Wednesday, December 23, 2015

DEA Eases Requirements for FDA-Approved Clinical Trials on Cannabidiol

DEC 23 - (Washington, D.C.) – The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently eased some of the regulatory requirements imposed by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) for those who are conducting Food and Drug Administration-approved clinical trials on cannabidiol (CBD), an extract of the marijuana plant.  

These modifications will streamline the research process regarding CBD’s possible medicinal value and help foster ongoing scientific studies.  The DEA notified affected researchers by letter of the changes,  which take effect immediately. 

Federal Regulation 21 CFR 1301.18 requires researchers conducting CBD-based clinical trials under an FDA Investigational New Drug Application to have a DEA research registration.  This registration permits the possession of an approved amount of CBD for a specific research protocol.  Prior to now, researchers who expanded the scope of their studies and needed more CBD than they were initially approved for had to request, in writing, a modification to their DEA research registrations – potentially delaying that research while the modification underwent an approval process that includes both the DEA and the FDA.  Under these changes, a previously registered CBD clinical researcher who is granted a waiver can readily modify their protocol and continue their research seamlessly.  This waiver effectively removes a step from the approval process.
Marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance because of the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient.  Because CBD contains less than 1 percent THC and has shown some potential medicinal value, there is great interest in studying it for medical applications.  Currently, CBD is a Schedule I controlled substance as defined under the CSA. 
Though the FDA approves drugs for medical use in the United States, the DEA regulates the handling of all controlled substances, including those being used by researchers to conduct studies.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Here's What's Happening Dumbasses! And Why You Screwed Up! Merry Christmas!

Let me begin by apologizing. That's always the best way to start. 

I am sorry for this self indulgent rant of limited scope. 

I grant myself this Indulgence free of charge as a Christmas present to myself. 

For the record, by the way, I believe in neither Santa Claus nor in any mystical, ancient myth of some creator who looks like Santa Claus only super fit, flying a magical beast-drawn vessel before the moon! 

That said, let me explain a small, but situationally relevant portion of the dumb shit you are a part of.

The People of The United States have ceded their authority, what of it they ever actually had, to various interwoven power bases...corporations, the Pentagon, and the Illuminati (this last one I'm throwing in there for the fun of it, to increase Internet search engine results and because, like I said, this is a Christmas present to myself).

It's arrogant and unproductive to be scornful of the US population for their ignorance of many matters (obviously matters of which I feel I am less ignorant than most. So, so much for avoiding my own arrogance)
The campaign against better judgement has been well funded, relentless and ingenious, whether or not it actually is a conspiracy of lizard skinned aliens.  

1: The Process
Where we are in history, as citizens of the US, for better or for worse, is part of the most successful world power ever.
Our military has dominated the last hundred years, culminating into a virtually unstoppable leviathan force which can go anywhere, anytime and do just about anything military men have ever wanted to do. Of course, once they do, they create a myriad of problems with which they are ill equipped to deal. But that's sort of the plan.
Once "the enemy" is beaten, the bureaucracy rolls in stamping sheets of paper and dividing up the spoils between contractors who will solve the problems the military is so ill equipped to deal with. The army breaks it down, then the bureaucracy hands out the pieces so the contractors can build it back up, in our image as much as possible.
At this stage of the game it really makes no difference whether or not people approve of this process. We, as in all of humanity, are knee deep into it and there is no turning back. "The West" won the World, using superb propaganda, a sustainable and viral, although inherently flawed economic model, a combined military force which, in total, has actually dominated the world for over a century, with a few punctuated fluctuations due to infighting, and with a history of dishonest or at best, unrealized treaties, including agreements with our own people.

(I will often use "The West" and "The US" interchangeably, as they are in fact reflections at times, of the same entities, where the US is the dominant internal force of the Liberalized West. None of my opinions about the morality, ethics, or quality of outcome should be interpreted as inherently anti Western. In fact, I am guilty of believing in many of the ideals of both modern and classical Liberalism, viewing the world as a dangerous place which has always had brutal wars, despots, abominable human rights, disdain for the individual, be they man, woman, or child, and constant conflict for resources. The fact that Western countries have rolled the current ball is merely a pin point in the history of humanity. My own opinions lean in the direction that Democracy, when properly realized and protected from corruption, is the best answer for human governance. And Capitalism, well, some form of free trade, also protected from corruption I might add, is necessary and expected in the free human soul. The prettier, nicer sister of Capitalism, free and fair trade combine into one wholesome spirit, which is the one we, as a self respecting humanity, should ultimately marry.)

