Category Archives: Africa

Map of the day: EurAfroAsian heritage endangered


History is constructed.

Every history text, whether in books [popular, academic, and fictional], academic journals, the popular press, and on screens theatrical, computorial, and cellular].

The history we learned as a child born at the very inception of the Post World War II Baby boom we learned at the knees of mother born to a Danish Klansman and 32nd Degree Freemason and a spouse who belonged to the Daughters of the American Revolution and a father sired by two Pennsylvania Dutch settlers invited to settle in a state tolerant of all religions by its founder, William Penn.

Three great-grandfathers fought for the Union in the Civil War, a conflict that loomed large in from our earliest forays into print, and avidly consumed whenever it appeared on movie screens, radio dramas, and then on the black-and-white, often fuzzy, and  oddly compelling screen of the bulky console television set dramatically introduced into our living room shortly before we turned six [we were one of the first homes in Abilene, Kansas,  making us very popular with neighbors, both young and old].

Unlike today, overtly fascist perspectives were then largely limited to utterances by bad guys in novels or in the World War II-based action flicks that dominated the screen or by subscribing to costly mimeographed “newsletters” mailed in plain brown wrappers or via envelopes with post office box numbers for the return address.

America was then dominated by systems of legally mandated racial and religious segregation, drawn up by and for the melanin deficient, a fact confronted at water fountains, soda fountains, restaurants, theaters, club rooms, classrooms [with the Three Rs of Race, Religion, and Region, where one state’s War Between the States was another’s War of Northern Aggression], church pews, courtrooms, and clubrooms. . . and, well, just about everywhere.

Our passion for history was learned first at the knees on our paternal grandmother, whose father commanded a Union cavalry forward scout company in a regiment at the very spearhead of Sherman’s March to the Sea, a campaign that left him with both a lifelong lung disease and insurmountable case of nostalgia, now better known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Through her stories, history became both intimate and vivid, most especially because she’d had direct contact with two of the most dominant figures in he media of the day: As a baby she’d perched on the knee of town Marshal, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock, a figure then-poplar in fiction, film, and [especially for us] television, while as a teenager armed with a high school diploma and a graduation certificate who taught a bright young kid from the wrong side of the tracks how to read and write, a kid who went of to West Point and to lead the Allied armies in Europe during World War II, then served at the helm of Columbia University before becoming President when we six year’s old, Dwight David Eisenhower. Grandma Brenneman rode in a float and we were in the crowd when Ike came to town to announce his run for the White House.

We’ve lived long enough to have seen radical changes in the construction of our remembrance of things past, acquiring along the way what a former editor called “a profound sense of history, especially for one as young as you” [we were then 37].

History constructed in pigment, stone, mud and landscape

Back in third grade we learned cursive, and the even before we were able to write our own name, we insisted our teacher instruct us in writing archaeology, the vocation which we were then certain would be out life.s work [a confrontation with the realities of academic departmental politics would later lead us to take dig in more contemporaneous dirt as a journalist].

We amassed a sizeable and still-growing library of books about the cultures of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece Rome, Mesoamerica, and Asia, allowing us to feast on images of ruined cities and splendid artifacts and stories people and civilizations long vanished. We dreamt of digging in ancient ruins [an aspiration realized on a collegiate dig of an ancient kiva outside Taos, New Mexico].

But now a menace we know all too well threatens to inundate many of world’s most memorable ancient sites, with some very famous names on a the endangered species list.

Flood risk index at each World Heritage site under current and future conditions. [a] In 2000 and [b] in 2100 under the high-end sea-level rise scenario. From Nature open access].

More from the University of Southampton:

UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Mediterranean such as Venice, the Piazza del Duomo, Pisa and the Medieval City of Rhodes are under threat of coastal erosion and flooding due to rising sea levels, a study published in Nature magazine reports this week.

The study presents a risk index that ranks the sites according to the threat they face from today until the end of the century. The sites featuring highest on this index in current conditions include Venice and its Lagoon, Ferrara, City of the Renaissance and the Patriarchal Basilica of Aquileia. All these sites are located along the northern Adriatic Sea where extreme sea levels are the highest because high storm surges coincide with high regional sea-level rises. The sites most at risk from coastal erosion include Tyre, Lebanon, the Archaeological Ensemble of Tarraco, Spain, and Ephesus, Turkey.

