Saturday, August 31, 2013

Red Line Crossed in Obama's Mind

Breaking: 28 Democratic Congress members joined 98 Republicans in a letter to the Obombanator asking that Congress be allowed to vote on attacking Syria in accordance with the US Constitution and the War Powers Act of 1973. Fifty-four Democrats signed a similar one. Legislators felt overrun and ignored in the Libya intervention and are apparently determined not to let it happen again. The White House dodged congressional assent then by incredibly claiming NATO air support of Libyan rebels did not constitute "hostilities" under the War Powers Act! The US spent $1 billion in that intervention including using 221 Tomahawk missiles (@$1.4m each) and 42 Predator drones in order to topple Muammar Qaddafi's state. Russia confirms it is moving the "Moskva", a guided missile cruiser, and a anti-submarine ship to the eastern Mediterranean. Western analysts characterize the move as "gun boat diplomacy"; Russia says the deployment is part of a regular rotation of ships stationed there to protect national security interests.

Whaa? Saying "I don't want the world to be paralyzed", the Obombanator is dead set on making Congress' joint constitutional war power dead letter. He does not think attacking another country at peace with the United States requires a congressional declaration of war or at least an "authorization to use force" such as obtained before invading Iraq. Successive presidents since Richard Nixon have operated to delete the enumerated power to declare war in Article I, Section 8 which they see as an inconvenient limitation on executive power post Cold War. However, a growing number of US lawmakers are saying the President needs an explicit authorization before attacking Syria. US Person thinks they are absolutely correct. A unilateral attack without UN authorization or imminent threat to the US is nothing less than aggressive war, regardless of humanitarian rhetoric.

President Putin told reporters in Vladivostok he thinks the Ghouta attack was a rebel provocation intended to drag the US into the Syrian civil war; if the President has evidence Assad's regime was responsible he should reveal it to the Security Council*. He wants to discuss Syria at the upcoming G-20 conference in St. Petersburg, but the Obombanator wants to face down Putin with his itchy trigger finger already satisfied. Before he gets too frustrated, he would do well to recall his own statement on the matter of war powers when he was a Senator: "The President does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." [2008 response to the Boston Globe]The flagrant violation of constitutional limitations on war, regardless of justification, is truly an impeachable offense, just ask Joe Biden, seriously....

*US intelligence publicly says satellites detected rocket launches from government held territory early in the morning of August 21st, ninety minutes prior to social media reports of a gas attack appearing at around 2:00am local time. Subsequently there were "thousands of social media reports" of chemical-filled rockets impacting rebel held areas. It also intercepted a communication from a "senior official"--reportedly Assad's brother--confirming chemical weapons were used and expressing concern UN inspectors would obtain the evidence. According to US intelligence, chemical weapons personnel and "personnel associated with the SSRC" (Syrian security forces) were operating in the suburb of Adra from Sunday August 18th until Wednesday August 21st when they were told to cease operations. US intelligence thinks Assad's forces resorted to chemical warfare because conventional operations failed to clear urban areas under rebel control. Independent confirmation of nerve agents from the sites inspected by the UN would make a more convincing case against Assad's government.

{30.08.13}Still More: Statements coming from Washington indicated the Obamanator is willing to unilaterally attack Syria on evidence of a gas attack that is at this point largely circumstantial. Secretary of State John Kerry has adjusted his body count rhetoric upward to 1400, and refers constantly to still secret intercepts he claims unequivocally show direct involvement of the Assad regime in an attack on the eastern Ghouta suburb of Damascus. The United States now claims its "core security interests" are at stake, rejecting any comparisons to the misrepresentations justifying the Iraq invasion. Senator Finestein, head of the Senate's Intelligence Committee was less categorical in her assessment of the intelligence, saying "it points" to Assad's involvement. The United States has moved a fifth cruise missile destroyer into position off the coast of Syria.
Daily Telegraph: a reported Syrian weapons facility*

Further:  Latest reports from the UK say Ed Miliband, Labour leader has withdrawn Labour support for a second voteafter the UN inspector's report. PM David Cameron is rather upset, allegedly crudely calling Mr. Milibrand a "f**king c*nt" for backing out. The first vote on the issue of Syrian intervention was 285 to 272 against. Cameron said he would respect the will of Parliament. Some Tory backbenchers are publicly commending Mr. Milibrand for forcing Cameron to listen. Mr. Obama may be forced to go it alone, if at all. Any military intervention whose ulterior goal is to topple the Assad regime is out of bounds. History has shown that the Iraq invasion was primarily not to deter Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction, but to remove him from power and therefore illegitimate on humanitarian grounds.

{29.08.13}More: The UK released an intelligence report today that indicates the case against Syria's dictator Bashir Assad is far from conclusive. The chair of Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee characterized the evidence against Assad as "a limited but growing body of intelligence which supports the judgment that the regime was responsible for the attacks." Significantly, the memo does not address the possibilities of accidental launch, an unauthorized release by an individual or group outside the regime's control, or the unintentional detonation of a ready cache by a conventional weapon. Predictably, US administration spokespersons heaped scorn on anyone having second doubts about the probity of a western punative strike, calling them "credulous" for entertaining "fanciful scenarios". Russia has asked that UN investigations continue and include those incidents it alleges were perpetrated by rebels in Alepo.  Absent explicit UN approval of a punitive raid, the legitimate use of military force on humanitarian grounds would require convincing evidence of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale such as the genocide that occurred in Kosovo in 1999, and the force used must be necessary, proportionate, and limited to the aim of deterring further chemical attacks in the opinion of UK's Attorney General. However, as it should be, Parliament will have the last word. Latest reports from the UK say Ed Miliband, Labour leader has withdrawn Labour support for a second vote after the UN inspector's report.  David Cameron is rather upset, allegedly calling Mr. Milibrand a "f**king c*nt" for his backing out.  Mr. Obama may be forced to go it alone, if at all. Any military intervention whose ulterior goal is to topple the Assad regime is out of bounds. History has shown that the Iraq invasion was primarily not to deter Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction, but to remove him from power and therefore illegitimate on humanitarian grounds.

When a State Department spokeswoman was asked if a punative strike would be launched if the gas release was done by a "rogue officer" she answered yes, but said that circumstance was "extremely conjecturable". Supposedly,US communication intercepts show the Syrian military used chemical weapons, but the intercepts also raise questions of command and control within the regime. Did the order to use nerve agents come from the top, or was it the independent decision of a field commander that Assad may not directly control such as in Hezbollah or Iranian Al-Quds units, and who have ulterior reasons to want US entangled in the Syrian Civl War? Blood, soil and other forensic samples in UN custody from Ghouta that would convincingly corroborate the accumulating evidence already in the hands of western intelligence(caution, graphic video) are being collected. The Damascus team is scheduled to return from there on Saturday, and their results shared with members of the UN Security Council.

