Your Quick Reminder That Climate Change is Already Happening


LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria now faces a deadlier threat than its own Boko Haram insurgency, with fighting between farmers and herdsmen over scare resources killing far more people this year, a new report said Thursday.

The violence “threatens to become even deadlier” and could undermine national stability ahead of elections next year, the International Crisis Group report says, adding that the conflict “has taken on dangerous religious and ethnic dimensions.”

More than 1,300 Nigerians died from the farmer-herder conflicts in the first half of this year, while the death toll from the Nigeria-based Boko Haram’s insurgency was about 250.

Now, no one is saying that these groups wouldn’t be fighting if it were not for climate change. The battle over resources is the story of most wars, at least when you get down to its essence. And the Nigerian conflict between herders and farmers is replayed over and over again throughout history (just take a look at Range Wars in the US). And given that, in Nigeria, the herders tend to be Muslim and the farmers Christian adds even more fuel to that fire.

But that’s sort of the point. If most wars are about resources, and those resource wars are exacerbated by and also exacerbate ethnic-religious-whatever-else tension, then it should be pretty clear that having fewer resources will just make everything worse.

As arable land starts to vanish and coastal areas are increasingly flooded, as wildfires rages and intense heat pulverizes huge swaths of the world, and as water dries up in rich and poor countries alike, the battles over scant resources and livable space will become more intense. Divisions will become calcified as people retreat to the relative security of clan and confession. And areas that still have the resources, or the money to artificially overcome shortages, will be dominated by walls both physical and moral.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Not only is it still just barely not too late to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios, but global leadership can actually create a system for fair distribution of goods and resources to mitigate the coming disasters. Recent history has shown that leadership to be in short supply, however. In fact, it could be easily argued that nationalism in the US and Europe have been spiked by the long-tail impacts of climate change.

We don’t need then to look at a heat map or conflict in Nigeria to know that climate change, with all its attendant ills, is already upon us. We just have to open up Twitter.

With New Russia Tweet, Trump Outlines Strategy for Undermining Democracy

One of the recurring themes of the Trump Administration has been for people to play a game called, essentially, “Evil or Stupid”, which asks whether the Current Occupant has a grand plan for carrying out the full expression of his malice, or if he just blunders into always doing the wrong thing because he can’t see beyond himself.

As of late, I think, the consensus is what many had been saying the whole time: it’s both! His innate cruelty, avarice, ignorance, and a self of sense that is both all-encompassing and entirely hollow line up perfectly with the worst policy plans of the far right, and, as we increasingly see, with the overarching strategy of Vladimir Putin to give Russia a relative by degrading the Western Alliance.

This tweet sums it up, and opens up a terrifying new phase of our stunningly precipitous decline.

At first glance, this is totally laughable. Everybody knows the Russians wanted Trump. Vladimir Putin said so at your press conference just last week, you dolt. This is clearly a kind of grandioise ass-covering, a desperate attempt to make people see things his way. It’s 100% at odds with reality.

It would be easy and probably correct to say that he is running this play in the same way he ran his dipshit reality show, where he portrayed himself as a brilliant businessman and the participants pretended to agree. It was a success, as far as TV was concerned, because he was able to entirely control the image. Having everyone buy into such an obvious lie made viewers participate in the lie as well, and believe it.

That’s how he ran his campaign, and how he has been running his administration. It’s entirely truthless, with a series of constant little lies and huge overarching untruths. This one, that he’s “tough on Russia”, is one of the latter. It’s a lie so big that it dares the cultists to believe it lest they are forced to throw away their faith. Throwing that away goes against human nature. Trump doesn’t know much, but he knows that.

Here’s an example: on her show yesterday, Rachel Maddow had a bombshell about Trump editing out the question where Putin was asked if he wanted Trump to win, to which Putin responds “Yes, I did”. That could be a signifier of this post-truth projection, because everyone saw the damn presser, but Uri Friedman at The Atlantic noticed this over a week ago, and has a slightly more nuanced take. It’s still goddamn weird to edit a question out of an official transcript because it is uncomfortable, and is more than a little authoritarian.

This innate truthless authoritarianism is how Trump’s malevolent cruelty lines up with the modern GOP, which has to lie about everything (defending democracy by limiting the right to vote, for example), but it is also how it matches and promotes Russia’s active campaign measures to throw American democracy into a state of higgedly-piggedly. Insane competing information becomes overwhelming and forces a tribalism based both on ideology and on post-modern ontology. Who you are is based on what side you’ve chosen, and every fact is filtered through that.

