Lack of Environment

A blog on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems

Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

Tearfund has unearthed the truth!

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Fantastic news today!  Tearfund, a UK based Christian charity focused on promoting overseas aid and development, has announced the success of its ‘Unearth the Truth’ campaign.  As of today, the EU has implemented new Transparency Laws that will make it much harder for corrupt governments and companies around the world to trade with the EU.  Here is the news in Tearfund’s own words…

We’ve unearthed the truth!

As we approach the G8 summit, all eyes are on world leaders to take action on hunger. But we also wanted to let you know some great news about our ‘Unearth the Truth’ campaign.
Recently European leaders made a provisional deal to implement strong transparency laws in the extractive industries – and now it’s official!
Today, the European Parliament, voted in new laws making all big oil gas and mining companies owned in Europe publish what they pay to local and national governments.
This is a crucial step in the fight against poverty. More open and transparent payments mean citizens and churches can see more of the revenue from natural resources invested in their communities, and less of it lost to corruption in secret.
Thank you for all the ways you’ve backed the Unearth the Truth campaign – from lobbying your MEPs to praying. It is because of your support that these laws have become a reality!Thank you.The Campaigns Team.
www.tearfund.org/unearth

Written by Martin Lack

12 June 2013 at 14:00

Memo to Osborne, Merkel, Cyprus and the World

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Dear George Osborne, Chancellor Merkel, EU Commission, Citizens of Cyprus, and people everywhere,

I would like to hereby remind you of what Richard Heinberg said in his book The End of Growth.  Here is a quick audio-visual summary:

Please accept my condolences for your loss(es) and my sincerest wish that you will now stop lying to yourselves; and face-up to the nature of reality.

Regards,

Martin Lack.

Further to the comment by Lionel Smith (below), this is what page 159 of Stephen Hawking’s The Universe in a Nutshell looks like:
universe in nutshell p159
This is the problem that we have with exponential growth.

Who wants cleaner cars in the EU then?

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With apologies for the delay, here is the latest email received from Greenpeace:

VW has now turned away from the Dark Side

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Hi Martin,

Right now, we have a huge chance to help save the Arctic.

To tackle the threats posed by the disappearing ice and the invasion of oil drillers – like Shell – we need to reduce the world’s thirst for oil. We can do that by making greener cars. And the good news is we’ve already begun.

Politicians are right now deciding the rules for the next generation of European cars. Let’s demand tough laws to make them greener. [i.e. the deadline is tomorrow]

We know this can be done. When we first asked VW to make their cars cleaner and more efficient, they said it wasn’t possible. Then 526,000 of us piled pressure on VW and helped persuade the biggest and most powerful car company in Europe that clean technology is possible. That’s something we can be proud of. Now it’s time to move the whole of Europe (and the world) forward.

Push your European representatives on strong targets for cleaner cars and help reduce the world’s thirst for oil.

This isn’t just about our continent. If we make these big wins here, the global car market will feel the pressure to keep up with innovation in Europe. That means we could see less polluting cars in countries like China and the US too. That’s better for the Arctic, the air we breathe and the stability of our global climate.

Over the next few months European politicians are making decisions that will affect every new car in Europe – this is a huge opportunity – so let’s make sure we send the strongest possible message. We know that these politicians aren’t used to getting thousands of messages from people like us, so this could really have an impact.

Together we can show the world what can be done,

Nic and all the Greenpeace crew

PS Of course, not everyone drives – I don’t – and your bicycle is the most efficient vehicle you can use. But cars are a big part of society today, so please help make cars cleaner in Europe (and the world).

PPS You may have heard about the No Dash For Gas heroes who shut down a polluting gas power station last year and were being sued by owners EDF for £5m in an attempt to stifle peaceful protest. This week, we heard the amazing news is that, after nearly 65,000 people signed a petition, EDF have backed down! The activists still face criminal charges and you can get the latest updates on their website.

