Friday, June 29, 2012

'Toontime: Head 'Em Off at the Pass

[credit: Bill Schorr]

U.S. Person is not featuring a cartoon of the Obamanator because the health care legislation that survived the Supremes is largely a version of the plan that a Repugnant governor of Massachusetts signed into law. Chief Justice Roberts provided the swing vote because he is the Chief Justice and has his perogatives on the Court. Call U.S. cynical and unprofessional, but Roberts voted for the bill not because he believes in any form of socialized medicine or that the individual mandate is constitutional (because under prior precedent it is), but because Romneycare is a bonanza for the insurance industry now that Americans will be required to buy health insurance. If Romneycare had failed, the next stop was actual socialized medicine, i.e. single payer, and that would have been a disaster for the corporatists.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Frankenfood Kills

A peer reviewed report released June 17th presents evidence that bioengineered food and organisms present hazards to health and the environment. One of the report authors is herself a genetic engineer who thinks the claims of manufacturers about safety are dangerously inaccurate. Research has shown genetically modified crops cause harmful effects on laboratory animals without trade-offs for increased yields or less dependence on pesticides.

Outside the laboratory, cattle feeding on genetically modified grass on a farm near Austin, Texas died as a result of the ingestion of a GM grass which unexpectedly produced cyanide. Cyanide gas was used as a weapon in WWI. The unfortunate cows eating the Monsanto franken-grass, Tifton 85, died in convulsive, shrieking fits. Another company genetically modifying corn, Syngenta, is now facing criminal charges for willfully concealing data that proves its Bt 176 franken-corn is directly responsible for killing livestock. A German dairy farmer filed suit against Syngenta after his cows became increasingly sick on a diet of Bt 176 corn resulting in deaths of some his cows. He discontinued the feeding program in 2002 after seven cows died, but most of his herd suffered intestinal damage resulting in euthanasia. He was partially compensated for the loss of his herd by Syngenta, but it was not enough and the German and EU governments refused to help.  He was without a remedy until he discovered Syngenta's 1996 study showing Bt 176 killed cattle. Syngenta had been lying for years about the toxicity of its franken-corn, sometimes under oath. A 2007 civil suit was dismissed after the company testified its franken-corn was safe. Apparently the company also tried to coverup the damaging data by conducting a phony study on sheep in Italy. The data was manipulated using sample sizes of GM material too small to be realistic.

Over 75% of genetically modified crops are intended to be used with herbicide. The result has been the spread of "super weeds" that are herbicide resistant at huge cost to farmers and increased human exposure to herbicides linked to birth defects and cancer (Monsanto's "Roundup" brand).  The fact is genetic engineering is not precise enough to be either predictable or safe as the case of the cyanide producing grass shows. Yet, the FDA does not yet require mandatory safety testing of GM crops, nor do foodstuff containing GM substances have to be labeled for the consumer*. All the benefits touted for genetically modified crops such as drought tolerance, pest and disease resistance, and improved nutritional value have been achieved with safe conventional modes of breeding that do not pose a threat to the environment or human health. *an amendment to the farm bill allowing states to require such labeling was introduced by Vermont progressive Senator Bernie Sanders and defeated by the agribusiness lobby.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nairobi Residents Kill Six Lions

brothers of the Mara
When lions stray from their reserves, the result is often fatal. Two adult lionesses, two sub adults and two cubs were killed by residents living on the outskirts of Nairobi when the lions strayed from Nairobi National Park into a community boma (corral) searching for food. The lions killed four goats. Rangers responded to reports of the lions in the community with a veterinary capture team, but before they could locate the lions, they were dispatched by irate residents with spears. Kenya has lost 100 lions a year on average for the last seven years. Just 2,000 of the iconic feline remain out of a population that once rivaled man's own. Kenya's Wildlife Service discourages the public from illegally killing lions. They suggest wildlife problems be reported to KWS on their 24 hour hotlines instead. Africa's wildlife is steadily disappearing despite efforts to protect it from burgeoning human development. Once the wildlife is gone, a lot of valuable tourism will stop.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Alberta is All Greasy

The Canadian province of Alberta, the scene of perhaps the greatest rape of the Earth in modern times, has suffered its third oil spill in a month. Over a thousand barrels spilled from a pumping station onto farmland near Elk Point, a small farming community northeast of Edmonton. The Athabasca pipeline, owned by Enbridge, Inc., connects the tar sands with Hardisty, Canada's most important oil hub. Crews were still working to clean up two other large leaks: one from a well about 200 kms from the Northern Territories border and another from ruptured pipeline beneath the Red Deer River. In 2010 the province averaged nearly two pipeline failures a day; despite that performance Canada's regulator, Energy Resources Conservation Board, said Alberta has a "fairly strong safety record". The provincial premier, Allison Redford, under public pressure for more oversight, has reluctantly asked for a review of whether a better provincial response is needed to spills. She is a staunch supporter of Alberta's energy policies as it seeks markets for its ecologically harmful fossil fuel products beyond Canada's borders. Part of the plan is to pump bitumen south across the international border to Gulf Coast refineries for refining and export. Forty percent of Alberta's pipeline was installed before 1990. Saskatchewan, the province next door, was handed an official audit on Thursday that concluded it does not do enough to police pipelines criss-crossing that province. In the meantime, the conservation group, Greenpeace, was denied space on an Edmonton billboard for an oil spill ad without explanation [image].

