John Brennan just gave a speech, purportedly about our policy in Yemen. But it ended up being largely about infrastructure, That’s partly because his speech focused on how, rather than spending 75% of our Yemen funds on bombs, we’re now spending just 50% (having bumped up the total to include an equal amount development assistance). So a good part of his talk focused on whether or not Yemen would be able to do the critical work of rebuilding its infrastructure sufficient to combat AQAP which, in some areas, has done a better job of building infrastructure.
Of course as I noted while he spoke, a number of the infrastructure challenges Brennan confidently assured we could help rebuild–things like access to water–are challenges we are increasingly failing in our own country.
And then, because the DC attention span had had enough of Yemen, moderator Margaret Warner asked Brennan what the Administration will do now that their cybersecurity bills have been defeated. To justify his talk of using Executive Orders to address some of the infrastructure problems, Brennan talked about the “bad guys” who posed a cyberthreat to our critical infrastructure.
Nowhere did Brennan acknowledge the much more immediate threat to our critical infrastructure: in the corporations and politics that let it decline. PG&E and Enbridge, failing to invest the money to fix known defects in their pipelines. Fracking companies, depleting and degrading our water supply. Verizon, eliminating choice for Internet access for rural customers. Republicans who want to gut our Postal Service and passenger rail. And heck, even Fat Al Gore and climate change, which is not only depleting our water supply but stalling key water transport routes.
Brennan promises to help rebuild Yemen’s infrastructure. But not only can’t he implement his plan against the bogeyman “bad buys” threatening our infrastructure, he seems completely unaware that those “bad guys” aren’t anywhere near the biggest threat to our infrastructure.
Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the Administration’s decision to dedicate money to Yemen’s infrastructure, even if I think a 50/50 split, aid to bombs, is still woefully inadequate. But until we begin to see what “bad guys” pose the biggest threat to our own infrastructure, I’m skeptical our efforts in Yemen will be any more successful than they were in Iraq or Afghanistan.
I’m beginning to wonder whether Obama is worried the drought–particularly in the Midwest–could imperil his reelection campaign. I say that because he seems to be avoiding addressing it on the campaign trail. (Compare that to the way he has addressed other tragedies, such as his well-received conversations with the victims of the Aurora shooting.)
To the best of my knowledge, this July 18 photo is as close as Obama has gotten to publicly expressing concern about the drought. And in a press briefing on the drought the same day, both participants–Tom Vilsack and Jay Carney–avoided addressing questions about whether Obama would visit drought affected areas.
Q Secretary, should we be expecting that you and the President will be heading to a drought-stricken area soon? That’s normally a path that you take when you’re trying to show something is a priority.
SECRETARY VILSACK: Well, I can’t speak obviously for the President’s schedule, but I can tell you that actually I was in Pennsylvania yesterday. We do have the Deputy Secretary going to Georgia tomorrow. We’ve got the Under Secretary of the Farm Service Association traveling to several states that are drought-impacted and affected.
Q Is the President going, Jay, to go anywhere –
MR. CARNEY: I don’t have any scheduling updates for the President to provide to you today. If and when I do, I’ll provide them.
Now, I’m not trying to concern troll about the President’s schedule, in the way Republicans are criticizing Obama for not meeting with his Jobs Council. Nor am I saying Obama’s not responding to the drought; the USDA has been making low-cost loans available to those in areas declared a disaster, as well as certain other things that may provide immediate if not long-term relief.
Rather, I’m raising it because I really do think it might affect the election. Consider how many swing states are affected by the drought (conditions have gotten better in MI of late).
And while IA has not been included among the counties in which Vilsack has declared a disaster, its corn harvest has been affected (with 40% deemed poor or very poor on July 22). And their livestock will be affected as well.
Bill McKibben had a long piece on climate change this week, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” that has justifiably gotten a lot of attention. The terrifying math of the title is this:
The math means, McKibben explains, that to keep global warming within the consensus but already too high limit of 2°C, we’ve got to find some way to force the fossil fuel companies not to develop their existing reserves.
