Monday, June 30, 2014

Old World Monkeys Avoid Interbreeding

Lesser spot-nose guenon
New research shows that old world monkeys avoid interbreeding by noting facial characteristics. Researchers from Exeter and New York Universites studied 1400 photographs of about two dozen species of guenons (Cerocopithecidea), of which many different species live in close proximity to each other in sub-sahara Africa's forests. The study concludes that the striking appearance of these monkeys is due to sexual selection of visual signs that discourage hybridization. It is the strongest evidence to date that appearance in our own lineage makes a big difference to evolutionary processes. Oxford zoologist Jonathan Kingdon suggested the guenon's diversity of facial characteristics as an evolutionary adaptation to avoid inter-breeding in the 1980's. These latest results confirm his hypothesis. As one of the scientists involved put it, "You end up looking like those around you. With the primates we studied, this has a purpose: to strengthen reproductive isolation between populations".

Friday, June 27, 2014

Serengeti Spared Road Crossing

US Person: Rongai Crossing
The Serengeti was spared by a East African court last week when it ruled against a controversial plan to build a paved road across Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. The African Network for Animal Welfare brought the suit four years ago. The organization's executive director said in a statement that the organization respects Tanzania's sovereignty and need for economic development, but the protection of the Serengeti plain preserves a natural resource that will benefit Tanzanians and as well as East Africa and the rest of humanity. The road would have bisected the remote northern portion of the Park, cutting off the famous migration routes thousands of visitors come to witness every year. The plan was met with fierce international opposition which Tanzanian politicians framed as interference with sovereignty. In 2010 the government said the project was withdrawn, but in reality it only tweaked the proposal by making the Park portion of the road unpaved. Whether paved or unpaved, the road would have attracted vehicle traffic that frightens wildlife and causes deadly collisions especially at night. The government's own estimates were for over a million vehicles using the road annually by 2036. The Tanzanian government also claimed that the East African Community Treaty did not give the court jurisdiction over the issue, but an appellate ruling in 2011 dismissed that claim.

US Person: mating in the tall grass
The road was intended for local people to have access to an all-weather highway and encourage development, but an ecological expert testified that it would adversely affect the movement of millions of animals, particularly wildebeest and zebra during their annual migration. Research in 2011 found that a road would reduce the wildebeest population by 35%, further endangering lions and other large predators. A Tanzanian government official shrugged off the ruling saying its focus had already shifted to south of the Park for the planned route. Earlier the government announced that it will go ahead with a German offer to fund a study for the southern route that would circumvent the Park entirely. Conservationists suggested that the southern route could be an acceptable alternative. Germany also offered to build better access roads for remote northern villages that do not cut across the entire Park.
US Person: Ngorogoro, Tanzania

Toontime: A Snowball's Chance in Iraq

[credit: Rob Rogers, Pittsburg Post-Gazette]
Embattled Nouri al-Malik has refused to form a coalition government of national salvation.  He has put his bet on purchasing Sukhoi jets from Russia and Belarus since the United States is insisting on a political solution to Iraq's crisis before US air power is applied.  The Sukhoi Su-27 is a world-class fighter plane superior to the F-16, but Maliki is deluded if he actually thinks the solution to Iraq's ethnic and sectarian fragmentation is air cover for his $40 billion, unreliable army.  If the Iranians get fed up with Maliki, which they are close to being according to the latest reports, he does not have a snowball's chance of surviving in power. Influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is already referring to him as the "oppressor".  More importantly, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani shares the view with Iran's Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force that Maliki has to go. Maliki's call for a July 1st meeting of parliament to proceed with the process of re-installing him as prime minister will be met with the lack of a quorum.

[credit: Tom Janssen, Trouw, Netherlands]
Wackydoodle axes:  Y'all seen the Evil Empire?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Italy Sent Off; Suarez Takes Another Bite

Update: Suarez suspended for four months from "all football related activities" and fined £66,000 effective immediately. FIFA's decision will be appealed by Uruguay. The suspension means the surly striker will miss part of the regular season as well as the rest of the World Cup. Without his football skills Uruguay is unlikely to advance beyond the Cup quarterfinals. The ban will not affect Suarez's likely transfer from Liverpool nor his endorsement contract with sport equipment manufacturer Addidas. The cupidity always continues.
credit: Daily Mail

24.06.14 Four time world champion, Italy are [sic] sent off by Uruguay to join England as spectators; however, the big story is the apparent bite taken by Luis Suarez out of an Italian back just before the winning goal was scored by Uruguay's captain. The referee, either did not see the flagrant foul that took place inside the penalty area or was loath to alter a nil-nil tie in its closing minutes, did not give Suarez a red card or award a penalty kick. He entirely deserved one for his flagrant lack of sportsmanship. This is the third time Suarez stands accused of using his prominent overbite as a weapon on the field. Although an extremely talented player, Suarez is apparently such a hot head he cannot control himself in tight games. The first player to receive the 'mark of Suarez', Otman Bakkal, told interviewers, "I think he wants to win so badly that he loses his mind sometimes but afterwards he comes to his senses." Suarez was given a six day suspension by the Dutch football association for biting PSV Eindhoven's Bakkal. The latest incident underscores the difficulty FIFA, the world football association, has keeping flagrant fouls from overshadowing the game itself which is unfortunate since football (soccer) is the only game besides basketball played worldwide. FIFA prides itself for not adopting instant replay to aid referees. The incident also underlines the absurdity of elevating highly paid sports professionals who are emotionally unstable to untenable social pedestals from which they invariably fall.

Suarez is given a hard time in the English press, partly because of his unacceptable behavior on the field [photo]. He is said to have credited his spectacular single-handed 2-1 elimination of England (1 volley, 1 header) in World Cup group D play as a reposte for their lack of adoration. This third bite on the world stage of soccer will cause FIFA to investigate and probably order another, longer suspension from the game. Suarez served FA's ten-day suspension for biting Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic during a 2-2 tie without appeal. Italy's Girogio Chiellini displayed the clearly visible teeth marks to the referee while complaining against Suarez's misconduct. He was ignored by the game ref, but FIFA rules allow discipline after the fact and the use of video evidence. The maximum suspension allowed is two years, but the longest ever imposed during a World Cup was eight games given to Italy's Mauro Tassotti in 1984 for throwing an elbow that broke an opponent's nose. No word on whether the bite marks have been measured or photographed; the bite did not break the skin. The third bite may even seal Suarez's transfer from Liverpool where he is reportedly unhappy back to Barcelona.US Person advises: beware of Uruguay's mad competitor.

