Ivan Aivazovsky Moonlight c1850
““We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that..”
Theresa May appears to be on course for a crushing defeat in the House of Commons as Britain’s bitterly divided MPs prepare to give their verdict on her Brexit deal in the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday. With Downing Street all but resigned to losing by a significant margin, Guardian analysis pointed to a majority of more than 200 MPs against the prime minister. Labour sources said that unless May made major unexpected concessions, any substantial margin against her would lead Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence in the government – perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. But since Conservative MPs are unlikely to offer Corbyn the backing he would need to win a no-confidence vote, he would then come under intense pressure to swing Labour’s weight behind a second referendum.
Cabinet ministers have not yet been told how May plans to keep the Brexit process on track if her deal is defeated – and they remain split on how she should proceed. Leavers are convinced that the prime minister should return to Brussels and press for fresh concessions, while remainers hope she will seek a compromise with Labour. On Monday, May issued one final call to parliament to back her, urging MPs to “take a second look” at her deal and stressing that it was the only option on the table that could deliver an “orderly” exit from the EU. But there was little evidence of movement after her speech.
[..] There is growing speculation at Westminster that whichever course May pursues, she will be forced to announce that she will ask the EU27 to extend article 50. The prime minister refused to rule out doing so categorically on Monday, saying only that she didn’t believe it should be necessary. “We’re leaving on 29 March. I’ve been clear I don’t believe we should be extending article 50 and I don’t believe we should be having a second referendum,” May said. “We have an instruction from the British people to leave and it’s our duty to deliver on that, but I want to do it in a way that is smooth and orderly and protects jobs and security.”
Her own party turns against her, but May’s plans when she loses: fly to Brussels. She should leave and never come back.
Theresa May has made a desperate last-ditch plea begging her own MPs to back her Brexit plans in the face of an expected historic defeat. The prime minister beseeched Conservative MPs at a closed meeting to think of the future of their party and compromise, with around 100 of them considering voting against her. But Brexiteers still left the meeting determined to reject her plans, while Ms May also now faces up to 12 separate attempts from rebel and opposition MPs to re-shape her strategy before the final vote on Tuesday. She gave no indication as to her course of action if she loses, but Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn spoke to his own MPs in a room nearby restating his determination to call a motion of no confidence and trigger an election.
After 19 months of negotiation, a dozen EU summits and countless hours taking questions at the despatch box, Ms May will finally put her Brexit deal to a vote of the Commons on Tuesday. With her final chance to address all MPs coming shortly before the vote due after 7pm, she held a private gathering of Tories on Monday night to try to win over rebels. [..] Much of the opposition to her deal to focuses on the hated “Irish backstop”, which would come into play if no future trading arrangement is in place by December 2020, and could keep the UK in a customs union indefinitely. [..] On Monday night, Ms May’s deal suffered its first official parliamentary defeat in the House of Lords as peers voted by 321 votes to 152 to reject it.
Every possible outcome will mean chaos.
A no-deal Brexit would be an economic and social “catastrophe”, a senior banking industry leader has warned. Stephen Jones said leaving the European Union (EU) without an agreement could lead to a 1930s-style economic depression, with widespread job losses, homeowners unable to afford their mortgages, and mass defaults on loans. “A no-deal Brexit on 29 March, where we crash out of European Union, is a catastrophe,” the head of the UK Finance trade body told Channel 4 News. “It’s a social catastrophe, it’s an economic catastrophe.” The devastation caused by a disorderly exit would not just hurt the banks’ bottom lines, but hit ordinary people, he warned. “I don’t wish to be labelled a doom mongerer… but if our economy contracts by 10 per cent that’s 1930s-style contraction,” he said.
“That is a massive increase in credit card losses, mortgage losses, vehicle loan losses. “This is about jobs, this is about people not being able to pay their mortgages, not being able to pay back their loans, and that’s really bad news and it’s an outcome we can avoid.” Mr Jones, who leads the British banking sector’s lobby group, added: “I think there is a real risk of No Deal happening by accident… if the prime minister’s deal is voted down, we are in totally uncharted territory.” Asked if he backed Mrs May’s deal to prevent a no-deal scenario, Mr Jones would only say he backed a “solution that avoids a no-deal Brexit”. He added: “It’s not a great deal, there’s an awful lot of money being paid for a political declaration, which quite frankly is not worth the paper it is written on.”
People unsure whether epilepsy drugs for their children will be available.