At this point, effective action would require actually keeping most of the carbon the fossil-fuel industry wants to burn safely in the soil, not just changing slightly the speed at which it’s burned.
According to the Carbon Tracker report, if Exxon burns its current reserves, it would use up more than seven percent of the available atmospheric space between us and the risk of two degrees. BP is just behind, followed by the Russian firm Gazprom, then Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, each of which would fill between three and four percent. Taken together, just these six firms, of the 200 listed in the Carbon Tracker report, would use up more than a quarter of the remaining two-degree budget. Severstal, the Russian mining giant, leads the list of coal companies, followed by firms like BHP Billiton and Peabody. The numbers are simply staggering – this industry, and this industry alone, holds the power to change the physics and chemistry of our planet, and they’re planning to use it.
From this McKibben proposes a solution: Tax carbon to make it cost prohibitive to develop these reserves. To tax carbon you’ve got to undercut the fossil fuel industry’s power, and to do that you’ve got to villainize them, but heck that’s easy because they really are villains, since their business model will kill the planet. And so a movement like the South African divestment campaign can make it toxic to own fossil fuel stocks.
That’s a gross oversimplification–please do read the full article for a nuanced version.
Now, there’s nothing in the article that I disagree with. I’m all for making fossil fuel companies pay for the waste their industry creates. I’m all in favor of villainizing them to make that more likely.
But I’ll note that McKibben doesn’t utter the words that would both make it easier to villainize the fossil fuel industry and explains some of the underlying reasons why that’s not going to be enough.
“National security.” Or even “security.”
Sure, all the details McKibben cites about evident and likely effects of climate change imply this is a security issue: 356 homes gone in Colorado Springs, spiking food prices, even entire countries disappearing.
But until we start using the language of national security, we won’t properly demonstrate the treachery of those who refuse to deal with this. Continue reading
After I read Obama’s Executive Order opening up trade with Burma, I joked,
Wait. We’re exporting FINANCIAL SERVICES to Myanmar? This is considered a favor to them?
Seriously. Sending our financial services to another country is, these days, the equivalent of bombing them.
Just as–probably more–troubling though are the concerns Josh Rogin lays out about Obama green-lighting investment in the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, off of which the military profits.
[Aung San] Suu Kyi, who was elected to Burma’s parliament in April after more than two decades of house arrest, last month specifically asked foreign governments not to allow their companies to partner with MOGE at this time.
“The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) … with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present,” she said June 14 in a speech in Geneva. “The [Myanmar] government needs to apply internationally recognized standards such as the IMF code of good practices on fiscal transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner [with] MOGE unless it was signed up to such codes.”
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it would follow Suu Kyi’s lead while cautiously opening up to closer ties with the Burmese regime. The new U.S. ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell arrived there today.
Following a Deputies Committee meeting last week, the side that advocated for a broader repeal of the investment ban won out. That side included the State Department’s East Asian and Pacific affairs bureau (EAP), led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, the economics office at State led by Undersecretary Robert Hormats, and the Treasury and Commerce departments.
While the Treasury version of today’s news imposes human rights (but not profit) controls on investments over $500,000 and threatens sanctions on anyone threatening the peace in Burma (this is akin to the sanctions passed on Yemen),
The order provides new authority to impose blocking sanctions on persons determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with or at the recommendation of the Secretary of State: to have engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, or stability of Burma, such as actions that have the purpose or effect of undermining or obstructing the political reform process or the peace process with ethnic minorities in Burma;
Ultimately, it’s Treasury–one of the entities that overrode the human rights advocates in this debate and has proven unable to regulate our own banksters–that gets to decide what constitutes peace.
There’s a very long, almost universal history of bad outcomes associated with big investments in oil. And yet the only safeguard Obama has put in place to prevent the oil curse from spoiling this really superb development–the opening of Burma–is the diligence of the Treasury Department that refuses to even reign in our own cursed industries.
