Tuesday, October 31, 2017

All Hallows Eve

Another Halloween is here and kids are anxious to dress up and receive treats as a reward for performing a simple "trick" or just for not being naughty. Some adults also seem to be very excited by the observance. US Person always wants to know the ulterior reasons for human behaviors: Halloween has its deep roots in the pagan past. Pagan is a broad term encompassing many different belief systems which do not accept the eternal salvation offered to God's "creatures" by Jesus Christ. Most relevant to 'Merica, still a predominately Anglo-Saxon nation, are the Celtic religious traditions of northern Europe that survive in attenuated forms into the 21st century despite almost two millennia of religious repression. As we will see, polytheistic Celtic religion was fundamentally connected to Nature and its changes, so it may be superficially characterized as a type of nature worship. Christianity recognizes Nature as the perfect exemplar of God's divine power and eternal nature, but that suffers corruption from man's faulty dominion. Psalm 19, 104; Romans 8. Nature worship errs in that it worships creation, but not the Creator.☩ 

blue sun energy, red temperature
Samhain, samhainn, sauin depending on which Celtic language you use, dates from the time when the Celtic people were primarily pastoral suggests George Frazier, who wrote The Golden Bough*. The first of the four "quarter days" it marks the beginning of winter, and was generally held on November 1st. Tribal gatherings, feasting, drinking and contests were all part of the celebration at a time when the veil between the spirit world and this world was at its weakest. Supernatural beings and departed souls could enter the living's reality. Beltane, in spring, on the opposite side of the wheel of seasons from Samhain , celebrated fertility and life [chart above]. Samhain can be said to be a celebration of the dead. It occurs at the time herds were moved from summer pastures to their winter paddocks. Because meat could be effectively preserved during the cold months, animals were selected for slaughter. Spirits had to be propitiated to ensure the people and their livestock survived harsh winter. Later developments recorded in the 16th century, mumming¹ and guising², became persistent elements of the Samhain holiday, perhaps evolving from the practice of impersonating the souls of the dead and collecting offerings on their behalf. Wiccans, who are modern pagans, celebrate a version of Samhian as one of the four Great Sabbats (Sabbaths) of the Wheel, also dedicated to the dead.

The Christianization of Europe was achieved through the strenuous efforts of monks and converted rulers to eradicate the 'old ways', in part by replacing them with Christian observances (interpretatio christiana).  So it was with the great pagan holiday of Samhain. Hallowe'en, a contraction of All Hallows (Saints) Eve, began to be observed on October 31st as early as the 6th century, the eve of the feast day of All Saints (Hallows) on November 1st in the church's calendar; it was part of the three day observance dedicated to remembering the dead--saints, martyrs, and the faithful departed. Yet pagan traditions died very hard. Some of them became incorporated into the Christian practice such as wearing costumes and carrying hollowed out turnip lanterns while "souling", or collecting cakes for the beloved departed. This practice dates back to at least the 15th century. In France, the danse macabre took place on Hallowe'en when the dead rose to hold a riotous celebration in graveyards. The living, in costume, could join them if they had the nerve to do so. Huesos de Santos, special pastries, are still laid out for the dead in Spanish churchyards. All over Europe fires were lit to guide souls and ward off demons. In the New World, Anglican and Catholic colonists brought their Hallowe'en practices with them, although the Puritans frowned on these "popish" observances. Their strict disapprobations included celebration of Christmas!  They were the original "Debbie Downer".

