Monday, December 20, 2010

Wikileaks Under Attack

The Julian Assange/Wikileaks affair is taking on fascinating and bizarre twists. A couple weeks back it was announced that Assange was wanted on rape charges in Sweden dating back to August concerning two women. Then the chief prosecutor looked at the case and dismissed it out of hand, saying there was nothing there. A week or so later a prominent politician took up the cause, found a lesser prosecutor willing to take on the case and asked the UK to detain him for extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Wanting to play by the rules, considering the dangerous and precarious position he is in, he turned himself in to the police and asked to be released on bail. At first, at Sweden’s request, bail was denied saying he’s a flight risk; which is a bit disingenuous since he had just voluntarily given himself up.

Finally, after a week or so in solitary confinement, he’s granted bail of $320,000. The accusation, as far as I can tell, is that he didn’t use a condom in one case and in the other the condom malfunctioned. Seems like they’re going through a whole lot of trouble and asking a fantastic amount of bail money for an act of unprotected sex with two women who, as it happened, acted like nothing was amiss at the time: one went out to eat with him the same day, the other went to a party with him a day or so later.

At about the same time, the US government – obviously – pressured his web server to shut down the Wikileaks website and Paypal and credit card companies to turn off portals for donations. But this being the internet age, their pressure served to merely to harass Assange rather than actually prevent people from seeing the information since there are now over 1800 web sites that mirror the Wikileaks site. Moreover, an additional five international news organizations have the diplomatic cables and are also publishing the information.

Several prominent American politicians and news personalities have called for Assange’s assassination or that he be brought to the states on treason charges, which in fact doesn’t apply since he’s not an American citizen.

They can’t get back at him for his supposed crime of publishing confidential cables because there’s no law against that. The original leaker can be prosecuted but not Wikileaks or the New York Times which has also published the information.

He could be killed just for spite, but that’s not going to stop the dissemination of information. Assange is holding back an immense 1.5 gigabyte file which will be released automatically if anything happens to him. The file, in a 256 bit encryption and thus impossible to decode, has been distributed to hundreds of people who will receive the encryption key should harm come to Assange. In the words of his lawyer, it’s a thermonuclear device for the internet age - I can’t wait to see that one. Essentially, all the shit the US government is putting him through is just for fun, anger, revenge.

As for the diplomatic cables themselves, they are merely an embarrassment to the government. To anyone who gets their news outside the corporate media, there’s nothing the least bit surprising in the actual information. All the cables do is confirm the wide divergence from what the US government says publicly and what it does and thinks privately.

On another topic: While I’m at my computer I’ve got to bring up some of the austerity measures Greece and Ireland are having to make at the demand of the European Central Bank and the IMF in order to qualify for their bailout money. Greece is being required to water down union rules to weaken collective bargaining. You might ask how that is supposed to help the country balance its budget. In Ireland’s case it has to lower it’s minimum wage. One again you ponder how that can possibly be a solution to the country’s financial woes.

I guess the thinking goes like this. If you lower labor costs, investors will come with new business and the welfare cost of the unemployed will go down. On the other hand the government will also be collecting less taxes from poorer workers, so in reality it might be a wash. Meanwhile the financial overlords will have furthered their real agenda of austeritizing the workers so they can prosperitize the bosses.

Certainly can’t raise taxes on corporations or force bank owners to take a hit for the corruption and malfeasance of their bankster CEO’s or make the the wealthy pay a little more to balance the budget, that’s unthinkable.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ireland Again

Ireland Again

An Irish friend on my email list commented on my last post saying he agreed with everything I said except for my position on Ireland’s very low corporate tax rate, saying companies will leave if it is raised.

Shane can correct me if I’m off base but this is how I see the evolution of Ireland’s current economic problems. Ireland’s great boom before the recent crash was based on a combination of the mentioned low corporate tax bringing an influx of industry, an educated English speaking population and being part of the European Union so it’s products had access to a very large market. The country’s 10% tax, which some countries consider to be predatory, created an industrial boom and turned Ireland, which historically was an exporter of people, into an importer of labor.

