Wednesday, February 28, 2018

COTW: I'm OK, You're NOT

US Person posted previously about the cruel deception at the heart of the "American Dream": a lifetime of work will assure you a comfortable lifestyle with all of your basic needs met. A corollary is that higher education will allow you to reach that goal more easily with higher paying employment. The following chart shows that is not necessarily the case in a finance capital economy wherein labor has been reduced to a commodity, and economic policy is intended to deliver more and more profit to an elite that accumulates obscene wealth at compound interest rates:

This economically distorting accumulation of capital is reflected in a "stock market 1 million" mentality, which pushes financial markets to unimaginable heights (150% of GDP) that can vanish in a day:

Society could be transformed into a saner, safer, equitable and economically more stable one by directing capital into productive and socially valuable uses.  But that concept is "out of bounds" and derided by "responsible commentators" as socialist or even worse, communist.  The libertarian movement--equivalent to fiddling while Rome burns--is not a solution to society's growing ills, rather it is a perverse distortion of reality.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Albatross Accept Help

For US Person, birds epitomize the idea of freedom. Their ability to fly great distances, in all weathers, and even eat and sleep on the wing makes them almost independent of earth. Hummingbirds and albatrosses represent the poles of flying performance.  No bird is more aerobatic than the hummer; it can fly backwards, upside down, and hover in place. No bird can fly more efficiently or longer distances than the albatross; it can stay at sea for year or more. But even albatross must return to land to breed.

Breeding in the anthropocene is problematic for Australia's only endemic albatross, the shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta).  It nests on only three islands off the coast of Tasmania: Albatross Island, Pedra Branca, and Mewstone. They lay a single egg in late September.  Higher temperatures and increased rainfall have played havoc with the mud and vegetation cones they build themselves.  Monitoring indicates that poor-quality nests make less likely that a single chick will survive to fledge. So Australian conservationists have stepped in to give the shy bird a helping hand. Over 100 specially built mud brick and aerated concrete artificial nests were airlifted on to Bass Strait’s Albatross Island in July 2017 to trial a program to increase the breeding success of the albatross. Happily, the vulnerable birds have accepted the artificial nests and personalize them with their own touches. [photo credit: M. Newton/WWF]. The artificial nests are lasting longer than natural ones, thus allowing chicks time to develop. When they are fully grown and about to leave the island, scientists will attach tiny transmitters, so their movements can be tracked and perhaps explain why so many juveniles are not surviving at sea. Juveniles are know to fly as far as South Africa. As of 2007 their were about five thousand breeding pairs on Albatross Island, up from the low point of 300 pairs in 1909 when they were killed for their white feathers.

Friday, February 23, 2018

'Toontime: Dying by the Gun

credit: Tim Eagan

Only a demented individual, or souless sycophant, or both would seriously propose that the solution to 'Mericas mass homicide problem is to turn schools into locked-down gulags and expect educators to also function as armed guards. How can any learning take place in a constant atmosphere of fear? To do so would constitute a cynical betrayal of generations to come in the name of profit, NOT the 2nd Amendment. Schools are supposed to prepare functioning citizens (something they already do not do very well), not serve as an armed daycare center.

credit: Pat Bagley, Salt Lake Tribune
Wackydoodle sez: Wha we hav hera is a fayure to communcate!
It is not only domestic policy in which the Trump Circus gets failing marks. The arrogance of USA's foreign policy was on display in the Korean Peninsula this week. At an Olympic venue, Vice President Pence refused to greet the sister of North Korea's autocrat who was sitting one row behind the VP. The snub was duly noted and North Korea cancelled a secret meeting that was supposed to take place between Pence and North Korean officials. Marine General 'Mad Dog' Mattis rightly told Congressional inquisitors that if you do not fully fund diplomacy, "I'll have to buy more ammunition." Marines have a way with words.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

COTW: More Weird Weather

While the Pacific Northwest deals with late winter snow storms, people in the eastern half of the country are asking if they can wear shorts to work. Look at this incredible chart:

credit: The Atlantic

The red area indicates temperatures above the historic average temperature for February 20th. Boston hit 50℉ at night, the highest February night temperature ever recorded. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh also recorded record high temperatures. Two weather systems, a large high over Georgia and a cold front pushing warm air eastward are contributing to the balmy weather. However, warmer winters are one of the predicted symptoms of global warming. Winters in Burlington, Vermont are now seven degrees warmer than in 1970. The last three years have been the warmest ever recorded. These warmer winters may appear as earlier springs. Trees have already started to blossom in Virginia and West Virginia. Cold snaps are now fifteen times less likely to occur than a century ago. Enjoy! It may be the best aspect of weather change man has created.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Russian Scion Squeals

