Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Gorilla Pays Price for Human Mistake

On Saturday a male gorilla named Harambe caged in a Cincinnati, Ohio zoo for human amusement, was shot to death after a human child crawled beyond a barrier and fell twelve feet into the moat surround his enclosure. Cincinnati police are investigating the incident.  Harambe, a seventeen year old male [photo], found the four year old child and apparently in an attempt to play with the young primate dragged the boy through the moat. He also handled the boy carefully at times. Zoo officials who said his life was in danger, killed the gorilla in order to rescue the boy. Harambe, a healthy lowland gorilla silver back, was a rare and endangered animal. He was observed holding the young boy's hand and guarding him before he was gunned down by sharpshooters. Two female gorillas responded to calls to leave the boy alone, but Harambe grabbed the human visitor, stood him up, and even pulled up his pants [video]. He did not appear to attack the child.  The human parent has not yet been charged with a crime, although the care of her toddler in this instance certainly seems to be lacking.

Public pressure is mounting against the mother. A hundred thousand people have signed a petition asking that she be investigated for negligence and held accountable for her lack of care. According to witnesses she was accompanied by several children, and her youngster repeatedly told her he wanted to play with the gorillas.  So far her explanation of what happen is a laconic cliche, "accidents happen".  But not all human stunts result in the death of an endangered gorilla captive.  Jerry Stones, Harambe's keeper, said his charge was "very, very intelligent". He is heartbroken over the incident. The zoo director defended his decision to kill, saying a tranquilizer would not have acted fast enough to prevent possible injury to the child, noting that the "agitated" gorilla was extremely strong, but he admitted Harambe did not appear to attack the boy. No human entered the enclosure in an attempt to coax the gorilla away from the boy, or coax the boy away from the gorilla. Professional loud-mouth, Donald Trump, contributed his two-cents online by texting the decision to use lethal force against Harambe was a "tough call", but necessary.  The boy is expected to recover from his fall and fatal encounter with Harambe.  The zoo has over a million visitors a year and was back in full operation Sunday.

Monday, May 30, 2016

100 Years From Verdun

Europe committed suicide one hundred years ago at Verdun. The World War I battle there from February, 1916 to December, 1916 consumed upwards of a million men in dead and wounded, one of the most costly battles in human history. Verdun had been a fortress city since Roman times and its defenses were renewed several times by the French. By 1914 the small city with its detached forts was encircled by a new ring of forts at five miles distance. But after the German's rapid invasion into northeastern France supported by murderous artillery barrages, French strategists lost confidence in fixed fortifications and stripped the forts of their guns for use in the field in 1915. The German offensive of 1914 had flowed around the forts so thereafter Verdun became a "quiet" sector.

That status changed when German general Erich von Falkenhayn told Kaiser Wilhelm that Germans must take the offensive again in 1916 because "Germany...could not hold out forever" against the combined French-British armies that had stalemated the German drive on Paris. His plan was to compel the French to "to throw in every man they have" at a vital point and "bleed [France] to death." The vital point in his mind was Verdun. Verdun was a salient after the German advance of 1914, exposed on three side in a loop of the Meuse, and only twelve miles from a major German railhead. German artillery--150 guns per mile--would pulverize the French in a constrained front of only eight miles, then German infantry would advance to occupy the devastated terrain. From the beginning "Operation Judgment" was planned to make Région Fortifiée de Verdun a French graveyard in a battle of attrition (Ermattungsstrategie).

Verdun held legendary status in the French military mind. Atilla the Hun failed to capture the town in the fifth century. The citadel, built by Vauban in the 17th century, and its double ring of fortifications was a symbol of French nationhood, indicative of France's ability to defend its hinterlands from external attack. General von Falkenhayn's assumption the French would defend Verdun at all cost was a shrewd estimation of his enemy's psychology. By the time of the battle, France had stationed 20.5 divisions in the forts with 548 heavy guns.

German advance and French recovery at Verdun
German soldiers made significant gains in the initial phases of the offensive,
L'reprise de Douaumont
capturing the largest fort in the outer ring, Fort Douaumont [map], and threatening to occupy the Meuse heights above the Meuse River bridges, that were vital to French logistic operations. The Germans used flamethrowers and chlorine gas during the fighting. Panic was spreading through the French army; depots of food were pillaged on news the river bridges had been prepared for demolition and retreat from Verdun was imminent. German forces eventually came within 2.5 miles of the citadel.

