Monday, April 29, 2019

COTW: Paying for Medicare for All

'Crazy' Bernie Sanders has given us a menu of ways to pay for the increased cost of Medicare for All, which would save the government $2 trillion even with universal coverage, if the current broken system is not eliminated.  Critics argue that specific proposals for funding the change should be put forward.  Proposals will be made, once the basic concept of eliminating the role of insurance profit in the US health care system is accepted.  That in itself is a 'big lift'.  Here is a chart which shows the costs associated with Medicare for All:

The chart suggests that without the medical establishment accepting less for their services, Medicare for All would cost $3.4 trillion more.  According to the chart providers are expected to bear 70% of the cost reductions.  Ask yourself if the government is 'the only game in town' what option do doctors and hospitals have?  Not to accept Medicare patients when everybody has Medicare is to restrict their market to a tiny segment of wealthy patients who want gold-plated, Cadillac care for their elective treatments.  Unless these providers want to go out of business, they would be forced to accept the government's negotiated prices.

This is the major problem with health care in 'Merica--it is not about curing illness and keeping people well, it is about generating profits.  A regulated market for a social good is logically consistent, as well as morally justifiable. US Person thinks providers who espouse the Hippocratic Oath should understand that. Consulting  anesthesiologists, one of the most highly compensated specialists in the US, still can earn £173,000 a year ($260,000) under the National Health Service in the UK.  That's not chump change!

Friday, April 26, 2019

'Toontime: He Did It!

credit: R. Bolling
BC Idonwanna sez: Flying monkeys bad medicine!
According to CNN, Deutsche Bank has begun the process of turning over financial records of its business with Don Veto to New York's Attorney General. Last month Letitia James subpoenaed records related to his loans for several building projects and his failed bid to buy the NFL's Buffalo Bills team. The investigation was prompted by Michael Cohen's sworn allegations that Don Veto inflated his assets in official documents as the situation required. The House Financial Services and Intelligence Committees have also subpoenaed similar records from the bank. Financial Services chair Maxine Waters, who supports impeachment, has said her committee is also receiving records from the bank.  However, Hair Further has already indicated refusal to comply with any subpoenas issued by Congress, or allow his subordinates to testify.  He is stonewalling to get to 2020 when he can rely on his delusional white supporters in rural 'Merica to swing their disproportional weight in the next 'horse race'.

Deutsch Bank has a history of shady dealings; it was fined a mere $630 million by the Justice Department in 2017 for laundering money out of Russia. US Person thinks that Individual I is implicated in the documented history of widespread laundering of dirty money from the collapse of the Soviet Union. This involvement is the raison d'etre for Don Veto's Russian connection, and explains in part the Kremlin's willingness to help 'their man' win the 2016 election over a hostile and uncooperative Hillary Clinton.

A massive investigation of Don Veto's business dealings, conducted by New York Times revealed that he routinely inflated his assets in loan documentation. In order to prove he had the means to buy the NFL football team, Don Veto submitted a financial statement stating he was worth $8.7 billion! To offset his known propensity for lying, the bank regularly reduced his reported figures by 70%. After being sued by Trump over his Chicago tower project in 2008, the bank settled his $500 million default, and yet made two more loans to him. He still owes the bank $340 million. Providing false information on loan applications is illegal in New York, but the state Attorney General's investigation is only a civil one.  One more reason the nation needs impeachment¹.

Impeachment is a political process as well as a fact-finding one.  The investigating House committees should lay a factual ground work, begun by a cautious and partisan Special Counsel investigation, to bring a bill of particulars before the House of Representatives for a vote.  The additional fact-finding will also serve to justify Trump's impeachment to the public at large. Even after Special Prosecutor Leon Jarworski laid bare the facts of Nixon's obstruction of justice and his eventual resignation to avoid a Senate trial, the public did not support impeachment of the President². An impeachment is an indictment not a trial; whether partisans in the Senate would vote not to convict is a question that can only be answered in the event.  But to do nothing and allow the unAmerican imposter's removal from office to be decided by the result of a rigged election, or not enforce the Constitution for fear of partisan nullification, would be to destroy what remains of the rule of law in this nation. If Senate partisans attempt to fall on their puny swords in a last ditch defense of Hair Further, the public will ensure their political demise.  Senators are, thanks to an amendment to that tattered document, elected by direct popular vote.

credit: M Streeter, Savannah Morning News
Wackydoiodle sez: His hands were in his pockets at the time!

¹Two former federal prosecutors express their opinion in print that if Trump were not President he would be indicted for obstruction of justice now. US Person believes that Mueller may have taken two years to reach his decision not to prosecute, perhaps in the mistaken belief that impeachment would be bad for the country, in order to allow the President political cover to reach the next election cycle.  Think that the Russian agitprop campaign was insignificant?  Think again, Sherlock!  The margin of Don Veto's Electoral College victory was 70,000 votes across three states.  The IRA ads reached 100,000,000 voters. That's MAGA!
²“Nobody jumped to conclusions about impeachment with Richard Nixon,” U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said of the former president who resigned in 1974. “The whole world was educated about what Nixon was doing, and it got to the point where they didn’t need to impeach, because when the world found out what he was doing, he decided the jig was up."  A similar scenario could play out for Don Veto, but he is such a sociopath he could end up like Little Caesar, who said with his dying breath, "No copper will ever put the cuffs on me--is this the end of Little Caesar?"  US Person sees some value in detailing the "high crimes and misdemeanors": illegal emoluments and campaign finance payments, abetting a foreign power to influence a federal election, tax fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and obstruction of justice, but not if it means dragging the fact-finding out until the next election! The toxicity resides in the Very White House, but it is a symptom NOT a cause.  The cause lies in the failure to recognize the flaws (Electoral College) in the foundation documents and the political unwillingness to enforce their strengths (Separation of Powers).