{28.08.13}Latest: The United Kingdom, a usually reliable member of American led posses, stepped back from the brink of attack on Syria today. Labour secured a promise from Prime Minister David Cameron that a second vote would be held before the UK would launch an attack in retaliation for what Mr. Obama has already concluded was a chemical weapon attack in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus by the Assad regime. The President has not yet publicly revealed on what information his apparently irreversible decision is based, but he has made it perfectly clear he has decided to commit an act of war in retribution. Whether the President would act unilaterally and without congressional assent is not clear. Congress is officially in recess. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said investigators in Damascus need four more days to complete their work. Samples delivered to western intelligence so far show only microscopic amounts of sarin and the chain of custody for the samples does not meet international standards.

The shadow foreign secretary said Labour MPs are unwilling to give Prime Minister David Cameron a blank cheque. Eighty Tory MPs have also expressed reservations about a military strike. Labour leaders actually want six conditions to be met by the Tory Prime Minister in return for their support in the first vote on a strike scheduled for tomorrow night: a Security Council vote on the UN inspector's support; UK's own intelligence report to the Commons; compelling evidence that the Assad regime was responsible for last week's attack; a clear basis in international law for intervention, and a second vote to take military action. These conditions are in part a reaction to the highly criticized and slavish behavior of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair during consultations with the former US president for an Iraq invasion. The alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein--later proved to be a delusion of an administration bent on war--was the justification used by the Charlatan and Tony Blair to invade and occupy Iraq. By allowing the UN process to go forward before an allied attack, Russia and China would be put in the extremely awkward position of blocking the UN from protecting Syrians against a dictator willing to stay in power at any cost.

alleged March 23rd Alepo attack, Reuters
{27.08.13} Update: UN inspectors put off another site visit until Wednesday. Meanwhile, rebel representatives met with
western diplomats in Istanbul and were told to prepare for a military response to the gas attack. They were also told to continue preparing for peace talks in Geneva. The US and some of its NATO allies will target Syrian military installations, with the hope of tipping Assad's stalemate to a negotiated resolution. Syria has promised to defend itself. It has an air force equipped with a variety of Soviet-era aircraft including about 20 MiG29s that theoretically could reach allied ships offshore in the eastern Mediterranean. Western governments may wait until Arab nations can be convinced of the appropriateness of a retaliatory strike, or for additional clarity, at least until UN investigators have released their preliminary findings. Turkey is ready to support a military response. Saudi Arabia is a supporter of the rebel alliance but not yet publicly ready to support a western military strike.

Laboratories associated with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention can detect minute amounts of nerve toxins and associated chemicals using mass spectrometers and gas chromatographs. At this point, only a week after the attack, there is still a high probability that "conclusive evidence of exposure to chemical warfare agents" can be found according to Dr. David Moore, a toxicologist formerly with the US Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground. British chemists found traces of sarin and mustard gas four years after Saddam Hussein's chemical attack on the Kurds. Analysts have to be careful because sarin, the nerve agent developed by the Nazis in 1938, was created as an insecticide and only later stockpiled as a chemical weapon. A well-equipped and experienced weapons team can usually differentiate between an industrial accident and a chemical weapons attack. China and Russia are objecting to any military action without UN approval which is unlikely given their veto power on the Security Council. Nevertheless, US Person thinks conclusive forensic evidence from respected international laboratories NOT national intelligence agencies with their own agendas will be very embarrassing even for Russia and China to ignore. Defense Secretary Hagel said US forces are "ready to go--just like that". When you are the globocop, apparently no need to declare war.

{26.08.13}Preparing for what is almost certain to be a missle attack on the
credit: Moses Brown
Syrian government ships of the United States Sixth Fleet have moved to stations off the Mediterranean coast near Syria. These include four destroyers armed with 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles. British forces include two frigates, a helicopter carrier and a nuclear submarine also armed with cruise missiles. The United States has discounted the Syrian government's belated permission to inspect the site of alleged chemical attacks saying the lack of immediate access by UN inspectors has "significantly corrupted" available evidence. The UN secretary-general said the inspectors would be on site today.

According to Reuters, the inspectors have been fired upon by snipers, but reached victims and took blood samples.  The investigators also hope to take soil samples near the point of detonation, a task made difficult by five days of shelling in the area.  Obama has been bolstered in his conclusion that the Assad regime gassed its own people causing mass casualties after talking with the British Prime Minister and the French President. Both are known to favor military intervention in the Syrian civil war, and want Assad removed from power. Secretary of State John Kerry called the apparent use of chemical weapons by Assad a "moral obscenity" and vowed a response. Kerry was reacting publicly to videos posted on social media of casualties, but did not offer  technical or medical evidence confirming the nature of the agent used. Rebels say at least 80 people were killed in the suburb of Mouadamiya and hundreds more in rebel held districts of Irbin, Ain Tarma and Jobar [map]. Médecins Sans Frontières, a French humanitarian group, said about 3000 people reported contamination, and 355 died of "neurotoxic symptoms".  Rebel groups say 1300 were killed.
credit: BBC news

The timing of a western attack is not yet settled, but went it comes it will be a display of air power similar to that used against Serbia and more recently in Libya to depose dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Russia and China will certainly block any effort at the UN Security Council to endorse a western military response. Germany is also opposed to western intervention. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman drew parallels to the Iraq invasion where the United States used erroneous intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify a full scale invasion and occupation. Foreign Minister Lavrov said military action without UN sanction would be a grave violation of international law. Russia has joined requests for a UN investigation of the Ghouta incident, but President Putin told Prime Minister David Cameron by telephone they had no evidence of who was responsible for the incident.  Reports of gas attacks coincided with a government offensive in Ghouta, but it denies using chemical weapons.

*a battle between rebel forces that include the Al Qaeda ally al-Nusra Brigade and government forces is taking place just outside the pictured facility at al-Safira.  The fear of chemical weapons falling into the hands of Al Qaeda undoubtably weighs heavily on Mr. Obama's mind.  Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons is said to be very large and dispersed all over the country.  The risk of gas releases from partially destroyed installations is high.   A single heavy strike or even a series of missile attacks is unlikely to disable Assad's capacity for chemical warfare which he could conceivably use on the United States' regional ally, Israel, in a fit of suicidal escalation. Israel has attacked Hezbollah units and supplies three times from Syrian airspace without a Syrian response.  Hezbollah fighters turned the tide of the civil war in Assad's favor.  Syria has not signed the international Chemical Weapons Convention so accurate counts of its chemical warheads are not available.  Western military experts estimate the regime has between 100 and 200 warheads that contain sarin, or the more potent VX.  During the Cold War Russia supplied its client with the weapons; now Syria manufactures its own.  American neofascists are of course arguing for a full scale invasion of Syria.  This time, there really are WMDs!

Friday, August 30, 2013

'Toontime: "Chemical Experiment"

credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post
Wackydoodle sez: And yer gas mask!
The Obombanator will inevitably be called the 'Lone Ranger' for his willingness to unilaterally attack another sovereign nation in the Middle East. His justification however, unlike his predecessor in office, is on firmer humanitarian grounds. One small problem: unlike the British, neither the United States nor NATO have recognized humanitarian emergency as a basis for military action against a sovereign nation. The administration said it would consult Congress before ordering an attack.

