NYMHM for 17 March 2019

It would be hard to improve on Charles Dickens to describe the present moment: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” On the cusp of the spring of hope, 50 people in New Zealand were killed at prayer. And in the middle of the winter of despair, children and teenagers have taken the lead in demanding action on climate change. Our lives, these days, require us to toggle between these polarities.


1. No Planet B

Over a million young people all over the world marched on March 15 to insist on climate action. There were more than 2000 protests, according to the Guardian; Mother Jones has pictures of some of them. Sixteen year old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose work helped inspire the youth movement, has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Norwegian legislators.

The Guardian’s coverage concludes with comments by Hannah Laga Abram, an 18-year-old from Santa Fe, New Mexico:

“We are living in the sixth mass extinction. Ice is melting. Forests are burning. Waters are rising. And we do not even speak of it. Why?

“Because admitting the facts means admitting crimes of epic proportions by living our daily lives. Because counting the losses means being overpowered by grief. Because allowing the scale of the crisis means facing the fear of swiftly impending disaster and the fact that our entire system must change.

“But now is not the time to ignore science in order to save our feelings. It is time to be terrified, enraged, heartbroken, grief-stricken, radical.”

2. Federal inaction around climate change costs billions

While the Green New Deal has been described as too expensive, a new report from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that federal inaction around climate change is costing the nation billions of dollars. The cost of disaster relief, for example, could be mitigated if funds went into prevention. As the report reads, “We found that federal investments in resilience could be more effective if post-disaster hazard mitigation efforts were balanced with resources for pre-disaster hazard mitigation.” The GAO’s report is nearly invisible in mainstream news, but Common Dreams has the story, and you can read Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal resolution here.

3. Heroes, victims and social media companies

Portraits of the mosque shooting victims are starting to emerge, from Husne Ava Parvin, who tried to shield her husband in his wheelchair, to 50 year old Naeem Rashid who tackled the gunman, to Mucad Ibrahim, age 3, who was “energetic, playful and liked to smile and laugh a lot,” according to his brother.

The sophistication with which the New Zealand shooter used social media reveals how technology companies have become complicit in producing right-wing radicalism, according to Mother Jones. As the CBC points out, social media companies can proactively remove videos that violate copyright, but they were much slower to remove the shooter’s live-stream. In addition, the CBC quoted one expert as saying that companies were much quicker to remove Islamic extremist content than right-wing content.

Note Sarah-Hope’s discussion of the Disarm Hate Act (in the Resources), which would make it illegal for firearms to be sold or given to anyone convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes.


4. Nuclear winter on the horizon if India and Pakistan go nuclear

The recent dispute between India and Pakistan,  both with nuclear weapons, illustrates the need for nuclear powers to seriously engage in nuclear disarmament, as required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed 50 years ago. As Conn Hallinan, writing for Foreign Policy in Focus, points out, there are no local nuclear wars. India and Pakistan have between 130-150 nuclear warheads each; Hallinan cites a study that shows that if they exchanged 100 of them, it would plunge the world into a 25-year-long nuclear winter.

5. US and the Philippines refuse to be investigated by the International Criminal Court

The United States will refuse visas to International Criminal Court personnel seeking to investigate war crimes in Afghanistan—or anywhere, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced March 15. The ICC prosecutor’s request to investigate says that the ICC wants to investigate whether members of the U.S. military and intelligence services  “committed acts of torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, rape and sexual violence against conflict-related detainees in Afghanistan and other locations, principally in the 2003-2004 period,” according to the AP.

According to Al-Jazeera, the ICC will continue to do its work. “”The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law.” (Sarah-Hope–see the resources–can tell you whom to write if you want to speak up about this.)

The United States has never been a member of the International Criminal Court; now the US is joined by the Philippines, which has just withdrawn from the ICC. The ICC had been investigating accusations of thousands of murders by President Duterte’s forces in the course of his war against drugs.