First there’s the drought. Last week’s heat wave and the last month’s dry weather hit just as much of America’s corn crop was set to pollinate. And if the corn doesn’t pollinate, it never grows kernels. Even as I’ve been writing this post, USDA sharply cut forecasts for the corn harvest.
As a result, corn prices (soy prices too) are rising sharply. Which will, for better and worse, have repercussions on all the aspects of our super-processed life that relies on corn.
“The drought of 2012 will be one for the records,” said Peter Meyer, the senior director for agricultural commodities at PIRA Energy Group in New York, who forecasts a drop in output to 11 billion bushels if the hot, dry spell lasts another three weeks. “Whether it’s ethanol or livestock, no one is immune from this impending disaster. The ramifications will be widespread, affecting everything from your food to your gasoline.”
And all that’s before any follow-on effects, if the drought continues. Even in Grand Rapids, we’ve had some unusual fires. Rivers that were experiencing historic floods last year are approaching record lows this year; traffic on the Mississippi has already slowed.
Yet all that–even with our country’s industrialized reliance on corn–might be no more concerning than other droughts, such last year’s drought in Texas.
Meanwhile, banksters keep stealing farmers’ money–first via MF Global and now with Peregrine.
The U.S. futures industry reeled as regulators accused Iowa-based PFGBest of misappropriating more than $200 million in customer funds for more than two years, a new blow to trader trust just months after MF Global’s collapse.
In DC all weekend, people were enjoying the gorgeous cherry blossoms, but bemoaning the fact that the peak bloom pretty much has preceded the Cherry Blossom Festival. Now in Holland, MI, they’re facing the likelihood that not even moving up its Tulip Fest will ensure there are still blooms on the stems come May.
It is 85 degrees here at the moment (though there’s a pleasant breeze coming off the river), and predicted to climb higher. Tomorrow it is predicted to break 90. Nine. Zero. In March. In MI.
(If posts are thin tomorrow, you can presume McCaffrey the MilleniaLab and I have gone to the beach.)
As the map above makes clear, temperatures this week are 25 degrees above where they’re supposed to be this time of year.
And while I realize Mr. Pricky Cactus will show up and boast about how hot and dry it is in AZ, things are just so far outside of the norm here it’s creepy (though pleasant). Wunderblogs notes that some of the the “coldest places” in the nation are setting repeated record highs.
Summer in March continues for the Midwest
The ongoing March heat wave in the Midwest will continue to set all-time heat records through Thursday, gradually shifting its peak intensity eastwards during the week. Continue reading
This Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen essay, attacking the “threat inflation” in foreign affairs, is generating a lot of buzz. DDay wrote about it here, and Paul Pillar has a worthwhile addition here. At one level, I’m positively thrilled that this sentiment is being expressed in the bible of the foreign policy establishment, Foreign Affairs.
Within the foreign policy elite, there exists a pervasive belief that the post–Cold War world is a treacherous place, full of great uncertainty and grave risks. A 2009 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 69 percent of members of the Council on Foreign Relations believed that for the United States at that moment, the world was either as dangerous as or more dangerous than it was during the Cold War. Similarly, in 2008, the Center for American Progress surveyed more than 100 foreign policy experts and found that 70 percent of them believed that the world was becoming more dangerous. Perhaps more than any other idea, this belief shapes debates on U.S. foreign policy and frames the public’s understanding of international affairs.
There is just one problem. It is simply wrong. The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.
But there’s just one problem with their argument. “It is simply wrong.”
This is an over 5,000-word article, 16 pages long.
And while Zenko and Cohen discuss non-military threats–primarily health and economics and cybersecurity–they [update (see below)--almost] never discuss climate change.
That’s largely a reflection of the paradigm of foreign policy. After all, climate change doesn’t pose a unique, comparative threat to the US. It’s a real, pressing threat to the entire globe at once.
But that doesn’t mean the US–and every other country–is as safe as Zenko and Cohen claim. It just means the risk–one that transcends boundaries and nationalities, though is exacerbated by the latter–doesn’t fit the framework foreign policy wonks work under. And until the foreign policy community gets that climate change should be today’s key foreign policy issue–one that will disrupt the current paradigm of international relations, sure, but as such (particularly given all the very legitimate points Zenko and Cohen make about other threats) really ought to represent an opportunity as well as an imperative.
