“In theory they were sound on Expectation
Had there been situations to be in;
Unluckily they were their situation”
– W.H. Auden
And drawn back again into energy… I did a little interview on the topic this week, and that was a little too little. Can’t cover it all in 5 or 10 minutes, even though that is mostly because people understand so precious little. We fool ourselves non-stop 24/7 on the topic, just the way industry and politics like it.
A wee step back: “The only clean energy is the one that isn’t used.” I’ve seen that attributed to Nicole, and that’s fine. But at the same time, I see terms like “clean energy”, “zero-emissions” and “zero-carbon” fly by all the time, used to depict things that are not clean at all. Perhaps less polluting, but that’s only perhaps; we’re experts at discounting externalities.
Still, we do still realize that without oil and gas there would be no wind turbines and solar panels, don’t we? How much carbon waste is generated in the production process of the two may be up for grabs, if only because that’s nobody’s favorite topic, but it’s a whole lot more than zero. More for solar, I would guess, because mining of rare earth metals is a pretty dirty process.
But in the end, the only aspect that I find really interesting, and that everybody appears to ignore, is why we produce so much waste. If you were hell-bent on designing a contraption aimed at wasting as much energy, and generating as much waste, as possible, you would have a hard time competing with the automobile.
Your run of the mill internal combustion engine uses maybe 10% of the energy you put in at the gas station, and you use it to transport yourself in a contraption that is 20x heavier than you are. That leaves you with just 0.5% of the energy embedded in the gasoline that is effectively used.
And that’s not all: before the gas reached the station, there was an entire process of extraction, refining, multiple transport steps. And before the car reached the store, it had already generated over a third of all the waste it will in its ‘lifetime’. If ever you need a way to demonstrate that people are not very smart, look no further.
Angela Merkel this week said she wants 1 million car charging points in Germany by 2030 (the country is way behind). And she may mean well, but for a physicist it’s still disappointing. If anyone could understand that replacing petrol powered cars with electric ones is a very poor deal, it should be her.
But sure, Germany has some very large carmakers, and she needs to appease them. Cars run the economy, after all. Or, rather, that’s not quite right, it’s in fact generating waste that runs the economy. Which is the only sensible conclusion we can draw after seeing that way less than 0.5% of energy is efficiently used in and by a car.
And for people like Merkel, practical politicians with ties to industry, that means you have to keep them running. And help the media and industry in convincing people that electric cars, produced by BMW, Merc and VW, is a great way to save the planet. Still, making those things requires enormous amounts of oil and gas.
If a car that runs on an internal combustion engine generates a third of the waste produced in its ‘lifetime’ before it hits the store, I bet you the ratio is worse for electric cars, because again of mining of rare earth metals and other components. And then they run on electricity generated by coal or gas or oil plants, or wind that we saw is not clean, or even nuclear, which produces the ultimate lethal form of waste, which we can still not safely store.
We need an entirely different approach, and I find it both very hard to understand and very disappointing that I don’t see this reflected as their no. 1 item by the climate rebellion and the various Green New Deals. That is, we must reduce our consumption of all forms of energy, not just oil and gas, and we must do it in a drastic fashion.
Luckily, we can start with the automobile, that contraption [seemingly] aimed at consuming as much energy, and generating as much waste, as possible. But even if we would achieve a 50% increase in efficiency there, we would still hover around that same 0.5%. Still crazy after all these years.
That won’t work. But there are other options. We presently live in cities and towns that are designed exclusively around those cars with their abysmal efficiency rates. In many if not most places, over half of what once was, and could be again, public space, has been turned into car space. There are no kids playing in the streets anywhere anymore.
If you talk about waste or pollution, that too could be labeled as such. In only 100 years, or even just 50, not only have most city populations exploded, both through birth rates and migration, all those extra people and the ‘original’ population now demand space for their vehicles that are 20x their weight and size.
And the car makers keep on advertizing ‘lifestyle’ ads with wide open roads and smily happy people. If I can repeat myself “If ever you need a way to demonstrate that people are not very smart, look no further.”
Now, mind you, if and when I say something that sounds like: we can do this, I am a lot more skeptical than most of you. This is because as I wrote three weeks ago in Energy vs DNA, we are driven by nature, by our DNA, it doesn’t matter how you define it, to maximize our energy consumption. Not on an individual level, but on a group level.
There’s still the trifle little matter of how all systems, all organisms, deal with energy (sources). Now, according to Alfred J. Lotka and Howard T. Odum, in what they and others have labeled the 4th law of Thermodynamics, all systems and organisms of necessity (DNA/RNA driven) seek to maximize their use of energy, for pure survival reasons: the one that’s most efficient in its ability to exploit and utilize -external- energy sources will survive. (another word for this is: Life)
In that article I also quoted Jay Hanson:
Why can’t we save ourselves? To answer that question we only need to integrate three of the key influences on our behavior: 1) biological evolution, 2) overshoot, and 3) a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle” (MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power generation, by degrading more energy, whenever systemic constraints allow it.
But then that takes me right to a quote I’ve used a few times before, from Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend:
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment—that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
Note that the Maximum Power Principle is quite mute on efficiency. It talks about being efficient in grabbing the resource, not in using it. That only matters if you MUST be efficient. The oil extravaganza we discovered in Pennsylvania and Baku in the 1850s has left us without any reason to be efficient. And there is precious little reason to believe we will suddenly change that behavior BEFORE we hit a wall (or, rather, THE wall).
And also note that Daly and Townsend talk about waste in general, waste as in what is left over once we have “consumed energy”, when we have used a low entropy “source” and turned it into a high entropy one, i.e. one that is useless to us (though trees live off of CO2, we have no use for it). In that regard, replacing one form of energy with another, as electric cars seek to do, is a very dubious undertaking.
The only approach that makes any sense, is to use and consume vastly less ‘energy’. From a rational point of view, that would seem an easy thing to do: it should be possible to transport yourself at a higher efficiency rate than 0.5%. But at the same time, that’s not at all what we are doing.
We, like all organisms, are obeying the Maximum Power Principle: we grab all the energy we can, and we use it in whatever way we can. Got to be a bit careful with the term “we” perhaps, if only because if by some miracle we might drastically reduce our energy consumption, which physics says should be no problem -though biology might disagree-, we would leave a lot of oil, or other energy forms, available to for instance the Chinese, who could use it against us.
Very much a part of the Maximum Power Principle: competition between species leads to maximum ‘power grabs’ (for survival), but also competition within species (same reason). What you have in your possession, they do not.
I very much welcome any and all thoughts and contributions and disagreements on this topic. But do note I’ve been on it for many years.
I will return to Jerusalem, my holy city, and live there. It will be known as the faithful city… Once again old men and women, so old that they use a stick when they walk, will be sitting in the city squares. And the streets will again be full of boys and girls playing.
– Zechariah 8:3-5
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You could probably say I’m sympathetic to the schoolchildren protesting against climate change, and I’m sympathetic to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for a Green New Deal. Young people are the future, and they deserve a voice about that future. At the same time, I’m also deeply skeptical about their understanding of the issues they talk about.
In fact, I don’t see much understanding at all. I think that’s because they base their comprehension of the world they’ve been born into on information provided by the very people they’re now protesting against. Look kids, your education system sucks, it was designed by those destroying your planet, you need to shake it off and get something better.
But I know what you will do instead: you’re going to get the ‘proper’ education to get a nice-paying job, with a nice car (green, of course) and a nice house etc etc. In other words, you will, at least most of you, be the problem, not solve it. And no shift towards wind or solar will make one iota of difference in that. Want to improve the world? Improve the education system first.
Climate change is just one of an entire array of problems the world faces, and in the same way the use of fossil fuels is just one of many causes of these problems. And focusing on only one aspect of a much broader challenge simply doesn’t appear to be a wise approach, if only because you risk exacerbating some problems while trying to fix others.
In order to fix what’s broken, you’re first going to have to find out what broke it. The impression I get is that fossil fuels have been named the designated culprit, and people think that if only we have access to some other form(s) of energy we’ll be fine. But species extinction appears to be at least as large an issue as climate change, and the loss of 60% of all vertebrates, and 90% of flying insects in some places, since 1970 is linked to climate change only sideways.
It’s one thing to run into problems you could not have foreseen. It’s quite another to run into them because you elected to ignore readily available knowledge. But it’s the latter issue that’s behind by far most of the problems we’re running into. Because, again, our education system is broken.
And perhaps we should try to be forgiving when well-meaning children and young politicians don’t have a full grasp of political and economic issues heaped upon them by older generations. But physics? That you can only and always ignore at your own peril.
The First Law of Thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed; the total quantity of energy in the universe stays the same. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the use of energy produces waste (because entropy tends to increase). Neither law talks about fossil fuels.
This brings me once more to one of my favorite quotes of all time (because it explains so much):
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend
What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.
Not only do we produce waste with every calorie of energy we burn, our economic systems depend on us burning as much as we can. We ‘optimized’ them for it. Energy efficiency is the enemy of our economies. We transport ourselves in vehicles that are 20 times our own weight, and that use only 10% of the fuel we put in them for the purpose of transporting us. That’s what keep the economic engine going. It’s also what destroys the planet.
There’s probably no moment of deeper despair for the world than when I see a Swedish schoolgirl and a Dutch historian pop up at Davos to tell the billionaires and power hungry ‘the truth’. Davos is the last place to be when you have good intentions. All those people owe their money and power to the system you say you’re protesting. You think they’re going to give it up, or even risk it?
What those people will tell you, and what many of you are already parroting (check the Green New Deal), is that ‘going green’ will be a very profitable undertaking. Get the best of both worlds and eat it too. Tempting, for sure, but also incredibly stupid.
That epitomizes the Davos crowd. Stay away from that. There’s nothing for you there. They just want you to be inefficient in the use of another form of energy, only more this time. “We’re going to use a huge sh*tload of fossil fuels to build an infrastructure that allows us to use less fossil fuels.” Darn, that makes a lot of sense. “We’re saved!”.
See, saving the planet, and all the species we’re eradicating as we speak, will at the very least require an enormous decline in energy use. Because that’s the only way to reduce waste production. But that in turn will mean a huge hit to the current economic system, which cannot continue without the principle of maximizing waste production that it’s based on.
There appears to be a principle in nature that says when you hand a species an X amount of ‘free’ energy, that species will burn through it as fast as it can. Perhaps that’s simply a move towards equilibrium. The species will maximize energy use per individual, and proliferate, create more individuals, it’s a very predictable process, from bacteria in a petri-dish to the human species.
So maybe it cannot be helped, or stopped. But you can try. It’s just that, if you want to do that, you’re not going to achieve it by insulting your own, and my, intelligence through the complete disregard for the laws of physics, the most reliable gauges we have when it comes to understanding our world and the impact we have on it.
That goes for the schoolchildren, and it goes for Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal proponents too: ask yourself what physics says about it. Ask yourself what will happen to the economy. Never presume it will be easy or even profitable. You’re not going to save the planet for profit; you’ll have to find a different incentive.
And get educated. But forget about universities, they’re one of the leading drivers behind the mess you find yourselves in.
While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.
Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse.
Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best.
Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:
Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point: that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure. One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious. People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.”
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter. Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. WHY that is in the back of OUR minds (and only ours, they often say “humans” are violent, mean or exploitative, but Algonquins or Kalahari Bushmen might show otherwise), is another whole question, however, it is the root of our, and only OUR, western culture: limitless growth and progress. A religion of Progress that replaces God himself, as the Archdruid would say.
However, here we are. And our system parameters, of our western system do NOT permit ANY contraction of growth or progress. At this point, the entire economic and financial system would collapse, and as we no longer have any religion, community, or moral framework, or possibly even reason, our whole society would collapse with it.
That’s a lot to take on, so let’s just simply ask in public why we are calling for 20 years of furious concrete/CO2-producing growth must occur to rebuild those windmills and 4,000 buildings a day, or whether we should just take the Yankee mantra (and no doubt a Norwegian one too) to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is so much wasted you could dumpster dive and Craigslist the first 10 years, giving us enormous resources to apply to raw energy use. But we won’t, and no one will even say it, although everyone knows it, has done it, and CLAIMS there’s an urgent crisis.
So let’s start here and ask why we’re not doing the most stupid, basic, cheap, things, like turning down the thermostat and walking to the store AT ALL, instead of (sorry to pick on this) saving the bats in Mauritania, or the whales in Japan. Why? Because then SOMEBODY ELSE has to take a boot to the teeth, not me in Brooklyn or London. And we will MAKE THEM take in the teeth for me, so I DON’T HAVE TO. We were already down this road in 1970 as the Archdruid has said, we already made this decision not to wear sweaters way back. Instead, I can claim rights to $100 Trillion in wealth and dole it out like the queen, making friends and fame without limit.
But it won’t work, and we need to get on it right away. I believe the leaders already know we’re going to hit the wall and are purposefully trying to hit the accelerator as with outlawing seeds, meat, poisoning soil and water, outlawing gardens, controlling travel – these are all the foundations of Stalin about to approach Ukraine. I can see that in 20 approaches they’re pushing, but I don’t expect them to be very successful. Such as, WE are going to have to do it, not the other guy. And I in fact do, but I’m pretty busy, so this is the best I can do right now.
And perhaps you too.
The Real New Deal
Dr. D: The Green New Deal has taken front page headlines lately, and the discussion on how to green the economy and become more ecological is real. Certainly all sides have wide agreement, where while the Left may call for salvation from Global Warming, yet the Right will call for efficient resource use, preserved farmland and better hunting camps. Everyone loves National Parks, being one of the largest tourist draws in our nation and also for our fellow nations worldwide, nobody likes to see animals run down or the environment destroyed.
With so much agreement, so widespread, it’s difficult to see why a consensus cannot be agreed on. Even if the means are different – statist control vs volunteer capitalism – surely the goals would be reached in any case. Perhaps with two methods, approaches, and visions, attaining our common goals could be far easier. If so, then why does there seem to be such obstacles and reluctance in our joint moment into a greener, better future? The Left says it’s because of the Right, and the Right because of the Left. Yet I can tell you it’s neither: it’s simply math and physics.
An “Economy” is the “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.” That is to say they are the static things, like land, rivers, and copper mines, as well as the specific ways in which those blank resources are put to use: the transportation of them to factories, their manufacture, sale, and disposal. This encompasses things not on-ledger, like where environmental and social costs are offloaded, and who is enjoying the benefit of a resource that will run out for our children. This is also the things that are on-ledger, such as who benefits from profits or productivity, and which sectors are subsidized and which are starved. The Financial System rides atop of the Economic System, simply accounting it, keeping track of it, and sending the messages to it about where the needs are and which products should go where.
But neither exist in a vacuum. Although we generally overlook it, the Economic and Financial Systems are an expression of our personal beliefs and values, and those of our nation and national culture or personality. So in the U.S., we have chosen to measure our national prosperity using headline metrics such as the S&P and the GDP. These change character from time to time, as we used to measure the GNP, and now follow the NASDAQ. And the way we characterize them is also relevant: in the U.S., for instance, we measure all government spending in GDP as if it were private spending; that is, as if it were a profit, not an expense.
