Friday, February 27, 2015

'Toontime: The News that Isn't

credit: Drew Sheneman

This week contained a spat of true confessions from the talking heads that deliver the corporate line on your favorite channel. Geraldo Rivera used to be the poster child for not quite so verifiable news, now his place has been taken by NBC's anchor Brian Williams who was suspended for six months without pay for claiming he rode a chopper in Iraq that took ground fire while reporting the war.  Seems people are satisfied with his replacement Lester Holt. Dishonorable mention goes to the "Mayor of Bullshit Mountain", Bill O'Reilly, who claimed he covered a massacre by an American-trained battalion in the war in El Savaldor. NOT!  Nowadays its not only politicians that lie through their teeth but also the corporate hacks who report their bullshit.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

COTW: No Comfort in Hooverville

Unbelievably, the Dow Jones Index, the supposed barometer of prosperity is above 18,000! But the increasing stark dichotomy between the investor class and the plebians cannot be ignored. Even the business press is taking note:

Bloomberg's index is at a low, falling the most since May 2014 (red arrow). This chart below reflects the two different worlds: the world of wealth, indulgence, and political influence and the other of wage slavery, despair, and insignificance:

What this chart says is that Wall Street does not care about consumer ability to buy the products and services offerred by business. Stock prices go up when purchasing power goes down. So if demand is not driving the financial markets, what is? Answer: easy money doled out by the plutocrats' friends in government and inserted into the multiplier of the market casino. When the ending of QE3 was announced the S&P Index fell by 10%. So promptly the Fed announced QE4--problem solved. If you are a plutocrat living off your investment income, you want the rest of 'Merica to be poor because then the Fed will keep funding your wealth appreciation. The Dow Jones and all the other metrics troted out by the corporate shills are like flags being waved in our faces. They distract some of us from the widespread realization that the United States is on a downward economic trend.

Oregon's Wolves Increase

Oregon's Department of Fish & Wildlife's annual wolf report is only a few days old and already ranchers are calling for lethal controls--a euphimism for shooting on sight--an endangered species that did not live in the state just a decade ago. The first pack was documented in 2009. The last known Oregon wolf before that was killed in 1946 by a bounty hunter. The Oregon Cattlemen Association wants the wolf delisted in Oregon, and a spokesperson said the state has allowed the preditor to "grow unchecked". State biologists found 77 wolves compared to 64 last year. For the first time since the 1940's there is a pack in the southern Cascades thanks to the intrepid "OR-7" that crossed the state to settle in the Rogue River region [photo]. Most wolves live in the mountainous northeast corner of the state. Conservationists say the state should not rush to lift protections just because there has been a modest increase in the number of wolves and not a full recovery. Pressure to due so is political and not based on science conservationists argue.

Oregon now has nine packs with eight of those producing pups [photo]. Member of four of those packs attacked livestock in 2014 according to the report. There were 11 confirmed cases of wolf attacks in 2014 down from 13 in 2013. The number of livestock killed increased sharply however due to an increased number of sheep kills. Thirty sheep were lost in 2014 compared to six sheep in 2013. Only three cows were killed last year. Oregon has a compensation fund to reimburse ranchers for livestock losses. The fund paid out $8,482 for dead stock, most of it to ranchers in Willowa County and $33,878 for missing livestock, more than half of that going to Baker County. Even though the state spent over hundred thousand dollars on conflict prevention, more can be done to help ranchers reduce their losses such as training them in the use of guard dogs to accompany stock when grazing in wolf pack territory. Claims of wolf kills also need to be carefully verified by state officials to discourage fraudulent claims by ranchers in destressed circumstances or inflation of claims for political purposes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

California's Bullet Train Underway

unintentional misspelling on Siemens' display at state capitol
Governor Jerry Brown of California convinced the state's voters to take on the most ambitious public works project in a half-century, the high speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. If the project is built to completion it will extend from Sacramento to San Diego. The 2008 referendum authorized a $10 billion bond package to pay for part of the project. Seven years later the high speed rail is two years behind schedule due to a bloom of land disputes, lawsuits, and escalating costs. The projected price tag is now $68 billion, the most expensive in US history. Nevertheless, to California's credit, construction began in January; the line's future is as dark as a tunnel. Critics are attempting to put a referendum on the ballot to stop building.

It is well lamented the US is way behind Europe and Asia in rapid rail transport, and the bullet train was promoted as way to bring California at least into the 21st century of transportation. California, which had followed a model of private passenger cars on high-speed freeways that turned into a smog and traffic choked nightmare, seem to be the ideal poster child for a rapid rail link between its major cities. The rail is sited in the Central Valley, California's farm country, so land acquisition has been a problem. Only 101 of 565 parcels of land have been purchased. Central Valley farmers have put up a legal fusillade, not to mention suits by environmentalists and developers in the planned path of the project.

Funding has also been difficult. California's legislature voted to spend 25% of future emissions trading revenue on the rail line, but combined with the bond measure and $3.3 million federal stimulus money, the total only amounts to $26 billion. High-Speed Rail Authority want private investment to fund a third of the estimated total cost. Whether private funders will get on board midst the skepticism is problematical. The intercity trip is scheduled to take only three hours compared to six by highway. Yet the line must negotiate existing slow speed tracks in both cities before hitting its maximum velocity in in the Valley. Environmental skeptics also say the rail line is an encouragement to urban sprawl since a fast rail commute could turn Bakersfield into a "bedroom community" at the expense of agriculture. By 2050 California's population is expected to be 50 million and they all cannot drive to work with the hope of getting there before the end of the day. Mass transit is California's hope and rapid rail has worked well in other congested nations, notably Japan. To keep federal funding coming California must spend at least $4 billion building the line by October 2017 so the project has a momentum of sorts. Visionaries still have their doubts. They say the bullet train will be obsolete by 2030 and building it is a waste when a truly advanced system could be created with the billions of funding.