6. The company we keep: United Arab Emirates

The United States has sold $27 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to the United Arab Emirates over the last decade and has been training 5000 UAE troops, according to Democracy Now. Along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE has been fighting rebels in Yemen, resulting in deaths of 20,000 civilians over the last four years, according to a report published by Stanford University.

Details about the UAE’s actions in Yemen—and the role of the United States in making them possible–are delineated in a devasting report by William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

The Sanders-Lee amendment—introduced by Senators  Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT)—which would have stopped U.S. contributions to the Yemeni civil war—was blocked 55-44. As Sanders told Vox, “This is one of the great humanitarian disasters of our time.”

7. US air strikes in Somalia

In addition, the US is conducting air strikes in Somalia, ostensibly against Al Shabab, an Al Qaeda affiliate, but civilians, including children, are being killed and maimed, according to Democracy Now. An investigation by Nation journalist Amanda Sperber, who spent five weeks in Somalia suggests that it is not clear which US agency is conducting the strikes; the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the official agency doing so, but there are strikes unaccounted for by AFRICOM that may be initiated by the CIA. Since Trump’s election, the number of strikes in Somalia has tripled.


8. Ecological decline perhaps more pressing than climate change 

A three-year UN study done under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is due to conclude and turn in its findings in May—and they are grim. The report, likely to run to over 8000 pages and compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries, is the greatest attempt yet to take measure of the health of life on Earth. It will show that tens of thousands of species are under threat of extinction and that societies are using natural resources at a pace far outstripping nature’s ability to replenish them.

The culprits are predictable: large scale mono-crop agriculture with the resulting deforestation, along with ever-rising human populations and living standards. So far we have lost 80% of marine mammals, 50% of plants, 14% of all fish, 50% of all butterflies; the list goes on and on. Serious and fundamental changes to economic policy and societies will be necessary to prevent total ecological collapse, reports the Huffington Post. 

In related news, Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, conducted by 200 scientists and peer-reviewed by 125 more, warns that a third of the Himalayan ice cap will likely melt by the end of the century, according to Democracy Now. The melting will have an impact on 250 million people who live in the area, affecting supplies of food and water.

9. DARPA awards $10 million to design a new open-source voting system

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, known as DARPA, has been at the forefront of spurring scientific and technological breakthroughs for decades, helping to birth the internet and driver-less vehicles among others. DARPA is now setting its sights on the notoriously hodgepodge and terrifyingly vulnerable electronic voting systems in use in the United States. To this end, a $10 million dollar contract has been awarded to Oregon-based Galois, a long-standing federal contractor with experience in making secure and authenticated information systems, to produce a totally open-source and secure voting system that can allow voters to verify their votes were recorded properly.

Voting systems in use today often use ageing proprietary software that is not transparent in the ways in which it verifies or records votes, possessing glaring security flaws that have resulted in white-hat hackers taking control of voting machines in mere minutes. Embarrassingly, one such experiment showed an eleven year old succeeding in ten minutes. On DARPA’s end this project will showcase the potential for secure hardware systems vital to the military in an easy-to-demonstrate way, as Vice reports.

10. Quantum dots on track to replace single crystal semi-conductors

Semi-conductors are the backbone of the technology of the information age, the material we use to inscribe billions of minute transistors onto computer chips. Until recently, the best material known for this purpose consisted of single crystals of silicon-based materials grown in a vacuum under highly specialized conditions in the cleanest environments we can make. Now a maturing technology has been identified to equal the performance of single crystal semiconductors and it’s far more “tunable,” versatile and perhaps most importantly, cheaper to produce.

Testing performed by the University of California Berkeley and Stanford University shows that “quantum dot” technology can re-emit 99.6% of light it absorbs, equal to the most perfect single crystals we can manufacture. It’s not just microchips and flat screen displays that stand to benefit; solar panels use a substrate of semi-conductors to convert sunlight to electricity and cheaper solar panels are going to be very important in the change to a greener world power supply, according to Physics.org.