Extinct predators end up in US Congress

This is an artist’s sketch of Anzu wyliei, a bird-like dinosaur nicknamed “the chicken from hell” that roamed the US area of North & South Dakota, 68 to 66 million years ago. Anzu was over 11 feet (3.5 metres) head to tail & weighed 500 to 660 pounds. A freaky cross between a chicken & a lizard, it looked like it could stomp you to death, rip you to shreds, or simply peck you to death. It had a beak, no teeth, murderous claws, spindly legs, a skinny, long tail, & feathers going every which way. Beauty & intelligence were not its strong points.

It’s not certain why scientists claim Anzu has gone extinct; it’s more likely they just downsized because you can find them all over the US Congress & they’ll be coming out of the woodwork during the next presidential elections. Their brains remain just as teeny weeny as they were 68 million years ago & they’re still pecking us to death. We should all remain wary since we’re not safe until they do indeed go extinct.

(Photo from Mark Klingler/Carnegie Museum of Natural History/PA)

Zoos & cruelty toward animals

Genome scientists report that orangutans share 97% of their DNA sequence with humans. That doesn’t really mean very much but a misanthrope could say they got all the brains & we got all the power. They’re reportedly quite solitary animals while humans are social creatures–but social creatures who tolerate the most antisocial behaviors.

This is Kirno, a 14-year-old orangutan smoking a cigarette inside his enclosure at Jurug Zoo in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia. Zoo officials claim he smokes dozens a day because visitors ignore warning signs prohibiting throwing food or cigarettes to the apes & throw pre-lit cigarettes at him, laughing while he imitates one of the unhealthiest human habits.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time the Jurug zoo has made news for cigarette smoking orangutans. In 2012, they moved a 13-year-old named Tori from a cage to a small island inside the zoo to stop her from smoking. In two years they haven’t figured out how to stop visitors from hurting the animals!? Or is cruelty toward animals the very nature of zoos?

It turns out Kirno was “rescued” by the zoo about four years ago from a knucklehead who kept him caged as a pet. In October of last year (we’re talking not even six months), zoo officials boasted he was freed from cage-living & had a healthy life on the same island as Tori. They claim the island is designed as natural a habitat as possible with trees, bushes, & dens, similar to the rain forests of Borneo. (As if that could fool the orangutans!) Jurug zoo is engaged in breeding orangutans (since they’re being driven extinct by Indonesian palm oil plantations) & hope Kirno can produce offspring.

The problem with this touching narrative is that it’s mostly horse manure & nothing gives that away more clearly than the fact that zoo officials are unable to put a stop to the abuse of the animals by visitors throwing things at them. In 2009, the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) in Indonesia conducted a study of five zoos in Java & concluded Jurug zoo was the worst in the physical & mental treatment of orangutans. At that time, they were still kept in cramped, concrete cages which had no roofs to protect them from scorching sun, rain, or wind. They were provided with one small plastic bag of water per day & paper-wrapped plain rice. Orangutans eat leaves, fruits, & insects, not rice. Deprived of all life-purpose, they were not only bored but began to exhibit signs of extreme mental disorder, including repeatedly beating their heads against the wall. Moving them from cement boxes to an island was a step in the right direction but by no means a solution.

These unspeakable cruelties are not just the result of poor managerial systems at Jurug but the very nature of zoos. There is no progressive perspective in zoo management because zoos are nothing but the incarceration of wild animals, turning them into spectacles, & depriving them of all purpose & possibility for happy lives.

We can denounce the knuckleheads throwing cigarettes at orangutans but it’s far more important to denounce zoos as barbaric throwbacks to a time when people believed in the Great Chain of Being. If we want to merit some glory from sharing 97% of orangutan genetics, we ought to do something to put an end to zoos. In the meantime, let’s get it straight: if Jurug officials wanted to protect Kirno & the other orangutans from abuse, they would post guards, they would fine offenders, they would run forums to educate on animal welfare, or they would put the island off-limits to visitors.

(Photo by Sijori Images/Barcroft India)

Neoliberalism & slum fires

There are hundreds of slum fires every year in dozens of countries since one billion people now live in sprawling urban squatter colonies of makeshift housing. Fire forensics are seldom reported but fire officials routinely cite the cause as faulty & pirated power lines, flammable building materials, or gas tank explosions. Residents often claim arson & criminal negligence by municipal authorities. The locations of slums in areas targeted for gentrification & urban development renders the claim of arson entirely credible–even likely.

The number of slum residents is expected to double in the next 15 years to two billion people as millions of farmers & farm workers are expropriated & displaced by the IMF model of agribusiness plantations. Every year, 240,000 displaced rural residents move to Manila. Philippines, making it the fastest growing city in the world. The World Bank reports squatters now comprise 40% of 12 million Manila residents. They are mostly unemployed or part of the informal economy & live on USD$1.00 a day or less. They live along waterways including Manila Bay, railroads, around garbage dumps; thousands make their living scavenging those garbage dumps for recyclables.

