Skinks in North America

This video from the USA says about itself:

Four-Lined Skink Found In Bush Alongside Brownsville Texas

11 February 2014

Plestiodon tetragrammus. The four-lined skink is a species of lizard, which is endemic to North America. It feeds on insects and spiders. It is a medium-sized member of the Plestiodon skinks. It ranges through Central and southern Texas, south into Mexico, north to south-central Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

Blue Streak Special— Ever See A Skink?

Thursday, July 10, 2014 by eNature

There’s a rustling in the leaves. You look to see what made the sound, and bam—a blue streak vanishes into the duff. Was it a snake? A lizard? Was that intense cobalt color even real?

Yes, it was real. The creature responsible for the streak was a lizard called a skink. Now’s the time when the newborns hatch, and the intense blue tails of the juveniles are as bright as neon signs.

There are fifteen species of skinks in North America, a small percentage of the 1,200-plus species found worldwide (it’s the largest family of lizards). Most species keep their blue tails for the first two years of life; the tails of adults fade to gray or brown. As for why the young skink needs such a gaudy appendage, the standard textbook answer is that predators like birds and mammals will grab first at the bright tail. Because the tail easily detaches, the lizard escapes—tailless, yes, but at least still alive.

If this strategy is so advantageous, though, why don’t adult skinks have blue tails? One possible explanation is that young skinks tend to spend more time above ground where they’re subject to more predators. When they become adults, skinks establish territories inside rotting logs or under rocks and spend little time moving from place to place. (To tell the difference between a mature male and a mature female, look for the orange highlights on the male’s head.)

Mating takes place in the spring. Then, in late spring, the adult females retreat to burrows or other sheltered recesses, often deep in the ground, where they lay eggs and remain with them until hatching. A female may keep its eggs moist by licking them or otherwise moistening them or it may simply guard the clutch of two to six eggs. When the eggs hatch, adult females and their brightly colored newborns come to the surface to feed on insects and spiders for the summer. The first chill of autumn sends them underground, where they wait until the first warm days of spring beckon them back to the surface.

Have you come across skinks or other colorful amphibians? We always enjoy your stories!

Skinks are not amphibians, of course, but reptiles.

Reddish egrets, what do they eat?

This video from the USA is called Crazy Reddish Egret dance hunting for fish, Marco Island, Florida.

From Waterbirds in the USA:

Comparisons of Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) Diet During the Breeding Season Across its Geographic Range


Although the prey of Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) generally consists of shallow-water, euryhaline fish species, rangewide differences in breeding season diet have not been examined. Furthermore, the relative proportions of the two Reddish Egret color morphs vary from east to west across the species’ range. Color morph may influence foraging efficiency, but variations in prey across the species’ range and between morphs is undocumented.

By examining boluses from Reddish Egret (n = 109) nestlings, prey species proportions were compared between morphs, among regions and among colonies within Texas. Between regions, prey species and proportion of species differed widely; however, fish species with similar life histories were selected across the Reddish Egret’s range (Bahamas: 100% sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus); Texas: 85% sheepshead minnow; Baja California Sur: 49% American shadow goby (Quietula y-cauda); Yucatán: 64% Yucatán pupfish (C. artifrons).

Within the Laguna Madre in Texas, significant differences in prey species were not detected between morphs (F(1,61) = 1.36, P = 0.224); however, prey mass by species differed between colonies (F(1,60) = 2.68, P = 0.010). While our results only pertain to Reddish Egret diet during the breeding season, this study increases our understanding of Reddish Egret ecology and provides initial diet information across the species’ range.

Rock climbing black bear mother and cub, video

This video from Big Bend National Park in Texas, USA says about itself:

Rock Climbing Bears

Mommas with children or cubs don’t try this at home! Endangered Mexican Black Bears (momma and cub) climb Santa Elena Canyon wall, March 21st 2014. Spotted while kayaking and shared for your nature loving, rock climbing, suspenseful satisfaction.

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Baby owls born on American webcams

This video from North America is called Barred Owl nest and youngsters fledging.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Our Owls Are a Hoot!

