Saturday, March 31, 2012

Weekend Update: Afghanistan is So Vietnam Ago

It is all but official: the Afghanistan expedition is a lost cause to be filed away and forgotten with the Vietnam 'experience'. Take your pick from the headlines; the news is all bad. The discovery of a dozen suicide vests stashed in a Ministry of Defense building in central Kabul to be used by kamikaze in a coordinated attack is just the tip of a melting iceberg. Eighteen serving Afghan soliders were arrested in the incident. It is claimed that the soldiers were planning to blow up the building and everybody in it. This disheartening report came just a day after two more NATO soldiers were killed in another case of Afghan soldier disaffection. So far this year 16 NATO personnel have been killed by their erstwhile allies. Pentagon records show 80 western soldiers have been killed by Afghan uniformed personnel since 2007. This news is particular relevant to the dimming prospect of handing over a functioning security apparatus before western occupiers leave Afghanistan. The necessary element of trust is gone. When the putative leader of the country, President Karzai, publicly referred to western troops as "devils" who deliberately burned Korans in a malicious "act which never can be forgiven", the situation is became untenable for western forces. His intelligence service head, Amrullah Saleh, resigned two years ago claiming Karzai was surrounding himself with Islamists. Saleh's deputy was blown up months previously by a Taliban suicide bomber. Head of NATO forces General John Allen admitted security precautions against their hosts have to be taken as well as altering operational procedures until US forces are withdrawn. As the atmosphere becomes more febrile and withdrawal plans proceed, businessmen are already planning to leave the country too.

A prominent international think tank, the International Crisis Group, based in Brussels, says the talks with the Taliban are going nowhere. They are unlikely to achieve a sustainable peace agreement because the talks are dominated by the US and a "half-hearted and haphazard" approach by the Karzai government. Regional powers Iran and Pakistan have also significantly hampered meaningful talks. But the debilitated, corrupt central Afghan government is also not in a position to agree to a comprehensive settlement with insurgents. The report authors believe a UN mandated team in the country will be needed to prevent Afghanistan from collapsing in total civil war once NATO forces leave. The shared frustration with the ten year occupation has been exhibited in the recent atrocities committed by US soldiers and Afghan personnel*.

Regardless of the US failure to build a modern nation in Afghanistan, it keeps funneling billions of dollars into the country in a mindless waste of taxpayer money. The desperate attempt to shore up the ostensibly pro-Western government against the Taliban insurgents is producing only mixed results at best. One US official said in an internal memo obtained by McClatchy News service that, "we are discouraged and exhausted with the continued flow of bad information. This is a huge example of poor performance on an extremely important development project." Despite the expressed misgivings the agency overseeing the Kabul power plant project more than doubled the plant's budget from $125 to $300 million. McClatchy found that funding for 15 large-scale projects grew from $1billion to nearly $3billion notwithstanding their lack of effectiveness or cost. The projects are overseen by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Afghanistan is literally littered with thousands of unfinished or hazardous buildings thrown up with American taxpayer money. One hundred twenty-nine buildings, mostly schools and clinics, are not built to withstand earthquakes in earthquake zones. The US is also spending money on misguided social initiatives that fail in the face of a recalcitrant and xenophobic native population. A prime example is the costly and largely counterproductive effort to liberate Afghan women. Women sent into traditionally male workplaces are threatened with physical harm. Expensive farm programs are subjected to mass fraud. A seed and fertilizer giveaway program included thousands of phantom farmers who faked fingerprints to obtain free supplies. That program cost has grown from $33 million to $431 million. Fraud and poltiical influence is rampant on the side of western contractors too. A New Jersey contractor at the Kabul power plant project was fined $70 million for overcharging the US government, yet was not barred from bidding on more government contracts. The same contractor is still responsible for joint venture development projects worth $1.4 billion. US Person thinks it was Einstein who said a definition of insane is someone who takes the same failed actions over and over expecting different results. Apparently, the sad lessons of Vietnam were never really taken to heart by American political elites.

*According to Stars & Stripes, the miliary's newspaper of record, combat stress or PTSD as it is now known is rarely successful as a defense against serious crimes in courts martial. No military member has ever been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the US military courts system. Robert Bales' civilian defense attorney appears to be preparing the ground for a "diminished capacity" defense. If the defense is successful it could convince the court martial members that Bales was so incapacitated his actions did not rise to the level of 1st degree, or premeditated murder. But a former Veterans Affairs psychiatrist and PTSD expert says the "slaughter in Kandahar" as described so far does not add up to evidence of a psychotic break. Bales, dubbed "Sgt. Psycho" by a New York tabloid, is said to have taken two trips outside Camp Belambai to kill nearby sleeping villagers in the predawn hours of March 11th. Bodies were then gathered from where they were shot and burned. Afghan investigators believe Bales had help, and may have even taken part in a US raid. Allegedly, Bales earlier threatened villagers with revenge for an IED that amputated his buddy's leg. Bales will undergo an Article 32 hearing to determine if he is competent to stand trial. Diminished capacity could prove useful in reducing his crime from premeditated murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence without parole, to a lesser murder charge that would make him eligible for parole in as short a term as ten years. After the Koran burning incident, Major Robert Marchanti was executed with a single shot to the head while working inside a supposedly secure compound in Kabul by an Afghan intelligence specialist who worked for the Afghan police. Marchanti's killer is still at large.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nigerian Villages Sue Shell Oil

Eleven thousand Nigerians in thirty-five delta villages have sued Royal Dutch Shell in the London High Court for damages from two oil spills in 2008 that the plaintiffs say destroyed their livelihoods. A settlement offer from Shell was rejected by the plaintiffs as too low. The company has admitted responsibility for two spills in the Niger Delta. Shell says 4,000 barrels of oil were spilled in Bodo. The spill was cleaned in 2009 but more spills occurred as a result of sabotage and theft. The plaintiffs' counsel puts the spilled oil figure at 600,000 barrels with no more than 1% attributable to "bunkering" or illegal siphoning. Amnesty International pegged the figure at 280,000 barrels, more than the Exxon Valdez spill and called on Shell to pay $1billion to clean up the delta. The delta is a maze of creeks and wetlands where fishermen live in mud huts with no electricity. The presence of a high tech industry with well paid workers has led to deep resentment among the native villagers. Pipeline sabotage is a regular occurrence. Hard feelings against Shell also stem from the hanging of environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the dictatorship with which Shell cooperated. Shell paid $15.5 million as a settlement to the families of the nine activists who were killed in 1995.

