Music: GoGo Penguin — ‘Raven’

 

Civilisational collapse has a bright past — but a dark future

By Luke Kemp

Is the collapse of a civilisation necessarily calamitous? The failure of the Egyptian Old Kingdom towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE was accompanied by riots, tomb-raids and even cannibalism. ‘The whole of Upper Egypt died of hunger and each individual had reached such a state of hunger that he ate his own children,’ runs an account from 2120 BCE about the life of Ankhtifi, a southern provincial governor of Ancient Egypt. 

Many of us are familiar with this historical narrative of how cultures can rapidly – and violently – decline and fall. Recent history appears to bear it out, too. Post-invasion Iraq witnessed 100,000 deaths in the first year and a half, followed by the emergence of ISIS. And the overthrow of the Libyan government in 2011 produced a power vacuum, leading to the re-emergence of the slave trade.

However, there’s a more complicated reality behind this view of collapse. In fact, the end of civilisations rarely involved a sudden cataclysm or apocalypse. Often the process is protracted, mild, and leaves people and culture continuing for many years.

[Read more…]

Nevada poised to become 15th state to ditch Electoral College

NPR reports:

President Hillary Clinton?

That would have been the result of the 2016 presidential election — if the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact were in effect.

With a state Senate vote Tuesday, Nevada is close to becoming the latest state to sidestep the Electoral College when it comes to electing presidents.

According to the National Popular Vote organization, which oversees efforts to persuade states to join the compact, 14 states and the District of Columbia have agreed to pledge their 189 electors to the winner of the national popular vote — regardless of which candidate won the state. Nevada, with its six electoral votes, would bring the total to 195. Once 270 electors are pledged, the compact would kick in.

The effort is part of a national movement to neuter the Electoral College and give more weight to the popular vote. Democrats in particular have been stung by the Electoral College, which effectively gives disproportional voting power to smaller, rural states that tend to vote Republican. In addition to President Trump, George W. Bush also won the White House without winning the popular vote. [Continue reading…]

Lax regulations expose Americans to 1,300 chemicals banned by Europe

The Guardian reports:

A brief but telling piece of legislation was put forward in Connecticut in January. Just three lines in length, the bill calls for any cosmetics in the state to “meet the chemical safety standards established by the European Union”.

The move, unlikely to be made law, is the latest signal of mounting anguish over the enfeebled regulation of everyday products in the US compared with European countries. Across a span of cosmetics, including makeup, toothpaste and shampoo, to items ranging from household cleaners to fruit juice to cheese, hundreds of potentially harmful ingredients banned in the EU are legally allowed in the US.

“Many Americans are unaware that they are absorbing untested and unsafe chemicals in their products,” said Alex Bergstein, a state senator who put forward the Connecticut legislation. Bergstein was previously the chair of the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental health center.

“Generally, the EU has got it right. In the US we have a strong favouritism towards companies and manufacturers, to the extent that public health and the environment is being harmed. The pendulum has swung in an extreme way and it’s really going to take a general awakening by the public.” [Continue reading…]

Federal judge says Deutsche Bank, Capital One can give Trump financial records to Congress

CNBC reports:

A federal judge in New York City on Wednesday said Deutsche Bank and Capitol One can turn over financial documents related to President Donald Trump and his businesses in response to subpoenas from House Democrats.

Judge Edgardo Ramos’s ruling came after a hearing at which lawyers for Trump, his three older children, Donald Jr. Eric and Ivanka, and the Trump Organization argued that the subpoenas to the two banks should be quashed.

Ramos, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said that the Trump clan’s arguments “are not sufficiently serious as it relates to Supreme Court precedent” dealing with the question of turning over documents to Congress.

The judge also disagreed with the argument by the Trump legal team that the demand for the documents lacks a legitimate legislative purpose. Ramos said there is such a purpose. [Continue reading…]

New York passes bill giving Congress a way to get Trump’s state tax returns

The New York Times reports:

Even before he was elected president, Donald J. Trump had steadfastly refused to release his federal tax returns, bucking years of tradition among presidential candidates. His intransigence deepened once he entered the White House, defying a congressional subpoena for the tax records.

Now, however, a nine-page workaround by the New York State Legislature may serve as a way for Congress to get its hands on a trove of Mr. Trump’s tax information.

On Wednesday, the Democratic-led Legislature passed a bill that would permit New York State tax officials to hand over Mr. Trump’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees. Such returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns.

The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and regular critic of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior. [Continue reading…]

Senators slam Trump plan to pardon vets accused or convicted of war crimes

HuffPost reports:

President Donald Trump’s reported plans to pardon several U.S. servicemen accused or convicted of war crimes elicited bipartisan criticism in the Senate on Tuesday.

“I think it’s a terrible idea to pardon someone who is legitimately convicted of committing war crimes. It’s unthinkable,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told HuffPost when asked about the New York Times report.

According to the Times, the White House over the weekend requested the necessary paperwork to issue a pardon for a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes who was turned in by the men who served with him.

Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher is charged with firing on civilians in Iraq in 2017 and fatally stabbing a wounded teenage ISIS fighter. He allegedly bragged about racking up civilian kills and threatened members of his SEAL team if they reported him. He has pleaded not guilty.

Others who are reportedly up for a pardon include a former Blackwater security contractor who was found guilty of shooting dozens of unarmed Iraqis and an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010. [Continue reading…]

Music: Sabrina Malheiros — ‘Terra de Ninguém’

 

‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica

The Guardian reports:

Ice losses are rapidly spreading deep into the interior of the Antarctic, new analysis of satellite data shows.

The warming of the Southern Ocean is resulting in glaciers sliding into the sea increasingly rapidly, with ice now being lost five times faster than in the 1990s. The West Antarctic ice sheet was stable in 1992 but up to a quarter of its expanse is now thinning. More than 100 metres of ice thickness has been lost in the worst-hit places.

A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would drive global sea levels up by about five metres, drowning coastal cities around the world. The current losses are doubling every decade, the scientists said, and sea level rise are now running at the extreme end of projections made just a few years ago. [Continue reading…]

Nudges to get a bit greener undermine support for effective economic policies tackling climate crisis

Policies that aim to nudge us into better choices actually decrease support for policies with far greater impact, research finds.

For example, many households across the United States receive energy bills comparing their use to that of similar neighbors to remind them to use less energy. And most companies automatically enroll employees in 401(k) plans unless they choose to opt-out, helping employees easily save for retirement. Such policies aim to “nudge” people toward making better choices, both for their future selves and for others.

Nudges like these have become popular among policymakers, because they are virtually costless to implement. However, the new study finds that these nudges have an unexplored cost.

“Although nudges can effectively change behavior, most have too small an impact to address societal problems on their own,” says David Hagmann, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s department of social and decision sciences, and now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

“It appears that many people view them as substitutes for economic policies like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade scheme, instead of the complements they were always intended to be.” [Read more…]