General Philippe Pétain was summoned to command Verdun's defense; he was known not to be deterred by heavy losses. The French army sacrificed itself for every meter of ground taken by the Germans just as the German command had hoped. French losses mounted because the French used a tactic of "active defense", counter-attacking whenever possible. The German losses were equally horrendous, and progress against an inspired enemy was too slow for the costly advance to be sustained. Attrition was working against the Germans who started the battle with fewer men. By May casualties in German front-line infantry regiments reached over 100%. France lost the crest of the Meuse ridge but desperately hung on to its slopes, rotating forty-two divisions through the Verdun meat grinder when their casualty rates reached 50%. The invading enemy achieved its furthest advance by the end of June. By then twenty million shells had been fired into the battle zone churning it into an unrecognizable, hellish wasteland of splintered forests, obliterated villages, human remains and twice overlapping shell holes.

Verdun was a failure for the German high command. German soldiers made the French pay dearly in blood, but the French army did not collapse because its losses were not disproportionate. French morale did suffer greatly; five infantry regiments experienced episodes of collective disobedience, and two French lieutenants were summarily shot on June 11th. At the end of June, over 200,000 had been killed or wounded on each side. After failing to take Fort Souville of the inner ring on July 11th, the German army lapsed onto the defensive. General von Falkenhayne was dismissed at the end of August. Germany was forced to withdraw artillery from Verdun to support its armies opposing the allied Somme offensive. Once again the Verdun sector became relatively quiet. In October, the French advanced to recover lost ground. Fort Douaumont was recaptured on October 24th. A wider offensive in December recaptured much of the terrain lost previously [map above]. By then the crux of Western Front had shifted; a new inferno was raging to the north at the Somme.

A French lieutenant at Verdun wrote before he was killed by a shell, "Humanity is mad, It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage...Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad!" Humanity's only hope is that it learns from its "transgression of the limits of the human condition."

Friday, May 27, 2016

'Toontime: Deja Vu Again

credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle

The Democrats are putting up another flawed candidate--"Crooked Hillary" backed up by "Liar Bill"--to run against the racist patrimonial authoritarian, Donald Trump, soon to be anointed by Greedy Old Plutocrats.  Despite their initial revulsion, they now view Trump as their best chance to beat Hillary, and in a spoils system the spoils trump ideology, or lack of one, every time.   'The Donald' has gained the required number of delegates to be nominated at the party's Cleveland convention, so he can afford to debate 'The Bern' before the California primary, and slap the Democratic front-runner in the face at the same time.

The truth is, neither presumptive nominee is really liked by prospective voters, but what actually counts is that both now have the support of the elite power structure in the United States. The popular vote in the US is not conclusive since it can be overridden in a close election (i.e. 2000) by the Electoral College, another organ of the plutocracy. There is no federal or constitutional law requiring electors to to vote as pledged and they are generally chosen for their party loyalty and service or their connection to the nominee. The rigged system produces illogical voting anomalies such as the under representation of populous states like California and New York.  Sparsely populated Wyoming ranks first in the fewest number of persons represented per elector--143,000 versus over 500,000 in New York.  Wisconsin has 33,000 more people than Minnesota, yet has the same number of electoral votes.  Oregon has a population three times the size of Hawaii yet only has seven electoral votes versus Hawaii's four.  And if you live in a politically "safe" state like Texas or California, you might as well stay home on election day if you want to vote to the contrary because electoral votes are awarded on a winner-take-all basis.  Hardly the egalitarian ideal of "one man, one vote".

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

National Bison Legacy Act

The law was signed by President Obama on May 9, 2016 making the North American bison (Bison bison), or buffalo as it is commonly known, the United State's national mammal.  The buffalo joins the bald eagle as an iconic symbol of our nation, and is a worthy recipient of the honor.  It is a long way from near extinction at the hands of western settlers and the US Army to a national symbol of strength and fortitude that can be embraced by politicians on both sides of the near-impassable political divide. Conservationists including US Person {13.06.12; National Mammal: the Bison, a Good Idea} are very happy with the designation since they hope it will aid their efforts to renew wild herds that once roamed the western landscape in thirty millions.  Only about 30,000 wild buffalo remain, most in Yellowstone National Park. About 300,000 hybrid buffalo-cows exist in private livestock herds. The designation does not give the mammal any more legal protections.  So, for example, the annual cull at Yellowstone will go on until more enlighten conservation policies are put in place.

The buffalo is inextricably bound in the history of this nation's western expansion; consequently its story is a tragic one of exploitation, genocide, abuse and neglect, but hopefully the buffalo's future will have a happier retelling now that it is America's national mammal.  Buffalo once played a significant ecological role in maintaining America's prairies, now tourists pose for selfies with them.  The goal of conservation should be to return the buffalo to a functioning part of a healthy ecosystem.  Native Americans are and should play a large role in restoring them to their biological place on the western landscape; the Inter-tribal Buffalo Council represents sixty-three tribes that are engaged in re-establishing the animal at the center of their cultures.  As the Army once so brutally observed, "If we kill the buffalo, we [whites] will conquer the Indian."

