Sunday, January 21, 2018

Tales From the Coral Reefs

In our age, coral reefs are the canary in the coal mine. Tim Radford writes:

Forty years ago, the world’s coral reefs faced a known risk: every 25 or 30 years, ocean temperatures would rise to intolerable levels.
Corals would minimise the risk of death by everting the algae with which they lived in symbiotic partnership: that is, the reef animals would avoid death by getting rid of the algae, deliberately weakening themselves.
This response is known as bleaching, and it can have a catastrophic effect on other life on the reef. In the Pacific such episodes were sometimes linked to cycles of ocean warming known as an El Niño event.
By 2018 the odds had altered. Coral reefs now face this hazard every six years. That is, in four decades of global warming and climate change, the risks have multiplied fivefold.

We still have not got used to the fact that climate change sets up a series of geometrical progressions. The longer we refuse to do something about it, the faster catastrophe approaches. Consider the following study from James Cook University:

Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of, even during strong El Niño conditions, but now repeated bouts of regional-scale bleaching and mass mortality of corals has become the new normal around the world as temperatures continue to rise,” said Terry Hughes, who directs Australia’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
He and colleagues report in the journal Science that they analysed data from bleaching events at 100 locations around the planet between 1980 and 2016. Bleaching events are a fact of life for corals: these little creatures tend to live best in temperatures near the upper limit of their tolerance levels, and respond to extreme events by rejecting the algae that normally provide the nutrients they need.
But as global air temperatures have increased, in response to profligate burning of fossil fuels that increase greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, so have sea temperatures. And Professor Hughes and his team report that in the last two years more than a third of all bleaching events have been “severe,” extending over hundreds of kilometres.

Disaster is no longer inching its way toward us. It's galloping our way. And we close our eyes.

Image: Green Left Weekly

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Are Americans Too Stupid?

The government of the United States has shut down. Republicans are outraged. Richard Wolff writes:

Today’s Republican party is built on principle. As a matter of principle, the GOP believes it is the only party that can shut down government as a negotiating tactic. The Democrats’ job is to keep that government open and to cave in to its demands.

When one looks at the history of government shutdowns, there is a delicious irony in all of it:

Ah yes, the irony of it all. It takes a special type of hypocrite to accuse your opponents of hypocrisy for following in your footsteps.
As a matter of principle, it’s Republicans like [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney who are the deficit hawks, caring deeply about the fiscal rectitude of the federal government. Right up to the point when one of them says the words “tax cuts”, which turn out to be far more important than balancing the budget or the national debt.
Thank goodness we have the Republicans in total control of Washington, after all those years of the Democrats failing to pass a real budget. Now we can watch the Republicans create an even more dysfunctional budget process with continuing resolutions that last just a few weeks at a time.

There is even more irony in the claim that Republicans stand for family values:

As a matter of principle, Republicans are the party closest to God, rallying the faithful at the March for Life rally by anti-abortion activists, who also love to rail against Planned Parenthood. Thank God for the leadership of a conservative president whose lawyer paid tens of thousands of dollars to a porn star, through a shell company and false names.
Before she signed a non-disclosure agreement, the porn star disclosed the sordid details of her affair with the current president soon after his third wife gave birth to his third son.
For Christian conservatives, Donald Trump may be a sinner but he’s really doing God’s work. That’s a whole new definition of family values right there.

Are Americans too stupid to see through the rot?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fear Itself

Franklin Roosevelt told Americans the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. Tony Schwartz -- who ghost wrote Donald Trump's Art of the Deal -- writes that Trump is fear itself:

Fear is the hidden through-line in Trump’s life – fear of weakness, of inadequacy, of failure, of criticism and of insignificance. He has spent his life trying to outrun these fears by “winning” – as he puts it – and by redefining reality whenever the facts don’t serve the narrative he seeks to create. It hasn’t worked, but not for lack of effort.
In his first year in office, Trump has lambasted any facts he dislikes as “fake news”, while making nearly 2,000 false or misleading claims of his own – more than five a day. In a single half-hour interview with the New York Times in late December, he made 24 such claims. This is the very definition of gaslighting – lying until you get people to doubt their own reality – and it is both frightening and disturbing. Because the office Trump now occupies makes him the most powerful man on Earth, his fears, and the way he manages them, have necessarily become ours.

And as long as Americans fear Trump, Schwartz writes, they will remain in his thrall:

In the face of fear, it is a physiological fact that our most primitive and selfish instincts emerge. Control of our behaviour shifts from the prefrontal cortex to the emotionally driven amygdala – sometimes referred to as “fear central”. As we move into fight-or-flight mode, we become more self-centred, and our vision narrows to the perceived threat, which in the modern world is less to our survival than to our sense of value and worthiness. We lose the capacity for empathy, rationality, proportionality and attention to the longer-term consequences of our actions.
This is the reactive state Trump has tapped into with his followers and which he has prompted in his opponents. It serves none of us well. Think for a moment about the immense difference between how you feel and behave at your best and your worst. It is when we feel safest and most secure that we think most clearly and expansively. It’s also when we are most inclined to look beyond our self-interest, and to act with compassion, generosity, consideration and forgiveness.

Schwartz's insight into the man should not be ignored. Above all, resistance to Trump must be driven by our better angels.