The son of a Russian oligarch named in the Steele Dossier, Alex van der Zwaan, 33, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russian Connection investigation. That is a felony offense; van der Zwaan is a lawyer and Dutch citizen. He admitted lying in federal court on Tuesday about his discussions with then campaign official Rick Gates shortly before the 2016 election. He also admitted to deleting emails sought by investigators. His plea puts pressure on the former campaign officials, Gates and Manafort, to 'come clean' concerning their dealings with high-level Russians seeking to influence the election outcome on behalf of Trump¹. Both of those gentlemen have pleaded not guilty to money laundering and other crimes related to their influence peddling for a Ukrainian political party². Van der Zwann worked for the powerful Washington, DC law firm of Skadden, Arps before he was fired last year.

In another investigation development, former Trump advisor Sam Nunberg is expected to meet with the Special Counsel's office tomorrow. Nunberg received his fifteen minutes of fame for his quotes in the Michael Wolff expose of the Trump administration. There he is quoted as calling the President an "idiot", and recalling difficulty explaining the Constitution to the deranged occupant of the Room Without Corners: “I got as far as the Fourth Amendment before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head," Wolff writes of Nunberg's recollection.

¹Jeffery Toobin writes at the New Yorker: "To date, the most direct evidence that they did [collude with Russians to influence the election] is a result of connections forged in the lead-up to the 2013 Miss Universe contest. On June 3, 2016, Rob Goldstone, Emin Agalarov’s [Russian pop star] publicist, e-mailed Donald Trump, Jr., offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald, Jr., replied, “If it’s what you say I love it.” Six days later, Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, the candidate’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, then the chairman of the campaign, welcomed a group of visitors to Trump Tower led by a Russian attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya. In July, 2017, the Times informed the White House that it was working on a story about that meeting. The President and his advisers, who were returning from a trip to Europe aboard Air Force One, prepared a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, asserting that it had been a harmless discussion of adoption policy."  

Trump's wanting to get close to Russian moneyed interests was primarily for financial reasons. He had been attempting to break into the real estate game in Moscow for at least a decade prior to the election of 2016. He was shunned by conventional western sources of financing due to his string of bankruptcies in the 90's and his failed "Trump Vodka" licensing deal in '07. The 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow was his opportunity to make a connection with billionaire Moscow real estate developer Aras Agalarov. His son, Emin performed at the Pageant, and the Agalarovs hosted the world televised event. One of the attendees was Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, a notorious Russian businessman accused of running a money laundering operation from an apartment in Manhattan's Trump Tower. Trump's desire to build in Russia continued during his run for pubic office. In 2015, Felix Sater, a Trump business partner and stock defrauder made a proposal for a potential office tower in Moscow. Trump signed a non-binding letter of intent to license the Trump name to the project. In an e-mail sent at the time to lawyer Michael Cohen, once known as "Trump's pit bull", Sater wrote, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this.” Braggadocio from a shady businessman? You decide. Before you do, take note Trumpty has yet to enact sanctions against the Kremlin, which Congress overwhelmingly approved last year.

² Manafort had one of the usual motivations to parlay his Russian & Ukrainian connections to the benefit of the political  campaign he was managing: money.  He was deeply in debt to a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, for a $18.9m investment gone bad.    His private life was also in shambles as revealed in a host of messages to his adult daughter hacked by irate Ukrainians that posted them on the "dark web".  His daughter wrote at one point, “My dad is in the middle of a massive emotional breakdown.” Manafort, according to emails to a colleague saw the Trump campaign as a way of "getting whole".  He joined Trump's campaign in March 2016.  His history as a "hustler" and corrupter of the system, however, goes back to the 70s.  See the details here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

France Decides to Give Wolves a Chance

Despite unhappy farmers, the French government has decided to let returning wolves prosper, a little. Wolves were wiped out in France in the 1930's, but in the 90s wolves from across the Alps returned to repopulate the country. Currently there are about 360 wolves living in France; the government will let that population increase to around 500 by 2023. Wolves are a protected species under the Bern Convention to which France is a party.

