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Brazil: The Hard Right Wins Again

A man who makes Donald Trump look like a bleeding-heart liberal will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president. Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the Brazilian presidential election, with twelve other candidates running. Fernando Haddad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 percent.

Haddad, who leads the socialist Workers’ Party, will pick up most of the voters whose first-choice candidates have fallen by the wayside, but Bolsonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the second round. Game over, in more ways than one.

Trump and Bolsonaro are populists cut from the same cloth. They both depend heavily on social media and on the support of evangelical Christians. They both oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for minorities, and drug liberalisation. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his political advantage – he once supported most of those policies – whereas Bolsonaro has always belonged to the hard right.

Trump is an instinctive authoritarian who chafes at the restrictions of the US constitution, but does not attack it directly. Bolsonaro praises the “glorious” period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which he served as an army officer, and claims that its only error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.” (It did, actually. At least 434 leftists were killed after being tortured.)

Trump is a racist, but he talks to his overwhelmingly white ‘base’ in dog-whistle code. Last year Bolsonaro said that the members of black rural settlements founded by the descendants of slaves “don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more.” No dog whistle there.

Trump pulled the US out of the climate change treaty, and Bolsonaro wants Brazil to do the same. But Bolsonaro also wants to privatise and ‘develop’ the entire Amazon: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves.”

Trump, like Bolsonaro, backs loose gun ownership laws. Both men want to bring the death penalty back (it never went away in some US states). Both men consider torture to be, as Bolsonaro puts it, a “legitimate practice.” But Bolsonaro also says that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”

Trump is a sexist who was once caught boasting on tape about “grabbing pussy”, but mostly avoids such language in public. Bolsonaro told a woman member of Congress that “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men because they get pregnant, and said that he had a daughter in “a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.

Trump is an undisciplined narcissist who claims to be a tough negotiator, but will generally roll over if you throw him a few concessions and let him declare a ‘victory’. (Consider the new North American free trade agreement, for example.) His famously short attention span disqualifies him as an aspiring dictator even if he were that way inclined.

Bolsonaro, however, is a serious man. He has made a former general, Hamilton Mourão, his running mate, and promises to fill his cabinet with other generals. In a recent video produced by Haddad, he can be seen arguing: “You won’t change anything in this country through voting…You’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000….If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”

Bolsonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for obvious reasons, but there is no reason to believe that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 million people may be in for some nasty surprises – and beyond the country’s borders Bolsonaro’s presidency will encourage neo-fascists and would-be military dictators in other Latin American countries.

That’s the real concern, and it extends to other continents too. The wave of non-violent revolutions that spread democracy to every part of the world (including Brazil) in the past few decades seems to have gone into reverse.

In some countries, like Thailand and Egypt, the generals are openly back in power. In others, like Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines, ‘illiberal democracies’ run by strongmen have replaced the genuine article. Even in long established democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy the nationalists and populists dominate the political scene.

There are some counter-currents, of course. Mexico, the other Latin American giant, is getting its first ever left-wing government this year. Hard right challenges to the established democratic order have been fended off in France, Germany and the Netherlands. But the tide is running strongly in the other direction.

How bad will it get, and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one suspects. The world is not yet heading back towards big great-power war, but we are entering the last critical decade before climate change overwhelms us with a growing number of governments that are not only potentially violent but militantly ignorant.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“Trump…policeman”; and “There are…direction”)

Brazil: The Hard Right Wins Again

A man who makes Donald Trump look like a bleeding-heart liberal will almost certainly be Brazil’s next president. Jair Bolsonaro won 46 percent of the vote in Sunday’s first round of the Brazilian presidential election, with twelve other candidates running. Fernando Haddad, who will face him alone in the run-off in three weeks’ time, got only 29 percent.

Haddad, who leads the socialist Workers’ Party, will pick up most of the voters whose first-choice candidates have fallen by the wayside, but Bolsonaro needs only one in six of those votes to win the second round. Game over, in more ways than one.