A similar lawsuit for water contamination was filed in the US, but the Supreme Court granted certiorari in two cases to consider if the Alien Tort Statute of 1789 protects the corporation from US suits for international law violations that take place outside the United States. Chevron has been fighting a similar case for damages arising out of spills in Ecuador's Amazon region for nearly two decades. A judgement was entered against Chevron for $18 billion by an Ecuadorian judge, but Chevron has prevented enforcement of the judgement against it with conflicting legal actions in various international venues.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weekend Edition: A New Link

from Berger et al, 2010
When Lee Berger took the dirt track he had ignored in seasons past, he found something remarkable in an abandoned miner's pit on August 1, 2008. He was not looking for gems or even limestone. He was looking for hominid bones, and he struck a 'glory hole' of ancient remains at Malapa. Two partial skeletons, one adult female (MH2) and one young male(MH1), of what is a new species of Australopithecine, Australopithecus sediba, dated to 1.977m years old (~2,000) were recovered. So far, more than 220 bones have been removed by Berger and his associates from the Malapa site. Berger is sure there are more hominid bones to be found since full scale excavations have not yet begun. It appears that many animals and hominins met their end at Malapa trying to reach water deep in a crevice in the earth. Malapa means "homestead" in the Sesotho language and represents Berger's belief that A. sediba is the oldest direct ancestor of man yet found.

One of creationists' chief criticism of evolution, one that has been around since Darwin wrote The Decent of Man, has been the lack of fossil evidence of intermediary forms. A. sediba is an important fossil find because it possesses a mosaic of traits, some of which are common to our own genus Homoand some of which are more primitive and common to Australopithecus.
credit: Mauricio Anton
The fossils are the right age to be an intermediary form on the human lineage. Paleoanthropologists generally place the rise of the human genus Homo at about 2 million years ago with Homo habilis the first representative of the new genus that includes Homo sapiens. However, Berger's assessment of the new fossils is controversial because it relegates H. habilis to an evolutionary dead end instead of it being the ancestor of H. erectus, currently thought to be the first true human species. A. sediba [artist's impression] shares the small body size, long arms, and small brian of Australopiths, but it also exhibits the small teeth, developed cranium, dexterous hands, and bowl shaped hips of early Homos. Exactly were the new find fits into the evolution of man will required more investigation, but what can be said about A. Sediba now is that it answers the creationists' question of where are the intermediate forms of the "man-ape"? Some of them lie entombed 40 kms northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, awaiting discovery by their progenitors.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fact: 9,000 Nazis Escaped to South America

Readers will know that many Nazis escaped the aftermath of WWII in Europe, some with the aid of the infamous ODESSA organization and the Vatican, and some with the aid of victorious allied governments eager to use Nazi technology secrets. Now there is documentary proof of the ratlines out of defeated Germany. Secret documentary files in Brazil and Chile accessed by German prosecutors searching for Nazis returned to the Fatherland have leaked to the press. An estimated 9,000 war criminals including Croatians, Ukrainians, and Russians who aided the Nazi extermination machine, escaped to South America. About 5,000 went to Argentina whose dictator, Juan Peron, sold 10,000 blank passports to ODESSA, the organization set up before the final defeat of Germany to aid SS officers to escape allied armies. Between 1,500 and 2,000 went to Brazil; between 500 and 1,000 to Chile; the remainder to Paraguay and Uruguay. A few hundred more are thought to have fled to right-wing regimes in the Middle East.

In a related development, the former Nazi Sobibor camp guard John (Ivan) Demjanjuk, who lost his US citizenship and was extradited to stand trial for his participation in the death of 28,000 Jews, died in Bavaria, Germany last Saturday. He denied his involvement to the end, claiming he was a helpless Ukrainian POW victimized by the SS. Hundred of thousands of Jews lost their lives at Sobibor although it was only staffed by about 20 SS officers [above, insignia of the 13th Standarten, SS-Totenkopfverbande]. He was at the top of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's list of wanted Nazi war criminals, and was convicted of war crimes in abstentia by an Israeli court in 1991. That conviction was overturned on appeal after new evidence indicated a case of mistaken identity. The 2009 conviction in Munich was based almost entirely on documentary evidence since there were no surviving witnesses to his crimes. Demjanjuk was 91. Reportedly, his last request was to have his body returned to the United States for burial.

The Drip, Drip, Drip of Falling Polls

[credit: Steve Benson, Arizona Republic]
Repugnants could not have designed a better election year weapon to use against a marginally popular incumbent. The Obamanator is frantically running around the country trying to convince a fickle electorate hooked on cheap gas that he is not to blame for high gas prices. He is even fast-tracking the southern portion of the XL Pipeline that begins in Cushing, Oklahoma and his third stop on a two day energy tour. TransCanada's decision to build the southern leg of the 1700 mile transnational pipeline now increases the likelihood that the entire project will eventually be built. Conservationists who supported Obama in 2008 will have another reason not to vote for him this November.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bison Come Home to Ft. Peck

credit: Defenders of  Wildlife
Sixty genetically "pure" bison were transported from Yellowstone National Park to Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana and released to the wild on March 19th. The sixty represent a historic return of the buffalo to their home ranges after being virtually exterminated by Anglo settlers of the Great Plains. They are the first Yellowstone buffalo to be relocated to the Great Plains. Half of the newly released bison will be moved to nearby Fort Belknap Reservation and both herds will be managed by the Indian tribes as a cultural resource. Defenders of Wildlife has helped the tribes secure grazing permits, pay for fencing, transportation, and lobby against political reaction in the state legislature. Welcome home, Tatanka!

