Saturday, June 29, 2019

Fear and Loathing in Salem

This post could be titled: how Stimson Lumber defeated cap and trade in Oregon. The opposition which brought down the landmark legislation in Salem goes beyond the money of Andrew Miller, CEO of Stimson Lumber, who organized a 'flash mob' (Timber Unity) to demonstrate outside the state capitol against the green legislation complete with tractors and backhoes*. Miller is seeking to capture next door Clackamas County politics to offset the liberal voting weight of Portland. To date he has spent $2.2 million of his inherited fortune from the family lumber business on his pet PAC, more than any other business in the state. Predictably speakers characterized the dispute over the legislation as one between rural, conservative Oregon and urban, liberal Multnomah County.

The boycott by eleven Repugnant legislators that deprived the state Senate of a quorum prevented a vote on Bill 2020. It was fueled by corporate money to be sure. More than 65% of the campaign funding for the eleven AWOL legislators comes from corporate interests. Over the last decade, the length of time invested in creating the cap and trade plan, companies that would be affected by it gave $117,619 to these representatives. In comparison, the current Democratic state senators received only $43,250. That is significant money in Oregon where legislators are only part-time lawmakers. Oregon is first on the list of per capita corporate donations to lawmakers, and has among the weakest campaign finance laws in the nation, with no limits on the amount of contributions. Fossil fuel users and producers are prominent political contributors. Consequently, Oregon's environmental protection laws are weaker than those of its immediate neighbors, California and Washington. In Washington, fossil fuel interests spent $30 million to defeat that state's effort to reduce carbon emissions.

But corporate dominance in Oregon crosses the isle too. Democratic state senator, Laurie Monnes Anderson, who represents a district in Clackamas County (referred to as "Clackastan" by progressives) was expected to deliver a key vote in favor of the cap and trade scheme. But in deference to Boeing, Inc., which has a plant in her district, she said she would not vote for Bill 2020 this week. Boeing’s greenhouse emissions fall below the 25,000 metric ton threshold to be directly regulated under the proposed policy, meaning the company would not be required to buy allowances to offset its carbon emissions at state auctions. But it could voluntarily opt into the program. If it did, the company would receive 95 percent of its emissions allowances for free. Apparently the company was still concerned about higher electricity costs, which generated Anderson's opposition; “I’m fighting for Boeing because they’re in my district,” said Anderson. The Democratic Senate President, Peter Courtney, was then forced to admit there was not enough support within his own caucus to pass the complex legislation, even if the state police, upon instructions from the Democratic governor, were able to roundup the missing legislators in Idaho for a quorum.

This is not the first time Repugnants were able to defeat legislation supported by the Democratic super-majority using guerrilla tactics. Earlier this session, they were able to defeat a tax bill they did not like. They only returned to the chamber once a deal was struck to shelve vaccine and gun safety legislation in return for a promise not to walk out on their jobs again. Fooled again, Charlie Brown! So there is a lot of fear in loathing in Salem right now as legislators work their agenda backlog to avoid a detested special session.

*Miller claims Timber Unity was independently formed by employees from his timber mill. What he does not tell you is that Stimson Lumber recently laid off 60 workers at the Forest Grove mill.

Friday, June 28, 2019

'Toontime: Give Me Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses

credit:Dario Castellejos

Remember 3 year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi, washed up dead on a Turkish beach in the attempt to reach the EU in 2015....This week a searing and tragic photo filled cyberspace: a migrant and his small child drowned in the Rio Grande River. It is somewhat encouraging that the original Bernie on stage last night acknowledged depraved US foreign policy towards Central America shares responsibility for the flood tide of immigrants seeking to escape crime, corruption and political chaos in countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Building walls on the border is simply a cheap political trick by a pathological, lying fraud not fit for public office. He already has his concentration camps, so what's next in his march to fascism? We have met the enemy, and he is POTUS.

credit: Ruben Bolling

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Conservative Justices Deliver Blow to Democracy

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision along ideological lines ruled that federal courts cannot review partisan gerrymandering cases, no matter how egregiously unfair.  The majority concluded that there were no neutral legal standards with which to judge a political question beyond a federal court's subject matter jurisdiction.  Justice Kagan delivered a dissent from the bench in the case of Rucho v. Common Cause, No. 18-422, saying that “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government....Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”  Chief Justice Roberts admitted in his majority opinion. “The redistricting plans at issue here are highly partisan, by any measure.”

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly on July 17th.  Trump's response: "No collusion!"

Super-Rich Mercers Bail on Trump

A Repugnant operative described it as "crickets".  That is the sound of ultra rich Robert Mercer, founder of the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, bailing on Don Veto.  The desertion is significant because Mercer and wife contributed almost $50 million to elect the accused criminal occupying the Very White House during the 2016 cycle.  In 2018 that figure dropped to less than $3 million.  According to associates of the reclusive billionaire he has become disillusioned with Trumpillini (spelled with 3 i's).  The famously cheap plutocrat was grateful enough for Mercer's support that he gave a transition team job to daughter Rebekah, and made an appearance at the annual chez Mercer costume ball on Long Island.  Mercer had ties to conservative media firm Breitbart,  former incendiary political advisor Steve Bannon, and Cambridge Analytics, the firm which provided demographic analysis of voters.  The company was investigated by the FBI for appropriating private data from more than 50 million Facebook users.  In May the Mercers shut the company down.  Insiders say the potential legal jeopardy "really spooked them".

Sources close to the reclusive scientist say he will not play a role in the 2020 election.  Mercer and Rebekah have also distanced themselves from the banished Bannon after his kiss-and-tell book came out, and Robert has transferred his interest in Breitbart to his daughters. Despite all the money they invested in electing the erratic tycoon, sources told Gabriel Sherman writing at Vanity Fair, "they never really liked Trump", preferring Ted Cruz.  What they really wanted was someone to beat Hillary Clinton whom Robert Mercer considers a "socialist" and "an evil person".

Can US Person say something nice about Robert Mercer, who was instrumental in saddling the country with a sociopathic narcissist and accused rapist* as president?  Yes: he is said to like cats.

*Twenty-two women have accused Don Veto of sexual misconduct towards them.  The latest accusation includes actual penetration of the victim's sexual organ.  During the 2016 campaign he bragged about be able to 'grab women by the pussy' because he is rich and famous.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The War that Almost Was

Fortunately the Pentagon was not ready for a war against Iran when it decided to shoot down an unmanned drone instead of a Poseidon P-8 surveillance plane carrying 38 Navy personnel. [photo]  Both aircraft were violating Iranian airspace on June 20, 2019.  But according to highly placed Iranian military commanders, the P-8, which was over Iran's airspace in the Persian Gulf and appeared on radar intercept screens, was ignored in favor of destroying the unmanned drone.  According to a Middle East military correspondent for Al Rai media, the Revolutionary Guard command received confirmation through a third country that the US was not ready to go to war with Iran. The US accuses Iran of attacking two oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz with mines.

