Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Deadly Drone War

Since 2001 the United States has conducted extraterritorial air strikes using unmanned drones (UAVs). The Current Occupant has significantly increased the number of approved strikes compared to his predecessor in office. This infographic compiled by the London Bureau of Investigative Journalism shows the approximate location and time of reported UAV strikes in Pakistan from to 2004 to last year. Note that the number of civilian deaths is six times the number of high-value terrorist deaths.  In some cases targets are chosen without knowing the identity of the victim, so-called "signature strikes".

Friday, July 29, 2016

'Toontime: Blah, Ba-blah, Blah, Blah....

credit: Glenn McCoy
Wackdoodle sez:  Ayah, but the change didn't change the change the last time we voted change!
It is very sad that it has come to this in 'Merica: we are encouraged to vote for shills to stop the truly dangerous

Thursday, July 28, 2016

COTW: The Only Map that Counts

And so it begins in earnest, the counting and recounting of electoral votes in the 2016 cycle. This map produced by a self-proclaimed Libertarian--that curious combination of social liberty coupled to capitalist economics--blogging at is as good as any and somewhat humorous to boot:

As we all should know it takes 270 of the super voters to be installed in the oval room of the White House. The map shows Ms. Clinton with 347 votes based on her carrying states her husband won in 1992 and 96 plus several swing states. The conservative tilt to the Democratic ticket is intended to encroach on GOP territory in the Midwest and South marked here as the "Racist Belt"; our featured blogger names this strategy the "Electoral Axis of Evil". Amen to that, brother. US Person, aka "Brand X" thinks Ms. Clinton's margin of victory will be closer than that, perhaps below 300. If this prediction comes to past, US Person is relieved he will not have to immigrate.

Mexico Bans Gill Nets in California Gulf

In an effort to save the vaquita, (Phocoena sinus) the world's smallest member of the porpoise family, Mexico will ban the use of gill nets in the Upper Gulf of California beginning in September.  Vaquitas are ensnared in gill nets fishermen use to catch totoaba, a fish species valuable in Chinese traditional medicine.   Only sixty individuals are thought to survive in the wild making it the most critically endangered marine mammal in the world. {28.03.16} By the end of the year, night fishing will also be banned and fishermen will be required to land and unload at designated locations so their catch and equipment can be checked by authorities.

The United States and Mexico have signed a bi-lateral agreements to enforce laws to stop illegal fishing and end the trade in totoaba swim bladders.  Abandoned equipment is also posing a threat to vaquitas, so the agreements include a long term program to identify, collect and dispose of illegal and derelict fishing gear.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Ivory Poaching Boss Convicted

Kenya has finally prosecuted to a successful conclusion a high level trafficker in ivory.  Conservationists say this is the first such case in Kenyan history.  Feisal Ali Mohamed was sentenced last Friday to twenty years in prison and fined $200,000 for dealing in nearly half million dollars in illegal ivory.  That amount of poached ivory represents the lives of at least 120 elephants.  The judge in the case acquitted five others charged with Mohamed, finding they were "unknowingly" involved in Mohamed's illegal transactions.  He was arrested in Mombasa in June 2014 attempting to move more than two metric tons of ivory. He escaped there but was rearrested in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania in December.  INTERPOL had placed him on a wanted list a month before.    Poaching has become more systematic and sophisticated now that international crime gangs dominate the trade.  The court case was a challenging one with three different magistrates hearing it. Another case for evidence tampering in Mohamed's prosecution is ongoing. Mohamed's lawyers will appeal his conviction.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Resignation Not Enough

Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz was forced to resign the convention chair because her email leaks, courtesy Wikkileaks, proved what we already know, that the Democratic establishment was operating to deny Bernie Sanders the nomination.  What is happening now is what US Person predicted: the credible candidate to defeat the 'Prince of Darkness' was rejected by the establishment in favor of the symbolic nomination of a conservative woman.  That woman is proving problematic for her party because her reputation and scandal ("Crooked Hillary") is uniting a side previously in disarray.  Trump now leads her in some polls.  But the disruption caused by the Wasserman leaks is symptomatic of a deeper problem in the Democratic Party.