Syria's Nerve Agent Disposed

The international group responsible for destroying Syria's nerve gas stockpile (OPCW) has declared it gone. Syria is the first nation to ever voluntarily surrender a declared chemical weapons stockpile while at war. The announcement was met with guarded approval from US and European officials. There is a UN report that chloride gas has been used in the civil war now tearing Syria apart. Chlorine is widely available and is not considered a weapon of mass destruction, but its use as a weapon of war is banned under international law. Chlorine gas was used by both sides in WWI. The West believes Syria is refusing to destroy chemical weapons infrastructure, and suspects Syria has failed to declare secret stockpiles. Of course the Syrian government has a major credibility problem, but so does the Unites States and Britain. They steadfastly maintained at the UN that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction (WMD) after more than a decade of economic sanctions. After finally invading the country in 2003 on the pretext of eliminating WMD, none was found.

credit: UK Guardian
A confirmed use of sarin by the Assad regime at al-Ghouta killed about 1400 Syrians [photo]. Russia helped broker a big power agreement that halted Washington's plans for military intervention--the infamous "red line"  {Red Line Crossed in Obama's Mind, 31.08.13}. The agreement succeeded in eliminating Syria's nerve gas weapons. The last consignment of 1,300 metric tons of declared precursors and nerve agents where loaded Monday onto a Danish ship at Latakia. Those will be transported to the MV Cape Ray where the chemicals will be hydrolyzed at sea. The diluted waste will then be shipped to facilities in Britain, Germany, Finland and United States for incineration. The agreement is not perfect, as the chlorine loophole demonstrates. An OPCW fact-finding mission concluded that "toxic chemicals, most likely pulmonary irritating agents such as chlorine, have been used in a systematic manner in a number of attacks." The Unites States blames Assad and not the rebels it is supporting* for using chlorine. It wants the UN Security Council, which has the legal authority to command compliance, to be in charge of Syria's chemical weapons program because the OPCW works on a consensus basis. Russia maintains its ally should be treated like any other country requesting assistance from OPCW. These discussions are taking place in the Hague.  Analysts believe complete elimination of all chemical agents and facilities will not be achieved before 2015. Syria is resisting the destruction of chemical weapons storage facilities, parts of which it wants to preserve for commercial enterprises.

*Current Occupant has asked Congress for $500 million to support what he calls "moderate" rebels in Syria.  Jihadists including ISIS and the al-Nusra Front are predominant among rebel groups fighting the Assad regime for three years now.  Tens of thousands have died in Syria's civil war; three million have fled the country.  The money if appropriated will guarantee its prolongation.  As the experience in Iraq demonstrates, channeling aid only to those you agree with is not foolproof in a time of war.

Okavango Delta Declared Part of World Heritage

all photos credit: Steve Boyes
After thirty years of work to make the Okavango Delta in Botswana part of the world's natural heritage, UNESCO has designated it as the 1,000th site. One of the few inland deltas in the world that does not flow into a sea or ocean, the Okavango is a refuge to many of the most endangered large mammals and twenty-four species of threatened birds. The river originates in the Angolan highlands, 800 miles away. Its permanent marshes and seasonal flood plains are a key resource for many of Botswana's 130,000 elephants, the world's largest remaining wild population. The Delta is just one of three places left on the continent with more than 2,000 lions. The Okavango River's annual flood is a magnate for animals seeking fresh water in the extreme heat of the dry season. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) worked with the Botswana government to achieve world heritage status that was announced on June 22nd in Dohar, Qatar.

Although the designation officially recognizes the wild beauty and ecological importance of the Okavango, it faces development threats like most wilderness areas in the 21st century. Namibia is focused on the Okavango's Popa Falls as a possible source of hydroelectric power. In 2003 NamPower, the Namibian power company was given permission to conduct feasibility studies for a hydro-electric weir. Although Namibia's government insists the project has been shelved because of popular opposition, the project has not permanently gone away, and Namibia's power needs are increasingly acute. The country imports about 50% of its power from South Africa. Widespread power outages are hampering economic growth.

The proposed project is relatively small (20-30MW), but it will flood islands that harbor threaten plants and inundate an area rich in mammals, reptiles and amphibians. The weir will cause sedimentation problems in the Okavango and erode its downstream channels. Elephant migration routes will be disrupted. Development may even alter the seasonal flood patterns on which so many creatures rely to survive the dry season drought. A scientific paper from the University of Cape Town concludes that evaporation in the Kavango Basin is increasing due to global warming. Namibia is co-signer of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (1971); as such it has a responsibility to manage the Okavango in a sustainable manner. Namibia has a remarkable conservation record. Altering its course by harnessing one of the world's last remaining wild rivers and endangering its unique delta system is not a path it should take.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Vladimirovich Scores Again

Some of the assets in Ukraine the Kremlin considers worth fighting for are the gas pipelines that cross the country to deliver gas in Europe. The Russian state company, Gazprom, owns the gas and right now Kiev cannot afford to buy any of it. It already has a $3bn outstanding gas bill that Russia wants paid in full. Ukraine can do little to stop the flow of gas without antagonizing its new NATO friends like Germany.  The real star of the show is not the Soyuz or Brotherhood lines but the South Stream [map] built to specifically bypass Ukraine and as an alternative to the western sponsored Nabucco line crossing Turkey which has now been abandoned. The South Stream project was announced in 2007 by Italian energy company Eni's Paolo Scaroni and Gazprom Vice-Chairman Alexander Medvedev.  Construction started in December 2012 and is expected to cost $40 billion.

Bulgaria is a key transit point where the South Stream comes ashore at Varna. Bulgaria has a dysfunctional relationship with Russia, a legacy of the Soviet empire, so it was not entirely surprising that after talking with US senators, Bulgarian prime minister Plamen Oresharski halted the pipeline's construction. He told reporters that "further proceedings" would be held after consultation with Brussels. Brussels wants the project frozen while it takes time to consider whether the project violates its competition regulations. President Putin is aware of rude western efforts to disrupt the contracts for the South Stream project. He calls the efforts "ordinary competitive struggle" because the US wants to supply Europe with liquified gas.  The United States views the South Stream as a strategic liability since it encourages European dependence on Russian gas.  Putin held talks with Austria's President Heinz Fischer in Vienna this week. Austria, which is the western terminus of the South Stream and possesses a triple A credit rating, defied the EU and gave final approval to the project's Austrian segment on Tuesday. Gooooooooooooooal!!!

COTW: Hottest May on Record

Get used to seeing headlines like this one as Earth warms up because of the greenhouse effect. NOAA gives us this computer graphic:

Monday, June 23, 2014

'Toontime: The Real Meaning of Useless

More: Washington, DC has almost zero credibility in the world, so no one including US Person really believed the Current Occupant when he said no American ground troops would be involved in fighting to save the Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki. Besides the zero credibility factor, a large part of the world is distracted by the World Cup soccer tournament hosted by Brazil where the poor live in cardboard boxes. As the zealous fighters of ISIS and their Sunni allies close in on Baghdad, alarm bells have gone off at the Pentagon and Langley. The prospect of Sunni fundamentalists controlling Iraq is just too terrible for Washington's security apparatus to contemplate. Two hundred and fifty combat ready troops will be posted to protect American assets including the hugely expensive US embassy located in the fortified "green zone". This decision was taken after the American trained and equipped Iraq army again proved it is no match for the "danger men" of ISIS when the terror group took the northern city of Tal Afar. Of course the decision to re-deploy combat personnel is the beginning of the slippery slope to full US reengagement if the Iraqis cannot get their act together, and Americans begin suffering casualties of war.