courtesy: HSRA
There is Elon Musk's "hyperloop" that sounds more like a carnival ride than practical mass transport. It is supposed to work on the same principal as the vacuum tubes that once delivered mail between downtown buildings. Insert passengers in a capsule, pull the switch, and suck them at 760mph to the other end of the tube. Even the inventor says, "It's like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland".  He has the money to test his idea in Texas where he is building a track to entice investors. You first. US Person rode France's TGV from Paris to Provence and he thinks that is a lot better than a capsule in a vacuum tube.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Obama Vetos Pipeline Bill

Only the third veto of his presidency, Mr. Obama used it to veto the bill Repugnants hoped would force him to authorize the Keystone Pipeline. The veto was delivered as promised, nevertheless the pipeline's rejection was a welcomed relief for environmentalists. The President still retains the executive authority to approve the pipeline himself. Now that appears unlikely given his previous statements concerning the project that would pour more global warming CO₂ into the atmosphere. He is awaiting the completion of all environmental reviews before making a final decision, and has said a critical factor in his decision is whether the project will contribute significantly to global warming. That consequence is beyond dispute. In a recent letter the EPA concluded building the project could result in as much as 1.37 billion more tons of greenhouse gas being released into the atmosphere over the pipeline's fifty-year lifespan. The reality is that the pipeline has become a political football taking on a significance far beyond the need for additional fossil fuel claimed by congressional conservatives representing the oil industry.

In his State of the Union address, the President said the nation should move beyond building a single pipeline to making a comprehensive plan for infrastructure that would presumably include replacing the nation's decrepid electricity grid and installing more clean energy power generation. For their part, Repugnants have promised to lable him a partisan obstructionist. Environmentalists will continue their demonstrations and lobbying efforts to insure the pipeline is not built during his administration. Mr. Obama is under no legal obligation to make a decision on the project during his remaining term in office. Besides healthcare 'reform' the President wants to make climate change action part of his administration's legacy; just saying no to Keystone would be a major message to a world struggling to agree on action.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Browns Canyon Finally a National Monument

near Hecla Jct., credit
After twenty years of intense lobbying, Browns Canyon in Colorado is finally a National Monument. The Current Occupant signed an executive order Thursday designating three new national monuments including Brown's Canyon. (the other two designations are important historical sites) Its 21,586 acres protects a scenic stretch of the Arkansas River near Salida, CO, popular with recreationists for its fly fishing, rafting, hiking, and climbing. Rock hounds are also familiar with the Arkansas valley because glaciers moved sediment and rock into the valley from surrounding mountains creating impressive cliffs and buttes. Forest is primarily pinyon-juniper and mountain mahogany with stands of aspen, willow, birch and cottonwoods along the river banks and creeks. Wildlflowers live there in profusion.

This rugged and scenic landscape provides living space for numerous large mammals. Mountain lions, bobcats, bighorn sheep, mule dear, black bears, coyote, foxes and elk all live in the Brown's canyon region. Bird species living there include hawks, eagles, cliff swallows, three species of owls, wild turkeys and jays. It is one of the only riparian ecosystems of the Arkansas River that is relatively undisturbed. Brown's Canyon provides suitable habitat for reintroduction of the lynx and peregrine falcon. For all of these reaons and more Browns Canyon National Monument is an appropriate designation that was long overdue.

Postal Banks, Their Time Has Come Again

Close readers of PNG know that US Person has advocated weakening the strangle hold of Wall Street bankers on our nation by returning a service to the American post office: the postal bank. It is a service that works in other countries and would be fairly painless to begin again here. Until 1967 the Post Office, a government agency, operated postal bank services. Then came privatization in an effort to save money. No money has been saved and postal services have been drastically cut. Packages are mostly delivered by expensive private carriers; post office hours have been cut; staffing levels have been cut, yet a first class stamp now costs 43¢! Postal banking would generate needed revenue for the postal system and provide needed competition to the corporate banking system.

Post offices should not just sell money orders and cash paychecks, although those would be invaluable services for low-wage workers.  They should function as alternative neighborhood banks. That means being able to extend small amounts of credit to patrons who need a few dollars to pay expenses until the next paycheck comes in. Now, payday loan companies charge usurious rates of interest and fees providing the same emergency funds. In 2012 that rip-off of the working poor amounted to $89 billion. Customers with established accounts at a US post office could get small loans at reasonable rates, pay bills on time and even buy prepaid debit cards. People without bank accounts or credit cards could have their government benefit checks sent directly to their post office, a form of direct deposit that would save the government millions. 7% of Americans are "unbanked" according to FDIC statistics for 2013.  A similar, successful service called "Direct Express" already exists at the Treasury Department. To encourage saving, now at record low levels, a postal bank could offer a passbook savings program at competitive rates, and it could allow customers to borrow against their passbook savings, if needed, at even lower interest rates.

Using existing infrastructure, the Postal Service could perform these vital functions and break the total monopoly big, private finance has on consumer credit. Even the postal union (APWU) is on board with the idea of resuming banking service at post offices. At the new contract talks that start soon, it will ask the US Postal Service to bring back the postal bank, another public option good for America.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tru'merica: Charles Koch and the John Birch Society

Informed Americans know that the Koch Brothers' father John Koch was a founding member of the extreme right-wing organization, the John Birch Society. The Society was extremely active in the violent white reaction to black civil rights in the 60's and is still virulently anti-union. Charles Koch terminated his life membership in the Society, but his political and social ideas have not evolved though his rhetoric may have changed. Instead of calling his adversaries "communists" they are now "collectivists".

