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Remember the rainforests? We still haven’t saved them.

Every half hour, the world lost a football-field chunk of tropical forest in 2018.

Over the course of the year, that added up to a total forest loss of nearly 30 million acres, an area the size of Pennsylvania, according to the World Resources Institute’s annual report, out Thursday. As bad as that sounds, many more acres were lost in each of the two previous years, when huge fires wiped out millions of trees. The report is hardly cause for celebration, said Frances Seymour, senior fellow at WRI.

“The world’s forests are in the emergency room, said Seymour. “Even though they are recovering from extensive burns suffered in recent fires, the patient is also bleeding profusely from fresh wounds.”

Global Forest Watch

Deforestation is responsible for about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If deforestation were a country, it would be the third largest source of carbon pollution, after the United States and China.

“Tropical forest loss pulls the rug out from under efforts to stabilize the global climate,” Seymour said.

Every year, WRI’s Global Forest Watch pores over satellite images of the world’s woodlands and reams of data to monitor where trees are falling. Here are a few bullet points from the report:

Old growth deforestation continues: Primary or old-growth rainforest stores a lot of carbon in big trees and a lot of biodiversity — the frogs, bromeliads, lichens, leafcutter ants, and lemurs that live in those big trees. Since 2000, we’ve been losing about the same amount of primary rainforest every year: A Belgium-sized 9 million acres.

And it’s spreading: Efforts in Indonesia and Brazil to stem the loss of old-growth forests have started to work. By enforcing a moratorium on clearing primary forest, Indonesia has managed to bring deforestation down to the lowest level since 2003, said Belinda Margono from Indonesia’s Department of Environment and Forestry. But forests are falling at a quicker pace in West Africa, Colombia, Bolivia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Big trouble in Madagascar: The East Africane East African island island country lost a full 2 percent of its primary forest, more than any other country.

Peace brings cattle to Colombia: A truce between the government and between the government and rebels made it safe for farmers to enter previously perilous forests. Now they’re cutting down trees to create pastures for cattle.

Small farmers, big problems: Small-scale farmers (often growing cocoa for chocolate) were responsible for most of the forest loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. By contrast, large farms — like those growing soy for China — were the main culprit in Bolivia.

From the distance, these data points might seem abstract, but the numbers represent “heartbreaking losses in real places,” Seymour said. “For every area of forest loss there’s likely a species one inch closer to extinction. And for every area of forest loss there’s likely a family that has lost access to an important part of their daily income from hunting, gathering, and fishing. Such loses pose an existential threat to the cultures of indigenous peoples. And for every area of forest loss there’s likely a community downstream that has less access to clean water and is more exposed to floods and landslides.”

Still, she said she’s optimistic that the world can stop leveling forests. Some countries have radically slowed tree loss by passing and enforcing laws. And the United Nations program that pays developing countries to stop deforestation has worked in the few places where it has been funded, she said.

“We know what to do, we just need to do it,” Seymour said.

Originally posted here – 

Remember the rainforests? We still haven’t saved them.

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The modern automobile must die

This story was originally published by New Republic and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Germany was supposed to be a model for solving global warming. In 2007, the country’s government announced that it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the year 2020. This was the kind of bold, aggressive climate goal scientists said was needed in all developed countries. If Germany could do it, it would prove the target possible.

So far, Germany has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 27.7 percent — an astonishing achievement for a developed country with a highly developed manufacturing sector. But with a little over a year left to go, despite dedicating $580 billion toward a low-carbon energy system, the country “is likely to fall short of its goals for reducing harmful carbon-dioxide emissions,” Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday. And the reason for that may come down not to any elaborate solar industry plans, but something much simpler: cars.

“At the time they set their goals, they were very ambitious,”Patricia Espinosa, the United Nations’ top climate change official, told Bloomberg. “What happened was that the industry — particularly the car industry — didn’t come along.”

