Monday, May 29, 2017

Putin Couldn't Have a Better Ally


In just four months, Donald Trump has done more for Vlad Putin than the Russian strongman has managed to accomplish in years of scheming and struggle.

It must have been music to the Kremlin's electronic ears over the weekend as the leader of the free world, Germany's Angela Merkel, stated the obvious - America is no longer Europe's reliable partner. Europe now needs to go its own way. The pact that has held Europe and America together for 70-years has come unglued.

Even before Trump was inaugurated, Merkel voiced her reservations about the president-elect.

The opening line in Der Spiegel says it all: "Doubts are growing inside Angela Merkel's Chancellery that the incoming American president will mature and become a statesman. The chancellor is preparing for frosty trans-Atlantic relations while at the same time trying to pull Europe together."

Think about that. Angela Merkel doubts that a 70-year old man "will mature and become a statesman." Hmm. If he's not mature at 70 it sounds like a safe bet that he won't become mature later on.

The hour-long video didn't exactly put the German chancellor in a cheerful mood. The footage was from Donald Trump's recent appearance in Pennsylvania during his so-called Thank You Tour and Angela Merkel, as she told the national executive committee of her center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), watched the rally in its entirety. She recommended that her fellow party members do the same. "It is interesting to see the thought environment he inhabits," she said.


Trump retaliated by giving Merkel the cold shoulder when she made her mandatory pilgrimage to the White House in March. She seems to have gotten her fill of the grandiose boor last week as Trump lectured first the NATO leaders and then the G7 summit.

Reaction to Merkel's latest assessment was predictably quick in coming.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas, a veteran US diplomat, described Merkel's comments as a "watershed" in relations between the two allies. "(It's) what the US has sought to avoid since World War II," said Haas.

But Trump's supporters have taken Merkel's comments as a sign of the president's success. Bill Mitchell, a conservative commentator dubbed Trump's "most unrelenting social media surrogate" by US media, took the opportunity to lampoon Merkel.

"Merkel, hero of the left and train wreck of Europe says, 'she cannot rely upon Donald Trump.' Awesome. He opposes your raging stupidity," Mitchell said in a tweet.

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David Frum, senior editor of the US news magazine The Atlantic, said that Trump's behavior as caused a rift between Germany and the US has effectively served Russian interests.

"Since 1945, the supreme strategic goal in Europe of the USSR and then Russia was the severing of the US-German alliance. Trump delivered," Frum said.

Agreeing with Frum's comments on its benefits for Moscow, Ian Bremmer, founder and director of the consultancy Eurasia Group, said that the "most important postwar relationship," the transatlantic alliance, is "now unraveling."

"There's not been a statement like this from Germany in generations," Bremmer said.

When it comes to the American president and his aides, stupidity and ignorance are never in short supply. From Der Spiegel:

U.S. President Donald Trump voiced significant displeasure over Germany's trade surplus on Thursday during a meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels. "The Germans are bad, very bad," Trump said, according to meeting participants.
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According to a report in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, many EU officials were appalled by how little the Americans appeared to know about trade policy. The guests from Washington seemed not to be aware that EU member states only negotiate trade treaties as a bloc. According to the paper, Trump's chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, claimed during meetings, for example, that different customs tariffs are in place between the U.S. and Germany than between the U.S. and Belgium.

For years, Germany has exported more than it imports and Trump has criticized the country's trade surplus before - in an interview with the German tabloid Bild prior to his inauguration, for example. In that interview, too, he voiced particular frustration at the number of German cars he sees on the streets of New York. "I would tell BMW if they think they're gonna build a plant in Mexico and sell cars into the U.S. without a 35 percent tax, it's not gonna happen. It's not gonna happen." It was a clear threat to slap punitive tariffs on German automobiles.

It's fair to say that the editors of Der Spiegel don't think better of Trump than Germany's chancellor as the magazine's recent editorial, "It's Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump," made plain.

Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. He does not possess the requisite intellect and does not understand the significance of the office he holds nor the tasks associated with it. He doesn't read. He doesn't bother to peruse important files and intelligence reports and knows little about the issues that he has identified as his priorities. His decisions are capricious and they are delivered in the form of tyrannical decrees.

He is a man free of morals. As has been demonstrated hundreds of times, he is a liar, a racist and a cheat. I feel ashamed to use these words, as sharp and loud as they are. But if they apply to anyone, they apply to Trump. And one of the media's tasks is to continue telling things as they are: Trump has to be removed from the White House. Quickly. He is a danger to the world.


The fact is that every nation, whether America's friend or adversary, is affected by the schism opening between the cornerstone of modern Europe, Germany, and the United States.

