With Trump’s Pardon Inquiry and Mueller Investigation, We’ve Entered The “Not Even Pretending” Portion of the Show

OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.

Good? Now peep these headlines.

NYTimesTrump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation

Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?

Continue reading

Temperature Forecast for the Middle East: Hot and Dry Conditions Expected for 10,000 Years

Image result for empty quarter

The Empty Quarter looks like a preview of what’s to come

It’s going to be 90 and humid in Chicago tomorrow. Ugh. But, relatively, I don’t feel too bad.

July 10 (UPI) — New analysis of Iranian stalagmites have offered a detailed history of water resources in the region. The findings suggest the Middle East is unlikely to enjoy a relief from its prolonged drought for at least another 10,000 years.

The newest analysis — detailed this week in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews — helped scientists estimate water availability during the last glacial and interglacial periods. The findings suggest water in the Middle East is likely to remain scarce for some time.

We’ve talked about how drought has helped to create and sustain the wars and conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and other areas. That is connected to this. The immediate droughts are, I think, part of the larger pattern, or a dip in a permanent decline (permanent on a civilizational level).

This kind of drought is to be expected in an interglacial period, as the study says. The problem, of course, is that we didn’t know we were in an interglacial period, and so built civilizations as if everything was going to stay the same forever. It didn’t, of course. Mesopotamia was once verdant, but it got used up, made into a harsh desert by human shirt-sightedness, made worse by the normal shifting of rivers, made worse by the normal planetary rhythms, and made worse by war, and made catastrophically worse by the acceleration of climate change.

Indeed: A number of climate models have previously predicted much of the Middle East will become too hot and dry to sustain large human populations by the end of the century.

This is why it is so irritating when dummies say “the world has always been changing, so don’t worry about climate change!” Yes, it is true, the world has always been changing. But what they miss is that when it changes this much, it is catastrophically bad for living things.

And what they miss is that these natural changes, like the drought patterns in the Middle East during interglacial periods, happen on an inhuman time scale, which means that we’ve built our civilizations in ignorance of their impact. And then we accelerate their impact with the very product of our civilization. It’s making everything incredibly worse. It’s like pointing to a map of Pangea and sneering that “the continents are always moving!” while turning on your earthquake machine.

The planet that might not actually be conducive to our existence, long-term. We’re in the glacial flicker, and thought it would be permanent. All of our actions over the last few centuries–and really, all of our existence–have made that existence less tenable.

(For further reading on just how bad it can get, read David Wallace-Wells’ remarkable and remarkably depressing NYMag article “The Uninhabitable Earth.” Maybe not everything he says will come true (and he’s not saying it all will). But a lot of this is inevitable.

If you don’t want to read it, just close your eyes and picture the Middle East uninhabitable in 80 years. Know it will just keep getting hotter and drier, which will make it more violent as people fight and kill for scarce resources, and the refugee crisis makes today’s trickle a flood (exacerbated by what will be happening in Africa, Central Asia, the American southwest, etc). These are not worst-case scenarios. They’re the future.)

Trump’s Cybersecurity Fiasco: The Idiot Presidency in Two Tweets

So, if you are a Donald Trump supporter, you have to believe that Trump didn’t think it would happen, didn’t believe it would happen, but tweeted about the discussion anyway, just to give people a chance to comment on it. That he thought it was worth discussing whether “election hacking, & many negative things, will be guarded”, but then had already decided it couldn’t happen.

Now, it is pretty easy to make fun of this. Trump said something monumentally, catastrophically stupid, was promptly and bipartisanly mocked, and rescinded it while trying to save face. That is sadly par for the course for this Presidency. But let’s take a step back, because I think there is something bigger here.

One of a few things happened. One is that Trump suggested the idea, which even I don’t think happened (although, who knows?). Another is that Putin had the idea, and Trump promptly and swiftly turned it down, but then, why would he say they had a discussion about keeping the election safe? Maybe he meant to say he turned it down, but then realized he couldn’t say that he didn’t trust the Russians, because that undermines his undermining of our intelligence services, so just backpedalled to save face.

But there is another option here. And it is that Putin made the suggestion, and Trump accepted it, or at least said it was worth looking into. He would have done this through a combination of wanting to please Putin, to be on the same side as a tough white nationalist authoritarian, and from his own inability to admit to himself something might have been hinky about his monumental landslide election. That seems about right

So why did Putin do it? Because, and I think this is key, they wanted to see what they could get the President to say. Putin had to know Trump would be scorned and mocked for making this public. Even were the Kremlin not behind the hacking (they were), the perception that they were would make any offer absolutely laughable. I truly think Putin wanted to see how much he could get away with.