[..] it’s not just about food for Elgarf and her family. One of her four-year-old twins, Nora, who has been sitting happily on her mum’s lap as we talk, has a rare brain condition called polymicrogyria. She has lots of prescriptions, but without two of them – Epilim and Keppra – for her epilepsy, she would have multiple seizures a day. “She can’t do without them,” says Elgarf. Both Epilim and Keppra are imported. If she could stockpile these medicines, she would. But they are controlled, and she can only get a month’s supply at a time. “It should be all right,” she has been told by doctors and the pharmacists. But when it’s your daughter’s life that’s at stake, “it should be all right” isn’t good enough.
Many of the people who join the Facebook group have concerns about medicines, Elgarf says. There are a lot of diabetics and coeliacs among them. What they need is some reassurance. “We need to know for certain they have got a proper plan in place for anybody who depends on meds.” She has heard rumours that the most critical medicines may have to be collected from central hubs, which would be stocked on the basis of lists provided by GPs. [..] Helena, who has a politics degree and works for a charity, doesn’t come across as crazy. None of the people I speak to do. Informed: tick. Cautious: tick. Organised: tick. Very organised, in Helena’s case: she has – and shares with me – a spreadsheet, colour-coded according to what is fully purchased (eg tinned tomatoes and loo paper, alongside a note that the average person uses 110 rolls a year), part-purchased (eg cereal), waiting delivery (powdered coconut), or pending testing (dried falafel mix).
Falafel! I’m going straight round to Helena’s. She also has booze and biscuits. Brexit party in Cardiff on Friday 29 March, everyone. And she’s got makeup! We’re going to be looking good as the good ship Britannia goes down. Helena is not just prepping for herself. She is doing it for her dog, Charlie, too. And while she has about three months’ worth of supplies for herself, she is looking at more like a year for the dog, as she doesn’t see that pet food will be a priority. “I don’t really trust the government to look after me; I certainly don’t trust them to look after my dog,” she says. As well as dog food, there are treats and toys on the spreadsheet. Charlie is going to enjoy a hard Brexit.
Helena’s dog, Charlie, with his Brexit stockpile. Photograph: Gareth Phillips for the Guardian
Brexit will shake the markets.
Fears are growing over the state of the global economy after China recorded a shock fall in exports, while European factory output declined by the biggest margin in almost three years. In a sign that the worldwide slowdown is gathering pace, official figures showed Chinese exports were down 4.4% in December – the largest fall since 2016 – on the back of faltering demand in most of its key markets. Imports fell 7.6% to reflect waning domestic demand. The unexpected downturn for the biggest global exporter of manufactured products came as eurozone industrial output shrank in November.
The EU statistics office, Eurostat, estimated industrial production slipped 1.7% in November compared with the previous month, and 3.3% on the year, reflecting the struggles facing several European economies in recent months. The latest snapshot confirmed disappointing readings of industrial output in several major eurozone nations, raising the prospect of some of the EU’s biggest economies, including Germany and Italy, slipping into recession in the second half of 2018. Several major European economies, including the UK, have struggled with faltering levels of car production in recent months as factories adjust to handling new vehicle emissions tests introduced after the VW scandal.
Link to transcript of Lisa Page’s testimonies is here.
As another president once remarked in a different context — LBJ speaking to a hanger full of grunts in Vietnam — “go on out there, boys, and nail that coonskin to the wall!” That was around the time the war was looking like a lost cause, with 1000 soldiers a month coming home in a box and even the Rotarians of Keokuk, Iowa, starting to doubt the official story of what exactly we thought we were doing over there. It was also, arguably, around the time America stopped being, ahem, “great” and commenced the long, nauseating slide into idiocracy and collapse. The news media has taken LBJ’s place in today’s Wile E. Coyote phase of our history, cheerleading the congressional hunt for the glittering golden scalp of You-Know-Who in the White House.
[..] The CBS 60 Minutes Show took its turn last night with a puff piece on Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland), incoming chairman of the House oversight Committee, which, CBS interlocutor Steve Kroft delighted in pointing out, “can investigate any [old] thing.” And so, Rep. Cummings will be the ringmaster of this new “Greatest Show on Earth,” aimed at climaxing in an orgasmic impeachment operation. Mr. Kroft could hardly contain his glee onscreen. The facts say something a bit different about the actual reality-based Russia Collusion case, namely, that it’s been a two-year smokescreen to cover the collective ass of a rogue leadership in the Department of Justice and its step-child, the FBI, who deliberately and repeatedly broke the law in dishonestly pursuing a way to annul the 2016 election result.
It also reflects darkly on the Obama White House and its participation in all this huggermugger. Wads of information around this matter also came out in the past week — which you can be sure the news media would not touch — including congressional testimony from last July with former FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, revealing that the traffic controller for the so-called Steele Dossier was one John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General at the time, and formerly then-FBI Director Robert Mueller’s chief-of-staff. Ms. Page herself characterized Mr. Carlin as “a political appointee.” Was he Mr. Mueller’s clean-up man?