That’s why the first part of Trump’s tweet is more terrifying, and maybe a harbinger of what is to come. I don’t know how the Dems are going to in November. The map still favors Republicans, as does racially-based gerrymandering, dark money, and voter suppression. But Trump is entirely underwater in the polls, and a look at the map says the Senate is essentially a toss-up.

For a while, I was worried about the Russians engaging in some blatant, ham-handed interference that clearly favored the Democrats. When discussing the case for Trump as an asset, I wrote:

After all, if they just wanted to destroy American democracy, what better way? Why not have evidence that they are helping Democrats after two years of evidence they helped Republicans? Can you imagine the bloodbath? The fighting? Republicans who lost would refuse to give up their seats. Trump would order the arrest of every victorious Dem. The Justice Department would Captain Renault all over themselves. FOX would be outraged. We’d be sputtering about how it was a trap. To me, that is the smart Russian play.

Amazingly, in an article that was at best agnostic about whether or not the President of the United States was a Russian asset, I was still naive. Of course the Russians don’t have to actually do anything. If the Dems win, Trump will cry collusion regardless, and despite the very clear and obvious nature of Russia preferring him, despite his obvious fear/admiration of Putin, despite the undeniable fact that every action Trump has taken has been to weaken the Western Alliance and usher in a destabilized world of ethnonationalist states that strengthen Putinism, at least 40% of Americans will agree that IT IS THE DEMS WHO ARE IN LEAGUE WITH RUSSIA.

You’ll see, which we sort of already have, the word “collusion” become “fake news”, which was a real thing used to trick people during the election, but now is a slur to be cynically levied against the opposition. This country will tear itself apart. The very idea of truth could be completely undermined.

It’s scary how easy it would be for Russia to do this. All Putin has to do is drop a comment somewhere that he hopes the Democrats “wage a successful and fair election”, and every winger troll will go on about how that shows conclusively that Putin is helping illegal immigrants and Black Panthers flood the ballot boxes in East Jesus, TN. He could, as Friend of Blog Brett suggested, sacrifice an agent to be caught red-handed in something nefarious. It would be so easy to drop the final hammer, and I feel it coming.

But in the end, he doesn’t have to. We can do it to ourselves. Trump is already actively trying to make it happen. Putin’s final genius wasn’t to destroy America. He didn’t create anything. He just knew how weak and divided we were, staring at each other across a hot, trash-blown street, fingers itching toward holsters. He just tossed a firework in the middle and watched us draw.

It’s sobering that after two years of this, the real shooting might just be getting started.


Is War With Iran Coming?

You probably saw this yesterday.

If you spent any time online yesterday, you probably saw that it became a meme. Everyone was doing mocking tweets of it, for petty grievances or incredibly specific references to their particular profession. Here’s Uproxx calling it an “incredible meme“, which, immediately, seems to be a fairly blithe and stupid and of-the-moment self-reflective response, a product of our warped media age, to the President of the United States sounding like a maddened incel about nuclear war.

Of course, it also could be self-protection, a layer of irony to shield ourselves from the horror of the day, from the fact that this half-bright toddler, made dumb and cruel by wealth, could kills hundreds of thousands, if not more, without anyone legally able to stop him. Maybe making jokes about everything perpetuates our false and woozy times as much as it protects us from it, but if we’re already in that terrible loop, it’s hard to get out.

Or maybe the reaction of Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif summed it up.

He doesn’t take Trump very seriously. He sees this as bluster, the same kind that led to the North Korean “talks”, in which NK didn’t change their position at all and the US gave up its biggest bargaining chip. More likely, he understands that Trump is seen as weak after clearly kowtowing to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and needs to rally Republicans that are more than ready to circle the wagons for him.

I think that’s dangerous though. It is dangerous to draw parallels between North Korean bloviating and threatening Iran. For one thing, inasmuch as there is a Middle East strategy in Trump’s empty toothpaste tube of a mind, it is to side with a coalition os the rich Gulf states (minus Qatar) and Israel against Iran. There are obviously a million problems with that plan, and I think even in a moral vacuum it is ultimately unworkable, but I can at least make the case that there is a strategy (again, with the caveat that this team isn’t able to pull it off).

For another thing, as hawkish as some of his team was on North Korea, that was small beer compared to their warboy attitude toward Iran. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Christianist bigot, doesn’t really believe Iran has a right to exist as an independent, non-colonized state. He thinks it should be a vassal to the West and have no say in its own destiny.

General Mattis is more rational and not driven by bigotry, but he (to a large degree correctly) sees Iran as the main driver of conflict with the US in the region, particularly in Iraq. He knows that Iran is responsible for chaos and the death of US soldiers in the region. One could argue that there shouldn’t have been US soldiers in Iraq, but that doesn’t (and probably shouldn’t) matter to Mattis. His job was to fight for the US, and so his overall Middle East perception is that Iran is the enemy. He is, after all, a general, with the good and bad that brings.

