. A justice department official blamed inadequate oversight of Albuquerque officers and their training. James Boyd, the homeless man most recently killed by Albuquerque cops had a long history of violent outbursts and mental instability. The video of his summary execution in the Sandia foothills outside town prompted street protests in the city. All that can be said in Albuquerque's defense is that police violence is rampant in Amerika. Police Departments in Detroit, New Orleans and Portland, OR have had to operate under Justice Department oversight and abide by departmental changes ordered by the federal law agency. Albuquerque's mayor has already set aside $1 million to fund compliance, but it will probably not be enough. He called Boyd's death "a game changer". Unfortunately, law enforcement is not a game and changes came too late to protect Boyd from police brutality.

{31.03.14}Are these facists operating in Afganistan or on the outskirts of Albuquerque, New Mexico? Unfortunately for an English speaking US citizen who may or may not be retarded it is Albuquerque. Any city official who can call this extra-judicial execution anything but murder should be tried as an accessory after the fact in US Person's opinion. The first shot is a 'flash-bang' round, but the next shots are lethal and the man lies dead before your eyes. If you listen closely the cop with a helmet camera can be heard to mutter the miitary war cry, "Buyea!" after killing the suspect. The dead man's alleged crime: illegal camping. Maybe the shooter had a flash back, but obviously these supposedly civilian cops have been too long in a war zone to hold a position of pubic trust and responsibility in the CONUS. Warning: LETHAL VIDEO!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Greeks Elect Left

credit: The Times
Five years on, Greeks are fed-up with austerity and they showed that attitude at the polls. In a burst of democracy on Sunday they elected the left fusion party, Syriza, to a near absolute parliamentary majority, 139 seats out of 300. {16.05.2012, Greek Tragedy Continues} Syriza will seek a coalition party to provide the two seats necessary to form a government. In multiple-party Greece, that should not be a major problem [see chart]. In 2012, Syriza won only 52 seats.  Voters responded to Syriza's pledges to reject austerity and cancel the billions of euros in Greek debt. There is now speculation in financial markets that party leader Alexis Tsipras may lead Greece out of the EU. He will at least use continued membership in the single currency union as leverage to renegotiate Greece's debt. In addition to junking austerity, Tsipras has said he wants to raise the minimum wage by almost 50% and reinstate collective bargaining.

credit: Le Monde
The Euro fell by $1.11 against the dollar, the lowest level in more than 11 years over speculation on a Greek exit. Opinion within Syriza appears to be divided. Tsipras has said that EU membership could be maintained if social cohesion is not threatened, but he does want to renegotiate the EU's 240€ bailout of the Greek economy. Another senior party member told Der Spiegel that the party wants a complete break with the "totalitarian EU". EU ministers are already warning Greece to respect the rules of monetary union. Bookmark this space for developments as Syriza and Tsipras take power and are given the chance to lead Greece in a different direction.  As a Spainish socialist put it, "les Grecs avoir un véritable président et non plus un délégué de Angela Merkel qui pensera d'abord aux intérêts de son pays et à ceux de son peuple".

Kurds Say They Have Retaken Kobani

The Syrian border town that has been the scene of an intense four month battle has been lifted by Kurdish defenders who say they have retaken the entire town of Kobani. {13.10.14, Turkish Tanks Sit Idle on Border} US and allied airpower played a role in their success. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the YPG (Kurdish People's Protection Unit's) flag is flying from a nearby hill previously displaying the black banner of ISIS. Since September the fighting in and around Kobani has killed about 1500 people including civilians. Most of the dead are ISIS fighters. ISIS launched some 35 suicide bombing attacks during the battle for the town. It still has hundreds of fighters in nearby villages.

In reply United States has carried out almost daily airstrikes launched from its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinsonstationed in the Persian Gulf. Kobani is the only declared battle against stateless terrorists in which US airpower has been used to provide close air support for a foreign ground force. Cooperation may even have extended to the training of Kurd personnel in close air support techniques such as the use of hand-held laser devices that pin-point a target for laser-guided bombs. Whatever the actual methods, the operation apparently has been largely successful. Kurd forces seem to be especially motivated by their desire to establish a nation in the areas in which ISIS now operates. Kurdish leaders may see a quid pro quo with the US for their efforts to defeat the Islamic extremists. An Islamic State spokesmen said in an audio clip posted today that supporters should attack the "infidel West" wherever and with whatever weapons are at hand. ISIS invested considerable assets in the Kobani battle, halting a move to take Aleppo. Where it will strike next is the question.