Trump and Bolsonaro are populists cut from the same cloth. They both depend heavily on social media and on the support of evangelical Christians. They both oppose same-sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action for minorities, and drug liberalisation. But Trump’s views shift when it is to his political advantage – he once supported most of those policies – whereas Bolsonaro has always belonged to the hard right.

Trump is an instinctive authoritarian who chafes at the restrictions of the US constitution, but does not attack it directly. Bolsonaro praises the “glorious” period of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), which he served as an army officer, and claims that its only error was that “it tortured, but did not kill.” (It did, actually. At least 434 leftists were killed after being tortured.)

Trump is a racist, but he talks to his overwhelmingly white ‘base’ in dog-whistle code. Last year Bolsonaro said that the members of black rural settlements founded by the descendants of slaves “don’t do anything. I don’t think they’re even good for procreation any more.” No dog whistle there.

Trump pulled the US out of the climate change treaty, and Bolsonaro wants Brazil to do the same. But Bolsonaro also wants to privatise and ‘develop’ the entire Amazon: “Not one centimetre will be demarcated for indigenous reserves.”

Trump, like Bolsonaro, backs loose gun ownership laws. Both men want to bring the death penalty back (it never went away in some US states). Both men consider torture to be, as Bolsonaro puts it, a “legitimate practice.” But Bolsonaro also says that “a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman.”

Trump is a sexist who was once caught boasting on tape about “grabbing pussy”, but mostly avoids such language in public. Bolsonaro told a woman member of Congress that “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly.” He believes that women should not get the same salaries as men because they get pregnant, and said that he had a daughter in “a moment of weakness” after fathering four sons.

Trump is an undisciplined narcissist who claims to be a tough negotiator, but will generally roll over if you throw him a few concessions and let him declare a ‘victory’. (Consider the new North American free trade agreement, for example.) His famously short attention span disqualifies him as an aspiring dictator even if he were that way inclined.

Bolsonaro, however, is a serious man. He has made a former general, Hamilton Mourão, his running mate, and promises to fill his cabinet with other generals. In a recent video produced by Haddad, he can be seen arguing: “You won’t change anything in this country through voting…You’ll only change things by having a civil war and doing the work the military regime didn’t do. Killing 30,000….If a few innocent people die, that’s alright.”

Bolsonaro doesn’t talk like that now, for obvious reasons, but there is no reason to believe that he has changed his mind. Brazil’s 200 million people may be in for some nasty surprises – and beyond the country’s borders Bolsonaro’s presidency will encourage neo-fascists and would-be military dictators in other Latin American countries.

That’s the real concern, and it extends to other continents too. The wave of non-violent revolutions that spread democracy to every part of the world (including Brazil) in the past few decades seems to have gone into reverse.

In some countries, like Thailand and Egypt, the generals are openly back in power. In others, like Turkey, Hungary, and the Philippines, ‘illiberal democracies’ run by strongmen have replaced the genuine article. Even in long established democracies like the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy the nationalists and populists dominate the political scene.

There are some counter-currents, of course. Mexico, the other Latin American giant, is getting its first ever left-wing government this year. Hard right challenges to the established democratic order have been fended off in France, Germany and the Netherlands. But the tide is running strongly in the other direction.

How bad will it get, and how long will it stay bad? Quite bad and for quite a while, one suspects. The world is not yet heading back towards big great-power war, but we are entering the last critical decade before climate change overwhelms us with a growing number of governments that are not only potentially violent but militantly ignorant.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 14. (“Trump…policeman”; and “There are…direction”)

Supervolcanoes

6 January 2014

Supervolcanoes: Another Thing to Worry About

By Gwynne Dyer

The good thing about volcanoes is that you know where they are. If you don’t want to get hurt, just stay away from them. The bad thing about supervolcanoes is that you may know where they are, but there’s no getting away from them. They only blow up very rarely, but when they do, the whole world is affected. They can cover an entire continent with ash, and lower temperatures sharply worldwide for years.

