News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

More than 4 inches of rain and snow in Sierra Nevada in May 2015, "off the charts" gain for Mono Lake-Sacramento Bee

5/29/15, "Much of Sierra sees big rainfall, snow totals in May," Sacramento Bee,

For a lone, lovely month, it hasn’t much felt like a drought in the Sierra Nevada. Rain and snow have fallen week after week during May in the high country. Temperatures have dropped below normal most days, reducing the amount of water lost to evaporation. Southern California has received an unusual amount of rain, too: San Diego has seen 2.4 inches of precipitation in May; it normally gets 0.21 inches.

Climatologists said the wet weather has not put much of a dent in California’s drought, now in its fourth year. Yet some experts said the recent precipitation could offer a promising, albeit uncertain view, of what’s in store for winter, even raising the prospect of a rain-filled El Niño season.

As of Friday, more than 4 inches of water had fallen in parts of the Sierra Nevada, some of it as rain, some as snow. That’s more than five times the normal amount in some places. It has rained more during May in some parts of the Sierra than it did during the entire winter, federal data show.

“We are kind of floored,” said Arya Degenhardt, spokeswoman for the Mono Lake Committee, an environmental group in Lee Vining. “As of right now, precipitation – it’s at 4 inches (for May). It’s kind of off the charts. The lake has risen over 2 inches. That is huge for us, especially after four years of drought.”

The wet, cold weather extended into Nevada and parts of Southern California. But the Central Valley and North Coast remained mostly dry, leaving many in Sacramento oblivious to the storms happening up the hill.

State officials and climate experts said the rain will help fill depleted mountain reservoirs and hydrate thirsty high country trees and plants. But after such a dour winter, the rain is more a respite than a rescue from the historic drought.

“The net effect in the larger scheme of things is to simply slow down the drought juggernaut,” said Kelly Redmond, deputy director and regional climatologist for the federal government’s Western Regional Climate Center in Reno.

Redmond and other climatologists watched the weather patterns in May with an eye toward what they might portend for next winter. The rain and cold weather, they said, may have been partially caused by an El Niño weather pattern. 

The term “El Niño” generally refers to a period in which the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean are warmer than usual near the equator. The temperature shift disrupts normal weather patterns, often bringing heavier-than-usual precipitation to California. The drenching rains in the winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98, accompanied by mudslides and other woes, were attributed to El Niño. The last El Niño, in the winter of 2009-10, brought only slightly above-average precipitation.

Several climatologists expressed hope that an El Niño weather pattern could settle in and bring more rain.
Bill Patzert, climate analyst at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, is among those who are optimistic about the coming winter. He said the destructive storms that hit Oklahoma and Texas this week were related to El Niño, and he expects significant precipitation in California this winter.

“It’s pretty big in terms of size and intensity. This thing looks as promising as anything I’ve seen in the last ... 18 years,” he said.

But Patzert and others cautioned that the upcoming El Niño is likely to strike mainly in the southern half of the state, missing the major mountain ranges and reservoirs that act as the primary source of California’s vast freshwater delivery network. That would limit El Niño’s effectiveness as a drought remedy. “Where we really want the snowpack and the really steady winter rains is Northern California,” Patzert said.

Michelle Mead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento, agreed that an El Niño is forming, but she said it probably will not pack much of a punch. “It’s going to increase our probabilities (of rain) up to 70 percent, but it’s not guaranteeing it will be enough rain to end the drought,” she said.

Prognostications aside, many in the Sierra Nevada are simply thrilled that so much precipitation fell on their lakes, streams and trees.

“We’ll take all the rain we can get,” said Robert Peek, a ranger at Bodie State Historic Park in Mono County, where total precipitation has been measured at more than 6 inches so far in May.

At Mono Lake, the drought has raised the specter of dust storms and harm to wildlife. The lake's streams typically provide billions of gallons of drinking water each year to Los Angeles. “Between the rain that falls on the lake itself and the actual snow in the snowpack ... it’s really good,” Degenhardt said.

Even so, it will take a lot more rain to bring Mono Lake, a huge, shallow body of water east of Yosemite that provides critical habitat for millions of migratory birds, back to normal levels. The lake has lost more than 5 feet of depth since the drought began, Degenhardt said.

And, as May turns into June, the dry summer will arrive, leaving little chance of precipitation until winter. “May helps a lot, but in the bigger picture, we also want to keep perspective,” Degenhardt said. “People need to conserve water.”

Despite the rain, nine of the state’s 12 key reservoirs saw water levels drop in May, including Folsom Lake and Lake Shasta, state figures show. The losses were greatest in Northern California reservoirs.

But the rain was enough to stay the hand of the State Water Resources Control Board, which regulates the state’s complex water rights system. In early April, the board warned senior water rights holders – those with the oldest rights and first dibs to water – that they could see those rights curtailed. As of Friday, the board still hadn’t issued curtailments to senior water rights holders.

“We want to make sure we don’t cut it off sooner than we need to,” board chief deputy director Caren Trgovcich said after the first batch of May storms." via Free Rep.


Arizona cotton and the US Farm Bill are fueling the west's water crisis:

5/30/15, "Holy Crop. How federal dollars are financing the water crisis in the West,",

"State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. The valley of red and brown sand is interrupted occasionally by rock and saguaro cactus. It’s not unusual for summer temperatures to top 116 degrees. And there is almost no water; this part of Arizona receives less than nine inches of rainfall each year

Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life. Barren roadside is replaced by thousands of acres of cotton fields, their bright, leafy green stalks and white, puffy bolls in neat rows that unravel for miles. It’s a vision of bounty where it would be least expected. Step into the hip-high cotton shrubs, with the soft, water-soaked dirt giving way beneath your boot soles, the bees buzzing in your ears, the pungent odor of the plants in your nostrils, and you might as well be in Georgia.