Legal quibbles aside, weapons of mass destruction do undeniably exist in Syria in the form of Assad's chemical weapons arsenal. The international consensus is that nerve gas was released in the eastern Ghouta suburb at the time of a Syrian government offensive resulting in mass casualties. How it was released, or who released it, and for what reasons, is still not perfectly clear. For now the US government appears willing to wait the results of the UN chemical experts sent in to collect samples. Britian's decision after open debate in Parliament not to saddle up with its usual partner and attack Syria will probably make little difference to what some pundits see as an inevitable US punitive action against Assad's regime. The Obombanator wants action before he has to enter the arena with Mr. Putin at the St. Petersburg G-20 summit in one week. France is ready to engage force with the United States and President Hollande is candid about France's desire to oust Assad from control of its former mandate. Israelis are rumbling for gas masks now. The Obombanator will want to brush up on his French: "Est-que vous participez avec nous?"
credit: Daryl Cagle,

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Trooper Gets Life

More: The moral dilemmas presented by the death penalty are various and pernicious. With the conviction of Major Nidal Hasan for murder at Ft. Hood, Texas and the sentence of death imposed upon him, inquiring minds will ask how was his crime legally different from Sgt. Bales' who received a negotiated life sentence. Hasan planned and killed 13 unarmed US soldiers standing in line outside a vaccination office preparing for their deployment in the name of jihad; Sgt. Bales walked a significant distance in the night twice to nearby villages, killed 16 Afghan civilians and then tried to conceal his crimes by burning the bodies. Both crimes were heinous; both crimes involved obvious premeditation; both were undisputed by the accused. Both bring great disrepute upon the US Army. So why the disparate sentences?

The sentences are not beyond understanding, but for reasons that may not be strictly, legally relevant. Bales murdered Afghan civilians in a combat zone; Hasan murdered America soldiers at home. Viewed from Muslim countries, especially those in a war zone the sentences may also confirm their worst opinions of predominantly white, Christian America and its system of justice. Bales was tried in Washington state, which has a death penalty but is relatively liberal in practice compared to Texas which has a notorious reputation for executing capital offenders. The trials were military, but the courts were assembled from people living in these states. Bales pleaded to murder to save his life, Hasan apparently wants to be executed as a Muslim martyr. He fired his attorneys and presented no defense or plea for mercy to the court. Bales was represented to the end, and his attorney made use of the facts that he is a husband and father of two sons who was deployed four times. Bales is a Catholic former high-school football captain, and a native Anglo-Saxon.  Hasan is single and the oldest son of Palestinian immigrants. He was an officer and a medical doctor, both positions of trust. Of course, it is not for US Person to be judgmental in these cases, but it could be Mr. Obama's dilemma since he must personally decide whether Hasan achieves his goal of a martyr's death. It would be the first military execution in fifty years. The last US soldier to be hanged was a black man convicted of raping and attempting to murder an eleven year old white Austrian girl. Another dark-skinned American Muslim now awaits death at Leavenworth, Hasan Karim Akbar--formerly Mark Fidel Kools--for killing two American soldiers in Kuwait. One white, one dark; one Christian, one Muslim; both killed in cold blood multiple unarmed victims including women and children; one lives, one dies. It is not difficult to guess what Muslims around the world are thinking. You decide.

{26.08.23} S/Sgt Robert Bales pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians while they slept in their village huts and then burning their bodies to destroy the evidence. In return for his guilty plea the military courts martial sentenced him to life in prison without parole on Friday, but the presiding general officer still has the option to reduce the agreed upon sentence to life with parole in which case Bales could be out in twenty years. The sentence was not satisfactory to the surviving relatives of the murdered villagers who wanted Bales executed. Hajji Mohammad Wazir lost 11 family members in the crazed attack said, "justice was served the American way". He and several other villagers traveled 7,000 miles from their home to Washington state to testify in Bales' courts martial. The Afghans were also critical of the American expedition in Afghanistan, saying the soldiers who came to build a country did no such thing. The military members deliberated less than two hours before handing down the more severe sentence. Prosecutors described Bales as man who had "no moral compass", who wiped out several generations without reason, and dared the court to show Bales mercy when he had shown none. The sergeant did not explain the motives behind his night moves, testifying only that he was hiding behind a mask of "fear and bullshit".  Evidence showed he had been using drugs and alcohol at the time of the massacre.  As expected, his defense attorney argued that consideration should be given to the sergeant's prior good service, enduring four combat deployments, and his own family of two children. Bales may have the ironic distinction of joining leaker Bradley (Chelsea?) Manning and mass murderer Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Ft. Leavenworth, the military's only high security prison, as casualties of war.

COTW: Stagnation for the Rest of US

Household income has recovered some in the last two years but is still below the level of 2000 as this chart from Sentier Research shows [red line]: The black line shows the official unemployment level:

This chart from the Tax Policy Center shows why the rich are different from the rest of us:
The rich derive nearly two-thirds of their incomes from investments and businesses, the rest of us are paid stagnant wages that account for three-fourths of our incomes.  The chart also explains why the rich can perpetuate the myth that low corporate and capital gains taxes are necessary for economic growth.  They spend a large chunk of their corporate and investment income influencing Washington politicians.  US Person sure is tired of being trickled on; how about you?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fracking May Taint Pennsylvania Water Says Science

The authoritative National Academy of Sciences published in their July Proceedings the conclusion that the closer a residential drinking water well is to a fracking well, the more likely the drinking water is contaminated with methane. A chemical engineer from Duke University, Robert Jackson looked at 141 shallow residential wells and found methane in 115 of them. For wells less than one mile from a fracking well, the concentration of methane is six times higher than those farther from fracking operations. Isotopes and traces of ethane detected indicate the source of the methane is not biological, but from the Marcellus Shale formation deep underground. Over forty thousand gas wells have been drilled into the shale to recover natural gas since 2000. If the casing of a fracking well leaks, methane can escape into natural pathways to contaminate shallower drinking water wells. Oil and gas companies claim that gas rises naturally from deep formations making a determination of the source of contamination problematic. But some scientists think chemical analysis can differentiate between methane that has naturally seeped upward over time and methane that has taken a short cut via leaking fracking wells. More analysis is needed to make this determination.

The Wild West Comes to England

A country that has seen a lot of dark days in its long history is seeing another one as the controversial British badger cull got underway Monday night in Gloucestershire and Somerset.  The environmental minister said the cull was the best solution to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis since an oral vaccine is not ready.  Protestors are ready to disrupt the cull by licensed shooters.  A quarter of million Britons signed a petition calling on DEFRA to cancel the cull and focus on finding a workable vaccination.  Jay Tiernan the organizer of Stop the Cull campaign was arrested for trespassing at a DEFRA site in Gloucestershire.  The police will be "ensuring public safety" which usually means making a lot of arrests of animal activists. Five thousand badgers are scheduled to be killed.  The head of the National Farmer Union, the influential lobby group, said killing thousands of head of cattle is not a solution while knowing the disease has a reservoir in wildlife.  The Labour Party has condemned the pilot culls and says the they will perturb the badger population and promote the spread of TB.