Lots of new people needing homes and high economic growth – the Celtic Tiger - brought about the housing boom, in which, as I’ve read recently, a small house in Dublin was worth the same as a chateau in northern France. Like in America, speculation ran wild, leading to the inevitable bust.

With a more average tax rate, growth would’ve been slower providing jobs for the Irish but not creating a magnet for immigration and engendering the outsized economic boom. Ireland’s English speaking population was always going to give it an advantage in attracting American investment regardless of its tax rates. In an economic paradigm in which the highest growth is always the primary goal there will always be boom and bust. Moreover, low corporate taxes make balanced budgets impossible without placing heavy burdens on the workers.

Now we have the European Central Bank and IMF saying maybe investors in failing banks and bankrupt countries should take a loss. MAYBE! MAYBE! What a radical thought. Germany and other nations are keen for Ireland to institute severe austerity measures to get its finances together and take big loans to pay its bank’s debts. If Ireland defaults, Germany’s banks will suffer and that country will feel obligated to subsidize its banks directly instead of loaning the money to Ireland, so it’s easy to understand why it wants Ireland’s taxpayers to suffer.

Another facet of the world’s rotten banking system which is intimately aligned with mendacious government complicity has come to light in the past few days. Bernie Sanders, Independent senator from Vermont, who unabashedly refers to himself as a socialist, was instrumental in having a clause inserted into America’s recent banking reform which requires the Fed to disclose where it’s been spending its money. Ben Bernanke, Obama’s appointee to the Fed; sorry, Bush and Obama’s Fed choice, had been fiercely resisting that disclosure.

It’s not hard to understand why. The Fed printed up more than a trillion dollars ($1,000,000,000,000) to buy toxic assets from foreign banks. A German bank got nearly $300 billion, a Swiss bank around $270 billion. When it comes to saving them from their stupid decisions, the Fed will, evidently, go to the ends of the earth to find craven banksters in need.

Another couple trillion of printing press money went to American banks, Goldman Sachs by itself got $600 billion. This of course is all aside from the TARP bailout you all heard about. At the height of the banking crisis in 2008, Goldman was changed overnight from an investment bank to a retail bank (though, of course it really isn’t) in order to get free money from the US government and to protect the wealthy from their own malfeasance and greed. They’ve done so well with all that government money thrown at them, they’re making record profits and giving themselves record bonuses. Well, why not. If you’re conniving and smart enough to finagle vast sums of public money with the collusion of your government, you must deserve it. To the victor go the spoils.

To the rest go the dregs.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ireland Et All

Ireland Et All

Now it’s Ireland’s turn to seek a bailout from Europe and the IMF.
Actually it’s not the government that has the problem - though for sure
the country has a very large budget deficit and public debt - but it’s big
banks. Gotta save those big banks and the big money people who are
invested in them. If we just give them all the money they need to be
solvent, then they’ll start lending again and all’s right with the world.
They’ve already gotten $178 billion from the European Central Bank and $48
billion from the Irish government; about $5000 for every person in the
country. But that was not enough so there must be no end to feeding the
banksters. The Irish government is now about to get another $130 million
to help out banksters in need. Considering all the ‘financial instruments
of mass destruction’ - in the words of Warren Buffet, one of the world’s
richest men - floating around the system there will never be enough money
to make them right.

Why not just let them go broke, pay off depositors, the people who had no
role in their recklessness, avarice and malfeasance, and screw the rest.
If you invest in a bank, you are gambling on its value rising. If the bank
is worthless then you lose: It’s very simple, it’s called the free market;
or unfettered capitalism, you know, the kind that makes everybody rich,
except when it doesn’t. In that case, pure capitalism requires that you
make sure nobody on top loses money, otherwise the whole financial edifice
comes crumbling down. And where would we be then?

