Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Chernobyl Reactor Confined

A new 36,000 ton arch, the largest mobile construction on Earth, was finally moved over the ruins of Chernobyl's Reactor #4 and its temporary concrete sarcophagus.  A ceremony Tuesday marked the historic event.   The arch with a span of 257m was moved two tenths of a mile into position.  The structure will make the destroyed reactor site safe and is designed to remain in use for a hundred years.  This time will be used to slowly dismantle the makeshift concrete containment and dispose of its contaminated remains.  The containment was built by a consortium of French firms which started work in 2010. 

Thirty years ago Chernobyl #4 burnt to the ground during an ill-planned stress test during which power to the reactor was shut down.  The graphite fire produced updrafts that lasted nine days and heaved tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere that spread over Europe.  The disaster was classified a level 7 event, and that has only been equaled by the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.  It is the costliest nuclear accident in history in terms of money and casualties.  Hundreds of "liquidators" died fighting the flames and removing intensely radioactive debris. The Director General of Chernobyl Nuclear Power said the arch was constructed not only to protect the present generation, but  "for our children, our grandchildren and for our great grandchildren.  This is our contribution to the future, in line with our responsibility to those who will come after us."

Worst Bleaching Event on Record

The northern Great Barrier Reef suffered the worst bleaching event in its recorded history in 2015-16 due to elevated water temperatures.  About 26% of corals died in this region of the reef according to Australian scientists at James Cook University, Queensland.  The southern reaches of the Reef south of Mackay fared better with a 1% or less loss of coral.  Corals can recover from brief periods of warming, but prolonged elevation of water temperatures is fatal. In warmer water, corals eject the symbiotic algae that provide them with nutrients turning their skeletal structures white.  It will take 10-15 years for the coral to regrow, but in the interim another warming event, often associated with El Niño, could cause more devastation.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Viva Fidel!, Viva La Revolución!

Hero of the Revolution, Fidel Castro (1926-2016) enters Batista's Havana with his comrades, January 1959

CUBA BEFORE                                                     CUBA AFTER
Infant Mortality: 60%                                                   6.33%
Access to health care: limited by income                      100.0%
Literacy: >1 million illiterate, more semi-literate        99.8%
Higher Education: limited by social class                           34%
Telephone service:  limited availability                              Free
Housing units built since 1959:                            >2 million
Life expectancy:  59                                                       71.9

Friday, November 25, 2016

Green Candidate Finances Recount in 3 States

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has raised enough money to require a manual recount in three states that hold the margin of victory in the Electoral College.  That a recount would deny Trump a victory in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin is unlikely. Trump won those states by significant margins.  Stein said the reason for the recount effort was to insure the integrity of the US voting system.  There are reports that some of the automated voting machines used in Wisconsin are vulnerable to hacking and malicious reprogramming.  Manual recounts are not trivial undertakings because the cost is staggering.  Beside the million dollar filing fees, recount expenses are estimated to bring the total cost to $6-7 million.  Stein came in fourth in the election behind the libertarian candidate.  Clinton won the popular vote by about 2 million votes, but lost the official Electoral College count, 306 to 232* [map].

*Want some idea of what 'Merica is in for under Trump?  Just read what he did in a small town in Scotland while loosing $1.36 million!

Wild Turkeys Return to New England

credit: L. Manowitz
Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) have not inhabited New England since the 19th century, but thanks to conservation efforts the birds number in the tens of thousands and are a common sight in farm fields and roadsides.  The turkey's revival is a major conservation success story.  In Vermont efforts began with the release of 31 birds in Rutland County in 1970-71; they now occupy the entire state with an estimated population of 45-50,000.  Vermont officials have helped neighboring states restore their populations, sending birds to Maine, New Jersey and Rhode Island.  Maine now has turkeys all over the state.  New Hampshire began turkey restoration in the 70's and also enjoys a large population.

credit: AP
Habitat loss due to agriculture was the primary reason for their disappearance in addition to hunting. Turkeys prefer mature forests where they feed on nuts, berries and insects, but have adapted well to harsher suburban environments [photo].  It is not clear from the historical record whether turkey was part of the harvest feast enjoyed by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, MA.  Turkeys are still hunted today.  Want to hear their iconic gobble and the turkey's lesser known calls?
Click here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

COTW: Facist Adventure

'Merica is rapidly moving down the road to fascism.  For your consideration is the chart below that shows how indebted our political system is to corporate funding:

Surprisingly Donald Trump spent the least of all candidates and funded most of his campaign himself with loans. However super PACs contributed heavily to the campaigns with $188 million going to Hillary Clinton and 60 million to Donald Trump as of October.  Of all money going to Democratic candidates in this election cycle, 20% is from super pacs, while Republicans received 57% from super pacs. Only Bernie Sanders distinguished himself from the domination of the Money Power by raising the most money from small donors.

