Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Lion Hunter Shot Dead

A Croatian big game hunter was shot dead in Africa while taking aim at a captive-bread lion in what is commonly known as a "canned hunt". Pero Jelinic had already killed one captive lion and was taking aim at another when he was shot in the head and killed.  The incident is under investigation, but no killer, other than Jelinic, has been identified; he was hunting with two other Croatians at remote Leeubosch Lodge, near Setlagole.  This inhumane industry has been condemned by conservationists and hunters alike; the list of objectors includes a prominent American hunting institution, Dallas Safari Club, which earlier this month issued a scathing statement denouncing captive bred lion hunts.

Gabon Breaks Poaching Ring

Gabon's government announced that it has "dismantled" an elephant poaching ring responsible for smuggling six tons of ivory out of the country in 2017. Gabon is the home of forest elephants that are rapidly disappearing from central Africa. In one Gabon park alone, the population has dropped 80% according to a recent US university study. A Chadian who headed the ring, Abdoulaye Ibrahim, was arrested after a two year investigation assisted by INTERPOL and French law enforcement. The ring's finance man was arrested three weeks later. They face ten years imprisonment if convicted of organized crime. Gabon has deployed its military in some areas to protect its remaining elephant residents.

an active poaching camp in a national park
The tragedy of elephant extirpation continues in nearby countries, however. The Central African Republic, wracked by years of civil war, has lost almost all of its elephants (Loxodonta africana) in the northern areas of the country, once an elephant stronghold. (Bamingui-Bangoran NP). The Central African Republic, wracked by years of civil war, has lost almost all of its elephants A recent aerial survey found a few remaining survivors (68). Those may also be dead by now. The planes covered 63,657 square kilometers (24,578 square miles) across several national parks and their outskirts. The eventual extinction of wildlife in the region can be halted with concerted enforcement efforts, including the deployment of military units with the authority to engage poachers discovered in the field. [photo] Now that most elephants have been extirpated, poachers are preying on other species for bush meat. Cattle herders have invaded the parks, and sell the dried meat to villagers as a sort of bonus income. The government currently controls only about 10% of the nation's territory. Consequently conservation efforts have been severely curtailed. The South African based NGO, African Parks, has taken control of Chinko National Park in the southeast and is succeeding in re-establishing control there.

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Day of Reckoning for Cape Town

In the age of catastrophic climate change where storms are more violent and droughts more severe [see chart], Cape Town, South Africa faces "Day Zero".  That is the day when the metropolis will shut off municipal water supplies.  It will be the first major city to run out of water.  The city's reservoirs are now at 26% of capacity; the taps will be turned off when they they reach 13.5%.  At current rates of consumption, that will be a certainty by April 12th.  About 60% of the city's residents are using in excess of 87 litres a day.  The drought is the worst in a century; but the crisis is also exacerbated by the rapid growth of Cape Town without corresponding additions to water supply infrastructure.  Desalination projects and new efforts to extract groundwater are still in the early stages.  The city's reservoirs are resupplied by rain water.  The city is implementing more restrictive water use regulations in an effort to stave off disaster.  It is also planning for transportation of drinking water to collection points for residents where they will have to queue daily to meet their limit of 6.6 gallons per day of water. Queues are already forming at natural springs around the city as residents seek to minimize mains usage and build up emergency supplies. That is the amount the World Health Organization says is the minimum necessary to support humans in an emergency.  But it will simply not be enough without extreme rationing; current planning calls for a total city consumption of 450 million litres per day. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

'Toontime: Booing Trumpy in Davos

credit: Milt Priggee
BC Idonwanna sez: Him 'yuge' desparado!

Trumpy got a bumpy welcome in Davos, Switzerland with some boos and laughter emanating from the elite crowd gathered to hear first-hand what the leader of the world's soon-to-be second largest economy had to say.  Essentially according to the him the 'bidness' of 'Merica is still 'bidness'.   Trumpy has yet to understand that making money is not necessarily qualify him to occupy the most powerful public and foreign policy institution in the world. His attack on "fake news" also bombed. Why?  One reason is the story that Trump tried to fire Special Counsel Mueller was supposedly "fake news" according to Trump, but the story originally published in the New York Times got independent confirmation from three other news organizations together with more details of what transpired.  Politico, Washington Post and CNN all confirmed the  New York paper's reporting. His attempt to fire Mueller speaks volumes about the President's culpability. Further, his actions to protect former Arizona sheriff Arpaio, and his expressed need for "protection" from Attorney General Sessions who recused himself from participation in the Russia Connection investigation on the advice of professional Justice Department staff, show a pattern of behavior consistent with a corrupt intent to obstruct justice.

credit: Rick McKee
Wackydoodle sez: He gives great truth!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

COTW Con't.: Rich are Getting Even More Rich

Bloomberg tells us what US Person already knows, the rich are getting filthy rich.  Look at the acceleration in this chart:

On the eve of the Davos conference, where the international plutocrats and glitterati gather to see and be seen, this news must be quite satisfying.  The middle class and poor are very lucky if they can earn more than 2% on their meager savings, while the wealthy reap record investment returns.  As Lenin observed in 1916, "The extraordinarily high rate of profit obtained from the issuance of securities, which is one of the principal functions of finance capital, plays a large part in the development and consolidation of the financial oligarchy...The supremacy of finance capital over all other forms of capital [such as industrial or productive capital] means the predominance of the rentier..."  Lenin's observations are just as accurate today, perhaps more so, than the were in early 20th century Europe*.  So called "neoliberal reforms"--privatization, cutting public entitlement programs, and strict limits on government debt under the rubric of "austerity"--have increased economic inequality around the world according to the  IMF.  As Trump, Jr. so aptly put it in another context, "Its good for us!"

*V.I. Lenin: Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1916; ch. III.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

COTW: Boom & Bust

Recently US Person posted about the contradictions inherent in finance capitalism. {15.01.18} One profound effect of capitalism's late development is the decline of manufacturing. Look at this chart:

What has replaced what used to be the bedrock of the nation's economy?  A boom or bust cycle featuring bubbles in stock markets, speculation in commodities (including real estate), and ineffective attempts to control the increasing large swings in economic activity by the central bank:

When "stagflation" occurred in the 70's, ordinary Keynesian economic stimulation did not effect a cure.  Carter's federal reserve chairman and Wall Street banker, Paul Volker hiked interests rates into the stratosphere, approaching 20%.  The policy, a form of austerity, eliminated inflation, but it also crushed the buying power of the middle class.  The economic miracle credited to Reagan is largely explained by the easing of interest rates that choked economic expansion.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

'Toontime: The Nuclear Option

Humpty Trumpy is willing to 'go nuclear' to end the government shutdown and the stalemate in Congress. US Person cannot remember in his lifetime a president so willing to use incendiary messaging for his political ends as the current occupant. Not even Tricky Dick was this insulting.  All he has accomplished besides giving a 'yuge' tax gift to the already wealthy and corporations at the expense of what remains of the middle class, is alienating political opponents and foreign allies alikeUS Person is not alone in this assessment of Trumpy's first year in office.  This quote comes from a professor at the Naval War College, hardly a commie-loving liberal enclave: "Trump’s presidency has done daily damage not only to the Republican Party and the conservative movement but, more important, to our constitutional system of government. The president is eroding the unwritten norms that serve as the civic girders beneath our political and legal infrastructure. And his foreign policy, insofar as he has one, is diminishing our global standing and jeopardizing our security."  Anyway you slice it, the current impasse is a dismal failure of leadership which further endangers the nation. He may not be clinically "nuts", but his behavior is certainly irresponsible.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Rare Monkey Found in Ghana

Only remnants of Ghana's once verdant forest cover survive.
One of those remnants covers the Atewa mountain range. Scientists reviewing the results of remote photography in the range were astounded to find what they though would soon be gone forever. The white-naped mangabey
(Cercocebus lunulatus) is a critically endangered monkey whose numbers have declined by 50% in the span of three decades.  Habitat loss and poaching are the primary causes of their decline.  White-naped mangabeys have distinctive dark markings on their faces that resemble sideburns.  The photos were taken in May 2017 as part of a survey of the region, but the monkeys' presence in eastern Ghana was not realized until December.  They are known to inhabit a small number of forests in western Ghana, but none were thought to still live in the eastern part of the country.  These may be the first photographs of this rare type of mangabey in the wild according to a researcher.

credit: A Rocha
The exciting discovery is tempered by the sober reality of what lies beneath the monkeys' feet.  Bauxite, the ore from which aluminum is produced, is found in large deposits in the Atewa mountains.  Ghana has around 960 million metric tons of bauxite deposits that, if refined, would be worth an estimated $460 billion.  In 2017 Ghana reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding with China to develop the bauxite deposits.  Mining the ore, usually done at the surface, will undoubtedly wipe out the forest and the mangabeys who live there. Much of the range is designated a forest reserve, but that category may not be enough to protect the forest from mining.  Activists are urging the government to designate the region a national park.  The forest is also critically important as a watershed for the human population of the city of Accra.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Peru Declares a New National Park

After a protracted struggle by indigenous groups to protect unspoiled rain forest in the Peruvian Amazon basin, the government declared Yaguas National Park in the Loreto region that covers more the 868,000 hectares (2.14 million acres) of rain forest that is habitat for 550 freshwater fish species alone, one of the richest diversity of freshwater fish in the world.  Yaguas also shelters 500 species of birds and 160 species of mammals.  The culmination of a thirty year struggle is the indigenous peoples' gift to world say tribal leaders.  Yaguas speaking tribes that live there consider the area sacred and refer to it as "sachamamma".  The government spent considerable effort in quantify the economic benefit of a new national park.  It considered the preservation of species for subsistence hunting to be worth $5.2 million in savings.  That figure is based on the white tipped peccary, a mammal classified as vulnerable by ICUN, and is also a major element of local diets.  The value of the Park's carbon absorption is estimated at 1.5 million tons in the next twenty years.  The new park is as big as Yellowstone National Park in the US.

credit: MongabayBay.com
Beyond merely absorbing carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen into the atmosphere, in tact rainforest emit a variety of reactive gases that actually cool the atmosphere.  Anyone that lives close to a wooded area or forest can attest to this temperature effect.  The new study published in Nature Communications, by researchers from Leeds University in the UK estimates that loss of these forest emissions could contribute to global warming by as much as 14%.