Secretary Kerry already has hinted that drones may be used to slow down what until now has been an unstoppable offensive by Sunni militants lead by the ISIS jihadis. The Baghdad government, with its back to the wall, granted US troops legal immunity in Iraq.  This was a sticking point in the negotiations to leave behind a significant US military presence. However, the British has already indicated they will bow out of the reoccurring nightmare of Iraq. Iran may take their place as the junior partner to US forces. General Soleimani, commander of Iran's elite Quds Force has consulting in Baghdad with Maliki's government. Beyond irony, in a mind bending twist of fate, US soldiers may find themselves fighting along Iranian personnel who only a few years ago were fighting against them; their common enemy being a Sunni terrorist organization supported and financed by a supposed US ally in the region, Saudi Arabia.

ISIS has managed to connect with its fighters in northern Syria from across the border in Iraq. It now controls major border crossing points. The al-Qaeda splinter group is using captured American vehicles to aid its ground advances. Humvees were used to capture several villages outside the town of Azaz close to the Turkish border. They were supplied to ISIS fighters in Syria from Iraq according to a British-based group observing the Syrian civil war. ISSI is also fighting some of its Sunni allies in Iraq. Members of the Naqshbandi Army, composed of former ruling Baath party members clashed with ISIS in Hawija for the third consecutive day.
credit: Bill Day
Wackydoodle axes: What kind of toothpaste does he use?
20.06.14 Give the Current Occupant credit for not reacting militarily to the inevitable in Iraq. The usefull idiot that got us into Iraq under false pretenses should shoulder the entire blame for what is occurring now. His invasion was unnecessary and even reckless given Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to tolerate foreign jihadists on his soil. The only thing the Charlatan achieved by invading Iraq was creating a power vacuum that could be displaced by militant Sunnis intent on recreating the Caliphate from map lines drawn in the desert dust. Iraq is caught up in an apparently endless, sectarian tit for tat. It was a catastrophic policy mistake to mire the United States in Iraq's disfunction by forcefully deposing Hussein--a mistake motivated by oil politics and fear of Iran. President 41st stopped at the Iraqi border for good reason. The best that can be done now is put paid in full to the entire debacle and reach a modus vivendi with regional power Iran.

On the road to Baghdad, ISIS is fighting for control of the huge Baiji oil refinery and the Tal Afar airport. Thought to number 10,000 fighters, ISIS grew out of an Al-Qaeda organization in Iraq and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Abu Bakr is deliberately obscure. Only two photos of him are authenticated [one below], and unlike other prominent al Qaeda leaders he does not appear in video messages. Reportedly he addresses his commanders wearing a mask earning him the nickname, "the invisible sheikh." Far from a romantic poseur, Abu Bakr's battlefield organization is ruthlessly effective. The US has posted a $10m reward for information leading to his capture or death. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has emerged as the true heir of Osama Bin Laden and the leading foe of the "Great Satan".

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Creature Feature: Yasuni National Park

Yasuni, the Cradle of life from Diego Mosquera on Vimeo.

Diego Mosquera shows us the diverse wildlife living in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park which is under threat from oil exploration.  The state oil company, Petroamazonas, plans to drill in Block 31, deep in the heart of the Park.  Satellite imagery shows the company building access roads contrary to environmental protection measures in its license.  Mr. Mosquera conducts a camera trap program for the Tiputini Biodiversity Station of the University San Francisco de Quito.  His cameras captured a wide range of species from armadillo to jaguar and the rare nocturnal curassow (1:38), believed to be the first film evidence ever of this bird in the wild.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Petraeus Says No to US Striking Iraq

More: The war horses have their nose under the tent. The United States said it would send in special forces "advisors" to bolster the failing Iraqi Army and operate in FAC. The Current Occupant, under pressure to save the government in Baghdad, will wake from his nap today to address the nation and inform them of yet another military operation in the Middle East. Iraqi government officials say they are in control of the nation's largest oil refinery at Baiji, but eyewitnesses say the militants are still inside the perimeter, albeit not in control of the vast complex. Some reports said they were in total control at one point on Wednesday or Thursday. Sharp clashes between government forces, Shia volunteers, and ISIS fighters are occurring at Baquba, forty miles north of Baghdad. Political opponents of al-Maliki are maneuvering to oust him from power and they claim they have US support. Maliki said on Iraqi television he will not quit. Guardian reports that his resignation will be a quid pro quo for US intervention.

18.06.14 The United States should NOT lend its air force to Iraq to battle militants closing in on Baghdad according to General David Petraeus. The retired general and former director of the CIA was disgraced by sexual scandal, but he is still credited with the US troop "surge" strategy that survived the Iraqi civil war. He said the United States should not become embroiled in a sectarian war that has waged in Iraq since its borders were drawn by the Great Powers at the Versailles peace conference. The former commander of US forces in Iraq, also said the United States should not be supporting a Shia-dominated Iraq government that is seen to be unfair to the country's minority sects*. He made his comments at a political conference in London. He did not dismiss airstrikes entirely, but he made it clear he did not think the Maliki government could meet the political prerequisites for a US intervention.  Meanwhile, ISIS and their jihadi allies continue to pressure Baghdad and are fighting for control of a major refinery at Baiji. Reuters reports the rebels are in control of 75% of the refinery. It is situated in a Sunni controlled province 130 miles north of Baghdad; the town of Baiji was overrun by militants last week.

Reuters: Baiji refinery
One of the clear errors of the Libyan intervention is that the militias the US and its European allies chose to support are militant islamists. The Libyan militias now control the infrastructure in a country that is essentially lawless. Ousted dictator Muammar Qaddafi, while disliked by western corporatists for his "resource nationalism", at least maintained order and security. Libya even made advances in the quality of life for its citizens under Qaddafi. Al-Maliki in Iraq has continually marched towards increasing authoritarianism by locking out minorities from power. General Petraeus said the Baghdad government has lost the opportunity to avoid sectarian warfare which it had in 2011. The US set up a series of initiatives intended to co-op the Sunni community, but those were allowed to fail. Instead Maliki's government chose to "go after" Sunni Arab political figures, and treat Sunni demonstrators harshly. The Untied States shares responsibility for creating unstable conditions in volatile countries by rash military adventures, so it is refreshing to see a respected American political figure speaking out for restraint. Contrary to the embittered ravings of former Vice-President 'Darth' Cheney, whose inflated dreams of American global hegemony got American forces bogged down in Iraq, US Person thinks the limits of US military power have never been more clearly demonstrated. It seems our leading hero-general agrees.

