Bordering On Chaos
March 25, 2021
The Good News
- US report: Bald eagle populations soar in lower 48 states (AP)
- World Happiness Report has surprisingly good news (WaPo, $)
“The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.” – Luther Standing Bear
Casting A Wide Net On A Small Town
(China News Service via Getty Images)
By way of its Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s ambitious economic and geopolitical agenda, China became the largest foreign financier of infrastructure development in Africa, cornering the market on most of the continent’s road, pipeline, power plant and port projects.
One country that became indebted to China is The Republic of The Gambia, West Africa’s smallest nation and one of the most densely populated. Gambia has a narrow Atlantic coastline, and is known for its diverse ecosystems, beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife.
Gunjur is a town of some 15,000 people on Gambia’s Atlantic coastline. In 2008 the community established a wildlife preserve meant to protect 790 acres of beach, mangrove swamp, wetland, savannah, and an oblong lagoon a half-mile long and a few hundred yards wide. The Bolong Fenyo lagoon was a lush habitat for a remarkable variety of migratory birds, humpback dolphins, epaulet fruit bats, Nile crocodiles, and callithrix monkeys.
China invested $33 million to develop agriculture and fisheries in Gambia, including three fish processing plants along the country’s 50-mile coast. In 2016 Golden Lead and two other plants were built to meet the exploding global demand for fishmeal, a protein-rich powder made by pulverizing and cooking fish, and used in the booming industry of fish farming, or aquaculture. Gunjur residents were told that Golden Lead would bring jobs, a fish market, and a newly-paved road through town.
Before long the need for fishmeal to service a rising aquaculture began transforming the working conditions of local fisherman. Hundreds of legal and illegal foreign fishing boats, including industrial trawlers and purse seiners, criss-crossed the waters off the Gambian coast. Golden Lead alone was taking in more than 7,500 tons of fish a year, mostly a type of shad known as bonga, a small silvery fish that locals rely on.
In 2017, China cancelled $14 million in Gambian debt. In May that year the Bolong Fenyo lagoon suddenly turned a cloudy crimson overnight, dotted with floating dead fish. Analysis showed the water contained twice the amount of arsenic and 40 times the amount of phosphates and nitrates deemed safe. Golden Lead was dumping its toxic waste into the lagoon; Gambian environmental authorities fined the company the paltry amount of $25,000. Thereafter, with government approval, Golden Lead installed a long waste water pipe under a nearby public beach, so it could dump its toxic effluent directly into the sea.
Globally, about 25% of all fish caught at sea becomes fishmeal, produced by factories like those on the Gambian coast. Unsustainable harvesting is decimating regional fish stocks and jeopardizing local livelihoods. A Gunjur microbiologist said: “The Chinese are exporting our bonga fish to feed it to their tilapia fish, which they’re shipping back here to Gambia to sell to us, more expensively ….”
The owner of a now deserted beachfront hotel and restaurant in Gunjur said: “I spent two good years working on this place. And overnight Golden Lead destroyed my life.” The plant has hurt more than it’s helped the local economy. Asked about all the young men hauling their baskets of fish to the factory, he said: “This is not the employment we want. They’re turning us into donkeys and monkeys.” (BBC)
Musical Chairs But The Song Never Ends
(Emmanuel Dunand via Getty Images)
- Four elections in two years have failed to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the necessary 61 seats to form a coalition government with a majority in Parliament. With more than 90% of Wednesday’s vote counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing alliance had 52 seats and his opponents had 56. And the gridlock extends beyond the election.
- Administrative stagnation has left Israel without a national budget for two consecutive years in the middle of a pandemic, and with several key Civil Service posts unstaffed. The idea that the political deadlock paralyzing the country isn’t going to get better, and in fact appears to have gotten worse, has Israelis pondering the viability of their electoral system, the functionality of their government and whether the divisions between the country’s various politics — secular and devout, right-wing and leftist, Jewish and Arab — have made the nation unmanageable.