With the launch of two new owl cams—the Barn Owl cam in Texas and the Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl cam in Indiana—the excitement is building. Early in the morning on April 8, the first of three Barred Owl eggs hatched revealing a downy owlet (watch the highlight). A second owlet hatched out on April 9, and the third appears to have hatched today. The Barn Owls‘ first egg appeared the same day the Barred Owls began hatching, and today they added a second! They’re expected to continue to add to their clutch over the next week.

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Fort Hood shooting and mental illness in the United States military

This video is called Australian Army PTSD Documentary – Casualties Of War – Part 1.

And here is Part 2.

And here is Part 3.

By Jerry White in the USA:

Ft. Hood shooting highlights mental illness crisis in US military

4 April 2014

In the latest outburst of violence in the US, an army soldier who had been deployed to Iraq and was under psychiatric care for possible post-traumatic stress shot and killed three military personnel at the Fort Hood post in Texas and wounded 16 others Wednesday before turning the gun on himself.

According to law enforcement and military sources, the gunman was 34-year-old Army Specialist Ivan Lopez. A native of Puerto Rico, Lopez was a member of the island’s National Guard from 1999 to 2008. He was deployed in 2007 as part of a multinational force in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula for 13 months before joining the active duty Army in 2008 as an infantry soldier. According to a military spokesman, Lopez was sent on his second deployment to Iraq as a truck driver for four months in 2011.

Lopez reportedly arrived at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas in February after transferring from Ft. Bliss in El Paso. He moved into an apartment with his wife and young daughter a little more than a week before the shooting.

In a press briefing Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said the soldier suffered from “mental issues,” was on medication and was being evaluated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “He was undergoing behavioral health, psychiatric treatment for depression and anxiety and a variety of other psychological and psychiatric issues,” Milley said. “He was not diagnosed, as of today, with PTSD, he was undergoing a diagnosis process to determine if he had PTSD. That is a lengthy process.”

Describing what was known about the shooting, Milley said at around 4 p.m. local time the gunman “walked into one of the unit buildings, opened fire, got into a vehicle, fired from [the] vehicle, got out of the vehicle, walked into another building, opened fire again and was engaged by local law enforcement here at Fort Hood.”

Milley said a female officer confronted Lopez in a parking lot near the second building. He approached the officer but stopped about 20 feet from her and put his hands up. Then, Milley said, the gunman reached into his jacket and pulled out his weapon. As the officer opened fire, the man shot himself in the head.

A soldier told local news outlet KENS 5 that Lopez fired about 20 rounds outside near the transportation motor pool and then went into the medical brigade building, where more bursts of gunshots were fired after an apparent standoff. Milley said there was no indication of an argument at the WTU, the so-called Warrior Transition Command where wounded, ill and injured soldiers are “taught resilience skills,” according to CNN.

Authorities say there is no indication that Lopez was targeting specific soldiers. The wounded include eight men and one woman, according to local news reports, ranging in ages from their early 20s to mid 40s. Most have gunshot wounds or injuries from shrapnel debris.

The military was quick to announce that Lopez did not see combat in Iraq. His records “show no wounds, no direct involvement in combat … or any injury that might lead us to further investigate battle-related TBI (traumatic brain injury),” Army Secretary John McHugh told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. However, Lt. Gen. Milley said Lopez “self-reported” suffering a traumatic brain injury while deployed, according to a CNN report.

Fort Hood was the scene of a mass shooting in November 2009 when Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan shot and killed 13 people. Hasan, the son of Palestinian immigrant parents, worked as a liaison between wounded soldiers and the psychiatric staff at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, where he turned hostile to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was vilified as a “terrorist” by the Obama administration and convicted and sentenced to death by a military tribunal in August.

Two years later, authorities arrested an AWOL army private, Naser Jason Abdo, after he bought gunpowder, shotgun shells and a handgun from the same gun shop outside the base where Hasan (and later Lopez) bought their weapons. The police said Abdo was plotting to attack a restaurant popular with Ft. Hood personnel.

The eruption of violence at military bases, like throughout all of American society, has become more commonplace. In September 2013, a dozen people were shot dead and at least 14 others injured when a gunman opened fire on military and civilian employees at the Washington Navy Yard, located in southeast Washington, DC. Police shot and killed the gunman, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a civilian contractor for the Navy from Fort Worth, Texas.

