April 21, 2016

Crisis: Climate, EU Undemocratic * 2, On Despair, Voting in New York
Sections                                                                     crisis index

The 'Absolutely Disturbing' New Normal: Earth Just
     Smashed Another Climate Record
2. Revealed: After Big Oil Pressure, EU Dropped Key
     Environmental Measures

How European Union Fiscal Rules Subverted Democracy
     and Institutionalize Neoliberalism

4. Finding Hope in Despair: What I Learned Hiking the
     Entire Keystone XL Pipeline

What Is Wrong With New York’s Voting System and How
     Can It Be Fixed? (Video)

This is a Nederlog of Thursday, April 21, 2016.

This is a crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about the smashing of another climate record (briefly put into a context of 45 years of mostly doing nothing effective); item 2 is about how BP manipulates European top politicians over the climate; item 3 is about how the European fiscal rules destroyed democracy and enthroned neoliberalism; item 4 is about "the climate" and about despair over it (and I say something about despair); and item 5 is about the New York voting system (that seems pretty wrecked since decades).

1. The 'Absolutely Disturbing' New Normal: Earth Just Smashed Another Climate Record

The first item is b
y Andrea Germanos on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:

Our ever-warming planet just passed another climate record.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Tuesday that March 2016 was the warmest March since records began in 1880.

It also marked an 11-month of streak of record-breaking global temperatures.

And at 1.22°C (2.20°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F), March 2016 distinguished itself from all 1,635 months on record by having the highest monthly temperature departure. Meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson wrote, "This is a huge margin for breaking a monthly global temperature record, as they are typically broken by just a few hundredths of a degree. The margin was just a shade larger than NOAA's previous record for any month of 1.21°C (2.18°F) above average, set in February 2016."

Put otherwise: Last March was the warmest in 135 years, with a temperature that was 10% higher than the century average. (The last number is rather spectacular because climate records tend to be broken not by 10% but by
very much less.)

As I have indicated several times (1) I am aware of "the environment" and "the ecology" (etc.) since around 1970, but also (2) I have "given up" on the politics (!) of it, since I think something far more radical is needed to stem "climate change" than our current political masters are willing to offer. (Also see item 2 and item 3.)

In other words, I have been cheated and lied to more than enough. But this does not mean I don't worry, and a bit like the following doesn't lessen that worry:

David Karoly, a climate researcher at Melbourne University, told the Sydney Morning Herald, "The extreme temperatures and extreme events, including the coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, are indications that climate change is already happening with worse things in store."
I am not criticizing Karoly here (I don't know anything about him, and he gets merely a brief bit), but I'd say there is good evidence something quite radical has been happening with "the climate" ("the environment", "the ecology") since the early 1970ies at the latest.

As to what "the politicians" have been doing since 1970: Getting re-elected by crazy pledges, idiotic plans and stupid lies (with a few exceptions, is also true) with the latest of their results (after 45 years of arguments by scientists) summarized here:
Indeed, a new analysis shows that even if countries implement their pledges laid out in the deal, which is expected to be signed by over 150 nations on Friday, it would result in expected warming by 2100 of 3.5°C (6.3°F)—far past the consensus threshold.
I don't counsel despair (and see item 4) but as long as the majorities of the current type of politicians and governments have most of the say about "the clmate", "the ecology" or "the environment" be sure you may be cheated, lied
to and also risk being abused by their lies into re-electing these sick and degenerate climate criminals. (They are, for they have had 45 years to do something effective, and they simply did not do anything effective.)

2. Revealed: After Big Oil Pressure, EU Dropped Key Environmental Measures

The second item is by Deirdre Fulton on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows - and this is just the latest of 45 years of similar stories
(that only helped re-electing sick political liars, especially - in Europe - of the
sickening "social democrats", who these days are nearly all New Labour neo-
liberals only out for their own careers and those of their financial backers):

European Union officials "abandoned or weakened" new environmental protections after a top BP oil executive expressed concerns about their effect on the fossil fuels industry, the Guardian revealed on Wednesday.

According to a 10-page letter obtained by the Guardian, the unnamed executive warned that proposed pollution cuts and a push for clean technologies "has the potential to have a massively adverse economic impact on the costs and competitiveness of European refining and petrochemical industries, and trigger a further exodus outside the EU."

The Guardian reports:

The missive to the EU’s energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger, was dated 9 August 2013, partly hand-written, and signed by a senior BP representative whose name has been redacted.

Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said the document "reveals how the arm-twisting tactics of big oil seek to undermine the EU's progressive energy and climate policies. BP's covert lobbying, combined with threats of an exodus of the petrochemicals industry from the EU, are nothing short of blackmail."