- A Tel Aviv-based analyst said Israel isn’t yet a failed state, like Lebanon, because it still has institutions. “But there is definitely erosion,” she said. “Not having a budget for two years — this is really dangerous.” (NYT)
Missed Me, Missed Me, Now You Gotta Diplomatically Meet With Me
- North Korea conducted its first round of missile tests since President Biden took office. Officials downplayed the significance of the tests, performed over the weekend, describing them only as “short range” and “normal,” and as “military activity…that is not sanctioned under UN Security Council resolutions restricting the ballistic program.” One official noted: “North Korea has a familiar menu of provocations when it wants to send a message to a US administration,” adding that the tests were “on the low end of that spectrum” of military activities.
- Biden also said he doesn’t consider the tests a major provocation, agreeing with the Defense Department that “it’s business as usual.” The Biden team has been studying how best to approach Pyongyang and wants to keep the door open to future talks.
- National Security adviser Jake Sullivan will host his counterparts from Japan and South Korea next week for day-long discussions about strategy and coordination going forward. “We are under no illusions about the difficulty this task presents to us. We have a long history of disappointment in diplomacy with North Korea,” one official said. (NPR)
Additional World News
- Top Saudi official issued death threat against UN’s Khashoggi investigator (Guardian)
- China Doesn’t Respect Us Anymore — for Good Reason (NYT, $)
- Deliveroo: Investor warns of workers’ rights issues at firm (BBC)
- An international traffic jam: Suez Canal Traffic Blocked After Massive Ship Runs Aground (NPR)
- Why Brazil’s military couldn’t stop destruction of the Amazon jungle (Reuters)
- Pope orders salary cuts for cardinals, clerics, to save jobs of employees (Reuters)
- After Myanmar Coup, a New Resistance Rises (NYT, $)
- Merkel apologises as she reverses Germany’s Easter Covid lockdown (Guardian)
- The Curious Case of Florida’s Pandemic Response (Atlantic, $)
- People gave up on flu pandemic measures a century ago when they tired of them – and paid a price (The Conversation)
- How People Are Dealing with Distorted Smell (NYT, $)
Bordering On Chaos
- President Biden faces sharp criticism from Republicans over the increased flood of migrants crossing the southern border, many of them unaccompanied minors. To show Americans he’s taking the situation seriously — and also prevent the growing humanitarian and political hot button from overshadowing his administration’s ambitious legislative agenda — Biden tapped Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday to lead the White House effort to tackle the migration challenge. She is also tasked to work with Central American nations to address root causes of the problem.
- This will give Harris her first big opportunity to step to the front of the stage on a matter of enormous consequence for the administration. “Needless to say, the work will not be easy,” she said. “But it is important work.”
- The assignment is evocative of similar moves in previous administrations. President Obama turned to Biden in his first term to lead the White House effort to draw down US troops in Iraq and oversee implementation of stimulus in response to the Great Recession. President Trump named VP Mike Pence to lead his coronavirus task force, and President Clinton handed VP Al Gore environmental and technology portfolios early in his presidency. (WaPo)
City Of Angels Flying A Bit Closer To The Sun
- Los Angeles is still burning coal for electricity. But thanks to a first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the city and released Wednesday, LA now has a road map on how to become one of the country’s first major cities to nearly eliminate fossil fuels from its power supply.
- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) analysis determined that LA is capable of achieving 98% clean energy within the next decade and 100% by 2035. And it can do this without causing blackouts or disrupting the economy, a conclusion that undercuts two common arguments used by opponents of climate action. The NREL says the path for the next decade is clear: Build solar farms, wind turbines and batteries as fast as possible. Get solar panels on rooftops, electric cars in garages and electric heat pumps in homes. And invest in energy efficiency and “demand response” programs that pay people to use electricity during times of day when solar and wind power are plentiful.
