Wednesday, September 30, 2015

COTW: Inhumane Drug Prices

No wonder 'Mericans are angered by prescription drug prices.  This table compares US prices with four other developed countries that have socialized medicine:

In every case US prices are considerably higher. Similar price differentials exist for common diagnostic and surgery procedures. Former hedge fund head Martin Shkreli hiked the price of Enbrel, used to treat AIDs cases and toxoplasmosis, 5500% overnight. Daraprim (generic name) cost about $1 per pill to make and has been in the pharmacopia for sixty years. When Shkreli acquired the drug the price for a bottle when from $405 to $22,500. Other examples of price gouging are those by Valeant Pharmaceuticals which increased the price for two heart drugs, 515% and 212% the same day they were acquired.  An antibiotic, Doxycyclene, was increased in price from $20 to $1849 within a six month period, but the real story is that drug prices have going up rapidly for the past 10 years despite passage of the Affordable Care Act. Cash buyers in the US face the highest prices of all, often these are the poorest citizens without drug coverage. The federal institutional buyers such as the Veterans Administration and the Defense Department pay the lowest prices in the country at 58% of the cash price. Other instituional buyers such as hospitals, Medicare Part D and HMOs pay 5-30% less. Once again the economic leverage exerted by a single payer is demonstrated in these statistics. So US Person says one more time: Medicare for All!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Long Time Coming: Banning Blood Ivory

mature bulls, credit: NatGeo
After the visit of Chinese Premier Xi, the White House was able to announce Friday that both countries have committed to ivory trade bans. The trade bans are described as "nearly complete". China is the world leader in ivory consumption, but the US is not far behind. This is the first time China and the US have made a specific, public commitment to protect wildlife. This precedent is significant because the Chinese government controls the Chinese ivory trade itself. Conservationists welcome the announcement with reservations about its actual implementation as an elephant is illegally killed every 15 minutes for its tusks.
credit: B. Stirton

The enormous pressure of poaching is having genetic effects for elephants in Africa. In Mozambique, where a decades long civil war nearly wiped out elephants, a generation of tuskless elephants has been produced because individuals with tusks were selectively slaughtered to fuel the civil war with materiel and manpower. Despite  increasing trade restrictions, trophy tusks can still be imported into the US with proper certificates. All trophy hunting should be stopped immediately world-wide to reduce the unsustainable rate of elephant mortality. China has lobbied hard in the past to obtain permission from CITES to conduct a controlled domestic market . Under pressure from the world's second largest economy, CITES granted the request for an exemption to the global embargo begun in 1990 in 2008. China bought 73 tons of ivory from African countires, and attempted to legitimize the domestic carving industry by adding it to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The government encouraged more trade by raising the price of ivory. No wonder China's internal ivory trade controls have largely failed.

An established fact is that the illegal trade in ivory is closely linked to terrorist organizations and criminal syndicates. Pope Francis has earned a reputation as an environmentalist, but his own Vatican trinket store, Savelli Gallery, sells hundreds of objects made from ivory. The Vatican city-state has not signed the CITES treaty, so it is not subject to the global ivory ban. This has to change immediately. Pope Francis, US Person aka "the Lawyer from Hell", hopes you read this post and take appropriate action as you did at the Vatican's bank. Your city-state cannot afford to be in the same business as bombers and crime lords who heartlessly destroy one of God's most impressive creatures for gain.  After all, Holy Father, Jesus threw out the moneychangers in the temple.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tru'merica: Who Is Dorothy Day?

Pope Francis mentioned her among the great modern Americans, but she is practically unknown. She is a potential saint, and an American that should be better known for the right reasons. This short video explains who is Dorothy Day, founder of the movement newspaper The Catholic Worker:

Predictably, but no less disgustingly, the extreme right in America is becoming biblical in its attacks against a world leader it sees as socialist and anti-capitalist. Mouthpieces like Fox News, Washington Times and Newsmax are invoking their multi-purpose authority for matters eschatological, Revelations, to label the Catholic Church's leader a "false prophet". The fact is the Catholic Church as an institution espouses a non-capitalist economic philosophy. The Church understands that markets are made up of people, and any view that considers them perfect or beyond social control is engaging immoral idolatry. No wonder Catholic John Boehner is resigning. The House is full of extremist 'tea partiers' who have debased the Republican Party beyond recognition and demanded Boehner's resignation. Pundits dub them the Kamikaze Caucus because of their single-minded determination to once again shut down the federal government, their own 'Great Satan'. US Person believes their religiously tinged fear-mongering is causing Dwight Eisenhower and Teddy Roosevelt to turn in their graves.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

COTW: Apocalypse Soon

The potential apocalypse threatening the planet is, of course, global warming. It is an issue that transcends politics and religion, and with Pope Francis, the first 'green' pope, set to address a historic joint session of Congress, the issue will undoubtably be in the forefront of public discussion. This chart from strictly secular NASA depicts just the radical amount of atmospheric carbon dixoide released by humanity compared to the last 650,000 years of Earth's history:

We are on the path of making our cosmic home unrecognizable, if not uninhabitable to many of our fellow creatures. As Pope Francis wrote in his ground breaking encyclical {20.06.15}, dominion over the planet and other life is inseparable from sacred responsibility to protect and cherish them.