The military spending accounts for 57% of all federal discretionary spending.  Coupled with Trump's nativist tendencies and support, it is not hard to understand why hot-headed US Person says that it is not 'creeping' socialism we have to worry about, but creeping fascism. Not only are our national politics owned by the corporate plutocracy, but the military establishment spends most of the money the government collects from taxpayers. Trump has revealed the domination of government by the military-corporate axis by turning to retired generals to fill important posts in his administration.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Hundred Forty-one Arrested at Standing Rock

Dakota Access Right of Way, credit: T. Sylvester
Update:  The law, as it is euphemistically known, dialed up the violence against Native Americans protesting the exploitation of their water resources by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas, TX on Sunday night.  They sprayed protesters with water cannons for more than six hours in subfreezing temperatures.  According to native media at the site 167 people were injured including an elder who suffered a cardiac arrest. Morton County Sheriff officials claim they were putting out fires started by the protesters, but video shows the fires were started by police using concussion grenades, mace and tear gas.  Observers described the use of non-lethal weapons against peaceful protesters by a militarized police force as "indiscriminate".

The company still lacks a permit to drill under the Missouri River, but has initiated legal action to force the federal government to allow drilling to begin immediately; activists say the drilling rig is already operational.  One native water protector told reporters, "We refuse to be Trumped."

{31.10.16} On Thursday, in the latest confrontation in a history of
confrontations since the founding, law enforcement officials in full riot armor arrested one hundred and forty-one Native Americans protesting the desecration and usurpation of their resources by the European immigrants who now hold dominion over the land. It was the preeminent founder, George Washington, who foresaw, according to his biographer Joseph Ellis, that the flaws in federalism would eventually cause endless misery for the American Indian because in the final analysis what the country claimed it stood for--individual liberty--was at odds with what was politically necessary for it to survive. In 1787 America was a small, solitary nation surrounded by hundreds of other sovereign Indian nations that were not even mention in its founding documents let alone accounted for in policy or law.  The treaty became the implement with which foreign settlers progressed across the Indian landscape to subdue the 'new Edens' of the West.

The Crows last hereditary chieftain, Plenty Coups, survived three decades into the 20th century.  He was born at the time of the first treaty with his people.  He had personally taken part in many treaty councils, and he lived to see all of them broken by the white man.  It was all part of relentless covetousness by the European for what was not theirs, and it was innocuously named "Manifest Destiny", which is when you think about a lot like "Inalienable Rights"--concepts so ethnocentricly obvious that no white man could rationally question their existence.  Emphasis is placed on the racial term "white man". Plenty Coups had this to say about the white man's use of law and religion for his own, often commercial purposes, based on his many years of dealing with him:

“We have seen that the white man does not take his religion any more seriously than his laws, that he keeps both of them just behind him, like Helpers, to use when they might do him good. … These are not our ways. We kept the laws we made and lived by our religion. We have never understood the white man, who fools no one but himself.” 

Chief Justice Marshall formulated the legal doctrine that would guarantee white predominance over Indian territorial rights in Worchester v. Georgia (1832) by relying on the 16th century concept known as the "Doctrine of Discovery"  which basically held that European arrival in the New World, i.e. "discovery", constituted dominion over native peoples and their lands still in a state of nature. Of course no one asked the Indians if they wanted or needed to be "discovered". Despite the Marshall's rationalization of European dominion, he found Georgia's dispossession of Cherokee Indians from their homeland to be unconstitutional since they were a sovereign nation and the relationship between the United States and the Cherokee Nation was governed by federal treaty, not state law. No one asked President Jackson if he agreed with the decision. H is actions clearly indicate he did not, for he forged ahead with the forced removal of Indians from eastern forests. When asked what a Indian reservation represented to him, General Sherman replied, "a parcel of land set aside for the exclusive use of Indians, surrounded by thieves." It took a civil war and the Fourteenth Amendment to finally decide the supremacy of federal law and its treaty obligations over state's rights.

Originally the Bakken Field pipeline was planned to cross the Missouri River on its way to Illinois north of Bismark, North Dakota. [map credit: Dakota Access Pipeline]   When concern arose over what a pipe rupture might do to that city's water supply it was re-routed. The pipeline would now cross the river near the Sioux Tribe's reservation at Standing Rock at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri. Once the re-rerouting was publicized by a Bismark newspaper, the Sioux nation began to protest the plan.  The concern was and still is the same one that caused the initial re-routing--fear that a major leak will pollute the Missouri, the major source of the tribe's water supply.

