By TAMARA LUSH
Over the past several months, dolphins have washed ashore along the northern Gulf Coast with bullet wounds, missing jaws and hacked off fins, and federal officials said they are looking into the mysterious deaths.
The most recent case was of a dolphin found dead off the coast of Mississippi, its lower jaw missing.
Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday they’re asking everyone from beachgoers to fishermen to wildlife agents to be on the lookout for injured or dead dolphins — and any unusual interaction between the mammals and people.
“It’s very sad to think that anyone could do that to any animal,” said Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal scientist for NOAA’s southeast office in St. Petersburg, Fla. “There have been some obviously intentional cases.”
Fougeres said five dolphins have been found shot. In Louisiana, two were shot in 2011 and one in 2012. And in Mississippi, three were found shot this year, the most recent one earlier this month, which was first reported by the Sun-Herald newspaper.
Besides the shootings, a dolphin in Alabama was found with a screwdriver stuck in its head over the summer. Another in Alabama had its tail cut off, and that animal survived. Still others were missing fins or had cuts to their bodies.
“I think it is outrageous,” said Moby Solangi, the executive director of Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss. “These animals are very docile, very friendly and they’re very curious. They come close to the boats, so if you’re out there, you'll see them riding the bows. And their curiosity and friendship brings them so close that they become targets and that’s the unfortunate thing.”
Dolphins are among the species protected by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Violators can be fined up to $10,000 per violation and sent to prison for a year.
The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund said it is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever harmed the dolphins.
The gruesome discoveries are heartbreaking for Gulf Coast scientists, who follow the population. Fougeres said that two months before the 2010 oil spill disaster off the coast of Louisiana, dolphins began stranding themselves and that there were unusually high mortality rates — possibly due to a cold winter that year.
Since then, the spill and another cold winter in 2011 have contributed to several deaths within the Gulf's dolphin population, experts say. Investigators have also found discolored teeth and lung infections within some of the dead dolphins.
Since Feb. 2010, experts have tallied more than 700 recorded dolphin deaths.
Experts have also found increased “human interaction” cases, which include dolphins tangled in fishing lines — and the more violent incidents.
Fougeres cautions that some of the dolphin mutilations might have happened after the animal died from natural causes and washed ashore. She said that in the case of the dolphin with the lower jaw missing, someone could have cut off the jaw for a souvenir after the animal died.
“We have to do a necropsy on the animal and collect tissue samples to try to determine whether or not the injury was pre-or post-mortem,” she said.
She also said that the increase in cases might be due to NOAA’s dolphin stranding network becoming better trained to notice cruelty cases or unusual deaths.
Some have suggested that the deaths are the work of a few angry fishermen who are upset about bait-stealing dolphins. Yet the majority of fishermen say that while dolphins can be annoying, they wouldn’t harm the creatures.
“I don’t know who to suspect ... I was really sickened when I read about it,” said Tom Becker, of T&D Charters out of Biloxi, Miss., and head of the Mississippi Charter Boat Captains Association, said he’s never had a problem with dolphins.
The mammals tend to swim behind his boat until a fish too small to keep is tossed over the side.
“You’ll see him under your boat,” Becker said, about the dolphin. “He’ll get it before it can reach the bottom. I usually leave the area if they’re doing that.”
Fougeres said she doesn’t think the dolphins are being targeted by a gang of people or even by a lone, sick individual.
“The cases are fairly spread apart,” she said. “I don’t think there is one dolphin murderer out there.”
She added that anyone who sees a dead or stranded dolphin, or spots people harassing a marine animal can call the NOAA Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.
November 15, 2012
By LAWT News Service
Last Tuesday, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. left the Mayo Clinic, where the Illinois Democrat was being treated for a second time for bipolar disorder.
Mayo spokesman Nick Hanson told the Associated Press that he did not know where Jackson was going.
Jackson, who was easily elected to a new House term last week, has been on medical leave since June 10. Members of Congress returned to work Tuesday after a lengthy break for the election.
Neither Jackson's congressional spokesman, his publicist nor his father could immediately be reached for comment.
Jackson returned to the hospital in October amid reports that he faced a new federal investigation into potential misuse of his campaign finances. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported the probe, citing anonymous sources.
Jackson, 47, disappeared in June, and it was later revealed that he was being treated at the Mayo Clinic for bipolar disorder and gastrointestinal issues. He returned to his Washington home in September, but went back to the clinic the next month.
His father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, said then that his son had not yet “regained his balance.”
Jackson was easily elected Nov. 6 to a ninth full term representing his heavily-Democratic Chicago area district, even though he had barely appeared in public since going on medical leave and his only campaigning was a robo-call asking voters for patience. He spent election night at the clinic.
Jackson later issued a statement thanking his supporters and saying he was waiting for his doctors’ OK before he could “continue to be the progressive fighter” they’d known for years.
November 15, 2012
By LOLITA C. BALDOR Associated Press
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has demoted the former head of U.S. Africa Command who was accused of spending thousands of dollars on lavish travel and other unauthorized expenses, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.
Panetta stripped Gen. William “Kip” Ward of a star, which means that he will now retire as a three-star lieutenant general despite arguments from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against the demotion. Ward also has been ordered to repay the government $82,000.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss a personnel matter.
The demotion comes as retired Army Gen. David Petraeus resigned as CIA director because of an extramarital affair and Marine Gen. John Allen is being investigated for potentially improper communications with a woman.
According to the official, Panetta reviewed the Ward matter and concluded that the wrongdoing found by the Defense Department Inspector General, in a report released earlier this year, demanded accountability.
In a statement issued Tuesday, a spokesman for Ward said the general “has never been motivated by personal gain and fulfilled each and every mission assigned to him and served his country and the men and women assigned to his commands with distinction.”
The spokesman, Chris Garrett, added that, “While General Ward is not perfect he has always been guided by his faith in God and the belief that there is no greater honor as a patriot than to lead those who choose to serve our nation in the armed forces.”
Retiring as a three-star will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay — giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would get as a four-star.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Panetta to allow Ward, the former head of U.S. Africa Command, to retire at his full four-star general rank, according to defense officials. Other military leaders had noted that the demotion would cost Ward a lot of money.
The inspector general’s report found that Ward used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite. The report detailed lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington.
It also said Ward and his wife, Joyce, accepted dinner and Broadway show tickets from a government contractor during a trip in which he went backstage to meet actor Denzel Washington. The couple and several staff members also spent two nights at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Other charges were that Ward often extended his overseas trips — particularly those to the U.S. — for personal reasons, resulting in “exponential” increases in costs.
Although the report included responses from Ward to a number of the allegations, investigators often found records and statements that contradicted his explanations. At one point, Ward defended the Bermuda layover, saying that it came up on short notice, which is why his security team had to stay there longer. The report found records showing that the layover had been planned for at least four days in advance.
A common theme running through the report was Ward’s insistence that his wife travel with him at government cost, even though it was often not authorized and she performed few official duties. It said he also routinely stayed in high-priced suites in luxury hotels rather than in standard rooms or less expensive locales.
The allegations, coming after a 17-month investigation, have delayed Ward's planned April 2011 retirement. And they were an embarrassing end note to his career, since he had claimed a place in history as the military’s first commander of Africa Command.
Panetta’s options regarding Ward were limited by complex laws and military guidelines. He had only one real choice: allow Ward to retire as a four-star or demote him and force him to retire as a three-star lieutenant general.
In order for Ward to be demoted to two-star rank, investigators would have to conclude that he also had problems before moving to Africa Command, and officials said that does not appear to be the case.
The investigation dragged on for so long that that Ward was temporarily dropped to two-star general status. Under military guidelines, if a full general is not serving in a four-star command or office for more than 60 days, he or she is automatically reduced to two-star rank. Ward would not be able to recoup any back pay for the time at the two-star rank, even though he is being retired at the three-star level.
Major general, or two-star, is the highest rank to which an officer can be promoted by regular military action. Becoming a three-star — lieutenant general — or a four-star general requires a presidential nomination and confirmation by Congress. It, therefore, is not considered permanent and lasts only as long as the person is serving in a job of that rank.
That technical demotion is not uncommon as generals move from job to job and unexpected delays occur. It would not have affected Ward's ability to retire as a four-star, if he had been cleared of the charges.
November 15, 2012
By JASON DEAREN
California is debuting its new, landmark cap-and-trade program with an auction of greenhouse gas pollution permits, despite an eleventh-hour lawsuit filed by the state’s largest business group.
The cap-and-trade plan is a central piece of the state’s 2006 global warming law, AB32, a suite of regulations meant to reduce dramatically the state’s emissions of heat-trapping gases.
The program places a limit, or cap, on emissions from individual polluters. Businesses are required to cut emissions to cap levels or buy allowances from other companies for each ton over the cap that is discharged annually. If a business were to cut emissions below the cap, it could profit by selling its extra allowances.
The program’s first auction on Wednesday was closely watched, as it essentially put a price on carbon emissions for the first time in state history. Only the European Union has implemented a similar plan in terms of scope.
But the California Chamber of Commerce has sued, challenging the validity of the state’s cap-and-trade program. The lawsuit filed on Tuesday November 13 in Sacramento Superior Court was not expected to stop the auction. The group was not seeking an injunction to halt the program immediately, said Denise Davis, a chamber spokeswoman.
The suit challenges the California Air Resources Board’s authority as stated under the state’s 2006 climate-change law, AB32, to sell the permits, called “allowances,” for the purpose of generating revenue for the state. It is also challenging the sale of allowances as an illegal tax, arguing that taxes need a two-thirds vote by the Legislature.
“This action by an unelected state board to use regulatory statutes to raise tens of billions of dollars from taxpayers is unprecedented in our state’s history,” the chamber’s complaint said.
For the first two years of the program, large industrial emitters will receive 90 percent of their allowances for free in a soft start meant to give companies time to reduce emissions through new technologies or other means. The cap, or number of allowances, will decline over time in an effort to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The chamber’s challenge is the latest lawsuit filed over the state's landmark global warming law, which so far has survived myriad legal challenges.
Stanley Young, a board spokesman, said officials were reviewing the lawsuit and expected cap-and-trade to withstand legal scrutiny.
“This market-based approach to cutting greenhouse emissions gives businesses the flexibility to best decide how to reduce their emissions,” Young said.
The board estimates that about $1 billion could be raised from the sale of allowances in fiscal year 2012-13. About 23 million allowances will be sold for 2013 emissions, and 39.5 million allowances were being pre-sold Wednesday for 2015 emissions.
There is some uncertainty about how, exactly, the money will be used. But California law dictates it go into a special greenhouse gas reduction account, and any programs that use the funds be consistent with the AB32's goals.
California officials hope a successful rollout of its cap-and-trade system will embolden other states to follow suit. Currently, a much less inclusive cap-and-trade scheme that covers only electricity producers is in effect for northeastern states.
The chamber argues that California’s system goes too far and will alienate other states.
“Unless we adopt the most cost-effective way of reducing carbon emissions, other states will not follow us,” Allan Zaremberg, the chamber’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “The current ... proposal is the most costly way to implement AB32, and it will hurt consumers, the job climate, and the ability of businesses to expand here.”
November 15, 2012
By LAWT News Service
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk (RR/CC) Dean C. Logan announced the following updated semifinal results as of today, November 13, 2012.
The update includes 172,052 ballots processed since the last update. This count consists of only Vote by Mail ballots. For vote totals on specific contests, please visit lavote.net. This brings the updated estimate to approximately 521,710 to be counted.
Please remember that these results are subject to change throughout the canvass period. The next official update is scheduled for Friday, November 16, 2012 at 1 p.m. All results and updates will be posted online at lavote.net as they become available.
The mission of the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk is to serve Los Angeles County by providing essential records management and election services in a fair, accessible and transparent manner. For more information, visit www.lavote.net.