“This is something that, as a species, we will eventually have to deal with. It will happen in future,” said Dr Wim Malfait of ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal institute of Technology) , lead author of a recent paper in “Nature Geoscience” that says supervolcano eruptions don’t even need an earthquake as a trigger. “You could compare it to an asteroid impact,” he says. “The risk at any given time is small, but when it happens the consequences will be catastrophic.”

I know you already have enough to worry about, what with climate change and asteroid strikes and the like, but I’m afraid there’s more.

Volcanoes and supervolcanoes both involve magma (molten rock deep underground) that breaks through to the surface, but in practice they are quite different. Volcanoes gradually build themselves into mountains by repeated, relatively modest eruptions of lava. Supervolcanoes are a single massive explosion of magma rising to the surface over a huge area, and blasting at least a thousand cubic km. of ash into the atmosphere.

How massive? The largest recent volcanic eruption was Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which blew about ten cubic km. of ash and gas into the upper atmosphere in 1991. The result was a 0.4 degree C drop in average global temperature for a year or so. But the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano 640,000 years ago was a hundred times as big.

It covered the entire North American continent with ash – and just like an asteroid strike, it threw massive amounts of dust and ash into the stratosphere, where it stayed for years, blocking out much of the sunlight. (It doesn’t rain in the stratosphere, so the debris stays there for a long time.) As a result the average global temperature fell by as much as 10 degrees C for a number of years.

It was temporary, but while it lasted there was a steep fall in the amount of plant material growing on the planet, and a corresponding collapse in animal populations as well. Not mass extinctions, so far as we can tell, and fairly soon the plant and animal species repopulated their former habitats, but it certainly spoiled the party for the equivalent of several human generations.

Homo sapiens was not around 640,000 years ago, but people like us certainly were around when another supervolcano, Toba in northern Sumatra, blew about 73,000 years ago. The event has been tentatively linked with a “bottleneck” in human evolution at that time in which, according to some genetic studies, the human population was squeezed down to only around 1,000 people.

This hypothesis has been challenged by a recent study of the sediments in Lake Malawi by an Oxford University-led team. They did not find any layer in the sediments with much reduced vegetation, which you would expect to see if there were a long-lasting cooling of the climate. This is puzzling, since Toba was the biggest supervolcanic blast in 2.5 million years: it boosted two to three times as much dust and ash into the air as the Yellowstone eruption.

But only a couple of years of severely diminished sunlight would still cause catastrophic population losses in both the plant and the animal kingdoms. Even a relatively short “volcanic winter” would be a huge catastrophe for human beings.

How many people would die if such a catastrophe happened now? It is unlikely that even half of the world’s 7 billion people would survive two or three years of severe hunger, and civilisation itself would take a terrible beating. Nor is there anything useful you can do to prepare for such a catastrophe, unless you are able to stockpile two or three years’ worth of food for the entire world.

At the moment, our global food reserve will feed the population for only three or four months, so that is not likely to happen. If it does not, then we just have to hope that the calamity doesn’t happen – knowing that we probably will not have much warning if it does.

What Dr Malfait’s team discovered is that the detonation of a supervolcano is entirely dependent on the temperature of the liquid rock in the underground chamber. As it gets hotter, it gets less dense than the solid rock around it. At this point, it will behave just like an air-filled balloon or football that is held underwater, trying to pop up to the surface.

Eventually, the magma forces its way to the surface over an area of hundreds of square kilometres, expands and explodes. On average, such an explosion only happens once every hundred thousand years, but in practice it could happen at any time, with as little as a few weeks warning. Just thought you’d like to know. Sleep well.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8, 9 and 10. (“Homo…beings”)

 

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

 

GM Food Labeling Rule

8 Feb 2000

 Labelling Rule Sets GM Food Exports Back Several Years

By Gwynne Dyer

Game, set, and match. The Protocol on Biosafety, agreed by 130 countries last Saturday in Montreal afer frantic overtime negotiations, sets the seal on a year that saw genetically modified organisms (GMOs) go from a technology set to sweep the planet to a discredited experiment with a rapidly shrinking future in international trade.

