Saturday, March 30, 2019

Oregon Bans Offshore Drilling

In the face of an exploitative Washington regime that wants to "drill, baby drill" the coastal zones of the US, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bipartisan bill making a moratorium on oil exploration and development in Oregon's territorial waters permanent.  The moratorium was set to expire in 2020.  The new law also prohibits building infrastructure in state territory that supports oil and gas development. This provision forestalls oil exploration outside of the state's jurisdictional limit, but within the 200 mile US economic zone.  Brown said in signing the bill that the limited possibilities for oil off the Oregon coast are not worth other natural resources and the local economies that depend on them.  According to the National Economics Program, Oregon's coastal business is worth $2.5 billion and provides 33,000 jobs, more than 25,000 of which are in recreation, tourism and fishing.

Cannon Beach, credit: J. Meador
Blue Oregon sought an exemption from the regime's policy to exploit remaining offshore oil reserves, but was denied an exemption.  Swing state Florida was granted an exemption.  Oregon joins California in protecting the coast line.  Washington is working on similar legislation.  The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is expected to release its proposed OCS drilling plan next month.

Friday, March 29, 2019

EPA Study to Update Toxics List Opposed by Big Oil

Fossil fuel lobby groups oppose EPA's move to update a 1976 list of toxic pollutants found in petrochemical wastewater according to internal emails released to the Sierra Club.  Currently the agency monitors 16 types of chemicals in effluent pursuant to the Clean Water Act.  Scientific developments have made the list incomplete.  Specifically, the two lobby groups, American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufactures want two chemical groups known to be poisonous to aquatic life and potentially dangerous to humans to be excepted from EPA's study.  The 1976 list of toxic chemicals was created based on what was commercially available at the time, but many more variations of toxic chemicals exist now. Also, toxicology has improved understanding of the adverse health impacts of a wide range of  chemicals found in effluents, including new compounds known to be carcinogenic.

Aalkylated polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (alkylated-PAHs) and Naphthenic acids (NAs) are mainly waste compounds from burning coal and oil.   Alkylated PAHs make up about 97 of PAH compounds found in crude oil, making their exclusion significant.  NAs are found primarily in the byproducts of tar sands oil and are non-biodegradable; they are stored in toxic tailing ponds at the site of refining.  At high exposure levels, both of these types of compounds cause tumors in aquatic birds and fish, and impair life-cycle functions.  NAs also cause liver and heart damage in mice.  Human affects are still being studied, but the PAH compounds are known to cause eye and skin irritation, nausea, and diarrhea, as well as longer-term impacts such as kidney or liver damage and asthma-like symptoms.

The industry lobbyists in opposing study of NAs are invoking a rule proposed by the EPA director who resigned because of ethical violations, Scott Pruitt.  The rule, known as "secret science" to critics would allow the EPA to rely only on data publicly released when developing new regulations. Critics say such a restriction on the type of data used by the agency would place a number of unnecessary burdens on the agency. The industry has warned the agency that using the industry’s own proprietary method of analyzing naphthenic acids would be a “clear contradiction” of the EPA’s proposed secret science rule.  The secret science rule has not advanced under the new administrator, Andrew Wheeler.  Using a proposed rule not yet in force  to justify industry opposition to a study is "pretty outrageous", says the former director of EPA's Office of Water Technology and Science.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Corruption of Trump: Ten Years of Financial Records

The House Oversight Committee is demanding ten years of financial records from an accounting firm used by Individual I.  The committee led by Rep Elijah Cummings, asked Mazars USA to provide documents particularly related to Don Veto's bid to purchase the Buffalo Bills professional football team. The New York Times reported Trump inflated his financial capacity in order to swing the deal with the help of his friends at Deutsche Bank. {19.03.2019} Former Trump lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified last month that his former boss inflated his net worth in order to buy the team. The bid failed. Cohen also testified that certain asset values were deflated in order to avoid taxes. Cummings gave the accounting firm until April 3rd to comply with the panel's request.

Two of Don Veto's minions on the committee have predictably claimed that request for documentation amounts to harassment in an effort to embarrass an innocent man and "advance their relentless attacks" on the administration. Cummings dismissed their complaints, saying the committee is attempting to corroborate Cohen's sworn claims, an action well within its oversight responsibilities which the American people want fulfilled. Besides, Cummings noted, "they [Trump supporters] complain about everything I do".