Activists on patrol in Somerset have yet to see any dead badgers according to the Guardian.  The activists are camping out and keeping an eye on badger setts (burrows).  They report no signs of gunners and no badger carcasses.  The Somerset cull area is large, about 58 square miles. DEFRA is not releasing any information on the culls until they are completed in six weeks. The government admits an injectable badger vaccine is available but requires that individual badgers be trapped and injected.  A large ten year study commissioned by the British government concluded culling can make no meaningful contribution to the control of bovine TB, yet the Tory government is determined to see the experiment through despite widespread popular and scientific opposition.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

True America: "The Plow That Broke the Plains"

In the category of crimes against nature must be included the destruction of the Southern Plains ecosystem by boom and bust agriculture commonly known as the "Dust Bowl". US Person has often said that the profit motive is an inadequate basis on which to organize human society because it leads to such wasteful misallocations and wanton destruction of Earth's resources such as what occurred in the '20s and '30s in the south central United States. This 1936 government film, produced by the Farm Security Administration, eloquently tells the story--a "picturization"--of booming wheat prices, boosterism, bonanza farming, and inevitable bust resulting in a world-class ecological disaster:

The lessons of the Dust Bowl have not been completely assimilated by American agriculture to this day. Cash monocrops such as corn or soybean are still planted from fence line to fence line without varied crop rotation, tilling every planting season, and huge applications of expensive chemical fertilizers resulting in exhausted top soil that has lost most of its organic components and cannot hold groundwater well, contributing to erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. Some farmers like David Brandt of Carroll, Ohio are enlightened. He ought to get a medal for forty years of beneficial agricultural practices deemed odd by his conformist neighbors. (see, "Talk Dirt To Me",Mother Jones, September-October issue) Brandt uses no-till, winter cover crop farming methods that provide a weed-free bed for seeds but also distribute soil microbiota. Soils not repeatedly tilled do not release CO₂ from buried organic matter into the atmosphere but are enriched by conserved microbes and worms. Over time, a variety of cover crops allowed to decompose into the fields create a layer of carbon-rich humus that is resistant to drought and erosion, thus reducing the amount of artificial fertilizer needed to produce crops at the same yield and in some cases better yield than conventional agricultural practices. Brandt's crop yields remained steady during the 2012 drought while his neighbor's fell 50%. By the way, Brandt does not use crop insurance. The United States has not had another agricultural disaster on the scale of the Dust Bowl, but it has lost topsoil at an alarming rate. According to one university researcher 90% of US cropland is loosing topsoil faster than it can be replaced naturally; nature takes between 700 and 1500 years to create an inch of topsoil. Yes, America has been blessed with "amber waves of grain", but it will not last forever if we squander our abundance in pursuit of profit. Who says US can't talk dirt?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pagan Island Sacrifice

More of that "global force for good" at work in the world: the US Navy has announced its intention to sacrifice another idyllic Pacific island to "live fire" exercises, the military equivalent of push-ups. The list of islands severely ecologically damaged or made uninhabitable by bombs, rockets and shells including radioactive munitions is a long one: Bikini, Kwajelein, Farallon de Medinilla, Vieques, Kaho'olawe, Ka'ula, Diego Garcia, Tinian etc. It as if the Navy is geriatric war veteran who constantly wants to relieve his glory days assaulting one more beach, far away. The target this time is Pagan Island (Pah-GAN) in the North Marianas, a beautiful ten mile long fragment of tropical terra firma formed by two volcanoes, one of them active. The Chamorro people call it home and some want to return there after being evacuated in 1981 when Mt. Pagan erupted. A few Chamorros still live there full time. However, if the Navy and Marines get their way, that hope will be dashed as the military intends "use the entire island with the full spectrum of weapons and joint training activities."

Beside an indigenous human population, Pagan has unique animal and plant species that live in the remnants of forest on the slopes of the currently inactive southern volcano. The Mariana fruit bat, Pteropus mariannus, lives there as well as the Micronesian Megapode, Megapodius laperouse, endangered throughout its range. University of Hawaii biologist Michael Hadfield and colleagues performed a biological survey of the island in May 2010, primarily looking for a rare tree snail, Partula gibba. A few hundred live in the southern caldera and genetic testing confirms they are unique to Pagan. The proposed military training will certainly disturb the ecologically valuable topsoil of the island as well as surrounding coral reefs. Toxic debris and even unexploded ordinance will carpet the training areas making it the island uninhabitable. Chammoro activists are appealing to the Northern Marianas government to prevent beautiful Pagan from becoming another wasteland* like Farralon de Mendinilla by declaring it homestead land for displaced natives who want to return. The "global force for good" is not so good in any language for beautiful islands full of life.

*Kaho'olawe was blasted to bare rock by the US military from 1941 until 1990. Operation "Sailor Hat" in 1965 was the denotation of 500 tons of TNT to measure blast effects on nearby ships.  The resulting crater cracked the islands cap rock causing the loss of groundwater to the sea.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Toontime: Equal Protection of the Law?

[credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch]
Does this picture look correct to you? Or has our government gone so far out of bounds that the good are severely punished while the cyrpto-facsists are rewarded for spying on the innocent? Bradley Manning got thirty-five years for turning over among other information the video showing US Army helicopter pilots gunning down an innocent journalist and then attacking his rescuers, killing the van driver and grievously wounding his two children. ("Collateral Murder"). There is not one documented instance of any American suffering harm by the documents Manning released. Even Vice President Joe Biden was constrained to admit there was "no substantive damage" from the leaks. Indeed, the effect has been to open the eyes of a population whose minds are numbed by corporate and government propaganda that now passes as news. The Apologist-in-Chief, who once told the UN he would work to expand the protections for whistleblowers, promises reform of the security establishment by appointing an all-insider commission to study the problem of overreach that finally angers the American public--more soporific pablum for public consumption. Snowden made the only logical choice to stay in Russia when faced with persecution by a government that devours its own. Thirty-five years is a lifetime in prison for trying to educate your fellow citizens about the wanton an reckless behavior of a government that has lost its moral compass. US Person hopes Manning is pardoned, or paroled early for good behavior. Manning, 25, suffers from gender dysphoria and has publicly requested hormone therapy while in prison.
[credit: John Cole, Times-Tribune]
Wackydoodle axes:  Was that ear in Boston?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Case for Nerve Gas Use in Syria Hardens

credit: UK Guardian, Brown Moses
After hundreds of people died in an attack on Wednesday in Damascus, the evidence for the use of nerve gas grows stronger. Victims exhibited inhalation posioning, such as nasal and lung secretions. The United Nations wants its inspectors to visit the scene of an attack which eyewitnesses describe as coming from areas of Damascus controlled by the Assad regime: Mezze airbase and the October War military museum. Observers say the rockets used to deliver the suspected agent are similar to those used by the regime in Daraya earlier this year, and have a distinctive circular tail fin [photo]. This rocket type has been implicated in several alleged gas attacks. The rocket's apparent "cottage industry" appearance may be an indication of deliberate camouflage used to give the Assad regime plausible deniability of their use. Syrian military chemical weapons have been monitored for decades. Russian experts have emphasized the appearance of the missiles and chemical content of the agent as indicating non-industrial weapons that do not come from a military stockpile; the implication being the rockets are quickly manufactured by the rebels. However, the latest attack on rebel-held Ghouta produced mass casualties and is the most significant since Sadam Hussein gassed the Kurds in Halabja twenty-five years ago. Biological samples will be passed to western intelligence for analysis.

