Big flightless Pleistocene bird discovery in Crimea


This 27 June 2019 video says about itself:

CNN: Inside a Crimean cave was a gigantic ancient mystery just waiting to be uncovered: a bird so large that it weighed nearly as much as an adult polar bear.

Giant birds once roamed Madagascar, New Zealand and Australia. The latest fossil find, an intriguing fossilized femur, was recently found in Taurida Cave on the northern coast of the Black Sea. It was discovered along with other fossils, including bison bones, that helped researchers date the now-extinct giant bird to between 1.5 million and 2 million years ago.

When the first early human ancestors arrived in Europe, they might have encountered these birds. The researchers think the bird probably reached the Black Sea region by crossing Turkey and the Southern Caucasus.

From Gizmodo.com, 26 June 2019, by George Dvorsky:

Ancient Bird Weighed Nearly 1,000 Pounds but Could Still Haul Ass Like an Ostrich

Paleontologists working in Crimea have uncovered evidence of the largest bird ever found in Europe. Standing taller than an elephant and weighing nearly 1,000 pounds, this enormous bird could still run at a fast pace when threatened.

Big birds have been discovered in Eurasia before, but nothing quite on this scale. In fact, the only birds that really compare are the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and the extinct moas of New Zealand. The research paper associated with the discovery—published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology—claims it’s the biggest bird ever found in the northern hemisphere.

Assigned the name Pachystruthio dmanisensis, this animal’s nearly complete femur was found within the Taurida cave network of Crimea. This lone bone, dated to around 1.8 million years ago, was found alongside other animal remains, including a mammoth, bison, and some large carnivores.

Intriguingly, this time period coincided with the introduction of early humans to the region. A similar collection of fossils was previously uncovered at a nearby site in Dmanisi, Georgia, which happens to be the oldest hominin site outside of Africa. Consequently, these large birds “might have been a source of meat, bones, feathers, and eggshell for early hominin populations,” wrote the authors in the new study, which was led by Nikita Zelenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

That early humans may have hunted these birds is a distinct possibility. Recent evidence suggests humans hunted elephant birds in Madagascar around 6,000 years ago.

“When I first felt the weight of the bird whose thigh bone I was holding in my hand, I thought it must be a Malagasy elephant bird fossil because no birds of this size have ever been reported from Europe. However, the structure of the bone unexpectedly told a different story,” said Zelenkov in a press release. “We don’t have enough data yet to say whether it was most closely related to ostriches or to other birds, but we estimate it weighed about 450 kg (992 pounds). This formidable weight is nearly double the largest moa, three times the largest living bird, the common ostrich, and nearly as much as an adult polar bear.”

Zelenkov’s team used a well-established formula, which took various measurements of P. dmanisensis’s femur, to estimate body mass. Further analysis pointed to a flightless bird that stood 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) tall.

Due to the femur’s long and slim shape—which bore a striking resemblance to the modern ostrich—it’s likely this creature was able to move fast. “Pachystruthio dmanisensis was a good runner, which may be explained by its coexistence with large carnivoran mammals,” the authors wrote in the study. And by large carnivores, the researchers weren’t kidding; the femur was found alongside the remains of giant cheetahs, giant hyenas, and saber-tooth cats.

As to why this creature evolved such a big size, the researchers said it likely had something to do with the arid environment in which it lived. Its large mass and efficient metabolism meant it could make better use of the low-nutrition foods found in the open steppes.

Christopher Torres, a graduate student of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin, said this report is “super exciting” for a lot of reasons.

“It expands known occurrences of gigantic birds into a new hemisphere,” he told Gizmodo. “It highlights a third case of gigantism among a rather closely related group of birds that also includes elephant birds and moa. Conventional thought was that birds could afford to lose flight and get really large only if there were no terrestrial mammals to compete with or hide from. This new report of giant birds coexisting with large mammals is forcing us to rethink those assumptions,” said Torres, who wasn’t affiliated with the new research.

To which he added: “This report raises some fascinating evolutionary and ecological questions that I cannot wait to see answered.”

Slavery, more important in Dutch history than thought


Slave trade in the Dutch colony Suriname in 1839, public auction of a slave woman and her two children

This picture is about slave trade in the Dutch colony Suriname in 1839, public auction of a slave woman and her two children.

Translated from Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 25 June 2019, by Geertje Dekkers:

Economic weight of slavery much larger than imagined; “Earnings in 1770 roughly comparable to the port of Rotterdam now”

Slavery yielded the province of Holland

the economically most important part of the pre-1795 Dutch republic

at its pinnacle about 10 percent of GDP, and the whole of the Netherlands 5 percent, historians have calculated. From shipbuilders to notaries and coffee sellers: they all benefited from the trade in people and their work on plantations.

In 1770, Holland people earned more than 10 percent of their gross national product from the slave trade and slave labor. Tobacco traders, sugar refineries, shipbuilders, money lenders and others got that income from the transport of enslaved people from Africa to America [not even taking into account Dutch slavery in South Africa and Asia], and from the work they did there on plantations. In the Republic of the Netherlands as a whole, the financial interest was half that that year: just over 5 percent. Economic historians Pepijn Brandon and Ulbe Bosma of the International Institute of Social History calculated this for an article in the journal TSEG to be published on Wednesday.

The article should help solve a tough question: to what extent was Dutch wealth based on exploitation? Earlier generations of historians pointed out in their answers that the slave trade itself was not very lucrative: it represented about half a percent of all national income. But slaves yielded more than just their selling price. In the surveyed year 1770 they worked together 120 thousand man-years on the land for the Dutch market. Eg, they produced coffee, tobacco and sugar, which was mainly processed in the Holland region: in late 18th-century Amsterdam people found ‛in streets and even in alleys, even more so in cellars, sugar refineries”, says contemporary Jan Hendrik Reisig. In the whole of Holland there were around 150 in 1770. …

Shipbuilders and merchants

And then there were the notaries who laid down agreements, the money lenders and shipbuilders who made the trade possible, the merchants who resold goods, and so on. Together they earned the aforementioned 10 percent of Dutch GDP based on slavery, the article said.