Life is full of tough choices…

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…but this isn’t one of them.

Or is it?
The trouble is, of course, that removing all the subsidies and tax breaks given to the fossil fuel industry (which are delaying the creation of a free market in power generation) will make fossil fuels even more expensive.

In the USA, the fiscal cliff was narrowly avoided by last-minute agreement on budget cuts (hence the above choice). However, the fiscal cliff arose out of over-spending and economic stagnation; and both of these can be blamed – at least in part – on rising fuel prices.

In the UK, fossil fuels are already more than twice as expensive as they are in the USA (as they have been for decades). However, as a result of a weakening currency, they are now expected to reach an all-time record next month.

Even if we ignore the impossibility of perpetual growth in resource consumption and waste generation on a finite planet — and the consequential reality that we cannot rely on perpetual economic growth to pay-off the massive debts denying it has caused — we all need power to heat and light our homes; and get us to and from work.

The end of the era of cheap energy is therefore cited by many as the reason for the end of growth.  This is a reality the World urgently needs to take on board.  This will require radical thinking; and radical changes in policy in all areas of government policy.  Thus, Richard Heinberg has been proven right:

Is it time to go “cold turkey”?
Sadly, electric cars are not going to be the answer; unless the electricity is generated from renewable or nuclear energy.  Therefore, since the latter will take decades to become a reality – and our governments are still not doing as much as they could to invest in renewable energy – power generation capacity is clearly developing into a serious problem.

Here in the UK, we are facing a double-whammy: Record-breaking high fuel prices and the EU-enforced early-retirement of 10% of our oldest (and most-polluting) coal-fired power stations.  Therefore, unless we, as individual consumers, invest in renewable energy, we will soon be paying more than ever for something whose supply will be more uncertain than ever.  Believe me, if I could install solar PV panels on my roof I would.  Sadly, without a job, I cannot.

Sadly, too, opposition to the radical solutions needed for us to resolve our problems is unwelcome irrespective of its origin: Denying that we have a problem is just as much an impediment to implementing solutions as is disregarding potential solutions for ideological reasons.  For example, if our governments had not given up on fast breed reactor programmes in the 1980s (as a consequence of the campaign for nuclear disarmament mutating into ideological opposition to civil nuclear power generation) we would probably by now have solved the technical problems and be extracting uranium from sea water (wherein there is more of it than there is beneath our feet).
http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/our-three-biggest-problems-solved/

Must we embrace nuclear power?
In the long-run, yes, I think we must. The only thing that will make this unnecessary is the increasing possibility that Nature will soon intervene – and reduce the global human population to pre-Industrial levels (i.e. 1 billion). However, in the meantime, an awful lot of poor people need low-tech solutions. The good news is that such solutions definitely exist and, as Stephen Leahy pointed out over the weekend (reposting an item from over 3 years ago): “Bringing clean energy to billions costs far less than fossil fuel subsidies”.

Will we choose to fail or choose to succeed?
Just how long, I wonder, until expensive energy (and therefore expensive food) causes social instability?

What will our governments do then?  Admit they were wrong and make radical changes, or send the Army on to the streets to maintain order?  Sadly, I think we know the answer to that one – Jared Diamond gave it to us several years ago:
http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/jared-diamonds-warning-from-history/

Wonderous Stories from Greenpeace (let us hope for more)

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Hi Martin,

We’ve done it again – more good news!

European politicians voted overwhelmingly in favour of radical, progressive reform of our fishing laws. A “victory for citizen power” is how Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, described it. So, well done citizens!

Together we set out to achieve what seemed like an impossible challenge: to reform the infamous Common Fisheries Policy – the package of broken laws that have depleted our fish stocks and devastated fishing communities across Europe.

Previously, huge industrial interests have held our seas to ransom, emptying our waters for profit. But then thousands of us stepped in to help. Cooperation between campaign groups, fishermen, champion politicians, retailers, and celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, all made sure that our MEPs could not ignore what we wanted: real change to protect our fragile seas.