The Global Hawk drone was detected leaving the Emirates, flying over the Gulf, and violated Iranian airspace on its return to base.  When contacted for identification information, the drone shut down its transponder, navigation lights and GPS indicating a military aircraft posing a possible threat.  The order was given to shoot down the aircraft using a modified SAM-6 missile system. [photo]  This surface-to-air missile was modified in 2013 with upgraded sensors and improved electronics after the Russians stopped supporting the system. Its capability to overcome drone countermeasures surprised US officials.  Iran's air defense system is probably better than the one encountered in Serbia during Operation Allied Freedom.

Iran's command assured media that its dispersed air defense system is on constant high alert all over the country.  It considers the west's economic blockade to be a form of warfare, and said "Iran shall not stand idly by if signatory countries will not find a way out for Iran to regain its trade, energy and commercial position in the international market...The world should expect more surprises in the coming days because Iranians refuse to starve." The drone was shot down in the same area that the USS Vincennes destroyed an Iranian airliner (Flt 655) killing 290 people on 3 July 1988.

The pseudo-gangster occupying the White House responded to the drone intercept with more economic sanctions targeting Iranian leadership on Monday.  He has pulled the US out of the international agreement reached with Iran to eventually terminate the country's nuclear weapons program.  So the erratic madness of Don Veto Trumpillini is coming ever closer to immersing the United States in another episode of the unending global 'war on terror'. It is absolutely no surprise that the regime is using the Authorization to Use Force Resolution passed in the aftermath of 9/11 to authorize attacks on Iran without a declaration of war by Congress.  A war with Iran would be more costly than the one against Iraq, and would almost certainly involve other nearby nations in the conflict.  Wither Congress' constitutional power to declare war?  Apparently dead letter, along with the power of impeachment.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Angola Pledges to Clear Mines

Angola's once plentiful elephant herds were decimated by the country's long civil war. UNITA, backed by the US, slaughtered elephants for their ivory which they sold to South Afirca to buy weapons; displaced civilians killed elephants for food. It finally ended in 2002, but a legacy of that war is still killing elephants--land mines.  Thousands of land mines were laid in the areas of heaviest fighting in the southeast. By one authoritative count fifty-one different mine types, manufactured in eighteen different countries were laid.  Cubango province alone has twenty-two square kilometers of confirmed mine fields.

elephant signals explosives in testing
In the Great Elephant census of 2015, only 3,400 live elephants were counted in Angola.  Enumerators counted carcasses at an alarming rate of 30%, indicating a high level of poaching.  Landmines continue to restrict access to farmland and prevent development such as ecotourism, while encouraging poachers who are willing to risk the dangers for the monetary reward.  A critical area for Angolan elephant survival is the Kavango-Zambezi Trans-frontier Conservation Area (KAZA), which allows them to roam historic ranges that cross the Zambia and Botswana borders. The area was designated in 2011 primarily as a conservation zone.

A 2015 expedition mounted by National Geographic to the region found a wealth of biodiversity: 80 species new to science.  The expedition had to be guided by mine clearing experts in heavily mined zones.  According to tracking observations, returning elephants learned to avoid mine fields. A controlled study was conducted in South Africa and sponsored by the US Army to determine an elephant's ability to smell TNT.  In the first round of testing three elephants correctly identified 73 out of 74 samples. [photo]  In the second round, they achieved a perfect score.  Their smell is so acute, it is thought they can smell explosives from 100 meters away, but mine clearance is a human, not an endangered elephant job.

Angola has set a goal of being mine free by 2025.  A national agency has cleared 56% of Angola's known minefields to date.  Organizations depended on international funding have fallen short of funds, with an 80% decline in the last 10 years, partly due to Angola reaching middle income status from the sale of oil, the main export.  Readers may recall that Princess Diana made headlines with her support of mine clearing efforts.  Without more aid Angola will fall short of its 2025 goal.  The country recently announced that a pledge of $60 million to clear mines from Luengue-Liana and Mavinga national parks, prime elephant habitat. Angola wants to make room for its elephants coming home from Zambia and Botswana, and give its people living in the region a brighter economic future.

Monday, June 24, 2019

'Toontime: Mother of All Charts

Now that the Trump regime is foisting yet another Mid-East war on 'Merica, it might be useful to see how much energy this country wastes according to this   flow chart from Lawrence-Livermore. The key here is the light grey flow:


According to the chart, the US wastes 68% of the energy it generates due to system and engine inefficiencies! That is a very large number.  If the nation invested in energy efficiency* instead of war machines, we would not need to protect large amounts of imported oil. Fossil fuels still make up over 80% of the fuel mix.  Inefficiencies lead to more consumption and greater profit, so logical thinking and green technology is declared out of bounds.

*To achieve much needed modernization, not to mention improving defense against cyberattacks, the nation's outdated and inefficient electrical grid should be nationalized.  Green energy producers should be allowed to hook up to the national grid, physically and undeniably an instrument of interstate commerce, at reduced rates to encourage clean energy production. The planet cannot wait for profiteers.

Friday, June 21, 2019

'Toontime: Two Sides of the Same Old Coin

credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle
Wackdoodle sez: Alcoholism, suicide, and heart attack too!
It is really this republic's great misfortune that national politics has descended to the level of a carnival side show.  US Person is wondering who is the geek in all of this hoopla? Bernie Sanders, perhaps?  At least Bernie has a program beyond empty promises, but he has a century of capitalist propaganda and a rigged primary system to overcome.  As novelist James Elroy said, "America was never innocent."

