Monday, August 31, 2015

Madagascar Protects Habitat

Indri lemur, credit J. Washburn-Lee
Madagascar has seen 90% of its forests cut down since Europeans came to the island in the 16th century.  Evolved in isolation, its unique flora and fauna has suffered terribly.  So the island nation has not been a source of positive conservation news, but the Prime Minister recently declared seven new reserves to protect endangered lemurs, chameleons and frogs.  The seven reserves cover 74,816 acres of the highly endangered eastern rainforest.  The Rainforest Trust with local partner Madagasikara Voakajy were instrumental in achieving this modest expansion of protected forest after six years of effort.  The forest is home to seven species of lemurs and 60% of the critically endangered Golden Mantella frog.

Since a political coup in 2009, Madagascar's eastern rainforest has lost over a million hectares of coverage.  A surfeit of poaching and rosewood cutting has taken place as well as clearances for subsistence farming and charcoal production.  Lemurs once enjoyed the protection of traditional taboos, but increasingly hunters are poaching the larger lemur species and selling them as bushmeat in local markets.  Go to to see pictures of Madagascar's endemic wildlife threatened by man's uncontrolled exploitation of the island's natural resources.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tru'merica: Revolution Now!

A compilation of newsreel footage in authentic black & white of the organizing and protests culminating in Daley's police riot outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

'Toontime: Bring Back the Good Old Days

You got to hand it to cartoonist Mike Lukovich at the Atlanta Journal- Constitution:This 'toon is as about as succinct and candid as one can get about the compulsive exhibitionist known as Donald Trump without becoming profane or bigoted, so that is why it is featured this week at PNG:

Wackydoodle sez: I kin vote for that!
Meanwhile on the other side of the artificial political divide, Ms Clinton made it clear to attendees at the Democratic National Committee caucus just who exactly controls the Democratic Party. Ever since the disastrous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when the anti-war left tried to take over the convention and party leaders changed its delegate rules, it has become almost impossible for a dark horse to overtake the anointed front runner. That is bad news for Bernie Sanders, who is not even registered as a Democrat. Despite his embarrassingly conspicuous level of grass-roots support, he is not popular with super-delegates who see him as unelectable because he is an admitted socialist. Most Democratic establishment insiders also do not think Joe Biden will enter the presidential race unless Hillary implodes as a result of her pending e-mail scandal.

credit: Tom Toles
BC Idonwanna sez:  Me not afraid, have gun!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

ISIS Commits Another War Crime

UN's organization for education,science, and culture (UNESCO) declared the destruction of Baalshamin's Temple at Palmyra by ISIS a war crime.  Baalshamin was an ancient secondary god in the Levant and mention numerous times in the Old Testament as Baal.  The temple dates to the Roman era, or first century AD.  Scholars consider the god to be propitious and who acted as an intecessor for humans.  The Daesh group of ISIS demolished the temple on August 23rd with explosives one week after killing Professor Khaled al-Assaad, the archeologist in charge of caring for the ruins for four decades.  Head of UNESCO said the action demonstrates ISIS intent to deprive the Syrian people of their cultural identity through "cultural cleansing" of what ISIS considers pagan influences.  She called upon the international community to stand against such acts.  In March the UN's Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report saying other actions by ISIS--such as execution of civilians and rape-- may be war crimes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mutilated Tucan Given New Beak

A Brazilian toucan named Tieta lost her upper beak while caught in the obscene meat-grinder that is international wildlife trafficking. Black-beaked toucans like Teita cost up to $5000 when sold illegally. They are native to Rio, but are not considered endangered. She was resuced from an animal fair in Rio de Janeiro.  Teita's life was immeasurablely improved when a wildlife group and university researchers gave Teita a prothestic upper beak made of plastic and created using a 3-D printer. It weighs only 4 grams. The design was taken from a dead bird and adapted to Teita's morphology. Teita can now eat her favorite live maggots and cockroaches normally. Before her new beak she used her lower bill to throw food in the air and grab it, succeeding once in every three attempts. It took her three days to understand she had a functioning bill again. She can groom herself and feed chicks she might produce in the future. Despite the new bill's success Teita will never be released to the wild. Ibama, Brazil's wildlife authority, wants to send Teita to an educational zoo to help humans understand the damage done by animal traffickers. There is hope Teita will mate with a rescued male toucan who also has a beak problem; their offspring would be released to the wild, Ibama says.