The conservation news from Peru is not all positive. Contemporaneously with the creation of Yaguas National Park, proposed road development in the basin could cause the loss of 680,000 acres of Amazon forest.  The government approved last year a slew of roads along the border with Brazil in the Ucayali and Madre de Dios regions.  The main road of 172 miles puts at risk primary rain forest in protected and indigenous reserves.  A 2014 study of deforestation in Brazil found that 95% of clearances occur within in 3 miles of a road or waterway.  Deforestation along the existing Interoceanic Highway has a deforested zone ten kilometers wide along its route. Peru’s Ministry of Culture warned that newly proposed road would have big impacts on indigenous communities living in voluntary isolation in their reserves.

Monday, January 15, 2018

COTW: Not So Much

A few corporations, notably Wall-Mart, Inc., have given their employees bonuses and raised minimum wages in response to the the 'yuge' tax gift from Trumpy.  Their 'generosity' reminds US Person, an ungrateful cur, of a Dickens novel. The chart above puts their much-touted largess into actual perspective.  At the same time the Waltons were demonstrating concern for their wage-slave labor force, they suddenly announced the closure of 63 Sam's Club outlets across the US, putting 9400 employees out of work.  This action is symptomatic of the way finance capitalist elites (plutocrats) do business. Historian David Harvey argues* that ownership (share holders) and management (CEOs) of capitalist enterprises have fused together, as upper management is increasingly paid with stock options. Raising the price of their stock becomes the objective of corporate operations. Productive corporations compete by generating rapid increases in the price of the corporation’s stock, immediately through gimmicks and trickery, but more basically through firing workers, moving production, and raiding pension funds. Workers, (labor commodity), receive little consideration in their profit calculus, other than to improve their bottom line.  It's all about the market, baby, just ask Trumpy!

*David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: University Press, 2005), 31–3. Only 27 percent of U.S. families own stocks. While 78 percent of the richest 20% families own stocks and mutual funds, 3 percent of the poorest 20% families do so.  It is no wonder that Trump constantly touts the ageing bull market as evidence of his "making America great again". As Professor Richard Peet points out in his Monthly Review article, "Contradictions of Finance Capitalism", "...industrial capitalism primarily exploits productive workers through the wage system, finance capitalism adds the exploitation of consumptive individuals via indebtedness. The idea is to have everything bought not with dollar bills or pound notes, but with maxed-out credit cards, so that purchases yield several years of interest at far-higher rates than banks pay on deposits (20 percent as compared with 2 percent)".  
These profitable income streams from indebted workers are then further leveraged by trading in debt-backed securities (credit default swaps prominent among them). The prices of commodities, such as oil and housing, are also inflated by commodity futures trading which benefits the rich, but imposes higher prices on consumers.  One commentator revealingly calls modern neoliberal economies, "Ponzi capitalism".  Under this regime, manufacturing declined markedly in economic importance to be replaced by finance or what is sometimes called the "FIRE" economy (finance, insurance, real estate) .  With this development, an organized industrial workforce, the traditional base of the Democratic Party, also declined.  The "genius' of Bill Clinton was to recognize this deindustrialization and switch allegiance to Wall Street where it has been ever since, Bernie Sanders not withstanding.   Where has manufacturing gone?  Just look at the source label of the next item you purchase at Wal-Mart.  Chances are better than even it says, "made in China".  Trump's campaign catch phrase is so much snake-oil, a deceitful banner of the distracting, media-driven circus that is American national politics.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hawaii's Early Warning System Cries Wolf

credit: Washington Post
It is an old adage that if you cry wolf enough times people will start to believe you.  Something akin to that is what happened in Hawaii yesterday morning when an emergency management agency employee made the wrong menu selection at a change of shift.  Instead of selecting a test mode for the state's early warning system, he pushed the actual alert button.  Was this a legitimate mistake, or a deliberate attempt to further provoke obviously distraught 'Mericans pushed to the edge of panic by an emotionally unstable President?  US Person wants to know.  Fortunately, the nuclear regime of Kim Jong Un was too busy talking to its southern neighbor about the upcoming Winter Olympics to exploit the erroneous threat of a ballistic missile attack aimed at the islands.

courtesy: USAF
Nor did the United State's military respond to the alarm because it has immediate access to surveillance that can verify a missile launch anywhere in the world; but this information is not available to Hawaii's emergency management agency.  The unacceptable mistake made by Hawaiian officials on Saturday morning is a classic example of how nuclear brinkmanship can go catastrophically wrong.  It took 38 minutes for the state to issue false alarm statements to the public.[photo, above] Meanwhile Hawaiians were saying their last good byes to loved ones probably as images of Pearl Harbor flashed through their minds!  An alert cancellation option has since been installed to avoid another instance of national insecurity.  This miscreant has been reassigned, and an investigation is underway to correct the flaws in an emergency system that could mean the difference between life or death for people living at the edge of the homeland. An early conclusion by the FCC is that Hawaii did not have “reasonable safeguards or process controls in place” in its emergency notification process. No joke.