The Guardian columnist, Suzanne Moore, has high praise for chancellor Merkel.

Angela Merkel – or “leader of the free world” as she is now to be known – did not wait long to see the back of Donald Trump before she made it clear that things have changed. She told a rally of 2,500 people in Munich ...that the EU must now be prepared to look after itself, that it could no longer depend on the UK or America. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are, to a certain extent, over … I’ve experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans have to take fate into our own hands.”

This is a truly dramatic statement from a leader who doesn’t do drama. She is not going to be holding Trump’s hand any time soon. He may be relieved to hear that, but then the underestimation of Merkel as a dowdy physicist has often allowed her to run rings around egotistical male leaders.

Watching her at the G7, her statesmanship, her ease, her ability to broker deals and relationships is ever more impressive. More and more I hear people say they that they like her. Even those on the left respect her though she is a centrist. While Trump shambled around Europe with his goon display of ignorance of other languages, cultures or even basic manners, Merkel was in her element. While he was trailing behind in a golf cart as he lacked the stamina to actually walk anywhere at all, she strode out with the other leaders.

And look where she is now, unlike our prime minister, able to oppose Trump directly and to say his America is not a friend of Europe.


What an extraordinary woman. There are no problems, she says, only “tasks” to be solved, as she sits rapidly texting in meetings. Refusing to see herself as a female leader, she prefers to think of herself as part of a class of political heavyweights. Increasingly she is in a class of her own and watching her, one thought comes to mind: this is what strong and stable actually looks like.






A Word of Thanks To (or maybe for) Donald Trump



It's not the sort of thing you might expect from Tom Englehardt of Tom Dispatch, a word of thanks for Donald Trump.

Think of him as the end of the world as we, or maybe anyone, including Vladimir Putin, knew it. To me, that means one thing, even though most of you won’t agree: I think we owe Donald Trump a small bow of thanks and a genuine debt of gratitude. He’s teaching us something invaluable, something we probably wouldn’t have grasped without him. He’s teaching us just how deeply disturbed our American world actually is, or he wouldn’t be where he is.

Think of him as a messenger from the gods, the deities of empire gone astray. They sent us a man without a center, undoubtedly because 17 years into the twenty-first century our country lacks a center, and a man without a fixed opinion or a single conviction, except about himself and his family, because this country is now a swirling mess of contradictory beliefs and groups at each other’s throats. They sent us our first billionaire president who left countless people holding the bag in his various, often failed, business dealings. He brings to mind that classic phrase “those that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind” just as we’re now reaping the results of the 1% politics that gained such traction in recent years; and of a kind of war-making, American style, that initially seemed aimed at global supremacy, but now seems to have no conceivable goal. We're evidently destined to go on killing ever more people, producing ever more refugees, cracking open ever more nations, and spreading ever more terror movements until the end of time. They sent a man ready to build a vanity wall on the Mexican border and pour more money into the U.S. military at a time when it’s becoming harder for Americans to imagine investing in anything but an ever-more powerful national security state, even as the country’s infrastructure begins to crumble. They sent a billionaire who once deep-sixed a startling number of his businesses to save a country that couldn't be more powerful and yet has proven incapable of building a single mile of high-speed rail.

Into this quagmire, the gods dispatched the man who loves MOAB, who drools over “my generals,” who wants to build a “big, fat, beautiful wall” on our southern border, but was beyond clueless about where power actually lay in Washington.
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His victory was, in a sense, a revelation that both political parties had been hollowed out, as every Republican presidential candidate except him was swept unceremoniously off stage and out of contention in a hail of insults. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party, by now a remarkably mindless (and spineless) political machine without much to underpin it, came to seem ever more like the domestic equivalent of those failed states the war on terror was creating in the Greater Middle East. In short, American politics was visibly faltering and, in the whirlwind that deposited Little Big Man in office, a far wider range of Americans seemed in danger of going down, too, including Medicaid users, Obamacare enrollees, meals-on-wheels seniors, and food stamp recipients in what could become a slow-motion collapse of livable lives amid a proliferation of billionaires. Think of us as a nation in the process of consuming itself, even as our president turns the White House into a private business. If this is imperial “decline,” it’s certainly a curious version of it.

