Monday, July 31, 2017

The Autocratic Dream of Trump

Donald Trump took another step closer to imposing autocratic rule in the United States based on the military and the police.  The outlines of a fascistic state are becoming clearer by the moment.  Using his Twitter account as a live feed, he is attempting to bypass what is left of the political process in Congress.  This tactic has been used to goad the Repugnants in Congress to pass something, anything, to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  So far they have fallen back in disarray in confrontation with a united Democratic Party and moderate defectors among the Repugnants.

Unmistakeably, both parties represent the entrench "power elite" as described by sociologist C. Wright Mills in his classic work on the subject sixty years ago.  His description of loose cliques of elites centered in corporate America, the military, and established politicians is still accurate.  One could amend this list by expanding it to include the security establishment which has ballooned in size and importance since the terror attacks sixteen years ago.  As Mills pointed out, "America is now more a formal political democracy than a democratic social structure, and even the formal political mechanics are weak".  They have grown even weaker since that statement was written.  Three of the most powerful executive cabinet posts are now in the hands of retired military generals: White House Chief of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of Defense.  House Democratic Leader and fellow elitist, Nancy Pelosi, welcomed the addition of General Kelly to the White House line-up of top military officials in government, despite the marine general's often expressed contempt for civilian control of the military.  The Democratic Party is certainly no friend of radical, anti-capitalist change. 

Using twits, Trump has savaged congressional Repugnants for their failure to pass a substitute to Obamacare without formulating his own alternative healthcare program acceptable to both sides of the political divide. He demands in his 140 word communiques that Senator McConnell trample on minority rights in the Senate and proceed immediately to push through White House proposals for slashing taxes on the wealthy and gutting social programs such as Medicaid.  Senator Susan Collins from Maine, who has held out against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, has resorted to pleading in the corporate mass media that a bi-partisan congressional effort be allowed to work in public instead of behind close doors motivated by electronic diktats.  Congress is collapsing beneath partisan deadlock; the only legislation it can pass is more economic punishment of the traditional propaganda scapegoat--Russia.  Anti-Russian hysteria has never been as prevalent in Washington since the dark days of Eugene McCarthy*.

In response to failure, Trump has whipped up race phobia in an attempt to appear above party by speaking to captured audiences.  Speaking to New York police on Long Island, he advocated rough treatment for immigrants suspected of being illegal.  The cops responded to the tough talk like an SS formation, chanting in unison, "USA, USA!".   If Trump and the generals get their way, there will be an incident on the militarized Korean peninsula to distract from Trump's failed administration and chauvinistic attempts at dictatorial rule.  Trump is not a new phenomenon, but the product a decades-long decay and corruption of democratic political culture within the ruling elites and institutions presided over by the criminal financial oligarchs who control both political

*Mills also foresaw the rise of the mass society in America.  The workings of classic democracy in which informed communities of publics discuss problems of the day among themselves and eventually arrive at decision through the process.  Their elected representatives are supposed to formally implement the publics' will into law.  Mills writes, "But we must recognize this description as a set of images out of a fairy tale: they are not adequate even as an approximate model of how the American system of power works.  The issues that now shape man's fate are neither raised nor decided by the public at large."  That power is now wielded by elites; they manipulate the masses through media they control and the "dumbing down" of liberal (liberating) education into vocational training.  Thus, an uniformed mass is reduced to a captured market for 'opinion making' by the elite.  A sort of psychological illiteracy is therefore ingendered by a constant bombardment of banality and violence.  The mass media tells the mass man what he wants to be (a sports or TV star); they tell him how to get that way (buy this product); and how to feel that way even if he is not (be outraged, for immigrants are taking your jobs).  It is the formula of a psuedo-world, not reality.  Mills warned, "We have moved a considerable distance along the road to a mass society.  At the end of this road is totalitarianism...we are not yet at that end."  Mills wrote this sixty years ago, and the direction of travel has not changed.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Global Tiger Day

Persona Non Grata and World Wildlife Fund celebrate Saturday's "World Tiger Day" with this beautiful, high-resolution robopic of a wild tiger at home in Bhutan.  An estimated 103 tigers live in the small country.  Bhutan's conservation policies are a shinning example of the proper relationship between man and his fellow creatures on a finite planet.  Green Kudos go to Bhutan on World Tiger Day!

