Friday, May 31, 2013

'Toontime: Mad, Mad, Mad 'Merica

Ok, US Person confesses, he was a fan of Looney Toons. His favorite: Daffy Duck.  Hey, it prepared him for life!
[credit: Joe Heller]
Speaking of hot heads, Russia will not supply the Syrian dictator with an advanced anti-missile system, S-300, until the third quarter of 2014 under a 2010 contract according to Kommersant Daily. The respected mobile system is capable of shooting down aircraft or missiles, and its potential entry into the war has alarmed Israel. If operated correctly it could counteract the threat of western air strikes against a regime that is showing remarkable resilience in the civil war. On Wednesday the director of MiG said his company would deliver Syria six MiG-29 MM2. A Syrian delegation was in Moscow to refine the details of that delivery this week. The Assad regime is now reinforced by Israel's sworn enemy, the Hezbollah organization. European Union has dropped an arms embargo agianst Syria, so France and Great Britain can ship arms to the rebels. The US called Russia's decision to provide the mobile missile system "a mistake". After talks with Secretary of State John Kerry, the Kremlin has succeeded in convincing its satrap to engage in peace talks in Geneva, but the talks will be postponed amid heavy fighting in Syria. French journalists observed the use of unidentified gas attacks against rebel fighters in the Damascus region. The UN estimates 80,000 have died in Syria's civil war to date.

[credit: Michael Ramirez]
Wackydoodle axes: Does he do dirty tricks?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Capitalism Makes us Crazy: Dr Gabor Maté on Illness & Addiction | National Radio Project

Capitalism Makes us Crazy: Dr Gabor Maté on Illness & Addiction | National Radio Project

England's Badger Wars

credit: Duncan Shaw/Getty Images
For a nation described as the one that cares the most about animals according to Sir Richard Attenborough, its government is peculiarly callous. A confidential document publicized by the Guardian says the noises made by shot badgers will be among the measures used to assess the humaneness of a pilot badger cull scheduled to take place from June 1st in parts of Glouchestershire and Somerset. Of course the document has enraged wildlife advocates. It is not clear how wounded badgers that escape underground to die can be assessed for humane extermination according to this criteria. DEFRA, the UK's environment ministry, defends its cull as being designed by "independent experts". The shootings will take place a night when free-roaming badgers are active by shooters required to pass a government training course. In a previous trial cull badgers were trapped in cages and then shot, but this method is relatively expensive. The document recognizes death of a wounded animal could be slow due to secondary infection and starvation. If the pilot culls are deemed successful, the cull will be extended nationwide in an attempt to curb the rising epidemic of tuberculosis in cattle. Thirty-seven thousand cattle were slaughtered in 2012.

Conservationists say killing badgers to prevent TB in cattle is ineffective likening it to killing rats during the Plague. A government veterinarian, John Bourne, led a ten year £50 million trial of badger culling. He reported in 2008 that killing badgers could not make a meaningful contribution to curbing bovine TB. Bourne recognized that primarily cows infect other cows while infections from badgers are secondary. A cull of borrowing, nocturnal animals is difficult and usually results in spreading diseased animals further afield. Eleven thousand badgers were killed in the trial. Vaccination of cows and badgers has been promoted as a humane alternative, but government has rejected that suggestion as impractical. Nevertheless after national debate, Wales has chosen to follow the vaccination of badgers route at a cost £5 million and five years. England's National Trust also engaged in a vaccination trial on the Killerton Estate near Exeter. Field trials showed a 74% decrease in bovine TB in badgers. Another larger trial sponsored by the National Trust is underway in Devon at a cost of £320,000.  An oral badger vaccine that can be inexpensively deployed with bait is expected to be available by 2015.

credit Raimund Linke/Getty Images
The controversial cull has political overtones too. The influential Famers Union backs badger culls and the Tories. The pilot culls now scheduled to take place beginning June 1st were postponed once in October, and Prime Minister Cameron has made it clear to DEFRA minister Owen Paterson that another U-turn will not be permitted. The crux of the problem is the badger is a protected species in the UK and too much killing may reduce its numbers below acceptable levels insuring the species' survival. Inaccurate population counts stopped the earlier culls. The government estimates the badger population in Gloucestershire is from 2,657 to 4,079 with a 40% chance that actual numbers are outside the range. Gloucestershire farmers have been told to kill between 2,856 and 2,932 badgers, or potentially wiping out an entire population which is not permitted under Natural England's licensing rules. The same ambiguity surrounding the size of the cull exists in Sommerset. DEFRA's independent panel of experts have called for a repeat of October's badger counts. But DEFRA's chief science advisor, Prof. Ian Boyd said the status quo cannot continue because bovine TB is out of control in the UK. Wildlife activists have pledged to field "an army" of volunteers to disrupt the culls using noise makers and "torches" to frighten badgers so they leave the area. Pitch folks must be left at home, however.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sergent Bales Will Plead Guilty to Murders

The US Army sergeant that went berserk on a one man search and destroy mission in Afghanistan will plead guilty to multiple murder to avoid the death penalty. Sixteen villagers were killed in their huts on the night of March 11, 2012, and then their bodies burned by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in the worse war crime of the Afghanistan war. He is scheduled to enter guilty pleas on June 5th at Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washington to avoid his own execution. According to his lawyer, Bales will admit to "very specific facts" concerning his attacks and is contrite about the murders. Bales' defense team determined he would be unable to mount a convincing defense of insanity or diminished capacity at the time of the attacks. Bales walked from his compound past guards to two nearby villages in the middle of the night to attack sleeping residents. He had been drinking heavily and snorting Valium as well as taking steroids prior to the attacks. Bales returned to Camp Belambay after his first sortie and confessed his crime to a sleepy fellow soldier. Ignored, Bales left again and continued the slaughter. Most of his victims were women and children. He was on his fourth deployment to a combat zone when he became uncontrollably homicidal. He is married and the father of two children. The US military judicial system has not executed a member since 1961. The United States was forced to suspend combat operations due to angry local reaction to news of the massacre. Reaction in Afghanistan to the plea deal was also swift and angry. A man who had eleven family members killed by Bales said there will be retaliation against American soldiers if Bales is not executed.

