Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion2015-04-27T12:15:46Z Juan Cole <![CDATA[Anger Translation: Why Obama was Ranting against GOP Climate Policy at Press Dinner]]> 2015-04-27T04:41:55Z 2015-04-27T04:33:56Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The Comedy Central show, Key and Peele, made famous a bit by Keegan-Michael Key on Obama called the “Luther, the anger translator,” which plays on the president’s laid back approach to controversial issues. But at the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner, Obama outdid “Luther” in ranting against climate denialism. The irascible Luther, taken aback, told the president he needed “counseling.”

As with all good comedy, the bit laid out a key truth about politics: The major problem the world faces in avoiding climate disruption is not economic or technological. It is plain old-fashioned greed and mule-headedness.

Technologically and price-wise, green energy has won. In February, 98% of new electrical energy generation capacity in the US was renewables.

Germany is letting bids for new solar power plants at a consumer cost for household electricity of 10 cents a kilowatt hour. Most Germans pay 28 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity. The average cost in the USA is about 12 cents a kilowatt hour. Because Germany gets 27 percent of its electricity from renewables, in 2014, the country’s carbon emissions declined, its power costs went down, and its economy grew. In contrast, US CO2 emissions have risen for the past two years, back up to about 5.5 billion tons annually.

In Texas, wind energy is now so inexpensive that at some points in February when the wind blew extra hard and steady at night, its cost to consumers was technically less than 0. About 11 percent of Texas electricity now comes from wind. It has created 30,000 new jobs in the past decade and generated $85 mn annually for local government in new tax revenue.

Geography matters. Texas and Iowa have a lot of wind. Georgia does not. All three have a lot of sun. But the point is that renewables have reached a price point where they make perfect sense in many markets even without subsidies. Indeed, in some places wind is so cheap that the utility might have to be subsidized for producing it.

So what is the problem?

There are 600 coal plants in the US. They produce a significant amount of our carbon emissions. They are already there, in operation, and there are train lines to bring them coal, and the electricity grid has already been built to bring the power they generate to consumers in cities. So how much it technically costs to generate electricity per kilowatt hour (5 cents) by coal is not the most important thing. The facility and infrastructure costs have already been sunk, years ago. It will for a long time be more expensive to build a new wind farm and connect it to the grid than just to go on burning coal.


In part, the problem is that coal receives massive hidden subsidies. The Environmental Protection Agency has routinely ignored the violation by coal plants of the Clean Air and Water Act. The plants have been allowed to spew acid rain and mercury (a nerve poison) and to give people bronchitis and lung cancer. Then, they cause chemical and coal ash pollution of our drinking water. Not to mention that they’ve been allowed to put billions of metric tons of deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which will boomerang on humanity big time. Some scientists put the real cost of coal energy at 44 cents a kilowatt hour if you figure in all the damage. That the government has let the industry skate on its damage is a form of subsidy. (The 80,000 coal miners will find other occupations. There were nearly that many workers in Blockbuster video stores a decade ago, and streaming video put them all out of work. Installing solar panels on the roofs of all American buildings will create a lot of new jobs. There are 120,000 solar energy workers already).

The same arguments can be made for natural gas plants. That they are less polluting than coal isn’t saying much, since coal is very, very polluting, and so is natural gas.

So the tremendous price fall in the cost of wind or solar electricity can’t enlist market forces to replace deadly fossil fuels by itself. We need public policy. We need electric lines to be built out from where the wind energy is (this would have to happen in Michigan, e.g, which has almost no renewable energy even though the state is rich in wind). And we need sin taxes to be put on fossil fuels, just as states have put them on cigarettes, to recognize their fatal human health impacts.

We are in a race. We’ll soon be locked in to an average 3.6 degree Fahrenheit (2 degrees C.) rise in world temperatures. That average includes the oceans, which are cold. So the land average in the temperate zone will be higher. But if we go on spewing carbon dioxide and methane on this scale, we can easily go higher, to a 7 degrees F. average increase, which is really 15 degrees for a lot of cities. At that level of increased heat, like setting off millions of atomic bombs in the atmosphere, we can’t be sure how the weather patterns will change, and they could go chaotic, endangering human life.