How bad is the water crisis? And what should we be doing to fix it? ProPublica has asked some of the best thinkers on water management issues to weigh in.
Getting plants to grow in the Sonoran Desert is made possible by importing billions of gallons of water each year. Cotton is one of the thirstiest crops in existence, and each acre cultivated here demands six times as much water as lettuce, 60 percent more than wheat. That precious liquid is pulled from a nearby federal reservoir, siphoned from beleaguered underground aquifers and pumped in from the Colorado River hundreds of miles away. Greg Wuertz has been farming cotton on these fields since 1981, and before him, his father and grandfather did the same. His family is part of Arizona’s agricultural royalty. His father was a board member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District for nearly two decades. Wuertz has served as president of several of the most important cotton organizations in the state.

But what was once a breathtaking accomplishment — raising cotton in a desert — has become something that Wuertz pursues with a twinge of doubt chipping at his conscience. Demand and prices for cotton have plummeted, and he knows no one really needs what he supplies. More importantly, he understands that cotton comes at enormous environmental expense, a price the American West may no longer be able to afford. 

Wuertz could plant any number of crops that use far less water than cotton and fill grocery store shelves from Maine to Minnesota. But along with hundreds of farmers across Arizona, he has kept planting his fields with cotton instead. He says he has done it out of habit, pride, practicality, and even a self-deprecating sense that he wouldn’t be good at anything else. But in truth, one reason outweighs all the others: The federal government has long offered him so many financial incentives to do it that he can’t afford not to. “Some years all of what you made came from the government,” Wuertz said. “Your bank would finance your farming operation…because they knew the support was guaranteed. They wouldn’t finance wheat, or alfalfa. Cotton was always dependable, it would always work.”

The water shortages that have brought California, Arizona and other Western states to the edge of an environmental cliff have been attributed to a historic climate event — a dry spell that experts worry could be the worst in 1,000 years. But an examination by ProPublica shows that the scarcity of water is as much a man-made crisis as a natural one, the result of decades of missteps and misapprehensions by governments and businesses as they have faced surging demand driven by a booming population. 

The federal subsidies that prop up cotton farming in Arizona are just one of myriad ways that policymakers have refused, or been slow to reshape laws to reflect the West’s changing circumstances. Provisions in early–20th-century water-use laws that not only permit but also compel farmers and others to use more water than they need are another. “Use It or Lose It” is the cynical catch phrase for one of those policies. Western leaders also have flinched repeatedly when staring down the insatiable, unstoppable force of urban sprawl. Las Vegas authorities have spent billions of dollars inventing new ways to bring water to their ever-expanding city, yet could not cite a single development permit they had ever denied because of concerns about water.

Instead, when faced with a dwindling water supply, state and federal officials have again and again relied on human ingenuity to engineer a way out of making hard choices about using less water. But the engineering that made settling the West possible may have reached the bounds of its potential. Dams and their reservoirs leak or lose billions of gallons of water to evaporation. The colossal Navajo Generating Station, which burns 22,000 tons of coal a day in large part to push water hundreds of miles across Arizona, is among the nation’s biggest greenhouse gas polluters, contributing to the very climate change that is exacerbating the drought.

Few crises have been more emphatically and presciently predicted. Almost 150 years ago, John Wesley Powell, the geologist and explorer, traveled the Colorado River in an effort to gauge America’s chances for developing its arid western half. His report to Congress reached a chastening conclusion: There wasn’t enough water to support significant settlement.

For more than a century, Americans have defied Powell’s words, constructing 20 of the nation’s largest cities and a vibrant economy that, among other bounties, provides an astonishing proportion of the country’s fruit and vegetables.
For almost as long, the policies that shaped the West have struggled to match the region’s ambitions — endless growth, new industry, fertile farming and plentiful power — to its water supply.
Today, as the Colorado River enters its 15th year of drought, the nation’s largest reservoirs have been diminished to relative puddles. Power plants that depend on dams along the river face shortages and shutdowns that could send water and electricity prices skyrocketing. Many of the region’s farmers have been forced to fallow fields. 
The still-blooming cotton farms of Arizona are emblematic of the reluctance to make choices that seem obvious. The Wuertz family has received government checks just for putting cottonseeds in the ground and more checks when the price of cotton fell. They have benefited from cheap loans for cotton production that don’t have to be fully repaid if the market slumps. Most recently, the government has covered almost the entire premium on their cotton crop insurance, guaranteeing they’ll be financially protected even when natural conditions — like drought — keep them from producing a good harvest.

The payments, part of the U.S. Farm Bill, are a legacy of Dust Bowl-era programs that live on today at the urging of the national cotton lobby and the insurance industry. Similar subsidies support corn, rice, wheat and, indirectly, alfalfa — all of which also use lots of water. But in Arizona one of the driest states in the nation, it’s cotton that has received the most federal aid, tipping the balance on farmers’ decisions about what to plant.

Over the last 20 years, Arizona’s farmers have collected more than $1.1 billion in cotton subsidies, nine times more than the amount paid out for the next highest subsidized crop. In California, where cotton also gets more support than most other crops, farmers received more than $3 billion in cotton aid.

Cotton growers say the subsidies don’t make them rich but help bridge the worst years of losses and keep their businesses going. And because the money is such a sure thing, they have little choice but to keep planting. 

“If you’re sitting on land and thinking of shifting, cotton is safer,” said Daniel Pearson, a senior fellow of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute. Growing cotton in the desert, long term, may be doomed. In Arizona, the price for cotton has been in decline, and with it the overall planting of the crop. But when the price spikes, as it did dramatically in 2010, the growers get busy. One thing has yet to change: the government’s willingness to back and protect those still wanting to be cotton farmers.