Creature Feature: Cow Comfort & Ranching Holisticly

Why should humans be concerned with the well-being of farm animals? One easily understandable reason for those obssessed with the profit motive is: happy farm animals produce more product. In the case of these Minnesota dairy cows, 10% more milk per day. WWF shows us in this video:

This WWF video shows how Montana ranchers can be the allies of wildlife instead of enemies who view wild creatures and their habitats as unwanted competitors:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Tru'merica: Building Empire

This video documents the CIA overthrow of the Arbenz government of Guatemala in 1954. Encouraged by their success in Iran where they installed the Shah in a coup d'état, the CIA turned their sites on Guatemala where they believed communists were poised to take over the country from Arbenz who was a socialist and an irritant to United Fruit Company. United Fruit was represented by CIA Director Allen Dulles' brother, John Foster Dulles. The video also demonstrates how the US government is influenced by corporate interests intimately connected to it. Presidente Fidel Castro speaks about Guatamala's sad experience with political reform, to be repeated in other Latin American dictatorships during the Cold War and culminating in the illegal military invasions of Grenada (1983) and Panama (1989) under pretexts of defending democracy:

Two decades later, it was Chile's turn to experience the corporatist power of an American company (ITT) controlling official foreign policy (Presidente Castro plays basketball during his Chilean visit):

In 2013 a historic trial took place in Argentina that exposed "Operation Condor", a systematic effort by seven Latin American dictatorships advised and trained by the CIA and the US Army to hunt down Latin American leftsist labeled 'terrorists'. Argentinian judicial authorities requested the testimony of former United States National Security Advisor Henry Kissenger, known to be a key player in the suppression of leftists movements in Latin America, but the request was denied by the Current Occupant. The United States would find empire building much more difficult in the Middle East.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Oklahoma Climate Change Denier Takes Gavel

Senate committee chairs are powerful people in the scheme of American government. They can block or steer bills to passage, and provide a media platform. So it is more than disconcerting the first thing Senator Jame Inhofe (R-OK) did upon taking control of the Environment & Public Works Committee is deny climate change from the Senate floor, again. According to his narrow-minded view, climate change was practically invented by Al Gore, one of the extreme right's favorite targets of ridicule.

In reality the idea was conceived about 200 years ago when the industrial revolution began pouring carbon pollution into the atmosphere. French scientist Jean Baptist Fourier described how the atmosphere contributes to planetary temperature by trapping infra-red radiation reflected from the Earth's surface in the 1820s. He was not aware of the role CO₂ played in the planetary mechanism he described. John Tyndall made the important discovery that water vapor and carbon dioxide trapped heat forty years later. It was not until the end of the 19th century that Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius performed calculations to describe the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures. He found that if the amount of carbon dioxide was doubled, global temperatures would increase by 5-6℃ If you think this international history of scientific discovery is testament to a conspiracy of anti-capitalists, then you need to send a fan letter to James Inhofe. He must hold the current world record for cognitive dissonance. Becuase 97% of peer-reviewed scientific studies that stated a position on the cause of global warming say it is caused by humans combusting fossil fuels.

Of course those of us who are not paid to deny by fossil fuel industries understand why Inhofe talks the talk and walks the walk. He is, in essence, an oil industry hack. He is only interested in presenting industry propaganda, not the truth because the truth is already out there for the public to see for themselves. That Inhofe is also a United States Senator and a committee chairman is this nation's and the world's great misfortune.

'Toontime: The State of Goring Your Ox

The Current Occupant's tax proposal to help the middle class is great theatre, but it has a snowball's chance in a Washington August of passing Congress, now in the hands of the handmaidens of the rich. The "shadow of crisis" may be past in the minds of some, but the Kabuki of deadlock is still with us.

credit: Mike Luckovich
Wackydoodle sez:  Winnin' lections makes ya'al smirk!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tigers Increase in India

As readers of PNG know, 2010 was the "Year of the Tiger" {21.01.12} so range states like India have been planning and implementing actions to double their tiger (Panthera tigris) populations by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger. The latest census show that the tiger population has rebounded during the last four years, increasing more than 30%, to 2,226. India is the land of the tiger with 70% of the world's population living there midst a burgeoning human population. The reported increase comes after a decade of effort to reduce poaching and mitigate its effects. In 2005 India reported that all twenty-two tigers in a Rajasthan preserve were killed. The next year the entire country's tiger population plummeted to just 1,411. India once was home to tens of thousands of wild tigers, with the first tigers arriving from the north around 16,000-12,000 BCE. According to historian Mahesh Rangarajan, "80,000 tigers were slaughtered in 50 years from 1875 to 1925. It is possible that this was only a fraction of the numbers actually slain." To compare their current status in India, it is instructive to note the United States has an estimated 5,000 tigers living in captivity.

Just how accurate the new count is and not just wishful thinking on the part of Indian wildlife authorities is a legitimate question. Official corruption plays are large role in the world-wide illegal wildlife trade. Tiger parts and pelts are still in high demand in Asia. Indian officials say the latest techniques and equipment were used to compile the most accurate count possible. The assessment methodology was the same as that used in 2006 and 2010. Ten thousand camera traps were positioned and transcets walked in which scats were located and analysed for DNA matches. A specialized software program identified photos of individual tigers based on their unique fur patterns. Over 350,000 km² were surveyed and 1540 unique tiger photos captured. After three cycles of nation-wide assessment, India wildlife officials say it is clear that tigers respond well to human preservation efforts.