Read more here:

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

COTW: The Debt Bomb

When the next economic crisis hits, it will probably be related to the problem graphically illustrated above.  The world's economy is punch drunk on easy money, which is propping up an illusory 'economic expansion'.  After ten years of inflating balance sheets, central banks including the FED, are trapped in a corner of continuing the policies that got us here, or risking an historic economic collapse.  As the minutes from the latest FED policy meeting noted, "A few participants observed that the appropriate path for policy, insofar as it implied lower interest rates for longer periods of time, could lead to greater financial stability risks".

Since 2003 global debt has soared.  It is now pegged at $247 trillion, or 318% of global GDP.  Corporate debt in the US is also historically high at $9 trillion.  Of course all that debt has to be serviced at interest, and interest rates are rising so it may cause distress for some firms unable to rollover at higher rates.  Cash to debt ratio fell to 12% in 2017, the lowest level ever.  Some formerly guilt-edged companies like GE are seeing their corporate bonds slide from low investment grade to junk. U.S. consumers are more than 13 trillion dollars in debt--its all part of the Bubble Everything economy!

Monday, April 22, 2019

More Wolves in Oregon

alpha male, new Chesnimnus pack
Wolf numbers continue to slowly increase in Oregon according to the latest annual report from the state's wildlife management agency.  Biologists counted 137 wolves in 16 packs, up 10% from last year.  A pack is defined as four or more wolves traveling together in winter. Fifteen of those successfully reproduced. One pack, the Wenaha, apparently lost its oldest alpha female, who disappeared during 2018. She was at least ten years old, and appeared in poor condition in camera trap pictures.   Oregon wolves are now reclaiming their range into the central Cascades.

This population increase continues despite illegal human depredations and alleged preying on livestock. Two wolves were illegally killed in 2018, a juvenile believed to belong to the Grouse Flats (Washington) pack, and a collared female from the Mt. Emily pack.  Rewards for information are offered for these and other incidents.  The agency reports 28 confirmed wolf kills, including two guard dogs.  Three packs seem to be responsible for the majority of preying incidents.  Notably, despite increase in wolf population, predation has not increased at the same rate.  Oregon's proposed wolf management plan mandates that non-lethal actions be taken before culling is allowed.  US Person wants to encourage livestock owners to consider using guardian dogs, which are less expensive than humans, and used with great success in Europe. The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s Wolf Depredation Compensation and Financial Assistance Grant Program awarded $160,890 in grant funds to compensate livestock producers for losses and to fund preventive non-lethal measures.

Oregon's Fish & Wildlife Commission is expected to vote on the proposed Wolf Management Plan at its public June 7th meeting in Salem.  Public comment on the plan can be submitted to or at the meeting.

Friday, April 19, 2019

'Toontime: The Stain that Abides

What the release of the redacted Mueller Report proves [image above]--and US Person thinks it proves a lot including the impeachable offense of illegal campaign finance contributions--is two fold: one, the decision not to indict Don Veto for obstruction of justice was a policy decision, not one based on the evidence.  DOJ has a policy of not indicting sitting presidents¹ espoused in two Office of Legal Counsel memorandums; two, any "fake news" about the so-called "witch hunt" is only that created by the Very White House's extensive propaganda machine.

There may be no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of Don Veto's illegal conspiracy (a term of legal art with a specific definition) with foreign agents (Russia's Internet Research Agency) running a "sweeping" agitprop operation intended to undermine our political institutions, but as columnist David Brooks points out, while there was no evidence of illegal conspiracy,  "[the report] also shows that working relationships were beginning to be built [i.e.collusion²], through networkers like Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Roger Stone. More important, it shows that many of the Trumpists, the Russians and the WikiLeaks crowd all understood that they were somehow adjacent actors in the same project." Trump said nothing--worse, he publicly denied what was going on in the shadows³.  As one Democratic congresswomen put it, "Eisenhower would not recognize this presidency." The bottom line is: Individual I and his senior campaign officials had guilty knowledge of foreign influence in the 2016 election. Further, his minions expressed willingness to use any derogatory information Russian operatives could provide them.  If an ordinary individual has knowledge of a felony being committed and does not report it to authorities, that person could be prosecuted for being an accessory to the crime. If you are a candidate for president, not so much. His disloyalty is astonishing.

Mueller generally corroborates reporting on the Russian Connection investigation which began as an FBI counterintelligence investigation code named "Crossfire Hurricane", and tosses the ball to Congress on the issue of obstruction.  Mueller wrote, "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state."  "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgement."  If the congressional investigations go forward on a legitimate basis, and it seems at this point they will, impeachment will be necessary to uphold the integrity of the country's justice system.  Trial in the Senate is for another day.

credit: Dave Granlund
Wackydoodle sez: Garunteed to get the dirt out!

¹ That policy is not written in stone.  It is a legal opinion that can be disputed, and is disputed because both opinions,
in 1973 and another in 2000, were written by DOJ lawyers working for an Executive Branch wherein a chief executive was under threat of impeachment for wrongdoing. In 1973 it was Nixon bag man Spiro Agnew; in 2000 it was the morally unreliable Bill Clinton.  Scholars have called the opinions "shaky and political".
²Collusion is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as, "agreement, especially in secret, for an illegal or dishonest reason".  It is unarguably illegal for a foreign agent to seek to influence a US federal election, thus the reason for the indictment of GRU agents by the Special Counsel.
³As expected--for no sovereign nation engaged in espionage voluntarily gives up the principle of plausible deniability--the Kremlin continues to deny that it interfered with the 2016 election. It suggests the Mueller report is "low quality" and a waste of American taxpayers' money.  To all those pundits counting senators on their fingers, US Person would like to remind them Bill 'Issy' Clinton escaped conviction by only one vote, and Nixon resigned rather than be tried. The point being that the evidence eventually amassed against this President may be so clear and convincing that even Repugnants could not afford politically to exonerate the pseudo mobster, Don Veto Trumpilini. And what if Congress abdicates its constitutional duties by leaving the removal of a corrupt president to the voters in another demonstrably unrepresentative election, as suggested by some inexperienced presidential candidates?  If he wins again with the support of the sixty-three million members of his personality cult, the demigod would justifiably declare complete and total victory over "democracy". No governmental institution would then be capable of stopping his march to fascist dictatorship.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Follow the Dirty Money