Nor is this financial arcana: although when this choice was made to make it seem the economy was stronger during the Great Depression, “you optimize what you measure”, and now the government itself has become the economy, with $22T in debts owed, and is directing most resources, but at a LOSS, not a profit. We then record that loss as prosperity. Nor is that different for the S&P or NASDAQ: if the popular financial numbers decline, the Fed will openly take money from the people and push the numbers back up again to indicate “success” and “prosperity” as we measure it. Yet the money borrowed from the taxpayers, the currency holders, makes them poorer, not richer.
World energy consumption per capita based on 2003 data from the International Energy Agency
What does this have to do with the Green New Deal and our joint goal of a cleaner, greener world? Well, the Green New Deal proposes to spend vast sums of money to transfer energy use to renewables and carbon-free sources, and there are unimaginable profits to be made should anyone do this. Unfortunately, the fact this hasn’t occurred is strong proof that it’s not possible. Not that green energy can’t be made or doesn’t exist, but that it’s not PROFITABLE to do so – that’s why the government, or rather the taxpayers, are asked to pay for it. But profit is only money, as the MMT-believers will avow.
What really matters is that thermodynamically, the EROEI, the “energy returned on energy invested” is too low. That is to say, you put in 90 calories and get out only 91. Or worse, put in 101 calories and get out only 90. This is easily shown in a wide variety of green projects, from solar – it’s estimated the electric produced over 20 years is equal to the glass-and-silicon manufacture – to ethanol, where despite enormous carbon, petrol, and water use in the cement, steel, shipping, and manufacturing of the distilling plant, the corn may only produce 10 units gain per 90 invested, or possibly none at all.
This is likely true for windmills, which if needing repair will add costs, while requiring a full-scale standing grid behind them at all times, as well as electric cars, which not only require a grid, but also may use more energy and cause more pollution in mining and smelting the batteries than the vehicle saves over a lifetime. Nor was this a surprise: again, as bad a system as financial accounting is in a system riddled with stock frauds and subsidies, nevertheless, if any of these saved energy, the huge drop in input costs – no gas used – would immediately render all these projects profitable, and not in need of a subsidy.
This is how coal replaced wood, and tractors replaced horses – sometimes in as little as 10 years. This is how LEDs instantly replaced incandescents, or the Prius replaced the K-car –lower costs, better products. And is how the U.S. has had one of the largest drops in CO2 emissions despite shutting down green subsidies and pulling out of the Paris Accord – organically, by market forces. Because despite our terrible, corrupt, interventionist system screwing up all the incentives, everybody loves a deal, and those arbitrages, those improvements still stand out.
Since we’re already using our technical limit, there is another way we can join together, reduce energy use, reduce waste and green the planet: lower demand.
The U.S. uses about half our energy for transportation, and if you’ve been to America, you know that most of that transportation is unnecessary: people live on average +20 minutes from work, and our oversized, centralized schools mean they are nearly as far. It’s not uncommon for every child to have a 40-minute bus ride each morning and night to and from school, and although more efficient than cars, there’s little need, only habit. We concentrated millions of small schools into a few huge ones from 1950 to 2000, just as we concentrated millions of small towns and shops into a few mega-centers. The remaining small businesses – dentists, phone stores, pizza shops – are randomly distributed, without any location in neighborhoods nor any access to public transit, and this would take decades to transform.
Nor is this a thing the people prefer. Commuting is one of the least-liked aspects of modern life as well as the most energy-intensive one. So instead of following massive hundred-trillion debt expenditures that show no promise of returning value, shouldn’t we grasp the low hanging fruit of efficiency? In fact, thermodynamically, efficiency is the only game in town, a 100 or 1,000:1 EROEI instead of 1.2:1. We have even done this from time to time during wars when massive campaigns led to massive efficiency, massive production, massive savings, ration books, and near-total recycling.
But nobody wants that. And that’s why the Green New Deal is structured exclusively as a SPENDING program, and not a SAVING one, because we don’t want to save, we want to SPEND. Part of this of course is that it’s more fun to spend than to save, but more importantly, it’s what we do, it’s what we measure. If you were to have a Green New Deal that is easy to implement and proven to work like the WWII model, GDP and profits would fall sharply. Although much, perhaps most, energy is wasted on unimportant things, the higher efficiencies would mean lower sales, lower production, and lower throughput EVEN IF IT MEANT A HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE. This is easily seen in the U.S. vs Japan or Europe comparisons:
World energy consumption per capita based on 2013 data from the World Bank
The U.S. uses 10,000kg oil while Japan uses 5,000 and Portugal uses 2,500, and while there are important differences between nations, we don’t think of Japan or Portugal as sacrificing quality of life. This is strictly a choice, a design built up over lifetimes of effort. So if we could become as efficient as Japan and live far better too, why don’t we? This is a no-argument left-right win that can be implemented in hours, why isn’t capturing this easy gain the real target of the GND?
“You get what you incentivize.” If efficiency were the Real Green Deal, money would NOT be spent in Congress, Companies would NOT be paid, and lobbyists go home empty and poor. People would NOT be employed for the new projects and they would NOT vote for the new Congressmen. Government spending falls, even private-sector GDP would decline, and falling with it would be protected sectors of the economy like oil and utilities. How do you sell “Let’s cancel the party and stay home with the lights out”?
But it’s far worse than that in ways we don’t see. We think about New Deal SPENDING because spending has been exclusively incentivized for 100 years. The economy, the society, the financial system have all been built around GROWTH, not efficiency; MORE, not less, until the systems themselves can no longer function with anything less than unceasing expansion, ever-increasing, forever.
If GDP drops for any reason, even for efficiency and an easy increase in the quality of life – even to save all life on earth – consumption drops. A simpler life with fewer miles driven means less gas wasted and fewer cars sold. Fewer cars means fewer meals out. Sales drop. Employment drops. Stock markets drop. The lower valuation of companies means bond quality drops. Lower sales and lower activity mean tax revenue drops. Government programs drop. Treasury bonds drop and with it, military power drops. As stocks, bonds, and T-bill drop, pensions drop. Insurance drops. In short, the entire economy drops, contracts, goes into a sharp deflation and depression with world-wide unemployment and mass bankruptcies.
But worse than that. Economies come and go, wax and wane and adjust to the new realities. However, unlike previous eras, under a debt-based fiat-money system, one thing does NOT drop: debt. As the value of all things declines, the debt owed only increases. By companies. By citizens. By whole governments. And so soon as the numbers in a debt-based system stop increasing, that debt defaults.
Now in previous times, the relative values of debts, assets, and money would simply re-adjust. Bonds would fall, gold (cash) would rise. Bad companies and inefficiencies would be driven out, and the system would recover without the dead weight and bad ideas at a more accurate pricing. But that won’t happen this time. Because everything is so highly leveraged and centralized, and the financial system is our primary means of directing the economy, that system under a debt-based fiat system would almost entirely collapse, and the disruptions of reforming and restarting it would almost certainly take years, during which the economy itself, the production of wheat bread and toothpaste, heating oil and electric lights, would come to a virtual halt, threatening the lives of millions, hundred millions, even billions worldwide.
Wars would start. Nations would fall. So while we don’t think of these things, the reality is, if one were to have a major contraction, much less plan a voluntary, intentional one, the pressure to stop it would be overwhelming and from every side: retail, political, financial, human, ecological, economic, military; there is no way such a plan could be seriously considered, much less implemented. WE ARE NEVER MOVING TO EFFICIENCY UNDER A DEBT-BASED MONETARY SYSTEM. End of story. To the contrary: such a system incentivizes and even DEMANDS new waste and expensive, ruinous ideas like the Green New Deal. And even if they fail, they must ever-increase.
So why are we not having a Green New Deal of easy efficiency, one that we know works, but instead spending ever-more on ever more massive expenditures that are ever-less fruitful? Because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s what it depends on. And as you get what you incentivize, every body, everywhere in the system, will be incentivized to do this or die trying. And this will continue until we change the base assumptions, what we measure, what we capture and profit by. Left or Right, big or small, town or country, public or private, nothing can change in our system until we change it, until we change our beliefs about who we are, what we want, and what we are doing.
For me, I prefer easy, provable gains and a higher, easier quality of life, and I’m not afraid to make those changes that improve us without being at the expense of others. And we will need to face where we are and the challenges of the steps before us. Because essentially we all agree. We not only need a New Green Deal, we need a New Deal altogether. A better one, a fairer one. A possible one. One with a future. So let’s start acting like it and begin.
No, not even that headline is true. Trump wants full denuclearization, and Kim wants full lifting of sanctions. That is complex, that takes trust, that will take a lot more talk. And that’s fine, as Trump recognizes. These meetings should become so common they don’t make the news anymore.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions. Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.
Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together. “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”. Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office. Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.
I watched quite a bit of the ‘testimony’ yesterday, increasingly wondering: what are we watching here? Why is this show put on? It was clear from the ‘leaked’ files that Cohen had nothing, as I said yesterday morning. In the Q&A session he had way less than nothing. So yeah, let’s go with the most absurd headline of the bunch.
Trump consigliere turned federal informant Michael Cohen shared his fear that there will “never be a peaceful transition of power” if his former boss loses the 2020 election during a congressional hearing some called a ‘circus.’ “You don’t know him! I do!” Cohen insisted plaintively during his testimony before the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, before predicting Trump would refuse to step down even if he was defeated in 2020. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” declared Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to Congress regarding the special counsel’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe in November, months after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax fraud. He has been busily feeding information to the various Trump probes ever since.
Despite promising big things – proof that Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, evidence of Trump’s racism, even the holy grail of Russian collusion – Cohen failed to deliver anything tangible to the salivating Democrats on the committee, admitting he had no “real examples” of collusion and instead filling his time on the stand with public displays of repentance over his ten years of service to Trump. “Everybody’s job at the Trump organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s what’s happening right now in this country,” Cohen intoned. “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.” Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly reminded the committee that Cohen had already been convicted for perjury. Rep. Carol Miller (R-West Virginia) denounced the entire affair as a “circus.”
Michael Cohen on Wednesday delivered a sharp warning to Donald Trump and the Republican party that the president faces legal and political peril on at least two fronts. First, the Trump-Russia investigation. Cohen became the first Trump associate to allege that, in 2016, Trump knew in advance that his eldest son, Donald Jr, was meeting Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton – and that WikiLeaks would be releasing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives. Moreover, Cohen hinted that Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently wrapping up a two-year inquiry into whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, may have proof.
Cohen was asked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat forced to resign as party chairwoman over the WikiLeaks disclosures, how they could corroborate his explosive allegations, which are based on remarks he says he overheard in Trump’s office. “I suspect that the special counsel’s office and other government agencies have the information you’re seeking,” Cohen said. Trump denied both allegations in his written answers to questions from Mueller. Cohen also reiterated that Trump lied repeatedly to the American public during the 2016 campaign by saying he had no dealings with Russia. In fact, Cohen has told prosecutors, Trump was keenly pursuing a lucrative tower in Moscow until June 2016.
Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years. “There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.
The Democrats may be intent -again- on swamping the field with candidates, only to end up with the establishment candidate. That would mean they haven’t learned a thing in 4 years. Unless Ocasio rises to the occasion (get it? Ocasio->Occasion). But that’s doubtful, 1 year is short. So maybe they should chew on this a little:
Donald Trump’s presidency has been so widely derided in the national media that a casual observer might easily conclude his prospects for reelection are dim. However, that is not what the odds makers are saying. They give Trump a solid edge over any Democratic candidate in 2020. The odds makers are right. Trump will probably be reelected if he chooses to run. What follows is an explanation of why the odds favor Trump, and what eight years of his leadership would mean for global security. Let’s start with the factors favoring a second term. First of all, candidates who get elected to the presidency once tend to get reelected if they run. Only two chief executives seeking reelection over the last 50 years—Carter and Bush 41—failed in their bid for a second term.
Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all won reelection, even though at least two of them were highly controversial. In fact, the most controversial presidents tend to roll up the biggest reelection victories. Second, Trump has presided over the strongest economy in living memory. Unemployment is at record lows, inflation is nearly non-existent, and new jobs are being created at a startling pace. Anyone who studies presidential politics knows that strong economies are the most important factor driving support for the incumbent. While growth may moderate between now and election day, few economists expect a recession anytime soon. Third, the nation is at peace. Trump has avoided involvement in new overseas adventures, and is pressing to scale back what is left of the operations he inherited from his predecessor.
Critics complain he is too eager to get out of places like Afghanistan and Syria, however the record shows that voters have little patience for foreign military intervention. Unpopular wars are the one issue that can eclipse a good economy in the minds of voters, but at the moment Trump seems to be delivering both peace and prosperity. Fourth, Democrats are busy reminding voters in the middle of the political spectrum why they voted for Trump in 2016. Ever since the Democrats drifted away from their blue-collar base in the 1970s, winning the party’s presidential nomination has required appeals to the Left. While many voters may resent the rich and want more government benefits, those sentiments become muted when the economy is strong.
I am surprised that no one else is saying it, writing it, shouting it at each and every corner: It is not Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran that are in dire and crucial need of ‘regime change’. It is the United States of America, it is the entire European Union; in fact, the entire West. And the situation is urgent. The West has gone mad; it has gone so to speak, bananas; mental. And people there are too scared to even say it, to write about it. One country after another is falling, being destroyed, antagonized, humiliated, impoverished. Entire continents are treated as if they were inhabited by irresponsible toddlers, who are being chased and disciplined by sadistic adults, with rulers and belts in their hands yelling with maniacal expressions on their faces: “Behave, do as we say, or else!”
It all would be truly comical, if it weren’t so depressing. But… nobody is laughing. People are shaking, sweating, crying, begging, puking, but they are not chuckling. I see it everywhere where I work: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But why? It is because North American and European countries are actually seriously delivering their ultimatum: you either obey us, and prostrate yourself in front of us, or we will break you, violate you, and if everything else fails, we will kill your leaders and all of those who are standing in our way. This is not really funny, is it? Especially considering that it is being done to almost all the countries in what is called Latin America, to many African and Middle Eastern nations, and to various states on the Asian continent.
And it is all done ‘professionally’, with great sadistic craftsmanship and rituals. No one has yet withstood ‘regime change’ tactics, not even the once mighty Soviet Union, nor tremendous China, or proud and determined Afghanistan. Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK and Syria may be the only countries that are still standing. They resisted and mobilized all their resources in order to survive; and they have survived, but at a tremendous price.
It seems obvious the whole scenario of delivering US aid into Venezuela from neighboring countries was really intended as a pretext for military intervention by Washington. The government in Caracas had warned of such a contingency in advance, as had Russia, which is allied to President Maduro’s administration. Moscow’s experience in Syria has no doubt given a lot of valuable insights into the American playbook of using false flags for justifying military aggression. The timing of the Lima Group summit – 12 Latin American states along with the US and Canada – was meant to capitalize on the false-flag incident over aid, as well as other deadly clashes at the weekend that resulted in dozens of casualties.
