Sunday, January 29, 2012


Mining for gold in Peru is destroying the Amazon:
This gaping cavity is one of thousands being gouged today in the state of Madre de Dios at the base of the Andes—a region that is among the most biodiverse and, until recently, pristine environments in the world. All told, the Amazon River basin holds perhaps a quarter of the world’s terrestrial species; its trees are the engine of perhaps 15 percent of photosynthesis occurring on landmasses; and countless species, including plants and insects, have yet to be identified.

In Peru alone, while no one knows for certain the total acreage that has been ravaged, at least 64,000 acres—possibly much more—have been razed. The destruction is more absolute than that caused by ranching or logging, which accounts, at least for now, for vastly more rainforest loss. Not only are gold miners burning the forest, they are stripping away the surface of the earth, perhaps 50 feet down. At the same time, miners are contaminating rivers and streams, as mercury, used in separating gold, leaches into the watershed. Ultimately, the potent toxin, taken up by fish, enters the food chain.

Gold today commands a staggering $1,700 an ounce, more than six times the price of a decade ago. The surge is attributable to demand by individual and institutional investors seeking a hedge against losses and also the insatiable appetite for luxury goods made from the precious metal. “Who is going to stop a poor man from Cuzco or Juliaca or Puno who earns $30 a month from going to Madre de Dios and starting to dig?” asks Antonio Brack Egg, formerly Peru’s minister of the environment. “Because if he gets two grams a day”—Brack Egg pauses and shrugs. “That’s the theme here.”

The new Peruvian gold-mining operations are expanding. The most recent data show that the rate of deforestation has increased sixfold from 2003 to 2009. “It’s relatively easy to get a permit to explore for gold,” says the Peruvian biologist Enrique Ortiz, an authority on rainforest management. “But once you find a suitable site for mining gold, then you have to get the actual permits. These require engineering specs, statements of environmental protection programs, plans for protection of indigenous people and for environmental remediation.” Miners circumvent this, he adds, by claiming they’re in the permitting process. Because of this evasion, Ortiz says, “They have a claim to the land but not much responsibility to it. Most of the mines here—estimates are between 90 or 98 percent of them in Madre de Dios state—are illegal.”
As you might expect, the workers toil in pretty awful conditions; however, they often make more money in the gold trade than any of the alternatives they might have, so the despoiling of the Amazon continues.

In the era of climate change, we need big government:
Like it or not, government is a huge part of our economy. Altogether, federal, state, and local government activity -- that is collecting fees, taxing, borrowing and then spending on wages, procurement, contracting, grant-making, subsidies and aid -- constitutes about 35% of the gross domestic product. You could say that we already live in a somewhat “mixed economy”: that is, an economy that fundamentally combines private and public economic activity.

The intensification of climate change means that we need to acknowledge the chaotic future we face and start planning for it. Think of what’s coming, if you will, as a kind of storm socialism.

After all, climate scientists believe that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide beyond 350 parts-per-million (ppm) could set off compounding feedback loops and so lock us into runaway climate change. We are already at 392 ppm. Even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels immediately, the disruptive effect of accumulated CO2 in the atmosphere is guaranteed to hammer us for decades. In other words, according to the best-case scenario, we face decades of increasingly chaotic and violent weather.

In the face of an unraveling climate system, there is no way that private enterprise alone will meet the threat. And though small “d” democracy and “community” may be key parts of a strong, functional, and fair society, volunteerism and “self-organization” alone will prove as incapable as private enterprise in responding to the massive challenges now beginning to unfold.

To adapt to climate change will mean coming together on a large scale and mobilizing society’s full range of resources. In other words, Big Storms require Big Government. Who else will save stranded climate refugees, or protect and rebuild infrastructure, or coordinate rescue efforts and plan out the flow and allocation of resources?

 Look forward, not backwards, said Obama. Unless, of course, we can prosecute whistleblowers for shining light on shameful lawbreaking:
[T]he man who reveals the torture may go to jail, but nothing is going to happen to the people who cooked up corrupt legal opinions to justify torture, who ordered torture, or who actually tortured.

And nothing will happen to the Bush administration officials who authorized “extraordinary rendition”— the illegal practice of seizing people and flying them to nasty places where interrogators can brutalize them. Or to the telephone companies that participated in illegal wiretapping programs. Or to the CIA officials who destroyed videotapes of prisoner interrogations.

The innocent victims of torture will be denied justice – like the Canadian man who was arrested at an American airport and then flown overseas to be tortured in a case of horrible mistaken identity. The infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay will not be closed. The men behind the Sept. 11 attacks may never be brought to trial because of the ineffectiveness and illegitimacy of the military tribunals created by President Bush and tweaked a bit by President Obama.
Glenn Greenwald summarizes the lessons we've learned well:
The Rules of American Justice are quite clear:

(1) If you are a high-ranking government official who commits war crimes, you will receive full-scale immunity, both civil and criminal, and will have the American President demand that all citizens Look Forward, Not Backward.

(2) If you are a low-ranking member of the military, you will receive relatively trivial punishments in order to protect higher-ranking officials and cast the appearance of accountability.

(3) If you are a victim of American war crimes, you are a non-person with no legal rights or even any entitlement to see the inside of a courtroom.

(4) If you talk publicly about any of these war crimes, you have committed the Gravest Crime — you are guilty of espionage – and will have the full weight of the American criminal justice system come crashing down upon you.

It's probably time to let go of the idea that Teabaggers are anything more than a movement of aggrieved white people and recognize that their supposed love of the Constitution really is besides the point:
A common trope for conservative policy intellectuals is that they want to “means test” the welfare state – reduce its availability for those with high wealth and income and focus it on those with the least wealth and income. But the Tea Party base wants the opposite – they are opposed to a welfare state for the poor, young people, undocumented workers and other groups they think are undeserving. The welfare state is worthwhile for people like themselves, but should be nonexistent or a burdensome affair for people they think don’t make the cut.

From the latest research on the Tea Party we learn that “Tea Partiers judge entitlement programs not in terms of abstract free-market orthodoxy, but according to the perceived deservingness of recipients…The fundamental distinction for them is not state vs. individual, it is the division of the United States into ‘workers’ vs. ‘people who don’t work.’” This is welfare as private charity, charity conditional on fitting certain expectations, not as an unconditional right. Food stamps are a particularly smart form of stimulus and redistribution. But the conservative mind doesn’t see the economy as something that is defective when involuntary unemployment shoots up or something that should work to the advantage of those who have the least. To them, the threat of people going hungry for failing in the market is what creates the ability to thrive in that market. The market doesn’t just reward the successful, it punishes those who fall behind. Food stamps deny people of that experience and leave them dependent; some conservatives are running once again with the idea that a base of people receiving aid in this Great Recession creates a permanent Democratic coalition by design.

Student protesters in Chile, despite some setbacks, have been quite successful in resetting the political agenda:
Echoing 1960s street activism, the Chilean Winter dabbled in the absurd, but with a high-tech, social-media twist. Thousands gathered in front of the presidential palace in June dressed as zombies, then broke into a choreographed dance to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” In July, students again gathered in front of the palace for a huge “kiss-in.”

Though the ideas came, said Giorgio Jackson, former student president of Chile’s Catholic University, from “everywhere, absolutely every local space,” the movement’s success hinged on the leadership’s ability to channel such creativity while maintaining a unified front to government and the media. The organization used a Web site to gather ideas and disseminate content for placards and posters. And it has used Ms. Vallejo’s 300,000-plus Twitter followers to quickly initiate huge “cacerolazos,” a form of dictatorship-era protest where people walk the streets banging on pots and pans.

While they vow to continue until all their lofty demands are met, the students have already scored some political victories. The government’s proposed 2012 budget has a $350 million increase for higher education, with promises to finance scholarships for qualifying students from families up to the 60th percentile in household income. Meanwhile, the year began with the naming of Chile’s third education minister in six months.

It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before the movement’s focus on education began to broaden. As more support for the movement came from outside the universities, its interests changed accordingly. “This year we have already started talking about political reforms and tax reforms, and we think the students and youth in general play an important role in profound reforms in the country,” said Noam Titelman, the new student president at Catholic University.

Tax reform is, not coincidentally, now at the top of the government’s agenda. And rightly so: though it has the largest economy in Latin America, Chile is the 13th most unequal country in the world.

“Something very powerful that has come out of the heart of this movement is that people are really questioning the economic policies of the country,” Ms. Vallejo said. “People are not tolerating the way a small number of economic groups benefit from the system. Having a market economy is really different from having a market society. What we are asking for, via education reform, is that the state take on a different role.”

Achieving info-wellness (h/t Wifey). And be sure to check out the link to Simon Johnson's list of productivity tools.

JSTOR: yet another example of the broken model of the academic publishing industry.

Ocean acidity: the highest it's been in 21,000 years.

The Pro-Pollution Caucus — better known as the GOP congressional delegation — may not be happy with the EPA's new mercury rules, but not only will there be massive public health benefits, but birds in the northeast will benefit, as well.

Shocking: letting the market dictate things and having no rules leads to overfishing and destroys fish stocks.

What a surprise: screwing further with the planet's climate may have unintended consequences. And that doesn't even address the complex governance issues surrounding geoengineering. Will the losers just sit there and take it? I sure as hell doubt it.

Cooling buildings with windcatchers.

An internet-based campaign forces the Chinese government to address air pollution concerns.

John Quiggin thoroughly dismantles libertarian economist Tyler Cowen's defense of inequality. And he makes this thoughtful observation:
As Mitt Romney’s tax returns show, wealthy Americans have the rules rigged in their favor from day one. And that’s assuming they obey the rules. Unlike the poor, they can mostly cheat with impunity. In these circumstances, it’s unsurprising that US inequality is so deeply entrenched. The only surprise is the suddenness with which the facts have become common knowledge.

GOP obstructionism, byzantine Senate rules, and our dysfunctional government kill yet another qualified nominee. The NYTimes calls for an end to this fillibustering nonsense.

Autonomously-piloted armed drones: nope, nothing troubling about this at all.

It sure would be nice if the blame-the-teachers education reformers actually relied on evidence, rather than ideology.

The inspiring life of gay Ugandan activist David Kato.

Oliver Wang with a great appreciation of Etta James.

Hear the Silk Road Ensemble performing at globalFEST 2012. And also on WNYC's Soundcheck:

 The always-lovely Sea and Cake perform a short set at OPB Music:

Ice Cube's good day was January 20, 1992.

How to burgle Mark Twain. (h/t DonPappy)

No comments:

Post a Comment