Monday, May 27, 2013

COTW: Corps Stash Cash

One of the reasons there is so much joblessness in America is corporations are taking advantage of the casino economy by stashing profits rather than spending it on expansion of plant or workforce. Marx said this would be a feature of decadent capitalism, when money itself becomes a commodity. American corporations are now holding a record $1.73 trillion based on data from about 2300 companies compiled by Bloomberg. Companies are building up huge cash reserves due to rising production and cost savings, but also tax avoidance as ably demonstrated by Apple, Inc. It chose to float a bond rather than use its monstrous overseas pile of cash and have to pay taxes on it. The company avoided $9.2 billion in US taxes last year. Corporate capital expeditures have dropped 21% when compared to the final three months of 2012, marking it as the largest quarter to quarter drop since the depth of the Financial Panic of 2008. This, despite record low interests rates available to commercial borrowers.

The glaring message in these charts is that corporations are paying an increasing small amount of their profits in taxes with an ever shrinking share going to labor while the plutocrats are paid ever more in bonus. Meanwhile, the captains of enterprise are abetted in this plunder by a national government that is intent on printing more money than stars in the galaxy, further eroding consumer purchasing power. Call it slime aid:

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

'Toontime: The Buck Never Stops Here

[credit: Michael Ramirez, Investors Business Daily]
Wackydoddle sez;  An' he ain't no crook neither!
B. O'Drama is playing defense these days as a triple whammy of scandal continues to occupy Washington's chattering classes. He was forced to publicly defend his morally ambiguous drone war* this week while the IRS's tax exempt division chief, Lois Lerner, chose to take the Fifth when summoned by Congress to explain her division's scrutiny of right-wing groups claiming tax-exempt status.   Her refusal to testify earned her an administrative leave from the  agency while drawing her six-figure salary; she is a career federal employee.  Her reliance on constitutional protection against self incrimination has enraged Rep. Darrell Issa (R), who said he will recall the witness to his subcommittee because "she did not properly take the Fifth".  The Congressman argues she waived her right against self-incrimination by protesting her innocence of any wrongdoing in her opening statement.  The President demanded the resignation of acting Commissioner Steven Miller over the revelations of alleged targeting of "Tea Party" organizations by the Cincinnati office of the IRS. Treasury's inspector general for tax administration reported that the IRS more closely examined groups claiming tax exempt status whose names included words such as "tea party", "9/12 project" and "patriot".  Their applications were held up for more than a year by the agency.
[credit: Randy Bish, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]
  Wackdoodle sez:  Y'all lookin a mite peakid!
*despite his claim that each drone strike is carefully vetted to prevent killing innocent civilians, estimates are that over 4,000 people including four American citizens have died by drone attacks.  Obama has signed off on more than six times the number of drone strikes authorized by the Charlatan, and he intends to continue using his weapon of choice.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

PEERS Sues Administration for De-listing Wolf

source: ENS, note radio collar
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) sued Obamabucks for his proposal to delist the grey wolf throughout the lower 48 states in payment of political debts. Sixteen scientists wrote a letter to the new Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and the US Fish & Wildlife Service director saying that the proposed delisting or "draft rule" does not reflect the conclusions of their research on issues of grey wolf management or the best available science concerning wolf recovery. he primary problem with the draft rule is that it ignores the beneficial effects of large carnivores on the ecosystems they inhabit. The scientists went on to say that the grey wolf has barely begun to recover or is absent from former range where suitable habitat still remains. Several western states have declared open war against wolves since populations in the Northern Rockies were delisted in 2011. More than 1100 wolves have killed in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. PEER charges the entire process used to develop the delisting plan for the remainder of the United States lacked integrity and openness since it involved no independent scientists and used economic and political factors to reach foregone conclusions on questions of biology and ecology. Fish & Wildlife has not responded to document requests concerning the decision process for over a year despite a legal requirement that they respond within twenty working days to legitimate requests for information. PEER's suit in US District Court for the District of Columbia seeks to force the agency to divulge the requested information. Five environmental organizations have also asked Secretary Jewel to reconsider the nationwide delisting plan. PEER director, Jeff Ruch, said the "politics surrounding this preditor's legal status has been as fearsome as the reputation"  Amen to that, brother.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Flight of the Bumblebee

source: BBC News
Researchers at the University of Oxford have been studying the bumblebee's (Bombus sp.) flight mechanics with the aid of high speed photography. They found that the relatively heavy insect is not a graceful flyer in the manner of the hummingbird, perhaps the epitome of flight evolution, but uses brute force to stay aloft. Bumblebee wings flap independently 130 or more times a second, powered by large flight muscles that make up most of the insect's thorax. Research into pollinators is increasing as the decline in native bee species make their crucial role in agriculture evermore apparent to humans. Experts have put a number on bees' pollination services of $3 billion annually in the United States alone. How they would be replaced if they go extinct is not clear to scientist or agriculturalists. Chinese farmers have already resorted to manual pollination in some cases. Bumblebees are especially suited for tomato crops which they "buzz pollinate", shaking the pollen loose from the tomato bloom. They are hardier than honey bees and forage at low temperatures, often when it is raining or windy. Bumblebees are social, but make new nests underground every year. They also appear to "plan" their foraging journeys according to University of London scientists studying bumblebee flight patterns in a Surrey enclosure. Flight is energetically very expensive so bees must minimize distances they fly, yet honey bees can fly a round trip of 20kms.