Well, why not let the greedy bastards go bust and then start some new
untainted banks. The world would still be awash in investment cash, what
with the great transfer of wealth in the past thirty years from the lower
classes to the upper, so there’d still be plenty of money to start new

Ah, but the greedy bastards own the governments, so that can’t be allowed
to happen. If a little guy runs into a string of bad luck, maybe loses his
job in a market where there is no replacement work, or has his house
foreclosed and winds up on the dole in Europe or on the street in America,
then that’s the breaks; government can’t be responsible for the comfort
and happiness of every citizen, besides, if you help the little guy too
much he’ll lose his incentive to work.
For the fat cats, on the other hand, it doesn’t matter how much you give
them: since they’re already rich, it doesn’t impact their desire to have

We heard the term moral hazard quite a bit back in 2008 when governments
in much of the developed world rushed to the rescue of the banksters. If
you bail out banks that have taken excessive risks, then they’re likely to
do it again. Makes perfect sense. There’re lots of profits when things are
going well and free money from the state when your speculations go awry.

Back in 2008 when Lehman Brothers investment bank went bust without
government help, the media characterized the result as chaotic even
catastrophic for the markets. Chaotic for who? Well, the people who
gambled on the bank and lost and further, there was a loss of confidence
in the markets which caused a lot of stocks to go down and people to lose
money. The magic of the free market again. Is it the responsibility of
government to protect investor money? Evidently yes. So now, to avoid the
turmoil of its big banks failing and causing hardship for their owners,
Ireland is going to borrow tens of billions more to shore them up.
Meanwhile the people are seething with contempt for the banksters and
their government.

Ireland levies very low corporate taxes, which along with property
speculation caused the bubble that has since burst, but is refusing to
consider raising those rates in spite of the country’s terrible financial
straits. However, if you don’t levy taxes where the money is, you’ll never
have sufficient revenues to pay your bills except in extreme bubbles.
Those low taxes have been a problem for other European countries right
along who are now expected to put up the money to rescue Ireland’s banks.
They are demanding changes before they hand over the cash. When you are
out there hat in hand seeking a bailout, you don’t get to keep all your
prerogatives, so it’ll soon be faced with a hard choice.

America’s financial situation; huge budget deficit and national debt, is
equivalent to Ireland’s and its solutions quite similar. Obama’s Deficit
Reduction Commission, aka Catfood Commission – let them eat catfood – is
recommending large cuts in Social Security, Medicare and every program
that helps the people at large, while also recommending tax cuts for
corporations and the wealthy. After nine years of Bush tax cuts not
reviving the economy and not resulting in a balanced budget, it seems pure
insanity to imagine further cuts will now reduce the deficit.

But that’s where the US is at. The American people have just elected a
House of Representatives that has as it’s top priority screwing the
commoners so the wealthy can have more. And the country still has a
president who’s will to fight for you and I is as resolute as a wet

Sometimes I look back at what I’ve written in the past and wonder why I
keep doing it. I sound like a broken record and expect maybe you are bored
by now. Over the years I’ve written a succession of times that the
American people won’t smell the shit – that stuff that’s just been
liberally spread around after hitting the fan - until it’s right in their
faces, and yet it still keeps coming and they still can’t smell it. I keep
writing that things won’t change until the situation gets really bad and
yet things keep getting progressively worse and the only real response is
the Tea Party which is proactively dedicated to making things even much
worse. Meanwhile, no matter how bad it gets, I can’t even imagine a
scenario in which the people will rise up to demand real changes.

Moreover, in contrast to Ireland which has instituted severe austerity
measures and raised taxes for many, the US is working on a tax cut. It’s
as if the two countries were not on the same planet. Forty percent of the
US budget now comes from borrowing. Imagine where you as an individual
would be if you earned $60,000 a year but borrowed so you could spend
$100,000. How long would it be before you had to make painful adjustments
and started paying that debt off.

As a government, you have another option, you can print money, though that
too is fraught with peril. If you go too far, your money becomes worthless
and that is especially problematical for a country that’s dependent on the
wealthy and other countries to buy your debt.