New Research Says Global Warming a Factor in California Drought

A new study says the risk of extremely low precipitation years in California is increasing due to global warming.  Researchers from Columbia University found that unusually hot temperatures attrributable to anthropogenic climate change have intensified the current drought attributed to natural varibility in rainfall. Warming is responsible for between 8 and 27% of California's water debt according to the study. Baseline conditions have shifted as a result of climate change. The Palmer Drought Severity Index indicates a mild drought as -1. The more severe a drought the larger the negative number. Warming has shifted the Index from zero to about -0.5. The shift means in practical terms that it takes less of a natural dip in precipitation levels to cause drought conditions. It gets worse in the future. If warming continues the Index's value will shift towards -1, meaning that even if California gets normal amounts of rain, it will teeter on the brink of drought conditions because it is hotter. By 2050 mild drought conditions will prevail 54% of the time. The study's results are consistent with other recent research that found the probability of drought in California has doubled compared to the previous century. As one scientist put it, "the warning signal has definitely emerged from the noise." But will it be heeded in time?

California's politicians are revisiting an old debate about whether efficiency or more water storage is the answer to California's now severe water shortages. The debate recently surfaced in headlines when Governor Brown refered to a state Repugnant leader as "ignorant" when she claimed water shortages should be blamed on liberals who refused to build more dams. The debate is triggering momentum for several water storage projects in the Central Valley. An enlargement of Shasta Dam at the northern end of the valley, discussed for three decades, passed a major regulatory hurdle when the Bureau of Reclamation released its final feasibllity study. Shasta could feasibly be enlarged by increasing its height eighteen feet. That would add 634,000 acre-feet of water for use. The proposal has lanquished in regulatory limbo with changing political administrations and environmental conditions. The study says the enlargement would cost $1.2 billion, but the federal government will not foot the bill. Senator Diane Feinstein has introduced a bill in the US Senate that could be an answer to the funding problem. Environmentalists are generally opposed to higher reservoir levels because they would inundate upper stretches of the McCloud River, protected under the Scenic River Protection Act. Nor is it undisputed that salmon would benefit from cold water releases since last year the Fish & Wildlife Service found that an enlargment of the reservior would not significantly improve water temperatures enough in the Sacramento River to benefit salmon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Largest Greenland Berg Ever Seen Hits Ocean

Europe's Sentinel-2a satellite image
In line with predictions that sea levels will rise due to calving ice sheets, scientists have spotted the largest piece of Greenland ice to float into the sea ever seen.  Jakobshavn Glacier lost a 12.4 km section between 13 and 19 August to the sea [photo]. Jakobshavn is the major drainage channel for Greenland's ice sheet and is believed to be the source of the iceberg that sank the "unsinkable" Titanic. Assuming the ice is about 1400m deep, the volume of ice lost to the sea is about 17.5cu km. Despite the gigantic amount lost from Greenland's sheet, it is still small compared to Antarctica's tabular bergs that can be thousand of square kilometers in area.

Australia Moves to Protect Species

Faced with declining numbers of iconic species of birds, reptiles mammals and plants, the Australian government announced the nation's first Threatened Species Strategy. The new policy was announced in Melbourne last month by the Environment Minister. It commits $6.6 million to projects that protect threatened species and sets hard targets for improvements for 20 mammals, 20 birds and 30 plants. The first mammals identified for help are the numbat, mala, mountain pygmy-possum, greater bilby, golden bandicoot, brush-tailed rabbit rat, eastern bettong, western quoll, Kangaroo Island dunnart and eastern barred bandicoot. These names are probably not familiar to readers outside Australia because they are all endemic and most of them are marsupials.

Australia's bilby
The Minister also called for culling of feral cats that plague the continent, but that proposal is proving to be very controversial. Since arriving in Australia feral cats have contributed to the extinction of twenty-seven mammal species. Australian cat fanciers are aghast at the prospect of organized killing of their beloved preditor on a mass scale. Minister Hunt said he wants two million feral cats killed by 2020. The push is on for a twenty-four curfew for pet catsso they are not poisoned along with the feral. A few ecologists from the University of NSW have suggested reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to the mainland after a 3000 year absence. The devil has a reputation for combativeness that would allow it to dominate feral cats and foxes. The fact that the island of Tasmania has few foxes despite being introduced several times for hunting is due to the presence of the devil. Even the government's threatened species commissioner agrees that native preditor reintroduction is a science-based means of recovering a species threatened with extinction.

Conservationists are also quick to point out that other actions are needed to prevent loss of endangered species such as protecting habitats from development or exploitation.  For example Victoria's leadbeater's possum and swift parrot are at risk from logging in their Montane Ash forest habitat.  The Australian Conservation Foundation released a report earlier showing that recovery plans for Australia's most endangered species are failing to protect habitat.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

'Toontime: Please Don't Call it Emailgate

credit Nick Anderson
Wackydoodle axez: There's wiped and whipped, what y'al got here?