The savagery of neoliberalism is relentless. Under IMF investment strategy, public domain urban lands now inhabited by those squatters must be privatized for commercial & industrial development, including resorts, casinos, mega-shopping malls, special economic zones. The squatters have to go.

In 2008, the Philippine Supreme Court authorized government officials to demolish “illegal structures & dwellings” along all waterways connected to Manila Bay & ordered it over & done with by December 2015. The court ordered authorities to clear out tens of thousands of shanty residents but laid out no relocation guidelines–legitimizing a free-for-all for neoliberal barbarism. President Aquino & other officials made it quite clear they intended aggressive action to clear squatters & relocate them to the isolated, rural areas they originally fled from to find work. One government official said he had received orders from Aquino that “If push comes to shove, we will have to blast those houses.”

Officials tried to make it easy on themselves by offering incentives for squatters to relocate. A government relocation program offered family grants of 18,000 Philippine pesos (USD $403) to move. They sweet-talked residents claiming they were trying to move them out of flood-prone zones. If their concerns were so damn humanitarian, why didn’t the government instead use the relocation dough to build levees & public housing!?

Another tactic employed by officials has been to burn the slum communities to the ground. There have been dozens of slum fires all over Manila in gentrification/urban renewal zones. Tens of thousands have been made homeless but with no place to go most reclaim what was salvageable from the ashes & move back to the site to rebuild. Not to be daunted by public resistance, officials wait a period & then burn the new settlements to the ground. Many people, including several children, have died in these conflagrations.

This photo is of a fire (March 12th) in Malabon City, a part of metropolitan Manila being slated for gentrification. Over the past few years, there have been several slum fires in Malabon with several deaths & thousands made homeless. Fire investigators are still determining the cause of this fire. (Don’t hold your breath!) Public housing was announced in 2012 to quite a lot of fanfare but on completion would provide housing for only 720 families. In 2013, the government proposed relocation of 24,000 “informal settlers” (as they call the squatters) & in fact the population of Malabon has decreased in the past few years. There are no reports on how successful relocation efforts were or where those relocated ended up. One hopes they took the lousy $403 bucks & stayed put in Malabon.

In the barbaric phase of capitalism, human life is expendable & poor people just a nuisance. Their fate is no concern compared to greed. It’s time humanity put an end to such tyranny.

Housing is a human right!

(Photo by Erik De Castro/Reuters)

Emancipation US-style in Afghanistan

Emancipation US-style: a woman begging in the flooded streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. One stands in awe before the impotent banalities of US war propaganda–but here again, a picture is worth a thousand lies.

Will the Pentagon & right-wing feminists blame this too on the Taliban? Because the Taliban don’t run Afghanistan; US-NATO forces do.

US-NATO out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Rahmat Gul/AP)

Capitalism has a way of messing up the nicest holidays

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, a cultural holiday for the Irish & a religious feast day for most Christians. In the US, it has lost any religious meaning & is mostly celebrated by politicians & alcoholics claiming to be Irish. This year it is also Holi, a Hindu religious festival celebrating the victory of good over evil & the arrival of spring (similar to Easter in the Christian tradition). The distinctive thing about Holi is its free-for-all use of colored powders which are strewn all over families & strangers, friends & foe. Because of its joyous character & due to the Indian diaspora, it is now popularly celebrated in many countries.

Traditionally, the vibrant colored powders were plant-based, including herbs, berries, flowers, leaves, trees, & had medicinal purpose in Ayurvedic medicine. Turmeric, neem, sandalwood, gooseberries, chick peas, grapes, hibiscus, marigolds, pomegranate, beetroot, saffron were all mixed with flours & pastes to make up the powders & provide some medicinal charms along with the frolics & celebration of love.

Today, the natural ingredients have been replaced by chemically produced industrial dyes & minerals not only lacking medicinal purposes but causing many health problems from inhalation, ingestion, & skin contact. Reportedly, many celebrants wear nose masks & sun glasses to avoid inhaling pigments or exposing their eyes to chemical injury. One of the chief ingredients of the synthetic powders is called gulal which contains small crystals of mica to give a sparkling effect.

Mica is a mineral with thousands of industrial uses, including in the mineral makeups sold at a hefty price. The Dr. Oz Show has actually warned women about potential health hazards from repeated use of mineral makeup. Construction workers who work with mica products wear masks to prevent inhalation. Mica has been used for a few thousand years so it’s remarkable how little modern science has evaluated its toxic properties. The Center for Disease Control in the US claims to know almost nothing about it but the US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (no vanguard on toxic work conditions for workers) reports that respiratory illness, anemia, & weight loss are associated with inhalation. The mica Material Safety Data Sheet (the MSDS is provided by manufacturers & includes only the most damning side effects) says mica is hazardous in cases of ingestion, inhalation, skin & eye contact.