The study, led by Lena Reimann at Kiel University, Germany, working with University of Southampton coastal scientist, Dr Sally Brown and Professor Richard Tol from the University of Sussex combines model simulations with world heritage site data to assess the risk of both coastal flooding and erosion due to sea level rise at 49 UNESCO coastal Heritage sites by the end of the century. They find that of the sites, 37 are at risk from a 100-year flood event (a flooding event which has a 1% chance of happening in any given year) and 42 from coastal erosion today. By the next century flood risk may increase by 50 % and erosion risk by 13 % across the region, and all but two of the sites (Medina of Tunis and Xanthos-Letoon) will be at risk from either of these hazards.

The Mediterranean region has a high concentration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, many of which are in coastal locations as human activity has historically concentrated around these areas. Rising sea levels pose a threat to these sites as the steep landscape and small tidal range in the area has meant settlements are often located close to the waterfront. The report says that more information on the risk at a local level is needed and the approaches to adaption and protection varies across the region due to large social and economic differences between Mediterranean countries.

Dr Sally Brown from the University of Southampton said “Heritage sites face many challenges to adapt to the effects of sea-level rise as it changes the value and ‘spirit of place’ for each site. International organisations, such as UNESCO, are aware of the risks of climate change, and ongoing monitoring is required to better understand exactly what heritage could be adversely affected by climate change and other natural hazards, and when this could occur.”

The authors have identified areas with urgent need for adaptation planning  and suggest the iconic nature of such sites can be used to promote awareness of the need to take action to mitigate climate change. In some cases relocation of individual monuments, such as the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna or The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik, may be technically possible though not for other sites which extend over large areas such as urban centres, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes.

We suspect the White House to take no action, unless Donald Trump finally realizes his own hotels and golf courses may soon become water hazards. After all, the only history that matters to him is sexual and financial.

Schadenfreude alert: Who meddles in elections?


Now that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State is claiming – based on no evidence whatsoever – Democrats have hacked his state’s election, it’s time for a reminder of the identity of the world’s number one election-rigger.

Guess what?

It’s Uncle Sam.

We begin with a video report from The Intercept:

A Short History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections

Program notes:

Meddling in foreign elections is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And almost everyone – bar Donald Trump – seems to believe that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election. So that should be condemned. Here’s the problem, though: U.S. politicians and pundits cannot credibly object to Russian interference in U.S. elections without also acknowledging that the United States doesn’t exactly have clean hands. Or are we expected to believe that Russian hackers were the first people in human history to try and undermine a foreign democracy? In this video, I examine the ways in which the the United States has, in fact, spent the past 70 odd years meddling in elections across the world.

From flagship public broadcaster WNYC in New York comes a glimpse of the depth of Uncle Sam’s ongoing meddling:

For decades, American intelligence agencies have historically used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to U.S. national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a grey area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it across the world to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

A report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds up the numbers:

Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation’s elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used “to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform” not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

More on Levin’s numerical findings on American interference comes from across the pond, via Britain’s Channel 4 News:

According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.

The majority of these – almost 70 per cent – were cases of US interference.

And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.

“60 different independent countries have been the targets of such interventions,” Levin’s writes. “The targets came from a large variety of sizes and populations, ranging from small states such as Iceland and Grenada to major powers such as West Germany, India, and Brazil.”

It’s important to note that these cases vary greatly – some simply involved steps to publicly support one candidate and undermine another.

But almost two thirds of interventions were done in secret, with voters having no idea that foreign powers were actively trying to influence the results.

Forbes reports on some of the methods employed:

The U.S. uses numerous tools to advance its interests. Explained Nina Agrawal of the Los Angeles Times: “These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.”

It’s not clear how much impact Washington’s efforts had: Levin figured the vote increase for U.S.-backed candidates averaged three percent. The consequences often didn’t seem to satisfy Washington; in almost half of the cases America intervened at least a second time in the same country’s electoral affairs.

Ironically, given the outrage directed at Moscow today, in 1996 Washington did what it could to ensure the reelection of Boris Yeltsin over the communist opposition. The U.S. backed a $10.2 billion IMF loan, an ill-disguised bribe were used by the Yeltsin government for social spending before the election. Americans also went over to Russia to help. Time magazine placed Boris Yeltsin on the cover holding an American flag; the article was entitled “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”

The Hill gives a voice to the interventionist hidden hand:

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton. His comments follow a federal indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russian individuals and three Russian groups of attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian embassy to the United Kingdom quoted Woolsey on Saturday, adding the comment: “Says it all.”