Their future in India depends upon maintaining inviolate core habitats (tiger kingdoms) for breeding purposes, preserving connected high quality habitat, and strengthening legal protections of tigers and their prey animals. A noted tiger conservationist in India said the government has a long way to go in preventing poaching. The government has offered payments to tribal groups to move out of tiger preserves, paying about $16,260 per family to move. If preserves and corridors are defended from human encroachment and poaching suppressed effectively, tigers could increase by another 1500 over the next two decades, allowing India to reach its Year of the Tiger goal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Anti-Green Ohio

Some states just don't get it. Ohio is one. Perhaps Ohioans think that because their state college won the football championship game, they can defy reality. NOT! Their state public utilities commission may decide soon to subsidize two legacy coal plants and perhaps America's most decrepit nuclear power plant, Davis-Besse [photo]. It has suffered five of the worst breakdowns in the nuclear industry, and its owners are seeking a public bailout of $10 billion while outmoded nuclear plants nationwide are shuting down. Renewable energy and natural gas has priced nuclear power out of energy market.

Davis-Besse is a Merican horror story of what can go wrong with a nuclear facility. First off, the design is a sixties clone of Three-Mile Island, the only US plant to suffer a meltdown. In 2002 boric acid was found leaking onto the pressure reactor vessel, nearly eating its way through six inches of stainless steel. {28.08.08, Engineer Lied About Nuke} A Chernobyl-type explosion was missed by a fraction of an inch. Even the captured regulator, NRC, imposed the largest fine ever on an owner for that near disaster. Another nuke's pressure vessel head from Midland, MI was welded in and replaced yet again. The $600 million spent to upgrade the facility did not alter its trajectory of failure. Fires and chronic malfunctions still plague it.

The owners continue to operate Davis-Besse instead of investing in clean energy because they can. Ohio became the first state to roll back its green power program in 2010 after Koch-backed Repugnants took office. Gov. Kasich (R) is recognized as someone who "helped mold ALEC in its formative years" ALEC is the discredited organization specializing in canned legislation that is routinely anti-progressive.  No wonder fracking is having a field day in Ohio; Ohio is shaking but not to the tunes from the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame in Cincinnati.

COTW: Those Flashing Red Signals

US has been beating this dead horse economy for a while, but this chart shows just how large the reality gap is between the official unemployment rate and one calculated using the labor participation rate which is much more reflective of reality. According to an economic consultant for the CIA, the actual unemployment rate, if calculated fairly is 23%:

This chart explains why all the near zero-interest money injected into the markets during the Fed's "quantative easing" ($3.1 trillion) has failed to produce real economic recovery, but mostly stock market froth ($710 trillion in derivative notational value or ten times global GDP). The velocity of money has fallen to a low not seen since the First Great Depression:

Velocity has collapsed because most Americans live from paycheck to paycheck which is consumed by the necessities of life. According to the Social Security Administration, 50% of us make less than $28,031 a year. The only ones who have money to spend are the ultra-wealthy as this "hockey stick" chart shows:

The CIA is watching the "misery index", an indication for the potential for civil unrest; so should you. It is now higher (32) than during the First Great Depression (27).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Koalas Are Victims of Aussie Bush Fires

Koalas suffer a lot when Australia experiences tremendous bush fires such as are occurring now. Because they are slow moving and tree dwelling, they are often not able to escape the flames or get singed while running (slowly) away. The IFAW is asking South Australians and Victorians to sew mittens for the little mates as survivors are rescued from the burnt bush. In New South Wales an area of pristine koala habitat on the Tweed Coast near Pottsville went up in flames. The area was home to 35 of the area's 143 koalas. Four were reported to be rescued from the fire accoridn to the IFAW. Survivors typically suffer severe paw burns from running across burnt ground or clinging to burning trees. Injuries are treated with special topical ointments and cotton mittens. Just as in human burn patients, dressings need to be changed daily. So a plentiful supply of mittens is needed; IFAW advises using 100% cotton that is clean. Click here for a simple pattern if you want to make a pair of cotton mittens and send them to IFAW, 6 Belmore Street, Surry Hills 2010 NSW, To avoid high shipping costs to Australia make a donation to IFAW so it can purchase other needed supplies and services.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Earth's Natural Systems Compromised

Perhaps this story will set your sirens wailing, unless you are a crazed and distracted NFL fan! It should. Eighteen scientists from research institutes around the world have published a report in Science concluding humans have "dangerously compromised" four of the planetary boundaries publicly identified by scientists in 2009:
  • climate change
  • biosphere integrity loss and extinctions
  • ozone depletion
  • ocean acidification
  • biogeochemical flow disruption
  • land use change
  • freshwater use
  • atmospheric aerosol loading
  • introduction of novel entities such as plastics, radionucleotides, and engineered organisms
heat map courtesy NASA
Four of the nine, climate change, land use, species extinctions and altered biochemical flows have all exceeded safe operating zones. These conditions threaten to destabilize the Earth's natural systems, driving it into a much less hospitable equilibrium than the present one. The latest report is a refinement of the quantification of where these risks lie said the study's lead author. Two core boundaries--climate change and biosphere integrity--have been identified.

