Archives for July 2019

Restoration of forested land at a global scale could help capture carbon and mitigate climate change

Science News reports:

A whopping new estimate of the power of planting trees could rearrange to-do lists for fighting climate change.

Planting trees on 0.9 billion hectares of land could trap about two-thirds the amount of carbon released by human activities since the start of the Industrial Revolution, a new study finds. The planet has that much tree-friendly land available for use. Without knocking down cities or taking over farms or natural grasslands, reforested pieces could add up to new tree cover totaling just about the area of the United States, researchers report in the July 5 Science.

The new calculation boosts tree planting to a top priority for gaining some time to fight climate change, says coauthor Tom Crowther, an ecologist at ETH Zurich. The study used satellite images to see how densely trees grow naturally in various ecosystems. Extrapolating from those images showed how much forest similar land could support. Plant a mix of native species, he urges. That will help preserve the birds, insects and other local creatures.

The analysis revealed space to nourish enough trees to capture some 205 metric gigatons of carbon in about a century. That’s close to 10 times the savings expected from managing refrigerants, the top item on a list of climate-fighting strategies from the nonprofit Project Drawdown, a worldwide network of scientists, advocates and others proposing solutions to global warming.

The benefit of tree planting will shrivel if people wait, the researchers warn. [Continue reading…]

The coming economic crash — and how to stop it

Elizabeth Warren writes:

I warned about an economic crash years before the 2008 crisis, but the people in power wouldn’t listen. Now I’m seeing serious warning signs in the economy again — and I’m calling on regulators and Congress to act before another crisis costs America’s families their homes, jobs, and savings.

I’ve spent most of my career getting to the bottom of what’s happening to working families in America. And when I saw the seeds of the 2008 crisis growing, I rang the alarm as loud as I could.

In 2003, I called out subprime lenders for tricking unsuspecting families — especially families of color — into refinancing into overpriced subprime mortgages. In 2004 and 2005, I warned that families were getting deeper into debt and hanging on only by borrowing against their homes, which put them in a vulnerable position if costs rose or a family member lost a job. In 2006, I flagged that foreclosure rates were starting to go up, but that the mortgage lenders were still churning out loans because they had passed on the risk of defaults to investors in the form of mortgage-backed securities. Those trends — shady subprime lending, rising household debt, a mortgage market where lenders didn’t bear the risk of their loans — set the stage for the 2008 crisis.

But the people with the power to stop the crisis didn’t listen — not enough of them anyway. Not the banks, not Alan Greenspan or other federal regulators, not Congress. And when the crisis hit in 2008, working families lost it all while the big banks that broke the economy got a fat taxpayer bailout.

When I look at the economy today, I see a lot to worry about again. I see a manufacturing sector in recession. I see a precarious economy that is built on debt — both household debt and corporate debt — and that is vulnerable to shocks. And I see a number of serious shocks on the horizon that could cause our economy’s shaky foundation to crumble. [Continue reading…]

‘It’s a disaster over there’: Commerce reaches new heights of dysfunction

Politico reports:

Constant infighting among top officials. Sudden departures of senior staffers without explanation. A leader who is disengaged and prone to falling asleep in meetings.

The Commerce Department has reached its apex of dysfunction under Wilbur Ross, according to four people with knowledge of the inner workings of the department. The 81-year-old Commerce secretary, who has for months endured whispers that he is on the outs, spends much of his time at the White House to try to retain President Donald Trump’s favor, the sources said, leaving his department adrift.

He’s hardly the only top Trump official to seek the president’s approval. But department insiders say they’ve rarely seen Commerce so rudderless — and they say Ross’ penchant for managing upward at the expense of his staff is leading to what one plugged-in observer described as “a disaster over there.” [Continue reading…]

A close study of Jeffrey Epstein’s circle reveals a damning portrait of elite New York

The editors of New York Magazine write:

Perhaps, at long last, a serial rapist and pedophile may be brought to justice, more than a dozen years after he was first charged with crimes that have brutalized countless girls and women. But what won’t change is this: the cesspool of elites, many of them in New York, who allowed Jeffrey Epstein to flourish with impunity. For decades, important, influential, “serious” people attended Epstein’s dinner parties, rode his private jet, and furthered the fiction that he was some kind of genius hedge-fund billionaire. How do we explain why they looked the other way, or flattered Epstein, even as they must have noticed he was often in the company of a young harem? Easy: They got something in exchange from him, whether it was a free ride on that airborne “Lolita Express,” some other form of monetary largesse, entrée into the extravagant celebrity soirées he hosted at his townhouse, or, possibly and harrowingly, a pound or two of female flesh.