So why the hell would mica be included in ingredients for Holi celebrations which include children, elderly, & those with health issues!? And why is this young Indian worker sifting gulal powder at a factory near Siliguri not provided protective equipment–most importantly a respirator, safety goggles, & skin protection!? Such reckless endangerment of the health & lives of working people has become the norm & unions have done damn little to address it. Safety is a primary issue for working people. They need unions that will fight for them, not just rake in dues money to feed ungrateful politicians & enrich labor fat cats.

(Photo by Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

Immigration rights protests target Obama for not delivering on campaign promises

This immigration rights protest outside the White House doesn’t look like the most spirited protest but it’s colder than hell in Washington, DC & the immigration rights movement is one the most active social movements in a quite somnolent period in US politics.

After raking in the Latino vote by promising immigration reform, Obama remained true to form for the Democratic Party & continued militarizing the US-Mexican border; accelerated the massive deportation of undocumented workers (including separating children from their parents & dumping thousands of kids in the barbaric foster care system); & refusing to give amnesty to immigrants who had come here as children with & without their parents. He pulled a fast one on the latter, offering them a deferment after he got their names & addresses so immigration authorities know where to pick them up when the deferment ends.

Ever the bullshit artist & annoyed that immigration rights activists would embarrass him by demanding he deliver on his campaign promises, Obama tried to dump the blame on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which now governs immigration. Actually the DHS was appointed by Bush when that bozo was president & is a cabinet position so it’s likely the president continues to call the shots on DHS & immigration policy. Obama also tried to blame the Republicans which is a part of the two-party shell game as old as the republic itself. Boy it’s tiresome!

Immigration is a human right. Our hats off to these activists standing in the freezing cold last Wednesday to demand their human & democratic rights & for showing the rest of US working people what it takes to win justice.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Don’t let the barbarisms get you down!

There are lots of ugly, cruel things going on in this world & if we’re not careful we can grow cynical & misanthropic. Misanthropy is often blamed on old age, as if aging made you dumber, when in theory it ought to make you wiser. But sometimes the barbarisms just wear you out.

That’s why it’s good to keep your eyes on children (rebellious teenagers might not be the most inspiring focus–unless you love their antics). Kids will keep you grounded in reality. More importantly, they’ll keep you inspired & motivated to change things since it is so not right to raise them in a world unsuited for them to live & love in.

This sweet girl is from Q’ero, Peru. Keep her beautiful little face in mind next time you’re tempted to give up on the human race.

(Photo by Kazuyoshi Nomachi)

Long live Palestinian intifada!

This photo is another example of how the media doesn’t always completely lie about Palestinians & Israel but it never tells the truth. The caption to this photo read: “A Palestinian teenager kneels during Friday prayers as Israeli riot police block off a street in East Jerusalem.”

With such sketchy information, one might be led to think the riot cops are there to deter crime or rioting. In fact, as part of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem to expropriate it from Palestinians & as part of its on-going campaign to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem, Israel has banned all males under 50-years-old from observing Friday prayers. Hundreds of Palestinian boys & men are forced to pray kneeling on the public streets.

So this young guy is not only exercising religious freedom; this is a courageous act of political defiance. Protestors around the world who have faced phalanxes of riot cops know just how courageous this is since at any moment this young man could be beaten to a pulp.

Long live Palestinian intifada! No military aid to Israel! Support the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions movement against Israel!

(Photo by Tali Mayer/EPA)

Emancipation US-style in Afghanistan

Emancipation US-style: Now here we can see so clearly the failure of US-NATO marines at liberating Afghan women. And we are not referring to their attire but to the fact that they are begging in the streets of Kandahar in order to feed their families.

We don’t fault US-NATO soldiers for failing to achieve women’s liberation; they were never set up to be a salvation army. They were sent in to Afghanistan to occupy, destroy, kill, control–& that they’ve done very well.

US-NATO out of Afghanistan! US out of Iraq!

(Photo by Anja Niedringhaus/AP)

Music, not war chants!

And beside all the compelling political reasons why immigration is a human right, there are the cultural ones that make it so desirable. In a world chock full of global communication, we still don’t know much about each other or about our different cultures–especially the vibrancy of poetry & music & art.

Many first heard the Peruvian flute from immigrant musicians playing for change in subways or on street corners. Once you’ve heard it’s vibrant & sometimes haunting sounds, you will find it unforgettable. Why should the global predators be allowed to deny us these treasures? It’s for certain once we’ve heard their music, we’re less willing to take up arms against others or consider them barbarians.

Colonial powers have turned much of culture into propaganda, especially film. But this kind of culture doesn’t serve colonialism at all; it only serves human solidarity. We are meant to be brothers & sisters singing our own songs to each other–not shouting war chants.

This musician is in Q’ero, Peru.

(Photo by Kazuyoshi Nomachi)