But was that percentage, and the 5 percent in the rest of the Netherlands, big or small? A comparison with now sheds some light on the matter. The Dutch 10 percent was comparable to the share of health care in today’s national GDP. And the 5 per cent of the entire Republic the authors themselves compare with the port of Rotterdam, and all related services and logistics. They make up 6.2 percent of the current Dutch economy. A percentage point more than slavery in 1770.

According to the authors, the percentages mean that the economic weight of slavery was much greater than previously thought, and of vital importance to the Netherlands: “Slavery kept the economy going in one of the most developed commercial societies,” they state in a text for the press.

A quarter of the economy of Vlissingen city in Dutch Zeeland province was slave trade.

Some extinct crocodiles were vegetarian


This 2016 video is about extinct crocodiles.

From the University of Utah in the USA:

Some extinct crocs were vegetarians

Comparisons of the teeth of extinct crocodyliformes to modern day animals allow new insights into diet

June 27, 2019

Based on careful study of fossilized teeth, scientists Keegan Melstom and Randall Irmis at the Natural History Museum of Utah at the University of Utah have found that multiple ancient groups of crocodyliforms — the group including living and extinct relatives of crocodiles and alligators — were not the carnivores we know today, as reported in the journal Current Biology on June 27. In fact, the evidence suggests that a veggie diet arose in the distant cousins of modern crocodylians at least three times.

“The most interesting thing we discovered was how frequently it seems extinct crocodyliforms ate plants,” said Keegan Melstrom, a doctoral student at the University of Utah. “Our study indicates that complexly-shaped teeth, which we infer to indicate herbivory, appear in the extinct relatives of crocodiles at least three times and maybe as many as six.”

All living crocodylians possess a similar general body shape and ecology to match their lifestyle as semiaquatic generalist carnivores, which includes relatively simple, conical teeth. It was clear from the start of the study that extinct species showed a different pattern, including species with many specializations not seen today. One such specialization is a feature known as heterodonty: regionalized differences in tooth size or shape.

“Carnivores possess simple teeth whereas herbivores have much more complex teeth,” Melstrom explained. “Omnivores, organisms that eat both plant and animal material, fall somewhere in between. Part of my earlier research showed that this pattern holds in living reptiles that have teeth, such as crocodylians and lizards. So these results told us that the basic pattern between diet and teeth is found in both mammals and reptiles, despite very different tooth shapes, and is applicable to extinct reptiles.”

To infer what those extinct crocodyliforms most likely ate, Melstrom and his graduate advisor, chief curator Randall Irmis, compared the tooth complexity of extinct crocodyliforms to those of living animals using a method originally developed for use in living mammals. Overall, they measured 146 teeth from 16 different species of extinct crocodyliforms.

Using a combination of quantitative dental measurements and other morphological features, the researchers reconstructed the diets of those extinct crocodyliforms. The results show that those animals had a wider range of dental complexities and presumed dietary ecologies than had been appreciated previously.

Plant-eating crocodyliforms appeared early in the evolutionary history of the group, the researchers conclude, shortly after the end-Triassic mass extinction, and persisted until the end-Cretaceous mass extinction that killed off all dinosaurs except birds. Their analysis suggests that herbivory arose independently a minimum of three times, and possibly six times, in Mesozoic crocodyliforms.

“Our work demonstrates that extinct crocodyliforms had an incredibly varied diet,” Melstrom said. “Some were similar to living crocodylians and were primarily carnivorous, others were omnivores and still others likely specialized in plants. The herbivores lived on different continents at different times, some alongside mammals and mammal relatives, and others did not. This suggests that an herbivorous crocodyliform was successful in a variety of environments!”

Melstrom says they are continuing to reconstruct the diets of extinct crocodyliforms, including in fossilized species that are missing teeth. He also wants to understand why the extinct relatives of crocodiles diversified so radically after one mass extinction but not another, and whether dietary ecology could have played a role.

This research was supported by the US National Science Foundation, the Welles Fund from the University of California Museum of Paleontology and the University of Utah Department of Geology & Geophysics Chapman Fund.

German neo-nazi terror network and Lübcke murder


This 28 June 2019 video says about itself:

Two more suspects were arrested in a case linked to the murder of German politician Walter Luebcke on Thursday.

Elmar J. and Markus [M.], aged 64 and 43 respectively, were detained on suspicion of being accessories to murder. … Investigators believe the two suspects knew of Ernst’s ties to right-wing extremism.

Luebcke was found dead on the terrace of his family home in Wolfhagen near Kassel on June 2.

By Johannes Stern in Germany:

Lübcke’s murderer was part of vast underground German neo-Nazi terrorist network

28 June 2019

Stephan Ernst, the assassin of CDU politician Walter Lübcke, acted as part of a neo-Nazi network with close ties to the right-wing terrorist National Socialist Underground. Despite efforts in the aftermath of the assassination to promote a lone gunman explanation, information that links Ernst to a vast right-wing terrorist network is emerging.

After Ernst admitted his guilt on Tuesday, the police carried out raids on Wednesday night and early Thursday, and arrested two additional suspects. They allegedly secured and sold weapons to Ernst. The assassin also allegedly sold weapons to two other as yet unidentified men, who are the subjects of ongoing investigations, according to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office.