So what’s in the new measures? A ban on discards: the cynical practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea to meet fishing quotas. The changes also reward responsible fishing and set catch limits in line with the best scientific advice. Importantly, new rules to improve the behaviour of European boats wherever they fish, anywhere in the world. Now, we stand a real chance of achieving a fish-filled future.

There are more hurdles ahead. The next stage will require agreement from European fisheries ministers (and that could take months). But let’s take a moment to enjoy this, and reflect on how much we have achieved.

Let’s keep going!

Nic and the whole Greenpeace community

PS There is more work to do. Unsustainable industry players won’t give up easily. So please consider donating to help safeguard the future of our seas and our fishing communities.

End ecocide in Europe (and the World)

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I am not sure what good it will do unless the whole World decides to stop self-harming as well but…

Image credit : End Ecocide in Europe

If you live in the EU please sign-up here to help stop ecocide in Europe (thanks Pendantry).

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One way to stop Ecocide in Europe would be to stop Hydraulic Fracturing from going ahead in your neighbourhood.  The best way to do this would be to form or join a local protest group:  See the Frack-Off website for details.

As a hydrogeologist who has spent many years working on Landfill sites, I am well acquainted with methane; and how it is better to burn it than to let it escape into the atmosphere.  Therefore, even if you discount all the immediate environmental hazards associated with fracking, you should be very concerned about the uncontrolled releases of methane that will occur if fracking becomes common practice.  As per my recent blog post, Stephen Leahy explains why here.

Meanwhile, on the subject of those immediate environmental risks, here is the inside story from someone who was, until comparatively recently, directly involved; environmental scientist Jessica Ernst (thanks Christine).

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Ultimately, of course, ecocide will only be avoided if we stop doing the things that are causing it.  And the main thing we are doing that is causing it – is growing in numbers in the absence of predators; consuming exponentially-increasing amounts of food and water; and producing exponentially-increasing amounts of waste.  This is no idle piece of misanthropic rhetoric – it is a cold hard fact.

Louise Gray published a short article on the Telegraph website yesterday, in which she cites Sir David Attenborough as having described humans as a plague on the Earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth.  This has attracted an  an awful lot of attention and comment; most of it negative; and some of it very unpleasant.  What I find most astonishing is the inability of so many admittedly-self-selected people to appreciate the difference between ideology and science.   Furthermore, despite little evidence of scientific training in many of their comments, they seem content to accuse Attenborough of being a bad scientist; a bad person; and of peddling bad ideology.  All this reality inversion prompted this comment from me:

Absolutely stupendous amounts of Dunning-Kruger Effect in evidence here:  Despite the fact that only 49% of the population can be better-than-average at doing anything — and a far smaller percentage are likely to know what they are talking about in this instance — the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas is clearly the intellectual fortress to which the ideologically-prejudiced retreat when confronted with the scientific realities of Nature.

A few hours earlier I had found it necessary to respond to a particularly stupid assertion (that every human could be given 1000 square feet and there would still be room for plenty more) by saying this:

You need to look up the terms “ecological carrying capacity” and “overpopulation” in a reputable scientific dictionary.  The latter is dependent on the former – which is specific to local conditions – so even one person per square mile makes a desert overpopulated.

If you think that a seven-fold increase in the human population since the Industrial Revolution is not a problem – especially as we are running out of the “cheap” energy that facilitated it – you are picking a fight with basic biological science: Populations of any species are limited by food supply and by predation.  Humans have no predators but, having ignored (or disputed) the warnings for decades, we are now beginning to see people fighting over access to clean water and food; or at very least complaining about the price of life’s essentials – hence the Arab Spring.

The writing is very much on the wall.  We ignore it (or dispute the fact that it is there) at our peril.