2: Victory 
The US has been compared by many to the ancient Roman Empire, of course, some with a positive spin, others a negative bent. Either way, although somewhat comparable, it might be better to relax the lines a bit and realize the powers in control of resources, including corporate and military ventures are somewhat amorphous at times, and somewhat stratigraphic as opposed to geographic, as has been the case throughout Western history. Royal families, manipulating regional conflicts like players of some board game gave way to the empowerment of the Lords, then the Landed Gentry, the Merchant Class, then morphing into mist like, ghost powers flowing through mutated corporate charters feeding "fiduciary responsibilities." The outcome is similar perhaps. World domination. 
Regardless of whether or not one believes the amorphous ideas of the West have a positive or negative influence on the outcome of humanity, it can't be denied that those ideas and values have won the day, if for no other reason than they now control, at the least, the questions, if not always the answers. Those who refuse to ask the questions and seek the answers laid out by Western values, well, those elements are annihilated.
An argument for another day is the progression of the power base. Will the people as a whole ever actually wrest control from the higher strata of the Western economies?  Given that this outcome is in fact dependent on changing demographics and the currently rapidly shifting sands of populations in flux, only time will tell.
But defining exactly what we are, or divining exactly where we are going from here is not a prerequisite component of our need to understand that the West is currently and for the foreseeable future, "the victor" in world affairs. Given the ideals of Democracy and the control through the power of the voting booth, either actual or perceived, the force of progression is in the hands of Western populations who either feel as if they are in control of their governments or are in control, the latter being a sentiment that seems less prevalent today.
This control, again, whether actual or perceived, is the element against which those cultural forces not in line with the prescribed Westernization strike out. Terrorist attacks, although not understood by most Western citizens, are in fact the hopeless attempts of dying regimes and ideas lashing out with their last breath at the only thing they can reach. You and me. 
They cannot hope, as I might add neither can you or I at this point, to sway the progression of the leviathan or the following horde of culture. Their world is dying and it results in three very natural and predictable outcomes, submission, fight, or flight.
Thus, we have created, through our success, our problems, and theirs. This is Victory.
3: Arrogance
Arrogance and intolerance go together like ebony and ivory, only less melodic and more... what's the word? ...Evil.
The modern power of the West lies more in ideas, and in ideals than in tanks and bombs. In fact, though the tanks and bombs have in some instances opened up the way for our cultural manipulations and infiltration, the organic spread of Western ideas is by far the more potent and sustainable force for globalization.
Again, the fact that Western cultural ideas have so readily spread across the globe is a sign of their strength. The West, in many instances it must be recognized, in no way invented much of the ideals to which we as a culture subscribe. And we do not often fully adhere to these ideals. The main component of the power of Western thought, in fact, has been the adherence to inclusiveness. Of course this statement only relates to a post World War II West, and only in as much as we have glorified our own successes at human rights and minimized our multitude of abominable failures. This doesn't mean the culmination of the ideals we now hold are inferior, simply that, in their current form are still in infancy, as well as the reflection of ideas reincarnate from other struggles throughout history. This is why the tune resonates with so many. Though the current song is new, the notes are old, and beloved by any good person.
For years we have admonished and implored those in the world who were not singing, "Join our song! Join our chorus." And now, with victory at hand, this has begun. China, though still, and certainly always to be unique, has Westernized its architecture, clothing, culture, military, economy, you name it. Though Asia is growing, Asia is trending, it is all part and parcel of the greater trend of Westernization. We have shown that we will brook no peers to our military might. Yet, in this mimicry of Western strategy and tactics, that is exactly what China is becoming. This is in fact...submission.
The hold outs of the entrenched Middle Eastern, Arab countries are even falling into the flow. And there lies the current rub. With the complete and utter, and fairly mismanaged, destruction of the old power bases of the Middle East, those strident hold outs, still adherent to the old paradigm have entrenched themselves and their antiquated, near dead ideas and bodies to repel the uncompromising, unstoppable onslaught of the coming finalization of Westernization. Mayhem and destruction rule in the final days of the old order of repression and theocratic narcissism. But those innocent victims, those fleeing families and needy Western converts who would so love to have TVs and microwaves, clean water and the vote, come streaming out of these fallen countries, come running to the light. And what do we do? We turn them back.
This is the arrogance of which I speak. The power of "Liberator" vs the arrogance of "Invader" or "Occupier." No one can deny the West has won. In fact...people are flocking to enjoy our freedoms, our quality of life.
Controlling the flow is crucial, of course. Controlling the terrorist agendas of some violent extremists hiding in the flock of their victims...of course that is crucial too. But if we follow the commentary of the American Exceptionalism expressed in so many negative comments and inflammatory rhetoric directed at the very people we claim to be helping then our presence becomes more a product of forcing assimilation than assisting in liberation.
People from all over the world have been sold an idea, including citizens of Western countries, about Western ideals, from which support has been garnered. We must follow through on these ideals.
When individuals bring their cultural influences into Western countries it has been almost entirely for the benefit of our culture. So the idea that others are invading, or stealing our resources or culture, which is espoused by many to incite a fear response in the electorate, is just too far from the truth. Of course we need to isolate the violent, anti-democratic elements, even so far as to influence the effective reach of newcomers' political participation in Western governmental affairs. We don't have to let people in and immediately give them voting rights or 40 acres and a mule. But we need to allow only strategies on the side of assistance and welcoming. The positive side of that line can and will be rife with details, debate, fine tuning and mistakes. But it is the only moral approach to the new world.
4: Secularism 
If nothing else, the current crises and the involvement of and positioning in religious dogma fully highlights the need for only secular governments.
Secular Governments by their very nature are far more capable of protecting the rights of religious diversity than any theocracy could ever hope. Abuses of power, corruption, manipulation all seem to constantly creep into politics at any level. Religion has no place in that mix for so many reasons.
Some people who have enjoyed the prosperity and relative freedom from repression offered by the predominately secular Western governments often decry the lack of God in their Parliaments and Houses. But the very right to speak out is protected by these same "Godless" institutions. Attempting at every turn to slip some element of religion back into our government, many people fail to realize the damage that would cause and what temporary good it would do even their limited agendas.
Just look at the infighting among the nations who do lean heavily on their religious scriptures and theocratic governments. There is constant turmoil in an attempt to right ancient wrongs, interpret different passages, protect imagined sanctities. At the very least, providing some unspecific tribute to some potential deity could be tolerated. But in fact, without direct severance of government affiliation with religious agendas there will never be true religious freedom. If history, and the current crises around the world have taught us one thing, it is that change and control is never a one way street. Religious influence on Governments equals Government influence on religion. And then we have to ask...which religion wins, which denomination? 
Embracing differences is very gratifying when one opens their mind to the positive influences available through inclusiveness. Other cultures share with us their food, their songs, their dances, their stories and their blood when necessary. They arrive, become, and fight along side of us. That is the real story of immigration. 