It is well known that Deutsche Bank has a 'special relationship' with Don Veto.  The bank was lending him money when no one else on Wall Street would bear the "Donald risk".  Now, the House Intelligence and Finance Committees want to know why Deutsche gave such favorable treatment to the bankrupt welsher.  US Person wishes to suggest why the connection exists in two words: money laundering.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, billions in formerly state owned assets were ferreted out of the country during the ensuing chaos.  A lot of that money ended up in western banks, especially Deutsche Bank.  The bank had money to burn, so to speak, so why not invest it in Trump-owned real estate and businesses?  The parties sued each other over rotten deals, but already in a co-dependent relationship, they continued to do business.  Trump still owes the bank hundreds of millions, and he keeps substantial millions in Deutsche wealth management accounts.

On Monday, Congressional investigators subpoenaed records from the bank regarding its loyal customer, as well as records from Citicorp and Chase. “The potential use of the U.S. financial system for illicit purposes is a very serious concern,” Representative Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee, said in a statement.  Don Veto may have been a witting enabler of the washing scheme, so his relationship with Deutsche is coming under intense scrutiny.  Russian mobsters were known to frequent Trump's Atlantic City casino, perhaps to keep an eye on their money. If US Person were forced to speculate, Russian money laundering operations may be the source of kompromat, which explains Don Veto's conspicuous policy tilt towards the Kremlin.

Deutsche bank has lent over $2 billion to Individual I, and he is the bank's biggest creditor at $300 million in debt.  According to investigating officials, the bank is cooperating with the committees' record demands.  A joint subpoena has been negotiated for two months; the bank wanted to limit its scope to reduce its compliance costs and speed up production.  The family owned Trump Organization, speaking through son Eric Trump, is understandably unhappy with the probing saying it "sets a horrible precedent for all taxpayers".  The feds are not the only ones interested in Trump-Deutsche dealings.  The state of New York has also issued its subpoena for bank records.  I do not know about you dear reader, but US Person does not owe anybody $300 million.  When you owe that much to a bank, you become a business partner, not just a customer.  As they say in DC, 'the truth will out'; just ask William Barr.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Electric Cars Will be Cheaper in 3 Years

According to Bloomberg, electric cars will be cheaper than gas versions by 2022.  In 2017 Bloomberg said electric cars will have a price advantage by 2026, but batteries have become smaller, less expensive, and faster than expected.  That makes buying an electric vehicle, especially in traffic clogged urban centers, the proverbial "no-brainer".  EVs have other advantages over fossil fuel cars too: faster acceleration, lower maintenance costs, lower fuel cost per mile as well as the big advantage from a climate standpoint, zero emissions.  Here is the chart on battery costs:

Experts say the crossover to electric will begin in Europe for larger vehicles in 2022. Europe has much less distance between urban centers than the US, and a more highly developed electric charging system.  "Range anxiety" is holding US consumers back from embracing the newest mode of transportation early.  But more efficient batteries are increasing driving range to as much as 500 miles, similar to the range of a gas powered vehicle.  Next generation batteries may be rechargeable in as little as 3-5 minutes!  Other critical parts of an EV like the electric power train, are also becoming cheaper as mass production gets underway.  Key parts could become 30% less expensive over the next decade.  So full speed ahead for the old, new electric car.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

COTW: Melting of the Permafrost

One of the consequences of a rapidly warming Arctic region is large scale melting of the permafrost.  This map shows the continuous melting of permafrost on Alaska's North Slope. [yellow]  Profit obsessed climate deniers ask, so what?   Permafrost is a huge carbon sink; it currently covers about 5.8 million square miles. When it melts, carbon in the form of methane gas and carbon dioxide from decomposing organic material is released to the atmosphere, augmenting the greenhouse gas effect and warming the planet even more. Methane gas is a more potent climate pollutant that causes a difficult to stop feedback loop. Scientists specializing in this phenomenon have been warning for years that this feedback has not been taken into account when setting climate goals.  

The most dramatic change has occurred in Siberia where deep permafrost temperatures have risen by 1.6 ℉. In fact recent research has revealed that the Arctic is warming 2.4 times faster than the rest of the Northern Hemisphere [chart below], which brings a host of cascading ecological effects that is transforming the region to an "unprecedented state".  Warmer temperatures have shifted forest and tundra growing seasons, boosted rain and snowfall, increased melting, accelerated glaciers and possibly even increased the number of lightning strikes that could increase the risk of Arctic wildfires in the tundra and boreal forest, according to Jason Box, a scientist with Denmark's Geological Survey and lead author of a study of the last 50 years of temperature data published in Environmental Research Letters.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Russians Agree to Release Whales

Belugas protest their captivity, credit: Ocean Futures Society
Russian officials have agreed to release whales from cramped sea pens that amount to a gulag for whales.  Eighty-seven beluga whales [photo] and ten orcas are incarcerated at Nakhodka, Primorski for sale and distribution to aquariums in China and elsewhere in Asia. Regional Governor Oleg Kozhemyako told reporters that an agreement in principal was reached with Jean-Michel Cousteau, heir to the oceanographic legacy of his father Jacques, and the Whale Sanctuary Project to free the whales.  A joint team of Cousteau and Russian scientists will decide when and which animals to release to the wild this summer.

After all the whales are set free the "whale jail" will then be closed after months of outcry from animal rights advocates including 1.5 million signatures on a petition demanding their release.  Even Canadian born actress and model Pamela Anderson, who identifies as ethnically Russian, contacted President Putin to express her concern for the intelligent cetaceans, whose basic biological needs require they swim and dive freely, caught in an inhumane trade of marine mammals to supply exhibitors. The whales where first captured last summer by companies planning to sell them to marine parks and aquariums.  The Kremlin intervened and order local authorities to act. The FSB charged the four firms with violating fishing laws; whales can be legally captured in Russia but only for scientific and education purposes in specific circumstances.