However, the provocation did not go to plan, despite Pence and Guaido’s grandstanding assertions. The other downside for the US regime-change objective in Venezuela is that the Lima Group has for the moment broken ranks over the military option. Pence and Guaido stepped up the rhetoric calling for “all options” on the table – meaning military intervention. But the Lima Group, including US allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, issued a statement after the summit Monday rejecting any military action. They are still functioning as lackeys by calling for a “peaceful transition to democracy” and are in favor of the dubious US-anointed opposition figure Guaido, recognizing him as the “interim president” of Venezuela, in accordance with Washington’s desires.
Nevertheless, repudiation of the military option by Washington’s regional allies will be seen as a damper to the momentum for using American force to overthrow the Maduro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão repeatedly said in interviews that his government would not allow a US military incursion into Venezuela from its territory. The European Union also said it was opposed to any military force being used by the US against Venezuela. The emerging situation therefore puts the regime-change planners in Washington in a quandary. Their sanctions pressure for blackmailing defections in the Venezuelan political and military leadership has failed. So too has the much-vaunted spectacle of delivering US aid.
A senior European Commission economist has warned that a Third World War is an extremely “high probability” in coming years due to the disintegration of global capitalism. In a working paper published last month, Professor Gerhard Hanappi argued that since the 2008 financial crash, the global economy has moved away from “integrated” capitalism into a “disintegrating” shift marked by the same sorts of trends which preceded previous world wars. Professor Hanappi is Jean Monnet Chair for Political Economy of European Integration -an European Commission appointment- at the Institute for Mathematical Models in Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He also sits on the management committee of the Systemic Risks expert group in the EU-funded European Cooperation in Science and Technology research network.
In his new paper, Hanappi concludes that global conditions bear unnerving parallels with trends before the outbreak of the first and second world wars. Key red flags that the world is on a slippery slope to a global war, he finds, include: • the inexorable growth of military spending; • democracies transitioning into increasingly authoritarian police states; • heightening geopolitical tensions between great powers; • the resurgence of populism across the left and right; • the breakdown and weakening of established global institutions that govern transnational capitalism; • and the relentless widening of global inequalities. These trends, some of which were visible before the previous world wars, are reappearing in new forms. Hanappi argues that the defining feature of the current period is a transition from an older form of “integrating capitalism” to a new form of “disintegrating capitalism”, whose features most clearly emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.
Factory activity in China contracted to a three-year low in February as export orders fell at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis, highlighting deepening cracks in an economy facing weak demand at home and abroad. The gloomy findings are likely to reinforce views that the world’s second-largest economy is still losing steam, after growth last year cooled to a near 30-year low. Even with increasing government stimulus to spur activity, concerns are growing that China may be at risk of a sharper slowdown if current Sino-U.S. trade talks fail to relieve some of the pressure. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third straight month, dropping to 49.2 in February from 49.5 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday.
The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the gauge would stay unchanged from January’s 49.5. “Unless the trade war truly turns into an extended truce, the weakening trend may not end quickly,” Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING, said in a note. “As such we expect March’s PMI to fall, too.” Manufacturing output contracted in February for the first time since January 2009, during the depths of the global crisis. Manufacturers also continued to cut jobs, a trend Beijing is closely watching as its weighs more support measures. New export orders shrank for a ninth straight month, and at a sharper rate, amid faltering global demand.
The Danish government is considering changing current laws which make it compulsory for the vast majority of stores to accept cash payments. The measure is part of Copenhagen’s push for a completely cashless society by 2030. The law change would allow petrol stations, convenience stores and clothing shops to choose to only accept card and online forms of payment. The anti-crime measure would provide additional security for stores, according to Denmark’s Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov. “Fewer people use cash today, so we think there should be a balance between the difficulty and security risks placed on business owners and the benefits of accepting cash,” Jarlov told the DR broadcaster.
A 2017 law enabled certain types of stores to apply for a dispensation to be cash-free between 10pm and 6am. The minister said that, “If you still want to use cash, I would advise saying so to the stores where you shop. I expect businesses to listen to their customers.” “We are not forcing anyone to stop using cash,” he added. Certain services, including supermarkets, postal services, doctors, pharmacies and other stores with “central societal functions,” will still be required to accept cash. Denmark’s endeavor to move towards a completely cash-free economy has been the subject of heated debate lately; with opponents saying the measure is aimed at placing citizens exclusively under state control. The government has “set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.”
Up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed by a new Chinese dam that will swamp a crucial sanctuary for the endangered primate in Guinea, experts have warned. The 294MW Koukoutamba dam will be built by Sinohydro, the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plant construction company, in the middle of a newly declared protected area called the Moyen-Bafing National park. The Chinese company is already facing similar criticism for building a dam in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of a newly discovered species of orangutan. Its executives signed a contract this week with local representatives eager to secure a power project that will bring energy and funds to one of Africa’s poorest countries. The flooding of swathes of the park is expected to force the displacement of 8,700 people.
It will also increase the pressure on western chimpanzees, which have declined by 80% in the past 20 years, and are now considered critically endangered – the highest level of risk – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The highlands of Guinea are home to Africa’s healthiest remaining population of about 16,500 western chimpanzees. In most other countries, this subspecies is either extinct or perilously threatened in populations of less than 100 individuals. The Moyen-Bafing reserve was established in 2016 as a “chimpanzee offset” and funded by two mining companies – Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée and Guinea Alumina Corporation – in return for permission to open mineral excavation sites inside other territories of the primate.
Rebecca Kormos, a primatologist who has been researching the animal for decades, has warned that a dam inside the park would have the biggest impact a development project has ever had on chimpanzees. “I hope Sinohydro will reconsider engaging in a project that could drive the western chimpanzee into extinction. Once a species goes, it’s gone forever,” she said. She estimates 800 to 1,500 chimpanzees will die as a result of the project, either by having their habitats flooded or as a result of territorial conflicts if they try to move.
Najib Balala, the tourism and wildlife minister of Kenya, recently announcedthat those who take the lives of innocent animals through poaching will soon face the death penalty in the African country. While this proposal hasn’t been officially enacted into law yet, Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency that wildlife poaching is on a fast track to becoming a capital offense. Sudan, Kenya’s last Rhino who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya died last year. The species is now extinct due the Chinese demand for Rhino horn. While this measure may seem extreme, it is a last resort attempt to deter people from slaughtering Kenya’s rapidly decreasing wildlife population. Balala reportedly said:
“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.” As compared to recent years, poaching in Kenya is actually on the decline in the present day. According to the country’s tourism ministers, this decrease can largely be attributed to more serious wildlife law enforcement efforts and increased investment in conservation. “These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” reported the ministry.
However, as Balala pointed out, wildlife poaching has not yet been completely eradicated in Kenya. The Independent reported, “Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 — and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.” Furthermore, a poacher killed two black rhinos and a calf earlier this month in Kenya’s Meru National Park.
We’re on course to destroy the clouds, they said now. Not just the coral, not just the insects, not just all the wild vertebrates living on land. The clouds. Quanta Magazine, writing about a new Nature Geoscience study on warming and clouds, described the temperature spike known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide led to an even sharper increase in temperature—along with “mass extinctions” of ocean life, immense dislocations of land animals, and “flash floods and protracted droughts.” How did the temperature jump out of normal boundaries into a lethal range? Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer.
With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control. In computer simulations, researchers found that at 1,200 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the level at which temperatures would be expected to be 4º C above the historical baseline, the atmosphere would become too warm and too turbulent to allow sheets of stratocumulus clouds to form. If the clouds fell apart, the extra sunlight could bring on an extra 8 degrees of warming—for a total increase of 12º C, or more than 21º F. Like the methane-spilling permafrost or the fracturing Antarctic ice sheet, the clouds can’t come back if they’re broken; the runaway heating effect would linger even after carbon dioxide levels dropped. We would have irrevocably ruined the sky.
The world’s deepest ocean trenches are becoming “the ultimate sink” for plastic waste, according to a study that reveals contamination of animals even in these dark, remote regions of the planet. For the first time, scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, highlights the threat posed by non-biodegradable substances in clothes, containers and packaging, which make their way from household bins via dump sites and rivers to the oceans, where they break up and sink to the floor.
The impact of plastic in shallower waters – where it chokes dolphins, whales and seabirds – is already well documented in academic journals and by TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. But the study shows this problem is far more profound than previously realised. Researchers baited, caught and examined subsea creatures from six of the deepest places in the world – the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific, the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the south-west Pacific, and the Japan trench, Izu-Bonin trench and Mariana trench in the north-west Pacific. In all six areas, they found ingestion of microparticles by amphipods – a shrimp-like crustacean that scavenges on the seabed. The deeper the region, the higher the rate of consumption. In the Mariana trench – which goes down to the lowest point on earth of 10,890 metres below sea level – 100% of samples contained at least one microparticle.
The materials included polyester-reinforced cotton and fibres made of lyocell, rayon, ramie, polyvinyl and polyethylene. The breadth of substances and broad range of geographic sites prompted the authors to observe that increasing volumes of global plastic waste will find their way from surface gyres into these trenches. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” they noted. Once the materials reach these areas the waste has nowhere else to go, said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, the lead author of the paper. “If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there. It can’t flush and there are no animals going in and out of those trenches.”
The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria. All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement.
He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.” [..] When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.
Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”
More Chinese companies could default on their debts issued in U.S. dollars, experts warn. They say that the rising cost of borrowing and a weakening Chinese yuan could see more firms fail to meet upcoming payments, as an increasing number of bonds mature in the next few years. Japanese bank Nomura said in a research note in early November that for the first 10 months of this year, defaults on Chinese offshore corporate dollar bonds — or OCDB — totaled $3.4 billion, compared with none last year. It expects more defaults to come over the next two years. So far, there’s little chance that increased pressure on offshore dollar repayment could trigger a broader crisis, but the situation should be closely monitored for spillover threats.
“I’m watchful over how these dollar debts will roll over in time,” Tai Hui at JP Morgan in Hong Kong, told reporters Thursday. Hui stressed that he currently sees no systemic risks, but noted that financial strains often begin in one area before spreading. “I think the government needs to be very mindful of some of these potential links,” he said, adding that the property sector should be foremost in mind. In its report dated Nov. 7, Nomura estimated that outstanding dollar-denominated Chinese corporate debt stood at about $751 billion in the third quarter. That’s more than double the amount at the end of 2015. It projected that an average of $33.3 billion of Chinese corporate dollar bonds will mature each quarter from the fourth quarter of 2018 to the end of 2020, sharply higher than the estimated $11 billion that matured in the third quarter of this year.
Regulation of tech companies is coming, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook says, because the free market “is not working.” “I’m a big believer in the free market. But we have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here. I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO. “Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of regulation,” Cook told Axios in an interview for “Axios on HBO,” airing Sunday night, but “I think the Congress and the administration at some point will pass something,”
And Cook said tech companies should not be afraid of regulations. “This is not a matter of privacy versus profits, or privacy versus technical innovation. That’s a false choice,” he said. Cook told Axios that while he believes technology is not inherently good or bad, companies must be aware that their products can be misused. He also said that while Silicon Valley has embraced diversity in general, it “has missed it” when it comes to closing the gender gap.
President Donald Trump said in an interview aired on Sunday he would not intervene if Matthew Whitaker, his acting U.S. attorney general, moved to curtail Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In an interview with the “Fox News Sunday” program taped on Friday, Trump also said he probably would not agree to a sit-down interview with Mueller, who also is investigating whether the Republican president’s campaign conspired with Moscow and whether Trump has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.
Whitaker took over supervision of Mueller’s investigation on Nov. 7 after Trump appointed him as the chief U.S. law enforcement official to replace Jeff Sessions, who the president ousted. Whitaker, who Democrats have called a Trump “political lackey,” in the past criticized the scope of the Mueller probe and brought up the possibility of undermining it by slashing Mueller’s funding. Trump, in the interview, said he was unaware of Whitaker’s past statements about Mueller’s probe and that he would “not get involved” if Whitaker moved to curtail it. “It’s going to be up to him,” Trump told “Fox News Sunday” interviewer Chris Wallace. “I think he’s very well aware politically. I think he’s astute politically. … He’s going to do what’s right.”
“..the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence –I repeat, none– that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies.”
Fake news is a serious problem in our political life. I’m not referring to a pathetically small number of Facebook ads bought by Russian provocateurs. I’m talking about the fake news that was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee; fabricated by Democratic Party-allied consultants; propagated by the FBI and the CIA; promoted by the broadcast networks, CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Associated Press; trumpeted by pretty much every senior elected Democrat; and kept alive by the appalling Robert Mueller. The claim that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to “steal” the 2016 presidential election is the great fake news of our time. How successful have the Democrats been in propagating that myth? This survey by The Economist and YouGov suggests that they have been successful beyond their wildest dreams. First the numbers, then some observations.
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Note the question asked: Did Russia “tamper with vote tallies in order to get Donald Trump elected President?” There is no evidence–I repeat, none–that Russia “tampered with vote tallies.” To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Russia tampered with vote tallies. I am not aware of any plausible theory on which a foreign power could tamper with vote tallies. To say that Russia tampered with vote tallies is as credible as asserting that the moon is made of green cheese. And yet, two-thirds of Democrats say it is either “definitely true” (31%) or “probably true” (36%) that Russia tampered with vote tallies. Women are especially gullible; 48%, across all party lines, have fallen for this fake news. Sadly, 70% of blacks have bought it hook, line and sinker. The Northeast is the country’s most ignorant region, apparently: 47% of Northeasterners have fallen for the hoax.
So the Democrats, by their constant hysteria and innuendo, have convinced a large majority of their followers, and 42% of all Americans, of a palpable falsehood that was fabricated in order to assure Hillary Clinton’s election and then, when that effort failed, perpetuated in an attempt to cripple President Trump’s administration. Is this the most successful disinformation campaign in history? I don’t know. But in American history, I can’t think of a plausible rival. President Trump is right: fake news is a serious threat. By cynically selling an absurd lie to its followers, the Democratic Party has badly damaged confidence in our democracy.
Europe’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has raised the prospect of the UK remaining under EU control until the end of 2022, a proposal that would cost billions and infuriate Tory Brexiters. At a special meeting with ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states, Barnier floated the prospect of extending the Brexit transition until the end of 2022. His idea would allow an extra two years to negotiate a trading relationship, but means the UK would continue to follow EU rules and pay into its budget with no say for six and a half years after the 2016 vote to leave. Both sides have already agreed a transition period of 21 months, until the end of 2020, as well as the chance to extend once by mutual consent.
