The Breakfast Club (Ahab)

breakfast beers photo breakfastbeers.jpgIt’s been a bad week for Marine Mammals.

Icelandic plan to ship whale meat to Japan angers environmentalists


Tuesday 19 May 2015 13.41 EDT

The Icelandic whaling company Hvalur HF plans to ship 1,700 tonnes of whale meat via Luanda in Angola, repeating a similar controversial delivery of 2,000 tonnes last year which sparked protests along its route.

Iceland and Norway are the only nations which openly defy the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) 1986 ban on hunting whales.

Icelandic whalers caught 137 fin whales and 24 minkes in 2014, according to Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), an anti-whaling group – compared with 134 fin whales and 35 minkes in 2013.

Japan has used a legal loophole in the ban that allows it to continue hunting the animals in order to gather scientific data.

But it has never made a secret of the fact that the whale meat from these hunts often ends up on dining tables.

Consumption of whale meat in Japan has fallen sharply in recent years while polls indicate that few Icelanders regularly eat it.

Yup, Japan has warehouses full of whale meat nobody wants to eat and they can’t sell.  Now there may be a very thin and specious argument about the necessity of keeping a domestic whaling industry for the financial benefit of the whalers (though simply paying them off would be cheaper and easier), but what the heck is the reason to import it?

Dolphin-hunting Japanese town may start farming them on the side


Thu May 21, 2015 12:47pm IST

A Japanese town notorious for killing dolphins may set up a dolphin breeding farm after zoos and aquariums decided to stop buying their animals caught in the wild, but it has no plans to halt the controversial hunt, its mayor said on Thursday.

The western port town of Taiji, the location of an annual hunt featured in the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary “The Cove”, may suffer a loss of income because of the Wednesday decision, which Japanese officials said came in response to foreign pressure.

The decision by Japan’s zoos and aquariums came after the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums threatened Japan with expulsion unless it stopped buying dolphins from Taiji. That would have meant Japan might lose access to zoo animals such as elephants and giraffes from overseas.

In 2013, 1,239 dolphins were caught in the Taiji hunt, according to the Fisheries Agency. Most of them were killed for their meat but 172 were sold alive, mainly overseas, at a price of at least $8,200 each.

“We plan to protect our fishermen, who have authority from both the nation and the local government,” Sangen said, emphasising the tradition of the hunt.

“We believe it can become the world’s main provider. I believe in 10 years our town will have changed its role in all this.”

Despite the bid to develop the live-animal business, the hunt would still go on, he said.

Like the legal market in ivory, this is simply another way to enable poaching.

Study Links Dolphin Deaths to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

By NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR, The New York Times

MAY 20, 2015

The findings are the latest results from the Deepwater Horizon National Resource Damage Assessment, an ongoing investigation by NOAA into the spill, the largest offshore oil spill in United States history. Combined with previous studies by the agency, this paper provides additional support to a link between the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 and mass dolphin deaths in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

“The evidence to date indicates that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused the adrenal and lung lesions that contributed to the deaths of this unusual mortality event,” said Stephanie Venn-Watson, a researcher with the National Marine Mammal Foundation who was the lead author of the report. “We reached that conclusion based on the accumulation of our studies including this paper,” she added.

A third of the Gulf Coast dolphins had a thinned or damaged adrenal gland cortex compared with only 7 percent of the so-called reference dolphins, the researchers said.

The researchers also found that about a fifth of the Gulf Coast dolphins had lung lesions caused by bacterial pneumonia, and that 70 percent of that group died because of that condition. Only 2 percent of the reference dolphins had any trace of bacterial pneumonia.

The researchers said that the dolphins most likely inhaled the fumes from the petroleum products on the ocean surface. They added that exposure to oil fumes is one of the most common causes of chemical inhalation injury in other animals.

“These dolphins had some of the most severe lung lesions I have ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the United States,” Dr. Colegrove said.

Below you will find a report from The Guardian on the close ties between the British government and BP and Shell.