*Not only is fairness involved. Iran holds large sway over Iraqi's Shias. It will undoubtably want to negotiate a favorable nuclear deal with the United States in return for its cooperation against the militant Sunnis attacking Baghdad. Air power alone is impotent against organized ground forces, now equipped with anti-aircraft weapons. The equation becomes: militant Sunnis in Baghdad, or a nuclear armed, revolutionary Iran?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Indian State of Assam Reports Rhino Increase

credit: The Hindu
A census released recently says the population of Indian one-horned rhinos (Rhinocerous unicornis) has increased by 27% since 2006 in the face of an epidemic of poaching. Assam's rhino population is now officially pegged at 2,544 this year, up from only 200 in the early 1900s. This year 18 rhinos have been killed by poachers. The state government says it is doing more to stop poaching by increasing manpower in Kaziranga National Park, enhancing penalties for poaching, and allowing forest rangers to use deadly force. Kaziranga is home to 60% of the entire population of one-horned rhinos that also inhabit Nepal. They are the world's largest rhino species and were moved from the endangered to the vulnerable category in 2008 because of their rising population.  India's government has pledged a goal of 3,000 rhinos by 2020, a target it will meet if the current trend continues.

Monday, June 16, 2014

New Bird in Indonesia Named

Zoologists from Trinity College, Dublin have located a previously unknown bird species living in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Named the "Wakatobi flowerpecker" (Dicaeum kuehni) [photo] It is found only on a small island chain in southeast Sulawesi and is genetically distinct from the grey-sided flowerpecker living on the mainland. Genetic analysis indicates the two species have not interbred separated as they are by 27kms of sea. Sulawesi is a genetic hotspot explored by Darwin's lesser known colleague, Alfred Russell Wallace, who wrote one of the best accounts of scientific exploration in his journal, The Malay Archipelago. The region is understudied probably because of its remoteness, so their could be more biological surprises awaiting naturalists. The Wakatobi islands are within the boundaries of the Wakatobi Marine National Park, but they currently receive no legal protection. With the discovery of the unique bird, the archipelago's conservation status will need to be reassessed. 

Each of the four large islands is inhabited by different number and variety of species. For example the Wangi-wangi white-eye lives only on the island of Wangi-wangi despite satellite islands lying only a kilometer from the shore. The Wakatobi white-eye lives on Wangi-wangi and its islets; it has a different shaped beak. All the white-eyes living on the archipelago's four large islands differ morphologically [photo]. The study authors, whose paper was published in Plos One, ask for more detailed surveys to be carried out before tourist development irretrievably alters the environment. It could be the case that human activity is accelerating species differentiation in Wakatobi, contrary to the effect of development found elsewhere.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

COTW: Pipeline on Wheels

The United States is in the middle of another oil and gas boom thanks to technological developments--horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing--and higher oil prices. In 1970 US domestic production peaked at 9.6 million barrels a day which had fallen to 5.0mb/d by 2008. By the summer of 2013 it was 7.5mb/d. Most of the increased production is coming from what are known as "shale plays" where crude and natural gas are trapped in non-permeable shale rock. The three most important to date are the Bakken in North Dakota, Barnett in Texas and Marcellus in Pennsylvania:

The vast majority of this production is reaching refineries by rail not pipeline. According to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority about 60% of Bakken oil is moving by rail. Only rail networks reach into the interior of the west were the resource is located and the refineries are not. The Keystone XL project is really only important to Canada's Alberta tar sand devastation. Without radically increased transportation volume most of Alberta's bitumen is uneconomic to develop; Canada, not the US, needs the Keystone Project to be finally approved. Consequently, carloads of crude oil have skyrocketed. In 2008 just 9,500 carloads moved by rail. In 2013 carloads originating in the US will near 400,000.

The gigantic tank train explosion that blistered Lac-M├ęgantic, Quebec last July killed 47 people and spilled 1.6m gallons of crude oil. This hellish incident demonstrates transportation of oil by rail is not without risks. One of those risks is the continued use of obsolete tankers called the DOT-111. The 1960's design was upgraded and improved in 2011 by the industry, but it only applies to new tank cars ordered after October 1, 2011. To date about 14,000 cars using the new standards have been built. About 78,000 older cars remain on the rails. Despite outdated equipment the railroads have a better safety record than pipelines. According to US Department of Transportation data, pipelines spill nearly three times more crude oil than rail. During 2002-12 there were 148 incidents involving release of crude oil from railroads including 109 spills of less than five gallons. Railroads are required to report every release. Pipelines only are required to report releases of more than five gallons; in the same period there were 1,785 pipeline spills of more than five gallons. That is 45 times the number of rail incidents. Despite the good record the agency advised railroads to stop carrying oil in the older model tank cars. Canada has banned them beginning in 2017.

Natural gas is designated the "go-to" fuel for electricity production until, perhaps, politics allows renewable energy to shoulder the load. Natural gas now accounts for 28% of US electricity generation. Coal still tops the list of fuels at 39%. Coal trains that present their own environmental problems are decreasing in number. In 2012 the US originated the lowest annual number of coal carloads since 1993.

So now you know why US says: take the train.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kenya's Biggest Elephant, Satao Murdered

June 12th was a sad day for Kenya and the world. Satao, the largest bull elephant in Kenya, was killed by poachers lusting for his magnificent tusks. He was pursued mercilessly and shot with poison arrows. Satao survived that attack by enduring excruciating pain from his festering wounds. People wished him well on the internet and he seemed to be recovering. Then in the first week of this month the executive director of Tsavo Trust found a massive carcass without tusks in a swamp.  Tsavo Trust runs a program to give added protection to the remaining "100lbs" tuskers.  He knew in his gut that it was all that remained of Satao. It was hard to determine the elephant's identity a first because of the facial mutilation.  Satao had twenty-four hour protection from the Kenya Wildlife Service as an icon of Kenya and a global treasure. Nevertheless continent-wide rampant poaching driven by greed defeated the good intentions of Satao allies. The obscene crime of poaching extends into governments and they are in denial about this stark reality. Poaching ranks alongside child trafficking. Every available resource in the world should directed to smashing it out of existence. Forever. There should be no more Sataos dying at the hands of humans. Kenyan officials will be rightly embarrassed when it hosts the UNEP Governing Assembly on June 24th, as they try to explain how such a gentle, intelligent, and compassionate giant of the world met such a despicably tragic end. Kwaheri good elephant!

The most anger producing circumstance of this story is that Satao knew poachers wanted his beautiful gleaming tusks that touched the ground. His behavior told humans he knew his tusks were endangering his life. Satao deliberate hid them from view in bushes. But even a half-century of survival skills could not defeat craven humans using cheap Chinese tech junk such as motorcycles, GPS phones and night goggles. To see a land animal as large as Satao was is truly inspiring, even a little frightening. US Person vividly recalls  coming suddenly upon a Namibian tusker around a track bend, deep in the bush. He was as tall as the large trees he was contently feeding upon, or so it seemed. But Satao, Mountain King, and other bulls like them are rapidly disappearing from the face of the Earth. Only 12 remain in the Tsavo Conservation Area. Their species will be the lesser for their needless deaths--so will man.