Non-lethal means of guarding livestock, mostly sheep, has been demonstrated to be viable.  Guard dogs are effective in deterring wolf attacks on sheep, as are shepherds in the area.  Penning ewes that are about to lamb also reduces mortality.  Hunters will still be allowed to cull 40 wolves this year, the same as in 2017. [photo]  That rate could increase if predation becomes more pronounced in future years.  The government has sent specialist teams into the Alps to hunt wolves deemed to be a problem. Last year a reported 12,000 sheep were killed by wolves.  Farmers are compensated for each confirmed predation; the bill amounted to €15m in 2012.  A wolf tracker says the wolf is well adapted to its environment, intelligent, with superior senses, so it is not surprising the wolf is making a comeback in parts of Europe where it was eradicated. There are now wolves among the vineyards of the Champagne region, and there are wolves 160km (100 miles) east of Paris. When it learns something, it remembers the lesson and teaches it to its offspring.  Conservationists advocate return of the wolf, an apex carnivore, as necessary to reestablish balance in nature disturbed by man.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Feeling Blue in the Age of Trump

The world's happiest nations index came out this week and it is no surprise that the United States in not among the top ten. Given that it has the highest rate of school shooting violence in the world one would expect the US to be lower than 13th.*  What is important to human happiness apparently is social equity.  All of the top ten countries are homogeneous nations with strong social safety nets.  Denmark is at the top again after being displaced by Switzerland last year, followed by: Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

Researchers found that happiness can be explained by six variables: gross domestic product per capita; healthy years of life expectancy; social support; trust (as measured by perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (as measured by donations).  GDP, which is endlessly touted in the US as the key to "the pursuit of happiness" alone is not enough to make the "American Dream" come true for a substantial number of citizens. Says Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which produced the report in association with the UN,“The predominant political discourse in the United States is aimed at raising economic growth, with the goal of restoring the ‘American dream’ and the happiness that is supposed to accompany it. But the data show conclusively that this is the wrong approach.”   Other experts spoke out against the "tyranny of the GDP" which ignores the quality of life's many aspects.  Poverty, war and crisis is a key condition shared by the ten unhappiest nations: with Yemen, South Sudan, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, Rwanda, Syria, Tanzania, Burundi and the Central African Republic at bottom of the list.

A good example of what can happen to a country's well being is Greece.  It saw the largest drop in happiness from 2005 to 2015 when its financial meltdown began in 2007 and economic austerity was imposed from without.  Three financial bailouts, widespread distrust in authority, and corruption are associated with a diminishing sense of well-being among its citizens.  In contrast, Japan experienced an in increase in relative happiness despite the Fukushima nuclear disaster because of the outpouring of generosity and cooperation which helped affected citizens rebuild their lives.  Dr. Henry Sachs from Columbia University helped edit the report and wrote, “The libertarian argument that economic freedom should be championed above all other values decisively fails the happiness test: There is no evidence that economic freedom per se is a major direct contributor of human well-being above and beyond what it might contribute towards per-capita income and employment.  Pope Francis in his widely acclaimed encyclical, Laudato Si agrees with that assessment.  A world of continuing economic expansion based on technological improvements that neglects biological needs and planetary health is doomed to eventual failure.

*the [dis]United States has a gun homicide rate that is 25.2 times higher than the rest of the high-income world.  Its gun death rate is exceeded by underdeveloped Central American countries like El Salvador, which are plagued with civil unrest and criminal gang violence.

Friday, February 16, 2018

'Toontime: It's a Long Time Comin'

credit: Kevin Siers
The UK Guardian gives us the backstory on the infamous Steele Dossier that is roiling the political swamp in Washington and may mean the premature end of Humpty Trumpty's dabble in national governance. Christopher Steele was recruited out of the University of Cambridge, Girton College by MI6. After three years with the agency, the up and coming spy was sent to Moscow as a staff member of the British Embassy. He spent the next twenty years plumbing that nation's depths and dealing in espionage. He became a respected Kremlin specialist. Steele's career survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his opinion, the regime changed, but the system had not. After his cover was blown by a published leaked list of British agents, he was moved to Paris in 1998. By 2002 after Putin came to power in Russia, Steele was working in London on the Russia desk. He was tapped to investigate the slow radioactive poisoning of Putin's enemy, Alexander Litvinenko. Steele soon concluded that Russian agents working at the behest of Putin were responsible for murdering Litvinenko.

After his wife died at a young age, Steele [photo credit: Guardian] left her majesty's service and set up his own private intelligence company. His services and sources cultivated over thirty years were employed by a variety of business and organizations seeking competitive advantages. He also developed a credible reputation in the business world; he was responsible for informing the FBI of extensive corruption at FIFA, the world soccer federation. The subsequent official investigation resulted in the indictment of 14 high level FIFA officials. It was through his private intelligence business that be met Glenn Simpson, a former star reporter at the Wall Street Journal who had his own private intelligence firm based in Washington DC, Fusion GPS. Simpson hired Steele as part of a Republicans effort to dig up dirt on the maverick billionaire running for president, Donald Trump. Steele began looking at Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign manager. Steele told Mother Jones, his investigation began as a general inquiry, and an obvious first question to him since Trump owned international hotels, was: did Trump have connections to his old bailiwick, Russia?

