Category Archives: Politics

UN blasts Trump for his war on the press


Donald Trump’s war on the press comes at a time when American journalism is dying, its ranks radically thinned as giant chains, many of them owned by investment banks interested only in profit rather than community service.

He ramped up his attacks Thursday night [2 August], devoting most of the evening’s rally to a relentless attack on the Fourth Estate, as the Associated Press reports:

“Whatever happened to the free press? Whatever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked, pointing to the media in the back of the hall. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”

Time and time again, Trump denounced the press for underselling his accomplishments and doubting his political rise.

>snip<

“Only negative stories from the fakers back there,” the president declared.

With each denunciation, the crowd jeered and screamed at the press in the holding pen at the back of the arena.

His assault on journalism came on the same day that two leading United Nations officials spoke out against his escalating assault on the free press.

From the United Nations:

Human rights experts denounce Trump’s attacks against media

The United Nations expert on free expression has condemned President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the press, warning that the US leader’s rhetoric is eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists.

“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and Edison Lanza, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people,” “very dishonest” and “fake news,” the statement said. Moreover, he has accused the press of distorting democracy and spreading conspiracy theories and blind hatred.

“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said, expressing concern that the attacks risk increasing targeted violence against journalists.

The experts stressed that over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and his administration have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct and disinformation.

“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets,” the experts continued, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus.” However, they pointed out that not even one time was he able to show any specific reporting that was driven by untoward motivations.

“It is critical that the US administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation,” they underscored.

To this end, they urged President Trump to not only “stop using his platform to denigrate the media” but to condemn the attacks, including press threats at his own rallies.

Affirming that media attacks go beyond Mr. Trump’s language, they encouraged his administration, including the Justice Department, to “avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources,” saying that it undermines the media’s independence and blocks the public from accessing information.

The experts also appealed to the Government to “stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act.”

“We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide,” they asserted. “We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.”

The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.

“Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks,” they concluded.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

As someone who’s devoted his working life to practicing the craft of journalism, we are deeply alarmed at the state of the American press.

Trump wants what any tyrant wants: A silencing of opposing voices.

And with the press now own by those seeking profit over principle, the prognosis is bleak,

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Arctic microbes threaten to spike CO2 levels


Before a detailed look at the alarming news from the Arctic, We begin with the latest on warming from the European Environment Agency, which concludes:

Key messages

  • According to different observational records of global average annual near-surface (land and ocean) temperature, the last decade (2008–2017) was 0.89 °C to 0.93 °C warmer than the pre-industrial average, which makes it the warmest decade on record. Of the 17 warmest years on record, 16 have occurred since 2000. The year 2017 was one of the world’s three warmest years on record together with the years 2016 and 2015.
  • The average annual temperature for the European land area for the last decade (2008–2017) was between 1.6 °C and 1.7 °C above the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record. In Europe, 2017 was colder than the previous 3 years.
  • Climate models project further increases in global average temperature over the 21st century (for the period 2081–2100 relative to 1986–2005) of between 0.3 °C and 1.7 °C for the lowest emissions scenario (RCP2.6) and between 2.6 °C and 4.8 °C for the highest emissions scenario (RCP8.5).
  • All UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] member countries have agreed on the long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C compared with pre-industrial levels and have agreed to aim to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. For the three highest of the four RCPs, the global average temperature increase is projected to exceed 2 °C compared with pre-industrial levels by 2050.
  • Annual average land temperature over Europe is projected to increase by the end of this century (2071–2100 relative to 1971–2000) in the range of 1.0 °C to 4.5 °C under RCP4.5 and 2.5 °C to 5.5 °C under RCP8.5, which is more than the projected global average increase. The strongest warming is projected across north-eastern Europe and Scandinavia in winter and southern Europe in summer.
  • The number of warm days (those exceeding the 90th percentile threshold of a baseline period) have doubled between 1960 and 2017 across the European land area.
    Europe has experienced several extreme heat waves since 2000 (2003, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017). Under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), extreme heat waves as strong as these or even stronger are projected to occur as often as every two years in the second half of the 21st century. In southern Europe, they are projected to be particularly strong.

The first graphic from the report tracks the soaring temperatures sparked by the Industrial Revolution [click on the images to enlarge]:

The second, a series of maps, tracks projected temperature rises under a regime in which emissions caps are imposed to a significant degree [upper maps], while the lower maps reflect higher levels under the regime so beloved by the White House:

Whichever regime prevails, temperatures, occasions, heat-associated deaths, extinctions, and more are all set to rise, with Home Sapiens able only to mitigate the degree.

Are we approaching a critical threshold?

Threshold events in which dramatic changes are triggered by small shifts in existing conditions. Water is water until it hits the freezing point, and ice stays ice until its temperature reaches the same point. What was liquid becomes solid, what was solid becomes liquid.

We also know from everyday experience that cold shows living things down, while freezing generally brings them to a halt.

The threshold at which ice melts is shaping up to have major impacts on global warming, both through the release of trapped methane in the Arctic permafrost [about which we’ve posted extensively] and for the generation of new greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide generated by microbes now able to digest dead organic matter at above-freezing temperatures.