Friday, June 13, 2014

'Toontime: They're Back!

[credit: Nate Beeler, The Columbus Dispatch]
Wackydoodle axes: Can you dribble?
Seems like only yesterday US Person was posting that the United States was 0-3 in the wars of the 21st century. The situation in Iraq, which was perhaps the least disastrous foreign adventure, has gone from bad to worse. Within the space of a week islamist fighters of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq & Syria also known as Islamic State in Iraq & Levant, ISIL) an offshoot of Al Qaeda, have taken two major cities, Mosul and Tikrit and now threaten to take Baghdad. The Iraq Army that cost the US dearly in blood and money ($25bn) to set up is disintegrating. According to Stratfor Iraq had 10,000 personnel in and around Mosul. A significant portion of these personnel fled, shedding their uniforms, equipment and vehicles. As the black-clad militants push rapidly south they are collecting and using American equipment abandoned by the national army. During a victory parade in Mosul the militants displayed two helicopters flying overhead--for the first time. Not only military equipment was captured, but also the contents of Mosul's central bank. The Kurds, whose consistent goal has been the establishment of their own state, have taken advantage of the insurgency to occupy the oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they claim as their capital. A Peshmerga spokesman said no Iraqi troops remained in Kirkuk, and the Kurds are unlikely to give the city up especially if Baghdad asks for their cooperation to fight the jihadist insurgency. Islamist fighters who are part of a coalition of groups with ISIS that includes Baathists, Ansar al-Islam, and tribal elements are reported to be only an hour's drive north of Baghdad and they have vowed to capture it.

Although Nouri al-Maliki's Shia dominated government was essentially installed by the United States, it recently won a plurality in parliamentary elections. However it is loosing control of the country on the ground. The potential for the establishment of a radical Sunni state is alarming Shia-majority Iran. An ISIS spokesperson claimed Shia are "a disgraced people" accusing them of being "polytheists". According to the Daily Beast, Iran is cooperating with its former enemy by deploying two battalions of its elite Quds Force to fight the Sunni militants in Iraq. During the US occupation in 2006-07 Shia militia "cleansed" Baghdad of Sunni in a violent slaughter. Sunnis throughout the Middle East, including supposed US ally Saudi Arabia, which is believed to be funding ISIS, have not forgiven or forgotten.

The Current Occupant blurted another formulaic sound bite, saying "all options are open" to prevent defeat of the Baghdad government, but given the high cost of the Iraq invasion in blood and treasure, it is highly unlikely that the US will again intervene militarily to save its former quislings in Baghdad. Reportedly, al-Maliki has already asked for US air strikes but was turned down; that answer may change if warmongers pound the Libya drum too loud. Because the US and Iraq were unable to reach agreement on a longterm military presence in Iraq, it has little intelligence with which to conduct combat operations. As one Pentagon official bluntly put it, "We do not trust the Iraqi government." After all America has been through in Iraq, that is truly a revealing but sad statement. America's grade for nation building in Iraq: F.
[credit: Kimmy Margulles, Newsday]
BC Idonwanna sez: He looks a lot like Ike.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Creature Feature: When a Baby Rhino Grieves

If this photograph does not break your heart, then you need to visit a psychiatrist to discuss your anti-social tendencies:

Gertjie, the baby rhino is now an orphan. Poachers brutally killed his mother and he witnessed her death. Gertjie is so traumatized by the murder that he refuses to sleep alone at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species center caring for him now. He was rescued from the wild in on May 7th, when he was found grieving next to his dead mother. Thought to have been born around February 19th, Gertjie or "Little G" is almost four months old and making some progress.  He weighs 136kgs.  He is slowly being weaned off night feedings and is building up strength with daily walks. The Center is appealing for funds to keep fat-free milk in stock.  He drinks about 15L a day.   Baby rhinos are only completely weaned off milk between the ages of 15 and 18 months.  Little G has humans who watch over him constantly as well as a sheep that serves as a surrogate mom. Watch Gertjie on his live video cam! (US Person admits watching a baby rhino sleep is not exactly breathtaking, but perhaps you can catch one of the three feeding hours).

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

No Drilling In Virunga National Park
Home to the famous mountain gorilla families, Virunga National Park has weathered genocide refugees, poachers, and insurgent militias. Oil exploration also threatens to disturb the peaceful gorillas (Gorilla beringei) that live in the cloud forest on its volcanic slopes. Soco, a British company, announced that it would abandon plans to explore for oil in Virunga. The company entered legal mediation with WWF last week in London, but Soco is believed to have given way under government and investor pressure. In a joint statement with WWF, the company said it would not undertake any exploratory drilling within Virunga NP unless UNESCO and the Democratic Republic of Congo agree. The park was designated a world heritage site in 1979 and is Africa's oldest national park. The company will complete a seismic survey on Lake Edward however. Soco follows Total, a French company, in pledging not to explore Virunga, but other oil companies could replace them since oil leases cover 80% of the park.

Soco: Lake Edward
The park has had precious little peace in recent years. Fighting between armies and militia groups has continued for twenty years. Just last month Virunga's chief warden was shot from ambush and seriously wounded. An estimated 140 wardens have died in the line of duty and many more have fled since 1996. WWF has called upon the DRC to cancel the leases to insure the park's future. Oil drilling would perturb the already fragile security. Rebel group M23 is known to operate in the park. WWF staff have received death threats on the telephone which it is taking seriously because of the groups efforts to protect Virunga from oil exploitation. WWF commissioned a study of sustainable development for the local human population such as fishing, hydro power and ecotourism.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chile Rejects Hydro Projects

Two of world's wildest rivers have been spared hydroelectric development by a Chilean ministerial commission. The $8bn proposal to dam the Patagonian rivers Baker and Pascua, and build 1,000 miles of high-power to supply central Chile with power was defeated by public outcry that sometimes turned violent. The vote by the ministers of agricultural, energy, mining, economy and health was unanimous. The executive secretary of the Patagonian Defense Council called the decision the greatest victory for Chile's environmental movement so far. The five proposed dams would have drowned 14,000 acres that includes whitewater, waterfalls, green valleys and the diminutive Southern Huemul deer. Only 1,000 of these precious creatures are believed to still exist. Last year Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said the HidroAysen project was not viable. The dams are planned to produce 2750MW or about a third of central Chile's needs within 12 years. Instead of hydro power she proposed meeting energy shortages by alternative sources and liquified natural gas. Chile's economically significant mining industry is energy intensive. The companies behind the joint venture can appeal the decision to an environmental court. The legal battle is expected to be protracted.