Meanwhile, on the 'congressional oversight' aka fake impeachment front, Democrats received more spit in the face from another, albeit photogenic, Don Veto loyalist.  Ms. Hope Hicks refused to answer questions in private with a Very White House mouthpiece at her side uttering "objection" every other question--hardly a media showstopper intended to edify the public. Ditto for former mobster and Don Veto business partner, Felix Sater who failed to show for a voluntary, private interview today. Until the Democrats get serious and face the fact they are confronting a political regime modeled on a RICO*, non-cooperation to run out the clock is the name of Don Veto's game.  Each day spent in judicial delay without an impeachment inquiry is a win for the Duck.  Impeachment now, before its too late!

credit: Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle
BC Idonwanna sez, Cheeseburger comes with that.
*Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization, the landmark federal law that allowed prosecutors to take down the established mob.To think that the 2020 election will be free, fair and put an end to Trump is perhaps the most dangerous delusion of all.  Make America Great Again: take down Don Veto Trumpillini.  US Person asks: Isn't he worse than this man?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Critically Endangered Rhinos Get New Sanctuary

Indonesia announced it will create a third rhino sanctuary for captive breeding of the Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis). The center will be located in the Leuser ("looser") Ecosystem at the north end of the island of Sumatra. Indonesia currently has two breeding centers in the south holding a total of eight rhinos. The plan also includes cooperation with Malaysia, which has a collection of frozen rhino eggs; that country recently lost its last male rhino.{28.05.19}. Rhino experts agreed in 2017 that captive breeding was the only way to save the species from certain extinction. Only 30-100 are believed to exist in the wild, and they are hampered by their solitary lifestyle, loss of forest habitat, and low reproductive rate.  Once found across Southeast Asia, rhino was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015, leaving Indonesia as the only country in the world with a known wild population. A previous effort at captive breeding in the 1980's collapsed when half of the rhinos died without producing offspring.  Since then there has been captive reproductive success in both the US and Indonesia.

female wallows in Way Kambas, credit R.A. Butler
The new sanctuary will allow biologists to avoid the reproductive peril of too many eggs in one basket.  Proximity breeds susceptibility to disease; dispersal of captive breeding animals is a more sustainable solution.  Leuser seems to be an ideal location since remote cameras have photographed 12 wild individuals living there. Captive breeding aims to supplement the wild population with released offspring to bring the population up to a viable level. Because of Leuser's remoteness, poaching is a serious problem that must be solved to protect the existing population and any released rhinos. Officials promise that security will be as strict as the Way Kambas National Park where one of the breeding centers is located. International rhino conservation groups have signed on to the project, agreeing to provide financial support.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Twenty-three Salmon Return Home

San Joaquin delta, credit: Alamy
Because of human exploitation, Chinook salmon disappeared from central California's San Joaquín River some sixty-five years ago.  For thousands of years Chinook made a twice yearly trip in spring and fall over three hundred miles from the Pacific to Sierra Nevadas.  Over two centuries the river was appropriated for agriculture.  Dam building for irrigation purposes caused the river to run dry in places by 1940, disrupting the salmon runs.  This year, twenty-three Chinooks made the spring migration upstream. Not a lot of fish, considering each female can lay 4200 eggs, but it is a milestone for conservation.

released salmon fry, credit NY Times
It took eighteen years of litigation against the federal government to finally settle in 2006 a lawsuit brought by the National Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC).  The agreement calls for salmon to be restored to "good condition", and minimize water diversions.  The state and federal government is planning to spend $650 million to restore flow, wetlands, and fish populations to the San Joaquín.  The twenty-three salmon caught and released represent the first spring run of Chinook up the river since 1950.  Conservationists hope these pioneers are the a sign of recovery despite California's epic drought that dried up the river and destroyed riparian wetlands.  Scientists caught the salmon in nets and took samples before returning them to upland river stretches where salmon historically spawned.  The sampled salmon come from a cohort of 38,106 juveniles release in the upper San Joaquin in March 2017; they probably represent about 100 returning fish helped by the heavy winter rains and snow that ended the drought cycle. 

The river is now continuous and other species are also returning: sturgeon, lamprey, water birds and fish species.  So there are reasons for optimism, but human help overcoming obstacles in the river is not a sustainable model. Part of the river restoration project includes building rock lined ramps that Chinook and other fish can swim up on their way to spawning grounds.  Reconnecting the Chinook with their cool water spawning grounds will become even more important as climate and water temperatures rise.

COTW: Three (Un)Related Charts?

These two charts do not a first glance seem to be related, but if you think about it they both relate to the US economic model and what it is doing to planet Earth, and its own citizens.  The drive for profit off a social good, medicine, has resulted in the world's least efficient health care system for a major western nation (the US does beat out Bulgaria):

credit: Bloomberg

The US spends almost as much as Switzerland on health care per capita, $9,536 versus $9,818. The extra $282 in Switzerland delivers and extra 4.2 years of life expectancy. In the US, life expectancy is actually shrinking, currently at 79. In the Czech Republic life expectancy matches the US, but 'Mericans spend double what the Czechs spend, 16.8% of GDP compared to 7.3%.  Hong Kong topped Bloomberg's list of 56 countries with the most efficient health care system rating of 87.3.

The second chart shows what unrestrained capitalism is doing to the planet's natural systems.  Greenland's ice cap is melting at a furious rate, elevating sea levels worldwide:


The orange areas show regions of surface melting of the ice cap, while gray areas show the ice cap already melted.  The melting will accelerate unless the nations of the world act to keep the carbon emission commitments contained in the Paris Climate Accords which the dictator-to-be has reneged upon, following his time test business methods.  The release of methane and carbon dioxide from melting permafrost and loss of albedo will amplify the greenhouse effect by as much as 5% according to a recent study.  The current trend of warming is 3℃ by the end of the century, enough to release an expected 280 gigatons of CO₂ and 3 gigatons of methane, which is 10 to 20 times stronger greenhouse effect.

So what's the point? as prominent theorists of socialism have pointed out (e.g. Antonio Gramsci) capitalism depends on confidence: people's confidence that capitalism is fair or meritocratic; that capitalism makes them "free".  Bernie Sanders destroyed that illusion in a recent speech, yet 39% of delusional 'Mericans still have the Horatio Alger fantasy that they will be among the 1% someday.  Marx knew that capitalism enslaves the worker since he has no representation or power in the ruling capitalist cliques or stake in the system. Compare an individual's 4012k holdings to the wealth of the Walton family or the holdings of the BlackRock or Vanguard funds. 

Advanced capitalism is doing something else Marx did not foresee: it is destroying the planet's natural systems that are absolutely vital to life on Earth.  In a real democracy this existential threat could be stopped, but 'Mericans do not live in a real democracy.  They live in a plutocratic, authoritarian state that deludes the masses with daily "newspeak" thought control.  So while you work away your life at an underpaid job [chart below] dreaming of fantastic wealth, think about where your next breath of clean air, or drink of clean water will come from, or when the next F5 tornado, or 500 year flood, will wipe out your family home and possessions, and thank capitalism.   The great progressive jurist, Louis D. Brandies correctly observed, We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Diminutive Buffalo Gets Help

On the Philippine island of Mindoro is home to a unique resident, the tamaraw, a species of dwarf buffalo Bubalus mindorensis. It was once found all over the island and perhaps on neighboring Luzon too, but because of human habitation and introduced disease it is restricted to a few grassy areas, numbering about 500. Considered critically endangered by the IUCN, conservationists are rushing to try and save the feisty little buffalo from extinction in the wild in a rare show of consensus.  Filipinos hold the buffalo in high regard in the same way Americans regard the bald eagle.  The species is synonymous with rugged tenacity, a character trait with which Filipinos, given their colonial past, can readily identify.  Several athletic teams have adopted the buffalo, which only stands a meter high at the shoulder, as their mascot.  It is the emblem of Mindoro island and has been proposed as the Philippine terrestrial animal.

