Sunday, February 17, 2019

Last Call For Farming It Out

The Trump regime continues to wreck the the US economy, and once again it continues to do it in a way that hurts both his most ardent supporters while helping Russia.

A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the U.S. Farm Belt as trade disputes add pain to the low commodity prices that have been grinding down American farmers for years.

Throughout much of the Midwest, U.S. farmers are filing for chapter 12 bankruptcy protection at levels not seen for at least a decade, a Wall Street Journal review of federal data shows.

Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier.

States in those circuits accounted for nearly half of all sales of U.S. farm products in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

The rise in farm bankruptcies represents a reckoning for rural America, which has suffered a multiyear slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities touched off by a world-wide glut, made worse by growing competition from agriculture powerhouses such as Russia and Brazil.

Trade disputes under the Trump administration with major buyers of U.S. farm goods, such as China and Mexico, have further roiled agricultural markets and pressured farmers’ incomes. Prices for soybeans and hogs plummeted after those countries retaliated against U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on U.S. products like oilseeds and pork, slashing shipments to big buyers.

Low milk prices are driving dairy farmers out of business in a market that’s also struggling with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. cheese from Mexico and China. Tariffs on U.S. pork have helped contribute to a record buildup in U.S. meat supplies, leading to lower prices for beef and chicken.

Trump has done everything he can to wreck US commodity prices with his idiotic tariffs, and nobody's buying American farm products.  Increasingly they are turning to Brazil and more importantly Russia for food, and the US can no longer compete.

Farms are going under at a record pace now, and it really won't be long until the rest of the economy catches the Trump cancer.  When that happens, it'll make 2008 look like a picnic.

But of course, Trump's base will be told to blame everyone but Trump, and that only "the Businessman President" can fix it with a second term...

...And they will vote for him anyway, because Trump isn't the problem with America.  His base is.

President Trump and his political team plan to make his years-long quest for a border wall one of the driving themes of his reelection effort — attempting to turn his failure to build such a project into a combative sales pitch that pits him against the political establishment on immigration.

Trump has declared a national emergency to secure the funds Congress has repeatedly denied him despite his own admission that the move is likely to get tied up in court. This move has galvanized many of his supporters even as others on the right remain dubious and disappointed.

His campaign is fundraising off his showdown with congressional Democrats over the border — portraying the opposition party as more interested in political games than the public’s safety.

And faced with the fact that he has yet to build an inch of the concrete or steel wall he promised, Trump and his campaign have started relying on a rhetorical sleight of hand: speaking the wall into existence.

“Now, you really mean, ‘Finish that wall,’ because we’ve built a lot of it,” Trump falsely claimed at a campaign rally Monday in El Paso after supporters broke out in chants of “Build that wall!”

As he spoke, giant placards with the words “Finish the Wall” hung from the rafters, an unmistakable signal Trump’s aides say reflects the campaign’s growing push to convince the president’s supporters that the border barrier they imagined him building is already real.

These endeavors underscore the extent to which Trump and his allies are attempting to make 2020 a repeat of 2016 — centered on a portrayal of the nation as under siege from criminal immigrants and other dark forces, and reliant upon a die-hard base of older whites in rural areas. 

The wall will never be finished, and the national emergency Trump declared over the wall this weekend will never end, and it will be the winding road that will lead us to autocracy.  We're only a few years away at most from Trump rounding up "illegals" anyway.

We had a good run, I guess.

The Drums of War, Con't

By all accounts, this weekend's annual Munich Security Conference in Germany was a complete and total diplomatic disaster for the Trump regime.  German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Mike Pence and America to schisse off with Trump's plans to attack Iran, and that there would be no European "Coalition of the Willing" for this little adventure in Tehran.

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany delivered a strong rejoinder on Saturday to American demands that European allies pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and gave a spirited defense of multilateral institutions in a world increasingly marked by great-power rivalry.

In an uncharacteristically passionate speech, Ms. Merkel said the nuclear deal was the best way of influencing Iranian behavior on a range of non-nuclear issues, from missile development to terrorism.