For years, the federal support came through subsidies and price protection cash put directly in the farmer’s pocket. In Arizona, those payments could total tens of millions of dollars a year. Today, the government’s aid comes chiefly in the form of insurance subsidies — reliable and robust protections against losses that many farmers and their lobbyists hoped would be every bit as effective as cold cash. And so every year more than 100,000 acres of cotton still get planted, making the crop the second-most popular in the state.

Thus, at a time when farmers in Arizona, California and other Western states might otherwise adapt to a water-short world, federal farm subsidies are helping preserve a system in which the thirstiest crops are grown in some of the driest places. 

“The subsidies are distorting water usage throughout the West and providing an incentive to use more water than would be used in an open market,” said Bruce Babbitt, Arizona’s former governor and a former U.S. Secretary of the Interior. 

One night last October, in the weary twilight of the cotton harvest, Greg Wuertz nestled his white Chevy pickup by the mailboxes at the head of his street. Opening a small aluminum door, he removed an envelope containing a $30,000 insurance payment on a policy paid for by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Easy money, to be sure, but it left Wuertz uncertain....

Cotton might never have been grown in Arizona without some form of government enticement. During the Civil War, a Union blockade impounded the Southern states’ global exports. As Europe turned to new strains of cotton grown in Egypt, Arizona’s settlers, knowing the Pima Indians had long planted cotton there, thought they could replicate hot and dry North African conditions and compete. Townships reportedly offered cash to farmers willing to pioneer commercial-scale crops, according to a local historical account. Arizona’s first cotton mogul was said to be a blacksmith who abandoned his trade to take the subsidies and try farming. 

Arizona, at the time, was short on people and long on land. It was also rich in freshwater aquifers, groundwater that then seemed ample enough to irrigate vast fields and turn the desert into an oasis. 

When the United States first went to war in Europe, the demand for cotton surged. The fibers were used to reinforce truck tires and canvas airplane wings. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company bought thousands of farm acres and built a factory west of Phoenix, where a city by the name of Goodyear still stands. Farmers flocked to the state in search of opportunity.

In 1929, Wuertz’s grandfather packed the family’s belongings into their old Buick and drove down from South Dakota. He strung up tents on 160 acres, six miles outside Coolidge, and planted his first rows of cotton in the months before the Great Depression. By the 1950s, cotton farming had been woven into the state’s identity; Arizona schoolchildren learned about the “Five C’s”: cattle, copper, citrus, climate and cotton. 

Draw a sagging line today from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., and every state below it grows cotton. The United States is the world’s largest exporter, with 17 states producing some eight billion pounds of cotton each year, most of which gets shipped off to Asia and Europe. 

California and Arizona are able to produce more than twice as much cotton on each acre they plant as can cotton powerhouses like Texas and Georgia because they irrigate their fields more often. But that also means that they use two to four times as much water per acre. 

From almost the beginning, Arizona’s cotton farmers understood they were withdrawing from a finite account. “There was a sense the water would run out,” said Wuertz’s father, Howard, now 89. “You could tell there was going to be an end to it, even in the 1950s.”

They’ve made it last, in large part, because as the aquifers beneath their feet were depleted, the state brought in new supplies, mainly from the Colorado River.

Today, Wuertz’s irrigated cotton plants grow to about 4 feet tall, and are planted in even rows, about 3 feet center to center, extending for miles across furrowed fields.... 

He gets about one-quarter of his water from the Central Arizona Project, or CAP, the system of canals that brings water from the Colorado River, some 230 miles away. The rest comes from a federally built reservoir nearby called San Carlos Lake, which, with the drought, has been diminished to little more than a bed of mud....

Every 10 days, he explains, he releases his ditch gates and floods the furrows, using an irrigation technique hundreds of years old, until the roots of his plants are submerged ankle deep. If he were to do it all at once, the water Wuertz spends to produce one acre of cotton would stand 4 feet deep. The ditches flow with hundreds of millions of gallons of water every year. 

For the last third of a century, Wuertz was supplied prodigious amounts of water, largely because Arizona was pushing its farmers to use as much as they could. The state’s run on water began in the 1970s, when Arizona planned its mega canal in order to lay claim to its full share of water from the Colorado River. The canal would bring more water than the state needed at the time, ultimately supplying future urban expansion as its cities and economy grew. But in the short term, Arizona had to justify the canal’s $4.4 billion federally subsidized construction cost by demonstrating to Congress that it had a plan to put all that water to use right away.... 

Land use statistics show that acres of irrigated farmland in Arizona have decreased over the past few decades, and since 1985 they’ve dropped by more than half in the area around Phoenix. The Wuertz family sold a chunk of its fields to home developers in 2009. 

But the patterns of agricultural water use make clear that it’s not just how many acres of land are planted there, but what is grown on them....

Today, China, the world’s largest cotton producer, has enough cotton in warehouses to stop farming for a year. And Texas, the U.S.’s largest producer, harvests enough to cover more than one third of U.S. exports alone, relying largely on natural rainfall, not irrigation, to do it....

This underscores questions about whether continuing to grow these water-hogging crops at their current levels is in the public interest, and whether such an important pillar of U.S. economic policy as the Farm Bill should continue to champion them....

First established as a New Deal program to rescue farmers during the Great Depression, today’s unwieldy version of the U.S. Farm Bill wraps everything from food stamps to sugar imports into one 357-page, nearly $1 trillion law. 

The measure allots about $130 billion over 10 years to protect farmers against price drops, bad weather and bad luck and to insure them against virtually any scenario that gets in the way of turning a profit.
No American law has more influence on what, where and when farmers decide to plant. And by extension, no federal policy has a greater ability to directly influence how water resources are consumed in the American West. 