Some leftist economists downplay the deficit problem saying it’s most
important to get the economy moving because that brings in additional
revenue and thus brings the deficit down. But without adequate taxation
the deficit can never be brought under control. The other problem with
giving tax breaks to the wealthy, and personally I consider someone making
$200,000 per year to be wealthy, is that they will speculate with part of
it - something which has no redeeming value for society – and since they
already have everything they need, what extra they do spend will
unnecessarily tax the world’s resources and environment.

We need to encourage people who are already wallowing in plenty to work
less, earn less and spend less. This of course is impossible for the
leadership to contemplate since they are locked into endless growth as the
be-all and end-all of civilization. The fact that endless growth is a
theoretical impossibility doesn’t seem to register.

It’s all ass-backwards. You rescue the big banks so they can go on the
business of foreclosing people’s homes and charging outrageously usurious
interest on credit cards even though they are now able to borrow money
from the Fed at zero percent interest. You save them from their own
disastrous and dishonest actions and thus keep them from bankruptcy by
plying them with public money so they can pay themselves record bonuses.

It’s all bass-ackwards and it sounds like I keep repeating myself just to
have something to say. You’ve heard it all before. Why aren’t you on the
streets like the French protesting against sacrificing benefits for
commoners so the opulent class can have more? Why aren’t you all seething
with vitriol at the great bankster ripoff? Or if you are, what are you
doing about it? Why is it that only imbecilic Tea Partiers care enough to
take a stand?

I have no idea: well, maybe I do but hardly anything about American
politics seems to make any sense anymore. The only things that would make
a difference for the American people; single payer health care, true
banking reform, a solid effort to tackle climate change and approaching
resource depletion with a carbon tax and a massive program to convert the
US to sustainable energy are nowhere on the horizon; truly inconceivable,
truly unimaginable. A truly fucked up state of affairs. So be it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

China Acting Up

China, the proverbial bull in the China shop, is acting petulantly and throwing its weight around.

First there’s the fishing trawler incident with Japan. News accounts refer to the Senkaku Islands as disputed territory, but they’ve been in Japan’s control since the late 19th century, so after a good deal more than a century, ‘disputed’ doesn’t usually include provocations. For all intents and purposes, after that length of time, control by Japan has to be accepted unless or until that country decides to relinquish that territory peacefully. It’s natural then that Japan would take offence when another country’s fishing boat encroaches on its waters. The Japanese patrol boats ordered the Chinese trawler to stop, but instead the Chinese captain directed a sharp turn and purposely rammed the two patrol boats. The trawler was then boarded and the Chinese sailors detained. The crew was released after a few days but the captain held.

China put up a holy stink about the matter and insisted the captain be released or Japan would suffer the consequences of a souring of relations and it would be all their fault. Exports of rare earth metals to Japan were temporarily halted as kind of a warning. As mentioned in a recent post, rare earths are essential in many high tech applications and China controls 97% of the market. Japan released the captain earlier than they wanted to try to placate China but it then demanded compensation from Japan and an abject apology.

This brings up three points. China is currently also threatening Norway over the possibility that a Chinese dissident recently sentenced to 18 years in prison for advocating democracy may be nominated for a Nobel Prize. In China’s eyes that would be interfering in its internal affairs and commercial relations would suffer if he’s given the prize. Now that everybody wants to make money there or use it as a cheap production base, and as a result has made it rich, China feels it can bludgeon its way to dictate other country’s policies, not even realizing or understanding that they are democracies and can’t order events like Chinese leaders.

The second point is the many territorial claims China has staked against other countries’ lands and international waters. China claims nearly all of India’s Arunchal Pradesh state in its northeast, though it’s always been a part of India, because it says it was historically Tibet. The entire South China Sea is claimed by China including areas that are practically in view of Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines, though the furthest reach of their claim is nearly 1000 miles from the nearest Chinese province. It is an important shipping route for a large part of the world’s commerce and every other country considers most of it to be international waters.