Mr. Cousteau blogged about the whales' plight, noting that humans have reached an evolutionary stage wherein our species recognizes that cetaceans are "are far too intelligent, sophisticated, and socially and behaviorally complex to be kept in concrete prisons”.  He wrote that cetaceans primarily use their sense of sound to understand their surroundings and this sense is severely curtailed in man-made concrete pens or tanks.  Prolonged sensory deprivation can cause mental distress and even illness A captive male orca, Tillikum, drowned his trainer at Sea World in 2010. {07.01.17} This tragically belated realization is responsible for Sea World agreeing to end its display of orcas performing for crowds of squealing kids and immature adults. {18.03.16}

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Regime Continues to Stonewall

Chairman Richard Neal of the House Ways and Means Committee got stonewalled last week when his request for six years of Don Veto's tax returns was declined by the Secretary of the Treasury.  The previously set deadline of April 10th was not met by Secretary Steven Mnuchin who told reporters his department, which supervises the IRS, was studying the request with the Justice Department because, "I feel a responsibility to get this right and that the IRS does not become weaponized like it was under the Nixon administration."  Trump supporters argue the demand is simply a politically motivated attempt to embarrass or harass the President.

In a letter Saturday to the IRS Commissioner, Charles Rettig, Chairman Neal pointed out legal authority in which courts defer to Congress' broad authority to obtain documentation related to its legislative and oversight responsibilities.  Moreover, Chairman Neal wrote, the IRS code provision upon which the request is based is unambiguous and mandatory.  Neal added, "There is no valid basis on which to question the committee's legislative purpose here."  Neal maintains the committee's investigation of the automatic audit policy for a president's returns justify the request.  The IRS was given an extension of the previous deadline to April 23rd, and told that failure to comply by then would be considered a refusal. A legal battle over the scope of Congress' oversight authority is likely to ensue that may end up in the Supreme Court.

There is another route to obtaining Trump's tax returns. Don Veto has publicly vowed never to make them available, contrary to half a century of precedent. House Oversight & Reform Committee Chairman, Elijah Cummings said he intends to subpoena financial records in the possession of Mazars USA, an accounting firm used by the Trump Organization.  Chairman Cummings cited his committee's authority to investigate allegations made public by Michael Cohen in his congressional testimony that Don Veto engaged in illegal conduct related to his finances. 

Rosemont Mine Given Go Ahead

In another demonstration of its anti-nature agenda, the regime at the Very White House has reversed an Army Corps of Engineers' decision to protect jaguar habitat in Arizona's Santa Rita mountains. In 2016 the Corps rejected a permit for Rosemont copper mine out of concern for adverse impacts on endangered species like El Jefe, [photo] the resident male jaguar, pristine water supplies and native cultural sites. {27.01.17} The agency did an about face under a regime that is so rapacious it is willing to risk planetary catastrophe in pursuit of profit by removing so-called 'regulatory burdens'. The fact that these environmental regulations and other like them have justification in important social values, such as public health and biodiversity, is considered irrelevant when money making is concerned.

Panthera onca's future in the US is tenuous. The species received legal protection in 1997, but they have not yet repopulated their southwestern range in numbers. [map] Only six jaguars have been spotted north of the border, all of them males.  Most jaguars live in Mexico, an estimated 4,000 concentrated in the southern states.  International conservation efforts have recently been focused on re-establishing northern Mexico populations.  If the US males are to breed they will have to cross over for mates.  However, Sonoran females are also threatened.  To give them some relief, an 86 square mile refuge was created in 2003, managed cooperatively by private American and Mexican preservation groups.  Now, as many as 120 jaguars including mothers and cubs roam the North American Jaguar Reserve and surrounding ranchos.  Significantly, the reserve offers compensation to local ranchers who allow camera traps on their land to monitor jaguar activity; conflicts with livestock may be their greatest problem.

Heading north is risky for both female jaguars and humans. Besides a scarcity of food, water and mates, jaguars run a gantlet of border barriers, busy roads and well-armed humans. They may now face an absurd steel barrier thirty fee high. In fact the late feline advocate, Alan Ribinowitz, concluded that limited resources are better spent on protecting jaguars in Mexico because the US jaguar population is so tenuous. That ignores the obvious fact that some intrepid jaguars have returned to their former range in the USA. The US Fish & Wildlife lost three separate lawsuits forcing it to develop conservation plans and designate critical habitat.

The Sonoran success story may eventually be reproduced in the borderlands, but that may take decades or even a century. Female cubs in the refuge stay close to their mothers from one generation to the next.  Territorial expansion is therefore very slow. According to the late ecologist Peter Warshall, who was the science coordinator for the reserve, “the fastest female inter-generational lineage might return to the U.S. sky islands (such as the Santa Rita Range) in 45 to 70 years, conservatively 60 to 85, and if many of our assumptions are too optimistic, from 100 to 250 years. Since that 2012 scholarly report, several more ranches have volunteered to serve as research sites and refuges. There is hope for the American jaguar, if over-exploitation of available natural resources in the region is stopped.

mine site, photo credits: High Country News
The Rosemont copper mine was first proposed in 2007. The project's central feature is an open-pit copper mine on public forest land a mile wide and thousands of feet deep. The proposal would require the storage of billions of tons of mine waste which would eventually contaminate surrounding forests and water sources. It could use 5 million gallons of water a day, lowering the water table of the Cienega Creek basin. Clean Water Act permits from the Corps of Engineers were the last regulatory hurdle. Despite written objections from the EPA t regional office warning that the mine’s cutoff of storm water flows into neighboring streams and its groundwater pumping will significantly degrade federally regulated and rare water bodies, the permits were granted to a Canadian company on March 9th. The impacts will be contrary to the goals of the federal Clean Water Act, the EPA said, strongly implying the act itself would be violated.