Presistent, substantial alterations in either could result in a new, undesirable equilibrium. 2014 was the warmest year since records began in 1880. Ten of the warmest years except 1998 have occurred since 2000. Anthpromorphic global warming is established as a scientific fact. The study authors warn that the internationally-agreed two degree centigrade increase target lies beyond the planet's safe temperature boundary. Their conclusions will be presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Perhaps this sobering prediction will divert the plutocrats momentarily from celebrating profit-making before survival.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Creature Feature: Don't Mess With This Gecko!

Geckos have achieved a sort of cult status in popular culture, but the reality of geckos is far different from any slightly jaded, English-accented animation.  BBC with David Attenborough show us the Madagascar leaf gecko (Ebenavia inunguis.) in stealthy hunting mode:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Federal Judge Gives BP a 4 Billion Dollar Brake

spill as seen from space!
After finding that British Petroleum was grossly negligent in causing the Macondo well blowout that destroyed the Deep Horizon platform, federal district judge Carl Barbier reduced the overall fines payable by BP from $17.6 billion to $13.7 billion on Thursday.  He did this by concluding the size of the spill was 3.19 billion barrels, much lower than the government's final estimate of 4.09 billion barrels in the second phase of his admiralty bench trial.  The Clean Water Act sets a statutory maximum penalty of $4300 for each barrel spilled.  The judge will set the final penalties to be imposed in the third and final phase of the trial.  Because the ecosystem involved is vast and complex the National Academy of Sciences said in a 2013 study that it was difficult to the full extent of the damage of the crude oil and spill and the massive amount of chemical dispearsants used to break up the oil.

What is certain is that the largest spill in US history has and will continue to inflict far-reaching environmental damage to the Gulf of Mexico. Conservation groups have attempted to document specific damage to wildlife.  The National Wildlife Federation showed the Gulf's dolphin population are suffering severe illnesses caused by toxic exposure, and has observed decreases in marine wildlife populations.   The Department of Interior and National Audubon Society also reported negative effects on migratory birds, wading birds, waterfowl and oyster beds. Reserchers using submersible equipment found dead coral beds located near the well site. Greepeace obtained the photographs of a dead sperm whale in the weeks following the oil spill. Seafood brought in by fishermen continue to exhibit deformaties and lesions. Gulf beaches periodically suffer "tar ball" contaminations after storms. Are these and other undocumented, yet to be determined damages worth $4 billion. You bet your life.

No More Natural Monuments Say Repugnants

As part of their anti-enviornment agenda, extreme right Congressmen are preparing to strip from the Executive the authority to protect natural wonders under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Our heritage from the days of Teddy Roosevelt, the Act allows a president to designate national monuments. Recently the Current Occupant has exercised the authority thirteen times to protect iconic and environmentally important areas from commercial exploitation. Sixteen presidents from both parties have used the Antiquities Act to protect beautiful landscapes such as Denali [photos courtesy US Person], Grand Tetons and Arches National Parks.

The legislation introduced by a congressman from Arkansas demonstrates how out of bounds right- wing Repugnants are. Current polling shows that more than 70% of American voters support efforts to protect our natural heritage, a policy that is assuming even greater importance as the entire planet warms to the point of catastrophic consequences. Irony cannot exist in Washington, DC but it is revealing to note the congressman's website features Denali National Park and Preserve, originally designated a national monument by President Carter in 1978. The actual supporters of this anti-environment, anti-health legislative agenda are the fossil fuel industries that pour tremendous amounts of money onto politicians to protect their profits. This obscene purchase of government policy has achieved significant results. Congress did not pass any significant land conservation measures since 2009 until the 113th Congress closed with passage of several bills languishing on the table, some of them for decades.

Friday, January 16, 2015

'Toontime: Foreign Policy or Schizophrenia in Action

The Current Occupant at the end of the year took historic steps to normalize relations with Cuba after half a century of dysfunctional embargo. As a sovereign nation, Cuba has every right in the world to continue on the socialist path and its leaders have announced that it will do so while engaging the colossal corporatist plutocracy that repeatedly attempted to crush its revolution. Cuba has already released some fifty political prisoners as part of the process. Rest assured dear readers, that Repugnants will do everything possible to prevent normalization from occurring. They have already introduced legislation making it illegal to repatriate the remaining prisoners in the Guantanamo gulag. The Current Occupant was forced to sign a defense bill that contained a poison pill keeping the prison open. 'Merica is schizophrenic because its policies are driven by monied special interests who embrace a hegemonic ideology, not enlightened concepts of liberal government.

Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune
Wackydoodle sez:  An black ain't white, an' green is red!
This dysfunction extends to the so-called "war on terror" that has deteriorated into a non-stop subsidization of the armament industries that only incites more insurrection and decreases our real security.