The length of the extension is still to be finalised by negotiators. The transition period, which the British government prefers to call the implementation period, would see the UK following all EU laws and European court of justice rulings, while having no ministers or MEPs in the EU decision-making process. Theresa May has previously suggested an extension of only a few months would be needed, but the EU is still waiting on the UK to make a formal proposal. Negotiations between the EU and UK were continuing on Sunday as Brexit talks entered a critical final week, ahead of a special summit on 25 November when both sides hope to seal the deal.
Theresa May faces an embarrassing defeat over plans to force her into publishing data comparing Britain’s economic prospects under her Brexit deal to staying in the EU. Eleven Conservatives – including Jo Johnson, who resigned as a minister last week – have publicly signed up to the cross-party push, with the rebellion set to grow if it comes to a vote on Monday. The prime minister has so far refused to commit to releasing the analysis, which is likely to underline how remaining in the EU would deliver a more prosperous future for the country. Ms May meanwhile continued her media offensive to defend her Brexit plans, while eurosceptics pushed to raise enough support to trigger a vote of no confidence in the Conservative leader.
On Monday more than 70 MPs from six different parties will attempt to push through an amendment to the Finance Bill, which if passed would obligate Ms May to publish an economic impact assessment into the withdrawal deal she has agreed with the EU. The names include 11 Tories – the same number who rebelled the last time Ms May was defeated in the Commons on Brexit – who had backed Remain in 2016, many of whom now also support a new final say referendum on the outcome of Brexit.
British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to win support from business leaders for her contentious draft European Union divorce deal on Monday as dissenters in her own party scrambled to trigger a leadership challenge. May has had a tumultuous few days since unveiling her deal on Wednesday last week, with several ministers, including her Brexit minister, resigning and some of her own members of parliament seeking to oust her. The British leader has vowed to fight on, on Sunday warning that toppling her risked delaying Britain’s EU exit, and has said the future partnership agreement will help ensure the government delivers on the 2016 Brexit vote. The EU is due to hold a summit to discuss the deal on Nov. 25.
May will defend her deal in a speech to the CBI business lobby group’s annual conference on Monday, saying Britain would embark on an intense week of Brexit negotiations to try to thrash out the details of its outline future relationship with the EU. “We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us in the run-up to the special European Council on Sunday,” May will say, according to advance extracts. “During that time I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship and I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons.”
His entire idea is to wait for May to fail?! Look, she can threaten a No-Deal, and that would entice people to sign up for her plan, not for a separate Labour one for which time may have run out anyway.
Jeremy Corbyn will set out Labour’s “good Brexit plan” on Monday, saying that leaving the European Union must be the catalyst for a “radical programme of investment and real change” as the party steps up efforts to show it has an alternative to Theresa May’s approach. Speaking to business leaders at the CBI’s annual conference in London, which will also be addressed by the prime minister, Corbyn will claim May’s deal, published last week, would “leave the country in an indefinite halfway house without a real say over our future”. Instead, he will say, “a good Brexit plan for this country is not just about what can be negotiated with Brussels. It must also include a radical programme of investment and real change across our regions and nations.
“Brexit should be the catalyst to invest in our regions and infrastructure, bringing good jobs and real control to local communities and people.” His words are likely to infuriate those Labour MPs who believe the party’s stance should be to seek to block Brexit by pressing for a referendum on May’s deal – with the option of remaining in the EU on the ballot paper. Corbyn played down that suggestion on Sunday, telling Sky News’ Sophy Ridge: “It’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today. If there was a referendum tomorrow, what’s it going to be on, what’s the question going to be?” Asked how he might vote in such a referendum, Corbyn said, “I don’t know how I am going to vote, what the options would be at that time.”
France’s President Emmanuel Macron has called for closer ties between his country and Germany, saying Europe “has the obligation not to let the world slip into chaos”. Mr Macron is in Berlin for the country’s annual day of mourning for victims of war. In a speech to Germany’s parliament, he said Europe must not “become a plaything of great powers”. Mr Macron wants a more integrated EU, with a joint eurozone budget. He also wants Germany’s backing for a European Army, which he has said would reduce the bloc’s dependence on the US, and a new tax on internet tech giants.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed tentative support for some of these ideas, but others are controversial in Berlin. The French leader spoke of nationalist forces “with no memory”, and urged progressive forces to unite in an uncertain world. “There are too many powers that wish to thwart us, that interfere in our public debates, attack our liberal democracies and are trying to pit us against each other,” he said. “And in this global order, which we have to take very seriously, our strength – our true strength – lies in unity.” The French president acknowledged that unity could be “scary,” and would mean nations pooling their funds and decision-making – but then asked: “Is it better to remain locked at a standstill?”
Disappointing earnings, rising risk in the eurozone as well as in their diversification markets such as emerging economies, weak net income margins and low return on tangible equity are factors that have contributed to the weak performance of European banks. Investors are rightly suspicious about consensus estimates for 2019 with expectations of double-digit EPS growth rates. Those growth rates look impossible in the current macroeconomic scenario. Eurozone banks have done a good job of strengthening their capital structure, reaching almost a one per cent per annum increase in Tier 1 core capital. The question is whether this improvement is enough.
Two factors weigh on sentiment: • More than EUR104 billion of risky “hybrid bonds” (CoCos) are included in the calculation of core capital • The total volume of Non-Performing Loans across the European Union is still at around EUR 900 billion, well above pre-crisis levels, with a provision ratio of only 50.7%, according to the European Commission. Although the ratio has declined to 4.4%, down by roughly 1 percentage point year-on-year, the absolute figure remains elevated and the provision ratio is too small. This is what I call the “one trillion eurozone timebomb”. One trillion euro risk when the MSCI Europe Bank index has a total market capitalization of around EUR790 billion.
The killers of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi may have taken his dismembered body out of Turkey in luggage, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar was quoted as saying by broadcaster CNN Turk on Sunday. [..] Speaking at a panel as part of an international conference in Halifax, Canada, Akar said Khashoggi’s killers may have taken the journalist’s body parts out of Turkey in luggage. “One probability is that they left the country three to four hours after committing the murder. They may have taken out Khashoggi’s dismembered corpse inside luggage without facing problems due to their diplomatic immunity,” CNN Turk cited Akar as saying. .
Members of the multi-billionaire philanthropic Sackler family that owns the maker of prescription painkiller OxyContin are facing mass litigation and likely criminal investigation over the opioids crisis still ravaging America. Some of the Sacklers wholly own Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, the company that created and sells the legal narcotic OxyContin, a drug at the center of the opioid epidemic that now kills almost 200 people a day across the US. Suffolk county in Long Island, New York, recently sued several family members personally over the overdose deaths and painkiller addiction blighting local communities. Now lawyers warn that action will be a catalyst for hundreds of other US cities, counties and states to follow suit.
At the same time, prosecutors in Connecticut and New York are understood to be considering criminal fraud and racketeering charges against leading family members over the way OxyContin has allegedly been dangerously over-prescribed and deceptively marketed to doctors and the public over the years, legal sources told the Guardian last week. “This is essentially a crime family … drug dealers in nice suits and dresses,” said Paul Hanly, a New York city lawyer who represents Suffolk county and is also a lead attorney in a huge civil action playing out in federal court in Cleveland, Ohio, involving opioid manufacturers and distributors.
[..] The Sackler name is prominently attached to prestigious cultural and academic institutions that have accepted millions donated by the family in the US and the UK. It is now inscribed on a lawsuit alleging members of the family “actively participated in conspiracy and fraud to portray the prescription painkiller as non-addictive, even though they knew it was dangerously addictive”
China will expand its ban on imports of solid waste, local media reported Monday, almost a year after its first curbs caused havoc in countries that sent their rubbish to the Asian giant. The regulatory action — which expands the prohibition to 32 categories of solid waste from the 24 banned last year — will go into effect from December 31, according to official news agency Xinhua, citing four Chinese government agencies. Newly banned product types include hardware, ships, auto parts, stainless steel waste and scrap, titanium and wood, Xinhua said. The initial ban caused worldwide problems as recyclers were cut off from their main market for waste material.
Globally, since 1992, 72 percent of plastic waste has ended up in China and Hong Kong, according to a study in the journal Science Advances. China bought up more than half of the scrap materials exported by the US last year — but that proportion has been falling with Beijing’s regulatory moves cutting down the types of waste Chinese companies could buy. China says the policy changes are in line with a new push to protect the environment. They suggest Beijing no longer wants to be the world’s trash can, or even its recycle bin. [..] Global plastic exports to China were forecast to fall from 7.4 million tonnes in 2016 to 1.5 million tonnes in 2018, while paper exports might tumble nearly a quarter, according to one researcher.
Dear Prime Minister Morrison, Your comments following my appeal to you on 60 Minutes were disappointing. You trivialized and laughed about the suffering of an Australian and his family. You followed it with smutty, unnecessary comments about a woman voicing her political opinion. We all deserve better from our leaders, especially in the current environment. Following the show, 60 Minutes canvassed the views of Australians online. People responded in their thousands, overwhelmingly – 92% of more than 7000 – in favour of bringing Julian home. Rather than making lewd suggestions about me, perhaps you should instead think about what you are going to say to millions of Australians when one of their own is marched in an orange jumpsuit to Guantanamo Bay – for publishing the truth. You can prevent this.
Julian Assange will soon face his Seventh Christmas isolated from family and friends, after 8 years of detention without charge. For six years he has been refused any access to fresh air, sunshine, exercise, or proper medical or dental care. In February 2016, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) stated that his detention was unlawful. For the past seven months Mr. Assange has been denied the right to receive visitors, use internet or telecommunications. This Australian is not getting a fair go; his human rights are being openly violated. I am hopeful Australia now has a leader with strength and conviction enough to bring him home. Australia and the world are watching how you treat your citizen, your publisher, in dire need of help from his own government.
In the latest sign of the growing divide between Washington and its allies, the European Union’s foreign policy chief announced Monday that the bloc was creating a new payment mechanism to allow countries to transact with Iran while avoiding U.S. sanctions. Called the “special purpose vehicle” (SPV), this mechanism would aim to “assist and reassure economic operators pursuing legitimate business with Iran,” according to a joint statement released by the remaining members of the Iran nuclear deal — France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China.
“This will mean that EU member states will set up a legal entity to facilitate legitimate financial transactions with Iran and this will allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran in accordance with EU law and could be open to other partners in the world,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. The technical details will be worked on by experts in future meetings, she said. American sanctions have already been imposed on a number of Iran’s industries — including aviation, metals, automotives and its ability to trade gold and acquire dollars — as a result of President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. On November 4, a second round of penalties will fall on Iran’s massive oil sector, which accounts for 70 percent of the country’s exports. Iran is the world’s seventh-largest oil producer.
Germany, France and the U.K. would set up a multinational state-backed financial intermediary that would deal with companies interested in Iran transactions and with Iranian counter-parties. Such transactions, presumably in euros and pounds sterling, would not be transparent to American authorities. European companies dealing with the state-owned intermediary technically might not even be in violation of the U.S. sanctions as currently written. And, in a potentially massive development, the system would be likely be open to Russia and China as well as it would enable the world’s economies to trade with each other, fully independent of SWIFT.
Europe would thus provide an infrastructure for legal, secure sanctions-busting — and a guarantee that the transactions would not be reported to American regulators. That said, Washington would not be without recourse, although at that point, all the U.S. could do is sanction the participating countries’ central banks or SWIFT for facilitating the transactions (if the special purpose vehicle uses SWIFT, rather than ad hoc messaging).
That, Hellman and Batmanghelidj wrote, would be self-defeating: “There are two possible outcomes if these institutions proceed to work with Iran despite U.S. secondary sanctions. Either U.S. authorities fail to take enforcement action given the massive consequences for the operations and integrity of the American financial system, serving to “defang” the enforcement threats and reduce the risk of European self-sanctioning on the basis of fear, or U.S. authorities take such an enforcement action, a step that would only serve to accelerate European efforts to create a defensible banking architecture that goes beyond the Iran issue alone.”
Europe, naturally, needs a “neutral” pretext to implement this SPV, and that would be Brussels’ desire to continue transacting with Iran: “We are not backing down [on the Iran nuclear agreement],” said a European diplomat. He said the speeches of European leaders at a Security Council meeting Mr. Trump is hosting on Wednesday on nonproliferation, including Iran, will reflect the Monday night statement. Additionally, as basis for the potentially revolutionary development, the participants of the 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, “underlined their determination to protect the freedom of their economic operators to pursue legitimate business with Iran.”
With the Federal Reserve widely expected to raise interest rates on Wednesday, financial markets are focused on whether signs of an acceleration in U.S. economic growth will prompt the central bank to ramp up the pace of monetary policy tightening. This week’s two-day policy meeting could mark the formal end of the “accommodative” level of rates the Fed has used to support the American economy since the onset of the 2007-2009 recession. The Fed’s current policy statement has included that description of loose policy as a staple element in recent years, though officials recently have described it as out of date and likely to be removed, either this week or in the near future.
The probability the Fed will raise its benchmark overnight lending rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, in what would be its third hike this year, is nearly 95 percent, based on an analysis of fed fund futures contracts by CME Group. The larger question is whether the Fed reshapes its monetary policy outlook for the next few years to factor in stronger GDP growth or whether concerns about a possible global trade war or economic slowdown cause it to stick close to its current view.
The biggest free riders in the financial system are bank executives such as Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan. Bank liabilities are guaranteed by the FDIC up to $250,000 per account. Liabilities in excess of that are implicitly guaranteed by the “too big to fail” policy of the Federal Reserve. The big banks can engage in swap and other derivative contracts “off the books” without providing adequate capital for the market risk involved. Interest rates were held near zero for years by the Fed to help the banks earn profits by not passing the benefits of low rates along to their borrowers. Put all of this (and more) together and it’s a recipe for billions of dollars in bank profits and huge paychecks and bonuses for the top executives like Dimon.
What is the executives’ contribution to the system? Nothing. They just sit there like parasites and collect the benefits while offering nothing in return. Given all of these federal subsidies to the banks, a trained pet could be CEO of J.P. Morgan and the profits would be the same. This is the essence of parasitic behavior. Yet there’s another parasite problem affecting markets that is harder to see and may be even more dangerous that the bank CEO free riders. This is the problem of “active” versus “passive” investors. An active investor is one who does original research and due diligence on her investments or who relies on an investment adviser or mutual fund that does its own research.
T he active investor makes bets, takes risks and is the lifeblood of price discovery in securities markets. The active investor may make money or lose money (usually it’s a bit of both) but in all cases earns her money by thoughtful investment. The active investor contributes to markets while trying to make money in them. A passive investor is a parasite. The passive investor simply buys an index fund, sits back and enjoys the show. Since markets mostly go up, the passive investor mostly makes money but contributes nothing to price discovery.
That’ll be good for a whole lot more smear. The Telegraph runs a we ad right now that says: “We must ditch Chequers or be condemned to a crazed Corbynista takeover”. And a photo of Hitler accompanied by: “The Nazis were socialists”.