This time around the agency ignored the EPA warnings, finding that the company's mitigation arguments were sufficient to offset local damage and that the groundwater impacts were beyond its jurisdiction to address. Given the green light, the Canadian firm has forged ahead, buying out a South Korean interest in the mine, announcing it planned to begin work by the end of the year. The conservation fight is not over, however.  Two lawsuits have been filed, one by environmentalists and another by a coalition of Indian tribes. The Indians are objecting to the desecration of burial sites among other damage to be inflicted on the natural resources by a mine site covering 5,431 acres.

Friday, April 12, 2019

'Toontime: The AG of Donald Trump

credit: Joep Bertrams
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called a spade a spade this week when she told reporters how disappointing it is that William Barr has "gone off the rails" by refusing to release the full report to the House Judiciary Committee.  She said the hand-picked replacement for Jeff Sessions is the "Attorney General of the United States, not the Attorney General for Donald Trump".  Democrats are finding out only spineless sycophants can work the for ranting egotist that is the current occupant of the Very White House, and Barr is no exception.
credit: RJ Matson
Wackdoodle sez:  I thought who was in the White House?

In a development related to the sprawling Russian Connection investigation, Julian Paul Assange, co-founder of Wikkileaks, was finally taken into custody by British authorities on Thursday after the Ecuadorian government withdrew political asylum for the alleged computer hacker. An extradition request by the US is pending before the British courts. Assange has been hiding out in Ecuador's British embassy since 2012.

Assange is not charged with publishing the hacked Democratic National Committee emails, but with assisting former US intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning, to crack the password code for secret DOD computer files. The charge carries a sentence of five years. The decision to indict Assange on such narrow grounds is seen as an advantage to Assange's defense team, and an opportunity to liberate more classified information from the government. Neither is extradition to the US a done deal since he could argue that the indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia on "computer intrusion" is an attempt to punish him for publication of classified information, a charge fraught with First Amendment restrictions.

Speculation abounds that once returned, Assange will be hit with a superseding indictment charging much more serious crimes including violation of the Espionage Act, and a potential life sentence. Labour's Jeremy Corbin wrote, "The extradition of Julian Assange to the US for exposing evidence of atrocities in Iraq and Afghanistan should be opposed by the British government."  UK's first black MP Diane Abbott said, “Julian Assange is not being pursued to protect US national security, he is being pursued because he has exposed wrongdoing by US administrations and their military forces.” (Bernie Sanders, where are you?)  The publisher has refused to reveal so far whether Russian agents were his source for the hacked Democratic emails. When asked for his reaction to the arrest, Indivdual I said he did not know anything about Wikkileaks; "It's not my thing" claimed the plutocrat Denier in Chief. Whaaaa? Play the tape!

Who is this man? And how did he predict the advent of Don Veto Trumpilini?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

A Scientific First

Of course you have heard about black holes--those cosmological wonders that swallow galaxies whole. Ever since Einstein developed his general theory of relativity (1915), the existence of black holes was predicted to exist.  Now, thanks to a global array of eight radio telescopes, put together by the insistence of a Dutch scientist, a black hole at the center of a galaxy far, far away known as M87 has been photographed.  Here is the first image of a black hole:

Underwhelmed, you say?  Oh jaded, post-modernist!  Just fathom these figures:  this "monster" black hole is an estimated 40 billion kilometers in diameter or 3 million times the size of Earth, larger than our entire solar system.  It looks small because it is only 500 trillion kilometers away. Its mass is 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.  It is one of the heaviest in the universe according to Prof. Heino Falcke, of Radboud University in the Netherlands who proposed the experiment to photograph the object with a globe-spanning array of telescopes.  He first proposed the idea as a PhD student in 1993.  Prof. Falcke finally convinced the European Research Council to fund the project.  The result is vindication of his twenty year effort, and further physical evidence supporting Einstein's formidable genius.

The data collected over ten days by the eight linked telescopes, called the Event Horizon Telescope Array, filled hundreds of hard drives--to much data to transmit over the Internet.  So the data was assembled an old fashioned way by flying the drives to several central processing centers where the image was resolved using innovative algorithms and supercomputers.  This achievement is described as an "extraordinary scientific feat".  The team responsible for the feat is also studying the black hole at the center of our own Milky Way, 55 million light years away.  The "ring of fire" around the Milky Way's black hole is smaller and dimmer than the one you see around M87's.  The bright halo is caused by superheated gas falling into the hole from which no light can escape.  The light is brighter than all the billions of other stars in the galaxy combined, which is why it can be see so far from Earth.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Japan Restricts Whaling to Territorial Waters

Perhaps bowing to international pressure, Japan has announced it will restrict its commercial whaling operation to territorial waters, giving up its annual hunt in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, recognized by most countries as a whale sanctuary. [map]  Japan's membership in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is set to expire on June 30th.   Commercial whaling in its own waters will begin on July 1st. The IWC imposed a ban on commercial whaling in 1986. In late March the factory ship, Nisshin Maru, returned to port with the meat from 333 minke whales killed in the Southern Ocean.  The Japanese people eat an average of about an ounce per person per year, or a total of between 4,000 and 5,000 tons annually.  The Japanese whaling industry is heavily subsidized by the government; some conservationists think that the Japanese reluctance to give up whaling entirely is related to memories of wartime protein shortages.  a Japanese IWC representative declined to give the press an estimate of the size of its first harvest since the government still must decide if a whaling is, or can be, a viable economic activity.