I am afraid REDD is not Green

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In my search for employment I have recently come across FERN – a European non-governmental organisation (NGO) seeking to improve the way the EU deals with the issues surrounding deforestation. FERN certainly has picked a very difficult nut to crack. However, to understand how the UN is now failing to solve the problem of deforestation, one has to understand how, over the last 20 years or so, it has failed to solve the much bigger problem of climate change.

From its very earliest days, the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process has pursued the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). This supposedly committed each developed country (and/or Annex I party) to “corresponding measures on the mitigation of climate change, by limiting its anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and protecting and enhancing its greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs” [Clause 2(a) of the UNFCCC]. However, it took 5 years to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol; which included the principles of joint implementation (JI); the clean development mechanism (CDM); and putting a price on pollution through emissions trading (ET). Critics have denounced the latter as allowing speculators to make money out of trading in pollution permits; the non-ratification of the Kyoto treaty by the USA did not help; and an awful lot of time has been wasted arguing about what exactly CBDR means.

In recent years, the UN has sought to address the multi-faceted problem of deforestation through its Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). Unfortunately, REDD is widely seen as failing because:
(1) It has allowed polluters to purchase forested land (and so prevent its destruction) as an alternative to reducing their pollution (ET); and
(2) It has encouraged land owners to make money from forested land by replacing native forest with commercial plantations such as palm oil.

The UN has responded with its REDD+ programme – designed to encourage the conservation of biodiverse old-growth forest rather than their replacement with monocultures – but this too is widely seen as failing (because ET is failing).

This is a subject I intend to explore in more detail but, for now, I would like to encourage all readers – especially those for whom all these acronyms may be new – to watch this brief video, which I found on FERN’s Home Page.

Written by Martin Lack

30 October 2012 at 00:02

Who owns the rain that falls from the sky?

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Panorama looking westwards from Helsby Hill, near Chester, UK

I must thank fellow-blogger Paul Handover for alerting me to – and not posting on his own Learning from Dogs blog – the strange and disturbing real-life story of  a man in Oregon who has been sent to jail for a month for collecting rain that fell on his property.  When Paul first emailed me about this, I must admit my initial response was one of astonishment.  “Whatever next”, I said, “will someone be arrested for sunbathing?”

However, when you read the background to the story, it turns out that the man has been sent to jail as a result of legal action started ten years ago by the Medford Water Commission (MWC), who have argued (successfully it would appear) that the rain falling from the sky within their catchment area belongs to them.  Their case rested upon the wording of a State law (dating from 1925) that granted to the MWC full ownership of – and rights to – the water.  This makes me wonder whether similar laws have been enacted in other States of the USA but, since I live in the UK, I will leave that to others to investigate…

This may seem ridiculous and insane; and to be even more absurd than people arguing about who owns the land – as Crocodile Dundee  (the alter-ego of Australian comedian Paul Hogan) famously equated to being “like fleas arguing about who owns the dog…”  However, I think it raises some very important questions.

In rural parts of the USA, it is my understanding that, as the land was settled by early pioneers they were granted ownership of land and the groundwater beneath it on a first-come, first-served basis.  In his book, Collapse, Jared Diamond painted a very vivid picture of how this policy has run into trouble in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley area of southwest Montana: As it becomes increasingly over-populated there is – quite simply – not enough water to go around.  However, I was not aware that government agencies at City, County, State or Federal level might be able to claim prior ownership of atmospheric water vapour before it actually falls to Earth because they need it to suppress fires.  It may well be that the City of Medford is unique (or at least very unusual) but what of the important questions this raises…?  Well, perhaps the situation in the UK will make these clearer:

Rightly or wrongly, Margaret Thatcher privatised the business of water supply and drainage back in the 1980’s.  Prior to that Water Authorities were public institutions.  However, whether they were publicly-owned or – as now – private enterprises, the fact remains that the vast majority of UK citizens do not have access to a private water supply (i.e. stream, spring, well, or borehole) – they rely on it being supplied to them.  Furthermore, most abstractions from either surface or groundwater for domestic purposes are exempt from licensing (although it is likely this will change in the future as over-licensed and/or over-abstracted resources become more common).

