Midway revisited

Midway Island is a tiny dot of land, only 2.4 square miles, thousands of miles from anywhere else. It’s literally in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about “midway” between Asia and North America.

You know its name because the greatest naval battle of all time was played out there over a couple of days only six months after Pearl Harbor. All four of Japan’s aircraft carriers were sunk in a decisive victory for the U.S. It permanently crippled the Japanese Navy and changed the course of the war in the Pacific. The name might also be familiar as Chicago named it’s downtown airport after this battle.

Today, only about 50 people inhabit the island, all employed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.   There had been a National Wildlife Refuge there, but no tourists have been there since 2012, as the tourism program was suspended for lack of funding.

You can try virtual visitation if you’re desperate to see it.

Midway has always been home to a large population of birds, including three species of Albatross.


Today, Midway is again on the front lines of battle, and the stakes this time are much more important even than WWII. It’s a battle all of us are certainly losing. Americans, Japanese, and everyone else. All of us.

Every piece of plastic that has ever been created is still in existence. Over five trillion pieces of plastic are already in the ocean, and according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, there will be more plastic than fish, by weight,  in the ocean by 2050. Some eight million tons of plastic trash leak into the ocean annually, and it’s getting worse every year. Americans are said to use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour.

Even though Midway is in the middle of nowhere, and should be a pristine beach free of any human impact (other than that of the ecologists working there), it is a landing place for a lot of the sea-borne debris. It just happens to be in the way.


Weirdly, marine life seems to like eating plastic as much or more than anything else. I guess it’s also possible that the food chain has been so disrupted  by garbage and climate change that they just don’t have the same food available now that they’ve had in the past. In any case, the Albatross population at Midway has been eating a lot of it.

Click on an image to enlarge it

If you stick your hand into the sand at Midway, you can pull up an array of colored particles. Some people call this “new sand” – it’s plastic that has broken down into smaller pieces. The smallest are called nano-plastics and end up in plankton and become part of the food chain.

They’ve tried to stay ahead of the garbage on Midway, cleaning it up and flying it out – but it’s hopeless. Too much new garbage washes ashore every day or is flown in by the birds.  Midway will certainly disappear under the ocean before any of the plastic  decays. For now, they’re shoveling plastic against the tide.

As always, a few dedicated souls are doing what they can to reverse the damage. You can see what the Friends of Midway are up to. But obviously action on a much larger scale is required.

Are you optimistic?

A day like any other

Trump needlessly picks a Twitter fight with Chuck Jones, a union leader at Carrier who criticized him and his “saving” of all those jobs.

Trump selects a climate-change denier, Scott Pruitt, to head he E.P.A., a department whose very mission he disagrees with.  You can’t really be surprised by this kind of thing anymore.

Sean Spicer, the spokesman for the RNC, was on PBS Newshour. Asked about the appointment, Spicer said all Trump appointees are there to advance the Trump agenda. He also asserted that Trump’s sons are hunters and therefore environmentalists, even if their views differ from the “radical left” environmentalists, apparently referring to those of us that would like clean air and water and believe government can help with this.

Also, Spicer was asked if Trump stood by his  assertion that three million people had voted illegally.  Spicer said, “of course he does and that’s based on several academic reports…” He’s apparently referring to some already debunked nonsense.

It goes without saying  that Spicer said these and other things with a straight face (and a defensive, combative tone),  and may even believe them.

Trump’s term hasn’t even started and I can’t wait for it to be over.


Fake news, real consequences

With Trump and his team, you never know whether they’re putting out bullshit because it’s great strategy or because they actually believe it.

So, by now you all know that fake news was invented and disseminated by Michael G. Flynn of the Trump transition team. He put out the “news” that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the back room of a pizza shop in D.C.

Makes sense, right? Why wouldn’t she? Many people were outraged by this and one idiot charged in and shot the place up.

Flynn is the son of Trump’s national security adviser selection, Michael T. Flynn. The senior Flynn also has a tenuous grip on reality and is known among colleagues for his “Flynn Facts”.

The New York Times and Washington Post debunked the fake news, but apparently not everyone reads those publications. Go figure.

But here’s the thing. Wouldn’t you think that after this, people would at least understand that this particular thing was made-up and that fake news has the potential to cause real havoc?

No. The internet doesn’t work that way. Instead, we have a new revelation. The shooter was an actor and  “the whole thing was a psyop” , a “false flag Hegelian dialectic problem-reaction-solution event”. Wake up, sheeple!

The engineers who conceived the internet knew it could be the greatest tool ever invented to share knowledge world-wide, a way to further understanding among disparate peoples across the globe, a place where facts would reign and everyone would have instantaneous access to them.