It is instructive to note that the namesake of the organization, John Birch, was an OSS (forerunner of the CIA) agent who served in the China theatre of war. Raised by a missionary family as a fundamental Baptist, a Mercer college classmate described him as, "always an angry young man, always a zealot" He was killed on a mission to rescue American POWs days after the Pacific war officially ended by Chinese communists when he refused to surrender his pistol to them.

At the other end of the spectrum: today is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, NE in 1925. Malcolm X referred to Little as his slave name and refused to acknowledge it once he received his black Muslim education. His incendiary speech on the differences between the "house negro" and the "field negro", and the "infiltration" of the March on Washington (1963) is justifiably famous:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pangolins Still on Dinner Tables

credit: BBC
Readers know of the plight of the pangolin or scaly anteater (Manis s.)  The rare and unusual armored mammal is on a quick trip to extinction as the most trafficked animal in the world. A recent event in Vietnam encapsulates its fate. Police in Bac Ninh province seized 42 live Manis javanica, fined the perpetrators and brought the animals to forest rangers for protection. All the good was undone when the forest rangers who are sworn to protect endangered species from the illegal animal trade auctioned the animals as meat. They collected $12,000 for their cupidity.

Pangolin blood and tongue are considered delicacies. Often the animal or its fetus is pickled whole. Its scales are used as jewelry or in folk medicines. The Chinese have consumed their pangolins to near extinction. A million or more pangolins are gone. Now they are demanding pangolins from other Southeast Asia nations and Africa. Flithy rich Asians pay up to $700 for just 2kgs of pangolin meat. Their consumption can be a deeply morbid ritual, perhaps exceed only by our chimpanzee relatives' craving for monkey meat.

The Vietnamese official in charge of the rangers dismissed the outrage saying the animals were too weak to survive, and cited an extinct law that allowed legal trade in pangolins. The law was changed a year ago. Pangolins, even those considered contriband, cannot be traded in any way. IUCN has listed the animal as critically endangered and therefore entitled to the highest level of legal protection. An IUCN co-chair of the Pangolin Specialist Group says the incident could well be official corruption. The pangolins' plight is not just an arrogant clash of cultures. A gentle, solitary animal which is a uniquely ancient species has moral right to continued existence on its home planet.

'Toontime: Granny Has Lunch

Politics makes extremely unusual bedfellows, and none stranger than Elizabeth Warren and 'Ma' Clinton:

credit: Jeff Danzinger
Wackydoodle axes: Y'al have room for deesert?

The luncheon meeting is an attempt to bring the Democratic Party's left wing, disaffected by the Obamanation, back into the fold of true 'belibers'. US Person, being placed officially out of bounds by the real policy makers, is unaffected by this hysterical display of party disunity. Hillary Clinton is the presumed Democratic front-runner in 2016.  The Clinton Foundation has rasied over $2 billion since its inception in 2001 by accepting donations from foreign governmentsincluding the Saudis fossil fuel and financial companies.  Perhaps the most revealing foreign connection to the Clintons is that of Ukrainian steel magnet Victor Pinchuk. All three of the Clintons have attended private affairs with Pinchuk who has also donated to the Foundation. Formal complaints against Pinchuk have been filed in United States for unfair trade practices. Both sides say there is no connection between Pinchuk's business activities and the Clinton Foundation. The pattern of a big businessmen seeking social contact with potentially helpful national politicians by making charitable donations is unmistakable, however.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

BP Trial Finally Ends

Due to the press of other news, PNG belatedly reports that the trial of British Petroleum in a New Orleans federal courtroom for the Deepwater Horizon disaster ended on Monday, February 2nd. The historic admiralty trial before Judge Carl Barbier came near the fifth anniversary of the biggest oil spill disaster in United States history. The trial was complex and accomplished in three phases that began two years ago. At one point the Judge told attorneys, "I'm not trying to cut you off, but a lot of this I've heard already." He concluded that BP spilled 3.19 million barrels of crude oil that severely damaged Gulf Coast ecosystems. {17.01.15, Judge Gives BP $4 Billion Brake} The amount is significantly less than the government estimated. It is seeking the maximum fine of $4300 per barrel, based on the ruling the company was grossly negligent. Judge Barbier has implied he may ask the company, which is pleading inability to pay a large fine in addition to more than $40 billion in related costs, to pay a fine in installments. He ruled BP could pay a maximum civil fine of $4300/barrel under the Clean Water Act in response to BP's motion to cap the fine at $3000/barrel, the maximum in 1990. His decision on the total penalty is expected in the coming months.

Police Beat: Alabama Govenor Apologizes to India

You know the police have gotten out of control when an Alabama governor has to apologize to India for the brutal beating of an Indian tourist. A Madison, Alabama cop slammed 57 year old grandfather Sureshbhai Patel into the ground leaving him partially paralyzed on February 6th. Frightened and bigoted neighbors had reported to 911 that a "skinny black guy" was peering into garages. Patel was visiting relatives in Madison and was out for a morning walk. Patel is not retarded, but does not speak English. When confronted by two cops in a prowler he said "No English" and walked away. That was all the testosterone-inhanced thugs needed. One of the cops put Patel into a hold and when he jerked away, the cop slammed Patel to the ground. The body slam, recorded on two police video cameras severely injured Patel's neck leaving him partially paralysed. The cop was only charged with third degree assault. Patel underwent spinal surgery and he has filed a suit against the city and the two cops. After reviewing the videos, the town's police chief said the out-of-control cop should be fired. That bit of justice remains to be determined because the so-called public servant is entitled to due process requirements. Governor Robert Bentley wrote to the Indian government apologizing for the excessive force and assured it that, "we will see that justice is done."

Pssst Pass It On...It's Global Warming!