Friday, January 12, 2018

'Toontime: Trumpworld

credit: M Streeter, Savannah Morning News
Amidst all the breathless blather floating over the airwaves about the investigation of Trumpy's alleged 'collusion' with Russians to steal the election from hapless Hillary, the major high crime of the President is his flagrant use of public office to enrich himself. This constitutional crisis can be summed up under the term, "emoluments". That is the constitutional term for favors or money not permitted to be received by a sitting president. The reason for the rule in Articles I and II should be obvious: the President should not accept bribes, either domestic (Art. II) or foreign (Art. I), in return for political favors. Look at the list complied by Washington Monthly of Trump's profiting off the presidency.

Trump is an unprecedented occupant of the White House. No other president has entered office with a fortune as immense as his.  Estimated at $3.1 billion, it spans 500 companies in twenty-five countries.  Former presidents like Jimmy Carter placed their business interests in a blind trust before taking office.  Trump did too, but his "trust" is significantly different.  His trustees are close family members who give the pater familias regular reports on their business interests, and the trust terms allow him to withdraw assets or profits at any time.  This means, of course, that Trump has a direct interest in any government policies affecting the Trump companies. Trump is being sued by two hundred Democrats in Congress, a ethics watch-dog group, and several private hotel competitors for his questionable merging of public business and private interests.

CREW, a non-profit ethics committee says in its suit, that Trump’s business interests are “creating countless conflicts of interest, as well as unprecedented influence by foreign governments, and have resulted and will further result in numerous violations of the Constitution.” As an example it points to the numerous foreign diplomats encouraged to stay at the Trump hotel in Washington while lobbying the federal government. Saudi Arabia has spent more than a quarter of a million dollars—$190,000 on lodging, $78,000 on catering, and $1,600 on parking at 'Trumpworld'. In US Person's opinion, profiting Trump business interests, while occupying the highest-profile political office in the world, was a major reason Trumpy ran for public office.  Considering security costs alone, Trump funnels significant amounts of public funds toward his resort businesses when he frequents them while traveling on public affairs.  He also leases property from the federal landowner, GSA, at the Old Post Office Building for his Trump International Hotel. Business there is booming. Since the GSA is headed by a Trump appointee, he is effectively both landlord and tenant.  Sweet deal if you can get it!

Granted the emolument clauses only apply to governments giving favors, not to private concerns. And Trump could avoid the emoluments ban altogether by disclosing his questionable dealings to Congress which could then approve them. Undoubtedly he is loath to do so since he doe not want more public scrutiny of his business affairs or personal finances (the Trump organization makes liberal use of shell companies to conceal the source and identity of funds).  Trump has been getting away with his self-dealing since he took office because most of his activity is simply sleazy from an ethics standpoint, not criminal. But a thorough federal investigation of the growing meld between Trumpworld and the Office of President would probably reveal dealings that cross the line into the "high crimes and misdemeanors" zone.

credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch
BC Idonwanna sez: Me rather stay in teepee!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Head Up Your Phone?

credit: K. Johnson
California, the bellwether state, has issued a health warning for radiation emitted by cell phones. Not surprising to US Person, as most millennials he sees around him go through life with their heads bowed before tiny, brightly lit screens. [photo] Cell phones emit radio frequency energy (RF) to receive and send signals to cell towers. Although the scientific community has not reached a consensus on the risks of cell phone use, research suggests long-term, frequent use may impact human health. The World Health Organization has classified RF fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Specifically a type of malignant brain cancer, glioma is associated with wireless telephony. Besides cancer, RF has been shown to reduce sperm count and motility, too. About 95% of 'Mericans own a cell phone. The average age for acquiring their first one is ten years.

The California Department of Health suggests you keep your phone in your backpack when not using it, or better yet turn it off since the device tries to stay connected; send text instead of voice so you do not have to hold your phone next to your ear; keep it away from your head when accessing the Internet or loading files; use airplane mode when viewing downloaded videos; and lastly do not sleep with your fascinating electronic placebo!