It hasn’t worked out that way. The internet is a firehouse blasting out disinformation, conspiracy theories, fake news, and lies. And the people who understand this best and can manipulate it to their advantage will lead us.

A day that will live in infamy

Seventy-Five years ago tomorrow, 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes launched from six aircraft carriers sneak-attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor.


There were eight battleships in the harbor. All were damaged and four were sunk. The Japanese also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and a mine layer. 188 aircraft were destroyed.

2403 Americans were killed. 64 Japanese attackers died.

America declared war on Japan the next day, and less than four years later, Japan, its population and resources exhausted and its cities in smoldering ruins, surrendered unconditionally.


Uh, what was the question again?

With the help of U.S. largess in the form of the Marshall Plan and the Allied Council led by Douglas MacArthur. Germany and Japan were rebuilt and gradually became economic superpowers that rival the U.S. Neither had to spend any money on their defense over the decades, and, along with everyone else, relied on the U.S. to be the world’s policeman.

Sixty years later, there was another sneak attack on American soil.


There were 2877 Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks, hundreds more than were killed at Pearl Harbor. Unlike Pearl Harbor, they were almost all civilians. Enemy losses: the 19 attackers died.

The whole world was aghast, and, for at least a few days, supported us.  They said, “We are all Americans”.

Student officers display a US giant nati

We are all Americans

After the 9/11 attacks, again unlike Pearl Harbor, the U.S. did not declare war on anyone. No war was declared on Saudi Arabia where almost all of the attackers came from, where the poisonous ideology behind the attacks was created and spread, and where the money and support for the attackers originated. Neither was war declared on Afghanistan, where the attackers had been given sanctuary to plan and train for the attacks,  and where the Taliban regime protected them as honored guests.

The U.S. figured the response should be a surgical one since, after all, the attack was launched by a only handful of fanatics, who certainly could not represent a widespread ideology or “movement”. We’re not the bad guys, after all, and the whole world supports us. Right?

Nothing happened for a few weeks while we ruminated on how to respond. Then, with smoke still rising at the World Trade Center, an operation was undertaken to root out the plotters in their mountain hideout.


But first, we thought we should re-create the success of the Marshall plan – no need to wait until we’ve beaten the bad guys. We need to win over the hearts and minds of all the poor people in Afghanistan who must hate the Taliban and who will regard us as liberators and saviors. And who would really like a western-style democracy, like everyone else. Right?

We started dropping not bombs but food on Afghanistan. They’ll love this! But it wasn’t that simple. They didn’t love it. They found fault. They liked to eat rice, bread, and meat but we were giving them peanut butter and beans and other things they didn’t care for.

They usually eat with their hands, but each American kit contained plastic cutlery and packs of salt and pepper! The directions on each packet were printed in English, French and Spanish; but Afghans speak Dari!

And the packages were the wrong color – they looked like bombs! And one hit a guy’s roof and caused some damage! And it wasn’t enough! They needed shoes, clothing, and meat, they said.

International aid agencies criticized us for combining military and humanitatian missions.

In other words, we’re monsters.

And we didn’t get the bad guys, either. They walked over to Pakistan and lived in protected luxury for another decade, plotting, propagandizing, and stirring up trouble the whole while.

Fifteen years after the attacks, the “war” is still going on, Americans are still dying in Afghanistan, and the entire region is in turmoil. And, all over the world, the “We are all Americans” thing is done forever, an embarrassing relic like your high school yearbook picture.

Where did it all go wrong?

Well, we weren’t doing too too well in Afghanistan, so, on March 20, 2003, we invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks, and whose leadership hated the people responsible for them. It’s as if, after Pearl Harbor, we had decided to kick China’s ass. This, of course, is precisely what bin Laden had hoped for.

George W. Bush has been asked many times since then whether he thought the Iraq invasion was a mistake, and has almost always answered that “history will ultimately judge”. He is a content man.

Well, George, history’s verdict is in. March 20, 2003 is a day that will live in infamy.


We are villains

In Can Life Prevail, Pentti Linkola writes,

“The US is the most wretchedly villainous state of all times. Anyone aware of global issues can easily imagine how vast the hatred for the United States – a corrupted, swollen, paralysing and suffocating political entity – must be across the Third World – and among the thinking minority of the West too.”

Clodovis Boff writes,

“The U.S. will never be a free and happy nation while they continue to exploit and marginalize the Third World. The Third World will never be happy or free so long as there is a First World stuck in the mire of consumerism, alienation, indifference.

WTF? How did we get here? How are we not only the bad guys, but the worst guys?

After WWII, we not only built our own economy, but helped improve the economic condition of people all around the world. Between 1970 and the 2008 financial crisis, global output quadrupled.