On another front, the committee asked Diana Falzone, a former reporter for Fox News, to produce documents concerning a story that was suppressed by  management about payments to women who had affairs with Don Veto.  The request is related to the charge that Individual I made illegal campaign payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and others.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

COTW: The Chart of Wind Power

The continental interior is often dismissed by bi-coastal elites as the "fly-over zone".  It also happens to be where the wind is, and that fact will become increasingly important as the move to alternative power continues.  This chart shows the cost of wind power by region.  The red to yellow areas represent the lowest per kilowatt LCOE (levelized cost of energy) of building replacement wind installations within 35 miles of existing coal-fueled power plants by 2025.  The abundant wind energy across the Great Plains is readily apparent:

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

New Study Finds Alternative Fuels Cheaper than Coal

Coal, in this era of global climate crisis, is still the bedrock of US energy production. But that fact is changing according to a new study of comparative costs of coal plants versus wind and solar installations. According to the study, replacing 74% of existing coal power plants with renewable energy would immediately reduce power costs. By 2025 the figure rises to 86%. Wind power cuts coal cost almost in half in some localities. Despite extreme efforts by the current regime to subsidize a dying industry, the US is entering the "coal crossover zone" in which coal power is increasingly more expensive than clean alternatives. Analysis was restricted to replacements within 35 miles of an existing coal facility, making the study more conservative. Comparing alternative installations farther away, shifts the advantage more in favor of renewable energy. Even at the local level, 211GW of exiting coal capacity at the end of 2017 could be replaced by alternative power generation at a cheaper price. Within 6 years that figure jumps to 246GW, or nearly the entire coal plant capacity of the US.

Coal consumption in the US has dropped to its lowest level in 40 years, this despite substantial federal subsidies.  Coal plants shut down at the second highest rate on record.  The EIA attributes the trend to the low price of natural gas and the age of coal fueled generators, as well as the lowering cost of cleaner fuels.  Burning coal is responsible for half of global green house emissions attributed to power generation.  Ignoring the destiny of coal, Don Veto has made support of a dying industry a pillar of his regime, joining Poland--the biggest producer of hard coal in the EU--in a socially backward approach to reducing pollution and global warming.  He has even directed the Energy Department to study reviving failed coal plants.  His approach has been roundly rejected by most energy experts.  FERC said no to a proposed bailout in January.  That stance may change after a Trump nominee who supports both coal and nuclear power becomes a member of the commission. The International Energy Agency announced that global carbon emission will rise after a five year decline because of increase use of fossil fuels in advanced economies like the US.

Monday, March 25, 2019

New Wolf Pack Spotted in Oregon

A new area of wolf activity has been designated by the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife based on public reports and camera trap photos of wolves in southern Lane and Douglas counties designated the Indigo Unit. Biologists found wolf tracks in this area in late 2018, and a US Fish Wildlife camera photographed three wolves in February 2019 in Umpqua National Forest. [photo] Wildlife officials have little information about this pack, so far.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

'Toontime: Calm Before the Storm?

Latest: Attorney General Barr sent a letter to Congress dated today in which he states that the Special Counsel found no members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russian intelligence efforts to influence the 2016 campaign. The AG concludes there was insufficient evidence that the President committed an obstruction of justice, certainly not a "complete exoneration". However, the partisan Barr wrote a 19-page single-spaced memorandum to the Deputy Attorney General and Trump’s attorneys explaining why Trump did not obstruct justice long before he was chosen by Individual I to become Attorney General*.

There is a significant reality difference between "evidence beyond a reasonable doubt" at trial and impeachable "high crimes and misdemeanors" by a majority vote.  By their meeting with Russian operatives, members of Trump's inner circle indicated their willingness to use the fruits of a Russian hack attack on the Democrats.  Don 'Veto' even went so far as to publicly encourage Russian election meddling when he told Russia he 'hoped they found the 30,000 missing emails', referring to the communications stolen by Russian spies.  Instead of telling the FBI about what they knew of Russian interference, Don Veto and his minions lied about their Russian business contacts, further encouraging the espionage operation. Individual I insisted the Kremlin was not involved even after US intelligence concluded the Russians were the perps.  How unpatriotic! Trumpland could not have coordinated more if they had used semaphore to signal the Kremlin: they knew of Russian involvement and did nothing, or worse, denied it was happening.

Mr. Barr has directed the Justice Department to identify all information that may be withheld from the public under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which provides for withholding of grand jury information in a criminal investigation or prosecution from the public. Nevertheless it will be some weeks, perhaps even months, before the public reads even a redacted version of the Mueller Report. The stone wall of the neoliberal elite that controls politics in the USA is unbreached.

The question now is: can 'Merica afford six more years of corrupt Don Veto Trumpilini, who once kept a copy of A. Hitler's speeches on his Mar-a-Largo night stand; a man who speculates about presidency for life; a foreign policy maker who befriends autocrats around the globe? Can it afford a racist demigod that plays to the fascist mob by issuing thinly veiled threats like this: "I can tell you I have the support of the police, the support of the military, the support of the Bikers for Trump–-I have the tough people, but they don’t play it tough--until they go to a certain point, and then it would be very bad, very bad.” The man's undemocratic impulses are too dangerous to ignore. Therefore, it is vital to the health of this nation's remaining democracy that the House committees redouble their efforts to make public the Corruption of Trump.  Whether the rot that plagues our system of government extends into those committee rooms, remains to be determined.