Therefore, if citizens expect their water supply to be provided to them, it is understandable that the relevant water authority will seek to protect its ability to collect rainfall or groundwater and, if so, for others to collect it would indeed become a form of poaching.

It seems to me that this story plays into the hands of those libertarians and climate sceptics who want us all to worry about an over-bearing State (i.e. an autocratic government that seeks to control every aspect of our lives and limit our freedom)… or a dangerous and exploitative monopoly making huge profits out of selling people things that are essential for life (i.e. what will be next – sunshine and clean air?)…

However, if libertarians were to win every argument, Garret Hardin’s ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ outcome would be guaranteed.  Hardin used the analogy of medieval commons owned by nobody but used to graze animals by everybody.  In such a situation, Hardin suggested, each individual seeking to maximise their own benefit will place more and more animals on the commons unless or until it becomes over-grazed and useless.  However, the best modern day analogy would be fish in the sea:  No-one owns them but if we over-fish them, they will disappear…   After over half a century, the European Union (EU) has still to resolve this problem:  It tried to claim common ownership of the seas – and make fishing a common market but it has spent much of the last 50 years rolling-back on this principle.  As such, we have ended-up with the absurdity of the EU dictating who can fish where and when and for how long; with quotas for individual boats; and dead fish being thrown back into the sea.

So then, the Oregon man has in effect been jailed for poaching.  You could see this as a very dangerous precedent to set or…  You could argue that the only alternative is no centralised provision of forest fire-fighting or water supply; because this will not be possible if everyone decides to catch and use all the rain that falls on their property.

As I said many months ago now:

When you live in a wilderness, it is probably safe to treat a passing river as your source of drinking water, washing room, and toilet. However, if you are unfortunate enough to live in a Mumbai slum, this will almost certainly contribute to causing your premature death.

If we ever did, most of us do not live in a wilderness any longer; and, given that an environment’s capacity to support life determines how many people it can support, even one person in a desert could make it over-populated.  Therefore:

When the early European settlers of North America began to move west in search of new lands and new opportunities, a Frontier mentality was understandable. However, to retain such an attitude today is socially unacceptable and morally irresponsible.

Humanity today has a choice:  We must either recognise that there are ecological limits to the number of humans the Earth can physically cope with (especially if we are all going to live comfortably); or we will have those limits imposed on us by force: Collapse or Ecocide – which will it be?

Or do we have a third choice – survival? I hope the jury is still out on that one.

Written by Martin Lack

8 August 2012 at 00:02

Will Cyprus unearth the truth?

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… By succeeding in getting the EU’s new Transparency Laws enacted?

With my thanks to all my old friends at Tearfund, I have already emailed my MP about the corruption in Africa that, along with all the evils of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, ensures that Africa stays poor.

If you live in the UK, please consider taking action. Tearfund may be a Christian charity but, faith in God is not a pre-requisite for fighting corruption (wherever it may be found). However, if using Tearfund as a vehicle to make your voice heard bothers you, I am quite sure many other charities have campaigns running to promote the cause of getting these Transparency Laws in place. What could be more important than eliminating corruption? OK, I know; saving the planet is but – lets face it – they are two sides of the same coin…

This month Cyprus takes the baton as president of the European Union – with responsibility for steering finance negotiations on these new transparency laws. European leaders finally have the opportunity to agree new transparency laws. They need to know that Christians across Europe want to tackle corruption and release poor communities to benefit from the wealth beneath their feet.

Call on the Cypriot Government to fight for transparency.

However, the World’s biggest multi-national companies (with some secrets to hide?) are using their power to try and water down these transparency laws. If they succeed this will make it significantly harder for poor communities to hold their governments to account. But we also have power, and together we can call on Cyprus to ensure new transparency laws do truly help poor communities.