The United States response to the alleged attack has been comparatively muted. Secretary of State Kerry said there is no conclusive proof of chemical weapons use yet. The response may be a reflection that the United States has no good options in the Syrian civil war without a moderate faction able to take control of the rebel cause and that the United States can support politically. France and Turkey are prepared to support air strikes against the Syrian government if use of lethal gas by the Assad regime is established as a fact. There is a UN chemical weapons team on the ground in Damascus led by a Swedish expert, but it is unlikely to be granted quick access to the site. Video footage emerging from the scene show dozens of fatalities as well as survivors in obvious distress. A chemical weapons analyst who has seen the videos said, "It feels very authentic", but he refused to say the agent producing the symptoms was a nerve agent like sarin since unprotected rescuers did not suffer any secondary contamination. Organophosphate insecticides such as TEPP have similar effects on humans as sarin and can cause death. Russia characterized the Wednesday attack as a deliberately staged provocation by rebel forces intended to trigger international intervention against the government it supports.

Canadian Experts Say No to Keystone XL

Canadian climate experts told the press last week that approval of the Keystone XL pipeline project will cancel out every other effort to mitigate Canadian emissions because the planned expansion of the tar sand operations made feasible by the new pipeline is so large. Carbon emissions from bitumen mining are projected to double by 2020, way beyond the 2020 climate target Canada shares with the United States. The Canadians released a new report on mitigation of greenhouse gases. The former chair of the British Columbia Utilities Commission, Dr. Mark Jaccard, said "mitigation of Canada's increasing carbon pollution is incompatible with...oil sands expansion". He added, the only way to reach agreed carbon targets is "for the United States government to reject Keystone XL." Obama said in a recent speech that the net effects of the pipeline on climate is critical to the decision to go forward. But many critics of the project including US Person see the entire decision process as a foregone conclusion in which the draft and final environmental impact study commissioned by the US State Department were developed by a consultants with economic ties to TransCanada, the company proposing the project. Unsurprisingly, both documents concluded the pipeline would have no net negative environmental impact. The Canadian experts directly contradict this finding. By 2020 emissions growth in the tar sand deposits alone will be more than the emissions from every power plant in Canada combined. Canada quit the Kyoto Protocol in December, 2012 the first international treaty in its history to be repudiated.

Even without Keystone XL project approval, deep reductions in Canada's carbon emissions will be necessary to reach the 2020 goals and beyond. Despite many promises the conservative government has proposed no new federal regulations on emissions by the oil and gas industry. The production of bitumen from oil sands is energy intensive and emits three to four times more greenhouse gases than conventional crude oil production. Emissions from bitumen production have more than doubled in the last decade. The Canadian Green Party leader said Prime Minister Harper wants Canada to produce six million barrels of bitumen a day, and has no interest in climate change mitigation since it is bad for business. "Harper once described the Kyoto Protocol as a socialist ploy", according to her. The Harper government approved the sale of Nexen, Inc. oil and gas company which has interest in more than 300,000 acres of Athabasca oil sands to China's third largest state oil company, China National Offshore Oil Corp. The deal is under review by the US Committee on Foreign Investment. Reality check, anyone?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Russia Objects to Antarctic Marine Sanctuary

Emperor penguins @ Cape Crozier
The need for protecting the waters around the Antarctic is daily becoming more urgent as fisheries around the world begin to collapse from over exploitation. A meeting in Bremerhaven last month of twenty-four nation and EU members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources failed to produce an agreement on two proposals to create marine sanctuaries there. Russia and Ukraine objected to the proposals. The United States with support from New Zealand proposed a 1.6 million square kilometer reserve for the Ross Sea were no fishing would be allowed [map].  Australia and the European Union proposed seven marine reserves on the east Antarctic coast covering an additional 1.6 million square kilometers.  Russia raised legal concerns over the authority of the Commission to create marine reserves. The Commission established its first marine protected area around the South Orkney Islands in 2009. The Commission is an intergovernmental organization established by treaty in 1982 and is part of the treaty system that has governed international cooperation in the Antarctic for more than five decades.

courtesy: NOAA
The proposed areas contain unique features such as underwater canyons and key species such as krill and silverfish that underpin the Antarctic's continental shelf ecosystem.  More than 500 scientists worldwide support protection of the Ross Sea. [view photo gallery] The Sea was named "the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth" in a recent scientific study. It provides critical habitat for the Antarctic toothfish, highly sought by the commercial fishing industry and marketed in the US as "Chilean sea bass". Commercial fishing is already reducing the size of toothfish in the Sea according to a 2012 published study. The Commission operates by consensus and the Russian legal objections, thought to be actually concerned with curtailment of fishing rights, were enough to table the proposals until the next meeting in Hobart, Tasmania in October. The Australian delegation expressed optimism that progress was being made toward establishing the proposed reserves.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

COTW: Wildfires Connected to Warming

Close readers of PNG know that the Chart of the Week feature includes interesting info-graphics. This info-graphic is from the Union of Concerned Scientists concerning the increase in wildfires in the western United States and the connection to climate change. Temperatures in the west are expect to climb as much as 6.5 degrees by mid-century. That condition will dry out forests and grasslands earlier and longer than previously experienced:
A 2009 report on wildfire costs by the Western Forest Leadership Coalition says that the 2007 fire year, the most recent for which complete data is available, cost $547 million in direct suppression costs. Indirect costs of fires such as clean up and economic impacts are 34% of direct costs. Climate change a myth? Don't bet your house on it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Parrots Survive Ordeal

credit: Stefan Avramov
Twenty-eight survivors are free at last. Twenty-eight are all that survived of 108 African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) confiscated in 2010 from a smuggler at Sophia, Bulgaria's airport. The survivors were strong enough to live through the stress of being stuffed into dog kennels, constantly handled by humans, and deprived of their natural habitat for three years. Sophia zoo employees called to the airport were appalled when they saw the intelligent birds crammed into two dog kennels like 19th century slaves in a slave ship. The medium size kennels were each divided in half horizontally by a board with thirty parrots on each level. African greys are desirable to the pet trade because they are usually long-lived, easily trained and are good mimics. The ICUN lists the birds as Vulnerable because of the illegal trade and loss of wild habitat.

credit: Charles Bergman
The parrots were caught in Africa and illegally transported via Lebanon to Bulgaria without documentation. Zoo officials allowed the birds to live near other animals while they were impounded, but still more than half died from stress. The World Parrot Trust spent the time and resources the zoo could not afford to return the birds 3,000 miles to their native habitat in a Ugandan wildlife sanctuary. Although 28 survived the ordeal only 17 were strong enough to participate in the release ceremony conducted by conservationist Jane Goodall at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary [photo]. The sanctuary continues to rehabilitate the eleven still captive in the hopes they too will return to the trees. Sanctuary veterinarian Joshua Rukundo says the released birds are doing well, feeding at stations around the island. Their wild parrot brethren are accepting the former captives too, and showed interest in them while they were in the aviary under quarantine, responding to their calls. An inspiring story, but one that should not have to be told except for man's ruinous exploitation of the planet and his fellow inhabitants.