The causes of bumblebee decline are controversial. In Europe intensive farming and prolonged pesticide use are considered the primary causes by apian expert Dave Goulson, who formed the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to aid the insects' survival. Habitat such as hedges where bumblebees like to nest were ripped out during the "Dig for Victory" campaign during WWII.  Bad weather and lack of food in the early spring also take a heavy toll on "bomblebees". Now, Britian is facing a bee shortage. British scientists are importing short-haired bumblebees from Sweden in an effort to repopulate the island. This species of bumblebee went extinct in England in 1988.

In the United States both wild and domesticated bees are suffering population declines, but the subject of cause has become embroiled in political fights over the use of neonicotinoids which were finally banned in Europe on an experimental basis. Since 2006 the US government estimates 10 million bee hives have collapsed. This past winter beekeepers reported hive losses of 40 to 50%. Neonicontinoids are used on 95% of corn and canola crops and the majority of cotton, sorghum and sugar beets and about half of soybeans. A recent report on "Honey Bee Health" issued by the Department of Agriculture attributed the cause of honey bee decline to a combination of factors including pesticides, but concludes the major cause of bee death is the parasitic mite Varroa destructor. The US is nowhere near banning neonicotinoid use and in fact the EPA recently approved the unconditional registration of another pesticide which agency classifies at toxic to bees. The agency dismissed concerns of beekeepers and environmentalists about sulfoxaflor, a systemic pesticide that persists in the environment like neonicotinoids. It's neurological effect on honeybees is also similar. The agency choose to simply limit its application rate, a use limitation often ignored in the field. A California study found that 80% of the state's waterways are contaminated with pesticides. The refusal of the EPA to recognize the toll chronic pesticide--not just neonicotinoids--poisoning is exacting on bee health is a testament to the strength of the chemical lobby in Washington. When it comes to pollinators like bees which are responsible for a third of the food humans consume, we are all "stakeholders".

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

COTW: Tornado Alley

The Southern Plains are infamous for developing killer tornados, as this chart shows:

The EF-5 tornado [red, above] that obliterated wide swaths of Moore, Oklahoma yesterday developed very rapidly so residents were caught outside and in school buildings.  An EF-5 contains winds in excess of 200mph.  The violent twister was in the same big league and followed nearly the same path as the 1999 tornado in Moore that killed 41. The 1999 tornado exhibited the strongest winds ever recorded on Earth, clocked at 318mph, and ranks as the fourth highest on record for most damage. The latest "storm of storms" stayed in contact with the ground for forty minutes and clawed a one mile-wide path of destruction at its peak.  A classic combination of wind shear and moist air from the Gulf colliding with dry air from the Rockies spawned the supercell thunderstorm and associated vortexes.

A survivor's tale:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pentagon Rewrites Constitution

In a Thursday Senate hearing that went largely unreported by the corporate mass media, Pentaton officials affirmed the concept of "endless war" by arguing for the continuation of counter terrorism laws that have curtailed civil liberties until al-Qaeda or anyone associated with it are eliminated. Senator Angus King (I-MA) said the testimony was "astounding and astoundingly disturbing" telling the witnesses, "you guys have essentially rewritten the Constitution here today." The Pentagon officials maintain that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) is sufficent to send US forces into Syria, Yemen and the Congo without further congressional action. The Senate is considering amending the 2001 authorization which granted the Charlantan the authority to invade Afghanistan and Iraq as well as create a global counter-terror operation that uses indefinite detention, rendition, lethal drones, and torture to combat terrorism. The Act broadly empowered the last President to "use all necessary and appropriate force against" persons or associated forces he determines to be responsible or aided the homeland attacks of September 11, 2011. The language has been criticized since it inception by legal scholars and civil rights activists as institutionalizing an endless war campaign that is debilitation our civil society and civilian authority over the military complex. The Pentagon sees the world as a global battlefield because its current enemy is stateless. The essential point the Pentagon warmongers miss or deliberately ignore is that the United States war policy against terror is self-perpetuating and actually increases hostilities worldwide.  Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev scrawled on the inside of the boat he hid from police in that he was avenging innocent Muslims killed by the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Civil rights experts urged the Senate committee to retire the law passed in the shock of an unprecedented and successful act of terror against the continental United States. Essentially the AUMF is a blank check written in advance and makes Congress' constitutional war powers null and void. Theoretically, under the current administration's interpretation of the law which is similar to the previous administration's, a United States government could declare "war" on an individual, even a citizen living within its territorial limits, and eliminate him or her using military force without a jot of guaranteed due process of law. Don't believe it? Watch the video.

Friday, May 17, 2013

'Toontime: When the Luster Fades

[credit: Jimmy Margules, The Record]
Wackydoodle axes: Buddy, can you spare a Lawyer?
White House stupidity is exceeded only by the House of Representatives which has tried to repeal national health care, as bad as it currently is, thirty-seven times at the cost of millions. It costs $24 million to run the House of Representatives for a week. The first 33 votes took 80 hours of floor time or about two weeks as calculated by CBS. The Repugnants also continue to de-fund healthcare spending which will only increase the overall cost of health care in the United States.
[credit: Joe Heller, Green Bay Press-Gazette]
Wackydoodle axes:  Y'all covered for that brain damage?

Arctic Nations Sign Weak Agreement

WWF: oil covered penguin, South African coast
The seven Arctic nations that make up the Arctic Council agreed to develop a plan for responding to oil and gas spills in the Arctic Ocean. The agreement reached at the biennial ministerial meeting in Sweden, if adhered to, will give some protection to Arctic wildlife and peoples, since it intends to fill the "response gap" by prepositioning of spill equipment. But it does not commit each country to cleaning up oil spills that will be inevitable as the rush to develop a melting Arctic begins. The agreement comes only five months after a near disaster took place on the southern coast of Alaska. Shell lost control of a drilling rig in heavy seas which grounded on a wildlife rich island near Kodiak, Alaska. By sheer luck, the rig was towed off without spilling significant amounts of oil. After this near mis and other problems with its exploration program, Shell called off Arctic drilling plans for this season and publicly recognized the importance of planning for spill prevention and clean up.

The nations did agree in the Kiruna Declaration also signed at the meeting to work together to achieve a binding legal agreement to limit the emission of heat producing greenhouse gases.  The Arctic is warming twice as fast as other areas of the planet, so urgent action is needed.  Environs were disappointed that immediate action was not taken to limit particle pollution from human combustion sources and methane, two potent climate pollutants.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Californians Behind Bars for Rhino Slaughter

courtesy: South Africa National Commissioner
A criminal duo of father and son from LaLa Land (Orange County, California) will be the guest of the federal government for three years-- behind bars. The two were described as being at the apex of rhino horn smuggling in the United States. They were sentenced yesterday in Los Angeles on federal smuggling and money laundering charges. Vinh Chuong Kha and his son Felix Kha were sentenced to 42 and 46 months respectively, not enough in US Person's opinion, because their multimillion dollar operation played a direct role in the huge increase in rhinoceros poaching in Africa of recent years. Thousands of rhinos have suffered cruel deaths for their keratin, the same material that makes human fingernails. The black market price of rhino horn has reached almost $25,000 per pound. In their plea agreements the Kha's admitted purchasing horn on the international black market to be resold and made into libation cups or folk remedies. They admitted bribing at least one Vietnamese customs officials to ensure custom clearance of their shipments. The market thrives because of corrupt officials and lack of serious law enforcement in Southeast Asia. Each defendant was ordered to pay $10,000 fines, $185,000 in tax fraud penalties, and $800,000 in restitution to the Multi-species Conservation Fund managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service to aid international conservation efforts. Jimmy Kha's corporation Win Lee Corporation was also sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 for wildlife trafficking. Not enough, when rhinos are being forced to the brink of extinction by a cruel trade fueled by human greed and ignorance that kills a rhino every 11 hours. The Khas were taken down as part of Operation Crash conducted by the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

White House Shoots Its Own Foot over AP Leak

AP is screaming bloody murder over the invasion of its press freedom because the Justice Department seized two months of journalists' phone records. National security insiders are calling the seizures "massive and unprecedented". Apparently the seizures are part of a criminal investigation into a leak that exposed the existence of a covert operative in the ranks of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify on the hill before the House Judiciary Committee concerning the probe. A May 7,2012 AP story allegedly contained leaked information about a foiled plot in Yemen to put an upgraded underwear bomb aboard a plane bound for the United States around the time of the first anniversary of killing Osama bin Laden. All the records seized were from journalists and editors that worked on the story. Paradoxically, the offending story contained no mention of western espionage controlling the plot or using an inside informer. It also said the fate of the potential bomber was unknown.

The real story is in the background to the Justice Department probe. CIA Director John Brennan held a small conference call with the administration's national security fronts who appear regularly on US television news programs as "commentators" on May 7th, just before newscasts were aired. The conference call was prompted by AP's insistence it would go public with the foiled bomb plot story. Brennan told the fronts that the Yemen plot was never a serious threat to national security because Washington had "inside control" over it. This statement obviously implied some covert activity was involved. ABC security commentator Richard Clarke, and former counter-terrorism chief for Clinton, participated in Brennan's phone briefing. He later went on the air and said that, "The US government is saying it never came close because they had insider information, insider control, that implies they had somebody on the inside who wasn't going to let it happen." This public deduction by a recognized security insider was enough for journalists to run with the story of a joint US-British-Saudi counter-terror operation in which the latest non-metalic underwear bomb was handed over to US officials by a double agent. The espionage operation was blown and had to be shut down prematurely with red faces all round. The White House denies it or the CIA was the ultimate source for the damaging leak.

Japan Kills Record Low Number of Whales

Thanks directly to the aggressive but necessary actions of the Sea Shepherd organization the Kyodo News reported a record low catch of only 103 Antarctic minke whales this season. The target was 1,000 whales for the 48 day whaling season. Sea Shepherds' goal is to make whaling in southern seas so difficult due to it's active interference that commercial whaling will become uneconomic [photo]. Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the group disrupted the hunt four times and forced Japanese fishermen to spend three weeks evading the sea going environmentalists.  He called the actions "unforgivable sabotage". Japan has been conducting so-called "cetacean research" as a cover for commercial slaughter since 1987.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Greener Neighborhoods = Less Crime

The journal Landscape and Urban Planning published a study which found fewer violent crimes (assaults, robberies and burglaries) were committed less often in greener areas of Philadelphia (Wolfe & Mennis 2012). The correlation remained after parameters for education, poverty and population density were adjusted. A hypothesis to explain the correlation is that greenery alleviates human psychological stress making violent crime less likely. Research shows that humans experience significant psychological benefits from spending time in natural areas*. Of course with more people outside, there are more eyes watching what is going on in the neighborhood. One way you can contribute to the health of your neighborhood is to provide needed elements for wildlife survival on your patch of ground. Food, water, cover and places to rear offspring are easy to incorporate into your landscape plans. The National Wildlife Federation has a certification program for wildlife friendly yards as well as attractive, sturdy plaques showing your home is providing needed urban habitat for species other than yourself and family.

*Scientists at the US Forest Service have observed a link between human health and trees. The study looked at 1,296 counties in 15 states over 18 years to discover that communities which lost trees to the emerald ash borer suffered an additional 15,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,000 deaths from respiratory disease. Spending as little as 20 minutes in nature mitigages ADHD symptoms in children.