The scientific predictions based on computer modeling that global warming would disturb upper-level wind patterns and bring more extreme weather and intense storms is proving disasterously accurate. California is suffering the effects of a drought not seen in 1200 years. Peversely, the northeast region is buried this winter under record snowfalls and life-threatening Arctic temperatures. The map shows that in the last half-century heavy precipitation has increased by 71% in the northeast according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

Lake Oroville, CA
California's drought has been intensified by about 36% due to increased high temperatures. NASA has made a study showing that droughts will only get worse as the planet warms. Future droughts maybe even more severe than the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1000-1300AD) that might have been responsbile for the desmise of several palaeo-indian cultures in the Western Hemispshere. Mega droughts are predicted to affect the both the California and Midwest "breadbasket" of the United States under the status quo ante climate policies--essentially no significant slowing of the rate of greenhouse emissions--agricultural water requirements will be unable to be met. Droughts will always occur naturally, but it is the warmer atmospheric temperatures caused by man that intensify droughts by increasing moisture evaporation. Like the man said, "It's a dry heat."

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Strike Three, Dr. Kitzhaber, Yer Out!

"First Lady" or First Crony?
Most readers of PNG know by now that the four-time Governor of Oregon was forced to resign because of allegations his girlfriend failed to disclose $118,000 in salary paid to her as a fellow of the "Clean Economy Foundation", a San Francisco-based group connected to Tom Steyer, a Democratic Party deep pocket. The organization lost its tax exempt status in 2014 for failing to file returns for three years. He is the only Oregon governor to resign because of scandal.  Less you think Oregon politics are overly righteous, consider that the girlfriend/fiancée acted as an official "unpaid" advisor to the Governor and was installed in offices at the mansion and state capitol. The couple's perhaps deliberately ambiguous marital status proved not too objectionable in socially liberal Oregon, where alternative lifestyles are displayed like a badge of honor. Frankly, Cylvia Hayes, 47, who has what one northwest activist called a "grifter's history", made hay from her official perch. Failed as a politician in her own right, she collected over $200,000 during her tenure as an energy advisor. John Kitzhaber, 67, hired the man who arranged Hayes' fellowship as his highest paid political advisor at $162,720 annually. Hayes married three times prior to meeting Kitzhaber. She last married an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant,and admitted accepting $5,000 in return for marrying Abraham B. Abraham*. In 1997 four months after being married she jointly bought Washington property near the Canadian border with a boyfriend. Her admitted intent was to illegally grow marijuana there.

More importantly, the resignation comes against a background of overly generous state tax subsidies to businesses for supposed "green energy" projects, and software giant Oracle'sridiculous failure to properly set up Oregon's health care exchange website, "Cover Oregon". The website never worked properly and was forced to close down after at least $248 million in federal money had been thrown at the company to get it running. Congress is now investigating the mess, and a fraud suit has been filed by Oregon against Oracle. (Comedian John Oliver had a field day with this one.) Former Governor Kitzhaber told media prior to his 2014 re-election that he was responsible for the failure since he hired Oracle, and that as Governor "the buck stops with me", paraphrasing President Harry Truman. The buck stopped with stunning suddenness in the first month of the legislative session. Imminent delivery of federal criminal subpoenas in Salem and an executive order to destroy e-mails were the precipitating causes of his reluctant resignation. A federal public corruption investigation of the Governor proved to be too much of an embarrassment even for his party colleagues who control the legislature. The state GOP, despite a long history that includes prominent politicians such as Senator Mark Hatfield, is practically impotent. Thus, US Person 'plains to you dear reader why a small town doctor turned egotistical career politician was able to serve three complete terms as Oregon governor despite the crony capitalism that has severely marred the state's progressive image.

*Ethiopian Abraham Abraham was enrolled at Greensboro College, North Carolina at the time of the marriage. He graduated magna cum laude with a degree in mathematics in 2001. They were divorced five months later. Admittedly, the couple never lived together since Hayes moved to Bend, OR alone shortly after the nuptials. She told journalists she was broke and lived in her car on BLM land. However, court records show December 1999 as their date of separation. Abraham reportedly lives in the Washington DC metro area. Sham marriage for the purpose of obtaining immigration status is a federal offense for both parties. In 2002 Hayes ran as a write-in candidate for the Oregon legislature and lost to an incumbent.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

France Suspends Raw Ivory Imports

France announced recently that it will suspend all raw ivory imports into the country. The development comes a year after the government destroyed 3 tons of seized ivory in stockpile. The existence of legal ivory imports encourages illegal ivory to be "laundered". The suspension should help French authorities identify contraband. Although the ban is a positive development, all ivory trade needs to be criminalized if African elephants are to have a chance of surviving the rampant poaching onslaught. The trade is one of the world's most lucrative black markets, valued at $19 billion a year. In general, wildlife trade is fourth on the list of profitable criminal trade behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

The war against poaching is not being won in the field. The International Fund for Animal Welfare said that poaching has returned to Cameroon's Boubandjida National Park. In 2012 several hundred elephants were slaughtered by horseback riders from Sudan affiliated with Janjaweed rebels. In January, ten elephant carcasses were found by the military, of which eight were missing tusks. Cameroon's Rapid Intervention Battalion caught up with poachers a week later. The gang retreated after exchanging fire leaving behind four tusks, ammunition and horses. The world was very slow to recognize and react to the fact that international terrorism as well as criminal syndicates are closely linked to poaching.  Ivory is used to finance operations. Government corruption also plays a key role is some dysfunctional African nations.  In China ivory has soared in value ($3000/kg), so it is being used as an investment vehicle. Alone, elephants do not stand a change against this organized slaughter for profit. Worldwide action is needed to attack the network of supply at each node: poaching, distribution, and retail market.