What Steele found through his extensive sources was mind-boggling. Trump's connections to high level Russians went back at least five years before his presidential campaign began. According to Steele's informants, whom he rates 70-90% credible, Russian intelligence began cultivating the businessman with an aim towards "encouraging divisions in the western alliance." Trump was cautious enough to turn down sweetheart deals the Russians offered him as means of compromising him. However according to Steele, "he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals". Unable to compromise  the tycoon with money (kompromat in the idiom of the trade) they preyed instead on another known Trump weakness: beautiful women.

During a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant, which he owned, Trump lodged in the same room used by the Obamas on an official visit. Of course in true cold-war style, the FSB had the room completely wired for sound and video. Russian prostitutes were also provided. What happened in the Ritz-Carlton suite is straight out of a Bond novel. According to the dossier, "he knew the President and Mrs OBAMA (whom he hated) [sic] had stayed [there] on one of their official trips to Russia...Trump had deliberately “defiled” the Obamas’ bed. A number of prostitutes “had performed a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him”. One more devastating tidbit offered by the Steele informants: Trump’s team had co-ordinated with Russia on the e-mail hacking operation against Hillary Clinton. And that the Americans had secretly co-paid for it. Steele's dossier made its way through diplomatic connections to Senator John McCain who considered the allegations serious enough to warrant an investigation. He called FBI Director Comey and arranged a meeting to discuss what to do with the political dynamite. Thus began the Russian Connection investigation.*

News is breaking that former Trump campaign advisor Robert Gates, is close to signing a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Thirteen more indictments were handed down on Wednesday. Thirteen individuals and a handful of Russian companies are accused of running “interference operations targeting the United States,” with the intention of undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and helping promote Donald Trump. If Humpty Trumpty is going to fire Mueller, a la 'Tricky Dick' Nixon, he better do it before the train leaves the station.

*Believe it or not there is a second memo in circulation containing many of the same allegations as Steele's work.  It was authored by Cody Shearer, a former journalist and Clinton activist.  The memo came into Steele's possession through a contact in 2016.  He turned it over to the FBI.  The FBI is assessing the document, but Steele has not vouched for its accuracy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Exxon Fights Back

It was only a matter of time before the biggest oil company in the world, Exxon-Mobil, began to retaliate against lawyers who are suing it for climate change accountability. Readers of this space may remember that confidential company documents made public reveal that the oil company was aware in the mid-70s that its operations and product would lead to global climate change and grave consequences for the planet. {20.10.16} That information was not disclosed to the public. At this point, eight California cities and counties and New York City have sued the corporate giant. It is now hitting back by targeting 30 people and organizations with subpoenas claiming that they are part of a "conspiracy", which it ominously names the "La Jolla playbook", after a meeting between about two dozen people that took place in an oceanfront cottage.  There, it is alleged, a coordinated public relations and legal strategy was hatched against the company. This high risk, offensive strategy indicates the level of paranoia surrounding oil companies and the high stakes in the quest for corporate accountability for catastrophic climate change. The company claims its rights to 'free speech' are being violated. 

Lawyers subjected to the new offense dismiss the company's actions as diversionary, and scare tactics.  They say plaintiffs lawyers are fully entitled to strategize if their clients' interests are in common.  In 2011 Chevron successfully sued the attorney behind a $9.5 billion Ecuadorian judgment against the company for pollution in the Amazon. Plaintiffs' attorneys point out that one of the organizations represented at the La Jolla meeting was the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a non-profit run by the oligopolists, which encouraged Exxon to make public the scientific information showing the environmental impact of continued fossil fuel use. Instead, Exxon chose to follow a policy it shared with the tobacco industry--concealment.

The Wall: An Ecological Disaster

Hair Further's southern wall is so ludicrous an idea that only perverse pandering to white nationalism can keep it alive in Congress. One third of the border (about 700 miles) is already fenced off with little effect on undocumented immigration. [photo: border wall, Sonoran Desert] His plan to barricade the remainder of the nearly 2000 mile border will be an ecological disaster. The barrier would bisect ecosystems that both Mexico and the United States have worked diligently to protect as habitat for endangered species.