So much fear surrounds the potential failure of the American way of life. But, in fact, that is the American way of life. We learn, live, succeed and fail together. These are the strengths of inclusiveness that have allowed us to become the dominant force for almost everything in the world today. If we give that up, we have lost. To not be the us that is and has become the US through trial, and error, and sacrifice and bleeding... That would be something other than what we are, which would mean we no longer are. 

It's time we honestly admit that we are an imperial force in the world, that our ideas and culture have spread and infiltrated almost every other corner of the globe, and therefore we have a responsibility to follow through. There can be no doubt that this follow through must contain honest, straight forward, constructive dealings, which have been the hallmark of any positive advances made since World War II. Just look to the strong ties of the former enemies of that conflict, who came together to be part of the democratized world and major driving forces of the global economy.

America is in charge of the skies and the seas. OK. Let's admit what the rest of the world knows. Now let's stick to the power, that gave us that power. That is the power of fairness, inclusivity and human rights. This paved the way for our success and will provide for all future success and sustainability. 

None of the rhetoric I hear today bothers to paint a clear and full picture. Too much pandering and posturing. Too much pulling for, or to, one side or the other. We need to mature as a country. We need to admit as a country. We need to commit as a country.

Yes! We have screwed the pooch on many issues. But until we pull together and stop responding to politicians who divide us into childish groups, sitting at different tables, whining and bitching like infants, we will continue to cause them to do that very thing. They respond to our responses. It is a ridiculous cycle.

Perhaps that is just the kind of divisiveness that the Illuminati wishes to instill in their subjects. It will make it easier for them to hide their lizard skin if we are too distracted to notice. 

By the way...Merry Christmas!      

(PS. If this was not adequately specific or you cannot glean from it the subtle inference of answers please remember it was primarily a rant and you're dumb.)  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Facing 'Keep it in the Ground' Protest, Feds Halt Fossil Fuel Auction Coinciding With Paris Climate Talks

Second Auction Halted in a Month Following Growing Protests
WASHINGTON— Facing a climate protest from a growing “Keep It in the Ground” movement, the Bureau of Land Management today halted an oil and gas auction scheduled for Thursday in Washington, D.C. The auction was scheduled as the Obama administration negotiates a climate deal in Paris this week.
Keep It in the Ground
Photo by Suchat Pederson.
“If the administration can’t handle the optics of auctioning fossil fuels while negotiating a climate deal in Paris, it shouldn’t be auctioning off fossil fuels at all,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s time to end the federal fossil fuel leasing program to align public lands management with our climate goals and keep as much as 450 billion tons of carbon pollution in the ground.”
In November, facing a previous “Keep It in the Ground” protest, the BLM halted another oil and gas auction in Utah. Auctions in Wyoming and Colorado were similarly protested this fall, with another slated for Reno, Nev., on Tuesday.

The protests are part of a rapidly growing “Keep It in the Ground” movement of local and national groups calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans — a step that would keep as much as 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere.

The auctions highlight a significant conflict between the Obama administration’s climate goals and its “all-of-the-above” energy policy by leasing federal fossil fuels that should be considered “unburnable” in the context of global carbon budgets. Federal fossil fuels — those that the president controls — should be the first taken off the table to fight climate change.

“The ‘Keep It in the Ground’ movement is only getting stronger, and the Obama administration is going to face more and larger protests for auctioning off federal fossil fuels to the highest bidder,” said McKinnon.

The American public owns nearly 650 million acres of federal public land, as well as more than 1.7 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf — and the fossil fuels beneath them. The federal public lands include national parks, national forests and wildlife refuges that make up about a third of the U.S. land area — and oceans such as Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard. These places and fossil fuels are held in trust for the public by the federal government; federal fossil fuel leasing is administered by the Department of the Interior. 

The potential greenhouse gas emissions of unleased federal fossil fuels — including unleased oil and gas in Nevada — is incompatible with any U.S. share of global carbon limits to avoid dangerous warming. By ending new leasing, the president can remove as much as 450 billion tons of potential greenhouse gas emissions from the global pool. 