Michael Ramirez, Investors Business Daily
BC Idonwanna sez: Buffalo Soldier run like desert wind!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rhino Survivor Gives Birth

Very few rhinos survive mutilating poacher attacks. They usually die of blood loss, shock, or infection. But one lucky female white rhino named Thandi in South Africa's Eastern Cape did, thanks to the skills of veterinary surgeon Dr. William Fowlds and quick action by staff at Karlenga Game Reserve. Thandi and a young bull, Themba, were found lying in pools of blood, their horns hacked off, but still alive. They had been darted with an opiod anesthetic and had been lying on their sides for about eight hours. This condition was more life threatening than their disgusting mutilations. Unless the animals could be revived and gotten to their feet, they would certainly die from suffocation or organ failure. Antidote was administered and both rhinos responded, a miracle in itself.

Treatment for their wounds began immediately. Thandi's wounds were fist-sized and so deep, Dr. Fowlds could see her nasal passages and sinuses. Foam oozed from her nostrils. She had lost 20 litres of blood in agony overnight. After the weeks of recovery, the vet was confident both rhinos would survive. But twenty three days after the attack of 2 March 2012, Themba, weak and crippled in one leg, slipped while drinking and fell into the water. Too weak to get out, he was drowning. Dr. Fowlds ran to his rescue and tried to hold his heavy head above water, but it was too late. Fate or God, released Themba from his pain and misery; at his autopsy the heroic vet found Themba's leg muscles were disintegrating from lying on his side too long.

credit: Neil Aldridge
Themba's death made the veterinarian team more determined to save Thandi.  One year and many operations later she showed signs of recovery. Her wounds had healed and she was following her old behaviors. Themba got into an altercation with a new bull on the Reserve and the fragile skin on her face was scraped off. Four new skin graft techniques were used by Dr. Fowlds on Themba's face. Rhinos are tough creatures living in a harsh environment, so the new skins did not last long. Dr. Fowlds was not interested in Themba's looks, but enabling her to resume a normal rhino life and allow her to contribute to her species by reproducing. Themba's suffering and the vet's groundbreaking efforts were not for naught.

Karlenga Game Reserve recently announced that Thandi has given birth to a calf. Blood tests showed Thandi was pregnant in December 2013. Rhino gestation takes 15 to 16 months. Thandi and her calf are under protection and visitors are not allowed to disturb them to give them the best chance of survival. Thandi is living proof humans can insure the rhino's future if we muster the will to do so.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Antarctic Coastal Waters Polluted

Given our current modes of living, it was inevitable that human habitations on the last unsettled land mass of the planet would pollute the pristine waters of the Antarctic. New Zealand, which operates Scott Base research station, discharges sewage into coastal waters as do other nations' Antarctic research bases [see map]. The discharge has contaminated coastal waters with chemicals found in personal care products such as sunscreens and cosmetics. The contaminants are ingredients intended to be biologically active, therefore they may have adverse effects on sensitive marine organisms not previously exposed to pollution. The concentrations found were comparable to urban areas elsewhere in the world and found in areas more extensive than expected. Thirty countries operate seasonal and year-round stations on the continent inhabited by 4,000 people in summer to 1,000 in winter. The study was conducted by University of Canterbury researchers and published in the Journal of Environemental Research.

COTW: Food Prices Sky High Again

Corporate hacks say the US economy has recovered, but 72% of Americans disagree with that assessment. Two reasons for that disconnect: wages are flat and food prices are at record highs.  Here's the chart from the Economist:
In 2008 when food prices hit a high now surpassed, global food riots broke out. The UN's FAO food index reached 215 last month, breaking June 2008's record high of 213.5. It is now every peon for himself. Two thirds of ordinary Americans live from paycheck to paycheck, most without pension benefits. Many work part-time jobs without health benefits. In the 1950s workers had strength in organization when a third of workers were unionized. Their contracts often set the level for non-unionized workers too. Today, fewer than 7% of private sectors workers are unionized. The result of all this wage slavery: the rich get richer. Talk about out of bounds!:

Before American propagandists point fingers at the kleptocracy that is Putin's Russia (Russia's transparency index fell from 90 to 126 at the beginning of his second term) where the individual median income is lower than India's, we should set our own plutocracy in order.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Creature Feature: Amourous Elephants Damage Cars

Elephants are known to become aggressive during mating season.  Wild Indian elephants living in Khao Yai National Park, Thailand behaved badly over the weekend as a few males decided to display dominance toward's visitors automobiles. This remarkable video shows what a pumped-up elephant male can do to a thin-skinned auto.  No injuries resulted from his tough love; an large elephant can easily flip a vehicle with his tusks. Officials issued advisories and a curfew as well as changing the tourist route through the park.  About 300 elephants roam the park during mating season.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Great Lakes Wolves Win Ceasfire

Yellowstone wolf: US Park Service
At risk of being declared a suspect lone wolf, a federal judge has issued an order stopping the hunting and trapping of grey wolves (Canus lupus) in the Upper Midwest. Her ruling applies to wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan--referred to as the Great Lakes population. Judge Beryl Howell said the removal of endangered species protection by the Obama Administration was arbitrary and capricious. One thousand five hundred ninety-nine wolves have been killed since the US Fish & Wildlife Service removed the Great Lake wolf population from the Endangered Species Act three years ago. Most of the animals killed were under two years of age. Younger, less experienced wolves are more likely to fall victum to man. Most were killed in Minnesota (923) the last state in the lower 48 to harbor a surviving population after the species was eradicated elsewhere as a pest.