The established Democratic Party has literally sold its political soul to the Money Power.  It can no longer credibly claim to be the party of the workers when its standard bearer is so beholding to Wall Street financiers. Instead of trying to unite a divided party by nominating Bernie Sanders for the vice-president, a legitimate representative of the middle and working classes whose campaign refused corporate funding, Ms. Clinton continues to pander to the plutocracy by selecting a relatively unknown conservative from Virginia.  US Person does not know if Sanders would have accepted the job if offered, but he is fairly sure it was never seriously discussed by Clinton.  However, there is still time at the convention to correct her mistake.

Wasserman-Schultz's willingness to play dirty politics against an unexpectedly successful challenge from Sanders is revealed in her digital correspondence. She was willing to use the issue of religion, or the lack of any, against Bernie.  Although Jewish by heritage, Sanders has said he is not religious. Note here he did not say he was atheistic. Although Sanders has consistently voted with the Democratic Party in Congress, Wasserman accused him of not having an understanding of it.  Many of the leaked emails do not seem to be offering very effective advice on how to combat Sanders and his loyal supporters, but rather express a childish, fervent wish that he would simply give up and go away. They also reveal a cynical and disparaging attitude towards Clinton's donors and supporters of Bernie, respectively termed "clowns" and "BernieBros". Clearly it is a cynicism born of privileged insider status and long experience in a corrupted political system.  Blame the Russians for Democratic disunity if you must, Madam Secretary, but you have only yourself to blame for "helping Moscow".

US Person is not sure what Sanders hoped to accomplish with his somewhat quixotic presidential campaign. If he expected to force real change upon the Democratic Party, so long corrupted by the Money Power, he was mistaken. Capturing the nomination was always a long shot. Perhaps what he can do best now is to lead a third force to establish a new political base independent from the two plutocratic fronts that control American politics. Uniting behind Hillary Clinton is simply endorsing more of the same musical chairs that now passes as televised democracy in 'Merica.

Friday, July 22, 2016

'Toontime: They Said It Could Not Be Done

credit: Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News
Well, "he dodit", as Bugs Bunny said.  US Person had the same sickening feeling when a beguiled 'Merican public voted a former B-list actor and corporate pitchman their President.  This time his nausea is greater because the current pretender has even less talent and ability than Ronnie Raygun.  A narcissistic, scamming billionaire, who uses foreign press conferences to tout his latest real estate venture, is only one political contest away from the oval room against an opponent who is herself damaged goods.  That fact is testament not to Donald Trump's ability to lead a floppy-disk nation, but to the ideological bankruptcy of the plutocratic front.  America has to wake up from its delusional dream of once-upon-a-time in greater [white] 'Merica that is stolen from Ronnie.  Ronnie, of course, stole it from an obscure failed artist from Austria--a good theme deserves a reprise.  But if Americans are to actually have a non-negative future in a nation that remotely adheres to its professed principles of equality and democracy, they must first reject the Prince of Darkness and all his works.

BC Idonwanna sez:  You have future in blogosphere!
credit: Steve Sack, Star Tribune

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Insects In Decline

What data is available from a few direct studies of insect populations indicates that worldwide insect numbers are in decline.  Scientists have only classified one million species of insects; there are perhaps 4 million more unrecorded. Immature people with invertebrate phobias may say, "good news", but NOT.  Insects are responsible for keeping ecosystems in balance and they contribute immensely to man's ability to feed himself through pollination and predation on crop-munching insects.  Bees are the 'poster child' of a general decline in insect populations with a 30-40% decline caused by colony collapse syndrome.  Monarch butterflies are another high profile case of disappearing insects; their caterpillar's only food plant, milkweed, has been severely impacted by herbicide use and cultivation. Scientist worry that because the insect world is so large, gradual declines may not be immediately apparent until its too late.  According to global monitoring data for 452 species there has been a 45% decline in invertebrate populations over the last forty years.   Of course the causes of insect mortality are well known: abuse of pesticides, overuse of nitrogen fertilizer, the spread of monoculture, and destruction of natural habitat.  Another possible threat is the increase in atmospheric CO₂ which has reduced the protein contained in pollen by thirty percent since 1842.

A group of British conservation organizations say three-quarters of the world's flowering plants, including human food plants, rely on pollination by invertebrates to produce seeds.  One-third of human crop production by volume is so dependent.  Insects are a vital food source for amphibians, birds, and small mammals such as bats.  Predatory insects consume a massive amount of pest species that damage crops.  Insects, therefore, are an indispensable part of Earth's web of life.