COTW: The Profligacy of 'Merica

This chart shows the cumulative costs in billions by year of the wars in the Middle East.  'Merica could have spent some of this money to house all of its homeless or provide a social medicine system comparable to other western countries.  But no, because it is owned by plutocrates, it chooses to enrich  corporate warmongers and impoverish it's middle class.  Democracy? Not so much.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Police Beat: Pasco, WA

A civilian motorist (Dario Infante Zuniga) captured police gunning down yet another unarmed citizen. The propensity of police to simply use their weapons to solve a problem is unacceptable. The man killed in this video is Antonio Zambrano-Montes. Because he was mentally impared, he did not immediately surrender to police when confronted in a parking lot. A Taser shot failed to have an effect. Zambrano-Montes was unarmed at all times during this death scene. He did pick up two rocks and throw them at the police officers. They responded by shooting him five times. The suspect then fled across an intersection and rasied his hand where the pursuing police shot him eight more times. Zambrano-Montes died at the scene. It was not the first time Zambrano-Montes struggled with police officers; in January he was shot with a Taser, subdued and arrested. He was killed a day after being released from police custody. Fleeing is not automatically a basis to shoot a man to death, especially if he is unarmed. Police need to go back to training to understand lethal force is a last resort, not the first.

Friday, February 13, 2015

'Toontime: Je Suis Entendu Avant

credit: Gary Varvel
Wackydoodle axes: Is this here war official?
Barack Obama was elected partly because he promised to end the wars his predecessor started in Central Asia. Understandably many of his supporters were sorely disaffected when he authorized a proxy war in Libya and involved the US in the Syrian Civil War. Now he is asking Congress to give him carte blanche for three years to use troops against the stateless terror group, ISIS. NOT! 'Mericas propensity for seeking out enemies, regardless of how far away from our shores or how insignificant the actual threat is too obvious to deny plausibly. Three years just happens to give his possibly more militant imperial successor time to ask for an extension or expansion. Endless war is now officially authorized.

The Afghanistan war is still underway with American forces on the ground a year after the Current Occupant said our presence would end. A request, not surprisingly, has been made for them to delay their departure even further.  Iraq is full of American special forces advisors and clandestine operatives trying to stifle another sectarian revolt five years after the regular troops left. A Congressional resolution will make all that and much more official policy instead of an ad hoc bombing campaign that has proved embarrassingly unsuccessful in stopping the jihadis from creating a de-facto state in the Arab borderlands. What makes the administration any more confident our conventional military can be more successful against a fanatical religious army than they were against the Taliban or Sunni militias, both of which are still operational?* Motivated by revenge, ISIS intends to draw the United States into a disastrous unconventional ground war in Central Asia that pales in comparison to Vietnam. Shocking brutality used as a propaganda weapon is a means. ISIS is nothing if not calculating. Even its brutality exhibits a perverse logic. The UN believes that $50 million has been paid in ransoms within the last 12 months. When hostage negotiations fail, the bodies are sold back to grieving families.

The burning man spectacle is brutal revenge against a Jordanian government closely identified with the United States and fighting against the extremists. Jordan's former King Hussein was on the CIA payroll. The execution took place at the site of a bombing that killed 30 fighters of ISIS. The horrendous video evidence will be displayed by western warmongers to stir hatred among 'Mericans against Muslims, and the death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller will be exploited for cynical political purposes. Exactly what ISIS wants. Where will an outraged Uncle Sam find terrorists next? You betcha! It starts with a U and rhymes with the same old refrain.

*the number and sophistication of weapons captured or purchased in the global weapons market by ISIS is startling. It is no longer just a light infantry column. The militants have captured modern tanks and artillery from the retreating Iraqi army, and they are buying Chinese and Russian weapons. They possess both anti-tank and anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles that they use with devastating effect. Twenty-eight Abrams tanks, reputedly the best in the world, have been damaged in fighting including five that suffered full armor penetration. Six Iraqi helicopters have been shot down and sixty others damaged. Syrian rebels have provided the T-72 tank, a relatively modern Russian design. It will cost billions to defeat such a well armed force. One authoritative estimate is $15 to $20 billion annually. The next pilot to be burned may well be an American.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

316 American Cities Will Face Seawater Flooding

A scientist at a non-profit research group in Princeton, NJ told USA Today that 316 coastal cities and towns in the United States will face partial submergence due to a four-foot seawater rise locked in by prior greenhouse gas emissions. The largest cities threatened by rising sea levels are Miami, Virginia Beach, Jacksonville and Sacremento. Recent published research indicates that warming already occurring is irreversible and will persist for thousands of years.  Higher temperatures melting the ice in Greenland and Antarctica and oceanic thermal expansion will cause the seas to rise. The rate at which they will rise over the long term is unknown. Currently, the average rate of seawater rise is 1 foot per century, or twice the average rate of the 20th century. A moderate projection is five feet higher by 2100.

According to research from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact each degree Fahrenheit of global warming is equivalent to 4.2 feet of sea-level rise over the long term. This relationship means a 7 to 10 feet rise in sea levels by the end of this century. The shocking amount of water will cause equally shocking amounts of damage to coastal municpalities' infrastructure. Based on 2010 census data, 3.6 million Americans live in these municpalities:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Young Bees Under Stress

wild hive; Mark Chappell
Scientists have been working to find a definitive explanation for the syndrome known as Sudden Colony Collapse. North America has lost a third of its honeybees since this phenomenon began being reported by beekeepers. {26.08.08, For Want of a Bee} A team of British researchers at Queen Mary College, University of London say stressed young bees are forced out of their colonies to forage as older workers die off. But like young pilots at war, younger bees are less likely to successfully complete a sortie. Younger workers foraging is likely to be an adaptive behavior to a reduction in the number of adult bees. If the colony is not strong or the increased death rate continues too long the division of labor in the colony could be upset with catastrophic consequences. Loss of the adult population leaves only brood, food, and a few adults insufficient in number to keep the hive functioning. The scientists used data from a bee tracking model and studied the impact on bee colonies in a computer simulation. Increasing stress, such as exposure to toxic pesticides or parasite infestations causes older workers to die off. These food gatherers have to be replaced with younger bees that ordinarily would remain in the hive to develop more fully. Younger foragers turn in less food which leads to a rapid increase in colony mortality consistent with actual observations of colony collapse around the world. The study findings are published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Unthinkable is now Thinkable: War With Russia