Act Now: Call on the Cypriot government to fight for transparency!

Thank you so much for your support.

The Campaigns Team.

P.S. Once you’ve taken action, why not share this video with your friends?

Written by Martin Lack

12 July 2012 at 10:56

Tragedies – Shakespearean and Greek

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It’s the weekend so, to celebrate, here is a special offer: Two posts for the price of one (i.e. nothing).

A Shakespearean Tragedy in the making
Last night I stumbled upon the second and final part of the BBC’s Simon Schama’s Shakespeare. Here is the trailer for it:

I think very highly of Schama; and this programme did not disappoint. This second episode (I will have to get the DVD) covered the latter years of Elizabeth the First and the early years of James the First – a time during which Shakespeare was extremely daring in the plays he presented (in many cases premiered) to the Monarch – such as Henry V and Richard II (to Elizabeth) and Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear (to James). Of all of these, Hamlet was the most astonishing because the only difference between James the First and the fictional Hamlet is that James did not exact revenge upon his uncle for killing his father.

However, the reason I mention all this is that, towards the end of the programme, Schama, with the help of an array of fine actors delivering Shakespearean monologues to camera, comes to Macbeth. To my shame, Macbeth is the only Shakespearean play I know well (having studied it for O Level when I was 16). However, although it was fascinating to see how Macbeth was a product of its time (as were all the other plays); the viewer was also invited to re-interpret the plays in a modern context. It is therefore very tempting, for me at least, to identify with the plight of Macbeth; who seems to be stuck on the set of the movie Groundhog Day. To me this is where humanity has got stuck. We (or at least a sizeable proportion of us) know that what we are doing is wrong, but we seem powerless to change the course of history; and must watch the tragedy unfold…

…Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth – Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)

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A Greek Tragedy we made earlier
Last Monday, I missed but, thanks to Paul Handover, have now watched the BBC Panorama programme about Greece, entitled Life and Debt: A Greek Tragedy. This is essential viewing for all those (like me) inclined to blame the Greeks for the mess they are in. Someone has posted the 30-minute programme on You tube (embeddd here) but, if pushed for time, a synopsis is appended below…

The programme is presented by veteran BBC News anchor, John Humphrys, whose Son has lived in Greece for 20 years and who has himself now got a house in the Peloponnese. In the course of the programme, Humphrys tours Greece interviewing people about how the crisis is affecting them; and how they feel it should be solved. However, before all of that, Humphrys explains the recent history: Nazi occupation, monarchy, civil war, military rule and democracy… It is easy to forget but, by its own standards at least, Greece was quite prosperous before it joined the Euro Zone in 2000. As Humphrys puts it, “Greece cooked the books in order to get in and the EU turned a blind eye… and lent them the money anyway” (paraphrased). Since then, exports have gone down and imports have gone up; the proportion of Greeks involved in fishing or farming has gone from 17% to just 3%; unemployment has risen to 20%; and the proportion of people living in relative poverty is heading towards 40%. In short, the EU has done to Greece what the Common Agricultural Policy has done to Africa – it has made it dependent upon the EU rather than helped it to become self-sustaining.
See my If the CAP does not fit we should not wear it (27 January 2012).

However, possibly the most revealing interview Humphrys conducts is that with a Greek hero of WW2 (who risked his life in an act of defiance to pull down the swastika on the Acropolis). To many in Greece, like this cultural icon, it seems the EU is nothing more than a cover-story for German Imperialism. Having failed to dominate Europe by military force, Germany is seeking to dominate it by stealth. Does this indeed explain why Germany seems remarkably content to bail-out so many European countries (on its own terms of course)? As the economy of every other nation fails one-by-one, will Germany end up ruling over a United States of Europe? If so, although plenty of shots will have been fired (plastic bullets and tear gas only of course), Germany will achieve what Hitler could not; and will do so without declaring war on anyone or anything. The only casualty will be effective and efficient government; and any illusion of representative democracy.

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