So we’ve solved the technological problems already. We’ve solved the economic problems. We haven’t solved the policy problems, and it is because we don’t care enough. Some two-bit thugs in Syria can announce themselves fundamentalists and cut off a few heads, and the US public will suddenly demand that billions of dollars be spent bombing them. But we’re not demanding sin taxes on deadly hydrocarbons, which are already killing thousands of Americans annually and are poised to kill millions– even though there are inexpensive renewable substitutes for them that could be implemented for a per capita cost of a couple of lattes a month for a few years.

And that is why the calm and laid-back Obama went into his comedic rant. He knows all this. He knows where the problem lies. It lies in the hold that Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas has on the US Congress. And that hold is increasingly a death grip.


CLIP: President Obama’s Anger Translator (C-SPAN)

contributors <![CDATA[Gaza Strip 101: World’s Largest outdoor Prison]]> 2015-04-26T16:36:44Z 2015-04-27T04:31:50Z Middle East Eye | –

“The Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave wedged between Israel and Egypt, has been under blockade since 2007, shortly after elections brought the group Hamas to power.

After repeated bombings by Israel – including one last summer which left over 2000 people dead – Gaza is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

However, in spite of the hardship, the Palestinians of Gaza have stayed resilient.”

Middle East Eye: “An Introduction to the Gaza Strip”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Beyond the Headlines: The New Arabs (Juan Cole Interview)]]> 2015-04-27T12:15:46Z 2015-04-27T04:29:17Z Jack Segal | International Affairs Forum (Traverse City) | –

“For three decades, Juan Cole, Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. This conversation will add to that endeavor. Beyond the Headlines is hosted by Jack Segal, retired diplomat with extensive experience in arms control, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Europe and Russia.”

International Affairs Forum (Traverse City): “Beyond the Headlines – The New Arabs”, April 23 2015

Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

contributors <![CDATA[Danger: GOP House’s “Cybersecurity Bills” are Surveillance Bills in Disguise]]> 2015-04-26T16:31:38Z 2015-04-27T04:19:11Z By Mark Jaycox | (Electronic Frontier Foundation) | –

The House passed two cybersecurity “information sharing” bills today: the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Protecting Cyber Networks Act, and the House Homeland Security Committee’s National Cybersecurity Protection Advancement Act. Both bills will be “conferenced” to create one bill and then sent to the Senate for advancement. EFF opposed both bills and has been urging users to tell Congress to vote against them.

The bills are not cybersecurity “information sharing” bills, but surveillance bills in disguise. Like other bills we’ve opposed during the last five years, they authorize more private sector spying under new legal immunity provisions and use vague definitions that aren’t carefully limited to protect privacy. The bills further facilitate companies’ sharing even more of our personal information with the NSA and some even allow companies to “hack back” against potentially innocent users.

As we’ve noted before, information sharing is not a silver bullet to stopping security failures. Companies can already share the necessary technical information to stop threats via Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), public reports, private communications, and the DHS’s Enhanced Cybersecurity Services.

While we are disappointed in the House, we look forward to the fight in the Senate where equally dangerous bills, like the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, have failed to pass every year since 2010.

Contact your Senator now to oppose the Senate bills.

Via Electronic Frontier Foundation


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Dust-up Over New FOIA Exemption in Cyber Bill”

contributors <![CDATA[Nepal shows its vulnerability after devastating earthquake]]> 2015-04-27T04:14:30Z 2015-04-27T04:14:30Z By Simon Redfern | (The Conversation) | –

For some time scientists have realised that the Kathmandu valley is one of the most dangerous places in the world, in terms of earthquake risk. And now a combination of high seismic activity at the front of the Tibetan plateau, poor building standards, and haphazard urbanisation have come together with fatal consequences.

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit Nepal hit just before noon, local time, on Saturday around 48 miles north west of Kathmandu. The Indian tectonic plate is driving beneath the Eurasian plate at an average rate of 45mm per year along a front that defines the edge of the Tibetan plateau. This force created the Himalayas, and Nepal lies slap bang along that front. The quake was shallow, estimated at 12km depth, and devastating as the Indian crust thrust beneath Tibet one more time.

Shake map released by the US Geological Survey.

Historic buildings in the centre of Kathmandu have been reduced to rubble. Brick masonry dwellings have collapsed under clouds of dust. Weakened buildings will now be vulnerable to aftershocks, which continue to rattle Nepal through the day. Multiple aftershocks above magnitude 4 hit in the six hours following the earthquake.