If you watch Fox News, you will believe Bill Clinton was Epstein’s No. 1 pal and enabler. If you watch MSNBC, this scandal is usually all about Donald Trump. In fact, both presidents are guilty (at the very least) of giving Epstein cover and credibility. There are so many unanswered questions about Epstein, but one that looms over all of them is whether the bipartisan crowd who cleared a path for him will cover its tracks before we can get answers — not just Clinton and Trump and all those who drank at Epstein’s trough but also (among others) institutions like Harvard, Dalton, and the Council on Foreign Relations, or lawyers like the New York prosecutor Cy Vance Jr., whose office tried to downgrade Epstein’s sex-offender status; Kenneth Starr, who tried to pressure Republican Justice Department officials to keep the Epstein case from ever being prosecuted; and Alan Dershowitz, who tried to pressure the Pulitzer Prizes to shut out the Miami Herald for its epic investigative reporting that cracked open the case anew.

In 2015, Gawker published Epstein’s “little black book,” which had surfaced in court proceedings after a former employee took it from Epstein’s home around 2005 and later tried to sell it. He said that the book had been created by people who worked for Epstein and that it contained the names and phone numbers of more than 100 victims, plus hundreds of social contacts. Along with the logs of Epstein’s private plane, released in 2015, the book paints a picture of a man deeply enmeshed in the highest social circles.

Collectively, these documents constitute just a glance at the way society opened itself to Epstein in New York, Hollywood, and Palm Beach. In the weeks since his arrest, we have learned even more about the cliques he traveled in and the way they protected him. Though some observers have likened Epstein’s enigmatic rise as a glamorous social magnet to that of Jay Gatsby, a more appropriate archetype may be the fixer, sexual hedonist, and (ultimately disbarred) lawyer Roy Cohn. In the 1970s and early ’80s, Cohn was a favor broker for boldface chums as various as the top Democratic-machine politicians, the mobster Carmine “Lilo” Galante, Nancy Reagan, the proprietors of Studio 54, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Andy Warhol, the publishers Rupert Murdoch and Si Newhouse, Dershowitz, and the ambitious young real-estate developer Donald Trump.

This project is meant to catalogue how Epstein’s secure footing in elite spheres helped hide his crimes. [Continue reading…]

Donald ‘love it or leave it’ Trump: ‘The American dream is dead’

If Trump’s electioneering mantra, “we’re like a Third World country,” ever sounded like a hyperbolic economic assessment of America, have no doubt it was simply and crudely a dog whistle to those of his white supporters who believe non-whites don’t belong here and should “go back” where they come from.

Make America Great Again has always meant Make America White Again.

The irony of the “love it or leave it” demand is that the people who spew this venomous line clearly don’t love the America they actually live in — a country famed for its cultural and ethnic diversity and its promise of equal opportunity.

No one can make America great by making Americans hate.

How a fight against a Senate criminal investigation laid the groundwork for the Koch brothers’ playbook

Christopher Leonard writes:

In 1989, the newly built Koch network was focused on one tactical goal—derailing the criminal investigation into Koch’s oil gathering operations.

Three decades later, the impact of the Koch network in politics has been enormous. It stoked the fire of anti-government animus that remade U.S. politics in the ‘90s and 2000s. It played a vital role in derailing the last best chance to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Wal-Mart, General Electric and Boeing might all have lobbyists, but only Charles Koch has one of the biggest lobbying offices in America, combined with a grassroots army called Americans for Prosperity, that can knock on doors and send volunteers to town hall meetings; combined with a constellation of think tanks that can generate and amplify talking points; combined with a network of coordinated campaign donors that often raise enough money for an election cycle to rival the war chest of a political party. Even in the age of Trump, when the Kochs’ political influence is far smaller than it was earlier this decade, they still flex considerable muscle behind the scenes. In 2017, the network transformed the Republican tax plan by leading the charge to kill a tax benefit meant to benefit U.S. manufacturing (but that almost certainly would have hurt Koch’s oil refining operations) and turned it into a straightforward tax cut for big corporations and the richest Americans.