The third factor is the country’s need to feed the nationalism it has been stoking for decades. This helps it deflect criticism of itself. If the government is seen to be weak in the people’s eyes they will feel a backlash. Maybe you noticed that all the recent strikes, which are illegal in China but were allowed this time, were against Japanese owned companies.

The second major front in China’s relationship with the world is its manipulation of its currency. By most estimates it is undervalued by 25% to 40%. That makes Chinese goods far cheaper than they otherwise would be and allows the country to sell a lot more around the world than if their currency was subject to the marketplace, as the currencies of all other major economies are. As a result of pressure last summer, China announced it would allow its Yuan to float more widely. This was a cynical ploy to stall and deflect American action; the currency has been allowed to rise only 2% since that announcement.

As a result, the issue is back on the front burner with the US congress threatening action against China via the WTO. Premier Wen Jia Bao made a speech recently to outline his country’s position. He said three things worthy of note. First he said there’d be widespread job losses and social unrest in his country if the currency was revalued. He went on to say America doesn’t produce anything anymore; and the US would have to buy from somewhere anyway.

On the first point he’s justifying Chinese currency manipulation by saying Chinese jobs are more important than jobs in other countries. China is exporting unemployment as well as goods. On the point of America no longer manufacturing anything, an undervalued Yuan obviously is part of the reason. If the Yuan were allowed to float freely and its value went up 40%, then a lot of US manufacturing would become competitive, especially if/when energy costs rise.

The example of Pendleton Woolen Mills is a telling indicator of America’s potential to be competitive. The company produces high end shirts. Some years back they closed their last factory in America because it cost a dollar more to produce in Oregon than China; that in a shirt that retails for $50. The hundreds of workers affected were very unhappy to lose their jobs, but bottom lines don’t give a shit about people. The Oregon plant was only 10% of their total production and it’s a profitable company so they could’ve easily kept the plant open. America can’t compete on items that are sold cheaply, but clearly could on more expensive quality goods.

While the US is fixated on its huge trade deficit with China, probably the biggest losers from Chinese manipulation are other developing countries, which never seems to enter into the discussion. Why are Chinese garment jobs more important than those in Cambodia, Bangladesh, Turkey or Haiti? Cambodia has a hard time competing with China but the picture would change drastically if China’s money was fairly valued. Last I read, the cost differential was about 23% in China’s favor. I’m much more concerned about Cambodia and the other poor countries that are losing out from China’s actions, than about America, which has the resources to take care of its people if it actually wanted.

America likes to promote democracy around the world, even fight wars in its name, but when it comes to commerce, free-enterprise-loving, conservative businesspeople much prefer producing in one-party, autocratic states. The more the workers are exploited and denied basic human and organizing rights the better the conditions for making money. Meanwhile their personal greed and indifference to the health of American society has bestowed great wealth and consequently power to a country that likes to play by its own rules, throw its weight around and now act the bully.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hikers and GMO’s

I haven’t had a lot of time lately for the blog, I’m working on a big project, but here are a couple of quickies.

Hikers Wander Into Iran

Is anybody else a little suspicious about the story of innocent American hikers accidentally wandering into Iran? I’m an avid hiker and I’ve hoofed it in several exotic places – Borneo, Indonesia, Nepal, for instance – but I can’t imagine going to one of the most dangerous countries in the world just to walk in the mountains. I might go to Iraq just for the thrill of being in a dangerous place, but if I’m looking for scenery that’s about the last place I’d go.

The hikers have been in the news lately because of the release of one of the three and I’ve read lots of articles about them but they never give any background. Was it a day hike, or were they backpacking for several days?

And where have they hiked before? If it was the Congo, Yemen, rebel controlled Columbia then I’d believe their story.

Or was it the Appalachian Trail, where there are trail signs every couple of miles and facilities near the trail at regular intervals? There certainly are no signs in northern Iraq. And if there were they’d be in Arabic or Kurdish. One could not possibly go to a place like that without a local guide or at least really good topographical maps. And if you had accurate maps there’s no way you’d innocently wander into Iranian territory, especially if you were on a day hike.

