Tag: European Union

In defence of sovereignty and democracy.

The challenges facing the European Union ripple out across the whole of the free world.

I note that this is the second Friday where there is an abrupt change from the run of posts during the previous few days. For last Friday I republished a George Monbiot article on Rigging the Market and today there is another Monbiot article that I want to share with you; shared with you with the kind permission of Mr. Monbiot.

Unlike last Friday’s Monbiot article that clearly had global implications, at first sight this article about the European Union has no relevance to those of us not living with EU boundaries. But that would be wrong. For the importance of protecting a country’s sovereignty and the democratic processes within that country is supreme across all democratically elected governments.

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The Lesser Evil

Consequences.

I can’t resist this essay from George Monbiot.

As regular followers of Learning from Dogs will know, I frequently republish essays written by George Monbiot. I do so because there is only so much one can write about dogs, Mr. Monbiot is a great writer, and the gentleman has generously given me blanket permission to republish his essays! 😉

Plus, while many of my posts are directly about dogs, the underlying theme of this blog is to use the qualities of dogs as emblems, or metaphors, for how mankind has to behave if we are to have any chance of survival into the longterm. Or in the words of my essay on Dogs and integrity:

Because of this closeness between dogs and man, we (as in man!) have the ability to observe the way they live.  Now I’m sure that scientists would cringe with the idea that the way that a dog lives his life sets an example for us humans, well cringe in the scientific sense.  But man seems to be at one of those defining stages in mankind’s evolution where the forces bearing down on the species homo sapiens have the potential to cause very great harm.  If the example of dogs can provide a beacon of hope, an incentive to change at a deep cultural level, then the quicker we ‘get the message’, the better it will be.

All of which is my way of introducing Mr. Monbiot’s latest essay on the recent shenanigans involving Greece, in particular, and the EU, in general.

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Breaking Faith

13th July 2015

The European Union is becoming ever harder for progressives to love. Is it time to get out?

By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 10th July 2015

Had I been asked a couple of years ago how I would vote in the referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union, my answer would have been unequivocal.

The EU seemed to me to be a civilising force, restraining the cruel and destructive tendencies of certain member governments (including our own), setting standards that prevented them from destroying the natural world or trashing workers rights, creating a buffer between them and the corporate lobby groups that present an urgent threat to democracy.

Now I’m not so sure. Everything good about the European Union is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage.

I accept the principle of sharing sovereignty over issues of common concern. I do not accept the idea of the rich nations combining to crush the democratic will of the poorer nations, as they are seeking to do to Greece.

I accept the principle that the European Union should represent our joint interests in creating treaties for the betterment of humankind. I do not accept that it has a right to go behind our backs and quietly negotiate a treaty with the United States – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that transfers power from parliaments to corporations.

I accept the principle that the EU could distribute money to the poor and marginalised. I do not accept that, as essential public services are cut, €57bn a year should be sloshed into the pockets of farmers, with the biggest, richest landowners receiving the largest payments. The EU’s utter failure to stop this scandal should be a source of disillusionment even to its most enthusiastic supporters.

While these injustices, highly damaging to the reputation of the European Union among people who might otherwise be inclined to defend it, are taking place, at the same time the EU’s restraints on unaccountable power are in danger of being ripped away.

The slippage began with the disastrous abandonment last year of the Soil Framework Directive, at the behest of agricultural lobbyists and the British government. It’s the first time a directive has been derailed.

The directive would have obliged the member states to minimise soil erosion and compaction, maintain the organic matter contained in the soil, prevent landslides and prevent soil from being contaminated with toxic substances. Could any sentient person object to these aims? And can anyone who has studied the complete failure of current soil protection measures in countries like the United Kingdom, where even Farmer’s Weekly admits that “British soils are reaching crisis point” fail to see that further measures are required?

The National Farmers Union, who appear to regard it as their mission to vandalise the fabric of the nation, took credit for the decision.

Now the same industries are trying to sink the directives protecting the natural world. In some European countries, the nature directives are just about all that prevent the eradication of the wildlife that belongs to everyone and no one. Thanks to the capture and cowardice of the European Commission, there is now a real danger that the industrial lobbyists who want to destroy our common heritage will get their way.

The European Union’s two nature directives – the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive – are often all that stand between our wildlife and the industries that would destroy them.

Look, for example, at what’s happening to our harbour porpoises. These beautiful creatures, that enhance the lives of everyone who has seen them leaping and playing the sea, are being caught and killed in fishing nets, starved to death by overfishing, mashed up by propellers and driven out of their feeding grounds by a cacophony of underwater noise from boats.

The only way in which they can be protected is through creating areas in which these activities are restricted, particularly in places such as the Hebrides, the outer Moray Firth and in parts of Cardigan Bay. But the only site the government has proposed is a tiny speck of sea off the coast of Northern Ireland.

The one defence this species has against the mailed fist of the fishing industry, which appears to be locked around the sensitive parts of the UK’s environment department, is an appeal under the Habitats Directive, of which this country is blatantly in breach.

Or look at the continued massacre of birds of prey by grouse shooting estates, which operate as black holes in which hen harriers, peregrines, eagles and other species disappear without trace: shot, trapped or poisoned by an industry that exists to serve the ultra-elite, while damaging the common heritage of humankind. There’s no point in asking nicely: representing the interests of the ultra-elite while damaging the common interests of humankind appears to be the government’s mission. So the only possible restraint is an appeal under the Birds Directive, which the UK government signed and still claims to uphold.

Badly and erratically as we protect our precious species and the places in which they live, they would be in a much worse state were it not for the restraining influence of European law.

I happen to think that there is quite a lot wrong with the Habitats Directive. Some of the places it protects, at the behest of national governments, are highly degraded ecosystems, and it locks them into their depleted state, ensuring that they can recover neither the wealth of species that might live there, nor much of the dynamism and ecological function that could otherwise have been restored.

The irrational way in which upland heather moors are protected is one example. Like the strikingly similar landscapes of low wiry vegetation that you can now see in some former rainforest areas in the tropics, these habitats have been created through repeated cycles of cutting and burning. This destruction is necessary to keep these wastelands in their current state, by preventing trees from returning.

While we decry these processes when we see them take place abroad, here we treat them as if they were essential conservation tools. It’s a form of madness which afflicts everyone from grouse moor owners to conservationist groups, and it reflects an astonishing loss of perspective on the part of those who should be protecting the natural world. The Habitats Directive is one of the legal instruments that has turned this continued destruction into a legal requirement.

But the European Commission’s proposals to “reform” the directives, are likely to make them worse, not better. The danger is that it will leave their irrational aspects intact, while stripping away the essential protections they offer to our wildlife.

No one is in any doubt that the “reform” being proposed is the kind that is usually enacted with a can of petrol and a box of matches. In November last year, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, instructed the Environment Commissioner to “overhaul” the directives and to examine the possibility of merging them. A reliable if sometimes eccentric set of protections is now at mortal risk.

A public consultation on these proposals is taking place at the moment, and it closes on July 24. I’ll repeat that because the only hope these directives possess is a huge public response calling for their defence. The consultation closes on July 24. Please send in your views. Already, 270,000 people have done so, prompted by campaigning organisations such as the RSPB. Let’s turn this into half a million.

The ostensible purpose of this proposed vandalism is to reduce the costs to business. But when the Conservative former president of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, was asked by the European Commission to conduct a review of all European legislation, with a view to deregulating it, he discovered that the combined impact of all seven of the EU’s environmental directives (of which birds and habitats are just two) is less than 1% of the total cost to business caused by European law. In other words it is utterly insignificant.

In fact, changing these directives could be costly for businesses, as they have already adapted their practices to meet them, and they would have to start all over again if the laws are changed.

The threat to the directives arises not from a demand by business as a whole, but from pressure by two of the most destructive industries in the European Union, Big Farmer and the construction lobby. That the European Commission should have chosen to listen to them while ignoring the views of everyone else cuts to the heart of what is going wrong there.

So when the referendum comes, I will find myself in a struggle I never anticipated. I am an internationalist. I think it’s essential that issues which transcend national borders are tackled together, rather than apart. I recognise the hideous history of conflict in Europe, and the extraordinary achievement of peace that the European Union represents. I feel nothing in common with the Eurosceptics of the right, who appear to see the EU as interfering with their god-given right to exploit other people and destroy their surroundings.

My feelings towards the EU are now similar to my feelings towards the BBC: a sense that I ought to join the defence of this institution against reactionary forces, but that it has succumbed so catastrophically to those forces that there is little left to defend. If the nature directives go down, while TTIP and the fiscal waterboarding of countries like Greece proceed, it will not be obvious what continued membership has to offer us.

http://www.monbiot.com

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 Difficult to add anything of value to these powerful words from GM other than to remind everyone, both in the EU and outside (for the survey accepts non-EU resident contributions), to complete the survey highlighted by George Monbiot. The link is here.

Plus ça change – footnote

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (“the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing”).

The final of three repostings from a year ago.  To recap, I wrote on Monday, “… out of curiosity I wondered what I had published a year ago, in early February 2012.  To my amazement what was published was as fresh and relevant as if it had been published today.

The second post from a year ago was reposted yesterday.  Today the footnote is from the 9th February, 2012.  (It reads in its original form with the links and references unchanged.)

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So many vested opinions!

Regular readers will know that I published recently, in two parts, a post with the heading of Climate, truth and integrity, the first part being here and the second part here.

To me the arguments supporting the premise that mankind is engaged in the process of destroying our very being are powerful and convincing.  But if there is any serious scientific doubt, then I am reminded of that saying in aviation circles about a risk to the safety of an aircraft, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”  Surely, that’s the stance the climate change skeptics should be taking!  Because when the evidence of global warming, pollution, natural resource depletion, species extinctions, and habitat destruction is drawn together and there are no skeptics left, then will the last person left alive please switch the lights off!

Anyway, I’m going to republish, with permission, a recent Post that appeared on Tom Engelhardt‘s powerful blogsite, Tom Dispatch.  It was written by Bill McKibben of 350.org fame.  Here it is,

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It In for the Planet

Posted by Bill McKibben at 9:39am, February 7, 2012.

Introduction

Two Saturdays ago, I was walking with a friend in a park here in New York City.  It was late January, but I was dressed in a light sweater and a thin fall jacket, which I had just taken off and tied around my waist.  We were passing a strip of bare ground when suddenly we both did a double-take.  He looked at me and said, “Crocuses!”  Dumbfounded, I replied, “Yes, I see them.”  And there they were, a few clumps of telltale green shoots poking up from the all-brown ground as if it were spring.  Such a common, comforting sight, but it sent a chill through me that noticeably wasn’t in the air.  Even the flowers, I thought, are confused by our new version of weather.

Later that same week, as temperatures in the Big Apple crested 60 degrees, I was chatting on the phone with a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts.  I was telling him about the crocuses, when he suddenly said, “I’m looking out my window right now and for the first time in my memory of January, there’s not a trace of snow!”

Of course, our tales couldn’t be more minor or anecdotal, even if the temperatures that week did feel like we were on another planet.  Here’s the thing, though: after a while, even anecdotes add up — maybe we should start calling them “extreme anecdotes” — and right now there are so many of them being recounted across the planet.  How could there not be in a winter, now sometimes referred to as “Junuary,” in which, in the United States, 2,890 daily high temperature records have either been broken or tied at last count, with the numbers still rising?  Meanwhile, just to the south of us, in Mexico, extreme anecdotes abound, since parts of the country are experiencing “the worst drought on record.”  Even cacti are reportedly wilting and some towns are running out of water (as they are across the border in drought-stricken Texas).  And worst of all, the Mexican drought is expected to intensify in the months to come.

And who can doubt that in Europe, experiencing an extreme cold spell the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades — even Rome had a rare snowfall and Venice’s canals were reported to be freezing over — there are another set of all-too-extreme anecdotes.  After all, in places like Ukraine, scores of the homeless are freezing to death, pipes are bursting, power cuts are growing, and maybe even an instant energy crisis is underway (at a moment when the European Union is getting ready to cut itself off from Iranian oil).

That’s just to begin a list.  And yet here’s the strange thing.  At least in this country, you can read the “freaky” weather reports or listen to the breathless TV accounts of unexpected tornadoes striking the South in January and rarely catch a mention of the phrase “climate change.”  Given the circumstances, the relative silence on the subject is little short of eerie, even if worries about climate change lurk just below the surface.  Which is why it’s good to have TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, take a clear-eyed look at American denialism and just what it is we prefer not to take in. Tom

The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard

By Bill McKibben

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology.  Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image [see below, Ed] shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”

In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.)Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.

Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.

If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead.  To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.

What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.

Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben

This photo was taken on January 4, 2012.

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth – Blue Marble 2012

January 25, 2012

*Updated February 2, 2012: According to Flickr, “The western hemisphere Blue Marble 2012 image has rocketed up to over 3.1 million views making it one of the all time most viewed images on the site after only one week.”

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.

Suomi NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.

Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS.

To read more about NASA’s Suomi NPP go to: www.nasa.gov/npp

Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Don’t delay. In the EU sign now!

Reblogged, with permission, from Lack of Environment

It is nearly 50 years since Rachel Carson wrote here seminal book Silent Spring. Why are we humans so stupid that we do not learn even the most basic of lessons? It is time to put the environmental protection before commercial profit.

This email from Avaaz was sent to me almost 24 hours ago so, if you live in the EU, please sign the petition immedaitely. The politicians clearly want to do the right thing; please help ensure that big business (in this case Bayer) do not persuade them to fail to learn from the past.

——

Dear friends,

 

Bees around the world are dying off and Europe’s food watchdog just said certain pesticides are part of the problem.We’ve got 48 hours before key meetings – let’s get a 2-million-person swarm to save the bees.Click to take urgent action now:

Sign the petition

Quietly, globally, billions of bees are dying, threatening our crops and food. But in 48 hours the European Union could move to ban the most poisonous pesticides, and pave the way to a global ban that would save bees from extinction.

Four EU countries have begun banning these poisons, and some bee populations are already recovering. Days ago the official European food safety watchdog stated for the first time that certain pesticides are fatally harming bees. Now legal experts and European politicians are calling for an immediate ban. But Bayer and other giant pesticide producers are lobbying hard to keep them on the market. If we build a huge swarm of public outrage now, we can push the European Commission to put our health and our environment before the profit of a few.

We know our voices count! Last year, our 1.2 million strong petition forced US authorities to open a formal consultation on pesticides — now if we reach 2 million, we can persuade the EU to get rid of these crazy poisons and pave the way for a ban worldwide. Sign the urgent petition and send this to everyone – Avaaz and leading MEPs will deliver our message ahead of this week’s key meeting in Brussels:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_the_bees/?bSkdncb&v=21422

Bees don’t just make honey, they are vital to life on earth, every year pollinating 90% of plants and crops — with an estimated $40bn value and over one-third of the food supply in many countries. Without immediate action to save bees, many of our favourite fruits, vegetables, and nuts could vanish from our shelves.

Recent years have seen a steep and disturbing global decline in bee populations – some bee species are already extinct and some US species are at just 4% of their previous numbers. Scientists have been scrambling for answers and now the European Food Safety Authority is saying that toxic chemicals called neonicotinoid pesticides could be responsible for the bee deaths. France, Italy, Slovenia and even Germany, where the main manufacturer Bayer is based, have banned one of these bee-killing pesticides. But Bayer continues to export its poison across the world.

Now the issue is coming to a boil. EU parliamentarians are stepping up their pressure on the European Commission and key governments to push new legislation to ban the deadly pesticides, and we can offer them the public support they need to counter the powerful pesticide lobby. Sign the urgent petition to Europe’s leaders, then forward this email widely:

http://www.avaaz.org/en/hours_to_save_the_bees/?bSkdncb&v=21422

Our world is beset with threats to what makes it habitable, and to what fills it with wonder. The Avaaz community comes together to defend both — large or small. Whether winning a battle to keep the International Whaling Commission from sanctioning the murder of these giants, or saving bees, the tiny creatures upon which so much depends, we will come together and stand up for the world we all want.

With hope,

Luis, Ari, Alice, Iain, Ricken, David, Alaphia, and the Avaaz team

SOURCES

Pesticides pose danger to bees (European Voice)
http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/2013/january/pesticides-pose-danger-to-bees/76158.aspx

Crop pesticides are ‘killing our bees’ – says MEP (Public Service Europe)
http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/3007/crop-pesticides-are-killing-our-bees-says-mep#ixzz2JGICse6a

Death knell for nerve agent pesticides in move to save bees (Independent)
http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/death-knell-for-nerve-agent-pesticides-in-move-to-save-bees-8454443.html

Give Bees a Chance! (The Greens European Free Alliance)
http://www.greens-efa.eu/give-bees-a-chance-9012.html

Studies fault Bayer in bee die-off (Christian Science Monitor)
http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2012/0406/Studies-fault-Bayer-in-bee-die-off

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Do go to Martin’s post here if not only to read the comment from Lionel:

I get my honey from local producers it is has far more flavour and texture than the insipid brand names.

Talking to them I learned about their concerns, including vandalism which is sad, and quizzed them on CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) having read this book:

A Spring without Bees on visiting the associated web site Plan Bee Central,

and this book:

A World Without Bees and a web site of the same name A World Without Bees. The local bee keepers bowered my copy for some time.

I saw a CountryFile (BBC) segment some two or more years ago and John Craven was very soft-footed with a Bayer rep’ as they talked in a field, I was rather disappointed as John let him off the hook rather.

I have taken an interest in photographing Bumble Bees and have an excellent reference on those common, or once common in the UK.

Utter madness!

The very strange ways of man!

I am incredibly grateful to be living in the USA as a legal resident.  The circumstances that lead to Jeannie and me living here in Merlin, Southern Oregon are the stuff of dreams.  Which is why writings on Learning from Dogs that could be seen as critical of a US administration leave me rather uncomfortable.

However, a recent news item on the BBC website struck me as so utterly incongruous that I couldn’t resist today’s post.  As is said, “I can resist anything except temptation!”  Here’s that item.

US Congress bans word ‘lunatic’ in federal legislation

6 December 2012

"Lunatic" is derived from the Latin word for moon, and the belief that it could affect mental health
“Lunatic” is derived from the Latin word for moon, and the belief that it could affect mental health

The sharply divided US Congress has been able to agree on one thing at least – that the word “lunatic” should be banned.

The House of Representatives voted 398-1 on Wednesday to strike the term from all federal legislation, after the Senate did the same in May.

The measure is designed to remove language that has become outdated or demeaning from the US code.

The bill will now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Senator Kent Conrad, one of the sponsors of the measure, said: “Federal law should reflect the 21st Century understanding of mental illness and disease, and that the continued use of this pejorative term has no place in the US code.”

The only “no” vote came from Texas congressman Louie Gohmert, who said it was madness for lawmakers to waste time on such a measure when more high-profile issues loomed, such as the federal debt.

“Not only should we not eliminate the word ‘lunatic’ from federal law when the most pressing issue of the day is saving our country from bankruptcy,” said Rep Gohmert in a statement.

“We should use the word to describe the people who want to continue with business as usual in Washington.”

Now don’t get me wrong.  In and of itself that measure is fabulous removing, as it does, any official labeling of those with mental health problems.

However, surely the following demonstrates that madness is still alive and well.

LAW PROHIBITS UNFAIR EU TAXATION OF U.S. AVIATION

November 27, 2012

Washington, DC – The President today signed into law a measure to stop the United States’ participation in a costly European Union (EU) scheme to impose an emissions tax on American and other nations’ aircraft operators and air carriers. Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John L. Mica (R-FL) and Aviation Subcommittee Chairman Tom Petri (R-WI) were among the primary sponsors of the bipartisan companion bill in the House of Representatives.

In 2011, Mica first led a Congressional delegation to the European Union to convey opposition to the EU’s plan. Mica also led a subsequent delegation to Montreal to meet with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) leaders, representatives of the EU, and other officials regarding U.S. opposition to the ETS. The original “European Union Emissions Trading Scheme Prohibition Act of 2011,” authored by Mica, Petri, and other House leaders, overwhelmingly passed the House on October 24, 2011.

John Mica was quoted as saying “The law signed today is a clear signal that the United States will not accept the EU’s go-it-alone attempt to impose emissions taxes on other nations for activities far outside the EU’s own borders. This European emissions trading scheme is an unlawful infringement upon U.S. sovereignty, and the sovereignty of numerous other nations.

Now I don’t know the rights and wrongs of this but one thing is clear to me.  If trying to reduce carbon emissions represents ‘unlawful infringement upon U.S. sovereignty‘ then don’t even ponder on the infringement that not trying to reduce emissions would risk!

Which neatly leads to the Yale forum on Climate Change & The Media that recently reported,

Forget About That 2-Degree Future

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Dec. 5, 2012 — Renowned British climate scientist Sir Robert Watson pulled few punches today during a talk about the warmer world humans will face in coming decades.

Watson, who was IPCC chair from 1997 to 2002, all but dismissed the possibility of keeping the rise in average global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a temperature rise that corresponds to an atmospheric concentration of CO2 of 450 parts per million. It now stands at about 390 ppm.

“Fundamentally, we are not on a path toward a 2 degree world,” Watson told a packed hall at Moscone Center for a talk entitled: “A World Where the Atmospheric Concentration of Carbon Dioxide Exceeds 450 ppm.”

If the international community wanted a world in which the rise in average global temperatures this century peaked at 2 degrees C above pre-Industrial levels, CO2 emissions in the developed world should have peaked in 2010, Watson said. Globally, they would need to peak by 2014.

Instead, CO2 emissions in 2010 were up 5.9 percent relative to 2009 — and that was in the midst of an economic downturn for most industrialized countries. Total carbon emissions as well as carbon intensity (often described as the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of a nation’s GDP) have gone up.

“It’s totally clear we’re changing the composition of the atmosphere …” [but] “politicians have not listened to the scientific message,” Watson said. [my emphasis]

Average global temperatures could rise 2 to 7 degrees C by the end of the century, driving a litany of environmental changes, Watson said. Already, the climate of the 2020s and 2030s is locked in, or as Watson put it, “pre-ordained.” “Therefore, we must adapt,” he said.

You can read the full report here.

As Isaac Newton is recorded as saying: “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

House of cards.

A more philosophical view of recent years.

I admit to being too free with my silly clichés including, “I can predict anything unless it involves the future!”  So now that millions of informed people have the benefit of “20:20 hindsight“, why is it years since the banking crisis first erupted and we are still without a root and branch overhaul of the governance of the industry?

Did you see Per Kurowski’s interview with a leading regulator on Learning from Dogs yesterday?  Aren’t we so slow to learn!

Anyway, I waffle on!  Let me get to the point of today’s post.

Back on the 1st September, there was a post called Understanding Europe. One of the resulting commentators was Pendantry who is author of a blog called Wibble.  He included a link to a poem that he wrote on the 28th February, 2009!  The fact that the poem is still so relevant (and when we see what’s happening in Europe perhaps even more relevant now!) is truly shocking.  I wanted to republish it which I do with the kind permission of Pendantry.  Here it is.

oooOOOooo

House of cards

When the inevitable strikes,
when the house falls down,
do you patch up the walls,
fix the holes in the roof,
shore it all up,
splash it with paint?

No.

You learn from the mistakes.
You start from scratch.
You call in the architects.
You rebuild the foundations.
You use new materials;
replace wattle and daub
with a sounder design.

Unless:

Because you’re lost outside the box,
and your mates demand
to regain their riches (and, now!):
You set up the same as before,
perhaps with a few bells and whistles
(spun to persuade that they’ll work).

And… in the end, we’ll believe
that your clothing is not invisible.

“Who is more foolish?
The fool, or the fool who follows him?”

oooOOOooo

Written over three years and five months ago. Shame on us all!

Climate and truth, footnote.

So many vested opinions!

Regular readers will know that I published recently, in two parts, a post with the heading of Climate, truth and integrity, the first part being here and the second part here.

To me the arguments supporting the premise that mankind is engaged in the process of destroying our very being are powerful and convincing.  But if there is any serious scientific doubt, then I am reminded of that saying in aviation circles about a risk to the safety of an aircraft, “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”  Surely, that’s the stance the climate change skeptics should be taking!  Because when the evidence of global warming, pollution, natural resource depletion, species extinctions, and habitat destruction is drawn together and there are no skeptics left, then will the last person left alive please switch the lights off!

Anyway, I’m going to republish, with permission, a recent Post that appeared on Tom Engelhardt‘s powerful blogsite, Tom Dispatch.  It was written by Bill McKibben of 350.org fame.  Here it is,

Tomgram: Bill McKibben, Why the Energy-Industrial Elite Has It In for the Planet

Posted by Bill McKibben at 9:39am, February 7, 2012.

Introduction

Two Saturdays ago, I was walking with a friend in a park here in New York City.  It was late January, but I was dressed in a light sweater and a thin fall jacket, which I had just taken off and tied around my waist.  We were passing a strip of bare ground when suddenly we both did a double-take.  He looked at me and said, “Crocuses!”  Dumbfounded, I replied, “Yes, I see them.”  And there they were, a few clumps of telltale green shoots poking up from the all-brown ground as if it were spring.  Such a common, comforting sight, but it sent a chill through me that noticeably wasn’t in the air.  Even the flowers, I thought, are confused by our new version of weather.

Later that same week, as temperatures in the Big Apple crested 60 degrees, I was chatting on the phone with a friend in Northampton, Massachusetts.  I was telling him about the crocuses, when he suddenly said, “I’m looking out my window right now and for the first time in my memory of January, there’s not a trace of snow!”

Of course, our tales couldn’t be more minor or anecdotal, even if the temperatures that week did feel like we were on another planet.  Here’s the thing, though: after a while, even anecdotes add up — maybe we should start calling them “extreme anecdotes” — and right now there are so many of them being recounted across the planet.  How could there not be in a winter, now sometimes referred to as “Junuary,” in which, in the United States, 2,890 daily high temperature records have either been broken or tied at last count, with the numbers still rising?  Meanwhile, just to the south of us, in Mexico, extreme anecdotes abound, since parts of the country are experiencing “the worst drought on record.”  Even cacti are reportedly wilting and some towns are running out of water (as they are across the border in drought-stricken Texas).  And worst of all, the Mexican drought is expected to intensify in the months to come.

And who can doubt that in Europe, experiencing an extreme cold spell the likes of which hasn’t been seen in decades — even Rome had a rare snowfall and Venice’s canals were reported to be freezing over — there are another set of all-too-extreme anecdotes.  After all, in places like Ukraine, scores of the homeless are freezing to death, pipes are bursting, power cuts are growing, and maybe even an instant energy crisis is underway (at a moment when the European Union is getting ready to cut itself off from Iranian oil).

That’s just to begin a list.  And yet here’s the strange thing.  At least in this country, you can read the “freaky” weather reports or listen to the breathless TV accounts of unexpected tornadoes striking the South in January and rarely catch a mention of the phrase “climate change.”  Given the circumstances, the relative silence on the subject is little short of eerie, even if worries about climate change lurk just below the surface.  Which is why it’s good to have TomDispatch regular Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, take a clear-eyed look at American denialism and just what it is we prefer not to take in. Tom

The Great Carbon Bubble
Why the Fossil Fuel Industry Fights So Hard

By Bill McKibben

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet — as we shall see — it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology.  Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image [see below, Ed] shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history — 56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”

In the face of such data — statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet — you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.)Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.

Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly: their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

When I talked about a carbon bubble at the beginning of this essay, this is what I meant. Here are some of the relevant numbers, courtesy of the Capital Institute: we’re already seeing widespread climate disruption, but if we want to avoid utter, civilization-shaking disaster, many scientists have pointed to a two-degree rise in global temperatures as the most we could possibly deal with.

If we spew 565 gigatons more carbon into the atmosphere, we’ll quite possibly go right past that reddest of red lines. But the oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons — five times more than we can ever safely burn. It has to stay in the ground.

Put another way, in ecological terms it would be extremely prudent to write off $20 trillion worth of those reserves. In economic terms, of course, it would be a disaster, first and foremost for shareholders and executives of companies like ExxonMobil (and people in places like Venezuela).

If you run an oil company, this sort of write-off is the disastrous future staring you in the face as soon as climate change is taken as seriously as it should be, and that’s far scarier than drought and flood. It’s why you’ll do anything — including fund an endless campaigns of lies — to avoid coming to terms with its reality. So instead, we simply charge ahead.  To take just one example, last month the boss of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Thomas Donohue, called for burning all the country’s newly discovered coal, gas, and oil — believed to be 1,800 gigatons worth of carbon from our nation alone.

What he and the rest of the energy-industrial elite are denying, in other words, is that the business models at the center of our economy are in the deepest possible conflict with physics and chemistry. The carbon bubble that looms over our world needs to be deflated soon. As with our fiscal crisis, failure to do so will cause enormous pain — pain, in fact, almost beyond imagining. After all, if you think banks are too big to fail, consider the climate as a whole and imagine the nature of the bailout that would face us when that bubble finally bursts.

Unfortunately, it won’t burst by itself — not in time, anyway. The fossil-fuel companies, with their heavily funded denialism and their record campaign contributions, have been able to keep at bay even the tamest efforts at reining in carbon emissions. With each passing day, they’re leveraging us deeper into an unpayable carbon debt — and with each passing day, they’re raking in unimaginable returns. ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

Telling the truth about climate change would require pulling away the biggest punchbowl in history, right when the party is in full swing. That’s why the fight is so pitched. That’s why those of us battling for the future need to raise our game. And it’s why that view from the satellites, however beautiful from a distance, is likely to become ever harder to recognize as our home planet.

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, a TomDispatch regular, and the author, most recently, of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 Bill McKibben

This photo was taken on January 4, 2012.

Most Amazing High Definition Image of Earth – Blue Marble 2012

January 25, 2012

*Updated February 2, 2012: According to Flickr, “The western hemisphere Blue Marble 2012 image has rocketed up to over 3.1 million views making it one of the all time most viewed images on the site after only one week.”

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth taken from the VIIRS instrument aboard NASA’s most recently launched Earth-observing satellite – Suomi NPP. This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth’s surface taken on January 4, 2012. The NPP satellite was renamed ‘Suomi NPP’ on January 24, 2012 to honor the late Verner E. Suomi of the University of Wisconsin.

Suomi NPP is NASA’s next Earth-observing research satellite. It is the first of a new generation of satellites that will observe many facets of our changing Earth.

Suomi NPP is carrying five instruments on board. The biggest and most important instrument is The Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite or VIIRS.

To read more about NASA’s Suomi NPP go to: www.nasa.gov/npp

Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring

Hearing clearly?

Perhaps intuition is all we have to hear clearly.

John O’Donohue, in yesterday’s post, touched on the essence of today’s theme, “The greatest philosophers admit that to a large degree all knowledge comes through the senses. The senses are our bridge to the world.

Dogs, of course, demonstrate powerfully how their senses provide a ‘bridge to the world’.

This odd collection of writings (ramblings?)  that comprise Learning from Dogs is based around the ‘i’ word – Integrity.  The banner on the home page proclaims Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them. Ergo, dogs offer a powerful metaphor for the pressing need for integrity among those that ‘manage’ our societies.

Thus my senses are more tuned, than otherwise, to the conversations in the world out there that support the premise that unless we, as in modern man, radically amend our attitudes and behaviours, then the species homo sapiens is going to hell in a hand-basket!

End of preamble!

Professor Bill Mitchell is one person who recently touched my senses.  As his Blog outlines he is an interesting fellow,

(Photo taken in August 2011 in Melbourne, Australia)

Bill Mitchell is the Research Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW Australia.

He is also a professional musician and plays guitar with the Melbourne Reggae-Dub band – Pressure Drop. The band was popular around the live music scene in Melbourne in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band reformed in late 2010.

He also plays with a Newcastle swing blues band – The Blues Box. You can find music and other things on his Home Page.

Professor Mitchell’s Blog is not for the faint-hearted, it can be pretty technical at times.  Nevertheless, I have been a daily subscriber for a couple of months now.

On the 24th, Prof. Bill wrote a long article under the heading of ‘What if economists were personally liable for their advice‘.  I want to quote a little from that article.  Starting with,

Economists have a strange way of writing up briefing documents. There is an advanced capacity to dehumanise economic advice and ignore the most important economic and social problems (unemployment and poverty) in favour of promoting non-issues (like public debt ratios). It reminds me sometimes of how the Nazis who were brutal in the extreme in the execution of their ideology sat around getting portraits of themselves taken with their loving families etc. The training of economists creates an advanced state of separation from human issues and an absence of empathy.

In a sense, we all understand this, this use of language to separate us from our collective humanity.  A random Google search came up with this.  A statement by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to Parliament on the 24th regarding Europe, as in,

Mr Speaker, let me turn to yesterday’s European Council.

This European Council was about three things.

Sorting out the problems of the Eurozone.

Promoting growth in the EU.

And ensuring that as the Eurozone develops new arrangements for governance, the interests of those outside the Eurozone are protected.

This latter point touches directly on the debate in this House later today, and I will say a word on this later in my statement.

Resolving the problems in the Eurozone is the urgent and over-riding priority facing not only the Eurozone members, but the EU as a whole – and indeed the rest of the world economy.

Britain is playing a positive role proposing the three vital steps needed to deal with this crisis – the establishment of a financial firewall big enough to contain any contagion; the credible recapitalisation of European banks; and a decisive solution to the problems in Greece.

Read the last paragraph.  Wonderful words that seem to make sense to the casual listener but picking up on Prof. Bill, an utter ‘separation from human issues and an absence of empathy‘.  There is no humanity in those words from the British Prime Minister.  We all know there are hundreds of other examples from mouthpieces all across our global society.  Back to Bill Mitchell’s article,

Linkiesta say:

Greece has failed. To say this is not another report of investment banks or research centers, but directly Troika officials who have just completed their review on Hellenic public finance. Linkiesta is in possession of the entire report of the troika, composed of officials from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission.

I have a rule of thumb that I use when considering documents such as these. The rule is to assess how strong the concern for unemployment is. How often is unemployment mentioned? The answer is zero. The document never mentions the word or concept.

So obsessed are the Troika and their bean counters about public debt stabilisation that they have completely lost sight of one of the worst problems an economy can encounter – the failure to generate work for all.

Read those last words again, “completely lost sight of one of the worst problems an economy can encounter – the failure to generate work for all“.  One last extract from the article,

There is absolutely no historical evidence which shows that when all nations are contracting or stagnant and private spending is flat (or contracting) that cutting public spending will create growth.

So why did these economists think that a nation would grow when all components of spending were strongly indicated to fall or were being actually cut? The answer lies in acknowledging that they operate in an ideologically blinkered world and are never taken to account for their policy mistakes. They are unaccountable and do not suffer income losses when the nations they dispense advice to and impose policies on behave contrary to the “expectation” which results in millions being unemployed.

In my view, my profession should be liable for the advice it gives and economists should be held personally liable for damages if their advice causes harm to other individuals. If the economists in the IMF and elsewhere were held personally responsible then the advice would quickly change because they would be “playing” with their own fortunes and not the fortunes of an amorphous group of Greeks that they have never met.

Very powerful words that strike at the heart of the matter, that of integrity. (If you want to read it in full, then the article is here.)

Let me move on a little.  The 24th also saw a powerful essay on Yves Smith’s Blog Naked Capitalism, from Philip Pilkington, a journalist and writer living in Dublin, Ireland.  Here’s a taste of what Mr. Pilkington wrote.

Every now and then a terrible thought enters my mind. It runs like this: what if the theatre of the Eurocrisis is really and truly a political power-game being cynically played by politicians from the core while the periphery burns?

Yes, of course, we can engage in polemic and say that such is the case. But in doing so we are trying to stoke emotion and generally allowing our rhetorical flourish to carry the argument. At least, that is what I thought. I had heard this rhetoric; I had engaged in it to some extent myself; but I had never really believed it. Only once or twice, in my nightmares, I had thought that, maybe, just maybe, it might have some truth.

Can you see the parallels between Prof. Mitchell and Philip Pilkington?  The latter wrote, “a political power-game being cynically played by politicians from the core while the periphery burns“, the former wrote, “If the economists in the IMF and elsewhere were held personally responsible then the advice would quickly change because they would be “playing” with their own fortunes and not the fortunes of an amorphous group of Greeks that they have never met.”

It’s clearly obvious to all those that have commented to both the Bill Mitchell and Philip Pilkington items.  That is, in my words, a complete lack of integrity, truth and a commitment to serve the people, from so many in places of influence and power.

We all sense this, hear it so clearly, a separation from human issues and an absence of empathy.

We have so much to learn, so much sense to learn, from dogs!

————–

Footnote.  Had just completed the above when I came across a piece by Patrick Cockburn in last Sunday’s Independent newspaper, that starts thus,

World View: A sense of injustice is growing. Elite politicians and notorious wrongdoers appear immune as ordinary Greeks reel from wage and job cuts

Up close, the most striking feature of the reforms being forced on Greece by its international creditors is their destructiveness and futility. The pay cuts, tax rises, cuts and job losses agreed to by parliament in Athens last week will serve only to send the economy into a steeper tailspin, even if it extracted a much-needed €8bn in bailout money from the EU leaders. “Nothing but a lost war could be worse than this situation,” one left-wing ex-minister tells me. “What is worse, no party or political group in Greece is offering real solutions to our crisis.

Say no more!

Greece, or grease?

The agony of watching a country (and a planet) slip.

Readers will be aware that I very rarely stroll through the tangled pastures of international politics and finance.  The only reason that I do so today is on the back of a very impressive letter published in the German newspaper  Handelsblatt.  That was brought to my attention by my subscription to Mike Shedlock’s (Mish) Blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis.  You will see that I muse at two levels about where we are today.

Earlier, I had read in last Saturday’s, The Economist a leader on Greece’s debt crisis, entitled Trichet the intransigent.   That started thus,

The European Central Bank’s refusal to consider a restructuring of Greek debt could wreck the euro zone
May 12th 2011 | from the print edition

IF THE stakes were not so high, Europeans’ incompetence in the euro-zone debt crisis would be comic.

and concluded thus,

It is time for the Germans and the IMF to call the ECB’s bluff. Together they should demand, and instigate, a restructuring of Greek debt. Germany should push other European governments to cough up money to support Greek banks and, if necessary, to make whole the ECB. The fund, which knows how to restructure debt, must ensure the process is run in a competent manner. The ECB will then be faced with a choice: go along with an orderly restructuring, or trigger a much greater mess by in effect forcing Greece out of the euro zone. Surely Mr Trichet does not want that to be his legacy.

So with that as background, the letter to Georgios Papandreou, Prime Minister of Greece written by Gabor Steingart is powerful and hard hitting.  Here it is in full.

Mr. Prime Minister,

Dear Mr. Papandreou,

With the greatest respect, the Western world is monitoring your efforts to master your country’s debt crisis. No other democratic country has ever managed anything like that in peacetime. You are shrinking the state apparatus; you are fighting corruption; you are teaching your fellow countrymen how to become honest tax-payers.

You are a modern hero. You are attempting the impossible. As the son of a persecuted and ostracized politician who was chased by the military junta you grew up close to danger. When the officers were looking for your father who was hiding in the attic, they threatened you by putting an unlocked pistol to your forehead and challenged you to betray your father. You denied your father’s presence until he, worried about his son’s life, left his hiding place.Later you fled with him to America where you spent your adolescence. You are alarger-than-life-character.

Preceding governments almost ruined your country. Debts amounting to 340 billion Euros are burdening the Greek state,equaling 155 times the profit of the 60 largest companies of your country and 1.5 times the amount of debts the Maastricht Treaty allows. A year ago, this newspaper, Germany’s biggest Business Daily, appealed to the public to buy Greek government bonds in order to give to the country what Greece needs just as urgently as money: confidence. We also wanted to assist in breaking through the negative spiral of growing doubt and increasing interest rates. Everyone who granted you guarantees and loans wanted it, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, the heads of state and government.

But since then, the spiral has picked up in speed instead of slowing down. In May 2010 the interest rate at which your country was given money on a ten year basis was at eight per cent. Today, it is at 16 per cent. And in all probability, it will be going up further. The bitter truth to which you and all parties who wanted to help Greece have to admit is that the help doesn’t help. Your country is getting deeper and deeper into the mess. Debts are growing, the gross national product will decrease by at least three per cent in 2011. But it would have to grow by three per cent instead if you were to lower your debt to the allowedlimit until 2040. This is becoming more and more unrealistic. You can’t starve and build up your muscles at the same time.

The truth that Greece has to cut back and save has turned into an untruth. The right thing has turned into the wrong thing. You already cut pensions, lowered the salaries of civil servants by 30 per cent and raised the prices of gas by almost 50 per cent. You can’t restore the health of your country by saving. And the European Union can’t restore your country’s health by again and again injecting new loans.

Soon, the day will come when the tortured body will surrender. The Greek construction industry already shrank by 70 per cent. Sales of car dealers sank by half. A daily export volume of 50 million Euros Greece is achieving  far too little.  Soon the day will come which investors fear in their nightmares. Then the word “insolvency” will be on everyone’s lips.

But it is also the day when a new truth will be born: Don’t save but invest, they will tell you – so that the Greek economy will grow again. Do not service debt with debt, you then will be recommended, but spread out the debt service, cut it and maybe even completely suspend it for a while. It will be a day of impositions, especially for those who lendmoney to you and your people. Financial markets will grind to a halt in horror – and then they will turn to embrace the future. Because Argentina in 2001, Mexico at the beginning of the eighties and Germany after World War II taught us that there is a life after death – at least, in the case of highly indebted states.

Mr. Papandreou, so far, you attempted the impossible. Now you should do the possible. Just as you deceived the officers as a boy and denied to know where your father was hiding you now must repudiate the pride of the Greeks – in order to save your country. Come to meet the new uncomfortable truth before it knocks at your door. It’s already on its way.

Respectfully yours,

Gabor Steingart

The author is an award winning Journalist, the former White House Correspondent of “Der Spiegel” and now Handelsblatt’s  Editor-in-Chief.  His book “The war for wealth. The true story of globalization or while the flat world is broken” was  published in the US, GB, China and several other countries by McGraw Hill, New York, in 2008.

You may contact him at

steingart@handelsblatt.com


Powerful, as I said.

In a sense, in a very real sense, this illustration of the end game of our love affair with debt is symptomatic of the end game in terms of mankind’s love affair with, well with mankind.  The following was written by an inmate of Oklahoma Prison in 1998.

At the root of my humanity lies a potentially insatiable self-centredness.  Given its way, it can become unquenchable. Nothing, not even the richest of imagination, will put out its fire.

This ‘what’s in it for me’ mindset is at the root of all my problems and is where my fears live.  From those fears come anger, greed, intolerance, and a host of other shortcomings.

It is no accident that all religions point to the forgetting of self, because all religions know salvation lies in self-forgetting.

As we head relentlessly towards a level of 400 parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 50 PPM above the highest safe limit determined by climate scientists, the time for mankind to move on from the debt-laden, over-leveraged, disconnected life from Planet Earth, is now.

That’s now!