More than 400 organizations and leaders in September called on Obama to end federal fossil fuel leasing. They included Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Dr. Noam Chomsky, Dr. Michael Mann, Tim DeChristopher, Dr. Stuart Pimm, Dr. Michael Soule, United Auto Workers Union, Unitarian Universalist Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Protect Our Winters,, Center for Biological Diversity, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, REDOIL, Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Waterkeeper Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and hundreds of others. 

On Nov. 4 Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and others introduced legislation to end new federal fossil fuel leases and cancel nonproducing federal fossil fuel leases. Days later Obama canceled the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, saying, “Because ultimately, if we’re going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky.” 

Download the letter urging President Obama to cancel Thursday’s oil and gas lease sale here

Download the September “Keep It in the Ground” letter to Obama here

Download Grounded: The President’s Power to Fight Climate Change, Protect Public Lands by Keeping Publicly Owned Fossil Fuels in the Ground here (this report details the legal authorities with which a president can halt new federal fossil fuel leases). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions of U.S. Federal Fossil Fuels here (this report quantifies the volume and potential greenhouse gas emissions of remaining federal fossil fuels). 

Download The Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions factsheet here

Download Public Lands, Private Profits here (this report details the corporations profiting from climate-destroying fossil fuel extraction on public lands).

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New Report: Airplane Pollution Jeopardizes Paris Climate Goals

PARIS— Airplanes could generate 43 gigatonnes of planet-warming pollution through 2050, consuming almost 5 percent of the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to a new Center for Biological Diversity report.
Up in the Air
Yet the Center’s analysis also finds that negotiators at the Paris climate conference are considering a draft agreement that, in its current form, is unlikely to create measurable effects on aviation pollution. (A Paris panel will address this issue Dec 3: details here.)
“A Paris climate deal that doesn’t address airplane pollution would represent a drastic failure to protect our planet,” said Vera Pardee, senior counsel at the Center. “The aviation pollution problem is too big and growing too quickly to be ignored. U.S. negotiators must back strong action in Paris to confront this jet-powered threat to our climate.”
The Center’s report finds that global greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are a surprisingly large and fast-growing contributor to the climate crisis. If global aircraft emissions were compared to the greenhouse gas pollution of individual countries, they would rank seventh, just behind Germany and ahead of some 150 other countries.
U.S. airplanes have released 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide since 2007, when the Center and others first petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to begin regulating aviation emissions. That’s equivalent to the CO2 emissions in 2014 from the entire U.S. electricity generation sector attributed to burning coal.
Without regulation, the Center’s report says, global aviation emissions will triple by mid-century. In 2050 aviation alone could emit more than 3 gigatonnes of carbon annually under a high-growth, business-as-usual scenario. By comparison Germany, the sixth-largest emission source by country, currently emits 0.84 gigatonnes per year.
Paris negotiators hope to produce an agreement that will help keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius. But language folding aviation emissions into this goal was recently deleted from the Paris negotiating text and replaced by vague text that makes no mention of a temperature cap.
The International Energy Agency projects that the world’s estimated remaining carbon budget, consistent with a 50 percent chance of keeping temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius, will be consumed by 2040 without aggressive international carbon emission cuts.
Airplane pollution could be reduced dramatically. A recent International Council on Clean Transportation report showed that some of the top 20 transatlantic air carriers can drive down greenhouse emissions by as much as 51 percent using existing technology and operational improvements.
But the aviation industry has fought measures to curb its carbon pollution for nearly two decades. It now supports standards under discussion by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that would cover just 5 percent of the existing airplane fleet by 2030 and barely bend the curve of the industry’s steeply rising greenhouse gas pollution. 
The U.S. EPA issued a proposed rulemaking earlier this year finding that greenhouse gas pollution from America’s aircraft fleet harms the climate and endangers human health and welfare. Once the “endangerment finding” becomes final, U.S. law mandates that standards be set. The standards now under discussion at ICAO do not meet U.S. legal requirements.
“The Obama administration's climate legacy is at stake on the issue of aircraft emissions,” Pardee said. “Airlines’ denial and delay must not stop America and the international community from reining in the aviation industry’s skyrocketing pollution.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

EPA Revokes Approval of Dow's 'Enlist Duo' Herbicide Because of High Toxicity

WASHINGTON— In response to litigation by conservation groups, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it will revoke approval of the herbicide “Enlist Duo” after  determining that its combination of chemicals is likely significantly more harmful than initially believed. Approved by the agency just over a year ago, Enlist Duo is a toxic combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D that Dow AgroSciences created for use on the next generation of genetically engineered crops that are designed to withstand being drenched with this potent herbicide cocktail.  

The action resolves a year-long legal challenge filed by a coalition of conservation groups seeking to rescind the approval of the dangerous herbicide blend. The EPA had approved use of Enlist Duo in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and had intended to approve it in additional areas in the near future.

The reversal came after the EPA’s failure to consider the impacts of Enlist Duo on threatened and endangered plants and animals protected under the Endangered Species Act was challenged by Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety, on behalf of Center for Food Safety, Beyond Pesticides, the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Working Group, the National Family Farm Coalition and Pesticide Action Network North America. The Endangered Species Act requires that every federal agency consider the impacts of its actions on our nation’s most imperiled plants and animals and seek input from the expert wildlife agencies before plunging ahead, which the EPA had refused to do. 
“With this action, EPA confirms the toxic nature of this lethal cocktail of chemicals, and has stepped back from the brink,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Paul Achitoff. “Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen and is wiping out the monarch butterfly, 2,4-D also causes serious human health effects, and the combination also threatens endangered wildlife. This must not, and will not, be how we grow our food.”