Changing the way we power our homes and businesses is certainly important. But as Germany’s shortfall shows, the only way to achieve these necessary, aggressive emissions reductions to combat global warming is to overhaul the gas-powered automobile and the culture that surrounds it. The only question left is how to do it.

In 2010, a NASA study declared that automobiles were officially the largest net contributor of climate change pollution in the world. “Cars, buses, and trucks release pollutants and greenhouse gases that promote warming, while emitting few aerosols that counteract it,” the study read. “In contrast, the industrial and power sectors release many of the same gases — with a larger contribution to [warming] — but they also emit sulfates and other aerosols that cause cooling by reflecting light and altering clouds.”

In other words, the power generation sector may have emitted the most greenhouse gases in total. But it also released so many sulfates and cooling aerosols that the net impact was less than the automobile industry, according to NASA.

Since then, developed countries have cut back on those cooling aerosols for the purpose of countering regular air pollution, which has likely increased the net climate pollution of the power generation industry. But according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “collectively, cars and trucks account for nearly one-fifth of all U.S. emissions,” while “in total, the U.S. transportation sector — which includes cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships, and freight — produces nearly 30 percent of all U.S. global warming emissions.”

In fact, transportation is now the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States — and it has been for two years, according to an analysis from the Rhodium Group.

There’s a similar pattern happening in Germany. Last year, the country’s greenhouse gas emissions decreased as a whole, “largely thanks to the closure of coal-fired power plants,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, the transportation industry’s emissions increased by 2.3 percent, “as car ownership expanded and the booming economy meant more heavy vehicles were on the road.” Germany’s transportation sector remains the nation’s second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, but if these trends continue, it will soon become the first.

Clearly, the power generation industry is changing its ways. So why aren’t carmakers following suit?

To American eyes, Germany may look like a public transit paradise. But the country also has a flourishing car culture that began over a hundred years ago and has only grown since then.

Behind Japan and the United States, Germany is the third-largest automobile manufacturer in the world — home to BMW, Audi, Mercedes Benz, and Volkswagen. These brands, and the economic prosperity they’ve brought to the country, shape Germany’s cultural and political identities. “There is no other industry as important,” Arndt Ellinghorst, the chief of Global Automotive Research at Evercore, told CNN.

A similar phenomenon exists in the United States, where gas-guzzlers symbolize nearly every cliche point of American pride: affluence, capability for individual expression, and personal freedoms. Freedom, in particular, “is not a selling point to be easily dismissed,” Edward Humes wrote in The Atlanticin 2016. “This trusty conveyance, always there, always ready, on no schedule but its owner’s. Buses can’t do that. Trains can’t do that. Even Uber makes riders wait.”

It’s this cultural love of cars — and the political influence of the automotive industry — that has so far prevented the public pressure necessary to provoke widespread change in many developed nations. But say those barriers didn’t exist. How could developed countries tweak their automobile policies to solve climate change?

For Germany to meet emissions targets, “half of the people who now use their cars alone would have to switch to bicycles, public transport, or ride-sharing,” Heinrich Strößenreuther, a Berlin-based consultant for mobility strategies told Yale Environment 360’s Christian Schwägerl last fall. That would require drastic policies, like having local governments ban high-emitting cars in populated places like cities. (In fact, Germany’s car capital, Stuttgart, is considering it.) It would also require large-scale government investments in public transportation infrastructure: “A new transport system that connects bicycles, buses, trains, and shared cars, all controlled by digital platforms that allow users to move from A to B in the fastest and cheapest way — but without their own car,” Schwägerl said.

One could get away with more modest infrastructure investments if governments required carmakers to make their vehicle fleets more fuel-efficient, thereby burning less petroleum. The problem is that most automakers seek to meet those requirements by developing electric cars. If those cars are charged with electricity from a coal-fired power plant, they create “more emissions than a car that burns petrol,” energy storage expert Dénes Csala pointed out last year.“For such a switch to actually reduce net emissions, the electricity that powers those cars must be renewable.”