Friday, July 28, 2017

'Toontime: Donald Does the Boy Scouts

credit: Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News

The Boy Scouts is an organization that inculcates high ethical standards in its young members, and they got an earful at their national jamboree from a President who some Senators think may be deranged.  The question of his sanity aside, his disjointed talk--it was not worthy of being labeled a speech--was the epitome of ribald innuendo, misplaced hero worship, and rampant egotism on display. As 'Merica attempts to deal with the train wreck that is his administration, the North Koreans tested an ICBM that has the range to reach Los Angeles.  Reality trumps the chaotic psycho-drama in Washington once again.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

COTW: The Exceptional Nation

Call it "bombast", call it "buffoonery" but you do not have to tell the truth if you are a Washington politician, and retired Navy officer like John McCain.  This chart shows US what our corporate warfare state costs in terms of reduced life expectancy.  The rude truth is that by 2030 the length of our lives will be on par with the Czech Republic for men and Mexico for women.  We have the absurd distinction of being the only country in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) that does not provide its citizens' universal health care coverage.  It also has the highest infant mortality rate of its economic peers, the highest homicide rate, and highest body fat index according to the World Health Organization.  A sad, sad state of the nation.  But do not worry, John McCain's brain tumor operation will be covered by his Senate health insurance, if not by the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ticks On the March

credit: Climate Central
Lyme disease can be devastating and lead to serious complications if not treated early. Climate change is not only foretasted to bring more rain to the Northeast, but the increased hot and muggy climate will only breed more deer ticks (Ioxides scapularis) which carry the disease. Populations of deer ticks are projected to increase two fold in the US. [map] A recent study shows that deer ticks died faster when relative humidity was moderate (75%), but when relative humidity is high (>85%) deer ticks survive longer. This is not good news for humans in the Northeast who are spending more time outdoors or live near wooded areas. People in the Southeast may be luckier. Precipitation has declined in that region. encouraging young ticks to stay in the leaf litter where it is moist.

Friday, July 21, 2017

'Toontime: Good Riddance to Rubbish

The Repugnant effort to do away with a poor substitute for socialized medicine, the Affordable Care Act, fell apart this week when it became clear to the Washington hacks that the 'reform' was a bitter pill the public would not swallow.  Moderate senators from three red states stood in the way of a simple majority needed to pass the bill.  Senate Majority Leader McConnell promises to bring a repeal without a substitute measure to a vote, but that effort will fail too.  Depriving over twenty million 'Mericans of the only health care they got is not a popular political act no matter how you spin it.  The 'pardoner in chief' will spend billions for aircraft carriers, but not a dime for the peoples' health. Nemo judex in causa sua*.

credit: Nate Beeler
BC Idonwanna sez: Begin to stink like dead buffalo!
*  A buried legal memo by Kenneth Star, the Clinton special persecutor, rejects the widely held opinion that a sitting President is immune from criminal prosecution.  The New York Times obtained the memo from the National Archives through a Freedom of Information Request.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

COTW: State & Local Taxes Bite the Poor

This chart from the Washington Post shows that the poorer you are, the more state and local taxes take a larger share of your income:

People at the top end of income brackets pay more of their taxes to the federal government than to state and local jurisdictions.  Politicians like Trump who argue for more tax cuts for the wealthy conveniently point to the federal tax burden while ignoring the overall impact of all taxes.  When federal, state and local taxes are considered, the structure is far from progressive.   So when someone argues about the 47% who do not pay taxes, show them this chart, which demonstrates that the relative tax burden is not much different for the fortieth percentile up to the stratospheric 1%

Seattle Votes to Tax the Rich

Seattle has a history of progressive action.  Cementing its reputation in the present, socialists on Seattle's city council succeeded by unanimous vote in passing a tax on the wealthy to pay for social services last week.  The law provides for a 2.25% on individuals who have incomes over $250,000 and married couples whose income exceeds $500,000.  The new tax is expected to raise $175 million for social programs such as affordable housing, transit and education.  The passage came despite warnings of economic repercussions from resident billionaires.  Social activists at work since the Occupy movement to introduce fairness into the tax structure were particularly pleased with the city council's action.  A group known as Social Action took credit for making a vote against the proposal politically untenable.  It raised a record half million dollars in contributions campaigning on an explicit "tax the rich" demand.  The organization also campaigned to rescind a regressive sales tax, but lost that battle.  A right wing organization, Freedom Foundation, has filed a lawsuit claiming the new tax is illegal because it violates a state law forbidding cities from taxing net income.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Oregon Legislature Restores Funding for Killers

The federal Wildlife Services agency is part of the Department of Agriculture, but it gets a great deal of funding from states.  Readers of this space know {02.11.16} that the obscure agency is responsible for killing a wild variety of wildlife species deemed to be pests by agribusiness.  It is notorious for the use of indiscriminate methods of lethal control such as cyanide bombs, one of which killed a pet dog and seriously injured a child in Idaho. Governor Brown urged cutting funds for the killing agency. Ignoring the Democratic governor's budget priorities, two Democratic, part-time legislators, co-chairs of a subcommittee with jurisdiction over natural resource issues, restored funding by $1 million. So, in Oregon the agency will be able to continue killing wildlife and perhaps your dog too at taxpayers expense   

The Monarch Highway?