A federal judge hearing a FIOA lawsuit in Washington DC to obtain access to her records as Secretary of State said Ms. Clinton's use of a private server to conduct official business violated government policy, so he was willing to consider requests for her records that are in private accounts.  The comment was awkward for the former Secretary, whose campaign has maintained she did nothing wrong using a private server.  A campaign aide responded to the judge's remark saying her use of a private server was consistent with the practice of other secretaries of state and permissible under State Department policy at the time. Judge Emmet Sullivan repeatedly referred to the department's obligation to preserve records under the Federal Records Act of 1950. Classified materials were found in printed e-mails Clinton turned over to the State Department.   Judicial Watch, a conservative watch-dog group and plaintiff in the Freedom of Information Act case, argued the State Department acquiesced in Secretary Clinton's use of a private server and private email account; the agency's technology specialists were involved in maintaining the server. Thus, her private e-mails should be accessible under FOIA.    The FBI is also looking into Clinton's email traffic for possible leaks of classified material.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

COTW: Hordes of Criminal Mexicans, NOT!

Reality-TV personality Donald Trump is distracting attention-short, biggoted 'Mericans with his irresponsible bombast about an alleged 'imigration crisis'--see 'missile gap'. The first chart shows border patrol apprehensions by fiscal year. Admittedly apprehensions may not be the best metric to measure actual illegal crossings every year, but given the increase in border guards and enforcement measures shown in the second chart, it certainly does not indicate a loss of border control advertised by "the Donald". US Person says file his election year pandering under ignore.  Authentic?  Not so much.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Fish & Wildlife Ignores Scientific Findings on Commorants

The Fish & Wildlife Service is so desperate to give the public appearance of action on declining salmon populations that it is killing double crested cormorants on the Columbia River despite it own scientists telling the agency that cormorants are not the cause of declining steelhead populations in the Snake River, the most predated population. In scientific terms, the available data from long term studies shows comorant predation on salmon is not additive, but compensated for by declines in other sources of salmon mortality. Statistical analysis strongly rejects a hypothesis of additive mortality. Hence, culling of comoorants is expected to have, "no effect on Snake River steelhead population productivity or the abundance of returning adults."

Yet, the killing of more than ten thousand cormorants goes on at Sand Island. {06.07.15} This finding of no positive effect was not included in the Environmental Impact Statement supporting the culling operation. After release of the document Audubon Portland sent a letter to Dan Ashe, USF&WS director calling on him to withdraw permits issued to the Army Corps of Engineers to kill a protected species in the name of protecting salmon. Litigation against the agency's decision to go ahead with the cull was responsible for the release of agency documents that revealed the lack of scientific support for its decision.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Florida is Sinking

Winter Park, FL
Ever wonder why it seems the biggest sinkholes open up in Florida? The mainstream corporate media (CMM) displays on your screen a home pecariously percherd on the rim of a shockingly large cavern appearing overnight, or an SUV at the bottom of a similar deep hole in a driveway, or a road ripped to pieces by sudden subsidence. The truth is that Florida is slowly sinking beneath the Atlantic Ocean. Why this is so is due to Florida's geology. Most of the low-lying pennisula is within 400 feet of sealevel and it lies entirely within the Atlantic Coastal Plain. The rocky spine running down the center of the state giving it elevation is porous like a sponge. As sea level rises due to global warming, salt water saturates the sponge left vacant by urban fresh water withdrawals. Saturated ground becomes unstable literally beneath Floridians' feet [photo]. Salt water has already migrated inland six miles in Broward County due to withdrawals from the Biscayne Aquifer. Coastal acquifers are now experiencing salt water intrusion, the phenonmenon that cannot be named in Florida's real-estate conscious politics. Florida's free-market governor is so hostile to climate issues and sustainable development that he threatens funds from the federal government that will not dispense to any state not planning for inevitable climate change impacts. Maybe Florida's sinkholes are big enough for the governor to bury his head.

Sea level has slowly risen for the last two centuries, but in the last twenty years the rate has increased about 80% faster than the United Nation's Panel on Climate Change estimated due to melting ice from the polar ice sheets. Levels are now expected to rise by 0.5 to 1.0 meter by 2100. Sea level rise will continue beyond 2100. In the past natural systems, such as barrier islands, mangroves, and marshes regulated the dynamic relationship between land and sea in the low-lying region. These natural systems have largely been disrupted or destroyed. Modern engineering has brought his infrastructure literally to the edge of the sea and beyond. Virtually none of it was built to withstand significant sea-level rise, although some was built to withstand localized storm surges. Most of Florida's 18 million residents live less than 60 miles from the Atantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Three-fourths of those reside in coastal counties that generate 79% of the state's annual economy. The cost of replacing infrastructure and building rendered inadequate is estimated to be $3.0 trillion by 2030. Either the state finds the money to replace or improve structures to withstand higher tides and surges or the human population will have to move.