A case in point is the small herd of Mexican bison that occupies the Janos Valley of Chihuahua.  The protected grasslands on both sides of the border allow the bison to move north for grazing as conditions require. [photo credit: R. List] Currently there is a permeable barrier across half of the ten mile wide valley consisting of crisscrossed steel struts chest high, similar to the barriers encountered on the Normandy beachheads. Most smaller animals could pass the barrier easily; the Mexican bison simply walked around it. Trump's insane folly, if built, would completely close off access to the northern grassland for the bison and every other species. Trumpy is holding young undocumented immigrants, brought to the US by their parents or guardians hostage to the wall. He has agreed to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation in return for $25 million to build the wall for which Mexico was supposed to pay. If Trump's Folly is built it will rewrite the biological history of numerous species that must move freely or die.

The prototypes built near San Diego are thirty feet high, designed to stop the most determined humans, let alone wildlife.  Existing "pedestrian fencing" is 15 feet or more high along 405 miles of border. This fencing, sometimes two or three deep, is effectively a wall that destroys biological connectivity.  None of these well-founded ecological objections carries water with anti-nature conservatives obsessed with preventing more brown skinned people diluting the gene pool. Numerous environmental protections were waived beginning in the Bush Administration when most of the current structures were built. Der Leader has signaled his intention to circumvent even more laws including the Endangered Species Act protecting the highly endangered jaguar on the grounds of "national security". This announcement by Secretary Zinke comes on the heels of a new management plan developed by the US Fish & Wildlife which proposes a complex set of measures costing about $56 million over five years and $605 million over 50 years to help the jaguar recover from what many believe is its precarious state. Not only that, but if this misguided administration gets it way, the wall will be built smack through the middle of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

The animals most likely to be negatively impacted by an impermeable barrier are those whose tiny populations must remain in contact with larger ones across the border in order to remain genetically viable.  This is the case with the jaguar.  Historically, jaguars ranged throughout the American southwest, but human predation wiped them out at the turn of the last century. Today only about seven isolated individuals are thought to live north of the border in Arizona and New Mexico. {20.17.17} One conservationist observed that a wall would represent a huge waste of resources expended over decades by two friendly nations to restore threatened wildlife like the jaguar and Mexican wolf. Visually, the wall will be a jarring affront to the beautiful open landscapes of the southern desert.

The US Customs and Border Protection Service claims it will perform the required environmental assessments for building the wall.  But under the waivers already granted it, these assessments are simply rubber stamps prior to construction.  The Sierra Club has filed suit against Homeland Security for its granting of these waivers to build wall segments and prototypes. [photo credit: G. CarreĆ³n-Arroyo]

Rebecca Kessler at Mongabay writes: "No less than 841 vertebrate species, many of them birds, reptiles, and amphibians, and about 180 of them already in danger of extinction, would be negatively affected by a border wall spanning the entire frontier, according to unpublished research led by scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico — and that doesn’t include fish, invertebrates, or plants. A fact sheet produced by Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change cites similar figures: 800 species would be affected, 111 of them already in danger of extinction."  Mexican officials have been disappointingly silent on the negative biological effects a continuous border wall would have on species shared by both nations.  Border Protection says it has not received any official Mexican input on the new border infrastructure.  That is more than unfortunate, because only concerted international action can stop Trumpty from his folly, and save wildlife already struggling to survive man's onslaught.

Monday, February 12, 2018

COTW: The Truth About 'Merica

Still think the Russians stole the election? Still think the useful durok, Donald Trump, has the best interest of the nation at the forefront? Look at these two charts and think again, bro:

The largest voting block in the last presidential election was eligible voters who did not vote. In fact, the US has the lowest voter participation in the developed world. There is a reason for that stark fact. The election process is controlled by plutocrats to such an extent that many voters believe their votes do not count in the final analysis. Forget about the Republicans. They are the party of capitalist rentiers, par excellence. The Democrats are not an authentic alternative for the middle and working classes, however. In election after election, the party's central congressional organization, DCCC, has backed establishment candidates who solicit big donor money at the expense of populist progressives as Bernie Sanders sadly found out. The DCCC unabashedly tells incoming lawmakers that they are expected to spend four hours every day they are in Washington making phone calls to solicit donations. Such activity is commonly known as "dialing for dollars". Potential candidates who cannot demonstrate at least $250,000 in donations for their run for office are usually shunted aside by the Party in favor of those who can.