Wales Will Vaccinate Badgers

The Welsh Government finally accepted science and abandoned the controversial badger cull. The announcement was made to the Senedd (Welsh Assembly) yesterday. Badgers are the bison of the British Isles in that farmers and stockmen blame the "wildlife reservoir" for spreading disease. The environment minister for Wales announced that badgers will be vaccinated for bovine tuberculosis instead of culled as part of its program to eradicate bovine tuberculosis disease. She acknowledged that bovine tuberculosis has a significant financial impact on the farming sector. The minister asked Wales' chief veterinary officer to design a five year program of vaccination beginning in the Pembrokeshire area identified for intensive action. The minister said the decision was difficult, but considering the science review ordered last year and other advice, the minister is not convinced a cull would have reduced the incidence of TB in cattle. The Farmers Union is not convinced that a vaccination program will work since it must cover thousands of square miles to be effective. The decision was hailed as a victory for science by wildlife conservationists. However, two pilot culls will go ahead in England. According to DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs) around 25,000 cattle are slaughtered annually in England because of bovine TB. DEFRA is relying on research that allegedly shows a 16% reduction in new infections if badgers are culled.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cameroon Deploys Soldiers Against Elephant Poachers

elephant bodies in Bouba N'Djida Park
The government of Cameroon, belatedly realizing that it risks the complete lost of national heritage to organized elephant poachers has deployed troops to the field to stop the slaughter for ivory. A hundred or so soldiers entered Cameroon's Bouba N'Djida National Park, the scene of massive killings over the last two months by Sudanese militia members crossing the boarder from Chad for ivory {29.02.12}. Because the area is remote and not secure, reports of the number of elephants killed are not precise, but upwards of 400 has been mentioned [photo: IFAW]. The estimate of the entire herd in the national park is believed to be only 400. Northern Cameroon accounts for 80% of the total savanna elephants in all of Central Africa, so the situation is grave. A publicity stunt will not suffice warn conservationists. The perpetrators must be engaged, killed or arrested, and those arrested brought to justice. WWF officials alerted the government earlier to the rise in poaching activity along Cameroon's border, and a group of ambassadors in Cameroon also warned the government about the lack of security in the nation's national parks.

In Virunga National Park, DRC, rangers are being trained to handle scent hounds. Just recently deployed, the "Congohound" teams are already meeting with success in identifying poached animals and tracking the poachers to their camps. The canine unit is funded by the EU. Hound training was done at a Swiss center that has trained many canine units in Europe and North America.

Unfortunately, two Kenyan rangers were killed by poachers while on duty earlier this month. The rangers were removing snares in Sagala Ranch when they were ambushed and killed. Their rifles and ammunition were taken. Thirty-three people were rounded up by Kenyan authorities and detained for questioning.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chart of the Week: Stock Market Lunacy

Think sun spots and full moons have no effect on human activity? Think again and look at this chart:
Full moons are red dots, while new moons are green dots. Charles Collins found in 1965 that 93 years of stock market data predicted a stock market top is due when yearly sunspot activity exceeds 50. In 1968 Edward Dewey found 43 business activities that fluctuate with the sun's 11 year cycle. More recently, research has shown that stock returns are double in the 15 days around the new moon, for all major US indices based on 100 years of data. Remember folks, full moons and US Person are bad for business!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Weekend Update: Sgt. Bales Hustled to Leavenworth

Before you could blink an eye the US Army packed off Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a terrifying rampage of unauthorized violence. According to reports reaching the press, the sergeant left his post in the early morning without authorization, walked to two nearby villages in Panjway district wearing night-vision goggles, and began killing women and children. The Pentagon says Bales killed 16 Afghans including 9 children, and confessed to the murders. There is a security video of the sergeant surrendering to camp sentries after the killing spree. The war effort in Afghanistan is officially in tatters despite Washington displays of conspicuous duplicity with NATO allies. The 'mayor of Kabul', Hamid Karzai, is calling for American military to be confined to their bases, and the Taliban has broken off peace negotiations. Karzai is also accusing the US of withholding information from Afghan investigators of the incident. Their are allegations by local Afghan witnesses that more than one soldier was involved in the murders. A Kuwait stockade became too politically hot to hold Bales once Kuwaitis found out he was in custody in their country. Bale's wife and two children have moved onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state that is the headquarters of the Third Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Men from this same Brigade were court-martialed for the gruesome "trophy killings" in Maiwand district late last year*.

Bales was passed over for promotion to E-7, and had a couple of misdemeanor charges against him as a civilian. Bale's lawyer says his client's fourth deployment to the war zones was a big surprise to the family since Bales had been told his tours to the Middle East were over. There are reports from colleagues that Bales was drinking the night before the atrocity, a violation of combat rules. Bales was once involved in a military rescue mission outside Najaf, Iraq in which wounded civilians were evacuated to safety. Bales reportedly said in an interview about the action, "I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that." An explanation for his grotesque behavior and a legal defense awaits, but a medical expert in post-traumatic stress has already been retained by his legal counsel. Even battle-weary sergeants are entitled to be confronted by their accusers under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The logistics of a court-martial in the United States, so far from the scene of the war crime, will make his prosecution more difficult. But perhaps that is the intended result. Basketball, anyone?

*the CIA, which is becoming increasingly involved in fighting a covert Afghan war with US Special Forces, claims that drone attacks have killed more than 600 human targets and not a single non-combatant. This is rubbish, according to Britain's Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Between 282 and 535 civilians, including 60 children, have been killed in drone strikes since the Obamatron ascended. Thanks to him Americans are now eligible to be eliminated in good faith.  One more reason the war should end sooner rather than later.