Jeremy Corbyn will on Wednesday attack the “greed-is-good” capitalism that he claims has resulted in large swaths of the UK being left behind, promising a raft of new policies including a “green jobs revolution” that will create 400,000 new positions. The Labour leader will attempt to reset the theme of the Labour conference which has so far been dominated by deep divisions over its Brexit stance and return to his core argument about the failure of the broken economic system. Corbyn will use his main conference speech to set out his plans to change the direction of the economy, following a week in which his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, laid out a series of redistributive policies.
The Labour leader will say: “Ten years ago this month, the whole edifice of greed-is-good, deregulated financial capitalism, lauded for a generation as the only way to run a modern economy, came crashing to earth, with devastating consequences.” ”But instead of making essential changes to a broken economic system, the political and corporate establishment strained every sinew to bail out and prop up the system that led to the crash in the first place. “People in this country know – they showed that in June last year – that the old way of running things isn’t working any more. That’s why Labour is offering a radical plan to rebuild and transform Britain.” Corbyn will announce plans for a rollout of green technologies including 13,500 onshore and offshore wind turbines, solar panels on thousands of roofs and wide-scale home insulation.
A Labour government would “kickstart a green jobs revolution” in a bid to radically overhaul the economy after Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn will say in a conference speech that implicitly criticises the last Labour government tomorrow. Laying out his party’s vision to reduce carbon emissions and create 400,000 new skilled jobs by 2030, the Labour leader will tell delegates in Liverpool that his government will return “skills and security to communities held back for too long” with a large-scale programme of investment in green infrastructure and training. Sources close to Corbyn have described the speech as a direct pitch to communities that voted for Brexit – “the millions of people who have been most directly affected by deindustrialisation and austerity” – and its policy platform as a bid to remedy to its root economic causes.
Corbyn will announce plans to reduce carbon emissions by 60 per cent by 2030, and to zero by 2050, through a large-scale programme of public sector investment and sweeping changes to planning regulations. A Labour government would seek to increase offshore wind power by seven times, double onshore wind, treble solar panel, and would launch a £12.8 billion home insulation programme. An independent panel of researchers said that the plans – which would involve both public and private sector investment – would create some 400,000 skilled jobs. Corbyn will describe the plans as a “radical plan we need to rebuild and transform Britain”, adding: “The old way of running things isn’t working anymore.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that a Brexit agreement between the European Union and the U.K. is possible in October, but it is not yet clear what the British government wants. Speaking at a conference in Germany, Merkel said the U.K. cannot choose to be part of the single market — the European common area where goods, services and people move freely — without respecting all its principles. The U.K. government wants to control the number of European citizens moving to the U.K. During a cabinet meeting Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government agreed that EU workers should face the same immigration rules as non-EU citizens. Some have argued that restricting the number of low-skilled EU migrants will hurt the U.K. economy.
Merkel also said Tuesday that European businesses need clarity, which demands “hard work” from Brexit negotiators in the next six to eight weeks. There have been repeated comments from both sides of the English Channel that negotiations need to be intensified to reach a deal by no later than November. However, many analysts are sceptical that a Brexit agreement will be reached. “We have highlighted for some time that the risks of ‘no deal’ are appreciably high,” Dean Turner, economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said in a note Tuesday morning. “We don’t believe that this will happen by design, as it is in neither sides’ interests to generate the kind of economic disruption that would likely ensue. But with every day that passes without progress, the risks grow that such an outcome could occur by accident.”
Thousands of people in the Georgetown, South Carolina, area were urged to evacuate their homes on Tuesday as rainwater unleashed by Hurricane Florence surged down rivers, threatening to submerge some neighborhoods under 10 feet of water. Georgetown, which sits at the confluence of the Waccamaw, Great Pee Dee and Sampit rivers, was largely spared the initial fury of Florence, which came ashore on Sept. 14 as a Category 1 hurricane, killing 46 people in three states. But the port city of more than 9,000 stands in the path of what the National Weather Service has said could be significant flooding as water dumped by the storm system drains to the ocean.
“We are urging people to take this event seriously. We expect the flooding to be worse than Hurricane Matthew a couple years ago,” said Randy Akers, deputy public information officer for Georgetown County. “We always urge people to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Akers said between 6,000 and 8,000 people have been exhorted to leave, but it was not clear how many had done so as of Tuesday evening. He said the county lacked authority to mandate evacuations.
Global waste could grow by 70 percent by 2050 as urbanisation and populations rise, said the World Bank on Thursday, with South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa set to generate the biggest increase in rubbish. Countries could reap economic and environmental benefits by better collecting, recycling and disposing of trash, according to a report, which calculated that a third of the world’s waste is instead dumped openly, with no treatment. “We really need to pay attention to South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, as by 2050, South Asia’s waste will double, sub-Saharan Africa’s waste will triple,” said Silpa Kaza, World Bank urban development specialist and report lead author.
“If we don’t take any action it could have quite significant implications for health, productivity, environment, livelihoods,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Belarus. The rise in rubbish will outstrip population growth, reaching 3.4 billion tons by 2050 from around 2 billion tons in 2016, according to the report. High-income countries produce a third of the world’s waste, despite having only 16 percent of world’s population, while a quarter comes from East Asia and the Pacific regions, it said. While more than a third of waste globally ends up in landfill, over 90 percent is dumped openly in lower income countries that often lack adequate disposal and treatment facilities, said the report.
Regardless of the outcome, Johnson v Monsanto was always going to be a newsworthy trial, because the judge allowed the cancer patient’s legal team to bring scientific arguments to the courtroom. The proceedings further shined a light on internal Monsanto emails over the years that Johnson’s attorneys said showed how the company had repeatedly rejected critical research and expert warnings. Some evidence suggested that Monsanto had also strategized plans to “ghostwrite” favorable research. Monsanto, which was bought by pharmaceutical giant Bayer earlier this year, has continued to argue that Roundup does not cause cancer and that critics are “cherrypicking” studies while ignoring research that showed its products were safe.
The jury disagreed. They ruled that Johnson also deserved $250m in punitive damages and $39.2m for losses. When the verdict was announced, Johnson said his body briefly went into a kind of shock. “I felt like all the fluids went out of my body and rushed back in,” he recalled. The jury’s unanimous decision said Monsanto’s products presented a “substantial danger” to people and the company failed to warn consumers of the risks. “They have been hiding for years and getting away with it,” Johnson said. “They have to pay the price for not being honest and putting people’s health at risk for the sake of making a profit.”
Prior to the verdict, Johnson said he had no expectations about the outcome. “I never really discussed winning or money or amounts with the legal guys,” he said, adding that he did fear the implications of a Monsanto win: “If we lose, the facts won’t keep coming out. That would be the worst part.” Pedram Esfandiary, one of Johnson’s lawyers, said he was consistently impressed with Johnson’s ability to remain optimistic and focused on exposing the facts and protecting others from Roundup hazards. “This guy is dealing with the reality of his mortality,” he said. “His life is on the line because of what happened … He was concerned about getting the truth out.”
In recent times, US beekeepers have reported a massive loss of bees or CCD. Millions of bees mysteriously disappeared, leaving farms with fewer pollinators for crops. Officials have been baffled, and the media has been quite about the bee population collapse. Explanations for the phenomenon have included exposure to pesticides or antibiotics, habitat loss, and bacterial infections. The latest study now adds herbicides to the list as a possible contributing factor. “It’s not the only thing causing all these bee deaths, but it is definitely something people should worry about because glyphosate is used everywhere,” said Motta.
And that, researchers, believe, is evidence that glyphosate might be contributing to the collapse of honeybees around the world. The Western honeybee, the world’s premier pollinator species, has been in high demand for its services on fruit, nut, and vegetable farmers. Among the nuts, almond growers have the largest need for bee pollination. Bee pollination is worth $15 billion to the US farming industry.
Any sharp change in global bee populations could affect the beef and dairy industries. Bees pollinate clover, hay, and other forage crops. As the bee population dwindles, it increases the cost of feedstock. That forces inflation into beef and milk prices at the grocery store and ultimately hurts the American consumer. This could then lead to increased imports of produce from foreign countries where bee populations are healthy, further widening the trade deficit. Couple this with the current trade war and this particular “black swan” – or rather “black bee” – problem, may be just the tipping point that finally forces the US economy to catch down to the rest of the world.
Greece moved another 400 people from its biggest migrant camp on Tuesday as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity warned of a mental health emergency there with 30 percent of people having attempted suicide. The government, under pressure from aid groups and local authorities, has said it will transfer 2,000 people from Moria camp on Lesbos to the mainland by the end of the month. In a report published on Tuesday, the IRC said asylum-seekers in Moria, most of whom are Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan, were under “enormous mental strain”. Citing testimonials of patients who have visited its own clinic on the island, IRC said that in addition to the 30 percent of people who had attempted suicide about 60 percent had contemplated it.
“Several times I have attempted suicide,” it quoted Ahmad, a 35-year-old Iraqi single father of four children as saying. “The only reason I am glad I didn’t succeed is because of the children.” Asylum seekers were living in conditions that did not meet humanitarian standards, IRC said. Eighty-four people shared one shower and 72 shared one toilet. “The sewage system is so overwhelmed that raw sewage has been known to reach the mattresses where children sleep, and flows untreated into open drains and sewers,” IRC said. Moria, in a disused military base, now holds nearly three times as many people as it was designed to, according to government figures, forcing hundreds to spill over in tents in an olive grove.
Close to 900 people were moved between Sept. 10-20 and a another 1,000 will be transferred this week, Migration Minister Dimitris Vitsas said on Monday. Most are taken to facilities in northern Greece.
[..] scientists said Wednesday they have finally solved the riddle of the world’s largest bird. For 60 million years the colossal, flightless elephant bird — Aepyornis maximus — stalked the savannah and rainforests of Madagascar until it was hunted to extinction around 1,000 years ago. In the 19th century, a new breed of buccaneering European zoologist obsessed over the creature, pillaging skeletons and fossilised eggs to prove they had discovered the biggest bird on Earth. But a study released Wednesday by British scientists suggests that one species of elephant bird was even larger than previously thought, with a specimen weighing an estimated 860 kilogrammes (1,895 pounds) — about the same as a fully grown giraffe.
“They would have towered over people,” James Hansford, lead author at the Zoological Society of London, told AFP. “They definitely couldn’t fly as they couldn’t have supported anywhere near their weight.” In the study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Hanson examined elephant bird bones found around the world, feeding their dimensions into a machine-learned algorithm to create a spread of expected animal sizes. Until now, the largest-ever elephant bird was described in 1894 by the British scientist C.W. Andrews as Aepyornis titan — a larger species of Aepyornis maximus. But a French rival of Andrews dismissed the discovery of titan as just an outsized maximus specimen, and for decades the debate remained deadlocked.
Hanson said his research proved titan was indeed a different species. But he also found that its bones were so distinct from other elephant bird specimens that titan was in fact an entirely separate genus. Named Vorombe titan – Malagasy for “big bird” – the creature would have stood at least three metres (10 feet) tall, and had an average weight of 650 kilogrammes, making it the largest bird genus yet uncovered. “At the extreme extent we found one bone that really pushed the limits of what we now understand about bird size,” said Hanson, referring to the 860-kilogramme specimen. “And there were some that led up to that too, so it’s not an outlier — there was a range of masses that are extraordinarily large.”
There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.
While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.
And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.
However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.
Anyway, when reading John Vidal in the Guardian yesterday, I was struck by some numbers. Bayer-Monsanto, soon to be just Bayer, own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals in the world. That’s roughly comparable to the numbers of vertebrates and insects that have vanished from the countrysides of Germany, France and England. Life itself is dying. Species extinction is now a bigger threat than climate change. Vidal:
“Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get.
It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.” It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by.
But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers. Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds.
Do note that although Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta may be large companies, Bayer-Monsanto alone own 60% of proprietary seeds and 70% of agrochemicals. Since they ‘only’ own 60% and 70%, they can’t be accused of running a monopoly. But their main product, glyphosate (Roundup) is also produced by Dow, DuPont and Syngenta. So together they do effectively run a monopoly. Just not ‘technically’. These guys have the world’s best and biggest legal, lobbying and PR teams. Because they’re after global control.
[..] because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard. Instead, it is coming from the likes of Debal Deb, an Indian plant researcher who grows forgotten crops and is the antithesis of Bayer and Monsanto. While they concentrate on developing a small number of blockbuster staple crops, Deb grows as many crops as he can and gives the seeds away.
This year he is cultivating an astonishing 1,340 traditional varieties of Indian “folk” rice on land donated to him in West Bengal. More than 7,000 farmers in six states will be given the seeds, on the condition that they also grow them and give some away.
This seed-sharing of “landraces”, or local varieties, is not philanthropy but the extension of an age-old system of mutualised farming that has provided social stability and dietary diversity for millions of people. By continually selecting, crossbreeding and then exchanging their seeds, farmers have developed varieties for their aroma, taste, colour, medicinal properties and resistance to pests, drought and flood.
The battle is between biodiversity and Monsanto, and the latter is winning big. Monsanto-Bayer wants farmers to grow only a few crops, that it has patents on, and to kill off everything else with the chemicals without which these crops will not grow. Monoculture on steroids, raised in sterile environments bereft of life. 75% of insects gone in Europe’s countrysides, 60% of vertebrates, birds and butterflies becoming a rarity.
It is insanity in its purest form. Insanity of individual people, insanity of legal systems, insanity of governance. No-one, and no country, should be obliged to prove that Monsanto’s products are killing off biodiversity. We have an instrument called the precautionary principle, and we must use it. Like Hippocrates’ First Do No Harm. It is not complicated.
But I must admit I sometimes think it’s already too late. Once you kill off 70% of any form of life, in any ecosystem, how is it going to recover? Because mind you, with the Bayer-Monsanto merger being approved worldwide, things are only going to get worse at ever increasing speed. The agro-chemical industry is a culture of death that relies for its profits on a giant die-off, probably worse than whatever it is that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
And the odds that mankind will survive this one are slim to none. Our survival depends one on one on the diversity in the ecosystems we reside in. But yeah, I hear you: intelligent species.
Here’s something I first published in December 2016. Things have gotten much worse much faster than I could have predicted back then. Kill Monsanto before it kills your children.
Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity
Caters Extremely rare albino elephant, Kruger National Park in South Africa
Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
But maybe everything that dies someday comes back … Springsteen, Atlantic City
“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.” Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend
What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.
First of all, don’t tell me you’re trying to stop the ongoing extinction of nature and wildlife on this planet, or the destruction of life in general. Don’t even tell me you’re trying. Don’t tell me it’s climate change that we should focus on (that’s just a small part of the story), and you’re driving an electric car and you’re separating your trash or things like that. That would only mean you’re attempting to willfully ignore your share of destruction, because if you do it, so will others, and the planet can’t take anymore of your behavior.
This is the big one. And the only ones amongst us who don’t think so are those who don’t want to. Who think it’s easier to argue that some problems are too big for them to tackle, that they should be left to others to solve. But why should we, why should anyone, worry about elections or even wars, when it becomes obvious we’re fast approaching a time when such things don’t matter much anymore?