According to media reports, Ernst admitted that he hoarded weapons, which, in addition to the murder weapon, included a pump-action shotgun, an Uzi submachine gun, and ammunition. He explained how he obtained the weapons and where they were concealed. Investigators found the vast majority of the weapons in an underground depot on the grounds of his employer. There were five weapons in total. According to Ernst, he purchased part of the arsenal in 2014, and bought the murder weapon in 2016.

One of Ernst’s alleged arrested accomplices is the Kassel-based neo-Nazi Markus H. According to ARD [TV]’s political magazine Panorama, H. was questioned as a witness in 2006 following the ninth racist murder committed by the NSU in an internet cafe in the Nord Holland area of the city, which claimed the life of Halit Yozgat. Like Ernst, H. was a member of the violent neo-Nazi milieu in Kassel at the time of the murder, and allegedly also knew the victim.

According to Panorama, Ernst and H. were members of the Free Resistance Kassel (FWK) group for several years, during which time they discussed how to procure weapons and explosives. The political magazine reported that Ernst allegedly remained part of the FWK until 2011, and remained in contact with members of the neo-Nazi scene until recently. Asked if Ernst had broken with the neo-Nazi milieu over recent years, the Kassel neo-Nazi Mike Zavallich told Panorama that people don’t leave so quickly, they take a step back, but still have the same outlook as they always did.

Zavallich, who declared his solidarity with Ernst shortly after his arrest and described him as a “good comrade” on Facebook, was among the closest associates of the NSU. According to a report from Die Welt, Zavallich immediately came to the attention of the Federal Criminal Police after the NSU was exposed in November 2011. At the time, investigators had presented a list of 129 people associated with the NSU. Four people from Kassel are among those mentioned on the so-called “129 list”. One of them was Mike Zavallich.” He was aware of the existence of the Thuringia Home Guard, an organisation that served as a precursor to the NSU.

Further associates of Ernst with close connections to the NSU are Stanley R. and Bernd T., leading members of the right-wing extremist terrorist organisation Combat 18. There is much to suggest that Ernst had direct contact through these sources to the NSU members Uwe Böhnhardt, Uwe Mundlos, and Beate Zschäpe. In an article in the Hessisch-Niedersächsisch Allgemeine newspaper, the landlady at Ernst’s regular pub, “Stadt Stockholm in Kassel”, stated that in April 2006, around the time of Yozgat’s murder, Bernd T. turned up at the pub with Zschäpe.

According to the Bild newspaper, there was at least one other occasion when Ernst could have had direct contact with the NSU: at the celebrations for the 30th birthday of Stanley R. in the clubhouse of the “Bandidos”

motorcycle gang

club. The guests included Böhnhardt, Mundlos, and probably Beate Zschäpe. The meeting occurred just a few days before Yozgat’s murder on April 6. But a video clip has mysteriously disappeared from the investigation files, prompting Bild to ask the question, “Was Stephan Ernst shown in it?”

The state and security services, which have close ties to the right-wing extremist terrorist networks, are doing everything they can to block a full investigation of the murder. The archives of the Hesse state intelligence service on the NSU will remain sealed until 2044. This was revealed by Hesse’s Interior Minister, Peter Boyth (CDU), during an emergency sitting of the state parliament on Wednesday. The file on Ernst also remains under lock and key.

Already in the five-year trial against the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group responsible for 10 murders, two bomb blasts, and a series of bank robberies, the federal public prosecutor did everything possible to avoid examining the role of the security agencies. This approach is now being continued. In his press statement on Thursday, the office’s spokesman, Markus Schmidt, claimed that there was “no evidence to suggest that the three detainees were members of a right-wing terrorist group or had established one.”

Even though the security authorities are doing everything to torpedo the investigation, a clear picture is already emerging based on the facts now known. Ernst was not merely operating as a close associate of the NSU, but the murder of Lübcke could be a continuation of the NSU’s murder series, which claimed the lives of nine immigrants and a police officer between 2000 and 2007.

There is strong evidence that Lübcke was shot due to his pro-refugee stance. In 2015, he opposed right-wingers at a public meeting on the question of providing accommodation for refugees, for which he was responsible as district president. This triggered an online hate campaign that included death threats, which was revived at the beginning of this year, including by the CDU

formerly CDU, now an AfD supporter

politician and former president of the right-wing Federation of Expellees, Erica Steinbach.

Ms Steinbach was born in World War II as the daughter of a nazi army occupation officer in a part of occupied Poland which the Third Reich called Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreusen. When Hitler lost World War II, Steinbach’s family returned to Germany.

Many people don’t see Ms Steinbach as a bona fide refugee. The leaders of her Federation of Expellees (German: BHE) are called mockingly Berufsflüchtlinge (professional refugees) in Germany, as governments paid much taxpayers’ money to them. The BHE made anti-Polish and anti-Czech revanchist propaganda, saying the eastern border of Germany along the Oder and Neisse rivers should move further east.

As Ms Steinbach sees herself as a refugee, one might in theory expect her to support welcoming refugees from NATO countries’ wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. However, Ms Steinbach is virulently against letting those refugees into Germany. Which caused her to break from the CDU.

According to the Federal Public Prosecutor, Ernst declared in his testimony to the police that his murder of Lübcke was a response to Lübcke’s statements about refugees. He was also allegedly present at the public meeting four years ago.

However, additional motives cannot be excluded. According to a Tagesspiegel report, Lübcke was on the NSU’s radar. The terrorist group included his name in a list of 10,000 names and objects. The Tagesspiegel learned from security sources that Lübcke was listed “in the latter part of the list around the 8,000s.” The newspaper remarked how astonishing it was that his name was on the list at such an early stage. Lübcke only became a target of right-wing extremists in 2015, four years after the end of the NSU’s murder series.