Frontline and Inside Climate News tell us that Exxon knew as early as 1977 that Earth's climate was being seriously disrupted by fossil fuel burning. A company senior scientist, James F. Black told an audience of oilmen burning their products produced atmospheric carbon dioxide that would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity. In 1982 summer intern Steve Knisely at Exxon Research calculated that unless fossil fuel burning was constrained, there would be 400ppm CO₂ in the air compared to 280ppm before the Industrial Revolution.  His predictions have turned out to be very close to the actual. Exxon's response towards the end of the 80s was to curtail CO₂ research and launch a hugely expensive public relations campaign to obfuscate and deny the issue.That campaign continues to this day, fronted by a slender blonde actress in a business suit who brags about the United States' position as the number one producer of methane, a gas that is many times more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Some of documents supporting these facts are available here. Once again a major corporation is exposed to have behaved like a criminal conspiracy rather than a responsible 'citizen' in possession of privileged information damaging to its profit margin. Label this conclusion anti-business, because if the label fits, US Person will wear it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Last Stand for Wild Sumatran Rhinos

Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are the rarest species of rhino still living in the wild.  It is the only extant member of the genus Dicerorhinus that dates back to the early Miocene.Their rain forest habitat has been devastated by cultivation for agricultural products like palm oil, and the rhino has been slaughtered for its two horns. Their numbers have dwindled so low that conservationists are recommending the remaining survivors be consolidated into one population and guarded around the clock. A survey by the University of Massachusetts--Amherst, and the Wildlife Conservation Society Indonesia Program has identified for the first time priority protection zones that are essential to survival and small, scattered populations that should be consolidated if they are to be genetically viable. The study's lead author says the Sumatran rhino can still be saved in the wild, but significant increases in protection are needed. Five zones critical to saving the rhino need to have significantly stepped-up law enforcement efforts and planned roads into these areas must be abandoned.

London Zoo's 'Begum', 1872
Vietnam's Javan rhino went extinct in the wild in 2010. The same fate awaits the Sumatran if new efforts to protect it from the deprivations of poachers and destruction of its rainforest home.  The species is already extinct in Sabah and Malaysia. In the 200 years since the Sumatran was first described to science, its range has contracted from a broad swath of Southeast Asia to just three areas on the island of Sumatra and one in Kalimantan. There are less than 100 Sumatran rhinos as of 2013 surviving in the wild.  Forty Sumatran rhinos were brought into captivity in the 1980s with the goal being preservation of the species, but the program was a disaster according to the IUCN.  Most of the rhinos died in captivity and no offspring were produced for twenty years. Cincinnati Zoo has achieved several successful conceptions. Watch this WWF Australia video to know more:

Monday, September 21, 2015

F-35: An Expensive Joint Flop

Conservatives are very fond of talking about limiting government spending.  There are two problems with that meme: their greatest hero, Ronald Reagan, presided over one of the largest military buildups in modern peace time, and Repugnants never seem to include the Pentagon in their cost-cutting ideas. Currently the most expensive weapon procurement program ($1 trillion) is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. It is wildly over budget and expected to cost $100 million per unit! Fifteen years of schedule delays due to mind-bending technological complexity have cost the program dearly.

The latest blow to the program's prestige is the finding from the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation that the F-35B aircraft used by the Marines in testing failed to achieve the required number of flight hours to be declared "combat-ready". In fact it declared the Marine trials "could not demonstrate that F-35B is operationally effective or suitable for use in any type of limited combat operation, or that it was ready for real-world operational deployments." In short the Marines rigged the testing aboard the USS Wasp so the jet would pass. Nevertheless the Marines are standing by the complicated and expensive aircraft that is designed to do everything well.

The US Air Force has already bought 28 F-35As and is expected to buy 44 more even though the fifth generation fighter is outfought in close combat maneuvering by fourth generation aircraft such as the F-15 or F-16.  It is also outclassed by the best Russian and Chinese jet fighters.  Air Force generals defend the fighter by saying it is meant to be a long-range weapons platform. Perspective can be gained on this claim by noting that the Air Force recently let out contracts to "re-wing" its aging, slow, but highly effective ground attack aircraft, the A-10 Warthog. The service previously insisted that the entire Warthog fleet would have to be ditched to pay for the F-35 which is also supposed to be able to do close air-support and bombing.  Perhaps the generals have never heard the old rubric, "Jack of all trades, master of none."

Allies who were expected to deploy the fighter--hence the name--are having second thoughts over its price tag. Canada wanted to replace its CF18 Super-Hornet fleet with the F-35 at a cost range of $17 to 45.9 billion. The rise in exchange rates has made the weapon even more expensive and Liberal politicians running for office are pledging not to buy it. Justin Trudeau promised Canadians that a Liberal government would buy a more affordable fighter. Canada has already invested hundreds of millions in the F-35 program without buying a single jet. The Conservative government announced plans to buy the F-35 without following a competitive process. The Dutch also got sticker shock when new estimates of cost recently arrived. The project will now cost the Netherlands €5.2 billion, 550 million more than previously estimated. It has already purchased the first eight jets of a projected 37, effecting a sort of procurement fait accompli. Australian officials witnessed a secret computerized war game conducted at Hickam Field, Hawaii in which F-35s were comprehensively beaten by Russian Sukhois. A Liberal politician described the simulated F-35s as "being clubbed like baby seals". Australia expects to pay $16 billion for supposedly the world's most advanced jet fighter--perhaps not. US Person would take right-wing politicians more seriously if they followed their own parsimonious rhetoric went it comes to their war-mongering.