The Indians of today see themselves not an inconvenient revenants standing in the way of inevitable progress, but as protectors of the waters.  One of their leaders says it his belief that the American Indian will one day fight for the survival of Earth in the 21st century, just as their ancestors did in the 19th.  Five hundred and sixty two sovereign nations are staking their new claim.  It is based on over three hundred treaties the national government agreed to in the 18th and 19th centuries, but it is also based on something even more important than sovereign treaties: natural resources.  Indian lands hold 40% of America's remaining coal reserves; 65% of its uranium; untold amounts of valuable metals; millions of barrels of oil; millions of cubic feet of natural gas; and last but not least, 20% of the nation's fresh water. If we are lucky, the fights will take place in the nation's federal courts and not on the battlefields of Little Big Horn or Wounded Knee. Indians have learned from their history of white betrayal.  They are forming their own legal departments to fight the good fights.

It took 300 heavily armed officers of the law to take down the Standing Rock protesters that came from over 300 Indian nations.  The protesters set up camp on pipeline company land they say was illegally taken from the tribe in 1851. Most of those arrested were charged with maintaining a public nuisance--a fire on a state highway. Two medics giving first aid to protesters were hit with batons and roughly handled.  The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, Dave Archambault II invited UN officials to observe and investigate the increasing violence and intimidation by state and company agents against protesters. The UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has been following developments and issued a statement of concern on August 31, 2016.  The eyes of the world are upon you.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Indian Bustard Nearing Extinction

A large bird resembling a miniature ostrich, the Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) is nearing extinction.  Only 250 of these birds remain in the wild, with an estimated 150 living in the Thar Desert.  Once common to Indian's dry plains, it has suffered from habitat loss and hunting. Rathjastan's dry plains have been transformed by irrigated agriculture and are crisscrossed by canals. The bustard has been protected under Indian's wildlife laws since 1972, but the ICUN lists the bustard as one of the world's 100 most endangered species in the world.

Indian bustards are among the heaviest of flying birds.  A fully grown male can weigh forty pounds or more.  During the colonial occupation of India, British soldiers considered the flesh delicious and enthusiastically hunted the bird.  The Mugal emperor Babur, noted that "every part of the Kharchal is delicious" The bird proved to be a wary target.  Males could be located by their booming call that carries long distances.  The jeep allowed hunters to chase down bustards across their open, semi-arid habitat.  The bustard's flesh is also alleged to have aphrodisiac qualities, yet one more unjustifiable reason for man to exterminate another of the creatures he has a moral obligation to protect.

There are conservation efforts to protect the dwindling bird, especially in its last stronghold, the Thar Desert in Rathjastan [photo]Yale's Environment360, published a dispatch about the efforts of Dr. Pramod Patil to save the bustard.  He exchanges medical aid to local herders for their help in protecting bustards from poachers.  With the help of his local allies, Dr. Patil has managed to halt their population decline, identify breeding areas, and accurately document sightings.  The herders were first very skeptical of Dr. Patil's efforts, but his medical skills and supplies won them to his cause.  The doctor turned conservationist has received international recognition for his work helping the bustard survive.

Nevertheless, their situation is dire; bustards are slow breeders producing just one egg a season, and it is susceptible to predation by a host of other local species besides man.  Setting aside protected habitat with local stakeholders will help their survival chances tremendously.  UNESCO has proposed designating the Thar a world heritage site.  Managed by Rathjastan's forest department, its undisturbed scrub land is ideal bustard habitat.  There is also hope for a fledgling ecotourism business that could economically benefit local people.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Cecil the Lion's Killer Cleared

credit: US Person
The Zimbabwean high court threw out charges against Theo Bronkhorst, the professional hunter who helped an American dentist kill a beloved lion king living in Hwange National Park.  The killing cause a worldwide outpouring of protest. {07.09.15} Bronkhurst was charged with failing to prevent an illegal hunt, but the high court decided his permit to hunt an elderly lion on the borders of the park was valid.  Cecil was wearing a research collar at the time he suffered a slow death from an arrow wound.  The American trophy hunter paid $55,000 to kill Cecil using a bow and arrow in July of last year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Facist Shoots Protestor in Oregon

Stumptown has distinguished itself again by being the site of continuing protests against TrumpMerica.  A brave demonstrator exercising his constitutional right of free speech and assembly was shot by an unknown gunman on the Morrison Bridge Saturday night.  Despite massive police presence the extremist hot-head got off six shots and sped away in a car.  He is still at large.  Fortunately for the victim his injuries were classified by as non-life threatening by a local hospital where he was treated.