Monarch butterflies are in steep decline across North America.  The causes of the butterfly's decline are a litany of the usual suspects.  Habitat loss is considered the primary cause because the beautiful orange and black traveler is tied by biology to the milkweed. It only lays its eggs on the plant; unfortunately man considers milkweed a pest species and has done his worst to eradicate it using an assortment of toxic chemicals like glyphosate.  The once vast expanse of diverse prairie in the nation's heartland has been permanently replaced by monocultures of corn and soybean.  Locations for successful breeding are becoming fewer and far between. In 1996 an estimated one billion insects made the long migration from Mexico north to Canada.  In the winter of 2013-14 only 33 million made the trip.  Experts are concerned that a continued drop in numbers could put the species at risk of extinction by a single severe storm.

One idea that has been suggested to help the struggling butterfly is intriguing, but far from a certain solution.  I-35 bisects the country, north to south, in the middle of the Monarch's central flight path.  One of the biggest parcels of public land is highway borders, but this vacant land has been inhospitable to most insect species since it is regularly cut to the non-native roots and doused with herbicides.  A plan to convert the land along the 1400 mile length of I-35 to pollinator-friendly habitat would cost between $2.8 to $5 million according to a paper put out by Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, a conservation organization.  There is no current research that supports the success of such a large undertaking.  Critics point out that encouraging insects to inhabit the verges of a busy interstate highway will inevitably cause more mortality due to vehicle collisions.  In the first specific study of Monarch habitat along highways, University of Minnesota researchers found 60% of studied roadside swatches contained milkweed that feeds Monarch caterpillars, but the number of larvae and caterpillars found there were lower than in prime habitat areas such as parks and backyards that contain many sources of nectar and pollen.  One speculative reason for the lower fertility in roadside oases is higher levels of pollution and even noise.

Nevertheless, the concept has gotten the blessing of the Federal Highway Administration and six Midwestern states.  The project even has its own official logo. [left]  A Monarch Highway is an uplifting idea as well as a challenging one.   If it succeeds in attracting Monarchs and other beneficial insects, it will be naturally beautiful and beneficial, but it is not an entire solution.  The indiscriminate use of herbicides and insistence on monocultures as means of maximizing profit has to give way to more sustainable forms of agriculture.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Flooding HIts Midwest Hard

Several communities in the Midwest have experienced catastrophic flooding in recent days. Findlay, Ohio was inundated when the nearby river crested at 16.5 feet, the fifth highest on record. Eight people recreating in a normally placid creek lost their lives when a flash flood in Arizona sent a torrent of muddy water and debris down the slot canyon, catching them off guard. A wild fire had denuded hills of vegetation increasing the run off volume into the creek. These incidents corroborate what climate scientists have been predicting for some time now. Global warming will drastically increase the number and intensity of deluges. A study published in Nature Climate Change says that storms expected to occur once a season could occur five times a season and produce seventy percent more rain. Heavy precipitation has increased by 71% in the northeast according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment. Ninety communities, mostly in Louisiana and Maryland face chronic inundation. Land subsidence plays a role in their predicament, but rising sea levels also contribute to the problem. Researchers think that sea levels could rise by six and half feet by the end of the century, which could chronically flood about 670 communities including 60% of all East and Gulf coast settlements. One of those settlements, Miami Beach is beginning $4-500 million flood prevention project in an effort to keep the city mostly dry as sea levels rise. City officials are planning for a three feet rise by mid-century.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Toontime: Deep Do-do

The latest twist of the worm: Donald Jr. got caught trying to help his dear old dad get elected by engaging his Russian contacts to dig up dirt † on Hillary. What he got was dirty. The Russians never delivered, and his father suffers another debasement in an already debased regime. It may be "a big nothing burger", as described by Trump's chief of staff, but the story adds to the blows against his prestige of office. Trump's public relations problems are making it very difficult for his colleagues on the Hill, who are trying to save their so-called health care reform legislation from oblivion. Defections among Repugnant senators are growing as public trust continues to erode even in red states.