Warming Seas Killing Coral Worldwide

More: The most disturbing effect of anthropomorphic climate change on the world's oceans is the loss of oxygen, an absolutely necessary element for life. About half the Earth's oxygen comes from the oceans. But the combined effects of nutrient loading from discharges and climate change are greatly increasing the number and size of so-called dead zones. [map] Areas such as the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, oxygen levels are so low that fish suffocate and die. Of course they have learned to avoid these areas, which reduces their habitat and makes them more vulnerable to predation. Some organizes can survive in these conditions, but overall biodiversity declines. In a word, the oceans are slowing dying. The death spiral can be arrested, if man pays attention to the problem. Discharges of nitrogen from sewage and intense agriculture can be stopped. Vulnerable sea life can be protected from unsustainable exploitation. Increased accurate monitoring of low-oxygen zones to detect increases in area and changes in oxygen content. Chesapeake Bay is good example of what can be done on a global basis. The Bay is recovering with nitrogen levels dropping 24% thanks to better sewage treatment, agricultural practice and legal protections like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. Once, the central Bay contained zero oxygen. That area has almost completely disappeared.

{09.01.18} PNG is following the story of global ocean warming  and its impacts on coral habitats. {e.g. 30.09.13} Australia's Great Barrier Reef is suffering widespread bleaching, a phenomenon of warm seas causing corals to eject their life-sustaining symbiotic algae. Up to two-thirds of the reef has been bleached white in two consecutive years, the first recorded consecutive event, preventing corals from recovering.  A unique study published in Science found that the time between bleaching events at each tropical reef location around the world diminished five-fold in the past three to four decades, from once every 25-30 years in the early 1980s to an average of just once every six years since 2010.  Mass bleaching such as that now occurring on the Great Barrier did not happen before the 1980's; it has bleached four time since 1998.  Despite this alarming development, the Australia government continues to support fossil fuel use; Australia has large coal deposits and exports large amounts  coal to China, among other destinations.

Research funded by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation has successfully grown corals in the lab from eggs and sperm collected in the wild.  The aim is to repopulate damage reefs around the world.  Now, 100 larvae have been returned to the reef and are growing successfully.  It is a small start, but offers hope to repairing the damaged caused to the marine environment by anthropomorphic climate change.

Ocean warming is also causing more Green turtles to become female. Already endangered, the population imbalance could drive the species to extinction. The sex of green turtles is determined by temperature of the incubating eggs. Warmer sand produces female turtles from eggs buried on the beach. ; But warm sea water also causes green turtles to change their sex. Research performed on a population of 200,000 in the northern Great Barrier Reef found that almost all had transformed into females. Scientists are looking at ways to cool incubating beaches to produce more male turtles, such as erecting tents to shield nursery beaches from the intense tropical sunlight. Once again, Nature teaches us that it takes two genders to survive.

olive ridley sea turtle, courtesy SC Aquarium
Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are suffering from a different form of climate induced problem.  Recent record cold weather has caused more than 850 sea turtles to suffer "cold shock" in which they become immobilized and vulnerable to predation.  The event is the second largest on record in the Florida panhandle; in 2010 about 1800 turtles were rehabilitated. The turtles were brought to the Gulf World Marine Institute mostly from St. Joe Bay, Panama City for rehabilitation. About 5-10% will be lost in the ordeal; a few are suffering from secondary illnesses such as pneumonia for which they are being treated. The three species being cared for are the Kemp’s ridley, green and loggerhead turtles. Recovered turtle will be released back into the wild.

Monday, January 08, 2018

COTW: Infrastructure, Not So Much

Trumpy promised his rabid 'base' to make 'Merica Great Again, but he has done precious little in his first year of office except lurch from one personality crisis to another, and pick a nuclear fight with a Cold War leftover. The self-proclaimed "genius" should take a look at this chart:

To be fair most spending on infrastructure is done by local governments, not the federal government.   But there have been no efforts to share tax revenue with municipalities and counties to help these cash-strapped jurisdictions deal with the problems of crumbling infrastructure.  Their indebtedness has risen markedly in recent years due to funding retiring workers generous pension benefits. [chart below]

The federal government provides about 30% of the money used for transportation.  One glaring result of the lack of federal spending on transportation is the Amtrak system.  'Merica does not have a high-speed rail network for this very reason.  The use of rails not designed for high-speed passenger rail transport directly contributed to the fatal derailment of Amtrak's premier west-coast train service on an I-5 overpass in Washington state recently.  The train was traveling at a modest 78mph when it approached the curve posted for 30mph.  France's TGV and Japan's bullet trains travel at speeds nearing 200mph, but the rails they use are specially designed, dedicated, high-grade steel, not hand-me-down freight rails.  The French TGV (Très Grande Vitesse) holds the world's train speed record of 357.2mph! Tell that to stranded airline passengers in the northeast.

The American Society of Engineers gives 'Merica's infrastructure a grade of D+, and said that the cost of upgrading the nation's facilities would cost a whopping $4.6 trillion.  Of course that figure is much higher than the government's estimates, since the association's members stand to benefit from a construction boom.  Trump asked for $1 trillion in additional spending in his bugdet proposals to Congress, but he has already signed a massive tax gift to corporations and the wealthy, and a record-breaking Pentagon budget.  Infrastructure? Not so much.

"I'm a stable Genius!", declares Trumpy
BC Idonwanna sez:  Only 30% agree, kimosabe!