Yep.

There’s lot’s more, after the jump. . Continue reading

The world’s last wilderness is rapidly disappearing


We’ve posted extensively about corporate agriculture’s major land granbs in Africa and Latin America’s Amazon Basin, but the sheer scale of land vanishing under the plow and the land developer’s bulldozer is simply astounding, as exemplified in this map just published by Nature:

More from the University of Queensland:

The world’s last wilderness areas are rapidly disappearing, with explicit international conservation targets critically needed, according to University of Queensland-led research.

The international team recently mapped intact ocean ecosystems, complementing a 2016 project [$2.99 for three-hour access] charting remaining terrestrial wilderness.

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the two studies provided the first full global picture of how little wilderness remains, and he was alarmed at the results.

“A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” he said.

“Today, more than 77 per cent of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities.

“It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.

“And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.”

UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellow James R. Allan said the world’s remaining wilderness could only be protected if its importance was recognised in international policy.

“Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected,” he said.

“There is nothing to hold nations, industry, society or communities to account for long-term conservation.

“We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets — specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding dangerous climate change and achieving sustainable development.”

The researchers insist that global policy needs to be translated into local action.

“One obvious intervention these nations can prioritise is establishing protected areas in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape,” Professor Watson said.

“But we must also stop industrial development to protect indigenous livelihoods, create mechanisms that enable the private sector to protect wilderness, and push the expansion of regional fisheries management organisations.

“We have lost so much already, so we must grasp this opportunity to secure the last remaining wilderness before it disappears forever.”

The article has been published in Nature [open, read-only access].

Maps of the day: Climate change and refugees


Nothing has contributed more to the rise of 21st Century global fascist populism than the surge of refugees from the war zones of Middle East and North Africa [MENA], and Latin America as darker-skinned folks fleeing from crises zones flood the paler-skinned nations of North America and Europe..

And the situation can only get worse and climate change fuels an intensification of the refugee streams, with higher temperatures and lower precipitation strike the same regions already generating the refugee flood,

Consider the following maps from the just-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]:

Projected mean temperature [top] and mean precipitation changes [bottom] at 1.5°C global warming [left] and 2°C global warming [right] compared to pre-industrial time period [1861-1880].

As both Mexico and the MENA region fall victim to a drastic reduction in precipitation and higher temperatures in areas already marked by soaring violence, life will grow harder and the temptation to flee grows ever stronger, tensions in the the developed world can only grow stronger as violent and virulent populism soars.

In all the regions affected, U.S. foreign policy has favored oppressive tyrants, installed with the backing of military forces from the developed North, backed by banksters and corporateers eager to “develop” the resources of the afflicted regions, including oil, agriculture and water.

For those nostalgic for the Obama years, consider the military campaigns that the “liberal” administration sponsored, actions which only stoked the flames.

The Trump administration has only added more fuel to the flames by pulling the U.S. out of the climate accord, setting the stage for more refugees and the accelerated rise of fascist parties in the North.

In the rods of the immortal Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

Chart of the Day: Asylum-seekers in Europe 2016


The story, from Eurostat:

In 2016, 1,204,300 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the Member States of the European Union (EU), a number slightly down compared with 2015 (when 1,257,000 first-time applicants were registered) but almost double that of 2014 (562,700).

Syrians (334,800 first-time applicants), Afghans (183,000) and Iraqis (127,000) remained the main citizenship of people seeking international protection in the EU Member States in 2016, accounting for slightly more than half of all first time applicants.

6 in 10 applied for asylum in Germany

With 722 300 first time applicants registered in 2016, Germany recorded 60% of all first-time applicants in the EU Member States. It was followed by Italy (121,200, or 10%), France (76,000, or 6%), Greece (49,900, or 4%), Austria (39,900, or 3%) and the United Kingdom (38,300, or 3%).

