Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Faster Than We Thought

The planet is warming much faster than we thought. Dahr Jamail writes:

The reality of Anthropogenic Climate Disruption (ACD) continues to outstrip our ability to model worst-case scenarios, as it is happening so much faster than was ever anticipated. Sixty-three percent of all human-generated carbon emissions have been produced in the last 25 years, but science shows us that there is a 40-year time lag between global emissions (our actions) and climate impacts (the consequences). Hence, we haven't even begun to experience the worst of our emissions, and won't, until at least 2054.

The news is unremittingly bad. Our baselines no longer apply:

Approximately 55 million years ago, a 5-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures occurred in only 13 years, and a scientific report published last year revealed that in the near-term, Earth's climate will change 10 times faster than at any other moment in the last 65 million years. Science already shows that we are currently experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.

We are rapidly reaching the point where there will be no turning back:

Humans have never lived on a planet with temperatures 3.5 degrees Celsius above baseline, and many scientists believe it would be impossible to do so. An increasing number of climate change scientists now fear that our situation is already so serious, and so many self-reinforcing feedback loops are already in play, that we are in the process of causing our own extinction. Worse yet, some are convinced that it could happen far more quickly than generally believed possible - even in the course of just the next few decades.

In December 2010, the UN Environment Program predicted up to a 5 degrees Celsius increase by 2050. This is a shocking piece of information, because a 3.5 degrees Celsius increase would render the planet uninhabitable for humans due to collapsing the food chain at the level of oceanic plankton and triggering temperature extremes that would severely limit terrestrial vegetation, and hence, our ability to feed ourselves. And even higher temperature increases have been predicted.

Yet Mr, Trump still thinks it's all a hoax.

Image: Just Gotta Dive

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Challenge Facing Progressives

When it comes to Donald Trump, Robin Sears writes, progressives face the challenge of dealing with a man who lies as easily as he breathes. But progressives face a bigger challenge than Trump:

Like U.K. Labour, French Socialists and German Social Democrats — for that matter, much of the progressive democratic world — The Democrats have failed in addressing three transformative changes: job-killing artificial intelligence, globalization’s undermining of national economic decision-making, and climate change. The last is the hardest for progressives, in that the level of public support for the dramatic changes of direction required is weak. Worse still they have communicated a snobbery towards fat, racist, opioid-wounded, angry, white, working-class voters.

Each of these failures has contributed to most damaging defeat for the postwar consensus of every progressive government: greater equality must always be a priority. Until recently, even conservatives accepted the wisdom of a progressive tax system. Until recently, memory of real poverty and its impact on children, families, and society itself was still powerful for most leaders. Today’s progressive elites have few such memories let alone experience.

The progressive failure to articulate a believable vision created a huge opening for the same dishonest political frauds that ruined the first half of the last century. The collapse of the more astonishingly wicked or dumb among them — Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen — is little comfort. 

Trump has proved a gold mine for late night comics. But Sears warns that blistering humour -- deserved though it may be -- is not what will defeat the Great Orange Id. Progressives need "a coherent vision of how they could restore hope for an increasingly stressed class of voters that includes many key elements of their traditional base."

Until progressives can give those who have been left behind a reason to believe in that vision, Trump and his clones will continue to lie and get away with it.

Image: The Challenge Roundtable

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Bombs And Bucks

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed an arms deal with the Saudis. The deal includes “tanks and helicopters for border security, ships for coastal security, intelligence-gathering aircraft, a missile-defense radar system, and cybersecurity tools,” reports ABC News.

Alex Ward writes that "it forms part of a 10-year, $350 billion agreement in a “strategic vision” between the two countries, reports the Washington Post," and it puts bucks ahead of human rights. Barack Obama offered an even bigger deal to the Saudis back in September. And Justin Trudeau, of course, sold war wagons to the House of Saud.

The problem is that:

The Saudis, with support of the US and several other regional allies, have led a two-year campaign against the Houthis, an Iranian-backed armed group that is trying to dislodge the Saudi-backed Yemeni government. The war has been brutal and has produced a humanitarian catastrophe on a staggering scale: at least 10,000 people have been killed and over 3 million displaced since the war began in March 2015. Millions more are currently at risk of famine.

Saudi warplanes have targeted hospitals, schools, roads, bridges, farms, livestock, and other civilian targets with zero regard for either the laws prohibiting such tactics in wartime or the horrendous suffering they’re inflicting on innocent civilians.

The Obama administration increasingly tried (although not hard enough to make any noticeable difference) to use its leverage over the Saudis — in particular, US military support and arms sales — to compel the Saudis to stop these sorts of flagrant human rights violations. 

Trump will apply no such pressure. He crowed that the deal was "tremendous" and that it meant "jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs" in the United States. Jared Kushner apparently played a key role in bringing the deal together.

The family business has offered a wide variety of products -- hotel rooms, meat, wine and now bombs. Obviously, they are in a growth cycle. Never mind that the consequences of that growth will be more famine and rape. Growth -- and, as Gordon Gekko said, greed -- are good.

Image: Intergalactic Vault

Saturday, May 20, 2017

What Would His Father Say?

Donald Trump is dismantling his presidency. That doesn't surprise Tony Schwartz, who ghosted The Art Of The Deal. Schwartz writes:

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, The Art of the Deal, and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. For me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

Trump's talent for self immolation is at the core of his personality. Ir goes back to what it meant to be Fred Trump's son:

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” is the way I wrote it in the book. “I stood up to my father and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike.”

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive worldview took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. “When I look at myself today and I look at myself in the first grade,” he told a recent biographer, “I’m basically the same.” His development essentially ended in early childhood.