Friday, June 22, 2012

'Toontime: What Goes Around, Comes Around

[credit: Mark Streeter, Savannah Morning News]
Wackydoodle axes, Y'all got a deeper throat?

The next thing you will hear is the Obamanator claiming, "I'm am not a Nixon". But the policy space between them is rapidly eroding. Ask his former jurisprudence professor. His Justice Department, run by the feckless appratchik, Eric Holder, opposed habeas corpus relief for a Guantanomo detainee who succeeded in petitioning a lower federal court to grant his release. The administration appealed to the conservative Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and won an expected reversal of the decision. The equally conservative Supremes upheld the Appeals Court by denying to review their decision. Since 2008  detainees have won two-thirds of their habeas petitions at the federal district court level, but the Supreme Court has now rendered it's Boumediene decision requiring "meaningful" review of detainees' habeas petitions a dead letter. The dissenting judge in the appellate case wrote that to deny the petitioner relief was to deny "meaningful opportunity" to contest his incarceration despite it being based on "multiple layers of hearsay".

No administration in recent history has been as secretive or as ruthless as the Obamanator's, except perhaps Tricky Dick's. Readers will recall Nixon's carpet bombing of North Vietnam intended to terrorize the communists into submission, the secret CIA-run war in Laos and Cambodia, and the multiple claims of executive privilege in response to Senate investigators' subpoenas in the Watergate Affair. That the Obamanator promised unparalleled transparency in his administration before ascending the throne would be ironic, but then irony is as dead as his secret drone victims. One hundred sixty-eight prisoners still languish in America's first gulag which he also promised to close. Eighty-seven prisoners have been cleared for release by our military, but remain incarcerated because they are men without countries. Who needs prisoners with inconvenient legal rights when you have killerbots?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mexico Steps Up

credit: Octavio Aburto Oropeza
Mexican President Felipe Calderòn announced his decision on June 15th to cancel the huge Cabo Cortez development that threatened the future of Cabo Pulmo Marine Park. The Park, established with the perseverance of a single family whose patriarch, Don Jesus Castro Lucero, was once a pearl diver, is considered one of the most successful marine reserve in the world. The 7,111 hectare reserve was dedicated in 1995 and became a marine park in 2000. At a time when fish stocks are in step decline elsewhere in the Sea of Cortez, the Park has abundant marine life. In ten years of recovery the biomass has increased 469%. A researcher remarked that he "could never have dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo". All of this restoration would have been jeopardized by a mega tourist resort and residential development of 13,000 homes and 30,000 hotel rooms, and a marina with room for 500 yatchs. It would have been another Cancun not too far away from the other tourist mecca at the end of the Baja California peninsula, Cabo San Lucas. The Sea of Cortez has been called the world's aquarium, and indeed it was, even into the middle decades of the 20th century.

When Steinbeck wrote his famous "Log from the Sea of Cortez" in 1941 documenting his cruise aboard the Western Flyer to collect invertebrate specimens with his friend and marine laboratory owner, Ed Ricketts, invertebrate species and fish were extravagantly healthy. Even too extravagant for words. Scientists estimate there maybe a thousand fish species swimming in the young sea and at least 5,000 invertibrate species as well as a thousand or more species of marine birds nesting among its many islands. Now, the Gulf of California is suffering from overexploitation. In some areas the sea bed is literally scraped clean by shrimp trawlers. Wild shrimp populations in the northern portion have collapsed, and five species of sea turtle have vanished. Fish have completely disappeared from some reefs in the northern part. 500,000 tons of seafood are taken each year from the Sea of Cortez, representing almost half of Mexico's fishing economy. Thousands of illegal vessels operate there and there is almost no effective enforcement of the rules protecting the eleven reserves already in existence. Cabo Pulmo has been successful primarily because of the intense interest of the Luceros family and their neighbors in protecting their fishing livelihood.

Yes, the preservation of Cabo Pulmo is a victory for conservation and President Calderon should be congratulated, but if the Sea is to survive as a beautiful, almost surreal idyl for humans and still support abundant marine life from the tinniest shrimp to the blue whale leviathan much more must be done to protect it.

Rio Summit: "A Collossal Waste of Time"?