The latest WWF Living Planet Report shows us that the planet is a whole lot less alive than it used to be. And that we killed that life. That we replaced it with metal, bricks, plastic and concrete. Mass consumption leads to mass extinction. And that is fully predictable, it always was; there’s nothing new there.
We killed 58% of all vertebrate wildlife just between 1970 and 2012, and at a rate of 2% per year we will have massacred close to 70% of it by 2020, just 4 years from now. So what does it matter who’s president of just one of the many countries we invented on this planet? Why don’t we address what’s really crucial to our very survival instead?
The latest report from the WWF should have us all abandon whatever it is we’re doing, and make acting to prevent further annihilation of our living world the key driver in our everyday lives, every hour of every day, every single one of us. Anything else is just not good enough, and anything else will see us, that self-nominated intelligent species, annihilated in the process.
Granted, there may be a few decrepit and probably halfway mutant specimens of our species left, living in conditions we couldn’t even begin, nor dare, to imagine, with what will be left of their intelligence wondering how our intelligence could have ever let this happen. You’d almost wish they’ll understand as little as we ever did; that some form of ignorance equal to ours will soften their pain.
It’s important to note that the report does not describe a stagnant situation, there’s no state of affairs, not something still, it describes an ongoing and deteriorating process. That is, we don’t get to choose to stop the ongoing wildlife annihilation at 70%; we are witnessing, and indeed we are actively involved in, raising that number by 2% every year that we ‘live’ (can we even call it that anymore, are you alive when you murder all life around you?) in this world.
This is our only home.
Without the natural world that we were born into, or rather that our species, our ancestors, were born into, we have zero chance of survival. Because it is the natural world that has allowed for, and created, the conditions that made it possible for mankind to emerge and develop in the first place. And we are nowhere near making an earth 2.0; the notion itself is preposterous. A few thousand years of man ‘understanding’ his world is no match for billions of years of evolution. That’s the worst insult to whatever intelligence it is that we do have.
Much has been made through the years of our ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and much of that is just as much hubris as so much of what we tell ourselves, but the big question should be WHY we would volunteer to find out to what extent we can adapt to a world that has sustained the losses we cause it to suffer. Even if we could to a degree adapt to that, why should we want to?
Two thirds of our world is gone, and it’s we who have murdered it, and what’s worse – judging from our lifestyles- we seem to have hardly noticed at all. If we don’t stop what we’ve been doing, this can lead to one outcome only: we will murder ourselves too. Our perhaps biggest problem (even if we have quite a few) in this regard is our ability and propensity to deny this, as we deny any and all -serious, consequential- wrongdoing.
There are allegedly serious and smart people working on, dreaming of, and getting billions in subsidies for, fantasies of human colonies on Mars. This is advertized as a sign of progress and intelligence. But that can only be true if we can acknowledge that our intelligence and our insanity are identical twins. Because it is insane to destroy the planet on which we depend one-on-one for everything that allows us to live, and at the same time dream of human life on another planet.
While I see no reason to address the likes of King of Subsidies Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking is different. Unfortunately, in Hawking’s case, with all his intelligence, it’s his philosophical capacity that goes missing.
Professor Stephen Hawking has warned humanity will not survive another 1,000 years on Earth unless the human race finds another planet to live on. [..] Professor Hawking, 74, reflected on the understanding of the universe garnered from breakthroughs over the past five decades, describing 2016 as a “glorious time to be alive and doing research into theoretical physics”. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years and I am happy if I have made a small contribution,“ he went on.
”The fact that we humans, who are ourselves mere fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to understanding the laws that govern us and the universe is certainly a triumph.” Highlighting “ambitious” experiments that will give an even more precise picture of the universe, he continued: “We will map the position of millions of galaxies with the help of [super] computers like Cosmos. We will better understand our place in the universe.”
“But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
The tragedy is that we may have gained some knowledge of natural laws and the universe, but we are completely clueless when it comes to keeping ourselves from destroying our world. Mars is an easy cop-out. But Mars doesn’t solve a thing. Because it’s -obviously- not the ‘fragile planet’ earth that is a threat to mankind, it’s mankind itself. How then can escaping to another planet solve its problems?
What exactly is wrong with saying that we will have to make it here on planet earth? Is it that we’ve already broken and murdered so much? And if that’s the reason, what does that say about us, and what does it say about what we would do to a next planet, even provided we could settle on it (we can’t) ? Doesn’t it say that we are our own worst enemies? And doesn’t the very idea of settling the ‘next planet’ imply that we had better settle things right here first? Like sort of a first condition before we go to Mars, if we ever do?
In order to survive, we don’t need to escape our planet, we need to escape ourselves. Not nearly as easy. Much harder than escaping to Mars. Which already is nothing but a pipedream to begin with.
Moreover, if we can accept that settling things here first before going to Mars is a prerequisite for going there in the first place, we wouldn’t need to go anymore, right?
We treat this entire extinction episode as if it’s something we’re watching from the outside in, as if it’s something we’re not really a part of. I’ve seen various undoubtedly very well-intentioned ‘green people’, ‘sustainable people’, react to the WWF report by pointing to signs that there is still hope, pointing to projects that reverse some of the decline, chinook salmon on the North American Pacific coast, Malawi farmers that no longer use chemical fertilizers, a giant sanctuary in the Antarctic etc.
That, too, is a form of insanity. Because it serves to lull people into a state of complacency that is entirely unwarranted. And that can therefore only serve to make things worse. There is no reversal, there is no turnaround. It’s like saying if a body doesn’t fall straight down in a continuous line, it doesn’t fall down at all.
The role that green, sustainability, conservationist groups play in our societies has shifted dramatically, and we have failed completely to see this change (as have they). These groups have become integral parts of our societies, instead of a force on the outside warning about what happens within.
Conservationist groups today serve as apologists for the havoc mankind unleashes on its world: all people have to do is donate money at Christmas, and conservation will be taken care of. Recycle a few bottles and plastic wrappings and you’re doing your part to save the planet. It is utterly insane. It’s as insane as the destruction itself. It’s denial writ large, and in the flesh.
It’s not advertized that way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not how it works. Saying that ‘it’s not too late’ is not a call to action as many people continue to believe. It’s just dirt poor psychology. It provides people with the impression, which rapidly turns into an excuse, that there is still time left. As almost 70% of all vertebrates, those animals that are closest to us, have disappeared. When would they say time is up? At 80%, 90%?
We do not understand why, or even that, we are such a tragically destructive species. And perhaps we can’t. Perhaps that is where our intelligence stops, at providing insight into ourselves. Even the most ‘aware’ amongst us will still tend to disparage their own roles in what goes on. Even they will make whatever it is they still do, and that they know is hurtful to the ecosystem, seem smaller than it is.
Even they will search for apologies for their own behavior, tell themselves they must do certain things in order to live in the society they were born in, drive kids to school, yada yada. We all do that. We soothe our consciences by telling ourselves we mean well, and then getting into our cars to go pick up a carton of milk. Or engage in an equally blind act. There’s too many to mention.
Every species that finds a large amount of free energy reacts the same way: proliferation. The unconscious drive is to use up the energy as fast as possible. If only we could understand that. But understanding it would get in the way of the principle itself. The only thing we can do to stop the extinction is for all of us to use a lot less energy. But because energy consumption provides wealth and -more importantly- political power, we will not do that. We instead tell ourselves all we need to do is use different forms of energy.
Our inbuilt talent for denying and lying (to ourselves and others) makes it impossible for us to see that we have an inbuilt talent for denying and lying in the first place. Or, put another way, seeing that we haven’t been able to stop ourselves from putting the planet into the dismal shape it is in now, why should we keep on believing that we will be able to stop ourselves in the future?
Thing is, an apology for our own behavior is also an apology for everyone else’s. As long as you keep buying things wrapped in plastic, you have no right, you lose your right, to blame the industry that produces the plastic.
We see ourselves as highly intelligent, and -as a consequence- we see ourselves as a species driven by reason. But we are not. Which can be easily demonstrated by a ‘reverse question’: why, if we are so smart, do we find ourselves in the predicament of having destroyed two thirds of our planet?
Do we have a rational argument to execute that destruction? Of course not, we’ll say. But then why do we do it if rationality drives us? This is a question that should forever cure us of the idea that we are driven by reason. But we’re not listening to the answer to that question. We’re denying, we’re even denying the question itself.
It’s the same question, and the same answer, by the way, that will NOT have us ‘abandon whatever it is we do’ when we read today that 70% of all wildlife will be gone by 2020, that 58% was gone by 2012 and we destroy it at a rate of 2% per year. We’re much more likely to worry much more about some report that says returns on our retirement plans will be much lower than we thought. Or about the economic growth that is too low (as if that is possible with 70% of wildlife gone).
After all, if destroying 70% of wildlife is not enough for a call to action, what would be? 80%? 90? 99%? I bet you that would be too late. And no, relying on conservationist groups to take care of it for us is not a viable route. Because that same 70% number spells out loud and clear what miserable failures these groups have turned out to be.
We ‘assume’ we’re intelligent, because that makes us feel good. Well, it doesn’t make the planet feel good. What drives us is not reason. What drives us is the part of our brains that we share in common with amoeba and bacteria and all other more ‘primitive forms of life, that gobbles up excess energy as fast as possible, in order to restore a balance. Our ‘rational’, human, brain serves one function, and one only: to find ‘rational’ excuses for what our primitive brain has just made us do.
We’re all intelligent enough to understand that driving a hybrid car or an electric car does nothing to halt the havoc we do to our world, but there are still millions of these things being sold. So perhaps we could say that we’re at the same time intelligent enough, and we’re not.
We can see ourselves destroying our world, but we can not stop ourselves from continuing the destruction. Here’s something I wrote 5 years ago:
We have done exactly the same that any primitive life form would do when faced with a surplus, of food, energy, and in our case credit, cheap money. We spent it all as fast as we can. Lest less abundant times arrive. It’s an instinct, it comes from our more primitive brain segments, not our more “rational” frontal cortex. It’s not that we’re in principle, or talent, more devious or malicious than more primitive life forms. It’s that we use our more advanced brains to help us execute the same devastation our primitive brain drives us to, but much much worse.
That’s what makes us the most tragic species imaginable. We’ll fight each other, even our children, over the last few scraps falling off the table, and kill off everything in our path to get there. And when we’re done, we’ll find a way to rationalize to ourselves why we were right to do so. We can be aware of watching ourselves do what we do, but we can’t help ourselves from doing it. Most. Tragic. Species. Ever.
The greatest miracle you will ever see, that you could ever hope to see, is so miraculous you can’t even recognize it for what it is. We don’t know what the word beautiful means anymore. Or the word valuable. We’ve lost all of that, and are well on our way, well over 70% of it, to losing the rest too.
PS Please note I could not gather all sources for all pictures here, but I’d be more than happy to add them. It’s not that I don’t recognize the effort that goes into them; it’s an emotional thing.
Every time I write about my ‘adventures’ in Greece for the Automatic Earth for Athens Fund, which I initiated in June 2015, I think it’s been way too long, but also every time I realize that I’ve already written so much about it (which makes every new article harder to write as well). Still, it’s been three months since the last one, and as always lots has happened; we’re not sitting still. As always, there’s a full list of previous articles at the bottom of this one.
To start with the latest development, I gave Konstantinos Polychronopoulos of O Allos Anthropos another €1,000 (the last funds I had) on March 15, which he needed to go to Lesbos, where he’s been asked to help set up a ‘Multi-Center’, to be jointly built by Greeks and refugees. It’s an initiative of a privately funded organization named Swisscross, to be located outside of the horrible Moria camp.
The center, which will have no sleeping facilities, is designed to make life more bearable for the refugees stuck inside Moria. It will provide shower rooms, laundry facilities, a kindergarten, a school (remedial teaching), a cinema, cafeteria and a restaurant.
O Allos Anthropos will be in charge of the restaurant, which will also be very much geared towards providing space, equipment, food and resources for the refugees themselves to cook. An often overlooked part of the refugee tragedy here in Greece is that preparing food is an important aspect of family- and community life, a source of dignity and pride, that has been taken away from them and replaced by real bad catering.
Thank you to the Texan girls who donated their Santa hat to me for Konstantinos on December 25. Perfect fit!
We’ve had the fifth anniversary of O Allos Anthropos in December, and of course Christmas. Then we had New Year’s, and on January 8 Greek New Year. February 16 was Tsikno Pempti (aka Charcoal Thursday or Greek Cholesterol Day), when everyone eats roasted meat – there’s a connection with carnival there-, and the Monday after that was Clean Monday, the end of carnival and the start of what is probably best compared to Lent, what once upon a time was a 40-day period of ‘fasting’ all the way to Easter. No Fat Tuesday or Ash Wednesday, as far as I could find.
Konstantinos and his people made sure that everyone, homeless and refugees, had a Christmas and New Year’s party like ‘normal’ people. Someone had donated a whole lot of turkey for Christmas, there was some meat to eat, and on Cholesterol Day there was even over 1000 kilos of meat to be spread to the Social Kitchens all over the country. It’s the kind of thing that makes people feel they do count, and they do belong, despite the misery they find themselves in.
Just as important, if not more, was the fact that all children who were present in the Big House in Athens, many of whom are homeless, received presents on Greek New Year. That means so much to them. Holidays without presents is cruel to children. I’ll sprinkle some pictures through this article.
Nobody gets left out at Christmas
Through all these events one thing that kept popping into my head was how close they brought joy and misery together. It’s pretty much priceless to see the happiness in people’s faces when they are served a real Christmas meal, a sign that they belong to the ‘human tribe’, that they ARE important, and there ARE people who care about them. Being able to do that for people is a very precious thing. As I said to someone also involved in refugee work a while ago: I’m sure that when we look back on this years from now, we’re going to say this is the best thing we’ve done in our lives, or right up there.
But at the same time, you can’t look at the joy without realizing where it comes from, why a simple meal or a Christmas present means so much; it comes from the every day misery so many people live in, in Greece these days. Looking at people knowing they’ll have no place to sleep that night, while it’s pretty cold outside too (colder than I thought Athens would be), it will never be easy. The misery is always close to the surface.
So I want to thank you once again, Automatic Earth readers, for having made much of this possible through your donations. You help make a lot of people feel better, help them eat, shower, give them a sense of dignity. In the process, you make me feel better too. Thank you. (Update: Saw a video the other day of a girl tattoo artist who set up a program to change self-mutilated arms into beautiful works of body art. Her reason to do this: “You don’t know what happiness is within yourself until you do something for another person.” That. You rock.
Happiness is a little girl’s face
That €1000 I gave Konstantinos was again the last money I had to donate to him, so I will call on you once more, and shamelessly so (which I allow myself to do because it’s for others, and it really helps). The Automatic Earth for Athens Fund has so far generated over $50,000(!) -one wonderful soul sent me a check for $10,000…-, and it’s a bit of a victim of its own success. The more there is, the more gets spent; we don’t want to not help people. And already the number of meals O Allos Anthropos can prepare and serve is dropping again, for monetary reasons; the number should be going up instead. We’re rowing against a strong current, which is awfully ironic, as you can see in the rest of this article.