*Robert Mueller has been praised in the CMM for his thoroughness and impartiality--a genuine G-man.  The truth is that Mueller has his biases just like any other human being.  His main bias is protecting the institutions of the government he zealously serves. In his testimony before the Congressional Joint Inquiry into the 911 attacks,  then FBI Director Mueller testified on June 18, 2002, that “while here [in America] the hijackers effectively operated without suspicion, triggering nothing that would have alerted law enforcement and doing nothing that exposed them to domestic coverage.”  That simply is not true.  As the Joint Inquiry led by Senator Bob Graham (D FL) found out, two of the hijackers that flew an airliner into the Pentagon were known to a paid FBI informant in San Diego. Both the CIA and the NSA had enough information about these two jihadists to connect them to Osama Bin Laden as well as about the intended use of aircraft as bombs prior to the 9/11 attacks. As Graham would later describe in his book the FBI also, “insisted that we could not, even in the most sanitized manner, tell the American people that an FBI informant had a relationship with two of the hijackers.” The Bureau opposed public hearings on the subject and deleted any references to the situation from drafts of the Joint Inquiry’s unclassified report. Is there any reason not to suspect such lack of candor now, when confronted with such unprecedented disloyalty by a US president?

{22.03.2019}Robert Mueller has submitted his long awaited investigation into the Russian Connection to the Attorney General. Now, the question is: how much of that report will the public get to see? The House voted unanimously to urge the Attorney General to release the entire report. Even Don Veto has twitted that the report should be publicly released, believing perhaps that it exonerates him from the general allegation of collusion, after earlier posting that the report should be kept on the shelfUS Person certainly wants to read it. Apparently Mueller is not recommending further indictments; so far, 34 indictments and guilty pleas have been entered. Mueller is following Justice Department policy that a sitting president should not be indicted for federal crimes. By one authoritative count Individual I has attacked the legitimacy of the Special Counsel's investigation over 1,000 times.

Several committees investigating the corruption of Trump are underway on the Hill.  The House Judiciary committee alone made voluminous records requests to eighty-one individuals and entities. Among those cooperating are American Media, parent company of the National Enquirer, which paid Stormy Daniels hush money for her story about intercourse with Don 'Veto'.  Others providing documents include former national security advisor Michael Flynn's lobbying firm, former advisor Steve Bannon, confidant Thomas Barrack, and the National Rifle Association. So far about 8,000 pages of documentation have been produced.

A key witness, Rick Gates, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation, has refused to testify on advice of his legal counsel.  His advisors left open the possibility of his testimony in the future. Mueller signaled that Gates is still cooperating in multiple investigations. Gates was a key witness in the Virginia trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort last summer.  He was present at a meeting with Ukrainian oligarch Konstantin Kaliminik where confidential polling information was handed over.

Michael Caputo has also refused to testify to Congress, although he has been interrogated by the Special Counsel and has testified twice before Congress. Caputo is allegedly the go between Roger Stone and Wikileaks.  Former Trump legal spokesman, Mark Carollo, has refused to testify on the grounds of attorney-client and work product privileges.  The House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Richard Neal, has yet to request Don 'Veto''s tax returns. Activists are pressuring him to request them immediately under an obscure law passed in the aftermath of the Teapot Dome scandal.  Neal has hesitated to act, saying he wants to first build public support for the request.  Activists say his pace is indefensible, pointing out that thousand of public calls and twits have been made to House Democrats in support of examining Individual I's returns.

credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post
Wackdoodle sez: He's a legend in his own mind!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

COTW: Electric Cars Are Gaining

Electric car sales are gaining in number, but still represent only a fraction of the global market.  It took five years to sell the first million electric vehicles.  In 2018 that level took only six months.  Tesla's Model 3 is the first version to crack the 100,000 unit mark.  Nissan's Leaf and BAIC EC-Series are not far behind. Norway is the outlyer in this data set; the government heavily subsidizes electric car purchases.  It is poised to reach its 2025 goal of zero auto emissions; already a third of its passenger vehicles are all electric. China leads the world in electric car infrastructure with the greatest number of charging stations to service over a million new hubrid plug-ins using the roads in 2018.

The US lags behind, but electric vehicle ownership is increasing as the chart below shows. Electric vehicles account for only 1% of the US vehicle fleet; however in California they account for 10%.  Are electric vehicles destined to become mainstream, or just a passing fancy as they were at the beginning of the last century?  Performance and price will tell that tale.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Vaquita Down to Ten

a totoaba and dead entangled vaquita, NOAA
The latest conservation report for the Gulf of California's indigenous porpoise Phocoena sinus is very bad news.  The are only an estimated ten individuals remaining in the wild.  The announcement by CIRVA, the international committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita, comes after the first recorded vaquita death in 2019.  The species has been devastated by gill net fishing for the totoaba, a fish species sought for its swim bladder--once again an animal part mistakenly thought to have medicinal purposes in Chinese traditional medicine.  Once abundant, it too is now critically endangered. Swim bladders fetch as much as $46,000 per kilogram.  CIRVA calls on the Mexican government to ban all gill nets in the vaquita's northern gulf habitat and begin 24 hour surveillance activities.  Unless serious action is taken immediately warns the conservation group, the marine mammal will be exterminated by the illegal trade.