To fully understand the problem more monitoring of insect populations on a global basis is needed.  Citizen science can play a role here.  If 800,000 Indians can come together in Udar Pradesh to plant a record number of trees, then gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts can be trained to collect badly needed data for making meaningful population comparisons. In some places like Europe enough data has been collected already to begin addressing the root problem of insect declines.  But changing entrenched methods of agriculture that is poisoning the landscape is difficult.  Governments have yet to take the possibility of the collapse of agriculture as the existential threat that it is.

Deepwater Horizon Still Kills

Six years after the event that set a record for US oil spills, the Deepwater Horizon blowout and fire is still killing wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.  Ultraviolet light is transforming remaining oil suspended in the water into compounds much more toxic to fish, causing cardiac development abnormalities in a wide range of fish species.  Researchers from the University of California, Riverside, South Carolina Medical University and University of Miami exposed embryos of mahi-mahi to weathered oil and compared changes in the RNA to embryos exposed to oil from the 2010 spill.  Embryos exposed to weathered oil developed impaired eye and neurological functions, reduced heart rates and pericardial edema.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Volkswagen in Deeper Trouble Over Emissions Scandal

After predictably settling with the corporate-friendly federal government for its emissions misrepresentations the scandal {07.10.15} got much worse Tuesday when the attorneys general for the states of New York, Massachusetts and Maryland announced they would seek damages for fraud since their nine month investigation reveals the company engaged in a "cunningly cynical fraud" at the heart of the scandal.  While deceiving regulators about its passenger car diesel engine's ability to meet air quality standards in the period 2009-14, the company ran television ads touting its clean diesel technology.  In 2010 Audi's A3 diesel won an award for "Green Car of the Year", and its Super Bowl ad was the second most watched commercial in history according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The EPA charged Volkswagen last year with violating the Clean Air Act.  The company had intentionally programmed its passenger diesel engines to detect and pass emissions test while they emitted forty times the allowed amount of nitrogen-oxide compounds, NOx, normal operating conditions. Investigators think the company deliberately pursued a corporate policy of deceit when it discovered their engines could not meet US emission standards for automobiles.  Volkswagen initially attempted to blame its fraudulent behavior on "rogue engineers", but since then investigators have discovered dozens of VW employees destroyed documents in order to cover-up the deliberate deception.   Implicated employees include CEO, Mathais Müller.  A debilitated federal EPA settled with the company for a $10 billion consumer buy-back program, $2.7 billion in environmental remediation, and $2 in clean technology investment.  Chump change for a successful international car maker earning profits of $14.25 billion in 2014.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Court Reverses Navy Use of Sonar

The Federal Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling allowing the Navy to use low frequency sonar during its training exercises.  The appeals judges said in their opinion the permission granted in a 2012 court case was erroneous and sent the it back for further proceedings.  Low frequency sonar interferes with marine mammals normal behavior and can even cause death.  The Navy admitted in a 2012 study acoustic sources and sonar use more than 2.5 million times annually exposed marine animals to sounds considered “disturbing”, while around 500 times a year marine animals were exposed to sound levels that were considered to result in injury. Conservation groups led by the National Resource Defense Council brought the appeal of a National Marine Fisheries Service permit that allowed the Navy to impact about thirty whales and two dozen pinnipeds each year.  The appeals court ruled 3-0 that the permit violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act which requires the least practicable impact on marine mammals.  The Navy's current permit expires this year.

Tumors Are Killing Sea Turtles

credit: K. Jones, James Cook U.
Another sign of the times, perhaps: tumors caused by a herpes virus fibropapillomatosis, is debilitating and eventually killing sea turtles in alarming numbers on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.[photo]  Once again pollution is thought to be the causative factor.  US Person is aware of the silent conspiracy against mentioning the epidemic of cancer that affects not only humans, but wildlife too.  Since the turn of the 20th century, health statistics show that cancer and heart disease have become the leading human killers now that modern germ theory and effective medications have reduced deaths due to infectious diseases.