Friday, September 18, 2015

'Toontime: Revolt of the Silent Majority

In hard times the polis becomes polarized. Matt Wuerker sums up the race for President so far:

Seems 'Mericans are tired of the incremental sell-outs of plutocratic front persons. US Person understands, that is why Bernie has his vote. If they can put aside their racial bigotry for one more political season, they might actually get some ideologically-based policy, and not just simulation intended only to distract and confuse while preserving and even enhancing the pyramid of privilege that is American society in the 21st.

First Look at Proposed Wildlife Crossing in LA

US Person has posted previously {15.10.15} about the plight of mountain lions cut-off from each other by impassible lanes of freeway traffic in Southern California. Studies find that the lions still hanging on to existence in the Santa Monica Mountains are declining in number and exhibiting the effects of in-breeding. Their future is grim--repeated inbreeding results in sterility--unless humans help them to reconnect separated populations. Last month a young, healthy male, P32 was killed as he attempted to cross a freeway. P32 was fulfilling a vital function by passing his genes to isolated females as he foraged and located safe places to sleep over 150 square miles of his range, crossing four dangerous freeways in the process. One cat in ten years making it across the barrier, P12, made a big difference to the gene pools into which he successfully contributed. Since that epic journey P12 has mated with his own daughter. P-33, a female decendent of P12 also successfully crossed Hwy101 to reach the western end of the Santa Monicas.  If she makes it north to the Los Padres National Forest, she will undoubtably mate with unrelated males who live there.

The proposed wildlife crossing will be the largest in the world located at Liberty Canyon on Hwy 101 in Agoura Hills where scarce undeveloped land between the Simi Hills and the Santa Monicas approaches the right of way. The overpass would be 165 feet wide and 200 feet long, covered in vegetation. It would allow animals to cross ten lanes of high density traffic in safety.  The feasibility study was funded by money from the state's Coastal Conservancy Commission. Conservationists are delighted with what they see in the first images, but the cost is steep: an estimated $30 million. Fund raising has already begun. Some of the money could come from mitigation dollars arising from widening projects elsewhere. The bridge is considered a better option than a tunnel which would required the freeway to be shut down periodically during construction. The proposed structure would have dual use capabilities too with humans using the green overpass for recreation during the day. Proponents say the wildlife crossing could even become a magnet for visitors. You can help Southern California's mountain lions survive even in a metropolis by donating to building the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Some Polar Bears Will Survive Global Warming

credit: R. Rockwell
Condemned to mass starvation by mid-century due to global warming disrupting their seal hunts ,according to recent research, polar bears may be able to find a way out of the man-made dilemma. Researchers from the American Museum of Natural History say that polar bears near Hudson Bay are adapting to land-based prey to replace seal meat they usually require. Ice-free seas will last two months longer than those of the 1980s requiring the bears to change their hunting behavior. Scats and first-hand observations show subadult polar bears, family groups, and some mature adult males are eating plants and animals during the longer ice-free summers.  Calorie calculations show that there is enough calories in snow geese, their eggs, and caribou to feed polar bears stuck on the coast. Bears in Manitoba have been seen ambushing caribou with the same techniques they use to hunt seals. Since adult caribou are about the same size as an adult seal, bears would only need to hunt them as often as they usually would hunt seals.

The exact energetic cost of polar bear hunting land prey is not yet known however; nowhere in the scientific literature is it documented that polar bears are shifting to a terrestrial diet in general. Caribou herds continue to forage near the coast of Western Hudson Bay, and are apparently unaware of the bears changing hunting behavior. Snow geese eggs are a good source of protein and require little effort to take from their ground nest. Snow geese are know to endure egg predation by polar bears, but in a study published in April, scientists observed fewer than thirty bears within populations of 900 to 2500 individuals consuming terrestrial foods such as eggs. Further, starving polar bears with a higher energy requirement will have to compete with other predators such as brown bears that are already adapted to surviving on scarce Arctic food sources. So some polar bears will survive the heating of the Arctic, if they live in an abundant ecosystem and are opportunistic. Many more will not. The chief scientist for Polar Bear International agrees with the scientific consensus that without greenhouse gas mitigation the polar bear will be extinct by the end of the century.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

COTW: Who is TBTF?