Until this year, the bill doled out direct subsidies for a full menu of crops. Every farmer planting commodities, including those planting cotton, got $40,000 just for signing up. 

Then there are the steeply discounted business loans, which have a measurable impact on what farmers decide to plant. In many cases, to be eligible for these subsidies one year, a farmer has to have previously planted the crop — a basic component of the bill’s architecture that gives farmers an incentive to maintain “base” levels of acreage. In an analysis, the Congressional Budget Office found that the subsidies don’t just maintain the status quo, they also foster more planting, and more water use. The USDA’s marketing loans alone, for example, led to a 10 percent increase in the amount of cotton farmers planted — compared to 2.5 percent increase in the amount of wheat, and a 1.5 percent increase in the amount of soybeans produced — in part because the subsidies not only make cotton a safer bet, they also make it more competitive against alternative crops. Banks lend cotton growers money they wouldn’t lend for other crops, largely because they know the government will stand behind them....

The Farm Bill has been used in the past to steer environmental policy. It provides for withholding money, for example, from farms that would contribute to soil erosion or the destruction of wetlands.....

The Farm Bill contains $56 billion for conservation, funding an effort to encourage farmers to reduce their water consumption by using more-modern equipment as well as measures meant to conserve land. Another section of the bill is aimed at saving energy. But the law’s farming incentives run counter to its far more modest water conservation initiatives....

The Farm Bill’s authors have sometimes factored in environmental concerns in specific places and tailored incentives to affect them, Hoefner said. But when it comes to cotton, the bill does not consider the related water use, and it does not distinguish between the places where it is grown. 

Instead, the money corresponds roughly to the amount of cotton harvested; Arizona, which ranks in the middle in terms of its cotton production, also ranks 10th among the 17 states that receive cotton aid. California, which ranked third for overall cotton production in 2013, also ranks third in subsidies over the last 20 years according to data collected by the Environmental Working Group. It’s in those places that the incentives created by the subsidies are most in conflict with the government’s aid to conserve water. 

“Trying to get USDA to break down the silos is difficult,” Hoefner noted.

The Congressional Budget Office attacked this disconnect in 2006, urging the USDA to stop supporting agricultural products that act to “impede the transfer of water resources to higher value uses,” and “encourage the use of water.” Analysts advised the USDA to enhance its conservation programs, align its subsidies with those conservation efforts, and stop paying for infrastructure that makes water artificially cheap. 

Every six years or so Congress has the opportunity to revisit its Farm Bill policies and update the bill. When Congress reauthorized it in 2014, however, lawmakers changed, but did not retreat in their support for cotton farming in the Southwest, despite growing awareness of the persistent water crisis in the Colorado River basin. Instead, legislators allowed the cotton industry to write its own future. Faced with international trade pressures and allegations that subsidies — like payments triggered by price drops — were distorting the market, U.S. cotton trade associations lobbied to ramp up the USDA’s insurance program. 

Rather than paying direct subsidies to cotton farmers, starting this year the USDA will use taxpayer dollars to buy farmers additional crop insurance. Policies that once covered up to around 70 percent of farmers’ losses can now be supplemented with new coverage covering up to 90 percent, cushioning the shallowest of losses. The lucrative marketing loan program that serves as a sort of price guarantee also remains in place....

There is enough water in the West. There isn’t any pressing need for more water, period,” Babbitt said. “There are all kinds of agriculture efficiencies that have not been put into place.”...

In the end, Wuertz said he doesn’t know how to grow other plants as well as he knows cotton....His identity is wrapped up in those prickly bolls out in his fields.

“When I quit cotton all of that goes away. Ninety percent of my life is gone. It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he said. “I’m just not ready to do that yet. And it’s not to say I won’t get there.”" via Hockey Schtick


Among comments is one from a member of the cotton industry who notes the Wuertz family pioneered drip irrigation in Arizona for cotton farmers:



I find it interesting that this article makes not mention of the fact that the Wuertz family pioneered drip irrigation for cotton in Arizona and even formed a company to help other farmers benefit from that water efficient approach to irrigation. See:

Cotton acres have been declining steadily in Arizona and California due to the cost of water. In the 1990s USDA data shows there was almost 2 million acres of cotton in those two states, but in 2014 there was less than 400,000 acres of cotton. And essentially all of that cotton is of a very high quality that is in high demand around the world - the surplus of cotton is for lower qualities. For years where there is water, cotton allows farmers to make use of their fallow land and maintain crop diversity.

Finally, cotton is mistaken as a "thirsty" crop because its heat and drought tolerance allow it be grown in water scare areas. For more evidence of this statement, see the white paper at:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an employee of Cotton Incorporated, but the accuracy above statements are well documented."


Great article. I read Cadillac Desert and everyone is right. This author and Mark Reisner. We just returned from Yuma and it was disgusting to see all the green crops down there and in the Imperial Valley. It's a full fledged desert. It is totally inappropriate.

Thank you for this excellent series. I look forward to the rest of the articles."


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Former Republican House Speaker Hastert was board member of ethanol producer Rex American Resources but resigned Friday, May 29-Reuters

5/29/15, "Ex-U.S. lawmaker Hastert aimed to hide sexual misconduct with male: L.A. Times," Reuters

"Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert, indicted on Thursday on federal criminal charges, was paying a male from his past to try to conceal sexual misconduct, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday, citing two unnamed federal law enforcement officials.
One of the officials cited by the newspaper said the alleged misconduct involved a male and occurred during Hastert's time as a high school wrestling coach and teacher in Yorkville, Illinois, before becoming a lawmaker....

Hastert stepped down from the board of directors of ethanol producer REX American Resources Corp (REX.N) on Friday, according to a regulatory filing.