I was reading an article earlier this week from AFP about an Italian program for refugees that shows everything that is wrong about how the crisis is being dealt with in Europe. Italy has started flying in Syrian refugees from Beirut, so they don’t have to spent a fortune on a risky sea voyage only to be locked up for months in camps. There are other ways. Kudos to Italy, and may many other countries follow their example:
Just before midnight in a sleepy district of Beirut, dozens of Syrian refugees huddle in small groups around bulging suitcases, clutching their pinging cellphones and one-way tickets to Italy. “Torino! Pronto! Cappuccino!” They practise random Italian words in a schoolyard in the Lebanese capital’s eastern Geitawi neighbourhood, waiting for the buses that will take them to the airport, and onwards to their new lives in Italy. Under an initiative introduced last year by the Italian government, nearly 700 Syrian refugees have been granted one-year humanitarian visas to begin their asylum process in Italy. The programme is the first of its kind in Europe: a speedy third way that both avoids the United Nations lengthy resettlement process and provides refugees with a safe alternative to crammed dinghies and perilous sea crossings.
[..] A country of just four million people, Lebanon hosts more than one million Syrian refugees. For members of Mediterranean Hope, the four-person team coordinating Italy’s resettlement efforts from Lebanon, “humanitarian corridors” are the future of resettlement. The group interviews refugees many times before recommending them to the Italian embassy, which issues humanitarian visas for a one-year stay during which they begin the asylum process for permanent resettlement. “It’s safe and legal. Safe for them, legal for us, says Mediterranean Hope officer Sara Manisera. “After people cross the Mediterranean on the journey of death, they are put into centres for months while they wait. But with this programme, there are no massive centres, it costs less, and refugees can keep their dignity,” she tells AFP.
Since March 20 was the 1st anniversary of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, many articles were published about what happened during the past year. And I haven’t seen one that was positive, which makes a lot of sense. There may be fewer refugees arriving in Greece now, but the situation of those who are in the country has gotten much worse. They are now prisoners, ‘housed’ in squalid conditions and with very little idea what will happen to them, how long their asylum applications will take to be heard, if they can or will be sent back to Turkey.
And now, with Erdogan getting ever more desperate in his quest to become the over-powerful president of Turkey, with just 4 weeks left till the referendum that should make him so, and with polls showing he’s behind, the EU-Turkey deal may well fall victim to petty politics. As it always looked to do. Who will suffer if that happens? The usual suspects, Greece and the refugees. The walls to fortress Europe are still shut tight. And it’s always election time somewhere.
Live cooking in Monastiraki Square, Athens
A friend recently translated something for me that Konstantinos had written on the O Allos Anthropos Facebook page. He said that every refugee who, before the EU-Turkey deal, passed through Greece on his/her way to Europe, cost the EU €800. For a family of 5 that adds up to €4,000, which would have been more than enough to pay for transport, stay at decent hotels and eat in normal restaurants for the duration of their trip (7-10 days). Suffice it to say, that was not what they got.
After the EU-Turkey deal made it impossible for refugees to leave Greece, €15,000 has been spent per capita. That is €75,000 per family of 5, more than enough to rent a villa on the beach, hire a butler and eat gourmet food for 8 months. Instead, the refugees are stuck in old abandoned factories with no facilities, in old tents in the freezing cold and in the rain, and forced to eat a dirt poor version of rice with chickpeas and lentil soup.
Then over the weekend I saw this confirmed in a graph issued by Refugees Deeply (with slightly lower numbers, but those are just margin errors). Note: March 16 2015 in the graph should of course read March 16 2016:
Refugees Deeply are a bit of a new kid on the block, they’re a year old, and I have no doubt they do care and have the best intentions. But since they operate throughout the world, not just in Greece, they run the same risk many international NGOs do, of spreading their resources too thin. Moreover, one thing that’s become obvious is that if you approach and treat Greece the same way as Somalia, for instance, you’re certain of making some major mistakes. Greece was a modern and prosperous country until Europe tried to turn it into Somalia.
What’s good is that it focuses on the failures of the Greek government in the never-ending refugee tragedy, because that was a part that had largely been missing. But what’s not so good is that it focuses almost exclusively on that. And that’s far from the whole story.
You see, there are three separate parties involved in the saga that have access to serious funding, and all three have their own reasons NOT to solve the problems to the best of their abilities. There’s the EU, there’s Greece, and there are dozens of NGOs, many of whom are large and operate internationally (iNGOs).
The EU wants to use Greece as a deterrent. It aims to create an image to the world of Greece as a sordid inhumane place that no potential refugee should ever wish to flee to. Because it doesn’t want any more refugees. 1 million refugees is too much for a continent, and a political union, of 500 million people. Rich Europe is overwhelmed by 0.2% more people. (Note: I’m not advocation open borders or anything, I’m just saying we need to take care of people in need, which is basically what the Geneva Convention says. Until we decide to stop bombing countries like Syria, and start rebuilding them, people will come to our territory to seek help.)
The EU also wants to put Greece in an even harder predicament, for politico-economic reasons. Brussels hands out a lot of money, but it doesn’t- from what I’ve been reading- seem to keep proper tabs of where that money is going, or how it’s spent. That way its hands are always clean: we gave all this money, you can’t blame us! And their hands will remain clean until someone calls them on their lack of oversight of what happens to taxpayers’ money. But taxpayers don’t even know who to call on, Europe is faceless.
The Greek government, too, likes the deterrent idea, albeit for slightly different reasons. While the EU has money to burn, Greece has none. The country doesn’t have the means to handle the refugee influx; it doesn’t even have the means to deal with its own domestic austerity-driven misery. The last thing it wants to do is give the impression that it is able to deal with the whole thing.
That might give refugees the idea that Greece is a good place to go to, and it might give Brussels the idea that Greece can handle this, so it must be doing fine. Also, there are (party-) political issues, there is rampant corruption, and there are egos. Greece is a country that politically, socially and economically has been robbed of any and all certainties and confidence. Where the poor take care of each other and the rich only have eye for themselves. But it’s hardly a functioning society anymore, it’s a bankruptcy fire sale.
The only thing surprising about the letter bombs (parcels) for Dijsselbloem, the IMF and Schäuble sent from Greece is that it took so long. Punishing a country into paying more than they could possibly afford is Versailles redux. But sure, the Greek part in the refugee crisis needs serious scrutiny as well: how Mouzalas can still be migration minister after the Refugees Deeply piece is hard to see. Then again, sources on the ground tell me it’s not -only- him, it’s the overall chaos and infighting.
And there are protests
The third party, the NGOs, is a bit tricky to talk about. For one, because there are so many of them, and in many lots of people work with the best possible intentions. That coming to a country where you don’t know the language or culture is not a perfect plan may often get lost in translation, certainly for unpaid bright-eyed young volunteers looking for a holiday but with a meaning.
It’s tricky also because NGOs, as I’ve written before, have become an industry in their own right, institutionalized even. As someone phrased it: we now have a humanitarian-industrial complex. Which in Greece has received hundreds of millions of euros and somehow can’t manage to take proper care of 60,000 desolate souls with that.
I’ve even been warned that if I speak out too clearly about this, they may come after Konstantinos and his people and make their work hard and/or impossible. This is after all an industry that is worth a lot of money. Aid is big business. And big business protects itself.
Still, if we’re genuinely interested in finding out how and why it is possible that hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros change hands, and people still die in the cold and live in subhuman conditions, we’re going to have to break through some of the barriers that the EU, Greece and the iNGOs have built around themselves.
If only because European -and also American- taxpayers have a right to know what has made this ongoing epic failure possible. And of course the first concern should be that the refugees have the right, encapsulated in international law, to decent and humane treatment, and are not getting anything even remotely resembling it.
Refugees Deeply quotes ‘a senior aid official’ (they don’t say from what) anonymously saying that €70 out of every €100 in aid is wasted. I see little reason to question that; if anything, it could be worse. But on the sunny side that means it need not take much to improve things. If ‘only’ one third of the aid were wasted, the portion that actually helps could potentially be doubled.
Most importantly: how do you waste at least €560 million (7/10 of €800 million) when that was intended for people in misery, in peril, in desperate need? I find it hard to wrap my mind around this, can’t seem to understand how actual people in Brussels can allow that to happen, when it’s about taxpayers’ money supposed to help people in grave distress. And I can’t figure out how Greece can allow that people freeze to death on its territory, when that could obviously have been easily prevented.
Nor can I fathom how iNGOs, who together have received hundreds of millions, can fail to build a number of decent winter camps, having been warned and funded months in advance. A lot of money goes to contractors, to the caterers who provide the awful meals at ten times the cost that O Allos Anthropos does, to the builders who don’t build, to the ubiquitous wheeler-dealers who can smell a cheap profit from miles away. And NGO executives want their often hefty salaries to be paid in time.
But even then I keep on thinking: where has all the money gone? They could have built or rented great facilities for all 60,000 refugees, and fed them, and schooled their children, and still have plenty of profit left. Why must greed be so unbridled?
In view of all this wasted money, we, Konstantinos and his people, can do so much more and so much better. But then again, of course, we can’t, because we don’t have that kind of funding, not even to spend wisely. And we won‘t either since we don’t want to comply with rules that would force O Allos Anthropos to refuse a meal to a hungry person, Greek or refugee, who doesn’t have ‘the proper ID’.
That ID thing fits ‘wonderfully’ into the EU model that has turned so many refugees into de facto prisoners, and has made so many Greeks destitute. In the end, aid must come from the heart, not from a wallet. Once humanitarian aid becomes a profit-based industry, as it so clearly has here, situations like the ones I describe here become inevitable. It all must come from the desire to help fellow human beings, and that should never be something that someone gets rich off of.
And compromising that in order to let the same machine fund you that has created so much mayhem feels like a road to some place between hell and nowhere. It’s sort of the opposite of Sartre’s “L’enfer c’est les autres” (Hell is other people). O Allos Anthropos means ‘The Other Human’. In other words, heaven is other people too. I could make a good case arguing that this is the very meaning of life, that we are here to help others. But that of course is just me. And thankfully and hopefully, bless you, many of our readers.
I don’t want to spend too much time being angry over the whole thing. The best we can all do is be positive, work with we have, and help as many people as we can. Of course Konstantinos and I, and many others, talk about becoming an NGO. But in his view, that would mean becoming a part of the machine, the industry, that does so much harm, wastes so much money and precious resources, and hurts so many needy people in the process.
Konstantinos is very much opposed to that, and I agree with him (not everyone always does). For him, it’s about never forgetting the reason why you do what you do, and certainly not forgetting it for money. But at the same time, yes, with more money we could do so much more. The number of projects that don’t get done, the people who don’t get fed, because the money is simply not there, is for lack of a better term, embarrassing. Especially, obviously, because that same money does get wasted somewhere else.
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A list of the articles I wrote so far about Konstantinos and Athens.
Further increases in the state pension age could push it to the point where many working people die before qualifying for it, MPs have warned, in a report that calls for the end of the “triple lock” guarantee on pensions. The Commons work and pensions select committee report on intergenerational fairness, published on Tuesday, claims that financing the triple lock in future will not be possible without increasing the state pension age to 70.5 years – leaving men in Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Blackpool dying on average before they receive their state pension. Under the triple lock, pensions have risen every year since 2010 by whichever is the higher figure out of the rate of inflation, average earnings or a minimum of 2.5%. This has lifted many pensioners out of poverty but the committee said it had resulted in the over-65s taking an “ever greater share of national income”.
In its November 2016 report, the committee recommended that the triple lock be replaced from 2020 by a smoothed earnings link. This would benchmark the state pension to a fixed proportion of average earnings in the long run, but would protect its purchasing power in times of inflation. Citing figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the committee said the state pension age would need to rise to 70.5 years by 2060 to make the triple lock affordable, “meaning today’s young would face working lives of over 50 years before receiving a state pension”. It added: “Making the triple lock sustainable would mean pushing the state pension age over average life expectancy in poorer areas of the UK”. Current male life expectancy is lowest in Blackpool, at 67.5, while it is 68.7 in parts of Bradford and 70.2 in much of Manchester. Tower Hamlets in London’s East End has a male life expectancy of 69.1.
Chmil is one of roughly 4,000 retired Teamsters across New York State suffering a fate that could soon hit millions of working-class Americans — the loss of their union pensions. Teamsters Local 707’s pension fund is the first to officially bottom out financially — which happened this month. “I had a union job for 30 years,” Chmil said. “We had collectively bargained contracts that promised us a pension. I paid into it with every paycheck. Everyone told us, ‘Don’t worry, you have a union job, your pension is guaranteed.’ Well, so much for that.” Also on the brink of drying up are the pensions for two Teamster locals — 641 and 560 — in New Jersey, union officials said. Plus 35,000 Teamster members upstate who are part of the money-hemorrhaging New York State Teamsters Pension Fund.
Bigger than all of New York’s Teamster locals combined is the Central States Pension Fund — another looming financial disaster that could leave 407,000 retirees without pensions across the Midwest and South. And there’s still more beyond that, in various industries, officials say. “It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives. I’ve gone from having $48,000 a year to less than half that,” said Chmil, one of five Local 707 retirees who agreed to share their stories with the Daily News last week. “I don’t want other people to have to go through this. We need everyone to wake up and do something; that’s why we’re talking,” said Ray Narvaez. Narvaez, 77, got a union certificate upon retirement in 2003 that guaranteed him a lifetime pension of $3,479 a month. The former short-haul trucker — who carried local freight around the city — started hearing talk in 2008 of sinking finances in his union’s pension fund.
But the monthly checks still came — including a bonus “13th check” mailed from the union without fail every Dec. 15. Then Narvaez, like 4,000 other retired Teamster truckers, got a letter from Local 707 in February of last year. It said monthly pensions had to be slashed by more than a third. It was an emergency move to try to keep the dying fund solvent. That dropped Narvaez from nearly $3,500 to about $2,000. “They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut,” said Narvaez, whose wife was recently diagnosed with cancer. The stopgap measure didn’t work — and after years of dangling over the precipice, Local 707’s pension fund fell off the financial cliff this month.
With no money left, it turned to Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., a government insurance company that covers pension. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. picked up Local 707’s retiree payouts — but the maximum benefit it gives a year is roughly $12,000, for workers who racked up at least 30 years. For those with less time on the job, the payouts are smaller.
Robert Kiyosaki, author of the “Rich Dad” series of books, has for years predicted an epic market crash when baby boomers, forced by law, start drawing from retirement funds in large numbers. That meltdown was supposed to happen last year. Instead, the bull market raged on: It will be eight years old in March, if measured by the 2009 bottom. Kiyosaki has drawn some flak along the way. Kiyosaki hasn’t given up on the prediction, however, he told MarketWatch in a late-January interview and a series of follow-up emails. Baby boomers still need to start drawing money in 2017, he notes: They hold about $10 trillion in tax-deferred savings accounts, according to Bank of New York Mellon; Americans who turn 70 1/2 have until April of the following calendar year to make withdrawals or face stiff penalties. (There were nearly 75 million Boomers in 2015, according to Pew Research.)