Friday, January 05, 2018

'Toontime: Big Buttons

credit: John Darkow
Wackydoodle sez: Y'all should see his ego!

It is simply astounding that the president of the largest nuclear power on Earth should engage in what the vernacular terms a "pissing contest" with the absolute leader of a tiny, backward nation still struggling to overcome the mass destruction of the Korean War. The U.S. dropped a total of 635,000 tons of bombs, including 32,557 tons of napalm, on Korea, more than during the whole Pacific campaign of World War II. According to USAF damage assessments, "eighteen of twenty-two major cities in North Korea had been at least half obliterated."* Yet the Donald's insecurity about North Korea is only exceeded by his fragile ego. To attempt to justify his outrageous performance in office as "standing up for his fellow Americans" is simply risible nonsense. The fact is he is endangering the country with his infantile taunting of a Stalinesque dictator now armed with working nuclear ICBMs; as Joe Biden said in classic Washington understatement, the guy is not presidential. A 100 kiloton hydrogen bomb (the estimated size of North Korea's largest test to date) is capable of wiping out the central business district of a city the size of Sydney. 

If Trump wants to prove what a man he is, he ought to show up in Panmunjon and challenge Kim to do the same.  After all Ronald went to Reykjavik and shocked the world--in a good way!

credit: Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune
BC Idonwanna sez, Cold shrink size! 
*The US Air Force horrific bombing campaign in the Korean War, under the aegis of the United Nations Command, constituted genocide, says commentator Joseph Essertier at Counterpunch. Neither the United Nation’s Genocide Convention approved in 1948 and going into effect in 1951, nor the Red Cross Convention on the Protection of Civilians in Wartime of 1948 had the “slightest impact on this air war” concludes American historian Bruce Cumings, who has covered the history thoroughly, including the abundant lies in North Korean government propaganda.  There is a way out of this fifty-plus year mess, and our colleague, President Putin has provided it.  Possibly because of that, it has been largely ignored by the jingoist domestic press.  The Moon-Putin Plan unveiled in September in Vladivostok outlines nine “bridges” of cooperation linking South Korea to Russia via North Korea—“gas, railroads, ports, electricity, a northern sea route, shipbuilding, jobs, agriculture, and fisheries", says Moon. Siberian oil and gas pipelines would be extended to Korea, both North and South, as well as to Japan. Both Koreas would be linked up with the vast rail networks of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, including high-speed rail, and the Eurasian Economic Union, which includes the Trans-Siberian Railway. Once the North is integrated into the modern world economy via Russia, the two Koreans can begin discussing in earnest the logical conclusion--peaceful reunification and disarmament that would see the American imperial occupation of the South terminated.  The money saved can be used for pressing social welfare needs at home, and our national security actually improved, not threatened.  The only interests disadvantaged thereby would be those capitalists who supply the materiel and weapons for continuing the deadly stalemate.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Trump Opens Offshore to Oil Biz

The Trump Department of Interior has announced that it will offer oil leases for
exploiting almost all of the US outer continental shelf including the Arctic and the Atlantic.  Up until now, drilling has been curtailed out of environmental concerns.  The Department  says about 94% of the US continental shelf is closed to oil exploration and development. The expected action will inevitably endanger sea life, and is contrary to public opinion on the subject.  Communities along the Atlantic seaboard and in California have passed resolutions against offshore drilling which is inherently dangerous and dirty.  Most of the Arctic coast has been protected until now. The draft plan proposes 19 lease sales in the Alaska Region (3 in the Chukchi Sea, 3 in the Beaufort Sea, 2 in Cook Inlet, and 1 sale each in 11 other program areas in Alaska.   The DOI announcement says the most leases in history will be put up for bid beginning in 2019 in an effort Secretary Zinke calls achieving "American energy dominance". 

The process for opening up 90% of the outer continental shelf will begin with the drafting of a programmatic environmental impact statement during which time the public will have the opportunity to submit comments.  Public hearings are scheduled to begin this month. https://www.boem.gov/National-Program/.  Remember the Deepwater Horizon!

COTW: America, the Homeless

Back in 2011 the National Alliance to End Homelessness predicted that the rate of homelessness in 'Merica was set to increase rapidly.  That prediction has come true as the homeless rate is at the highest levels since the Great Recession of 2008. [see chart below]  Just one archetypal example of the problem is Silicon Valley, CA.  It is the home of vast tech fortunes and lucrative employment opportunities, but once the cost of housing is factored into statistics, it has the highest poverty rate in the nation at 20.6%.  Formerly middle class families are living in parked RVs outside of their former high-rise apartment homes where rents can run as high as $3000 a month for a one-bedroom.  What is the Repugnant answer for all of this social dislocation: cut public spending for needed social programs.  A prime example of this extravagant disregard for the disadvantaged is the failure to fully fund the Childhood Health Insurance Program. (CHIP) As retiring Senator Orrin Hatch put it, he has a tough time spending money to help people who will not help themselves.  It is the same tired blame game they have played since the days of the Great Society.  Mr. Hatch has no problems spending hundreds of billions lining the pockets of warmongering plutocrats, however.  If being pro-people is  anti-capitalist, then you betcha, buddy.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