And John Bolton? Do you even have to ask?

It’s not just Bolton. The entire GOP and most of the Democratic Party has seen Iran as the primary villain in the world since the moment the last primary villain, Saddam Hussein, had his statues toppled. There is actual weight behind this push to war.

It’s important to ask why. If you want, you could trace the last 40 years since the revolution and the hostage crisis, or go back to 1953 when the CIA helped overthrow the elected government and reinstitute the decadent and almost louche cruelty of the Shah’s regime.

But this is about more than just specific events. It is Great Power competition, as the US, the last vanguard of the West in the Middle East, tries to maintain its dominance of the last 150 years. US actions in Iran must be analyzed by the individual players and the truth of recent history, but they also have to be seen through the prism of colonialist appetites and the reemergence of a historic power, partly due to a reaction to said colonialism.

That’s what Zarif meant in his tweet. Iran, in one form or another, has been around since Europeans were living in huts along muddy rivers. It has continuity, and even though Europeans have dominated recently, that’s a historical blip. Trump is just fighting a rearguard war.

He’s also assuming that this is just bluster, and is playing the role of statesman, almost laughing at Trump, rolling his eyes. “Yes yes- oh, is he yelling again? Goodness, how frightening!”  I think that’s his primary goal here, taking advantage of the broken Western coalition, and showing that he is more reliable than Trump. And, thanks to Trump’s actions, that’s not a bad plan.

This is very bad. For one thing, Trump’s peak idiocy, exemplified by violating the JCPOA, strengthens the hand of Russia and China in the region, mostly the latter, and weakens any US attempt to bring a modicum of stability.

For another, it somehow makes Iran look like a reasonable power. It’s not! The regime is as cruel as the Shah as even more oppressive, corrupt to the bone, and stifling to generations of Iranians. It exports war and terror around the region. Even if you agree that Iran should, or at least absolutely will, reassert itself as a regional power, there is no way to argue that the current regime is doing so responsibly or is a force for good.

That’s not a call for violent regime change. That would be another generational disaster, would lead to ridiculous chaos and suffering, and could break the US military or force it to reinstitute the draft. But given the weight of the two countries, and Trump’s need to show strength, we could drift toward war.

Even if you think Trump is blustering in order to sound tough and repeat what he sees as his huge success with North Korea, these things can have a momentum. Given the teams in place, it is far from impossible.

In the long run, this is a common story. A fallen empire, made weak and soft and stupid, is dominated by outsiders, who eventually get weak and soft and stupid themselves. At the trough of their decline, they are led by the very worst, and have one last desperate attempt to reclaim what is “theirs”. A generation of violence and upheaval follows, and the newer empire fades into infighting and irrelevance.

In the long run, that’s a common story. Unfortunately, we don’t live in the long run. We live in the present, which has become mirrored and refracting, an endless series of impulses and truthless narratives and escapes. But no matter how many memes are made, the forces of history have a way of imposing reality. America in the 21st century is not immune to that. That we ever thought ourselves inoculated have made us impossibly sick.

“No one can be shameless enough to deny what happened in Helsinki.” Newt: “Hold my beer.”

To close the last post, I wrote “…it is clear that Trump is running cover for a foreign government credibly accused of committing crimes against individuals, organizations, and the electoral system of a whole, and is subsuming the interests of the country to his own vast, dark emptiness. That can no longer be denied…” But even I was writing that, I remembered the man for whom the phrase “shameless cynicism” was coined, Mr. Newt Gingrich.

Dig this crazy shit.

This is brilliant. It lets Newt seem tough, like he’s holding the President to account. That “immediately” is certainly a big boy thing to say. But look at the language. “Trump must clarify”, as if it isn’t absolutely 100% clearly what Trump meant to say because he’s been saying it every single day of his Presidency.  Newt is still pretending there is a Trump there that isn’t the Trump we see.

That’s also clear in saying that this is “a mistake”, as if it isn’t what Trump was trying to do. Saying “this was a mistake” plays into the “Trump’s just rough around the edges because he’s not a real politician” nonsense.

It’s obvious to see why. Trump is still extremely popular among Republicans, and Newt, who is a spineless coward, can’t criticize him. He also can’t really do so because Newt has been propping Trump up as an avatar of courageous Republicanism, out of a combination of self-serving greed and unctuous sycophancy.

It’s easy to say that Newt is out of it, of course, though he probably still thinks he should be President. But no one can deny he doesn’t know which way the wind is blowing, and doesn’t know in his black cynical heart just how to connect with the base.