“Every time I say that to people they scoff at me,” said Kiyosaki of his baby boomer meltdown theory. “The fact is, they’re pulling the money out…the thing that did happen that I never expected, was the market went up a lot due to the ‘Trump Bump.’” Early in 2016, when stocks posted their worst January since 2009, it looked like Kiyosaki might be right about the market. Stocks recovered only to slide on Brexit last summer and then fall briefly in an autumn pre-election dip. It’s been upward momentum ever since. The surprise election victory of President Donald Trump, who rallied investors with his promise to revamp the economy, further muddied the picture for Kiyosaki’s forecast. While stocks were already up about 4.3% before the election, its outcome boosted the S&P to finish 2016 with a 9.5% gain. The Dow industrials logged their best annual finish in 3 years, up 13.4%.
[..] Kiyosaki says 2016 brought about other, unexpected, crashes. “What has happened instead of a market crash was the crash in interest rates, which are adversely affecting millions of fixed-income retirees, pension plans, and savers — at the same time incentivizing people like me to become debtors, using debt to acquire income-producing real estate,” he said. Most retirement plans assume an 8% return, Kiyosaki said, but “when interest rates are a 1% or 0% or negative%, returns aren’t working.”
Lots of numbers, but none really matter much. The crux is that if there are Greek pensions that are too high, for instance compared to other European ones, cut them, fine. But don’t cut ones that are already below and and all minimal limits. That is not even worth being labeled policy, it’s simply inhumane.
One group of Greeks that will look upon the return of creditors to Athens for talks aimed at completing the second review with some trepidation is the country’s 2.7 million pensioners. Since 2010, when Greece signed its first bailout with the eurozone and the IMF, the retirement age and social security contributions have increased, while pensions have come down. There is rarely a review that leaves pensions untouched and this one promises to be no different as lenders are targeting a reduction of annual pension spending by about 1.8 billion euros, or 1% of GDP. The IMF has been the most vociferous among Greece’s lenders regarding the need for a further overhaul of the country’s pension system to make it sustainable in the long run.
Between 2000 and 2010, pension spending in Greece climbed from 11 to 15% of GDP, mostly due to large increases in nominal pensions, generous benefits and options for early retirement. During this period, Greece’s figure was the second highest in the eurozone after that of Italy, according to the IMF. Despite two sets of reforms legislated in 2010 and 2012, pension expenditure continued rising and hit 17.7% in 2015, largely due to a GDP contracting by 25% while the average pension decreased by 8% between 2010 and 2015. The IMF believes the combination of low contribution revenues and high pension spending led to the pension deficit climbing from 7.3% of GDP in 2010 to 11% in 2015, making it by far the highest in the euro area.
Kathimerini understands that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is prepared to do whatever it takes to conclude the second review of Greece’s third bailout so that it can join the ECB’s quantitative easing program (QE), on the condition that the government agrees to a package of pension cuts and a reduced tax threshold – amounting to roughly 2% of GDP. According to sources, Merkel has, to this end, already seized the initiative and met with ECB head Mario Draghi. The German chancellor is also expected to bypass any objections that may be raised by her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, and will push for a specific outline of what midterm measures for debt relief will look like – once Greece agrees to measures demanded by the IMF.
Draghi, as well as ECB executive board member Benoit Coeure, have already made it clear that Greece can only join the QE mechanism if it concludes the review, and midterm measures for debt relief are in place – which is something that, so far, Schaeuble has opposed. Merkel’s plan stipulates that after a staff level agreement is reached, the Greek Parliament will vote through the measures. When this is done, the specifics of the debt relief measures will be presented as a carrot to Athens. This will open the way for it to join the QE scheme and the IMF to rejoin the Greek program.
Washington appears to have activated a channel of communication with Ankara in a bid to reduce the recent spike in tensions with Greece in the Aegean Sea. According to sources, the US recently asked Ankara to tone down its aggressive stance in the Aegean. It is not known how Ankara has taken the American initiative, but it is clear that Washington fears a possible incident in the Aegean between the two NATO allies, which could destabilize the alliance’s southeast wing. Meanwhile, the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara, albeit from nongoverment politicians, continued Tuesday with the leader of the ultra-right MHP party Devlet Bahceli speaking of Greek islands that remained “under occupation.” Bahceli is an ally of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and supports the bid by the Turkish president to expand his executive powers in the referendum that will take place in Turkey on April 16.
Citing what he described as international law, Bahceli called for the “unconditional end to the occupation of the islands,” referring to a string of islands and islets in the eastern Aegean. He went even further, referring to the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and the way the Greek army was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor – without, however, mentioning the Greek population of Turkey which was uprooted as a result of the war. “If [the Greeks] want to fall back into the sea [referring to how the Greek army was pushed out of Asia Minor] and if they are up to it, they are welcome to do it. The Turkish army is ready,” he said. The MHP leader also said the divided island of Cyprus is Turkish. Since the recent escalation of tension between Greece and Turkey, progress in the UN-backed peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots has stalled.
President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday he was open to immigration reform, shifting from his harsh rhetoric on illegal immigration in a speech that offered a more restrained tone than his election campaign and first month in the White House. Trump, in a prime-time address to a country that remains divided over his leadership, set aside disputes with Democrats and the news media to deliver his most presidential performance to date, seeking to regain the confidence of Americans rattled by his leadership thus far. The president’s speech was long on promises but short on specifics on how to achieve a challenging legislative agenda that could add dramatically to budget deficits. He wants a healthcare overhaul, broad tax cuts and a $1 trillion public-private initiative to rebuild degraded roads and bridges.
Trump built a base of support behind his presidential campaign by vowing to fight illegal immigration. In his speech, he took a more moderate tone, appealing to Republicans and Democrats to work together on immigration reform. He said it was possible if both Republicans and Democrats in Congress were willing to compromise, although he also said U.S. immigration should be based on a merit-based system, rather than relying on lower-skilled immigrants. Comprehensive immigration reform eluded his two predecessors, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican George W. Bush, because of deep divisions within Congress and among Americans over the issue. Trump said reform would raise wages and help more struggling families enter the middle class. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible, as long as we focus on the following goals: to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security, and to restore respect for our laws,” said the Republican president.
Apparently the paper is confused on this issue since it headlined a front page piece on the budget, “Trump budget sets up clash over ideology within G.O.P.” The article lays out this case in the fourth paragraph: “He [Trump] also set up a battle for control of Republican Party ideology with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who for years has staked his policy-making reputation on the argument that taming the budget deficit without tax increases would require that Congress change, and cut, the programs that swallow the bulk of the government’s spending — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” Most of us recognize Donald Trump and Paul Ryan as politicians who hold their jobs as a result of being able to gain the support of important interest groups. It really doesn’t make much difference what their political philosophy is.
Contrary to what the NYT might lead us to believe, this is not a battle of political philosophy, it is a battle over money. On this score, the NYT also gets matters seriously confused. First of all, it is wrong to describe Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as “the programs that swallow the bulk of government spending.” Under the law, Social Security can only spend money raised through its designated taxes, either currently or in the past. For this reason, it is not a drain on the rest of the budget unless Congress changes the law. Medicaid would also not rank among the three largest programs. The government is projected to spend $592 billion this year on the military compared to $401 billion on Medicaid.
The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would “swallow the bulk of government spending” directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country’s most important political figures.
The probability that a real estate bubble may burst in China is rising. The financial sector heavily depends on real estate, which in turn exposes the entire Chinese economy to systemic risk. This link means that a downturn in real estate could soon spread to other areas of the Chinese economy if banks face liquidity shortfalls. Also, falling housing prices could result in more non-performing loans (NPLs). While NPLs officially account for only 1.75% of all Chinese loans, the government is likely understating the figure. BMI Research, a financial consulting firm, estimated in a 2016 report that NPLs could be close to 20% of loans.
As banks gave more credit to real estate developers and buyers, their profitability stalled. In theory, China’s economy is not based on capitalism and thus doesn’t revolve around profitability; but in practice, money needs to come from somewhere. A company that doesn’t make a profit can’t survive in the long run. The Chinese government can’t afford to let banks fail since it would threaten both the financial system’s health and the key lifeline to state-owned enterprises that provide jobs. This surge in China’s real estate prices, fueled by ongoing credit expansion, are forcing the government to choose between deflating the housing market and slowing growth.
Europe has wanted to wean itself from Russian natural gas ever since supplies from its eastern neighbor dropped during freezing weather in 2009. Almost a decade later, the region has never been more dependent. Gazprom, Russia’s state-run export monopoly, shipped a record amount of gas to the European Union last year and accounts for about 34% of the trading bloc’s use of the fuel. Russia will remain the biggest source of supply through 2035, Shell said last week, echoing comments by BP in January. EU lawmakers have had their hearts set on diversifying supplies with liquefied natural gas delivered by tanker from the U.S., where production of the fuel skyrocketed last year. So far, those shipments have failed to materialize amid a lack of firm contracts and higher prices outside Europe. Overall, LNG shipments to the region, led by Qatar, were stagnant last year. “Russia will for sure remain Europe’s largest gas supplier for at least two more decades,” even if most of the incremental gains in EU imports are met by LNG from somewhere else, said Vladimir Drebentsov, chief economist for Russia and CIS at BP in Moscow.
Dwelling values in Australia’s largest city rose at the fastest annual pace in 14-years in February as record-low interest rates outweighed regulatory efforts to avert a housing bubble. Average values in Sydney surged by 18.4%, the biggest jump since December 2002 when the nation was at the tail-end of the early 2000’s housing boom, according to data provider CoreLogic Inc. Across the state capitals combined, values rose by 11.7%. Despite tighter lending restrictions aimed at discouraging speculative buying by landlords, the runaway housing market shows few signs of easing amid strong economic growth, historically low borrowing costs and a tax system that offers perks for property investors. Housing affordability has become a hot-button political issue, with New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian promising to make it one of her top priorities.
Last month, she appointed former Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens to advise on the options. Central bank Governor Philip Lowe has signaled he’d prefer not to ease interest rates as it would further inflate Sydney house prices and drive already record household debt even higher, threatening financial stability. “The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners,” said Tim Lawless, head of research at CoreLogic. “However, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach.” Prices are now almost 8.5 times higher than household incomes in Sydney, according to CoreLogic. There are, however, considerable regional variations. Perth, in the mining heartland of Western Australia that’s suffering as a decade-long investment boom winds down, saw values fall by 4.5% in the year to February.
Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned. Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt. The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards. “Unlike other arrangements, if we don’t get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we can’t arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.”
Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: “Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes.” Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: “It’s a political issue, not a legal issue.” The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee. “There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place,” said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.
Bur perhaps none of this matters in the long run, perhaps waste is the inevitable consequence of the need to feel rich, be rich. As Ken Latta put it in his February 23 article here at the Automatic Earth: “wealth is best measured by the capacity to be utterly wasteful”.
Never underestimate the power of one dedicated individual. A woman has been credited by the Danish Government for single-handedly helping the country reduce its food waste by 25% in just five years. Selina Juul, who moved from Russian to Denmark when she was 13 years old, was shocked by the amount of food available and wasted at supermarkets. She told the BBC: “I come from a country where there were food shortages, we had the collapse of infrastructure, communism collapsed, we were not sure we could get food on the table”. Her organisation, Stop Spild Af Mad – which translates as Stop Wasting Food – made all the difference and is recognised as one of the key drivers behind the government’s focus to tackle food waste.
“She was this crazy Russian woman that walked in the door, with a crazy idea about stop wasting food and she has come really far since,” Maria Noel, communication officer of Dagrofa, a Danish retail company, told the BBC. “She basically changed the entire mentality in Danemark,” she added. Ms Juul convinced Rema 1000, the country’s biggest low-cost supermarket chain, to replace all its quantity discounts with single item discounts to minimise food waste. Max Skov Hanser, a grocer at Rema 1000, said the retailer wasted about 80 to 100 bananas every day. However, after the supermarket put up a sign saying “take me I’m single”, it reduced the waste on bananas by 90%. In the past five years Denmark has become one of the leading European countries in the fight against food waste. Last year, a charity in Copenhagen opened Denmark’s first ever food surplus supermarket, which sells products at prices 30 to 50% cheaper than usual retailers.
Berry’s essays roam widely over such topics as “Writer and Region” (an A-grade discussion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), “The Work of Local Culture” and his high-minded disinclination to swap his ancient typewriter for a computer (complete with several shocked technophile responses). But the majority of them return, out of a kind of disgust, to the idea of betrayal, and the way in which the US farming industry has abandoned its responsibility to the terrain it has been cultivating for the last century and a half. The startling aspect of this charge sheet is its proxy villain, which is neither the cereal companies nor the burger chains but the American dream. Ronald Reagan once named his favourite children’s books as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, in which the resourceful Ingalls family head west across the newly available prairie states.
Pa chops trees, builds shacks and plants corn while Ma keeps house and thinks the native population “dirty”. To Berry, by contrast, the Pa Ingallses of the 1870s midwest are simply opportunists casting aside the old ways without bothering to reflect on their value, exploiters whose hard work and high moral tone obscure the absence of any real relationship with the land they are bent on despoiling. “A Native Hill”, a series of pointed reflections on the landscape of Henry County, Kentucky, notes that the original inhabitants had managed to preserve its integrity for thousands of years. The pioneers “in a century and half plundered the area of at least half its topsoil and virtually all its forest”, and constructed a road they may not have needed in the first place.
On the one hand, Berry is placing the Native American Indians and Pa Ingalls in false opposition: the effervescing Ingalls brood were different kinds of people – most obviously, nomads and settlers – wanting different things from the world they inhabited. On the other hand, Berry’s agrarian arguments are persuasive. To produce five feet of topsoil, he suggests in “The Making of a Marginal Farm”, takes 50,000 to 60,000 years. Meanwhile, the rallying cries are mounting up: think small; distrust the combines; a family can live for a year off a 60 sq ft vegetable plot; nobody ever did themselves any good by living in a city (he derides “the assumption that the life of the metropolis is the experience, the modern experience … ”).
As for The World-Ending Fire’s implications, you can just about envisage a future in which, once the fossil fuels have run out, necessity forces us all to live in smaller, self-sustaining societies without the benefit of the internal combustion engine. So perhaps Berry will have the last laugh. Whether by that stage in human evolution it will be worth having is another matter.
Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.
Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.
These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.
That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.
Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?
Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.
The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.
Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.
Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?
The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.
That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.
None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.
Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.
The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?
The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.
“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.
We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.
This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.
We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.
Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?
The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.
To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).
An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.
It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.
It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.
But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.
Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.
We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.
Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.
I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:
Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.
An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.
The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.
It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.
One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.
Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.