Among Member States with more than 5,000 first time asylum seekers in 2016, numbers of first time applicants rose most compared with the previous year in Greece (38,500 more first time asylum seekers in 2016 than in 2015, or +339%), Germany (280.500 more, or +63%) and Italy (37,900 more, or +46%). In contrast, the largest decreases were recorded in the Nordic Member States – Sweden (-86%), Finland (-84%) and Denmark (-71%) – as well as in Hungary (-84%), Belgium (-63%), the Netherlands (-55%) and Austria (-53%).

Highest number of first time applicants relative to the population in Germany, lowest in Slovakia

Compared with the population of each Member State, the highest number of registered first-time applicants in 2016 was recorded in Germany (8.789 first-time applicants per million inhabitants), ahead of Greece (4,625), Austria (4,587), Malta (3,989), Luxembourg (3,582) and Cyprus (3,350). In contrast, the lowest numbers were observed in Slovakia (18 applicants per million inhabitants), Portugal (69), Romania (94), the Czech Republic and Estonia (both 114). In 2016, there were in total 2,360 first time asylum applicants per million inhabitants in the EU as a whole.

Around 30% of first time asylum seekers were Syrians

Syria (28% of the total number of first-time applicants) was again in 2016 the main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States. Of the 334,800 Syrians who applied for the first time for asylum in the EU in 2016, almost 80% were registered in Germany (266,250). In total, Syrians represented the main citizenship of asylum seekers in thirteen EU Member States.

Afghanistan (15% of the total number of first-time applicants) remained the second main country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States in 2016. Of the 183,000 Afghans seeking asylum protection for the first time in the EU Member States in 2016, nearly 70% applied in Germany (127,000). Afghans represented the main citizenship of asylum seekers in five EU Member States.

With 127,000 first -time applicants (or 11% of the EU total) in 2016, Iraq was the third country of citizenship of asylum seekers in the EU Member States. Three-quarters applied in Germany (96,100).

Trump to overturn ban on conflict minerals


Hey, nothing’s got to stand of the way of business, right?

Besides, human rights?

Really?

They’re so darn inconvenient anyway, right?

From the Intercept:

The leaked draft of a presidential memorandum Donald Trump is expected to sign within days suspends a 2010 rule that discouraged American companies from funding conflict and human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of Congo through their purchase of  “conflict minerals.”

The memo, distributed inside the administration on Friday afternoon and obtained by The Intercept, directs the Securities and Exchange Commission to temporarily waive the requirements of the Conflict Mineral Rule, a provision of the Dodd Frank Act, for two years — which the rule explicitly allows the president to do for national security purposes. The memorandum also directs the State Department and Treasury Department to find an alternative plan to “address such problems in the DRC and adjoining countries.”

The idea behind the rule, which had bipartisan support, was to drain militias of revenue by forcing firms to conduct reviews of their supply chain to determine if contractors used minerals sourced from the militias.

The impending decision comes as Trump held a meeting Wednesday with Brian Krzanich, the chief executive of Intel, one of the leading firms impacted by conflict mineral regulations. At the White House today, Krzanich appeared with the president to announce a new manufacturing plant in Arizona.

Human rights advocates — who had celebrated the conflicts rule as a major step forward — were appalled. “Any executive action suspending the U.S. conflict minerals rule would be a gift to predatory armed groups seeking to profit from Congo’s minerals as well as a gift to companies wanting to do business with the criminal and the corrupt,” said Carly Oboth, the policy adviser at Global Witness, in a statement responding to a Reuters article that first reported the move.

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

ISIS hails Trump’s travel ban as a major victory


And, of course, they’re absolutely right.

From the Washington Post:

Jihadist groups on Sunday celebrated the Trump administration’s ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, saying the new policy validates their claim that the United States is at war with Islam.

Comments posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that President Trump’s executive order would persuade American Muslims to side with the extremists. One posting hailed the U.S. president as “the best caller to Islam,” while others predicted that Trump would soon launch a new war in the Middle East.

“[Islamic State leader Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi has the right to come out and inform Trump that banning Muslims from entering America is a ‘blessed ban,’” said one posting to a pro-Islamic State channel on Telegram, a social-media platform. The writer compared the executive order to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which Islamic militant leaders at the time hailed as a “blessed invasion” that ignited anti-Western fervor across the Islamic world.

>snip<

Robert Richer, a 35-year CIA veteran and former chief of the agency’s Near East division, said the ban was a “strategic mistake” that could undermine future efforts to recruit spies and collect vital information about terrorists and their plans. How, he asked, can CIA officers persuade Iraqi and Syrian nationals to risk their lives to help the United States?