The remaining vaquitas inhabit a very small area of 24x12 kms, according to
acoustic monitoring, most of which is inside their refuge. However, due to inconsistent enforcement efforts, high levels of poaching for totoaba occur in this area.  The fishing peaks in March through April, and there are reports the illegal fishing is growing.  There have been reported incidents of violence directed at gill net removal crews and even the Mexican Navy.  (We doin' need no stinking badges!).

vaquita mother, Ana, and her 2018 calf; O. Ortiz
CIRVA says there is still hope for the mammals since they appear healthy and are reproducing. [photo]  The cause of their decline is man, not disease or lack of food.  Without man's help they are doomed to extinction.  In 2017 Mexico banned the use of gill nets within the mammal's range because of international pressure, but there has been little enforcement. During the 2018 totoaba season, 400 active nets were located within their range.  Because the nets are very fine, they cannot be seen by the porpoises so they become entangled and drown.  The situation is deplorable and totally preventable.  Mexico needs to work with China to dismantle the criminal networks responsible for robbing Earth of another of its creatures.

The Corruption of Trump: Bank Fraud

One of the reasons Michael Cohen is going to jail is that he misrepresented assets on bank loan applications.  Apparently, according to the latest from the newspaper of record, the New York Times, MacOrange did the same thing, repeatedly. He's not going to jail, yet; he is still the occupant of the Very White House. Don 'Veto' Trumpillini has a long and troubled history with a troubled bank, Deutsche Bank. Their symbiotic relationship was born of need: Trump needed funds to build his empire, the bank wanted to leverage its investment bank business and use the brand's caché to do so. It had a ravenous appetite for risk. According to the Times, "with the support of two different chief executives, the bank handed money—a total of well over $2 billion—to a man whom nearly all other banks had deemed untouchable". The Trump casino bankruptcies had cost Wall Street millions. Contrary to the marginal business scenario put forward by a bank that to wants desperately to distance itself from Hair Further, he was a notorious customer. Now, the New York Attorney General wants to use that paper trail to expose the inner workings of the corrupt empire known as the "the Trump Organization".

Individual I is alleged to have overstated his wealth by $2.2 million when he applied for a loan to build Chicago's Trump Hotel and Tower.  Nevertheless, the bank loaned him $500 million.  When the deal went bad in 2008, Trumpilini had the audacity to sue Deutsche Bank under the contract force majuere clause, essentially claiming the Great Recession was "an Act of God", for $3 billion in damages.  The bank countersued for $40 million, the part of the loan guaranteed by the King of Debt's personal assets. They eventually settled the case in 2010 with Trumpilini agreeing to pay most of what he owed by 2012.  Five years later however, bank accountants found that he again overstated his assets by as much as 70% when he wanted to borrow $100 million to purchase the Doral golf course. Given his negative performance on the Chicago loan, bank executives wanted to decline the business, but his loan application made its way up the corporate ladder and eventually it was approved by Josef Ackermann, the bank's chief executive. Trumpilini gave the bank his business in return for the capital.  One of his Deutsche investment accounts was reported in 2016 to contain $46 million in stocks and bonds.

Other problematic loans followed, to the point internal bank documents were red flagging business with Donald Trump, but because he had established a relationship with an influential private banker, Rosemary Vrabilic, who had a close relationship with another bank CEO, Anshu Jain, these loans went through without adequate review by senior executives. Eventually bank executives called a halt and refused to finance his Scotland golf resort. Once Trumpilini got into public office the bank performed a reputation risk review and issued a report. According to the Times, the report concluded that executives in the private-banking division were so determined to win business from big-name clients that they had ignored Mr. Trump’s reputation for demagogy and defaults. Next month the bank expects to begin handing over documents to Congress. Ms. Vrabilic expects to be called to publicly testify about her dealings with the King of Debt. Meanwhile Michael Cohen has time in prison to contemplate the error of his ways: “What we have learned today is that the president committed bank fraud by submitting a false loan application to Deutsche Bank,” Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO) told reporters after Cohen’s testimony.