So, the commercial event now so popular among children, and those who are still children, has deep roots in religion, and thus our evolutionary past. It is a time to remember loved ones who have gone before us at a time--halfway between the fall equinox and winter solstice--when the sun's life-giving energy fades from view.
1. traditional folk plays by men in costume, called "mummers".
2. from Scotland, children going from door to door in disguise.
Paul wrote to the Romans, "In fact, whatever can be known about God is clear to them [the perversely irreligious]; He himself made it so. Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made...They claim to be wise, but turned into fools instead; they exchanged the glory of God for images representing mortal man, birds, beasts and snakes...they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator." Romans 1:19-25
*Frazer wrote in his preface to the third edition of his multi-volume work on the relation of magic and religion that, "we [Hegel] both hold that in the mental evolution of humanity an age of magic preceded an age of religion, and that the characteristic difference between magic and religion is that, whereas magic aims at controlling nature directly, religion aims at controlling it indirectly through the mediation of a powerful supernatural being or beings to whom man appeals for help and protection". Of course now science and its application, technology, attempts to do what magic and religion could not do. Needless to say this is a totally agnostic view of man's development. The Crucifixion of the Lamb was placed in context of a discussion of pagan myth about a sacrificial king-god in Frazer's original work. In his third edition he moved the topic to a "speculative" appendix perhaps reflecting the scandal created by his secular treatment of Christianity's central belief.  Notably, Frazer accepted the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth as a great religious and moral reformer, and considered doubts about his existence unworthy of attention.

Elephant Poaching Declines

South African elephant family, credit: SolaGratia
CITES, the international convention on trade in endangered species, reports that elephant poaching is trending down in 2016. That estimate is based on several sources of information including MIKE, (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants) and IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). Elephant poaching. Commercial trading in ivory was first banned in 1989, but the worse declines in elephant population ac cross the thirty seven range states of the African elephant have occurred in the last decade due to poaching. The peak year appears to be 2011. Current levels are below 2008. CITES estimates that 110,000 have died in the last ten years. CITES says that poaching is certainly a dire threat to their existence, but human conflict and climate change are likely to constitute the greatest threat to the survival of the species; therefore, landscape planning to support our coexistence with elephants is absolutely essential. About 33 "development corridors" are planned or being implemented across Africa, and if completed, would extend 53,000 kilometers. Such large scale development would certainly negatively impact elephant populations.
processed ivory for sale in Kinshasa, DRC

The good news is that ivory seizures are up based on information reported by individual governments. Nearly 40 tons of ivory was seized in 2016, nearly three times greater than in 2007. Governments in market countries, notably China and the United States, have finally moved to enforce laws against trading in ivory. UK-based trade monitoring organization, TRAFFIC, says that while international enforcement is improving, it has not turned the corner on smuggling syndicates which are using innovative ways to carry on business such as reducing the size of individual shipments, and ivory processing at the source. [photo courtesy TRAFFIC]. The price of ivory has plummeted 50% in the last few years. An indication that the extinction of the African elephant was a bad hedge.  CITES Standing Committee meets for the 69th occasion in November to discuss the conservation of threatened wildlife.

Monday, October 30, 2017

COTW: The End of Chinook Salmon?

US Person posted previously about the "king of salmon", the chinook, and their alarming decline in numbers. {28.08.17} Federal scientists have been sampling the waters off Oregon and Washington for twenty years to get an accurate idea of the changes in the size of runs up the Columbia River. This years count was the lowest ever with some nets coming up completely empty. Bad news not only for anglers but other species like orca that feed on salmon. Instead of juvenile salmon the researchers came up with jack mackerel and Pacific pompano, not usually found off the coasts of Oregon and Washington; Pampano is usually associated with tropical seas. Mackerel feed on young salmon. Look at this chart, if you can:

These indications according to the surveyors may mark a fundamental ecosystem shift that is not beneficial to salmon, a cold water species. The "Blob" is gone {16.08.17}, but warm water species that came with it have remained. Other changes in the North Pacific ecosystem also do not bode well for salmon and their predators. Fatty zooplankton and copepods, which young salmon need to survive, are less abundant.  Chlorophyll, the first link in the marine food chain, is also at its lowest recorded level in twenty years. Marine birds who normally feed on other small fish may be turning to juvenile salmon as a replacement because forage fish like herring, anchovies and smelt, are severely depleted.

All of this is very bad news for resident orcas, who have an ingrained culture of eating just salmon and nothing else. They seem unable to switch to other sources of protein in the ocean like seals that are the prey of transient orcas.  Resident orcas would rather starve to death than change their diet.  A resident 2½ year-old calf, J-52, was observed to die of starvation off the coast of Port Renfew, BC on September 19th.