The findings come from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a highsecurity facility in Richland, Washington, run by the Department of Energy and focusing on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyberwar, energy independence, and climate change.

Unlike the White House, th national security establishment sees climate change as a real threat, so much so that it’s a matter of national security.

From  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory:

The vast reservoir of carbon stored beneath our feet is entering Earth’s atmosphere at an increasing rate, most likely as a result of warming temperatures, suggest observations collected from a variety of the Earth’s many ecosystems.

Blame microbes and how they react to warmer temperatures. Their food of choice – nature’s detritus like dead leaves and fallen trees – contains carbon. When bacteria chew on decaying leaves and fungi chow down on dead plants, they convert that storehouse of carbon into carbon dioxide that enters the atmosphere.

In a study published August 2 in Nature, scientists show that this process is speeding up as Earth warms and is happening faster than plants are taking in carbon through photosynthesis. The team found that the rate at which microbes are transferring carbon from soil to the atmosphere has increased 1.2 percent over a 25-year time period, from 1990 through 2014.

While that may not seem like a big change, such an increase on a global scale, in a relatively short period of time in Earth history, is massive. The finding, based on thousands of observations made by scientists at hundreds of sites around the globe, is consistent with the predictions that scientists have made about how Earth might respond to warmer temperatures.

“It’s important to note that this is a finding based on observations in the real world. This is not a tightly controlled lab experiment,” said first author Ben Bond-Lamberty of the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland.

“Soils around the globe are responding to a warming climate, which in turn can convert more carbon into carbon dioxide which enters the atmosphere. Depending on how other components of the carbon cycle might respond due to climate warming, these soil changes can potentially contribute to even higher temperatures due to a feedback loop,” he added.

Globally, soil holds about twice as much carbon as Earth’s atmosphere. In a forest where stored carbon is manifest in the trees above, even more carbon resides unseen underfoot. The fate of that carbon will have a big impact on our planet. Will it remain sequestered in the soil or will it enter the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, further warming the planet?

To address the question, the team relied heavily on two global science networks as well as a variety of satellite observations. The Global Soil Respiration Database includes data on soil respiration from more than 1,500 studies around the globe. And FLUXNET draws data from more than 500 towers around the world that record information about temperature, rainfall and other factors.

“Most studies that address this question look at one individual site which we understand very well,” said author Vanessa Bailey, a soil scientist. “This study asks the question on a global scale. We’re talking about a huge quantity of carbon. Microbes exert an outsize influence on the world that is very hard to measure on such a large scale.”

The study focused on a phenomenon known as “soil respiration,” which describes how microbes and plants in the soil take in substances like carbon to survive, then give off carbon dioxide. Soils don’t exactly breathe, but as plants and microbes in soil take in carbon as food, they convert some of it to other gases which they give off – much like we do when we breathe.

Scientists have known that as temperatures rise, soil respiration increases. Bond-Lamberty’s team sought to compare the roles of the two main contributors, increased plant growth and microbial action.

The team discovered a growing role for microbes, whose action is outstripping the ability of plants to absorb carbon. In the 25-year span of the study, the proportion of soil respiration that is due to microbes increased from 54 to 63 percent. Warmer temperatures can prompt more microbial action, potentially resulting in more carbon being released from carbon pools on land into the air.

“We know with high precision that global temperatures have risen,” said Bond-Lamberty. “We’d expect that to stimulate microbes to be more active. And that is precisely what we’ve detected. Land is thought to be a robust sink of carbon overall, but with rising soil respiration rates, you won’t have an intact land carbon sink forever.”

Mapping America, the very rich, unhappy bully


We love Worldmapper, a website run by some British cartographers who look at the world in very interesting ways.

Whilst exploring their extensive collection of maps, we came across three that reveal some very interesting connections, revealing a deeply troublesome portrait of the country Donald Trump wants to “make great again.”

In fact, the nation is already great, in a deeply and very troubling way.

First, it’s the world leader, as revealed in this graphic, in which the nations of the globe are resized according to they number of their billionaire inhabitants, with America leading the way:

Billionaires 2018

“Part of the beauty of me is that I am very rich.”

— Donald Trump in ABC TV’s ‘Good Morning America’ [2011]

 In 2018, “Forbes found a record 2,208 billionaires, collectively worth $9.1 trillion. Among them are 259 newcomers who made their fortunes in everything from wedding dresses to children’s toys to electric cars.” [Quoted from the Forbes World’s Billionaires 2018 Ranking]

Another graphic shows another field another field of American greatness, with each nation resized according spending on another field dominated by Old Gory:

Military Spending 2017

The biggest spender – by far- are the United States, followed by China, Saudi Arabia, India, France and Russia. The United States spent more than double than China on military expenses. The United Kingdom, Japan, Germany and South Korea complete the top 10 spenders. Six of the top spending countries are also nuclear powers.

Some countries have no military, thus no military spending, like Iceland or Costa Rica. Iceland is a member of NATO nonetheless and contributes to NATO operations with both financial contributions and civil personnel. How much of their GDP NATO members are spending on military has always caused discussions within the alliance.