It was into the growing hell that passed for the planet’s “sole superpower” that those gods dispatched Little Big Man -- not a shape-shifting creature but a man without shape and lacking all fixed ideas (except about himself). He was perfectly capable of saying anything in any situation, and then, in altered circumstances, of saying the opposite without blinking or evidently even noticing. His recent trip to Saudi Arabia was a classic case of just that. Gone were the election campaign denunciations of the Saudis for their human rights record and for possibly being behind the 9/11 attacks, as well as of Islam as a religion that “hates us”; gone was his criticism of Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf on her visit to Riyadh (Melania and Ivanka did the same), and of Barack Obama for bowing to a Saudi king (he did, too). Out the window went his previous insistence that any self-respecting American politician must use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he carefully avoided. And none of this was different from, say, swearing on the campaign trail that he would never touch Medicaid and then, in his first budget, offering plans to slash $880 billion from that program over the next decade.
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Humanity had, in the years before his arrival, come up with two quite different and devastating ways of doing ourselves in, one an instant Armageddon, the other a slow-motion trip to hell. Each of them threatens to cripple or destroy the very planet that has nurtured us these tens of thousands of years. It was not, of course, Donald Trump who put us in this peril. He’s just a particularly grim reminder of how dangerous our world has truly become.

After all, Little Big Man now has unparalleled access to the most “beautiful” weapons of all and he’s eager to update and expand an already vast U.S. arsenal of them. I’m talking, of course, about nuclear weapons. Any president we elect has, since the 1950s, had the power to take out the planet. Only once have we come truly close. Nonetheless, for the control over such weaponry to be in the hands of a deeply unpredictable and visibly disturbed president is obviously a danger to us all.

It could be assumed that the gods who sent him into the Oval Office at such a moment have a perverse sense of humor. Certainly, on the second of those deadly dangers, climate change, he’s already taken action based on another of his fantasies: that making America great again means taking it back to the fossil-fueled 1950s. His ignorance about, and actions to increase the effects of, climate change have already taken the U.S., the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases on the planet, out of the climate change sweepstakes and into uncharted territory. These acts and the desire to promote fossil fuels in every way imaginable will someday undoubtedly be seen as crimes against humanity. But by then they will already have done their dirty deed.

If luck doesn’t hold, Donald Trump may end up making Caligula and Nero look like statesmen. If luck doesn’t hold he may be the Littlest Big Man of all.



Sunday, May 28, 2017

Dammit, Do We Really Need Fareed Zakaria to Tell Us This?


Fareed Zakaria thinks Trump was played for a chump by the Saudis during his opening visit of the 2017 Boor Tour.

Even Canadians have to realize how Harper and now Trudeau are shamelessly supporting the very nation that empowers terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS while condemning Shiite Iran for "state sponsored terrorism." Ask yourself why is Justin Trudeau kowtowing to Riyadh and the House of Saud? Why is he making Canada complicit in this?

Here, Zakaria rehashes what we've long known about Saudi perfidy.

President Trump’s journey to the Middle East illustrated yet again how the country central to the spread of this terrorism, Saudi Arabia, has managed to evade and deflect any responsibility for it. In fact, Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region.

The facts are well-known. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has spread its narrow, puritanical and intolerant version of Islam — originally practiced almost nowhere else — across the Muslim world. Osama bin Laden was Saudi, as were 15 of the 19 terrorists of 9/11.
And we know, via a leaked email by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that in recent years the Saudi government, along with Qatar, has been “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to (the Islamic State) and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” Saudi nationals make up the second largest group of foreign fighters in ISIS and, by some accounts, the largest in the terrorist group’s Iraqi operations. The kingdom is in a tacit alliance with al-Qaida in Yemen.

ISIS draws its beliefs from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi version of Islam. As the former imam of the kingdom’s Grand Mosque said last year, ISIS “exploited our own principles, that can be found in our books. ... We follow the same thought but apply it in a refined way.” Until ISIS could write its own textbooks for its schools, it adopted the Saudi curriculum as its own.

Saudi money is now transforming European Islam. Leaked German intelligence reports show that charities “closely connected with government offices” of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are funding mosques, schools and imams to disseminate a fundamentalist, intolerant version of Islam throughout Germany.
In Kosovo, the New York Times’ Carlotta Gall describes the process by which a 500-year-old tradition of moderate Islam is being destroyed. “From their bases, the Saudi-trained imams propagated Wahhabism’s tenets: the supremacy of Shariah law as well as ideas of violent jihad and takfirism, which authorizes the killing of Muslims considered heretics for not following its interpretation of Islam. ... The charitable assistance often had conditions attached. Families were given monthly stipends on the condition that they attended sermons in the mosque and that women and girls wore the veil.”

Iran, the evil state sponsor of terrorism. It wasn't Shiites behind the embassy bombings. No that was the handiwork of Sunni Muslims, the Saudi's gang. The bombing of the USS Cole? Saudi, not Iranian Shiites. The first World Trade Center bombing (the parkade attack). Sunni radicals. The 9/11 attacks? Sunni terrorists. The Paris, London, Madrid, Libyan and Tunisian atrocities? Sunni. al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS? They're all Sunni, the Saudi's farm teams.