'Toontime: Whitefish Stinks

BC Idonwanna sez: Look'em like beached whale!
Update: Amid heavy political fallout over the contract, Puerto Rico's governor cancelled Whitefish Energy Holding's sweetheart deal to repair the grid yesterday. 69.5% of the island is still without power after six weeks. Cancellation of the contract will further delay repairs. The Army Corps of Engineers said it will increase the size of Fluor Corp.'s contract from $600 million to $840 million to insure the "continued execution of the critical repair and restoration". The Army awarded Fluor the original repair contract while PREPA dealt directly with Whitefish.
{27.10.17}Its not the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is close. How a two-person company from tiny Whitefish, Montana (pop.~7,000) was awarded a $300 million contract to service and repair Puerto Rico's hurricane ravaged electrical grid is something of a Washington-style 'mystery'.  Considering the nation's capital was built on a swamp, the mystery is definitely appropriate; the fact that Whitefish is the hometown of Trump's Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke whose son has worked for the company is simply coincidence! There is where the Brooklyn Bridge comes in.

Daryl Cagle @ Cagle Cartoons.com has dug out his dead fish cartoon yet again to depict the stink. There was no open bidding for the massive contract. According to the company's CEO, "We took the call and we are here. More accurately, the 280 subcontractors on the island are there and they will do the work. Hurricane Maria knocked out 80% of the island's electric utility. Whitefish will have to rebuild 100 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. Some companies were apparently concerned by the fact that PREPA, the local power authority, declared bankruptcy in July and is $9 billion in debt.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

'Mericans Sicker Than Before

One of the reasons offered for increasing the retirement age from 65 to 67 under the Reagan Administration and a Democratic Congress was that 'Mericans were expected to live longer in better health.  NOT.  A new study by the Society of Actuaries (those quants that calculate the odds for insurance companies) says that life expectancy for men and women has dropped by 1.2%, the first increase since 2005 and the first increase over one percentage since 1980. The decrease is attributed to the increase in eight of the ten leading causes of death shown in chart form here:
credit: World Socialist Website from National Vital Statistics System
note: CLRD is chronic lower respiratory disease (e.g. pneumonia)
Another study from the University of Michigan found that middle age workers ten years away from collecting Social Security are in poorer health than prior generations in their fifties. Inequality among seniors in 'Merica is almost the worst in the world. Only Mexico and Chile have worse inequality among thirty five member nations of the OECD (Organization for Cooperation and Development). In other words the rich are living comfortably and living longer while the not rich are working longer, dying younger, and living in pain and poor health.

So Trump supporters say: But the stock market hit a new high!!! US Person says: the only thing a booming market is proof of is that the plutocracy, which owns it, is getting richer at the expense of the rest of US. Of course plutocrats who are "dangerous to democracy" like Trump think lazy 'Mericans already live too long to be profitable. In the depressed coal mining county of McDowell male life expectancy is a miserable 63.9 years! McDowell joins such progressive countries like Haiti, Ghana and Papua New Guinea at the bottom of the longevity list.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

COTW: Cutting Off Earth's Lungs

One of the most effective ways to avoid catastrophic climate change is to preserve Earth's remaining forests that function as a global carbon dioxide sponge and oxygen generator. Resource rich but less developed countries are cutting their forests down at an alarming rate. These charts show deforestation rates in a few of the major forest areas of the globe. A bright spot is that Brazil is slowly reducing the amount of Amazon forest being cleared, mostly for cattle ranching and subsistence farming. Europe has managed to increase its amount of forest cover as the movement to protect remaining forests gains policy priority.

Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, continue to loose an alarming amount of forest to logging, legal and illegal, and the palm oil industry.

Brazil has decreased the rate of its deforestation but recently (2013) experienced increase due to changes in its forest code and incentives for forest preservation. The rest of the Amazon Basin is not doing as well as Brazil in protecting rain forest. Peru is noticeably hard hit by palm oil clearances and gold mining [lower chart]. Bolivia, with its adoption of the rights of nature concept, has decreased the rate of forest lost to cattle ranching and mechanized farming:

Finally, the Congo Basin in Africa is loosing forest rapidly as development intensifies. African lowland rain forests face a range of threats from agricultural clearances, logging, poaching and mining:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Iditarod Hit With Doping Scandal

The famous race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska is steeped in history and lore, but the race organizers are dealing with new kind of notoriety: doping of participating sled dogs.  Animal advocates having been lobbying for closing down the grueling race because sled dogs often die from exhaustion and suffer serious injuries.  One hundred and fifty dogs have died in the race's forty-four year history according to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Last year a drunk on a snowmobile attacked mushers and killed a dog.  Huskies, known for their willingness to run until they cannot, have suffered severe infections and bloody paws.