President Obama made predictable and perfunctory comments after the latest shooting, telling reporters at an impromptu appearance inside the Chicago Cut Steakhouse, “Obviously, this reopens the pain of what happened at Fort Hood five years ago,” he said. “We know these families. We know their incredible service to our country and the sacrifices that they make.”

In fact, the unceasing wars by the United States have left a large portion of the 2.2 million soldiers deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 psychologically damaged and suffering from alcohol and drug abuse, and suicidal tendencies, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A June 2012 NAMI report on military personnel, veterans and their families states that one in five active duty service members experienced symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS), depression and other mental health problems.

Rates of PTS in veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars range from 5 to 37 percent, while rates of depression were found to be as high as 27 percent. The Veterans Administration has treated more than 400,000 of these veterans for mental health problems, but tens of thousands of others go untreated.

The current wars have involved longer and more frequent deployments than at any other time since the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973. Military suicide is a “national crisis,” the report declares, with one active duty soldier taking his or her own life every 36 hours and one veteran every 80 minutes—or more than 20 a day.

Suicide has also increased within the National Guard and Reserve, the NAMI report notes, “even among those who have never been officially ‘activated’ and are not eligible for care through the Veterans’ Administration.”

Drug abuse, including prescription drugs, increased from 5 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2008. Drug or alcohol abuse was involved in one-third of the Army suicide deaths from 2003 to 2009, the report notes.

These and other malignant problems in the US military, including domestic violence and sexual abuse, are inevitable given the horrors that soldiers have witnessed or participated in. There is a vast gulf between the government and media promotion of soldiers as selfless heroes and liberators and the daily realities of the colonial-style wars and occupations, in which they are involved in the bloody suppression of hostile populations.

The mayhem at Ft. Hood is the latest and tragically will not be the last example of the collateral damage inflicted by American imperialism, which has not only perpetrated unspeakable crimes on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq but left American society itself deeply scarred.

The author also recommends:

Sexual violence and abuse in the US military
[22 March 2014]

Why the Fort Hood shooter was able to purchase a gun despite serious mental health issues: here.

After an argument about a leave denied, Specialist Ivan Lopez pulled out a .45-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun and began a shooting spree at Fort Hood, America’s biggest stateside base, that left three soldiers dead and 16 wounded. When he did so, he also pulled America’s fading wars out of the closet. This time, a Fort Hood mass killing, the second in four and a half years, was committed by a man who was neither a religious nor a political “extremist.” He seems to have been merely one of America’s injured and troubled veterans who now number in the hundreds of thousands: here.

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Edward Snowden denounces global spying

This video from the USA is called FULL: Edward Snowden and ACLU at SXSW.

By Thomas Gaist and Barry Grey:

Snowden denounces global mass surveillance at SXSW festival

11 March 2014

National Security Agency (NSA) whistle-blower Edward Snowden gave a brief interview Monday via teleconference to a crowd assembled at the South by Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The event was hosted by two attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ben Wizner and Chris Sogohian, who led the discussion and made extended remarks.

Documents leaked by Snowden over the past nine months have exposed the existence of a vast state spying apparatus that operates surveillance programs gathering every type of data imaginable, including cell phone locations, video chat streams, emails, text messages, Internet browsing habits and much more. Snowden’s courageous actions in bringing to light these massive and flagrantly illegal operations have made him a hero to millions and his appearance was highly anticipated.

The event itself was politically significant—a live broadcast to a US audience made by someone who is being hunted by the US government and has been indicted on espionage charges, demonized by politicians and the media, and threatened with death by intelligence officials. Snowden was greeted with enthusiastic applause as his face appeared on screen against a backdrop of the Declaration of Independence.

During the telecast, one of the hosts noted that Snowden’s connection was bounced between seven “proxies” to thwart any attempt to locate him.

In his remarks, Snowden denounced the surveillance operations, describing the past decade as a “global free-fire zone for governments.” He categorically defended his actions. “The global mass surveillance occurring in all of these countries, they are setting fire to the future of the Internet,” Snowden said.