Ecosystems such as Florida Bay, the Everglades, Ten Thosand Islands and Big Bend coastline are already showing signs of rising sea-level stress. Florida's large estuaries will also manifest impacts. Then effects will be found in tidal rivers and then inland rivers. Major shifts in wildlife and plant communities will occur. Southern Florida will be affected before the Panhandle, but wherever there are tides in a state with more than 1200 miles of coastline and 4500 square miles of estuaries and bays, will experience the effects of slowly sinking beneath the waves.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tru'merica: The Program that Changed the Nation

Before the social security program was passed during the Great Depression, one-half of elderly 'Mericans lived in poverty. Despite its success in changing how Americans retire, reactionaries have long targeted the system for destruction on ideological grounds. These handmaidens of corporatocracy want to give your social security contributions to Wall Street for "investment" in the private sector. These are the same crooks who almost collapsed the entire world financial system with their greed and excess of 2007-09. The government already mistakenly spent $23.7 trillion or 150% of GDP* rescuing these profligates. Now their political front men want to throw more of your tax dollars at the oligarchs to keep the casino open for business. Watch this 1952 video to understand why the system works for you:

*estimate of the cost to taxpayers of all government financial rescue programs including loans, subsidies, purchases and facilities by the Office of Special Inspector General for TARP testimony to Congress.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Sign of the Times: When Sleeping Rough is a Right

Cities and towns are passing ordinances against public sleeping, sittling or lyingfaster than a politician can distort the truth. Seems nobody wants to see the homeless become too conspicuous, and since there are not enough shelters to accommodate the growing ranks of homeless, passing laws forcing the them to move on is perceived as the next best solution. A recent study found that in 187 cities surveyed 34% ban camping; 43% ban sleeping in vehicles; and 53% ban sitting and lying in public. Bans against sleeping in cars have increased 119% in the last four years. In a case filed against the city of Boise, Idaho on behalf of local homeless, the court cited a previous decision (Jones v. City of Los Angeles) that found enforcement of such ordinances to be unconstitutional in violation of the Eighth Amendment when there is inadequate shelter space because sleeping in public is involuntary and inseperable from the status of being homeless. The Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the Boise case, saying these prohibitions may be "cruel and unusual punishment". The department told the court that 43% of homeless people slept in public in 2014. On any given night about 153,000 homeless are unsheltered.

'Toontime: Mistatements, Lies, and Damned Lies

Is it any wonder Bernie Sanders drew 19,000 supporters with 9,000 more standing outside in Portland, OR this week? Hillary is sinking like a rock and the FBI has confiscated her private web server for forensic analysis on Wednesday. It's wiped for sure, but who knows what digital artifacts may be left behind. Agents also seized a thumb drive from her attorney, David Kendall. A tiny of sample of her e-mail traffic (2 out of 40 reviewed by investigators from a total of 60,000 messages) shows classified material was compromised including some classified top-secret special intelligence because it comes from NSA signals intelligence including satelite data. Perhaps Clinton, Inc. has paid back  foreign financial support in more ways than cash. The truth is, despite her repeated claims of transparency and cooperation, the number of e-mails she has voluntarily turned over to the government is zero. The State Department had to track down missing material from her to prepare their responses in the House Benghazi investigation. Because she is American royalty she will not have to spend her life in exile or pay a $50,000 fine, but she may have to give up her run for the Uncornered Office.
credit: Lisa Benson
BC Idonwanna sez: Donkey should let go white woman.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

All Hail, the Intelligent Octopus

Pacific striped, credit: The Independent
Scientists have decoded the genome of the octopus. In doing so they have discovered just how different the intelligent, eight-armed creature is. The intelligence of the invertibrate evolved much earlier than other "higher" vertebrates according to its genome. It contains 2.7 billion pieces of code, and hundreds of genes unique to the species. Some are related to the octopus' ability to change shape and color of its skin as a form of active camouflage. One British zoologist was so enthusiastic about the findings, he called the cephalopod "an alien". There is no doubt, however, that it evolved on this planet some 400 million years ago, about 230 million years before mammals, considered to be the most advanced animals living now. The octopus is Earth's first intelligent creature. A notable expansion of the octopus genome are the genes known as protocadherins, essential to developing nerve cells and their interconnections. Octopus have 168 of these, 10 times more than other invertebrates and twice as many as mammals.