The conservation organization Sea Shepherd mounted a continuous campaign of harassing the Japanese whaling fleet from 2005 to 2017. {17.01.14}  The confrontations became potentially violent when collisions occurred at sea between Sea Shepherd vessels and Japanese whaling ships.  A high-tech Sea Shepherd trimaran, once an ocean racer, was effectively decommission in one collision. [photo] Eventually, the Japanese government invested in military surveillance equipment in 2018, which prevented the whale advocates from mounting another intervention.  Sea Shepherd is credited, however, with saving the lives of over 6,000 whales.  When Japan withdraws from the 89 member commission, the way will be clear to officially establish the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, effectively ending whaling in the southern hemisphere.  Southern whales have endured more than a century of continuous whaling.  Iceland and Norway also have active whaling  industries.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Barr Just Says "No"

Attorney General Barr has told Congress they will not receive an unredacted version of the Mueller report, setting up the biggest constitutional battle between the co-equal branches of government since the battle over the establishment of a central bank. Democrat Nita Lowry of New York, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, asked the hand-picked Attorney General if he will provide Congress the ENTIRE report of the two year investigation into the Russian Connection. Barr responded, "no".

Not surprising to knowledgeable observers that he will refuse to release the ENTIRE report because obviously it will fuel allegations that Individual I obstructed justice; also not surprising given Barr's previously expressed curious interpretation of Article II--the theory of a "unitary executive". Under this constitutional theory Congress has no power to review the actions of the Executive exercising its enumerated power to enforce laws. But this interpretation overlooks the shared responsibility of the branches of government to preserve the integrity of the administration of justice. This shared responsibility can be traced to McColluch v. Maryland (1819), a case which considered Congress' power to establish a national bank. The Supreme Court found that while Congress did not have the explicit power to do so, it could establish a bank as "necessary and proper" to the administration of its enumerated powers. The Court expressed the opinion that Congress could also pass laws necessary and proper for other branches of government such as the effective administration of justice in courts of law. Specifically, the Court pointed out that crimes like “falsifying … a process of the court,” or perjury, were not “conducive to the due administration of justice. This is what obstruction is about--the perversion of justice through malevolent interference.

Doug Collins, the ranking member, excoriated Chairman Nadler for putting Barr in a situation where Barr has to ignore the requirements of federal law to protect privileged information or face mounting allegations of a political cover-up. Collins is wrong about that allegation because it is the dotard occupying 1600 Penn Ave who has created this crisis. Obviously, Don Veto thinks he has a lot to hide. A full and complete examination of the report contents is necessary and proper for the committee to determine if Individual I used his immense power to interfere in a legitimate counter-espionage investigation because it would reveal his criminal activity, or merely reveal embarrassing personal information. Either way the information goes to the essence of the President's Article II responsibilities to 'take care the laws are faithfully executed'. In his letter to the chairman, Collins noted Nadler has the power to subpoena all of the report if impeachment proceedings are initiated. Next stop, the Supreme Court and its conservative majority.

Monday, April 08, 2019

COTW: Mega $ Pills

It is a common place that 'Mericans spend more for drugs than in any other developed country of the world, averaging $1200 per year.  Here are two charts that explain the situation:

source: Blue Cross/Blue Shield
A major advantage of a single-payer system would be its negotiating leverage over pharmaceutical companies.  An example of how this works is the Veterans Administration system, which negotiates lower drug prices for veterans.  Since drugs are a profit industry in America, leverage is an absolute necessity when you consider the next chart:

This incredibly exploitative industry is perpetuated by hack politicians*, who dismiss any attempt to level the economic playing field by screaming, "socialist".  US Person, the "lawyer from hell", says, "Give me socialism!"

*The delusional dotard in the Very White House named Senator Rick Scott (R) of Florida as his messiah of healthcare. That is like giving a fox the key to the hen house. Scott resigned as CEO of Columbia/HCA in 1997, the same year the company was investigated for massive Medicare fraud. It eventually plead guilty to fourteen felony counts of fraud and paid some $1.7 billion in fines and penalties. The Justice Department called the case the largest health care fraud in history. No doubt any health care plan Scott and his capitalist colleagues cook up will be a "spectacular" rip-off of a sick and addicted American public. (U.S. life expectancy has declined for three years)

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Rhino Poacher Killed by Elephant; Eaten by Lions

A suspected rhino poacher operating on foot in Kruger National Park, South Africa was trampled by an enraged elephant.  Before rangers could recover his body, a pride of lions consumed the man leaving only his trousers and a bloody head.  The dead man's family reported his death to park rangers on Tuesday evening after the surviving poachers told them what had happened to their husband and father.  The four other members of the poaching party were arrested and are expected to answer for their crime in court shortly.  Over a thousand rhino were hunted illegally in the country in 2017 to meet the Asiatic demand for rhino horn. In July last year three poachers were eaten by a lion pride in Sibuya Game Reserve in eastern South Africa.

Friday, April 05, 2019

'Toontime: The Trump Ring

credit: Steve Brodner
BC Idowanna sez:  Bigger than Tammany Hall!
Guide to the Ring: Clockwise: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Jared Kushner, Sam Clovis, Stephen K. Bannon, Reince Priebus, Stephen Miller, Corey Lewandowski, George Papadopoulos, Sergei Millian, Erik Prince, Ivan Timofeev, Sergei Lavrov, K.T. McFarland, Konstantin Kilimnik, Alex van der Zwaan, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Oleg Deripaska, Mike Pence, Michael Flynn, Aras and Emin Agalarov, Maria Butina, Alexander Torshin Viktor Vekselberg, Richard Pinedo, Internet Research Agency, Roger Stone, Julian Assange, Jerome Corsi, Randy Credico, Jason Sullivan, Guccifer 2.0, Stormy Daniels, Micahel Cohen, Felix Sater, Rob Goldstone, Carter Page, Sergei Kislyak, Donald Trump Jr., [out of line] Ike Kaveladze, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times are reporting what US Person already assumed to be true: the Mueller Report is much more damaging than Attorney General William Barr misleadingly told the public in his meager "summary" of Mueller's report findings.  Some of the investigators in Mueller's office say that Barr's four page letter to Congress does not accurately portray their findings.  They say that the evidence gathered on the obstruction charge was alarming and significant.  In a preview of the fight to come, a source said that every page of the 400+ page report was marked with a notation indicating redaction was needed to protect privileged information.  Predictably, Individual I's current mouthpiece, Rudy 'Gouliani' said the information about the inaccuracy of Barr's letter was coming from "disgrunted" staffers whom he labelled, "sneaky, unethical leakers".  House Judiciary Chairman Nadler said he would wait to see what Barr releases in the coming days before issuing the committee's subpoena for the ENTIRE report.