But it’s deeper than that. It’s been clear to everyone paying attention–which is to say, everyone except those paid to talk about this on TV–that the republican Party has zero interest in reining in Trump, so long as he deregulates air and water, crushes unions, helps suppress votes, turns the country into a grist mill for the rich, and puts enough justices on the bench to overturn Roe.

This isn’t an aberration. It’s long been clear that Trump is the apotheosis of conservative thought, even taking into account his own tacky absurdities. There’s no real reason to stop his authoritarian, right-wing white nationalism, or his groveling toward Russia. Hell, most of the party is already ok with all that stuff, but at long as he keeps doing what right-wingers want, he’ll most likely be fine.

One more piece of evidence? Here’s the tweet Gingrich sent not one hour later. 

Party’s still on, boys.

The Helsinki Press Conference Was Collusion

Image result for trump putin press conference

It’s weird for the shorter man to be towering above

One thing that gets lost in the increasingly closed-case argument of whether or not the President of the United States colluded with Russian intelligence to win his election is that he won’t actually be charged with “collusion”.

There are many crimes that can come down from the Mueller investigation, including possibly Conspiracy to Default, various stages of election fraud, and possibly even treason. But not “collusion”, per se, which is more a collected state of events than a prosecutable crime. It’s why it is sort of smart for the Trump team to say “there’s no proof of collusion!” because, legally speaking, there won’t be. There will just be a series of indictments, pleas, and convictions on charges that, added up, make it clear vast swathes of the Republican party, including the Trump campaign, worked with the Russian government to help steal and election and then cover up the crimes.

Actions also add up to collusion. And the Helsinki press conference yesterday was the most obvious action yet.

My people came to me, Dan Coates, came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.

I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today and what he did is an incredible offer.

Look, if you’re reading this blog, you’ve already read 30,000 words on the insane disgrace of the press conference, and how the President stood there and took the side of Russia’s brutal autocrat over his own intelligence services. You read how he ranted about insane conspiracy theories, using them as a dodge to what actually happened in 2016. He talked about the electoral college and about Hillary’s emails, asking about “the server”, even though, 1) as the indictment made clear the server was digitally copied and so didn’t need to be “taken”, and 2) Donald Trump has no idea what a server is.

You don’t need me to tell you why that was horrible. You don’t need me to tell you that, on every level, it was a show of abject humiliation, in which STRONG MAN FUCK YOUR FEELINGS DONALD THE DESTROYER TRUMP was intentionally kept waiting 45 minutes by Putin. That’s an unmistakable display of dominance, about which Trump, who spends four hours a day rehashing something mean Liza Minelli said to him in 1979, made not a peep or protestation.

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Still feel good about this one, Ben?

Everyone knows what happened, and even the FOX-heads, for the most part, pronounced it a terrible disgrace, although we’ll see how it is spun today. Along the corners of Twitter and the far fringes, we started to get to the point of “It’s totally cool if they colluded, because they saved us from Hillary”, and we’ll see if that gets traction. My guess is it will get some, though not officially, as the GOP play seems to be “if no one suffers any consequences, then any actions are by definition ok.”

But one thing should be made clear, every day: there is no longer any question of collusion. That press conference, in and of itself, was an attempt by the the President of the United States to provide cover for the government of Russia’s direct, indictable actions against the US electoral system. He obfuscated and flat-out lied in the service of Putin and the Russian military-intelligence complex about matters relating to his own election. With all of his answers, he was working hand-in-hand with the people who broke laws to get him elected. In doing so, he also gave them cover, and essentially permission, to continue to do so in 2018 and 2020.

Is he doing this because he’s an asset? Because he’s compromised? Because he actively worked with them in 2016, along with his dull adult sons? Because he’s deeply in debt to Russian billionaires? Because he laundered money for them? Or simply because he can’t accept that his win could in any way be tainted?

It doesn’t matter which one of these it is, and it is probably most of them in a swirling combination of decades-old greed and selfishness. But whatever it is, it is clear that Trump is running cover for a foreign government credibly accused of committing crimes against individuals, organizations, and the electoral system of a whole, and is subsuming the interests of the country to his own vast, dark emptiness. That can no longer be denied, and anyone who fails to live up to times in which they live is entirely complicit.

On Russia Monday, Let’s Talk About Lake Superior Water Levels

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Let’s talk about sort of nice things today, ok? 

As I write, a former game show host is meeting with a ruthless KGB spy in private, which is fine, I guess, and maybe even the plotline of an offbeat movie, like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, except in this case the failed steak pitchman is actually the President of the United States and no one can tell anyone why they need a private 90 minute meeting.