The most effective solution would be to combine these policies. Governments would require drastic improvements in fuel efficiency for gas-powered vehicles, while investing in renewable-powered electric car infrastructure. At the same time, cities would overhaul their public transportation systems, adding more bikes, trains, buses and ride-shares. Fewer people would own cars.

At one point, the U.S. was well on its way toward some of these changes. In 2012, President Obama’s administration implemented regulations requiring automakers to nearly double the fuel economy of passenger vehicles by the year 2025. But the Trump administration announced a rollback of those regulations earlier this month. Their intention, they said, is to “Make Cars Great Again.”

The modern cars they’re seeking to preserve, and the way we use them, are far from great. Of course, there’s the climate impact — the trillions in expected economic damage from extreme weather and sea-level rise caused in part by our tailpipes. But 53,000 Americans also die prematurely from vehicle pollution each year, and accidents are among the leading causes of death in the United States. “If U.S. roads were a war zone, they would be the most dangerous battlefield the American military has ever encountered,” Humes wrote. It’s getting more dangerous by the day.

Source article: 

The modern automobile must die

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Is climate change a “ratings killer,” or is something wrong with for-profit media?

MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes retweeted Grist writer Eric Holthaus’ tweet about the deadly wildfires in Greece on Tuesday. After freelance writer Elon Green commented that news networks often fail to highlight the connection between climate change and extreme weather, Hayes wrote a reply that sent Twitter into a frenzy.

Climate change, he said, is a “palpable ratings killer” for news shows.

Environmental journalists came out in full force to set him straight. The reason that newsrooms are failing to bring up climate change has a lot to do with the way major news outlets are structured (profits first, content second), they said, and less to do with people’s interest in climate change.

Hayes has a pretty good track record when it comes to reporting on climate, compared to his competitors across other channels. He even did an “All In with Chris Hayes” special climate series in 2016.

But the point stands that the current for-profit media structure doesn’t jive well with compelling reporting on the environment. Take Holthaus’ response, for example.

Emily Atkin, staff writer at The New Republic, thinks it’s all about the way you present the piece.

Erin Biba, who writes for the likes of BBC and Wired, agrees with Atkin.

And Huffington Post’s Alexander Kaufman threw Hayes a bone for bringing the subject up in the first place.

It’s actually pretty unusual for a cable news host to go anywhere near the topic of climate change. An analysis from Media Matters for America shows that, of 127 TV broadcast segments on NBC, CBS, and ABC about the recent heat wave, only one mentioned climate change. It’s not like sweltering temperatures caused all those hosts to develop climate amnesia. The failure to link climate change to heat waves and downpours is a trend: Those same networks all but ignored the issue in their 2017 coverage of extreme weather events, another Media Matters report found.

Is 2018 the year that editors, producers, and talk show hosts finally figure out how to talk about climate change? For-profit newsrooms better start taking notes from environmental reporters soon; hurricane season is upon us once again.

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Is climate change a “ratings killer,” or is something wrong with for-profit media?

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Former administrators say Pruitt’s impact on EPA can be reversed

Amid a deluge of ethical scandals, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to be on the ropes, teetering between his apparent propensity for corruption and his perceived effectiveness as President Donald Trump’s master de-regulator.

Recent articles in The New York Times, Politico, and The New Republic point out that from a policy standpoint, a lot of what Pruitt’s done may not survive in courts or outlive his tenure. Basically, all of those splashy repeals of Obama-era regulations may not hold up because Pruitt often moves too quickly and poorly crafts his regulations. Other times, he simply trumpets a proposed change that could take years to come to fruition. For example, Politico points out that Pruitt’s announced intention to roll back car-emission regulations set by the Obama administration won’t happen anytime soon. Plus, it’s likely to face legal challenges.

But when Pruitt does leave the EPA, he will not leave it unscathed. Two former EPA chiefs tell Grist that, from a gutted staff to the agency’s recent disregard for science — the very principle that’s supposed to guide the organization — a major rebuild will be necessary when a new presidential administration takes office. It could take time, they say, but they both noted the EPA could rebound from its current state.