a ranger patrols the park
After a well attended workshop about how to save the buffalo, the feeling was widely held that the indigenous people, the Tau-Buid, Buhid, and Alangan, living near the animal are in the best position to save it.  How this goal is to be achieved is still being worked out.  Two priorities seem clear already: protecting tamaraw from bush meat hunters, and protecting their dwindling habitat.  Logging is the human activity that impacts the buffalo the most, but removing an invasive species, the Christmas bush, Chromolaena odorata, which is taking over the grasslands where the last tamaraw live may be equally important.  It grows rampant to over three stories tall and tamaraw do not eat it.  Back in 1996 when conservationists last met there were only two hundred buffaloes in Mounts Iglit-Baco park, [photo,left] now there are 400 after conservation action plan wase put into place.  So there is some hope for growing the existing herd so that relocation to former ranges can take place. Protecting the tamaraw is protecting the Phillipines' future.

Friday, June 14, 2019

'Toontime: Substitute

Face it, the House Judiciary Committee could not book Mueller's appearance, so they invited a circa 1973 substitute, John Dean. The trip down memory lane might have been instructive to those not alive in '73, but it can not replace  Mueller and McGahn testifying about what they know and when they knew it.  The Democrats' "fake impeachment" is doing a 'yuge' disservice to the nation, and playing directly into the hands of the nation's dangerous, phony dictator.  His continued reign is the most divisive factor facing the nation.

This is for you, Nancy: whistling past the cemetery that contains the corpus of democracy, shot to death by Don Veto Trumpillini on 5th Avenue in broad daylight, is NOT demonstrating leadership, it is avoiding constitutionally imposed responsibility for the sake of political convenience.  His crimes are an order of magnitude more serious than Bill Clinton's morality lapses.  Clinton sat for a grand jury interrogation under oath.  Your party cannot even get this administration to produce subpoenaed documents; these process crimes strike at the heart of the administration of justice in this country, summed up in the maxim, "no person is above the law". Thus, any comparison to the Clinton impeachment is misleading.  Do you want to be known to history in the same class as a neurotically irresponsible narcissist that provokes war to distract from his unfitness for public office?  US Person does not think so, but please prove him correct!  If not impeachment now, when?  The tribe has spoken.

credit: Ohman, Sacramento Bee
BC Idonwanna sez:  Insert "sociopathic" after "a"
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,“ wrote Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission. “This is not a novel concept.“  Apparently it is for the amateur in the Very White House.  It is no stretch of imagination to classify political dirt as "something of value" in a presidential election.

Next stop: Tehran.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Impeachment Article I

The United States House of Representatives, pursuant to the exclusive authority granted to it in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States hereby specifies the following Articles of Impeachment of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,

Resolved:

Article I: The President of the United States, did, through his agents and associates, condone, encourage, and cooperate in an espionage operation conducted by a foreign power that intended to illegally influence the 2016 presidential election using electronic means and the theft of confidential electronic communications of the opposing political party and its candidate for the office of President; in that he failed to inform the government of the United States of knowledge of the operation's existence, provided useful polling data to and communicated with representatives of the foreign power, and expressed interest in using the illegally intercepted communications obtained by said espionage operation to the detriment of his political opponent in a federal election, thereby compromising national security.


TO BE CONTINUED*....

*Other Articles will be posted periodically.  The content of this Article I was influenced by a post at Politico.com concerning the prosecution of FBI agent Richard Miller, by then Assistant US Attorney Adam Schiff.  Now House Intelligence Committee Chairman Schiff became very familiar with Russian espionage tradecraft and FBI counter-intelligence methods during the prosecution.  Miller became the first FBI agent in the bureau's history to be convicted of spying. These Articles are based on what is currently publicly known and of public record. Portions of the redacted Mueller report concerning former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who is awaiting sentencing was ordered by the presiding judge to be released to the public.
Update: Former members of FBI counterintelligence and a former federal prosecutor and staunch conservative testified before the House Intelligence Committee today that Don the Duck has "made himself beholding to Putin" by taking a meeting with Russian operatives.  As one witness said, “If you can be compromised based on your dishonesty about something, that’s something a foreign intelligence agency can take advantage of.” its clear at this point that most 'Mericans have not read Mueller's opus magnus and that includes Congresspersons.; Chairman Schiff told the audience, “For those who have not yet read the Mueller report, and most have not, they might be astonished to learn that a finding of no collusion, much less a finding of no obstruction, is nowhere to be seen on any page or in any passage of the Mueller report.”  This is all fine and good, but someone has got to tell Nancy that if the Democrats want the public's attention, they have to begin impeachment hearings otherwise the moment will be lost. William Barr's civil contempt citation was such a non-story, in fact, that neither CNN or the New York Times bothered to mention the vote in their daily news roundups. "Fake impeachment" is not cutting it, and gambling on an election win to remove the Duck is just too risky because the downside--4 more years of a reality-TV dictator--is just too costly for the republic.
More: House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed former national security advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign deputy, Richard Gates. Both cooperated with Mueller's investigation, but Chairman Schiff says they have yet to do so with the House investigations. The subpoenas were issued the same day Don Veto made an stunning admission that he would accept political dirt on an opponent if offered to him by a foreign power. This irresponsible and dangerous statement made to an ABC television reporter during an interview confirms his motivation to do again what he did previously with Russian operatives--cooperate with foreign agents interfering in the US election process. Nancy Pelosi thinks, and probably rightly so, that the neurotic narcissist that sits in the Room Without Corners has a desperate desire to seek attention regardless of the consequences. His pathetic defense of the statement confused his role as head of state with a political candidate seeking advantage in a domestic election. An impeachment trail would undoubtedly focus constant media attention on this sociopathic personality, thereby feeding his pathological need. But that sickness is no reason to endanger the Republic by allowing an amateur to continue to abuse the office. A majority of Democrats on the Judiciary Committee now support beginning an impeachment inquiry; it is the only body in the House of Representatives with authority to do so. Impeachment now, before its too for 'Merica. James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution observed in debate on the Impeachment Power that the power was indispensable since imitation of the period of service, was not a sufficient security because he might betray his trust to foreign powers.  Wake up, Nancy, history has found you--don't let your real estate empire get in the way!  Correction: The Speaker and her husband are worth an estimated $120 million

COTW: All the World's Carbon Emissions

China, by now the world's largest economy, is also the world's biggest carbon polluter with the runner up being the United States. Together with India they account for more than 50% of the world's carbon emissions. Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly given that it is a major oil producer, the world's largest per capita polluter is Qatar.




Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Ebola Crosses Boarder

Ebola, the killer virus, has broken out of its jungle lair to attack humanity
again.  The second worse outbreak in recording history is spreading from the Democratic Republic of Congo crossing the border into Uganda.  The first confirmed case of hemorrhagic fever caused by the virus was reported Tuesday in a five year old boy in a Ugandan border town.  The battle against the virus has been going on for ten months in the Congo midst a tenuous security situation.  Dozens of health workers have been attacked.  So far 1390 have reportedly died from the disease; actual numbers are no doubt higher.  Some relatives of the sick have resorted to hiding them from first aid workers, hoping to nurse them back to health.  Ebola uses its RNA to take over health blood cells and force them to replicate the virus.

The existence of a cross border case is alarming to health officials.  The population in the region is highly mobile and cross border trade is common.  Health officials have established 80 checkpoints to detect the virus.  Health workers have been vaccinated with a experimental vaccine that has shown promise.  In the first, 2014-17 outbreak in west Africa, over 11,000 people died. {17.11.17} Aid workers were particularly susceptible since no known immunization was available.

The sick boy traveled with his mother from Uganda to Congo to care for his grandfather who died in a disease zone near the rural Mabalako area, the current epicenter of the disease.  A least a dozen of the boy's family members were exhibiting symptoms when they traveled to a Congolese town.  They were placed in isolation by Congolese authorities.  Six members escaped isolation on Monday and headed back into Uganda.  The boy and five members of his family sought treatment at a hospital.  The were transferred to a special unit set up for Ebola cases.  A rapid response team was dispatched to Kansese to monitor persons who came into contact with the infected.

Days of Future Past


US Person was attending summer school at the University of London when the Nixon impeachment hearings were broadcast by British television.  The event is vivid in his memory; so, it was oddly familiar to see John Dean, former White House Counsel, testifying to the House Judiciary Committee again, forty-six years later.  His attractive wife, 'Mo' was not there for moral support, and Dean is older (80), but definitely a lot wiser.  A clever stroke of irony having Dean testify as an expert on Nixon's obstruction: the similarities between Nixon's cover-up and the Duck's are striking, and were thoroughly elaborated upon by Dean.  "What was the Saturday Night Massacre" had to be asked to US Person's amusement; two whole generations have to be schooled.  Chairman Nadler definitely laid the public relations groundwork for more investigation beyond the cryptographic confines of Mueller's bureaucratic tour de force.  This time the opposition is much more entrenched and hostile. Hostile committee members did not miss a chance to remind Dean he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for his part in Nixon's cover-up.

So far there is no smoking gun--the secret Nixon tapes--with which to bring Repugnants to their senses.  If it is out there, the House committees will find it, even if the Speaker continues to tie their hands out of political convenience.  If an inquiry is begun in committee the whole House will still have a floor vote on the issue.  CYA for "nervous nellie" Democrats would then be opportune.  Anti-impeachment Democrats are simply using their oversight strategy as a way to dodge the impeachment bullet.  As one pro-impeachment Congressman put it, “I think Chairman Nadler has done a very good job, particularly considering the parameters under which he has to work. There are quite a few.”*   Such as crashing a helicopter on top of a New York skyscraper?  It made the news ahead of Mr. Dean's testimony.  The distraction, if that was what it was, cost the pilot his life. At least Nancy recognizes that Don Veto is the "distracter in chief".

A factor in the latest Swampington TV drama is glaringly different, and makes the current impeachable offenses more serious, if that is possible.  Both coverups were motivated by a President committed to accumulating more power than what is constitutionally permitted.  Nixon abused his office by domestic spying on his political enemies.  The Duck aided and abetted a foreign adversary's agit-prop campaign to accomplish the same.  This time, national security is clearly compromised.  Any attempt to twist the FBI's initiation of a counter-espionage investigation into a treacherous 'deep state' conspiracy is pure partisan lunacy intended to destroy the legitimacy of House impeachment proceedings.  The FBI began Operation Crossfire Hurricane after their Australian counterparts informed the US that George Pappadopolous, a campaign aide, told an Australian official in London that the Russians had 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton.  The investigation's  genesis had nothing to do with the Steele Dossier, which partisans would have you believe. Impeachment now!

*Mr. Nadler and other committee chairs got another tool to use in their investigation of all things Trumpian.  By party line vote, the House rules were changed to allow committee chairs to pursue judicial enforcement of their subpoenas without first seeking a floor vote for permission to litigate.  Two potential witnesses who defied subpoenas, William Barr and Don McGhan were mentioned in the bill by name.  Mr. Nadler has received grudging cooperation from the DOJ to turn over some unspecified background materials to the Mueller road map very recently.  It is not clear if Mr. Nadler had to agree to not hold the Attorney General in contempt as a quid pro quo for the documents. At least 56 rank-and-file lawmakers are backing impeachment, according to a tally kept by The Hill, and Speaker Pelosi is under growing pressure to show that her preferred strategy of aggressive investigations is getting results.  Former majority leader Harry Reid said impeachment hearings are "the right thing to do."  US  Person agrees.  If Bill Clinton was helped by his impeachment acquittal, it was because the public could see for themselves the charges were inflated by extreme partisanship.  The Democrats are missing the boat, again.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Impeachment Article V

The United States House of Representatives, pursuant to the exclusive authority granted to it in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States hereby specifies the following Articles of Impeachment of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,

Resolved:

Article V: The President of the United States violates Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of the United States by receiving payments from foreign governments while holding office without the consent of Congress.

TO BE CONTINUED....*

*The emoluments clause was recently interpreted by the federal courts in Blumenthal v. Trump, 17-cv-1154, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington), and District of Columbia v. Trump, 17-cv-1596, U.S. District Court, District of Maryland (Greenbelt). In both cases the court ruled that "emoluments" included not just bribes by foreign officials, but also payments or other considerations made by foreign officials.  Don Veto has business interests which he did not divest upon taking office--the first president to do so in forty years.  He receives revenue from those businesses, some of which are payments from foreign officials and governments; for example in Manhattan, the Trump Organization rents office space to a Chinese government controlled bank. Foreign diplomats often stay at the Trump Hotel in Washington DC that competes with other DC hotels for business. As Judge Sullivan noted in the DC case, he owns “more than 500 separate entities—hotels, golf courses, media properties, books, management companies, residential and commercial buildings set up to capitalize on licensing deals,” The regime blatantly acknowledged, “his businesses receive funds and make a profit from payments by foreign governments, and that they will continue to do so while he is President.” Edmund Randolph, at the Virginia ratifying convention of 1788, remarked that the emoluments clause protected the country against the danger of “the President receiving Emoluments from foreign powers” and asserted that a president who violates the clause “may be impeached.”

