A family of little blue penguins, Eudyptula minor, exit their nest burrow.: Credit: Noodle snacks via Wikimedia Commons.A family of little blue penguins, Eudyptula minor, exit their nest burrow.: Credit: Noodle snacks via Wikimedia CommonThe New Zealand Herald reports the country is facing one of its worst ecological disasters as the stricken tanker Rena is now in danger of breaking apart. The ship grounded 20 kilometers/12 miles off Tauranga Harbour on the North Island after striking a reef on Wednesday.

The Rena is carrying 1,700 cubic meters/450,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil. The race is onto siphon off—or at least contain—the oil before the ship sinks. From the New Zealand Herald:

More resources and special equipment [are] likely to be needed during the operation. An offshore boom barrier device to ring-fence the oil—measuring about 1250m [three-quarters of a mile]—was being transported from Australia along with three heavy skimmers to scoop it from the water. A salvage architect was due to arrive from Holland, with further expert help from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority also on their way.


Site of the grounding of the MV Rena, off the North Island of New Zealand. : Satellite image courtesy of NASA/JPL/NGA.Site of the grounding of the MV Rena, off the North Island of New Zealand. : Satellite image courtesy of NASA/JPL/NGA.

Meanwhile, heavier weather is bearing down on New Zealand, including a forecast for rain and strengthening northeasterly winds on Monday—when the pumping operation is slated to begin.

Most worrisome, it's spring in the southern hemisphere, and many seabirds along New Zealand's coast are breeding. This is prime egg-laying/chick-hatching season for little blue penguins (called fairy penguins in Australia), who come ashore en masse each dusk to exchange incubation duties or feed their chick, before departing again en masse before dawn to hunt.

 (The sound of little blue penguins calling at dusk in New Zealand. Credit: Benchill (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

So far, seven oiled birds—five little blue penguins and two cormorants—have been taken to a wildlife center at Tauranga Harbour. The New Zealand Herald reports:

"It's a very difficult situation and the reality is that we are going to see a significant oil spill," [Transport Minister Steven] Joyce said. "So far it's been reasonably small, so I think everybody's preparing for the worst. We are dealing with a very serious situation ... and I don't think anybody is under any illusions."


Cookie, the ticklish little blue/fairy penguin at the Cincinnati Zoo, is a great ambassador for his kind—who may not be so well known on distant shores. 

Mitt Romney.

When Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress introduced Rick Perry at Friday's Values Voter summit in Washington, he praised the Texas governor as a man with a "strong committment to Biblical values." Just a short while later, he ripped into Perry's top rival for the GOP nomination, Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of belonging to a "cult"—Mormonism.

Speaking to a gaggle of reporters shortly after finishing up an interivew with the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer—who himself has slammed Romney for his Mormon faith—Jeffress explained that to him, beating Barack Obama is a "spiritual issue." "I really am not nearly as concerned about a candidate's fiscal policy or immigration policy as I am where they stand on what I believe are Biblical issues. And that's why I'm endorsing Governor Perry." That's not especially surprising. Here's what he said, though, when asked by the Dallas Morning-News's Wayne Slater about Romney's faith:

Friday's public listening session on the Keystone XL pipeline was an unusual scene, a packed room of environmentalists and union members who were, in an unusual twist, mostly on opposite sides of the dispute. Several hundred union members showed up in bright orange and lime green T-shirts, in a show of support for the proposed 1,661-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas. Environmentalists were also out in force to urge the State Department to stop Transcanada, a Canadian energy company, from moving forward with the project.

For most of the unions represented there, it's a question of jobs and how to make more of them. "People are struggling for jobs," said Sean Moody, 29, a flagger with the Washington, DC Department of Transportation and a member of the Laborers' International Union of North America, (LiUNA). "You have to survive, pay our bills and things like that." There were probably more LiUNA members at the hearing than any other individual constituency—or at least their bright shirts helped them stand out from the crowd.

LiUNA and the United Association of Steamfitters and Plumbers have made a big show of support for the pipeline; along with the Teamsters, they've been the most important union support for approving the project. But other unions—like Transport Workers Union of America and the Amalgamated Transit Union—have come out against Keystone XL.

For many of the activists who showed up for the hearing on Friday, it was weird to be clashing with people who are allies on a number of other issues. "I've never been at a rally where I wasn't standing on the same side as the union people," said Molly Haigh, the communications coordinator with the group 350.org. "A lot of our long-term goals are the same, but corporations pit us against one another."

If you're a DC resident, this roving armadillo is probably coming for your entire family.

Picture, if you will, the world's strangest horror movie premise: It's a crisp autumn in Washington, DC, Barack Obama is president, and the city's 600,000 unsuspecting residents are going about their daily business. Suddenly, out of nowhere, hordes of hungry, rugged armadillos from the deep South start taking over the metropolitan area, savaging private property in search of nourishment and generally wreaking havoc on the nation's capital.

The horror flick would have a strong environmentalist message to boot, because armadillo-mageddon is yet another side effect of anthropogenic climate change, which has forced the creatures to colonize northward.

And here's the scariest part: this B-movie scenario is actually about to go down in the real world. So, yeah ... brace yourselves.

DailyClimate.org reported in June that the armadillos, which have been "moving northward since [they] arrived in Texas in the 1880s and Florida in the 1920s," have taken the rising temperatures as a cue to migrate to previously uninhabited places like Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and other areas that are "totally unexpected," according to Colleen McDonough, a biology professor at Valdosta State University. Miles Grant at The Green Miles noted the story in a recent blog post, which the Washington Post then followed up on this week, noting that the armadillos are headed our way:

Biologists speculate that if the trend continues, the armadillo may soon be turning up in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, and even as far north as New Jersey. ...

[The armadillos] "can be fairly destructive to areas in their search to dig up delicious crawly treats," the Museum of Life and Science reported.

"Basically all we can do is ... sit back and measure the change as it happens," the University of Michigan's Philip Myers [said], "whether we like it or not."

The biggest threat the roving armadillos seem to pose is lawn damage (despite the mildly alarmist tone of the WaPo blog post). In fact, most people would probably get a kick out of watching packs of armadillos waddling down K Street. But there is a level of seriousness to the issue, as one-way animal migration caused by global warming presents real and persistent problems for ecosystems and local communities.

Still, sad as it it may be for Roland Emmerich, the DC armadillo invasion is probably not going to lead to an epic showdown between man and throngs of armored, placental critters.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)

The display tables at the Values Voters Summit in Washington, DC, are a cornucopia of conservative red meat. One advertises an upcoming conference on creeping Islamic Shariah law (November 11th in Nashville; register online). Near the entrance, a company advertises something called the "Timothy Plan," which helps investors avoid stocks that are "involved in practices contrary to Judeo-Christian principles" (the list includes Disney, CBS, and JP Morgan).

And over near the back doors, there's PFOX (short for Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays), an organization dedicated to combating perceived prejudice against people who say they've stopped being gay. As the group's literature puts it, "without PFOX, ex-gays would have no voice in a hostile environment." Ex-gays have long been a staple on the religious right and at gatherings like this, but the organization has found a renewed sense of purpose following last spring's to-do over Rep. Michele Bachmann's Christian therapy clinic. As The Nation first reported, clinics owned by the Minnesota congresswoman and her husband have practiced so-called reparative therapy, designed to cure patients of their homosexuality.

Last summer, four coal-industry attorneys from the DC firm Crowell & Moring made headlines when they suggested that a study linking mountaintop removal mining to birth defects in Appalachia failed to consider the (inconsequential) effects of inbreeding in the region. Then they went on to advertise their services to companies looking to "counter unfounded claims of injury or disease." This week, former West Virginia lawyer Jason Huber filed an ethics complaint (PDF), alleging that the firm violated the DC Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct, which state that a "lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services."

The attorneys' advertisement "perpetuates and exploits the empirically debunked notion that inbreeding is regularly practiced by the Appalachian People," Huber wrote.

When Charleston Gazette blogger Ken Ward Jr. first pointed out the inbreeding statement that the law firm posted on its website in June, the firm quickly removed it and issued an apology. This week, a spokeswoman told Ward that Crowell & Moring "again express[es] our regret for any offense that might have been taken with the client alert, as it was meant only to relay a possible flaw with a scientific study." But, she added, Huber's "complaint is without merit."

Ward has the full story here.


A protester keeps the jam going in Zuccotti Park.

A topless model the Tea Party should see, grandmas who dig rap music, and Ron Paul supporters everywhere: As of Saturday, MoJo's Josh Harkinson is camping out in Zuccotti Park, and we're collecting his dispatches and other #OWS must reads below, using Storify. Read on for much more.

Also, don't miss the rest of MoJo's coverage: Meet the activists who created "We Are the 99 Percent"; check out the former Obama blogger who scorned the protesters until he joined them; explore our interactive map of protest hot spots nationwide; and more.

On Tuesday, John Cole foolishly baited me with a video of his cat, Tunch, purring for the camera. "Can Inkblot make noise like that?" he asked from the safety of his home 3,000 miles away in West Virginia.

Skeevy oppo researchers make insinuations like this all the time, since they know America won't elect a cat president who doesn't have a presidential purr. So today is movie day, proof positive that Inkblot has just the right timbre and resonance we demand from our presidents in this media age.

The bad news, of course, is that this means His Mightiness1 has now pushed Domino off the blog for two weeks running. But have no worries. She's plotting her revenge. She'll be back next week.

1Back in 1789, this was one of the original suggestions for how we should address the president. Inkblot is considering reviving this if he's elected.

From Karl Smith, responding to outgoing ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet's continuing insistence on choking off the economy with tight money:

Obviously the European Central Bank (ECB) has nearly unlimited power to inflict suffering on the people of the Eurozone. And, from the looks of it they it intend to use it.

Read the rest for some wonkery to fill in the details. But really, the two sentences above pretty much tell the story.

I just can't help but wonder how he does it.

Appearing at the 2009 Value Voters Summit—the right-wing's version of Woodstock—Congressman Eric Cantor stood before his 'peeps' to offer up his blessings for the newly minted protest movement we now know as The Tea Party. Cantor praised the group of protesters by announcing that they were "fighting on the fighting lines in what we know is a battle for democracy."

This morning, appearing at the 2011 edition of the Value Voters Summit—this time as the House Majority Leader—Cantor had this to say about the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the politicians who have shown a willingness to support them:

This administration's failed policies have resulted in an assault on many of our nation's bedrock principles," he said. "If you read the newspapers today, I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country. And believe it or not, some in this town, have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans. But you sent us here to fight for you and all Americans.

So, when a politician like, say, Eric Cantor, praises the Tea Party ranks for occupying wide swaths of the nation's capital to protest the policies of their fellow Americans, this, apparently, would not be a case of a politician condoning the pitting of Americans against Americans. However, every similar type of protest staged by a movement that the majority leader does not support becomes an unacceptable clash between countrymen.