The Reason Review is changing. Our original intention was to present you with the biggest news stories of the month and summarise them in snappy paragraphs — like a fun-sized Reuters article, or a jumbo tweet — to take the stress out of keeping abreast of world events.
It was good for a while, but then we found that the same sort of thing would pop up every month. The Trump juggernaut rolled through the next state, a psychodrama bubbled in the House of Commons, a public figure made a gaffe, yet another sport turned out to be a festering mass of corruption and intrigue.
All of this is important — the intrigue, the psychodrama, the resistible rise — but you probably know about it already. Weapons of Reason does not yet have a news team in every major capital (although we are looking into it) and it’s not the biggest headlines that really excite us.
From now on, we’ll be trying to go beyond the headlines and find the stories and angles the newspapers have missed. We want to give you the extra context behind the bigger stories, explain to you why some seemingly smaller events matter and offer you something more interesting and informative than the simple facts. It’s still a work in progress, so watch this space…
Exxon Mobil For Humanity
Rex Tillerson, CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil, said that limiting oil use was “unacceptable for humanity”.
Speaking at Exxon’s annual meeting in Dallas, Tillerson argued that green technology was not sufficiently advanced to significantly limit fossil fuel use. Fighting back demands from shareholders that the company acknowledge the impact of climate change, Tillerson said that “the immediate needs of humanity… poverty, starvation, broad-based disease control,” had to take precedence over curtailing oil use.
Activists gathered outside the convention centre to picket the shareholders inside, turning up with placards, banners and a giant block of ice. But the CEO faced staunch opposition inside the conference hall too, as 11 resolutions were filed calling for Exxon to respond to rising global temperatures. A Dominican nun, Sister Patricia Daly, filed a resolution that would have compelled the company to accept that limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius was “an imperative.”
Last year, an investigation revealed that Exxon knew about climate change as early as 1977 — over a decade before it became a major public issue — thanks to their own research. Rather than investing in renewable alternatives, the company ploughed money into climate change denial. Greenpeace estimates that since 1998, Exxon has sent $22 million to groups seeking to discredit climate science.
Higher and Higher
2015 was the warmest year on record. Now, it looks as if 2016 will clinch this dubious honour. Climate scientists predict — some with “99 percent certainty” — that this year’s temperatures will be higher than ever. Of the first four months of the year, three (February, March and April) were the hottest ever recorded, with the average temperature in April 1.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement on climate change, signed in December of last year, aimed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, which may already be slipping out of reach.
These record high temperatures were exacerbated by the strongest El Niño in 35 years. A period of warming in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, El Niño occurs once every few years, affecting weather patterns across the world. The phenomenon came to an end in late May, but it has already led to almost 100 million people suffering from food insecurity and water shortages.
Finance ministers of the 19 eurozone countries agreed to release €10.3 billion of bailout funds to Greece.
Negotiations were deadlocked as eurozone leaders and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) locked horns. The IMF — one of Greece’s main creditors — have been pushing for a more lenient approach to Greek debt, calling for portions to be dropped entirely. Christine Lagarde, director of the IMF, said that EU predictions that Greece could pay off its debts and achieve a 3.5% budget surplus were a “far-fetched fantasy.”
In the end, the IMF were forced to back down: there will be no debt reduction for Greece this time. Eurozone leaders, particularly the Germans, almost certainly had one eye on next year’s Federal Elections. In Germany, compromise on Greek debt is highly unpopular, as people feel that they are footing the bill for the profligacy of southern Europeans.
This week, former finance minister and leather-clad Marxist Yanis Varoufakis gave his take; Negotiations, he said, are like a particularly intense game of chicken with the rest of the eurozone. The key to winning? “My view was we don’t swerve. We just commit. We just shut our eyes and go, let anything they want to do take place.”
Varoufakis’ assessment, despite lending an easy comeback to those who said he would have driven Greece off a cliff, reveals a conflict at the heart of the EU. Maintaining a common currency requires imposing fiscal discipline on eurozone members. Push this economic line too hard, and eurozone leaders risk undermining the EU’s original political purpose — to build solidarity between nations.