Portland is but one city of several where shocked and angry Americans have displayed their displeasure with the election results. So far, the demonstrations have been overwhelmingly peaceful despite provocations and disparagement by corporate media and the police.  Candidate Hillary Clinton explained her loss to her big money donors by blaming the FBI Director for his last minute review of more cached e-mails.  Hardly.  Her loss is better explained by the increasing disconnect between working people and the party that claims to represent them.  Democrats sealed their fate when they failed to select Bernie Sanders as their candidate.  Once again the so-called political "elites" have led the people to failure.  One positive aspect of Trump' win: he is prepared to make a deal with Putin's Russia.  Perhaps we will not vanish in a radioactive fireball after all.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

COTW: Sixteen Years of War

credit: AP
Update:  Just in time for Veterans Day, a bomber penetrated the Baghram air base, Afghanistan early Saturday morning and blew himself to bits taking four US personnel with him.  Sixteen others were injured in the attack as they gathered for a "fun run" in celebration of Veterans Day.  The Taliban claimed credit for the attack and told AP they were looking to do the most damage they could.  The giant base has several layers of security including retinal scans.

{4.11.16} The war in Afghanistan is entering its sixteenth year, but it earned only one passing mention by the two allowed candidates for President during their staged debates.  The anniversary of 'Merica's longest war was marked by another ghastly killing in Kunduz, the site of US strafing of a charity hospital run by Doctors Without Boarders in October, 2015.  This time thirty civilians were killed by US airstrikes, called in after heavy fighting erupted between Taliban and government forces on Thursday three miles from the city center.  Two US personnel were also killed.  Despite the Nobel laureate's promises, eight thousand US soldiers remain in the country.The chart below shows the increasing number of civilians killed in the fighting:

credit: UN

Friday, November 11, 2016

World's Tallest Tropical Tree Located

credit: Carnegie Institution for Science
It rises along with two of its siblings to an astounding 309 feet above the rain forest floor of Sabah, Borneo.  It is the world's tallest tropical tree, measured by LIDAR overflights.  The Shorea faguetiani or Yellow Meranti (provisional) was located by Gregory Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University during a mapping survey of the relatively undisturbed Danum Valley. He also located 49 other trees taller than the previously announced record holder at 294 feet.  Film director James Cameron, who directed the Avatar science fiction film about the industrial exploitation of an extraterrestrial forest world appropriately funded the helicopter flight.  Asner told an audience that the location was extremely moving to him and provides yet another example of the power of nature that can inspire man to protect other forms of life on his home planet.  He noted that trees of this immense size and age do not exist outside of undisturbed, primary forest.  This tree is six times the average length of a sperm whale*.  The LIDAR mapping technique [image] uses 500,000 laser beams per second shot from a helicopter to produce a three dimensional image of the forest canopy to ground level.

*The tallest coast redwood tree living in Redwood National Park, California is 379.1 feet tall.  Hyperion is said to be the world's largest living tree.  Park officials should be extremely vigilant in protecting this magnificent living creature from insane attacks by vandals, thrill seekers, extremists of various sorts, or just plain idiots.  Hyperion was not located until 2006.  It is named after one of the Titans of Greek mythology, a child of the Earth and Sky.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Death of Democracy

Roughly half of 'Mericans woke up after election day to find their democracy had died overnight. For the second time in sixteen years a presidential candidate wins the popular vote but looses the only vote that counts in the Electoral College. (Clinton 59.79 million, Trump 59.5 million according to AP) Thousands took the streets last night to express their displeasure with the anachronistic process that disenfranchises a majority of the people. The fact is that American politics has devolved into a contest between two well-defined voting blocs divided by geography, economics and culture: one is working class and embraces diversity, the other is presumptively privileged and clings to conformity. Three states whose electorate is divided between these two blocs and voters who view themselves as independent control the outcome of contested presidential elections. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida together control 67 electoral votes. Today, a presidential candidate cannot win an election without carrying at least one or two of these states. Hillary Clinton lost all three. The custom is--and it is just a custom because only thirty states have made it law--that the result of the popular vote in a state controls to whom its electoral votes are awarded.