These genes allowed the octopus to evolve an advanced and complex nervous system that helped it survive the ages. Its arms have there own neurons that work independently from the brain, plus huge optic lobes that make it a superb predator. An example of the octopus advanced hunting techniques is exhibited by the larger Pacific striped octopus that stalks prey close enough to tap it on the opposite side of its body with a smart tentacle. [video] This 'tap of doom' startles the prey, usually shrimp, directly into the octopus' waiting arms. Pacific striped octopus also have another interesting behavior. Most octopus have sex at a distance since the females become cannibalistic, but not the Pacific striped. These mating couples enjoy full frontal encounter with sixteen arms grasping each other sucker to sucker, beak to beak, in what scientists describe as "rough sex"!

mating, credit: R.Caldwell
Understanding how the octopus differs from its fellow cephalopods--squid, cuttlefish and nautilus--will help scientists understand what it means to be an octopus, genetically speaking. Unlike other cephalopods, they are protected by UK animal testing regulations in recognition of their obvious intelligence, dexterity and communication skills. Whether the octopus has a garden under the sea remains to be seen. They do seem to like cameras, however.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

COTW: Hot Enough!

US Person wonders often why local weather forecasters largely ignore the obvious effects of climate change in their segments on the evening news. Oregon just experienced one of the hottest Junes on record, yet hardly any information was presented showing how the current June compares to other Junes for the number of hot days over 90℉ in a record of local temperatures stretching back beyond the beginning of the last century. He actually asked a local weatherman while attending a charity event why global warming was largely ignored by him. The reply was along the lines that such information might offend some of the station's viewers! Indeed. Not wanting to be rude, but in the interest of full disclosure US presents this chart from NOAA showing June temperature maximums for Oregon.  There is a 120 year trend line upward of two-tenth degree increase per decade.  No wonder the rivers are full of humans:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rawanda Releases Lions into Akagera Park

The nation of Rwanda with the help of African Parks has translocated seven lions into Akagera National Park.  The lions, two males [photo] and five females, were brought from KwaZulu Natal in South Africa to Rwanda at the end of June.  The lions were kept in a protected boma prior to their release.  A waterbuck carcass was placed outside the gates to encourge them to accept their new freedom in the wild.  The two males refused to exit until park and press vehicles left the scene.  They spent 45 hours in trucks and abord an airplane for the exhausting trip north to Rwanda.

The lions are the first to roam the park in 15 years.  Akagera was unmanaged for years following the 1994 genocide.  Its few remaining lions were poisoned by cattle herders.    They come from different prides.  Among the females is a ten-year-old mother and her one-year old daughter.  All of the released lions will wear satelite telemetry collars for two years so park officals can keep track of their movements.  Also, the lions will be named by stakeholders and donors.

Friday, August 07, 2015

'Toontime: Biden Steps In

Hillary's decent in the polls and mounting attacks over her handling of official e-mail caused the Vice President, Joe Biden to reconsider his chances of succeeding the Obamanation. With Senator Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden in the race, Democratic voters will have a choice between a social democrat and a conventional neoliberal. Hillary's baggage and dependance on Wall Street minders* have made her increasingly unattractive to progressive voters regardless of her gender.

credit: David Horsey
Wackydoodle axes:  How y'al spell mysoginy?

*Ms. Clinton also carries the load of her husband's legacy. One of the influential persons in Washington that first contributed to the cultural capital that "greed is good", or to put it less crudely, a very powerful and extremely wealthy financial oligopoly is good for American governance was Robert Rubin, her husband's Director of the National Economic Council and second Secretary of Treasury. He began his career in arbitrage at Goldman-Sachs and rose to the firm's vice-chair. Rubin is the head of a long list of Wall Street insiders holding important positions in Bill Clinton's and subsequent administrations. Wall Street has infiltrated and taken over America's political economy. What started out as laudible policy of expanding home ownership under President Clinton became the biggest Wall Street rip-off in American history. See Chapter 4, 13 Bankers (2011). Then there is Senator Clinton's support for the other major fiasco of this century, the Iraq War.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

"Now We Are All Sons of Bitches"

That is what physicist Kenneth Bainbridge said to Robert Oppenheimer head of
the Manhattan Project after the Trinity test was successful on 16 July 1945. Today is the anniversary of the dropping of an atomic weapon on Hiroshima, three weeks after the test in the New Mexico desert apply named Journada del Muertes. "Little Boy" wiped out 80,000 Japanese at a stroke. Historians have debated the reasons for America's resort to nuclear weaponry against a realistically defeated enemy ever since. The reasons are several and not just the self-righteous assertion that the bomb spared American lives in an invasion of Japan's homeland.