North Korea Opens Hot Line to South

The crisis telephone link between North and South Korea was disconnected two years ago by orders of Kim Jong Un, increasing the chances of a dangerous miscalculation in the tense border standoff that has lasted more than fifty years.  Communications over the hot line was reestablished today when North Korean officials contacted their neighbors about "technical issues" for twenty minutes.  The link is located in Panmunjong, the shared village on the 'demilitarized' border. Western observers hail the contact as a diplomatic breakthrough coming on the heels of a somewhat conciliatory speech by the North Korean dictator in which he pointedly told Donald Big Mouth that "the nuclear button was on his desk."  North Korea is considering sending an Olympic team to Peyongchang for the Winter Olympics that begin next month.  South Korea's president welcomed the move, saying reopening the channel was "very significant" for what is sometimes known as the 'hermit kingdom'.  Whether actual progress in talks is made remains to be seen as the two nations divided by war have failed to advance beyond stalemate and recrimination in the past.

The US President is not helping the situation.  Typical of the infantile bombast for which Donald has become world-renowned, he boasted in a twit that his button was "much bigger, more powerful" than Un's.  This sort of prattle belongs in a school-yard, not on the world diplomatic stage.  One female Twitter respondent desperately asked, "Is this real life?"  Unfortunately for the rest of us, a nuclear-armed government by sociopathic personality* is.

*according to the Mayo Clinic, a sociopathic personality may exhibit some or all of these symptoms:
  • Persistent lying or deceit to exploit others
  • Being callous, cynical and disrespectful of others
  • Using charm or wit to manipulate others for personal gain or personal pleasure
  • Arrogance, a sense of superiority and being extremely opinionated
  • Recurring problems with the law, including criminal behavior
  • Repeatedly violating the rights of others through intimidation and dishonesty
  • Impulsiveness or failure to plan ahead
  • Hostility, significant irritability, agitation, aggression or violence
  • Lack of empathy for others and lack of remorse about harming others
  • Unnecessary risk-taking or dangerous behavior with no regard for the safety of self or others
  • Poor or abusive relationships
  • Failure to consider the negative consequences of behavior or learn from them
  • Being consistently irresponsible and repeatedly failing to fulfill work or financial obligations

Chinese Love Donkey Gelatin

Another story of the Chinese penchant for bizarre foodstuffs: African donkeys are being stolen and butchered for their hides to meet the increasing demand for "ejiao", which is essentially gelatin boiled  from hide [photo credit: AP]. Fifteen years ago, ejiao sold for $9 per pound in China; now, it fetches around $400 per pound.  China's own donkey population has plummeted in recent years from around 11 million, the world's largest, to six million or just three million by some estimates. So Chinese companies have resorted to importing donkey hides from developing nations.

The product has been around for centuries, but renewed popularity began in 2010.  According to a report by a UK non-profit about 1.8 donkeys are slaughtered world wide to meet the growing demand.  Africa has become the favored region of Chinese resource exploitation, probably due to the continent's abundance and relatively lax law enforcement.  Donkeys may become the next pangolin {27.03.13} since the Chinese are willing to pay a high price for donkey hide.  Prices are fifty times higher than in 2014.

African donkeys are disappearing from under their owners' eyes, as procurers roam the country side looking for hide to buy.  The New York Times published a story about a poor Nairobi porter who lost five donkeys in a short span of time to skinners.  Thieves entered his small property, slit the animals' throats, and skinned them from the neck down on the bloody spot.  They left the meat for the vultures and hyenas.  All Mr. Njeru has left of his livelihood is a hoof he keeps as a memento.  In neighboring Tanzania, residents of the village of Esilalei lost nearly 475 donkeys in a single year.  About 175 were recovered by police who tracked the thieves into the bush, but the rest were lost to slaughterhouses.  Tanzania joined fourteen other African countries to ban the trade in donkey hides.  Kenya's trade is still legal and shows no sign of slowing.  The country has three abattoirs, all of them owned by Chinese concerns; rumor has it that a fourth will soon be opening for business.  The largest, Goldox Donkey, claims to process 450 animals a day. [photo: American burros living in Custer State Park, SD]

Donkeys bear many of man's burdens without complaint, but the trade in their hides is unsustainable, thus the resort to theft to meet the demand. Donkeys are not cattle; they do not adapt well to intensive breeding programs.   Unhealthy waste disposal has become an issue for residents who live near abattoirs.  Cruelty complaints have also been filed against the slaughterhouses--animals often arrive in unmentionable condition, and are treated unmercifully--but the government is loath to act because the industry is lucrative, provides employment, and pays taxes.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

'Extinct' Mammal Rediscovered

US Person is found of animal rediscovery stories because the contain a ray of hope for animal species facing extinction at the hands of man, and because they demonstrate that man does not know everything there is to know about Nature.  The 'awesomeness' of discovery still survives in the 21st century.