Clinton VIolated Rules

Hillary Clinton's e-mail problem hangs around like the stink from dirty athletic socks.   The State Department's Inspector General reported to Congress that the former Secretary of State violated federal rules regarding the use of private email to conduct official business.  She refused to cooperate with the internal investigation by her former agency, and was criticized in the report for her failure to preserve federal records.  The report focuses on how Clinton's e-mail setup was never cleared by State Department security that was concerned with hacking attacks on official communications.  According to the Inspector General, Clinton, "had an obligation to discuss using her personal e-mail account to conduct official business".  Her failure to do so is a violation of the public trust. Neither the Bureau of Diplomatic Security nor the Bureau of Information Resource Management approved her use of a private email account because of the inherent security risk involved.  However, managers actually told two nervous staffers who raised concerns to be quiet about the Secretary's private e-mail arrangements.

Her private blackberry device was not error free.  At one point the idea for Secretary Clinton to carry two devices because her personal e-mail server was was down, one for official communications and one for personal business, was considered but rejected.  Her private service also had problems connecting to the State Department's own state.gov domain addresses.  Apparently Ms. Clinton insisted on using the private account because an official account could be subjected to disclosure in a FOIA suit.  As it turned out her private server did not afford the Secretary the privacy she craved since her private account became the subject of disclosure lawsuits too once its existence and use for official business was revealed by Associated Press.

Even more problematic for the now presidential candidate is the effect this email scandal is having on her lagging campaign. The FBI criminal investigation of Clinton's insecure treatment of classified information is expected to end soon, but legal experts say it is unlikely Clinton will be charged with a felony criminal offense.   She has been unable to eliminate rival Bernie Sanders, who has enjoyed a string of primary victories lately, and her failing performance against Donald Trump in polls continues to create concern about her ability to win the general election.  The Democratic convention promises to be an interesting, if not rigged, process.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Perpetual War: US Troops to Libya?

In a desperate fight for the prize that motivated the Empire's removal of nationalist leader Muammar Qaddafi, US Marine General and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Joseph Dunford, told reporters on Thursday that US troops would be deployed to Libya for a "long-term mission".  The goal of such an incursion into the chaos that is Libya is to secure the oil fields being exploited by western oil companies, notably the French firm Total.  According to Dunford the only thing holding up such an intervention is a formal agreement with the rump government of Libya being propped up by western powers in Tripoli.

The US ambassador to Libya, Jonathan Winer, is in intense negotiations with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Libyan Presidential Council who returned to the country in March from exile in Tunisia.  His group is the quisling regime intended to give a thin veneer of legality to yet another US-NATO military incursion.  But his grip on the country is no means undisputed.  Two other groups, the Islamist General National Congress in Tripoli and the House of Representatives in Tobruk have not recognized al-Sarraj's authority.  Neither does al-Sarraj have a clearly organized army he can call on to enforce his group's rule.  US Special Forces have been in-country since last year attempting to assess the myriad of armed groups that Washington might consider a suitable proxy.

In the midst of the chaos after Qaddaffi's brutal battlefield execution, ISIS fighters spawned from the militias the West supported and armed to topple the uncooperative dictator. Many went to Syria to fight in the civil war raging there; the terror group now controls Sirte, Qaddafi's hometown, with about 3500 fighters in the country.  It was ISIS jihadists that overran the US consulate at Benghazi and killed Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in 2012.  Having created a classic "failed state" with its first intervention, it appears there is a broad agreement among NATO powers that imposing a neocolonial government on Libya is necessary to protect western commercial interests.  Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves, and they are crucial to Europe's supply.  CIA asset, Khalifa Hafter, commander of the erstwhile Libyan National Army, has been conducting his operations against some fourteen oil fields taken from the Petroleum Facilities Guard whose allegiance is to al-Sarraj.

General Dunford did not provide details about the composition of a joint western force, but it has been previously reported that Italy, once the colonial master of Libya while Benito Mussolini ruled, would lead the mission.  Italy wants to secure the North African coast to control an immense refugee problem.  However, when asked about a possible new western involvement in Libya both the Italian and German governments disavowed plans to re-invade the former fascist colony.  Germany has agreed to train Libyan troops in neighboring Tunisia.