Friday, March 16, 2012

BP Fines to be Used for Restoration

The highway bill got past a deadlocked Senate and it includes a beneficial provision for the Gulf of Mexico devastated by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The provision guarantees that 80% of the fines collected from BP and its associates, which could be as much as $20 billion, are to be used to restore the coastline in five states along the Gulf.  The bill still has to be passed by the Repugnants in the House of Representatives.  The provision has the support of Gulf state legislators. Their states will share 35% of the money equally while 60% will go to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council and 5% to a new science and fisheries program.  If Congress does not pass the provision, the money will go to the US Treasury.  Now what remains to accomplished is a British Petroleum plea to a corporate criminal violation of applicable environmental and wildlife protection laws.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

'Toontime: Southern Strategy

 [credit: Mike O'Keefe]
Mitt 'the fortunate' Romney failed to close on Super Tuesday against his more conservative opponents. With St. Santorum's two wins in Alabama and Mississippi where sixty percent or more of right-wingers think Obama is a naturalized Muslim, a convention battle for delegates is virtually guaranteed. Gingrich will not be the conservative standard bearer, however, having been defeated by Santorum in his self-proclaimed stronghold, the South.

Meanwhile, at the leased premises known as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the Obamatron has a new problem to deal with:
[credit: John Cole]
Wackydoodle sez:  Use a clean Koran for readin' the words.
If the Obamatron is concerned about the Taliban gaining battlefield momentum, he should talk to his own troops because their behaviors are providing the enemy with plenty of motivation to continue their resistance to the US occupation. What can be accomplished in twenty months that has not been accomplished in ten years of war is beyond the understanding of US Person and a majority of Americans. Expending more lives and money in Afghanistan is irresponsible. As usual, the insulated Washington elite have got their rubric backwards and their denial in place.

Fracking Caused Ohio Earthquakes

Further: State governments appear unwilling to stop unlimited fracking of state natural gas resources. A case in point is Pennsylvania where Act 13 was passed by state Repugnants over the objections of most Democrats. The process was classic back room politics; the 174 page bill was written largely by the industry and passed in a hurry. Who else would have thought to include in the small print a confidential stricture covering doctors who treat patients with symptoms of exposure to drilling fluids except corporate lawyer conscious of damage suits? The Act revokes local zoning authority over drilling operations, limiting municipalities to some regulation of how the drilling is done, but not where. It empowers the unelected Public Utilities Commission to overturn local zoning ordinances, determine eligibility for per-well impact fee revenues and decide whether local rules violate the state's oil and gas regulations. As one critic of the legislation said, "It [Pennsylvania] is the corporate state." The law overturns an inconvenient 2009 ruling of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that upheld municipal rights to zoning laws that excluding oil and gas drilling if the operation did not fit the character of the community. Now, some Pennsylvanians are comparing their state to Nigeria. The law takes effect April 14th.

More: {12.03.12}For the first time federal scientists have linked fracking to the pollution of drinking water. Before the conclusion reached in December, evidence of fracking operations polluting drinking water sources have been anecdotal even if somewhat spectacular such the now famous inflammable tap water featured in the film "Gaslands". The EPA conducted a three year study in Pavilion, Wyoming, an area punctured with 162 natural gas wells drilled between 1990 and 2006. The agency identified fracking chemicals in the water. The carcinogen benzene was found at 50 times permissible levels. Also found were diesel fuel, methane and heavy metals. Despite numerous complaints from residents about polluted drinking water and symptoms ranging from headaches to heart problems, the state did nothing to help. Why? One answer is the amount of money the fracking industry has put into election campaigns. Since 1990 it has spent $238.7 million on gubernatorial and Congressional campaigns and an additional $726 million on lobbying since 2001. Favored recipients are Repugnants on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The industry has been able to exempt itself from major federal environmental laws such as the Clean Water, the Resource Conservation and Recovery, and the Safe Drinking Water Acts. One exemption is even referred to as the "Haliburton Loophole" after the former Vice President's company which allows corporations to keep the formulas of their fracking fluids secret. Sixty-five chemicals used in fracking are listed by the federal government as hazardous, yet only four states out of 31 in which operations are occurring have significant drilling rules. Besides the chemicals, the process uses enormous amounts of fresh water. During the worst drought in Texas history more than 13 billion gallons of Texas water has been used in fracking operations.

{11.3.12}The high pressure injection of fluids into shale rock formations to release natural gas {fracking} caused a dozen earthquakes in Ohio between March and late December 2011 state officials concluded last week. According to state officials, evidence gathered "suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near failure state causing [earth] movement along the fault" As a result of the small quakes, the largest being 4.0 magnitude, Ohio's Department of Natural Resources issued new regulations for transporting and disposing of brine wastewater, a fracking waste product. The new rules also require drillers to submit extensive geological data before beginning operations and install pressure and volume monitoring devices that record data. Environmental groups questioned whether the new rules are strong enough to protect Ohioans from disasters attributed to hydraulic fracturing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two Horses Die on HBO Series "Luck"

Latest: HBO announced it will end production of the second season of its mini-series "Luck" after a third horse died during filming. A horse on the way back to her stall reared, flipped over, and struck her head yesterday. It was euthanized on recommendation of an attending veterinarian. Both PETA and the industry sponsored American Humane Association called for an inquiry. "Luck" star and producer Dustin Hoffman did not comment on the decision to end production. Tipsters to PETA said the first two horses to die on the set were not in condition to race. Both were retired thoroughbreds, but were asked to perform twice in the same day. Healthy racehorses need a week to recover from the stress of competition. One of the horses, a five year old named "Outlaw Yodeler", was said to be extremely sore and on anti-inflamatory and painkilling drugs. The other was an eight year old with arthritis. The horses broke down after their second run, suffering shattering bone fractures.