Dow created Enlist crops as a quick fix for the problem created by “Roundup Ready” crops, the previous generation of genetically engineered crops designed to resist the effects of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Just as overuse of antibiotics has left resistant strains of bacteria to thrive, repeated use of Roundup on those crops allowed glyphosate-resistant “superweeds” to proliferate, and those weeds now infest tens of millions of acres of U.S. farmland. Enlist crops allow farmers to spray both glyphosate and 2,4-D without killing their crops, which they hope will kill weeds resistant to glyphosate alone. But some weeds have already developed 2,4-D resistance, and the escalating cycle of more toxic pesticides in the environment will continue unless the EPA stops approving these chemicals, and USDA stops rubber-stamping new genetically engineered crops.

“The decision by EPA to withdraw the illegally approved Enlist Duo crops is a huge victory for the environment and the future of our food,” said George Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety's senior attorney. “We will remain vigilant to ensure industry does not pressure the agency into making the same mistake in the future.”
“This Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the EPA taking this important action to protect people, rare plants and animals from Enlist Duo,” said Lori Ann Burd, Environmental Health director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “As we gather with our families for the holiday feast, we can all breathe a little bit easier knowing that the EPA has protected our food from being drenched with this poisonous pesticide cocktail.”

Judy Hatcher, executive director of Pesticide Action Network, said: “EPA is taking a step in the right direction, but Enlist Duo shouldn’t have been given the green light in the first place. Too often, GE seeds and the herbicides designed to accompany them are rushed to market without thorough evaluation of their real-world impacts on community health and farmer livelihoods.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

NASA Orders SpaceX Crew Mission to International Space Station

Photo: SpaceX

NASA took a significant step Friday toward expanding International Space Station with its first mission order from Hawthorne, California based-company SpaceX to launch astronauts from U.S. soil.

This is the second in a series of four guaranteed orders NASA will make under the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts. The Boeing Company of Houston received its first crew mission order in May.

"It’s really exciting to see SpaceX and Boeing with hardware in flow for their first crew rotation missions," said Kathy Lueders, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. "It is important to have at least two healthy and robust capabilities from U.S. companies to deliver crew and critical scientific experiments from American soil to the space station throughout its lifespan."

Determination of which company will fly its mission to the station first will be made at a later time. The contracts call for orders to take place prior to certification to support the lead time necessary for missions in late 2017, provided the contractors meet readiness conditions.

Commercial crew missions to the space station, on the Boeing CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft, will restore America’s human spaceflight capabilities and increase the amount of time dedicated to scientific research aboard the orbiting laboratory.

SpaceX’s crew transportation system, including the Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, has advanced through several development and certification phases. The company recently performed a critical design review, which demonstrated the transportation system has reached a sufficient level of design maturity to work toward fabrication, assembly, integration and test activities.

"The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the entire SpaceX team," said Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating office of SpaceX. “When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country.”

Commercial crew launches will reduce the cost, per seat, of transporting NASA astronauts to the space station compared to what the agency must pay the Russian Federal Space Agency for the same service. If, however, NASA does not receive the full requested funding for CCtCap contracts in fiscal year 2016 and beyond, the agency will be forced to delay future milestones for both U.S. companies and continue its sole reliance on Russia to transport American astronauts to the space station.

Orders under the CCtCap contracts are made two to three years prior to actual mission dates in order to provide time for each company to manufacture and assemble the launch vehicle and spacecraft. Each company also must successfully complete a certification process before NASA will give the final approval for flight. Each contract includes a minimum of two and a maximum potential of six missions.
A standard commercial crew mission to the station will carry up to four NASA or NASA-sponsored crew members and about 220 pounds of pressurized cargo. The spacecraft will remain at the station for up to 210 days, available as an emergency lifeboat during that time.

“Commercial crew launches are really important for helping us meet the demand for research on the space station because it allows us to increase the crew to seven,” said Julie Robinson, International Space Station chief scientist. “Over the long term, it also sets the foundation for scientific access to future commercial research platforms in low- Earth orbit.”

NASA’s Commercial Crew Program manages the CCtCap contracts and is working with each company to ensure commercial transportation system designs and post-certification missions will meet the agency’s safety requirements. Activities that follow the award of missions include a series of mission-related reviews and approvals leading to launch. The program also will be involved in all operational phases of missions to ensure crew safety.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Oil Spill Money Going to Help Alabama Artificial Reef Plan