So we have a president who must go to war with everyone to preserve his self image. He has preserved it at great cost:

Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

And, because he sticks to his story, facts don't matter:

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump sees no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and then undermining the explanatory statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

When things go south, he refuses to recognize what is happening. Like a drug addict, he ignores the downturns and seeks the next high:

Any addiction has a predictable pattern — the addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

That little boy is now seventy years old. And he has been ignoring the downturns all his life. It has been one downturn after another. But he refuses to recognize them, because -- what would his father say?

Image: Evening Standard

Friday, May 19, 2017

You Can See The End

The Canadian who edits Vanity Fair -- Graydon Carter -- writes that you cannot fight Donald Trump by using the usual tools of resistance:

As anyone who has followed his jerry-rigged career from the 1980s onward will tell you, Trump just drags you to the bottom of the pond every time. Decades ago, he was a short-fingered vulgarian tooling around town in a mauve stretch limo, reeking of Brut. In those days, competitors, subcontractors, politicians, and wives were the ones who found themselves mired in the Trump muck. Now it is the country that’s up to its knees in it.

Carter opines that Trump's presidency is doomed. But until he falls,  almost everyone will be suffering from P.T.S.D:

Until that day, you should be forgiven if you think you are suffering from extreme, full-blown P.T.S.D.—President Trump Stress Disorder. You are not alone. A serial liar in the office or home is one thing—and stressful enough. But a serial liar in the highest office in the land is something else altogether. Couple that with an erratically fragile ego, a severely diminished mental capacity, a lacerating temper, and access to the nuclear codes, and it’s going to get a whole lot hotter in here.

If you think you are having a tough time of it since the election, please have some sympathy for the journalists, career civil servants, and White House supplicants who have to deal with Trumpian levels of insanity on a minute-to-minute basis. Trumpian! The word “trump” formerly was a verb used in polite bridge and whist circles. Trump, the man, is now up there with Hercules and Sisyphus with his own branded adjective. I’m not completely sure what it stands for. But when it finally settles into the lexicon, I’m certain that it will be a disconcerting combination of petulant, preening, ignorant, shameless, vulgar, paranoid, vainglorious, reckless, imperious, impulsive, unhinged, callous, corrosive, narcissistic, intemperate, juvenile, disloyal, venal, chaotic, squalid—what have I forgotten? Oh, yes!—and just mind-numbingly, epically incompetent.

Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a rough ride. But you can see the end.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Delusions Of Absolute Power

Donald Trump tweeted this week that he has "the absolute right" to hand American intelligence over to whomever he wishes. That word "absolute" is seminal to understanding the firestorm he now faces. Jill Abramson writes:

America’s founding fathers were deathly afraid of centralised, absolute power. This is why the government they structured had three equal branches, and plenty of checks and balances. And the first amendment is first for a reason. Freedom of the press is guaranteed because the founders envisaged the press as a bulwark against absolute power. This goes to the heart of who we are, and what we might become.

It's truly bizarre that the president of the United States does not understand this fundamental distribution of power. Trump now faces a Special Counsel and the potential charge of obstruction of justice. But that charge is only the first on a list of potential abuses of power. Abramson catalogues them:

The charge sheet envisaged by many is now a long one. It says Trump violated his oath to protect the country by improperly disclosing highly classified information about impending terror attacks and sharing it with Russia, a country that is hostile to many US policies. It says he trampled on Comey’s due process rights by firing him without cause and providing the public with a false pretext for the termination.

It says Trump flouted anti-nepotism law by appointing his daughter and her husband to White House jobs. The former ethics tsars for presidents Obama and Bush agree that such law applies to the presidency.

It says he trespassed on prohibitions on self-dealing and conflict of interest by continuing to profit from his ties to the Trump Organisation while his sons pursue foreign deals. Furthermore, it says his daughter’s brand has received trademarks from China while the White House is involved in myriad issues involving China. The real estate conglomerate owned by the family of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is also actively seeking foreign investment, including in China.

Whether or not Trump is eventually found guilty of  high crimes and misdemeanours remains to be seen. However, the charges all point to one undeniable fact. Trump suffers from delusions of absolute power.

Image: Weightier Matter

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No One Is Safe

Donald Trump won enough votes in the Electoral College to become president. His voters -- in a blind fury -- made him the most powerful man in the world. Now Trump -- also in a blind fury -- is destroying his country's democracy and the Western Alliance. Jonathan Manthorpe writes:

Donald Trump’s apparent admission that he shared secret information with visiting senior Russian officials has intensified questions both at home and abroad about his fitness to govern.

This latest scandal will add to the unease about Trump already evident among the United States’ 27 allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ahead of their first face-to-face summit with the president next week.

Far from making America great again, he is empowering the Chinese:

China’s Communist Party leaders are masters of taking advantage of other country’s follies, or lapses of attention. Trump’s dumping of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership — which was always as much a security alliance to constrain Beijing’s ambitions as it was a trade deal — created a vacuum that Xi is happy to fill.

 The U.S. president’s empty bluster over North Korea’s nuclear missile program and his evident lack of interest in confronting Beijing’s de facto occupation of the South China Sea have convinced many Asia leaders that Washington is no longer a reliable friend or patron.

And in Europe support for the United States is dwindling. Sharing intelligence information with Russia will not improve relations there:

Washington’s allies will be alarmed, to put it mildly, that their secrets are not safe with this blustering loudmouth. Since the end of the Second World War, the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing agreement between the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand has been the reinforced steel at the core of the Western Alliance.
If the U.S. president cannot be trusted with friends’ secrets, then no one is safe.

And that's just the point. As long as Donald Trump is president, no one is safe.

Image: ipolitics