“This was a win for jihadists and other anti-U.S. forces,” said Richer, the deputy chief of the agency’s Operations Directorate during the George W. Bush administration. “It fuels the belief out there that Americans are anti-Islam. Otherwise, it accomplishes nothing, because the ones we are most concerned about can still get to the United States.”

But given that Trump has already declared he think America has a right to seize the Iraq’s oil and “maybe we’ll have another chance,” could there be a deeper game involved, one in which more warfare leads to outright invasion with the specific intent of seizing oilfields in the Mideast and, say Libya, which has the world’s finest reserves of light, sweet crude oil?

Given that he’s picked the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest oil companies, as his Secretary of State we’d have to say that ours in a legitimate question and worthy of serious consideration.

Quote of the day: Trump’s curious refugee ban


It may be illegal and immoral, but it’s good for business empire.

His bujsiness. . .

From Erwin Chemerinsky, dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of 1st Amendment Law at the UC Irvine School of Law, writing in the Los Angeles Times [emphasis added]:

The new refugee policy announced by President Trump on Friday is unconstitutional and inhumane. It is also completely unnecessary.

Trump’s executive order suspends the entry of refugees into the United States for 120 days. The order also indefinitely stops the admission of Syrian refugees and for 90 days bars individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries:  Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Possibly due to poor drafting, the Department of Homeland Security said the order applies to green card holders reentering the United States. It has already resulted in chaos as travelers have been kept off flights to the United States or stranded at airports.

On Saturday night, a federal judge in New York issued a temporary stay, allowing green card or visa holders detained at airports to enter the country. The judge declared that the challengers have a “strong likelihood” of prevailing in showing that the Trump order violates due process and equal protection.

Trump’s action, determining one’s ability to enter the country based on nationality and place of residence, is illegal. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 explicitly says that no person can be “discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of the person’s race, sex, nationality, place of birth or place of residence.” This act was adopted to eliminate the prior practice of immigration quotas from specific countries.  Indeed, in signing the legislation, President Lyndon Johnson said that “the harsh injustice” of the national-origins quota system had been “abolished.”

>snip<

One of the most astounding aspects of Trump’s executive order is that he seems to have singled out countries where he has no business interests, while giving a reprieve to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, where the Trump Organization is active.

Borders and refugees: A story told in three tweets


It’s a story about the leaders of three countries.

We begin with the President Grab-’em-by-the-Pussy:

blog-trump-tweets-trump
Next, a tweet from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

blog-trump-tweets-trudeau
And a reply from Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and head of the Scottish government:

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Headline of the day: Intolerance leads to chaos


From the New York Times:

But Trump Vows ‘Strong Borders and Extreme Vetting’

  • A top White House official appeared to announce a dramatic change in President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
  • The shift came after chaos at airports and rulings by federal judges blocking part of the president’s actions.
  • On Twitter, Mr. Trump deplored the killings of Christians in the Middle East without noting the killings of Muslims
  • Juudge Who Blocked Order Praised for ‘Moral Compass’

Headline of the day: Intolerance takes the helm


A screencap of the London Daily Mail homepage teaser for this story:

blog-headline

El Niño brings a severe drought to Africa


From the U.S. Geological Survey:

“Really?” and “Strange, but true” might be popular reactions to the idea that periodic El Niño events in the Pacific Ocean could have a long distance influence on drought conditions in Africa, almost half-a-world away. Unlikely as it may seem, these connections are widely accepted by climate scientists and weather experts across the globe. Strange, but true, indeed.

El Niño and its counterpart, La Niña, are the warm and cool phases of a recurring climate pattern across the tropical Pacific — the El Niño-Southern Oscillation – that shifts back and forth irregularly every two to seven years. By disrupting large-scale air movements in the tropics and thus affecting temperature, precipitation, and winds, these changes in the Pacific Ocean set off a cascade of global side effects with each oscillation.

Drought comes to Africa

In the northern hemisphere’s winter and fall of 2015, El Niño reached a record high temperature in December-January-February and triggered historic levels of famine far away in east Africa. A related drought across southern Africa affected 30 million people. In November of 2016 Zimbabwe still faced severe water shortages.

