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Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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Nearly half the breeding population of endangered yellow-eyed penguins on the island sanctuary of Whenua Hou (Codfish Island) in New Zealand have vanished, according to a recent survey.

The animals -- also known as "hoiho" in Māori -- are known as the world's rarest penguins and are only found in New Zealand.

Only 14 nests were found on the island compared to 24 last year, the survey from the Department of Conservation revealed. Since the island is predator-free with limited human access, terrestrial influences are unlikely to be the cause, the department pointed out.


Medicaid 1127wrp opt(Photo: Don Buciak II / Flickr)An under-appreciated time bomb of block grants to states for Medicaid and other safety net programs is a constant thread within budget plans going forward in Congress and the Trump administration. This is likely to happen soon and have big impacts on the 75 million Americans now covered by Medicaid, many of whom gained this coverage as residents of the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

As we know, the GOP tax plan that will probably emerge will give huge benefits to corporations and the wealthiest top 10 percent at the expense of the middle class. It will increase the federal deficit by some $1.5 trillion and lead to an attempt to make up that deficit by cutbacks in such "entitlement" programs as Medicare and Medicaid. A convenient way of doing this for Medicaid will be to give block grants to states with the unproven assumption that they can better design and manage their Medicaid programs with more flexibility -- and less federal money! If the costs of state programs exceed their budgets, it will be up to them to make up the difference.

An analysis by Avalere Health has shown that the federal government could save about $150 billion over the next five years through these per capita block grants. Any such savings would be on the backs of the most vulnerable among us.

Let's look at how these block grants will actually work to better understand what their impacts will be on vulnerable low-income Americans and safety net programs across the country.


Erik 1127wrpErik Prince. (Photo: Aslan Media / Flickr)After he's finished with the sullied campaign of Alabama's Roy Moore, will Steve Bannon's next project be the Senatorial campaign of Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater security firm, or as Esquire's Charles P. Pierce characterized the company, the Blackwater "murder gang"?

In early October, The New York Times reported that Prince, a frequent Breitbart radio guest, is seriously considering and "appears increasingly likely" to stage a primary challenge to Wyoming Republican Senator John Barasso, "a senior member of the Senate Republican leadership." And Bannon, the anti-establishment-candidate-whisperer is pledging his support, and perhaps he'll be able to bring along financial support from Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.  

As The New York Times' Jeremy W. Peters, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush reported, Prince, the brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, "who has never run for public office, has been a polarizing figure for years, as Blackwater faced a welter of ethical and legal problems over its work for the military in places like Iraq, including an episode in 2007 in which its employees killed 17 civilians in Baghdad."

According to Salon's Heather Digby Parton, "Prince has been under investigation by the government for money laundering and attempts to broker his mercenary services to foreign governments."


Pipe 1122wrp opt(Photo: Loozrboy / Flickr)TransCanada's permit to operate its Keystone tar sands pipeline in South Dakota could be revoked if an investigation into last week's 210,000-gallon leak determines that the pipeline operator violated its license, Reuters reported.

State regulators expressed concern that the Nov. 16 spill in Marshall County was not the first from the controversial pipeline.

"This is a relatively new pipeline. It is supposed to have an operating life of more than 100 years and it was supposed to be a state-of-the-art pipeline construction. It appears that it is not," South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) member Gary Hanson told Aberdeen News.

"We've had three fairly major leaks just on the border with North Dakota and two in South Dakota in a very short period of time," Hanson added. "One might expect this to take place on a pipeline over a period of 30 or 40 years at the maximum, yet it's been fewer than 10 years."


Refugee 1122wrp optAfghan refugee in Iran. (Photo:EU-ECHO Pierre Prakash / Flickr)During the spring of 1999, as part of Voices in the Wilderness's campaign to end indiscriminately lethal U.S./U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq, the Fellowship of Reconciliation arranged for two Nobel Peace laureates, Adolfo Perez Esquivel and Mairead Maguire, to visit the country. Before their travel, Voices activists helped organize meetings for them with a range of ordinary Iraqis affected by an economic warfare targeting the most vulnerable: the elderly, the sick, and most tragically of all, the children. Perez Esquivel studied the itinerary. His voice and face showed clear disappointment. "Yes," he said, shaking his head, "but when do we meet with the teenagers?" He advised to always learn from a region's young people, and seek clear, inquisitive views not yet hardened by propaganda. We quickly arranged for Maguire and Perez Esquivel to meet with young women at Baghdad's Dijla Secondary School for Girls.

It was the spring of 1999. After eight years of deadly economic sanctions, the 2003 U.S. invasion was still the haziest of looming future threats.  I was there with them at the school, and I remember Layla standing up and raising her voice. "You come and you say, you will do, you will do. But nothing changes. Me, I am sixteen. Can you tell me, what is the difference between me, I am sixteen, and someone who is sixteen in your country? I'll tell you. Our emotions are frozen. We cannot feel." But then she sat down and cried.

Other Iraqi students wondered what their country had done to deserve this treatment. What would happen to them if the UN said Iraq's foreign policy directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children, in another country, under age five?  "Who are the criminals?" they asked.


groundcombatvehicleGround combat vehicles. (Photo: DVIDSHUB)

If you are free from November 29 to December 1, you can attend the "Future Ground Combat Vehicles: Delivering Cutting Edge Solutions for Mechanized Modernization" in Detroit. It's being run by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, which profits from putting on military-industrial conference "trade" shows that focus on weaponry and combat paraphernalia. However, it won't be cheap: The cost for "vendors, consultants and solution providers" is $2,160 for a three-day all-access pass.