The Service considers the Great Lakes wolf to have recovered from its persecution, but the agency is under pressure from development and agricultural interests to remove species from endangerment protections instead of adding to the number of species protected. Not an easy task as global warming radically alters ecosystems and puts more species at risk. The Service labled Judge Howell's ruling a "step backward"; the judge criticized state wildlife management bureaus for having no-limit areas on wolf hunting.  A number of seasons have also gone over quota. Thanks to legal protection and relocations there are an estimated 6,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 but dispersal has been fraught with danger for the top predator. The first wolf to reappear in Buchanan County, Iowa since 1925 was quickly killed as was the first wolf to return to the Grand Canyon. US Person agrees with the judge that the wolf is far from out of the woods.

Friday, January 09, 2015

'Toontime: Return of the Gas Wars

credit: David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Star
Wackydoodle sez:  Still need that big pipe, boys!

Yes, it is beginning to creep-out US Person too. The next thing will be the return of hot pants, or may NOT. Analysts say that a world downturn in economic activity (deflation) is responsible for the slide in oil prices while others say price manipulation to punish Russia is the real reason behind the cheap oil. What is clear is that the Saudis are in no mood to prop up the price that is now below $50/barrel at the expense of market share.  The Saudis blame 'high cost' producers--shale oil producers--for the glut of oil. The current price is near the break-even of around $60 for shale producers in the US [chart below]. It still is above the level that makes Alberta bitumen mining profitable ($53) because those costs of production are mostly sunk upfront. The current price rout is the second biggest on record; the price of a barrel of crude fell to $32 during the Financial Panic of 2008. Bank of America analysts say it could hit $35/barrel for WTI and $40/barrel for Brent. The oil market is in "contango", trader jargon for when a commodity market's current price is lower than futures.

The Keystone pipeline project has become a political wedge issue in the current oil market. Since the tar sands business could go on without it (it is only one of several proposed new pipelines or expansions to carry Alberta dilbit) and even expand somewhat, It's construction would be a symbolic victory over Obamanation, tree-huggers, one-worlders and other assorted anti-capitalists so dispised by the extreme right.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Rhino Slaughter Continues in South Africa

Republic of South Africa has the unwanted distinction of the continent's highest rate of poaching white(Ceratotherium simum) and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis). Part of the reason for such a high death rate is that the country is home to the largest rhino populations in the world: 18,000 white rhinos, and 2000 black rhinos. However, the country has been criticized for its anti-poaching policy and for supporting a legal trade in rhino horn. Compared to Namibia which lost only 20 rhinos to poaching last year, South Africa is failing to protect the species. The butchering is merciless and rampant. Rhinos, which are incredibly tough animals, have been known to suffer for days after their horns have been cut off by criminals bent on supplying the senseless but lucrative demand for horn in Asia as a cure-all. 2014 broke a new record for the number of rhino deaths due to poaching, 1,020 by November.

local ranger spots mother & calf; Save the Rhino Trust
Experts credit Namibia's success to a community-based approach called the conservancy model. Namibia has the second largest rhino population in the world with 1750 black rhinos. Local people take responsibility for safeguarding the animals on a daily basis. The emphasis is on stopping poaching and not just catching the criminals. The natives become invested in protecting their rhinos and are much more willing to report suspicious behavior or conversations to rangers. Catching poachers is more of a paramilitary operation that is not often successful. New gadgets such as drones, may detect more illegal activity, but getting rangers to the kill scene in time to find perpetrators or collect usable evidence is still a problem in remote areas. The uptick in Namibia's poaching losses has officials concerned as previously inaccessible areas of the country are opened up to mineral exploration, primarily by Chinese companies. A number of Chinese miners have been arrested for the possession of ivory and rhino horn.  The current price for rhino horn in Vietnam is $6000/100g, more than gold.

Despite Namibia's rhino conservation success, the government has been criticized by rhino advocates because it has authorized a few black rhino to be taken in trophy hunts. Trophy hunting is controversial among conservationists for reasons beyond the ethical question of killing of an endangered animal for sport. The business provides rhino conservancies around a quarter of their income. An American big game hunter recently paid $350,000 for a permit to kill a male rhino. As we all know, some people have more money than common sense, and the hunter still does not know if he can bring his rhino carcass back to the US. The US Fish & Wildlife Service has received 15,000 public comments on his request. Namibia is moving ahead with a cull of five rhinos this year including one sold to another American hunter. From the standpoint of the species survival a limited, controlled hunt is infinitely preferable to the illegal wholesale slaughter going on in South Africa.