Update: I apologize to Zenko and Cohen: They do too mention climate change: once, in the following passage.
Indeed, the most lamentable cost of unceasing threat exaggeration and a focus on military force is that the main global challenges facing the United States today are poorly resourced and given far less attention than “sexier” problems, such as war and terrorism. These include climate change, pandemic diseases, global economic instability, and transnational criminal networks—all of which could serve as catalysts to severe and direct challenges to U.S. security interests. But these concerns are less visceral than alleged threats from terrorism and rogue nuclear states. They require long-term planning and occasionally painful solutions, and they are not constantly hyped by well-financed interest groups. As a result, they are given short shrift in national security discourse and policymaking. [my emphasis]
My point still stands though: Climate change is not a catalyst to severe challenges, it is in fact, itself, a challenge (and also contributes to instability and migration and food insecurity which will be catalysts to insecurity).
So I apologize to Zenko and Cohen for accusing them of being “blind,” though I still think the claim that no real threats face the US to be “simply wrong.” And thanks to Cohen for alerting me of my initial error.
From when I was 6 until I was 16, in two different houses, my bedroom was painted pink. I don’t think I ever liked the color, but I learned to loathe it along the way, even if it was just my parents’ half-hearted attempt to encourage me to be girlie.
But I suspect that’s only a part of the reason why, as a breast cancer survivor, I learned to hate the pink ribbons purportedly serving my interests.
It may have been when Eureka developed an ad campaign around the pink ribbon. I was less than thrilled that Eureka tried to use my cancer as a reason to sell women more vacuum cleaners along with their stale gender stereotypes.
But I think the moment when I most realized that the cancer industry was about turning breast cancer patients into profit centers came when I went to a Komen-funded Young Survival Coalition conference. The organization itself–focused on breast cancer resources for those diagnosed under the age of 40–was a godsend. But the conference insisted on calling us patients and survivors “customers.”
Customers, I thought (as I got the swag bag full of drug marketing gimmicks). I’m a customer because I have cancer?
Though we conference attendees had our revenge at the session sponsored by Genentech, the maker of the anti-nausea drug Kytril. As the speaker thanked “Genentech, maker of Kytril,” someone yelled out “it doesn’t work.” And another. Then me. And another. And another. It took getting a bunch of us in a room together to compare notes and learn that a bunch of us found the $50/pill medicine to be less effective than older drugs.
You have to be a shrewd customer to survive cancer without getting fleeced.
Komen just pretended to reverse its decision defund Planned Parenthood’s cancer screening services (it promises only to consider PP applications in the future, not to fund them). And, as Greg Sargent reports, they deny that Nancy Brinker did anything wrong.
But now that everyone has become aware of Komen’s sleaziness, it’s time to look at what they–and the cancer industry–do more generally. They fund efforts to diagnose and find a cure but–as this excellent diary describes–they work against things like prevention. They also tend to push back against research that shows we’ve been over-diagnosing and over-treating breast cancer. (I know such studies are controversial, but as someone who learned only after my treatment that European countries would have treated my case very differently, for a fraction of the cost and invasiveness, but with statistically equivalent outcomes, I take them seriously.)
One of the leading breast cancer doctors and advocates, Susan Love, had this to say Tuesday.
Rather than putting politics into the breast cancer movement, lets rise above the political divisions and work together. Let’s redirect all the money that will be spent on investigating Planned Parenthood into funding studies looking to find the cause and prevent the disease once and for all. Let’s redirect our anger to making mammograms unnecessary because we know how to prevent the disease.
We ought to use this scandal to examine more closely where cancer money gets spent–on treatment, turning cancer patients into customers–and rarely on prevention.
While I appreciate the gesture, pink ribbons to me have come to symbolize cancer patients as profit centers, both for consumer goods capitalizing on an association with the goodwill (and Komen), as well as for ungodly expensive drugs that don’t always provide better outcomes. They’ve come to symbolize the same kind of passive compliance I think of when I remember those damn pink walls.
It’s time we aspired to stopping cancer, not just throwing tons of increasingly expensive drugs and consumer products at it. And that, in turn, means finding some other entity besides Komen to take the lead.
Marion Nestle describes that the USDA is cutting back on basic research.
This decision, Neuman reports, “reflects a cold-blooded assessment of the economic usefulness”—translation: lack of political clout in the affected industry—of the 500 or so reports issued by the National Agriculture Statistics Service each year.
I was struck, in particular, by this report on the cutting block.
Annual Bee and Honey Report – Eliminate
Which I believe is this report:
This file contains the annual report of the number of colonies producing honey, yield per colony, honey production, average price, price by color class and value; honey stocks by state and U.S.
Why, at a time when people are struggling to understand colony collapse, would the government eliminate a report on how many colonies are producing honey? This is like eliminating a report on how many canaries die in coal mines just to make sure people don’t become worried about imminent explosions.
What place does this sound like?
Ruling elites … do not see climate change as an immediate threat to their authority. They therefore feel free to take an opportunistic attitude toward climate change, supporting climate change mitigation policies that have collateral economic or political benefits to their particular interests.
Though it could be, it is not an indictment of our own country’s refusal to do anything about climate change. Rather, it’s one of a series of climate change studies and conferences the National Intelligence Council contracted to have done. This one describes the self-serving actions of the pre-Arab Spring authoritarian elite of North Africa.
As Steven Aftergood reported, the CIA is hiding the climate change analysis they’re doing. They just rejected a FOIA for their climate change reports based on a claim that everything they have done is classified. So these reports, prominently labeled, “This paper does not represent US Government views,” are one of the only public reads about what the intelligence community is doing with climate change.
Those contractor studies are interesting for several reasons. First, check out how they define their regions:
The impact of climate change on the US, Europe, much of the Middle East, and most of Africa are all missing (or, at least, not public).
Shouldn’t someone (not the CIA, which can’t, but perhaps DOE) start thinking about how climate change will affect security in the US? How do you rationalize not including the Middle East (where water is already is source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors) or the Horn of Africa (where climate-related issues discussed in the North Africa studies have presented predictably catastrophic problems in countries that already pose other national security challenges to the US)? Why study India rather than South Asia as a whole, particularly given that Bangladesh will be one of the most impacted countries and (as reflected in the India report) will present India with a serious refugee problem. In short, there are real, critical gaps in the way the intelligence community at least publicly thinks of the potential impact of climate change.
I checked out the North Africa reports (commissioned report, conference report) to see how the intelligence community viewed the region two years before the Arab Spring. True, these reports analyze the impact of things like drought on agriculture and the impact of that on stability, but such analysis largely parallels the impact of neoliberal economic policies on agriculture and therefore on stability. Here’s what the NIC was hearing about climate change and Ag and stability two years before the Arab Spring (these quotes come from the conference report):
An acute state failure to address climate change that results in intolerable conditions for significant segments of the population may constitute a sociopolitical tipping point, in essence a breaking of the social compact between North African states and civil society. At that point, civil actors may determine that fundamental systemic change is necessary. The results of such a situation will depend on the specific reactions by state elites and by the public; reform, repression, or revolution are all possibilities. A combination of climatic stress and inadequate state responses over the next two decades could prove the catalyst for a major sociopolitical shift in North Africa. On the other hand, North Africans tend to hold a religiously based view that “what will be, will be.” Owing to this fatalistic mindset, North Africans are unlikely to blame the state for climate related stresses, making it more difficult to attain the aforementioned tipping point.
Much later, the report predicts that the ancillary effects of climate change will be the cause of social stress.
The implications of climate change in North Africa—notably migration, stress on both rural and urban areas, unemployment, and increased resource competition—are likely to generate volatile sociopolitical conditions that will pose significant threats to the existing political structure. The responses of North African states to these threats may be more decisive for the fate of the region than their direct responses to climate change impacts. North African states have robust capacity to maintain social control in the face of domestic challenges and destabilization. Regimes depend on a combination of entrenched patronage systems, robust mukhabarat (security) apparatuses, and the support of external allies—a combination that has proven highly effective at maintaining political control. They have a track record of effectively suppressing dissent and unrest or remaining resilient where unrest has persisted, such as the civil conflict in Algeria.
States in the region may seek to suppress or distort information on climate change-related challenges. They seek to control access to any information that could provide a basis for opposition to the state, even information as seemingly innocuous as census data. The proliferation of new media and alternative information sources, however, will make it difficult to maintain such censorship. [my emphasis]
Particularly given our own IC’s failure to take the warnings of unrest expressed via social media social media seriously, I find the warning that North African regimes would find it hard to censor this social unrest prescient.
And I find it richly ironic that the IC notes other countries would “seek to suppress or distort information on climate change-related challenges” when the CIA is doing just that in the US.
But I also find the description of these regimes’ reliance on their allies chilling. This report always describes these regimes, several of them key allies of ours, as badly repressive regimes.
Although the level of repression varies between states, with Tunisia and Libya the most extreme, and has varied cyclically over time, authoritarian regimes are well entrenched in every state in the region.
The conference report acknowledges that the US focus on terrorism has narrowed its diplomatic focus with these countries, which in turn has strengthened the security apparatuses in the region–precisely the source of the repressive strength of the countries.
Security issues are the primary focus of US relations with North African states. The predominance of security and military concerns has led to disproportionate US engagement with security apparatuses in the region, strengthening regimes in ways that may damage long-term prospects to meet the challenges of climate change. US policy in the region has become even more security-centric as a result of the continuing struggle against radical Islamic terrorism. While terrorism has deepened US security ties with states in the region, it has also narrowed the scope of US engagement, which may not be in the long-term interests of either party.
And then the report incorrectly suggests that the only likely challenge to these regimes if they fail to respond adequately to climate change would be Islamists.
Islamist groups have emerged as the only viable opposition force because they have resisted state cooptation and because the state has blocked other avenues for social mobilization. In addition, they have established a track record of effective humanitarian responses to mudslides, earthquakes, and other natural disasters, often providing immediate medical, shelter, and food aid that are normally the responsibilities of the state. In many cases Islamist groups may fill the void left by inadequate state responses or the weakness of other types of potential civil responders. Moderate Islamist groups could play a constructive role, providing highly visible humanitarian assistance that empowers autonomous civil actors and contrasts with ineffectual state responses, thus pressuring state actors to respond more effectively. Moderate Islamists could use the climate change mitigation issue to bolster their argument that existing North African governments are illegitimate and exploitative, creating momentum for political reform.
On the other hand, Islamic extremists across the region may exploit climate change’s destabilizing impacts and ineffective state responses to promote the spread of militancy and anti-regime violence. Indeed, Islamist militants could point to climate-induced catastrophes as evidence of God’s wrath against “apostate regimes” whose un-Islamic behavior has plunged the region into desperate circumstances.
In other words, while the report doesn’t lay out the the logical case it makes explicitly, it nevertheless argues that:
In other words, this conference report suggests (though does not say so explicitly, perhaps because it was written by contractors intent on getting paid) that in the presence of a stress like climate change, our counter-terrorism approach may be self-defeating.
Now, again, this report wasn’t written by our spooks and it “does not represent US Government views.” Our policy makers may not agree with this report’s analysis, or they may be ignoring it (seeing no “collateral political or economic benefits to their particular interests”). And if you buy my premise that the stress of climate change is similar to the stress caused by an embrace of neoliberalism, then the report badly underestimated both the success of those challenging these regimes and the centrality of Islamists in these countries.
There’s a lot else that could be said about these reports (such as their too-narrow focus on the Ag in each particular country, when recent food price shocks make it clear such stress will play out at broader levels).
But more generally, the report suggests that our counterterrorism policies are making countries around the world less resilient to climate change (and so presumably to a range of other stresses as well).