Because this undemocratic process is not truly representative of the people's will, there is discussion on how to fix it. Frankly only a constitutional amendment will solve the problem, and that process would require Herculean resolve that a few transitory demonstrations will not provide. Nevertheless, people in populous states that are reliably part of one bloc such as California or Texas justifiably believe their votes do not count. The proposed Interstate Popular Vote Compact, which would not take effect until states controlling 270 electoral votes have signed, is an attempt to short-cut the amendment route but it is probably unconstitutional since it violates the equal protection doctrine of one person, one vote. It preserves the Electoral College, but awards electors based on the result of the national popular vote. The compact would substitute the current domination of "battleground states" for those "spectator" states who agree to elect a president by national popular vote. So far eleven states controlling 165 electoral votes have passed the agreement. There is nothing sacred about the Electoral College. In 1789 only three states used the winner-take-all rule to award its electoral votes for president; the Constitution does not require this (Article II, Section 1). It is time to scrap a system intended for a different, less educated age, or risk being equated with Russia among the world's republics.

Friday, November 04, 2016

COTW: Sixteen Years of War

credit: AP
Update:  Just in time for Veterans Day, a bomber penetrated the Baghram air base, Afghanistan and blew himself to bits taking four US personnel with him.

{4.11.16} The war in Afghanistan is entering its sixteenth year, but it earned only one passing mention by the two allowed candidates for President during their staged debates.  The anniversary of 'Merica's longest war was marked by another ghastly killing in Kunduz, the site of US strafing of a charity hospital run by Doctors Without Boarders in October, 2015.  This time thirty civilians were killed by US airstrikes, called in after heavy fighting erupted between Taliban and government forces on Thursday three miles from the city center.  Two US personnel were also killed.  Despite the Nobel laureate's promises, eight thousand US soldiers remain in the country.The chart below shows the increasing number of civilians killed in the fighting:

credit: UN

'Toontime: The Choice?

credit: JD Crowe
BC Idonwanna sez: Me vote for sovereignty!

Yes, there you have it 'Mericans: a misogynistic, spoiled rich kid versus a hypocritical, feminist plutocrat. Too bad the whole campaign could not have been reduced to 140 words and save US a lot of angst. Notice the small hands and defensive body posture!

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

COTW: Wildlife Services Told to Get Real

credit: High Country News
The federal agency that is in the business of killing wildlife at the whim of agricultural interests, Wildlife Services (a misnomer if there ever was one) was ordered by a federal court to update its twenty-two year old nationwide environmental impact statement on which it relies to kill wolves among a long list of other species labeled "vermin" or "predator" [see chart above]. The agency rarely uses non-lethal means to control wildlife populations because half of its budget is controlled by contracts with state and local agencies and businesses. Research on non-lethal alternatives is therefore stalled. The agency has been "studying" non-lethal controls since 1972! It killed a sickening and shocking 2.7 million animals in 2014, including 796 bobcats, 322 wolves, 580 black bears, 305 cougars and 61,702 coyotes. As a former agency biologist said, “Until Wildlife Services is told differently by the people who pay the bills, it’s hard to imagine real change. Managing animals is easy. Managing people is really hard.”

The court order came as part of a settlement with Wild Guardians, a non-profit conservation group and Wildlife Services in Nevada. The agency agreed to stop its operations in that state until the assessment is updated to properly address the impacts of predator removal in Nevada. Cultural predispositions are difficult to change. Predators in the west have been summarily shot since Meriwether Lewis killed a grizzly bear in Montana in 1805. Given that fact that in the 21st century many North American mammals are dying off due to habitat loss, its past time for man to change his behavior towards his fellow creatures. Non lethal control means work. Fifty-eight percent of sheep ranchers in Montana now use deterrence methods including guard dogs and lamb sheds. The backward state of Idaho paid $4600 per wolf in 2014 to gun down wolves. Developing a habit of tolerance is what is needed, not more genocide.

New Low: CO₂ Will Hit 400ppm All Year

The Mauna Loa Observatory predicts that global carbon dioxide levels will exceed 400ppm all year for the first time in recorded history and not recede for many generations into the future This is the recognized red line for disastrous climate change. The World Meteorological Organization said its annual "Greenhouse Gas Bulletin" that the strong El Nino event of 2015-16 has reduced the ability of natural sinks such as oceans and forests to absorb CO₂. These sinks absorb about half of the global carbon dioxide emissions. Those emissions have increased 37% in the period 1990 to 2015. The organization calls for implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement on a fast track.

In related news, Chinese environmental officials including the local bureau chief were arrested recently for their involvement in a scheme to alter air quality readings by stuffing cotton gauze into detection equipment in the industrial city of Xi'an. The head of the monitoring station made a copy of a key and provided a password to allow workers to stuff the detection equipment and report fraudulent readings to the government. Video surveillance tapes were also deleted. An insider told reporters the sabotage was accomplished to avoid paying penalties for high readings; air quality officials must shut down local industry if air quality becomes too impaired.  Last year the government discovered that another monitoring station altered its particulate readings by spraying samplers with a fire hose.