Right On The Rise
The far-right was narrowly defeated in the Austrian presidential election, with Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) candidate Norbert Hofer losing to Alexander van der Bellen of the Green Party by just 30,000 votes.
The FPÖ was originally founded by former SS members in the 1950s, and has its roots in the Pan-German political traditions of Nazism. It still peddles anti-immigrant rhetoric, and Hofer himself has worn the blue cornflower, a symbol banned in Austria due to its links with the Nazi past. The centrist consensus in place since the end of the Second World War seems to be crumbling, with political polarisation between left-leaning urban areas and the more reactionary countryside increasingly pronounced.
The strength of the FPÖ is part of a broader rise in popularity of the far-right across Europe, accompanied by the decline of centre parties.
En route from Paris to Cairo, EgyptAir flight 804 disappeared from radar over the Mediterranean in the early hours of the morning. Body parts and wreckage from the plane were later recovered, and all 66 people on board are presumed dead. The pilots did not send a distress signal and the cause of the crash is unknown.
The Egyptian aviation minister stated that terrorism was the most likely explanation, but any analysis remains purely speculative. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the crash, and none of the passengers on board were on watch lists. The mystery is unlikely to be solved until the aircraft’s black box is recovered from the bed of the Mediterranean.
The air disaster is the third to hit Egyptian aviation in just under a year. In November, a bomb on board a Russian jet exploded over the Sinai desert, killing everyone on board. Islamic State claimed responsibility, saying that the bombing had been in retaliation for Russian air strikes on Syria. Then in March a man wearing an explosive belt hijacked an EgyptAir flight in Cyprus. The hijacker eventually surrendered to the police, his belt a fake, cobbled together from old iPhone cases.
Although there has been a spate of high profile air disasters since 2014, flying is still the safest way to travel — about 3,000 times safer than riding a motorbike. Fly with the safest airlines, and your odds of dying on a flight are around 1 in 19 million.
Donald Trump became the last man standing in the Republican race for the Presidential nomination, as Ted Cruz and John Kasich withdrew on the 3rd and 4th of May, respectively. It is now almost certain that Trump will contest the 2016 Presidential election, most likely against Hillary Clinton.
Trump is highly unpopular with senior figures in his own party, and several Republican grandees have refused to endorse him. The entire Bush family has withheld support, with Jeb Bush saying that he would abstain from voting the Presidential election rather than punch a hole next to Trump.
Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has also been reluctant to give the billionaire his seal of approval. Whereas Trump’s immigration policy favours populism and blunt instruments — deportations and a massive wall — Ryan is keen to help the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US achieve legal residency; not exactly a crowd pleaser amongst the Republican grassroots, and a huge sticking point in Trump and Ryan’s political relationship.
Recent opinion polls suggest that a Presidential race between Clinton and Trump would be incredibly close, with some suggesting that the latter may have a slight lead. In the words of one election analyst, it’s probably time to panic.
Eurovision Cold War
International conflict took on a lyrical note as Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest with a politically-charged ballad. 1944, sung by Ukrainian singer-songwriter Jamala, is about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. What it lacked in poetry (“When strangers are coming/They come to your house/They kill you all), it seemed to make up for in coded allusions to Russian aggression.
The Russian annexation of the Crimea has been fiercely opposed by the majority of Crimean Tatars, most of whom were only permitted to return to their homeland in the 1980s. Many view the deportation as a Soviet-instigated genocide, and fear that their civil and political rights will not be protected by the Russian state.
If the song was a brazen slap in the face, it was lost on the Russian people, who voted for Jamala in droves. The Ukrainian entry didn’t actually win the phone-in vote, coming second to Russia, but won on the jury vote. Some Russian media outlets immediately decried this result as a great anti-Putin fix, labelling juries from all corners of Europe as viciously anti-Putin. A strange accusation, given that the Russian jury placed Jamala second from bottom.
Weapons of Reason issue #3: The New Old, is available to order now.