COTW: When One Chart Doesn't Tell the Whole Story

Median house prices have recovered to their post-panic highs as this chart of data from the US Census Bureau shows:

What the chart does not show is the nature of that recovery. It is unusual and not indicative of previous economic recoveries in the US. New sales and construction contribute to a nation's GDP since they directly reflect increased production and consumer demand. These factors do not necessary follow rising real estate prices, however. The following charts reflect the real story behind the higher home prices driven not by new homeowners, but by rentiers with cheap cash seeking higher yields in a low-interest environment:

New homes sales are at half-century lows, and new home construction starts are at recession levels. Individual homeownership is at a 19 year low. How can the apparent contradictions be explained? The following charts show households are increasingly deciding to rent rather than buy in a high-price housing market. Rents are correspondingly going up:

Rentiers with readily available ZIRP money provided by the private central bank are buying real estate for yield, driving up home prices. So the conclusion suggested to US Person by the data is the real estate market recovery is not "normal" or due to economic growth, but by the influx of global capital seeking higher returns. As with any asset bubble, a price adjustment can not be far away.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

True America: Omaha Beach a Near Disaster Say Field Notes

US infantry pinned on Omaha Beach
S.L.A. Marshall hit Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. It was his second war having served in WWI as the Army's youngest lieutenant. He was promoted to officer at the age of eighteen, and he would go on to serve in Korea too. On D-Day he was a colonel with a special job: combat historian. He was required to keep field notes on the landing in the midst of bloody chaos. His notes describe a different picture from the official version of what occurred on that historic day. Normandy was an allied victory that sealed the fate of the Third Reich, but according to Marshall, who wrote an article for The Atlantic in 1960 tilted "First Wave at Omaha Beach", the landing was "an epic human tragedy which in the early hours bordered on total disaster." A sobering assessment compared to what the official history now says about D-Day; a variance that is surprising considering no other decisive battle in the war had ever been so thoroughly reported for the record. While fighting was still going on, field historians like Marshall took testimony about what happened from invasion survivors.

actual landing sites on Omaha
Of the two divisions that landed troops, the 1st and 29th, only six rifle companies or about 1200 men, were effective as units. They did better than others because they had the fortune to land on a less deadly sections of beach. No unit save one landed where the plans said they should land. Three times that many companies were destroyed by German fire from entrenched positions above the beach. Some units did not contribute a single man to the capture of the high ground. There was no cover on Omaha and German fields of fire were interlocked and ranged in advanced. The only place riflemen could avoid the deadly machine gun fire were behind steel "dragons teeth" which prevented landing craft from getting in close, or submerge themselves in the cold surf of the Channel. Some men never touched the sand, but drowned in the sea when their boats were hit by mortar shells.

Marshall tells us that Able Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division was almost wiped out from the moment their boat ramps went down. The first men off were ripped apart by bullets. Even the lightly wounded drowned in the deep water, weighed down by their waterlogged equipment. Survivors of the hailstorm of bullets literally crawled in with the tide. Able was immediately leaderless and disorganized. By the end of ten minutes of action, all the sergeants were dead and only one Able Company officer remained alive and he was wounded twice. This debilitating death toll of officers and NCOs suggests the Germans were aiming for the invasion leadership from the bluffs above. Most of Able's personal equipment was discarded in the supreme effort just to survive. After fifteen minutes not an organized shot had been fired by Able. At the end of the first half hour at 7:00am, two-thirds of the company was dead. By that time a lucky few escaped to the bottom of the bluff and the relative safety of a narrow defilade. Only two privates from Able contributed to the day's fight by joining the 2nd Rangers assaulting fortified Point Du Hoc on Able's right flank [map].

survivors helped ashore 
Baker Company followed Able into the beach at the same place, the intention being to support and reinforce Able. But Baker faired no better than Able. In fact the Baker Company commander had to wave his sidearm at the British coxswain to convince him to land the craft in the blood red water and smoky haze of intense defensive fire. The ramp dropped at seventy-five yards, a near impossible distance to cover under the circumstances. Baker's captain was killed within seconds, falling face first into the water. A private carrying the company radio tripped on the ramp and fell into the surf loosing the radio but saving his life. He stayed in the water partially submerged, coming in with the tide.  It took him two hours to cover the distance to shore. He remained at the sea's edge behind a drift log with other survivors until nightfall. Only one other Baker Company boat tried to land straight into the beach and it foundered in the rough surf. Records do not reveal whether it was hit by enemy fire. Everybody aboard it, thirty infantrymen and the driver, were killed. The other boats disobeyed orders and veered away from Able's debacle. By doing so, their coxswains saved lives. One boatload of infantry came ashore in a less deadly zone and was able to use large beach boulders for cover. Only two men were killed crossing the open beach. The rest joined a company of Rangers fighting up Point Du Hoc and by sundown the platoon bivouacked at the first row of hedges behind the bluffs. Similar luck allowed the other diverted platoons of Baker to avoid elimination at the shoreline and move landward. The seaside village of Vierville-sur-Mer was taken early in small unit fighting. Troops were then able to move up the Vierville draw [map, Exit 1] and get behind the enemy to secure the beachhead.

Omaha beach today
The deadly, wide open strand was crossed by a relative handful of men in the first wave, who by dauntless personal initiative and heroic action "beyond common understanding", overcame the lethal disadvantages of a low-tide landing that quickly became disorganized, and in some ways was poorly planned. Omaha was known to be the most difficult of the Normandy beaches because of the well-fortified bluffs. There were no fewer than 85 machine gun nests strategically placed to cover the beach besides a myriad of heavier guns in concrete emplacements. Marshall calls them "the forty-seven immortals of Omaha" who at widely separated points on the beach prevented total stagnation and disaster. Commanding General Omar Bradley considered halting the landing of the second wave because of mounting casualties and no progress.

Omaha beach June, 1944
There was not nearly enough bombardment to effectively suppress or destroy some of the entrenched German troops. The naval bombardment was limited to only forty minutes. Likewise aerial bombardment, despite complete air superiority, was largely ineffective. Aerial bombs landed behind German emplacements. Close air support was not used even though the tactic was used successfully in the Pacific theater.  Nor were LVTs or "amtracks" such as the Marines rode into Pacific beaches used.  Beach fortifications were largely intact when the soldiers began landing at 6:30am. The majority of the specially equipped Sherman tanks sank when they were unloaded five thousand yards offshore in rough seas. Only five reached the "Easy" beach sector. Later in the morning of the "longest day" at about 8:30am, when the infantry was in danger of being decimated where they huddled, destroyers had to be ordered in close to the beach running the risk of grounding to support the infantry pinned down by gun emplacements.   The 29th Division ended that day with about 60% of its strength.

The chaotic reality of war is hard to understand until you are immersed in it. People, some you know, die in horrifying ways all around you at a rapidity that is mind-numbing. Marshall's field notes give us a only a sense of the desperate struggle. The seventieth commemoration maybe the last one invasion veterans attend since the youngest then are in their nineties now. Nevertheless, one of the vets still had the courage to take the American President by the hand and insist on speaking his mind. His message to the President was a reminder to keep America out of wars.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Russia Releases Arctic Sunrise

Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise that was boarded by Russian spetnaz when activists attempted to board the Priaraziomnaya oil rig in September 2013 was released on Friday. The thirty protesters on board were released after three months of international protest, but Russian authorities kept the ship docked in Murmansk. Greenpeace International lawyers said the investigating committee unexpectedly informed the group Arctic Sunrise could leave, but it asked the ship be allowed to stay until it was seaworthy again and a crew arrives. Essential navigation gear was removed by Russian authorities and is held separately. Greenpeace says the ship was seized illegally on the high seas during a peaceful protest against oil exploitation in the Arctic. The international environmental group promised the ship, like their campaign against Arctic drilling, will emerge from the ordeal "better, fitter and stronger".