On another front,  House Ways & Means Chairman Richard Neal requested six years of Trump's tax returns on Wednesday.  The rogue billionaire bucked a half century of tradition by refusing to release his tax returns before he took public office.  Individual I is under state investigation for dubious tax avoidance schemes that allowed him to receive $413 million from his parents tax free.  Earlier the New York Times performed an exhaustive analysis of available records, exposing numerous tax dodges used by his father's real estate empire dating to the 1990's which benefited Trump.  Chairman Neal was criticized by progressive Democrats for being slow to issue the historic request for tax records.  Neal gave the IRS until April 10th to comply with his request.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Day the Earth Almost Died

credit: New York Times
A unique, and potentially landmark paleontological discovery was announced to the public last week.  The field of paleontology is marked with a great deal of secrecy, matched only by its history of false discoveries and unsupportable claims.  After a more than four years secretly excavating a site in the Hell Creek formation near Bowman, North Dakota, Robert De Palma, a PhD candidate at the University of Kansas, and several top scientists including Walter Alvarez at the University of California, Berkeley, revealed startling results.  Fellow scientists were told in a jointly authored article that the site Palma named Tanis, after an ancient Egyptian city where a Rosetta-type stone was discovered, is potentially a fossil record of the exact day the Earth almost died sixty-six million years ago.

That day was the day beyond all other days in the Earth's history, a day of destruction and death biblical in scope.  A day that could be poetically described as a day when God created a new Earth inhabited by new creatures--mammals. {Is 65,22; 66,22} It was the day the Chicxulub asteroid, a space rock whose diameter was half the length of Manhattan island, smashed into the coastline of the Yucatan, setting off a chain reaction so catastrophic that it killed the dinosaurs, then the apex species of the planet, and 70% of all life in existence. The gigantic explosion rained fire down on a region 1500 miles from the impact, turning the atmosphere hot enough to cause forest fires to erupt in India; created huge earthquakes and tsunamis with waves of 100 feet that altered coastlines, and ejected enough soot and sulfur into the stratosphere to cool the entire planet by 18 degrees.  Acid rain cause by the event may have been strong enough to kill vegetation that survived the blast and incineration, and poisoned the soil.  Covered in an apocalyptic gloom of dust and ash, photosynthesis stopped.  Such planetary waste is etched permanently in the geological record, known at the KT layer, a black band of carbon and a rare mineral found in meteorites, iridium.  This strata, about the thickness of a notebook, is found all over the world.

enhanced NASA photo faintly showing crater rim upper left
That such a single impact could cause the alteration of all life on this planet was not a hypothesis easily accepted by the scientific community.  In 1980 geologist Walter Alvarez and his father Luis Alvarez a nuclear physicist, proposed that the iridium bearing KT layer represented the debris of a planetary collision. The hypothesis was greeted with skepticism by paleontologists until the vast Chicxulub crater was discovered by a geophysicist looking for oil [photo] in 1991.  It has a scale sufficient to support the asteroid theory. Still, many experts thought dinosaurs were on the road to extinction before the impact took place due to other factors like climate change caused by massive terrestrial volcanic activity. This argument was supported by the geologic record too, because no dinosaur fossils have ever been found in strata up to three meters below the KT boundary, representing thousands of years of prehistory.  Not until 2010 did scientists reach a consensus agreeing that an asteroid impact triggered a mass extinction event that ended the earthly reign of the dinosaurs. Now, there may be fossil evidence from the Tanis site proving the Earth shattering catastrophe did just that.

The Hell Creek formation is famous in the annals of paleontology. The region was a verdant, low-lying basin dotted by streams, rivers and lakes during the Cretaceous--excellent dinosaur habitat.  Many groundbreaking discoveries have been made there including the first T. Rex unearthed in 1902 by Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History.  It spans the KT boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary, now know as the Paleogene, eras. The Tanis site is unique not only because of its formation, but because of what its thin layers of sedimentary mud and sand contain. It appears to be have been created in a massive flooding with course material settling to the bottom and finer material on top. The sediments are strewn with tektites, a type of glass globule formed by the intense heat of a meteor or asteroid strike. Chicxulub tektites are rare. A known deposit occurs at a road cut outcropping in Haiti. De Palma went there and collected samples; he submitted these and the Tanis samples to a Canadian geophysical lab for comparison. The analysis shows an almost exact geochemical match. Entombed by the flood and quickly fossilized in the muck are a myriad of dead and dying creatures, both marine and freshwater; plants, seeds, tree trunks, roots, cones, pine needles, flowers, and pollen; shells, bones, teeth, dinosaur feathers, eggs and mammal burrows; tektites, shocked minerals, tiny diamonds, iridium-laden dust, ash, charcoal, and amber-smeared wood--recorded evidence of a catastrophic impact 66 million years ago.

De Palma at site, New Yorker
DePalma described to a New Yorker journalist visiting the site, “When I saw that, I knew this wasn’t just any flood deposit. We weren’t just near the KT boundary—this whole site is the KT boundary! He added, “We have the whole KT event preserved in these sediments. With this deposit, we can chart what happened the day the Cretaceous died.”  If he is correct, there is no other known fossil site like it anywhere, and his discovery is of momentous scientific value.  Walter Alvarez, a co-author of the Tanis report wrote, "It is truly a magnificent site...surely one of the best sites ever found for telling just what happened on the day of the impact.” De Palma found one very rare fossil in the prolific jumble of fossils that will take years to study and catalogue, and it is perhaps the most important find of all. At the bottom of the dig he discovered an intact dinosaur egg containing an embryo.  Convincing evidence that dinosaurs were living and reproducing, not on their way to extinction, on the day the Earth almost died.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

'Toontime: Mueller Time!