Lübcke perhaps knew too much, or had become an obstacle to the right-wing extremist cliques, which reach into the Kassel district presidium itself. One of the workers under Lübcke was Andreas Temme, an agent of the Hesse Verfassungsschutz (Ministry for the Defense of the Constitution), who was nicknamed “Little Adolf”. He was also at the cafe when Yozgat was murdered. However, Temme claimed not to have witnessed anything, a claim which numerous experts consider to be highly improbable.

Due to several interventions by the security agencies and political figures, Temme’s role is yet to be fully explained. Although Temme testified at the NSU trial held in Munich and to the parliamentary investigatory commissions, former Hesse Interior Minister and current Minister President Volker Bouffier, a personal friend of Lübcke, refused to give Temme unrestricted authorization to testify.

Lübcke’s alleged murderer, Stephan Ernst, was at least indirectly connected to Temme. He knew the neo-Nazi and intelligence agency informant Benjamin Gärtner, codename Vegetable, who spoke to Temme by telephone shortly prior to Yozgat’s murder. During testimony to the NSU investigatory commission in the Hesse state parliament in February 2016, Gärtner confirmed that he knew Ernst as “NPD Stephan.”

Gärtner confirmed a few days ago to a reporter from Spiegel TV that he knew Ernst. But he could not say anything further. He said that he was “given a muzzle at the time” and doesn’t know “what will happen to me if I let the muzzle fall.” No idea how much longer I’d be sitting here at home.” Spiegel TV asked him who he was afraid of. “The government”. he answered.

German far-right group ‘used police data to compile death list’. Activists linked to military and police suspected of preparing terror attack, reports say: here.

Germany: Following the murder of politician Walter Lübcke—the call for a strong state: here.

More than five weeks have passed since Kassel District President Walter Lübcke (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) was murdered on the terrace of his house with a targeted shot to the head by a neo-Nazi. Since then, every effort has been made to cover up the close involvement of the alleged perpetrator with a far-right terrorist network that reaches deep into the secret services and the state apparatus: here.

German far-right group ‘used police data to compile death list’. Activists linked to military and police suspected of preparing terror attack, reports say: here.

Ice worm discovery in Canada


This 2007 video from Alaska says about itself:

Ice Worms | National Geographic

Ambitious scientists go to extremes on a hunt for elusive creatures in Denali National Park.

From Washington State University in the USA:

Unlocking secrets of the ice worm

June 26, 2019

The ice worm is one of the largest organisms that spends its entire life in ice and Washington State University scientist Scot Hotaling is one of the only people on the planet studying it.

He is the author of a new paper that shows ice worms in the interior of British Columbia have evolved into what may be a genetically distinct species from Alaskan ice worms.

Hotaling and colleagues also identified an ice worm on Vancouver Island that is closely related to a separate population of ice worms located 1,200 miles away in southern Alaska. The researchers believe the genetic intermingling is the result of birds eating the glacier-bound worms (or their eggs) at one location and then dropping them off at another as they migrate up and down the west coast.

“If you are a worm isolated on a mountaintop glacier, the expectation is you aren’t going anywhere,” said Hotaling, a postdoctoral biology researcher. “But low and behold, we found this one ice worm on Vancouver Island that is super closely related to ice worms in southern Alaska. The only reasonable explanation we can think of to explain this is birds.”

Super cool organism

The ice worm resembles the common earthworm but is smaller and darker in color. What sets the ice worm apart from other members of the Mesenchytraeus genus is its ability to live its entire life in glacial ice.

Millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, of ice worms can be seen wriggling to the top of glaciers from the Chugach Mountains in southeast Alaska to the Cascade Volcanoes of Washington and Oregon during the summer months. In the fall and winter, ice worms subsist deep beneath the surface of glaciers where temperatures stay around freezing.

Hotaling’s interest in ice worms began back in 2009 while he was working as a mountaineering ranger on the high elevation slopes of Mt. Rainer. He was climbing at three in the morning when he noticed a lot of small, black worms crawling around on the surface of a glacier.

“I wasn’t even a biology undergraduate yet but I remember being so fascinated by the fact that there is this worm that can live in a glacier,” he said. “It is not a place where we think of life being able to flourish and these things can be present at like 200 per sq. meter, so dense you can’t walk without stepping in them.”

Hotaling eventually went back to school and earned a PhD in biology at the University of Kentucky where he studied how climate change is affecting mountain biodiversity.

In the summer of 2017, he finally got the opportunity to circle back and do some research on the ice worm when he arrived in Pullman to start a postdoc position in the laboratory of Associate Professor Joanna Kelley, senior author of the study who specializes in evolutionary genomics and extremophile lifeforms.

“In the Kelley lab, we study organisms that have evolved to live in places that are inhospitable to pretty much everything else,” Hotaling said. “Determining the evolutionary mechanisms that enable something like an ice worm to live in a glacier or bacteria to live in a Yellowstone hot spring is a really exciting way to learn about what is possible at the bounds of evolution. That’s where we are working now, understanding the evolution of ice worms.”

In the study

Hotaling and colleagues extracted and sequenced DNA from 59 ice worms collected from nine glaciers across most of their geographical range. Their analysis revealed a genetic divergence between populations of ice worms that are north and west and south and east of the Coast Mountains of British Columbia.

The researchers predict that this deeper split into two genetically distinct ice worm groups occurred as a result of glacial ice sheets contracting around a few hundred thousand years ago, isolating worms in the Pacific Northwest from their counterparts in Alaska.

The most surprising finding of the study was the discovery of a single ice worm on Vancouver Island that was closely related to a population of ice worms 1,200 miles away in Alaska.