The world's ruling class is going to Rio de Janeiro, expenses paid, to discuss what can be done to save the planet from destruction and at the same time feed the world's millions living in poverty. Even before the summit starts, conservation groups are giving thumb's down to a "pathetic" draft agreement.  The document was watered down even more in the last stages of negotiations before the summit convenes.  The Greenpeace representative said, "the agreement is a last will and testament" for the planet, one dying from a destructive development model born of an industrial revolution two centuries ago. The Danish Environment Minister, while being disappointed in the results, was satisfied with putting a green economic model on the agenda. Subsidies to fossil fuel companies were not abandoned despite international public pressure via social media (aka 'twits'). Oil exporting countries like Canada and Venezuela blocked any effort to end subsidies. The greatest problem facing the world is global warming, yet the officials addressed it in only three paragraphs out of 283. An effort to get a governing structure for international law of the sea was delayed for three years by Russia and the United States. There is still time to amend the agreement but the host nation, Brazil, is not interested in having the agreement undergo more debate, and the US is apparently not willing to negotiate further.  That the UN's biggest conference on the most pressing issues confronting humanity is turning out to be just another paid vacation is something of a death wish.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ex Leaders in Dock

The attractive former prime minister of Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, will be charged with murder in the 1996 slaying of legislator Yevhen Shcherban, his wife and an aide at an airport. She is currently serving a seven year term for corruption and is being tried for tax evasion. The corruption conviction stems from her negotiations with Russia for natural gas. Tymoshenko claims her legal problems are politically motivated; her long time enemy President Viktor Yanukovych wants to keep her out of parliamentary elections this fall. Some EU officials have taken up her cause as just. Euro officials declined to attend football matches held in Ukraine as co-host of the Euro 2012 soccer tournament. Ukraine exited the tournament yesterday after loosing to England, 1-nil. Shcherban was shot to death at an airport along with his wife and an aide in a gangland-style assasination. The chief Ukrainian prosecutior says he now has enough evidence that companies controlled by Tymoshenko wired money to pay for the killing, and he has witnesses who say she organized the murder. The former prime minister categorically denies the allegations. She will not be charged soon since she is undergoing hospital treatment for a spinal condition. Yulia undoubtably has the best hair in politics.

Update: The fraud charges were dropped against former PM Berlusconi on June 27,2012 when the Rome court determined that the statute of limitations had expired. That "bunga-bunga" fascist, Silvio Berlusconi, who was the prime minister of Italy before the collapsing economy forced his resignation in November, is facing three years, eight months on fraud charges relating to embezzlement at his media company, Mediaset. Berlusconi has an impressive win-lost record of his own. He has been a defendant in nearly 50 cases. In February a Milan court dismissed corruption charges against Berlusconi, but in the same month the Rome prosecutor asked that the former PM be placed on trial for tax evasion. He also faces charges of underage prostitution for allegedly paying 17 year-old dancer Karima El Mahroug for sex. Berlusconi does not have good hair.

The third-highest official in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder, was voted in contempt of Congress by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. His alleged crime: withholding documents from the Committee related to a failed gun sale sting operation. Some of the guns ended up in the hands of narco-traffickers south of the border and were recovered at the scene of a border patrol agent's killing. Eric Holder's hair is turning grey, but somehow the crmes of European politicos seem much more interesting.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's Hot Enough

Now, for the weather news: May global temperatures second hottest on record; arctic ice melts to the lowest extent ever. The all time global average temperature record since records began in 1880 for May was set in 2010, but the average temperatures this May were not far behind. This years average land surface temperature was the warmest May around the world, brought down to second place by ocean surface temperatures. For the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the world's human population lives, May 2012 temperature was 2.18℉ above the 20th century average. So far the Earth has experienced 327 consecutive months with global temperatures above the 20th century average.

2007 recorded the lowest extent of ice cover in the Arctic. That low is exceeded this year according to the National Snow & Ice Center. Thin ice in the Beaufort Sea above Alaska is melting rapidly which is not good news for polar bears and walruses. Vegetation in the arctic regions is changing as a result of the anthropomorphic warming. According to scientists from The University of Gothenburg and elsewhere who published in journals Nature, Climate Change and Ecology Letters, plants in the Arctic have grown taller and there is an increase in evergreen shrubs. By identifying 158 plant communities at 46 locations across the Arctic between 1990 and 2010 they have been able to identify general trends in vascular species. Not only vascular species are experiencing more favorable growth conditions. Researchers in the Chukchi Sea found a 62 mile long photoplankton bloom beneath the ice. They theorize that thinner sea ice is allowing more sunlight to penetrate to the sea surface which enables photosythesis by green algae.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chart of the Week: Money, It's a Gas!