Glenn Greenwald makes a valid point comparing the Trump probe with those of Henry Wallace and George McGovern by Hoover. What he misses out on, though, is how they differ: unlike in the cases of Wallace and McGovern, the FBI is now used not just to smear a politician, but to try and oust a president.
It is not difficult to understand what is so ominous and even tyrannical about the FBI investigating domestic political figures whose loyalties they regard as “suspicious,” and whose political career they regard as a “national security threat,” simply because those politicians express policy positions about U.S. adversaries that the FBI dislikes or regards as insufficiently belligerent. It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins. If a politician adopts policy views that are “threatening” to U.S. national security or which is unduly accommodating to America’s adversaries or “enemies,” that’s not a crime and the FBI thus has no business using its vast investigative powers against a politician who does that.
That’s why it’s so easy to see that Hoover’s investigative scrutiny of Henry Wallace, and George McGovern, and an endless array of domestic dissenters, was so anti-democratic and dangerous. If a politician adopts “threatening” policy views or is too subservient toward or accommodating of a foreign adversary, it’s the job of the American voting public or Congress in its political oversight and lawmaking role to take action, not the FBI’s job to criminalize policy differences through investigations. It should not be difficult for a rational brain free of partisan muck to see this same principle at play when it comes to the FBI’s investigation of Trump on the ground that he may be, in the eyes of FBI officials, a “national security threat.”
Even if you’re someone who hates Trump’s overtures toward Russia or even believes that they are the by-product of excessive subservience to the Kremlin, the dangers of having the FBI take on the role of investigating that rather than the political wings of the U.S. political system should be obvious – as obvious as they are in the case of Henry Wallace and George McGovern. [..] The person elected by the U.S. electorate to make foreign policy for the United States and to determine “America’s interests” was Donald Trump, not the FBI. It’s the role of elected officials in the White House and Congress, not the unelected police agents who report to them, to decide what is and is not in “America’s interests.” If Trump’s foreign policy is misguided or “threatening,” that’s a matter for the Congress and/or the American public, not the FBI.
More so-called revelations. It’s never been a secret what Trump thinks of NATO in its present form: he thinks the US pays too much. But now the NYT presents this as some dark conspiracy story.
Like the Guardian, the New York Times has moved beyond caring about its credibility: both think there are enough people swallowing everything they get served up.
U.S. President Donald Trump privately said several times last year that he wanted to withdraw his country from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, The New York Times reported on Monday. The newspaper’s findings, which cited unnamed senior administration officials, are likely to resurface worries of a breakdown in the military alliance that was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada and some European nations. Those concerns were first sparked last year when the U.S. leader hinted that he could leave the 29-member defense bloc without Congressional approval. At the time, Trump was pushing member countries to increase spending. Since then, however, the Republican has backtracked on that threat.
After a chaotic NATO meeting in July 2018, Trump claimed that allies had committed to his request and said that U.S. withdrawal from the organization would be “unnecessary.” Responding to the New York Times’ report, a White House official repeated some of Trump’s remarks from July when the president said Washington’s commitment to NATO is “very strong” and the alliance is “very important.” As the Times notes, a weakened NATO is thought to be a major geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s dislike for participation in international organizations is well known to global leaders by now. Early in his White House tenure, the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord and a massive Pacific trade pact.
If the Guardian, or another British paper, runs an entirely false story like this about you or me, we would need to raise a similar amount just to defend ourselves from such smear.
WikiLeaks says it has collected enough funds to file a lawsuit against the Guardian for publishing an uncorroborated story about alleged meetings between former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Julian Assange. The whistleblowing website has thanked all its supporters who contributed to its GoFundMe campaign, launched on November 27 following the publication of an article by the Guardian, which claimed that US President Donald Trump’s disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort had held secret talks with Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where the Australian has been holed up since 2012.
The donations have recently hit the $50,000 threshold, enabling the whistleblowing site to formally launch proceedings against the renowned British newspaper, WikiLeaks said, calling on its supporters to keep the money flowing. “Legal action will now commence (but more is required to complete),” it tweeted on Monday. When it launched the campaign, WikiLeaks set up the ambitious target of $300,000. It has so far raised $51,749. WikiLeaks seeks to challenge the Guardian in court over its source-based ‘bombshell,’ co-authored by its former Moscow correspondent Luke Harding, alleging that Manafort had traveled to London three times over four years prior to the publication of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email leaks.