Monday, May 13, 2013

COTW: "Prognosis Negative"

This map is provided by the United States EPA and shows the changes in the amount of dissolved aragonite in ocean surface waters between the 1880s and the most recent decade. Aragonite is a form of calcium carbonate, a base, which many marine mammals such as coral and mollusks use to build shells and skeletons. Increasing ocean acidification due to the absorption of atmospheric CO₂ decreases the amount of minerals available for marine life to use. Although the change is greatest in the tropical regions (red-orange), acidification in the Arctic sea (yellow-green) is of greater concern to biologists since those waters have less aragonite to begin with.
The Arctic Ocean is absorbing carbon dioxide at a rate previously unknown. The top 100 meters is now about 35% more acidic that it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Such a huge change could wipe out large numbers of herring, cod and capelin as well as plankton and crabs. The entire marine food chain including humans at the top of it could collapse. A researcher for the Norwegian Institute for Water Research told the The Indpendent that sea urchins are particularly sensitive to acidification and they are a major food source for walruses.  Some planktons are also acid sensitive and provide food for fish and whales. These are among the prey species of the Inuit living in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka, Russia. Now there is more fresh water flowing into the sea because of the melting ice cap. Chemically, fresh water is less able to neutralize CO₂ absorption. And more CO₂ is being absorbed because the rapidly shrinking ice cap exposes a greater area of the sea directly to the atmosphere. The daily mean concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached a record 400ppm last week according to NOAA*. No imagined ghoul could devise a more deadly "triple whammy" against life on Earth.

Perhaps the most controversial chart in recent climate science is this one, the so-called "hockey stick" of temperature change in the northern hemisphere over the millennium just elapsed:
When first published by Michael Mann et al in 1999 it did not stir much controversy, but then it was featured by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its third Assessment Report.  Mann was immediately attacked by climate deniers.  Even Congress demanded his data and other information including the computer code used to run his model.  Eventually in 2005 the National Academy of Science vindicated the study's results: the "hockey stick" shape of the graph represented good science, and concluded that the unprecedented late 20th Century warming is supported by an array of evidence.  Mann projects there will be an 8℉ increase relative to the 1961-90 mean by 2100.  This movie is called "Prognosis Negative" unless humans change the plot.  Americans cannot handle the truth; maybe that is why the New York Times shut down its environmental desk.

*this level of atmospheric carbon dioxide was last reached 3 million years ago during the Pliocene when summer temperatures were about 8℃ warmer than today.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Gulf Restoration Begins in Earnest

Louisiana received $320 million for environmental restoration from British Petroleum last month, part of the $1 billion BP agreed to invest in ecological restoration to settle criminal charges against the company for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The money will be used to restore four barrier islands significantly damaged by the oil spill. Before this announcement, BP had approved 10 projects amounting to only $70 million. An estimated 60% of injured and dead wildlife were found along Louisiana's shore line. Barrier islands provide an important habitat for a variety of marine and shore life. As well, the islands provide a barrier against storm surge. Prolonged degradation of the islands has eroded island beaches and destroyed marshes. The islands to be restored are Whiskey Island, Shell Island, Breton Island and Cheniere Ronquille in Barataria Bay. Breton Island national Wildlife Refuge [photo] provides some of the most important nesting sites for seabirds in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  Thirteen species nest on the islands of the Refuge.

'Toontime: Benwhatsits?

Bubba is not around to suffer a bimbo eruption, so Repugnants suffering from O'Drama fatigue are desperate for something to make into a mountain, but the Benghazi consulate attack and alleged cover-up is not registering with either the CMM or the folks already focused on summer vacations:
[credit: Steve Sack, Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
The question that was not asked amid the highly partisan posturing at the House hearings held this week was: why was the embassy so lightly guarded when it was clear to the consulate staff that Libya was disintegrating in the aftermath of the removal of Muammar Qaddafi?  The target of the Repugnants is Hillary Clinton, whom they believe they will have to face in the next round of presidential elections.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Rare Dolphin Threatened by Seismic Tests

The leading professional society for research on marine mammals, Society for Marine Mammalogy, has asked the New Zealand government to halt seismic survey in the habitat of the critically endangered Maui Dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui). There are only 55 individuals of this subspecies surviving in the wild. They are the world's smallest and rarest dolphins. They only live off the west coast of New Zealand's North Island and are closely related to the more numerous Hector's dolphin. It is not known if the two species interbreed, but they are identical in appearance. They breed slowly with females maturing late at around seven years and giving birth to a single offspring every two to four years.

While fishing is the primary cause of their death, scientists are concerned that seismic surveys harm their hearing and push them into unprotected areas where they are more exposed to the danger of fishing nets. Gillnets and trawling kill about 9% of the population each year or about 75 times the sustainable limit. The Society told the government that allowing testing in their habitat is inconsistent with the government's stated goal of allowing the species to recover. The extremely loud blasts of seismic surveying occur around the clock for weeks or even months at close intervals and are known to affect the behavior of whales, dolphins, porpoises and harm the fish on which they feed. Twenty-four cetacean species are known to science to suffer negative effects from marine noise pollution. While it may not be enough to kill a marine mammal outright, the chronic stress the extreme noise causes is debilitating, just as a human if debilitated by chronic stressors. Pre-natal damage to unborn dolphins is also possible which the Maui dolphins cannot bear if they are to avoid extinction. The Society earlier asked the government to ban gillnet and trawl fishing in the Maui's habitat. At the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) convention last year 576 members voted to protect the Maui dolphin. Only two governments voted against the resolution, New Zealand's was one of them. Currently there is a ban on setting nets close to shore from Maunganui to Hawera, but harbors, which Maui's inhabit, are not subject to the ban. There is scientific backing for extending the ban farther south to Wanganui. Catch data shows net setting and trawling occurs illegally inside the protected area.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Old Nazis With No Place to Hide