And he made the President look like a jackass, one both weak in the face of Russia and ready to back down when revealed to be a fool. He’s keeping the system roiled. It was a power play, pure and simple, and Russia easily triumphed.  It’s wrong to say he support Trump, per se. There are certain policy similarities, such as “NATO bad”, but more than that, Putin supports western disorder. And with Trump, he has pure disorder. It’s chaos he can easily manipulate.

Myself, I am not yet so tired from all the winning. Does that start soon?

Food Distribution Chokepoints Threatened By Global Warming: Your Reminder That Climate Change is Already Happening

Most famines, as is by now axiomatic knowledge, are man-made. These days, there is more than enough food to go around, but the problem is distribution, which is usually choked off by war or as a product of deliberate cruelty. Sometimes it is a matter of poverty, but that too is a choice we’ve made: that food should be a function of your economic status. We’ve successfully removed natural laws from the ability to generate food; it is only market laws and political decisions that allow countries like Yemen to starve.

But now, according to Chatham House thinktank, we’re taking that to the next level. The Guardian sums it up.

Increasingly vulnerable “chokepoints” are threatening the security of the global food supply, according to a new report. It identifies 14 critical locations, including the Suez canal, Black Sea ports and Brazil’s road network, almost all of which are already hit by frequent disruptions.

With climate change bringing more incidents of extreme weather, analysts at the Chatham House thinktank warn that the risk of a major disruption is growing but that little is being done to tackle the problem. Food supply interruptions in the past have caused huge spikes in prices which can spark major conflicts.

The chokepoints identified are locations through which exceptional amounts of the global food trade pass. More than half of the globe’s staple crop exports – wheat, maize, rice and soybean – have to travel along inland routes to a small number of key ports in the US, Brazil and the Black Sea. On top of this, more than half of these crops – and more than half of fertilisers – transit through at least one of the maritime chokepoints identified.

Droughts lower the water level in the Panama Canal. Most of the water comes not from the ocean, but from a lake, which is the same ones where most Panamanians get their drinking water. Drought means shipping suffers or people thirst. Or both! The Suez Canal keeps getting choked by sandstorms and is also vulnerable to terrorism. Intensifying hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico hurt vital ports and limit the prime shipping seasons.

The issue here is that we’ve globalized food, which to me is a positive thing. In theory, our ability to easily send food from Nebraska to Somalia means that there is no reason anyone should go hungry. It is one of the benefits of globalization, and in theory, that’s something we should celebrate.

But it is a little more complicated than that. Global capitalism and local conflict combine to almost ensure that people still starve, as famine is a tool of bad actors everywhere. What’s more, the system that could generate a level of food security in the world is reliant on a few areas, and because we’ve globalized foodchains, disruption to those means instability everywhere. And one of the outcomes of this globalized planet is climate change, a byproduct of converting the environment into capital.

Which means that theoretically beneficial cross-dependencies can become vulnerabilities, either by choice or circumstance. And those vulnerabilities can spiral from local problems to global ones. We’ve talked about how drought played a huge role in the epoch-defining Syrian civil war, but The Guardian takes causality further, and farther.

The Middle East and North Africa region is particularly vulnerable, the report found, because it has the highest dependency on food imports in the world and is encircled by maritime bottlenecks. It also depends heavily on wheat imports from the Black Sea.

In 2010, a severe heatwave in Russia badly hit the huge grain harvest, leading the government to impose an export ban. As a result, prices spiked in 2011 and this was a significant factor in the Arab Spring conflicts. Other factors were important too, said Wellesley, but she said: “At the start, it was about the price of bread.”

Weather and climate are not incidental to politics, even in our mechanized and digital age. We’re still vulnerable to them, and any vulnerabilities are made instantly global. Conflict in Yemen heightens (and is exacerbated by) the cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which draws in other local actors, shifts alliances (like with Qatar), changes the calculations of Russia and Turkey (which changes the consideration of smaller players like Azerbaijan) and changes the fate of millions.

There are no small issues. There are enormous ones, and the biggest one of all is how we will deal with the changed and changing climate. Because it isn’t something that will happen in the future. We won’t wake up on New Year’s 2100 and be like “dammit, climate change happened last night. Just like those eggheads said!” It’s effects are already changing the world, and it will take a concerted, global effort by responsible and far-sighted leaders to mitigate its worst impacts.

Are you optimistic?

Here are the Chatham House recommendations.