Given that finance capitalism controls politics in the world's richest country, it is little wonder poverty is allowed to exist as a matter of political economy. Trump's bellicosity about making it great again contains the unspoken caveat: for the 1% only. This chart shows another deplorable fact about 'Merica:

The rich world's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD, says that youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% for the rest. The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality calls the United States a “a clear and constant outlier in the child poverty league”. Perhaps this fact also explains why the United States has more of its citizens incarcerated per capita than other bastions of democracy like Turkmenistan, El Salvador and Russia. This condition is not inevitable, it is an actual policy choice of the economic elites who control the government. Given the current constitutional scheme of representation and the population exodus from the country's interior, a party of the rich could control the Senate with just 17.6% of a general election popular vote. How ludicrously undemocratic is that?¹

This policy depends upon an illusory emphasis on employment. It totally ignores the real fact that there are not enough jobs to go around (perpetual labor surplus), and many individuals who would work are unemployable because of substandard educations, criminal records, drug abuse, health or mental disabilities, or no training in relevant job skills. A further fallacy of this cruel charade is that prevailing wages are sufficient to make poor families independent of a rudimentary welfare system (eviscerated under Democrat Bill Clinton's administration as "workfare" reform). It has been estimated that as much as $6 billion dollars go from the food stamp program to support low-paid workers, thus providing a huge virtual subsidy to the relevant corporations. It is noteworthy that the location with residents most reliant on food stamps is Owsley County, Kentucky, which is 99.22% white, according to the US Census, and 95% Republican, and where at least at least 52% of its residents received food stamps in 2011. These are the same people who voted for the con-artist in chief as their liberator. Go wail at the wall.

No bro, its not the Russians, crooked Hillary, nor even the dangerous buffoon occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. We have met the enemy, and it is US, who allowed a rigged system to deprive you of democratic hope².

¹Under representation of the class of poor urbanized workers, already established in the great cites of Europe but just beginning in the Colonies, was intended by the Framers.  Those fine gentlemen, landowners and prominent businessmen all, did not walk to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia but were driven there in carriages by their servants. The American Revolution was thus essentially a revolt of the elite of colonial society. Alexander Hamilton, currently celebrated in a popular Broadway musical, was the bastard son of a Scottish laird's descendant. Although denied membership in the Church of England because of his biological status, he nevertheless received a university education, a hallmark of the gentlemen of the time. He was an early advocate of independence from the crown, and wrote 51 of the Federalist Papers, but he was hardly an egalitarian democrat. The first Secretary of the Treasury was responsible for establishing the first central bank. He supported commercial economic predominance, a large military establishment, and centralized government. Policies that have prevailed in the modern state.

In contrast Thomas Paine, who authored the most influential pamphlet of the revolutionary period, Common Sense, was the most radical of the Founders. French co-revolutionists appointed him to their National Assembly. He introduced the concept of guaranteed minimum wage, and old-age pension. His defense of the French Revolution in the Rights of Man got him targeted by the British for seditious libel. Paine was eventually imprisoned in France by Robespierre. After James Monroe secured his release, Paine returned to the country he helped create after a long absence. Only six people attended his funeral including two freed slaves, ostracized for his ridicule of Christianity in his Age of Reason. Paine's encounter with Native Americans, notably the Iroquois Federation, deeply influenced his thinking. His body was exhumed from burial on his farm with the intention of transporting his remains back to England. The reburial never occurred, so his bones are lost to posterity. 

²The rate of fatal drug overdoses rose by 137 percent from 2000 to 2014. In 2015 alone, more than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses, exceeding the number of US fatal casualties in the Vietnam War. The suicide rate rose by a staggering 24 percent between 1999 and 2014.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

New Treatment for Wildfire Victims

Of course you have heard and perhaps read about the Thomas Fire in California, one of the biggest wildfires ever to hit that state. It destroyed many homes and structures (1,063) and burned 281,893 acres; wildlife was also impacted by the fire. This inspiring story is about the human help a few animals received in recovering from their serious burn wounds.

Two female black bears and a young mountain lion were brought to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Rancho Cordova in December for treatment. Both bears had severe, painful burns on their paws. The younger one had third degree burns on all four paws. The five month old cougar seen limping about Santa Paula, Ventura County was also brought in for treatment, too young to be released back into the wild though his wounds were healing. Veterinarians from UC Davis realized that there was no time for traditional burn treatment which requires multiple changes of bandages. The animals were not comfortable in captivity, and it was difficult to administer pain medications. One of the bears was pregnant; there was a real possibility the mother bear would reject her offspring while under stress.  In order to speed up the process of healing and return the bears to the wild, the vets turned to an innovative bandage seen used on human patients in Brazil, but never in the United States.

a bear on the mend
Tilapia (fish) skin is a biological bandage that supplies collagen, a necessary substance to repair skin.  An added benefit is that it is edible, so if a healing animal consumes the bandage as it grooms the wound site, it is harmless.  As soon as appropriate tilapia skins were located, sterilized and sutured in place, the bears stood up on their damaged paws. The bears also received acupuncture, chiropractic care, trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, and cold laser therapy. All of these integrative therapies help with pain control and enhance wound healing by increasing blood and lymphatic flow. The use of talipia skin on wild animals, a first in the US, proved to be the most effective therapy. The homes of both bears were destroyed by the fire. So CDFW built them new dens out of logs and earth in Los Padres National Forest. They were released on January 18th. Each wears a satellite collar so the department can monitor their survival. Yes, the young mountain lion ate his fish skin grafts. He will spend his life in captivity at a Sonoma County wildlife refuge.