But before all of that—before Charles and David Koch became household names, at least in liberal households—they deployed a then-developing political network against a U.S. Senate investigation. And they brought the lessons they learned with them to all of their lobbying and influence work over the next 30 years. [Continue reading…]

Is Jeremy Corbyn finally on the way out?

Isabel Hardman writes:

Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour party, many of his MPs have dreamed of deposing him. They’ve tried mass shadow ministerial resignations, a no-confidence motion, even a formal leadership contest — but to no avail. Some, like Chuka Umunna, left the party, hoping (in vain) that others would join their breakaway group. Other MPs gave up hope, resigned and found jobs outside of politics — concluding no plot would ever work. But that might now be changing.

The Corbynites, who have stuck together for so long, are fighting with each other. Party members, once the human shield who protected their leader, are beginning to doubt him. The Labour lords are in open rebellion, and have taken out an advert in the Guardian attacking Corbyn over his failure to deal with anti-Semitism: the Labour party welcomes everyone ‘except, it seems, Jews’, it reads. And MPs are beginning to organise themselves much better having found, in their deputy leader Tom Watson, someone with the skills and the motivation to act. If there is to be a general election this year, it’s not impossible that the Tories — having held a leadership contest to prepare to fight Corbyn — could end up facing someone else.

In May, minds were concentrated after Labour performed poorly in the European elections and was forced into third place by the Liberal Democrats. The party’s ambiguity about Brexit, which had been seen by party members as a price worth paying to keep Leave voters on board, had become a liability, driving voters into the arms of the Lib Dems. Insiders claim that Labour is now losing thousands of members every week over its failure to take a stance. Senior figures such as John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry panicked about what this might mean during a general election, and began calling on Corbyn to change course and make Labour an explicitly anti-Brexit party.

The Corbynites at the top feel flustered, even embattled, which helps explain the scenes we have seen recently: former members of staff threatened with legal action for blowing the whistle on the party’s handling of anti-Semitism, which was exposed in last week’s BBC Panorama. With this has come pressure on Corbyn to remove or sideline his two powerful advisers, Karie Murphy and Seumas Milne. [Continue reading…]

Music: Weather Report — ‘Man In The Green Shirt’


Letter to the future: ‘We know what is happening and know what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.’

Brian Kahn reports:

We’ve reached the point in our wild planetary experiment where humans are memorializing the things we’re knowingly wiping out.

Iceland has lost its first glacier to rising temperatures. Now, scientists from Rice University and Iceland are planning to install a plaque near the sad pile of ice and snow formerly known as Ok Glacier. The researchers say it’s the first memorial to a disappearing glacier, but climate change ensures it almost certainly will not be the last.

Glaciers are more than just ice. They’re defined by receiving more mass from snow than they lose from summer melt, which allows them to slide down mountains and grind up rock. Climate change has, of course, changed the equation by causing more glacial melting, causing ice to recede around the world. An increasing number of glaciers have turned into stagnant, rotten ice patches or disappeared completely. The OK Glacier reached the latter status in 2014, making it the first glacier in Iceland to disappear. Researchers expect all glaciers to melt away by 2200 on the island, which led to them memorializing Ok. [Continue reading…]

The ‘intellectual leprosy’ afflicting party politics

Robert Zaretsky writes:

In 1943, an obscure staff member of the London-based Free French Forces completed a short proposal for a new way to do politics following her country’s liberation. The author, Simone Weil, passed away soon after, while her paper, quickly shelved, baffled her colleagues. For a resistance movement committed to salvaging a democratic and republican France, a paper titled “On the Abolition of All Political Parties” was something of an outrage.

Little more than 75 years later, though Weil has become a world-renowned political and religious thinker, her paper remains outrageous. At first glance, it resembles Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which the 18th-century Anglo-Irish writer proposed cannibalism as a cure to starvation in Ireland. The one difference is that while Swift was ironic, Weil is anything but. Yet behind the sheer impracticability of her own modest proposal lies an analysis that, following Tuesday’s party-line vote in Congress on the motion to censure President Trump’s racist remarks, is more relevant than ever.

For Weil, all political parties, regardless of their ideological coloration, share three basic traits. They are dedicated to nurturing collective passions, designed to exercise collective pressure upon the minds of their members and devoted to their collective self-preservation. These traits, in turn, make it nigh impossible for the members of political parties to think and act as individuals. [Continue reading…]