Monday, March 18, 2019

ABC's Russian Connection

This final installment of Australia's ABC network coverage of Trump's Russian Connection covers the Russian endgame and Putin's motivation for the unprecedented interference in the US election process. Russia is no longer an enigma, as far as its geopolitics are concerned. Its goals have changed little since the days of Stalin. A former CIA station chief, Dan Hoffman, thinks the now infamous meeting in the Manhattan Trump tower was mere "breadcrumbs" intended to be discovered by the US and whose purpose was to sow seeds of discord within our political institutions. This story is complete with spies, billionaires, beautiful women, and its own "useful idiot" who does a happy dance for the camera. Note bene flag humpers!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

COTW: State of the Unionski

credit: John Darkow
It seems nowadays that the politicos in the Swamp are constantly undoing what they do with one hand what they have done with the other.  After symbolically rebuking the dictator-in-waiting by a passing joint resolution against his sham declaration of emergency (symbolic because everyone in town knew he would veto the legislation, and Democrats did not have the votes to overrule him), the Democrats congressional leader, Speaker Pelosi, declares "he is not worth impeaching"  US Person considers that signal from the party leadership a further betrayal of democracy. He thinks defending democracy is always worth it, even if you have to give up your home doing so.

It was not worth impeaching Bill Clinton for a single lie under oath about his affair with an impressionable intern either, but the Repugnants did it anyway, and he only escaped conviction in the Senate by a single vote.  At the extreme least there is credible, corroborated evidence on the record that Individual 1 made illegal campaign payments to his paramours to keep them quiet during his campaign for president.  That should be enough to warrant a House vote.  Partisanship aside and patriotism to the fore, Pelosi's disheartening statement gainsays the outcome of the Mueller probe, and her own investigating committees. Hair Further has been implicated abetting a Russian espionage operation to obtain stolen communications from the DNC, a serious enough allegation to warrant an FBI counter-espionage investigation, which he tried to derail by firing the agency's director!  Then he lied to the people about his on-going business dealings with the Kremlin.  Is the Speaker trying to signal these earnest investigators to back off?  Has a back room agreement been reached to circumvent the nation's laws, again?  Did she get 12 Repugnant votes to support the joint resolution in return for her undermining due process?  US Person wants to know, and so do the American people, who are sick to death of government by scandal.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Sixth Great Dying Continues

Australian scientists reporting their research in the on-line journal PLOS Biology conclude that 1200 species globally face almost certain extinction without conservation intervention. Their research identifies extinction "hot spots" and "cool spots" of relative evaluated species richness.  Just five nations account for the remaining 70% of wilderness on Earth. US Person is proud to say North America is one of those regions. These charts help explain their findings:

Southeast Asia, notably Malaysia, is an area where human impacts on studied wildlife are the highest. However, human impacts were found over 84% of the globe's terrestrial surface area. The most concerning finding is that 1,237 species, nearly a quarter of the animals assessed, were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution. According to one the researchers, the obvious need is to protect the cool spots, which have the least impacts threatening wildlife survival.  All of North America is relatively low in impacts, but not if the current rabidly exploitative administration has its way.  A researcher said, there is till room for optimism because every threat studied could be stopped by effective conservation action.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Democrats Have the Votes

Update: The Senate voted for the joint resolution to rescind MacOrange's bogus "national emergency", sending a strong rebuke to the dirtbag occupying the Very White House.  Twelve Repugnants joined Democrats voting for the joint resolution. Trumpilini has promised to veto the legislation and continue building his Wall of Shame using appropriated funds from the Department of Defense.  However, congressional rebuke sends a strong single to the courts which will address the the issue of separation of powers.  Sixteen states have filed suit to declare his reckless insistence on building a useless monument to his inflated ego unconstitutional.
{05/03/2019}Rand Paul (R-KY) has given Democrats the last vote they need to block Hair Further's unconstitutional usurpation of Congress' spending powers.  Paul said he could not support the abuse of "emergency powers" to allow the President to get more money for his ridiculous Wall of Shame in the desert.  'Mericans should breath a sigh of relief for if the would be dictator in the Very White House got his way, the path would lead straight to fascism, full stop.  Rand told Fox News (aka Trump's billboard) that he would vote against the joint resolution when it reaches the Senate because he thinks it unfair to treat Trump differently from Obama when his party railed against the DACA rules giving certain child immigrants relief from deportation.  Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), have also expressed opposition to the King of Debt's abuse of power.  The joint resolution passed the House last week 245-182.  Thirteen Repugnants joined the majority.

Individual I has already promised to veto the resolution when it reaches his desk.  The validity of his non-nonsensical emergency declaration will end up being decided by a conservative Supreme Court.  Perhaps they still have some respect for the separation of powers doctrine.

'Toontime: "Poor" Paul Manafort Sentenced One Time

Update:  The man who took the bullet for his master, Paul Manafort, was sentenced a second time yesterday in federal court.  Judge Amy Jackson imposed 43 months behind bars for his conspiracy and witness tampering crimes. Together with the his previous federal sentence Manafor is facing 7.5 years at a federal minimum security prison, unless he is given a presidential pardon.  More significantly, within hours of his receiving his second federal sentence a Manhattan grand jury indicted him for sixteen state crimes including residential mortgage fraud.  He is alleged to have falsified business records in order to obtain millions in mortgage loans.  MacOrange at the Very White House cannot pardon him for the state crimes if he is convicted.