The US administration now wants to fight the terrorists it virtually created in Libya.  However, the Pentagon has yet to find an acceptable puppet* among the lawless mess, and election year calculus may rule out any escalation of direct US military involvement for now. Hillary Clinton has been roundly criticized by progressives and Repugnants alike for her unwavering support of the first Libyan intervention.  However the contingency planning goes on and it would not be the first time war is a foregone conclusion.

*Is there reason to expect that training and equipping a Libyan proxy army will be successful in restoring a level of order and societal integration Qaddafi provided Libya? NOT.  The American effort in Iraq to eliminate ISIS through the reconstituted Iraqi army has largely failed so far.  Thirteen years of war in that country have not illuminated terrorist car bombings in the capital or propitiated the Shia militias under the influence of radical Shia cleric Moktada al-Sadr whose supporters poured into the Green Zone last weekend in a violent anti-government protest.  US airstrikes against ISIS have killed uncounted numbers of Iraqi civilians, and although ISIS has lost about 50% of the land area it once controlled, it still holds on to Iraq's second largest city, Mosul and the oil fields nearby.  The Iraqi army is beginning to fight in an organized fashion instead of running away thanks to the relentless battlefield presence of American advisors and airpower; whether that army can recapture Mosul remains to be determined.  The fall in oil prices is costing ISIS as much as American bombs.  Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister al-Abadi teeters on the brink of dissolution since he is opposed not only by Sunnis outside the Shia-dominated government, but Shias and others fed up with the immense amount of government corruption.  It a strange twist of fate both the US and Iran are backing al-Abadi.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Rio's Polluted Water Already Affecting Atheletes

Rio's polluted lagoons have spilled into the ocean near beaches to be venues for Olympic sport competitions this summer.  The contaminated water made pro surfers ill during a recent pro-circuit competition, not to mention the smell coming from raw sewage churned to the surface by storm swells.  According to a local biologist the lagoons are "pure shit"; thousands of humans discharge their excrement into the lagoons including Lagoa da Tijuca [video], the site of several new Olympic infrastructure projects, without treatment.  Several surfers reported symptoms of nausea, dizziness, vomiting and diarrhea last year after exposure to filthy Rio water.  Scientists said Guanabara Bay, an Olympic venue, was so polluted that it was not safe for human contact.

City officials obviously want their city to be a stunning backdrop to world games for viewers and visitors to enjoy. That image is being more that sullied by the severe pollution problems. The unhealthy water could end an athlete's dream of Olympic glory.  Despite official promises, the pollution problem will not be solved by the time of Olympic events. It will take more than quick beach clean ups by municipal workers to solve the city's lack of sewage infrastructure.  Brazil can apparently afford to host the summer Olympics, but not build sewers and water treatment plants for its citizens.

Friday, May 20, 2016

'Toontime: They Called Us Hippies

credit: Dave Granlund
Wackydoodle sez; Ya ain't white neither!

Rumblings from the Blue Grass state say there are problems with Democratic primary vote totals in several Kentucky counties. The most severe problem seems to be in Pike County where AP reported that an electronic ballot reader deleted all vote totals, and when they reappeared, Hillary Clinton led by 4000 votes. Kentucky is a near dead-heat within half a percent, but with most mass media megaphones giving Clinton, the plutocracy's choice, the edge. Bernie Sanders has won Oregon, carrying all but one of its 36 counties. Whether the Pike County hiccup will be enough to generate a recount remains to be seen. Under Kentucky law, the candidate requesting a recount must pay for it, a significant disincentive to challenges that may be useless in the final analysis. As it stands now Clinton and Sanders split Kentucky's 54 pledged delegates.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Antarctica At Tipping Point

high resolution image of Thwaites
Two recent scientific studies indicate that Western Antarctica's ice sheet has reached the tipping point of irreversible melting. The good news is that it may take 200 to a thousand years for Earth's sea levels to rise by 12-15 feet. There has been much scientific speculation recently that a melting process was underway in Antarctica, but a study published in Science confirms the Thwaites Glacier is rapidly melting. This glacier alone will raise sea levels by two feet. Thwaites holds back the remainder of the land-based West Antarctic ice sheet and once Thwaites is gone there is nothing to stop it from melting into the sea raising levels another 10-13 feet. The Thwaites study is complemented and confirmed by NASA's investigation of other glaciers in the area published in Geophysical Letters. The studies do not include the massive Greenland ice sheet, also undergoing melting. These latest results make the benchmark IPCC report on sea level rise obsolete. It estimated a rise of only 0.28-1.0 meter by 2100. However stronger winds, perhaps due to the ozone hole, have driven warmer water into the glaciers, accelerating melting and undermining their hold on the continent.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Greece of the Carribean