A brainstorming session involving the Alabama Marine Resources Division, Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) resulted in significant implications for those who love to fish in Alabama’s saltwater environment.
The three entities concluded that their combined efforts could best be used to develop a long-term plan for Alabama’s world-renowned artificial reef program.
“Alabama’s Marine Resources Division has been a leader for decades with inshore and offshore artificial reef systems,” said AWF Executive Director Tim L. Gothard.  “The Alabama Wildlife Federation firmly believes that properly engineered artificial reefs provide ecological benefits and unique fishing opportunities for anglers – a true win-win. We were glad to partner with the Marine Resources Division and Coastal Conservation Association-Alabama to compile the Alabama Artificial Reef Plan and promote this beneficial investment of oil spill-related dollars.”
Those oil-spill related dollars that Gothard noted come in the form of grants recently announced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) that will provide $12.5 million for habitat enhancement along the Alabama Gulf Coast. NFWF’s three-year plan is phase one of a larger 10-year artificial reef program that Marine Resources developed in conjunction with the AWF and CCA-Alabama. Visit for more information.
“We designed a 10-year plan with $42 million in projects,” Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship said. “This NFWF project gives a good start on that 10-year plan. We’ll continue to look for funding after the first three years. We’re hoping to use the research component of this project to show the benefits of artificial reefs, that it produces fish and leads to a positive net ecological benefit that will help us seek additional funding down the road.”
The NFWF funding will be used for a variety of projects in three areas: offshore, nearshore and inshore.
“Starting with offshore, it includes money to sink two ships, one in 2017 and one in 2018,” Blankenship said. “It also includes funding to put down 140 of the 25-foot tall pyramids. We will put down a couple of those larger pyramids at each site to mimic a larger vessel. We plan to put about 600 regular pyramids in the reef zones we’re creating in the Gulf of Mexico within 9 miles of the shoreline. We are still working to have this area permitted by the Corps of Engineers.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now requires cultural resource surveys to search for any shipwrecks or other historically significant bottom features.

“The level of surveys required by the Corps of Engineers is very costly,” he said. “The surveys include side-scan, sub-bottom profiles and magnetometer surveys that look for metal in shipwrecks and other material. That has been the hold-up. This should help us do those surveys and get those reef zone permits processed and moving forward rapidly.”
Included in those nearshore plans is a proposed juvenile fish habitat zone of about 40 acres south of Sand Island Lighthouse. The area would provide a haven for juvenile fish to escape predation.
“We would use low-relief material, like rocks from basketball size to softball size,” Blankenship said. “This would give those red snapper from age zero and age one some cover during that transitional period before they recruit to the larger reefs. Hopefully that will help get those age zeros some protection and increase the recruitment.”
Another project involves the nearshore Minton Reef Zones south of Gulf State Park Pier and south of Perdido Pass, which will get more of the 6-foot pyramids and “eco-reefs” designed to be deployed in areas with soft bottoms.
Blankenship said the inshore plans include replenishing about 10 existing reefs with new material.
“A lot of those reefs that were built 15 or 20 years ago have settled or have silted in, and they are in need of new material," he said. “We also plan to build at least two new reefs. One will be a fairly large reef off Point Clear that is a relic oyster reef. We haven’t decided on the other reefs, but we’re looking at areas in Mississippi Sound that would be suitable. We’re looking for places with harder bottoms. If we don’t find suitable hard bottom, we’re experimenting with the eco-reefs that won’t sink up. If those turn out to be beneficial, it really opens up the opportunities to use eco-reefs in areas where we previously couldn’t build reefs because the bottom was too soft.”
Blankenship said the eco-reefs use a piling surrounded by limestone rock. Discs are attached around the piling at varying depths to provide cover for juvenile fish and other sea life. Depending on water depth, Blankenship said from three to five discs could be attached to the piling.
“The eco-reefs have proven to be effective in the Minton Reef Zone, so now we’re looking to see if they are effective in waters like Mississippi Sound and Mobile Bay,” he said.
As for the ships that will be deployed as artificial reefs in 2017 and 2018, Blankenship said vessels similar to The LuLu, a 271-foot retired coastal freighter that was sunk 17 miles south of Perdido Pass in 2013, would be ideal.
“We’ll have to see what kind of vessels are on the market,” he said. “We’ll be looking for something between 200 and 300 feet. We hope we can find something like The Lulu that will last for decades or like the Liberty ships that were sunk in the 70s and are still providing habitat for a variety of reef fish.”
Blankenship said the NFWF funding also provides money to take advantage of “materials of opportunity.”
“As we get pipe or culvert or other material donated from construction sites, we will have money available to deploy that material as reefs,” he said. “We want to encourage companies or individuals who have these types of material to contact us (251-968-7576 or 251-861-2882) so we can stage that material at our facility in Gulf Shores and deploy the reef material both inshore and offshore.”
Blankenship said Marine Resources would contract with the University of South Alabama Marine Sciences to perform much of the research work funded through the NFWF grants. One of the research projects involves comparing the change in biomass for areas after adding artificial reefs to natural bottom without any structure.
“We’ll have the opportunity to do some studies on areas that have no reefs at all,” he said. “We’ll do a pre-deployment survey and then monitor the new reefs that were deployed over the course of three years to see how the biomass grows around those reefs. We think we will be able to provide definitive information that artificial reefs increase biomass and have a net positive ecological effect.
“We’re excited to partner with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in this extremely important project. I’m very thankful that Governor Bentley and Commissioner (N. Gunter) Guy saw the benefit in this type of work and provided the funding.”
PHOTOS: (Marine Resources) Pyramid reefs of different sizes will be used in the artificial reef enhancement program funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Nearshore reefs will use different configurations to benefit the saltwater ecosystem along the Alabama Gulf Coast.