{09.03.19}Paul Manafort was given a very lenient sentence by Virginia federal judge, T.S. Elliot this week. Out of the recommended 19.5 months minimum, Manafort was sentenced to 47 months for tax evasion and bank fraud. Manafort appeared in a wheelchair before Eillis who called the recommended range of 19.5 to 24.5 years “way out of whack”, and said that Manafort “has lived an otherwise blameless life.” Manafort made a lucrative business representing foreign autocrats seeking influence with the US government.  When business dried up after the his pro-Kremlin contacts lost power, Manafort resorted to submitting false mortgage documents. The convictions are first offenses for the 69 year old former campaign manager.

Those hoping the prospect of a long prison term, including the Special Counsel, would prompt his once promised cooperation were disappointed by the outcome. California Senator Kamala Harris pointed out the sentence was emblematic of major discrepancies in the justice system between punishments for white-collar crimes versus other nonviolent crimes. Manfort was also found by the District of Columbia federal district court to have breached his cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors by repeatedly lying. The convicted felon still has to appear in the DC federal district court to be sentenced on conspiracy charges and witness tampering before Judge Amy Berman Jackson next week. She could impose a 10 year consecutive sentence, or allow him to serve his sentence concurrently, Given the gravity of his crimes arising from a separate set of circumstances, a consecutive sentence would be more appropriate. MacOrange was quick to pounce on Manafort's lenient treatment in Virginia as evidence of his often repeated claim of "NO COLLUSION"* with Russian operatives working to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

credit: Ohman, Sacramento Bee
BC Idowanna sez:  Use Big Mac for bait!

*NOT! David Corn writes at Mother Jones: "In early August 2016, Manafort, according to Mueller’s investigation, took time away from his duties as Trump’s campaign manager to meet with [Konstantin] Kilimnik at an upscale New York City cigar bar. Filings in the Manafort case strongly suggested that this meeting took place at the behest of Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime and a former business associate of Manafort (and whom Manafort at one point apparently owed millions of dollars). At this meeting, Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data, including private information, with Kilimnik. The New York Times reported that this data was shared with two Ukrainian oligarchs. But what did those oligarchs do with it? Did Kilimink provide this data to anyone else? Mueller’s crew has not said....Perhaps more importantly, during this get-together, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a supposed peace plan for Ukraine that likely would have been beneficial for Moscow—and that could have led to the lifting of harsh sanctions that the Obama administration and the European Union had imposed on Russia following its intervention in Ukraine. This meeting smacks of collusion: Trump’s top campaign official discussing a pro-Moscow plan with an alleged Russian intelligence asset (sent to New York by an oligarch) at the same time that Putin is mounting an operation within the United States to boost Trump’s chances."  It is clear: to regain its democracy America must begin by telling Donald Trump, "You're fired!".

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Southern California Blooms Again

The perfect conditions have created a wildflower explosion in California's southern deserts, a welcomed stroke of intense colors after a severe five year drought.  Go to this link to see the stunning photos courtesy of High Country News
[Drawing of the state flower, Eschscholzia californica.]  US Person asks that as you enjoy the flowers' natural beauty, to remember they are fragile.  Don't let your "selfie" be the last for these natural works of art.

COTW: 30th Anniversary of the World Wide Web

This paper flow chart shows the beginning of what we now know as the Internet or World Wide Web (www). It began as ARAPANET, a computer based communication link between institutions engaged by the Defense Department for advanced research projects in the late 60's. ARAPA stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency. Before the net, researchers wanting to share computer files or communicate had to travel to the institution which possessed them or pick up a telephone and fax paper. Using a technology called "packet sharing" the software contained the data in packets and transmitted it to remote sites. Soon after ARAPNET's inception, a satellite link was established with the UK that was the beginning of the global web. In 1983 ARAPANET adopted the TCP/IP protocol allowing the establishment of a "network of networks", or what became known as the Internet. ARAPNET was decommission several years later as obsolete. At first the Internet grew slowly, confined to research institutes, businesses, and universities using computing equipment; twelve years after the first message was transmitted on ARAPANET only 213 computers were attached to the network. Today the modern internet has 1.94 billion websites and 4.1 billion internet users globally, and most everyone has a "device" that allows them to access a planet full of information.

Not is all ones and zeros in digitland, however. A noted founder of the modern internet, Tim Berners-Lee*, warned in a open letter marking the 30 anniversary of the globe-changing technology that the web is plunging into a "dysfunctional future."  Berners-Lee cites a "system design that creates perverse incentives”, and abuses by individuals and governments based on "deliberate, malicious intent”.  The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a recent notorious example of the risk involved using the Internet.  Facebook was fined £500,000 by the UK internet watchdog, IOC, for sharing demographic information of 50 million users without their permission.  Berners-Lee demanded in his letter that tech companies not just pursue short term profits, but help create a web future that is competitive, innovative and open, while also protecting users rights and freedoms while on-line.