The bomb did make an invasion unnecessary; it was sure to be bloody for both sides as bitter peripheral battles demonstrated. After the second nuclear strike against Nagasaki, The Emperor ordered the Japanese people to lay down their arms. Contrary to American war policy of "unconditional surrender", he remains on the throne to this day because General MacArthur, our own demigod, wanted a compliant civilian population during the Occupation. Dropping the bomb was a geopolitical decision as much as a tactical one. Stalin knew of the bomb's development because he had spies inside the Project. He was unmoved by Truman's announcement at Potsdam that America possessed a terrible new weapon of war. Stalin agreed to invade Manchuria, and the Red Army destroyed a major portion of the Imperial Army. Japan was completely blockaded by the US Navy. It's navy was practically destroyed. Conventional bombing raids without effective opposition in the air were consuming great swaths of Japan's cities. More Japanese were killed in fire raids on Tokyo than in both nuclear strikes. Further resistance was useless. Given enough time the peace faction within the Emperor's war cabinet could have prevailed as Japan's people and infrastructure were slowly annihilated by American conventional arms.

The Manhattan Project was set up to produce nuclear bombs on an industrial scale, not just two. The Project cost $2bn, a huge amount of money in 1945. By the time the prototype was exploded, enough fissile material was being produced at Oak Ridge and Hanford to make several bombs a week. The United States, contrary to Oppenheimer's claim, could have afforded a demonstration first, as some Project scientists wanted. They were confident their technological wonder would work, and a demonstration would give the United States a defensible moral position against critics of its decision to use terror weapons against civilians. To not use such an expensive device against a fanatical enemy could have been characterized by Truman's political opponents as treasonous. Because it was dropped, and dropped twice, the US was able to occupy Japan alone as it could not do in Europe. We have been living with the fallout ever since*.

*The nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States remain on hair-trigger alert.  Mistakes, both human and machine, have led to several close calls since the Cold War began seventy years ago.  November 9,1979: NORAD screens indicated a large-scale Soviet missile attack was underway.  The US nuclear arsenal was immediately prepared for a retailiatory strike.  However, satelite data failed to confirm any incoming missiles, so no strike was launched.  The cause of the false signals discovered later was that a technician had inserted a training simulation into an operational NORAD computer.  Opps!  September 26,1983 a Soviet early warning satelite indicated five US nuclear missiles were headed towards the USSR.  A Russian colonel looking at the telemetry decided it was a false alarm. He reasoned that the United States would not start a nuclear war by launching only five missiles at the Soviet Union.  Investigation of the incident showed the satelite mistook sunlight reflecting from the tops of clouds as missle launches.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

COTW: A Trend That Matters

This chart from the EPA shows the trends in carbon dioxide emissions with and without the new clean power rule announced this week:

The rule makes clear difference in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere.  Why should this concern you?  Just one impact of a hotter planet besides the higher sea levels, more intense precipitation and more violent storms is shown by this chart, the growing federal cost of fighting wildfires:
source: Mother Jones
Localities and states are experiencing similar increasing costs of wildfires.  The size of wildfires on federal land has quadrupled since 1985. Of the top ten largest burns, nine have occurred since 2000.  The cost statistics of these fires are undeniable:

The bad news just keeps getting worse. Scientists have been telling us for decades that droughts will be more common. According to one model from the University of California-Santa Cruz, melting sea ice will cause a 30% decrease in the southwest United States. The most at risk for wildfires are some of the most populated regions of the nation: Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego and Riverside counties of drought striken California.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Putin Renews Arctic Territory Claim

President Vladimir Putin is renewing Russia territorial claim to a vast region (463,000 sq. miles) of the Arctic. Its claim was rejected by a UN commission because of insufficient evidence in 2001. Russia went so far as to plant a small Russian flag on the seabead by robotic device [photo] in 2007. Despite the stunt, all other countries bordering the Arctic Ocean [map]--Norway, Canada, Denmark and the US--reject Russia's claim. Not surprisingly, all are members of NATO. The competition for jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic is becoming heated as the region is thought to contain a quarter of the world's unexploited oil and gas. Russia's claim is based on the extent of its continental shelf. It is also backing the territorial claim with military might. A new doctrine emphasizing Arctic forces including a new fleet of icebreakers was proclaimed on the nation's Navy Day. Earlier this year military exercises conducted in the Arctic involved 38,000 servicemen, fifty vessels and 110 aircraft. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said the new doctrine is formulated in response to increased NATO activity along Russia's European borders.