Without mentioning President Trump or the United States by name in what may be her last speech to this major security conference, Ms. Merkel criticized other unilateral moves, such as Mr. Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of Syria, a suggestion that he would withdraw quickly from Afghanistan and his decision to suspend the Intermediate Range Missile Treaty with Russia, which directly affects European security.

“We sit there in the middle with the result,” she said.

Ms. Merkel spoke immediately before the United States vice president, Mike Pence, and addressed a packed auditorium with an audience that included Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka, as well as the Russian foreign minister and a high-ranking Chinese official, who all pointedly remained seated when the chancellor received a standing ovation.

Her reception was in sharp contrast to the polite near-silence that greeted Mr. Pence’s address. Aware of a growing anxiety among European allies that the United States administration’s erratic leadership stance was a threat to their security, the vice president came to Munich laser-focused on the Trump administration’s message.
He repeated his demand from this past week in Warsaw that Germany, France and Britain should join Washington in pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

“The time has come for the Europeans to leave the Iranian nuclear deal,” Mr. Pence said.

In contrast to the chancellor, Mr. Pence focused less on working together and more on a list of demands for American allies based on American interests, with a heavy emphasis on a combative approach to Iran.

“The Iranian regime openly advocates another Holocaust, and it seeks the means to achieve it,” Mr. Pence said.

The two speeches were a reminder of how far apart Europe and the United States are on a range of global issues.

In fact, the conference was such a disaster that Europe has now all but given up on any sort of productive relationship with America as long as we're infected by MAGA fever.

European leaders have long been alarmed that President Trump’s words and Twitter messages could undo a trans-Atlantic alliance that had grown stronger over seven decades. They had clung to the hope that those ties would bear up under the strain.

But in the last few days of a prestigious annual security conference in Munich, the rift between Europe and the Trump administration became open, angry and concrete, diplomats and analysts say.

A senior German official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on such matters, shrugged his shoulders and said: “No one any longer believes that Trump cares about the views or interests of the allies. It’s broken.”

The most immediate danger, diplomats and intelligence officials warned, is that the trans-Atlantic fissures now risk being exploited by Russia and China.

Even the saturnine Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, happily noted the strains, remarking that the Euro-Atlantic relationship had become increasingly “tense.”

“We see new cracks forming, and old cracks deepening,” Mr. Lavrov said.

The Europeans no longer believe that Washington will change, not when Mr. Trump sees traditional allies as economic rivals and leadership as diktat. His distaste for multilateralism and international cooperation is a challenge to the very heart of what Europe is and needs to be in order to have an impact in the world.

But beyond the Trump administration, an increasing number of Europeans say they believe that relations with the United States will never be the same again.

Karl Kaiser, a longtime analyst of German-American relations, said, “Two years of Mr. Trump, and a majority of French and Germans now trust Russia and China more than the United States.

Trump's damage to the US-EU relationship may never be fixed in my lifetime.  The rest of the world is passing America by, as we are led by a dolt, elected by reactionary fools, and no longer deserving of anything but epithets and epitaphs. 

Germany is straining under the pressure of being the world's new Western leader, as the UK and France are increasingly paralyzed.  Canada and Australia have their own problems.  It is Russia and China right now who are running rampant, and the 21st century will belong to them, not us.

Sunday Long Read: Climate Of Uncertainty

Author Emily Raboteau asks the big question about America's post-Millennial kids: Why isn't climate change, the effects of which Generation Z will be dealing with for their entire lives, not the most important subject in school, in culture, in their entire existence, with their parents and grandparents and the man in the Oval Office all lining up telling them that it doesn't matter?

Our son’s love of trains was once so absolute I never foresaw it could be replaced. New York City is a marvelous place to live for train-obsessed boys. When he was three and four, we spent many a rainy day with no particular destination, riding the rails for the aimless pleasure of it, studying the branching multicolored lines of the subway map, which he’d memorized like a second alphabet. I’d hoist him up to watch the dimly lit tunnel unfurl through the grimy front window of the A train’s first car as it plunged us jerkily along the seemingly endless and intersecting tracks. Some rainy mornings, our destination was 81st Street, where we exited the B or C with dripping umbrellas and his little sister in tow to enter the American Museum of Natural History.