{15.02.12}HBO has produced a new series, "Luck" starring Dustin Hoffman as Chester "Ace" Bernstein that revolves around characters and events at the Santa Anita race track in southern California. Two horses have died during the production and HBO confirmed that it has suspended filming scenes at the track after the second horse died. It has also consulted the American Humane Association an organization sanctioned by the film industry to suggest measures to be taken to protect animal participants. According to an AHA spokesperson, new protocols were put into place including X-rays of all horses used in filming and racing has resumed. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) denounced HBO for filming a thoroughbred falling during a race and severely fracturing its leg. The frightening accident recalled to mind the fate of the Derby winner Barbero. The injured horse was euthanized on the track immediately after the race, a heart wrenching event that was filmed and included in the pilot episode. One of the series dramatic themes is the dark side of thoroughbred horse racing, of which there is considerable amounts ranging from racketeering, illegal gambling, race fixing, doping, and destruction of horses. Equally dark is the exploitation of animals in the entertainment industry. The pilot episode received good critical reviews, but less than a million viewers watched it. PETA recently made news by representing orcas in San Diego federal court asking for their release from "slavery". The judge found that the 13th Amendment applies only to humans. A spokesman for PETA said that his organization "looks toward the inevitable day when all animals are liberated from the slavery of human entertainment".

Niger Creates New National Park

credit: John Newby/Sahara Conservation Fund
A decade of conservation effort has been rewarded with the establishment of one the biggest wildlife reserves in Africa. The Termit & Tin Toumma National Reserve is 38,610 square miles intended to preserve rare Saharan species such as the addax antelope, Dama and Dorcas gazelle [photo], Saharan cheetah, and Barbary sheep. These animals are under threat from human development and climate change. The severe drought of 2009 was a blow to even the desert adapted addax [photo below].  It rarely drinks, obtaining moisture from sparse vegetation. Surviving animals are faced with the impacts of oil exploration in the desert which keep them from using critical pasture areas. Besides starvation, poor grazing reduces the birth rate. The addax is highly adapted, but very sensitive to disturbance of its isolated desert home.  In August of 2008 Chinese and Nigerian oilmen began exploring the region and building infrastructure, one of the remotest in the already remote Sahara. With human presence, poaching inevitably increases.

credit: Sahara Conservation Fund
The Saharan cheetah is an incredibly rare sighting with only a handful of direct observations. Their presence in the landscape is indicated by spoor and territorial markings. A guess of their population size is fewer than 200 throughout the Sahara and perhaps ten in the Termit Mountains. Regardless of their scarcity they are persecuted by desert nomads like the Tuareg who believe them responsible for taking goats and baby camels. Part of the conservation effort is to work with locals to put together an accurate assessment of predation and stop indiscriminate slaughter of carnivores. Law enforcement will be a huge challenge in such a remote and inhospitable desert, and necessarily must depend on local cooperation. GREEN KUDOS to Niger and the Sahara Conservation Fund!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Brown Bears Extinct in Austria

Ursus arctos arctos
This is a story of a failed conservation effort to preserve bears in Austria's Limestone Alps. In 1972 a brown bear came to Austria's Northern Limestone Alps to live. WWF decided to augment the population with releases of bears between 1989 and 1993. As many as 35 bears lived in the region, but the last one, known as "Moritz" could not be found in 2011. A WWF representative said one reason for the reintroduction failure was poaching. More than twenty bears have gone missing during the project. An estimated 400 brown bears live in Slovenia, the core area for brown bears in Central Europe. Migrating bears, mostly young males, disperse from there towards the Alps. The number of bears that reach the Alps depends on hunting pressures in Slovenia where quotas have rising in response to human-bear conflicts. Nearly 14,000 bears remain in the densely populated European continent in ten separate populations. In some parts of the continent, such as the British Isles and Hungary, bears have been exterminated. In France they are critically endangered. Conservationists are drawing plans for the brown bear's survival, but say that three states Austria, Hungary and Czech Republic, are holding back the return of large carnivores to Europe with the worse records in Europe for wildlife conservation. The director of European Wildlife says larger carnivores are getting lost in this region like ships in the Bermuda Triangle. Economic differences or climate conditions do not explain the loss of biodiversity. Slovenians enjoy a higher standard of living than Czechs, but has more bears. Industrialized Germany has doubled the size of its wolf population. Austria is more mountainous than Slovakia, but has lost all of its brown bears. The explanation must lie in differences in human culture.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fukushima First Anniversary

A significant fact to emerge from the Fukushima disaster, besides the heavier than reported fallout*, is in a nation that once generated a third of
electrical energy needs using nuclear power only 2 out of 54 reactors are now operating. Japan is getting by with radically increased conservation and increased conventional power generation. Perhaps the experience will boggle some minds at the top. Of course some of the plants now down for "stress testing" and maintenance will go back on line, but Japanese public opinion has turned against nuclear power. It is not clear whether some of the idle plants will return to service before the remaining two operating plants are taken off line for maintenance in April. This was a nation committed to the nuclear future, but as the chart from The Economist shows, planning could now include a phase out of nuclear power within forty years, a goal considered by the new Japanese Prime Minister. Another fact is clear: nuclear power is hugely expensive when the entire fuel cycle is considered. A Japanese expert estimates decontamination of stricken facilities will cost $623 billion. Decommissioning of expired plants will cost trillions. And if governments did not subsidize the industry directly as in Russia and China, and indirectly by limiting its liability for disasters like Fukushima (damage claims estimated at $75 to $260bn; TEPCO was refused renewal of its insurance contract with the Japanese Atomic Energy Insurance Pool which expired in January), the industry would collapse under its own expense.