“At first we thought there has to be some kind of error in the analysis or prep methods but upon further investigation we confirmed our initial results,” Hotaling said. “These are worms isolated on mountain tops and there is no explanation for how they covered that gap than on, or perhaps within, migrating birds.”

The research illuminates an important relationship between two of the few large organisms that inhabit North America’s high elevation alpine ecosystems, the ice worm and the Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch, one of North America’s highest elevation nesting birds.

“We knew that ice worms were an important source of food for the birds but we didn’t know until now that the birds are also likely very important for the ice worms,” Hotaling said. “If you are super isolated like an ice worm, you could easily become inbred. But if birds are bringing little bits of new diversity to your mountaintop glacier that could be really good for you.”

Hotaling and Kelley’s study was published this month in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Military coup in Honduras, ten years ago


This 1 October 2016 video says about itself:

It’s well known where Hillary Clinton stood on regime change in Iraq and Libya, but what often gets forgotten is that she threw her support behind the 2009 Honduran coup that ousted democratically-elected Manuel Zelaya.

By Bill Van Auken in the USA:

Ten years since the US-backed coup in Honduras

28 June 2019

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the US-backed coup that overthrow the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, who was dragged out of the presidential palace in his pajamas by armed troops, bundled onto an airplane and flown out of the country.

This event ushered in a decade of unending repression by a succession of extreme right-wing and deeply corrupt governments. They have ruled the country with a ruthless determination to defend the interests of the national oligarchy—the so-called “ten families” of multi-millionaires and billionaires—and of foreign finance capital.

For the masses of Honduran workers and rural poor, the policies implemented by the right-wing regimes that followed the ouster of Zelaya have proven disastrous. Honduras is today the most unequal country in Latin America, itself the most unequal region in the world. Nearly 70 percent of the country’s population lives in poverty, while over 60 percent lack formal employment. The murder rate, which soared to the highest in the world, still remains nine times that in the United States.

One result has been a mass exodus. The US government has reported detaining 175,000 Hondurans on the US-Mexican border in the last eight months. The country accounts for by far the largest share of migrants and refugees fleeing to the US border—30 percent of the total. This is nearly double the 16 percent share recorded just three years ago.

These masses of workers and their families fleeing their own country because of intolerable conditions created by imperialism and the native ruling class confront the same horrific circumstances that have shocked the population of the US and the world with the recent publication of the photograph of a Salvadoran father and his daughter who drowned together in the Rio Grande.

Just last April, an adult and three children from Honduras drowned in the same river when their raft capsized. On Thursday, Mexican authorities reported that a young Honduran woman traveling north with her family fell from a train and was crushed beneath its wheels.

Now these refugees are confronting the combined repression, detention and abuse from the governments of the United States, Mexico and Guatemala, which have united in the use of naked force in an attempt to prevent them from escaping poverty, state terror and rampant violence.

Democratic Party candidates and congressional leaders have shed crocodile tears over the deaths in the Rio Grande and postured as defenders of immigrants. These sentiments are belied, however, by the fact that … then secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, presided over the coup that devastated Honduras, driving its people in desperation to flee the country despite the threats of death, persecution and being thrown into a US concentration camp.

After Zelaya’s overthrow, kidnapping and expulsion from the country, the Obama administration sought to preserve a veneer of commitment to “democracy” in Latin America—and deniability for its military, intelligence and diplomatic operatives—by publicly deploring the ouster of Zelaya.

Clinton, however, pointedly refused to describe the military’s seizure and deportation of an elected president as a “coup”, a designation that under the US Foreign Assistance Act, would have required the Obama administration to cut off aid and ties to the coup regime.

The administration likewise failed to demand Zelaya’s reinstatement. Given that the US accounted for 70 percent of Honduran export earnings and provided the guns and aid upon which the country’s military depended, it had unquestioned power to force a reversal of the coup.

Its formal reservations notwithstanding, however, it was soon revealed that top US officials had been in discussions with the military commanders and right-wing politicians who organized the coup shortly before Zelaya’s overthrow.

… Zelaya earned Washington’s enmity by becoming swept up by Latin America’s so-called “Pink Tide”. …

For Zelaya, the clear attraction was cheap Venezuelan oil and loans. However, US imperialism, which had sought seven years earlier to overthrow Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in a civilian-military coup, was determined to eliminate a government aligned with Venezuela and Cuba in Honduras.

The Central American country has longed served as a staging ground for counterrevolutionary operations in the region, from the 1954 CIA overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala through to the CIA-organized “contra” war against Nicaragua in the 1980s. The civil wars and counter-insurgency campaigns carried out by US imperialism in the region, using Honduras as its base, would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands. It remains the site of the largest US military base in Latin America at Soto Cano.

Much the same US personnel involved in the 2002 coup against Chavez in Venezuela under George W. Bush were involved in the 2009 coup against Zelaya in Honduras … . And the same strategic policy guides the Trump administration’s present regime change operation against the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

Underlying this clear continuity in Washington’s foreign policy, under both Democratic and Republican administrations alike, is the drive by US imperialism to reverse the decline of its global economic hegemony by military means, particularly in the region that it has so long regarded as its “own backyard”.

The Honduran working class responded to the 2009 coup with immense heroism. It staged continuous demonstrations and strikes in the teeth of savage repression. This included the arbitrary detention of thousands, the shooting of protesters, the gang rape of women detained at protests and the organization of death squads to assassinate journalists and opponents of the coup regime.

Washington ignored this savage brutality, and the US corporate media largely passed over it in silence.

Honduras is today confronting its most severe crisis since the coup of ten years ago. For over a month, mass protests and strikes by teachers and doctors against sweeping IMF-dictated cuts and threats of privatization of education and healthcare have rocked the country. Students have joined these mass protests, occupying their schools and confronting riot police and troops.