It is not just American banks that are too big to fail. Several European banks hold assets that dwarf their national economies and are too big to bail out if they fail. Denmark is the country with the biggest disparity. Danske Bank holds assets of $597 billion, twice the size of Denmark's economy. America's big five are much smaller in comparison to the national economy, each holding assets that amount to less than 20% of US GDP. There is no need even for banks of this size and some economists say that a bank that is more than 5% of GDP is really to TBTE, too big to exist, and should be broken up to prevent them from being politically insulated from the consequences of irresponsible behavior. The banking industry in the US has demonstrated considerable consolidation over the past twenty years [second chart]. This condition is made possible by relaxation of banking regulations that has continued since the first Reagan administration. The number of banks has dropped from 12,500 to about 8,000.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Whales Win in Hawaii

After years of persistent attempts to force the US Navy to respect laws protecting whales and other marine mammals from potentially lethal sonar, the military signed an important settlement agreement that was ratified in US District Court for Hawaii. Despite years of research showing that sonar training exercising conducted near whales could lead to damaging their sensitive natural sonar, beaching and even in extreme cases death from internal hemorrhaging the Navy insisted on unrestricted use of high intensity sonar as necessary to protect the usual claim of national security. By 2000 a government sponsored investigation into the beaching of four different species after sonar exercising in the Bahamas established a direct link between sonar use and whale deaths or injury. After this finding the Navy fought environmentalists seeking protection from indiscriminate sonar use in court for years.

The science and the well-founded objections of whale advocates did not stop the National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency tasked with protecting marine mammals and their habitats, from rubber-stamp approval of another Navy training exercise in the waters around Hawaii and Southern California in December 2013. The government estimated that the high frequency sound would impact marine mammals as many as 10 million times over the course of five years. The agency did nothing to safeguard important breeding habitat for vulnerable species. NRDC and other conservation organizations decided they needed to sue the Navy once again to stop the irresponsible use of sonar near sensitive marine mammals.

Fortunately the US District Court agreed with environmentalists. The federal judge found the US Navy's training plan violated multiple environmental laws and should never been authorized by the Fisheries Service. The Navy finally admitted defeat. For the first time, the Navy agreed to place certain ocean areas off limits to sonar testing that are important marine mammal habitats. This is a reversal of its previous position to unlimited ocean operations that made negotiation impossible. The settlement reached with the Navy protects blue whale feeding grounds off San Diego; waters around the California Channel Islands that are home to beaked whales; seas around Maui and the Big Island that are habitat for numerous small whales and dolphin populations as well as breeding grounds for the Humpback whale. The agreement only covers the ocean off Southern California and Hawaii and is limited in time to the end of 2018. Marine mammals in the Atlantic will remain vulnerable to the damaging effects of sonar and underwater detonations. The agreement is historic and it points the way forward to protecting all of Earth's marine mammals from needless death and injury.

Monday, September 14, 2015

California EPA Marks "Roundup" as Cancer Causing

Monsanto's popular "Roundup" herbicide, whose advertising depicts zombie-like consumers zapping every living thing in sight with a "Roundup" bottle and squirt gun, suffered a damaging blow when California announced this week it will label the herbicide as a human cancer causing agent.  Environmental advocates around the world have been campaigning for such a labeling.  In a statement released earlier this year, the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate, the main active ingredient, is "probably carcinogenic".  Due to a state law passed in 1986 California's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is required to add "Roundup" to their list.  An estimated 250 million pounds of glyphosate are used in the US.  It is no longer plausibly deniable that indiscriminate use and abuse of glyphosate is a danger to public health and wildlife.

In Lyon, France an appeals court has upheld a 2012 ruling against Monsanto that determined the agribusiness was guilty poisoning a farmer named Paul François.  He claimed he became ill due to Monsanto's "Lasso", suffering neurological problems, headaches and stammering after accidentally inhaling the herbicide. François entered a coma in hispital and suffered permanent brain damage.  Doctors concluded his sickness was caused by monocholorobenzene, a highly toxic chemical that composes 50% of the herbicide.  The decision is historic accroding to François lawyer who said it was the first time that a pesticide maker was found guilty of a product poisoning.  The company intends to continuing appealing the decision to the highest French court.  "Lasso" was banned from use in France and all other member countries in 2007.  "Lasso" was phased out of use in the US, but a second active ingredient in the product, alachlor is in widespread use on soybean crops in the Midwest.  Federal EPA says alachor, an orderless white powder, has the potential to cause damage to liver, kidney, spleen, nasal mucosa and eyes due to long-term exposure.  It considers the pesticide to be an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

'Toontime: Behind Door #3

Financial observers are now saying the entire stock market is TBTF.  That's because a mass of working people have their retirement funds invested in the stock and mutual fund casino whether they realize it or not.  Stock market gyrations are making them ill as this lampoon of a popular TV stock hustler depicts:

credit: Daily Kos

Friday, September 11, 2015

COTW: Crying Time is Here for Millions

Retirement from a life of work was supposed to be something you looked forward too. Not any more. For millions it will be a crying time as they look to old age without sufficient money to tide them through it. Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) released a report in 2013 that finds 57% of American workers currently have $25,000 or less in total savings excluding the value of their homes. Every year because of wage stagnation since the 70's the crisis is becoming worse. Concentration of income at the very top of the distribution curve has reached levels not seen since the Roaring Twenties. As far as employee retirement plans are concerned, the EBRI study notes that in 1979 twenty-eight percent of workers were covered by a defined benefit program guaranteeing them income until they died. Today that number is just 3%. This chart has been posted before, but it can never be posted enough becuase America's income disparity is so profound and far reaching. Once LBJ envisioned a "Great Society", today it can only be described as the "the Unfair Society". They only have themselves to blame since they consistently supported politicians who expoused the myth of "free-market capitalism" in which social spending was declared anathama. These same elected politicians now seek to further cut Social Security and Medicare, already inadequate to meet the true costs of retirement:

The other pernicious myth affecting the social thinking of 'Mericans is the 'rags to riches' scenario popularized to the point of absurdity by the propaganda mill that is Hollywood. Want to know what your real chances of becoming a millionaire are if you are member of the middle class?

calculation by Wolff based on US Census data

Yet we are supposedly represented by a rich plutocracy in Congress whose median net worth is almost ten times ordinary 'Mericans.  Who do they really represent? This chart tells you:

US Person suggests electing more Joe Does to Congress even if the plutocrats do call it amateur hour.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anthropologists Declare New Homo Species

credit: NatGeo
Homo naledi, whose ancient remains were discovered in South Africa, is the newest member of the genus Homo according to researchers who made the find. Professor Lee Berger told BBC he thinks the hominid could be the first of our kind living up to 3 million years ago. Multiple skeletons, perhaps the largest assembly of early remains located in Africa, were found in a burial chamber deep within a cave system exhibiting a combination of modern and primative features. The remains' geological contex indicate the hominids were capable of ritual activity. The bone studies have been published in the on-line journal Elife.

The latest discoveries in paleoanthropology have distroyed the idea of a "missing link" to non-human ancestors. Human evolution has followed a branching path of development with many early species, some of whom lived side-by-side such as Heidelbergensis and Neanderthalensis, preceeding modern Homo sapiens. Because of the number and variety of the skeletons found and their undisturbed site, Prof. Berger is confident science will be able to "know everything about this species." Prof. Berger received notariety previously for his discovery of A. sediba. a non-human ancestor. Homo naledi has a small brain case about the size of a gorilla's, but its small teeth, long legs and feet are similar to more modern humans. Its pelvis and shoulders are primative. Researchers not invovled in the important find nevertheless think naledi belongs in our Homo genus.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Putin Escalates Syrian Military Aid

Putin as man-porn in a Tupolev bomber
President Putin has ordered more weapons for the Syrian regime fighting a vicious civil war against Islamic extremists. Russian foreign relation officials dismissed speculation about Russia's involvement in the Syrian civil war as "anti-Russian hysteria".
Russia informed the United States through diplomatic channels about making the escalation in arms shipments. Mr. Putin wants to take a more active role against ISIS that if left unchecked could expand its operations into the troubled Caucasus. American officials are concerned that the increase in delivery of advanced weapons is part of an effort to establish an airbase for Russian planes on the Syrian coast; Russia already has a naval base at Tartous. If this is the case, there is a risk warplanes from opposing camps could face confrontation in the skies over Syria. Russia already has military advisors on the ground aiding Syrian government forces. France is preparing to join other western nations in continuing air strikes against the militants after a terror attack was thwarted by passengers on a French express train. UK killed two of its citizens fighting for ISIS in a recent drone strike, the first of its kind by the RAF in Syria. The West has already rejected President Putin's suggestion to form a broad coalition, including Syria's government, to fight ISIS. Russia has rejected demands for immediate removal of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. Increasingly, the Syrian civil war is becoming dominated by the geopolitics between East and West and not about stopping ISIS that is essentially stalemated on the ground--the government controls all but two of Syria's fourteen provinces--despite the attention-grabbing attrocities it commits.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Private Radioactive Dump Threatens Ogallala Aquifer

The source for as much as a third of all water used for agriculture in the United States comes from the Ogallala. The underground water source covers 174,000 square miles and is the world's second largest aquifer. A Texas billionaire used his purchased political influence to build his own private radioactive dump on top of it. The state's technical specialists unanimously opposed permitting the waste site to no avail. The state's politicians gave it the green light with help from Texas Tech University who issued a report saying the waste dump would not damage any important underground water sources. The University is considered by political observers to be beholding to Gov. Rick Perry.  He replaced two regents who had the temerity to support a political rival in the gubernatorial race. The former director of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is now the government lobbyist for Waste Control Specialists, owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons. He is a top contributor to Rick Perry and the super-pac run by Karl Rove. He became famous in political circles by donating $3 million to the Swift Boat Vets who tried to smear John Kerry's war record. It is just how they do 'bidness' in Texas!

Does Simmons care if his big, dirty hole contaminates the Ogallala? Nope. He was even allowed by regulators to post financial surety for his hazardous site by pledging 12 million shares of Titanium Metals Corp., another one of his companies. When the shares were pledged they immediately plummeted in value.  When Titanium Metals was bought out, he pledged 9.8 million shares of yet another Simmons-owned company. Despite the whitewash provided by Texas Tech, state geologists concluded that the site was unsuitable for a radioactive waste disposal facility because of its porous geology. One edge of the Ogallala pinches out underneath the facility; three geologists quit the TCEQ when their warnings that the dump would eventually leak contaminated waste into groundwater were ignored. According to the state experts only 14 feet separate the site from the nearest groundwater and the intervening earth is riddled with holes and fissures. An independent study done by a consulting firm in 1992-93 found 46 out of 58 borehole samples were moist, five described as wet and one was making water. Obviously, radioactive waste material and water do not mix well. Not surprisingly, the company now controls all hydrological monitoring in the area. 1.9 million people get their drinking water from the Ogallala.