Ecuador Gives In to Oil

What must be considered a defeat for innovative means to save Earth's remaining forests is Ecuador's President Correa announcement Thursday that oil drilling may begin in Yasuni National Park, habitat for a myriad of species including the indigenous hunter-gatherers that choose to live there [L photo]. The announcement marks the failure of the six-year old Yasuni-ITT funding initiative which intended to compensate Ecuador foregoing development of the Tambococha-Tiputini oil field. The field is thought to contain 20% of the country's oil reserves. Ecuador is a member of OPEC and depends on oil revenue for a third of its national budget. Half of its production is delivered to the United States. The fund only attracted $13.3 million compared to $3.6 billion needed to compensate for half of the undeveloped reserves. The infrastructure to exploit the oil is place with roads begin constructed in known jaguar habitat. The exploration is too take place in about 1% of the reserve's 3,800 sq. miles.

Hoatzin, credit Mark Gurney
Correa seemed visibly disappointed in his TV address saying the "world has failed us".   Correa disparaged the "great hypocracy" of developed nations which labeled the fund charity, but a "co-responsibility in the face of climate change," since 400 million tons of CO₂ would have been avoided had the fund succeeded. The fund received pledges of $300 million by January, but only a fraction actually deposited in the trust account. Ecologists expressed dismay at the decision, while some of Correa's political opponents said the move was an attempt to blame rich countries for a development decision already reached by his government.  The fund was criticized for giving Ecuador unlimited discretion in how the money was to be spent. In Ecuador Correa is not viewed as an environmentalist.

credit: Dolores Ochoa, AP
Yasuni National Park contains 25 mammal species protected under CITES or listed as Endangered, Threatened or Vulnerable. Dr. Peter English of University of Texas at Austin said Yasuni is the most biologically diverse forest in South America. He documented 596 bird species in his study, but amphibians, mammals and vascular plants all reach maximum diversity in Yasuni [see species slide show]. Scientists estimate that a single hectare of Yasuni forest contains 100,000 insect species. Yasuni is truly an Eden put on the auction block of international oil.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

True America: Power on the Land

It may hard to believe that as late as 1940 75% of American farmers and their families were without electric power. Private electrical companies thought it too expensive to connect rural areas of America; cities with dense populations of potential customers was a market based solution. Of course farm life has all changed since the Department of Agricultural's Rural Electrification Administration began providing farms "government power" in 1935. So has the social structure of farming in America. It is no longer dominated by family operations and cooperatives, but replaced by profit corporations operating on industrial scale. Whether this transformation has been good for the land and its products is questionable. Many Americans are returning to foodstuffs produced organically and by local farmers. Nevertheless, this nostalgic and somewhat romanticized video produced for the REA is a revealing look back at the way it used to be without the power and running water we now take for granted:

Is it too apostate to ask something like a "Solar Electrification Administration" be created to subsidize the installation of residential solar electrical generation across the United States? Oh, US Person forgot, that's too socialist! Well, the family in the video looked pretty happy with a socialist program. And don't tell those go-go Silicon Valley marketeers they benefited from 40 years of government subsidies and loans*. But nooooo, austerity for you! Just sit back, enjoy the wildfires and floods on TV, don't worry, and be happy!

Part Two
Part Three

*To take just one current example: Tesla, the electric car maker, recently paid off its $465 million loan from the Department of Energy thanks in part to brisk sales of its Model S. Each customer buying an expensive Model S receives a $7500 federal tax credit. Tesla received $68 million from sales of its California clean air tax credits to other carmakers to post a modest $11 million profit for the first quarter, 2013.  Of course, Musk claims Tesla would have been a success without the government loan, but before he got it, Tesla had to slash its workforce in 2008.  Tesla raised just $278 million before the Model S made it to market.  After mostly good reviews an IPO raised $226 million more.  Because the start-up is profitable, CEO Elon Musk (with a name like that, how can you loose?) realized a gain of $2 billion on his shares from May 8 to July 12th.  Tax subsidies to high tech firms are coast to coast from California and Oregon to North Carolina amounting to hundreds of millions.  See the article, "Free Ride" in the September-October issue of Mother Jones.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bottlenose Dolphin Strandings Spike

credit: Riverhead Foundation
Update: A virus similar to measles could be the reason for the extraordinary increase in bottlenose dolphin deaths on the eastern seaboard. [photo: Long Island, NY] NOAA and university experts have tentatively attributed the ten fold increase in mortality to cetacean morbillivirus. While there are vaccines for land animals, there is none available that could be easily administered to wild dolphins. The deaths are the highest number in 25 years. The outbreak could last until May of next year if it follows the course of a similar outbreak in 1987-88. The virus debilitates dolphins' immune systems making them vulnerable to other diseases such pneumonia. Experts are monitoring an area off the coast of Georgia where there are high levels of PCBs, a known carcinogen in humans and mammals, since dolphins migrate south in winter.
Mid-Atlantic states are reporting a spike in bottlenose dolphin deaths that has prompted the declaration of an unusual mortality event under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA) beginning in July. Bottlenose deaths have increased along the Atlantic coast from New York to Virginia[chart] to more than seven times the historical average for this time of year. Marine mammalogists suspect a disease pathogen that is infectious given the extent of strandings in number and geographic spread. Most of the stranded animals are found dead and decaying, but a few are found alive. Several dolphins have presented pulmonary lesions and preliminary testing of tissues indicates possible morbillivirus infection, but it is too early to make a definitive diagnosis. It has been twenty-five years since the last major mortality event when the dolphin morbillivirus killed more than 740 dolphins. That event together with a humpback whale die off prompted Congress to formally establish the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program which is now part of the MMPA (Title IV). Work is underway to collect tissue samples and isolate the cause of mortality, if possible.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Toontime: My Favorite Russian

Seems the Current Occupant got along much better with Mr. Medvedev than he does with Mr. Putin:
 [credit: Riber Hansson, Sweden]
Wackdoodle sez: He seems glad to see y'all!
Could the current freeze in US-Russian relations be simply a matter of personality conflict?
[credit: John Darkow, Columbia Daily Tribune]
Wackydoodle sez: Mabbe yur golf ball is in tar too!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fukushima Leaks Alarm World

Fukushima Reactor #3
{Update} The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia also ruled on Tuesday that the NRC was violating the law by stalling the Department of Energy's application for a permanent waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain originally filled in 2008. NRC permitted the defunding of the facility to stand despite a federal law that designates the location as the nation's permanent nuclear waste dump. Nevada officials object to facility on the grounds that it is geologically unsuitable and that it would negatively impact the Las Vegas tourism industry just 90 miles away. The Circuit ruled previously that the designation was constitutional under the Takings Clause of the Constitution.  Work on the underground storage facility has never been completed. The current administration wants to close the facility permanently. DOE, which was not a party to the suit, views Yucca Mountain to be "a complete stalemate" since it has no funding to complete the project.