Completely drying up the demand in developed countries for horn and ivory is probably the best way to reduce the death toll in combination with effective community-based law enforcement. If there is no market for the animal parts, poachers are unlikely to risk life and limb attempting to collect them. The United States is considered to be the second largest market for ivory after China. California has had a law on its books for forty years to end the ivory trade but it still continues. An NRDC report says that 90 of the ivory sold in LA and 80% sold in San Francisco is illegal. A California legislator from San Diego recently introduced a bill, AB96, that will close the 'old ivory' loophole--ivory from elephants killed prior to 1977--prohibiting anyone from buying, selling or importing ivory or rhino horn. The bill is deficient in that it does not make a violation of the law a felony but only a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of to $10,000. People who cause the prolongation of this mindless slaughter by criminal syndicates need to go to prison to think about the consequences of their actions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Critical Habitat Proposed for Ring Seals

undernourished female sedated on Svalbard, BBC 
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced December 2nd it was proposing a 350,000 square mile critical habitat in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas for the Ringed seal.  The seal was designated endangered in 2012. Ring seals are dying in unprecedented numbers due to higher temperatures melting their snow caves where pups are reared.  The Ringed seal is the favorite prey of the Polar bear.  Polar bears are facing starvation as seal numbers plummet. The proposed designation is the largest in history.  If an area is designated critical habitat for an endangered species, federal agencies are prohibited from permitting, funding or performing actions that adversely modify the area.  Oil companies are certain to oppose the measure since they are expending large sums including  purchases of federal offshore leases in preparation for exploiting Arctic oil and gas deposits.  Shell Oil is continuing to press the federal government for drilling permits in ringed seal habitat.  The Arctic is predicted to be ice free in summer by mid-century.  This year's summer sea ice was the sixth lowest size on record; the lowest extent was recorded in 2012.

The public is invited to submit comments to the agency during a 90 day comment period on the proposed designation.  The agency is expected to finalize the rule by December 2015.  The identifying docket number is NOAA-NMFS-2013-0114

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

COTW: Methane Hot Spot Over 4 Corners

NASA confirms that fracking operations are releasing tremendous amounts of methane into the atmosphere. The methane cloud over the Four Corners region, a major fracking site, is so large it can be seen from space.This image shows the plume as a red spot:

blues and purples lower than 2003-09 average
In each of the years studied during 2003-09 the area released over half a million metric tons of mehtane gas into the atmosphere. The amounts are much larger than estimated. Methane, the largest component of natural gas, accounts for 9% of the US greenhouse gas emissions, but it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere. The oil and gas industry accounts for 30% of the methane emissions or about 8 million metric tons a year, enough to power every household in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The Current Occupant says he has plans to introduce new regulations to reduce the waste. In another glaring example of just how compromised Repugnant legislators are, the Senate majority leader announced he would lead efforts to block measures to curtail domestic energy production, and approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has become a cause celebré among conservatives. Plummeting oil prices that have reached a low not seen since 2009 are cutting company profits.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Large Mammals in Europe Recovering

Species protection, habitat conservation, captive breeding and reintroductions are having a positive effect on large mammal numbers in Europe. Large carnivores such as the brown bear, lynx and grey wolf all have stable or increasing populations. Of course everything is relative. All of these species faced near extinction by the mid 20th century. Europe is home to 740 million people and the lanscape has been intensively altered for centuries. Nevertheless, people are learning to co-exist with large mammals and they are learning to recolonize areas abandoned by humans as their population becomes increasingly urban. Urban populations across europe are expected to increase by 16% up to 2045; conversely there has been a 28% in rural populations since the 1960s. Many animal (15%) reptile (19%) and bird species still face extinction, however.

A study conducted by 76 carnivore specialists in Europe points out that the European model of conservation differs from the North American one. America tends to concentrate on conserving remaining wilderness areas separated from areas of human habitation, whereas the European approach is to allow humans and predators to co-exist in the same landscape where precious little true wilderness is extant. This approach requires compromise between human needs and carnivores' needs, but it seems to be working. Europe has twice as many wolves--more than 11,000--than the United States where wolves are still persecuted. European brown bears, who are 17,000 individuals, are the most abundant large predator on the continent.

European bison (Bison bonasus) is a leading example of what captive breeding programs can do to help restablish an extirpated native population of large mammals. The only surviving member of megafauna from the Pleistocene once occupied Europe from France to Ukraine, up to the north shore of the Black Sea.  Extinction occurred from west to east beginning in the 15th century. The last wild populations survived in the Caucasus until 1927. After that 54 captives with known ancestors remained. Today because of breeding efforts and reintroductions the bison survives in 33 separate wild populations totaling an estimated 2759 individuals. The largest population of 850 is in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest staddling the border between Poland and Belarus. {08.05.13, European Bison Roam Free} The future of the bison looks good if collaborative efforts to increase their range and provide more habitat where farmland is being abandoned such as in the Carpathians meets with success. The species remains at risk due to low genetic diversity and poaching.