*a British engineer and computer scientist who, while working at CERN, proposed a information management system in 1989 and that same year successfully implemented communication between an HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) client and server via the Internet. CERN was the site of the first ever website,

Monday, March 11, 2019

ABC (Australia) Covers the Russian Connection Pt2

Part Two of ABC Austraila's coverage of the Russian Connection focuses on attempts by Russian intelligence to recruit assets within the Trump campaign's inner circle that caused a former MI-6 agent, Christopher Steele, to inform the FBI about the espionage efforts. The tip prompted the agency to begin a counter-espionage investigation.  After MacOrange fired the FBI director in an attempt to block the inquiry, a Special Counsel was appointed. Is Trump a criminal "genius" or merely a useful idiot? The turmoil and distrust created by the subsequent investigations into the Russian Connection and offical firings make Vladimir Putin the only clear winner so far.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Austrailan TV Explores the Russian Connection

In a hard hitting series of three episodes, ABC Australia explores the dimensions of the on going expose of Trump's Russian Connection: a Kremlin approved operation to engage in "asymmetrical warfare" against the US political system.  US Person posts it here because it is useful to get an ally's perspective on the scandal that is bigger than Watergate, especially since domestic media coverage tends to be distracted, partisan or fragmentary.   The so-called "Witch Hunt" encompasses the compromise of a sitting president by an adversarial foreign power, a condition unprecedented in US history. The questions have been asked in Congress: is Individual I a Russian intelligence asset?  Does the Kremlin--or the Russian mob , these days one in the same--have kompromat that would assure Trump's policy tilt towards cooperation?  In the first episode ABC follows the money beginning with a road trip of two Russian agents collecting intelligence in 2014, and answers the question, who is Felix Sater?:

Chinese Ivory Smugller Sentenced

Tanzania has sentenced the so-called "Queen of Ivory" and Chinese national, Yang Fenglan to fifteen years in prison for smuggling ivory worth $5.6 million out of the country.  Yang was arrested in 2015 with two Tanzanian men and charged for trafficking 860 pieces of ivory.  Authorities say that represents 350 dead elephants.  Yang was Secretary General of the Tanzania-China-Africa Business Council and has lived in Tanzania since the 1970's. She owns a popular Chinese restaurant in Dar-es-Salam. The leaders of the criminal syndicate were also order to pay twice the value of the ivory in restitution or serve another two years in prison.  When asked about the conviction of a prominent Chinese businesswoman, a foreign ministry spokesman said China does not shield its citizens who engage in illegal activity. Tanzania sentenced two Chinese men to thirty-five years for ivory smuggling in 2016.  Conservationists say the sentence was too lenient considering Yang ran a network responsible for the death of thousands of elephants. Tanzania's elephant population has shrunk from 110,000 in 2009 to just 43,000 in 2015.   Conservationists blame rampant poaching for the decrease.

Wildlife poaching goes on around the globe, and in the Philippines this story made the news. Customs authorities found 1,529 live turtles covered in duct tape inside abandoned baggage at Manila's international airport. They say the baggage belonged to a Filipino arriving from Hong Kong.  Philippine customs makes regular seizures of illegally traded wildlife; the cases may have been abandoned after the trafficker lost his or her nerve passing through screening. The smuggled turtles included endangered species such as the beautiful Indian star tortoise. (Geochelone elegans) [photo] This species is the single most trafficked species of tortoise in the world, according to TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Nearly 15,000 Indian star tortoises were seized from the illegal trade between 2016 and 2018. The tortoises discovered in Manilla are worth an estimated $86,000. Customs officials said in a press statement that they, "will continuously protect the borders against importation and exportation of illegal wildlife trade and other prohibited and anti-social goods."

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

COTW: Bubble Me Pink

You do not have to be a prognosticator of doom to understand the statistical phenomenon of reversion to the mean.  Look at this chart from the Federal Reserve:

Twice before both recent recessions, household wealth has substantially outgrown GDP.  Compare that performance to the end of the chart where the mountain of out sized asset inflation stands.  Households have used debt leverage to exceed the growth of the economy in general, but how long can it go on before it collapses, again?  Ultra-low interest rates have become economically addictive.  When the Fed tried to reverse this trend in the fourth quarter, it had to reverse course and leave interest rates alone when the stock market began to implode.  Remember the 800 drop on one December day?  Even the King of Debt had to protest restricting easy money.