My thoughts on whether Donald Trump is a compromised asset have been made clear before, and they are: maybe? We won’t be learning too much today. Trump’ll say he asked about extraditing, and Putin said they weren’t guilty, and anyway it is a witch hunt, etc. There’ll probably be a compromise over something, Ukraine will be sold out, and the admin will declare a victory. That’s sort of their whole game, since the heart of Trumpism is that America is a terrible shitty stupid country unless he’s the one doing things.


We’ll have a lot more on this as the week goes on, but I’d rather point out a really cool article about the way the world works outside of summits and circumstance, outside of fools and liars and rich thieves in luxury jets. It’s about the inexorability of water, about the women and men who work to balance our place in the natural world, and the inevitable tradeoffs that come from living on a planet whose continued existence is not in any way dependent on our survival.

I’m generally loath of link to the Chicago Tribune, since its management seems determined to destroy journalism in this city, but it still has some damn fine reporters, and their work should be highlighted.

What happens when Lake Superior has too much water? It dumps it into an already overflowing Lake Michigan“, by Tony Briscoe, is such a piece. It’s a long, well-reported, in-depth look at the balances and compromises that come with trying to maintain and control the vastness of the Great Lakes, these ancient giants that can dominate the weather on a continent. And the result? Not easy.

For nearly a century, a dam at the head of the St. Marys River near Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., has been used like a faucet, controlling the amount of water flowing from Lake Superior into lakes Michigan and Huron.

In the past five years, following a swift rise in lake levels, the relatively obscure Lake Superior board that regulates the amount of water released has stepped up these discharges, raising an outcry from a group representing property owners along the shoreline of Lake Michigan and potentially harming seasonal tourism.

U.S. officials say the elevated discharges aren’t simply an attempt to drive down Lake Superior’s levels, highlighting the need to accommodate hydropower plants, downstream fish-spawning habitat and commercial shipping.

As someone who spends not a little time wandering the southern shores of Lake Michigan, I can confirm that the water seems unusually high, and can provide on-the-ground analysis of whether or not, as the article claims, the Evanston dog beach is missing (Answer: yes).

Briscoe’s article points out that there are obviously other factors, but the sheer enormity of Lake Superior water is enough to raise the levels of both Michigan and Huron. So who controls this? People you have probably never heard of. I’ve never heard of them, that’s for sure.

The St. Marys River runs between Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Ontario, passing through a network of canals, hydropower plants and a dam with 16 steel control gates, which are regulated by the Lake Superior control board, a binational entity that determines how much water is released into the rapids. The board assumes the daunting responsibility of balancing the socio-economic and environmental interests of Lake Superior with those of lakes Michigan and Huron, which are considered one body of water because they are connected at the Straits of Mackinac.

First off, I want to express anger at Tony Briscoe for including that last clause about them being, hydrologically and geologically, one lake. That’s one of my favorite bits of “actually…” trivia. You should watch me when I tell people this. Their minds are blown with the quiet resignation that I am, in fact, going to keep talking about this. It’s awesome. But I guess I’m grateful this is in here.

But back to the Lake Superior control board, which is where bureaucracy meets nature. The Board, such as it is, consists of two people, and American from the Army Corp of Engineers and a Canadian with similar credentials. They have small staffs that analyze regulations, but it is really way more than that. These aren’t just recitations of a rule book. It’s an attempt to harness almost unfathomable power and weight into something manageable.

To me, this is nearly heroic. Laboring in essential anonymity, they look to balance the interests not just of two countries, but of a half-dozen states and two provinces. And in each of those areas, there is a complex web of commercial and recreational (not to mention environmental) interests, which compete not just with each other, but also amongst each other. Industry and commercial fishing, for instance, rarely go hand-in-hand.

It is an unenviable position, and Briscoe’s article goes admirably in-depth about what the interests are and the near-impossibility of finding a balance. Honestly, I don’t think there is one. I don’t think there can be, even with the best intentions and hard work and intelligence of smart and dedicated people.

The Lakes exist on scales we can hardly imagine. They are not as inhuman as the ocean, but they still are too vast and too old and too deep and cold and tempestuous and unpredictable and unconcerned to be truly managed. They can pluck a person from life in the blink of an eye, with a rolling, erasing wave or the freezing downward pull of 10,000 winters.

We’ve set up so much of our society around these Lakes, the heart of the industrial Midwest, with the idea that they could be tamed. We’ve done the same everywhere on this and every other continent. And to an extent, it has worked. It’s a testament to human ingenuity and brilliance that we can control the levels of water in the Lake Superior, and put what is basically a tap on this continent-defining freshwater system. To the engineers go all the glory.