You're in luck, nevertheless, if you work for the military or government, because there is "no cost to all military and government employees" who wish to attend. This is generally the case in the invitations for such military and weapons-focused conferences. Why? Because the purpose is to attract vendors who are buying access to intermingle with current and past military personnel who might give corporations an edge on contracts. The military does nothing to discourage its staff from participating in such conferences. Why should it? After all, both sides of the military-industrial complex work together to expand the supply and demand for weaponry, combat gear and the infrastructure of state violence.

This year, the featured speaker at this conference is an Army commander, according tothe conference brochure:

General Robert B. "Abe" Abrams assumed duties as the 22nd Commander of United States Army Forces Command, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 10 August 2015. As Commander of the United States Army's largest organization, he commands 229,000 active duty Soldiers, and provides training and readiness oversight of U.S. Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve units. In total, the Forces Command team includes 776,000 Soldiers and 96,000 Civilians. Prior to his current command, he was the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of Defense.

Abrams is accompanied by a plethora of active military officer faculty, a retired brigadier general from Israel and three corporate speakers. This abundance of senior and project manager military personnel ensures that vendors can make key contacts for future military projects.


Change 1121wrp opt(Photo: Judd McCullum / Flickr)As someone who writes about the environment on a near-daily basis, the fact that a large chunk of Americans (about one in eight) reject the near scientific consensus of climate change can be a tough pill to swallow.

But after a year of record-breaking heatwaves, massive wildfires in the west, and a string of destructive hurricanes, it appears that my fellow U.S. citizens are waking up to the realities of our hot, new world, according to the latest nationally representative survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The poll, which has tracked Americans' attitudes about climate since 2008, revealed an uptick in Americans' concern about climate change, including "substantial increases" in the certainty that the global phenomenon is happening and currently harming people in the U.S.

The survey, based on the replies of 1,304 adults between Oct. 20 to Nov. 1, showed that seven in ten participants think climate change is happening—an increase of eight percentage points since March 2015. The good news is that those who think global warming is real outnumber climate deniers by more than 5 to 1.


Duterte 1121wrp optRodrigo Duterte portait. (Photo: thierry ehrmann / Flickr)"We've had a great relationship," exulted a giddy Donald Trump, following his two-day schmoozefest in Manila with the thuggish president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, a self-styled "toughie" who boasts of personally killing many people and who likes to compare himself to Satan, has been on a murderous rampage since his election last year. In the name of eliminating drugs, he has unleashed a massive military assault across the country, not merely targeting dealers, but also anyone using drugs. His onslaught against his own people is a human rights atrocity, with untold thousands essentially being executed in what are antiseptically termed "extrajudicial killings" — ie, illegal, unjustified... murderous.

Yet, the present President of the United States says Duterte is his new buddy, and Trump stressed in their official discussions that the Philippine president can count on him and the U.S. (which includes you and me) to be a friend. And, as a friend, Trump didn't bother his authoritarian buddy with any unpleasant talk about those rampant human rights abuses.

Instead, the Duterte-Trump get-together was one of mutual praise and even affection. Indeed, Donald was delighted when Rodrigo impulsively grabbed the microphone at a gala state dinner and serenaded Trump with a love ballad: "You are the love I've been waiting for," he crooned.


Betsy 1120wrp optBetsy DeVos at CPAC. (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)This is being written before a final vote has been taken on President Trump's higher-taxes-for-the-middle-class-and-the-poor bill has been voted on, so as of now, there hasn't been much in the way of legislation for the Trump administration to hang its hat on. But downstream, there are lots of awful things underway. To paraphrase an old Henny Youngman tag line: Take the work of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. … Please!

In her first few months as secretary, the Michigan billionaire, DeVos, who needed the vote of vice-president Mike Pence to break the tie in the Senate over her confirmation, has been involved in several controversial battles over the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Title IX, guns in the schools, rolling back regulations on the for-profit college industry, and her efforts to shrink the Dept. of Education.

According to The Washington Post's Moriah Balingit and Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, "The department's workforce has shrunk under … DeVos, who has said she wants to decrease the federal government's role in education, including investigations and enforcement of civil rights in schools. In all, the department has shed about 350 workers since December — nearly 8 percent of its staff — including political appointees. With buyouts offered to 255 employees in recent days, DeVos hopes to show even more staff the door."


OnePercent 1120wrp opt(Photo: Kate Ausburn / Flickr)Inequality, like a malignant tumor, is growing out of control, and the only response from Congress is to make it even worse. Those at the richest end of the nation seem to have lost all capacity for understanding the meaning and values of an interdependent society. They've convinced themselves that they deserve their passively accumulated windfalls, and that poorer people have only themselves to blame for their own misfortunes. 

It's Getting Uglier Every Year

The average 1% household made nearly $2.6 million in the 12 months to mid-2017. Mostly from the stock market. Here's how: 

- The U.S. increased its wealth by over $8.5 trillion (see Table 2-4, mid-2016 to mid-2017). 

- The 1% took $3.27 trillion of that (38.3 percent: see Table 6-5). 

- Each of 1.26 million households, on average, took nearly $2.6 million. In greater detail, the poor segment of the 1% averaged about $1.44 million for the year, the .1% averaged about $7.2 million, and the .01% (12,600 households) averaged nearly $65 million in just the past year.

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