EPA Sets Power Plant CO₂ Standards

The EPA is finally setting carbon dioxide standards for fossil fueled power plants after their authority under the Clean Air Act to do so was decided by the Supreme Court years ago. The rule, announced by Administrator Gina McCarthy and the White House, is ambitious with a goal to cut carbon emissions 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. EPA projects that the share of the nation's electricity produced by burning dirty coal will eventually drop to 27% The scheme allows individual states to meet national goals based on their power mix and unique opportunities to cut their pollution. They may use interstate trading of credits to met their goals, and take advantage of a federal matching fund for investment in clear energy projects.  In response to concerns raised by plant owners during the extensive public consultation process, the EPA extended the timeframe for mandantory reductions to begin to 2022. Public health and climate related benefits are estimated to be worth $45 billion. The agency also expects 3600 fewer premature deaths caused by air pollution while reducing the average monthly electric bill by 7%. The Supreme Court required analysis of cost versus benefits shows the rule will cost industry $8.4 billion.  For details see

The United States claims to be leading the solution to a global problem. Since the government announced it was formulating a clean energy plan, Brazil and China have also announced commitments to significantly reduce carbon polution.  Predictably the reactionaries in Congress have labeled the rule "radical".  A Repugnant homeboy from fossil-fueled Oklahoma went so far as to hysterically claim, "The Obama administration has no concern for costs, no concept of reality and no respect for the rule of law."  Such hot-headed rhetoric only proves they are unfit to lead this nation.  To begin effective worldwide action preventing catastrophic climate change, governments must come together over the US initiative in Paris this year ready to reach an international agreement on limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

Monday, August 03, 2015


Oxford University has twitted this photo of Jericho, Cecils' brother, who is now head of the pride.  Reports were coming out of Africa that he had been killed on Saturday:

Jericho is being tracked by researchers in Hwange National Park.

Corporate Welfare First

The 'free-marketeers' like to emit a lot of hot air about private enterprise and entrepreneurship, and there is no more hot air around than in a presidential campaign season. The fact is, according to Good Jobs First, there are 514 economic development programs in the country that have granted corporations more than 245,000 awards of public money or tax subsidies. These programs are corporate welfare. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has $458 billion in assets and $20 billion in profits, yet recieved over $1 billion in economic development money. The development going on is lining Buffett's pocketbook, who is worth $58 billion. Boeing, an integral part of the militiary-security-industrial complex, recieved $13 billion. The New York Times estimates that states and municipalities dole out $80 billion a year in so-called incentives to corporations and it is a welfare system infested by cronyism.

David Sirota writing at NationofChange tells us a prime example of the corporate gravy train is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, running for president on the right. He has tortured Wisconsin's public sector with his right-wing economic policies. Contrary to free-market dogma, he has made public subsidies of the private sector a central feature of his agenda. He created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation in 2011 to give businesses loans and grants with taxpayer money. Auditors of the program note that money was handed out "in ways that did not consistently comply" with state laws. For example, receipients were not requried to submit information showing that required jobs were created or retained. Much of the money went to political allies according to the Walker's liberal critics. Sixty percent of the $1.14 billion went to firms contributin to Walker's political campaigns. What has the Wisconsin economy achieved as a result of these subsidies? Not much. Wisconsin is 33rd among states in economic improvement during Walker's first term says Bloomberg News, and half of the 250,000 jobs Walker promised have been created. At the same time he is handing out money to his business friends, he is proposing to slash $300 million from of higher education funding.

But what about sports, you ask. Don't worry fan boy and girl, Walker is giving the same amount of money to the NBA Milwaukee Bucks for a new arena. One of the Buck's investors is national finance co-chair of his presidential campaign! Economic studies have repeatedly concluded these hyper-subsidized monuments to Mammon have little to no tangible economic benefits. Liberals are just as guilty of feeding the corporations at the expense of citizens. It was Barrack Obama who told bankers huddled at the White House in the aftermath of the Great Panic of 2008, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchfolks", and dlivered us into the political economy of TBTF*. Free-market, indeed--its more like free-for-all if you have the connections.

*see S. Johnson & J. Kwak, Epilogue, 13 Bankers (2011) for a description of how Dodd-Frank financial reform failed.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Shell Ship Returns to Port

More:  Protestors in Portland, OR failed to stop the Fennica from putting to sea despite hanging by ropes from a 200 foot high span over the Columbia River.  Their acrobatics earned a ruling from an Alaskan federal judge that the international enviornmental protest organization Greenpeace will be fined $2500/hr for every hour the protestors blocked the ship from exiting.  Just to make her authority perfectly clear she warned the fine would jump to $5000/hr. on Friday, $7500/hr. on Saturday and $10,000/hr. on Sunday.  The ship left yesterday.  Her demostration leaves little doubt which side the federal government is on in this developing environmental disaster.  Greenpeace has faced these heavy-handed legal tactics before.  When Greenpeace protestors briefly boarded a Russian drilling platform in Arctic waters.  Russian special police raided the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise and took 28 activists and the ship into custody. {18.11.15}  Months later the ship and the activists were released upon payment of €3.6m bond by the Netherlands.