the "Gate of Death", Reuters
A deported former Nazi death camp guard, Hans Lipschis, was arrested by German authorities on Monday for allegedly being involved in mass murder at Auschwitz [photo]. Lipschis is 93, born in Lithuania, and has a daughter living in the US. Lipschis emmigrated in 1956 and settled in Chicago. He was deported from the US in 1982 for lying about his Nazi past. He acknowledged being assigned to an SS "Tottenkopf" unit, but claimed he only worked as a cook. Lipschis is believed to have served at Auschwitz from the autumn of 1941 until the camp was liberated in 1945. The arrest comes after Germany's central office for Investigation of National Socialist Crimes launched a push to bring the remaining Nazi death camp guards to justice. The unit has a list of 50 former Auschwitz guards still living in Germany provided by the museum at the memorial site.

The successful prosecution of John Demjanjuk in May 2011 set a precedent making it easier to prosecute lower-level Nazis who participated in the Holocaust. Prosecutors need not prove culpability in a specific murder or murders to obtain a conviction. A crucial piece of evidence in Demjanjuk's case was his SS identity card from Sobibor. Critics and Neonazis charge Demjanjuk's conviction amounted to guilt by association. Demjanjuk died awaiting appeal. The move to prosecute still living Nazi guards is in stark contrast to Germany's policy in the 60s and 70s when West German courts acquitted senior SS leaders on the grounds that the Holocaust was primarily the responsibility of national Nazi war criminals. German courts have convicted around 6,650 Nazi war criminals in 36,000 trials since 1947, but most of these occurred before 1950, and most of the sentences handed out were lenient to an embarrassing degree.

European Bison Roam Free

The feel good stories on the of topic wildlife conservation are becoming fewer. But there is one to report from Germany. In April a small herd of European bison (Bison bonasus) was released from its fenced enclosure in the Bad Berleburg region to become the first free roaming bison in Germany for 300 years. Hopefully the bison herd, consisting of one adult bull, five cows and two calves, will live and multiply in a 10,000 hectare managed forest on the Rothaar Mountains. Scientists will continue to study them and keep track of their location with radio collars fitted to two animals. WWF-Germany said the project is a ground-breaking step for nature conservation in Europe. After being studied by biologists at close range in an 88 hectare enclosure for three years, they concluded the European bison or wisent is a shy, peace loving animal that presents no risk to humans despite their horns (both sexes), large size, and formidable strength if allowed to roam freely. The last wild bison were shot in the Bialowieza Forest of Poland. One bull survived in the western Caucasus until killed by poachers in 1927. The last 50 representatives of the species were confined in zoos. Since then there have been several reintroduction efforts in Europe. The ancient woodland on the border of Poland and Belarus, Bialowieza Forest, now contains 800 wild bison. Herds have also been reintroduced in Moldova (2005), Spain (2010) and Denmark (2012).

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

COTW: What Austerity Does

It is official, Spain has the worst unemployment rate in modern times exceeding the 25% officially unemployed in the United States during the First Great Contraction. Only Greece is experiencing mass unemployment on the level of Spain.
Unemployment in Spain has hit young people the hardest. 57% are without jobs. Spanish businesses are also closing at a record pace, up 45% since 2012. The causes of this depression are by now familiar: the end of a real estate development bubble that caught banks overextended in debt, and an economy  failing to recover from the world financial crisis. The social dislocations are bad enough to force people to leave the country. For the first time since records began in the '90s Spain's population is decreasing. The outlook for Spain is not good. The IMF forecasts a 1.6% contraction in 2013, and no growth until 2017.

The Great Austerity Experiment, as Europe's infatuation with fiscal discipline might be called has been discredited. French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said, "Austerity is over, but we remain serious." Only a Frenchman could deliver that contradictory line with a straight face. The Austerians' confidence fairy returning after the magic number of 90% debt/GDP was reached is just a modern myth after all. The reality is fiscal austerity is a means for the economic elite to further enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of society. In the United States, the last bastion of so-called free market capitalism, the richest 8 million families received an average rise in their wealth from $1.7 to $2.5 million each. The rest of us, the bottom 93%, suffered on average a decline of $6,000 each. The explanation is simple. The federal stimulus doled out in terms of ultra-low interest rates on debt funnels money into the Wall Street stock casino seeking capital gains taxed at a ridiculous 15%. The proof of that is the record high levels of your favorite stock index. Only there is cunning catch. Like a casino, only the owners get rich on Wall Street. This chart shows who owns stocks in America:
Meanwhile the owners' government in Washington is hacking and slashing the public payrolls just like a corporate raider taking over a going business:
So the next time you see a corporate talking-head cheerleading another Dow-Jones ejaculation, call the studios and tell them to get serious or move to Spain, their choice.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Feds Want to Kick Grizzly Bear Off List

The US Fish & Wildlife Service should be laying plans for a trans-border national park--a real land of the grizzlies--to preserve the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) population in northwest Montana instead of preparing to take an entire population of America's largest land predator off the federal Endangered Species list. Frequently America's management of wild spaces and wild creatures is backward, governed by a legacy of wild abundance. That time is gone probably never to return. This outdated attitude inspired by economic exploitation refuses to take into account the new reality of the 21st century and beyond: homo sapiens survival as a species depends on protecting and conserving remaining in-tact ecosystems and the natural processes of Earth and restoring those that have been damaged. Some conservationists refer to this enlightened approach to a sustainable planet as "rewilding"*.

