Archives for October 2018

Startling new research finds large buildup of heat in the oceans, suggesting a faster rate of global warming

The Washington Post reports:

The world’s oceans have been soaking up far more excess heat in recent decades than scientists realized, suggesting that Earth could be set to warm even faster than predicted in the years ahead, according to new research published Wednesday.

Over the past quarter-century, Earth’s oceans have retained 60 percent more heat each year than scientists previously had thought, said Laure Resplandy, a geoscientist at Princeton University who led the startling study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The difference represents an enormous amount of additional energy, originating from the sun and trapped by Earth’s atmosphere — the yearly amount representing more than eight times the world’s annual energy consumption.

In the scientific realm, the new findings help resolve long-running doubts about the rate of the warming of the oceans before 2007, when reliable measurements from devices called “Argo floats” were put to use worldwide. Before that, differing types of temperature records — and an overall lack of them — contributed to murkiness about how quickly the oceans were heating up.

The higher-than-expected amount of heat in the oceans means more heat is being retained within Earth’s climate system each year, rather than escaping into space. In essence, more heat in the oceans signals that global warming is more advanced than scientists thought. [Continue reading…]

Brazil shows how the elite responds when forced to choose between fascism and the left

Paul Mason writes:

Once you’ve heard the words “Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil” you have to prepare yourself to hear, in the future, “Marine Le Pen, president of France”. We already have a far-right Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, but Bolsonaro’s victory also signals that Salvini could one day rule without the restraint of a coalition partner. The Brazilian president’s victory was, in short, the first case study in how a financial elite responds when faced with a choice between fascism and the left.

The left, in Brazil’s case, was no longer the radical left. The Workers’ Party (PT) had a proud history of representing the poor, but had accustomed itself to running a corrupt and corporate form of state capitalism. So when Bolsonaro and his army of online trolls speak of saving Brazil from the fate of Venezuela, they are distorting reality. But that will not stop the president trying to jail the PT’s leaders, destroying trade union power and suppressing left-wing protest. This, however, is not the reason the Brazilian middle class supported Bolsonaro.

Across the world, the neoliberal economic project is under stress. Though elites everywhere wish to continue with the bonanza of free central bank money, low taxation and the destruction of welfare states, they understand that consent for this cannot be maintained. Beginning with the Greek crisis in 2015, then Brexit in 2016 and the victory of Donald Trump thereafter, we’ve seen a series of attempts to reorder the neoliberal world by force. [Continue reading…]

This is how republics end — warnings from the fall of Rome

Mike Duncan writes:

What does a republic in decline look like?

It’s an increasingly pressing question for the United States, where rising economic inequality is creating stress, anxiety and resentment. Endemic racism and ethnic prejudice are leading to clashes over citizenship and voting rights. Rampant corruption and ruthless ambition among elites are triggering political clashes that may crack the once-indestructible foundations of the American Republic — an unthinkable idea even a few decades ago, in the triumphalist aftermath of the Cold War.

Yet the seeds of American decline were sown not in the past 15 years of war and recession but in the 1970s, when economic inequality began to rise, a process that has only accelerated in recent years. As the decline of the Roman Republic shows, sharp inequality, left unaddressed, can be catastrophic, unleashing political and social consequences that can bring even a centuries-old republic to its end.

In 146 B.C., Rome completed its conquest of both Greece and Carthage and emerged as the most dominant power in the Mediterranean. There was no power left to challenge the legions, and over the course of the next century, Rome enveloped the rest of the region on its way to becoming the greatest and most enduring empire in the ancient world.

But as a result of this imperial triumph, the republican system under which the Romans lived collapsed. Since 509 B.C., Rome had been famous for its system of cooperative and participatory government that combined executive magistrates with an aristocratic Senate and democratic assemblies. For centuries, the republic persisted, and no single man ever seized power. But within 100 years of Rome’s imperial victories in 146, the republican system would be dead. The triumph of the Roman Republic was simultaneously the beginning of the end of the Roman Republic. [Continue reading…]

Turkish prosecutor says Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered in Saudi Consulate

The Washington Post reports:

Turkey’s public prosecutor said Wednesday that Jamal Khashoggi was strangled and dismembered upon arrival at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul earlier this month as part of a premeditated plan to kill the prominent journalist and dispose of his body.

The statement, delivered as Saudi Arabia’s prosecutor left Istanbul for Riyadh, marked the most conclusive official description to date of what happened to the prominent journalist and Washington Post contributing columnist when he entered the diplomatic mission on Oct. 2.

It also intensified pressure on Saudi Arabia — now at the center of a global firestorm — to find its way out of a crisis that has elicited sharp criticism from Western allies and put the spotlight on the Trump administration’s close relationship with the kingdom.

Irfan Fidan, the Turkish prosecutor, said Khashoggi was “strangled as soon as he entered the consulate” in line with “premeditated plans.” [Continue reading…]


Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman is ‘chief of the tribe’ in a cowed House of Saud

The Washington Post reports:

For just over two years, until June 2017, Mohammed bin Nayef was crown prince of Saudi Arabia, the designated heir to the throne. A grandson of the kingdom’s founder, with long experience at high levels of government, he was the first of his generation to reach the direct line of succession.