After the Fukushima meltdowns, Angela Merkel's center-right coalition made a policy decision to go off nuclear power. The decision echoed the policy of the German Greens who wanted to phase out nuclear by 2021 when they were in a coalition government of the left. Seven reactors were shut down immediately and plans laid to phase out the remaining nine plants by 2022. In the cold winter weather there has not been one blackout. Renewable energy does not make up all of the energy deficit of the nukes. Coal is still burned in Germany, but for the first time renewable sources of electricity exceed that provided by either nuclear or black coal. Brown coal, which is subsidized by the government and highly polluting, produces the most electricity. Germany is now exporting energy to France, the leading national proponent of nuclear power and prices are stable and lower than French prices. Germany's plans for a renewable energy future are ambitious. By 2020 35% of its electricity should be generated by renewable sources. By 2050 that figure is scheduled to increase to 80% for factory fuel and most homes in the world's fourth largest economy.

*the US National Science Foundation said the Fukushima fallout and direct discharges to the ocean were the largest in history. The French say an estimated 27 PBq or 729,000 curies were poured into the sea with unknown long-term consequences for benthic life.   Now, concrete is being dumped onto the seafloor to slow the spread of radioactivity.  Tons of water is still being dumped on the melted reactors and the waste pool of #4 where intensely radioactive slag has melted through containments.  The peer-reviewed journal, International Journal of Health Services, reports that as many as 14,000 excess deaths occurred in the United States as the result of fallout.  A diesel engineer, Greg Palast, reveals that the critical emergency diesel generators at Fukushima failed because they were required to perform in a manner for which they were not designed.  The diesel generators were based on cruise ship engines or locomotive designs that needed to warm-up and obtain crankshaft speed for 30 minutes before taking a load.  In the emergency, the Fukushima generators were required to go from idle to load within 10 seconds, probably snapping the crankshafts which eventually led to the reactors overheating for lack of cooling water circulation.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chart of the Week: New Light Bulb Defamed

One of the more curious idiosyncrasies of the American right beyond their gun fetish, bigotry, self-righteousness, and xenophobia is their refusal to endorse green technology. Symptomatic of this condition is the deliberate misrepresentation of the energy efficiency of a new light bulb which the Department of Energy gave its $10 million L prize. The light bulb is all-American, assembled in Wisconsin and built with computer chips made in California. Because the technology is break-through, the bulb is pricey at $53. Over time its efficiency should make it less expensive than replacing $1 incandescents over the LED bulb's 30 year long life span. The Washington Postapparently could not admit that Phillips has succeeded in building a better mouse trap--light bulb, that is. The newspaper used faulty math to complain about the "exorbitant price" without mentioning that it provides equivalent natural color light at only 10 watts of power consumption. That is performance no other light bulb can match, period. Nevertheless, the Post claimed that the LED is $5 more expensive over time than traditional incandescents. It ran this graphic with its story:
The Post assumed, incorrectly, that the retail price of electricity is 1¢ per killowatt-hour when the actual average retail price is 12¢. When that fact is taken into the calculation, the new LED bulb is over $100 cheaper than equivalent incandescent bulbs. This chart was prepared by ThinkProgressGreenusing a conservative electricity cost of 10¢ per kilowatt/hour:

The attack on the new Phillips light bulb was promoted by the trashy Drudge Report and echoed by hysterical right-wing bloggers like Michelle Malkin.  This same group-think is responsible for the poor sales of the Chevy Volt, another fine example of American green technological prowess.  Unfortunately, there will always be ignorant people who want to think the world is flat, or who owe their souls to the fossil-fuel industry.

Friday, March 09, 2012

'Toontime: Comrade Putin Performs

[credit: Martin "Shooty" Sutovec, SME Daily]
Wackydoodle axes: Has the Obaminator called yo'al?

Speaking of the Obamatron, Wacky, look at another type of performance art:

[credit: Ken Catalino]
Our vaunted choice in America is a plutocrat worth $250 million yet who pays less than 14% of his income in federal taxes willing to bet a rival $10,000 to make a point, and whose wife drives a "couple of Cadillacs" but she does not "consider myself wealthy". Ok? The only thing is Mitt, if we elect you we can't fire you if we don't like your services!

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Sun Acts Out

credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory
The coronal mass ejections that US Person told you about sometime ago are occurring now during the most severe solar storm in five years. {03/06, "The Maya Did the Math"} The CME is expected to hit our planet today and cause some electromagnetic disruptions and a more southerly and lower Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. Yesterday, a X5 class solar flare erupted on the Sun [photo], the third and largest flare this week, but because the region of the Sun in which the flares are occurring, AR1429, is not directly in the middle of the Sun's surface from Earth's perspective, the CME will be a glancing blow. That situation will change by next week when the active area is in position to deliver a direct and powerful pulse of charged particles to Earth.

Covert War in Syria?

US officials seem to be ruling out for now direct involvement of US military in the Syrian civil war, but administration officials are preparing to provide aid to the rebels in indirect ways, perhaps utilizing third countries like Saudi Arabia It will also turn a blind eye to direct military assistance to the rebels from other countries. Russia also appears to be preparing for an international escalation of the conflict. According to State Department officials, Russia is continuing to deliver arms to the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, and the latest shipment included large numbers of advanced anti-aircraft missile systems (SR-17s). Establishment of an aerial embargo similar to that imposed on Libya would require elimination of Syria's robust air defense system. Some war mongers in the Senate have already started calling for bombing Syria.

A WikiLeaks email indicates the Pentagon may have already started planning actions to undermine the Assad regime. An analyst for Statfor, a global intelligence firm that supplies intelligence services to international corporations and the US government, wrote of a December 6th meeting attended by members of the US Air Force's Strategic Studies Group and allied liaison officers. According to the analyst, "they said without saying that SOF [special operations forces] teams are already on the ground focused on recce [reconnaissance] missions and training opposition forces". The goal of the activity was "to prepare contingencies and be ready to act within 2-3 months." The attendees denied any planning for an air campaign, but that the idea was " commit guerrilla attacks, assassination campaigns, try to break the back of the Alawite forces, elicit collapse from within." US officials deny any involvement in planning attacks on Syria to date. US military officials continue to stress in public the difficulties of dismantling the Assad regime on a unilateral basis*. Assad continues to kill his own people, causing thousands of Syrian refugees to cross Syria's borders into Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan.

