Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Wishes from Persona Non Grata!
more high-impact blog in the New Year

Persian Leopard Benefits from Landmines

A.N. Kamarov
One of the rarest big cats in the world, the Persian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica) is taking advantage of man's primal tendency to war against neighbors. The border between Iraq and Iran is strew with landmines left from their war in the 1980's. Twenty to thirty million landmines pose a severe obstacle to poachers, so the endangered leopard is allowed to roam free from its only predator. Leopards are extremely delft, rarely putting all of their weight on one paw, so are too light to detonate the pressure trigger landmines of the Soviet variety. Two leopards are known to have died from setting off Italian trip-wire mines. Conservation efforts have been understandably lax since the war, but now leopard conservationists are in the uncomfortable position of advocating the land mines not be cleared in order to protect leopards and keep people out of their range. Scientists estimate that fewer than 1000 remain in the wild and most (550-850) are found around Iran's border. The big cats, weighing up to 200 lbs, once lived througout the Caucasus. Poaching and habitat destruction have drastically reduced their numbers outside of protected areas. Recent assessements of leopard mortality in Iran shows 70% of deaths are the result of illegal hunting, poisoning or road accidents. Minefields elsewhere in the world are also benefiting wildlife. The heavily mined "demilitarized zone" between North and South Korea has become a wildlife refuge of sorts, and the minefields in the Falkland Islands have benefited penguin populations.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

COTW: Some Inconvenient Economic Facts

Corporate mass media would have you believe that 'Merica has completely recovered from the Wall Street induced Financial Panic of 2008. Before you swallow (because you know you want to believe) check this chart:

There has been a 6.9% decline in median household income since 2008. By now readers should know the employment figures and inflation rates are manipulated by the government. CPI is based on the cost of a shopping basket of goods and services. The statisticians keep changing what is in that basket to achieve acceptable levels of inflation. The 321,000 jobs added in November and touted across your screens was achieved by adding 600,000 jobs as a calculation adjustment, i.e. not real, new jobs. The actual, non-manipulated, non-seasonally adjusted number of jobs FELL in November by 270,000. Does these inconvenient facts have anything to do with this statistic: Black Friday sales collapsed by 11% versus last year? Don't blame the Net because Cyber Monday was also a dud. Retail sales, excluding car sales goosed by cheap and subprime debt (Mercedes Benz is now offering 0% loans), continue to be flat as credit card balances are $138 billion BELOW 2008. Real estate prices are inflated beyond reason by speculators, hedge funds, and other assorted opportunists. First-time home buyers are priced out of the market so the number of them is near record lows [chart below]. Our sock-puppet President tells you he has reduced the federal deficit when in reality the national debt went up an estimated $837bn in 2014.

charts courtesy: James Quinn
Perhaps the best thing to do this holiday season is emulate Dicken's Tiny Tim: curl up next to the fire or your video yule log and say, "God bless us, everyone!" For the atheists among you, go into the garage and open your vehicle's fuel tank and sniff that inexpensive gas. At $47 a barrel, it won't last forever!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Is This Amerika?

Receiving justice?
Further: The prosecutor, Bob McCulloch, in the Darren Wilson case admitted he presented false evidence to the grand jury that returned a no bill against a cop who shot an unarmed black teenager. The killing caused days of violent protest in Ferguson, MO [see below]. McCulloch admitted he permitted a woman to testify to the grand jury who was not present at the homicide scene [photo]. The woman has a history of bipolar disorder and making racist remarks. She testified that Michael Brown charged officer Wilson "like a football player, head down". Two days of secret testimony from "Witness 40" buttressed Wilson's claim he shot Brown in self-defense. McCulloch breached his professional ethics to refrain from using evidence known to be false. Journalists were able to piece together the fact that Sandra McElroy was not in Ferguson on the day of the shooting. She did posts comments on her Facebook account showing she supported the police version of events and was closely following developments in the case. In one comment she posted a version of the photo above with her caption, "Michael Brown already received JUSTICE. So please stop asking for it." McElroy lives 30 miles away from Ferguson. She claims she was in Ferguson attempting to find a high school classmate she had not seen in 26 years. Because of the glaring, and admitted bias of the country prosecutor, the Presiding Judge of the 21st Circuit may be persuaded to appoint a special prosecutor to present the homicide to another grand jury. If that occurs, then Michael Brown will, at last, receive justice.

Latest: {20.08.14}Ferguson was again racked with street violence Monday night. Peaceful demonstrations quickly turned ugly. Police supported by National Guard shot fusillades of stun grenades and tear gas to disrupt protestors. Police say gunshots were fired at them. Ferguson has a long history of racial discord, and the election of America's first mulatto president who plays golf has done little to quell the current racial unrest that began after a black teenager was apparently executed by a Ferguson cop on August 9th. An autopsy by New York city's former medical examiner shows that the fatal wound of at least six gun shots entered Michael Brown's head from a high angle at the rear, an angle that corroborates an eyewitness statement that the cop shot Brown twice in the head as he lay bleeding in the street. The county prosecutor's office said evidence presentation to a grand jury could begin as early as Wednesday. Ferguson's government is dominated by whites [chart, above]. Chapter 563 of the Missouri Revised Statutes allows police to use deadly force to make an arrest or prevent an escape if the cop "reasonably believes" deadly force is necessary. A white grand jury will decide if administering a coup de gras to an unarmed, wounded man lying on the pavement was a subjectively reasonable use of force. Just for the record, US Person does not think so, but then he does not live in Missouri. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe whose members include the United States and Russia criticized the treatment of journalists covering the civil unrest. Several have been hit by tear gas and arrested.

{18.08.14}More: Street protests again errupted in Ferguson, Mo. late Sunday night after the results of an autopsy on Michael Brown became publicly known. A preliminary report corroborates the statements of witnesses who say Brown was shot multiple times, twice in the head at relatively close range (beyond two feet) as the police officer responsible for the homicide stood near the unfatally wounded man lying on the pavement. If this version of events holds up to further investigation, this police homicide clearly becomes a criminal manslaughter at least. Police responded to "provocateurs" (NBC Nightly News) violating the state-imposed curfew using tear gas and smoke grenades. A student working as a volunteer at a local radio station, Radio Argus, was threatened with deadly force when police ordered him to stop streaming their operations live. Mustafa Hussein was told to "get the fuck out of here. You get that light off or you're going to get shot with this!" Police in Ferguson are heavily armed with military-grade weapons and dressed in military camouflage. The state's National Guard was deployed by the Missouri governor to help police suppress the disorder. The governor in an interview reminded the press that cops are authorized to use deadly force, but his statement clearly reveals his lack of understanding that the authority does not extend to street executions. The mother of Michael Brown has called for the arrest of Ferguson cop, Darren Wilson.

{15.08.14}Unfortunately yes. Because the constitutional line between civilian police and the United States military complex is being rapidly obliterated after thirteen years of dangerous obsession with practically non-existent domestic terror. The Pentagon armed the Ferguson police department with surplus military weapons under the "1033 Program", in reality a ridiculous ploy to spread the corporate police state. Nearly half a billion dollars worth of equipment was sent to local law enforcement in 2013. Weapons range from automatic carbines, and body armor to armored vehicles. It is all part of a mentality that sees other Americans as potential terror threats, especially if they are of a different ethnic group. Fifty-two of the fifty-five Ferguson cops are white in a community that is 67% black. The out-of-control cops there once charged a black suspect and the wrong man with "property damage" for bleeding on their uniforms after four cops beat him in a jail cell. Ferguson is under siege by racist, militarized police because residents dared to protest the police homicide of a black teenager*. The town is locked-down and a no-fly zone established. Protestors and homeowners alike faced rubber bullets, smoke grenades and tear gas. Police with sniper rifles in armored vehicles patrol the streets. Even journalists are being arrested for not obeying police orders to leave fast enough. Meanwhile, the elites party on at Martha's Vineyard where they "dance every dance" as Ferguson, Mo. is turned into Cairo, Egypt.
credit: AP
*Police authorities attempted to smear the character of the dead teenager, Michael Brown, by releasing information about a convenience store robbery at the same time as identifying the police officer who shot Brown multiple times. Later the Ferguson police chief was forced to clarify the confrontation between Brown and Darren Wilson. Wilson did not know of the robbery or the report identifying Brown as the primary suspect. Wilson stopped Brown for "obstructing traffic", according to the chief. It is worth mentioning that the police officer who wrote the report naming Brown and his friend Dorian Johnson as suspects, submitted it after he viewed the body of Brown at the scene of the shooting. A forensic expert told media Brown was shot six times including twice in the head at close range. Pathetic.

Biologists Create New Lizard Species in Lab

This is not your average Frankenlizard story created by mad scientists bent on playing god. The whiptailed lizard is unusual in nature to start. It carries not just one set of genes but perhaps as many as four. Species of whiptails interbreed in nature and produce offspring but these are usually sterile. However, some hybrids are parthenogenic females meaning they duplicate chromosomes in their offspring without males providing a set of genes. This asexual process is named parthenogenisis. These clones are genetically distinct from either parental lineage. If the female clones then breed with a male they can produce offspring with three distinct sets of genes. A Harvard grad student searching for whiptails around Alamagordo, NM in 1967 found a whiptail with four distinct sets of genes: three from Aspidoscelis exsanguis and a fourth from Aspidoscelis inornata. Trés bizarre!

Dr. Neaves did not follow up on his discovery being more interested in stem cells and fertility. But molecular biologist Peter Baumann decided to study the lizards after learning of their unique genetic makeup. He and his colleagues tried breeding the various species to recreate the hybrid oddity. Most of the time their experiments failed, but when A. exsanguis (f) and A. inornata (m) were brought together in the same jar, they mated and produced female hybrids. Not only were they healthy, but they could clone themselves and so could their asexual offspring. Today scientists have a population of 200. Since they are genetically distinct from their progenitors, these are a new species of whiptailed lizard. As a consulting lizard expert put it, "It's not a Frankenstein genome manipulation. It's the lizards in cages doing their thing." The new species is named A. neavesi in honor of the lizard's original finder. [photo credit: P. Baumann]

Because of their unusual genesis some biologists familiar with the experiment are uncomfortable saying A. neavesi is a new, distinct species. It does not need to breed sexually since the females can duplicate a set of genes in each offspring. It does not maintain a single gene pool. The mutations acquired by one parthenogenic female is passed only to its offspring. For these reasons A. neavesi might be termed hybrid clones to more accurately describe its relationship to the tree of life. There is a lot to study in this unique reproduction process. For example a human with just one more copy of chromosome 21 leads to Downs Syndrome. How the lizard manages to survive and reproduce with fours sets of genes is a mystery. As one Harvard biologist said, " If you are rare, you are more likely to go extinct by chance." How true!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tru'Merica: Seaching for Col. Steele

Readers may remember Marlon Brando's riviting performance as the demented rogue colonel in the film "Apocalpse Now".  Operating in the heart of jungle darkness, beyond the control of his army superiors, Col. Kurtz created a macabre kingdom of death where he was feared by all including his own. Once again life has imitated art, this time in Iraq where Col. James Steele, an American commando and veteran of the dirty wars in Central America, set up a special paramilitary police unit whose task was to torture captives and obtain usable intelligence against the Sunni insurgency. A Journeyman Pictures trailer introduces a fifteen-month investigation by The Guardian and BBC Arabic. Can you handle the truth?  US Person has.

Watch the full length film here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

New York Bans Fracking

New York state performed an environmental safety study on natural gas fracking before deciding whether to allow the enhanced recovery method to continue operating in the state.  Six years ago the state suspended hydraulic fracturing until research could be completed. For informed commentators, it was no surprise that the New York's Department of Health cited potential environmental and health hazards as justification for banning the technology. Governor Andrew Cuomo followed his department's advice. The report, which incorporates findings from multiple studies around the country, found seven major problems with hydraulic fracking:
  1. Methane emissions from fracking operations are high and have been linked to asthma and other respiratory aliments.  A study in southern Pennsylvania, an epicenter of fracking, found 39% of residents within a kilometer of a fracking site developed upper-respiratory problems;
  2. Fracking poses dangers to underground water acquifers. In southern Appalachia, methane was found in 82% of drinking water samples and the concentration was six times higher in homes close to natural gas wells.  Ethane was twenty-three times higher in homes close to fracking sites;
  3. Seismic activity can be triggered by fracking operations which lubricate and pressure existing faults.  The phenomenon of fracking-induced earth tremors has been documented in Oklahoma and Texas;
  4. Fracking contributes to global warming by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere;
  5. Soil is contaminated by spilled waste products including radioactive wastes such as radon;
  6. Communites adjacent to fracking wells report problems with noise and odor pollution.  Industrial activity related to fracking contribute to large increases in vehicular accidents;
  7. A study in rural Colorado examined over 120,000 between 1996 and 2009, years in which fracking operations boomed, finding a 30% increase in congenital heart conditions. Births closest to well sites also had a 100% increased change of neurological damage.
Despite all of these serious public health impacts, industry-owned politians wasted no time blasting the Governor for his prudent decision. Health Department commissioner Howard Zucker said he would not allow his family to drink tap water in an area where fracking operations are conducted. New York joins France and other European countries that have already banned hydraulic fracturing as a method of oil and gas recovery.

The Trials of Putin

Putin fights the three-headed US dog 
Update: At his year-end press conference that lasted three hours, President Putin sought to calm fears about the current rouble crisis. The rouble hit a new low of about sixty to the dollar. He said he expected the rouble to recover in perhaps two years. He also took the opportunity to express his opinion that the West is the aggressor in the current standoff with Russia. Mr. Putin compared the presence of US nuclear forces in Europe and its military bases around the world to Russia's two airbases beyond its borders in areas of unrest. He told reporters the Pentagon's budget is 10x larger than the Russian defense budget. BBC's veteran Kremlin observer called Putin's handling of the conference in which he answered questions from foreign journalists known to be hostile to him a "bravura performance".

{16.12.14} The Republican controlled Congress wants the pressure ratcheted up on Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Current Occupant is complying. New economic sanctions will penalize Russia's defense and energy industries and further constrict capital flows to the country that has seen the rouble fall to a sixteen year low against the dollar in currency markets. Ukraine, the plutocrats new inamorata, will receive $350 million in military aid including weapons and surveillance equipment. Putin now faces the possibility that his economy will go into a recession due to the joint effects of formal sanctions and a western-manipulated oil market. Overnight lending rates have hit 17% indicating a severe lack of financial confidence in Russia's current economic situation. Russia's central bank has said that the $2 trillion economy may shrink 4.5% next year, and inflation is near 9%.

Nevertheless, Putin is extremely popular with his people. Russians on the street seem confident western sanctions are counter-productive and "everything will be good in the end". They lived through a previous rouble plunge in 1998; a devaluation that lead to a bond default costing western investors. Putin's relatively bloodless annexation of Crimea to protect Russian security interests is approved by most Russians. Forcing Russia to give the peninsula up short of war with NATO is unlikely. The faceless capitalist traders that make up the international currency markets could care less about Crimea. They do care very much about making money and the rouble is a profitable short.

'Toontime: Dick's 'Merica

credit: Dave Granlund
There is nothing funny about state torture, but US Person found this caricature irresistible. He agrees with the estimation that Cheney was in charge of the euphmistically named program of "enhanced interrogation" of prisoners. But he worked for the President of the United States and he was never fired for what he did. One would think that the receipient of so much human compassion would be more temperate in his reaction to human cruelty. In a better world, Cheney and his boss would be prosecuted for war crimes regardless of what any opinion polls says. What do you expect from a nation that has the highest incarceration rate in the world, allows its police to beat and shoot suspects, and tolerates violent sexual assaults in its prisons? Fine ideals are found in the Constitution and Bill of Rights; the reality of 'Merica is otherwise as Dick well knows.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Creature Feature: Derby the Dog Benefits from 3-D Printing

Animals, specifically our pets, can also benefit from technology. Living proof is one happy dog named "Derby" who was born with deformed front legs. He gained increased mobility with a two-wheeled cart, but it restricted his ability to play with others. Then his owner found 3D Systems whicht was able to custom design and 3-D print a pair of prosthetic limbs Derby can use almost as well as real legs. He is about to be fitted with the fourth improved iteration which is more of a normal length for him. The computerized printing process makes design and development less laborious. Watch Derby enjoy his new freedom:

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pope Francis Scores

@ Mandela's funeral
It is hard to believe the United States has been boycotting Cuba for a half century. It is also astonishing that the normalization of relations between the the Cold War adversaries was facilitated by Pope Francis I. Altogether fitting since he is the first New World pope. Eighteen months of secret talks culminated with a secret meeting at the Vatican between delegations last October. Francis personally followed-up with both leaders. In a statement released today, the Vatican said it was pleased that the US will drop its economic boycott and political isolation against Cuba and congratulated both sides on the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. Both Raul Castro and Obama [photo] thanked the Vatican for its support of the negotiations. Obama said the Pope's support "gave us greater impetus and momentum to move forward." A prisoner exchange is part of the deal including an important US spy that spent two decades in Cuban prison. The President admitted when announcing the agreement, "...isolation has not worked". In fact the policy also isolated the United States; no other country in the world supported US sanctions against Cuba. Congress will have the final word on whether economic sanctions actually end. There are many conservative lawmakers, beholding to the Cuba Libre lobby, that will want to keep punishing the island's communist regime. US Person thought it was his desire to go bird-watching in Cuba with the Audubon Society that thawed the ice. You just never know what kind of clownit takes nowadays to score a diplomatic triumph. After 10 presidents, fair play at last for Cuba! Smoke a 'Cuban' to celebrate, Lee?

Lima Climate Talks Produce Draft

The Lima climate talks went into overtime, but produced only a weak draft of a global agreement, setting the mark higher for the discussions scheduled for Paris in 2015. The UN Climate Change Conference once again stumbled over the gap between rich and poor nations and their respective responsibilities and rights.  Head UN representative Christiana Figuerres said the discussions were "very, very chanllenging" meaning that no final agreement was even close to be achieved. But some progress was made in framing issues and launching further work in key areas such as how to finance adaptation to a warmer planet, now a certainty. Countries must now express their respective carbon targets in a manner that will allow the UN to quantify their proposed contributions so that apples and oranges can compared in the UN forthcoming synthesis report. The agreed upon global goal is to keep planet warming below 2 centigrade to avoid the worst predicted consequences of irreversable warming due to greenhouse gas emissions.

What is absent from the progress made is binding cuts in emissions that would be reported and internationally regulated. Only a method of self-certification is allowed. This relatively weak provision disappoints many climate activists who were momentarily encouraged by the US-China agreement on global warming that made specific pledges.  The US pledged carbon emission cuts of 26 to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. China pledged to make best efforts to reach peak carbon dixoide emmissions before 2030 and increase the share of alternative energy consumption to 20% by the same year. The Lima session still leaves the citizens of poor countries facing catastrophic climate change because of the lack of political will in industrialized nations to build a low carbon future, according to a spokesman for Friends of the Earth.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Audubon's Top Ten

The National Audubon Society announced its annual "top ten" conservation victories, many of which have been covered in PNG:
  1. Widespread media coverage of the Society's climate report that concluded half of American birds are threatened by climate change. Birds matter to Americans and they want actions taken to insure their survival into the next century;
  2. Audubon California protected tricolored blackbirds by delaying the harvest on a single parcel of land where a third of the state's population gathered to nest. The producer was able to harvest after the birds had nested and was protected from a monetary loss by government agencies;
  3. British Petroleum was found grossly negligent in its handling of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. More money will be available for restoration of wetlands, barrier islands and study of environmental impacts on the Gulf The Supreme Court recently rejected BP's appeal of the trial court's findings {21.06.10, BP Deserves Contract Debarment};
  4. Florida voters passed a measure to designate nearly a billion for conservation efforts in the next 20 years. Audubon helped collect 35,000 signatures to put the Water and Legacy Amendment on the ballot. Progress is also being made on reconnecting the central Everglades to fresh water flows. California voters approved a water bond measure that includes major elements directly benefiting birds. Audubon California presented data to the legislature on the lack of water for wildlife and the impact of drought;
  5. Congress reauthorized the Farm Bill that includes significant funding for conservation efforts in important habitats for wildlife;
  6. US Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Yellow-billed Cuckoo as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  The cuckoo is under pressure from severe drought conditions. The Service is expected to finalize a proposal to designated 500,000 acres in nine western states as critical habitat;
  7. Izembek Refuge in the Aleutian Islands stays roadless after the Secretary of the Interior rejected a native proposal to build a road through its wilderness. Izembek is important habitat for migrant birds. In some years all of the world's Pacific Black Brant use Izembek Lagoon {26.02.13, Build A Road Through It};
  8. Solar power is booming in the US and facing a push-back from utility companies concerned about the impact of inexpensive residential solar on their profit margins. Audubon is supporting policy reforms at the state level and opposing regulatory changes that could undermine further growth of rooftop solar energy {12.11.14, Solar Gains in US};
  9. The Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, Alaska hit a major block when one of the partners dropped out of the project that has generated concerted opposition among conservationists. {09.17.13, Anglo-American Calls it Quits} The EPA will identify options for protecting the world's largest sockeye salmon run and habitat for many important bird species from what would be one of the world's largest open-pit copper mines. So far the agency has not used its authority under the Clean Water Act to stop the hugely damaging project;
  10. The President designated a half million acres near Los Cruces, NM as a new national monument under the Antiquities Act.  The Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Monument includes critical and unique habitat for more than 210 species of birds and other species of wildllife. He also used his executive authority to greatly expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument covering 370m square miles of unique marine habitat. {27.09.14, Marine Reserve Expanded} After five years of inactivity, Congress sent a package of conservation bills to the President for signature on Friday. The package was attached to the defense appropriation bill passed last Friday. {22.03.14, Right-Wingers Hate Parks} The measures protect more than 1 million acres in various forms including 245,000 acres of new wilderness. The legislation did not come without cost: a special measure to facilitate Rio Tinto's Resolution copper mine near Superior, AZ was added, and Great Northern Properties, a Houston-based coal company got a Christmas present in the transfer to the company of coal reserves in Montana's Bull Mountains. The government said the transfer was made to correct an error made in 1900 when it expanded the Cheyenne Indian Reservation without mineral rights attached.

Monday, December 15, 2014

No Christmas in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is Muslim country in which a quarter are Christian, but there will be no Christmas festivities this year as government authorities have imposed a national lockdown to stop the spread of hemmoragic fever. Sierra Leone's Ebola virus outbreak now surpasses Liberia's in the number of reported cases. The country's defense minister told citizens the ban on celebrations will be enforced by the army. Many travel from the capital Freetown to their home villages to be with family and friends during the holiday season. The World Health Organization estimates the virus has infected 18,000 people in the three west African countries--Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone--most affected by the pandemic. There have been a few reported cases in Mali and Nigeria. Officially 6,533 were killed by the disease; the actual death toll is probably much higher. Health workers discovered more unreported bodies in the remote diamond mining district of Kono piled up in a cordoned off section of a field hospital. A clinic trial of an Ebola vaccine has been suspended in Geneva as all fifty-nine voluteers complained of joint pain in the hands and feet. The human safety trial is scheduled to resume in the New Year as the effects are "benign and temporary" according to study doctors.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Genetic Labeling in Oregon Headed to Court

Update: A Multnomah county judge rejected the lawsuit asking for a restraining order against certifying the results of a recount for Measure 92. The recount increased the margin of defeat from 812 to 837 votes out of 1.5 million cast.  The results will now be certified as correct by the Secretary of State.

{8.12.14}The Measure 92 vote to label genetically modified foods in Oregon is so close that supporters are going to Multinomah County Circuit Court (Portland) to challenge the disqualification of 4600 votes in the statewide recount now underway. The suit asks for a restraining order to stop certification of the recount until the 4600 are counted. These votes are among the 13,000 voters who submitted their completed ballots on time but whose signatures did not match the signatures on file. Everybody knows that signatures are not engraved in stone and change over time, everybody that is except county voting officials. Some voters tried to confirm the signatures with their county, but their votes are still not being counted. Others were never notified their signatures were being challenged. Even more to the point, the requirement of a matching signature is nowhere enshired in Oregon election law according to the plaintiffs. Absent evidence of forgery or fraud, their votes should be counted says a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety, a lead support group for Measure 92. These uncounted votes are enough to make a difference in the outcome. The no's won by just 812 votes. An estimated $30 million was raised to contest the ballot mesure, the most expensive in the state's history. {07.11.12; 19.11.14} The recount should be completed this week.

'Toontime: Who We Are?

credit Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle
This week's news was dominated by the CIA horror show revelations.  The agency, which after all was only following orders, took the unprecedented step of holding a press conference at its Langley, VA headquarters to defend itself from the avalanche of disgust and disapproval. The argument has erroneously reduced to whether or not torture led to usable information, such as leading to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. The salient point is that torture is 1) illegal under international conventions to which the United States is obligated; 2) it is immoral, and 3) torture is so inconsistent with our expressed national values and criminal code that its use is "out of bounds". People seeking someway to justify its use often resort to the unlocated nuclear bomb in a suitcase scenario. That scenario lives mostly in comic books. The only country that possess such miniaturized nuclear devices is, you guessed it, the United States. The way to stop a portable nuclear device being used is to negotiate complete nuclear disarmament, not argue about whether torture is ever justified.

The cartoon expresses the fact that drones have become the weapon of choice in Obamawars. Yemen alone has suffered 18 drone strikes in 2014 according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism against islamist jihadis resulting in 22 civilian deaths. The Bureau estimates that for every targeted individual, twenty-eight other people are killed.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Baby Badgers Beware!

The English have a reputation for fair play, but when it comes to badgers they are as ruthless a Roundhead pursuing the king's men. With the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire declared  unmitigated failures, one would think the Tory government would turn to vaccination as a method of controlling bovine tuberculosis. It is costing around 3,000£ per badger to shoot them; yet wildlife vaccination programs are often criticized as too expensive and difficult to carry out. But no, now the agricultural lobby behind the culls wants to shoot baby badgers in the coming summer because they are numerous and easier to kill than adults. Animal rights activists say the plan is "appallingly crude and desperate". The National Farmers Union says their permits allow culling to begin any time beginning in June. The permits are good for four years. The Tory government environmental ministry (DEFRA) says cull timing is up to them. England has the highest rate of bovine TB in Europe.

A trial of badger vaccination in Gloucestershire took place between 2006 and 2009. The study population was relatively small (252), studied over a short time and restricted to a 55km area, one of the worse affected areas in England. Also, vaccinated and unvaccinated animals were allowed to mix in the study area, making transmission and exposure opportunities higher, and consequently making sampling error higher. Vaccination does make a positive difference, depending on the methods used to detect infections.The study reported a reduction of infection risk in badgers of 76%-54%. Vaccination is beneficial according to the study's authors in two ways: it indirectly reduces the risk of cub infection through a "herd imunity" effect and directly reducing the TB burden in vaccinated individuals.

Badgers are born underground in February and emerge in April.  Young cubs are naive and easier to catch or shoot, but they are also less likely to carry TB according to badger expert, Rosie Woodroffe. Prof. Woodroffe told the UK's Guardian that an early cull targeting young badgers is more about trying to reach a target number than controlling TB. A landmark study in which she participated found that 12% of adults carry TB but only 8% of the cubs. Conservative politicians are backing the cull program but their coalition partners, Liberal Democrats, oppose starting culls in other parts of the country affected by bovine TB.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ravens Targeted in Idaho

Idaho's reflexive backwardness when it comes to wildlife conservation continues to astound US Person. A plan to poison intelligent ravens to save sage grouse was derailed by public outcry over the plan. The poisoning to be carried out by the infamous Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services has been postponed for a year while the federal agency completes a supplemental environmental assessment. {12.05.12, Uncle Sam's Exterminators} Ravens were supposed to be poisoned in three locations: the Idaho National Laboratory near Arco, the Curlew National Grasslands and in Washington County near the Oregon border. The wrong idea is that ravens ocasssionally prey on grouse eggs, so fewer ravens would result in more grouse hatching. Experts judge many threats to sage grouse to be more severe than ravens. Besides, ravens are thriving because of man-made changes to grouse habitat. A number of conservation organizations including the National Audubon Society made written protests to US Secretary of Agriculture about the plan to poison ravens. The Idaho legislature apparently has been pressuring Idaho Fish and Game officials to reduce raven populations. It appropriated $100,000 for the misguided effort. Grouse is a highly regarded game bird eventhough it is struggling to survive on radically altered sagebrush prairie.

A state senator who promoted raven killing and brought federal Wildlife Services into a state legislative committee to advance the bill has earned a reputation for introducing controversial, US Person would say brutal, legislation. He once introduced a bill to use dogs as wolf bait, but fortunately that was too cruel even for Idahoans. According to the biodiversity director of Western Watersheds Project, whose comments were published in an Idaho newspaper, ravens are being scapegoated so government subsidized grazers can prevent changes in the management of grazing on what they consider their exclusive domain by right. Several Idaho legislators are public land ranchers that pay only $1.35/mo per cow to graze public grass. The Agricultural Research Service, another arm of the USDA found that cattle sharing sage grouse range will consume grass tussocks between sagebrush and continue consuming tussocks growing underneath sagebrush where grouse build their nests. In order to preserve sage-grouse populations, ranchers must move their herds before that happens. Hard boiled eggs stuffed with non-specific DRC-1339 may yet be strewn across Idaho's public lands if these very special interest legislators continue to have their way.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Torture Я US

The Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture by the United States government in its crusade against Islamic jihad is a compendium of horror unparalleled in the nation's history except for the treatment suffered upon native Americans and black slaves who were not considered fully human by racist Anglo-americans*. US Person will not dignify the endemic mendacity, incredible stupidity, and dangerous incompetence behind this ineffective official policy by commenting further here. The disgusting details about horrendous deaths and secret dungeons can be read in the public record, which is itself a highly redacted version of the truth. The fact that the public executive who authorized or allowed these barbaric behaviors tinged with sexual perversion has not been brought before the bar of justice to answer for them speaks undeniable volumes about the moral rot of a republic the perpetrators claim to be defending. These indefensible attrocities maybe in the past, but the world will not forget and perhaps not even forgive that they ever took place.

*By fundamental law blacks were only three-fifths human. Natives were simply savages beyond the pale to be exterminated or segregated onto wasteland white settlers did not want.

COTW: The Smoke and Mirrors Economy

The propagandists of the corporate mass media (CMM) were blowing their horns furiously about the November jobs report showing a lot of new jobs created and an officially manipulated unemployment rate of only 5.8%. Besides the holiday season being a traditional time when business hire extra workers, US Person thinks these charts tell the real story (of course he is officially a Debbie Downer so perhaps you will want to ignore these):

We are talking an overall labor participation rate not seen since the Regan recession of '82. Many people have been out of work for so long, they simply are no longer counted in the statistics, i.e., the don't officially exist. Those workers that have been lucky enough to find jobs in this so-called 'recovery' are working for less. But then Wall Street just chalked up another all-time record high, so why worry?

You do have a choice in America: feel good and swallow the Kool-Aide®, or face the real facts of economic oppression.

Monday, December 08, 2014

US Raid Provokes Murder of Ransomed Hostage

A group of South Africans worked hard to accomplish what their government could not, the release of Yolande and Pierre Korkie held hostage in Yemen by Al Qaeda. Yolanda was released in January without a ransom paid, and recently negotiators received confirmation that her husband, Pierre, would also be set free for a $200,000 payment. On Saturday morning a convoy set out from Aden to collect him at a remote desert outpost. But then the Current Occupant decided to try to improve his shattered credibility by authorizing another high-risk Seal Unit 6 operation to free an American hostage held with Korkie. The US has an official 'no ransom paid policy', so the GI Joes were American Luke Somers' only hope of avoiding execution. Unsurprisingly, the raid failed. In the melee eight civilians were killed and both Korkie and Somers were killed by their guards. US officials claim they knew nothing about the peaceful efforts by his wife and a South African charity, Gift of Givers, to free Pierre Korkie. If that is truly the case, then it is an indication of how poor US intelligence gathering is in Yemen, or for that matter in South Africa. Earlier during the negotiation process, Yemeni tribal contacts traveling to meet with the kidnappers were killed by a US drone strike, which prompted the Al Qaeda kidnappers to reduce the ransom from an initial $3 million to just $200,000 to be split with the families of the deceased negotiators.

The official line in the US is that paying ransom will only encourage more terrorists to take hostages. However, that ridiculous rigidity is undermined by the fact that several European nations have secretly funneled millions to free their citizens. $5 million Euros was paid to free 32 European hostages in Bamako, Mali in 2003. Since then ransoms have been paid many times and in large amounts. According to the New York Times, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have taken $165 million in exchange for captives; $66 million of that was paid last year. US officials, ever able to make distinctions without practical differences, say the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl by the Taliban was different from paying a ransom because the Taliban has not been designated a terrorist organization and Bergdahl was considered a prisoner of war. Whatever bureaucrat in the bowels of the security state makes these designations ought to have his eyes examined. The practical effect of the policy is that US private citizens, often exposed in unsafe countries for humanitarian purposes, are placed at risk of death by their own nation's militarism. It is a sure bet the failed raid that led to the death of Korkie and Somers cost a lot more than $200,000.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Tru'Merica: "License to Kill"

US Person, aka "El Macho" opined earlier that the law on the state's use of force against citizens is biased in favor of the police. That is no more true than in twenty states that have passed so-called "stand your ground" statutes that alter the common-law provision a person should first retreat if possible when confronted with grievous bodily harm. Also, states like Missouri have passed statutes making deadly force acceptable to effect an arrest if an officer "reasonably believes" deadly force is necessary to accomplish the task. It is the wiggle words "reasonably believes"--a subjective standard--that allowed a Ferguson cop to shoot and kill a man who had already surrendered to arrest without legal consequences. No mini-cam technology will change this result if the applicable legal standards are not returned to a practical balance between individual civil rights and society's maintenance of law and order. This video by Australia's Journeyman Pictures examines 'Merica's license to kill issued to cops and security guards in what some victims see as a return to the wild, wild west:

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Police Beat: When Cops Kill in Cold Blood

credit: Cleveland Plain Dealer
More: The Cleveland police have been under investigation by the Department of Justice for excessive or unecessary use of force since last year. This week DOJ released its report saying there was evidence that Cleveland police use excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment rights of suspects. Not surpising since it has been only one month since young Tamir Rice was gunned down at close range after not responding to orders to raise his hands within a moment of a police cruiser arriving at the scene. He held a replica pistol in his waistband at the time. Shot if you do; shot if you don't.

Further: {3.12.14}One of the first things a student learns in law school if she decides to take criminal law and procedure courses is that the a grand jury is the tool of a public prosecutor. The prosecutor is in complete control of the evidence presented to the jury whose only job is to determine whether there is reasonable probability a crime has been committed, not whether a particular person is guilty of the crime. That distinction is important because a much lesser standard of proof is operable than at trial where a person's guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, it is often jokingly said an indictment can be obtained against a ham sandwich. Except when it comes to indicting cops for a crime against an alleged perpetrator. Prosecutors are a brick in the institutional edifice of law enforcement. They rely heavily on police cooperation to bring successful prosecutions. So it takes a public prosecutor of unusual integrity or independence to indict a police officer for a crime committed while enforcing the law. Viewed from this perspective the St. Louis county prosecutor's decision to present conflicting evidence to grand jurors is completely predictable especially after he supported official innocence in his press statements.

What 'Merica is experiencing in the failure to indict the cop in Ferguson, MO for killing a man with his hands up in surrender, or the cop in New York for choking a man to death after he was prostrate on the ground and subdued by a gang of his colleagues, is the logical outcome of a system of enforcement that is racist, biased in favor of the police, and corrupt. Cops are sworn to enforce the law, but they are supposed to do so within the confines of the law that generally prohibits the use of deadly force except to protect themselves or others from imminent danger. Both cases were clearly outside the recognized boundaries of acceptable use of deadly force. Racial politics and fear have colored reasonable perceptions of justice. People who defend cops in these cases are doing the nation a severe disservice by perpetuating a police state mentality in which cops are above the law and functionally immune from accountability for their crimes.

Update: {2.12.14}Cleveland has a race problem and its police are making that clear. Just a few days after Tamir Rice was shot dead, white police officers filed a lawsuit claiming the department discriminated against them by imposing substantially harsher discipline on them than that given to black officers who inappropriately used deadly force. The lawsuit arises from a deadly 2012 car chase in which 13 cops fired 137 shots at a Chevrolet Malibu [photo]. The occupants were hit over 20 times and killed. Neither had a weapon. The city settled a lawsuit against it by the victims' families for $3 million. The punishment at issue: 3 days of administrative leave followed by 16 months of restricted duty during which they were denied overtime. Restricted duty is usually 45 days in length, but political uproar over the chase killings extended it. The plaintiffs also say the treatment hurt their careers too because they were unable to apply for promotion. If the Current Occupant wishes to accomplish something in the last two years in office, no small victory would be to re-establish local control over municipal police departments that have experienced "systemic failure" as Ohio's attorney general described the situation in Cleveland. The national epidemic of shoot on sight unprofessionalism and official lawlessness is not only costing money, but lives.

More:{01.12.14}Cleveland cops responded to a call that a young black boy was waving a gun in a park on Saturday. The 911 caller told the dispatcher the gun appeared not to be real. Nevertheless, when cops got to the scene and confronted the 12 year-old he refused to put down the toy, so a rookie policeman shot him in the stomach within two seconds of their arrival [video]. The cops did not administer first aid to Tamir Rice for four minutes, until a detective and an FBI agent arrived; by then it was too late. The boy died while being transported to a hospital. The reason for an FBI agent responding is that Cleveland's cops are being investigated by the US Justice Department for excessive and unreasonable deadly force.  Chalk up another case study.

{24.11.14} One of the prevailing myths of modern 'Merica is that cops only shoot when necessary to protect themselves or innocent civilians. The current controversy in Ferguson, MO is a world-wide exemplar of that falsehood. Amnesty International, the human rights group, has sent a team to Ferguson to monitor police tactics after at least eight journalists were arrested covering the civil unrest. Protected by this informal immunity conferred on them by nervous authorities, cops are pulling their guns and killing in all sorts of unjustifiable situations. A recent case in New York is a clear cut example of police manslaughter. On Thursday night two NYPD police officers were on a routine patrol of a Brooklyn housing project. Coming down a dark stairwell from the seventh floor instead of taking a slow elevator, Akai Gurley and his girlfriend were doing nothing wrong, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gurley was not armed. NYPD officer Peter Liang entered the stairwell from the eighth floor with his flashlight and gun drawn. Without notification, he fired a single shot at Gurley hitting him in the chest. Gurley staggerd down to the fifth floor were he collapsed dead. Gurley's girlfriend told reporters they police never identified themselves or asked Gurley to identify himself; Liang simply shot him in the chest.

Liang claims he shot Gurley accidently. His police buddies back him up saying Liang held his Glock 9mm while opening the stairwell door with his gun hand and accidently fired a shot. Both Liang and his partner on patrol were probationary officers. They waited five minutes to report the death and never came down the stairs to check on Gurley's condition. Liang sat on the floor crying for 45 minutes. It is very hard to accept that NYPD trains its officers to open doors with their gun hand while their side arm is loaded and safety off. Police officials admit Gurley was not engaged in criminal activity when he died at the hands of nervous or fearful cop in a high crime district. NYPD's current motto emblazzoned on their vehicles is: "Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect". Clearly, Officer Liang failed that aspiration.Within a month five unarmed black men have been killed by police.

Friday, December 05, 2014

'Toontime: Lamest Duck

Many cartoonists, not all in the US, are relishing the pictorial possibilities of the traditional American political sobriquet, "lame duck":

credit: Marian Kamensky, Nebelspalter, Switzerland 
Wackydoodle sez: Leastways y'al got a paddle.

credit: Markus Szykowitz, Vienna
BC Idonwanna sez: Mmmm...Chief like Peking duck!

But the answer to the question who is the lamest duck is pretty clear by now. Vladimirovitch just executed another end run around the addled West by inking a gas deal with Turkey's President Erdogan as a replacement to the South Stream gas pipeline project blocked by NATO. Turkey just happens to be a NATO ally; but Erdogan knows where the bottom line is.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Endangered Beluga Whales Stop Work

TransCanada, an oil corporation with a bad attitude, has encountered multiple challenges against its $11bn Energy East plan to build a tar sands pipeline to Canada's east coast. Besides First Nations opposition, an endangered species the beautiful white beluga whale stands in its way. The Canadian Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife found the population of beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) inhabiting the St. Lawrence River endangered. That decision prompted TransCanada to halt planning work for a key export terminal on the river's eastern shore. The 900 individual whales of the St. Lawrence group, the southern most in the world, are already struggling to survive against industrial pollution causing diseases such as hepatitis, pneumonia, septicemia and cancer. Their numbers are down from an estimated 5,000 in 1900. Beluga hunting was not banned until 1979.

The Committee concludes that without protection of its critical habitat, the population is expected to shrink even more. A company spokesperson said further work is suspended until it can assess impacts of the proposed project on belugas. It is unlikely a heavy oil terminal at Cacouna, Quebec that would service 175 super tankers annually could be compatible in any way with the protection of the remaining belugas. Energy East pipeline would be North America's largest pipeline carrying as much as 1.1 million barrels of dilbit from Alberta to New Brunswick Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said it would be "difficult to continue to plan for an oil terminal with that kind of news. Now it is up to the promoter to decide to go to other sites". In October thousands marched in Cacouna to oppose the pipeline project.

Tanzanian Corruption Killing Elephants

Tanzania has lost half of its elephants to ivory poachingin the last five years claims the non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency. Chinese criminal syndicates are conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to feed the resurgent ivory market in China. The east African country is the largest source of illegal ivory in the world. Last year a visit by a Chinese naval force to Dar es Salaam caused the local price of ivory to soar. A Chinese national was caught trying to deliver 81 illegal tusks to two Chinese naval officers.

An EIS report claims that its undercover investigators received an offer to sell tusks from a Tanzanian wildlife department official who had access to the government's storeroom of confiscated ivory. The official also offered to connect the investigators with a dealer providing ivory from elephants in the Selous Game Reserve [photo]. There is a 67% drop in the elephant population there. According to EIS's Vanishing Point report politicians of Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party and connected business people use their influence to protect ivory traffickers. In 2012 a secret list of perpetrators behind the trafficking crisis was handed to the country's president by intelligence sources. This inlcuded prominent members of the CCM and their business associates. Former Natural Resources Minister Khamis Kagasheki named four CCM MPs involved in elephant poaching. None of those named have been investigated or arrested. EIS released its report on the eve of an international summit hosted by Tanzania in Arusha to discuss wildlife crime and conservation.

Interpol announced in October that it is forming a unit dedicated to trafficking and environmental crimes located in Nairobi. The team is supposed to increase intelligence gathering and sharing and assist national investigations focused on wildlife crime. With powerful officials deeply involved in a sophisticated network of illegal trade with an expanding market in China, it will take concerted international effort and funding to stop the slaughter.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

California's Ridiculous Ridge

No, not the name given to a geological formation by a frustrated pioneer.  It is the resilient ridge of high atmospheric pressure over the northeastern Pacific Ocean that diverts wet storms from reaching the state. [screen grab] The ridge is caused by human CO₂ emissions. That is the conclusion reached by Stanford University scientists in another study of climate change impacts. [see video] The epic drought now affecting California is destroying its lucrative agricultural industry. Experts estimate losses of at least $2.2bn and thousands of seasonal jobs. Ten to twenty storms major storms would be needed to make up its rain deficit.

The blocking ridge of high pressure has diverted the jet stream farther north.  It is the jet stream that guides Pacific storms to the United States' western coast. Researchers using computer modeling and statistical techniques think that such a ridge is more likely to form than prior to human emissions of greenhouse gas beginning in the Industrial Revolution. The probability of a blocking ridge forming is three times more likely in the present climatic conditions (warming) than in a preindustrial climate.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

COTW: Putting Pressure on Putin

Economic warfare comes in many forms: boycotts, tarrifs, restrictive trade regulations, and aggressive price cutting to name a few. Russia is the object of the west's trade sanctions in retaliation for its annexation of the Crimea and support of eastern Ukraine separatists.  No economic weapon will have as much effect on the Russian economy as the current collapse in oil prices. The price of oil is indirectly controlled by western multinational oil companies and their royal Saudi allies. OPEC, the oil cartel dominated by the Saudis, recently decided not to cut production and leave its target at 30 million barrels/day. Price is based on the amount of oil that reaches the international market, and if you have your hand on the pump, you control the price. Experts figure that Russia needs a price of $100/barrel to run its economy. Right now the price is hovering around $70. Consequently the rouble is falling dramatically. Russia's central bank said there is sufficient liquidity in the market for now and that it has prepared economic forecasts based on an oil price of $60. Falling oil prices are costing Russia $100bn/yr compared to $40bn/yr in western sanctions. Besides market manipulation, China's economic slowdown has reduced world-wide demand. Bakken shale formation crude has contributed to an increase in domestic US supply. Some shale producers could still breakeven at $40/barrel. Russia could cut its oil production to prop up prices, but that decision would also hurt the Russian economy. As the sanquine Vladimirovich said last week, "Winter is coming..." Is your goose fat?

 from $12 low in 1980's to $147.50 peak in 2008, how low can you go?

Monday, December 01, 2014

B'alam, Once A God

The jaguar is the least threatened of the big wild cats in the Panthera genus. Genetic research shows that despite a burgeoning human population and attendant habitat destruction thoroughout its range from Mexico to Argentina, the jaguar has managed to maintain its genetic integrity. There are no jaguar subspecies isolated on islands of suitable habitat as mountain lions exist in the United States. Interbreeding between populations is still occurring, so there is only one jaguar species. For this very reason, noted cat conservationist Alan Rabinowitz is advocating a jaguar corridor that will allow the cat once revered by indegenous people as a god to continue to disperse across a human-altered landscape as it has done since migrating from Asia during the Pleistocene. The corridor would cover 18 countires. Dr. Rabinowitz's conservation organization Panthera has already signed agreements with six jaguar-range nations. These nations include Panama and Nicaragua where inter-ocean canals and proposed canals threaten the viability of the corridor. The jaguar is most vulnerable at the edges of its range in northern Mexico and Argentina. Without direct intervention it is unlikely it will recolonize the southwestern United States in the opinion of Dr. Rabinowitiz, but he finds that although people who live with the jaguar no longer acribe to animistic beliefs of the past they still respect the power, stealth, and lethality of the Americas' largest feline carnivore. It is this status as cultural icon and bold conservation action like the Jaguar Corridor Initiative that he hopes will insure Panthera onca's future.