The United States spent a half century avoiding war with the Soviet Union because both sides possessed the ability to annihilate the other with nuclear weapons. The standoff was termed MAD--mutually assured destruction-- as indeed it is.  The nuclear weapons are still in the bunkers. Arms control efforts after the fall of the Soviet Union have reduced the number of warheads, but there are still more than enough to destroy the respective enemy.

What has changed since 1991 when the Berlin Wall came down is that American leadership, political and military, now thinks about what was once unthinkable--war against Russia. It will be indirect at first as it was in Vietnam and it will start in Ukraine's Donbass. The eastern industrialized region is mostly populated by ethnic Russians since the days of Stalin.(See Curzon Line) A separatist insurrection is raging there and no end to the fighting is in sight. A recent peace initiative by Germany's Angela Merkle and France's François Hollande failed to make any progress towards a peaceful resolution. Given the geopolitics of Europe the clash between NATO forces deployed on Russia's borders and Russian forces in Ukraine is almost inevitable.

Corporatist leadership wants Ukraine in America's orbit as a member of NATO. That is why operatives where sent into Kiev to engineer an election unseating the Ukrainian government friendly to the Kremlin. Now, the same cold warriors* who brought us the wars in the Middle East want the United States to arm Ukraine with American military weapons. They want yet another war to realize their vision of United State's global military-corporate hegemony which will assure uninterrupted energy flows to the West. If you believe the New York Times, the Current Occupant is going along for their ride after Russian backed separatists defeated corrupt Ukrainian military forces supported by fascist militias and recaptured the Donetsk airport. A joint report from those bastions of American exceptionalism, the Brookings Institution, the Atlantic Council, and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs says the best way to escalate the Ukrainian war is to supply $3 billion in military arms to the Kiev regime. Forget those arms will kill more Ukrainians than the thousands that have died already. The US corporate imperialists only have their global policy objectives to consider, and they want Crimea back. Never mind that Crimeans voted to rejoin Russia from which they were separated by Khrushchev and the Politburo in 1954. At the time of Crimea's transfer to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, the peninsula had a population that was only 22% ethnic Ukrainian.

Rest assured Vladimir Putin will not sit idly by as the US escalates an insurrection into a full-scale war on Russia's southern border. Putin knows what happened in Fallujah. The amount of infrastructure damage in Donetsk from the war is already enormous. Putin will move to protect Russian lives, and the Kremlin will have the justification it needs to openly pour men and material into the Donbass. It will be only a matter of time before NATO personnel come into conflict with Russian troops. Then, all bets are off and the planet killers come out of the bunkers.

*Some examples are Strobe Talbot who served in the Clinton administration; Ivo Daalder who was a policy advisor to the Current Occupant during his 2008 campaign, and served as representative to NATO during the Libyan incursion. Two former ambassadors to Ukraine signed their names to the report. Zibigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter has long advocated reducing US adversaries to the status of colonies. He recently advocated arming the Kiev regime with anti-tank weapons for use in "urban warfare of resistence" intended to bog Russia down in prolonged suffering. Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey are all on board the train to WWIII. So is Mrs. Current Occupant who sits on the board of the Chicago foreign policy group. The Current Occupant talks about changing borders with the barrel of a gun. The question is: is that barrel labeled "NATO"?

COTW: The High Cost of Eating Right

Look at this chart. What's wrong with it?

credit: Economix
Fresh vegetables and fruit, the stuff that is good for you, has gotten steadily more expensive since 1978 based on Bureau of Labor statistics. The stuff that is bad for you, such as sodas, butter and beer have remained fairly steady. Fruit has increased 46%. Vegetables are 41% more expensive. An 18 year old today is 15lbs heavier than an 18 year old in 1978. A 60 year old adult is 20-25lbs heavier. Go figure.

Here some more good news: Between 2007 and 2013 median wealth in this country has dropped 40%. That means wealth distribution is tremendously skewed. Sixty percent of households own in total about as much as the country's 94 richest individuals. What do they do with their surplus funds? A lot of it goes to buying politicans; just ask the Koch Brothers. They have pledged $900 million to support 2016 political campaigns for right-wing politicians. Plutocrats spend $777,600 per person annually to buy the loyalty of a government that was supposed to be "for the people" View this video to understand just how bad things are.

Manson to Marry?

More: A journalist reports that Elaine Burton only wanted to marry Charles Manson so she could gain possession of his corpse. According to Daniel Simone, Elaine 'Star' Burton was hoping to put America's most famous mass murderer on display in a glass case after his death. Think of the attraction as 'Merica's less inspired version of Lenin. Charlie got wind of the plan and understandably he says he no longer wants to marry Burton. Of course Manson knew all along the plan would never work since he thinks he is immortal. The marriage license expired last Thursday.

{17.11.14}Charles Mason, perhaps the most notorious mass murderer in the United States, was issued a marriage license ten days ago according to the AP. Manson is serving a life sentence for the 1969 murder of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four friends at her home. The LaBiancas, Leno and Rosemary, were killed the next night. His death sentence was commuted when California banned the death penalty in the 70's. Manson's followers were mostly young women. He exerted a demonic influence over his "family" of runaways and malcontents, convincing them to kill Tate and six others in a bizarre effort to start a race war. Manson's plan was allegedly inspired by the Beatles' song, "Helter Skelter".