Observed Niño 3.4 sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (vertical bars) and estimates of El Niño SST anomalies. Compared to an ensemble of climate change simulations (red line).  USGS image produced by Chris Funk. Public domain.

Observed Niño 3.4 sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies (vertical bars) and estimates of El Niño SST anomalies. Compared to an ensemble of climate change simulations (red line). USGS image produced by Chris Funk. Public domain.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of California Santa Barbara, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tracked the severe droughts in eastern and southern Africa. This science team has recently published a paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (chapter 15) that assesses the extent that warmer ocean waters resulting from human-caused climate change likely intensified the impacts of the drought.

The authors of the study evaluated the impacts of the rainfall reductions and air temperature increases in Africa during this period by means of a contra-positive experiment, in which a “world without climate change” was simulated in complex hydrologic models. These experiments revealed that the warming of El Niño beyond its historical averages during 1946-1975 likely helped produce a very large reduction in streamflow: 35% for Ethiopia and 48% for Southern Africa. Both regions experienced severe water shortages, as illustrated by estimates of per capita water availability.

“In summary, what we seem to be seeing,” said Chris Funk, a USGS scientist and lead author of the study, “is that, as the oceans warm due to climate change, pockets of very warm sea surface temperatures develop that often act to increase the impact of natural climate variations such as El Niño and La Niña. These extreme sea surface temperatures can intensify droughts over food insecure areas, contributing to water stress and disrupting economic growth.”

The data and scientific reasoning for these findings are detailed in the publicly available professional paper.

Monitoring drought to get ahead of famine

Ethiopia suffered drought conditions in 2015 that were comparable to the severe drought and ensuing famine of 1984, during which hundreds of thousands of people perished. Like the case in the 1980s, the 2015 Ethiopian drought was related to a strong El Niño. Unlike that terrible episode, widespread acute food insecurity was avoided in 2015-2016 due to effective climate services, early warning of potential food insecurity, and social safety nets, particularly through the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

USGS Water Hole Status map, early December 2016. Information source: earlywarning.usgs.gov

USGS Water Hole Status map, early December 2016. Information source: earlywarning.usgs.gov

Created by USAID in 1985 to help decision-makers plan for humanitarian crises, FEWS NET provides evidence-based analysis of food insecurity in some 35 countries. Implementing team members include the government agencies of NASA, NOAA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and USGS, along with the commercial entities, Chemonics International Inc. and Kimetrica.

Scientists at USGS, University of California Santa Barbara, NASA, and NOAA monitored the severe droughts associated with the extreme 2015-16 El Niño event in partnership with FEWS NET specialists in Africa and Washington, helping the U.S. Agency for International Development provide early and effective humanitarian assistance. The combined information derived from U.S. satellite remote sensing, climate forecasting, and land surface modeling capabilities provided the agro-climatic evidence needed by FEWS NET food security analysts to project livelihood impacts many months in advance. The resulting early warning of potential acute food insecurity was instrumental in mobilizing the resources needed to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Austerity grabs hold in Egypt, the army’s called out


In January, 2011, a wave of massive demonstrations overthrew the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The revolution was greatly assisted by the American State Department, which had been busily furnishing secure digital communications devices to dissidents opposed to Middle Eastern and African governments the U.S. thought needed to go.

But when the Egyptian people elected as President Mohamed Morsi, the U.S. didn’t like it, he was ousted in a coup headed by a general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, trained at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

But the combination of two revolutions and the ongoing shocks of the Great Recession sent Egypt spiraling ever deeper into debt.

Finally Sisi bit the bullet and applied to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout loan, and negotiations began.

The inevitable demand of the IMF: Austerity

The Economist, the magazine with the world’s richest readership, offers a neoliberal take on what happened next:

Back in August the IMF had offered the former general a $12bn lifeline, but it came with tough conditions attached. At long last he has fulfilled them, and the IMF money will soon start to flow.

So far Mr Sisi has attempted three difficult but necessary things, as demanded by the IMF. On November 3rd he allowed the Egyptian pound to float. It is now trading at a market rate of 18 or so to the dollar; previously it had been propped up at a crazily overvalued rate of about 8.8. However, it is still not clear whether this float is genuine. The pound could easily come under renewed pressure, and there is no guarantee that the government will not suspend the float and see the black market return. External credit-card transactions are still restricted, so the market is not free even now.