Today will see mass demonstrations throughout Honduras marking the coup anniversary. These protests will pay homage to the 136 killed during the repression of the protests against the coup, as well as the 14 murdered by death squads and the 13 disappeared. Since then, many more have been slain, including four killed in just the most recent protests.

They will undoubtedly also advance the demand for the bringing down of the government of Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH), the corrupt president and overseer for the International Monetary Fund, who is kept in power by the Honduran military and US Marines.

Zelaya, now the leader of the Partido Libertad y Refundación, is advancing this demand.

Bayer corporation killing American goldfinches


This 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

The 9th episode to my “Did You Know Birding?” Youtube Series

American Goldfinches are a familiar backyard bird. They one of the most welcome birds to feeders due to their peaceful way and beautiful bright color. Learn more about these lovely little finches in this episode!

From the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in the USA:

The case of the poisoned songbirds

June 26, 2019

Researchers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory present their results from a toxicological investigation into a mortality event involving songbirds in a new publication in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

On 17 March 2017, residents in Modesto, California, reported dead birds along the street and in front yards in a section of the town. The day prior to the incident, the city had made a drench application of imidacloprid, a pesticide synthetically derived from nicotine, to the base of trees that lined the street.

Imidacloprid is a product of the Bayer corporation.

The pesticide was reportedly mixed and applied according to package directions. Researchers at the Wildlife Investigation Laboratory were notified of the incident and conducted a postmortem investigation on the dead songbirds, which were identified as American goldfinches. The cause of death was determined to be imidacloprid poisoning likely due to the ingestion of fallen elm tree seeds contaminated during the drench application.

Lead author, Krysta Rogers, and her colleagues noted that “The mortality event investigated in the present study highlights a previously unidentified risk of drench application for imidacloprid. The pesticide label states that the product be applied to the base of the tree and directly to the root zone. [However] Seeds, insects, or other invertebrates consumed by birds and other animals may be present within that zone. If these food items were contaminated during the drench application, they would be highly toxic to animals when ingested.”

The authors recommend that “drench applications not occur during seed drop to minimize the risk of exposure to animals that consume fallen seeds and that mitigation measures could be taken to prevent small animals from accessing areas treated with the pesticide, at a minimum”. Finally the authors encourage integrated pest management over the prophylactic use of pesticides as the ideal.

EPA BACKS OFF CYANIDE BOMBS TO KILL WILDLIFE The Environmental Protection Agency has suddenly backed off its reauthorization of the controversial use of “cyanide bomb” toxic traps that the Department of Agriculture employs to kill wildlife for ranchers and farmers. [HuffPost]

French dock workers stop Saudi weapons


This December 2013 video is called Ethiopians in Marseille Protest Against Saudi Arabia’s Violence.

From daily News Line in Britain:

Marseille Dockers Refuse To Load Arms On Ship For Saudi Arabia

28th June 2019

IN THE French port of Marseille, dockers have been refusing to load French weapons which are thought to be heading to Saudi Arabia.

Following revelations on cargo headed for Saudi Arabia, the port’s CGT trade union branch confirmed that its members would not handle ‘any weapons or arms whatsoever, for whatever war they may be destined’.

They want to remain loyal to their history.

A few hours before the dockers’ announcement, Disclose revealed that the Saudi container ship Bahri Tabuk was meant to take a delivery of ammunition for Caesar (howitzer) guns.

According to the media outlet, the boat was heading for the port of Jeddah, despite accusations of the Islamic monarchy using French-made weapons on civilian areas in Yemen.

Since 2015 the country has been trapped in a … war, causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians according to humanitarian NGOs.

The shipowner has dismissed the claims as ‘fake news’. But according to France 3, the CGT’s secretary general for the dockers at the port of Marseille Fos, Laurent Fos, stated: ‘We will never load weapons which are used to kill civilians.’

The dockers rep then stated: ‘We have asked the supplier and for official documents proving that we are handling civilian goods, and not under any circumstance military goods.’

The position of the dockers over the incident is not an isolated instance: On the 20th of May, Italian dockers took strike action in Genoa in order to prevent the loading of any items destined for military purposes.

Outside of these instances, concerns over similar cargo heading towards the port of Le Havre on the tenth of May led to a blockade organised by political, civil society and humanitarian groups.

The dockers’ mentions of their history and values of peace stem from organising against imperialism since well before the … war in Yemen.

In the middle of the Indochina war in 1949 the port of Marseille, a key point for loading of troops and military equipment, had already been a part of this ‘reality of conflict’, dubbed so by the ONACVG (National Office of Veterans and Victims of War).

In November of the same year, dockers refused to load the Montbéliard and the Cap Tourane, two boats headed for the former French colony. On the 8th of December, a dockers’ conference agreed to prevent all cargo headed to Indochina from leaving multiple Mediterranean ports: Sete, Nice, Port-de-Bouc, Port-Saint-Louis, Port Vendre, Toulon, and Marseille.

‘Even to this day, the pain of the conflict endures in the memory of those that lived through it, whatever their opinions of the time are, and marks the deep divisions created by the Indochina war and its effect on the public conscience.’

  • Meanwhile, education trade unions representing state-subsidised private education in France have made history by uniting to put forward their demands and call for ‘decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees’, as ‘a matter of survival and dignity’.

In January 2019, an interunion association, was formed from seven out of the ten unions representing private sector teachers.