At the end of the day though, we have to learn to live alongside the Lakes, and not dominate them. That’s impossible. The Lakes will submerge our dog parks and laugh while doing so. They’ll remind us that we aren’t in control. And I think that’s a damn good lesson. It’s good to see the eternal. It’s good to see that what seems outsized and omnipresent is still small and weak.

When walking along on a sunrise when things are seeming to spiral out of control, and the world is going off the rails, it’s nice to see the endless rolling waves, slapping unconcerned and eternal on temporary shores, trod by temporary feet.


Trump’s NATO Presser an Exercise in Ignorance

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“I said, ‘Angela, what the hell is OTAN?’ I don’t think anyone knows.”

I’m going to caveat most of this post by saying that I was watching Trump’s surprise press conference this morning with the sound off, closed-captioned at the gym, where I broke personal running records out of sheer boggled frustration and unhidden anger. So I am making certain assumptions about his tone and possibly even motivations, though at this point: come on. We know how he talks.

For me, the absolute lowest moment wasn’t when he switched topics to go on and on about how successful he was on North Korea, turning it over to Mike Pompeo to further praise how successful Trump was. It wasn’t even when he talked about how no Republican presidential candidate has won Wisconsin since Eisenhower, a lie that even if true isn’t 100% relevant to NATO spending levels.

No, it was when he was asked a question by a reporter who said she was from a “country in northern Africa, Tunisia”, and asked Trump about if there would be more wars in the region, vis a vis US policy. I don’t have a transcript, so I don’t know if she was more specific (again, relying on the closed caption), but I do know about Trump’s answer.

This is paraphrase, but “Africa, what’s happening in Africa is really bad. What I see in my intelligence reports, people don’t understand how bad it is in Africa. Vicious! Terrible what is going on there. We’d very much like peace. We have the best military, the best bombs, the best planes, it’s better than it ever has been. Peace through strength. But we hope we never have to use it. Wouldn’t that be great? To have the very best stuff and never use it. OK, thank you.”

It was clear that he has never heard of the “Tunisia” before, and only heard “Africa”, and was thinking, you know Africa. That the reporter was very light-skinned didn’t throw him off, to his credit, although I suppose his favorite people from Africa have been white.

Image result for map of mediterranean region

“One thing that no one understands is that Tunisia is closer to Europe than to, you know, elephants.” Donald Trump, next week.

I don’t expect the President of the United States to know everything about every country. I do expect, and I hope it isn’t too much to ask, that the President should know that if a reporter from Tunisia is asking about regional peace she certainly means the Middle East/North Africa region. The sheer childish intensity of his ignorance can still stagger, and is indeed even more staggering as time goes on. He casually acts the squalling child, demanding that there are no demands made on his intelligence, after 18 months of the weightiest job on the planet. It’s yet another reminder that we shouldn’t elect our single dumbest citizen.

This isn’t incidental. Sure, the rest of the press conference was bad. Ostensibly, it was about how the allies had agreed to pay at levels they have never paid at before, and how he told them to raise their defense spending up to 4% of their GDP, since the US is at 4.2% (as if we only spend defense money in Europe, or as if most of that isn’t spent on boondoggles, and as if he doesn’t continually brag about how much money he’s spending on the military).

That’s of course a non-starter, and if it is a negotiating tactic, it is a dumb one, since he can’t win. If it is so NATO members raise their spending to 2%, as they already are, he can declare a somewhat-partially-accurate “victory”, it is pure mendacity. If it is so he can shrug his shoulders and leave NATO and continue breaking the western alliance and high-five Putin, well, that is a whole other (possibly extremely predictable) barrel of monkeys.

It also was maddening how he told us all that he “made a very strong point” (that’s a quote) about how immigration was a problem in Europe and it is ruining their countries and they had to do something about it. That’s first-order undisguised racism, doubled up by his gloating that he won his election in part because of immigration, as did the new Italian PM, as did the Brexiters. He also talked at length about how challenging things were in London, or in his words, “hot”, but that he was going to be able to spend a few days at his golf club, which was a magical place.

So yeah: it was the sundowning ramblings of a career liar and a professional racist. It was worse than that, of course, since it was another way to cause chaos in the west, setting unrealistic expectations for our still-maybe-allies. But the Africa thing really stuck with me.

We have a President who knows nothing about the world. We have a President who would be befuddled by maps. We have a President who hears “Africa” and has one single set of assumptions, not understanding anything about geography or geopolitics or what regions actually mean or the interplay between countries. We have a President with a child’s vision of the world, big blocky continents with no nuance, no subtelty, no imagination. We have a President who doesn’t know about the world because he can’t bother to learn about anything other than himself. Again, maybe we shouldn’t elect our very worst citizens. We’re seeing in full the national and global ramifications of installing into power our national id.