Similarly, the other two main IMF conditions have been fulfilled only up to a point. In August parliament passed a long-promised law introducing a value-added tax. It is subject to many exemptions; but it will still bring in badly needed revenue, and the rate is set to rise next year. The work of reducing government subsidies was also advanced last week, with increases of up to 50% in the local-currency price of petrol, after earlier rises in the price of electricity. But both are still well below their true market prices. And, lamentably, food subsidies have not been cut at all—despite their cost, complexity and vulnerability to fraud. Rather than subsidising the price of bread, the government would help more people if it simply handed out cash to poor Egyptians.

And now the loan is coming through

From United Press International:

The International Monetary Fund approved a $12 billion loan for Egypt, an effort to revive the country’s struggling economy by “restoring stability and confidence in the economy, and implementing structural reforms that will create jobs,” officials said.

The approval allows for the first installment of the three-year loan, $2.75 billion, to be immediately disbursed. The remainder of the loan will be phased in over the duration of the program, subject to five reviews, the IMF said.

“The Egyptian authorities have developed a homegrown economic program, which will be supported under the IMF’s Extended Fund Facility, to address longstanding challenges in the Egyptian economy,” Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director and chair, said.

IMF officials said political instability, regional security issues and the global economic slowdown have hobbled the Egyptian economy. Some of the issues that led to the country’s economic instability included high government deficit, public debt and weak job growth.

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Big Agra African land grabs raise risk of violence


Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

We’ve long been concerned about the increasing share of African farmlands, once owned in common by the people who farm them, being sold to foreign agricultural giants by cash-strapped African governments.

One of our deepest concerns has been the power of those corporations, largely own by Chinese and European multinationals, to gain control over the continent’s water supplies, raising the risk of starvation and violence for the planet’s poorest continent.

And now comes a study confirming our suspicions and revealing just where the risks of conflict are greatest.

From Sweden’s Lund University:

For the first time, researchers point to areas in Africa where foreign agricultural companies’ choice of crops and management of fresh water are partly responsible for the increased water shortages and greater competition for water. This in turn increases the risk of outright conflicts between all those who need water – plants, animals and humans.

During the 21st century, foreign companies have leased large tracts of land in Africa – more so than in other parts of the world – in order to produce cheap food, cheap timber and cheap raw material for biofuels. An interdisciplinary study from Lund University in Sweden shows that about three per cent of the land leased in Africa by foreign companies has been registered as currently in production, for the purpose of growing crops. For various reasons, the companies have either pulled out or not started producing on other leased land.

The study also shows that the crops that foreign investors decide to grow often require more water than the traditionally grown crops. Furthermore, it shows that the same crop can have very different needs for water, depending on the climate where it is grown and which irrigation systems the companies use.

The researchers in Lund, together with a colleague in France, have developed a model that shows how much water is needed for different production systems, in different types of climates, in different parts of the continent. The model takes into account both the size of the land and the type of irrigation system.

This model has enabled researchers to distinguish between areas where rainwater accounts for the largest share of irrigation water, and areas where large foreign agricultural companies satisfy more than half of their water needs by using fresh water sources, such as groundwater, rivers and ponds. This has allowed the researchers to highlight the areas around the continent where increased competition for water escalates the risk of water-related conflicts between different sectors and ecosystems.

“These hotspots have not been identified in this way before. Previous studies have often focused on the size of the area and not on how much fresh water is used to grow the demanding crops that foreign companies are interested in”, says physical geographer Emma Li Johansson, who was in charge of the study.

The leases are often written for periods of 33 to 99 years. The contracts rarely include any rules or limits concerning the use of water.

“Our research can perhaps lead to foreign investors showing greater consideration for how much water is necessary, in relation to how much water is actually available. Hopefully, the results can serve as a basis for documents that regulate the water consumption of large-scale farming companies”, says Emma Li Johansson.

The results are published in an article in the scientific journal PNAS.

Download article: Johansson E L et al (2016) Green and blue water demand from large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. PNAS (open access).