{14.08.13}US Person has been posting regularly on the nuclear disaster at Fukushima {09.07.13} but the source was unknown. The contamination is described by TEPCo as "highly concentrated tritium". Japanese Prime Minister Abe has belatedly decided to get his government involved in stopping the emissions since the corporate owner has proved to be unable to cope with the ramifications of the world's largest industrial accident. Abe described the problem as "urgent". He got that right but apparently little else. Fukushima Prefecture is getting help from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Agency experts visited the prefecture in July to implementation of a three year plan to handle low-level nuclear wastes, decontamination and environmental remediation. Commercial fishing has not restarted despite acceptable levels of radioactivity in fish due to consumer doubts about the safety of the catch.
that has entered a slow-leak-out-of-mind phase after that the danger of an outright explosion releasing fallout into the atmosphere is well past. Corporate mass media has already forgotten about the disaster. But the damage the crippled power station is doing to the biosphere continues almost unabated, making one wonder just exactly the "so sorry" Japanese authorities are doing about stoping the radioactive emissions. Radioactive groundwater is escaping from the station in huge amounts. An official estimate is 300 tons of radioactive groundwater may be flowing into the Pacific Ocean each day. Earlier this year high levels of radioactivity were detected in the ocean near the plant indicating a leak or leaks,

While Abe promised funding for halting the radioactive leaks, Green Action, the Japanese environmental group, said the funding was too little, too late since it will not be budgeted until next fiscal year, and more importantly the source of the leaks has not been tracked down to their source. The group said if leaking is caused by pipes or other equipment damaged by the earthquake and not the following tsunami as the government believes, the determination would have profound implications for all of Japan's nuclear facilities currently shut down during a reassessment of the industry. Perhaps the Japanese government is loath to avoid discovering such earthquake damage until after nuclear facilities are restarted. All of Japan nuclear facilities are near active faults. Fukushima Daiichi was once one of the largest 15 nuclear power stations in the world with six BWRs producing 4.7GW of power. Nature, like Gojira rising from the sea [photo], destroyed it. The expensive process of decommissioning it is now underway.

Nuclear power development in the United States has been brought to a temporary halt by judicial mandate after a
attempting to cool overheating fuel at Fukushima
ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In response to the ruling the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission has put on hold at least 19 licensing decisions. The Appeals Court invalidated the 2010 amendments to the Waste Confidence Rule and the Temporary Storage Rule. It noted that the agency has no viable plans for a permanent geologic repository after abandoning the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada. The funding for that project has been repeatedly cut by Senate Majority leader, Henry Reid, since the repository is opposed by the Nevada state government. The Court wants the agency to address the issue of long term storage on nuclear power plant sites where it is now under "temporary" storage in dry casks or pools. The agency said it would address the courts's remand before it moves forward on licenses dependent upon the rules in question. Environmental groups hailed the decision as a victory for the millions of Americans living near nuclear facilities including Indian Point, New York, the facility involved in the original lawsuit. Twenty-four groups across the United States also filed petitions with the agency asking it to complete a rulemaking on the environmental impacts of spent nuclear fuel. The Fukushima reactors destroyed by a massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 experienced partial meltdowns when their cooling systems failed [photo].

Egypt's Arab Spring Ends in Bloodbath

credit: Getty Images
The Egyptian people overturned a modern day pharaoh, Hosni Mubarak, to the astonishment of the world. But their society has proven too riven with sectarian, political, and ethnic conflict to give democracy a chance to grow next to the Nile. The reins of power where always in the hands of the military establishment even after the election of Mohammed Morsi. The coup against the elected president in office only a year allowed the generals to reassert themselves against the Moslem Brotherhood. 638 people were killed yesterday as the army routed out Morsi supporters occupying two camps in Cairo. The country is again under martial law, as the country teeters on the brink of all out civil war. Centuries of autocratic rule has made the countries of the Middle East ill-equppied to build democratic institutions. Syria is in the throes of a civil war between sides that do not espouse democratic principles. 100,000 Syrians have died with the aid of weapons from the United States and Russia. Libya is now controlled by armed militias including Al Qaeda affiliates after NATO "liberated" the country from Qaddafi. The Arab Spring is now a nightmare of death and disillusion. Failed Arab revolts create refugee camps for citizens and havens for violent jihadists. As Europeans found out after the violent upheavals of the mid-nineteeth century, democratic institutions take a long time to build. The United States has been of little help to democracy's cause in Egypt. Despite the coup, it still gives $1.3 billion in aid to the Egyptian military every year.

COTW: Bernanke is Sweating This One!

When our two biggest creditors, China and Japan, start selling off their US debt, it is a big signal to the rest of the world's investor class that the US economy is headed for a cliff.  The gold signal is also flashing red as the physical gold price rocketed up in the last week to $1350 as JP Morgan buys up gold in the marketplace to meet delivery demands on its vaults below Wall Street.  So you are not a gold person?  Do your shopping at Wal Mart, do you?  Then this chart may make you nauseous:


Sunday, August 11, 2013

TrueAmerica: Weapon of Mass Destruction

Yesterday was an anniversary of the United State's dropping of the second atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. While a plausible argument might be made that the first atomic attack in history at Hiroshima was a legitimate military tactic in a world war that had reached genocidal proportions--Dresden had been carpet bombed by the British--the attack on Nagasaki is without such justifications. President Truman considered the Japanese finished by the time of the atomic attacks, writing in his diary after Potsdam, "Fini Japs.", and knew that the Soviet Union would invade Manchuria creating a two front pincer the Japanese military could not escape. Sixty Japanese cities were already extensively damaged by incendiary air raids. Japan's government was suing for peace through Russian diplomats. The president also knew that civilian casualties were enormous at Hiroshima having been fully briefed on the results of the first atomic bomb attack. In his public announcement of the Hiroshima operation he misleadingly referred to the city as a "military base". Truman shrewdly assessed his nation was in no mood for a prolonged end game. Horrendous US losses at Okinawa previewed the carnage to come against a Japanese foe sworn to fight to the death ("Ketsugō").

Yet knowing of the devastation of Hiroshima and knowing the enemy was already militarily defeated, he allowed the second attack to go ahead on August 9th, killing perhaps 90,000 more civilians (50,000 immediately; only 250 soldiers died in the bombing). The Red Army was rolling over Japanese resistance in Manchuria, their planned invasion hastened by America's destruction of Hiroshima three days earlier. There was no direct presidential directive to unleash America's second weapon of mass destruction. The Nagasaki plutonium bomb was twice as powerful as the Hiroshima uranium bomb, but it was dropped a mile off target. It devastated the city's Urakami District, crushing the Catholic cathedral as well as destroying the Mitsubishi arsenal. If the bomb had hit the city's center as planned, the destruction and death would have exceeded Hiroshima's. No bombing pause was offered by the United States. An admittedly deluded Japanese leadership was meeting to consider sparing their people the hell of a lost cause, and a rain of atomic terror. Nevertheless historical records show the divided Japanese council debating surrender adjourned without reaching a decision even after the Nagasaki bomb was dropped. Their primary concern was the continuation of the imperial throne. Apparently, in their estimation of American leaders, the Soviet communists were a greater threat to that goal. History proved them correct.