Science Oriented Video

The law that entropy always increases holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell’s equations – then so much the worse for Maxwell’s equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation – well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.

Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (1927)

Science News and Blogs

Obligatories, News and Blogs below.


Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

I would never make fun of LaEscapee or blame PhilJD.  And I am highly organized.

This Day in History


A Finance Minister Fit for a Greek Tragedy?

By SUZY HANSEN, The New York Times

MAY 20, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis knows when he will go. “I’m not going to humiliate myself, and I’m not going to become compromised in terms of principles and in terms of logic,” he told me in early May. The Greek finance minister had just returned to Athens from a hopscotch tour of European capitals, during which he warned his fellow European leaders that they faced a Continental crisis: If they didn’t lend money to his ailing country soon, Greece might end up forced to leave the eurozone. And yet Greece wouldn’t accept many of the conditions they were demanding in return. He sounded angry. “I’ll be damned if I will accept another package of economic policies that perpetuate this same crisis. This is not what I was elected for.” He would resign, he said, rather than push the Greek people deeper into economic despair: “It’s not good for Europe, and it’s not good for Greece.”

In successive elections after the crisis, both dominant political parties – Pasok and New Democracy ruled Greece for the last 40 years – failed to transform the Greek economy or protect its people. In January, more than a third of the electorate voted into power the Coalition of the Radical Left, a collection of older leftist parties now known as Syriza, which pledged to end austerity. Its ascendance amounted to a kind of democratic revolution. Its victory, however, threatened an ominous evolution for the eurozone: The rise of a “radical” party in the region has frightened conservative and centrist European leaders facing anger at home amid declining living standards. And while most of Syriza’s officials, including its leader, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, want to stay in the eurozone, as much as a third of Syriza’s membership would be willing to abandon the euro to avoid more austerity. It’s an outcome more likely than ever before, and its consequences are frightening and unknowable.

Whether the eurozone as a whole is now prepared for these sorts of disruptions, as some experts believe, Greece’s official creditors, some of which are European governments, would still have to absorb losses. And the symbolic and moral failure of a union and monetary zone designed to prevent ethnic conflict and ensure prosperity for all European citizens would be incalculable. If the “Grexit” comes to pass, could Spain be the next country to leave? Could Italy? Without the Parthenon, without La Sagrada Familia, without the Colosseum, what is a European “union”?

From the European point of view, Greece has no right at all to argue about reforms, so utterly did previous governments, after torpedoing their own economy, fail to implement them over the past five years. But Varoufakis and Syriza regard their election as a sort of “Day Zero” for Greece. “We are the guys who spent all our lives in Syntagma Square outside my office protesting what the people inside my office were doing,” Varoufakis said. “We were being bombarded with gas, because we didn’t see how we could repay a loan under the circumstances.” He compared himself to Margaret Thatcher, elected in 1979 in opposition to the welfare state. “How intelligent is it to blame Margaret Thatcher for the postwar corporatism that came before her?” he asked. “Not much. So what we have here is a serious case of deeply rooted racism that all Greeks are the same, that whether or not they protested the bailout, they are still responsible for it.”

“It’s a political decision. It has nothing to do with these discussions. The question is: Have they decided to throw us out of the eurozone? I am not going to pay the I.M.F. and not pay pensions in the next few weeks. So I said to them: ‘Decide. Do you want this to be a proper bargaining round, or do you want this to be a post-mortem?’ ”

I suggested that maybe this is why he’s accused of brinkmanship.

“It’s not brinkmanship. It’s the truth. They want me to fold. That’s brinkmanship on their part. I am not going to fold on pensions.”

For Drivers, Confusion Reigns in Airbag Recall


MAY 20, 2015

When millions of Americans woke up Wednesday morning to go to work, many asked themselves a simple question: Is my car safe to drive?

A day earlier, Takata, the Japanese maker of airbags, agreed to double to 34 million the number of vehicles in the United States that needed to be recalled. The vehicles may contain airbags that can explode violently when they deploy, sending pieces of metal flying into the cabin. Six deaths have been linked to the problem.