Latest: Party line vote for issuing subpoenas, 24-17, today.
{03/04/2019} The House Judiciary chairman, Jerry Nadler, said in a press statement that his committee will subpoena the ENTIRE Mueller Report, not just a conveniently redacted version passed upon by the White House. The committee also wants the underlying evidence collected by the former FBI Director, as well as records from five former White House aides, including a former chief of staff and legal counsel. Attorney General Barr offered to release a redacted version sometime in mid April, but that does not meet the congressional investigators' demands, who gave Barr until April 2nd to comply. The committee vote for a subpoena is set for Wednesday.

credit: Jimmy Margulies
{29.03.2019} Could any fair minded person judge whether a person is innocent based on a partisan four page summary of a supposedly unbiased 300 page report (Fox News says it is 657 pages long, which probably includes appendices) of a two year investigation? That is what Trumpland, which now includes the US Senate, is expecting the 'Merican people to do. Poppycock. Ask yourself this dear reader: if Mueller's report is truly exonerating of Individual I would not his cronies be rushing to lay the full report before the public? You betcha! Instead they attacked the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff for his willingness to independently investigate the facts supporting a conclusion that Don Veto and/or his campaign knowingly abetted the Russian intelligence operation to influence the 2016 election.

The ranking member impugned Schiff's professional competence saying, "We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties." Don Veto's son insultingly calls Rep. Schiff (D Ca), "a piece of Schiff". Very droll, MiniMe, but you and your old man are not out of the outhouse yet! Mueller may have concluded there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge of conspiracy, but there is already credible evidence on the record that Trump's campaign cooperated with what they knew to be a Russian black propaganda operation. Rep. Schiff referred to this evidence in his response to the Repugnant attack. Schiff believes there is ample evidence of collusion, and said he’s long insisted such evidence may or may not rise to the level of a criminal charge. But Individual I's curiously cooperative attitude toward Russia and its leading autocrat troubles Schiff. And it should.  Mueller certainly did not clear Individual I of the obstruction of justice charge or illegal campaign payments, no matter what the delusional occupant of the White House twits.

Democrats were quick to defend Chairman Schiff. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered strong praise for Schiff. "The American people have seen Mr. Schiff demonstrate on a regular basis responsibility, thoughtfulness, rationality and a commitment to finding the truth," Hoyer told reporters Thursday. "Apparently, all four of those aspects upset the president." The congressional investigations will continue while the effort to obtain Mueller's entire report from Trump's minions drags on.

credit: Dave Granlund
There is a press report that AG Barr has agreed to send a copy of the Mueller Report to the White House before a version becomes public, giving the occupying gang an opportunity to also assert executive privilege over report passages in an already heavily redacted document on grounds of national security, grand jury secrecy, and attorney client privilege.  The fix is in, folks.

credit: John Cole, Scranton Times-Tribune

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Killing Democracy One Line at a Time

The United States is undergoing a profound change in demographics within a political system built to preserve the influence of a minority.  Having existed as a majority white society for most of its history, the nation is becoming a majority non-white society where whites are only a plurality.  The nation was founded by a narrow spectrum of 18th century society--white, landowning males--that held political power.  They built institutions intended to preserve their power and influence such as the Electoral College, the unelected Supreme Court and federal judiciary, indirect election of Senators, (later amended), non-proportional voting and the Federal Reserve.

One method of preserving privilege is often overlooked--gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing Congressional district boundaries to preserve office holding.  In fact the judiciary has traditionally backed away from examining how district boundaries are defined, under the legal rubric of lack of "judiciability".  That means the judges are unable to decide what is not a legal, but a political matter.  But when the practice is so abused, as this chart shows, it should be examined by the courts because it denies the fundamental principle of one person, one vote:

North Carolina is perhaps the worst example of a minority party drawing lines to preserve its hold on offices. Even though North Carolina has a voting populace almost equally split in half, the GOP maintains a grip of 67% of the Congressional offices up for election in the last cycle. A federal judge who struck down the state's voter ID law called North Carolina's targeting of non-white voters "almost surgical in its precision". A special federal panel of judges struck down North Carolina's district boundaries as racially based gerrymandering in 2016. However, the Supreme Court has never found a state's districts were so manipulated as to be unconstitutional. In fact it recently passed up the opportunity to do so in two cases, one from Maryland and another from Wisconsin. The partisan intent behind redefining district boundaries was clearly expressed by a North Carolina state legislator who said, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats,” addressing fellow legislators when they passed his state's plan in 2016. “So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.”

The House of Representatives has taken up the gauntlet by passing HR 1 that puts drawing district boundaries in the hands of an independent commission.    A good idea that the Senate "majority" leader has already promised to kill. The The next opportunity to gerrymander will be in 2021 after the US census in 2020.

Monday, April 01, 2019

COTW: Snowbirds

Did you know? Audubon tells us there are six groups of dark eyed juncos, Junco hyemalis, in America; a bird John James Audubon called the "snowbird" because they appear in the eastern US with the first snow fall. US Person enjoys seeing the Oregon variety in his yard, [photo] made conspicuous by its black cap and ruddy sides. This group exhibits the most variation in feather color with lighter coloration in the interior and southern parts of its range, and some aficionados argue for a separate species. Oregon juncos spotted by US Person have darker colors than the photo suggests.

Up until the 1970's the different varieties shown in the chart below were considered different species, but more recent genetic research shows that juncos are undergoing speciation in real time. Regional varieties will mate and reproduce where the ranges overlap, but they are on their way to becoming separate species according to a junco expert who has studied the birds for forty-five years. All the juncos nest on the ground and hop around feeding on bugs and seeds. Their songs differ slightly, like a regional accent. Genetic research suggests that juncos evolved from from the yellow eyed specie that moved north from Mexico at the end of the Ice Age, 13,000 years ago.