The number of people living in extreme poverty in developing countries fell from 42 percent in 1993 to 17 percent in 2011.

The percentage of children born in developing countries who died before their fifth birthday declined from 22 percent in 1960 to less than 5 percent by 2016.

Francis Fukuyama writes,

Yet statistics like these do not reflect the lived experience of many people. The shift of manufacturing from the West to low labor-cost regions has meant that Asia’s rising middle classes have grown at the expense of rich countries’ working-class communities. And from a cultural standpoint, the huge movement of ideas, people and goods across national borders has disrupted traditional communities and ways of doing business. For some this has presented tremendous opportunity, but for others it is a threat.

This disruption has been closely associated with the growth of American power and the liberal world order that the United States has shaped since the end of World War II. Understandably, there has been blowback, both against the United States and within the nation.

John F. Kennedy had understood these issues well. When he accepted his party’s nomination, he invented the “third world” idea, saying,

“Abroad, the balance of power is shifting. There are new and more terrible weapons–new and uncertain nations–new pressures of population and deprivation. One-third of the world, it has been said, may be free- -but one-third is the victim of cruel repression–and the other one- third is rocked by the pangs of poverty, hunger and envy. More energy is released by the awakening of these new nations than by the fission of the atom itself.”

 And in his inaugural address,  he said,

“If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

But JFK is long gone. We are embarking on the era of DJT.

Will our position in the world be improved in the coming years? Will the U.S. be less hated or hated even more? Will our petulant man-baby engage with these issues?


You can’t eat money

Or breathe it.

Yesterday we had lunch with a woman from Beijing who mentioned how ironic it is that since the incoming American administration will be led by a climate-change denier and loaded with rich people who think environmental concerns are a left-wing conspiracy,  China will now have to take a world leadership role in this area.

Yes, we said. Why don’t the Kochs and their minions understand the threat here? Don’t rich people have to breathe the same air as poor people after all?

Turns out the answer is, no, they don’t. In China, you see, people who can afford it live in homes and work in offices where advanced technology has been deployed to keep the air cleaner than clean. Special filters and pressurization systems make sure that the upper crust never have to breathe the poison that most people there now see as normal.

In the U.S., the Dakota Access Pipeline is a project meant to reduce the cost of transporting crude oil. It’s an 1172 mile long pipe crossing four states and costing billions, and has been resisted by several small groups of activists supporting the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux, who fear it will ruin their drinking water and desecrate sacred burial sites. It’s supposed to go underneath a lake that serves as their reservoir.


Yesterday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit that would allow construction through the Standing Rock area. This is a huge victory for the opposition, but it’s never over until it’s over. And the oil companies usually find a way to get what they want.

Two firms involved, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics, attacked the move as a “purely political action”. They accused the White House of abandoning the rule of law “in favor of currying favor with a narrow and extreme political constituency”.

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will become president. Hope you like the taste of money.


Donald J. Trump, Diplomat

So the man-baby isn’t even president yet and he’s already got India and China pissed off. With his free-wheeling tweet-it-from-the-gut style and his inability to take in information from people that actually know something, a couple of phone calls is all it took.

If someone calls him to congratulate him on being a fantastic guy, that person is his new Best Friend Forever and can do no wrong, at least until some criticism from that BFF reaches his ears, and then it’s twitter tantrum time. No need to look at a map to try to figure out where the BFF is calling from or what our relationship with his country or its neighbors might have been for decades.

If it’s Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, a really tremendous person BTW,  what’s that got to do with U.S. policy  in China anyway? You say no president-elect, or president, has spoken to a Taiwan leader since Washington cut formal diplomatic ties with Taipei and recognized the People’s Republic in 1979? I say, pffft. If China doesn’t like it well it’s #TimeToGetTough

The people who think Trump is playing checkers regard this as reckless blundering. The people who think he’s playing chess say it’s a calculated move to respond to Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. I’m holding off my judgement until it’s been demonstrated that Trump can correctly point to the South China Sea on a map without Kellyanne Conway in the room. Or until someone convinces me Trump knows how to play checkers.

Back in 2012, Trump tweeted,

“Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect — and much worse #TimeToGetTough”

But that was before Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a really tremendous person BTW, called him to say what a fantastic guy he is, and, bingo, all that touchy terrorism stuff is forgotten. Never happened. Don’t worry about it.

According to the Prime Minister,

“President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”

What’s that you say? India and Pakistan don’t get along very well? Hmm. Well, uh, has anyone from India called to tell me I’m a fantastic guy? Not yet? Well, there’s the problem.

The good news is that Kellyanne Conway assures us that Trump has been fully briefed before talking to any world leader. Whew. That’s a relief. You had me going there for a minute.