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Canada's Third Party Example

Bernie Sanders promises to give Medicare to all, and rightly so. This government healthcare program vies Social Security in popularity with 'Mericans.  Western democracies, except for the United States, have found that socialized medicine is a keystone of actual national security. But before Medicare in the US, there was a Canadian example to follow. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) grew out of the experience of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. The strike was violently ended by mounted troops [photo] who swept through the streets following orders of Winnipeg's elite; a labor newspaper said the charge, “demonstrated the nature of the class struggle, the ruthlessness and brutality of imperialist capital,” and “the real purpose of military and semi-military bodies.” Two strike leaders founded the CCF party after arriving in Ottawa. When the party, led by Tommy Douglas, gained power in Saskatchewan in 1944, it created the first Medicare program with universal coverage in North America in 1947.  The program is now nationwide and wildly popular, so much so that even die-hard conservatives have given up attacking it*.  Contrast that to the sustained attacks on Medicare in the United States.

The CCF is the left precursor of today's New Democratic Party (NDF), which continues to offer a political alternative for Canadians to the liberal-conservative bifurcation that paralyses US politics. When an historically unpopular plutocrat, seen by some as a reality-TV clown, beat a dynastic candidate of the liberal elite establishment, the perennial question of US politics was asked again, perhaps more urgently: is it time for a third party here?  As history shows that undertaking is fraught with peril. The Populist Movement at the turn of the 19th century is the closest the capitalist United States has ever gotten to a successful left third party; but even a powerful grass-roots movement ably led was co-opted by an opportunistic Democrat with a gift for bombastic oratory, William Jennings Bryant. He was funded primarily by free-silver elites. After the momentous loss of 1896, populism as a mass movement of the dispossessed fizzled. Its remnants degenerated into the racist nativism we know today, epitomized by Donald 'Duck' Trump.

Because there is functioning three party system that includes a left of center party, socialism is not a dirty word in Canada.  If a Canadian tells another Canadian he or she is a socialist, that is interpreted to mean they vote NDP, not that they are a seething seditionist aching to overturn the capitalist order.  Having a third party opens up possibilities on the political landscape and empowers progressive activism. The NDP historically has been aligned with the Canadian labor movement, so labor has had an official voice in parliament.   In the US, the Democratic Party since the New Deal has claimed the labor movement mantle, but that claim has become specious. A conspicuous break was made from representing labor with the candidacy of Bill Clinton. What remains of America's labor movement are business unions whose interests closely identify with the established plutocracy. The Democratic Party, in the words of the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin, has become the "inauthentic opposition". (Nancy Pelosi alone is worth $74 million!)

The 'F-35' Sanders, who claims to be a "democratic socialist", is running as a Democrat for an obvious reason: the two party system militates against an electable third party candidate in the US.  Two party machinery controls access to the ballot and a great deal of funding. More importantly the duopoly, which essentially represent business to different degrees, controls how the population thinks about politics. Medicare for All is deemed 'too radical' or just labeled with the dirty word, 'socialism'. A legitimate third party of the left, opens people up to thoughts of what alternatives are possible to profit controlling all goods in the economy, including social goods like medicine. Then the arguments against are no longer ideological but practical, as in "socialized medicine is too expensive". How can that be when private mega banks whose greed nearly collapsed the entire national economy a decade ago were bailed out with trillions in public funds?

If a new left party is to finally succeed in America, it must not be solely a party of the ballot box. That field is not level right now.  A new party must learn the lesson of the old Populists, and organize at the base of its natural constituency, an entire generation of young workers who have only known exploitation at the hands of the economic elites of the world. Before the Populist Movement became co-opted at the national level, it created hundreds of speaker bureaus, cooperatives, newspapers, mass meetings, and clubs who purpose was to educate and organize farmers, provide access to markets and financing, and equally important, to provide a culture of shared ideas and values. After this building, it found electoral success in holding local and state offices.  A warning: genuine political activism is arduous, expensive, sometimes dangerous work.

A fundamental theme of a new left national party should be subordinating capitalism to the needs of a more equitable society. As that chart below eloquently shows, a new left party has a lot of explaining to do. It needs to harness the disaffection of a large segment of voters who currently misplace their allegiance with a deceitful plutocrat adept at manipulating mass media.  These people are driving for Über, or working temporary, no-benefit "gigs" in the "gig economy" and wondering why their "American Dream" has vanished. If a left political party undertook the unglamorous task of educating workers in the struggle of the socialist movement, perhaps they would look upon the strikers of Winnipeg with admiration, not as red radicals attempting to take away their civil liberties.

only 13% answered with the academically correct definition

*Noted in Canadian Dimension, 2012: "The North American medical establishment and the entire insurance industry were determined to stop [Saskatchewan's] Medicare in its tracks. They feared it would become popular and spread, and they were right. Within 10 years all of Canada was covered by a medical insurance system based on the Saskatchewan plan, and no serious politician would openly oppose it." Canadian doctors, supported by the AMA, went on a twenty-three day strike against the program.  Douglas was burnt in effigy after being labeled a Nazi, a Stalinist, or both.  You would not think it in mild-mannered Canada, but the Mounties maintained an 1100 page dossier on Douglas!  Despite his bona fide radicalism, the prairie socialist is hailed today as the "Greatest Canadian".

Friday, June 07, 2019

The Truth of Omaha Beach

US Person delayed this post out of respect for the survivors of Operation Overlord, the landings on Normandy beaches, June 6, 1944.  He has read many accounts of the bloody battle on Omaha beach, some of which are based on primary sources.  The real story of the massacred first wave has been lost in the myth making since then.  Of course retelling of the landings are bound to be affected by the desire to do honor to those men who swam and crawled ashore beneath a hail of bullets and exploding ordinance.  The movie, Saving Private Ryan, makes a praiseworthy attempt a verisimilitude, but it might beyond film making to depict the horror and slaughter that turn the tide red.

The brass knew Omaha would be a difficult challenge due to the terrain and fortifications.  A wide beach was dominated by high bluffs peppered with gun emplacements and machine gun nests that enfiladed the wide open killing zone.  Beach obstacles, mines, sandbars, currents, and an extreme tide made a close approach by boats problematic. An infantry assault alone would be extremely difficult if not impossible to overcoming the German's careful preparation.  Only extensive deception efforts by the allies, incomplete constructions, and obsessive preconception by Herr Hitler with Calais prevented more troops and panzers being available to throw the landing force back into the sea.  At 06:30 the amphibious assault against the "impenetrable Atlantic wall" began.