There Is No Good Way to See Syria and The Hell Which Has Become

As my daughter sits upstairs practicing Christmas songs on her flute, I'm filled with the love I feel for her, and a general gratitude that I am in a place where this peaceful moment is possible. This feeling fills me with empathy for those not so lucky. 

I, like many people in the US, have a myriad of feelings and responses to the crisis in, and now about and out of, Syria. 

As things evolve, it is obvious the spilling of blood, the spilling out of Syrian refugees, of Jihadists, of the flow of displacement of people, and violence is inevitable. The concept that containment is possible, even if that were the desired goal, has slipped into the past of wishes.

I admit, as it goes with most people, my awareness of the flow only grows as the tide reaches our shores, and those of our closest allies. I am now, however, thankful for the pain of awareness. Better to see it, to know, than remain shielded and oblivious. 

Everything is global now.      

A picture speaks a thousand words. In this case, a picture speaks an eternity of the Hell raging in Syria.

This is very simply a gallery of some images of the "situation" in Syria. It is important to understand in a non sterile format what is actually happening. The only conclusion drawn herein is that we must see.

Then we can ask the questions.
Do we want to help?

Why is this happening?
Can we take the risk?

First at least understand why we need to ask.

But understand also, as people complain that the attacks in Paris have captured our attention to the neglect of other "situations," there are, unfortunately, "situations" raging across the globe. 

And the trend is currently upwards.

Conflict creates an energy and osmosis will push that energy toward calmer waters. How long can we hold back the flood? Or is it possible to stop the reign of terror?

A Syrian rebel sniper in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo province.

Checkpoint at Damascus' edge; the capital is ringed by restive towns. Jan. 14, 2012. Photo taken by VOA Middle East correspondent Elizabeth Arrott while traveling through Damascus with government escorts.

The article on the Syrian crisis linked in the above tweet is from several months ago. Follow the link and then imagine how the escalation of violence and passage of time has increased the misery.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Traveler With Hundreds Of Illegal Tamales Caught At LAX

CBP officers seized 450 pork meat tamales at LAXU.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialists assigned to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) seized 450 prohibited pork meat tamales discovered inside the luggage of a passenger arriving from Mexico, on November 2.

The passenger, who was referred to agriculture examination, marked “YES” on the customs declaration about bringing food, but when asked if the food declared contained any pork meat products, a negative verbal declaration was given. 

Upon inspection, CBP agriculture specialists found 450 pork meat tamales wrapped in plastic bags.

“Although tamales are a popular holiday tradition, foreign meat products can carry serious animal diseases from countries affected by outbreaks of Avian Influenza, Mad Cow and Swine Fever," said Anne Maricich, CBP Acting Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles. “Every day CBP agriculture specialists prevent the intentional and unintentional introduction of harmful pests and foreign animal diseases into the U.S.”

Traveler fined $1,000 penalty for smuggling illegal tamales The traveler was assessed a $1,000.00 civil penalty for commercial activity with the intent to distribute. 

The pork meat tamales were seized and destroyed under CBP supervision.

(in a back room with chips?)

CBP enforces U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) regulations on importing meat and meat products. The best source for the current disease status can be found starting on page 19 of the APHIS website.

During fiscal year 2014, CBP agriculture specialists nationwide issued 75,330 civil violations and intercepted 1,623,294 animal by-product, meat and plant/soil quarantine products.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Sat #BhamNov21 Mural of Watercress Darter (@EndangeredOcean @TierraMussel @TooSphexy) Unveiling Celebration

East Lake Painting Part of National Endangered Species Mural Project
The Center for Biological Diversity on Saturday will host a celebration for a new 15-by-30-foot mural in the East Lake neighborhood in Birmingham, the fourth in a multi-city national endangered species mural project highlighting threatened wildlife. The project aims to use art in public spaces to increase awareness of regional biodiversity. 
Watercress darter
Watercress darter photo courtesy USFWS.

The Birmingham mural will feature the watercress darter, a small, brilliantly colored endangered fish that is only found in the Birmingham metropolitan area. The mural is being painted this week on the wall of the soon-to-be-opened Lake Cottage Books. 

The public reception and unveiling will include music by the Oxy Morons, face-painting by Starshine Faces and crafts led by artists from the University of Montevallo art department.

Artist Roger Peet, the Magic City Mural Collective and Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center, along with local environmental groups and universities

Saturday, Nov. 21, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
7769 2nd Avenue South, Birmingham, East Lake Neighborhood

Protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1970, the watercress darter is now known to occur in only five limestone springs in the Birmingham metropolitan area. Urban development and water pollution continue to threaten the fish, and many organizations are working to protect it. 

The Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species mural project is spearheaded by Portland, Ore., artist Roger Peet, who is teaming up with local artists to bring endangered wildlife to public spaces around the country. The project aims to promote a deep affinity for the natural world and the wild creatures that help define it, and features species that are unique to their regions. Birmingham was selected as the site of darter mural because Alabama is a world hotspot for freshwater animal diversity, and the Center is working to protect hundreds of Alabama species from extinction.