“Their biggest rebuilding is going to be in staffing,” says Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator from 2001 to 2003 under President George W. Bush. “They’ve lost a lot of career staff — people who were dedicated to protecting the environment and have just been so frustrated that they have moved on. Once you lose that institutional knowledge, it’s very hard to rebuild.”

In a complicated government agency, this knowledge is particularly vital. With its credibility undermined, she says convincing people of the importance of working at the EPA could be challenging.

“Every week I hear about another person leaving and these are sort of the bread and butter of the agency — they have historic knowledge, the intellectual background to do the work,” adds Carol Browner, who was EPA administrator for President Bill Clinton’s entire eight-year term. “My sense is that they want these people to leave, so they’re making life miserable.”

Browner explains that Pruitt has dismantled the agency’s reliance on science, which is supposed to undergird the EPA’s decision-making. “There’s a lot of damage being done to scientific integrity and the sort of scientific body of work that’s available to the agency making pollution decisions,” she says.

As evidence, Browner points to Pruitt’s announcement last month to disregard studies using nonpublic data, such as databases of medical records that legally need to remain confidential, in EPA analyses. These studies, she says, have been vital in better understanding public health and pollution — a position echoed by Gina McCarthy, Pruitt’s immediate predecessor at the agency.

“He’s really shrinking the amount of science that will be available for important decisions,” Browner says, “I think it’s an intentional move.”

She adds that regulation enforcement is also down. A New York Times analysis showed that in the first nine months of Pruitt’s tenure, the number of civil cases brought by the EPA fell by a third compared to the same period under Obama’s first EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson. (The number of cases was down a quarter compared to the first nine months Whitman was on the job.) The analysis also found Pruitt’s EPA has gone after fewer civil penalties from polluters, and it’s ordered fewer factories make retrofits to lessen emissions.

“That’s pollution in the air that we’re not going to get back out,” Browner says. “That’s pollution in the water that we’re not going to get back out.”

In the face of these issues, paired with Pruitt’s ethical scandals, trust in the EPA will inevitably have to be rebuilt. But the current administrator’s reputation as a tool of industry could actually be a benefit in building back the agency he’s decimated.

“Everytime that they take a step that flies in the face of protection, it becomes an opportunity for the next administration to really rebuild public trust,” Browner says.

Trust within the agency is another big project awaiting a post-Trump administrator. Whitman notes that Pruitt’s antagonistic agenda has demoralized the EPA’s workforce. Restoring the morale and mission of the EPA will be critical to getting it back on track.

“A strong new president with a new administrator who actually believes in the role of the agency—which Scott Pruitt clearly does not—that will make a big difference,” Whitman says. “It can come back. It will come back.”

See original article here: 

Former administrators say Pruitt’s impact on EPA can be reversed

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The Michael Flynn Scandal Descends on Trump’s DC Hotel

Mother Jones

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Ekim Alptekin, a well-connected Turkish businessman at the center of one of the many scandals swirling around President Donald Trump and his White House, stood before a crowd of several hundred people in downtown Washington and sought to clear up a few things. “There’s been a lot of media attention on it,” he later told a reporter, “so I just wanted to address the issue.”

The “issue” in question was no small matter. Last year, Alptekin paid $530,000 to retired Lt. General Michael Flynn to lobby on behalf of Turkish interests. At the time, Flynn was a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, and after Trump’s shock victory, the president-elect rewarded Flynn with the job of national security adviser. But it later emerged that Flynn had failed to register as a foreign lobbyist for this work, as required by law, and that he was under federal investigation for his secret lobbying for Alptekin. (Flynn was fired in February, after only 22 days on the job, amid reports that he had communicated with the Russian ambassador and lied about it.)