What is unique about the dump in Andrews County, Texas is that the private dump has been approved for all three classes of low-level radioactive waste as well as other types of hazardous waste materials. General Electric discharged 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River between 1947 and 1977; contaminated river bottom is now being transported 2000 miles to Andrews for dumping at Waste Control Specialists. The DOE has picked the company for "storing" an estimated 13-15,000 metric tons of elemental mercury too. And the company is applying for a high-level radioactive waste license so it can accept spent fuel from all the nation's nuclear power plants. There is an estimated 70,000 tons of commercial waste building up in temporary storage at reactor sites across the country. It expects to have the high-level license by 2019. A single radioactive disposal contract from DOE in 2009 netted WCS $8 million.

The NRC prohibits nuclear waste facilities from overlying an area where groundwater could penetrate the waste material. Older maps place WCS on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. Newer maps place the boundary to the north of the site, and the technical debate continues. Groundwater issues aside, in the last century West Texas has experienced two near magnitude six earthquakes. The epicenter of 4.7 tremor in 1994 was located only four miles southeast of the WCS dump. Does that worry Simmons? Shit no, boy, he's too busy counting the money!

Monday, September 07, 2015

Zimbabwe Bans Hunting Near Hwange

Latest: The last person with standing to question his critics' "humanity" is Walter Palmer, the infamous slayer of Cecil, the lion king. In an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mr. Palmer claims he "always followed the laws" in his hunting--a flat out lie since he was convicted of lying about his illegal black bear hunt in Wisconsin--and that he questioned "the level of humanity" of his on-line critics. Mr. Palmer also resorts to dragging his wife and daughter into the controversy over his actions in Zimbabwe, saying it has been particularly hard on them. He should of thought of the possible consequences for his family when he killed a lion wearing a radio collar. His guides resorted to hiding the collar in a tree after decapitating Cecil. Despite his outrageously callous conduct, he is unlikely to face prosecution in the US, or extradition to Zimbabwe since he has not been charged with a crime. Trophy hunting is big business in Zimbabwe and authorities are unlikely to take action that would jeopardize a source of foreign revenue. No US law applies to Americans hunting overseas if the prey animal is not legally protected by US law. All the more reason the US Fish & Wildlife service should declare lions an endangered species. If lions are listed, their bodies could not be imported into the US for some vandal like Palmer to hang on his wall to impress his wife and friends; without importable trophies, expensive overseas hunting would dry up. The agency faces an October deadline for declaring lions endangered. Meanwhile, Mr. Palmer has returned to his dental practice where he can generate more revenue to endulge his penchant for killing wildlife.

More:{27.08.15}The number of signatures to extradite killer dentist Walter Palmer to Zimbabwe has reached 234,810 signatures, exceeding its goal of 100,000 by August 27th. Palmer's dental clinic in Bloomington, MN remains close while his professional guide, Theo Bronkhorst, faces 15 years in jail for leading an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe. He called the charges against him "frivolous".  Newly released photographs show Palmer smiling beside a dead black bear he illegally killed in Wisconsin in 2006. He pleaded guilty to lying about the hunt in 2008 and was fined $3000 and sentenced to one year of probation. Palmer was authorized to kill a bear within a certain area according to court documents, but he with other members of his hunting group located the bear 40 miles outside the authorized hunting zone. Palmer and his associates conspired to lie about where the bear was killed when questioned by authorties. He transported the carcass to a registration station within the hunt area and filled out a registration stub falsely by certifying the bear was killed in the proper zone.  US Person finds slightly incredulous that this experienced big game hunter did not know Cecil had crossed the railroad track marking a boundary of Hwange National Park.

Everyone but Palmer seems to be paying a price for killing Cecil. A safari guide was mauled to death by a male lion while leading a walking safari in Hwange National Park on Monday.  The guide protected his Camp Hwange guests, but he died of his injuries resulting from the charge of the male lion.  The last photo he posted on-line was of Cecil.  Zimbabwe has quietly lifted the nationwide hun ban imposed after Cecil was killed in response to international outrage, but it remains on farms close to the park boundaries including the one  on which Cecil met his agonizing death.  President for life Robert Mugabe has expressed his anger at the failure to protect Cecil from what he termed "foreign vandals". He added he was taught to stop killing animals with a bow and arrow when he was seven or eight because, "These are God's creatures". Zimbabwe derives about 2% of GDP from hunting, mostly from foreigners after big game.

Update: {20.08.15}Zimbabwe has filed criminal charges against a landowner, Honest Ndlovu, who permitted American dentist Walter Palmer to kill Cecil the lion, an icon of Hwange National Park.  Ndlovu allowed Palmer to hunt on his land without an established quota for lion hunting. His land is speparated from the park by a railway track according to prosecutors. Ndlovu is free on bail until September 18th. The charge carries a one year prison term or a $400 fine. No word yet on whether Palmer will be charged for poaching the popular lion king. Zimbabwe's national prosecuting authority said police have not supplied the required information to extradite Palmer. Police have not commented on possible charges against Palmer. Theo Bronkhorst, a professional nimrod who lured Cecil out of bounds with food, was charge with conducting an illegal hunt. Justice demands Palmer should also be charged at least as an accomplice before the fact since he contracted for professional hunting guides and obtained permission to hunt on private land through his agents. As the instigator of the deplorable incident he had the responsibility to insure his hunt and the activity of his agents complied with all appropriate regulations. Palmer has a history of hunting activity including an incident in Wisconsin in which he lied about the circumstances in which he killed a black bear. Another American Jan Casimir Seski has also been acused of illegally killing alion in April, but so far only the landowner, Headman Sibanda, has been formerly charged.