On Thursday, he resigned from the Washington lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro, which he joined in 2008, and resigned as a board member of the exchange operator CME Group Inc.."...

5/21/15, "CHS Inc to buy Illinois ethanol plant in $196 mln deal -SEC filing," Reuters, Chicago

"CHS Inc will buy an ethanol plant in Annawan, Illinois, that is partially owned by REX American Resources Corp, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed on Thursday.

CHS is to acquire full ownership of Patriot Holdings LLC, which operates the ethanol plant, in a deal valued at $196 million, the filing showed. REX American currently owns 26.6 percent of Patriot and would take in as much as $49 million in the deal, the filing stated.

The sale was expected to close on June 1, said two sources familiar with the deal. CHS, the largest farm cooperative in the United States, purchased an ethanol plant a year ago Rochelle, Illinois."


Rainbow in St. Louis during rain delay, LA Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

5/30/15, "Rainbow forming out of the Gateway Arch during the rain delay in St. Louis.," Cardinals twitter. LA Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals, first pitch rain delay. "Delay back on in St. Louis
The tarp had come off the field in anticipation of the matchup between the Dodgers and Cardinals, but the rain started to fall hard once again, and the tarp is back. There is not yet a new estimated time for first pitch." ESPN MLB scoreboard


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Unsettled science: New species of ancient human found in Ethiopia, hypothesis of linear evolution must be revisted says lead scientist in Nature study-BBC

5/27/15, "'New species' of ancient human found," BBC, Rebecca Morelle

"A new species of ancient human has been unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia, scientists report. Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old.

It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means "close relative" in the language spoken by the Afar people. The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features.
Lead researcher Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US, told BBC News: "We had to look at the detailed anatomy and morphology of the teeth and the upper and lower jaws, and we found major differences.
"This new species has very robust jaws. In addition, we see this new species had smaller teeth. The canine is really small - smaller than all known hominins we have documented in the past." 
The age of the remains means that this was potentially one of four different species of early humans that were all alive at the same time.
The most famous of these is Australopithecus afarensis - known as Lucy - who lived between 2.9-3.8m years ago, and was initially thought to be our direct ancestor. 
However the discovery of another species called Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya in 2001, and of Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, and now Australopithecus deyiremedaI, suggests that there were several species co-existing.
Some researchers dispute whether the various partial remains really constitute different species, particularly for A. bahrelghazali. But Dr Haile-Selassie said the early stage of human evolution was probably surprisingly complex.
"Historically, because we didn't have the fossil evidence to show there was hominin diversity during the middle Pliocene, we thought there was only one lineage, one primitive ancestor - in this case Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy - giving rise to the next.
"That hypothesis of linear evolution has to be revisited. And now with the discovery of more species, like this new one... you have another species roaming around.
"What this means is we have many species that could give rise to later hominins, including our own genus Homo."
Dr Haile-Selassie said that even more fossils need to be unearthed, to better understand the path that human evolution took.
He added that finding additional ancient remains could also help researchers examine how the different species lived side-by-side - whether they mixed or avoided each other, and how they shared food and other resources in their landscape." 


5/27/15, "New human ancestor discovered near fossil of ‘Lucy’ Australopithecus deyiremeda lived about 3.4 million years ago in northern Ethiopia, around the same time and place as Australopithecus afarensis.", Ewen Callaway


Monday, May 25, 2015

Big Banks closing branches on US Mexico border to avoid money laundering charges-Wall St. Journal

5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," Wall St.Journal, Emily Glazer, Nogales, Arizona

"Chuck Thomas each day ships around 6,000 boxes of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables to U.S. grocery stores from his third-generation family business, which is a stalwart of this border town’s thriving produce industry.

It was a surprise, then, when his longtime bank, J.P. Morgan Chase JPM -0.27 % & Co., notified him it didn’t want his business anymore.

“First I was pissed off, then I steamed about it for a few days,” he said. “I’ve been with them 40 years and then they have this? It’s a pain.”

Mr. Thomas, 59 years old, isn’t the only one having banking problems in Nogales, a city with a population of about 21,000 and a steel fence separating it from Mexico. In the past several months, J.P. Morgan, Bank of America Corp. BAC 0.12 % and Citigroup Inc. C 0.24 % -owned Banamex USA have shut a total of four branches in Nogales, almost halving the number in town owned by big U.S. banks. Separately, hundreds of Chase and Wells Fargo WFC -0.02 % & Co. customers, some of them second- and third-generation business owners, have had their bank accounts closed.

The bank moves come amid a recent industrywide focus on money laundering. Wall Street wants to avoid the huge fines that could result if financial firms are drawn into the flow of dirty money.

Nogales may be the highest-profile example of how those efforts are playing out in cities along the Mexico border, where drug and human trafficking is a constant worry and money laundering is prevalent.

The trafficking fears aren’t hypothetical here: Authorities have discovered a number of cross-border tunnels in recent years, including a roughly 480-foot passageway found last year that was considered one of the longest and most sophisticated ever detected in Nogales. This activity can unwittingly draw in local banks if traffickers pay their associates and other service providers on the U.S. side of the border. Such deposits are often disguised as being related to legitimate business activities, say bank executives and other experts.

Banks have paid billions of dollars in recent years for transgressions involving everything from mortgage securities to foreign-exchange trading, and have invested heavily in compliance systems, new employees and other steps to head off future problems. While banks have long maintained anti-money-laundering measures, those efforts have taken on fresh urgency in light of updated regulation in November from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, an interagency regulatory body that monitors potential money laundering and terrorist financing.

The update, the first in almost five years, puts greater pressure on banks to flag suspicious customers and shut down risky accounts.

Many in Nogales, though, complain that the crackdown is taking a toll on their economy. A number of local cattle ranchers say they are having trouble paying their employees, many of whom are Mexican nationals and have had their accounts closed in recent months.

