Saturday, August 7, 2021

Collapse of the Gulf Stream

The week before last a tree-removal crew arrived across the street and chopped down two large evergreen trees that stood in the backyard of the old apartment building that my studio windows look out upon.

The evergreens were 60-70 feet in height and provided delicious green eye candy as I lay in bed. Crows frequently perched at the tippity top like Christmas tree angels and swayed with the breeze. During my football season TV ultramarathons I would often find myself gazing for long stretches at the waving evergreens next door. It's very soothing.

I can already feel the impact of their absence. The glare is worse, and, if had to guess, I'd say it's at least a couple degrees warmer in my apartment now that they are gone. Thankfully they didn't remove all the evergreens. There's still two left, not quite as big, about 15 yards to the west, also in the backyard of the old apartment building. And, thankfully, they didn't remove the trees prior to the recent heat dome.

I mention this as preface to the study recently published warning that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a system which includes the Gulf Stream, is "approaching . . . a critical threshold beyond which the circulation system could collapse."

What that collapse would look like no one knows for sure, but it would likely include "increasing storms and lowering temperatures in Europe; and pushing up the sea level in the eastern U.S. It would also further endanger the Amazon rainforest and Antarctic ice sheets."

It seems to me that we are headed for a series of "End Times" level events owing to our rapidly heating climate. Having finished reading Dahr Jamail's The End of Ice, I know that the Artic permafrost is melting faster than scientists anticipated. This pretty much "bakes in"  hotter temperatures in the immediate future. Methane has anywhere from 30- to 90-times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. 

The Russian tundra is on fire. The forests of Pacific Northwest are too. Catastrophic fires year after year. This is the way it is going to be for the rest of my life.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Biden Less Obama More George W. Bush

Why Trump never pushed harder to deliver an infrastructure bill while he was in office baffled me. The only conclusion I could draw is that he didn't think it was important to his reelection.

I thought it was. Whether it would have a made a difference in the middle of a global pandemic the likes of which haven't been seen since the end of World War One is easy to assert but difficult to prove.

What's apparent is that Biden believes he has to deliver something on infrastructure, even if it is the shrunken bipartisan deal -- widely announced but as of Saturday afternoon the text has yet to be completed. 

The Democratic Party needs some proof of life heading into a midterm election year, particularly now that Delta is on the ascent and evidence is emerging that breakthrough infections are much more common than previously supposed.

The one feather in Biden's cap had been the rollout of vaccines produced by Trump's Operation Warp Speed. If it turns out that these vaccines don't offer a complete solution to the problem -- as I said, it is being acknowledged now that fully vaccinated people can spread the virus and end up in the hospital -- things are going to take a turn for the ugly. As Yves Smith noted last week quoting a story by NPR on the recent COVID-19 surge in the U.S. -- "[Infections] will steadily accelerate through the summer and fall, peaking in mid-October, with daily deaths more than triple what they are now."

It's not a good look for Biden. And, as Smith points out, the pandemic isn't the only bad look for Biden. Every policy area appears to be turning to shit right before our eyes. Whether it's Iran, Afghanistan, Cuba, the lapsing eviction moratorium, the false promises to alleviate student debt, Biden is looking less like the conservative, feckless Obama 3.0 and more like bumbling, incompetent George W. Bush 3.0.

So, yes, absolutely. Some sort of meaningful infrastructure bill must be passed. I'm even willing to accept the bipartisan deal as it is being currently reported if only to get the increased public transit, Amtrak and lead abatement funds into the pipeline, knowing full well that big-ticket $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation will likely never leave the launch pad.

If we use the fate of Biden's original infrastructure proposal as a gauge for budget reconciliation, the Democrats will end up somewhere around $1 trillion; at which point, I imagine, the party will be on the precipice of a free fall.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Future Not Bright for U.S. Hegemony


Last night, a sunny almost-last-day-of-spring evening, I got around to watching NBC's full, pre-summit interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It's a stunning display not just of Putin's skills as an interlocutor with a hostile questioner but more importantly of the bankruptcy of Western intelligence service talking points as presented by a corporate mainstream media mouthpiece.

NBC's English clown repeatedly interrupted and jabbed his pen at Putin, and Putin kept his cool at all times except for once when the topic of NATO came up:

KEIR SIMMONS: But many of those exercises are a resp— are a response to your actions— Mr. President. Do you worry that your opposition to NATO has actually strengthened it? For six years, NATO has spent more on defense.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Some— some defense. Some defense. During the USSR era, Gorbachev, who is still— thank God, with us— got a promise— a verbal promise— that— there would be no NATO expansion to the east. Where is that—

KEIR SIMMONS: Where is that—

VLADIMIR PUTIN: —promise? Two ways of expansion.

KEIR SIMMONS: Where is that written down? Where is that promise written down?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Right, right, right. Right, right. Well done. Well done. Correct. You’ve got a point. Nyah nyah nyah, got you good. Well, congratulations. Of course, everything should be sealed and written on paper. But what was the point of expanding NATO to the east and bringing this infrastructure to our borders, and all of this before saying that we are the ones who have been acting aggressively?

Why? On what basis? Did Russia after the USSR collapsed present any threat to the U.S. or European countries? We voluntarily withdrew our troops from Eastern Europe. Leaving them just on empty land. Our— people there— military personnel for decades lived there in what was not normal conditions, including their children.

We went to tremendous expenses. And what did we get in response? We got in response infrastructure next to our borders. And now, you are saying that we are threatening to somebody. We're conducting war games on a regular basis, including sometimes surprise military exercises. Why should it worry the NATO partners? I just don't understand that.

KEIR SIMMONS: Will you commit now not to send any further Russian troops into Ukrainian sovereign territory?

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Look, we— did we— did we say that we were planning to send our armed formations anywhere? We were conducting war games on— in our territory. How can this not be clear? I'm saying it again because I want your audience to hear it, your— listeners to hear it— both on the screens of their televisions and on the internet.

We conducted military exercises in our territory. Imagine if we sent our troops into direct proximity to your borders. What would have been your response? We didn't do that. We did it in our territory. You conducted war games in Alaska. God bless you.

But you had crossed an ocean, brought thousands of personnel— thousands of units of military equipment close to our borders, and yet you believe that we are acting aggressively and somehow you're not acting aggressively. Just look at that. Pot— pot calling the kettle black.

KEIR SIMMONS: Moving on—

If this is the best that the national security state corporate mainstream media has to offer, and I believe it is, the future is not bright for U.S. hegemony.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Tariq Ali on the Saudi War on Yemen

I've been away from this page for some time. The first quarter of the year was spent moving the office that I manage from its home of more than a half century. A Herculean effort was required and a Herculean effort was delivered despite being physically diminished from the long-haul effects of a first-wave coronavirus infection.

We moved into our new office March 5. Since then I've been ironing out the wrinkles on a new phone system and attempting to reduce my hours back to a normal 40-hr. work week. I'm starting to read more of the newspaper again. 

I wish I could say it is with relish that I return to the news, but it is not. Something noxious has occurred in the short amount of time since Biden has assumed the throne. The prestige press which not too long ago was critical of policies because they had a Trump imprimatur has now lined up in support since the Biden administration has adopted them as their own.

Look no further than the Saudi war on Yemen. It was with great fanfare that Biden announced in early February the end of U.S. support for Saudi "offensive operations." It turns out that this was more public relations than a plan to bring peace to the Arabian Peninsula. As the great Tariq Ali makes clear in "Killer Prince":

Though Biden has signalled the US will end ‘offensive operations’, it will continue to provide Saudi Arabia with ‘defensive weapons’, which appear to serve much the same purpose. His Administration has said nothing about halting technical, logistical and intelligence operations. By all indications, its plan is still to extract an unconditional surrender from the Houthis while maintaining its disastrous ‘counterterrorism’ operations in the country. To date, Biden’s promised ‘recalibration’ of the US–Saudi relationship is nowhere to be seen.

Remember, Congress invoked the War Powers Act to force Trump to withdraw U.S. support for the war. Trump vetoed that resolution. Why doesn't the Democrat-controlled Congress invoke the War Powers Act again? What's at stake? Tariq Ali summarizes:

Cholera and hunger on a scale that has not been seen since the last century, with some 20 million experiencing food insecurity and 10 million at risk of famine. An estimated 110,000 have been killed in the fighting, with a death toll of 233,000 overall, mostly due to indirect causes such as lack of food and health services. Few of the country’s medical facilities are functional.

Remember this the next time a U.S. official pleads for a "humanitarian" military intervention to liberate an oppressed people.  

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Super Bowl LV Pick

Today dawns Super Bowl LV (CBS, 3:30 PM EST). It's a COVID Super Bowl. Last year at this time the United States was a still a month away from lockdown frenzy. 

Today's Super Bowl is an advertiser's dream. The sweet bird of youth phenom Patrick Mahomes against the 43-year-old GOAT Tom Brady. The dynasty-in-the-making Kansas City Chiefs versus the Jiffy Pop loaded with talent powerhouse Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Chiefs have injuries on the offensive line; that combined with Tampa's intimidating defensive line and linebackers, a front seven that dominated the game against Green Bay, give the Buccaneers a clearly lighted path to the Lombardi Trophy. Toss in a clock-chewing Tampa offense with Brady at the controls throwing short passes to Chris Godwin over the middle and Mike Evans outside the numbers, and then handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, and really, really, I don't see how the Buccaneers can lose.

Well, I guess, here's how. Kansas City's defense is better than people think. Led by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs will pressure Tom Brady with Chris Jones, Frank Clark and a combination of corner and slot blitzes. Brady will turn the ball over. Then it's Mahomes turn. Can the Chiefs move the ball against that frightening Tampa defense? I think they can. I think Andy Reid will attack those big fast linebackers -- Devin White, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David -- and when Tampa's depleted secondary drops down to help, Mahomes will takes his shots down the field.

In the end, I'm going with Andy Reid over Bruce Arians; Steve Spagnuolo over Todd Bowles; Patrick Mahomes over Tom Brady. Take the Kansas City Chiefs.

Friday, January 22, 2021

NFL Championship Round Picks

It comes with a feeling of great relief that the football season is almost over. There are only two Sundays left: the championship round two days away and the holiest American day, Super Bowl Sunday, February 7.

Each year at this time I feel the same way -- nauseated -- because for two straight weekends in January I do nothing but watch football on television. It's not healthy. And each year I draw the same conclusion: In the United States identity, public personhood, social intelligence -- call it, label it whatever way you want -- is indistinguishable from commercial consumerism.

The first game on Sunday, the NFC Championship game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers (3:05 PM EST, FOX), is an "instant classic" matchup between GOAT Tom Brady and MVP Aaron Rodgers. Tampa is a strong team with a loaded offense and young, dominating defense who shellacked Green Bay earlier in the season. I see this game coming down to whether the Buccaneers defense, led by coordinator Todd Bowles, will fluster Rodgers with blitzes and create turnovers. I'm betting that Rodgers, a fellow Berkeley man, who seems to be thinking more quickly and clearly now than at any time since the Packers won the Super Bowl ten years ago, will counter those blitzes with quick-release passes. Plus the game is being played at Lambeau Field. Take the Packers.

The AFC Championship game, Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs (6:40 PM EST, CBS), is a tough one because of the multiple injuries suffered by star Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the unexpected nail-biter last week against the Browns. Mahomes was knocked out of the game with a neck injury and it took a fourth-down completion by backup Chad Henne to seal the victory. (What an amazingly ballsy call by head coach Andy Reid!) 

Mahomes is expected to start, but his mobility will be severely limited, both because of the neck and the toe. Buffalo is peaking right now. A lot of people are climbing on the Bills bandwagon. Kansas City beat the Bills in Buffalo earlier this year by running the ball. The Bills were able to squash the Ravens run game last week. So one would think they could suffocate the Chiefs' Darrel Williams and Le'Veon Bell. But I am going to say that Andy Reid has schemed up something potent. Take the Chiefs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Trumpism Here to Stay

The oldest president ever at inauguration ascends to the throne today in the nation's capital guarded by 25,000 troops, a few of whom have been relieved of duty because of the possibility of insider attacks reminiscent of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

Of the big questions tossed up after the January 6 mob riot on Capitol Hill the foremost is definitely where the Republican Party goes from here. Thomas Edsall's column this morning samples academic opinion and concludes mildly, no doubt so as not to piss in Biden's inaugural punch bowl, that nativism, bigotry and xenophobia (now called Trumpism) are here to stay in the Grand Old Party. The only smiley face Edsall manages is a fairy tale about Generation Z voters riding to the rescue in ten years, similar to the fairy tale of rising Hispanic voter hegemony with which mainstream Democrats have comforted themselves for the last 15 years. Now that black and brown people are disaffiliating from the Democratic Party, a new collective hallucination is required.

Of course Trumpism is here to stay because Trumpism has been in the works at least since Brown v. Board of Education. In other words, Trumpism is synonymous with the modern Republican Party. You can't have a Republican Party without Trumpism. There will be some sort of kabuki to satisfy Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But in the end the party that will fracture first is not the GOP but the Democrats.