{11.08.15} A positive result of the international cry of disgust about killing Cecil the Lion is that Zimbabwe has announced a ban on hunting of lions, leopards and elephants outside Hwange National Park.  Any hunts near the Park borders must now be cleared with the director of Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and only if accompanied by park staff. Hunters are being reminded that transfer of quotas from hunting area to another is not permitted. Any such transfer is considered to be poaching. It is suspected that the professional hunters leading an American dentist and serial wildlife killer to Cecil, who was lured with bait a half mile outside the park boundaries, may have been invovled in such illegal activity. Thirteen-year-old Cecil was an ambassador for Hwange who appeared to enjoy human contact. Cecil generated a large amount of revenue for the park; tourists from a nearby lodge paid a collective $9800 per day to photograph the black-mained king. The killer dentist paid a one-time fee of $45,000 to destroy a beautiful creature that will no longer attract tourist revenue. Cecil's head and pelt are thought to be still in Bulawayo. Both hunters and the landowner are facing criminal charges since they had no permit or quota for the kill in Gwaai Conservancy according to Zimbabwe National Parks.

One of the principle researchers on Oxford University's study measuring the impact of trophy hunting outside the park boundaries on lion populations in the park said that Cecil's brother Jericho, as a single male, will probably be unable to defend the two prides once led by him and his brother. The prides contain six females and a dozen young cubs. What will most likely result from Cecil's slow death is infanticide by invading males. The researcher also said that recent study show sociological-spatial effects of hunting on resident prides. Their complex social system is disrupted causing their movement to become erratic and making it more likely some will leave the park to come into conflict with humans living on the boundaries of protected areas.

Why poaching continues to be such an urgent and devasting problem in Africa is explified by a recent case of ivory trafficking prosecuted by Malawi. The High Court there handed down the harshest sentences ever in a wildlife crime to two brothers for trafficking 2.6 tons of elephant viory. Still, the fine of MK 2.5 million ($5,500) each amounts to only a tiny fraction of the ivory's value on the international black market. the Kaunda brothers plead quilty on July28th and paid the fines instead of serving a seven year jail term. Malawi officials said that despite the record fine they were aware of the disparity to sentencing for similar crimes in nearby African nations. In Kenya a single tusk weighing 3.4kg brings a fine of $233,000. The High Court also ordered wildlife authorities to burn the country's stockpile of illegal ivory within 20 days.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Homicide, Code Blue

US Person stopped posting stories of police brutality because they were becoming all too common. The fact that 'Merika is fast becoming a fascist police state is too obvious to plausibly deny anymore . This story from California however, sets a new standard for brutality and inhumanity to man, so he posts it for your edification and enlightenment.

Three guards working at the Santa Clara County jail were arrested this week on charges of murder, conspiracy and assault while in authority. They brutally beat a mentally ill man in his cell to death. The victim had served his five day sentence in jail for misdemeanor drug and theft crime and was awaiting a bed in a mental facility according to an order by a state judge who placed him in protective custody. On the evening of August 26th three guards entered the victim's cell to conduct a routine search. Inmates witnessed the three deputies assault Michael James Tyree, 31, for about twenty minutes as he screamed in pain and begged for mercy. The deputies returned after their handiwork an hour later and saw Tyree motionless on the floor covered in feces and vomit. Inmates describe Tyree as harmless, but who was clearly mentally ill. He often refused to shower or change clothes, and would scrounge through the garbage looking for extra food.

A coroner's autopsy showed he died of blunt force trauma, and his death was ruled a homicide. Tyree suffered lacerations to his spleen and liver causing internal bleeding. The deputies are being held without bail. The Santa Clara Sheriff said her disgust, "cannot be overstated". However, inmates say complaints about mistreatment in the jail "go nowhere" because guards and deputies conspire to protect one another. They are particularly afraid of the "elevator ride". Inmates are repeatedly punched as they ride the back elevator to the jail's basement. The Sheriffs Office replaced deputies who are beter trained and paid more with less experienced and less expensive correctional officers. The Sheriff's sentiments are therefore cheap because a man was murdered in her custody basically because "he smelled bad".

Friday, September 04, 2015

Guinea Wildlife Official Arrested for Trafficking

credit: Great Ape Survival Partnership (GRASP)
Guinea's former director of its main wildlife enforcement agency, Ansoumane Doumbouya, was arrested last month for allegedly
issuing fraudulent CITES permits for the export of various protected species including chimpanzees, parrots and manatees. A cooperative undercover investigation exposed his activities although he had been identified for years prior as a central figure in the illegal West African wildlife trade. He served as Guinea's authority to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). His briefcase was opened in court to reveal numerous blank CITES export forms. If he is convicted of his crimes, the penalty is up to ten years in prison. He is held in a Conakry cell while investigators continue to collect evidence against him. His arrest also led to the arrest of another major trafficker, Thierno Barry. Wildlife advocates expressed approval to the Guinean government that "the vicious cycle of impunity has been broken".