There, at a special exhibition called “Nature’s Fury,” our son’s attention turned like a whiplash from trains to violent weather. Even before this show, the museum demanded a certain reckoning with the violence of the Anthropocene. What grownup wouldn’t feel a sense of profound regret confronting the diorama of the northern white rhinoceros in the Hall of African Mammals, or the Hall of Ocean Life’s psychedelic display of the Andros Coral Reef as it looked in the Bahamas a century ago? Meandering the marble halls of the Natural History Museum is like reading an essay on losing the Earth through human folly. Yet none of its taxonomies of threatened biodiversity, not even the big blue whale, moved my kindergartner like “Nature’s Fury.”

The focus of the immersive exhibition was on the science of the worst natural disasters of the last fifty years—their awesome destructive power and their increasing frequency and force. Accompanied by a dramatic score of diminished chords and fast chromatic descents, the exhibit meant to show how people adapt and cope in the aftermath of these events, and how scientists are helping to plan responses and reduce hazards in preparation for disasters to come.

“Are they too young for this?” my husband questioned, too late. Our impulsive boy had darted ahead and cut the line to erupt a virtual volcano. I supposed it made him feel less doomed than like a small god that, in addition to making lava spout at the push of a button, the kid could manipulate the fault lines of a model earthquake, set off a tsunami, and stand in the eye of a raging tornado.

In the section on hurricanes at a table map of New York, the boy was also able to survey the sucker punch that Hurricane Sandy delivered to the five boroughs. This interactive cartography was a darker version of the subway map he’d memorized, detailing the floodplains along our city’s 520 miles of coast. I can still see my boy there, his chin just clearing the table’s touchscreen so that his face was eerily underlit by the glow of information while my girl crawled beneath. Seventeen percent of the city’s land mass flooded, leaving two million people without power, seventeen thousand homes damaged, and forty-three people dead. On the map, the water was rising to overtake the shorelines at Red Hook, Battery Park, Coney Island… All across the Big Apple, the lights were going out.

“Come away from there,” one or the other of us called uneasily, because we weren’t prepared to confront what climate change would mean for our children, to say nothing of our children’s children. The boy was five at the time. The girl was three. In their lifetimes, according to a conservative estimate in a recent report by the NYC Panel on Climate Change, they could see the water surrounding Manhattan rise six feet. We pulled them away from that terrifying map of our habitat to go look at dinosaur bones—an easier mass extinction to consider because it lay in the distant past.

What strikes me now as irrational about our response isn’t our ordinary parental instinct to protect our kids from scary stuff. It was our denial. Their father and I treated that display as a vision we could put off until later when it clearly conveyed what had already transpired. “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now,” preached Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 in one of his lesser-known sermons, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” He may as well have been speaking on climate change. Sandy made landfall in 2012, the year after the boy was born, while I was pregnant with the girl. It gave a preview of what the city faces in the next century and beyond, as sea levels continue to rise with melting ice sheets. The storm exposed our weaknesses, and not just to flooding. I remember that when the bodegas in our hood ran out of food, some folks shared with their neighbors. But when the gas station started running out of fuel, some folks pulled out their guns.

As much as we may worry about our kids’ future, it’s already here.

Avoiding the map didn’t annul its impact on our son. The subject of storms had gripped his consciousness as surely as his author-father’s had been gripped by horror films. That part of the boy’s brain that previously needed to know the relative speed of a Big Boy steam engine to a Shinkansen bullet train now needed to know what wind speed differentiated a category-four hurricane from a category-five. Soon enough, and for months afterward, Mr. Wayne, the friendly librarian at the Fort Washington branch of the New York Public Library, would greet our boy with an apology. There were no more books in the children’s section on the subject of violent weather than those he’d already consumed.

At bedtime, while his sister sucked her thumb to sleep, I offered my son reassurance that we weren’t in a flood zone; that up in Washington Heights—as the name suggests—we live on higher ground. “You’re safe,” I told him.

“But the A was flooded during Sandy,” he reminded me, matter-of-factly. “The trains stopped running and the mayor cancelled Halloween.” Then he’d go on rapturously about the disastrous confluence of the high tide and the full moon that created the surge, while I tried to sing him a lullaby.