“It’s killing our business,” said one rancher. Other businesses say they are being unfairly targeted merely because of their proximity to Mexico.

“I don’t send any money across the border.…All the banking I do is within the United States,” said Mr. Thomas, adding that his grandfather banked with Chase or its predecessors as early as the mid-1960s.

The issue is drawing increased attention. Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans, asked for hearings and sent letters to banks, and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. staffers flew to Nogales earlier this spring to meet local officials and business owners.

Bank executives say Arizona is one of three risky border regions, with the other two being Southern California and the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In Nogales, banks are worried about persistent drug smuggling despite efforts by law enforcement to stem the flow, said one bank executive involved in money-laundering issues.

Banks as a result are conducting greater due diligence to understand who their customers are and their stated business. In some cases, it is easier to close accounts than spend the time and money necessary to achieve certainty that an account is safe.

We are picking on Nogales in a way because the drug traffickers are picking on Nogales,” the executive said. “They’re using Nogales to bring their stuff in.…We can only get into trouble for failing to bank them perfectly.”

As in many border towns, the economy in Nogales is intertwined with its Mexican counterpart, a city of roughly 300,000 also called Nogales. Roughly 1,500 trucks pass daily through one of three ports of entry, shuttling produce worth nearly $3 billion in 2013, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, not to mention business from manufacturing companies and the cattle industry.

On what is known as Produce Row on the U.S. side of the border, roughly 180 warehouses line the street between Nogales and nearby Rio Rico, Ariz., loaded with everything from peppers to watermelons to be shipped across the U.S. and sometimes to Canada.

Chris Ciruli’s family company, Ciruli Brothers Inc., which specializes in champagne mangoes, distributes to major retailers such as Safeway Inc. and Whole Foods Market Inc. WFM -0.61 % Mr. Ciruli says his company recently has had to lend money to employees who had their bank accounts closed and didn’t have access to cash while they searched for new banks.

Worse, he says, his family is stuck with more than 100 acres of raw land it can’t develop because large banks are no longer willing to finance projects in Nogales and smaller banks in the area have what he called “unreasonable” interest rates.

Mr. Ciruli said his father put together commercial real-estate deals with local banks years ago. “Those opportunities certainly don’t seem like they’re here now,” he said.

Many locals have moved their business to Washington Federal Inc., WAFD -0.36 % a bank based in Seattle that bought Bank of America’s two branches and related deposits in Nogales. Other remaining banks include several branches of regional banks, one Chase branch and two Wells Fargo branches.

But many Mexican nationals who work and shop in Nogales are having difficulties. There are more restrictions for U.S. employers, whose banks may limit or prohibit wire transfers to Mexico. Most employers don’t give workers checks, because they often have a hard time cashing them at Mexican banks. Some cattle ranchers use a money-exchange service, which often charges high rates and takes a cut through fees. Or the cattle ranchers sometimes wire money to CIbanco, a Mexico-based bank that has allowed such transfers.

Bruce Bracker, 51, the third generation to run retailer Bracker’s Department Store, which sits about 250 feet from the Mexico border, has seen a drop-off in business over the past several months as banks have closed Mexican nationals’ accounts.

Banks “can’t keep cutting off access to capital and access to banking and expect the economy to grow and communities to thrive,” he said. “Don’t paint us all in the same brush of drug dealers and money launderers. There are legitimate business owners, too.”"

Write to Emily Glazer at

Image: Edomexico

5/25/15, "Big Banks Shut Border Branches in Effort to Avoid Dirty Money," WSJ, Emily Glazer (subscrip.)


Pope Francis and his associates would rob millions of world's poor who don't even have electricity. In 1971 China derived 40% of its energy from renewables, in 2015 only .23%. Why doesn't China go back? The Pope and the West want millions in Africa to stay poor-Leslie Eastman, Legal Insurrection

5/24/15, "Pope Francis’ Eco-Encyclical: Marriage Between Green Tech and Economic Growth?" Leslie Eastman, Legal Insurrection

"Pope’s deputy now comments on the need for eco-encyclical."

"One sign that Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change may be creating a small storm of controversy within the Vatican is that high level officials are now explaining why it is needed.

This week, the pope’s deputy released a statement about the upcoming publication:
A new development model is needed to combat global warming, one that marries economic growth to combat poverty with a sustainable use of resources, Pope Francis’ deputy said Wednesday.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said both political and economic commitment will be required to ensure the Earth’s health for future generations.
Parolin’s remarks came in a message Wednesday to a conference of business and church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty. It’s a theme that Francis is expected to explore in his environment encyclical, which is due in the coming weeks.
“When the future of the planet is at stake, there are no political frontiers, barriers or walls behind which we can hide to protect ourselves from the effects of environmental and social degradation,” Parolin’s message said. “There is no room for the globalization of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis.”
Parolin’s intervention was a clear indication that Francis endorses economic development proposals which help the poor but use new, clean-energy, low carbon and efficient technologies.
If Vatican officials dig a bit deeper into the realities of policies that marry economic growth to green technologies, they will realize it is not exactly a match made in heaven.
Africa is the renewable utopia, getting 50 per cent of its energy from renewables — though nobody wants to emulate it. In 1971, China derived 40 per cent of its energy from renewables. Since then, it has powered its incredible growth almost exclusively on heavily polluting coal, lifting a historic 680 million people out of poverty. Today, China gets a trifling 0.23 per cent of its energy from unreliable wind and solar.
Yet most Westerners still want to focus on putting up more inefficient solar panels in the developing world. But this infatuation inflicts a real cost. A recent analysis from the Centre for Global Development shows that $10 billion invested in such renewables would help lift 20 million people in Africa out of poverty. It sounds impressive, until you learn that if this sum was spent on gas electrification it would lift 90 million people out of poverty. So in choosing to spend that $10 billion on renewables, we deliberately end up choosing to leave more than 70 million people in darkness and poverty.
Furthermore, there are a plethora of taxpayer-backed green energy companies that have failed, leaving a combination of the politically-connected who have gotten substantially richer and unemployed workers struggling to find new work.