“Would I do it again? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to,” Snowden said. He added that, “the reality is now we’ve reached a point where the majority of US telephone conversations are being recorded, metadata being stored, for years and years.”

“We also have the FISA court,” he continued, “a secret rubber-stamp court, only supposed to approve wiretap applications. At the same time, a secret court shouldn’t be interpreting the Constitution when only the NSA’s lawyers are presenting the case.

“We all are at risk of unfair, unjustified interference in our private lives. If we don’t resolve these issues, if we allow the NSA to continue unrestrained, every other government will take that as a green light to do the same.”

Reflecting on his motivation for leaking the data, Snowden commented, “I saw that the Constitution has been violated on a massive scale.” This evoked loud applause.

“The interpretation of the Constitution had been changed in secret from no unreasonable search and seizure to just go ahead and seize it, and that’s something the public ought to know about,” Snowden said.

He continued: “The problem is that the overseers aren’t interested in oversight. We’ve got committees that are championing for the NSA, not holding them to account. [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper tells a lie that they all know is a lie, allowing the American people to believe it’s the truth.

“We can’t have officials like James Clapper who can lie to everyone in the country, the Congress, and face no criticism, not even a strongly worded letter.”

Some of Snowden’s remarks reflected a limited political understanding of the full significance of the spying programs and the international campaign being waged against him by the US government. Snowden and the interview hosts from the ACLU speculated that more rigorous regulation, watchdog groups, and technical innovations would be effective means to rein in the surveillance programs and reduce the threat they pose to innocent people.

“We need more public oversight… some way for trusted public figures to advocate for us. We need a watchdog that watches Congress, because if we’re not informed, we can’t consent to these (government) policies,” Snowden said.

At one point, he called for a “more constitutional, more carefully overseen intelligence model.”

These statements reflect illusions that the present political system can be reformed and the surveillance agencies can be held accountable within the framework of the existing political and economic system.

The illegal operations of the US surveillance state are not mere aberrations. Rather, they are part of systematic preparations by the ruling elite in anticipation of mass social struggles. Under conditions of deep economic crisis and unprecedented levels of social inequality, the capitalist elite is preparing to suppress political opposition by force.

The very fact that Snowden’s exposures have evoked virtually no opposition to government spying operations from any section of the political or media establishment demonstrates how deeply the drive to dictatorship is rooted in the existing economic, social and political order.

The totalitarian surveillance operations are, moreover, not limited to the US, but are being carried out by capitalist governments all over the world.

At another point, Snowden suggested that the mass spying programs detracted from US government efforts to prevent terrorist attacks. This indicated that Snowden gives a certain credence to government claims that its spying programs are motivated by a desire to protect the American people from terrorist threats. In fact, the virtually unlimited scale of the spying programs, sweeping up private information on hundreds of millions of people, including political leaders of nominal US allies and international organizations such as the United Nations, makes it clear that these programs have virtually nothing to do with a supposed “war on terrorism.”

They are directed against the democratic rights of the people and carried out in the interests of a ruling class petrified at the prospect of the emergence of a movement of the working class against poverty, inequality and war.

At one point, ACLU lawyer Chris Sogohian acknowledged that his organization’s recommendations to improve privacy would still leave individuals and groups that are specifically targeted by the NSA with no real way to protect themselves. “If the government wants to get at your communications, the encryption won’t stop them. They will hack your computer. If you are a target of the NSA, you are beyond saving,” he said.

The hostility of the US establishment towards Snowden has not abated. Last week, Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas called on SXSW organizers to rescind the invitation in a letter denouncing Snowden.

The congressman wrote: “When I served in the Army along the Iron Curtain, we had a word for a person who absconds with information and provides it to another nation: traitor. We also had a name for a person who chooses to reveal secrets he had personally promised to protect: common criminal. Mr. Snowden is both a traitor and a common criminal.”

As American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ben Wizner observed in response to these comments, “If he [Snowden] were here in the US, he’d be in a solitary cell.”

Snowden to SXSW: NSA “Setting Fire to Future of Internet, and You’re the Firefighters”: here.

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