Here is a chart that shows the respective shares of billionaires' dollars donated to Super PACS through the primaries. Of course this will change as the respective presidential campaigns grind on towards November:
Media mogul, Steven Spielberg, made a $100,000 contribution to the Obamanator, but it doesn't affect his chart because the proportion to non-billionaire contributions was too small. Bill Maher, comedian cum political commentator contributed $1 million. Forbes, from which this chart comes, uses it "400 richest" list to define billionaire.

The LA Times recently ran an investigative report on PAC spending. The largely anonymous "Center for Patient Rights" (it uses a Phoenix PO box for its business address) sent $55 million to right-wing organizations during the 2010 election which conducted a coordinated campaign against Democratic congressional candidates. This unearthed example of secret spending to influence elections is what candidate Elizabeth Warren was referring to when she claimed Americans know that "the game is rigged". Indeed, but US Person doubts they fathom how cynically corrupt and dysfunctional our political system has become. The infamous Koch Brothers et al, who hide behind a innocuous facade of non-partisan philanthropy (check PBS), plan to spend a billion dollars according to people on the inside to recapture the White House and Congress. $400 million of that will be from Koch controlled entities. That amount is more than Senator John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign. It took two years of old school digging by diligent reporters to find out what the "Center for Patient Rights" was doing to the nation's so-called electoral system in 2010. Why is not the CMM reporting on the aftermath of Citizens United? This compensation list from AP for top media executives shows the main reason:
  • Les Moonves, CBS, $69.9 million
  • David Zaslav, Discovery Communications, $52.4 million
  • Philippe Dauman, Viacom, $43 million
  • Robert Iger, Walt Disney $31.4 million
  • Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner, $25.9 million
Across the pond, Europe is facing a money crises as Greeks voted on Sunday to form a new government. The election has been deemed critical to the survival of the Euro zone as currently constituted. Faced with threats of economic Armageddon, Greeks gave pro-bailout parties a majority in parliament.  Nevertheless, many investors are moving their money into the European "core".  All of the money is not remaining in Europe, but is invested in the world's reserve currency.  Ten year treasury yields hit a 120 year low.  The flow of money, as deranged news anchor Howard Beale in the classic film "Network" [video clip] discovered, is "inexorable and immutable".  And it is making the position of over-leveraged European banks even more precarious:

Friday, June 15, 2012

Weekend Edition: Japan Seeks Nuclear Restart

Update: Readers of this blog should know that it was highly likely Japan's pro-nuclear ruling establishment would find a local politician willing to put his constituents in harm's way by agreeing to a nuclear plant re-start. And so it is with the mayor of Oi, Fukui Prefecture near Osaka who agreed to the restart of Units #3 and 4 [photo: AP]. This decision comes despite the conclusion of Japanese critics who say the accident center in Oi is woefully unprepared to deal with a severe accident let alone anything on the scale of Fukushima. Oi is a seaside town and the reactors in question are less than two kilometers from the shore. In order to quell the considerable public unease, Tokyo has agreed to send two top officials, a deputy trade minister and a nuclear regulator to oversee the Oi operation . Some are calling the move a type of feudal hostage taking or "sankin-kotai". Two regional governors who signed a joint statement on May 30th to a provisional restart of two reactors to prevent power problems in the summer months when electricity demand peaks, qualified their support before the media. They said in a prepared joint statement that any restart be temporary and that a plan be devised for phasing out of nuclear power.  Back at the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in history, a robot detected very high levels of radiation above Fukushima Unit #2 on Wednesday, indicating a leak of radioactive material  underway.  TEPCo reported a reading of 800mSv/hr on the fifth floor of the reactor building, one floor above the reactor vessel.

{09.06.12}In a rare emotional TV appeal the Japanese Prime Minister tried to convince citizens that restarting one of Japan's shut down nuclear reactors is in the national interest. Yoshihiko Noda said that the nation could face blackouts and economic chaos this summer if the Oi plant is not restarted. He also claimed restarting a least one of the nation's nuclear power stations was a matter of national security since Japan would need to import more oil and gas to make up for the lost electrical generation capacity. Imports of energy have been cited as one factor in Japan's first yearly trade deficit in more than three decades. A majority of Japanese remain unconvinced by his arguments, especially after surviving for over a year on reduced electrical output after the nation's nuclear plant's went off line one by one as a result of the Fukushima triple meltdown. Oi provides power to the Kansai region which includes the cities of Osaka and Kyoto as well as electronics industries. Kansai faces the most severe electrical shortages when air conditioning cuts in this summer. Osaka mayor, Toru Hashimoto, who had opposed restarting nuclear plant, recently agreed to allowing the Oi plant [photo] to operate this summer, but he qualified that by saying he may ask to shut it off again in September since he opposes a permanent restart until the regulation of nuclear power in Japan is reformed. A majority of citizens living in Ohi town object to restarting the plant. Two thirds of Japanese say they oppose restarting nuclear power immediately according to recent polls. Kansai Electric Power Company notified shareholders it will reject shareholder proposals to end nuclear power generation at the annual meeting on June 27th.

