Sunday, January 24, 2021

Brexit appears to be causing many unexpected pain

This January is the first month of Brexit, the British withdrawal from the European Union after 47 years of membership. Brexit was approved by a majority of voters in 2016, the same year Donald Trump was elected.

Much like Americans that year, the Brits had their opinions and ignored anything in the press to the contrary. As might be expected, some news headlines reflect problems and surprises as a result of Brexit implementation:

It's still early in the game, of course. But the implementation of Brexit is the only significant nationalist movement that we can watch with clear democratic vision. Initially, it appears that this Wikipedia quote is right on: "The broad consensus among economists is that Brexit will likely harm the UK's economy and reduce its real per capita income in the long term, and that the referendum itself damaged the economy."

Of course, 80 years from now the world's economy will barely resemble today (at least partly because of our current confrontation with a pandemic). Still, it seems fair to assume that, led by right wing nationalists (the majority of whom are racists), the British have pretty much abandoned their economy as they knew it to assert their "freedoms" in the face of an "oppressive" or "too immigration favorable" multinational bureaucracy.

In effect, the British have achieved what the Trump Administration attempted to accomplish for the U.S. - total one-on-one trade treaties and closed borders. The results are exactly what a person who can read-and-write would expect. Consider this video on the shift in freight transport to and from E.U. member Ireland:

It would be unkind to wish significant economic damage on the U.K. But one can hope that for future reference we will be able to point to Brexit as an example of why right wing nationalism is a bad idea without even having to refer to Hitler.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

We are deep into a climate crisis age of extinction. Read all about it from a reliable news source.

One certain effect of climate change is the accelerated extinction of plant and animal species.

As Wikipedia explains: "A species is extinct when the last existing member dies. Extinction therefore becomes a certainty when there are no surviving individuals that can reproduce and create a new generation. A species may become functionally extinct when only a handful of individuals survive, which cannot reproduce due to poor health, age, sparse distribution over a large range, a lack of individuals of both sexes (in sexually reproducing species), or other reasons."

Homo sapiens sapiens, aka humans, are animals, of course. Since more than 99% of all species that ever lived on Earth, amounting to over five billion species,  have become extinct, it is reasonable to expect that humans will become extinct.

Still, many of us are troubled by the fact that humans are the cause of the current rapid climate change that has accelerated the extinction of plant and animal species creating a condition known as "mass extinction." 

A 1998 survey of biologists conducted by New York's American Museum of Natural History supported the prediction that up to 20% of all living populations could become extinct within 20 years, seven years from now. It appears that prediction will be exceeded.

In a 2020 study Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction it was noted that a study of 29,400 species of terrestrial vertebrates found that the human-caused sixth mass extinction is likely accelerating, emphasizing the "extreme urgency of taking massive global actions to save humanity’s crucial life-support systems."

For those who may be interested, The Guardian, a non-profit British newspaper founded in 1821, has a grant-supported project - The Age of Extinction - focused on biodiversity highlighting the crisis represented by huge losses of animal, insect, bird and plant life around the world, exploring innovations attempting to slow these losses.

The Guardian is free (you may but need not donate). They do report on other news. In terms of its political orientation, it is left of center. And it is true that British, and American, and Chinese, and whatever national governments and private corporations have determined to delay significant action regarding climate change.

But now that Donald Trump is no longer President, perhaps more will find things like the problem of preventing the end of human life interesting.

This writer certainly recommends it as an alternative to Twitter, et al.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

What happens when the much vaunted "center" of a "new world order" withdraws creating a vacuum

In human history all dominate cultures have fallen. In the past decade many have been writing that the world leadership by the U.S. has declined or even collapsed. It's complicated, but also true in the sense that the United States is no longer the "center" of a "new world order."

New World Order

As historically used, the term "new world order" refers to a leadership transition in collective efforts to identify, understand, and/or address global problems that go beyond the capacity of the peoples of individual nation-states to solve. The term was used at the end of both World War I and II with the United States appearing to be the hope for the world. 

European culture, with an emphasis on Great Britain's empire, was the center of a new world order as the United States evolved. The U.S. in the second half of the 20th Century assumed that "center" mantle. At the very time that the U.S. seemed to have assured its place with the fall of the Soviet Union, in fact it turns out it was the end of the Eurocentric world.

The term "new world order" was most recently used at the end of the Cold War.

After the election March 11, 1985, of Mikhail Gorbachev to the position of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the process of dissolution of the Soviet Union was begun. Prior to that time, the United States and the Soviet Union dominated the world order. In five years, the change was clear as noted by U.S. President George H. W. Bush:

We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective—a new world order—can emerge: a new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony. A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.

    - President George H.W. Bush, September 11, 1990, Address Before a Joint Session of Congress

Unfortunately, Bush was a bit ahead of the curve thinking there would be a future of peace, freedom and justice as he did not recognize the shadow cast by the self-centered arrogance endemic to the American people. The historical period of 1918-1922 should have represented a warning that just as the U.S. effectively abandoned the League of Nations ultimately causing WWII, there was little chance the the American political scene would shift to support a unanimous unselfish group leadership role.

The irony should not be lost that Bush's speech was given 11 years to the day before his son as President would face what we know as 9/11 leading to a another two decades of war initiated by the United States.

In fact, beginning in 1980 the U.S. electorate shifted politically back to the post-WWI Republican capitalist greed era by electing Ronald Reagan. Reagan clearly stated his philosophy in 1964 while campaigning for Barry Goldwater in  his famous speech, "A Time for Choosing":

The Founding Fathers knew a government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing ... You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man's age-old dream—the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.

The Clinton and Obama Presidencies remained focused on maintaining the wealth of the American 1% through corporate support in the international arena.

The high risk factor ignored was that most of the world's population was located outside the U.S. and half the U.S. population was becoming uneasy with the decline in their share, small as it was, in the growing wealth.

That led to the election of Donald Trump, a millionaire who touted a populist-image aimed at the gullible half of the U.S. population that had grown uneasy with the decline in their share. Trump pulled the U.S. out of international financial and other agreements which pretty much ended the world's love for American democracy.

The truth is that world power was centered on European economic power in the 19th Century and on U.S. economic power in the 20th Century.

Today in terms of economic power, the focus is rapidly shifting away from the 20th Century inherited European-American North Atlantic focus bequested to the U.S. by Britain. 

Recent events have assured an Asian-Pacific focus with expanding African and European participation, all through international agreements. This is no accident. The world's population is roughly 7.8 billion with 4.6 billion living in Asia,  2.82 billion of whom live in China and India. Africa has another 1.4 billion. So far, another 250 million folks in Pacific Rim nations Australia, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Peru have signed on.

While the United States coped with Trumpist shifts away from internationalism, Great Britain withdrew from the European Union and is now just beginning to discover the negative economic effects of Brexit.

Are we prepared for this? To date the only President born in a Pacific Coast state, Richard Nixon, is also the only President to have made any significant positive move in our history to recognize the importance of Asia.

Yes, Donald Trump left office creating internal turmoil in his wake. The electorate did anoint Joe Biden to replace him. But in terms of creating a role for the U.S. in a new world order, Biden faces major problems as (1) a significant bloc of the U.S. electorate opposes economic participation in world organizations and (2) most of the world's nations, in reaction to Trump, effectively have moved on leaving the U.S. as just one more player in world affairs, and not a very reliable one at that.

Those two facts alone represent major hurdles for the U.S. But they aren't even where the focus must be right now.

The Pandemic, Climate Change, and Cyberspace Vulnerability

President Joe Biden assumes office at the beginning of the third decade of the Second Millennium A.D. facing a world that easily can be distinguished from the 20th Century world.

Biden and humanity are confronting the immediate problems of...

  • a pandemic from a new disease, 
  • climate change, and 
  • sophisticated cyberattacks within a new theater of war called cyberspace, 

...all of which involve a leadership failure of the United States as a political entity during the first two decades of the Millennium.

Regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic, in the U.S. we have had 24,000,000+ cases and 400,000+ deaths in a year. 

Is this a real problem? For comparison in 2020, an estimated 1,806,590 new cases of cancer will have been diagnosed and 606,520 people will die from cancer. Regarding the flu, for which we have vaccines, annually in the last decade we have had between 9 million - 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 - 810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 - 61,000 deaths.

In terms of behavioral deaths, there were 36,096 fatalities in motor vehicle accidents and 15,292 people were fatally shot in 2019.

We should have been on top of the Covid-19 pandemic in January 2020 basically isolating the United States from the world and recommending everyone else do it also. But that is just not our way, ultimately letting us know that some day we will suffer major losses setting us back economically a century or more. But as we all know that will happen to someone else.

Based on available data, it is reasonable to expect recurrent Covid-19 epidemics as strains mutate. Other than the obvious impact on individuals, this has significantly altered our economy. But as seen from the statistics above, we've decided to coexist with disease and related economic impacts.

Regarding the second major U.S. policy failure impacting the economy, Climate Change, by 1960 research was telling us we had a problem as explained in Wikipedia:

By the late 1950s, more scientists were arguing that carbon dioxide emissions could be a problem, with some projecting in 1959 that CO2 would rise 25% by the year 2000, with potentially "radical" effects on climate. In the centennial of the American oil industry in 1959, organized by the American Petroleum Institute and the Columbia Graduate School of Business, Edward Teller said "It has been calculated that a temperature rise corresponding to a 10 per cent increase in carbon dioxide will be sufficient to melt the icecap and submerge New York. [....] At present the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen by 2 per cent over normal. By 1970, it will be perhaps 4 per cent, by 1980, 8 per cent, by 1990, 16 per cent if we keep on with our exponential rise in the use of purely conventional fuels.". In 1960 Charles David Keeling demonstrated that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was in fact rising. Concern mounted year by year along with the rise of the "Keeling Curve" of atmospheric CO2.

In terms of political awareness, we can point to Al Gore. In 1976, after joining the United States House of Representatives, Al Gore held the first congressional hearings on the climate change, and co-sponsored hearings on toxic waste and global warming. 

As explained in a previous post, Gore's subsequent presentation, movie, and book about Global Warming is entitled rather ironically "An Inconvenient Truth" precisely because as explained by Greta Thunberg "at a deep level, the language of climate denialism is tied up with a form of masculine identity predicated on modern industrial capitalism." The basic truth of the situation is economically very inconvenient and therefore politically very inconvenient. The American electoral system, not the majority of voters, defeated Al Gore for President in 2000 partly, or mostly, for that reason.

Simply, 1960 was 60 years ago. It is too late to avoid many climate catastrophes. As explained in a recent article:

    “The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.
    The delay between destruction of the natural world and the impacts of these actions means people do not recognise how vast the problem is, the paper argues. “[The] mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation.”

Nonetheless, Joe Biden has indicated a significant shift towards addressing climate change which offers some hope.

The third major U.S. economic policy failure is Cyberspace Vulnerability. Several facts need to be understood:

  • "Cyberspace" has numerous meanings within the world of the arts, but ultimately came to reference a widespread, interconnected digital technology associated with the internet which has no single centralized governance in either technological implementation or policies for access and usage that began in the 1960s with the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the United States Department of Defense funded research into time-sharing of computers; in other words, it was created by the United States DOD.
  • In 2013 Edward Snowden released a bunch of information about what the NSA was doing as noted in an extensive article in The Guardian (if you haven't read it you should); simply the U.S. was engaging in far reaching clandestine cyber espionage the disclosure of which resulted in a furor among U.S. allies, but did not actually restrict NSA activities, leaving the United States government as the largest single organization on Earth invading the privacy of individual human beings, individual businesses, and foreign governments, both within an international scope and within the United States.
  • Because in the 1980's internet development was turned over to the private sector, clandestine spying is rampant; specific to politics you might remember the name Cambridge Analytica in relationship to both privacy invasion and Russian interference issues related to the election of Donald Trump because the company was paid at least $650,000 for voter data analysis and digital video; however, American corporate cyberspace spying has led to the establishment of  similar clandestine programs which have allowed both public and private sector interference in American affairs.

In summary American Cyberspace Vulnerability is entirely the fault of American worship of greed and power. Unlike nuclear weapons, no effective international restrictions exist today to protect cyberspace nor can they be instituted. 

Instead, the incoming Biden Administration must determine what, if any, data should be sealed from outside access and then figure out how to make that happen given the widespread existence within "the cloud" of elements of critical data.

In the meantime, we know that the ability to mess with elections is out there. But we also know that the ability of nations to shut down and damage utilities such as electricity, gas, and communications in other nations is a reality.

It is no small irony that most "smart" phones, including all critical components, are manufactured in Asia. This is also true of most electronics. It is the world a greedy United States created thumbing its nose at government. It will not be easy to undo.

The Next Eight Decades

Consider the following very recent observation:

    Most great empires, Arnold Toynbee once argued, end by committing suicide rather than being murdered.
    But with their exceptionalism and profound myopia, Americans think they are exempt from history’s merciless fate. They won’t be. There are four areas in which Americans have reigned supreme from the second half of the last century: the military, the capitalist financial system, medicine and disease control, and democratic institutions.
    In every one of them, signs of decay and decline abound.

The article the above quote is from should be read by all Americans. Unfortunately, it will be read by nearly none.

It is highly unlikely that the United States will be the "center" of a "new world order." It may turn out that George H.W. Bush was right when he said 30 years ago:

Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.

It could be humans will make the necessary decisions creating such a world. But the nature of that world will rest in the heads and hearts of those who over the next 80 years consider is the nature of freedom and justice and what should be the focus of attention. In that context the U.S. ended up with 80±-year-old political leaders. Aren't we the generation who created the mess we're in? Well, not exactly!

The only appointed high official to serve a full four years in the Trump years, 57-year-old Mike Pompeo, was appointed by Trump as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in January 2017 and promoted to secretary of state in March 2018 after Trump fired Rex Tillerson who reportedly called Trump a moron.  

Pompeo appears to have successfully completed the early 21st Century redefining of China as an enemy of American capitalism. As noted here in 2019 Pompeo is a Koch Brothers believer (as is Mike Pence):

There is no question that the Koch conservative right sees China as the one serious threat to unfettered capitalism and Pompeo has worked diligently to focus American military and foreign policy on that enemy. It's relatively simple equation - capitalism and communism are arch enemies. 

Confronted with Pompeo's Koch viewpoint, China's President Xi has refocused China's military on the very real U.S. threat while continuing to move forward with China's long term economic plans.

Make no mistake about it, freedom and justice are not defined by the Chinese in any way similar to American definitions. On the other hand, China is preparing its 14th Five Year Plan and 2035 Vision, a key marker of Xi’s national rejuvenation project to build a "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful" modern socialist country by 2049. The core goal is to give the nation's people freedom from economic worry.

The Koch oil company empire notwithstanding, what do 340 million Americans living in a politically divided country that has a 250 year history really think about 1.44 billion Chinese living in a country that has a 4000 year history of centralized rule? Are there any thoughts about China planning an economy for it's children and grandchildren?

And, of course, what exactly is the national plan for mediating the impact of climate change on the American people?

This is the beginning of Joe Biden's term. It's quite a challenge.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Welcome to the second year of Covid-19 in which new, more dangerous variants are already here

As noted here in March 2020, the first confirmed case of Covid-19 was in November 2019. The second Covid-19 year began in November 2020. 

In mid-December the first vaccines were released for use. Folks became hopeful or paranoid, the latter because vaccines are based on science which is apparently is witchcraft. Well, not if it produces cars, tvs, smart phones, but if it is about health its witchcraft because human lifespans have shortened decades since the Dark Ages.

Unfortunately just as vaccines were being released, two far more contagious mutant strains of Covid-19 were discovered, one in Britain and one in South Africa.

Among the many things we didn't know is that a more contagious strain is more dangerous than a more deadly strain as explained here:

    ...Consider an example put forth by Adam Kucharski, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who focuses on mathematical analyses of infectious-disease outbreaks. Kucharski compares a 50 percent increase in virus lethality to a 50 percent increase in virus transmissibility. Take a virus reproduction rate of about 1.1 and an infection fatality risk of 0.8 percent and imagine 10,000 active infections—a plausible scenario for many European cities, as Kucharski notes. As things stand, with those numbers, we’d expect 129 deaths in a month. If the fatality rate increased by 50 percent, that would lead to 193 deaths. In contrast, a 50 percent increase in transmissibility would lead to a whopping 978 deaths in just one month—assuming, in both scenarios, a six-day infection-generation time.
    ...The initial estimates from the data suggest that this variant could be about 50 to 70 percent more transmissible than regular COVID-19. To make matters thornier, we aren’t yet exactly sure why it’s more transmissible, though reasonable theories are already being tested. This variant, now called B.1.1.7, has “an unusually large number of genetic changes, particularly in the spike protein,” which is how the virus gains entry into our cells. The new variant may be better at eluding our immune response and replicating, or be able to better bind to locations in our body more conducive to infecting others, but that is all speculative for the moment.

That explanation triggered in my mind an immediate explanation of what was going on in this graph of California's runaway hospitalizations and daily death numbers (click here to see a larger version):

While humanity is still learning about the new variants, both of which are in the United States, what we do know is framed in an article:

    The new coronavirus strain that emerged in South Africa is even more problematic than a mutated form that prompted new lockdowns across much of the U.K., health authorities said on Monday.
    “I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant,” U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on BBC radio Monday, citing a conversation over the Christmas holiday with his counterpart in South Africa. “One of the reasons they know they’ve got a problem is because, like us, they have an excellent genomic scientific capability to be able to study the details of the virus. And it is even more of a problem than the U.K. new variant.”
    The South African variant is driving a surge of infections in the country, and like the U.K. strain, it appears to be more infectious than previous mutations. Still, there’s no evidence yet that the Covid-19 vaccines approved so far won’t work against the new strains.

Oh good. There's no evidence yet...

In the U.S. our genomic scientific capability is mostly on a par with the poorest third world countries because we can't imagine spending money on things for which there is "no evidence yet."

California recently learned that the British variant is here, perhaps even widespread but we need a few more weeks. So far I haven't seen any evidence yet that the South African variant is here.

Unfortunately, some initial evidence indicates that the South African variant may not be as responsive to the vaccines, but we don't have any evidence yet.

What we do know is that the South African variant does appear to be infecting more young people without pre-existing conditions who are becoming severely ill.  But we don't have any evidence yet.

The main thing here in the second year is that we have to get our businesses open and our kids back to school....

In the meantime, to the right is a convenient calendar for tracking the second year!