The foregone conclusion of the public comment period is a post-listing management plan that will almost certainly include trophy hunting, or in Washingtonian bureaucratise, "sustainable mortality limits" for adult males. Of course the rejoinder to this criticism will be "there he goes again"--anthropomorphizing stupid beasts. US Person suggests telling that to an angry grizzly bear, pardner. The target population to be delisted is in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, the largest of six recovery zones and contiguous to a growing Canadian population of bears. In 2004 scientists estimated that there were 765 bears in this zone. Based on an estimated growth rate of 3% per year there could be 942 bears in the Northern Divide zone. But while there are more bears in this one area, there are still smaller population pockets in the Cabinet-Yaak and Selkirk mountains that are not sustainable, and the Bitterroots are currently unoccupied. These areas need to be reconnected to bear populations which are genetically diverse and growing. As bear numbers expand, humans should be educated on how to live with an admittedly intimidating animal as a neighbor. A hugely tragic conservation mistake was made when wolves in the Northern Rockies were delisted and abandoned to slaughter by revenue starved state governments dominated by ranching and hunting interests. The same mistake should not be made again with the grizzly bear. Our federal government's approach should be to find ways to expand grizzly bear habitat by connecting wild populations and former ranges while emphasizing methods of minimizing, preventing and responding to human-bear conflicts. And that Mr. Chekov, is an official comment.
*Michael Soulé and Reed Noss, "Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation,";8 (Fall 1998) 19-28.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Peru Can No Longer Deny Trashing Amazonia

After decades of kowtowing to energy companies like Chevron which left a toxic legacy that does billions of dollars of damage to the forest, the Peruvian government finally declared a state of environmental emergency. The reason for the admission is the elevated levels of toxic heavy metals, lead, barium and chromium as well as hydrocarbons, found in the Pastaza River [photo]. The river basin near Ecuador is the site of Peru's most productive oil fields operated by Pluspetrol of Argentina. It is also home to the Quichua and Ashuar people who remain hunter-gatherers by choice. They have complained for years about toxic contamination, but the government never addressed the problem since it did not have requisite environmental quality standards That error has been corrected and Pluspetrol will be required to clean up the contamination according to the nation's Environment Minister. The company was fined $11 million in January. The field was originally developed by Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles, CA. Drilling began in 1971; it too failed to remediate contamination of surrounding habitat. Peru is not alone in the oil business, over 100 million hectares of the Amazon is currently let out for oil and gas exploration and production, but it does have the largest number of potential oil zones covering 84 of the Peruvian Amazon.
credit: Finer et al (2008)

The president of Quichua Federation of Pastaza, Sixto Shapiama, said, "the government never wanted to see the reality" of constant oil spills. Adding that the river bottom is completely contaminated. An investigative magazine reported in 2010 that Pluspetrol had 78 spills in the region from 2006 to 2010. A British Catholic activist who worked with indigenous people of the area told AP that two other river basins were there are oil fields are also contaminated, the Corrientes and the Tigre. All are tributaries of the Amazon. Peru did not even have an environment ministry until 2008. Standards for levels of toxins in the soil were published on Monday of this week. Peru's president in 2006 Alan Garcia opened the gates of the Amazon to mining and oil exploitation. There has been a significant popular backlash against the despoilment of Amazonia. In 2009 a conflict between indigenous protesters and police lead to the death of 23 police and 10 protestors. Of course the oil companies largely ignore these expressions of popular will. Sixteen companies have formed a coalition to lobby the government to allow increased production.

'Toontime: A Red Line Too Far

[credit: John Darkow, Columbus Daily Tribune]
Fortunately B.O'Drama's "red line" in the case of Syria's internecine civil war is a mere Bushism that no longer incites. Vladimir Putin has candidly stated it is dangerous to support the militias fighting the Assad regime because they are some of the same people responsible for terrorist attacks elsewhere in the world. The most effective rebel fighters such as the Al Nusra Front are openly allied with Al Qaeda. According to the New York Times, the main constituency of the rebellion is Islamist and US weapons are reaching these extremists through its regional allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The same nightmare scenario of the United States equipping potential enemies played out in the Libya intervention. As the 'toon suggests the President may have boxed himself in with his own mouth, but the last thing the United States needs now is another dirty foreign war in which it has no stake. Besides, we have not finished the first one we got involved in--Afghanistan--with much more cause for belligerence. The reality is US backed rebels probably used chemical weapons first in the northern province of Aleppo. Under international convention tear gas, the same stuff our police spray on domestic demonstrators, is classed as a chemical weapon. US Person says that is hardly a basis for starting down another costly road of knee-jerk interventionism.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bees Get a Break in Europe!

More: Another scientific study links a neonicontinoid pesticide, imidacloprid to  devastation of acquatic insects and snails when it pollutes water in the field. The Dutch study is important because 20,000 tons of the killer pesticide is not used to treat crops but combat fleas and other pests in cattle each year in the EU. Published in the peer reviewed journal PLOS One, the study found 70% fewer invertebrate species in ditch water polluted with imidacloprid compared with unpolluted water. 700 sites across the Netherlands were surveyed for wildlife species and pollution levels between 1998 and 2009. Imidacloprid is known to be acutely toxic to invertebrates and some sites were acutely polluted by the pesticide, sometimes thousands of times above the national Dutch limit. The EU standard is five times higher than the Dutch limit. Conservationists say the study shows that pesticides are being misapplied above safe levels and they are killing wildlife, not just agricultural pests. Tested ditch water contained so much imidacloprid, it could itself be used as a pesticide.  Dr. Jeroen van der Sluijs, leading author, called for the immediate phasing out of the pesticide as too dangerous as it is used in the field.