Dallas Seavey has won the race several times and lost to his father in this year's race.  Four of his dogs tested positive for an opiod pain-killer, Tramadol.  Because the race organizers cannot prove he administered the drug, Seavey [photo] will keep his $59,000 in winnings.  A documentary director of a film about sled dogs said the race is all about winning regardless of inhuman treatment of the dogs.  The race has lost sponsors as result of the criticisms, notably Wells Fargo.  Seavey has said he will withdraw from next year's race after criticizing the organizing trail committee for its handling of the doping issue.  He denies he doped his dogs and believes their food was adulterated.  The committee has changed this year's rules to put the disqualification of a positive drug result on the musher unless they can show the doping was beyond their control.

Friday, October 20, 2017

'Toontime: Trumpafication

credit: Jimmy Margulies 
Wackydoodle sez: He's goin' to build debtor prisons too!
Trump's radical tax cut plan for the rich is going nowhere fast in the Senate despite the passage of a budget resolution by that body on Thursday. The Repugnant majority is razor thin and there are already rumblings of non-support  in the caucus. Still, the passage of a budget will allow them to vote on a tax bill with a simple majority under the budget reconciliation process, clearing a major procedural hurdle. 

It is no coincident that the Dow Jones passed 23,000 for the first time this week. The plutocrats are drooling in anticipation of yet another reduction in their tax liabilities. The richest 10% now own over 80% of stock market wealth according to a recent NYU study. Under the Trump plan taxpayers at the top of income distribution could see their incomes rise by almost 6%. Trump personally stands to gain by another provision that reduces the tax rate on pass-through businesses like Trump resorts to 25%*.

*Here is one commentator's assessment of Trump's obvious lack of empathy with others not in his elevated socioeconomic strata: "Any normal human being with an average endowment of empathy would be able to do it [make a telephone call of condolence]. But Trump is an extreme sociopath, [emphasis added] who has to be instructed on not sounding like a sociopath. And he failed because even given the words to say, as Kelly now testifies he did, Trump managed to twist them into something callous and come off as grossly insensitive and insulting." That assessment fits US Person's definition of a "Looser". The loosers in the capitalist system are certainly workers from an economic standpoint because the system is rigged in favor of the rentiers (the result of economic financialization). That is why Marx observed, “freedom… can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it [the system] as by the blind force of Nature, and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of, their human nature.”  You can always find the straight answer at PNG!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

NW Natives' Right to Fish in Supreme Court

Sport fishermen in the northwest constantly lament the decline in salmon population and often point to competition from other predators like California sea lions and Native American fishers as part of the problem.  These jejune opinions are typical of the reactionary thinking in vogue.  The fact is northwest Indian tribes have treaty rights to fish in waterways with fish to catch.  As supreme law of the land, their treaty rights were upheld in a landmark 1974 decision by a Ninth Circuit federal judge in the Boldt decision (U.S. v. Washington) which gave Natives the right to harvest half the salmon in Washington state waterways.  The decision recognized the tribes' sovereignty when it came to managing their treaty rights to fish.

The real reason for salmon depopulation is relatively straightforward for unbiased thinkers.  It is habitat degradation in all of its various forms: from dam building, water pollution, to road culverts [photo].  Culverts are a pervasive problem that is often overlooked when discussing salmon conservation.  In the state of Washington alone, almost two thousand fish-blocking culverts have been identified.  By creating barriers too steep, or too angular, adult salmon are prevented from spawning upstream and juvenile salmon prevented from returning to the sea.  Culverts were identified in a 1997 report to the Washington legislature as one of the most "recurrent and correctable" obstacles to healthy salmon stocks.  In 2013 the state Department of Transportation was ordered to prioritize their replacement with fish-friendly crossings.  So far in twenty-five years, the state has replaced 319 with fish passages.