Today, bin Nayef, 59, is rarely seen outside his palace in Jiddah, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast. Usurped by an ambitious cousin barely half his age who took over his title and froze his once-hefty bank accounts, he reportedly passes his days under heavy guard.

The ouster was not completely surprising, since his cousin was the favored son of bin Nayef’s uncle Salman, the current king. But the speed and apparent ruthlessness with which it was done — a late-night summons that left the crown prince with little choice — were shocking to many in the extended royal family, in which decisions had traditionally been made by consensus after extensive consultation.

Now well more than a year into the job, the new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, enjoys nearly absolute power in the kingdom, directly controlling foreign and domestic policy, the security forces, and the economy. [Continue reading…]

‘Homeland security’ ignores white terror, DHS veterans say

The Daily Beast reports:

On Tuesday, just days after a white supremacist gunned down 11 people at a synagogue and just a week after a terrorist mailed more than a dozen bombs to critics of the president, the Department of Homeland Security—created after 9/11 to protect the United States from terrorism—had a conference call. Attendees were on the department’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, a group of more than two dozen former government officials and insiders who help guide the Department on its thorniest challenges.

The topic: a group of Central American migrants slowly wending their way through Mexico in hopes of seeking asylum in the United States. Some participants were flummoxed: In the face of the most lethal anti-semitic terror attack in American history, was DHS really focused, exclusively, on migrants?

“In the world of homeland security, the common practice is to focus on those threats that present the greatest risk,” said John Cohen, a Rutgers professor and former senior official in the Department of Homeland Security focused on counterterror. “So it’s disconcerting that in a call with national law enforcement and homeland security experts, the focus would be on the caravan versus the increasing number of mass casualty attacks the country’s experiencing, including by white extremists.”

It underscored a weakness at the center of U.S. national security. As the country reels from the latest spate of white supremacist murder, nine law-enforcement veterans say that combating violent white supremacy simply isn’t a top focus for the federal agencies mandated to protect Americans from terrorism. [Continue reading…]

Americans are easy marks for Russian trolls, according to new data

The Daily Beast reports:

You don’t need to read the federal indictments to spot the moment Russia began targeting the United States with its army of internet trolls.

Just chart the American flag emoji. Best estimates trace the founding of the Internet Research Agency to August 2013, and for eight months of its existence the Saint Petersburg troll farm was focused on influencing citizens in Russia and Russia’s near abroad. Then in April 2014 the Kremlin-linked organization launched “Project Lakhta,” according to federal prosecutors, aimed squarely at the United States.

The IRA’s first American flag emoji appeared on Twitter the next month, first a trickle, and then a torrent. Over the next four years the Saint Petersburg troll farm unfurled 70,372 American flags, reaching peak flagness on August 12, 2017 when one IRA sockpuppet crammed 43 flags into a single tweet with the hashtag “MAGA.”

Whether by luck or design, the IRA’s campaign against America worked, and is still working. An examination of Twitter’s new dump of Russian troll data this month shows that the IRA’s tactics worked far better in the U.S. than in Russia or the Eastern European nations where the troll farm cut its teeth. English-language tweets by the IRA’s sockpuppet accounts enjoyed nine times the engagement than tweets in Russian and other languages. And, remarkably, Americans fell for the Russian interference even harder after the 2016 presidential election than before. [Continue reading…]

Music: Banda Magda — ‘Caramel’


Humanity is destroying life on Earth


The Guardian reports:

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilisation.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports:

The Chinese government, reversing a 25-year ban, announced on Monday that it would allow the use of rhinoceros horns and tiger bones in medicine, a move that environmentalists described as a significant setback for efforts to protect the animals from extinction.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said in a policy directive that it would legalize the use of rhino horns and tiger bones for “medical research or in healing,” but only by certified hospitals and doctors, and only from rhinos and tigers raised in captivity, excluding zoo animals.

Still, environmentalists said the decision would likely help fuel a black market for wild rhino and tiger parts, which are revered in traditional Chinese medicine for supposed healing powers, and could lead to increased poaching of the fewer than 30,000 rhinos and 3,900 tigers still in the wild. [Continue reading…]

The citizenship clause means what it says

Garrett Epps writes:

“It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties,” James Madison wrote in 1785. President Donald Trump confirmed Tuesday that he plans to move from experimentation on liberty into widespread application of the tyrant’s playbook.

In an interview with Axios on HBO, Trump confirmed what had been suspected since last summer: He is planning an executive order that would try to change the meaning of the Constitution as it has been applied for the past 150 years—and declare open season on millions of native-born Americans.

The order would apparently instruct federal agencies to refuse to recognize the citizenship of children born in the United States if their parents are not citizens. The Axios report was unclear on whether the order would target only American-born children of undocumented immigrants, children of foreigners visiting the U.S. on nonpermanent visas—or the children of any noncitizen.

No matter which of these options Trump pursues, the news is very somber. A nation that can rid itself of groups it dislikes has journeyed far down the road to authoritarian rule. [Continue reading…]