Brown bear (Ursus arctos) is Europe's second largest mammalian predator after the Polar bear. Since the Pleistocene, brown bears have ranged over Europe, but suffered drastic declines in number during the 19th century due to deforestation and human predation or persecution. By 1955 it occupied only 37% of its former range, loosing the majority of its range in Southern and Western Europe. By 2008 due primarily to hunting controls and legal protections the bear has doubled in number over the last 45 years and increased its range to 41% of its historical distribution. Without doubt there is deep-rooted fear towards a preditor as large as a brown bear in areas from which they have been absent for centuries. Bruno, the first brown bear to return to Bavaria in 170 years, was shot dead in 2006 after complaints were received about his fearless behavior. His brother JJ was killed in Switzerland in 2008 apparently for similar reasons. Some reintroduction programs such as in the French Pyrenees have been abandoned after local protests. Poaching continues to be a problem for the species. Romania, home to a quarter of Europes' brown bears, is experiencing an increase in poaching. Poaching was also the caused the extirpation of reintroduced bears in the Northern Limestone Alps of Austria. Lack of cooperation between national management agencies and lack of public acceptance of a large carnivore's proximity pose problems to complete brown bear recovery.

The "rewilding" of Europe is an exciting and hopeful development which demonstrates that modernity can insure a place for the other creatures living on this planet. Not only is maintaining wild populations of other animals a benefit to humans, as the dominant species on Earth it is our moral duty to do so.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

California Enacts Plastic Bag Ban

Update: US Person has noted many times that corporations are willing to spend practically unlimited amounts of money to obtain legislation favorable to their profit making. California's recently passed plastic bag ban is the target of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry front, that has spent $3 million to collect signatures to put a repeal of the environmentally beneficial and popular law on the 2016 ballot. There is strong public support for a plastic ban statewide. Before the legislation was passed 125 California cities and counties enacted their own bans. Most of the repeal money has been raised out of state. A full-fleged campaign in 2016 will cost the corporations $30 to $50 million says the director of the leading group advocating the ban on plastic bags. Three out-of-state corporations produce most of the plastic bags used in California; a poll conducted by USC and LA Times indicates Californians support a ban by a two to one margin.  A recent study says the ocean contains 268,940 tons of plastic.   But the corporate business front has submitted 800,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office. 505,000 valid signatures are needed to place the repeal initiative on the ballot. Once again democracy and the Earth is being threatened by the corporate Money Power {24.07.09, Too Expensive to Use It.}

{01.09.14}The first in the nation to do so, the California state legislature on Friday passed a ban on plastic grocery bags. Several localities in the US have passed plastic bag bans. State level bans have usually been defeated by plastic bag manufacturers. California's ban passed on a second vote after the United Food and Commercial Workers Union supported it. The provision includes money for plastic bag manufacturers to retool to make heavier bags that can be reused and purchased by consumers. The ban was sponsored by state senator Alex Padilla, who introduced a similar bill last year that was defeated by three votes. Plastic bags are a hazard to marine wildlife that can ingest them and they are difficult to recycle. More than 10 billion bags are used in California each year. Governor Jerry Brown (D) must sign the provision into law by September 30th for it to take effect.

Friday, January 02, 2015

'Toontime: Washington DC, 2015

credit: R.J. Matson, Roll Call
Wackydoodle sez:  An' do it so well!
No need for a Karnak: the next two years in government will be an extended Kabuki play featuring a lame duck and two Repugnants imitating life. The Current Occupant will legislate in minor ways using his space pen that writes upside down, don't you know!

credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune 
BC Idonwanna sez: Buffalo solider, put hands up!

Toddler Kills Mother at Walmart

This story sums up what is wrong with 'Merica. A two year old boy shot and killed his own mother while they shoped till they dropped Tuesday in an Idaho Walmart, 'Merica leading gratification location. The 29-year-old mom carried her concealed gat in her purse. Of course the curious boy found it and used it for its intended purpose. The police characterized the shooting as "a tragic accident". Why the woman believed it necessary to carry a weapon while shopping at a big box store was not explained by officials. A spokeman for the Kootenai sheriff's department said "she was visiting relatives" in the area. Her husband was not with her at the time of the shooting. The woman was a college graduate and worked as a research assistant. Idaho law permits the carrying of concealed weapons in public if they are permitted except in courthouses, schools and jails. Walmart's corporate policy defers to state law on the matter of guns in its stores. In November an Oklahoma woman was shot to death in her home by her young child with a handgun.It appears that problems with authority begin at an early age in 'Merica.

In other stories relating to respect for authority, a recently relesed autopsy report shows that the LAPD shot and killed a suspect in the back, contrary to the official version of the suspect's death at the hands of police. Ezell Ford was shot three times, once at close range in the back. Ford was allegedly known to local police as mentally ill. He died in a struggle over an officer's gun in August according to police. The officer who lost his weapon used a personal back-up gun to fatally shoot Ford in the back after his partner had shot Ezell twice. His weapon left a "muzzle imprint" on Ford's back. An apparently inebriated college student was laying in the middle of a dark, country road on Cape Cod after a New Year's celebration Thursday morning. A cop cruiser, responding to an emergency call at 4am, ran over the college student and killed him. And so it goes in 2015 as the football matches roll on, much like it was the year before.