Sea turtles have no effective immune defense against tumors that grow up to 30 cm across on eyes, flippers, tail, shell or internal organs.  Eventually the tumors become so large they prevent the animal from foraging, or they become vulnerable to predators and other infections because of their weakened condition.  The tumorous infections seem to be localized to hot spots where there is heavy human activity.  Magnetic Island in Cockle Bay is a popular tourist destination on the reef.  There half the turtles have fibropapillomatosis whereas less than ten percent of turtles living in Cockle Bay have the condition.  Similar herpes tumors are seen in Florida and Hawaii, especially near farming operations on shore.  Apparently pollution weakens the turtles immune systems allowing the tumors to grow unchecked.  The next step in the scientific investigation of the epidemic is isolating the toxic agent in water samples.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

COTW: Not Obama's Fault?

Daily Kos is running some social trend charts labeled, "not Obama's fault". US Person thinks these charts are also not Obama's fault, but then he has done precious little to counteract the militaristic influence on 'Merican police departments.  Perhaps fifteen years of uninterrupted war abroad has some noxious domestic side effects?  Even a casual member of this society knows mass shooting incidents are on the rise as its marginal members loose grip on reality and morality. Persons who perpetrate such horrendous attacks are truly "dead-enders". Their only remaining goal in life is to take as many other humans with them as they check out of "Hotel California" forever, and we provide the means. Here's the FBI chart:

As society becomes more dangerously violent, police are also loosing their grip except for the one they have on their holster. Blacks, who occupy lower social strata, and do not have the means to insulate themselves from police violence are receiving the brunt of the malfeasance, as this chart shows:

Blacks are about 13% of 'Merican population, but are more than three times as likely to be killed by police.  The disparities are even more glaring when racial categories are broken down by age in the CDC chart:

To be a young black man in 'Merica is to walk the streets with a target on your back.  The rate of police homicide for them is seven times the average of all races combined.  Native Americans still suffer the from the historic hostility of the European occupiers.  So, no, these statistics are not "Obama's fault".  This despicable situation is a symptom of 'Merica's original sins: genocide, slavery and segregation.  As the first black President, Obama was irrationally expected to absolve us of these.  But 'Merica does not get to pass "GO" so easily.

Friday, July 15, 2016

'Toontime: Burning Man

credit: Joe Heller

Wackydoodle sez: Hey, ya'al tolded me irony was dead!

Damn platforms are made to be ignored in modern political 'Merica. William Jennings Bryant set the precedent in 1896 when he dead-ended the Peoples' Party with a free-silver plank sponsored by mining magnates.  Despite Bernie's reluctant, disappointing endorsement of 'Crooked Hillary', the Wall Street dame, the former Secretary of Empire is having problems staying ahead of the Donald. He seems content to run his presidential campaign by tweets which is a perfect format for someone syntactically challenged.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cold War Redux

Reuters: NATO in Estonia
Informed observers know that the West engages in anti-Russian propaganda and has done so since the end of WWII.  Perhaps earlier in the Cold War some of NATO's rhetoric against the Soviet Union was justified by the facts on the ground, but now NATO bombast is nothing more than a sales pitch to keep the war machine grinding out profits for weapons manufacturers.  What disturbs US Person is that NATO leaders may be beginning to believe their own lies about Russia and Russian intentions under Vladimir Putin.  NATO leaders should know that there is no credible evidence Putin provoked the 2014 Ukraine crisis.  What evidence is available shows the US influencing domestic Ukrainian politics.  A senior State Department official (Victoria Nuland) was caught on tape calling one Ukrainian candidate for president, "our guy".  Putin was trying to maintain the Ukrainian status quo by supporting the duly elected leader of that country, Yanukovych, not foment a coup.

In the days leading up to the Warsaw summit held recently, a Polish general and chairman of NATO's military committee said the deployment of more NATO multinational troops along Russia's Baltic border with Europe was a "political not a military act" arising out of necessity.  General Pavel went further, telling a news conference, "such [Russian] aggression is not on the agenda and no intelligence assessment suggests such a thing."  Nevertheless NATO espouses exactly that in its joint communique, condemning "Russian aggression".  A classic example of Washington group think swallowed whole by the militarily dependent nations of Europe.  This comes just days after Britain's Chilcot Inquiry showed in minute detail how the Iraq War was caused not by Hussein's non-existent WMD, but by a steady drumbeat of agitprop emanating from the Bush White House, specifically from the Vice-President's office. 