If the native peoples win their lawsuit in the US Supreme Court and lower court decisions recognizing their sovereignty are upheld, the state will be faced with a potential bill of $2.4 billion to replace 900 culverts with high priority by 2030.  Understandably the state's attorneys have adopted an extreme interpretation of Indian fishing rights in their court arguments.  One knowledgeable observer called the arguments a, "Wild West attitude" that was previously rejected by the courts. One Indian leader stated that the right to harvest salmon was one of the few things Indians retained in return for all the land they gave up in western Washington.  But the Boldt decision did not expressly decide how far a state must go to protect habitat to insure healthy salmon stocks for Indians to fish.  Montana and Idaho have sided with Washington in the case. Other states in the northwest with stream culverts are watching the litigation closely.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

COTW: Pass the Cool-Aide

Der Leader is adhering to his plutocratic roots with the introduction of tax 'reform' that favors the rich over the working classes.  Under the proposed plan the billionaire could get a $23 million tax cut according to a study released by Senate Democrats.  The fact is real wages, that is adjusted for inflation, have been falling since the late sixties. This chart only shows the change since 2007:

All percentiles except the top 5% have experienced declining real wages.  Yet the tax burden has fallen more on peoples' payroll income as this chart shows:

Corporate taxes and individual income taxes which Trump proposes to reduce further would have to be made up with more revenue from payrolls.  Average tax rates for high-income individuals whose individual income is mostly from investments and corporate earnings have  substantially dropped.  Average tax rates for the middle 20% has remained relatively flat.

In short, the very rich like Trump are already getting a significant tax break in historical terms, with the middle and working classes taking up the short fall in revenue.  Are 'Mericans once again going to drink the cool-aide of 'less tax means more jobs' as the plutocracy attempts again to satisfy its never ending greed for more?  Stay tuned--if you can get past the tawdry tit for tat that dominates the mass news cycle.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Global Cat Day

US Person wishes to share with all of you cat admirers a picture of his beloved LuuMao who passed last summer.  The joy of a loving cat companion is sometimes beyond words, so only a picture can suffice.  Tell your cats how much you love them on this Global Cat Day.

Navy Dolphins Help Track Vaquitas

US Navy dolphins are on a unique mission in the Gulf of California.  The trained marine mammals are tracking vaquitas, Phocoena sinus, the critically endangered small porpoise endemic to the norther Gulf of California, so they can be captured and taken to sanctuary until their natural habitat is made safe for them to return. [photo courtesy NOAA] The Mexican government is undertaking the task on the advice of experts who believe the vaquita, whose population has been reduced 90%, is on the edge of extinction in the wild.

A Center for Biological Diversity spokesman said the vaquita's home will not be safe until the government eliminates gill netting in the northern Gulf.  A permanent ban was instituted two years ago, but illegal netting for the totoaba continues. {28.03.16} Vaquitas are also ensnared in the nets and drown. The Mexcian government has committed $100 million to the effort to save the vaquita and compensate fishermen for lost income. Captured vaquita will be confined in pens in the Gulf until they can be released to the wild again.  The last resort operation is risky since no vaquita has been captured alive to date, and it is uncertain whether they can survive and reproduce while confined.  Experts think the risks are worth taking since the vaquita has no known extant relatives and therefore represents proportionately more of the tree of life than other marine mammals. (an EDGE specie)    If it the capture project works it may be a model for rescuing other critically endangered species.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Toontime: Stuck With Moron

credit: M. Streeter, Savanah Morning News
BC Idonwanna sez: Talk to Chief Little Finger waste of time!
Der Leader is apparently motivated solely by overturning his predecessors notable achievements in office.  His high-school bully behavior is not only alienating the public [chart below], but alarming members of the political elite.  He turns from threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation to de-certifying Iran's compliance with an international nuclear arms agreement that took seven nations twelve years to negotiate.  His de-certification 'trumps' eight years of IAEA inspections that have found Iran compliant with the treaty's terms.