Afton Elaine Burton, 26, reportedly moved to California nine years ago to be closer to Charlie. She calls herself "Star", and told reporters she would marry the 80 year-old convict next month because, "I love him". Charlie told Rolling Stone magazine a year ago, the relationship was played up for public consumption. Manson was last refused parole in 2012, the 12th time his application was rejected. He is eligible for parole again in 2027. He does not qualify for conjugal visits since the state banned them in the mid-90's for life prisoners. Theoretically Star could have the marriage, if it takes place, annulled later on the grounds of failure to consumate. Manson co-conspirators were more fortunate, depending on your point of view. Susan Atikinson was married twice while serving 38 years of a life sentence before dying in prison at the age of 61 and Charles "Tex' Watson has married, divorced and fathered four children while incarcerated for life. His parole has been denied fourteen times.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Maryland Ready to Dump Fracking?

Outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (D) allowed fracking into the state under regulation.  The incoming Governor Larry Hogan (R) wants to dispense with regulation and allow laissez faire extraction.  Forty-eight legislators are saying no to fracking Maryland without mercy.  They introduced a bill to enact a long-term moratorium on the extraction technique that pollutes the environment and causes earth tremors.  New York is already in the process of issuing ban on fracking within the state. Illinois has given the go-ahead to fracking the southern part of the state, but the drop in oil prices has not contributed to the anticipated boom in fracking operations  The bill's proponents want more study of the unintended consquences of hydralic fracturing to recover shale gas and oil.  A statewide group of healthcare professoinals issued a letter backing a moratorium citing the scientific literature of 400+ studies that suggest the enhanced recovery technique poses threats to human, animal and ecosystem health.  Two western Maryland counties sit atop the Marcellus and Utica shale formation [map].

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Tru'merica: The Attack on Liberty

Most informed Americans know now that the United States drastically escalated its intervention in the Vietnamese civil war under the pretext of North Vietnamese attacks on its warships collecting intelligence off the coast in the Gulf of Tonkin. It is doubtful the reported attack actually took place. Nevertheless President Johnson used the claimed attacks to pressure Congress into passing a war resolution authorizing the US military to expand beyond its advisory role into war fighting. What is less known is that Johnson used an almost identical "false flag" subterfuge to attempt justifying US intervention in the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and Egypt and her Arab allies. Fortunately, the Israeli attacks on the USS Liberty, a US signals intelligence ship off the coast of Sinai, were witnessed by a Soviet vessel which destroyed any plausible attribution of the attack to Egypt.

The eyewitness account of an officer serving on the Liberty can be viewed here.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Researchers Cracking Cold Code

It maybe the beginning of the end of the common cold. Most colds are caused by the RNA rhinovirus and researchers at the University of Leeds have announced they have cracked an unknown sequence of the virus' RNA code.  The code governs viral assembly so the information should give science the ability to stop the virus from deploying, or in other words, "going viral".  Their research was published in the National Academy of Science's early edition journal, but the work is still in the theoretical stages, far from the development of an actual human drug or vaccine.   Researchers at Yale recently discovered that when the temperature inside the human nose drops five degrees, the immune system is unable to fight the cold virus as well as normal.  This is the explanation for the frequent close connection between becoming chilled in cold weather and subsequently developing a cold.  One in five people carry the rhinovirus in their nasal passages at any one time.

On another front of the never-ending battle between humans and viruses, sixteen states are now affected by the measles outbreak.  Most medical observers attribute the disease spread, once thought to be practically eradicated, to a lack of vaccination in children. Prominent politicians have become involved in the debate over whether parents should be required to have their children vaccinated. The anti-vaccine movement, based in large part on fears of side effects from vaccination, has made substantial inroads in  vaccine rates. Oregon, with its 'hippy-dippy' livestyles, is a hotbed of "anti-vaxxer" opinion.  It has the nation's highest rate of parents refusing vaccinations for their kindergartners, currently at 7%. The state has responded with an "Exclusion Day" of February 18th.  Parents must prove up-to-date immunizations for their children enrolled in school or child care facilities or they will be excluded.  There are exceptions to the mandate, however.

Friday, February 06, 2015

'Toontime: Going Through the Motions

credit: Matt Wuerker
Wackydoodle axes:  Y'al get that hat at Garfinkles?
Righto, because until then they will be too busy trying to destroy Social Security, again!  The first hearings to declare a benefits crisis are scheduled next week in the Senate's Budget Committee. Right now the trust fund has 1.7 trillion surplus, and has had a surplus since 1984. Of course surpluses do not last forever if expenditures exceed receipts. In 2035 there will be just 2.1 workers for every benefit recipient. The system, one of the few long-term government programs that has actually worked well, can be shored up to prevent future insolvency--not by cutting benefits as the filthy rich Koch Brothers & the Handmaidens want, but by removing the cap on income subject to tax so even rich people pay into the system. The middle class could reciprocate by again raising the retirement age to 68 or 70.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Two Big Cats Enjoy Freedom

Sonja foreground; credit Born Free Foundation
In the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction {08.05.07} it is sometimes difficult to find a positive wildlife story. However, know dear readers that two nine year old lionesses are now enjoying their freedom in the South African wild. After performing in a German circus for six years, Sonja and Maggie were rescued and transported 6,000 miles in January from a Belgian rehabilitation center via Heathrow and Nairobi to Johannesburg, South Africa. Quel fatiqué! Kenya Airways provided the transportation aboard their inaugural Dreamliner flight. That is corporate promotion with a difference. Too bad it takes complicated human logistics for lions to return to their rightful habitatin the 21st century.