Thursday, January 18, 2018

It's All About Power

It's certain that the way the heirs to the Tim Horton's fortune handled Ontario's minimum wage hike will become a classic case study. Linda McQuaig writes:

Apparently thinking nobody would find out, the daughter of hockey player Tim Horton and the son of his business partner Ron Joyce, who are married to each other in a plot twist worthy of the Game of Thrones, sent a note to their grossly underpaid employees from their winter home in Florida informing them that their benefits — including 40 minutes a day of paid breaks — were being clawed back to compensate for the new $14-an-hour minimum wage.
Jeri-Lynn Horton-Joyce and Ron Joyce Jr. — whose father has a net worth of $1.4 billion — expressed “great regret” for the clawbacks, apparently convinced there was no other option. The market made me do it!

For decades, we have been told that the market is a force of nature which operates by its own rules. That's a lie:

Business advocates protest minimum wages for interfering with the “free market.” They make it sound like the market is some sort of natural system that operates according to basic, natural laws — like the laws of gravity — and that we tamper with it at our peril.
In fact, the market is nothing more than a set of human-made laws — governing property, contracts, labour, taxes, etc.
Rather than being based on natural principles, the laws of the marketplace simply reflect the power structure of society. Those with power are able to bend the laws in their own favour.

The evidence is unavoidable in places like Seattle and Alberta:

Indeed, despite fear-mongering about job losses when Alberta began hiking its minimum wage in 2015, jobs in its low-wage service sector actually grew by 12,400 last year, along with the rest of its economy.

The Hortons and Joyces revealed the lie that is at the heart of neo-liberalism. It's not about the market. It's all about power and how it's distributed.

Image: Oxfam Blogs

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Only Votes Will Do It

Yesterday, Dr. Ronny Jackson gave Donald Trump a clean bill of health. So much for the fantasy that Trump's ill health will remove him from office. Likewise, even if Robert Mueller finds Trump guilty of money laundering and obstruction of justice -- which seems ever more likely -- a Republican controlled congress will not impeach him.

It's clear, Jonathan Freedland writes, that only democracy will remove Trump:

The truth is, there are no quick fixes. Even if Jackson or Mueller came up with devastating findings, the act of removing Trump will fall to the Congress, currently in the hands of a Republican party that shows no appetite for standing up to the president. That’s what will have to change – which means Democrats doing the hard work of winning this November’s midterm elections. Neither the Feds nor a doctor in a white coat will do it for them: Americans will have to end this nightmare themselves.

Which means that Americans themselves are going to have to administer the final blow. If they give Democrats control of both houses, Trump will be gone. If they don't do that, their country will be  in -- to use the president's own words -- a "shithole."

Image: You Tube

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

We Are Not Making Progress

The countries which fought on the United Nations side of the Korean War are meeting in Vancouver. China, Russia -- and North Korea -- won't be there. The United States is pushing for more sanctions. But, Andrew Coyne writes:

Sanctions . . . will only be as effective as China allows them to be. And while the Chinese have tightened the screws to some degree, they are also likely to oppose any serious attempt to enforce them: for example, by means of “maritime interdiction,” the multinational quasi-blockade that is also up for discussion in Vancouver. North Korea has already denounced the idea as an “act of war,” but China is unlikely to be much happier.

So that leaves accepting the reality of a nuclear North Korea. And what does that mean? It means deterrence:

Surely deterrence can be made to work on the Korean peninsular, as it has these past seven decades in Europe. But to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea is essentially to live with what Hawaii has just endured, in perpetuity. Much effort has been expended to suggest the Kim regime is “rational,” as in non-suicidal. But non-suicidal is not the same as stable, predictable, responsible, prudent or wise. The possibility of error is ever-present. And the consequences of error are catastrophic.

It means, Coyne writes, anti-ballistic missile defence. You thought we were getting rid of nuclear weapons? And Hawaii has just reminded us that, with all those weapons, it's easy to make a mistake.

We are not making progress.

Image: China National News

Monday, January 15, 2018

Now Is The Time

Bernie Sanders writes that now is the time to take on the oligarchs. The data tells the story of the last thirty-five years:

Difficult as it is to comprehend, the fact is that the six richest people on Earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world’s population – 3.7 billion people. Further, the top 1% now have more money than the bottom 99%. Meanwhile, as the billionaires flaunt their opulence, nearly one in seven people struggle to survive on less than $1.25 (90p) a day and – horrifyingly – some 29,000 children die daily from entirely preventable causes such as diarrhoea, malaria and pneumonia.
At the same time, all over the world corrupt elites, oligarchs and anachronistic monarchies spend billions on the most absurd extravagances. The Sultan of Brunei owns some 500 Rolls-Royces and lives in one of the world’s largest palaces, a building with 1,788 rooms once valued at $350m. In the Middle East, which boasts five of the world’s 10 richest monarchs, young royals jet-set around the globe while the region suffers from the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, and at least 29 million children are living in poverty without access to decent housing, safe water or nutritious food. Moreover, while hundreds of millions of people live in abysmal conditions, the arms merchants of the world grow increasingly rich as governments spend trillions of dollars on weapons.

So, what's to be done?

Now, more than ever, those of us who believe in democracy and progressive government must bring low-income and working people all over the world together behind an agenda that reflects their needs. Instead of hate and divisiveness, we must offer a message of hope and solidarity. We must develop an international movement that takes on the greed and ideology of the billionaire class and leads us to a world of economic, social and environmental justice. Will this be an easy struggle? Certainly not. But it is a fight that we cannot avoid. The stakes are just too high.
A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people – from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.

We can start, Sanders writes, by getting rid of tax havens:

Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.

But it takes political will -- something which, these days, is in short supply.

Image:  NBC News