One million extinctions

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has produced a new report (summary here) claiming that human activity is currently threatening the extinction of one million species (IPBES, NYT, BBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, CBC).  The full report (1,500 pages (NYT) or 1,800 pages (Al Jazeera), depending upon whom you ask) is due out later this year.  While climate change is mentioned, the report pointed to several drivers of potential extinction.  These findings harmonize with an earlier article by Maxwell et al. that pointed to habitat degradation and exploitation as primary drivers of extinction.  Kolbert (2014) describes our anthropocene era as the sixth great extinction event in known history.  It’s difficult to put into perspective how tragic this all is.  I’m sorry I don’t have a witty punchline for this one.  Maybe I’ll go reread the Mueller report to cheer myself up.



The demise of the INF Treaty

The United States has just pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (Reuters), a 1987 agreement that restricted short-range and medium-range land-based missiles, and Russia has responded by doing the same (NYT).  Both countries accuse each other of violating the treaty (NYT, RT).  Nato seems to be supporting the United States’ decision (Sputnik International).  Escalating matters, Russia has announced that it plans to develop new weapons previously banned under the treaty in response both to the U.S. pull out from the treaty and to previous U.S. weapons development that Russia claims violated the treaty (TASS).

It’s difficult for me to tell, just yet, what is going on here.  Considering the stakes involved, news coverage has been (in my opinion) rather scanty.  What precipitated this pull-out?  Is this a Trump thing?  If so, where was all the usual bellicose blather and self-indulgent fanfare that precedes all Trump initiatives?  Is this a move initiated by Pompeo?  By Bolton?  Who’s pulling this string and why?  Is this a move to bring a militarily unfettered China to the table?  Is the U.S. pulling out of the treaty because the treaty puts the country at a military disadvantage against China (Daily Mail)?  Possibly.  China certainly sees no good in all of this for itself (The Times of India).  The move seems senseless and venal enough to be a Trump move, but, again, without the signature posing and crowing, it could surely have nothing to do with him.  So, what gives?

This situation is both bizarre and boring.  It’s a tedious thing to try to learn about.  It seems to be in the news all of a sudden, with little warning or context, and has received relatively little attention.  The media message seems to be that there is very little to see here, folks.  It feels like being lulled to sleep just before the end of the world.




No wall

The shutdown of the United States government is now over, and the president has no funding for his wall (Fox, Bloomberg, Washington ExaminerReuters, CNN).  Ann Coulter, spiritual leader of Trump’s base (those who prefer to believe that immigrants are the gravest threat to America’s sovereignty and prosperity) has called Trump, “the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States” (twitter, Business Insider, The Hill, CNN).

Following the reopening of the government, Trump made a speech in which he reiterated the talking points that have failed to convince congress to fund his wall since his inauguration (c-span).  He seemed to be trying to convince us that he won–that he convinced the Republicans and Democrats who’ve been blocking his folly to finally see things his way:

I have seen and heard from enough Democrats and Republicans that they are willing to put partisanship aside…they have finally and fully acknowledged that having “barriers,” “fences,” or “walls,” or whatever you want to call it, will be an important part of the solution.

But, no one, other than Trump, seems to believe that (USA Today).  Seems to me, the president has finally hit the wall (or whatever you want to call it).

Longest shutdown ever

The current government shutdown in the United States is now the longest that the country has ever endured (Bloomberg, Reuters).  The shutdown has been particularly harsh on low-income Americans who depend on federal assistance and on those who live in rural states (AP, Axios).  Several federal employees have filed lawsuits against the government demanding to be paid (Bloomberg).

But this is a special day for one federal employee.  For the first time in his life, the president of the United States can claim a genuine and verifiable superlative.  In the face of all those silly boasts about being the best or biggest or most or smartest, finally the president has actually done something more than anyone else.  Considering the general opinion his base has of government, today he has become, I imagine, not just historic, but a little more heroic.

longest shutdown



I’ve been trying to figure out why the United States government has been shut down for the last couple of weeks.  The best guess I have is that the U.S. president has decided that getting funding for a border wall from congress (Mexico said no to the requested hand out) is important for his 2020 re-election prospects.  Democratic House leadership seems to agree.  Therefore, the shutdown–or, showdown–revolves around a wall.  President Trump has promised that he will get a wall.  House Speaker Pelosi has promised that he will not.

Trump has tried to frame the issue as a battle over border security, but it’s not–his opponents are proposing funding for border security as well (they just claim that a wall is not the best way to improve it). One might think it’s about money.  $5.6 billion dollars is more money than most people can fathom, but, on a governmental scale, it’s really not that much.  So, are the democrats being stingy?  One might say, ‘why not just approve the money and have done with it–a full border wall likely does more good than harm.’  But, this isn’t an amount that can fund a complete border wall–just a small piece (or, pieces) of one .

But, none of this really matters.  Trump is focused on a wall and sees it as a battle that he must win (USA Today).  He tweets about it a lot.

Trump's border tweets
Click on image for interactive graphic.

The problem, as Adam Smith, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, points out, is that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that a wall is the most effective means of improving border security (The Hill).  “The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

“The president doesn’t really understand the issue,” he said. “A concrete barrier is not going to automatically stop people from coming.”

But this reality is immaterial.  Trump seems to have found that the wall idea is popular with his base and good for applause lines at rallies. This was no accident.  Trump’s early campaign advisors realized that the idea of a wall was a great memory aid for Trump to help him tie his penchant for bragging about his building exploits to the immigration fears of his prospective voting base (NYT).

So, what’s the problem?  Wall/no wall.  $5.6 billion here or somewhere else.  What does it matter?  I think the problem is precedent.  If congress rewards Trump for shutting down the government by giving him this trinket, he–and all future presidents, democrat or republican–will learn that they can get whatever they want by bringing the system to a halt.  While a wall is pretty harmless, someday some fool will want to invade the Middle East again.  And, while congress has proven that it’s pretty useless at stopping such misadventures, at least the system of checks and balances makes doing stupid things a little harder.  Just look at how long it takes to build a useless wall.