Already installed murals include the mountain caribou in Sandpoint, Idaho; the Arctic grayling in Butte, Mont.; and the monarch butterfly in Minneapolis, Minn. Additional murals are planned of the Ozark hellbender in St. Louis, Mo.; the white fringeless orchid in Berea, Ky., and the pink mucket mussel in Knoxville, Tenn.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cheaha State Park Hosts "Bigfoot Bio Bash" Conservation Festival Nov. 21 --- (#BhamNov21)

Cheaha State Park is hosting “Bigfoot Bio Bash,” a conservation festival Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Highlights of the festival include a 5K trail race and 1-mile fun run, conservation exhibits, the opening of a new trail and storytelling by some of the best “tellers” in the Southeast.

The festival will have something for all ages and includes exhibitors, guided hikes, archery instruction and live birds of prey.

Cheaha’s newest trail, the Bigfoot Trail, will be unveiled at the festival. The trail highlights a partnership with Leave No Trace, an organization that encourages people to protect the outdoors by enjoying it responsibly. The trail emphasizes the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace:
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Cheaha State Park is hosting Alabama’s Eighth Annual Tellabration at Bald Rock Lodge from 1 to 3 p.m. Alabama’s best storytellers will entertain with spooky, humorous, thought-provoking, and just plain fun stories. This event is part of the International Tellabration, a worldwide event devoted to storytelling that always takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

A registration fee is required for the 5K and 1-mile fun run, but all other events are free with park admission. Food vendors will be on-site and Cheaha’s restaurant will be open as well.

Bigfoot Bio Bash is presented in cooperation with the Cleburne Chamber of Commerce. Visit for additional details about the event.

The Alabama State Parks Division operates and maintains 17 state parks encompassing approximately 48,000 acres of land and water. These parks rely on visitor fees and the support of other partners like local communities to fund the majority of their operations. To learn more about Alabama State Parks, visit

NASA Mission Reveals Speed of Solar Wind Stripping Martian Atmosphere

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission has identified the process that appears to have played a key role in the transition of the Martian climate from an early, warm and wet environment that might have supported surface life to the cold, arid planet Mars is today.

MAVEN data have enabled researchers to determine the rate at which the Martian atmosphere currently is losing gas to space via stripping by the solar wind. The findings reveal that the erosion of Mars’ atmosphere increases significantly during solar storms. The scientific results from the mission appear in the Nov. 5 issues of the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters.

“Mars appears to have had a thick atmosphere warm enough to support liquid water which is a key ingredient and medium for life as we currently know it,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Understanding what happened to the Mars atmosphere will inform our knowledge of the dynamics and evolution of any planetary atmosphere. Learning what can cause changes to a planet’s environment from one that could host microbes at the surface to one that doesn’t is important to know, and is a key question that is being addressed in NASA’s journey to Mars.”

MAVEN measurements indicate that the solar wind strips away gas at a rate of about 100 grams (equivalent to roughly 1/4 pound) every second. "Like the theft of a few coins from a cash register every day, the loss becomes significant over time," said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "We've seen that the atmospheric erosion increases significantly during solar storms, so we think the loss rate was much higher billions of years ago when the sun was young and more active.”

In addition, a series of dramatic solar storms hit Mars’ atmosphere in March 2015, and MAVEN found that the loss was accelerated. The combination of greater loss rates and increased solar storms in the past suggests that loss of atmosphere to space was likely a major process in changing the Martian climate.

The solar wind is a stream of particles, mainly protons and electrons, flowing from the sun's atmosphere at a speed of about one million miles per hour. The magnetic field carried by the solar wind as it flows past Mars can generate an electric field, much as a turbine on Earth can be used to generate electricity. This electric field accelerates electrically charged gas atoms, called ions, in Mars’ upper atmosphere and shoots them into space.

MAVEN has been examining how solar wind and ultraviolet light strip gas from of the top of the planet's atmosphere. New results indicate that the loss is experienced in three different regions of the Red Planet: down the "tail," where the solar wind flows behind Mars, above the Martian poles in a "polar plume," and from an extended cloud of gas surrounding Mars. The science team determined that almost 75 percent of the escaping ions come from the tail region, and nearly 25 percent are from the plume region, with just a minor contribution from the extended cloud.

Ancient regions on Mars bear signs of abundant water – such as features resembling valleys carved by rivers and mineral deposits that only form in the presence of liquid water. These features have led scientists to think that billions of years ago, the atmosphere of Mars was much denser and warm enough to form rivers, lakes and perhaps even oceans of liquid water.

Recently, researchers using NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observed the seasonal appearance of hydrated salts indicating briny liquid water on Mars. However, the current Martian atmosphere is far too cold and thin to support long-lived or extensive amounts of liquid water on the planet's surface.

"Solar-wind erosion is an important mechanism for atmospheric loss, and was important enough to account for significant change in the Martian climate,” said Joe Grebowsky, MAVEN project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “MAVEN also is studying other loss processes -- such as loss due to impact of ions or escape of hydrogen atoms -- and these will only increase the importance of atmospheric escape.”

The goal of NASA's MAVEN mission, launched to Mars in November 2013, is to determine how much of the planet's atmosphere and water have been lost to space. It is the first such mission devoted to understanding how the sun might have influenced atmospheric changes on the Red Planet. MAVEN has been operating at Mars for just over a year and will complete its primary science mission on Nov. 16.