Meanwhile in Germany, the government announced a bold leap to rid itself of the nuclear genie. Europe's leading industrial nation will invest $270 billion in renewable energy sources or about 8% of its GDO. Chancellor Merkel announced after the Fukushima disaster that her government plans to shut down all 17 of Germany's nuclear reactors and replace the energy capacity with solar and wind power. Eight plants are already closed and the rest will be shut by 2022. Right now, natural gas is taking up the load left unserved by nuclear power. Germany's Advisory Council on the Environment says that 100% renewable power is a realistic goal for Germany. By 2050 Germany plans to run on 80% renewable energy. In contrast the United States has a much less ambitious goal of 25% renewable energy by 2025. German anti-nuclear sentiment was brought into focus by the German Green Party, but now 70% of Germans oppose nuclear power. Renewable energy will be more expensive at first, but when compared to the estimated $50 billion in damage done in Japan by one nuclear facility melting it makes the investment look like chump change.

'Toontime: Obama, the Porous

[credit: Daryl Cagle,]
Wackydoodle sez: He sure 'nuf needs some corks!

Yes, 'Chuck Barry' is one tough warrior president and he he's got the leaks to prove it; just ask his partner, Joe Biden. The truth is Washington, DC is a game of mirrors played by smooth operators who use all the angles seeking political advantage, everyday. It is not unusual an administration would selectively leak information intended to foster a desired public image when the news of day is mostly bad. The Obamanator's effort to project an image of steely resolve to protect the state has been just as ruthless as the drone war which has become his modus operandi not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan but in Yemen too. As this official Air Force map shows, there is a drone base near you. US Person thinks it is only a matter of time, Posse Comitatus or not, before these drones which range is size from the insect-sized Wasp to the medium-sized Shadow are spying from the sky on you.  Big Brother is watching, so be careful out there!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Dingo Really Did Take the Baby

In the case of a missing child in the Australian outback that achieved international notoriety, a coroner ruled thirty-two years after the apparent death of ten week old Azaria Chamberlain in August, 1980 that the cause of death was "taken by a dingo", a phrase which became a sarcastic watch word for suspect parental skills. Azaria was in the family's tent near Uluru when a child's cry was heard. Lindy Chamberlain went to check on her child only to find blood on the tent and dingo tracks nearby. Upon discovering the scene, Chamberlain spontaneously exclaimed, "A dingo's got my baby." The child's body was never found. The event was made into a movie and even an opera.

Lindy Chamberlain served three years of a life sentence for murder, but she was pardoned in 1986 after Azaria's jacket was found near a dingo's den. The first inquest held in 1980-81 was televised, and the case gripped the nation. The court found the cause of death to be likely due to a dingo attack. Up to that point dingos, wild dogs of the bush [photo: National Geographic], were generally considered incapable of initiating an attack on a human. The Northern Territories government, under pressure of public controversy, vacated the verdict and ordered a new inquest. A trial for murder followed. The prosecutor alleged that Azaria's throat had been cut in the front seat of the family's car and that father Michael Chamberlain was an accessory to murder. Controversial forensic evidence, since discredited, was used to obtain the murder conviction*. Yet a third inquest found the cause of death to be unknown.

The couple, now divorced, fought for a complete exoneration. It was a grueling,bitter slog for justice midst hostility and derision for Michael and Lindy Chamberlain. Subsequent documented dingo attacks in other parts of Australia proved to be a critical piece of circumstantial evidence needed to end the dispute. In 2001 a nine year old was fatally mauled by dingos in Queensland. The fourth and final verdict was handed down this week in Darwin magistrates' court. Chamberlain-Creighton said outside the court that, "no longer can Australia say that dingoes are not dangerous and only attack when provoked." She displayed her child's new death certificate, with the words, "attacked and taken by a dingo"

*until recently there were no reliable statistics in the United States for the number of persons wrongly convicted in the criminal justice system. Studies like the official review conducted in Virginia at the request of the state's governor, and a newly complied comprehensive database, give reasons to believe that the number of criminal prosecutions ending in wrongful convictions are in the range of 4-6% of the total.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

National Mammal: The Bison, A Good Idea

credit: Walter Jesse Barbee
We have a national bird, so why not a national mammal? There is no other mammal, except perhaps the grizzly bear--already taken--that represents America in the global popular imagination than the American bison (Bison bison)*. Associated with characteristics of strength, independence, and fortitude the buffalo as national mammal is a good idea which could help recover the species from its historic near-extermination, and serve as a public relations tool to further conservation of remaining wild places and wild species. In short, the buffalo is no turkey. Two senators from Wyoming and South Dakota introduced S. 3248, the Bison Legacy Act last month.