US Person has personal familiarity with the corporate right wing's favorite political weapon. His costly experience has rendered him not anti-capitalist, but anti-fascist and pro-social populist. Label him if you must, only be accurate, please!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Washington Announces New Wolf Killing Protocol

courtesy: Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
After the state mercilessly exterminated the Profanity Peak pack last year, outraged Washington residents demanded the state revise its wolf kill policy.  The extermination lasted eleven weeks and cost Washington state taxpayers $135,000. {30.09.16} The new policy was not subjected to public comment before being finalized.  In contrast Oregon, which is also developing a wolf management policy, held public hearings on the issue; one such hearing was held in Portland were the urban-rural divide over wolf recovery was on display.  US Person attended the hearing and submitted written comments in support of full wolf recovery in Oregon.   Opinions supporting the wolf were strongly represented by numerous wildlife advocates who want to see extermination used only as a last resort to control wolf-human conflicts.

Washington now requires the implementation of two non-lethal methods to control livestock depredations before the Department of Fish & Wildlife will issue a kill order.  However, there are no time limits on how long the methods have to be used.  Three livestock kills or injury have to take place in thirty days, or four in ten months, but the depredations need not be confirmed before an order is issued.  Conservationists call the new policy flawed since it was developed without public notice or comment.  The Department does recognize in its policy statement that it has a trust responsibility to manage wolves for all residents of the Washington, not just those with an affected economic interest.  The Profanity Pack was exterminated at the insistence of a local rancher, who four years earlier succeeded in having another pack, the Wedge, exterminated too.  That owner refused to use non-lethal deterrents to wolf depredations.  Grey wolves have been federally de-listed in the eastern third of Washington state. 

COTW: The Fragmentation of the Middle East

Iraq's US backed government is preparing to announce the recapture of Mosul from ISIS jihadists as its forces clean out the remaining pockets of resistance in a city that has been turned into rubble by fierce fighting. But what Iraq's central government will be left once the second city is back under its nominal control, is not at all clear. The civil war in Syria and the rise of ISIS in Iraq after the departure of the US military has produced a fragmentation of the region into areas of control by sectarian and ethnic groups, such as the Kurds (YPG and KRG), who have their own national ambitions inconsistent with the current state boundaries. This map shows the state of play:

The fact is that sectarianism has taken the place of nationhood in the Middle East. The Sunnis are nominally led by Saudi Arabia; the Shiites are nominally led by Iran. These two blocs are in conflict in Syria. Both Syrian and Iraq were created by the European Powers after World War I. What France and Britain drew on the map had little to do with ethnic and sectarian realities. Those realities have now come to dominate the region. ISIS has lost some territory it previously held, but those losses have benefited the groups occupying the land, not the national governments. Historically, power has shifted between the two Islamic sects about every 500 years. Currently, it appears the Shiites are in the ascendancy and the Sunni bloc in disrepair, having lost Iraq to a Shiite regime, and leadership of the Sunni rebellion in Syria challenged by ISIS jihadists.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Rwanda Brings Back Lions

credit: M. Poole
The genocide that struck Rwanda in the 1994 was a human tragedy of millennial proportions. An estimated one million Tutsi died at the hands of blood-thirsty Hutu. Beyond the human suffering, wildlife also suffered from the slaughter. The last lions in in Akagera National Park were poisoned by herders when the genocide left the park unmanaged and unprotected. Conservationists at the NGO, African Parks, with the cooperation of the Rwandan government are relocating seven South African lions to Akagera after a fifteen year absence. Lions are in deep trouble in Africa due to human conflicts, habitat and prey loss and hunting. The latest research shows that Africa has lost 68% of its lions in the last fifty years. More effort will be needed to protect these iconic felines in the future. The relocation to Akagera is a hopeful start to rebuilding lion populations in Africa.

white bottom, black top
Akagera was the location of the unfortunate death of a Hungarian researcher, Kirsztián Gyöngyi, on June 7th.  He was killed by an eastern black rhino he helped relocate to the park.  Black rhino (Diceros bicornus michaeli) are notoriously volatile compared to the more docile white rhino [illustration left].  Prior to their reintroduction in May, black rhino had not been seen in Akagera since 2007; its population of about fifty were wiped out by poachers. Only an estimated 5,250 black rhino remain in the wild.  Gyöngyi's death reminds animal advocates that protecting wildlife takes unselfish dedication and courage. The ecologist who specialized in rhino habitat leaves behind a wife and young daughter.    