F4U Corsairs provide Marines support
The question of why there were so many casualties on Omaha (~2000) boils down to allied tactics.  Aerial bombardment and naval gunfire failed to destroy most of the gun emplacements and infantry bunkers.  That is not surprising given the strength of the fortifications and the inaccuracy of aerial bombing at the time.  US Person has asked: given complete allied air superiority, why were not the first waves accompanied by close air support that could be called in by pinned-down infantry to destroy enemy strong points with napalm if necessary?  This air-ground coordination had already been effectively used in the South Pacific.  He is unable to determine if any aircraft carriers capable of providing this close air cover were among the 7,000 ships of the Allied armada under British command (about 80% of the ships were British). The United States had some 27 carriers in the Pacific by the war's end; it could have spared two to strike Omaha.  Tactical apologists claim bombardment had to be limited because the inland approaches were narrow and few.  This claim may hold true for unguided bombing from naval artillery 8 miles offshore, or from aerial bombing from 10,000 ft.  An experienced Navy or Marine pilot attacking from a few hundred feet or less and guided by forward observers could have been accurate enough to avoid blocking beach exit points [photo above].*

Marines in "water buffalo" head for Tinian
Its well known that almost no armor made it ashore in the first hours of the desperate battle. Of thirty Shermans ferried near the beach, 27 did not make it ashore, swamped by seawater.  Heavily loaded soldiers were landed in lightly armed, if at all, Higgins boats in chest-high water.  In the Pacific, Marines were landing in armored, tracked amphibious vehicles [photo], some of which were equipped with howitzers, and capable of crossing coral reefs.  Once ashore on dry land these armored vehicles provided temporary cover and fire support for infantrymen moving inland.  No such cover existed on Omaha.  Survivors of the first wave resorted to using the tide as their only cover, drifting in to land as it rose.  At least the first wave on Omaha should have been carried farther up the beach by armored amtracks (LVTs) followed by more reinforcements in landing craft.  Read this eyewitness account of the first landing by Able Co, 116th of the sacrificial 29th Infantry Division (~200 men):
Able Company riding the tide in seven Higgins boats is still five thousand yards from the beach when first taken under artillery fire. The shells fall short. At one thousand yards, Boat No. 5 is hit dead on and foundered. Six men drown before help arrives. Second Lieutenant Edward Gearing and twenty others paddle around until picked up by naval craft, thereby missing the fight at the shore line. It's their lucky day. The other six boats ride unscathed to within one hundred yards of the shore, where a shell into Boat No. 3 kills two men. Another dozen drown, taking [sic] to the water as the boat sinks. That leaves five boats. Lieutenant Edward Tidrick in Boat No. 2 cries out: "My God, we're coming in at the right spot, but look at it! No shingle, no wall, no shell holes, no cover. Nothing!"
His men are at the sides of the boat, straining for a view of the target. They stare but say nothing. At exactly 6:36 A.M. ramps are dropped along the boat line and the men jump off in water anywhere from waist deep to higher than a man's head. This is the signal awaited by the Germans atop the bluff. Already pounded by mortars, the floundering line is instantly swept by crossing machine-gun fires from both ends of the beach.
Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the water logging of their overloaded packs. From Boat No. 1, all hands jump off in water over their heads. Most of them are carried down. Ten or so survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides in an attempt to stay afloat. The same thing happens to the section in Boat No. 4. Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot.
Within seven minutes after the ramps drop, Able Company is inert and leaderless. By the end of fifteen minutes, Able Company has still not fired a weapon. No orders are being given by anyone. No words are spoken. The few able-bodied survivors move or not as they see fit. Merely to stay alive is a full-time job. The fight has become a rescue operation...
USS Emmons left, USS Doyle background
If it were not for naval destroyers ordered to close the beach at around 0830hrs, risking grounding to provide close fire support (~800 yards) for subsequent assault waves, the landing might have failed. In fact the situation was so doubtful that commanding General Omar Bradley considered landing additional troops elsewhere.  Eventually, infantrymen exhibiting extreme courage and initiative made it to the foot of the cliffs and fought their way to the top through the heavily defended gullies.  Navy gunners, aided by the top secret Bigot maps, knocked out eight gun emplacements covering Omaha Beach exits. By the afternoon the battle's outcome was determined.  The 29th had lost 40% of its effective manpower by the end of "the longest day". The 1st, which landed to the east of the 29th, suffered similar heavy casualties.  Their gallant heroism and sacrifice is admired to this day, but US Person asks, was the extreme sacrifice really necessary or was it the result of tactical errors made by the planners of Operation Neptune Rex?  

*Army generals were loath to employ the relatively new tactical concept of close air support for fear of fratricide and the de-emphasis on ground warfare.  But when Operation Cobra was launched to pierce German lines in Normandy that had stymied the allied advance, General Bradley resorted to intensive air bombardment.  The 4,000 ton carpet blasting was effective, killing a third of the German troops and creating chaos, which VII Corps forces then exploited.  But the massive aerial assault cost more than 600 American lives too, as some bombs missed their intended targets. Eisenhower was depressed by the losses vowing to Bradley that he would never again allow heavy bombers support ground operations.

Impeachment Article IV

The United States House of Representatives, pursuant to the exclusive authority granted to it in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States hereby specifies the following Articles of Impeachment of the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump,

Resolved:

Article IV: The President of the United States abused the power of his office by directing officials and former officials within the Executive Branch to refuse compliance with duly authorized subpoenas issued by committees of the US House of Representatives engaged in the constitutional exercise of their Executive Branch oversight authority.

TO BE CONTINUED*....

*The latest enablers to defy a House subpoena upon instructions from Don Veto are Hope Hicks, a former communications director, and former deputy counsel Annie Donaldson. According to Mueller, Hicks witnessed several instances of obstruction by the Duck and Donaldson took extensive contemporaneous notes during the ouster of FBI Director Comey. The two women join attorney General Robert Barr and former White House counsel, Don McGahn in defiance of subpoenas as part of the Duck's scorched earth defense against possible impeachment. Hicks was praised by Chairman Nadler for turning over some documents to the House Judiciary Committee, but they are ones already submitted to the House Intelligence Committee and not relevant to the charges of obstruction of justice. So far, thanks to an intimidated and conflicted Democratic House leadership, his strategy is working to delay any investigation progress until the "silly season" of the 2020 election, which the Duck has reason to believe he can win. 
If Donald Duck is not impeached the voting public will view the Democrats as spineless punks unwilling to stand up for the Constitution, so they might as well vote for a deceitful plutocrat who at least sounds like a populist leader, or stay home. The power of public scandal in a Senate trial given an eventual partisan nullification is a negative force even this prolific propagandist could not overcome in the election. The hair-splitting hot air emanating from the House Democratic Caucus led by a feckless plutocrat about beginning an impeachment inquiry is only making the Duck look invincible and the Democrats pusillanimous, thus solidifying his already adoring base while alienating Democratic supporters. Simply put, Democrats need to walk progressively and chew impeachment gum until 2020. Impeachment inquiry now, impeachment later.

