The Coming Environmental Collapse?

"The purpose of this report is to imagine the unthinkable." So begins a recent paper, prepared at the request of the Department of Defense, on the consequences of global warming for America's national security. The authors grapple with a deliberately constructed worst-case scenario, in which gradually rising temperatures cause a collapse of the "Ocean Conveyor" that carries warm Gulf Stream waters northward, keeping Europe disproportionately temperate. (Britain, for instance, is tropical compared with Labrador, on the same latitude.) Such a collapse, which last happened 8,200 years ago (after a period of rising temperatures similar to our own), would chill the North Atlantic region dramatically—Sweden would turn to tundra; the Riviera would become like the Maine coast—and potentially inflict extreme floods and droughts on large swaths of the world. In such a future, the authors warn, wars would be caused "by a desperate need for natural resources ... rather than by conflicts over ideology, religion, or national honor." The EU would fall apart, as residents of the Netherlands, England, and Scandinavia abandoned frigid Northern Europe; China would struggle to feed its population, dueling with Russia and a rearmed Japan for Siberian resources; mass migrations and persistent conflict would sweep the Middle East and the nuclear-armed Subcontinent. The United States—though "positioned well" compared with other countries—would be in a "continuous state of emergency," and compelled to integrate militarily with Mexico and Canada in order to contend with an enormous flow of would-be immigrants from Europe and the starvation-racked Caribbean.

"An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security," Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, Global Business Network

Turnabout Is Fair Play

In February the State Department released its annual reports on human-rights abuses in 196 countries and regions; a 50,000-word report on China documented extra-judicial killings, religious persecution, torture, and the detention of 250,000 Chinese in "reeducation-through-labor" camps. Not to be outdone, China's State Council a week later released "The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2003." The report, reproduced in full in the ruling party's official People's Daily, begins, "As in previous years, the United States once again acted as 'the world human rights police' by distorting and censuring ... the human rights situations across more than 190 countries and regions in the world, including China. And just as usual, the United States once again 'omitted' its own long-standing malpractice and problems of human rights in the 'reports.' Therefore, we have to, as before, help the United States keep its human rights record." With a smattering of items drawn from U.S. news reports and Web sites, China highlights America's chronic problems—a high murder rate, a huge and rapidly growing prison population, increases in child poverty, and a rising number of people without health insurance—and fleshes out the story with anecdotes of Patriot Act abuses, school shootings, and police brutality. Political freedom is said to be a sham: "The presidential election, often symbolized as U.S. democracy, in fact is the game and competition for the rich people." As for the First Amendment, "the so-called 'freedom of press' ... speech and expression of opinion in the United States is amid a crisis," exemplified by the Jayson Blair scandal and NBC's decision to fire Peter Arnett for comments unsympathetic to the U.S. on Iraqi state television. The report accuses the United States of "sabre-rattling and launching wars," and lavishes particular attention on civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2003," Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China

An Iraqi Jerusalem?

For a preview of the ethnic wrangling that may await post-occupation Iraq, consider the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where three people were killed and thirty-one injured in December when 2,000 Arabs took to the streets to protest not American but, rather, Kurdish rule. As a new survey compiled by the Norwegian Refugee Council points out, for twenty years northern Iraq's Kurds were the victims of Saddam Hussein—first in a 1970s program of "Arabisation," which forced Kurds and other non-Arabs to either sign a form "correcting their nationality" or be evicted from the region (their homes were given to Shia Arabs from central and southern Iraq), and then in the 1988 Al-Anfal campaign, in which Saddam's government ordered mass executions and gassed entire villages (180,000 Kurds are now unaccounted for and presumed dead, 800,000 were displaced, and 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed). Since Saddam's fall, however, the Kurds have begun moving south into their lost lands; their return (and the fear of retaliation) has driven 100,000 Arabs from their homes, mainly in Kirkuk. The Arabs, many of whom are currently squatting in abandoned military installations or camping out next to their destroyed homes, claim that the Kurdish authorities hope ultimately to incorporate Kirkuk, which sits on some of the richest oil reserves in Iraq, into an autonomous Kurdish region. Given that Kurds have been "exposed to direct or indirect pressure to return [to Kirkuk] by the Kurdish Regional Government," there would seem to be grounds for such suspicion.

"Internally Displaced Persons in Iraq: Patterns of Return and Resettlement," Global IDP Project of the Norwegian Refugee Council


The News About the News

Today NBC Nightly News is the highest rated of the network evening-news programs, yet its Nielsen ratings are 11 percent lower than they were in 1994, when it occupied the No. 3 position. Collectively the networks have seen their nightly-news ratings decline by 34 percent over the past decade; local TV news is losing audience just as rapidly; and the cable-TV audience stopped growing in 2001. All this is part of an "epochal transformation" in journalism, according to a lengthy "State of the News Media" survey conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The report argues that budget cuts have left TV news teams trimmer and consequently less thorough, often leading to one-sided reporting. Even as journalistic quality declines, however, the television-news business remains wildly profitable: in 2003 the three major nightly newscasts generated half a billion dollars in revenue for the networks, and CNN earned $351 million. Meanwhile, local news delivered 40 percent of station revenues even though it made up only 16 percent of programming.

"The State of the News Media 2004," Project for Excellence in Journalism


"Fancy Starts at $2.5 Million"

If you're interested in buying an extravagant home, the most expensive property on the U.S. market is a $75 million spread in Bridgehampton, Long Island, that includes a 25,000-square-foot main house, a nine-hole golf course, three large ponds, and a 3,000-bottle wine cellar. But million-dollar homes aren't just for people who like to golf in their back yards. According to a recent report from Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, the number of owner-occupied U.S. homes valued at a million dollars or more increased by 170 percent from 1989 to 2001 (the total number of homeowners grew by only 21 percent); the average price of such houses now stands at roughly $1.7 million. A full 41 percent of the nation's million-dollar houses are in California, and five percent of them are within the Los Angeles city limits alone. But for concentration of expensive houses L.A. can't compete with Cambridge, Massachusetts, where 11.6 percent of all single-family dwellings cost $1 million or more—though $1 million buys only about 1,800 square feet in crowded Cambridge. There, locals say, "fancy starts at $2.5 million."

"'Million-Dollar Homes' and Wealth in the United States," Zhu Xiao Di, Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard University

Tax Pirates of the Caribbean

It's old news by now that U.S. corporations like to run subsidiary companies in those nations (mainly of the small and tropical variety) that levy little or no corporate income tax. But it's particularly galling when major federal contractors do so—and according to a new GAO report, fifty-nine of the nation's 100 largest publicly traded government contractors reported running at least one subsidiary in a "tax haven" country in 2001. Four of the fifty-nine are actually incorporated in such countries—one in Panama and three in Bermuda, including the scandal-plagued Tyco International. (Another thirty-five are incorporated in Delaware, whose famously pro-corporate laws and courts could be said to make it the Bermuda of the United States.) The report is careful to note that "the simple existence of a subsidiary in a tax haven country does not signify that a corporation has established that subsidiary primarily for ... reducing its overall tax burden." Still, a few examples seem particularly suspicious—such as Xerox's ten subsidiaries in Bermuda, and Boeing's ninety-six foreign subsidiaries, twenty-four of them in the Virgin Islands. Then there is the Delaware-incorporated Halliburton, which received more than $500 million in government contracts in 2001, even as it was running some thirteen foreign subsidiaries out of the Cayman Islands.

"Information on Federal Contractors With Offshore Subsidiaries," General Accounting Office