'Toontime: Enabled?

[credit: Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star
BC Idonwanna sez: Buffalo soldier speak with forked pen!
In DC it is all about whose ox is being gored. US Person appproves of administrative rule making by the EPA to curb coal power plant emissions, especially when the Supremes have already said such regulation is constitutional exercise of power granted under the Clean Air Act. Clearly as Commander-in-Chief the CO also has the power to close Guantanamo, an act he promised five years ago, but apparently he does not have the political will to give the order. Strange that in a matter so fundamental to the constitutional basis of our society he should care about what his political enemies think in his last two year's of office.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Park Ranger's Killers Arrested

Zambian park ranger Dexter Chilunda was killed by poachers while investigating gun shots fired in Lluwa Plain National Park on May 23, 2014. Two men were arrested in a nearby village June 1st for the murder. The arrests were the result of work by Zambian police, Zambian Wildlife Authority, and Lluwa Plain law enforcement officers following leads provided by cooperative local communities. Chilunda was an experienced ranger for ZAWA on temporary duty in Lluwa. He was buried in Kaomo on May 26th, and leaves behind a wife and seven children. The head of African Parks, an NGO which operates Lluwa Plain, said the quick apprehension sends a message to poachers about the consequences of their illegal activity. No court appearance has been yet been set for the defendants. Conservationists throughout the world recognize and appreciate the sacrifice of those men and women who protect Nature. Thank you.

Koalas Beat the Increasing Heat

credit: Steve Griffiths
We know why the chicken crossed the road, but why does the Koala hug a tree when it's hot? The Guardian Australia tells us that because Koalas do not have sweat glands and have a thick fur coat, they hug cooler trees for relief. Some large trees can be up to 9℃ cooler than ambient temperatures. In heat waves becoming more frequent and longer as climate changes that is an important temperature difference. Biologists from the University of Melbourne directed their thermal imaging cameras at Koalas sprawled out on lower limbs of large trees during high temperatures on French Island. This position is not their usual behavior. The infrared imaging [photo] shows the reason for their listless lounging: they are trying to keep cool. Koala stomach fur is thinner than the fur on their backs, so pushing it against a cool surface allows them to loose body heat without loosing scarce water. The wattle tree appears to be the coolest of the dominant tree species studied. Koalas only feed in gum (eucalyptus) trees, so moving to a wattle in a heat wave must be because of the tree's cooler surfaces. Wattles draw up cold ground water making the tree a natural air conditioner. But it can get too hot in parts of Australia even for this newly understood behavior to help. Hot climates act as a restraint on koala distribution.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Luhansk Being 'Liberated'

Only the airport remains under the control of the national government of Ukraine. Aided by Russian volunteers crossing the border through "humanitarian corridors" opened by separatist rebels, the Ukrainian civil war has gone live in Luhansk. A Ukrainian jet fighter launched S-8 air-to-surface missiles near the regional administration building killing eight people on Monday. A string of 13 craters begins near a park jungle gym and ends in the blasted building wall. The new Ukrainian government blamed the deaths on rebels misfiring an anti-aircraft missile. However, there were eyewitness to the incident who escaped unharmed and who corroborate the airborne attack. Armed separatist are occupying government administration buildings in the eastern third of Ukraine. The main border guard base in Mirny district surrendered to rebels at 4am Wednesday. Ukraine's interior minister told a western reporter he was "aware Luhansk is falling but there is not much we can do--Luhansk is a big problem." A member of the "Light Rus", volunteers from Moscow who traveled through a cross-border corridor said, "Luhansk has already won the war against Kiev. The locals will not forgive an air strike on civilians." Thrity-three Russian citizens were killed in fighting for Donetsk's airport; there bodies were returned to Russia. Now, a secure ground route from Russia to Luhansk exists for rebel fighters, obviating the need to re-capture the local airport. Moscow has already expressed its willingness to help separatists continue their fight to join Russia.

Any conversation between the heads of former allies at the upcoming D-Day commemorations on Friday will definitely be strained. Nevertheless, President Putin told the French media recently he is willing to talk with "all his partners including President Obama", but adding ultimately a dialogue "is his choice.". He also said that if the United States has evidence of Russian troops in Ukraine they should present it to the world, referring to the US Secretary of State "waving a test tube with some powder at the United Nations Security Council" when the US wanted UN authorization to invade Iraq. He characterized presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's remark he was trying to redraw borders like Hitler as ungraceful and extreme. Allowing it was "better not to argue with women", he later suggested, "maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman." Vladimirovich is definitely old school, and US feminists will definitely blow a fuse over that rejoinder! Add to her insult the Current Occupant's reference to his "dark tactics" while parading in front of the flags of former socialist republics, and it is the "evil empire" all over again. One has to ask, "which side moved the contest east to the borders of Russia? Last summer, Moscow made a proposal for a joint Russian, EU and US rescue of Ukraine's moribund economy. The offer was rejected by the Americans and Europeans who want Ukraine solidly in the corporatist camp. It is time to return to Russia's proposal before the shooting makes compromise impossible.

Undoubtably, Ukraine's disintegration is attributable in part to the geopolitical struggle between Russia and the west [see map]. Former President Yanukvych refused to sign the EU association agreement for significant economic reasons. The western carrot, an IMF loan, came with severe austerity conditions similar to the ones that caused riots in southern Europe. His refusal upset corporatists' and bourgeois' plan for western economic integration. The financially frustrated found natural allies in neofascist nationalists. The new Kiev government has installed seven members of the neo-nazi Svoboda Party in its cabinet. This is the party that proudly claims historical ties to Stepan Bandera*, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) leader and Nazi collaborator, and which the European Union at one time said was incompatible with its fundamental values and principles. The national army is so reluctant to kill fellow Ukrainians, the Kiev government called upon the fascist paramilitary Right Sector to join its "anti-terror" operation against ethnic Russian separatists in the east. The specter of fascist pogrom can be seen in the Odessa massacre. Unconfirmed reports say that the majority of the 32 people who died in the torching of the Odessa House of Trade Unions on May 2nd were chloroformed. The UN is investigating the allegations and an official report is due June 17th. Cookies anyone?