The US has been funneling money into Iranian insurgent groups so maybe they were there to make contact. The idea that they were there only for the scenery beggars belief.

American Consumers Not Allowed to Know if Their Food Contains GMO’s

This is in the news because genetically modified salmon are about to enter the market. The question is whether it should be labeled as such. According to the FDA, the government agency charged with food safety, it would only confuse people to know what’s in their food, and besides, according to the industry, there’s no scientific difference between natural and genetically modified foods.

It’s easy to understand why FDA, which is basically an industry mouthpiece, doesn’t allow producers to label their food as GMO free: if they did, their sales would plummet. GMO’s, also known as frankenfoods, are allowed in Europe and Japan if they are labeled as such, but since nobody in those countries would knowingly buy GMO’s, American exporters don’t even bother trying.

As for there being no difference, someone should tell that to the Monarch butterflies who were subject to a little GMO experiment about ten years ago. In that study, milkweed, the only thing the butterflies eat, was dusted with modified corn pollen. In a short time half the insects died and the other half had serious stomach problems. The control group which ate milkweed dusted with natural corn pollen, suffered no ill effects whatever.

The New York Times published an article at the time which tried to put a little industrial spin on the matter by saying it really wasn’t a problem for the butterflies since they don’t eat corn. Yes, very true, but people do. Now I realize it’s entirely possible that a substance can be toxic to one species while it’s harmless to another, but still the two - GMO and natural – were shown in that research to be obviously, demonstrably different. That wasn’t the only study to show drastic effects on small animals and insects of eating frankenfood, but powerful as it is, Monsanto, the number one producer, has been very effective in burying results that effect its bottom line. No studies have been done on humans.

There has been a large and not easily explainable spike in cases of asthma and other more serious diseases in America over the last twenty years or so, coinciding with the introduction of GMO’s. Personally, I almost never buy processed food from America since anything produced there that isn’t labeled organic, contains GMO corn or soybean or canola. Fortunately we here in Cambodia always have the choice of buying European or from neighboring countries where GMO’s have not yet been introduced.

On a related note, researchers in North Dakota discovered recently that all the wild canola growing along the roadsides in the state was frankenfood. So much for the ability to contain GMO’s or the ability to grow non-GMO’s anywhere in North Dakota.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Repug Response to Doomsday: Bring it On

Some people in the past have accused me of hoping for Armageddon, like I really want the world to suffer. Admittedly part of me feels like we should just do it, you know, get it over with so we can start fresh. At the rate the world is being trashed, we might even be better off, at least in the long run, if we let the organized world unravel before the entire sphere is poisoned. Only a bad-assed torturer wants to see famine, flood, disease and environmental degradation; I only want the world to wake up.

For years now, I’ve kept thinking it can’t get any worse before the people wise up to challenge the status quo. Now for sure they will demand fairness, equity, intelligence in governance. But then the morass the country is in far surpasses my worst expectations and yet the American people don’t seem to notice but only want to go even more negative, choose the least enlightened path, bring the country back to the glory days of Herbert Hoover. And so it’s not just possible but likely the Repugs will take back the congress. Unbelievable, almost unimaginable, but true.

And what would be top of their agenda? Witch hunts: the search for semen stained dresses and minute personal failings. That’ll show em for totally letting us off the hook for lying about wars and giving us a pass on admitted and egregious crimes against the constitution. Democrats don’t want to bring up the past, they want to just move on and be one big bipartisan happy family. This is like a young doe trying to make nice with a hungry tiger. In fact, cats like to play with their prey before they eat them, so they can have some fun together until lunchtime.

Their second priority is to rein in government spending to tackle the deficit. It’s those entitlements that are the problem. All those lazy Americans depending on government handouts; i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment, Food Stamps, are going to have to take a hit if the economy is to be righted. According to Alan Simpson, former senator from Wyoming who Obama appointed to the government’s deficit reduction commission, Americans only want to suck off the government’s tits and what they really need is hard lessons in taking care of themselves.