- It’s significant to note that all the paths to 100% clean energy studied by NREL would be capable of keeping the lights on every hour of the year — on summer’s hottest days and winter’s coldest days — even when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow for days at a time, or a wildfire takes down a major transmission line. That would be in stark contrast to past power grid difficulties in California, when there were rolling blackouts during a heat wave, and in Texas, when there were multi-day power outages during February’s cold snap. (LA Times)
Additional USA News
- US saw estimated 4,000 extra murders in 2020 amid surge in daily gun violence (Guardian)
- US democracy on the brink: Republicans wage ‘coordinated onslaught’ on voting rights (Guardian)
- US sinks to new low in rankings of world’s democracies (Guardian)
- Trump is returning to social media in a few months with his own platform, spokesman says (CNN)
- 11 Years On, the Affordable Care Act Defies Opponents and Keeps Expanding (NYT, $)
- A Year After Ending Her Presidential Bid, Warren Wields Soft Power in Washington (NYT, $)
- Facebook Let 2020 Election Misinformation Flow, Report Says (Time)
- The Years of Work Behind Washington’s Most Well-Liked Man (NYT, $)
- Sidney Powell argues in new court filing that no reasonable people would believe her election fraud claims (CNN)
It’s Many Birds! It’s Many Planes! No It’s… We’re Not Really Sure
- In July 2019 a bizarre series of events occurred around California’s Channel Islands. Over several days, groups of unidentified aircraft, which the US Navy refers to as ‘drones’ or ‘UAVs’ (unmanned aerial vehicles) pursued several Navy vessels, prompting a high-level investigation.
- As many as six drones were described as flying around the ships for prolonged periods in low-visibility conditions, and performing brazen maneuvers over the warships near a sensitive military training range less than 100 miles off Los Angeles. The ensuing investigation included elements of the Navy, Coast Guard, and the FBI. The incidents received major internal attention, including from the Chief of Naval Operations.
- The War Zone (TWZ) — a news and commentary website dedicated to covering defense technology and national security issues — conducted its own investigation that included Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for ships logs and a forensic reconstruction of actual positions for both military and civilian ships in the area during this strange series of events. The investigation uncovered events that were more extensive in scale than previously understood.
- The destroyer USS Kidd was first to spot two drones around 10 PM on July 14, 2019. After that, three other Navy destroyers reported spotting several of the objects. The USS Rafael Peralta described a white light hovering over its flight deck. The drone maintained that position, matching the ship’s speed at 16 knots, in low visibility conditions and at night. The encounter lasted over 90 minutes, significantly longer than what commercially available drones can typically sustain. More incidents occurred the night after, at roughly the same time, with the drones also harassing a passing cruise ship.
- Even more sightings occurred early on July 25th and July 30th, just as investigators were beginning to examine classified briefings and were apparently still trying to learn the intent behind the July 14th and 15th incursions. TWZ estimates the drones traversed at least 100 nautical miles in the July 14th incident, reaching speeds in excess of 45 mph while locating and catching up to a destroyer traveling at 16 knots in the dark of night, with less than one nautical mile of visibility. Furthermore, their operators appear to have coordinated at least five to six drones simultaneously.
- If the American military wasn’t operating the drones, these incidents represent a highly significant security breach. And if a foreign state actor was involved, where exactly were the drones launched from? (The Drive)
- For Actor-Activist Sacha Baron Cohen, Being Called A ‘Bouffon’ Is A Good Thing (NPR)
- Behind Her Eyes and what makes a perfect plot twist (BBC)
- Oumuamua: It Came From Another Solar System (NYT, $)
- Sequoyah and the Almost-Forgotten History of Cherokee Numerals (MIT Press Reader)
- Some extra goodies to start your day right: L.A. man says he found shrimp tails, dental floss and more in his Cinnamon Toast Crunch (WaPo, $)
- Teen Vogue Editor’s Tweets Aren’t the Whole Story (New Republic)
- Why Bumblebees Love Cats and Other Beautiful Relationships (Longreads)
- What Does Home Mean to Us? Not the Same Thing It Did Before the Pandemic (NYT, $)
- The robots are coming for your office (Verge) & Can Humans Be Replaced by Machines? (NYT, $)
- Should Gig Work Be Government-Run? (New Yorker, $)
- Sex Addiction Is Not a Thing (LifeHacker)
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