I have had the privilege of corresponding with a team of brilliant scientists who are devoted to informing the public about the realities behind climate models. Roger Cohen, RWC Fellow American Physical Society, had this assessment of the deputy’s statement:
“They have it backwards of course. The fact is that access to cheap energy drives economic growth and leads to better health and material well being. The Church would rob the remaining billion poor in the world, who do not even have electricity, the opportunity to progress as we all have. This is a truly disastrous posture for the Church to take.”  
Interestingly, Pope Francis is not the first one to address the ecology. Pope John Paul II in 1990, warned in a speech about the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect because of ”industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs.”

Twenty-five years later, NASA decrees that the ozone layer is cured!

I suspect it’s less of a miracle than it is that the dire warnings about the ozone hole were also fallacious. I hope that the Pope annuls this proposed marriage between politicized science and his goals for helping the poor." via Lucianne


Great Lakes hope for much needed new icebreaker after back to back winters of historic ice coverage. 18 ships stuck in Great Lakes ice in April 2015 had to be extricated by Canada icebreakers-Duluth News Tribune

5/22/15, "New icebreaker for Great Lakes closer to reality," Duluth News Tribune, Brady Slater

March 2014
"Earlier this week, out on Lake Superior aboard the research vessel Blue Heron, scientist Jay Austin described some of his research into ice on the Great Lakes.

Back-to-back winters of historic ice coverage have reversed a 15-year trend of diminishing ice cover on the Great Lakes. The epic ice coverage of the winters of 2013-14 and 2014-15 led to difficult and extended ice-out seasons that hurt the shipping industry and led to a drumbeat for more icebreaking resources.

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $8.7 billion in funding for the U.S. Coast Guard that would include money for a new Great Lakes icebreaker. The new icebreaker would be similar to the Mackinaw, the only heavy icebreaker among the Coast Guard's Great Lakes fleet that includes eight other capable but smaller vessels.

"The need is very real," said Glen Nekvasil, vice president of the Lake Carriers' Association that represents 16 American companies operating U.S.-flag vessels, including the Duluth-based Great Lakes Fleet. "These past two winters we've had significant delays and reductions in the amount of cargo that's been (able) to move."

April's shipping totals were down 6 percent from historical averages, with Nekvasil blaming the heavy ice formations in Whitefish Bay on the eastern end of Lake Superior. That early April soup of ice was 8 feet thick in some places, with slabs as big as pickup trucks. It left 18 vessels tied up in the bay, requiring a massive icebreaking effort that drew in the Canadian Coast Guard's icebreaking fleet to assist.

The House Transportation Committee responded by authorizing the construction of a new freshwater icebreaker.

"This state-of-the-art ship will be especially designed for freshwater ice, which is much harder to break up than seawater ice," Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, said in a news release at the time.

Nolan is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. His communications director, Steve Johnson, said similar vessels to the one in the funding package approved by the House have cost "in the $240 million range." The authorizing legislation will need to clear hurdles with the Senate and President before it's fully approved. Assuming all goes according to plan, Johnson said, the ship would be included in the 2017 Coast Guard appropriations bill, in which Congress will approve the actual amount that can be spent.

In President Barack Obama's commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy earlier this week, the President gave a hint at his commitment to Coast Guard funding when he said, "These are tight fiscal times for all our services, including the Coast Guard. But we are going to keep working to give you the boats and the cutters and the aircraft that you need to complete the missions we ask of you.

"And I've made it clear that I will not accept a budget that continues these draconian budget cuts called sequestration," the President continued, "because our nation and our military and our Coast Guard deserve better."

Late this week the Ontario-based Chamber of Marine Commerce weighed in, too, urging reforms and action to ensure greater industrial competitiveness. The group represents more than 150 marine industry stakeholders in Canada and the U.S.

"Our industry can improve its competitive position by increased icebreaker resources to critical regions of the Great Lakes," said Rick Ruzzin in a news release. Ruzzin is an executive with Compass Minerals, a Kansas-based company with operations in Duluth, and a member of the Chamber of Marine Commerce.

All of this has been music to the carriers' ears.

"We have to recognize that we have to move cargo in the ice season," Nekvasil said. "The mines want a navigation season from mid-March well into January. That's just what's required."

The Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., at the eastern end of Lake Superior, close annually on Jan. 15 and reopen March 25. In the weeks before and after those dates, "we can move as much as 20 percent" of overall cargo, Nekvasil said. "We need to minimize stockpiles. (Iron ore) pellets sitting on the ground is a cost we need to minimize."

Nekvasil said there are nine U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking vessels on the Great Lakes, including the Mackinaw, twin 225-foot cutters — including the Duluth-based cutter Alder — and six 140-foot icebreaking tugs.

"The 225s are really buoy tenders with their bows reinforced," Nekvasil said. "They're not designed to do icebreaking; they're OK for track maintenance, but not good for doing heavy icebreaking."

The tugs, he said, "do a very good job," but were built in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"It's time for them to be modernized," Nekvasil said. Currently, the tugs are undergoing modernization on a one-in, one-out rotation, leaving the fleet down a tug throughout what figures to be a three- to five-year update process, Nekvasil said.

The drumbeat for another heavy icebreaker like the 240-foot Mackinaw started during the winter of 2013-14, when the Great Lakes were as much as 92.6 percent covered in ice. Ice out that year on Lake Superior wasn't declared until June 6.