*Banderites were vehement Jew haters on par with the Nazis.  They killed four thousand Jews of Lviv (Lvov) in a few days after its capture by the Germans. By the time Soviet troops retook Lviv only 200 to 300 Jew survived. Lvov's 1939 Jewish population was 200,000 including 100,000 Jewish refugees from Poland. One of the largest atrocities of the war was committed at Babi Yar by Germans and German "auxiliaries" under the command of Einsatsgruppe C. The auxiliaries were Ukrainian Hilfspolizei and the Abwehr battalion Nichtigall, both Banderite organizations. In two days over 33,000 Kiev Jews were shot in small groups. In total an estimated 100,000 Jews, communists, Soviet POWs, and Roma were killed at the ravine. The Ukrainian Waffen SS is responsible for the murder of perhaps as many as 500,000 people during the war. Typical of the collaboration between fascists and the victorious allies, the British used Bandera to run agents into Ukraine under the Soviet Union. When his own party, the OUN-B, ousted him because of his dictatorial tendencies the British dropped him. In 1956 he was picked by the penetrated West German intelligence (BND) to run a new set of operatives from West Germany. On October 14, 1959 after lunch with senior BND officials to discuss expansion of their operation in Ukraine, KGB assassinated Bandera in his apartment building. Both Victor Yushenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, prominent present day Ukrainian politicians, were prot├ęges of Slava Stetsko, wife of Bandera's hand-picked Premier, Yaroslav Stetsko.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Bergdahl Walked Away

The trade of five high level Taliban for one alleged Army deserter is emblematic of the entire Afghanistan campaign: an absurd and costly miscalculation. Make no mistake, US Person is absolutely adamant that the Guantanamo gulag should be closed; it should have been shut down a long time ago when the Current Occupant promised it would be. The disposal in Qatar of five Taliban leaders the military did not know what to do with--too dangerous to let go--should help speed the process of the gulag's closure. Guantanamo is a poster child for terror besides being the US Navy's Sebastopol.

Bowe Bergdahl's family must be relieved he is finally home after five years of captivity. However, the Current Occupant was not trading for a heroic fighter captured by a determined enemy in battle but as his former battalion team mate, Nathan Bethea, tells us Bergdahl deserted his post in the middle of the night. Bethea and other brigade members received orders not to talk about Bergdahl's capture in 2009. Now that Bergdahl is home, Bethea chooses to unburden himself of the truth.

Soldiers died during the hunt for Bergdahl who went missing from his post during the night at OP Mest, a small, improvised outpost two hours south of Sharana. The camp was not much more than armored vehicles parked in a circle. Soldiers slept under their ponchos on the ground or inside their vehicles. Bergdahl did not report for roll call one morning in July. He left his weapons, equipment and helmet in a squared away stack, but took his compass. He even left a goodbye note. Later it was argued in the press that Bergdahl lagged behind on a patrol and was seized, but Bethea adamantly says there was no patrol. Bergdahl was relieved of his sentry post and instead of going to sleep, decided to walk to India. This was a trek he talked with other soldiers about making. If he was trying to reach the border, he went the wrong way. Just days before the battalion had suffered its first fatality, a first lieutenant.

Bethea describes the extensive attempts to find Bergdahl in his article for the Daily Beast. He says there were daily search missions by helicopter, some lasting ten days. Often there was incoming rifle and mortar fire. Bethea also claims, not very persuasively, the casualties at combined outpost Zerok that was attacked by "hundreds" of insurgents can be attributed to the lack of resources siphoned off by the search for Bergdahl. But soldiers did die in search operations after Bergdahl's disappearance and were related to it claims Bethea. Bethea is understandably bitter about his "quixotic" war experience*, and especially by the hero's treatment afforded someone he is certain is a deserter. He says Bergdahl is alive only because of his propaganda and exchange value. Afghan collaborators captured by the Taliban are often beheaded.

The last prosecuted US deserter during war was Charles Robert Jenkins, who walked off while drunk during the Korean War. He spent forty years interned in North Korea. Despite his incredible hardship and after he was exchanged, the Army court-martialed him, sentenced him to thirty days imprisonment and dishonorably discharged him. Have Army accountability standards changed that much for Bergdahl to go free? Or are we so desperate for heros in this unpopular war that even a deserter will do? Reportedly, the Army is investigating the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance.

*Bergdahl wrote in an email later published by Rolling Stone magazine: "The US army is the biggest joke in the world has to laugh at [sic]. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools and bullies. In the US army you are cut down for being honest...but if you are a conceited brown-nosing shit bag you will be allowed to do whatever you want, and you will be handed your higher rank." Bergdahl is a marksman, educated, and was enamored of professional soldiering. He lost his romantic notions fast in Afghanistan. US Person knows that feeling.

COTW: Don't Drive Here

Stumptown is really proud of it's bicyclists and that pride is apparent in their attitude, but the dirty secret is that most people rather not drive because gas prices are so high. Below is a chart showing Stumptown (aka Portland, OR) compared to the national average and Baltimore, another trendy neoliberal enclave. US Person wants to know: are Portloonians paying through the pump for the town's byzantine politics? Needless to say US does not accept the standard explanation that there are no refineries nearby. The town moto, "keep Portland weird", is amusing, but it's getting too damn expensive. Only in "Rip City" would the local politicians consider charging an old lady who doesn't own a car and uses public transportation the same road use "fee" as a sucessful business owner who drives his private car to work every day on city streets. That's Portland progressive taxation!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Brown Pelicans In Trouble Again

California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) on the Pacific Coast were considered a conservation success story and removed from the Endangered Species list in 2009, but a crash in Pacific sardine populations is causing concern for their continued recovery. Brown pelicans managed to survive plume hunters and DDT, but a recent report from a field biologist monitoring them said this year's breeding was a disaster with less than 1% of birds raising chicks. The lack of food is so acute that sea lions and pelicans are fighting over offal thrown overboard by sport and commercial fisherman. Starving juvenile pelicans are washing up on beaches to weak to fly and disturbing beach goers {links}.

About 80% of California brown pelicans breed in Mexico. The remainder breed in the Channel Islands on Anacapa and Santa Barbara. However the lack of food is changing their migration habits, causing them to remain in the Pacific Northwest were fish is more plentiful. If they stay into December they risk frostbite injury or death in winter storms. Last year 20,000 roosted on the East Sand Island in the Columbia River mouth. Another behavior never seen before is pelicans killing common murres for the contents of their stomach. Commercial overfishing for sardines is most likely the cause of fish-eating wildlife dying in large numbers. The US sardine famine is now in its sixth year.

Sardine fishing is supposedly managed, but managing sardine populations is difficult since the number of sardines fluctuates considerably and computer modeling does not work. Despite the crash, commercial sardine fishing continues. During the first half of the 20th century, the California sardine fleet took 70% of mature fish, but it was over by 1950's and recovery would take thirty years. Unlike the passenger pigeon, which was hunted into extinction, the sardines survived but they are still overfished. Mexico and Canada are taking three or four times what the US expects under a supposed cooperative management effort (Magnuson Fishery Conservation & Management Act). It is time to shut the fishery down and let it recover if it can. That is not a radical position. Even NOAA biologists say the same mistakes that shut down Monterey Bay's Cannery Row are being made again. According to the biologists, "eminent collapse is likely". As usual wildlife is paying the price of man's greed.