So it was a bit awkward when Alptekin appeared in Washington this week for the 36th Annual Conference on US-Turkey Relations. (He chairs one of the conference’s two main organizers, the Turkey-US Business Council.) In a speech on Monday, Alptekin addressed the Flynn controversy directly. “As many of you have read in the media,” he said, “I hired the Flynn Intel Group in 2016 before the election with a mandate to help me understand where the Turkish-American relationship is and where it’s going and what the obstacles are to the relationship.” His willingness to confront such a thorny issue—legally and politically—caught some in attendance by surprise. Yet there was also a surreal quality to Alptekin’s remarks, if only for this reason: He delivered them at the Trump International Hotel, owned by the president himself.

International intrigue notwithstanding, the 36th Annual Conference on US-Turkey Relations was typical of the glitzy conventions and forums hosted in Washington. There were panels on e-commerce, NATO, and cybersecurity, all with the theme of encouraging greater cooperation between the governments and industries of the United States and Turkey. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and now a Zelig of Washington’s paid-speaking and overseas-junket circuit, spoke at a luncheon sponsored by several major Turkish conglomerates, where he poked fun at the president and plugged his forthcoming book, Understanding Trump.

For his part, Alptekin pointed out that the venue had been chosen well before Trump was elected president. In October 2016, the American-Turkish Council, a group devoted to building up business connections between the two countries (and the conference’s other organizer), booked the Trump hotel in downtown DC, a short walk from the White House. According to Alptekin, the Turkish interest groups had first toured the hotel even earlier, in 2015, before Trump had declared his candidacy. Howard Beasey, president of the American-Turkish Council, told NPR, “Unfortunately, in our contract with the hotel, there is no I-became-president-so-you-get-to-break-your-contract-with-us clause.”

And so it was that Alptekin, whose hiring of Flynn helped plunge the Trump White House into turmoil, spent several days this week roaming the marble lobbies and conference rooms of Trump’s DC hotel. He schmoozed with attendees, posed for photos, and sat for interviews with largely international news outlets, all the while surrounded by the name TRUMP.

Aside from his opening remarks, however, Alptekin had little to say about Flynn. He denied to ABC News that he and his company had represented the government of Turkey. (In his retroactive filing, Flynn noted that his work for Alptekin “could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.”) Alptekin blamed the “highly politicized situation” in the United States for the “misunderstanding and misperceptions” around his company and hiring of Flynn.

There are many lingering questions about Alptekin’s role in the Flynn controversy: Why did Alptekin hire Flynn in the first place? Did Flynn tell Alptekin he wasn’t going to register as a foreign lobbyist? Had Alptekin ever spoken with Trump himself? If Alptekin were subpoenaed by Congress or law enforcement as part of the Flynn investigation, would he cooperate and provide documents? Alptekin addressed none of these. He refused to comment to ABC News when asked whether he had been questioned or served a subpoena as part of the Flynn investigation.

In the main lobby of the Trump hotel, I tracked down an assistant of Alptekin’s and asked for an interview. She said Alptekin was no longer giving interviews. At that moment, Alptekin stood a few feet away, speaking on camera with a small TV crew. After he finished, he and his entourage sped past me in the direction of the hotel’s ballrooms, presumably to rejoin the guests for a final panel on Turkey’s shipbuilding industry.

So it goes in Donald Trump’s Washington.


The Michael Flynn Scandal Descends on Trump’s DC Hotel

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The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

Mother Jones

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Like everyone, I’ve been watching as the free speech debate on college campuses has morphed from its usual steady background hum into a Big Issue Of The Day. First there was Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley. Then Charles Murray at Middlebury. Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna. Ann Coulter at Berkeley. The right is naturally outraged that these speakers were harassed or banned, and the left is—well, what is the left’s reaction to all this? At first, it was mostly a matter of not really sticking up for free speech rights on campus. That was bad enough, but then the conversation changed. Instead of a collective mumble, I began reading affirmative arguments that there was absolutely nothing wrong with “no-platforming” these folks. For example, a few days ago a New Republic article showed up in my Facebook feed and got high fives from several people I follow. Here is Aaron Hanlon:

When departments or groups arrange for a speaker, invitations are usually authorized by small committees or localized administrative offices without a campus-wide discussion or debate….Instead of community-wide discussion and debate over the merits of bringing a given speaker to campus, the debate happens after the invitation, giving the misleading impression that no-platforming is about shutting down speech.