The bill has bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate, but few fans among the extremist elements of the ranching culture in Montana and Idaho who are already on record as hating the wolf too. Both Montana senators who are conservative Democrats are not talking about the initiative. Senator John Tester is up for re-lelection against a card-carrying rich Repugnant who portrays himself as a Montana rancher, so he is not returning any calls about a national mammal. Both Indians and conservationists are supporting the bill, albeit the Indians may see the bison as a traditional food source and potential money-maker. The outgoing Montana governor is supportive.

Recently, as noted in this space, 63 genetically pure, wild buffalo were released to Fort Peck Reservation, {21.03.12} but almost immediately a district court judge blocked any additional relocation efforts in Montana. The bill would not directly affect the way bison are managed by the federal government. Nevertheless, making the bison an official symbol of the United States does elevate the animal's status in the minds of the public. If you would like to see America make a gesture of reconciliation for its mistreatment of a noble animal that once roamed its Great Plains in the millions, vote bison.

*the bison is relatively a new immigrant to the North American continent having crossed the Bering Strait when it was dry. There are drawings of the its European cousin on the walls of Neolithic caves. But how much more appropriate could an animal be to represent the vast majority of European Americans who are also newly arrived, geologically speaking, to this land. Of course, Native Americans living on the Great Plains when the white man arrived revered the buffalo as central to their culture and survival. One reason the buffalo faced extermination in the 19th Century. If the bison became the national mammal then it would be appropriate to establish a permanent home for it on theproposed Buffalo Commons--the former shortgrass prairie where agriculture is biologically unsustainable. There are 6,000 ghost towns in Kansas alone, so are stampedes really a problem?.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

White Nose Syndrome Infects Another Species

female gray bat: USF&WS
The killer fungus known as "White Nose Syndrome" has spread to another endangered species, gray bats (Myotis grisecens). The documented cases are located in Hawkins and Montgomery counties of Tennessee. These are the first known cases in the gray bat. Six other hibernating bat species including the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)are already infected. The development is alarming because the gray bat is numerous having increased in numbers since it was listed in 1976. Gray bats live in large colonies in a few selected caves year round, making the spread of the disease throughout the species more likely. They live in limited limestone karst areas of the southeastern United States where caves are common. The discovery was made by biologists making two separate winter surveillance trips. Telltale white fungus on the muzzle and tail membranes of hibernating gray bats at both sites was collected and confirmed as Geomyces destructans by two separate laboratories. No mortality was observed, so the ultimate impact of the syndrome on gray bats is not known. Bats, as US Person has pointed out before, are massively valuable as pollinators and insectivores, yet because man has shirked his duty as planetary steward, no means of controlling the fungus or treating infected bats has been found.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chart of the Week: Death of a Sea

[credit: Holly M. Bik, PLoS ONE]

Recent articles in the press say some scientists think the planet is headed for a tipping point collapse if humanity does not curtail its abuse of Earth's ecosystems. The effect of a millenium of agricultural and industrial development on the planet's natural systems is so profound that scientists are now ready to debate if a new geological epoch,  the "Anthropocene", should be named to signify the human driven effects that are likely to leave an indelible mark on Earth.

The Gulf of Mexico is a case on point. A report in the science journal PLoS ONE by researchers Holly Bik et al found that the diversity of microbes living in the sand of five beaches around Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay, Alabama and Grand Isle, Louisiana beach to be rich prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster [chart, left side]. After the spill took place, the diversity disappeared leaving only a few "predators and opportunists" such as nematode worms and fungi. [chart, right side] The implications of the study for the Gulf's long term health are tremendously bad. The beaches may look relatively clean after treatment with chemicals and mechanical scrubbing, but the microbes that support all larger life is dying. The communities of these very small organisms form the foundation of a sea's food web. The Gulf may be "open for business" now, but if sea life collapses due to lack of food, it will be in the form of a closing sale.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Great Barrier Reef in Danger

The world's largest barrier reef--yes, it can be seen from space--is in danger from development of Australia's Queensland coast. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee issued advice that the reef could be listed as endangered if the development continues at the same pace. Natural gas facilities and other types of industrial and residential development at a high rate pose serious concern for the Reef's long term conservation according to the Committee. The report was issued at the Committee's annual meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Australian Environment Minister reportedly "welcomed" the report which he said contained "no surprises". The Australian Green Party which is part of the governing coalition said the UNESCO report was a "slap in the face for the federal and Queensland governments which must now stop their dredging, dumping and shipping to avoid international embarrassment". The coral reefs and islands were put on the World Heritage List in 1981, and they are home to 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fish, and 4,000 types of mollusk. The Great Barrier Reef extends from southern Queensland to Papua New Guinea covering over 7,000 square miles. Some of the 600 islands are large enough to have forests and freshwater streams.