*the Assad government may not be as one-dimensional as our feckless corporate mass media habitually presents to the US public. All the prime ministers who have served in Bashir al-Assad's government have been Sunnis; similarly key ministries have been manned from outside the 10% Alawi minority. Professor Piccinin of the Ecole EuropĂ©en de Bruxelles I writes that the other components of Syria's patchwork of ethnic groups are not yet closing ranks against the Alawite government. The majority of the country is calm outside the cities of Homs and Hama, nexus of an opposition that is supported by Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as France. This complex reality of the situation, not the surreal public opinion campaign, explains why Russia is demanding that any UN resolution concerning Syria must be applied to all violent factions, not just the Baath government.  Right-wing demands for bombs away on Syria may be motivated in part by the possibility of dealing regional power Iran, which supports Assad, a strategic setback in Syria.  Iran is generally considered to the geopolitical winner of the Iraq War.

Bangladesh Declares Dolphin Sanctuaries

credit: WCS
Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest nations densely inhabited and racked with seasonal typhoons, has seen fit to declare three new wildlife sanctuaries for endangered freshwater dolphins in the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove ecosystem. The two remaining Asian freshwater dolphins, the Ganges River dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) and the Irrawaddy River dolphin (Orcacella brevirostris) now live only in the Sundarbans. Their exact numbers are unknown, but there populations are down to several hundred each. The areas declared sanctuaries are small, only 10.7 but are considered to be safe zones against extinction by the Wildlife Conservation Society which has been working on conservation in the Sundarbans since 2002. The size and location of the sanctuaries is based on the research of Brian D. Smith, director of WCS's Asian Cetacean Program. River dolphins are severely impacted by human fishing and habitat degradation. The Yangtze River dolphin was last seen in the wild in 2002, and is now considered extinct. The Society will sponsor local education activities to raise awareness of "Shushuk", the Ganges River dolphin, among communities bordering the Sundarbans. The communities subsist on fishing with nets that sometimes entangle dolphins leading to their drowning. The Sundarbans is also the last remaining stronghold of the Bengal tiger. GREEN KUDOS to Bangladesh!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Putin Wins Third Term As Expected

The irony is--yes, Virginia irony is dead, but it keeps coming back like a zombie--he did not need to cheat. Russian pundits think he would have won with just over 50% of the vote. Not good enough for Putin and his machine to avoid a run-off, so they manufactured a 64% thumping of rival candidates. Not quite as bad as a communist "election" but close enough for the Kremlin. The methods used are familiar to western politicians: ballot stuffing, voting more than once at different polls, and removing outside observers from the polls. Nevertheless there has been some green shoots of democracy in Russia with rival political rallies and demonstrations unscripted and unplanned. And only 250-1000 arrested out of thousands in the inevitable anti-Putin demonstrations after the election's predictable outcome. Medvedev will serve as President until May, then take over as Prime Minister in the job swap with Putin. In a conciliatory move, he ordered 32 criminal cases to be reviewed including the imprisonment of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Occupy Kochville a Success

US Person asked you to help out with Occupy Kochville! (aka Wichita, KS) so he reports via Columbia Climate Change Coalition that the peaceful demonstration and march was a success. Even Charles Koch, who ordinarily does not speak to local media outlets, (he is worth $50 billion, so it is optional) felt compelled to answer the telephone and speak to a local reporter. Participants were able to secure a centrally located assembly spot within marching distance of three iconic targets, the Kochs' own personal propaganda organ, the Kansas Policy Institute, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the Bank of America. Occupiers came from 10 different states and 45 cities over three days. On the last day a General Assembly was held and it was decided to march 2 miles round trip to Koch Industries. There, Occupiers were met by a counter-demonstration as well as heavy police surveillance including mounted police and FBI. Generous donations helped fund the non-violent action and prove democracy is not yet dead in "Amerika".

Chart of the Week: Full Speed Ahead in Gulf

Nothing like rising gas prices during a presidential election cycle to focus the minds of politicians. Last Friday British Petroleum announced it had settled the consolidated medical claims of thousands of Gulf fisherman for $7.8 billion. Those claims are just part of the massive consolidated damage suit in federal district court, but what is clear as the suit progresses is the company using its enormous financial leverage to cloak the nature of its legal liability for the disaster.  The US Justice Department is supposedly conducting an investigation into the company's criminal culpability.   The settlement will limit the source of potential damning evidence that could support a criminal prosecution for its mismanagement of operations aboard the Deepwater Horizon platform. Judge Carl Barbier has already ruled in the civil case that witnesses can not testify to previous accidents. Last week the company filed a motion to strike any written references to previous accidents from the court record. The case, if it ever goes to trial, will not be heard before a jury, but the case is so big that new evidence of BP degree of culpability may emerge despite the company's efforts at damage control.

As the lawyers wrangle, drilling in the Gulf proceeds with new vigor. Forty rigs are operating in the Gulf of Mexico compared to 25 a year ago. Five of those are operated by BP. There are plans to expand operations into Mexican and Cuban waters. The United States signed a new agreement with Mexico recently, opening up 1.5 million acres of offshore territory on their maritime border to development. The Interior Department estimates the area contains up to 172 million barrels of oil and 300 billion cubic feet of gas. These are modest reserves when compared on the global scale. The countries reached an agreement on sharing offshore oil and gas in 1980, but the US declined to ratify the treaty. Now with gas prices exceeding $4.00/gal in the US, there is renewed political pressure to speed up domestic production despite the risk of more environmental damage. Pemex, Mexico's national oil company, is preparing to drill well in waters over 6,000 feet deep, but it has little deep water experience. Mexico also does not have the resources to combat a major deep water spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Yet the political discourse in the US is not over the question of how domestic production should go forward, but how fast it can be given the green light.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Navy Fails to Protect Marine Mammals