Typical of the boy president's overblown rhetoric, he called the Obama-era agreement the worse deal America has ever made.  Any deal that adverts nuclear war is a good deal in US Person's opinion. Incidentally, he is reliably informed that Donald's much parodied hair style is due to a hair weave intended to make him appear to have more hair than he has. Can 'Merica afford four more years of this loose cannon in the White House?  It is up to Congress to control his destabilizing foreign policy actions before the button is pushed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

COTW: The High that Kills

The public health crisis embodied in the increasing abuse of opioids has reached a new lethality.  Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid more powerful than heroin, but only 2 grams can be fatal.  The drug is finding its way into the US heroin and cocaine supply where unsuspecting addicts die from their drug of choice laced with "Apache" or "China White", as it is known on the street.  Most of it comes from China through the mail, and it is available on-line.  The death rate from synthetic opioids has increased by 72% from 2014 to 2015 according to data from the Center for Disease Control.  An idea of how powerful the drug is can be gauged from the fact that a fentanyl derivative is used to tranquilize elephants and rhinos. Interestingly, Russia's spetnaze forces used a fentanyl-based gas to subdue Chechen terrorists who held an entire theater filled with people hostage in 2002.  130 of the 850 hostages died from their exposure to the gas.  It's legitimate use is for relief of extreme pain associated with advanced cancer.  The regions showing are the most increase in overdose deaths are in the Northeast and the Midwest [chart above].   Abuse of the drug first appeared in the 1970's among the medical community, but has spread rapidly since then.  It was developed in the 1960's under the trade name of Sublimaze.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Major Ivory Traffikers Arrested in Malawi

Interpol reports that a major figures in the illegal African ivory trade, the Kaunda Brothers, Chancy and Patrick, have been arrested for their attempt to smuggle 781 elephant tusks worth about $5.8 million from Tanzania to Malawi.  One of the brothers was arrested in northern Malawi on October 4th.  Intelligence led police to arrest the second Kaunda hours later.  The arrests were made as part of an international effort targeting transnational crimes and Interpol's Project Wisdom.  The Project encourages Interpol's 192 member nations to work together to combat environmental criminals like the Kaundas.

The Great African Elephant Census recently completed shows that there are only 352,271 savanna elephants remaining a drastic reduction from several million at the turn of the 20th century.  The aerial survey covered 18 range countries, including Tanzania whose elephants have been especially hard hit by poaching.  The current estimated loss is about 8% per year.  IUCN classifies the savanna elephant as vulnerable to extinction, one step removed from the endangered listing in 1996.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jimmy Wants to Wage Peace

Carter greets N. Korean foreign minister
In a move that will no doubt irritate the volatile Donald, former President Jimmy Carter offered to travel to Pyongyang, North Korea to talk peace with Kim Jong-un.  The offer was reported by a Georgia University professor of international affairs to a South Korean newspaper.  The ninety-three year old made the offer during a meeting at his home in September where he told the academic he was willing to "contribute to establishing a permanent peace regime" on the Korean peninsula.  The White House has asked the former President not to speak about the Korean crisis. Trump has alarmed the world by his hot-headed rhetorical exchanges with the North Korean dictator and refuses to consider any rapprochement, employing instead threats of nuclear annihilation to halt North Korean nuclear weapons development.

Carter penned an editorial in the Washington Post last week in which he said the
North Korean leaders he met wanted direct talks with the United States in order to reach a final settlement of the yet unsettled Korea War that ended in stalemate.  He also said that the regime is largely immune from outside influences including China's, and called for an international conference to discuss a comprehensive treaty ending the Korean conflict.  President Carter was successful in negotiating a freeze of North Korea's nuclear weapon development in 1994, and the release of Aijalon Gomes in 2010.  Trump, the candidate, said in 2016 he was open to talks with Kim Jong-un, but that was before the isolated regime successfully tested long-range missiles, detonated a hydrogen bomb, and Trump called Kim a "deranged rocket-man".  Carter would need US government permission to travel to North Korea, even on an unofficial basis.  An unofficial visit by a real statesman would be more useful than Trump's fake government by tweet; even Rex Tillerson knows that a nuclear war would be bad for business.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

'Toontime: 'Merica, the Abnormal

credit: Julius Hansen, Denmark @
Go down any country road in 'Merica and you will find traffic signs riddled with bullet holes.  It is emblematic of the nation's deadly gun fetish.  Any attempt to justify what happened in Las Vegas is the product of unclear thinking or what the 12 steppers call "stinkin' thinkin'"  That criticism does not apply to the NRA and the business interests for which it hustles in Washington, however.  No, that is a coldly calculated business policy: profit at any price.  Because the government is held sway by corporate plutocrats, slaughters like Las Vegas will happen again, and again until enough of the masses rise up and just say, NOT.