"The need is obvious," Nekvasil said, "and they have gotten the message.""

Image caption: "Led by the big icebreaker Mackinaw, the smaller U.S. Coast Guard icebreaking tugs Morro Bay (center) and Katmai Bay arrive in succession in Duluth in March 2014. The vessels arrived in Duluth to lead several freighters through thick ice to the Soo Locks. (2014 file / News Tribune)"

Comment: This article says a hoped for new icebreaker is a small part of a massive 2017 appropriations bill that has to be approved by the Senate and White House. The article seeks a positive sign: "In President Barack Obama's commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy earlier this week, the President gave a hint at his commitment to Coast Guard funding."...

Looking at Mr. Obama's Coast Guard speech for signs he might approve a Great Lakes icebreaker, and assuming icebreakers can't be allocated by congress or Executive Order on an as-needed basis, one may recall that Obama spoke not of fighting ice but of fighting global warming. He told cadets global warming was "a serious threat" to national security, that their failure to take global warming  seriously would be "a dereliction of duty." He even told them global warming was the cause of Boko Haram terrorism in Africa and civil war in Syria. (He used the term "climate change" rather than the term global warming). The Great Lakes as it happens are a favorite focus of the global warming industry, ie the claim that they'll soon be ice-free due to excess CO2 in China.


Obama's remarks at Coast Guard graduation:

5/20/2015, "At Coast Guard graduation, Obama warns of climate change threat to national security," Washington Post, David Nakamura

"President Obama warned Wednesday that climate change is a growing and "serious threat" to national security, tying severe weather to the rise of the extremist group Boko Haram in Nigeria and the civil war in Syria....

Obama challenged 218 newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy to take the threats of climate as seriously as they would a cutter in peril on the seas.

"You don’t sit back; you take steps to protect your ship," Obama said. "Anything less is a dereliction of duty. The same is true for climate change."...

"Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security," he told the graduates in their dress white uniforms at the campus football stadium, "and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.  And so we need to act— and we need to act now.”...

In his remarks here, Obama tied droughts and crop damage from severe weather to the rise of Boko Haram, which has terrorized civilians in Nigeria, and to the bloody civil war in Syria. He cast controlling climate change as a "key pillar of American global leadership" and called it "a core element of our diplomacy.""...


Ice-free Great Lakes predicted by global warming experts at Union of Concerned Scientists:

Executive Summary, updated 2005

"Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region," Union of Concerned Scientists 

p. 3, "What might these changes mean for Great Lakes ecosystems and the goods and services they provide?  


"Lake levels were highly variable in the 1900s and quite low in recent years. Future declines in both inland lakes and the Great Lakes are expected as winter ice coverage decreases, although levels of the Great Lakes are uncertain once they are ice-free (Lofgren 2006a; Lofgren 2006b).

Declines in the duration of winter ice are expected to continue."...


NASA says "a range of risks" will effect Great Lakes due to "extreme heat" of global warming:

"The current and future consequences of global change," (retrieved May 25, 2015)

"Global climate change has already had observable effects on the environment. Glaciers have shrunk, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner....

Midwest. Extreme heat, heavy downpours, and flooding will affect infrastructure, health, agriculture, forestry, transportation, air and water quality, and more. Climate change will also exacerbate a range of risks to the Great Lakes.


Declining Great Lakes ice, 2012 National Geographic:

11/20/2012, "Warming Lakes: Climate Change and Variability Drive Low Water Levels on the Great Lakes,", Lisa Borre  

"Low water levels are not the only climate-related trend being observed on the Great Lakes. Ice cover is also declining. The Great Lakes have lost 71% of their ice cover since 1973, according to a study by the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL). This past winter, the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, were virtually ice free with just 5% ice coverage, the second lowest on record....

The Great Lakes are among many lakes in the northern hemisphere experiencing a rapid warming trend. Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the also one of the most rapidly warming lakes in the world....

With nearly 20% of the world’s surface freshwater at play and millions invested in restoration efforts, the stakes are incredibly high....

Lake Superior’s rapid warming is like a canary in the coal mine,Lenters told me. “We’re seeing changes in ice cover, water temperature, and evaporation that indicate major shifts are underway on the world’s largest lake.”"...


Lake Superior fails to conform to global warming predictions:

5/12/15, "Lake Superior Ice Amazes This Year," Radio Canada Int'l., Carmel Kilkenny

"Lake Superior the largest of the Great Lakes froze almost completely this winter, for the first time in years. It was so unexpected 18 ships were trapped in the ice."...


More failure to conform to global warming predictions:

5/19/15, "It’s nearly Memorial Day, it snowed in Wisconsin and there’s ice on Lake Superior," Washington Post, Jason Samenow

"It snowed in parts of Northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan today and a sliver of ice covers a part of the Great Lakes.

A cold wind blowing over Lake Superior caused some lake-enhanced snow this morning, with up to an inch reported. Meanwhile, the National Ice Center’s May 18 report still shows 0.4 percent of the Great Lakes covered with ice.

This is much later than normal to have ice on the Lakes.  In a typical year, the ice completely disappears by late April or early May....

According to the latest National Ice Center analysis, the ice on Lake Huron is basically gone. But on Lake Superior, there is a 1.1 percent ice concentration.

At this time last year, 2.6 percent of the Lakes were covered with ice, including a 7 percent concentration on Lake Superior. Ice lasted on Lake Superior past Memorial Day into the first week of June. [Unprecedented: Parts of Lake Superior covered in ice almost a week into June]

A comparison of temperatures...provides a reasonable explanation for the greater ice extent in 2014 – it was colder in the Great Lakes and the ice was thus more extensive."...via Instapundit



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I'm the daughter of an Eagle Scout (fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mets) and a Beauty Queen.