Heat Records Climb Everywhere

Washington State is pretty close to California and has been going through unprecedented heat wave.

A wildfire burns in Wenatchee, Washington on Sunday, June 28, during the hottest June temperatures ever recorded there. Image credit: komonews.com

Unprecedented June Heat in Northwest U.S. Caused by Extreme Jet Stream Pattern

Spain has just sent out a warning to its residents.  And around the world, here are headlines from Jeff Masters’s blog at Wunderground.

Germany Breaks its All-Time Heat Record

All-time July National Heat Records Fall on Three Continents

Unprecedented June Heat on Four Continents; Wimbledon Roasts in Record Heat



Farmworkers Still Kicked, Still Struggling

As one of those who witnessed, and participated for three years, in the U.S. farmworker fight for justice, I always feel the slap of anger/energy when news articles appear about them. Still underpaid around the country, still living hand to mouth, still picking pesticide ladened fruit, still working the fields and raising loving families.  And still, in many parts of the country, trying out different tactics and strategy to become visible, be recognized for the work they do and be compensated as any rationally economy would do.

Steven Greenhouse, the longtime labor reporter for the NY Times, takes a tour around various communities to see what is happening.

In Vermont, workers are picketing at a surprising place. “They were demanding that Ben & Jerry’s — which prides itself on its progressive reputation — require the Vermont dairy farms that supply its milk and cream to follow a code of conduct that would guarantee their migrant workers a weekly day off, seven vacation days a year and more, including improved housing….

In North Carolina, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee is pressing R.J. Reynolds and its tobacco growers to reach a three-way agreement to speed unionization.

In California, Oxfam America, working with Costco and the United Farm Workers, started the Equitable Food Initiative to address consumer concerns that produce be safe and grown under nonexploitative conditions.

And in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers has persuaded McDonald’s, Walmart, Burger King, Whole Foods and other companies to require their tomato growers to improve pay and conditions for 30,000 workers. Its Fair Food Program has an elaborate enforcement apparatus, overseen by a retired New York judge, that has greatly reduced abuses like bullying and sexual harassment by crew leaders.

“We’re seeing a bunch of different models to help farmworkers,” said Philip Martin, an agricultural economist at the University of California, Davis. “The question is, Are they scalable?”

And a new book that shows how the growing “locavore” movement, with its ethic of supporting local and small has missed a big part of what makes an ethical food system:

As Margaret Gray chronicles in her remarkable new book, Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic, the small- and medium-sized family farms that the food movement has championed are often sites of appalling labor abuses. Gray shows that the locavore ethic espoused by Michael Pollan and countless imitators not only renders these abuses invisible, it actively enables them by lionizing independent farmers and romanticizing small-scale food production.

Reviewed at Dissent

Greeks Off the Cliff

So the Greeks have voted NO to accepting more austerity as the price of more loans from the Big 3 European banking institutions.  At least most Greeks.

The final results of Greece’s bailout referendum are in, with all 19,159 precincts reporting. The “No” side won with a higher than expected 61.31 percent, while “Yes” got 38.69 percent.

A total of 6.16 million Greeks voted in Sunday’s referendum, or 62.5 percent of eligible voters. The poll needed a minimum 40 percent turnout to be valid.

As usual, one has to wonder about the 37.5% who chose not to vote, in perhaps the most direct and pressing question any electorate has ever been asked to vote on.

What happens next is not at all clear, though certainly more negotiations will take place between the Greek government, their creditors and at least one of the 3 banks, the IMF.  If that fails, as would seem likely, bankruptcy will be declared, ties will be severed between the Eurozone and Greece, and somehow a new currency will be put in place.  One hopes smart people are at least at the drawing boards for that.

It seems to me that in calculations and negotiations not all the externalities are factored in.  One easy postulate for Germany and France, for example, it that a severe weakening of Greece and its economy would make its shores the destination of choice for migrants from the Middle East. Certainly, Turkey, Greece’s near neighbor and once-upon-a-time applicant to join the Eurozone, will be having second thoughts, if only because of the bad management of the whole slow growing crisis.

Not only that, but as with drunk driving charges only being brought against the drinker and not the salesman behind the bar, most of the opprobrium has been directed against Greek pensioners. Here’s a counter-view by an investment banker.

The northern Europeans … were outright enablers of Greek excess. Not only did they aggressively seek to provide loans to Greece during the bubble era (through their private banking sectors and the bond markets), but in what can only be seen historically as a panicked response to preserve the euro system, the euro group (through the European Central Bank and its individual country central banks), together with the International Monetary Fund, bailed out European banks and the bond market by socializing Greece’s bad debt and placing taxpayers throughout the euro zone at risk of sharing the losses thereon.

Paul Krugman has also been a strong opponent of the austerity hawks in Europe, and today repeats his belief that Greece exit from the Euro currency may be better than staying in.

The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding.

Though it’s a lot to ask, I know, I hope the analysts and scholars are hard at work figuring out how it came to this.  When is lending bad policy? How is any group of people rescued from bad luck + bad decisions+ co-dependency with others?  How can improvident loans be identified and those who made them be recipients of the largest ‘hair cuts?” Given the data banks of information of economies rising and falling, how can better predictions be made?  A surplus of questions is swirling, even with a drought of wisdom.

How this might affect “us” depends of course on who “us” is.  If us is drawn narrowly to be our close family, perhaps not too much — some fear of stock market gyrations and uncertainty.  If us is instead, we the people of the world, some of us have been suffering outside their share of human misery already, and may suffer more.

Bernie Sanders has called on the U.S. to understand the problem in also ours, as I’ve wondered for months why it has seemed to be only a German-Greek fight.

“It is unacceptable that the International Monetary Fund and European policymakers have refused to work with the Greek government on a sensible plan to improve its economy and pay back its debt,” Sanders said in an exclusive statement to The Huffington Post. “At a time of grotesque wealth inequality, the pensions of the people in Greece should not be cut even further to pay back some of the largest banks and wealthiest financiers in the world.”

All the best to the Greek people, one of whomcalled yesterday, elated by the vote but completely unsure how he or the country was going to make it through the next year.


If you really want to get down in the weeds about Germany’s claim to the moral high-ground over indebtedness, here are two interesting articles by Eric Toussaint: #1 Greece-Germany: who owes who? (1) London 1953: cancellation of the German debt and #2 Creditors are protected, the people of Greece sacrificed

PTSD: Not so New, Just the Recognition of It

Translations of ancient documents, as old as from 1300 BCE, suggest battle scars which we now call PTSD.

“The sorts of symptoms after battle were very clearly what we would call now post-traumatic stress symptoms.

“They described hearing and seeing ghosts talking to them, who would be the ghosts of people they’d killed in battle – and that’s exactly the experience of modern-day soldiers who’ve been involved in close hand-to-hand combat.”



Short Term Thinking in a Long Term World

Eduardo Porter, business columnist for the NY Times (and always worth reading) tells us the deferred gratification discipline that made modern capitalism such a force is falling apart.

… talk to a scientist in a research lab almost anywhere and you are likely to hear that the edifice of American innovation rests on an increasingly rickety foundation.

Investment in research and development has flatlined over the last several years as a share of the economy, stabilizing at about 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2012, according to the National Science Foundation.
That may not be far from the overall peak. But other countries are now leaving the United States behind.

And even more critically, investment in basic research — the fundamental building block for innovation and economic advancement — steadily shrank as a share of the economy in the decade to 2012, the last year for which there are comprehensive statistics.

The trend poses two big challenges. The first concerns government budgets for basic research, the biggest source of financing for scientific inquiry. It fell in 2013 to substantially below its level 10 years earlier and, as one of the most politically vulnerable elements in an increasingly straitened federal budget, looks likely to shrink further.

Of course this would have been made clearer by removing the passive voice.  It didn’t just fall.  It was deliberately and consciously cut by a  determined sector of congress, almost entirely Republicans…”

The second, equally important, challenge regards the future of corporate research. Evidence suggests that American corporations, constantly pressured to increase the next quarter’s profits in the face of powerful foreign competition, are walking away from basic science, too.

And again pressured by whom? Actual pressure, or imputed pressure?  The following is more specific:

Corporate executives, their compensation tied overwhelmingly to short-term gains in the market value of their companies, may be responding accordingly.

 Read All

Barney Frank

Gary Wills is sorry he wasn’t able to vote for Barney Frank as the first gay president. So should we all. Here’s a snip from Wills’ look at Frank’s new book.

“Frank fears some forms of “big government”—especially our monstrous financing of exotic weaponry, occupying forces around the world, and the wars we start rapidly and end (if at all) after guaranteeing our own defeat. But he knows that the same people who hand out huge contracts for this overkill capacity are calling for “small government” when its services could help the poor, or disabled, or ordinary citizens.

They base their claim that government does not work not on the part that really does not work, the defense that we make too big to control, but on service to our own citizens. They are following the “starve the beast” strategy of men like David Stockman and Grover Norquist—declare that programs cannot work, deregulate them as not worthy of correction, underfund them, and then, when they do not work, declare the first presumption vindicated.

Frank was horrified when Bill Clinton said, in effect, that the starvers were right but that he would starve government moderately. After the president in 1996 declared, “The era of big government is over,” Frank says he wanted to ask, “What country are you describing?” And he asked Clinton’s staff, “Did I sleep through the big-government years?” “

Read all

Fog Catcher Produces Potable Water

With California reservoirs down to 30% perhaps we can look south to Chile’s Atacama desert for a good idea,

“There, (Carlos Espinosa Arancibia) came up with the idea of the fog catcher: netting with tiny openings of approximately 1mm across to capture the tiny water droplets in the fog.

“The droplets accumulate in the netting and form a bigger drop which eventually runs off the netting into a canal underneath.

“From there, it is channelled through a pipe to containers at the base of the hills, ready for use.”

Other trial sites are in Mexico and Guatemala 

“The largest expanse of fog catchers is located in Tojquia in Guatemala, where 60 fog catchers trap 4,000 litres of water a day.”

Read All

I imagine wind would be a potential problem but the whole central-northern coast of California has month long cloud banks. In fact if you’ve ever walked in a redwood grove in the fog you’ll feel fog catchers at work

Don’t Buy Child Labor Produce

“California congressman on Friday introduced a bill to ensure U.S. retailers rid their supply chains of child and forced labor — legislation inspired by The Times’ Product of Mexico series, which documented widespread abuses at export farms south of the border.

“The Stop Blood Tomatoes Act, sponsored by Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego), seeks to bring more oversight to the Mexican farms that supply much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.

“Under the proposal, large companies would have to get independent audits of their suppliers to certify that they do not use child or forced labor. The legislation would apply to companies in other industries that also import large quantities of goods from developing countries.

LA Times Read all

Breaking the Silence in Israel

The war last summer between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and reduced vast areas to rubble. On Monday, a group of Israeli veterans released sobering testimony from fellow soldiers that suggests permissive rules of engagement coupled with indiscriminate artillery fire contributed to the mass destruction and high numbers of civilian casualties in the coastal enclave.

“The organization of active and reserve duty soldiers, called Breaking the Silence, gathered testimonies from more than 60 enlisted men and officers who served in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.

… “The 240-page report, “This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014”, was released Monday and accompanied by videotaped testimony that aired on Israeli news programs.”

Washington Post

Also from Tel Aviv, Philosophy professor, Anat Biletzki, sees the “Protective Edge” operation as one among several markers on the road moving from implicit understanding to explicit expression.

In Israel, we are used to hearing that everything is more “complex” than one might think. Situations are typically described as variegated, imprecise or intangible and they seem almost intentionally so. Implicitness — about politics, religion, military actions, and human rights — rules. But I would argue that that situation has changed. In the past year in Israel, things have become clear and precise. Things have become explicit.

The government that will be formed this week is the most clearly articulated, narrowest, most right-wing, most religious and most nationalistic government ever assembled in Israel. A combination of the fundamentalist Orthodox clerical parties with the nationalistic chauvinism of the Jewish Home, led by Naftali Bennett who makes no attempt to hide his annexation plans, has been orchestrated by Benjamin Netanyahu in no uncertain terms. Along with Likud, Netanyahu’s home, which is the largest party in Israel today, and Kulanu (All of Us – a breakaway of Likud), this whole bloc is unambiguous in its Jewish, nationalistic agenda.

… When the Firm Cliff fighting officially started, the Israeli media, whether on its own or while quoting political, cultural, religious and military leaders, was replete with clearly voiced messages of racism and hate toward any and all Arabs or Palestinians. “Death to the Arabs,” a call previously shrugged away as an instigation used mainly by erstwhile extremists and soccer fans, could be heard loud and clear. And antiwar protesters, now encountering without police protection the so-called “nationalist” supporters of the war, heard the loud and explicit “Death to the Leftists.” The long-brewing enmity between Jew and Arab, which had always been understood but sometimes unspoken, came out in full force, rising to the boiling surface. We were facing the nebulous — but no less substantial for that — move from the implicit to the explicit.

CO2: One More Bad Milestone; One Small Improvement

From the BBC:

Global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have reached a new monthly record of 400 parts per million, according to scientists.

The milestone was announced by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

They said it was the first month that the entire globe broke 400ppm, reaching levels that haven’t been seen for about two million years.

400 ppm environment(1)

In Holland, meanwhile, good folks are still trying to come up with another grain of sand in the effort to reverse the above record setting.

Engineers in the Netherlands say a novel solar road surface that generates electricity and can be driven over has proved more successful than expected.

Last year they built a 70-metre test track along a bike path near the Dutch town of Krommenie on the outskirts of Amsterdam.

In the first six months since it was installed, the panels beneath the road have generated over 3,000kwh. This is enough to provide a single-person household with electricity for a year.

“If we translate this to an annual yield, we expect more than the 70kwh per square metre per year,” says Sten de Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, which has been developed by a public-private partnership.


Environment Solar Road Pre-fabricated-concrete-slabs2-700x400