Friday, February 09, 2018

'Toontime: Everybody Else's Bad!

credit: Nate Beeler, Columbus Dispatch
Wackydoodle sez: Its a long way 'round his equator!
Shall we give credit to the con-artist Humpty Trumpty for the 1000 point market meltdown, and why not?  He took plenty of misplaced credit for the market bull.  Perhaps 'the Street' is becoming nervous with his on-again/off-again government?  The latest casualty to emerge from this sickening ride is General Kelly.  He made the mistake of standing by his positive comments about the alleged wife abuser serving on the White House staff. The Donald, true to his reality-TV style, is reportedly replacing his chief of staff.  Mr. Porter resigned on Wednesday after two former wives came forward accusing the secretary of emotional and physical abuse. A Democratic senator was quick to pounce on this weak show of support by claiming a "complete moral vacuum" exists at Trumpty's house. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Belize Steps Up

Belize has the longest coral reef in the western hemisphere.  Its government has acted to prohibit oil and gas development offshore to protect natural heritage and the fishing industry.  In contrast, Trumpy has exposed all of America's coasts to exploitation by oil companies.  The Mesoamerican Reef, which runs along Belize's Caribbean coast, stretches from the northern tip of Yucatan to the Honduran Bay islands and is a UNESCO world heritage site.  The new law imposes a fine of up to $3 million, or two years imprisonment, or both for violations of the ban.

Putting the reef off limits has its costs.  Belize let 18 different concessions for oil exploration.  The national company, Belize Natural Energy, is the only company producing oil from offshore since its discovery in 2005.  The Deepwater Horizon disaster gave officials pause in the rush to explore for oil.  Also, a significant legal victory for conservationists, which declared six oil concession contracts null and void, energized the movement to place the entire reef under protection.   Activists went country-wide generating support, and a public referendum was held that supported protection.  The reef is home to innumerable endangered species including the West Indian manatee, three species of sea turtle [photo credit: Adam], and the American crocodile.  Moreover, the Belizian economy is based on tourism,  estimated to bring in $237 million annually; by protecting Nature, Belize has guaranteed its economic future.  Green Kudos to Belize for its far-sighted decision!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Creature Feature: Why do Gorrillas Cross the Road?

In this dramatic scene brought to PNG by the BBC, the silverback shares the same motivation as a chicken. Altruism was once thought rare in higher animals, but not any more. A die-hard evolutionist would say the gorilla father  is merely acting out of instinct to preserve the genetic material in its offspring, but US Person prefers a more incisive conclusion: the patriarch loves his family members and is willing to risk injury to protect them. Watch as he guards the busy jungle track crossing to insure his family's safety in front of a large human audience and their noisy vehicles, including some charcoal haulers which represent a threat to his forest home.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

'Toontime: In Bizzaro Land

credit: Ohman, Sacramento Bee
BC Idonwanna sez: Potomac swamp fever make crazy!

In the land of smoke and mirrors the old adage is: when you cannot beat them, distract them! Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said a GOP memo alleging FBI misconduct has nothing to do with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's actions in the 2016 election and possible links to President Donald Trump's campaign. According to the him, a three term senator not seeking reelection, "There is a Russia investigation without a [Christopher Steele] dossier. So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower." So the "witch hunt" continues.

credit: Glenn McCoy
Wackydoodle sez: Now, in kid-pleasing flavors!

Friday, February 02, 2018

COTW: Peak Oil Demand Not Far

credit: Adam Brandt, et al*

The concept of peak oil has been debated by the cognoscenti since 1956 when M. King Hubbard, a geologist working for Shell Oil, coined the phrase.  He meant that world production of conventional oil would eventually reach a peak in the sense of the usual bell-shaped commodity supply curve.  Now economists are talking about a different "peak" in the commodity's demand curve.  This may be wishful thinking, but the idea is that improvements in combustion engine efficiency, price increases and alternative means of locomotion such as electric cars will cause world demand for oil to decrease, not increase.  Oil demand in developed countries has been falling since the mid-2000s, according to The Economist. Natural gas in the United States is a quarter the price of gasoline, thanks in part to the shale gas boom, consequently it is replacing oil at the fuel pump and in the petrochemical plant. Compressed or liquefied gas is now in the tanks of trucks, buses and delivery vans. A fifth of America’s buses run on natural gas, as do two out of every five new garbage trucks. Caterpillar and GE, are both working on natural-gas-powered railway trains. TOTE, a shipping company, has ordered the first container ships built to run on liquefied natural gas.  McKinsey & Company, an oil and gas industry analyst, predicts that fifty percent of new autos in the US, Europe and China will be electrically driven by 2030.  That, and improved plastics recycling and usage will cause peak oil demand to occur sometime around 2030.