Nor can the Vegas Massacre be blamed on terrorists, religious zealots,  immigrants, or racial minorities.  Any attempt to do so is pure agitatsiya-propaganda issued by political elites in order to further confuse, divide, and thereby render ineffective, public opinion.

credit: Malcolm Evans, New Zealand

BC Idonwanna sez: White man hate!

fetish: a course of action to which one has an excessive and irrational commitment  

massacre: an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people 
agitatsiya-propaganda  political (originally 1930's soviet) propaganda, especially in art, journalism or literature 

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Slaughter of the Innocent

The shocking level of gun violence tolerated in 'Merica is literally off the charts.  According to the UK Guardian, on average a mass shooting--defined as four or more victims not including the shooter--occurs nine out of every ten days.  Once again the United States proves itself to be the 'exceptional' country.  Look at this chart:

Even in countries that allow citizens to possess weapons, the number of deaths in the United States per 100,000 people is an anomaly.  The correlation between the number of guns in a society and the number of gun-related deaths is clearly shown in this chart:

According to Pew Research, 80% of 'Mericans who identify as Democratic voters and 54% of Republican voters support a ban on assault weapons.  The support is there, but its the captured politicians who get in the way of effective gun control that saves lives.  Too late for the 59 victims in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting incident in America's violent history.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Night of the Gun

Russian AK-47

The mass murderer clearly used an automatic weapon to mow down 59 fellow citizens and wound 500 more in the worst mass homicide by gunfire in US history. It may be the first  time a machine gun was used in a mass shooting incident. Videos of the event contain sound tracks in which the prolonged staccato of automatic fire can be heard in the background.  The bursts were interrupted by silence, presumably so the maniac could reload.  Early reports are that Stephan Paddock had 17 guns ranging from .223 caliber to .308 caliber in his Mandalay Bay hotel room; one of which was an AK-47, a military assault rife.  He is also said to have had a tripod or stand with which to improve aiming.  The range to his targets, concert-goers enjoying country-western music, was 400 meters, near the effective maximum for an assault rife such as the AR-15. Kalasnikov's rife fires a heavier 7.62mm round. Even at 400 meters a Kalisnikov user has an 82% chance of hitting a crouching person according to tests conducted by the US military.

US made SAW

Automatic weapons are highly regulated, but not impossible to obtain in the land of guns. They can be legally owned if federally registered and made before May 1986. More disturbing than legal ownership of military grade weapons, is the availability of modification kits that allow an owner of a semi-automatic rifle to convert it to nearly full automatic. It is not publicly known now if Paddock possessed a modified assault rife or a machine gun such as a SAW, or both. A squad automatic weapon fires a 5.6mm round similar to the AR-15. Manuals suggest that the SAW can fire up to 200 rounds in sustained bursts without damage. There are a reported 193,000 machine guns in the legal possession of civilians in the US. Only a military weapon could have inflicted the extreme number of casualties in the few seconds Paddock blasted away before killing himself with a handgun. (estimated at 9 rounds per second)

Will the havoc unleashed on a Las Vegas crowd on the street for an evening's entertainment have an affect on the Washington gun lobby led by the White House? US Person thinks not. It is just a cost of doing business in 'Merica, and guns are big business.