{2.5.13}Tonio Borg, EU commissioner for health announced that the European Union wil go ahead with a ban on three bee-killing pesticides, clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam. This is a major victory for all those activists around the world that expressed their desire for bees to be protected from neonicotinoids in Europe., the global campaign network, alone submitted 2.6 million signatures on a petition requesting the systemic chemicals be banned. Bees pollinate a third of human food, without them agriculture as we know it will collapse. Now, it is time for the United States to follow Europe's lead. European restrictions will begin December 1st. The vote was close and under the population weighted voting procedure used and the second vote on the issue Monday was still not enough to win with a qualified majority. Fifteen nations including France and Germany voted for the ban. Italy, Hungary, UK and six others voted no and four other nations abstained. But the indecision among member states allowed the EU's executive body, the European Commission, to go ahead. Pro-pesticide groups predictably said the ban is based on science that is inconclusive. It is undeniable that honeybee populations have plummeted in Europe and the United States.

For two years activists applied political pressure with messages to politicians, high-exposure street protests, and funding for polls to demonstrate public support for a ban. In January 2011, France withstood severe pressure from the pesticide industry to end its ban on the use of neonicotinoids in that country. The stand sent a strong message to the rest of Europe. The European Food Safety Agency found three pesticides posed unacceptable risks to bees, but despite the science the Commission proposal to ban neonicotinoids was defeated in a close vote. {04.02.13} Two major agricultural nations voted against the ban, the UK and Germany. Activists went to work to convince EU representatives that their constituents, including beekeepers, wanted a ban by large majorities. On reconsideration, the decision was reversed when Bulgaria and Germany switch their votes and supported a ban. However, the ban is not permanent and will only last two years pending further review. Bees still need our help because they suffer from a complex of deadly conditions, pesticides being but one, but Europe's decision is an important victory in their defense.

UN Tells US Guantanamo Violates Human Rights

Senior UN human rights officials have publicly protested to the United States government that force feeding Guantanamo prisoners violates international medical standards. The hunger strike at the offshore gulag which started in February is growing amongst the captives who face possible endless detention. Twenty-one prisoners are currently being forced fed. The international body also warned that indefinite detention constitutes "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" under international law. Most of the captives are merely suspects and have not been charged with a terrorism offense.

The strike has put the issue of closing Guantanamo back in front of the Current Occupant who promised to close the infamous dungeon to gain votes for his first election to office. This week he once again promised to close the prison camp whose existence is a "stain on the country", according to Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo. Nevertheless, the US has not responded to repeated requests from the UN that human rights officials be allowed to inspect the prison camp and interview captives in private. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said, "we have specific information regarding the severe and prolonged...damage caused the by the detainees' high degree of uncertainty over basic aspects of their lives...". The UN once again called on the United States to either charge or release the detainees.

The reality is the Navy authorities in charge of the camp do not have enough information with which to bring plausible charges against most of the remaining captives; they fear releasing them because the captives' degrading treatment may have radicalized them into taking retaliation against their captors' homeland.  When in doubt, stall.  A former lawyer for the White House who drafted the drone warfare policy for the Charlatan told the Bipartisan Policy Center that B.O'Drama has increased the use of drones to kill terrorist suspects because he is unwilling to deal with the political ramifications of jailing, charging and trying them. So far highly controversial drone warfare killed an estimated 4700 people in 300 attacks over four countries. The recent Boston Marathon bombings killed four Americans.  US Person suggests the continued operation of the offshore gulag is more than just a stain, Col. Davis, it is a security threat.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Next Biggest Rigging Scandal

If you read this space regularly you have heard of the LIBOR rate fixing scandal.  Now, Rollingstone's Matt Taibbi reports about the next biggest rigging scheme in world finance. According to Taibbi, word has leaked out from London, the seeming capital of fixed finance, that ICAP, the world's largest broker of interest-rate swaps, is being investigated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) for fixing a benchmark number (known as ISDAfix) used to calculate the price of interest rate swaps around the world.  The market for interest rates swaps is staggeringly huge, about $379 trillion. The alleged perpetrators are familiar names to those following the machinations of the world's new Illuminati, the brokers working for international banks too big to fail. Barclays, UBS, Bank of America, JPMorgan-Chase and RBS are implicated in the latest scandal to break in public. Anti-competitive behavior becomes the norm when lucrative incentives are given to employees to make profits regardless of the rules which are distressingly vague anyway. Both the LIBOR and this new scandal relate to the setting of interest rates central to a myriad of commercial and investment transactions and indicate the existence of an international conspiracy among banksters controlling huge concentrations of capital, to collude in the fixing of prices in supposedly free markets worldwide.

Like the Mafia, these banksters are compounding their anti-social behavior, and getting away with it scott free. At the end of March a federal district judge accepted the twisted logic of the defendants in a significant class action suit for LIBOR fixing when the case was dismissed because the banks never competed against each other in the setting of LIBOR rates; therefore no anti-trust violations could legally have been committed. In fact, LIBOR rates are set in private by a committee consisting of 18 representatives of major banks. No doubt their defense was ably represented by the nations most influential law firms that employ former high-level government officials like the previous chief of the Justice Department's criminal division, Lanny Bruer, the same attorney who told Frontline interviewers he was loath to prosecute bank executives for subprime mortgage fraud. Federal District Judge Buchwald basically told plaintiff investors damaged by LIBOR rate manipulation to get real.

For the LIBOR rigging by banks investigated by both British and American financial regulators, led by an American Justice Department more worried about "collateral consequences" for the economy, the banks were let they off with just relatively small fines: Barclays, $450 million; UBS, $1.5 billion; RBS $615 million. Chump change for banks raking in hundreds of billions in profits every year, and no criminal prosecutions of individuals involved in a scam that affected the entire industrial world. Sadly, with the same officials in charge of federal law enforcement there is no reason to believe this latest example of bankster collusion will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This will be the case even though pension funds, cities, companies, and individuals may have been damaged by interest rates swaps rigged by a small group of highly paid brokers with few morals, but a big appetite for day old sushi, working at a New Jersey trading desk dubbed "Treasure Island".