Instead of the truth about relations between Russia and the West, western leaders endorse dangerous lies.  The NATO communique also says Russia invaded the Crimea, conveniently eluding the fact that 96% of ethnic Russians living in Crimea voted to join their motherland. It also ignores the elephant still in the room: two recent western alliance 'interventions' in Libya and Iraq.  NATO calls Russia's military maneuvers within its own borders "provocative", while NATO transports four new battalions eastward to the Baltics, a move it characterizes as merely a response to Russia's "fundamental challenge" to the alliance.

Why do NATO leaders engage in such elaborate double-think?  Are they insane? No, but they are critically sensitive to their countries' economic interests.  Weapons are big business and America is the world's biggest arsenal.  Reassuring our European allies is costing us $789 million in 2016 and that expense will climb to $3.4 billion in 2017. The alliance recently completed its largest military exercise ever, "Anakonda 2016", involving 31,000 troops, half of which were American.  No wonder Putin reverently wishes in his public remarks that NATO would come to its senses before an irreversible mistake is made.  However, the Pentagon has decided anti-insurgency is not its thing.  What it is built for is "high end" conflict in a game of great power competition.  Just call US Person a misanthropic "stooge" for fearing the Pentagon's contemplation of the unthinkable: all-out nuclear warfare.  Russia is no stateless group of terrorists marauding the desert from the back of pick-up trucks.  As one perceptive blogger put it, "We are the Empire". 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

US House Reports 'Too Big to Jail'

The results of the US House of Representatives three year investigation of why Wall Street execs escaped accountability for the global economic melt down in 2008 was released yesterday.  Its findings are not surprising.  The Current Occupant's administration decided the plutocrats were too big to jail for their rampant fraud and abuse of the financial system.  Who cares about fines, they are deductible as a cost of doing business on the Street.  What is needed is jail time to insure accountability, and that is exactly what the administration led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, now enjoying a comfy job at his old corporate mouthpiece Covington and Burling, helped the "banksters" to avoid.  In fact Covington lawyers whose client list is a who's who of corporate Amerika, drafted the legal justification for the private database that facilitated mortgage backed security trading by eliminating the necessity of filing mortgage records in each county where the encumbered real property is located.  As Salon says his job is an affront to Americans, but actually it is just business a usual in DC.

The Justice Department recommended that British based HSBC be prosecuted for money laundering and related offenses, but Holder overruled that recommendation.  It also appears from the record developed by the House Financial Services Committee that the UK's own investigation of HSBC hampered DOJ's disposition of the HSBC case.  UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne sent a letter to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke complaining that DOJ was unfairly targeting a British bank, and ominously warned that a prosecution could lead to "financial contagion" that would destabilize the European banking system. A felony conviction could have led to revocation of HSBC charter to do business in the United States.  The influence worked. DOJ backed off its prosecution recommendation; Holder offered a deferred prosecution deal that HSBC was able to further modify in its favor. The Attorney General then mislead Congress in testimony about the reasons HSBC was not criminally prosecuted. It took the House investigators three years to obtain the documents showing how the DOJ decision was altered by raw political power.  What the committee staff report proves, is what we knew all along: the banks are too big to fail or prosecute for their criminal behavior.  Equal before the law?  Some are much more equal than others, especially if you are a big bank.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Borneo's Great Ape Endangered

baby orangs rescued from a trafficker, credit J. Hanafiah
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared the Borneo orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) is critically endangered with extinction in the wild.  The listing is an admission that efforts to conserve the animal's remaining rain forest habitat on the Indonesian island have failed.  The organization reports that human hunting and forest destruction are the main drivers of extinction.

In 2010 only about sixty percent of the orangutan's forest home was protected.  Continued logging and clearances have disrupted orangutan populations and lifestyle to the point that endangers their health and reproductive ability.  These remnant populations surviving in isolated patches of forest are on a downward trajectory and there is little conservationists can do to help them.  Coupled with the lowest reproductive rate in the primate family--females produce only once every six to eight years--the species' future on Borneo is grim.  The IUCN noted that a projected 86% reduction in population between 1973 and 2025 qualifies the orangutan for listing. Conservationists looking on the bright side, say all is not lost for the orangutan in the wild.  The primates adapt to degraded forests better than expected, and new commitments from the Indonesian government and corporations to protect orangutans and their habitat from development give hope for the future.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Spix's McCaw Resurrected from Extinction