The Greek people were forced into punishing austerity by an international cartel of banks, and then adding insult to injury, their national patrimony was sold off to vulture capitalists. Now, the US Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is facing a similar fate if Wall Street goons have their way, and there is nothing to stop them since they own both major political parties. Puerto Rico's ruling class of course cohabited with the corporatists by accepting easy credit supplied by the Money Power. Public debt rose every year since 2000 and reached 100% of GNP in 2014.  The nominal value of Puerto Rico's outstanding bonds are roughly eight times Detroit's. With interest on Puerto Rican bonds enjoying tax exempt status in the rest of the fifty states, they were a favorite of investors, but they also carry more risk because of Puerto Rico's burgeoning public debt, considered by the New York Times to be "unpayable". The island has been suffering an economic contraction for a decade since tax incentives for US corporations were entirely removed by Congress in 2006. Pharmaceutical companies moved their operations from the island because it was no longer cheap to manufacture there. As a result Puerto Rico now has 11+% unemployment and over 300,000 residents gone for greener pastures. Only 40% of the adult population is employed or looking for work compared to 63% for the mainland.  Government services have been drastically cut back, but the island faces a potential humanitarian crisis as the Zika virus plays havoc with the public's health.

The US government has not been kind to its last colony.  It still requires all goods to be shipped there on US vessels under the Jones Act.  So Puerto Ricans must pay tariff and transport-inflated prices for all goods, foreign and domestic.  Nor does the nation have the option of bankruptcy to force haircuts on bondholders like US cities do.  Consequently, vulture funds have been buying Puerto Rican debt like ripe bananas, banking on being able to force the commonwealth into paying back every red cent that they bought for pennies on the dollar.  And so far Washington is complying with the Street's cunning plan.  Debt relief legislation is mired in a do-nothing Congress.  Even the Democratic administration's proposed "debt relief" bill is a Wall Street wet dream. Despite its psuedo-clever moniker, PROMESA* would superimpose an unaccountable authority on Puerto Rico to manage its economy, issue more debt, impose terms on government agencies, and leave Puerto Ricans to pick up what remains of their public infrastructure and sovereignty. The puppet governor has already agreed to the take-over provided it does not compromise the Commonwealth's sovereignty. Send in the clown on a Greek horse!

Earlier this month Puerto Rico defaulted on its debt payment; it was a red flag thrown up by the puppet leadership to indicate no amount of austerity would be enough to enable repayment in full. The $422 million missed payment is just a tiny fraction of what Puerto Rico owes. Another $2 billion payment is due in July. Whatever debt relief is finally offered by their colonial masters, it will cost Puerto Ricans dearly, just like it did the Greeks. {17.07.15;The German Elephant}

*Puerto Rico Management & Economic Stability Act.  This legislation actually wants to cut the minimum wage for the Commonwealth from the inadequate $7.25 to the ridiculous $4.25 an hour for new hires.  It also authorizes the proposed Financial Control board to accept "gifts", an open invitation to corruption.  A dark money group is currently paying for a propaganda campaign aired on national television urging support for PROMESA.  That Wall Street is behind this abuse of logic is demonstrated by the fact that the three big bond rating agencies demoted Puerto Rico's bond rating to junk status after the government complied with their austerity demands,  It laid off 30,000 workers, hiked water rates by 60%, cut civil service pension and benefits, and raised corporate taxes. 

The Last Three Addax?

Perhaps the last three wild addax, (Addax nasomaculatus), a desert-adapted antelope of the Sahara, where counted by IUCN in March. The international conservation organization blamed soldiers hired by the Chinese National Oil Corporation for poaching the few remaining addax for food. A survey done in 2010 counted only 200 of the beautiful white-coated antelope [photo]. According to IUCN, Chinese oil operations in Niger have decimated the addax, bringing it to the razor's edge of extinction. The animal is protected under law, but that status has not prevented opportunistic, unethical security personnel from killing them all. After eighteen hours of flight time along 2000 miles of transects in former addax habitat only three "very nervous" individuals were found by ground searchers. Without immediate and total intervention, the wild addax will disappear from the face of the Earth. Capture and removal to a protected reserve or zoo may be the only answer to insure wild addax survival, although there are captive-bred populations in existence that could be reintroduced.

Captive bred addax are hunted for "sport" in Texas. The animal's long, spiral horns and white hide are prized by trophy seekers. The federal government adopted new rules in 2012 rescinding the blanket exception to the Endangered Species Act for three species of curved-horn African antelope.  Hunting for captive addax now requires two permits and a couple of hundred dollars, but even that small amount of government "red tape" is too much for bloody-minded Texans.  Many of the antelope ranches have disposed of their exotic trophies on the hoof.