These unions pointed out once again some of their longstanding demands, which include:

  • Immediate salary increases;
  • Refusal to accept a second hour of compulsory overtime;
  • Better working conditions (smaller class sizes, creation of much-needed positions, recognition of teachers’ workloads);
  • Equal treatment for primary and secondary teachers;
  • An end to job insecurity (new tenure plan for insecure jobs); and
  • The cessation of any reforms underway that entail job losses and fail to take account of teachers’ views.

Private sector teaching unions do not want additional overtime forced on them, nor do they want more students or classes, as they believe that ‘pupils in primary and in lower and upper secondary education are at the heart of their concerns and deserve to have more time dedicated to them’.

They are demanding ‘decent and peaceful working conditions for all employees’, and ‘teaching and learning conditions that respect every pupil’s needs’.

For these unions: ‘Education must be a government priority: It will be the base on which the world of tomorrow and its emancipation is built.’

Two meetings with the teachers’ line ministries took place in February. But, according to Bruno Lamour, the General Secretary of the Fédération Formation et Enseignement Privés – Confédération Francaise Démocratique du Travail (FEP-CFDT), the talks that took place with the Ministry of Education were ‘very disappointing’, leading the interunion association to organise a day of strikes and action on 16th May.

While the initial demands were indeed presented on that day, Lamour added that ‘it was also about making the voices of private sector teachers heard, given they have been largely ignored since France changed its government in 2017.’

The 16th May was a success in terms of its preparation and the initiatives undertaken by the interunion association in the academies.

As is the case at the national level, the unions in the field are not especially used to working together, which is why this union is historic. The CFDT for example had not joined forces with the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) at the national level since 2015.

There were gatherings throughout the country, including in the overseas island territories such as Polynesia.

On the day, many teachers came out on strike and, on the instruction of the private sector interunion association, assembled in every academy.

In addition, the representatives of the seven trade unions were given an audience with the Ministry and were once again able to communicate teachers’ expectations, with the unions noting better reception during this meeting than during that which took place last February.’

In a statement published after their meeting at the ministry, they described 16th May as ‘a mobilisation unprecedented in the private education sector that the Minister of Education cannot ignore’.

They nevertheless regret that ‘the responses they received on salary issues, job insecurity, working conditions and the effects of the reforms cannot be deemed satisfactory, especially given there is clearly a lack of familiarity, on the part of the Ministry, with how private schools with state-funded financial support work’.

Regarding the social dialogue between the Ministry and the representatives, they recognise that ‘commitments have been made in order to better connect them with the work undertaken at the Department of Education and of course with that directly affecting private sector workers’.

The member unions of the inter-union association warn that ‘this will of course be assessed on the basis of what actions are taken. If promises are not kept, the inter-union association, which will again be convened to assess the historic day of action, can without delay affirm that this would be a casus belli’.

Future actions have yet to be validated by the interunion association which is set to hold another meeting shortly.

  • French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has unveiled plans to make it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits, as part of an overhaul of France’s labour market supposedly ‘to boost the nation’s economy’.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said on Tuesday that the changes were ‘tough, yet important’.

Unions have denounced the plans as unfair and damaging to the country’s social security system. The planned changes extend the period that people have to work to be entitled to unemployment benefits and reduces the amount that wealthier workers can receive after six months out of work.

France’s unemployed now get, on average, over 1,000 euros ($1,118) per month —an amount that can reach a maximum of 6,200 euros ($6,936) for two consecutive years.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the first goal of the labour changes is ‘to encourage businesses to hire with long-term contracts’ and the second goal is ‘to change the rules regarding benefits, so that working always pays more than not working.’

The French government expects the changes to save 3.4 billion euros ($3.8 billion) over three years … Unemployment in France fell to 8.7% in the first quarter of the year, its lowest in a decade — yet it still remains among the highest rates in Europe.

The head of the CFDT … union, Laurent Berger, denounced the plan as ‘deeply unfair’ and said it ‘will affect 100% of jobless people’.

A leader of the CGT union, Catherine Perret, called for protests against the labour changes. A demonstration is scheduled next week in front of the unemployment benefits agency in Paris.

Macron’s government plans to pass the controversial labour law changes by decree this summer, a procedure that avoids a lengthy debate in parliament.

Key changes to France’s labour market — a previous reform in 2017 made it easier to hire and fire French workers — are among the pro-business policies championed by Macron but rejected by anti-government protesters in the yellow vest movement that started last November.

Macron has vowed to keep making such changes to the economy to boost its competitiveness. Another major reform of France’s pension system is scheduled to be presented in July.

Neanderthal hominins, new research


This 2017 video says about itself:

Neanderthals 101 | National Geographic

Who were the Neanderthals? Do humans really share some of their DNA? Learn facts about Neanderthal man, the traits and tools of Homo neanderthalensis, and how the species fits into our evolution story.

From the University of Colorado at Boulder in the USA:

Neanderthals used resin ‘glue’ to craft their stone tools

June 26, 2019

Archaeologists working in two Italian caves have discovered some of the earliest known examples of ancient humans using an adhesive on their stone tools — an important technological advance called “hafting”.

The new study, which included CU Boulder’s Paola Villa, shows that Neanderthals living in Europe from about 55 to 40 thousand years ago traveled away from their caves to collect resin from pine trees. They then used that sticky substance to glue stone tools to handles made out of wood or bone.

The findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests that these cousins of Homo sapiens were more clever than some have made them out to be.

“We continue to find evidence that the Neanderthals were not inferior primitives but were quite capable of doing things that have traditionally only been attributed to modern humans”, said Villa, corresponding author of the new study and an adjoint curator at the CU Museum of Natural History.

That insight, she added, came from a chance discovery from Grotta del Fossellone and Grotta di Sant’Agostino, a pair of caves near the beaches of what is now Italy’s west coast.