But automakers on Wednesday were still sorting out which cars needed to be included in the expanded recall, leaving many consumers with more questions than answers.

Many on Wall Street Say It Remains Untamed

by Andrew Ross Sorkin, The New York Times

MAY 18, 2015

A new report on financial professionals’ views of their industry paints a troubling picture. Rather than indicating that Wall Street has cleaned itself up, it suggests that many of the lessons of the crisis still haven’t been learned. And the mind-boggling settlement numbers, as well as stringent new rules, like the of Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul in 2010, appear to have had little deterrent effect.

In the study, to be released Tuesday, about a third of the people who said they made more than $500,000 annually contend that they “have witnessed or have firsthand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

Just as bad: “Nearly one in five respondents feel financial service professionals must sometimes engage in unethical or illegal activity to be successful in the current financial environment.”

One in 10 said they had directly felt pressure “to compromise ethical standards or violate the law.”

And nearly half of the high-income earners say law enforcement and regulatory authorities in their country are ineffective “in detecting, investigating and prosecuting securities violations.”

Puffy, Feathered Sticking Point of a $612 Billion House Bill


MAY 20, 2015

Representative Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican, spoke for many Americans this week when he conceded during a House hearing that he had never laid eyes on a sage grouse. Had he seen one, he surmised, he would have thought “a bobwhite quail got friendly with a Dominecker hen.”

But a Republican maneuver on the $612 billion military bill to block the Interior Department from adding the bird to the endangered species list has set off a major congressional skirmish that has spilled over into Western states, where the sage grouse is revered, and among environmental groups that fear a steady erosion of the Endangered Species Act.

The attempt to circumvent protections for the sage grouse – fluffy, with a formidable chest once puffed, chickenlike yet more proud – as well those for the lesser prairie chicken and the American burying beetle is part of an ambitious push that House Republicans have pursued since retaking the majority in 2010 to roll back, limit or unravel environmental regulations.

They have put scores of major regulations concerning water, air, dietary guidelines, coal mines, light bulbs and assorted creatures in their legislative cross hairs as part of their broader policy agenda, largely through amendments to large-scale spending bills.

“Cutting the administration’s unnecessary red tape that hurts businesses and our economy has been, and will continue to be, a priority of the Appropriations Committee,” said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the panel.

‘Nightmare’ California oil spill damages rare coastal ecosystem

by Melinda Burns, The Guardian

Wednesday 20 May 2015 18.34 EDT

Cleanup crews scrambled to contain a nine-square-mile spill on a rural stretch of the California coastline on Wednesday, following a pipeline break that dumped up to 105,000 gallons of crude on land and into the ocean, blackening a popular state beach.

Darren Palmer, the chairman and CEO of Plains All-American Pipeline, a Houston-based company, told reporters Wednesday evening that an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude may have reached the water. The cause of the leak has not been identified, Palmer said, but shortly before the accident, he said, the company had “mechanical issues” with its pumping units.

(E)nvironmentalists said this latest accident hit hard, because it is soiling the Gaviota coast, a rare Mediterranean-climate region where northern and southern plants and wildlife meet. There are only five such regions in the world, all of them located at the western edges of continents and all of them unique for their biological diversity.

Because it has not been urbanized, the Gaviota coast region, which stretches from Goleta to the northern boundary of the Vandenberg air force base, also has been viewed as the healthiest remaining coastal ecosystem in southern California – at least, until now.

“When you’re out in the ocean anywhere along the Gaviota coast, you don’t see cars or buildings much,” said Ken Palley, a member of the executive committee of Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit organization that seeks to preserve public access to the beach.

“You are out in this pristine ocean wilderness, and you feel like you’re going back in time. Now it’s going to be disgusting and horrible and nasty and poisonous. It shows how poorly the oil industry regulates itself.”