So goes the story of the Crest-tail Mulgara, Dasycercus cristicauda, a small marsupial that once inhabited the inland sandy deserts of Australia. Introduced predators such as foxes (for hunting) and cats (for rodent control) played havoc with the tiny carnivore.  It was known to science only from its fossilized bone fragments--that is until now.  Researchers from the University of New South Wales located a specimen living in Sturt National Park, northwest of Tibooburra, NSW.  The Park contains a variety of rugged landscapes and is noted for its rich Aboriginal heritage.  The research team is part of a collaborative effort, Wild Deserts, to restore, protect and preserve desert ecosystems.  Wild Deserts plans to introduce seven locally extinct mammals to New South Wales, after rabbits, cats and foxes are eradicated from two 20 sq. kilometer enclosures. Greater Bilby, Burrowing Bettong, Western Quoll and Western Barred Bandicoot are among the species to be re-established.

The mulgara is rat-sized, weighing about 150 grams with thick, blond fur and a distinctive black crest on its tail [photo credit: UNSW].  Previous investigation indicates that the mulgara population is increasing in the Strzelecki Desert of neighboring South Australia.  Reduced rabbit populations during the past 20 years due to release of rabbit calicivirus is thought to have benefited the species by leading to increases in ground cover.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Sumatran Rhino's 12,000 Year March to Extinction

Update: Some good news to begin the new year here at PNG! Iman, (see below) Malaysia's last surviving, captive female rhino has come out of her mud wallow and is recovering from a bleeding tumor in her uterus.  An intensive course of medication and controlled diet has reversed her deterioration according to her keepers.  Conservationists were worried that Iman would die, leaving no hope for a captive breeding program in Malaysia. Iman is believed to be fertile, so she represents the only source of rhino eggs in the country. The technology to freeze, preserve and thaw their eggs does not exist.  An earlier urgent request for frozen sperm to inseminate females was ignored by the Indonesian government which has a much larger program underway.  Iman is not out of the forest yet, as she has not resumed her normal eating habits and there is still some bleeding from her reproductive organ. She is given intravenous supplements and her favorite foods to encourage her full recovery.   Iman and her male partner, Kertam, live at the Tabin Wild Life Reserve under the care of BORA, the Borneo Rhino Alliance.
Ipuh died in 2013

{18.12.17}A new genetic study of the soon to be extinct-in-the wild Sumatran rhinoceros, (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) shows that the species'  population peaked about 12,000 years ago. It has been in decline since then. The end of the last ice age when sea levels rose precipitously, cut off most of its former territory. Less a natural cause be used as an excuse to end conservation efforts, it is noted that man contributed greatly to the rhino's decline by destroying its remaining rainforest habitat and hunting for its horn and hide.  Their genetic isolation and solitary lifestyle made them more vulnerable to existential threats, so their population bottomed out and never made a recovery.  John Payne, director of BORA (Borneo Rhino Alliance), called the new study results "fascinating" but cautioned interviewers that, “To say that we should just let some species go extinct because it is ‘natural’ is nonsense.”

The study was published in Current Biology and used genes from Cincinnati Zoo's deceased male rhino, Ipuh. [photo above] The genome analysis showed that rhino population peaked at about 57,800 individuals, but by the end of the Pleistocene that number plummeted to just 700.  Today, an estimated 30 survive in the wild in four distinct population groups. The official estimate is 100 but that is considered overly optimistic by experts.  The Sumatran is the only surviving member of the genus, Dicerorhinus, so its loss to Nature would be a huge loss indeed.  It is a genetic relic of a large family of rhino species that roamed the Eurasian continent 15 to 20 million years ago and included the woolly rhinoceros, which was hunted to extinction 10,000 years ago by Homo sapiens.

Conservation efforts have been hampered by a lack of support from the Indonesian government. According to Mongabay.com, a fragile consensus was reached between experts that more rhinos must be captured from the wild and brought into places like the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (SRS), where a captive-breeding program is underway. The recommendations include taking all rhinos out of Indonesian Borneo and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park, in southern Sumatra and Kalimantan. “Even more important,” according to a meeting document, is catching fertile rhinos from the Way Kambas population. All of these recommendations were passed to officials, but no official action has yet been taken.

Breeding in captivity has its problems too. Sumatran rhinos are slow breeders. Females do not reach sexual maturity until the age of 6 or 7, and males 10. Females only mate once every four or five years, and the species’ gestation period is 16 months. Juveniles stay with their mothers for two to three years.  Previous attempts to capture fertile animals have been botched. More bad news occurred recently when the last captive female in Malaysia, Iman, fell seriously ill due to a bleeding tumor in her uterus. Treatment is difficult say her caretakers because she refuses to eat or leave her mud wallow. [photo credit: BORA] Another female, Puntung was euthanized in June after suffering from squamous cell cancer for three months. The hopes of the captive breeding program were quashed when doctors were unable to recover any fertile eggs from Puntang. {08.06.17}