….But no-platforming is better understood as the kind of value judgment that lies at heart of a liberal arts education….This has always meant deciding what people needed to know, but also what they don’t need to know—or at least which knowledge and skills deserved priority in one’s formal education.

….No-platforming may look like censorship from certain angles, but from others it’s a consequence of a challenging, never-ending process occurring at virtually all levels of the university: deciding what educational material to present to our students and what to leave out. In this sense, de-platforming isn’t censorship; it’s a product of free expression and the foundational aims of a classically liberal education.

The sophistry here is breathtaking. If it’s just some small group that invites someone, then it’s OK if the rest of the university blackballs their choice. After all, universities are supposed to decide what students don’t need to know. It may “look like censorship from certain angles,” but it’s actually the very zenith of free expression. Juliet Kleber followed up today:

As Aaron Hanlon argued in the New Republic earlier this week, choosing not to host Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos on campus is not a suppression of their free speech. Academia certainly has an important place in selecting and elevating certain voices to relevance in a broader culture, but let’s not forget that a college isn’t a town hall: it’s a particular community of people engaged in intersecting missions of education. Coulter is not a member of that community and she has no claims upon it. Campus life is curated, and none of us outside of it are guaranteed access to that platform.

Enough. I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to the latest outrages on college campuses because college campuses are teeming with smart, verbal, overconfident 19-year-olds. Of course they do stupid things. We all did stupid things at that age. I’m generally happy for all these micro-outrages to remain local controversies handled by local administrators.

But now everyone is weighing in, and here on the left we’re caving in way too often to this Hanlon-esque lunacy. Is some of the speech he’s concerned about ugly and dangerous and deliberately provocative? Of course it is. But that’s not a reason to shut it down. That’s the whole reason we defend free speech in the first place. If political speech was all a harmless game of patty-cake, nobody would even care.

Speech is often harmful. And vicious. And hurtful. And racist. And just plain disgusting. But whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn—by violence or otherwise—someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: Who decides? Because once you concede the right to keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that somebody may eventually decide to shut down communists. Or anti-war protesters. Or gays. Or sociobiologists. Or Jews who defend Israel. Or Muslims.

I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.

Original source:

The Most Important Free Speech Question Is: Who Decides?

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Conflict Minerals Are About to Get a Reprieve

Mother Jones

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the most war-torn places on earth. Much of the money to keep the war going comes from mining operations in the eastern part of the country that are are effectively controlled not by the distant central government, but by militias and warlords that enslave workers and smuggle ore out through the DRC’s eastern border. In an effort to cut off their source of funding, the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill includes a provision that discourages companies from buying the so-called 3TG metals (tin, tantalum, tungsten, gold) from conflict areas. So how has that worked out?

That depends on who you ask, of course. But a surprising number of neutral and lefty sources think the policy has been a failure. For example, here is Lauren Wolfe of Women Under Siege:

Barnard College political science professor Séverine Autesserre has…estimated that only 8 percent of the country’s ongoing conflict has anything to do with natural resources. Moreover, in the September 2014 letter, the signatories noted that “armed groups are not dependent on mineral revenue for their existence.” Many groups can easily turn from minerals to palm oil, charcoal, timber, or cannabis to make money — not to mention extortion, illegal taxes, and other means.

….When Dodd-Frank passed, Congolese President Joseph Kabila put a ban on all mining and mineral exports in North and South Kivu and Maniema provinces. Though the ban was officially lifted in 2011…its ripple effects have persisted: Many artisanal mines have remained closed, and countless livelihoods have been destroyed, according to academics and activists. Laura Seay estimated in 2012 that between five and 12 million Congolese had been “inadvertently and directly negatively affected” by the loss of employment created by the ban and its aftershocks.