Despite the mounting evidence against him. Doumbouya continued to attend international conferences as Guinea's representative, apparently comfortable that in the end he would be protected by political allies. A CITES mission to Guinea in 2011 found 69 chimpanzees had been exported in 2010 alone, all going to China for imprisonment in zoos or parks. Private investigations have revealed that as many 138 chimpanzees and 10 gorillas were exported via trade routes established by Chinese development companies. Doumbouya's signature was found on CITES permits that sent bonobos to Armenia in 2011.

Toontiime: Fortress Europe

credit: Jeff Danziger
Wackydoodle axez:  Do y'al have some form of ID too?
It took a photograph of a dead Syrian child laying on a Agean beach to prompt some action from the Euro union. The child's Kurdish family had attempted to immigrate to Canada earlier in the year, but their application was rejected. There is a proposal pending to set up several processing centers in Europe that could easily become detention camps for people risking their lives to escape the chaos in Syria, Afganistan and Libya. The European elite should share a large part of the blame for the disintergration of Libya since they insisted on ousting that county's strongman to get at the nation's oil. Since Khaddafi was deposed  Libya has disentigrated into a militia free-for-all.  Foreign involvement in the Syria civil war is well-reported and is probably responsible for its prolongation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

GMO Crops Create Mutant Bugs

It was an inevitable development and something biologists warned about when genetically-modified seeds and plants were approved for agricutural use.  The EPA is sounding warnings about pest resistence to genetically engineered corn. The agency is expected to set limits on the the amount of genetically modified corn that can be grown domestically despite criticism from corporate GMO developers. Corn rootworm has evolved to become the most expensive threat to corn crops in the US.  It is stronger and more numerous than ever before.

The emergence of highly resistent corn pests is a bit of a Catch-22 for the federal government that has spent $84 billion between 1995 and 2012 subsidizing farmers to plant corn regardless of prices. Most of the money goes to big agribusinesses that grow basic crop commodities such as corn, wheat, soy and cotton. With the recent rise in commodity prices, those government subsidies are banked as extra profits. Isn't capitalism wonderful?

European countries are increasely accepting the message that frankenfoods are not a good thing.  Germany is following nearly independent Scotland in opting for a ban on GMOs.  According to Germany's agricultural minister, the nation will persist with a ban it announced in August.  EU countries have until October 3rd to opt out of EU approved genetically engineered organisms.  More countries are expected to opt out of permitting GMO use.

COTW: A Vote of No Confidence

The chart shows Gallup's economic confidence indicator, and what it says is there is little confidence in the US economy with a level back to where it was last year. Most financial commentators now think the Fed will not increase interests rates at their meeting in September despite semaphore messages from Chairman Yellen that the central bank would increase rates.  The so-called recovery is simply too fragile at this point. As if to emphasize this fragility, the US stock market suffered its third-worst loss of the year, prompted by sell-offs of stocks in Asian and European markets after weak Chinese economic data was released. The Dow Jones fell almost 3% and the S&P fell 3% on Tuesday.  All this dispite a revision of Q2 GDP upward to 2.3% to 3.7%!  Who knows if that number is even real?  China's certainly isn't.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

DNC Chair Blocks Resolution Supporting Iran Treaty

Latest:  A grass-roots effort to get enough Democratic senators publicly behind the Iran nuclear treaty has achieved sufficient support to prevent it from being de-railed by warmongers in Congress.  Daily Kos said about 250,000 people signed petitions, wrote e-mails and made calls to garner more support.  What is amazing is that these crucial turning points in history require so much effort to achieve when they should be 'no-brainers'.  No body in their right mind would want to start a nuclear war in the Middle East, except perhaps if your company is manufacturing the munitions.

Think US Person was exaggerating when he said the Democratic National Committee was owned by the reactionary plutocracy? Think again. Case in point:  at the recent caucus meeting in Washington, the Committee Chair, Debbie Schultz, prevented consideration of a resolution backing the pending nuclear treaty with Iran, a treaty negotiated at great pains by a Democratic administration. The resolution was intended, according to insiders, to put the national party committee on record in support of the agreement. There are still about eleven Democratic senators who have not expressed public support for the deal. Thirty-four senators are needed to prevent the Repugnants from scuttling it. Schultz' stance on such issues at fast-track 'free trade agreements' and no easing of travel restrictions to Cuba makes her inappropriate for the job of leading the only major party supposedly representing the middle and working classes, and not corporate plutocracy, in America.

One of the task of a national committee chair is to elect party members to office. She has been disastrous at this. The party failed to translate an incumbent president's good fortune into wins for lesser Democratic candidates in 2012. It was one of their worst election routs ever; they hold few state legislatures or governorships Schultz wears another hat too--representing Florida's 23rd district. Seems Ms. Schultz has bitten off more than she can chew. She has served as national chair longer than any other since 1968. Time for the Democrats to choose a full-time party leader than can help achieve electorial success.