The United States Navy is asking for public comment on its environmental impact statement for training operations along the northwest coast. It should finally realize that conservationists are not sanguine about the use of sonar in marine mammal habitat since the federal government has been sued once again for failing to take adequate precautions protecting marine mammals from the potentially lethal effects of sonar. The previous round of litigation ended with the Navy agreeing to keep visual watch for whales and cease sonar emissions if they were spotted. US Person does not need to be a marine biologist (although he would like to be one) to know that inadequate concession still leaves many whales, dolphins and seals exposed to brain damaging subsurface sonar. On January 26th a coalition of conservation groups and American Indian tribes sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to protect marine mammals from US Navy war training. The suit in federal district court for Northern California calls for the NMFS to mitigate harm to mammals in critical areas of the Northwest Training Range that extends from Northern California to the Canadian border. Since the Navy makes extensive use of high frequency and mid-frequency sonar during training operations the coalition anticipates it will harm dozens of marine mammals who also use sonar and are therefore quite sensitive to subsurface sound. A spokesman for 10 federally recognized tribes joining the suit said "our relatives such as the whales and many other species will be negatively and permanently impacted by the Navy's activities."
orca critical habitat

Late in 2010 the NMFS gave the Navy permission to harm or harass marine mammals for five more years of expanded naval activities. The conservation groups point out that the Northwest Range is the size of California but not once square inch of it is designated as off-limits to sonar use. The petitioners are asking for common-sense rules based on the latest scientific data to protect critical habitat and biologically rich areas such as the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary from disruptive training activity. There are many documented instances of sonar disturbing marine mammal behavior and even causing death. Visual detection cannot protect mammals beneath the surface or in bad weather when they are feeding, hunting, mating or migrating. For just one example, the endangered southern resident killer whale pods [photo, map: NOAA] use northern coastal waters within the training range while feeding on salmon runs in the fall and winter. The Navy will be pushing these protected orcas closer to extinction through indiscriminate use of sonar. In 2003 the USS Shoup while operating in the Haro Strait exposed a pod of the protected orcas to mid-frequency sonar, causing the mammals to stop feeding and attempt to flee the area.

'Toontime: Greeks at the Pass

[credit: Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star Tribune]
Greeks will be able to make the huge debt payment coming due this month because European creditors decided to protect their themselves and the Euro union by bailing out the sick man once again, but the Greeks have signed up to an economic death by a 1000 cuts. As another recession grips Europe tighter, it will become impossible to keep the country from defaulting on loan terms regardless of the 70% "haircut" taken by sovereign bond owners. Greece's bonds have been downgraded again to "selective default" by Standard & Poor's meaning the ECB will not accept them as collateral for borrowing which could cause Greek banks another liquidity crunch. This chart shows why Greece is headed for a crash:
Greece's economy as measured by manufacturing orders and purchasing is tanking. It is the worst contraction seen in 13 years of data collection. Survey respondents cited shorter working hours, fewer jobs, lack of working capital, and weak demand caused by austerity measures. Granted, Greece never was a manufacturing powerhouse like Germany is. Its economy is driven by tourism, agriculture, and the public sector. Forget the public sector under austerity imposed from without. Fewer tourists will be showing up this summer because no one really wants to visit a country on the brink of economic collapse especially when euros are harder to come by. Greeks formerly employed as professionals are already growing their own crops, even on rooftops and balconies in the cities. You don't need a weatherman to tell which way the wind is blowing.

Iceland stands as the only example of a government listening to its people and rejecting the demands of banksters. Iceland placed the needs of its populace ahead of international creditors by protecting domestic depositors, halting a retaliatory sell-off of the krona and creating new state-controlled banks from the remnants of the banks that failed. Most importantly Iceland's banks have forgiven debt equivalent to 13% of gross domestic product. The rating agency, Fitch, that once downgraded Icelandic bonds, is now rating Iceland's recovery a success story.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Obama Fundraiser Lousy Ambassador

Another promise broken by the Obamatron: ambassadorships for funds. He said he would end giving ambassadorships away as prizes for key campaign fundraisers, but that did not stop him from hiring Nicole Advant who proved she does not know what she was talking about when it comes to diplomacy. According to the State Department's Inspector General, Avant presided over "an extended period of dysfunctional leadership and mismanagement" at the US embassy in the Bahamas, that is when she was actually there. Avant spent 276 days between September 2009 and November 2011 away from her office. Only 23 of those days were on official business. Avant showed a preference from operating from her Los Angeles home which "contributed to poor mission management" and a "perception of indifference". Before getting her plump patronage appointment, Avant was Southern California finance co-chair for Obama and VP of Interior Music Publishing. Unfortunately for taxpayers Ms. Avant's deputy ambassador who was left in charge of the embassy during her frequent absences was also inept. Despite being an idyllic local, the US embassy and its staff points out the Inspector General is important to US anti-drug policy since the Bahamas serves as a transshipment point for the international drug trade and illegal immigration. Since resigning her public job, Avant has returned to fund raising, something she does well, apparently. She joined co-president Michelle Obama at a Beverly Hills residence for a fundraiser with husband Ted Saranados who is an executive with Netflix, the movie rental business on January 31st. On February 15th according to White House logs, she sat down to a $35,800 per plate (the maximum allowed by law) dinner that included George Clooney, Jim Belushi, and Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa.

Avant is just the latest example of fundraisers gone awry in the diplomatic service. Ambassador Howard Gutman caused a stir in Belgium when he suggested Israel caused anti-Semitic feelings. Former Ambassador Cynthia Stroum left the Luxembourg embassy in disgrace after causing a work environment that was "aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating". With ambassadors like these, no wonder we fight so many wars. Sounds like a job for US Person; quick Cheeves, the smoke signals!