The Rights of Nature

Update: A lawsuit in Denver's federal district court was filed on September 25th, a commonplace occurrence, no doubt. But this case is different. It names the Colorado River as plaintiff and seeks to hold the State of Colorado through is governor liable for violating its right to exist, flourish and regenerate. Conservationists know that the river has been grossly misappropriated and abused by man's development activities. It's waters are so removed for irrigation and urban uses that they no longer reach the Gulf of California, which they did for six million years. Then in the 1920's states of the western Great Basin began divvy the waters to serve the growing West. The river now provides precious water to 30 million people in seven states and Mexico. Climate change will reduce the amount river water even further by 5-20% over the next forty years. In essence the suit, filed by Denver attorney Jason Florez-Williams, seeks to give the Colorado River personhood to protect itself. A conservation group known as Deep Green Resistance is appearing as the river's "next friend" in court. Commentators give the suit a slim chance to none to prevail, but its mere filing indicates the growing popular desire to give Nature legal standing in American courts.

{18.09.17} Der Donald thought he was being clever when he attempted to justify his withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord by saying he represented Pittsburgh, not Paris. The statement was unfair to the city of Pittsburgh, once a very dirty and polluted steel town, that has literally "cleaned up its act" since the days of US Steel and Andrew Carnegie. [photo, below] Significantly Pittsburgh is the first US city to recognize the rights of nature under law. Rather than treating nature as if it were inanimate property and not a living organism, the doctrine of the rights of nature recognizes that nature in all its forms has a right to exist, persist and regenerate. This is a doctrine that is very familiar to indigenous peoples all over the world who understand nature to be a living entity, but is just beginning to receive attention and respect it deserves in western jurisprudence.

Pittsburgh yesterday: what Donald has in mind?
How did a former steel town become a leader in the recognition of the rights of nature? It began with a community based effort to stop hydraulic fracking within the city limits of Pittsburgh. The city sits on top of the Marcellus Shale formation which is being exploited by oil and gas companies. In order to bring the oil and gas to the surface from one mile down, the shale has to be fractured with high pressure water laced with toxic chemicals. The process is very polluting since it releases carcinogens like benzene, heavy metals, and radioactive ores. It has been proven to cause contamination of ground water and earth tremors.

A city councilman, Doug Shields, led the fight to pass an ordinance prohibiting drilling in Pittsburgh when a local Catholic church signed a lease to permit drilling for natural gas beneath their cemetery. Written by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, it elevates the rights of community and nature over corporate rights, challenging the state to pre-empt Pittsburgh's concept of home rule. The ordinance in several of its provisions denies the legal "personhood" of corporations seeking to drill within the city's limits. The ordinance passed the city council unanimously and was signed into law in 2010.

Pittsburgh was not the first US jurisdiction to recognize nature's legal rights. That honor goes to Tamaqua, PA a rural community that was literally being dumped on with toxic sewage sludge. Abandoned coal pits in the area were being used for the disposal of waste solids some of which came from New York and New Jersey and contained hospital and industrial wastes. A spike in diseases such as Alzheimer and cancer were detected. The borough had enough: it passed an ordinance asserting its community and banned the dumping. Under Section 7.6, "natural communities and ecosystems shall be considered persons for the enforcement of civil rights".

The doctrine of nature's legal rights has been recognized and enforced in other countries.  In April 2017 an Indian high court granted legal personhood to the Ganges and Yamuna rivers, both considered sacred by Hindus.  Similarly a New Zealand court recognized the legal personage of the Whanganui river, considered an ancestor by the Maori people. In 2008, Ecuador adopted a constitutional amendment that acknowledged nature’s right to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” Bolivia followed three years later with a similarly worded law.Both refer to Pachamama, the Quechua and Aymara word for “nature” or “Mother Earth.”

In the United States, legal commentators trace the origin of the doctrine to an influential 1972 law review article by USC professor Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?, but Native American have held similar sacred beliefs for thousands of years.  Former Chief Justice William O. Douglas was obviously influenced by the concept of nature having legal rights when he wrote that natural 'objects' should have standing to sue through their representatives to preserve their existence when injury is "the subject of public outrage".

Corporations have had their personhood enshrined in US jurisprudence for two centuries.  US Person asks: is it so outrageous or radical to think that living nature--hard pressed by technology and commerce--to have the same rights as an inanimate legal fiction? Clearly, the people of Pittsburgh have come to appreciate and value a clean environment and beautiful environment in which to live, regardless of what Donald Trump has to say.