Not only is poaching causing wild addax extinction, but climate change will reduce antelope habitat by as much as half according to a study published in the journal, Current Biology. Eighty-two percent of Africa's 72 antelope species will be affected by 2080. Besides being an important prey species for top predators like the lion, antelope spread plant seeds in their dung and are vital to a healthy ecosystem.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Apiarists Lost 44% of Their Colonies

The stats are in and they are grim for honeybees.  Keepers lost 44% of their colonies last year, the highest level of mortality in six years. These losses are considered to be unsustainable for US agriculture that relies on honeybees to pollinate a third of the annual fruit and vegetable crop. The continued use of massive amounts of pesticides, both commercially and by homeowners, is contributing to the decline of the honeybee. One class of ubiquitous compounds, neonicotinoids, has been implicated by several studies.  Europe has already moved to ban or restrict their use. The US EPA is still studying the issue in the face of significant pressure from the chemical industry to not do anything. The agency has issued a preliminary finding that neonicotinoids above 25ppb pose a risk to honeybees. But it is attempting to sidestep the issue by passing off responsibility to states for formulating pesticide use plans to save honeybees from ultimate destruction.

Friday, May 13, 2016

'Toontime: Looneytoons

 credit: Rick McGee, Atlanta Chronicle
Wackydoodle sez:  I measured it, so I'm OK.
A Swedish study from thirty years ago says this about persons undergoing transgender surgery: "post-surgical transsexuals are a risk group that need long-term psychiatric and somatic follow-up" due to complications of surgery, increased mortality, suicide risk, and psychiatric hospitalizations.  In Ontario, which passed a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual identity in 2012, a sexual predator claimed he was transgender to gain access to Toronto women's shelters where he sexually assaulted several women.  Its a wacky world where common sense is uncommon and popular votes don't mean  doodle!

credit: Daryl Cagle, Cagle.com
B.C. Idowanna sez:  Smoke 'um peace pipe, feel better!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Bernie Who? Wins West Virginia

Bernie Sanders has now won only four fewer states than Hillary Clinton.  He beat her soundly in economically ruined West Virginia (51-39%).  He looks set to carry Oregon and California too.  But the only path to the nomination remaining for him is convincing party insiders at the convention that Hillary is a probable loser to Donald Trump and they should dump the presumptive nominee.  That is a difficult row to hoe.  Still, his popularity among the plebeians is growing; he is attracting thousands to his California rallies despite a near total corporate mass media (CMM) blackout. His continued presence in the Democratic primary race is forcing Ms. Clinton to alter her policy positions to the left; an impact Sanders said he wants to accomplish with his candidacy.  She recently changed her position on Medicare expansion by agreeing that fifty year-olds could be allowed to "buy-into" the federal health care program.  Sanders assured his supporters after his latest win that all Democratic voters will have a chance to express their choice for the party's presidential nominee.

COTW: The Myth of Marginal Productivity & Wages

In classical economics wages are supposedly determined by a worker's marginal productivity meaning they are set by the amount of value added to a product by the addition of one worker to the force.  From 1948 to 1973 worker's wages did grow in tandem with productivity increase. But the economic data shows this former correlation no longer accounts for the gap between productivity that has been increasing due to the use of and improvements of technology and wage scales for the middle class that have been relatively flat.  Furthermore, productivity gains cannot explain the explosion of top executive pay in the United States.  Marginal productivity of a corporate executive is practically impossible to measure objectively, and social factors such as executive pay committees comprised of their peers play a dominant role in setting executive compensation*.  In some companies the executive is allowed to award his own compensation.  Look at this chart:

source: EPI
US hedge fund managers took in $13 billion in compensation in 2015 despite low or negative returns for most funds they manage.  This incredible amount of compensation puts them well within the top 0.1% of society, a Shangri-La of private jets, luxury hotels, exclusive resorts, and multiple homes.  Needless to say these plutocrats have money left over after buying art to dispense on less wealthy politicians like Hillary Clinton, who charges six figure speaking fees, to insure the laws protect them and their capital.  A case in point: hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors plead guilty to security and wire fraud charges in 2013.  One of the most profitable funds in history was the result of illegal insider trading on an unprecedented scale.  The company paid a relatively modest fine of $1.8 billion to settle the case.  However its owner, Stephen A. Cohen escaped punishment for his company's crimes.  His current net worth is on the order of $12 billion, and he now owns a new hedge fund, Stamford Harbor Capital.  To give some perspective on the amount of compensation these captains of capital award themselves, only $1.6 billion would be enough to replace all the lead pipe in Flint, MI.  More anecdotal evidence that what 'Mericans hold dear is largely "trickle-down" fiction.