Some observers think the stock market is being held in the stratosphere by one major source of demand: corporate buybacks of their stock.  Here is one chart:
Notice that the pattern was repeated just before the financial crisis of 2007-09.  CNN said in July that buybacks "where the only thing keeping the market afloat". In 2018 buybacks of all stocks hit $1.1 trillion, a record.  S&P companies spent $4 trillion on their stock purchases between 2003 and 2017; that is about 53% of their profits over the same period. (Thirty percent went to dividends. Who owns company stock, why CEOs of course!)  It was extremely revealing of the mindset of corporate America when a panel of pharmaceutical CEOs was asked during a congressional hearing on soaring drug prices, whether their companies had spent any of their enormous tax subsidies on reducing drug prices.  To a man (and one woman) they said, "No."  No, because they have spent corporate profits on stock purchases, dividends, and advertising.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Beavers Are Appreciated in Scotland

credit: BBC News
Beavers alter the environments they live in, almost as much as man. The master builders are sometimes considered pests by humans because of their unwanted damn building and tree felling, but usually their activities enhance wildlife diversity by creating wetlands and ponds.  In Scotland beavers {Castor fiber} will be given protected status beginning in May.  Farmers are not happy with the decision to protect them.  A government spokesperson told a radio program that it is doing what the people wanted.  Scottish National Heritage is setting up a mitigation program to help farmers cope with the busy beavers; it can be expensive to clear dams inundating agricultural land.  Supporters say beavers contribute to water quality and provide habitat for other creatures.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK about 400 years ago. They were illegally reintroduced to Scotland from Norway about 12 years ago, and their numbers have increased rapidly in the Tayside region.   Around 430 now live there up from 150.  Beaver populations in the southern and western Highlands will be allowed to expand naturally under their new legal status; the decision is part of a larger movement to "rewild" natural areas of Great Britain.  Conservationists say the new legislation will help protect beavers from unregulated culls.  A recent 12 year study from Stirling University concluded that beavers increased the complexity of vegetation on wetlands drained for agriculture in Tayside, north of Perth by 71%. Between 2003 and 2015 beavers constructed 195 meters of dams, 500 meters of canals, and an acre of ponds on a private estate.

Increasingly beavers are considered prime means of restoring wetlands, a critical type of ecosystem that is dwindling fast due to human development.  In north Yorkshire, an area devastated by flooding a few years ago, an experiment is undertaken to determine if beaver water works can help control floods. Cropton Forest officials hope that beavers will complement the "Slowing the Flow" project, which has used natural flood management techniques to hold back large volumes of water during flood events.  Drones will be employed to monitor released beaver's building activities in an 18 hectare enclosed area. It seems beavers have come back home to Scotland.

Colorado Runner Killed Starving Kitten

You may have come across a story of a Colorado jogger who killed a mountain lion with his bare hands--shades of mountain men to match the Rockies.  As usual the real story is much more morally equivocal.  Sure, perhaps the runner was acting in self defense, but he what he actually killed was a three to four month hold kitten that was slowing starving to death.  The final necropsy report from the Colorado Parks & Wildlife veterinarian showed the starving kitten weighed about 24 pounds when Travis Kauffman struggled with the male cat, hitting the him on the head with a rock, and eventually killing him by stepping on his throat, suffocating him. The mountain lion's siblings later scavenged his carcass.  Kauffman is 31 years old and weighs in at about 150lbs. He suffered minor wounds during the encounter.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

"Toontime: When the Whip Comes Down

credit: Nate Beeler
Wackydoodle sez, Takes one to know one!
Even a foreign summit with 'Lil Kim the rocket-man could not drone out the bombastic news delivered by Michael Cohen to the House this week.  He testified Individual I knew about the Wikkileaks dump, courtesy of the GRU, and that he made illegal payments at Hair Further's direction to the playgrils involved.  This information readers of Persona Non Grata already knew, but it is now officially public record. Some of Cohen's testimony sounded angry, and of course the Trump chumps labeled him a liar; what else could they say when the former confidant unloaded on the "racist" "cheat" occupying the Very White House?  By one count the King of Debt has committed 8,000 lies since moving in, and has not admitted a single one.  Cohen is moving to a federal penitentiary this month for lying to Congress.

The former 'fixer' testified he overheard a speakerphone conversation between Individual I and the dirty trickster Roger Stone in July 2016.  Stone said he had just gotten off a phone call with Julian Assange who assured him that a damaging dump of stolen emails would occur in a few days.  Cohen also testified he informed Ivanka and Junior ten times about the Moscow Project during the campaign.  Both have previously denied any substantial knowledge of the project.  That tidbit earned Cohen a return visit to the House Oversight Committee.  Also expected to testily is the Trump Organization CFO, Allen Weisselberg.  Trump is being taken down on three fronts: the Special Counsel, the Democratic House, and SDNY federal prosecutors.  As US Person has told you before, it is curtains for Donito Trumpilini!

Roger Stone's flagrant exhibitionism has gotten him in trouble with the federal judge deciding his fate once again.  Judge Amy Jackson demanded to know on Friday why Stone's kiss-and-tell book about to be released does not violate her expanded gag order.  The judge asked Stone's lawyers to explain why they did not tell her about the book release this week, since the defendant knew it was imminent. Stone typed in an earlier Instagram post that his book entitled, "The Myth of Russian Collusion", an update of an earlier publication about the 2016 presidential campaign, is to appear in retail outlets March 1st.  Some people just cannot keep their mouths shut.

credit: Ed Wexler
BC Idonwanna sez, Show them your Nixon too!