The American political leadership were not without their own delusions, insisting a political rubric of "unconditional surrender" govern ending the Pacific war. That policy was later ignored by their own commanding general of the Occupation who consider the emperor a useful figurehead in controlling the Japanese population. America's other commanding general in Europe saw the atomic raids as unnecessary saying we should never have hit Japan, "with that awful thing." The Manhattan Project had produced several operational bombs, and the implosion type device was previously tested at Alamogordo. Therefore, the dropping of "Fat Man" was not a matter of testing an untried weapon technology; nor could the US not afford a demonstration detonation, for example, in full view of the emperor with Tokyo Bay as "zero point". The Nagasaki bombing was automated warfare and arguably the first shot of the Cold War. So here for your consideration on this anniversary is a patriotic War Department video of the results of America's greatest war crime:

For an alternative and more accurate view of the days leading up to the tragic destruction of Nagasaki view this dramatic reinactment video.

Friday, August 09, 2013

'Toontime: When Russian Ears Are Listening

[credit: Mike Keefe]
Mr. Snowden has finally transcended the confines of the airport transit lounge, but the limitations of his new life in Russia may not yet be fully transparent to him. Maybe he will get to meet another famous ex-pat in Russia, Mr. Depardeau, during his year long sojourn on a temporary visa. US Person thinks his stay will be anything but boring. As Glenn Greenwald points out, the United States sometimes refuses extradition requests under treaty and for political reasons. Russia's refusal to hand over Snowden--it is not surprising there is no extradition treaty between the two countries--is hardly a reason to cancel a summit meeting between the world's greatest military powers engaged in yet another proxy war. Snowden has been defended by some big names in the United States, such as civil rights leader John Lewis, and former President Jimmy Carter. He may not be a patriot in the usual flag-waving sense of the term, but many Americans agree he did the right thing by exposing the shocking extent of domestic spying officially kept secret by their government. To make matters worse, the Current Occupant is acting like a petulant school yard sissy, who needs defending by verbally aggressive cronies. Sen. Schumer claims"dolchstoss"! It's the law, dummies.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

COTW: The Amazing Shrinking Brain

[examine the full size graphic at] 

In paying attention to the news nowadays one might be justified in discerning symptoms of a physical phenomenon baffling anthropologists and biologists. The human brain is shrinking in size. Brain size has decreased about 1500cc in the last 10,000 years. In other words, if our bodies shrank as much as our brains have are we would be on average 4'6" tall and weigh 64 pounds.* Whilst our brains are smaller our encephalization quotient, or the measure biologists use for a species relative intelligence, has leveled off. As a species we are not getting dumber irregardless of the behavior or our politicians, but we are not getting noticeably smarter either. Various hypotheses have been put forward to account for our ancestors' bigger brains. Evolution responds to efficiency, and brains are notoriously energy intensive. Brain mass is just 2% of the human body, but consumes 20% of its resources. Now that we no longer hunt mastodon or fend off cave bears at night, our brains have reduced less used circuitry such as that dedicated to vision. Social support from human society allowed individuals with smaller brains to survive and populate the gene pool. Reduced human aggression--hominid bones show signs of violent injury and physical stress--has led to prolonged juvenility which encourages domesticity. As one scientist put it, "the story written in our bones is that we look more and more peaceful over the past 50,000 years". Perhaps there is hope, afterall.

*Once, a race of giants lived amongst modern humans if the biblical record is accorded historical credibility. David killed Goliath according to the legend, but Goliath had a giant brother named Lahmi who was also killed by David's men writes the Chronicler. 1Chr 20. Still another "decendent of the Raphaim of Gath" was Sippai. Large in stature, they were also polydactyl. The Bible contains several references to tribes of giants. ("Nephilim" and "Anakim") Are these the last decedents of Cro-Magnon? (see relative brain size chart above).

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lion Trophy Hunting--NOT!

Supporters of African trophy hunting often try to justify the killing of endangered animals for sport by claiming that the hunts bring much need economic support to impoverished Africans. The impact of trophy hunting on local economies is the subject of a new report, "The $200 Million Question", commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Humane Society of the United States and the Born Free Foundation. The report was issued amid consideration to give the African lion endangered status under the Endangered Species Act. Trophies could not be imported into the United States if the lion is protected under the statue.

credit: US Person
A twenty-one day lion hunt can cost between $20,000 and $70,000. Almost all the hunters are foreigners; 62% of lion trophies are imported into the United States. Research reviewed in the report shows that only 3% of revenue from hunting companies goes to communities in the area (Booth, 2010). The majority of their expenditures go to government agencies or individuals in located internationally or in national capitals. Across countries studied the revenue stream was relatively tiny, accounting for only 1.8% of tourism revenue which do play a role in national development. A IUCN study in 2009 estimated that for six African countries (Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, Central African Republic, Burkino Faso and Benin) the per hectare revenue for hunting concessions were all below 20 cents, and in four of the six countries below a dime.

Listing African lions as endangered by the United States will have minimal impact on the hunting industry in Africa. The industry is primarily driven by buffalo and antelope hunting. In Tanzania buffalo hunting contributes 22% of fees collected (Baldus & Cauldwell, 2004) A reduction in hunting lions will obviously have an positive effect on a species that is struggling to survive in the face of habitat loss, poaching and prey depletion. An estimated 32,000 lions still survive in the wild, yet each year 560 lions are killed for boasting rights. Only rich American hunters like the Koch boys would be adversely affected by listing the African lion as endangered. The immature thrill maybe gone, but it just one humans can live without.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Alaska's Extreme Heat Killing Fish

Abnormally high water temperatures killed at least 1100 king salmon on their way back to their hatchery. That die off is most of the 1800 adult fish expected to return for spawning. Earlier this summer another hatchery lost hundreds of grayling and rainbow trout in a Fairbanks area lake when water temperatures reached 76℉. Alaska's heat wave broke records with 14 days above 70℉ in Fairbanks and 31 days above 80℉ in Anchorage. Die-offs are not uncommon, but the magnitude and coincidence with the high temperatures was remarkable. There have been six die-offs of more than 500 fish in the last 35 years. Lack of rainfall has also impacted migrating fish that become trapped in depleted water bodies. As of August 1st the statewide salmon catch was 100 million fish. Salmon is Alaska's biggest export after oil and natural gas. The heat wave is expected to subside soon, but the state has been warming twice as fast as the rest of the United States over the past fifty years. Wildfires have consumed more than a million acres of subarctic forest and thawing permafrost is sinking native villages and buckling roads.