Finally, another map resizes nations according to population,shaded according to their relative happiness as reported in the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index [HPI]:

The Happy Planet Index

This map shows the results of the most recent Happy Planet Index 2016 report from the perspective of people. The gridded population cartogram, showing world resized according to the number of people living in each area, combined with the national HPI score.

The indicators that are used for calculating the HPI score cover life-satisfaction, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes and the ecological footprint. As argued in the report, “GDP growth on its own does not mean a better life for everyone, particularly in countries that are already wealthy. It does not reflect inequalities in material conditions between people in a country.” This explains, why consumption patterns are seen as more important for well-being than production. It also acknowledges that inequalities in well-being and life expectancy are important factors in the overall happiness of the population in a country.

When taking these notions into account, the rich industrialised countries score much worse in achieving sustainable well-being for all. Of the 140 countries included in the HPI, Luxembourg is the most extreme example for a wealthy nation scoring very badly: The country does well on life expectancy and well-being, and also has low inequality, but sustains this lifestyle with the largest ecological footprint per capita of any country in the world. It would require more than nine planets to sustain this way of life if every person on Earth would live the same way, showing that the standard of living comes at a high cost to the environment.

Endangered Species Act remains very popular


On 28 June 1973, President Richard Nixon, a conservative Republican who launched his career with a furious barrage of Red-baiting, signed a new law, declaring:

Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93d Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.

The law passed with unanimous support in the Senate, with only four House Republicans voting no.

The law Nixon signed was accompanied by a report from the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries explaining what was known at the time about the extent of harm the bill was designed to ameliorate. One sentence stands out: “According to the Department of the Interior, there may be more than 100 species of fish and wildlife which are presently threatened with extinction.”

Today we know the problem is far greater than scientists knew at the time. As a 2005 scientific report noted, “Only about 15% of the known species in the United States have been studied in sufficient detail to determine whether or not they are imperiled. Any estimate of the total number of imperiled species in this country must therefore rely on extrapolations from this small number of comparatively well studied species to a much larger number of poorly studied ones.”

Despite the limited knowledge we possess, there are 2269 animals and plants in the U.S. and its territories identified as endangered, a number certain to grow as our knowledge base expands.

Here’s a look at species identified by state, via MSN [click on the image to enlarge]:

Enter the orange-ruffed Narcissus

Fast forward 45 years and the Republicans are singing a different tune,as Mother Jones reported a couple of weeks ago:

In a series of announcements. . . Trump administration officials and their Republican allies in Congress announced actions intended to weaken key portions of the Endangered Species Act. If implemented, these regulatory changes in agencies as disparate as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service could wholly transform the intention of the act by allowing economic considerations to supersede environmental concerns when classifying animals as “endangered or “threatened.” The changes would also shift the balance of authority from federal regulators to the states and strip protections from several animals whose habitats pose a nuisance for developers and oil firms. Stakeholders who benefit from these rollbacks do not reflect the majority of voters, or even the Republican Party, but their viewpoint, closely aligned with the GOP and Trump, has become ascendant in recent years.

“There’s been a pretty long-term campaign against the Endangered Species Act, really for 20 to 25 years,” said Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Now, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, the administration’s outspoken promise to protect the fossil fuel industry, and a president who has promised to revoke two regulations for every additional one he implements, the time is ripe for the campaign against the act to succeed.

But popular support for the act remains strong and solid

While the real estate developer in the Oval Office sees the Endangered Species Act as an obstacle to his real estate empire, the American public remains solidly behind the law’s protections for our fellow critters.

From Michigan Technological University:

In the past two years, nearly 150 amendments, bills and riders aimed to weaken the U.S. Endangered Species Act. However, a new study indicates that four in five Americans support the act and this support has remained stable over two decades.

The Endangered Species Act is portrayed – by critics of the law, often by the media, and sometimes by conservation professionals – as increasingly controversial, partly due to the protection of species such as wolves and spotted owls. These portrayals suggest that public support for the law may be declining.  However, new research indicates that support for this law has remained consistently high over the past two decades.

The fresh survey data and analysis are laid out in a new paper, published last week in the Society for Conservation Biology’s journal Conservation Letters[open access], by a team from Michigan Technological University, the Ohio State University and California State University.

Because of the rift between citizens and government officials, the authors say the Endangered Species Act has joined the ranks of issues like gun control and climate change where political action veers from public opinion.

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Quote of the day: Shrugging off Atlas Shrugged


From screenwriter John Rogers, quoted by Paul Krugman:

Two novels can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other involves orcs.

Chart of the day II: Pandemic prevarication


From the Washington Post, which reports that “In his first year in office, President Trump made 2,140 suspect claims. Now, just six months later, he has almost doubled that total.” Click on the image to enlarge:

Headline of the day: The panic hits home


From the Washington Post, terror, followed by obfuscation

Trump says Sessions should end Russia probe ‘right now,’ calls it a ‘terrible situation’

  • Two of President Trump’s attorneys said later that he was not using his tweets to order Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take any specific action.