Friday, January 29, 2016

Occupy Malheur

credit: Stuart Carlson
Wackydoodle sez:  This ain't no drill!

Latest: Federal law enforcement agents began an action to arrest armed persons associated with the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation on the 27th. One man died in the shootout, identified as Levoy Finicum by the occupiers. Another man was injured and taken to a local hospital for treatment. Ammon Bundy, leader of the extremists that took over the headquarters building of the Refuge was arrested on felony charges on the 26th. Five including Ammon and his brother Randy were arrested as they headed into a meeting in nearby John Day. Two others were arrested in Burns and a third in Arizona. The Bundys are sons of Cliven Bundy the Nevada rancher who is a leader in the right-wing extremist militia movement that does not recognize federal land ownership of public domain lands. He has repeatedly refused to pay cattle grazing fees for use of public lands. Local residents have expressed their dissatisfaction with the armed occupation of the Refuge, one of the most important migration stops in the Pacific Flyway.

More: The extremists occupying the Maleur Wildlife Refuge may have been embolden by the federal government's perceived defeat in a standoff with one thousand militia members at Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch They gathered there in 2014 to prevent federal agents from seizing cattle in a dispute over grazing rights. Confronted by such a large armed force, federal officials backed down, sensitive to the public outcry over the violent siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 that resulted in 80 people dying.  To date no charges have been filed related to the 2014 standoff. The BLM says the family owes $1.1m in grazing fees and penalties Two extremists involved in the Nevada confrontation killed two police officers and one civilian in Las Vegas less than two month later. Cliven Bundy is advising his sons by telephone from Nevada according to Reuters. His son Ammon, claims he is merely following "directions from God."

06.01.16 The Bundy brothers' armed occupation of the headquarters building at Malheur Wildlife Refuge in rural eastern Oregon is the latest chapter in a simmering rural rebellion that goes back a century. In the 1900's the federal government began withdrawing land for water development projects. In the 70's the government protected certain public lands for wildlife, recreation, and other values. The transfers have continued under the current administration, fanning anti-federal sentiment among radical ranchers. The sentencing of the Hammonds under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act for arson on federal land caused Ammon Bundy, a known extremist, to rally milita members to the Hammonds' cause. But the Hammonds have already told media they planned to turn themselves in to serve the time remaining on their sentences. The Hammonds have disputed grazing rights with the BLM since the 90's when Dwight Hammond and his son were arrested on felony charges for interfering with a reserve officials and a fence-building crew. The charges were later reduced to misdemeanors after the intervention of their Congressman. Malheur officials have a thick file on the Hammonds, who they say repeatedly violate the terms of their grazing permits. In particular, the Hammonds regularly use a cattle trail across reserve land without notice since it is a "historic right of way that has been used since 1871." The occupation of Malheur began on Saturday and about twenty people are there, most of them armed. Ammon appears to have little support from the residents of rural Harney County. In a statement to the press on Monday, Ammon said the occupiers intended to assist the people of Harney County "in claiming their rights".

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Scientists Photograph Rare Bush Dog

Scientists using camera traps to count larger mammals in the isthmus of Central America have captured images of the rarely seen bush dog, Speothos venaticus. The canid's small size and nocturnal habits make sightings rare, but conservationists suspect that habitat loss is causing the species to decline in number rapidly. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates bush dogs have declined by about 25% over the last twelve years. It needs large tracts of uninterrupted forest floor where it hunts for rodents and other prey. So far there is no evidence that bush dogs suffer from human predation or persecution, although they may compete for the same prey species. No conservation measures exist for the bush dog and a lack of scientific information about the species' requirements in different biomes hampers development of conservation strategies. A video below gives some basic facts about the cute little jungle dog:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

'Toontime: Queen of Spin

credit: Paul Combs, Washington Tribune
Wackydoodle axes: Wanna read ma' resume?

Would 'Mericans really vote for a Trump-Palin ticket?  Mind boggling to contemplate, but a distinct possibility since the reality-TV candidate has endorsed Sarah Palin for a place in his government.  But then, who else is qualified to see Russia from her backyard?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sea Shepherds To Launch New Campaign

The last time US Person posted about the resumption of commercial whaling by the Japanese, it was not clear what the response from the most active whale defense organization, Sea Shepherds, would be. The legal avenues against Japan's whaling program have been all but shut off. The organization announced on Christmas Eve that the Society's ship, Steve Irwin, wold depart from Fremantle in early January to patrol near Antarctica during the 2016 season. The Society has harassed Japanese whaling operations for the past eleven years, and played a major role in Japan abandoning its 2014-15 commercial whaling season in the Southern Ocean. The ICC ruled the whaling to be a commercial activity posing as scientific research. Since then Japan has revamped the legal justifications for its commercial activity and refused to recognize international jurisdiction over its activities.
a minke mother & calf; credit: UK Guardian

Radical Captain Chakravarty said that the Steve Irwin will, if necessary, directly interfere with whaling by "either putting Steve Irwin in the slipway of the Nissin Maru to stop the transfer of whales or they will be blocking the illegal fishing vessels from deploying their fishing gear." So far the Australian government has limited itself to diplomatic efforts to dissuade Japan from killing whales.  It declared a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean within its zone of economic interest, but Japan does not recognize it.  Scientists have characterized the so-called whale research as "producing more sushi than science." Last April a scientific panel of the International Whaling Commission found Japan's new program was not scientifically based, adding that whale research can be conducted through non-lethal means.

Four nations have cautioned both the whalers and the environmentalists saying they oppose commercial whaling but also "condemn any actions at sea that may cause injury or loss of human life".   The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Netherlands said they would respond to unlawful activity in accordance with law, but the US State Department was unwilling to be specific about what steps it might take if an incident takes place.  Australia and New Zealand took Japan to the International Court of Justice which issued a unfavorable finding causing Japan to re-work its claimed exemption from the international ban on commercial whaling.   Jeff Hansen, managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said his organization has saved the lives of over 5,000 whales while not causing a serious injury to either side. Hansen asked, "What is the point of the [ICC] ruling if no one is going to enforce it?"  Good question.

On another front, the Society agreed to pay $2.55m to Japanese whalers for breaching a US Ninth Circuit injunction to stay clear of Japanese whaling vessels. The injunction against Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson and anyone interfering with their navigation in the Southern Ocean was issued in 2012, but the group was involved in physical confrontations with the whalers in 2013. The payment puts a possible contempt proceeding behind the group and its senior leadership.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Evidence Keeps Piling Up

The same series of severe storms that killed 43 across the mid-continent United States warmed the Arctic by 50 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. On December 30th the North Pole experienced a high of around 35, a high temperature meterologists said was"unheard of". There is no permanent weather station at the pole, so scientists rely on weather forecast models to estimate conditions. Since regular Arctic weather records began in 1900, the air temperature above land are now 2 higher than average. NOAA's Arctic Report Card is now in its 10th year. It shows that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as other parts of the planet and fresh water discharges from rivers into the Arctic Ocean are 10% above the decade of 1980-89. The Mississippi River reached a crest that was the second highest ever recorded, five feet below the record set in 1993. In related Arctic news, a Russian tanker ran aground November 28th, 2015 on the southwest coast of Sakhalin Island off Russia's north Pacific Coast. Russian authorities reported the Nadezhda's hull and cargo tanks were damaged, spilling oil onto several kilometers of shoreline near a fishing port. The exact amount of oil spilled was not reported, but clean-up crews removed about 105 cubic meters of contaminated sand.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Indigenous People Refuse Nicaraguan Canal

The ill-conceived Nicaraguan Canal project has been on hold for some time and reports indicate that financial losses are slowing progress.  Backer Wang Jing is said to have loss a large percentage of his wealth in the recent Chinese stockmarket meltdown. Adding to financier's Wang Jing problems is the lack of cooperation from indigenous communities in the path of destruction. These communities complain they are being pressured to approve the project without sufficient information about the canal's consequences. Right now there is precious little information about biodiversity in the 278 kilometer footprint of the project and especially its effect on fresh water Lake Nicaragua. Scientists have criticized the quality of data in the 11,000 page Environmental and Social Impact Assessment.

The project has potent political backers in Nicaragua including former revolutionary, President Daniel Ortega, who sees the project as a means of pulling his country out of crippling poverty. But the indigenous leadership of the Rama y Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K) are raising new alarms about the projects advisability. They say they are being pressured to sign a perpetual lease covering 263 square kilometers of land and sea by HKND Group, the canal builder.  They say the contract is supposed to be based on "free, prior, and informed consent", but its not. Nicaraguan law recognizes the inalienability of traditional lands of indigenous and ethnic communities.   According to some Nicaraguan legal experts Law 445 does not allow for a "perpetual lease" or sale of indigenous lands. No specific amount of money has mentioned by the government in exchange for the proposed lease. If the Canal is built as planned a deep water port will be built close to GTR-K territory, impacting their traditional way of life and natural resources.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Wrench In the Gears of Big Oil

New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pugilistic scion of the famous political family, has just thrown a large wrench into the gears of Big Oil to export tar sand crude from Alberta to the Far East. He instructed incoming cabinet members to work to "formalize a moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on British Columbia north coast." This directive protects preservation of Canada's temperate coastal rain forest, one of the largest on Earth, but is sure to earn the scorn of oil and pipeline companies seeking routes on which to export Canada's supply of crude oil. Canadian environmentalists say Trudeau's directive ends Enbridge's Northern Gateway Proposal for a pipleline from Bruderheim to Kitimat at the head of Douglas Channel. First Nations have already opposed the pipeline proposal and banned oil tankers from the north coast. Without a pipeline across the rugged terrain of the Rocky Mountains, companies have no high volume route to the Pacific coast for exporting oil via tanker.

Oil interests say the project is still alive, and was approved last year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government. If built, it could bring 525,000 barrels of bitumen from Alberta a day.  A parallel pipe would also be built to transport 193,000bpd of 'dilbit' or bitumen-thinning dilutent from the coast to the Alberta tar sands.  Liberals, now forming a new government have historically opposed the project. Marine weather conditions in Hecate Strait are particularly severe in winter where waves reach twenty-six meters. Tankers would have to navigate this strait, to reach Kitimat the proposed pipeline terminus. Several major vessels, including BC's ferry Queen of the North have foundered in the narrow passages of the British Columbia coast.

Friday, January 08, 2016


The Department of Justice sued Volkswagen on Monday for violations of the Clean Air Act. The suit arises from the revelations that VW cheated on diesel engine products by installing "defeat devices" that could detect when the car was being tested for emissions. The devices allowed the cars to emit 40 times more nitrogen oxide than allowed under US emissions standards. Nitrogen oxide is a major component of smog. The suit seeks $18b in civil penalties as well as injunctive relief. Such suits against corporate wrongdoing are typically settled for a fraction of the theoretical maximum. For example US authorities sued Toyota for up $58b for environmental violations at the beginning of this century, but agreed to a settlement of about $34m. The complaint claims emission control systems were rigged in nearly 600,000 vehicles in the United States. DOJ alleges that VW installed the software systems intentionally and that their action has significant consequences for public health; although in a civil suit no proof of the company's intention is required. Previous company admissions about the cheating make a viable defense on the merits almost impossible. A criminal fraud prosecution is not precluded by the civil action. VW's stock fell 22% below pre-scandal levels on the news of the suit, Tuesday.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Sore Losers

The Canadian company, TransCanada, sued the United States for $15billion in damages Wednesday under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for denial of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the Current Occupant's rejection of the pipeline was "unconstitutional". It also seeks an injunction in a separate action to prevent a future president from blocking construction. Obama rejected the tar sands pipeline in November after years of heavy pressure from the environmental community that said the pipeline was a disaster waiting to happen. In its NAFTA claim TransCanada said it "had every reason to expect its application would be granted". The suit spotlights the liability hazard for domestic policy decisions affected by so-called international "free trade agreements" which the administration supports. President Obama concluded in November the pipeline would not make a meaningful contribution to the long-term US economy. The Canadian government said it had no role in the dispute.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

INTERPOL Busts Hundreds

The illegal wildlife trade is alive and well but thanks to INTERPOL there are fewer criminals in the trade. An INTERPOL led operation against ivory trafficking resulted 376 arrests and the seizure of 4.5 tons of elephant ivory and rhino horn. In addition to the horn, police seized pangolin scales, snake skins, warthog teeth and 173 live tortoises. Operation Worthy II took place last year across eleven African countries with the cooperation of national law enforcement agencies. More of these types of operations must take place until the wildlife trade is reduced to a size that can be effectively engaged by local agencies. Many African nations, beset by serious humanitarian problems, are just beginning to see the trade in animal parts as a threat to their security and heritage.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Another Induced Quake in Oklahoma

A 4.2 tremor hit Oklahoma City's metro area on New Year's Day, the latest in a recent series of tremors in the area. There were no injuries and only minor property damage, but there were 4,400 power outages. Oklahoma has experienced a sharp increase in the number of earthquakes in excess of 3.0 since intensive fracking operations began. Geologists think waste water injection into disused wells is pressurizing and lubricating exist faults causing quakes to increase in frequency from a few dozen in 2012 to more than 800 in 2015.  State regulators may begin reducing the volume of waste water injected, or shutting down disposal wells. There is no data directly connecting the latest Edmond quakes with wastewater disposal according to the state's oil and gas division. The strongest quake on record in Oklahoma is a magnitude 5.6 centered on Prague, OK in November 2011 that damaged 200 buildings.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Police Homicide in 2015

There were no accurate figures about how many 'Mericans have been killed by police in a year until the UK Guardian decided to count the number killed in 2015. The startling number is 1,126. It is the highest per capita death by police violence in the developed world with blacks twice as likely to be killed by police than whites. The death rate is 70 times that experienced in the United Kingdom. Of course that population is not armed to the teeth with guns like the US population. Watch this brief video to get the details:

The Washington Post conducted a similar survey and found over 1000 police homicides in 2015, yet the Post story was framed in such a way as to minimize the impact of such a significant number of deaths--"only nine percent involved unarmed civilians"-- at the hands of police. Even an armed suspect, if not directly threatening the safety of a police officer or others cannot be legally shot down in cold blood; that happened to a Chicago teenager, Laquan McDonald, who had a knife is in hand but was walking away from a police officer at a distance. Nevertheless, he was gunned down with sixteen shots recorded in a dash cam video of the incident. Even if a police homicide results from an error in judgement there is a crime to fit those circumstances:  negligent homicide. The fact is police are often given a carte blanche by authorities to use their guns to solve a tactical problem their training may not equipment them to handle.

credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune
Wackydoodle sez: "If'n y'al groan, it may be used against y'al!