*a recent study by Betrand and Mullainhatan shows that when profits increase for external reasons over which executives have no control, executive pay rises most rapidly.  The authors call this "pay for luck".  In fact in the last thirty years the top 1% has increased its share of national income from 8% to nearly 20% or an increase roughly twice as much as in Britain and Canada and three times as much as in Australia, all technologically advanced countries. T.Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century, p.316

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Navy's Bad Attitude

The Navy has been fighting an inside bureaucratic war against the US Fish & Wildlife in an effort to bend and then break federal legal protections for endangered wildlife.  Conservation organizations have been forced to fight the Navy for years over the harm their weapons do to all sorts of marine creatures, notably, whales and other sonar capable species.  Now, Navy emails leaked from an inside source to TruthOut show that the Navy is trying to redefine "harm" to wildlife so it can deploy what it calls "distributed lethality", jargon for an increased use of massed firepower to thin enemy defenses, regardless of the impact on wildlife like marine birds.  Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are prohibited from actions that would "take" a protected species.  "Take" is a legal term that is broadly defined under the Act and includes actions that would harass, harm or wound.  Marbled murrelets are a protected diving seabird living in the old-growth forests of the Northwest that would be harmed by increased Navy jet noise and sonar use.

Indicative of its attitude that it is above environmental laws because of its "national security" role, the Navy pressured biologists at the US Fish and Wildlife in emails from August and September 2015 to alter their biological opinions in ways that would benefit the Navy's increased used of weaponry in training exercises.  The emails contain offers to complete biological opinions in the final impact statement for its Northwest Testing Range that spans the west coast from Alaska to California; specifically the Proposed Action section in which the agency proposes official policy based on its findings.  The Navy has already received a permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to take over 1.2 million marine mammals in the northwest Pacific as a consequence of its war training activities.  In their communications Navy personnel pushed for approval of the final impact statement from NFWS via a waiver from an assistant secretary of the Navy, thus giving itself permission to harm protected species and circumvent the consultation role of NFWS. Navy personnel even suggested using a non-peer reviewed student thesis to support higher sonar levels for marbled murrelets.  It also wanted to eliminate temporary hearing loss from the definition of harm under the Act according to the leaked emails.  Some Navy activity, such a pier-side sonar systems and pile-driving is still unpermitted, yet the Navy continues to perform these activities in contravention of wildlife legal protections.

A former endangered species biologist commented that the Navy's pressuring tactics are intended to knowingly circumvent environmental laws and policies intended to protect species endangered by man's activities including Navy weapons training.  The Navy's attitude is often belligerent towards activists attempting to obtain Navy compliance with established environmental standards.  Its bad attitude towards environmental compliance is demonstrated by the fact that it wanted to use forty-two year-old data for the impact of air blasts on birds.  The Navy has also refused to allow NFWS trained civilians aboard its ships to monitor impacts on wildlife during training exercises, yet it allows civilian fitness instructors to be aboard. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Great Barrier Reef Could be Dead in Twenty Years

Australia's greatest natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef, is suffering its worse bleaching episode in recorded history.  Scientist warn that because it takes 15 years or more for the reef to rejuvenate after a bleaching episode of this magnitude, the reef could largely be dead by mid-century.  Warming water temperatures are responsible for the bleaching and current temperature trends would produce a bleaching event every two years by 2030.  Global warming has increased sea temperatures off Queensland's coast by 1.8℉ in March.  Corals expel the photosynthetic algae they normally have a symbiotic relationship when warming sea temperatures kick the tiny organisms into overdrive.  It is the algae that gives the coral structures color.  If sea temperatures drop, the algae is able to recolonize their hosts, but not if there is consistent warming. Greenhouse gas emissions have made the current bleaching event, affecting 93% of the reef's corals, 175 times more likely to occur than not.  Damage to the reef seen from aerial surveys ranges from minor in the south to very severe in the pristine north end of the 1430 mile reef [map courtesy Australian government].  A controversial study done in 1999 by Ove Hoegh-Guldberg predicted such a massive bleaching would occur; he told reporters his predictions are now looking conservative.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Seven Big Banks Settle for Peanuts

Rigging the LIBOR is not enough for the greedy sociopaths working in the world's financial centers.  Seven of the 'too big to fail' banks settled a private anti-trust lawsuit in Manhattan for pennies on the dollar.  The suit brought by municipalities and pension funds accused fourteen financial institutions of rigging the ISDAfix used to price derivatives.  A federal judge refused to dismiss the suit five weeks ago, and it is one of many pending private suits accusing the banks of fixing various financial benchmark and prices for their own gain. Under the settlement terms the big seven will pay between $52 and $30 million each. Last month, Barclays agreed to pay a $115 million fine to settle a Commodities Futures Trading Commission investigation into ISDAfix rigging. To put the modest private settlement into some perspective, the derivatives market each is accused of fixing is valued at $553 trillion. 