Over the bitter opposition of the United States and a few other GMO-exporting countries (the US, Canada and Argentina account for more than 90% of the world’s GM food crops), the Montreal conference decided that all international shipments of food or seeds that may include GMOs must be labeled as such.

Even more importantly, it agreed that countries can bar imports of such foods on the “precautionary principle” – just because they’re worried about their safety – without breaking international trade rules.

“For the first time, countries will have the right to decide whether they want to import GM products or not when there is less than full scientific evidence,” said British Environment Minister Michael Meacher in Montreal. “It is official that the environment rules aren’t subordinate to to the trade rules. It’s been one hell of a battle.”

So why did the US back down at the last moment? After all, 300kg gorillas usually sit where they want.

A big part of the reason was that the United States has been deeply unpopular on too many other international issues recently. From the 1997 treaty banning land mines, to the 1998 International Criminal Court, to last year’s Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty, the US has been virtually alone among the industrial democracies in refusing to sign.

Washington had already refused to sign the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity that provided the framework for the protocol on biosafety being negotiated in Montreal.

Now it was determined to strangle that protocol in its cradle – manifestly in the service of the interests of US agribusiness. This pattern of behavior has annoyed even America’s closest allies to the point where more and more often they just go ahead without US assent.

If the negotiations in Montreal had broken up inconclusively, many countries would have gone ahead and banned GM imports anyway: consumer pressure to do so would have been irresistible. That might cause a trade war, but it wouldn’t help the American farmers who have fallen for the promises of GM giant Monsanto and its rivals to sell their GM crops abroad.

Besides, the home front is now crumbling; consumer resistance to genetically modified foods is beginning to awaken in North America as well. If you’re going to lose anyway, you might as well lose gracefully.

In the end, after two all-night sessions, US Assistant Secretary of State David Sandlow backed down and accepted the new rules. Companies planning to export GM seeds or crops to other countries will have to inform their governments in advance; they must be labeled; and the governments have the right to refuse the imports on environmental or health grounds – even without conclusive scientific evidence that GM products are dangerous.

It is effectively the death knell for international trade in GM products, at least for five or 10 years, and North American farmers will react fast; this spring’s planting will show a dramatic collapse in the use of GM seeds. It is one of the great public relations disaster stories of all time, for it is all about public perceptions and hardly at all about science.

The one more or less scientific element in the story was British scientist Dr Arpad Pusztai’s August 1998 claim that GM potatoes damaged the immune system of rats, for which he was hounded from his job. But a February 1999 protest by 20 international scientists demanding that Pusztai’s findings be reinstated galvanized popular anxiety about GM foods in Britain.

Within weeks, most of the major British supermarket and fast-food chains were promising to phase out all products with GM ingredients as fast as possible, and the revolt against GM foods was apreading like wildfire in the rest of Western Europe.

To some extent Europeans were hypersensitive because of other recent food scares, but a critical element in the response was European resentment at the incredibly naive and arrogant strategy adopted by Monsanto, and loyally enforced by the American and Canadian Governments.

North American producers deliberately mixed GM and non-GM products in their food exports, while their Governments threatened legal action under international free trade legislation if the export markets tried to bar shipments containing GM material, or even to label them GM.

It did amount to shoving the stuff down people’s throats. They were bound to be resentful, and suspicious, too.

By May, Europe’s biggest bank, Deutsche Bank, was warning (in a report titled GMOs Are Dead) that “increasingly, GMOs are . . . a liability to farmers.” By July it was bluntly warning large institutional investors to unload their shares in companies involved in the development of GMOs.

Meanwhile, Third World governments that foresaw millions of peasant farmers being driven off their lands by the high capital requirements of farming with GM seeds were making common cause with European governments worried about consumer safety.

The result was the coalition that basically killed he GM revolution in Montreal last Saturday. And the lesson is not that GMOs are a menace to human health, genetic stability in other plants, or the welfare of poor peasants (though they may be all of those things). It is that arrogance makes people stupid.

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