Although, I guess, we should be grateful he didn’t start talking about Kanye. But you wouldn’t have been surprised, would you?

Is There A Case For Trump As a Russian Asset?

Images like this make you feel a little paranoid, da? Image from New York Magazine, linked below.

So, for a few days I’ve been mulling over Jon Chait’s epic piece making the case that Trump has possibly been a Russian asset since 1987, trying to figure out how I figure it. The piece has gotten surprisingly little attention, partially because Chait is anathema on left-wing social media, but also because the whole thing just seems ludicrous, and to the mainstream access-friendly media, downright impolite.

Chait’s article boils down to one essential element: Trump being a Russian asset would explain a lot of things that are otherwise inexplicable. It would explain both the recent and lifelong actions of a man who is being pressured, cajoled, flattered, induced, and otherwise beset by both positive and negative pressures from a foreign state.

Of course, that’s the great thing about conspiracy theories. They make sense of a crazy world, tie everything together in a neat little package. They tie strings between disparate elements, creativing a cohesive story out of the fractured wooziness of modern life. They are actually a source of great comfort, which is why people cling to even the most far-fetched ones.

So how far-fetched is this, really?

(Warning: this piece is super long, even for this blog)

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Some Good News: Ethiopia and Eritrea Declare Peace

Leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea embrace

One of these men is a terrible monster, but this is still good news. We’ll take what we can get. 

In the late 90s, Ethiopia and Eritrea, two states, large and small, united and divided by the forces of history, waged a fierce and terrible war over a handful of dusty towns and lifeless fields at the heart of their disputed border.

In fighting that resembled the pointless muddy carnage of WWI, trenches appeared in this no-man’s land, poison gas was used, and tens of thousands lost their lives for no gain on either side. By 2000, with both sides exhausted, a state of not-war was declared, though peace was elusive. A UN commission awarded the territory to Eritrea, but Ethiopia never accepted it, and war was still always on the table, balancing on a knife edge in the fierce heat of the Horn of Africa.

Until now, that is.

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have signed a declaration saying that the state of war between the two countries is over.

A peace deal ending the 1998-1999 border conflict has never been fully implemented and there has been tension between the neighbours ever since.

The countries have also agreed to re-establish trade and diplomatic ties.

The declaration came at a landmark meeting between the two countries’ leaders in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.

The summit between Eritrea’s President Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed marked the first time the neighbours’ heads of state had met for nearly two decades.

This is very good news. From a US perspective, it means that our main ally in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia, will be less distracted by their disputatious neighbor. That can only help in the on-going fights against AQAP and ISIS and al-Shabab in the region (merely stating a fact, not saying that our methods/tactics are good).

Beyond the US, of course, is the possibility of peace in the region, a genuine one, instead of the tense terrors of the last 20 years. Or really, the last 70. And because of this, we can see that not all conflict has to last forever, even the seemingly intractable.

For those not familiar with the history, Eritrea was part of Ethiopia, but only due to the weird legacy of colonialism. It had been a collection of kingdoms and sultanates, Christian and Islamic, demonstrating the eclectic intermingling at one of the world’s inflection points. It’s a mix of sub-Saharan Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, north Africa, and more. Indeed, it is much more relevant to think of it as a Red Sea country than an African one. It’s ties are to Yemen, Somalia, Djibouti, and of course, Ethiopia.

A map showing Ethiopia and Eritrea

But not by choice. Ethiopia was invaded by Italian fascists, led by noted fascist superstar and street-named-after-guy Italo Balbo, and they brought together these independent kingdoms into Italian Eritrea. When the fascists lost to the English, both Ethiopia and Eritrea were “administered” by the British. When that got to be too expensive, the Brits just lumped everything together and gave Eritrea to Ethiopia. This was sanctioned by the UN and Western nations under their longstanding and time-honored policy of “Eh, they’re pretty much the same”.

Needless to say, this didn’t lead to a state of peace, especially when vicious Ethipoian leaders made a point of harassing and starving restless regions. A civil war took place over the course of decades, with “rebel” troops entering the Eritrean capital of Asmara in 1991. That paved the way for a de facto state, made de jure in 1993.

So needless to say there’s been some tension, and the 1998-1999 war was as much an exercise in revenge and historical anger than it was about a handful of cities. But time, apparently, can sometimes heal wounds, and countries don’t have to be beholden to the past. They can actually get past it, and move forward.

I know that sounds antithetical to most of what this blog has been preaching over the years, but the not really. I think we have to be aware of the past, to understand its terrible pull and grasping hold, in order to move past it. When we aren’t aware is when we get in trouble. When we don’t try to understand the historical forces working against us, the ground underneath our feet, is when we are caught unprepared.