  • Integrate chokepoint analysis into mainstream risk management and security planning – for example, government agencies should assess exposure and vulnerability to chokepoint risk at the national and subnational levels.
  • Invest in infrastructure to ensure future food security – for example by agreeing on guidelines for climate-compatible infrastructure through an international taskforce established under the G20.
  • Enhance confidence and predictability in global trade – for example, through a process under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to continually reduce the scope for export restrictions
  • Develop emergency supply-sharing arrangements and smarter strategic storage, e.g. an emerging response mechanism among major players in the global food trade, modelled in part on that of the International Energy Agency in oil markets and led by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) or the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS).
  • Build the evidence base around chokepoint risk –  including through the collection of data on real-time food trade  and infrastructural capacity to aid in assessing risks to food supply chains.

Try to imagine these happening in the next four years, and laugh bitterly at how 70,000 hippie-punching votes and an 18th-century slavery-supporting compromise made it impossible. It’s a perfect encapsulation of local decisions with global consequences. A few pissed off jokers outside of Milwaukee will make responding to this changing world impossible, which will lead to more conflicts, more deaths, and more spiraling disasters.

I always thought 2 + 2 = 5 by Radiohead was a little over-the-top, even for the Bush years,but it seems like the international anthem.

Qatar and Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, War in Syria: The Dangers of Unserious Leadership in Fragile Times

middle_east_1914_english

I’m not saying that to be a successful President you have to understand what this map means. But you actually kind of do…

America has been rightfully consumed with the subdued opera of the Comey hearings, in which members of both parties accepted as a stipulation that the President was a grotesque, habitual liar, and that his best defense was he literally has no idea what he is doing, so how could he be obstructing justice? I don’t know the legal ramifications of this, but even as the GOP desperately tried to downplay Comey, which seems to imply a return to the status quo, I think there will continue to be a steady drip of revelations. Comey implying that Sessions is dirtier than we (well, the media) thought might be the first major crack. No one is going to want to be the last person to go down for this.

But think again about the essential shrugging reaction even senators from his own party have to the essential nature of Trump: sure he’s dishonest and completely incapable of being President, but is that illegal? Maybe for the former, probably not for the latter. But that’s not the issue: the issue is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s dangerous domestically, and potentially catastrophic abroad.

There could be few worse times to have a blundering, spite-filled, ego-driven ignorant man as President of the United States. The post-WWII order was crumbling, but just as importantly (if unremarked), the post-WWI order in the Middle East (and much or Eurasia) is crumbling and reforming in unexpected and difficult ways as well. This is a hinge moment for a huge part of the world, and with his disaster-junkie approach to things, Trump can’t help but make it enormously worse. And it starts, of course, with Qatar.

Continue reading

Trump and the Paris Climate Agreement: The Earth-Changing Weight of the Catastrophic Presidency

By all indications, our catastrophe of a President is poised to go fully global.

President Trump is expected to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, three officials with knowledge of the decision said, making good on a campaign pledge but severely weakening the landmark 2015 climate change accord that committed nearly every nation to take action to curb the warming of the planet.

There’s really no way to oversell the terrible nature of this decision. Let’s just take, in what is amazingly the least terrible aspect of this, how much Trump is sticking his stubby thumb in the eyes of our allies. After returning from a disastrous and petty trip to the elected leaders of Europe (on the heels of a fawning stay with Saudi monarchists), Trump immediately continued an offensive against Germany, and the liberal order in general.

This rift between him and Merkel is self-inflicted, but entirely in nature with his character. One, Merkel is a woman who isn’t his hot daughter, so he doesn’t care much for her. Two, she stands up to his arrant bullshit, and is clearly 100 times smarter and more capable than he is. This drives him particularly crazy (see: Elizabeth Warren).

It isn’t just personal, of course. The Trump plan, inasmuch as there is one, has been to undermine the liberal order so that America would be unconstrained. This has long been the goal of the right, and it fits with Trump’s self-image. He (and they) think the US should do whatever they want, and cut deals without concern for anyone else, or how it impacts the world. And he thinks he’s the only one smart enough to do, despite a lifetime of experience that should scream otherwise.

So that’s part of the reason for this rift, and honestly, part of the reason why Trump is going to be pulling out. He hates the Paris Accords because he didn’t negotiate it (never mind that he knows as much about climate policy or science as he does anything else, which is: nothing). He hates that it constrains the US (never mind what it actually does). He hates that it is multilateral. In the latter two, at least, the far-right is there with him.

And, of course, he is a terribly small and petty man who thinks that lashing out like a spoiled baby is a sign of toughness. So he’ll gleefully pull out of the Paris Accord, saying “a very bad and very unfair and also bad, bad deal” at least 100 times. He’ll do it just because people told him it was a bad idea. He’ll do it because he wants to stick it to Merkel.

It’s jaw-dropping how politically and internationally short-sighted this is. The Paris Accords were the product of years of negotiation, bringing aboard major polluters like China and India. Remember, for years we couldn’t act on climate change because China and India wouldn’t. That excuse is gone.

This is a terrifying abdication of global responsibility. This is causing one of the biggest rifts in the post-war world order. And while “world order” might terrify the black helicopter crowd, it is an apt phrase when taken literally. After the civilizational nightmare of WWII, these institutions were painstakingly created to create peace. It didn’t happen overnight, but it became solid enough that the idea of war between the western powers became unthinkable, instead of, as it was within living memory, accepted as an inevitable part of life. That’s enormous.

I’m not saying Trump is going to lead us to war with Germany. But I am saying that the ramifications of deliberately undermining that order are unpredictable, and absolutely none of the possible outcomes are good. At best, it will muddle along with gritted teeth until we replace this bozo.

But of course, this isn’t an argument over Iraw or Bosnia. It isn’t an argument over trade. What Trump is doing will make it increasingly hard for the human race to muddle along.  We’re at a very crucial point in our history. Dig this graph from AP News.

The world without U.S. efforts would have a far more difficult time avoiding a dangerous threshold: keeping the planet from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

The world has already warmed by just over half that amount — with about one-fifth of the past heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions coming from the United States, usually from the burning of coal, oil and gas.

So the efforts are really about preventing another 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) from now.

“Developed nations — particularly the U.S. and Europe — are responsible for the lion’s share of past emissions, with China now playing a major role,” said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. “This means Americans have caused a large fraction of the warming.”

Even with the U.S. doing what it promised under the Paris agreement, the world is likely to pass that 2 degree mark, many scientists said.

But the fractions of additional degrees that the U.S. would contribute could mean passing the threshold faster, which could in turn mean “ecosystems being out of whack with the climate, trouble farming current crops and increasing shortages of food and water,” said the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Kevin Trenberth

The best case scenario is more war, more instability, more starvation, and more disease. We’ll have more forced migration, refugee crises, and violence. The worst case is that the coastal cities flood, plants wither away, and human life becomes untenable on the planet in the next few hundred years. That isn’t the most likely scenario, but it is, in fact, a possibility.

This isn’t happening just because of Trump. It’s obviously a global problem, caused largely by capitalism, but with many other factors as well. And right now, the problem isn’t just Trump, but the entire Republican Party, which sees climate change as liberal snowflake nonsense, or a deep conspiracy to erode sovereignty.

It’s part of this madness that sees the earth only as land to be exploited, and sees reckless and selfish greed as a virtue. It’s the entire Republican Party. I don’t know if Jeb would have pulled out of Paris (though Cruz would have), but he would have appointed someone like Scott Pruitt to run the EPA. Maybe not as venal and corrupt, but someone who would have overturned regulations that protect us and the environment (pro tip: as animals, we’re part of the environment, which is something that we don’t really seem to understand). There is a small chance, I guess, that Trump will stay in, but he’ll do so in a way that still breaks every promise.

So that’s where we are. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so terrifying. There’s only one major political party in the world that doesn’t believe in climate science, and that is US Republicans. They don’t believe in it because they are faith-struck and fear-ridden and resentment-driven and paranoia-riven. They have no basis in the real world, and therefore don’t care what happens to the real world.

And they are a minority party in the US. And the US is only 4.4% of the world’s population. So a small, mostly-regional party in a country with a fraction of the world’s population is not only ripping apart the greatest force for peace the world has ever known, but literally setting the human race on a path toward possible wreckage, and even possible extinction.

And the face of that is Donald Trump. The sheer cruelty and stupidity of this, that Donald Trump, this vulgar dummy who in a decent world would never have been more than a cheap used car salesman, is consigning the planet to hell, is enough to send one to gibbering laughter. It’s the echoing laughter of the doomed, gone mad in a ghostship slowly drifting across a deadened sea.

Today in the Annals Of Possibly Too-Low Standards

TPM...

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Post that Trump takes the intelligence briefings very seriously.

“A president who I think came into the office thinking he would focus on domestic issues — ‘make America great again’ — has learned that you inherit the world and its problems when you’re president of the United States,” Coats told the Post.

“One time he came in and said, ‘All right, what’s the bad news this morning?’ ” he continued. “You can see the weight of the burden on the shoulders of the president.”

The “one time he vaguely asked about things!” standard is not, traditionally, presidential.