Eventually, a different fixation overtook extreme weather, and another after that. Such is the pattern of categorical learners. It may have been sharks before the Titanic, or the other way around—I’ve forgotten. Two years have passed since we saw “Nature’s Fury”; a year and a half since our president led the US to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. The boy is seven now, what Jesuits call “the age of reason.” The girl is five and learning to read. If current trends continue, the world is projected to be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial levels by the time they reach their late twenties. The scientific community has long held two degrees Celsius to be an irreversible tipping-point. Two degrees of global warming, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), marks climate catastrophe.

At two degrees, which is our best-case climate scenario if we make seismic global efforts to end carbon emissions, which we are not on course to do, melting ice sheets will still pass a point of no return, flooding NYC and dozens of other major world cities; annual heat waves and wildfires will scrub the planet; drought, flood, and fluctuations in temperature will shrink our food supply; water scarcity will hurt four hundred million more people than it already does. Statistical analysis indicates only a 5 percent chance of limiting warming to less than two degrees. Two degrees has been described as “genocide.”

In fact, we’re on track for over four degrees of warming and an unfathomable scale of suffering by century’s end. By that time, if they’re lucky, our children will be old. It’s pointless to question whether or not it was ethical to have them in the first place since, in any case, they are here. Their father writes about imaginary horrors. For my part, I’m only beginning to see that the question of how to prepare our kids for the real horrors to come is collateral to the problem of how to deal as adults with the damage we’ve stewarded them into

I honestly believe these kids will look at the adults in their lives and their message to us in the future will be "You failed us utterly, and we will never forgive you.  We will do everything we can to never make your mistakes again."

Maybe Generation Z can fix this in the future.  Maybe they won't, and human civilization will be sharply curtailed on Earth.

I figure I have another 40 years if I'm lucky.  But there are kids alive today who will live to see 2100 on Earth, and they will remember what life was like today, and they will grow to hate those who came before them for what they failed to do.

The rest of this century is triage for humanity, and that's the rosy scenario.

Gettng The Band Back Together

I've long said that Vladimir Putin's long-term goal is to reform the Soviet Union, and his moves to wreck the European Union and destabilize the US have been so successful in the last several years that he doesn't even plan to hide his intent anymore.

The president of Belarus has said the country is ready to unite with long-time ally Russia, raising the prospect of Moscow absorbing the eastern European dictatorship on the borders of Poland and Lithuania.
President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet state since the presidential post was created in 1994, said Friday his nation was ready to join with Russia, The Moscow Times reported.

Lukashenko made the comments on the third and final day of bilateral talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rumors have long abounded that Belarus could be absorbed into Russia under Putin’s watch, deepening the “union state” arrangement that has existed between them since the late 1990s.

“The two of us could unite tomorrow, no problem,” Lukashenko said Friday. “But are you—Russians and Belarusians—ready for it?” the president added, according to Interfax. “We’re ready to unite and consolidate our efforts, states and peoples as far as we’re ready.”

Putin tried to question the very concept of independent states in his subsequent remarks. “There are simply no fully independent states in the world. The modern world is a world of interdependence,” the Russian president said.

He pointed to the European Union as proof of his assertion. “There, the European Parliament makes more binding decisions for all members than the Supreme Soviet of the USSR once took such decisions for the Union republics. Is it not a dependency?” Putin asked.

Putin also suggested that U.S. military deployments in Europe have undermined nation sovereignty there. “Do you think someone from European countries wants U.S. medium-range missiles to appear in Europe?” he asked.

“No one wants that. But they sit, they keep quiet. Where is their sovereignty? But apparently they believe that in the ultimate, general calculation, they are interested in such an organization in which they have invested part of their sovereignty,” he said.

Putin’s presidential term will end in 2024, and the current constitution prevents him for running again. It has been suggested that he could bypass these restrictions by creating a new nation through a union with Belarus.

The plan of course is to keep snapping up the Baltic states and the old Soviet states, and expand into Eastern Europe with the old Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, already careening into far-right, white nationalist autocracy.  It's an old KGB spymaster's dream, and Putin will only consolidate his power as the years progress.

Certainly an America as deeply compromised by Putin's puppets won't lift a finger to stop him.
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