Their other major goal is to continue Bushman’s tax cuts for the wealthy. The fact that tax cuts run counter to deficit reduction doesn’t seem to matter much in Repug theory.

And most amazingly, or maybe not, the people are eating it up. Yeah, bring it on.

One problem the Dumbs have, as a result of their general incompetence and extreme fecklessness, is the enthusiasm gap. The Tea Partiers are fired up about the country being run by a socialistic black man who wasn’t even born in America and is a Muslim besides. They are going to vote.

Professional Leftists - in the immortal words of Robert Gibbs, Obama’s press secretary - on the other hand are going to stay home in droves. What was his big complaint about we, the radical leftist fringe that is never happy with the Obama administration? How about that we’d never be satisfied until we had Canadian-style single-payer health care. The fact that every single poll taken during the health care debate showed large majorities of Americans as a whole – around 60% - and overwhelming majorities of Democrats – around 90% - were in favor of single-payer never seemed to matter or even register… no, universal health care is so far out radical it’s like asking for the moon.

Gibbs’ idiotic outburst wasn’t the first time administration officials had gone out of their way to insult, trample on, stab in the back the people who brought them into office. He thinks the people who elected Obama really wouldn’t be happy until Dennis Kucinich was president. Well, Dennis is certainly one of the very few Dumbs willing to speak truth to power and to actually represent the majority’s wishes, but he never was very electable. No what we really wanted was the Obama we were promised. Instead we got a corporate shill more interested in compromise with the party of NO than actually accomplishing anything of lasting value. One who snatched worthlessness from the jaws of opportunity.

The other major Repug goal is to shut down the government. More power to them, I say, maybe this time they really will be so bad, the people will finally take matters in their own hands and even the Dumbs will have to respond. But I doubt it. If the Dumbs controlled congress by 80% or 90% in place of the 60% they have now, they’d still find excuses to kowtow to the Repugs and ignore the will of the majority of Americans.

No matter how much shit gets thrown in the face of the American people, they still can’t seem to smell it. They still want to elect a government intent on throwing money at the wealthy in spite of the fact that they have a bigger share of American income than any time since 1928. And in spite of the reality that that income disparity is one of the root causes of America’s problems today.

If they can’t smell the shit when it’s thrown in their faces maybe they will when they are buried up to their necks in it. One can only hope. Meanwhile I’m thrilled I don’t have to live there (couldn’t afford to if I wanted on my Social Security) otherwise I’d be ten times as angry and depressed about the US as I am now.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Extreme Weather

Extreme Weather

Last time I was in the states I splurged and picked up a $200 weather station. It measures temperature and humidity for two locations, barometer, wind, rain and UV. I’ve always been fascinated by the weather and it’s been fun to have even though the weather doesn’t change much here in Cambodia. Right now I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be 77 to 80 at night, around 82 for the high if it’s a very rainy day, 86 or 87 if it’s partly rainy and 90 to 92 if the skies are clear. The humidity will be around 80%: pretty boring in all.

We did, however, have an extreme event here in Kampot last February: almost 5 inches – 12 cm – of rain fell in about 2 hours. (I don’t know what the figures are for Kampot but Phnom Penh, which is about 100 miles distant, gets 12 inches – 30cm – in each of September and October, the wettest months.) Even for a tropical place where precipitation typically comes hard and heavy in short bursts, that was exceptional. What was special about it was not so much the event itself, that probably happens once every four or five years, but rather the timing in the middle of dry season. It might not rain once in two or three months during that time.

For comparison, Portland, noted as being a rainy place, gets about 6 inches of rain each in December and January, its wettest months, but only a trace in July. Imagine getting nearly a whole winter month’s rain in 2 hours in July!