Shakespeare wrote that there are more things in heaven and Earth than thought by man.  The reappearance of Spix's macaw (Cyanositta spixii) after a fifteen year absence in the wild proves the rule.  The species, made famous in the animated movie "Rio", was considered by science to be probably extinct in the wild.  Only about 130 captive individuals survived the onslaught of forest habitat destruction and the pet trade.  Then, in June this year, farmer Nauto Oliveira spotted a macaw near Curaçá and recorded its flight and call.  SAVE Brazil (Society for the Conservation of Birds in Brazil) confirmed the macaw is a Spix.  Conservationists are elated since the sighting means reintroduction of surviving macaws can be accomplished successfully.  If a wild bird can find sufficient dry Caatinga forest habitat to live in, so can released birds if managed properly. The hope is the macaw is not alone and has a mate. [photo] Over 100,000 acres of their dry forest habitat around the small city is now protected.

Spix's macaw was probably never very widespread.  It was first reported by scientists in 1819 and was not seen again until 1903.  In 1986 searchers found three individuals, but poachers took those. Over the next two decades only a few more birds were located.  In 2000 the macaw seemed to have disappeared until the recent sighting. The local community has embraced the bird or birds, setting up anti-poaching patrols.  Spix's macaw is now an icon of the city and residents are anticipating its reintroduction into the wild.

'Toontime: Crooks Versus Scofflaws

credit: Gary Varvel, Indianapolis Star
Wackydoodle sez: But you are reckless!

How "extremely careless" differs materially from the statutory standard of "grossly negligent" is almost too fine a distinction except for the rarefied atmosphere of Washington, DC in an election year.  What bothers US Person most about the FBI's recommendation of no prosecution for Ms. Clinton's refusal to abide by State Department communication security is that General David Petraeus was prosecuted for a similar mishandling of classified information.  Petraeus gave eight "black books" privately to Paula Broadwell, a journalist and mistress, who was writing about him. The books contained codes and classified information.  None of the classified information given out was used in Ms. Broadwell's subsequent biography of General Petraeus.  Nor was he running for President as the candidate of a major political party when he pled guilty to a misdemeanor.  Some commentators point to the fact that the General lied to investigators about his leak to account for different treatment.  However, the FBI noted that in some instances the former Secretary was less than straightforward and cooperative in their and the State Department's investigation of her.

It is undisputed that Petraeus' leak was intentional; he made that admission as part of his plea agreement.  Ms. Clinton's use of an insecure server to conduct official business was also intentional, even arrogant, but she did not intentionally leak classified information to her knowledge.  Eight email chains contained information classified "top secret", the highest classification; thirty-six contained "secret" information.  Because her leaks were digital, they had the potential of doing more harm since they could have been seen by state enemies without her knowledge or consent.

Further, the operative statute in both cases does not require mens rea of intentionality.  It does require a higher level of culpability than mere negligence (18USC1924).  In US Person's opinion the FBI director's own public statement that she was "extremely reckless" in her handling of classified information indicates her culpability rises above mere negligence.   It may be a more difficult case to prove, but is it justice to simply ignore the former Secretary's intentional breach of the public's trust by insisting she use her own insecure server to conduct public business, often while abroad? Not so much. She should have known that her private communications could contain classified information. Ordinary citizens have been prosecuted for less.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

COTW: Civilian Casualties Mount in Afghanistan

courtesy: United Nations
The number of civilian casualties in the fifteen year war continues to climb.  The UN said earlier this year that 2015 was the deadliest since the organization began keeping statistics in 2009.  Over eleven thousand casualties were counted, up 4% above 2014 according to the UN mission to Afghanistan.  A fierce battle for Kunduz and Taliban suicide attacks in Kabul contributed to the mounting civilian casualties, but the United States also contributed to the grim figures by destroying a charity hospital in October. {09.09.08, Winning Hearts and Minds}  That attack killed 42 and injured 43 more.  The United Nations said both sides have failed to adhere to commitments to avoid civilian casualties.  The statistics do not convey the chaos of a disintegrating society plagued by war for two generations.  About a third of the casualties in 2016 are children; both the Taliban and Afghan government forces use child soldiers. Although the US is slowly withdrawing from Afghanistan, the Taliban is responding to the withdrawal by stepping up its attacks.  No prospect for a peace agreement or even a ceasefire are in sight.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

US Backed Militia Suffers Defeat

A much advertised offensive by a Syrian militia organized by the United States ended in failure last Wednesday. The Boukamal offensive intended to capture the last ISIS held border crossing between Iraq and Syria. It was launched last week with intensive US air support. New Syrian Army fighters managed to briefly capture an airfield at Hamdan before retreating back to their base at Tanf, 150 miles to the west of the border, after loosing some vehicles and four fighters. The United States has had limited success in finding and supporting "partners" in the fight against ISIS. Only the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces have wrested territory from the terror group in Syria's north. Because NATO partner Turkey is combating it own Kurdish insurgency, the US has been reluctant to embrace Kurdish aspirations of nationhood. The one thousand man New Syrian Army was trained by the United States and British special forces with the Jordanian army acting in an advisory role. Pentagon sources refuse to say how much or what type of support the militia army is receiving. It is made up of Syrian army defectors, local militia groups, and indigenous Islamist fighters. They use almost exclusively American made weapons.

A 200 man rebel attacking force managed to escape ISIS encirclement at Hamdan with the help of US air strikes and reinforcements from another US equipped unit. A New Syrian Army fighter who escaped destruction said his group hoped for support from local Sunni tribesmen, but the aid did not materialize. Since 2014 when it declared the "caliphate", ISIS has conducted a campaign of intimidation along the border to prevent defections among resident Sunnis who freely cross it back and forth. Among the Sunni Shueitat tribe that lives near Boukamal, one thousand members are missing or believed beheaded by the terrorists. A Jordanian advisor said no support will be forthcoming from potential resistors until they know ISIS will be defeated because they fear the organization's well known brutality. The US officer in charge of the failed campaign said it was "a very tough fight", but acknowledged the setback.

In a related development, the outgoing White House occupant cancelled a planned reduction in force for Afghanistan. Obama told reporters that American force level there will remain at over 8,000 for the remainder of his term. The decision is a recognition of the country's "precarious" security circumstances. The United States despite fifteen years of war has been unable to eliminate the Taliban and Afghanistan's army is unable to effectively function alone despite huge amounts of US military aid. He had expected to leave about five and half thousand in country, but recent attacks by the Taliban caused him to slow down the withdrawal. Obama is acutely aware of handing his successor an untenable military situation in Afghanistan and his legacy of failure to end America's flawed, costly interventions in the Middle East. Afghan civilian casualties are at a record high and thirty-eight Americans have died in fighting in the last eighteen months. A Taliban spokesman twitted that what Obama could not do with 149,000 troops, he cannot do with 8400. Apparently the Taliban are good at math.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Canada's First Nations Stop Trans-Rockies Pipe

First Nations were successful in stopping Enbridge Inc's controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline intended to bring Alberta bitumen to the Pacific coast at Kitimat oil terminal. A federal appeals court found the government of Canada failed to effectively consult with affected First Nations and revoked the company's permit. Substantial consultation with First Nations affected by development projects is required by the federal constitution. The lawsuit against the project was brought by seven tribes, four environmental organizations and one labor union. Haida nation's leader described the decision as another nail in the coffin of the Northern Gateway project. The $7.9 billion project was proposed in the mid-oughts and was postponed several times. Recently the new Liberal prime minister, Justin Trudeau, banned tanker traffic from the stormy north coast of British Columbia.

Monday, July 04, 2016

North Dakota Rejects Corporate Farms

North Dakota family farmer, circa 1924
Ordinarily you do not think of North Dakota in terms of progressive politics, or at least after some more obvious choices such as Vermont or Massachusetts.  But it does have its own publicly-owned state bank, something neither Vermont or Massachusetts can boast about.  Here is another North Dakotan progressive fact: its citizens voted again to ban corporate ownership of farms in the state.  US Person spelled that right, no corporate ownership!  The ban has been in place for eighty-four years, passed in the depths of the Greatest Depression. Only nine states prohibit or limit corporate ownership of farms.  The North Dakota legislature passed a measure in March to end the ban for dairy and pork operations, but a grass-roots campaign subjected the measure to a referendum. Seventy-five percent voted against the measure.