Here is the conclusion of a study by Dominic Parker and Bryan Vadheim:

Using geo-referenced data, we find the legislation increased looting of civilians, and shifted militia battles towards unregulated gold mining territories. These findings are a cautionary tale about the possible unintended consequences of imposing boycotts, trade embargoes, and resource certification schemes on war-torn regions.

The GAO says that most Western companies have no way of telling whether the minerals they buy come from conflict zones:

Ben Radly, one of the researchers behind We Will Win Peace, a documentary about the brutal warfare in the eastern DRC, says he has learned to be cautious about well-meaning movements:

There are three shortcomings to the “conflict minerals” campaign that came out of this work. It misrepresents the causal drivers of rape and conflict in the eastern DRC. It assumes the dependence of armed groups on mineral revenue for their survival. It underestimates the importance of artisanal mining to employment, local economies and therefore, ironically, security.

….The relationship between advocacy organizations headquartered in Western cities and their marketed constituency of marginalized and disadvantaged African groups is…tenuous. One of the most striking elements during the making of the film was the difficulty of finding Congolese groups in rural and peri-urban areas who knew about and supported the “conflict minerals” campaign. This suggests a lack of engagement with the people who stand to be most directly affected by campaign outcomes.

There are, of course, lots of advocates who continue to favor the ban on conflict minerals. They say that one of biggest militias in the conflict area has been put out of business by the ban, and that more progress can be made by strengthening the hold of the central government in the eastern DRC and tightening the programs designed to trace the source of minerals. For the most part, though, their evidence of success tends to be very anecdotal.

Beyond all this, there’s another reason it’s difficult to know for sure what the ban is and isn’t responsible for. The UN has been spending a billion dollars a year on peacekeeping operations in the conflict area for over a decade, and it’s all but impossible to know how much of the recent success—if success there’s been—is due to the Dodd-Frank ban and how much is due to the UN.

Bottom line: it’s not easy to know whether the conflict mineral ban—which Europe joined in 2015—has been successful. The whole issue is also highly politicized, since large corporations that buy 3TG minerals have fought against the ban since the start.

Why bring this up now? Because a leaked memo suggests that President Trump plans to sign a memorandum suspending the conflict mineral ban for two years. I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not. However, I sure wish I had more confidence that it wasn’t just a bit of payback to companies like Intel, which have lobbied for a long time to get the ban rescinded. Trump is hoping that these companies will play ball with his continued PR campaign to take credit for every new factory built in America—as Intel did today—and this sure seems like the kind of reward that will help keep his gong show going.


Conflict Minerals Are About to Get a Reprieve

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Trump’s Immigration Order May Have A Very Different Effect Than He Intended

Mother Jones

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Here’s a chunk of President Trump’s executive order banning refugees:

The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days….Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

In practice, the temporary suspension of the refugee program chiefly affects majority Muslim countries, which means that it’s designed to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the US.

Or is it? I suspect that was indeed the intent, since the plight of Christian refugees has been a hobbyhorse on the right for years—something that Mike Pence is keenly aware of. But the actual data begs to differ. Here are the top ten countries that the United States accepted refugees from in 2016:

Syria gets all the attention, but the top refugee contributor was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is 80 percent Christian. Among the top ten countries, we accepted about 44,000 refugees from majority Muslim countries and 43,000 from other countries.

Likewise, once the 120-day suspension is over the “minority religion” provision will affect both Christians and Muslims relatively equally. Favoring Christian refugees may well have been the intent of this provision, but in practice it doesn’t actually seem to favor any particular religion. This was not what I expected when I decided to take a look at the data. But that’s what it shows.

POSTSCRIPT: Just in case it’s not obvious, I’m talking here only about refugee prioritization after Trump’s 120-day ban is up. Trump has also barred the entry of anyone from seven Muslim-majority countries for the next 90 days, and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely. Those are different provisions of his order, and they pretty obviously target Muslims.

Also, we’ll have to wait and see what orders the State Department issues at the end of the 120-day suspension. Right now we don’t know what they’ll do.

UPDATE: I got the refugee numbers wrong in the original version of this post. Both the chart and the text have been corrected.


Trump’s Immigration Order May Have A Very Different Effect Than He Intended

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Quote of the Day: Guy Who Passed Classified Information to His Mistress Would Be "Spectacular" Choice for Secretary of State

Mother Jones

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Charles Krauthammer is excited that Mitt Romney and Rudy Giulani might not be the only men in the running for Secretary of State:

But I do think we should keep our eye on a third possibility….and that would be David Petraeus, who to the world represents America at its strongest and most decisive. He is the guy who saved the Iraq War, and is a man who has written and thought deeply about the new kind of warfare that we are involved in. And that, I think, would be a spectacular choice.

Krauthammer, of course, was part of the chorus claiming that Hillary Clinton had betrayed the republic as Secretary of State because she occasionally discussed the administration’s drone program over unclassified email. The emails were all carefully worded; there weren’t very many of them; everything in them had almost certainly been widely reported already; there’s no evidence that anyone ever hacked them; and James Comey said clearly that it wasn’t even a close call to determine that Clinton had done nothing illegal. Nonetheless, she had endangered the country and was obviously unfit to hold office.

But David Petraeus—that’s a different story. Petraeus was head of the CIA; he got smitten by an attractive woman; he knowingly and deliberately passed along classified information to her; he tried to hide the email trail; and he was eventually convicted of mishandling classified information as part of a plea deal. For all I know, he may literally be unable to get a security clearance any longer.

But he would be a “spectacular” choice for Hillary Clinton’s old job. Good God.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, Krauthammer was also one of the conservatives who embraced the conspiracy theory that Obama used the affair to blackmail Petraeus into giving favorable testimony on Benghazi. So who knows what really goes through that head of his.


Quote of the Day: Guy Who Passed Classified Information to His Mistress Would Be "Spectacular" Choice for Secretary of State

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Judge Upholds Arizona Ballot Collecting Ban, Raising Fears of Suppressed Minority Vote

Mother Jones

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A federal judge denied a Democratic challenge on Friday to Arizona’s ban on collecting other people’s absentee ballots, a move that opponents of the ban fear will suppress the minority vote in the state in the upcoming November elections.

The Arizona Republic reported Friday that US District Court Judge Douglas Rayes ruled that the law didn’t disproportionately impact minority groups. Although it could cause inconvenience for some voters, Rayes found, it didn’t create a significant enough burden to warrant blocking its enforcement during this election. The legal fight over the constitutionality of the law will continue, but the law will not be blocked for the Nov. 8 general election.

The law, Arizona House Bill 2023, targets so-called “ballot harvesting.” It makes it a felony, punishable by up to a year in state prison, for somebody to submit a ballot that isn’t his or hers. Election officials, family members, and caregivers are exempt.

Arizona Republicans have tried for three years to block the ability of people to gather other voters’ absentee ballots and submit them for counting. Republicans have argued that the practice would allow a person to take someone else’s ballot and not turn it in, or to alter it in some way before turning it in, constituting a form of fraud. Arizona Democrats and community activists argued that the practice was common in areas of the state with a substantial minority population, including the Phoenix metro area, and that a ban would be a form of voter suppression. The bill was finally approved this year.

“Voting is a key pillar of our democracy,” said Republican Gov. Doug Ducey when he signed the bill in March. “The bill ensures a chain of custody between the voter and the ballot box.”

State Republicans acknowledged during court arguments in early August that there’s no evidence that a ballot has ever been tampered with or thrown away during the process of ballot collection. But they argued that was irrelevant. “You need not wait until someone breaks into your house before putting a lock on the door,” Arizona Republican Party attorney Sara Jane Agne said during court arguments.

Source article: 

Judge Upholds Arizona Ballot Collecting Ban, Raising Fears of Suppressed Minority Vote

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