Concern over coastal development centers on the mines of the Galilee basin in central Queensland. Additional shipping facilities are proposed to meet the production of nine new coal mines in the area. The first mine was approved by the Queensland government on May 29th, and Gladstone Harbor is being dredged to accommodate two liquified natural gas plants on Curtis Island. The Premier made no bones about his priorities: the coal business comes before environmental protection. Tourism associated with the Reef generates only about $5.1 billion annually. Greenpeace calculates that up to 10,150 coal ships could cross the Barrier Reef by the end of the decade. On April 4, 2010 the coal ship Shen Neng 1 ran aground on the Reef and spilled about 2.5 tons of oil but no coal. [photo courtesy Maritime Safety Queensland] An average of two accidents has occurred each year since 1985 according to the environmental group. Some progress has been made in improving water quality entering the Reef. Nitrogen runoff from regulated farms has declined by 14% since 2010 according to the Queensland government, but funding for improving water quality runs out in 2013. UNESCO said the Reef could be listed "in danger" if Australia does not give it evidence of substantial progress in protecting the Reef from development by 2013.

'Toontime: The Hat No Longer Fits

[credit: Chris Weyant, The Hill]
Unionism is at a historic low point in the United States. Just 45% of Americans viewed unions favorably in a 2011 Pew public opinion poll, and national union membership has dwindled to just 11.8% of the workforce. Nevertheless, unionism among public workers has been growing in recent years. Public unions have never been popular with the Americans who paradoxically view public service as something a person does only for altruistic reasons. The failed PATCO strike is a testament to that curiously quaint view. Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers made a national hero out of the former movie actor turned corporate hawker. Union defeat in the Wisconsin recall will have a similar impact on the upcoming national election even if the proletariat reaction is misguided. The source of their pain is sitting in corporate boardrooms and Wall Street corner offices.

A recent poll on teacher unions showed only 21% of Americans have a positive view of those. Since Scott Walker limited collective bargaining and ended payroll dues deduction, AFSCME membership has dropped in half in Wisconsin. In the midst of the Second Great Depression, voters are loath to give public union members more pay and benefits they already consider generous by private sector standards. The Obamanator may think the "LGBT" brand is large and well-heeled enough to give him the edge in the November election, but US Person doubts that seriously. He needs union members to vote, and more importantly, campaign for him. Unions spent $400 million in the 2008 election to make 'Chuck Barry' the current occupant of the White House. Tweets to the "chardonnay set" do not get the job done.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Spain Will Ask for Help

Spain's banks are under tremendous pressure as financial markets move against them and depositors withdraw money (Financial Times: draw down reaches €100 billion). The bond rating agency, Finch, cut Spain's credit rating by three notches to BBB today, contributing to the rising cost of borrowing. The spread, or premium, between Spanish and German 10yr bonds reached a historic high. Fitch says that Spanish banks need between €50 to €60 billion to cover losses on domestic loans.  The amount of Spain's non-performing loans alone exceed Greece's GDP at $273 billion. The Spanish finance minister said his government will wait to make an aid request until after an IMF report and an independent audit of Spanish banks, both due this month. His country objects to the imposition of austerity measures by the EU or IMF as conditions to financial aid since its deficit spending was not as extravagant as Greece's or Italy's. Meanwhile, Germany is making contingency plans to rescue Spain's bad-debt ridden banking sector. Financial analysts generally think that Spain is "too big to fail" if the single currency zone is too survive. There was some optimism today that the country could avoid the fate of Greece as Spain's auction of $2.5 billion in government bonds was deemed successful.

France Proposes Ban on Bee Killing Chemical

After studies showing the long term adverse effects of neonicotinoid pesticides the National Agency for Food, Safety and Environment is proposing to ban "Cruiser OSR", an insecticide manufactured by Sygenta and widely used on rape crops.  Rape is grown for oilseed and is prominent for its yellow flowers that bees pollinate.  The French government said it will give Sygenta two weeks to prove the pesticide is not linked to the disorder known as Sudden Colony Collapse. Neonicotinoids affect bees' central nervous system which in turn impairs their navigational abilities. Because this type of pesticide is systemic, meaning a plant absorbs the chemicals and residues remain in flowers and pollen, bees are particularly affected. Of course the profit making company denies their product has any adverse affect on bees. France will also take the matter up with the EU making a continent wide ban on the product a possibility. The evidence against neonicotinoids continues to accumulate. A US study published last month in the Journal of Experimental Biology found bees exposed to this type of pesticide changed behavior in food choices and communication. Exposed bees reduced their "waggle dances" which they use to show other hive members the location of food. Some exposed bees stopped dancing altogether. Sudden colony collapse was first recorded in North America in 2006, now the disorder has spread to Europe. Scientists suspect a number of causative factors are responsible including disease, mite infestations, habitat loss, and pollution as well as pesticides.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Money Re-captures Wisconsin