Away from the populated Kathmandu valley, in the heights of the Himalaya, climbers on Everest tweeted reports of damage to base camp, and fatal avalanches on the flanks of the mountain. The steep valleys and precipitous dwellings of the more populated areas are vulnerable to landslides. Now is the time for us all to consider how we can help those most in need, in practical ways.

Although one cannot predict the day or the hour, the scenario that we see on our TV screens had been thought through many times already, with one particularly prescient article written almost two years ago to the day. The likely impacts of the quake can be readily estimated, and in any case will soon be reported directly from the surroundings.

The number of deaths reported is only, tragically, going to increase, with the US Geological Survey putting estimates of fatalities in the range of thousands to tens of thousands.

Just one week ago my geophysicist colleagues returned to the UK from a meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of the Earthquakes Without Frontiers research project. The focus was earthquake risk reduction and hazard awareness in Nepal. The risks have been recognised for some time, but I don’t suppose any of the participants expected their work to be thrown into the spotlight so soon.

Professor James Jackson, of Cambridge University and one of the leaders of the Earthquakes Without Frontiers project, talked with me on his return from Kathmandu last weekend. He described tall, thin houses, with extra stories built up on top, explaining how they arise from the Nepalese tradition of sharing inherited property between siblings, with houses split vertically between them.

The only way to build is upwards. In a seismic area, it’s a recipe for disaster, and one can’t help but wonder what this phenomenon has wrought on families in Kathmandu.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Simon Redfern is Professor in Earth Sciences at University of Cambridge


Related video added by Juan Cole:

NDTV: “Fresh 6.7 magnitude earthquake strikes Nepal; tremors across north India”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Syria: Al-Qaeda takes Jisr al-Shughur, threatening Key Port]]> 2015-04-26T07:09:33Z 2015-04-26T07:08:59Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

A coalition of extremist groups with al-Qaeda ties managed on Saturday to take the city of Jisr al-Shughur from the Syrian army. Among them were fighters of the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) and the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant (Ahrar al-Sham). Also involved was Chechen terrorist Muslim al-Shishani and his Syrian Army.

Al-Hadath [The Event], a Saudi-owned, Dubai-based sister news organization of Alarabiya, argues in the link above that the al-Qaeda-linked leaders and organizations who fought together to take the city were organized and funded by Turkey for this purpose.

The significance of these developments is that the coalition led by al-Qaeda has recently taken both the city of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib province, positioning it to move against the key regime-held port of Latakia. Latakia is one of the ways Russia resupplies Damascus and its loss would be a tremendous blow to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, the port is nestled in a hinterland dominated by the Alawite Shiites, who are the backbone of the regime and constitute some 10-14% of the Syrian population. The upper echelons of al-Assad’s Baath Party are staffed by Alawites. If the regime cannot protect its own, it will soon fall.

Al-Qaeda views Alawites as wretched heretics and has genocide on its mind if it wins in Syria.

The US military has bombed Support Front positions, given its status as an al-Qaeda affiliate, along with Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) ones. (Daesh was excluded from the Jisr al-Shughur operation). Despite the clear al-Qaeda links of Free Men of the Levant, the US has not designated it a terrorist organization, and there are rumors that Turkey supports it.

The rebels launched a Latakia campaign in 2013, which failed, but the regime is more exhausted and weaker now than then.


Related video:

Reuters: “Islamist fighters seize Syria’s Jisr Al-Shughour ”

contributors <![CDATA[Obama “I’ve aged so much Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak at my Funeral”]]> 2015-04-26T05:47:14Z 2015-04-26T05:40:21Z C-Span | (White House Correspondents Dinner) –

“From C-SPAN coverage, President Obama remarks at the 2014 White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

President Obama complete remarks at 2015 White House Correspondents’ Dinner (C-SPAN)

contributors <![CDATA[The Moment the Nepal earthquake hit]]> 2015-04-26T05:33:09Z 2015-04-26T05:31:49Z BBC News | –

“Video shows the moment earthquake hit Nepal… a powerful earthquake that struck Nepal, wrecking many historic buildings. The quake measured 7.9 and struck an area between the capital Kathmandu and the city of Pokhara, the US Geological Survey said.
Danny Savage reports.”

“Moment Nepal earthquake hit – BBC News”