One of the key technological developments that will cause peak demand to occur is the improved electric car battery that adequately addresses consumers' "range anxiety".  Auto makers are feverishly competing with one another to be the first to produce such a battery.  They are getting close to that goal with advances in lithium ion technology.  The experts do not all agree when peak oil demand will occur or even if it is a real possibility.  They do agree that most growth in oil demand will occur outside of the already wealthy world.  Oil is mostly a transport fuel, (60%) and people in wealthy countries are traveling overland less as this chart shows:

*Peak Oil Demand: The Role of Fuel Efficiency and Alternative Fuels in a Global Oil Production Decline, Environmental Science and Technology Letter

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Resurecting a River

Right now the Los Angeles River is little more than a fifty-one mile concrete storm sewer.  But if funding is approved by Congress, the Corps of Engineers which usually lays concrete is prepared to rip up three miles of concrete in the Glendale Narrows section to return the river to a more natural state.  Originally the river was seasonal--little more than a braided trickle in summer that would transform into a raging torrent during the rainy season.  It would scour gravel and mud across a seven mile wide floodplain.  After a particularly bad flood in 1938, the booming city decided to encase it in a concrete straight jacket.

Conservation groups have been working piecemeal to return some nature to the river.  In cooperation with the city, they have restored trees and shrubs along the river's course and restored some small streams, creating new parkland.  The Corps has asked Congress to provide $380 million to begin returning the abused watercourse to a semblance of what it was beginning in the Elysian Valley, aptly named.[photo]  The City of Los Angeles is expected to provide a billion dollars for the project.  The river cannot be entirely natural even with such a large expenditure.  It is no longer connected to groundwater sources and connection cannot be accomplished until toxin contamination from by several DOD facilities in the area including the Santa Susanna Field Station, a former rocket engine testing center, is removed.  Also, the former flood plain is heavily developed, making it impossible to allow the river to return to its former broad floodplain.  Of course, more green areas in a city as dense as Los Angeles is a good thing; but the city faces other pressing problems that should have a claim on its finances, such as rampant homelessness.  The question becomes: how far should river restoration go? 

Examples from other cities are available.  Munich, Germany naturalized five miles of the channelized Isar and it is now a major tourist attraction as well as providing improved flood control.  Replacing artificial sills with honeycomb-designed ramps with intermediate pools provides more suitable fish habitat, better water quality, and a more natural appearance to the river.  Thirty-five million Euros were spent on the project, split 55-45% between the Bavarian State government and the City of Munich.  The river and its gently sloping banks are now a favorite recreation site for Munich residents.  The project took eleven years to complete.

At home, parts of Milwaukee's three urban rivers, Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic are being revitalized.  Five billion has been spent over three decades improving the quality of the waterways.  A big improvement came with the tunneling of deep sewage conduits that channel urban run off away from the rivers into treatment facilities.  Before this happened, dead rats could be seen floating in the turbid waters of the Milwaukee.  During heavy downpours, sewer runoff into the rivers still occurs, but it has been significantly reduced.  The removal of a dam contributed to vast improvement in river water quality.  Where their was once a dirty, low oxygen pond there are clear running rapids that school children enjoy canoeing and to which wildlife has returned.  Today, forty species of fish inhabit the waters.  Waterbirds fish from its banks and there are reports of otters and foxes attracted to the renewed habitat. 

a female cougar in the Verdugos north of LA
The Corps plan for Los Angeles plan would recreate 719 acres of wetlands, remove three miles of concrete to create new riparian habitat, and re-establish a confluence with a stream called Verdugo Wash. After the Glendale Narrows revitalization, the city will look at the river's lower twenty miles that flow through low-income Latino neighborhoods.  Even here nature finds a way to survive, as some small patches of wetlands remain in tact.  The Los Angeles  river will not be allowed to meander as it once did--hence the project is not referred to as "restoration" but "enhancement" by planners.  What ever you call it,  L.A. has some excellent guidance available to it as it begins to bring Nature back to the urban river that flows through its heart.