Money talks and it talked loud in Wisconsin yesterday as the union-busting Repugnant governor backed by the fascist, filthy rich Koch Brothers beat off the peoples' will in the recall election. It is time for some serious soul searching by the Democratic Party that seems to be again in disarray under the leadership of an incumbent president. Der leader, the Obamanator, aka Barry O'Bomber, did not come within a helicopter ride of the state. Curious! Does Wisconsin portend for the general election is the question of the moment. Wisconsin is a swing state and the Democrats need the state's 10 electoral votes to win the November election. Barry won Wisconsin by 14 points the last time, but now the state is in play. Independent voters, which are a third of the Wisconsin electorate, voted for Scott Walker perhaps in response to the $18 million poured into the state by super PACs. Unions failed to inspire their members to back the Milwaukee mayor, Tom Barnett. The failure of the recall means Citizens' United is apparently a better team than Citizens.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Finally, Flying Cars Are Here

via ENS
Ok, readers you will remember that we were promised flying cars in the future by kid TV programs like the "Jetsons" and science fiction movies like "Blade Runner". The future is now. Volkswagen, bless their little beetle, has come through at last. Its "Peoples' Car Project" in China led to the creation of a maglev vehicle that floats above the road surface using magnetic levitation technology similar to that now used by maglev trains. The idea for a maglev personal vehicle was submitted by a man from Chengdu, China.  The donut-shaped design reflects Chinese consumers' desire for safe, clean personal transportation that can maneuver overcrowded roads while providing a stimulating environment. Did US Person mention zero emissions? How is that for "top gear"? The People's Car Project in China is more successful than Volkswagen imagined. Because of the high quality of submissions the company has decided to extend the one-year program indefinitely and offer prizes to winning designs in future.

Guatemala Creates New Nature Reserve

The Sierra Caral Amphibian Reserve is Guatemala's newest wildlife reserve and will protect the homes of some of the world's most endangered and rare amphibian species (five found nowhere else).  The site, an isolated mountain ridge running along the Honduran border near the Caribbean Sea, is also an important stopover for migrating songbirds such as the Kentucky Warbler, Painted Bunting, Wood Thrush and Louisiana Waterthrush.  The habitat is especially lush because it is in a convergence zone of floras and faunas from North and South America. There are many unique species such as the stunningly aqua blue Merendon Palm pitviper (Bothriechis thalassinus) only recently identified by Guatemalan biologist Carlos Vasquez Almazan, who is also responsible for drawing international attention to the importance of the Sierra Caral. He received the prestigious Whitley Award for Conservation [video] for his efforts.

juvenile Bothriechis thalassinus, credit: Don Church
Another significance of the new reserve is that it will preserve a natural corridor used by large mammals to move between the continents which they have done before recorded time. Its 6,000 acres of primary montane forest was almost destroyed; each year Guatemala looses 70,000 hectares (270 square miles) of tropical forest to agriculture and logging. The area around Sierra Caral has been steadily denuded by clear cutting, exposing steep slopes to erosion and degrading water quality. Fifteen international conservation groups banded together to raise the funds needed to acquire the last stands of primary forest.  The government had declared the area protected but it lacked funds to purchase privately held tracts. The Sierra Caral Reserve was dedicated on May 2,2012.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Chart of the Week: Arctic CO₂ Levels Up

credit: P.Tans et al, NOAA
NOAA reports that their arctic monitoring stations in high latitudes have registered CO₂ levels of 400ppm this spring. Because of the stations' remoteness in Alaska, Canada, Finland, Norway and the North Pacific, the readings reflect a rising background level of global carbon dioxide consistent with human emissions.  A scientist with NOAA said the network is reporting what will become a global average in about 2016. More southerly stations have been reporting 400ppm for years in the early spring. As plant growth begins, concentrations fall, then rise in summer in an annual cycle.

The good news in an otherwise ominously warming world, is that natural carbon sinks such as tropical forests are still sucking up atmospheric carbon dioxide contrary to some recent studies suggesting these sinks have reached capacity [grey line, chart].  These latest, optimistic findings were reported at a May 15th conference hosted by NOAA's Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, CO. Exactly where the unused capacity is located is not clear given the worldwide destruction of forests. There may be sufficient forest regrowth to keep up with increasing levels of atmospheric CO₂ or the oceans may be absorbing more than previously estimated. Read outs from Mauna Loa on Hawaii show carbon dioxide levels rising steadily from 316 ppm in 1959 to 392ppm today.

Friday, June 01, 2012

'Toontime: The Dark Side

[credit: RJ Matson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
Americans seem oblivious of the Obamatron's disregard of constitutional limitations on the power of the Presidency. Or is it because they fear the rival who appears so utterly reactionary as to be just as frightening? Better the ruthless "Muslim Kenyan" you know than the cultist vulture capitalist you don't.
[credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune]