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Next American Species To Go Extinct May Be Two Hawaiian Birds, Global Warming Amplifies Threats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 8:12 PM EDT

There's been a dramatic drop in sightings of the Akekee and the Akikiki. These two birds from the Hawaiian Island of Kauai may be on the brink of extinction, according to the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Hawaii leads the U.S. in the total number of endangered and threatened species (329), and in extinctions, with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands. Several Hawaiian bird species, the Poouli and the Ou are assumed to have recently gone extinct before captive-breeding or other protection measures could be implemented.

David Kuhn and Doug Pratt who lead birding tours on Kauai recently alerted scientists, state officials, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to their concerns about the drop in sightings. "I and others paying attention to Kauai's endangered endemics have supposed that the Akikiki would be the next species to disappear--now it is more like a race to the finish," said Kuhn. "While the Akikiki depopulation and range contraction has been linear and relatively slow, Akekee is suddenly crashing." Doug Pratt says the Akekee "was common when I was last here in fall of 2004, and has apparently crashed drastically in the last three years."

The Akikiki is a small bicolored bird from the wet montane forests in central Kauai, with less than 1,500 remaining individuals occupying less than 10% of its former range, the population declining 64% due to habitat loss and alteration, the introduction of invasive species, mosquito-born diseases such as avian malaria and pox, and the impacts of hurricanes. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in 2005 that the Akikiki should be officially designated an endangered species, but declined to move forward with the listing for budgetary reasons, reports the ABC.

The Akekee, a small yellow and green bird that lives in the high-elevation rainforests of Kauai, was until recently thought to have a stable population, estimated at 20,000 individuals. It's also threatened by habitat loss, invasive species and disease. Evidence suggests that rising average temperatures could allow mosquitoes to survive at higher, elevations, exposing the birds to deadly diseases. Researchers for the U.S. Geological Survey conclude that even a small increase in temperatures in Hawaii's forests will eliminate much of the mosquito-free safe zone that once existed for Kauai's birds.

Read gone, and why many biologist consider the sixth great extinction underway a more dangerous threat to life on Earth than even global warming. --Julia Whitty

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MTV Thinks Indie Bands Are Over

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:52 PM EDT

mojo-cover-blocparty.jpg A weirdly vitriolic and kind of hard-to-read article appeared today on MTVNews.com with the basic point that "indie bands are unsuccessful." I suppose it shouldn't be surprising -- it's kind of like George W. Bush saying global warming doesn't exist. What are you expecting him to say? But it's still disappointing. The writer, James Montgomery, describes some sort of mythical time -- apparently, 2005 -- when bands like Arcade Fire, Bloc Party, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were "flavors of the month." Sadly, none of them could keep it up, because, uh, something happened, "and suddenly," it reads, "none of them seemed to matter much any more." Wow!

Good News In Uganda, Mountain Gorillas Increase In Number

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:33 PM EDT

The most recent census of mountain gorillas in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park finds the population has increased by 6 percent since 2002. ScienceDaily reports Bwindi's gorilla population now numbers 340 individual gorillas, up from 320 in 2002, and 300 in 1997. Bwindi is one of only two places in the world where the rare gorillas exist. "This is great news for all of the organizations that have worked to protect Bwindi and its gorilla population," said Wildlife Conservation Society researcher Dr. Alastair McNeilage, who is also the director of the Institute of Tropical Forest Conservation in Bwindi. "There are very few cases in this world where a small population of a endangered primates is actually increasing."

Reading this makes me realize how rare good news is in this trade and what a strange, alien feeling hope is. May there be more of it.

For more on the sixth great extinction underway and the fate of at least half of all lifeforms on Earth, read MoJo's latest cover piece. --Julia Whitty

One Down, 33 To Go, Rare Leopardess Found Shot

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 7:07 PM EDT

A female Amur leopard has been found killed. She was one of only 25 to 34 of the Amur or Far Eastern leopard (Panthera pardus orientalis) remaining in the wild, according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund. Anonymous tips led an anti-poaching squad to the body of the leopardess about two miles from Bamburovo village in the territory of Barsovy National Wildlife Refuge in the Russian Far East.

The next day veterinarians from the Zoological Society of London found the 77 pound mature female leopard had been shot in the back side, the bullet coming through the tail bone, crushing the hip bones, and lodging in the belly. She was then beaten to death with a heavy object. "The killing of even one female is a huge loss for a cat on the brink of extinction, " said Darron Collins, managing director of the Amur-Heilong Program, World Wildlife Fund. "This year's census showed a desperate situation, with just seven female Amur leopards left in the wild and four rearing cubs. Now we've lost a mature, reproductive leopardess and her potential cubs in a senseless killing. This is the third leopard killed within this area over the last five years and underscores the desperate need for a unified protected area with national park status if the leopard is to survive in the wild."

Just in case you're entertaining the notion that the loss of remote leopards won't impact your life, read on--MoJo's latest cover story, GONE.--Julia Whitty

Arnold to EPA: I'll Be Back

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:39 PM EDT

Can you imagine being a bland, later middle-aged Washington bureaucrat, and having Arnold Schwarzenegger march into your office and threaten you...with a lawsuit? That's just what happened to Steve Johnson, the administrator of the EPA. Read more on the Blue Marble.

Arnold Serves Notice at EPA

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:37 PM EDT

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially notified the EPA today that he will sue in 6 months if the agency hasn't granted California a waiver for stricter air quality standards by then. (Six-months' notice is required by law.) The state first started trying to implement the standards in 2005, but officials had to wait for the ruling in this month's Supreme Court decision, which debunked the EPA's claim that it doesn't have the authority to regulate emissions. You go, Manlie Man!

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SNAP! A Spate of Subpoenas

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 6:16 PM EDT

The Dems are getting serious. Get this: They may subpoena Condi to get her to testify about her role in pumping the whole Niger uranium myth. The House Judiciary Committee also voted to grant former senior Justice aide Monica Goodling immunity in exchange for her testimony on the U.S. Attorney firings. A subpoena for Bush's Monica was approved but not issued (yet). My personal favorite—just because the Condi affair seems pretty stale at this point—is that Patrick Leahy wrote a note to Alberto Gonzales telling him to refresh his memory and report back in a week. (There was much the Attorney General couldn't recall in his testimony last week.) Subpoenas were also approved for members of the Republican National Committee, who the House hopes will shed some light on the slew of missing emails from Attorney-gate.

PCBs Cause the Equivalent of Autism in Baby Rats

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 4:18 PM EDT

PCB exposure caused defects in rats similar to autism in humans, in a study at the University of California at San Francisco.

Marla Cone, who wrote Dozens of Words for Snow, None for Pollution for us in 2005, broke the PCB story today in the Los Angeles Times. She writes:

Rats exposed to low levels of PCBs in the womb and during nursing had disorganized, malfunctioning auditory centers. The auditory cortex controls the brain's processing of sounds, which is essential for language development.
PCBs were one of the world's most widely used chemicals, their use peaking in the 1970s, mostly as insulating fluids in large electrical equipment. Although banned in the United States in 1977, they are still among the most pervasive contaminants on the planet, and exposure is difficult to avoid because they have spread globally and built up in food chains.
Last year, two internationally known environmental scientists reported in a medical journal that industrial chemicals may be causing a "silent pandemic" of learning disorders. Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard School of Public Health and Dr. Philip J. Landrigan of Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified 202 chemicals — including PCBs and mercury — that could be contributing to autism, attention deficit disorders and other neurological disorders, and they urged more human studies.

In 2004, we investigated whether the CDC, the FDA, and other health agencies were covering up evidence that a mercury preservative in children's vaccines has contributed to a rise in autism. About 1 in every 150 children now has autism or a related disorder.

European Members of World Bank Spurn Changes to Family-Planning Policy

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 4:05 PM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports today that, in a closed meeting yesterday at the World Bank, European members objected to a Washington-supported proposal to change the bank's family-planning policy, which would put in place age restrictions on family-planning assistance, including abortions. Cameron wrote a few weeks ago about Wolfowitz' denial of any changes to its family-planning policy, one that has long been an integral part of the bank's development strategy. The former Iraq war architect said, in response to accusations, "Let me make it very clear. Our policy hasn't changed." But the Government Accountability Project found documents that contradict his statement.

Wolfowitz' transgressions, past and present, are not making him any friends. Aside from the European members who "revolted" against the family-planning policy amendment, "rank-and-file" employees are wearing blue ribbons (good-governance ribbons) to signify that they don't trust him. Well, this is not news to us. Mother Jones hasn't trusted Wolfowitz for awhile. Here are a few of our reasons why.

Sex and Abortion in the City (Mexico City)

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 3:17 PM EDT

In Mexico, feminism never took. Gender relations there are pretty close to what they were in the United States in the early 60s. And because the country is largely Catholic, birth control isn't widely used among married or unmarried couples. (Arguably, the most effective contraceptive is the cultural convention of living with your family until you get married—a convention that leads to some embarrassingly heavy public petting.)

Mexico is also a country with a gaping maw of an income gap. The wealthy have live-in maids, whose own homes have dirt floors and no running water. The poor have virtually no education and no opportunities. Meanwhile, the wealthy fly to San Antonio to shop—and sometimes to have abortions, which were until yesterday illegal in Mexico except in cases of rape or serious danger to the woman's health. Yesterday, Mexico City legalized abortions in the first trimester. (Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, accounts for nearly a fifth of the country's total population.)

The timing couldn't be more ironic: The United States took a huge step backward on abortion earlier this month, banning a legitimate abortion procedure regardless of timing or circumstances. Mexico has been able to move forward recently (it also legalized same-sex marriage) due to increasingly open national and local elections, which have given power in the capital to liberals. The Times also attributes the change to the church's loss of prestige following the pedophile priest fiasco. Apparently, Mexicans are more attuned to hypocrisy than Americans, who continue to let people like Newt Gingrich and Ted Haggard preach sexual morality.

However, the Mexican conservatives—members of president Felipe Calderón's PAN party—have clearly taken a page from the religious right's playbook. PAN's Jorge Romero said legalizing abortion would "support juvenile imprudence"—a claim which is especially annoying in a country where maids, who have no idea what sex even is, are frequently raped by sons of the wealthy. And Catholic Lawyers, the main opposition group, in an echo of Mitt Romney's Desperate Conservatives move in Massachusetts, protested that the city government had violated the Constitution by ignoring a petition for a referendum on abortion.

Maybe instead of them cribbing from our shoddy, hypocritical playbook, we ought to shed our superiority complex long enough to learn a lesson or two from our neighbors to the South.