Maps of the day: African farmland, irrigated and not


From HarvestChoice, an international NGO devoted to farming in sub-Saharan African, consisting of governmental agencies and NGOs and coordinated by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the University of Minnesota:

Total cropland in Africa

BLOG Cropland

Irrigated cropland in Africa

BLOG Cropland irrigated

Maps of the day II: We’re all getting much taller


But Americans, once the third tallest men and fourth tallest women in the world in 1914 have fallen comparatively in the century since, now ranking 37th and 42nd tallest place respectively by 2014, according to a new global survey:

Relative global heights of men in 1914 [top] and 2014 [bottom]:

BLOG Ht men

And the keys for 1914, left, and 2014, right:

BLOG Ht men upper

BLOG Ht men lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the same comparison for women, with 1914 above and 2014 below:

BLOG Ht women

And the relative scales for 1914 [left] and 2014 [right]:

BLOG Ht women upper

BLOG Ht women lower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So just how much taller and where?

A report on the study from Imperial College London:

Dutch men and Latvian women are the tallest on the planet, according to the largest ever study of height around the world.

The research, led by scientists from Imperial College London and using data from most countries in the world, tracked height among young adult men and women between 1914 and 2014.

Among the findings [open access], published in the journal eLife the research revealed South Korean women and Iranian men have shown the biggest increases in height over the past 100 years. Iranian men have increased by an average of 16.5cm, and South Korean women by 20.2cm. Interactive world maps are available here.

To see a full list of the countries please click here.

The height of men and women in the UK has increased by around 11cm over the past century. By comparison, the height of men and women in the USA has increased by 6cm and 5cm, while the height of Chinese men and women has increased by around 11cm and 10cm.

The research also revealed once-tall USA had declined from third tallest men and fourth tallest women in the world in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively in 2014. Overall, the top ten tallest nations in 2014 for men and women were dominated by European countries, and featured no English-speaking nation. UK women improved from 57th to 38th place over a century, while men had improved slightly from 36th to 31st place.

The researchers also found that some countries have stopped growing over the past 30 to 40 years, despite showing initial increases in the beginning of the century of study. The USA was one of the first high-income countries to plateau, and other countries that have seen similar patterns include the UK, Finland, and Japan. By contrast, Spain and Italy and many countries in Latin America and East Asia are still increasing in height.

Furthermore, some countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East have even seen a decline in average height over the past 30 to 40 years.

There’s lots more after the jump, including an explanation for humanity’s vertical explosion. . .

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Map of the day II: The AIDS crisis continues


From Agence France Presse:

Some 2.5 million people are still becoming infected with HIV every year even as drugs have slashed the death rate, a global AIDS study says.

Some 2.5 million people are still becoming infected with HIV every year even as drugs have slashed the death rate, a global AIDS study says.

El Niño/La Niña cycle boosts African HIV rates


Drought spawned by the El Niño/La Niña cycle has created times of desperation in Southern Africa, with failing harvest leading more women to sell sex in order to survive, UNICEF reports.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Drought exacerbated by the El Nino weather pattern could lead to a spike in new HIV infections in southern Africa as women and girls turn to sex to survive and patients miss treatments, the United Nations childrens’ agency UNICEF said on Tuesday.

More than 60 million people, two thirds of them in east and southern Africa, are facing food shortages because of droughts linked to El Nino, a warming of sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, according to the United Nations.

Many patients are refusing to take anti-retroviral therapy (ART) on an empty stomach, others are deciding to spend their limited income on food rather than transport to a health facility, UNICEF said.

“People sometimes are having to resort to these extreme choices between eating and taking life-saving medication,” Patsy Nakell, UNICEF spokeswoman, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This is the global epicentre of the HIV epidemic and when you have a situation like this where people are struggling to have access to food and to clean water then you know (they) will resort to what we call negative coping mechanisms.”

Once again, we are confronted with the multiplicity of complex systems, in which a change in one factor leads to changed outputs from other factors.

Climate change means more than rising seas and endangered coastal cities.

El Niño aftermath brings specter of starvation


And those most deeply impacted are children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

We begin with a map from the UNICEF Briefing Papers It’s not over, El Niño’s impact on children:

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

And the story, via the United Nations News Center:

While the 2015-2016 El Niño – one of the strongest on record – has ended, its devastating impact on children is worsening, as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event, a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed today.

Making matters worse, there is a strong chance La Niña – El Niño’s flip side – could strike at some stage this year, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of children in some of the most vulnerable communities, UNICEF said in a report It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children.

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.

While El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña, occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena – such as droughts and floods – have increased in frequency and severity, according to UN agencies.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading