Conflict update: March 18-19 2017

BOILING IT DOWN

c4jt321

If you’re one of those folks who are convinced that climate change is a Chinese hoax or whatever, I’ve got great news: it snowed in the US last week. Problem solved, am I right? Anyway, for the rest of us, things are not so hot. Or, rather, they’re extremely hot, and that’s the problem:

February 2017 was the planet’s second warmest February since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) on Friday; NASA also rated February 2017 as the second warmest February on record. The only warmer February was just last year, in 2016. Remarkably, February 2017 ranked as the fourth warmest month (expressed as the departure of temperature from average) of any month in the global historical record in the NASA database, and was the seventh warmest month in NOAA’s database—despite coming just one month after the end of a 5-month long La Niña event, which acted to cool the globe slightly. The extreme warmth of January 2017 (tenth warmest month of any month in NASA’s database) and February 2017 (fourth warmest) gives 2017 a shot at becoming Earth’s fourth consecutive warmest year on record, if a moderate or stronger El Niño event were to develop by summer, as some models are predicting.

Arctic sea ice extent during February 2017 was the lowest in the 39-year satellite record, beating the record set in February 2016, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The record low ice extent was due, in large part, to very warm air temperatures in the Arctic—temperatures at the 925 mb level (approximately 2,500 feet above sea level) were 2 – 5 degrees Celsius (4 – 9 degrees Fahrenheit) above average over the Arctic Ocean during February.

Sea ice has been exceptionally scant on the other end of the globe. Antarctic sea ice extent dropped below the lowest values recorded in any month in the satellite record by mid-February. They continued to sag until reaching a new record-low extent in early March.

NOAA also said a few days ago that this December-January-February period was the second hottest on record. But really, how about that snowstorm?

FRANCE

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Conflict update: February 18-19 2017

Trumplandia

Say, this seems nice:

On any given weekend, you might catch President Trump’s son-in-law and top Mideast dealmaker, Jared Kushner, by the beachside soft-serve ice cream machine, or his reclusive chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, on the dining patio. If you are lucky, the president himself could stop by your table for a quick chat. But you will have to pay $200,000 for the privilege — and the few available spots are going fast.

Virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Fla., club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Mr. Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests.

But Mr. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago — he arrived there on Friday afternoon, his third weekend visit in a row — have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.

I’m not going to pretend that the wealthy and powerful never had special access to the levers of power in DC before this, but as with so many things about Trump, he seems to have taken the grossest parts of American politics and made them grosser.

On Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the Munich Security Conference and tried to assure the attendees that the Trump administration’s commitment to NATO is “unwavering.” Reuters, at least, suggested that he was received tepidly at best, though the NATO bit got him some applause.

Paul Pillar wrote a typically insightful piece a few days ago about the utter confusion surrounding Trump’s Israel-Palestine policy, and what it says about Trump’s foreign policy more generally.

We’re Still All Gonna Die

Because it’s the one part of the government that Donald Trump and Paul Ryan can’t be seen to contradict or gut, the one part of the government that will definitely be allowed to continue research into climate change and its impacts is the Pentagon. Trump’s Defense Secretary James Mattis, ironically for this cabinet, was actually pretty forward thinking on renewable fuels and the national security implications of climate change when he was a flag officer.

The War on Terror (Old School Edition)

Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind radical Muslim cleric whose involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent terror plots in the United States earned him a life sentence in federal prison, completed his sentence when he died on Saturday morning. He was 78 and, really, won’t be missed.

Seriously, fuck that guy.

Iraq

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Conflict update: February 14 2017

Why are you reading this today? Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a happy day–or a depressing day, but for reasons that have nothing to do with the shitty state of the world. Well, you’re here and my wife and I couldn’t find a sitter this evening, so I guess we might as well get into it.

Flynngate

Well, Michael Flynn is no longer protecting the nation from the grave threat posed by the terrifying Islamo-Socialist-Cuban-Iranian-North Korean-Chinese-Bolivian-Syrian-Nicaraguan-Venezuelan-Fascist-Terrorist alliance dedicated to America’s destruction, and–what? Oh for fuck’s sake, don’t tell me you still haven’t read his book! HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO PROTECT YOUR FAMILY WHEN YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW YOUR ENEMY? Get your head in the game, people.

Anyway, Flynn is out on account of he decided to do some wheeling and dealing with Moscow before his boss took office, then he lied to Donald Trump and Mike Pence about it. Except he didn’t really lie to either one of them, because they both knew what he’d done and, in Trump’s case, most likely told him to do it. Questions abound, not just about what Trump knew and when he knew it (which, let’s be honest, are open questions on pretty much any issue), but about what happens to the administration now. The first order of business is obviously finding a replacement, and the early frontrunner seems to be Vice Admiral Robert Harward, a former deputy commander of Central Command. Harward apparently lives on the West Coast, however, and his willingness to uproot his family to serve as sailing master on the USS Shipwreck is in question. David Petraeus is also clearly in the mix and would be hilarious given this administration’s love-hate relationship with state secrets.