Saturday, July 08, 2017

'Toontime: Trumpery

credit: Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer
Wackydoodle sez: I hear he uses finger extentions.
The Donald is off to Poland, once a member of the Warsaw Pact, now a recent addition to NATO on the European border of Russia, where he could not resist a reminder for his good buddy, Valdimir Putin, whom he is scheduled to meet at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this weekend. Already hundreds of protestors have been injured in violent demonstrations there.. Trump's modus operandi is painfully clear to 'Merican taxpayers by now: the presidency has become a world-wide free advertisement for Trump's business empire, as well as subsidized golf vacations for its Chief Twit.
credit: Steve Sack, Star Tribune
BC Idonwanna sez: The Donald need diet!

Friday, July 07, 2017

Watts Bar 2 Shuts Down

The first new atomic energy plant of the 21st century, Watts Bar 2, operated by the TVA had to be shut down after only six months of operation.  Failing condenser parts caused the generating station to be taken off-line on March 23rd.  The plant remains shut.  TVA has yet to locate the condenser problem which is critical to plant operation since this component returns steam driving electrical turbines back to water.    Once again, the extreme complexity of nuclear power generation has flummoxed an overly optimistic owner-operator.  The last new nuclear power facility to enter service is the plant's twin unit, Watts Bar 1, that came on-line in 1996.

Watts Bar 2 holds the dubious distinction of the longest construction period in US nuclear power, a whopping 43 years!  The condenser component is part of the original design, so consequently it is also outdated technology as welll as broken.  Such a long delay in producing commercial electricity added greatly to the plant's capital cost.  Construction got underway with an estimate of about $400 million in 1972.  The plant's total cost is now estimated at $6.1 billion.  Such skyrocketing construction costs are endemic to the nuclear power industry, and are largely responsible for making new plant construction uneconomic, even for industry enthusiasts.

A faulty condenser in a conventional fossil-fueled plant is not as critical as one in a nuclear facility.  A coal plant could be run for months before a shut-down was needed to fix the problem.  No such luxury exits with a hair-trigger nuclear boiler.  An operating condenser is absolutely critical for cooling a reactor running at full power, which is what TVA hoped to do during this peak summer cooling season.  NOT.  Accompanying  their mechanical problems, plant managers have created a toxic work atmosphere that intimidates employees who might be willing to report regulatory violations to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  The NRC ordered TVA to improve the safety culture at Watts Bar.  But a consultant reported just three weeks ago that conditions haven’t improved. The report found that “mistrust permeates the [Watts Bar] organization,” Notwithstanding the chilling atmosphere, the NRC recorded 33 allegations against TVA in 2016, the highest in the country.  Quite a record: from 'too cheap to meter' to too expensive to generate in half a century.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

COTW: The Snail's Pace of Change

A reader might ask, why do national politics in the US seem so difficult to change? One reason is that incumbents, especially in the House of Representatives, have an enormous advantage over challengers.  In 2016 the entire House of 435 seats were up for election.  Of the 390 races in which incumbents ran for re-election, they won a staggering 96.4% of the contests. Democrats needed to win a net thirty seats to take over the House.  They won only a net 6. Yet, despite repeatedly voting for incumbents, 'Mericans hold Congress in very low regard with polls from various news sources averaging an approval rating of 14%. Apparently, Congress is another case of getting what you pay for. This chart shows the steadily increasing number of business people holding congressional office:
credit: Brookings Institute

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

DC Appeals Says Trump Circus "Arbitrary"

The influential federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the Trump attempt to delay implementation of the rules restricting methane gas leaks from oil and gas operations, "arbitrary and capricious" in a decision handed down Monday. Clean Air Council v. Scott Pruitt, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, 17-1145.  Methane is a potent global warming gas that is leaked in huge amounts from the domestic drilling boom.  The case was brought by a coalition of environmental groups including NRDC and the Sierra Club.  They argued in court that the Pruitt EPA failed to follow the rules contained in the Clear Air Act of 1970.  The pro-exploitation administrator announced an implementation freeze earlier this month.  His decision was roundly criticized by scientists and environmentalists who think the rule is badly needed to protect the public's health.  Typically, Pruitt conceded that delaying implementation could have a adverse effect on children's health, but that consideration was outweighed by the implementation's effect on the industry's bottom line.
Trumps cut ribbon on DC hotel, credit: Getty Images

In related news a Department of Justice regulatory compliance official resigned Trump Circus' lack of ethics. Ms. Hui Chen wrote , "I am not willing nor able to compartmentalize my values as an professional, a citizen, and a human being,"  Welcome to the expensive club, Ms. Chen.