Those caves were home to Neanderthals who lived in Europe during the Middle Paleolithic period, thousands of years before Homo sapiens set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,000 stone tools from the two sites, including pieces of flint that measured not much more than an inch or two from end to end.

In a recent study of the tools, Villa and her colleagues noticed a strange residue on just a handful of the flints — bits of what appeared to be organic material.

“Sometimes that material is just inorganic sediment, and sometimes it’s the traces of the adhesive used to keep the tool in its socket”, Villa said.

To find out, study lead author Ilaria Degano at the University of Pisa conducted a chemical analysis of 10 flints using a technique called gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The tests showed that the stone tools had been coated with resin from local pine trees. In one case, that resin had also been mixed with beeswax.

Villa explained that the Italian Neanderthals didn’t just resort to their bare hands to use stone tools. In at least some cases, they also attached those tools to handles to give them better purchase as they sharpened wooden spears or performed other tasks like butchering or scraping leather.

“You need stone tools to cut branches off of trees and make them into a point,” Villa said.

The find isn’t the oldest known example of hafting by Neanderthals in Europe — two flakes discovered in the Campitello Quarry in central Italy predate it. But it does suggest that this technique was more common than previously believed.

The existence of hafting also provides more evidence that Neanderthals, like their smaller human relatives, were able to build a fire whenever they wanted one, Villa said — something that scientists have long debated. She said that pine resin dries when exposed to air. As a result, Neanderthals needed to warm it over a small fire to make an effective glue.

“This is one of several proofs that strongly indicate that Neanderthals were capable of making fire whenever they needed it,” Villa said.

In other words, enjoying the glow of a warm campfire isn’t just for Homo sapiens.

Other coauthors on the study included researchers at Paris Nanterre University in France, University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, University of Wollongong in Australia, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, Istituto Italiano di Paleontologia Umana and the University of Pisa.

The research was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Paola Villa and Sylvain Soriano.

A team of researchers have evidenced mechanically delivered projectile weapons in Europe dating to 45,000-40,000 years — more than 20,000 years than previously thought. This study indicated that the spear-thrower and bow-and-arrow technologies allowed modern humans to hunt more successfully than Neanderthals — giving them a competitive advantage. This discovery offered important insight to understand the reasons for the replacement of Neanderthals by modern humans: here.

DNA reveals a European Neandertal lineage that lasted 80,000 years. Fossils from caves in Belgium and Germany provided DNA from these extinct hominids. By Bruce Bower, 2:00pm, June 26, 2019.

The archaeological site of ‘Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues: here.

Abnormal bony growths in the ear canal were surprisingly common in Neanderthals, according to a study published August 14, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Erik Trinkaus of Washington University and colleagues: here.

Scientists uncover Neanderthal toddlers’ footprints in the sand made 80,000 years ago in France: here.

Stop BP polluters’ Shakespeare-washing


This 2010 video about the USA says about itself:

BP Funds Tea Party Climate Change Deniers

British newspaper The Guardian reports that BP and several other big European companies are funding the midterm election campaigns of Tea Party favorites who deny the existence of global warming.

After BP’s and other polluting corporations’ greenwashing, now ‘Shakespeare-washing’ …

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today, about Britain:

Two prominent actors refuse to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) as long as that theater company is sponsored by BP. Mark Rylance and Miriam Margolyes do not want their names to be associated with the oil corporation.

“I do not wish to be associated with BP any more than I would with an arms dealer, a tobacco salesman or anyone who wilfully destroys the lives of others alive or unborn. Nor, I believe, would William Shakespeare“, Rylance wrote last week.

Rylance, who was the first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, eg, also wrote:

The arts sponsorship business is tricky. I would love nothing more than increased support for the imaginative arts, athletics and sciences of Britain. So I met with the environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, to find out if my suspicions about BP were wrong. “I worked closely with senior leaders in BP for more than a decade, intent on helping them radically change course”, he told me. “That work came to an end when I came to the incontrovertible conclusion that BP is neither sincere nor serious in addressing the climate crisis.”

He continued: “Together with other oil majors, BP has been accused of fully understanding the science of climate change as far back as the early 1980s, and downplaying and obscuring that science ever since, always in the short-term interests of its shareholders. Regrettably, its current leadership is stuck in the same pattern – all the time using philanthropy to hide its past and present culpability.”

The NOS article continues:

In addition to his roles for the theater, he [Rylance] has become famous worldwide in recent years through the Spielberg films Bridge of Spies, The GVR and Ready Player One. …

BP sponsors cheap tickets for young visitors to the RSC. Rylance thinks that is rich coming from BP, because young people have been protesting against climate change recently. “The RSC can give young people much more value than a cheap £5 ticket”, he reasons. “It could give them the support of Shakespeare in their stand against our addiction to energy dealers who would willingly destroy us for a quick quid.” …

The RSC is the second institute under fire due to links with BP. Earlier, other artists spoke out against the company’s involvement with the National Portrait Gallery.

This 4 June 2010 video from the USA about the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is called The Dead and Dying Animals BP Doesn’t Want the Public to See.

By Jamie Johnson in British Conservative The Daily Telegraph, 27 June 2019:

Miriam Margolyes has joined Sir Mark Rylance’s boycott of the Royal Shakespeare Company over their sponsorship deal with BP.

The Bafta winning actress, who has starred in Harry Potter, Call the Midwife and The Real Marigold Hotel has said she will not appear in any RSC productions while the company kept its sponsorship deal with the oil giant.

“Mark Rylance is absolutely right in his stance and I support it”, she told the BBC.

“I would turn them down as long as they are supporting something that is doing harm to the world.”

A team of researchers is conducting the largest-ever simulation of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill to determine more precisely where hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil dispersed following the drilling rig’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010: here.