Confusion also abounds as to the status of the rest of the National Security Council, and there have been directly contradictory reports about top figures like Deputy NatSec Advisor KT McFarland. There’s the question of whether there will be a congressional investigation into the circumstances surrounding Flynn’s removal–Republicans are pretty much all over the map on this point, and meanwhile members of the Intelligence Committees say they haven’t heard much of anything about Flynn from the White House. It’s not clear what impact this will have on Trump’s foreign policy, which has been in constant flux from the day he announced his candidacy through today. Flynn was definitely one of the loudest voices in the “make nice with Russia” camp (hence his large fan club in Moscow), but he wasn’t the only one. It’s tempting to think that the departure of the batshit nuts Flynn will stabilize Trump’s foreign policy, but this seems to ignore the fact that the most unstable part of Trump’s foreign policy is Trump himself.

Last but certainly not least there’s the question of what this means for Trump’s administration in general. We’re a week away from the one-month mark and already the most powerful national security voice in the White House has resigned in some disgrace, and it’s possible that an investigation into the reasons for his resignation will tie the administration up in knots for some time to come. I admit I’m partial to this prediction because I badly want it to come true, but with that in mind I still recommend Brian Beutler’s piece in The New Republic from earlier today.

Who Cares, We’re All Gonna Die

Ultimately, though, who gives a shit about Michael Flynn? We’ve got much bigger fish to fry: Continue reading

Conflict update: January 18 2017

NOTHING MATTERS LOL

It’s the final countdown…

Marking another milestone for a changing planet, scientists reported on Wednesday that the Earth reached its highest temperature on record in 2016, trouncing a record set only a year earlier, which beat one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row.

The findings come two days before the inauguration of an American president who has called global warming a Chinese plot and vowed to roll back his predecessor’s efforts to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases.

In reality, the Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute, but one becoming more evident as the records keep falling. Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.

At this point I’ll be happy if I live long enough to dunk James Inhofe’s head in the waters of downtown Washington.

Iraq

Talib Shaghati, commander of Iraq’s elite Counter Terrorism Services, which have been spearheading the Mosul offensive, reported today that his CTS units have recaptured all the areas of eastern Mosul for which they were responsible, which likely means that operations against ISIS on that side of the city have reached the mop-up stage. Iraqi forces now control the eastern entrances to all five bridges spanning the Tigris, and are reportedly bringing in pontoon bridges that will be used in the eventual attack on the western side (where air and artillery strikes have already begun). Before that attack begins there is likely to be a pause in the offensive, to allow Iraqi forces time to refit and to make sure they’ve eliminated the last remnants of ISIS from eastern Mosul.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has apparently ordered the Nineveh Guard, the predominantly Sunni volunteer force that was created in the wake of the 2014 ISIS offensive, to integrate with the Popular Mobilization Units, the predominantly Shiʿa force that was created in the wake of the 2014 ISIS offensive. From a national unification standpoint this is a necessary move, but practically there are big obvious questions about how well these explicitly sectarian forces will be able to coexist. Complicating things is the fact that a former Nineveh Guard leader, Atheel al-Nujaifi, is wanted for arrest by Baghdad for allegedly conducting his own foreign policy with Turkey. Nujaifi is holed up in Iraqi Kurdistan, and while clemency would seem to be necessary to get the guard to participate in this new combined force, clemency may also be tough for the PMU fighters to accept.

As Mosul’s fall becomes more inevitable and ISIS begins to shift from a territory-holding insurgency to a pure terrorist organization, it is working overtime to strike targets in Iraq’s Shiʿa south. It has carried out a series of attacks and attempted attacks against southern Iraqi targets since November, and in recent weeks the city of Najaf has been its prime target. Najaf, the burial place of Ali b. Abi Talib, is considered the third holiest city for Shiʿa Muslims after Mecca and Medina and is the spiritual center for Iraqi Shiʿa. Two new Popular Mobilization Units are being formed to patrol the desert outside Najaf in an effort to protect the city.

Syria

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Gone tomorrow

Luckily there’s no such thing as climate change, because otherwise this kind of thing would really scare the crap out of me:

“The sea has started to come inland, it forced us to move up to the hilltop and rebuild our village there away from the sea,” said Sirilo Sutaroti, 94, a leader of the Paurata tribe, to a group of Australian environmental scientists. The scene of this rising sea is an archipelago of upthrust volcanoes and coral atolls, which dots the Pacific to the northeast of Australia: the Solomon Islands. There, a swollen sea is claiming the shoreline — and even, researchers say, entire masses of land.

In a recent paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists link the destructive sea level rise to anthropogenic — that is, human-caused — climate change. The study marks the first time anyone has concretely analyzed the loss of Solomon Island shoreline in the context of global warming, they say.

So far the effects on human populations are limited to coastal villages being forced to relocate to higher ground. But five entire (thankfully unpopulated) islands in the Solomons have sunk beneath the rising ocean surface, and its only a matter of time before small populated islands begin to suffer the same fate. That will lead (has already led, in the case of Tuvalu) to displacement, relocation, refugees, all things that tend to have a destabilizing effect on people and states.

Trashing the place

lake poopo 2013-2016

This, via NASA, is a comparison of Bolivia’s Lake Poopó in 2013 (left) and now

Lake Poopó, which was once Bolivia’s second-largest lake, is now gone, its water content down to a shocking 2% of what it once was. A few days ago, NASA released a satellite image showing the extent of the situation, which resembles nothing so much as the destruction of the Aral Sea in Central Asia. And as with the Aral Sea, there are a number of causes for the lake’s decimation, but they all come back to the same root: human beings are lousy stewards of our natural environment:

While Poopó has suffered droughts fueled by El Niño for millenniums, its fragile ecosystem has experienced unprecedented stress in the past three decades. Temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius, 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and mining has pinched the flow of tributaries, increasing sediment.

Mark B. Bush, a biologist at the Florida Institute of Technology, said the long-term trend of warming and drying threatened the entire Andean highlands.

In 2010, Mr. Bush was one of the authors of a study for the journal Global Change Biology that said that Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, could face catastrophic drought this century. It predicted that “inhospitable arid climates” would lessen available food and water for the more than three million inhabitants.

A study by the German consortium Gitec-Cobodes determined that Poopó received 161 billion fewer liters of water in 2013 than is required to maintain equilibrium.

Drought due in no small part to human-caused climate change, combined with overuse and pollution of tributaries thanks to unsustainable agricultural and mining projects. Yep, that’s the Aral Sea story all over again.

I realize it’s very easy for me to sit here in suburban Virginia opining on the mismanagement of natural resources in Bolivia, which is among the poorest countries in the world. But the destruction of Lake Poopó didn’t help lift any Bolivians out of poverty; in fact, people who lived near the lake and depended on it for their livelihoods are now utterly destitute. The undoubtedly wealthy owners of the mining companies that filled the lake’s tributaries with sediment didn’t do anything to raise Bolivians out of poverty–quite the opposite, as we now know. And most of the unchecked fossil fuel use that’s melting the Andean glaciers has been done in places far away from Bolivia. The loss of Lake Poopó isn’t just an environmental catastrophe, although it is definitely that, but it’s an economic one as well.

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Marco Rubio’s peculiar definition of “morality”

Marco Rubio is a practicing Catholic, but he doesn’t take his economic advice from no freaking pope, OK?

Appearing on “Special Report,” Sen. Rubio (R-FL) told host Bret Baier that Pope Francis is “infallible” — but only on questions of morality.

“On moral issues, he speaks with incredible authority,” Rubio said. “He’s done so consistently on the value of life, on the sanctity of life, on the importance of marriage and on the family. [But] On economic issues, the pope is a person.”

OK, sure, but define “economic issues”?

Rubio then went on to argue that Pope Francis could authoritatively advocate against poverty and climate change, but that he did not have authority on the specific political solutions to those problems. Rubio cited the Holy Father’s historic criticism of capitalism, and defended capitalism as being better for the poor.

“We have the same goal — providing more prosperity and upward mobility, I just honestly believe free enterprise is a better way of doing it.”

"You know what is a moral issue? Good hydration."

“You know what is a moral issue? Proper hydration.”

See, that’s interesting, how you’ve limited “questions of morality” to gays and abortion, but it seems to me, and I’m not a practicing Catholic anymore, but it does seem to me that Jesus, in the, ah, Bible, I think it’s called? He spent a lot of time talking about taking care of the poor. Like, a whole lot. Really. In fact, he spent a lot more time talking about the poor than he did about, um, gays and abortion (to be fair, the Old Testament does care a lot about punishing gays, though what it says about abortion is…interesting).

Now, I think it’s fine to disagree with the Pope, any Pope, on any number of things, though of course I’m not a practicing Catholic, and Rubio’s preferred method for “providing more prosperity” hasn’t actually done much to provide more prosperity. But completely defining “poverty” out of the realm of “morality” is going a little too far, don’t you think? I mean, Jesus certainly treated it as a moral issue, and isn’t Catholic morality (something with which a practicing Catholic like Rubio ought to at least have a passing familiarity) pretty closely tied up in the example and teachings of, you know, Jesus?

Climate change is a little harder to tease out, of course, since in Jesus’s time the climate wasn’t on a crash course with “post-apocalyptic hellscape” the way it is today. But I have to say, I think there’s a pretty strong argument to be made that climate change is also an issue of morality, and I think Pope Francis does a pretty good job of framing it that way: Continue reading