The authorities here were puzzled by the ensuing flood, since floods generally come with an overflowing river. Kampot is on an estuary, a tidal river, and sits right at sea level so the right combination of heavy rain coming down from the nearby mountains and high tide coming in from the sea will cause the river to overflow its banks and that happens every couple of years. With a simple rain gauge they would’ve realized that with that much precipitation in such a short time, there’s no drainage system they could ever imagine that could handle that flow without flooding.

Meanwhile, Pakistan is experiencing its worst flooding in living memory. About 20% of the country is under water. That’s about equivalent to all of Cambodia or Wisconsin. Part of the problem in a developing country like Pakistan is that its mountains have been denuded of trees by people seeking firewood so the slopes no longer hold much water. In any case floods still would’ve been severe with the amount of rain coming down.

When you hear of landslides in China, they’re also largely caused by hillsides that have been deforested. When you’re living on the edge of existence and that last tree is your only source of fuel for cooking, you take it down and worry later about tomorrow. Some landslides will happen naturally regardless of the circumstances, but 90% of what you hear about is directly the result of environmental degradation.

Meanwhile, the heat wave in Russia has broken all records and destroyed millions of hectares (1 hc = 2.4 acres) of crops in the process, which has resulted in a near doubling of the world price of wheat. Moscow, which is at the same latitude as Juneau Alaska, has an average high temperature in summer of 72F – 22C. It gets an average of 5 days a year over 86F – 30C. Last year produced not one day over 86. This year it had 34 consecutive days over that temperature with several over 100 – 38C. Russia was one of 17 countries that have broken national high temperature records so far this year.

Russia has been reluctant to get behind the global warming problem, thinking, So what if it warms up a bit in Siberia, what’s the big deal for us? Problem is the 1.5 degree Celsius rise in global temperature since the industrial revolution doesn’t spread evenly. It’ll be around average, maybe a little warmer, for a time while it’s accumulating heat in one special place or another until the excess heat, when it’s released, bears down all at once.

I’ve got lots of ornamental plants in my place in Kampot, one of the reasons I love being here. I generally keep philodendrons in the shade, it just seems more appropriate for them. Every time I’ve taken one that’s been in the shade and put it in direct sun, several of its leaves are burned in an hour or two. Meanwhile, bicycling around town, I came across one that’s doing fine in direct sunlight. I’m always kind of baffled when I look at it.

You take a place like Russia where it’s almost always cool and blast it with unnatural heat that its land is unaccustomed to and it just burns up. Same with the tendency to flood: The air today holds 5% more moisture than in the past. The excess moisture accumulates in the atmosphere until when it does come down, it comes down in buckets.

Meanwhile, new coal-fired power plants are opening up somewhere in the world every day. China, probably the biggest offender, believes it has the right to reach developed status before it’s required to cut back on coal use, which is all very fine in theory, especially since America, the worst offender on the CO2 front, seems to have no will whatever to curb its excessively gluttonous and destructive lifestyle, but if everybody waits for the other guy to act, there’ll be nothing left of the planet to worry about.

China, to its credit, has also been powering ahead on solar and wind and is now the world’s biggest producer and consumer. Meanwhile the US gives far more in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry - the world’s richest, most profitable and powerful corporations - than it does to boost the alternatives. America should be embarking on a $200 billion per year crash program to convert to sustainable energy and if it takes taxing the wealthy and upper middle class to pay for it then all the better. (Geez, am I supposed to sympathize with the plight of people making $100,000 per year so much that I think it’s a great idea to give them a tax break? Should I applaud feeding the well-off while the whole edifice of government seems to be disintegrating? When so many good, solid, hardworking people in America are being kicked out of their houses, downsized out of their jobs and just generally dumped on, should I approve of throwing money at those people who are already living the good life?)

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get you all depressed and distraught over the matter of global warming but I’m a writer, what else am I supposed to do but lay it all out in words? Unfortunately, we all know the improbability, if not impossibility of any real change coming in America’s direction or the world’s for that matter. We are locked into lemming mode, hoping, once we’ve stepped over the edge, we’ll find a magic means for not crashing ourselves to pieces on the rocks below. LOL