'Toontime: Oh um, Sanders Wins Indiana

Senator Bernie Sanders campaigning as the lone outsider in a presidential race dominated by billionaires and political insiders was rewarded with winning the Indiana primary. Realistically the win does little to alter the final outcome of the Democratic primary season. The win motivates Senator Sanders to remain in the race until the convention, and he has promised to make it a contested one. Whether a possible indictment of Clinton for her handling of classified information prior to the Democratic convention would be enough to convince super-delegates to abandon their support of her remains to be seen, but is unlikely. Hillary Clinton has an almost insurmountable lead in pledged delegates (~300). So the 2016 race for President will be between two historically unpopular candidates (69-59), Trump versus Clinton, forcing disappointed supporters of other candidates to give their votes to a nominee they dislike or stay home and not participate in what remains of American democracy.  Too bad for US that the 'Merican electorate bases its political choices on cultural superficialities instead of economic realities*:

credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Post Dispatch
Wackydoodle sez:  My card jis sez "Don't pass GO"

* The exhaustive study by French economist Thomas Picketty, Capital in the 21st Century, shows that in the United States there is an extreme concentration of national wealth in the hands of the top 10% of the population (the upper class). They own 70% of the nation's wealth compared to the bottom 50% (the lower class) that owns only 5% of capital. If the population of the US is about 300 million that means 3,000,000 wealthy people own more than 10 times what the poorest 150 million American's own. The ownership figure for the top decile is probably closer to 72% since wealth is self-reported. If the capital accumulation trend continues, by 2030 the rich could own upwards of 90% of capital, a level of inequality not seen since the Belle Epoch of Europe.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Female Lions Get Hairy in Botswana

A few female in lions in northern Botswana have a unique genetic disposition.  They grow manes just like a male lion.  Male lions are not homosexual as a rule, but when two maned lions are seen mating in the bush it turns not just the tourists' heads.  These two maned lions photographed in Botswana by Nicole Cambré while on safari are most probably a male and his light-maned female mate.  Panthera, the big cat conservation organization, says the probable explanation for the oddity is that a female fetus is exposed to increased levels of male androgen, such as testosterone, during development.  Other species have evolved masculine females--hyenas are the prime example--as an evolutionary response to increased stress of survival in a world overrun by man and his works.

Mission Creep in Iraq

Update: The inevitable occurred Tuesday in Iraq when a Navy special forces operative met his end at the hands of ISIS. The SEAL was killed fighting in northern Iraq.  He is the third American to die in combat there, and typifies the deepening involvement of the Pentagon in a conflict it supposedly ended five years ago.  The sailor was fighting with Kurdish peshmerga near Tel Asqof, twenty-eight kilometers north of the ISIS stronghold of Mosul.  Mosul is in the Pentagon's crosshairs; it intends to retake the city as part of the effort to degrade the terror organization.  ISIS briefly occupied the Tel Asqof but were driven off by Kurdish troops with US air support.

19.04.16 During a visit to the war zone, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced more American troops and advanced weaponry will be sent to Iraq to support its army's attempt to retake the northern city of Mosul from ISIS. Two American special forces have been killed in combat since the US withdrew most of its armed forces in 2011. The Pentagon will send Apache attack copters and missile launchers to support the upcoming assault on Mosul that has been in the hands of the terror group for two years. The Current Occupant told a media interviewer that the city should fall by the end of this year; he hopes. Up until now the Iraqi army has proved remarkably inept, requiring deepening US military involvement in the sectarian war it helped create. President Obama does not want to leave office with a major defeat for American Iraq policy on the books.  About two hundred more American "advisors" are now authorized to accompany smaller Iraqi units in operations close to the front lines.   The latest incremental increase in military force in Iraq is part of a two year pattern.  However, the mission creep has not always been acknowledged by the administration or the Pentagon.  When Baghdad was close to falling to ISIS in 2014 the US rushed in 1500 troops to support the approximately 170 that stayed behind the general withdrawal. That level quickly rose to 3000 by April 2015. The current authorized level is 4000, but personnel spending less than four months in the zone are not counted towards overall troop levels. More American troops seem likely to revisit the Iraq war and possibly die there, especially if the Iraqi army proves itself incapable of retaking its second city.