To me this sounds quite like BP has been acting since 1970, though I grant that with the arisal of the European Union and with the new style of politicians they have it a lot easier, and can now virtually dictate to the politicians what these have to do - as happens in this letter.

Incidentally, why The Guardian "redacted" the BP's official's name escapes me, except if it is to save him (or her) the only type of sanctions that works a little bit: Being chewed over on Twitter, or similar things. But no, according to The Guardian (I must assume) high officials who blackmail the European Union are
too high to be touched.

Here is the last bit I quote from this article:
According to InfluenceMap, which earlier this month released a report outlining how fossil fuel giants spend millions a year to defeat climate change legislation, "BP ultimately does not appear to be aligned with a transition to a low-carbon future and has stressed concerns 'including energy security, affordability and international competitiveness' against the case for ambitious [greenhouse gas] emission reductions."

Well... I don't know why InfluenceMap (that I never heard of) qualifies its conclusion by "does not appear to be aligned" when it is clear to a person who has at least somewhat followed the history of the past 45 years that they have been cheating and intrigueing to keep their profits as high as possible and their practices as dirty as possible all these 45 years, indeed like all other leading oil companies.

3. How European Union Fiscal Rules Subverted Democracy and Institutionalize Neoliberalism

The third item is
by John Weeks on Naked Capitalism, and originally on Triple Crisis (and with a brief introduction by Yves Smith):
This starts with the following introduction by Yves Smith:
Yves here. Anyone who has paid attention to how the various sovereign debt crises have played out in Europe can’t help noticing that a bureaucratic elite is calling the shots and riding roughshod over popular will. But what are the mechanisms which allow these perverse outcomes to come to pass? This post describes the major steps that enabled neoliberalism to become the ruling doctrine.
I will select three bits from Weeks' article, that is basically about the so-called "Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance" (<- Wikipedia) aka TSCG.

Here is part of an explanation (and for more check the Wikipedia on the TSCG):

History provides many examples of authoritarian rule achieved through formally democratic procedures. To these we should add the 2012 EU Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (TSCG), adopted by 25 democratically elected EU governments (the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom took opt-outs). On an EU website we find the overall purpose of the TSCG boldly highlighted:

The European Union’s economic governance framework aims to detect, prevent, and correct problematical economic trends such as excessive government deficits or public debt levels, which can stunt growth and put economies at risk.

This bureaucratically bland sentence asserts the power of the unelected European Commission, as the executive of the European Union, to monitor (“detect”) whether the public budget of an elected member government conforms to EU fiscal rules.  If it does not, the Commission claims the power to prevent the implementation of that budget and to specify the changes (“corrections”) required.

There you are: It are the unelected officials who hold the power in the European Union (and they seem to have always done so).

Here is how these unelected officials operate:

The TSCG de facto makes member governments formulate their budgets for the Commission not their legislatures, because there would be little point and considerable embarrassment by submitting to parliament a budget that the EC would reject.  After the Commission judges the budget as satisfactory the national legislature goes through a pro forma approval process.  It will be a small step to require, as in Greece, approval by the EC before revealing the budget to the public.

The TSCG transfers sovereignty from democratic institutions
to an unelected bureaucracy. Were it the case that the EU parliament possessed substantial control over the Commission (which it does not), the TSCG would still be profoundly authoritarian because of the power of the EC bureaucracy over what should be decided democratically.

I am sorry, but since I have been scolded as "a fascist" for 12 years in the University of Amsterdam, simply because I was one of the very few students
who was in favor of truth (that did not exist in the University of Amsterdam from 1978 till 1995, at least) and of science (that was "a capitalist illusion", from 1971 till 1995), while I am not a fascist at all (and had communist
parents and grandparents, who suffered a lot during WW II because they were in the real resistance against the Nazis, unlike the vast majority of the Dutch) I conclude that the European Union is definitely an anti-democratic, authoritarian outfit directed by the rich for the rich, and may be a fascist outfit as well, seeing how completely anti-democratically they are governed.

The article (in which there is considerably more) ends as follows:

The TSCG legally prohibits the implementation of this effective countercyclical fiscal policy. It forces member governments to apply policies analogous to the practice 200 years ago of bloodletting to restore health to the ill. It is a Treaty designed to maintain perpetual stagnation across the European continent.

The term “Six-Pack”, the secondary legislation linked to the treaty, is frequently used as synonymous with the TSCG. This is a singularly appropriate nickname for the enabling legislation. The Six-Pack contains the economic equivalent of a pernicious snake oil, a witch’s brew to turn minor fiscal problems into recessionary downturns. For those dedicated to a prosperous and harmonious European Union, repeal or replacement of the TSCG stands out as an urgent priority. Fiscal integration on the basis of the TSCG would be disastrous.

I am "a European" and the European Union exists as long as I live.

Well... with unelected authoritarian or fascistic rulers I say: Damn them.
It is too late, and Europe may be humane again (if that is still possible) only if
this anti-democratic and authoritarian organization gets destroyed or broken up.

I have never understood why anyone rational would want a EU, but now I understand: It exists to facilitate the dictatorship of the rich few for the rich few, by means of totally undemocratic authoritarian rulers.

And while I do not know whether it is possible to destroy the EU-as-is, I do
know I do not want it, and I strongly hope to see it disappear.

4. Finding Hope in Despair: What I Learned Hiking the Entire Keystone XL Pipeline

The fourth item i
s by Ken Ilgunas on AlterNet:

This starts as follows (and is an excerpt from his book "Trespassing Across America"):

I was headed to the Pipeline Crossroads of the World: Cushing, Oklahoma. Cushing is the southern terminus of the 2010 Keystone Pipeline. If the Keystone XL is approved, oil will be piped by a shorter route from Hardisty, Alberta, to Cushing. A second part of the Keystone XL would be built from Cushing to the Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

As the title says, Ken Ilgunas seems to have walked along the complete Keystone XL Pipeline. I do not know why - for this book, perhaps? - and I
would never do it even if I could (I can't because I am ill), but he seems
to have done so.

And Ken Ilgunas also seems to be both worried and frightened by the climate. He writes:

How much time do we have? Bill McKibben, in his Rolling Stone essay “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” claims we shouldn’t raise the temperature more than 2 degrees Celsius for fear that droughts, floods and storms could shake the foundation of our civilization. “[Two degrees Celsius has] become the bottomest of bottom lines,” says McKibben. (As of 2012, we’d already raised it 0.8 degrees Celsius.) On a gloomier note, he adds, “Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.”

Retired NASA scientist James Hansen says that if the Keystone XL is approved and the tar sands expand “it will be game over for the climate.” Even E. O. Wilson, who usually comes across as more hopeful than other environmentalists, concedes that the conservation ethic “has generally come too late ... to save the most vulnerable of life forms.”

Incidentally, here is a reference: Keystone Pipeline (<-Wikipedia) that gives a lot more data than the present article does.

I will leave that to your interests, but I do mention here that (i) there were originally 4 phases to the Keystone Pipeline System (as it is called on Wikipedia), of which the first three phases have been all concluded, while (ii)  Barack Obama announced late in 2015 that his administration rejected the fourth phase. (The reasons are - and I quote: "The Keystone XL pipeline does not serve the national interests of the United States
". I say.)

So perhaps it will not be built by the next president. In any case, it is only one of many reasons to worry about the climate, and Ken Ilgunas has something to say about these worries:

When I think about our culture’s addiction to fossil fuel, its indifference to the natural world, and the sheer impossibility of any major change happening soon, I can’t help but despair. Almost as depressing as an inevitable collapse is how powerless I feel as an individual. A life-ending meteor hurtling toward us is one thing. In that case, none of us can really do anything, so we might as well buy a twelve-pack, throw a few steaks on the grill, and enjoy the show. But climate change is different. It appears we can do something about it. But change is only possible if it’s a collective “we” rather than a lonely “I.” So where does that leave those individuals who care deeply about the planet but are no more than a scattered minority?

Up shit creek without a paddle, I would say. But why grow depressed?

This is certainly is where I found myself to be the last 45 years, and especially since the early 1980ies, when I saw that "the student revolutionaries" who did control - in a sense, for there also was the Board of Directors from the Dutch "Social Democrats" - the whole University of Amsterdam from 1971 till 1995 (effectively 25 years!), which was a unique situation in the whole world [1], were in effect defending the quite sick policies of the "social democrats" and were also pretending these were "revolutionary" (circa 1980!).

They were not revolutionary, and these policies, like all other policies I saw in Holland since then, also did not change anything in any appreciable sense (though - I grant - that they helped the profitability of the builders of wind mills).

Here is a bit about despair by Ken Ilgunas:

Despair, I’ve found, is a seductive alternative to a life of civic participation. Despair absolves us of responsibility. It’s a way of managing guilt: If the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, we might as well jack up the thermostat and live it up. If our efforts are futile, then there’s nothing to feel guilty about, right?

He does not admit to this despair (it seems), though I didn't see any of my reasons not to give in to despair. These are as follows (and hold since a long time for me):

1. I know that I am a lot more intelligent and a lot more informed than the
    vast majority [2];
2. I know that the plans and ends I have are mostly rational and reasonable,
   simply because I try to make them so and have the requisite talents and the
   knowledge to do so [3];
3. I know also that many of the plans and ends I have are not supported by
   over 99% till over 75% of most adults (and see 1.)

In short: Why should I despair? The only two reasons that might apply are (i) you must always agree with the majority, also if they are stupid, mistaken and
harmful, or (ii) go enjoy yourself and profit as much you can, while it lasts.

And the former is just plain stupid, and the latter is just plain egoism.

5. What Is Wrong With New York’s Voting System and How Can It Be Fixed? (Video)

The fifth and last item is by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig (with material from Democracy Now!):

This starts as follows:

On “Democracy Now!” on Wednesday, voting rights advocates tallied the reforms New York state must implement to restore confidence in democracy after more than 125,000 Brooklyn residents were among many voters unable to cast ballots in the presidential primary on Tuesday because they’d been removed from voter rolls.

I say, for I didn't know that, and 125,000 is a whole lot of voters who were changed to non-voters, and that also in just one district, namely Brooklyn.

Here is some more on the process of voting on April 19, last:

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, voting in New York City was marked by considerable chaos, particularly in Brooklyn, as tens of thousands of voters found their names had been removed from the rolls or that they were unable to vote at their polling station. The New York City Elections Board has confirmed that more than 125,000 Brooklyn voters had been removed from the rolls since November of 2015. There were also reports that polling staffs were unable to operate voting machines, gave out conflicting information and erroneously directed voters to alternate sites.

Incidentally, why these 125,000 voters were removed "since November of 2015" does not get clarified in the article, although it is being said that "the New York City Board of Elections is notoriously incompetent" and has been so for thirty years (at least).

Here is Bernie Sanders on the outcome of New York:

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: While I congratulate Secretary Clinton, I must say that I am really concerned about the conduct of the voting process in New York state, and I hope that that process will change in the future. And I’m not alone about my concerns. The comptroller of the City of New York talked today about voter irregularities and about chaos at the polling places.

It has happened. Besides, it has been happening for thirty years - or so it seems: I merely report - so I would expect that it continues, were it only to have all the obscurities in place to be able to destroy the chances of Democratic politicians who are not wanted by the elite of the Democrats.

[1] Yes, it was.

What happened is - very briefly - that in 1971 a minister of education, probably because of the so-called Maagdenhuis-rellen of 1969, in which the central building of the University was occupied for days, (1) decided "to give" all the Dutch universities effectively to the students, which was approved by the National Parliament and effected thus: (2) each and every student, worker, lecturer and professor got the right to vote on both a university parliament and many faculty parliaments, and such that (3) each student, each worker (a
secretary, a toilet cleaner etc.) and each lecturer and each professor all got 1 vote each (according to the national ideal that "eveybody know that everybody is equal", and - of course - especially professors in their fifties and students of twenty without having given any real proof of being someone special).

Effectively, this handed the power over to the students from 1971-1995, although they had "to share" it with the Board of Directors, that in the University of Amsterdam - Amsterdam being the city were the "social democrats" had the power from 1948-2013 - were always prominent members of the "social democrats" (that incidentally changed in 1995 from "Labour" to "New Labour", i.e. became neoliberal).

Also effectively, this meant that real science was not taught anymore in the University of Amsterdam in most faculties between 1971 and 1995, in part because the majority of the students (who always had the absolute majority in the yearly elections) believed that "everybody knows that science is an (capitalist) illusion", which again they "knew" because they believed (and were told by most of their professors, who much wanted to keep their very well-paying jobs with very few real duties) that "everybody knows truth does not exist". (In a university!)

This was the university to which I returned from Norway in 1977, because I was Dutch (though I had lived in Norway and could have studied there, but didn't because I did not know of these developments).

[2] I know this is - still - extremely impopular in Holland, but I think I may say at 65, with one of the best M.A.'s ever handed out, in spite of being ill all the time and almost never having heard any lectures, that I am more intelligent than most. (And I am willing to admit that in Holland this is mostly a setback: One can get far more popular and far richer by excelling in soccer.)

[3] Yes, indeed. At least, I do my best to my best to make my plans and ends conform to the demands that a rational mindset and a character inclined
to reason impose. I also know I sometimes fail, and that only a small minority
of my fellow Dutchmen - really - care for either rationality or reason

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