Hundreds of tech companies line up to oppose TPP trade agreement

by Sam Thielman, The Guardian

Wednesday 20 May 2015 10.28 EDT

More than 250 tech companies have signed a letter demanding greater transparency from Congress and decrying the broad regulatory language in leaked parts of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill.

The TPP would create an environment hostile to journalists and whistleblowers, said policy directors for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future, co-authors of the letter. “TPP’s trade secrets provisions could make it a crime for people to reveal corporate wrongdoing ‘through a computer system’,” says the letter. “The language is dangerously vague, and enables signatory countries to enact rules that would ban reporting on timely, critical issues affecting the public.”

Among the signatories are activist, sci-fi author and Guardian tech columnist Cory Doctorow. “Democracies make their laws in public, not in smoke-filled rooms,” Doctorow wrote. “If TPP’s backers truly believed that they were doing the people’s work, they’d have invited the people into the room. The fact that they went to extreme, unprecedented measures to stop anyone from finding out what was going on – even going so far as to threaten Congress with jail if they spoke about it – tells you that this is something being done to Americans, not for Americans.”

The letter’s signatories also criticized the fast-track bill – known as the Trade Promotion Authority – which is being discussed in Congress this week. If passed, the TPA would give Obama a yes or no vote on the trade pact without the ability for legislators to amend it. The fast-track bill needs to be passed to even give the TPP a shot at approval.

Of particular concern to the tech community is an “Investment Chapter” of the TPP drafted in 2010 and leaked by Wikileaks. The letter’s signatories argue the provisions would allow corporations to use an international legal system to override national sovereignty: “The TPP Investment Chapter contains text that would enable corporations to sue nations over democratic rules that allegedly harm expected future profits. Companies can use this process to undermine US rules like fair use, net neutrality, and others designed to protect the free, open internet and users’ rights to free expression online.”

Nebraska passes death penalty repeal but showdown with governor looms

Associated Press

Wednesday 20 May 2015 22.26 EDT

“Nebraska has a chance to step into history – the right side of history – to take a step that will be beneficial toward the advancement of a civilized society,” said Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an independent in the Unicameral who has fought for four decades to end the death penalty.

Governor Pete Ricketts, a supporter of capital punishment, said the vote represented a “dark day” for public safety.

Lawmakers, known as senators in the Unicameral, voted 35-12 to advance the repeal bill through the last of three required votes.

Ricketts has promised to veto the bill, which is expected to trigger an override vote in the legislature next week. At least 30 votes would be needed to defeat the veto.

Congress must not abdicate its duty to authorize or declare war

by Trevor Timm, The Guardian

Wednesday 20 May 2015 07.30 EDT

Congress has all but given up on voting to legally authorize the war against Isis, despite the fact that US-led military strikes against the group have been going on for nine months already and span multiple countries. By doing so, our representatives are saying to the next president, whether he or she is a Republican or Democrat: feel free go to war wherever you want, against whomever you want. We have no power to stop you.

Despite the fact that the US plans on conducting airstrikes on Isis in Iraq and Syria for years, the Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that key members in the House and Senate have resigned themselves to the fact that there’s virtually no chance of Congress agreeing on any sort of bill to constrain or legalize the Obama administration’s bombing campaign in the Middle East.

Out of cowardness or worry they might actually have to make a consequential decision, Congress has abdicated their responsibility under Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution – not to mention the War Powers Act – to authorize or declare war. So when President Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio decides to unilaterally bomb Iran in 2017, remember this moment, when members of Congress willingly gave up one of the most important responsibilities they have because they were too terrified to take a stand one way or another.

Also, remember that it was a Democratic president who decided to initiate this potentially decades long war without getting approval from the American public first. It was a Democratic president who treated congressional approval like icing on top of the cake and told them he would continue airstrikes indefinitely whether Congress approved it or not.