Update: {25.07.15}The Fennica, a drilling support ship and ice breaker contracted to Royal Shell Oil, arrived at Swan Island in Portland, OR in the early morning Saturday for repairs to its hull. The ship apparently struck and underwater obstruction that gashed its hull upon leaving Dutch Harbor, Alaska for operations in the Chukchi Sea. Portland activists say protests are planned as the icebreaker is repaired. Shell is limited to drilling only the top sections of its exploratory wells since the Fennica carries the capping equipment to be used in case of a blowout or other emergency. Current federal permits require that a capping stack be on site within twenty-four hours. A capping stack was the equipment that initially failed to seal off the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 which created the largest oil spill in US history. Critics of arctic drilling think the region's remoteness and adverse conditions will hamper any attempted clean up and therefore risk devastation of the Arctic's fragile environment.

{21.07.15}Shell's Arctic drilling operations suffered another setback when the Finnish vessel, Fennica, was forced to return to Dutch Harbor, Alaska earlier this month. A breach in the ship's hull was discovered. What caused the 39" by 2" crack is unknown. Whether the ship must be repaired in dry dock is also not determined, but the Fennica was to play a significant role in drilling Shell's Chukchi Sea [USGS photo] Burger Prospect leases, about 70 northwest of Wainwright village. Fennica carried a "capping stack" to be used to shut down a well in an emergency. Shell only has a brief three month period until September 28th to complete its controversial operations. Shell wants to drill two wells simultaneously, nine miles apart. That plan violates its authorization for incidental taking of marine mammals that allows simultaneous drilling only if the wells are a minimum of 15 miles apart. The limitation is to protect walruses and whales that live there. Critics of the government's backing of corporate exploitation of Arctic hydrocarbon deposits say a major oil spill will be an unmitigated disaster in the Arctic since it cannot be effectively cleaned up in the icy and stormy Arctic waters. Very little infrastructure exists in the region to support major clean up operations.  Burning Arctic oil and gas is also incompatible with expressed committment to reducing climate warming  Wildlife will certainly suffer in a spill predicted to be a 75% likelyhood by the government. The NRDC is expected to litigate the approval of Shell's operations in federal court.

Zimbabwe Seeks US Poacher

Cecil, the lion king
Update:  So it turns out that the pillar of commerce, Dr. Palmer, is a previousl felon!  He was convicted of making false statements to US wildlife officials about a black bear he killed in Wisconsin.  The doctor was fined $3000 and put on probation.  Conservationists in Africa think that Palmer is unlikely to face criminal charges for his slaughter and decapitation of Cecil because he employed two Zimbabwean professional "hunters" to entice Cecil away from his protection within the boundaries of the national park.  Should that be the case if Palmer directed his employees to lay out bait and bring Cecil to him outside the park's boundaries?  US Person thinks Not.  The idiot obviously has a habit of killing protected animals. What he did in Zimbawe was the moral equivalent of shooting a zoo animal released from its cage to satisfy his blood lust. The possibility of extradition not being honored by the US or that he is not charged with another felony crime is all the more reason his dental practice should be closed down by economic action. Otherwise, his hideous callousness mayl go completely unpunished.

{31.07.2015}Although Zimbabwe maybe be considered a dysfunctional state {26.06.08, Zimbabwe Fights Back}, it still has enough collective sense to respond to international outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion. To call what dentist Walter Palmer of Minnesota did in Zimbabwe hunting is to sanitize a craven act of moral cowardice for profit. Zimbabwe has an extradition treaty with the United States. A petition with 180,000 signatures on it is at the White House calling for the US government to comply with Zimbabwe's request for extradition. Palmer would face poaching charges in Zimbabwe's courts--a suitable resolution for his incredibly selfish and stupid act. US Person urges all of Palmer's clients to boycott his dental practice as a way of showing him his actions will not be tolerated by Americans, nor will they contribute to his means to perpetrate such depredations in the future. The brave dentist is currently in hiding.

Cecil was collared and a research subject of Oxford University when he was lured by food outside Hwange park boundaries to be shot with a bow and arrow by Palmer. It took Cecil forty hours to die. Palmer paid his guides $50,000 so he could kill a lion and prove his obvious lack of manhood. The panic stricken guides took the collar off Cecil, hid it in a tree, decapitated him, and skinned the popular icon since he was only a business transaction to them. Extraditing Palmer is the very least the United States can do to show the world it considers animal conservation a serious moral undertaking. Trophy killing further endagners animals already facing serious threats from climate change and human encroachment. It has to stop now. Legislation has been introduced in Congres to further restrict trophy importation under the Endangered Species Act. Call your representative and tell them you want trophy hunting made illegal, full stop or there will be many more dead Cecil the Lions. May he rest in peace.