Sic semper tyrannus!

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Bundys Get Their's

Oregon federal juries infamously found the Ryan and Ammon Bundy innocent of their role in the armed occupation of Malheur Wildlife Refuge, {14.02.17} but other members of the rogue family were convicted of arson on federal property. Jurors heard evidence that Steven Bundy handed out matches to his hunting party asking that they set the range on fire. The fire put 139 acres ablaze. Dwight and Steven Bundy served a combined sentence of 18 months.  Both received a presidential pardon in 2018.  Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, a friend of the free range radicals, order reinstatement of their grazing privileges on public lands, overriding BLM recommendations to cancel the permits for their “unsatisfactory record of performance.”

A federal judge agreed with conservationists who brought suit against the decision and issued a temporary injunction against the permits. Secretary Zinke decided to issue the permits to the Bundys without environmental review or public comment. The allotments in issue contain important habitat for the greater sage grouse and redband trout. Grazing on one of the allotments, Mud Creek, was scheduled to occur later this week. Grazing in June impacts nesting and survival chances of newly hatched grouse chicks. Favored foods of prelaying and brood-rearing hens in Oregon are common dandelion, goatsbeard, western yarrow, prickly lettuce, and sego lily. Chicks consume primarily insects for their first few weeks. Redband trout are disturbed when cattle create erosion and muddy streams. The conservation groups said Zinke's decision misinterpreted the pardon granted by Donald 'Duck' to the scofflaw family of ranchers, and did not take into consideration Oregon's amended sage grouse management plan. One conservationist said that the decision to issue a temporary stay demonstrates that the regime "shouldn’t be allowed to engage in this blatant political interference". Grazing permits are supposed to be assessed for environmental impact before granting. The land in question has not been grazed in five years, so it provides sage grouse with a much needed reprieve from the harmful impacts of cows grazing on public lands.

Leopard Seals Granted NZ Residency

courtesy: NZ Conservation Dept.
Leopard seals, Hydrurga leptonyx, are formidable predators.  In fact a leopard seal is credited for taking a British woman, part of an Antarctic research team. But that grizzly occurrence did not stop New Zealand giving leopard seals legal status as  residents, no longer classed as "vagrants". The seal lives primarily in Antarctic waters, but it is found as far north as New Zealand in every region of the island nation.  Leopard seals are protected under New Zealand's Marine Mammal Protection Act; anyone caught harming them can be fined $250,000 or spend two years in prison.

The animals are usually placid when found resting on a beach after feeding. Nevertheless, a leopard seal was found shot in the head last year. A member of Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Trans-Antarctic Expedition was chased on the ice by a leopard seal and only escaped after a colleague shot the animal dead. They are large, weighing up to 600 kgs and have serious teeth befitting their carnivorous role second only to killer whales in the southern ocean. They are the only seals known to regularly hunt and kill warm-blooded prey, including other seals.

The promotion to resident status was welcomed by conservationists.  The change could be credited to a female seal, Owha, that made Waitemata Harbor her territory. Her presence along the south island coast for seven years prompted investigation into the numbers of leopard seals living in New Zealand waters.  Previously thought to be outside their home range, New Zealand has an increasing number of leopard seals staying there. However, the archeological record shows that leopard seals were known to the Maori who occupied New Zealand around 1300. Three leopard seal births on the mainland have been documented in the past.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

COTW: Don Veto's Imperial Priorities

As the angry orange baby blimp basks in the pomp of a state visit to the UK and Queenie, it is time to remind HRH's subjects that this is what Don Veto is all about when he is not insulting local dignitaries:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.” ― Dwight D. Eisenhower

Monday, June 03, 2019

Pygmy Rabbits' Uncertain Future

Columbia Basin's rolling landscape once covered in native sagebrush and bunchgrass stretching to the far mountains at the horizon is now a fractured landscaped invaded by cheatgrass, divided by highways and farming roads into a patchwork of wheat fields.  This is the home of a diminutive rabbit the size of a grapefruit, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) which, but for human intervention, would not have made it into the 21st century.  The last pure bred member of this isolated rabbit population died in 2008.  Since 2001 captive breeding has kept the population hanging on in the Basin.  Sixteen of the last few dozen members were captured then, and two decades of intervention followed.

Early in the program, the reproductive rate was slow and the offspring produced were sickly, perhaps due to inbreeding.  University scientists and government biologists decided to perform a "genetic rescue" by hybridizing them with Great Basin pygmy rabbits from Idaho, a closely related population, in 2004.  After that, things picked up and the smallest American rabbit began to reproduce--like rabbits. In 2009 the Oregon Zoo produced 29 kits.  Unsurprisingly the Zoo found that pairings based on familiarity and preferences resulted in greater breeding success than pairings based only on genetic relatedness.

Breeding was transferred to semi-enclosed areas in the rabbits' native habitat, to aid their transition to release into the wild.  Over 1300 kits were produced in the enclosures since 2011, allowing the release of over 1200 pygmy rabbits into the Sagebrush Flats Wildlife Area.  On average, about 25% of the released rabbits' genome are wild genes.  These genes reappear generation after generation because they produce traits that have survival value--natural selection at work.  Thus, preserving the native pygmies from certain extinction rather than translocating another race was worthwhile work because it preserved genetic information coded by the unique ecosystem of the Columbia Basin.

credit: R. Bose for High Country News
Successful emergency intervention has given the pygmy rabbit an uncertain future, however.  It eats only sagebrush in the winter, and is only one of two species that digs its own burrows, beneath sagebrush. [photo, left] Wildfires that proliferate due to fire resistant native vegetation being replaced by invasive species, can wipe out a recovering rabbit population. Fires occur now twice a decade instead of twice a century, the historic norm.  The thirty thousand acre Southerland Canyon fire in 2017 destroyed most of the rabbit population living there.  Breeding in enclosures has its drawbacks too--proximity promotes disease in the animals.

Consequently, expanding and preserving habitat is the key to reestablishing the species on a firm basis.  The landscape is fragmented by human settlement.  No one is suggesting humans move out, but some unneeded land can be set aside for habitat restoration and wildlife.  There are Department of Agriculture programs that pay farmers to do that, and there are private organizations like Nature Conservancy that buy land solely for conservation.  Stitching these separated parcels together with wildlife corridors would signify wildlife gain in an era of global loss.  To do that, cooperation from the human inhabitants is a necessary ingredient.