North Dakota has a history of populist politics as do many rural mid-western states.  The region was the epicenter of the Populist reform movement at the end of the 19th century, culminating in the adoption of the radical "Omaha Platform" of the People's Party on July 4, 1892¹.  The Peoples' Party sought a "middle road" between the business-dominated Republicans and the southern-dominated Democrats.  Their intention was to "fight it straight" by opposing both major parties.  Unfortunately for America this original domestic revolution was undermined by free-silverites.  Bimetalism was incorrectly viewed by many cash-strapped agrarians as the panacea that would free them from the gold chains of eastern bankers who controlled credit. The Populists were co-opted by the Democrats under the fusion banner of the "boy orator of the Platte", William Jennings Bryant.

Bryant was no Populist, but he was shrewd enough to embrace free-silver support backed by mining interests.  He promised the Democratic convention of 1896 that the plutocrats would not "crucify man on a cross of gold."  He was wrong; William McKinley was elected in the midst of another depression after an expensive campaign largely funded by corporations. America still suffers that crucifixion a century later in the form of mounting debt and declining real wages.  Another reality is possible: in Populist leader L.L. Polk's eloquent words, the people could "link their hands and hearts together and march to the ballot box and take possession of the government, restore it to the principles of our fathers, and run it in the interests of the people."  In the 21st century, this is the revolution still required.

1. Ignatius Donnelly of Minnesota, a respected orator in a party full of powerful orators thanks to its heritage of the Farmer's Alliance speakers bureau, told the gathered thousands in his keynote address, "This continent is the last great camping ground of the human race.  If liberty fails here, it fails forever.  Every oppressed nation in the world is looking upon this convention to discover whether....the stars and stripes shall float across the country steadily rising....or if it shall float a solemn mockery above a land cursed as Europe is cursed--the middle class driven off the land, while concentrated in the hands of the few is the wealth provided by the toiler." The essence of the third party movement as Donnelly said in his platform preamble was to "restrain the extortions of aggregated capital", and "restore the government of the republic to the hands of the plain people."  He warned against the distractions of "sham battles" so as to loose sight of "the sacrifice of our homes and children upon the altar of Mammon."  To which the notorious scofflaw US Person cries from the uni-sex latrine, "Amen",   American socialism?  You betcha!

2. The 1986 Republican presidential campaign run by Ohio industrialist Mark Hannah set precedent for modern American political campaigns that are still followed to this day.  Hannah organized this nation's first national mass advertising campaign aimed at the minds of American people.  It sought to shape the way they thought about political power, who should have it and why.  It was hugely successful.  The nation's new business concentrations headquartered in New York financed the expensive effort, the most expensive in US political history up to then.  Standard Oil chipped in $250,000, a figure matched by the "banker's banker" JP Morgan.  James J. Hill, the railroad magnate was also deeply involved in the campaign, as was the New York Life insurance president.  Collectively these representatives of corporate America managed to turn the Republican's outmoded "bloody shirt" rhetoric into the very definition of patriotism.  The flag became an omnipresent icon of McKinley's hard money crusade.  Three quarters of million paraded beneath it down New York's streets on a national "flag day" organized to support McKinley's candidacy. Democrats became so frustrated by the tactic they began tearing up flags to the delight of their opponents. Bryant and the silverites became agents of anarchy in his campaign terms, contrasted to McKinley as the "advance agent of prosperity".  The Democratic Party was charged with being too friendly to "foreigners, immigrants and anarchists"; this charge hurled by the most exclusive, white Protestant, business party that ever metamorphosed from abolitionist origins in American history.  All of this mesmerizing agitprop was accomplished before TV and radio!  Sound eerily familiar in the 21st century?  It does because Mark Hannah invented it over one hundred years ago. That triumph of the corporate state over Jeffersonian notions of democracy circumscribed the permissible dialogue of reform since then; you have Hillary Clinton as the prime example of what that long-ago triumph has wrought.

Friday, July 01, 2016

'Toontime: The Un-Choice

credit: Jeff Danziger

Wackydoodle axes: Y'all got a license for that roscoe? 
It is enough to make you vote Green! If the latest Quinnipac poll means anything, 'Mericans do not expect either major party candidate will make a good president.  Independent voters, the much talked about "swing vote", are evenly split in their negative opinion about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  The poll also shows the two candidates are running about evenly with Clinton at 42% and Trump at 40%.  This horse race predicament of national politics which is increasingly apparent, shows why the United States needs a viable third party and direct popular election of the most powerful person in the country. As the popular song says, "suicide brings many changes".  Does America have to commit such a desperate act to bring the changes it needs?