Revealed: BP’s close ties with the UK government

by Felicity Lawrence and Harry Davies, The Guardian

Wednesday 20 May 2015 13.34 EDT

Despite any doubts Huhne, a champion of a low-carbon economy, may have held, he agreed to be there, alongside Sechin, the former KGB officer variously dubbed ‘the scariest man on earth’ and ‘Darth Vadar’. Officials had quickly prepared briefings for Huhne, which discussed the “environmental sensitivities” about risky – and carbon costly – deep water drilling in the Arctic. If pressed on why he was “publicly blessing” the company behind one of the world’s worst environmental disasters, Huhne was simply to say: “Russia is a valuable energy partner for the UK and a deal of this scale is a major development for the energy industry in both countries.” But it was instead Russia’s contribution to “fuelling Europe” in coming decades rather than fears over climate change that officials emphasised.

It helped that Conn and other senior BP executives had been in to visit Huhne just a couple of days earlier to discuss BP’s interests. They had talked through the company’s $20bn (£13bn) exposure to its Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Although the government viewed the financial hit as BP’s problem, it was worried the oil giant’s vast bill for the Gulf accident would hit many UK pension-holders, according to Tom Burke, former BP employee, now chairman of the environmental organisation E3G and advisor to Shell, Rio Tinto and Unilever. About 1.5% of UK pension industry money was invested in BP shares, which had plummeted. And BP had scrapped its dividend payments.

“Around 7% of UK pension fund annual income came from BP at the time. A further 12% came from Shell, so nearly one-fifth of pension funds were intricately linked to the profits of these two oil and gas companies,” explained Burke.

At that meeting, BP was assured by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) that it would do what it could, with lawyers from the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the business department, to find “an operational solution” to allow BP to reopen the major North Sea gas field it owned jointly with Iran despite the EU’s sanction regime against that country.

The solution, a couple of years later, would be for Iran’s share of the profits to be held by the British government in a frozen account.

These extraordinary insights into the extreme closeness between the British government and one of its biggest companies came to light after a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. Nobody, perhaps, should be much surprised by it. After all, they have shared mutual interests since the first British involvement in commercial oil exploration in the Gulf over 100 years ago.

Global banks admit guilt in forex probe, fined nearly $6 billion

By Karen Freifeld, David Henry and Steve Slater, Reuters

Thu May 21, 2015 1:39am EDT

In total, authorities in the United States and Europe have fined seven banks over $10 billion for failing to stop traders from trying to manipulate foreign exchange rates, which are used daily by millions of people from trillion-dollar investment houses to tourists buying foreign currencies on vacation.

The investigations are far from over. Prosecutors could bring cases against individuals, using the banks’ cooperation pledged as part of their agreements. Probes by federal and state authorities are ongoing over how banks used electronic forex trading to favour their own interests at the expense of clients.

The settlements on Wednesday stood out in part because the U.S. Department of Justice forced Citigroup’s main banking unit Citicorp, and the parents of JPMorgan, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland to plead guilty to U.S. criminal charges.

It was the first time in decades that the parent or main banking unit of a major American financial institution pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

With prosecutors and the banks working out ways for the institutions to keep doing business, analysts worried that convictions would become more routine and costly for banks.

Lawyers said the guilty pleas would make it easier for pension funds and investment managers who have regular currency dealings with banks to sue them for losses on those trades.

Traders at Citi, JPMorgan and other banks were part of a group known as “The Cartel” or “The Mafia,” participating in almost daily conversations in an exclusive chat room and coordinating trades and otherwise fixing rates.

Britain’s Barclays was fined a record $2.4 billion. Its staff continued to engage in misleading sales practices despite a pledge by CEO Antony Jenkins to overhaul the bank’s high-risk, high-reward culture.

Barclays’ sales staff would offer clients a different price to the one offered by the bank’s traders, known as a “mark-up” to boost profits. Generating mark-ups was a high priority for sales managers, with one employee noting, “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”

Barclays had set aside $3.2 billion to cover any forex-related settlement. Shares in the bank rose more than 3 percent to an 18-month high as investors welcomed the removal of uncertainty over the forex scandal.


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