I don’t want to say things are good over there, now. The President of Eritrea is still Isaias Afwerki, who once seemed like a brave new leader, but has since descended into brutal, paranoid madness, a Stalin-like leader who has maybe surpassed the darkest days of Mengistu. It’s a police state gripped by terror and brutality, and with its own insurrections in the name of freedom.

There’s a long way to go. But this is a day no one thought could ever come. So to that, we’ll celebrate, still wary, but relieved. There can be good news, even in these dark and weird times.

Scientists Find More Rivers, But Dry Areas Create More Conflict

Obvious obligatory musical cue

One thing which anyone who studies space will tell you is that there’s a lot of it. Like, a whole lot. As Douglas Adams puts it in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, space is “really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”

The corollary to that is that, relatively, the earth is pretty small. Pale blue dot, and all that. All our hubris and dreams in this one little rock, etc. And it’s true! Compared to space, compared to even our unremarkable little solar system, the earth is pretty small.

But in our lifetimes, we don’t compare the earth to space. We can’t. We can only compare it to the size of our lives, which live outsized and all-encompassing in us. And in that sense, the earth is huge. It is a long road down to the chemist.

That’s why stories like this one from Inverse are both surprising and unsurprising.

(R)esearchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas A&M University have charted a multitude of new rivers and streams, showing that we have 44 percent more of them than we ever thought.

That’s a lot of rivers and streams! It’s actually sort of boggling to think about: there’s a decent amount more running water in this world than we had accounted for. This isn’t to say that these are undiscovered streams and rivers; almost certainly people living near them knew of their existence, and had them charted and all that. But we’re just beginning to understand the way river systems work, and the enormity of their feeder systems, and their interplay with the land. It’s a buffet for limnologists.

Unfortunately, as the paper, which wasn’t just a river counter, showed, we’re also beginning to understand how moving water takes human pollution and mixes biochemically with the air to throw more carbon dioxide in the sky.  So 44% more moving water sort of means more chance for bad biochemistry.

The ramifications of global warming are already playing out, everywhere. And while there may be more water than we thought, there isn’t actually more water. Freshwater is running out in some of the world’s hottest places, which are going to get a lot hotter.

Here’s a few.

  • Lima, Peru. It’s a city of 10 million people. It gets .3 inches of rain a year. It’s already beset by poverty and vast inequality. As this report from Circle of Blue demonstrates, these factors are colliding, with poor on the dry end of the stick, and an explosion seems on the near horizon.
  • India. 90 cities are “water-stressed”, as India faces what officials are calling its worst-ever water crisis. It’s already beginning to turn ugly, as it will, with officials being attacked and people being killed in the streets in water brawls. An Indian think tank estimates that 600 million people have extreme to high water stress, and that by 2030 (which is in only 12 years), 40% of the population won’t have access to clean water. Can Indian democracy and any hint of ethnic/religious peace survive such strains?
  • Iran. Iran is already roiling with discontent, and has been for a very long time. The generation that overthrew the Shah is gone or calcified, and generations are frustrated. And now water is becoming a huge issues, and protests have broken out and been broken up by security forces. When the state can’t provide clean drinking water, and beats people up for demanding this basic right, it becomes more difficult to claim a divine right to rule. It’s a bad look!

We’ve talked an enormous amount about Iranian regional influence here, and how it is in line with the historic record, and is essentially inevitable and needs to be managed, It’s a hope that a responsible government establishes itself, instead of this one. But all my geopolitical maunderings can be made irrelevant by a lack of water.

Because the thing is, while space might be really big, none of us are going to see very much of it. It matters philosophically, and I would argue morally, that we’re just a tiny part of a vast and inexplicable and profoundly unconcerned universe, but it doesn’t put food on the table.

And it doesn’t matter if we found out that there is actually a lot more clean water than was thought if it isn’t anywhere near you and your family and you have no access to it. Scientists didn’t suddenly discover a vast underground river beneath the baking Indian plains, some new Alph, as potable as it is sacred, that will solve everything. This story is probably, at most, the merest curiosity to people who desperately need clean water. It’s measureless to man.

All politics is local, and at the end of the day, all politics can be crushed under the basic needs of humanity. As our planet gets both higher salty seas and drier everywhere else, we’ll have to figure out ways to increase water supplies for everyone. It’s a really long road, and it will mean actual global solutions.

These seem impossible in an age of strongmen xenophobically slamming doors, sneering at science, not looking for ways to shelter the miserable or slake the thirsty. As small as the individual is, these times are even smaller. But we can’t afford that. We have to make ourselves bigger, and fill up this terrible moment.  We have to take that step. We have to find that river.