Maggie; credit BFF
Nevertheless, once in South Africa, the lionesses were taken to Shamwari Game Reserve by Land Rover (another plug). The senior vet at Shamwari told media the lions travelled well considering the distance and abrupt change in climate. When they left Belgium it was snowing. After resting from the two day journey, the lionesses began to enjoy natural grass, trees, and open spaces for the first time in their lives. Soon, the sisters' appetite returned and they enjoyed dinning on blesbok (Damaliscus dorcas phillipsi) together. A good indication they have left their circus days far behind. Maggie will always have a reminder of her captivity in cramped quarters--the end of her tail had to be amputated due to infection.

This lion story has a happier ending. The efforts of Born Free Foundation and its corporate supporters to save Maggie and Sonja are laudible. 'Feel good' stories cannot alter the stark reality. For all lions to have a secure future as a species they must be given the legal protections afforded other endangered species. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, a good first step. Remaining habitat for lions must be preserved from human encroachment and trophy hunting, including the immoral practice of "canned hunts", must stop until lions are once again numerous enough to withstand survival on a radically altered planet that is also their home.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

COTW: The Rich Man's Recovery

DPI-disposal personal income
PCE-personal consumption expeditures
How can mortgage rates be 400 basis points lower than they were in 1995, yet new mortgage applications be at the same level they were twenty years ago? It is a neat trick performed by those economic wizards at the Federal Reserve. As the chart above shows by most important measures, except when manipulated to protect the greedy, 2014 did not exceeded pre-panic prosperity levels! The $3.5 trillion in cheap money dolled out to rescue Wall Street from its own profligacy was invested in residential real estate that has driven house prices up by 20% since 2012. The median price for a home in 1995 was $128,000, now it is $281,000. A lion's share of the foreclosures and short sales of 2011-12 were made to hedge funds like Blackstone and big banks like Wells Fargo.  Institutional buying has stopped because profits are booked. The country's biggest home builders (KB Homes, Lennar) are warning 2015 will be bad for real estate. Home prices will follow oil into a downward trend due to over-supply.  Why?  The 30-year US treasury reached a historic yield low---exceeding that of the Greatest Depression--of 2.295%, presaging economic contraction. So who can afford a home when your wages are stuck in the nineties?  The people who pay your wages.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Yellowstone River is Fouled Again

flushing Glendvie water; Casper Star-Tribune
More: Bridger Petroleum, the operator of the leaking pipeline polluting the Yellowstone River in Montana has a history of leaks as does its sister company Belle Fouche Pipeline. Bridger spilled oil in nine incidents between 2006 and 2014 totalling 11,000 galons of crude. Belle Fouche's record was worse with 21 incidents spilling 272,832 gallons. Both companies are owned by the True Family (no joke). Despite their poor performance, regulators have not fined either company in any of the seventeen regulatory inspections since 2009, a pathetic performance in itself. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed fining Bridger $70,000 for poor regulatory compliance. After disputing the proposed fine, it was reduced to $45,000. Bridger's accident rate is double the industry average. Belle Fouche was fined $131,900 in 2012 for failing to inspect its pipeline system covering 551 miles in Montana, North Dakato and Wyoming. In May 2014 a corroded line caused 25,000 galllons to leak onto public land administered by the BLM. Because the leak was beyond its jurisidiction the pipeline safety administration took no action. The BLM also did not impose a penalty.

{20.01.15}Another pipeline carrying Bakken shale oil has broken, dumping 50,000 gallons or more into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana on Saturday. Cold and ice on the river are hampering clean up efforts. Drinking water drawn from the river is contaminated. The Poplar Pipeline that runs along the bottom of the river remained closed on Monday. The river suffered a major spill in July, 2011 when an Exxon-owned pipeline breached near Laurel spilling at least 63,000 gallons of oil. Officials are still seeking up to $3.4 million in fines from Exxon. The extent of the current spill is being evaluated.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Wild Bison Slaughtered

The annual round up and slaughter of bison in Yellowstone National Park has claimed over 400 wild buffalo so far. The Park Service and participating native Americans capture the animals in corrals and ship them in stock trailers to slaughterhouses. This outrage is part of the "Interagency Bison Management Plan" which is essentially a cull to control the number of buffalo living in Yellowstone. At least 900 wild buffalo will be hunted or slaughtered this year to reduce the population from 4900 to less than 3000 animals, a token number determined by Montana's livestock industry. Brucelosis is no longer used as an excuse to kill buffalo by the Park Service. According to Park Service studies, the Park alone can sustain upwards of 6,000 buffalo. Tens of millions of acres of public lands surround Yellowstone and could provide habitat for an even more wild buffalo if it were not for the concerted opposition of Montana's influential ranching industry.

The National Park Service knows its buffalo culling operations are unpopular with the American public; so it responds by enforcing secrecy about the cull. The agency will only give out public reports every two weeks, and it has denied conservation groups access to witness the roundup on public land. The Yellowstone herds are the last wild, migratory herds that exist in the United States. Re-introductions elsewhere depend on Yellowstone's buffalo to provide genetically pure animals. The International Union for Conservation fo Nature recognizes the bison as being threatened with near extinction by placing them on its "Red List". Yet 'Merica continues to kill them unecessarily.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Tru'Merica: Operation Northwoods

Just how far the extreme right elements in US government and military are willing to go to eliminate their enemies is revealed by this video concerning "Operation Northwoods". Although the psyops planned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962, which included false-flag terroism within the United States to foment an invasion of communist Cuba, did not take place because Secretary of Defense McNamara refused to sign-off on the proposals, it is chilling to contemplate the true extent of reactionary politics in America. The 2003 invasion of Iraq took place based upon a fundamental, and intentionally erroneous assumption that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Is it any wonder Fidel Castro does "not trust American politics"? Maskirovka is at work on both sides of the Atlantic.