The report relies on Ecuadorean intelligence sources and documents provided to the Guardian by the country’s intelligence agency. In its GoFundMe appeal, WikiLeaks suggested that the intelligence agency might have deliberately fed the British publication false information, which it was happy to take at a face value. WikiLeaks also noted that it was not the first time the Guardian put out a false story about Assange.
Just the tip of the iceberg. Happy driving.
The Antarctic ice sheet is losing six times as much ice each year as it was in the 1980s and the pace is accelerating, one of the most comprehensive studies of climate change effects on the continent has shown. More than half an inch has been added to global sea levels since 1979, but if current trends continue it will be responsible for metres more in future, the Nasa-funded study found. The international effort used aerial photos, satellite data and climate models dating back to the 1970s across18 Antarctic regions to get the most complete picture to date on the impacts of the changing climate. It found that between 1979 and 1990 Antarctica lost an average of 40 gigatonnes (40 billion tonnes) of its mass each year.
Between 2009 and 2017 it lost an average 252 gigatonnes a year. This has added 3.6mm per decade to sea levels, or around 14mm since 1979, the study shows. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak,” Professor Eric Rignot from University of California, Irvine and lead author of the study published in Nature Geoscience. “As the Antarctic ice sheet continues to melt away, we expect multi-metre sea level rise from Antarctica in the coming centuries.”
“..the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species”..”
While debate swirls around the border wall — whether it’s immoral, whether it even works — one huge impact, while understood, is just not being discussed: The wall is already an ecological catastrophe, devastating rare and endangered species, carving up critical habitats, exacerbating flooding, even worsening climate change. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the wall “may very well lead to the extinction of the jaguar, ocelot … and other species” in America. This is tragic, as the 2,000-mile border, stretching from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico along the Rio Grande, passes through three mountain chains, North America’s two largest deserts, and the Tijuana Estuary, a salt marsh that offers habitat for 400 species of birds.
An astonishing 25 million acres of protected public lands lies near the border on the American side, including wildlife refuges, national parks, and wilderness areas with large refuges on the Mexican side as well, all created by the long, hard work of many organizations and agencies aiming to protect land that is biologically unique and fragile. It’s a diverse area, too: A 2011 study documented 134 mammal, 178 reptile, and 57 amphibian species living in the wall region; 56 of these species that already been hurt by the wall, including five that are at risk for extinction, one the jaguarundi, a small cat.
The jaguar, that cat’s bigger cousin, is the poster child for the wall’s ecological impact. Once hunted to extinction in the U.S., jaguars in northern Mexico have been spotted moving back into Arizona. Protected both here and in Mexico, its U.S. recovery plan — written by the federal government (!) — calls for free movement of these 300-pound predators across the border. The few cats that have reclaimed their American habitat will not recover if they cannot return to Mexico to find mates.
Fernando Llano / AP
And there’s no panic. There’s hardly any concern. The web of life is disappearing and we watch TV.
Scientist Brad Lister returned to Puerto Rican rainforest after 35 years to find 98% of ground insects had vanished “We knew that something was amiss in the first couple days,” said Brad Lister. “We were driving into the forest and at the same time both Andres and I said: ‘Where are all the birds?’ There was nothing.” His return to the Luquillo rainforest in Puerto Rico after 35 years was to reveal an appalling discovery. The insect population that once provided plentiful food for birds throughout the mountainous national park had collapsed. On the ground, 98% had gone. Up in the leafy canopy, 80% had vanished. The most likely culprit by far is global warming.
“It was just astonishing,” Lister said. “Before, both the sticky ground plates and canopy plates would be covered with insects. You’d be there for hours picking them off the plates at night. But now the plates would come down after 12 hours in the tropical forest with a couple of lonely insects trapped or none at all.” “It was a true collapse of the insect populations in that rainforest,” he said. “We began to realise this is terrible – a very, very disturbing result.” Earth’s bugs outweigh humans 17 times over and are such a fundamental foundation of the food chain that scientists say a crash in insect numbers risks “ecological Armageddon”. When Lister’s study was published in October, one expert called the findings “hyper-alarming”.
The Puerto Rico work is one of just a handful of studies assessing this vital issue, but those that do exist are deeply worrying. Flying insect numbers in Germany’s natural reserves have plunged 75% in just 25 years. The virtual disappearance of birds in an Australian eucalyptus forest was blamed on a lack of insects caused by drought and heat. Lister and his colleague Andrés García also found that insect numbers in a dry forest in Mexico had fallen 80% since the 1980s. “We are essentially destroying the very life support systems that allow us to sustain our existence on the planet, along with all the other life on the planet,” Lister said. “It is just horrifying to watch us decimate the natural world like this.”