Yet Justin Trudeau supports the Saudis, calls them our allies. Just what is wrong with Trudeau and his Liberal government?



America First = America Alone and America Cannot Stand Alone


Donald Trump and the Gullibillies who installed him in the Oval Office have a childish grasp of America's place in the world. They don't understand what made America great and they dangerously overlook how dependent America is on its allies.

They don't realize that there are people who would undermine the United States or that Trump is playing straight into their hands.

Given the global contests for the affections of other nations, even the perception that the United States is preoccupied with only its own interests undermines its ability to attract nations to align with its priorities.

Candidate Trump placing conditions on NATO support and referring to it as obsolete fanned the flames of doubt that Putin lit. At the NATO summit this week, Trump did little to assuage those doubts.

As for Britain, America’s Western rook, the allure of significant commercial opportunities has drawn the U.K.’s interest in China’s One Belt, One Road infrastructure effort. Trump’s recent disclosure to Russia of intelligence obtained from allied sources has called the continuance of the “special relationship” into question.

As for Japan, America’s Eastern rook, the United States canceling the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exhibited great political courage to join has strained the relationship. Not only does pulling out of the TPP undercut America’s Pacific alliances, but it paves the way for China to assemble an Asian trade alliance with America on the outside looking in, instead of a Pacific trade alliance with America at its center.

America’s global power rests on it remaining unchallenged in North America, giving it the freedom to pursue foreign challenges without worrying about its position at home. There are few things that would more undermine American foreign policy than genuine friction with either of its bishops: Canada or Mexico. Trump’s criticisms of the North American Free Trade Agreement and derogatory comments about Mexico seem oblivious to this reality.

As for those, who like knights in chess, could extend America’s reach, China’s economic gravitational pull, accentuated by its commercial might and massive infrastructure investments, is capturing the attention of South Korea, Turkey, and even Australia, although India remains skeptical.

An “America first” policy risks leaving America alone, as important allies question America’s commitment and carefully weigh the attractiveness of switching or splitting their allegiances.

Americans have chosen an utter buffoon as their commander in chief, a cheaply-gilded version of "Larry the Cable Guy."  He's barely been in office four months and he's already damaging the United States and its essential alliances. The pact, that has bound America and her allies together for the past 70 years is unraveling.  Europe is withdrawing into itself. Across Asia and the western Pacific, Chinese hegemony is largely unchecked. 

What's the Big Deal with Kushner?


So Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, sought to open a "back channel" line of communications with Russian officials. So, so what?

Trump's homeland security secretary, retired general John Kelly, dismissed the report as much ado about nothing. Kelly said these things happen all the time and even though they're "back channel" the information gathered is regularly circulated through the government. No harm, no foul.

Only that's not what Kushner was up to.  Former NSA and CIA director, Michael Hayden, says Kushner's channel was intended to conceal back channel communications from the United States government.

Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a top White House adviser, floated the possibility of setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and Russia when he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak late last year, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Those talks would take place in Russian diplomatic facilities in the US, the Post said, creating a secure line that would essentially conceal the administration's interactions with Russian officials from US government scrutiny.

Kislyak reportedly passed along that request to Moscow, in a phone call that was promptly intercepted by US intelligence agencies during their routine eavesdropping of foreign agents on US soil.

It also would have raised a big red flag, Hayden said. He was unequivocal when asked if he would have sought to unmask the US person cited by Kislyak as having proposed a secret backchannel to Russia.

"Oh my, yes," Hayden told Business Insider on Saturday. "Anyone would have."

That intercepted communication could have led 
[former national security advisor Susan] Rice — who obtained reports containing summaries of monitored communications between foreign officials discussing the Trump transition, according to Bloomberg — to try to identify who on Trump's transition team was trying to set up this kind of backchannel.

The names of the US persons mentioned in the conversations would have been redacted in those reports. But high-level government officials like Rice can request from the appropriate agency — in this case, the National Security Agency — that the US person's identity be revealed. 

Meanwhile, Foreign Policy's Emile Simpson, former British army officer and research fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows has dropped the "T" word. Simpson argues that treason is more than a legal term.

At any time in the Cold War, what Kushner did would certainly have attracted the stigma of treachery. Should the same standard apply today?

Let’s consider Kushner’s best defense. Backchannels are an accepted part of diplomatic relations. A relationship may be too controversial for public consumption, and it is useful to have fora where diplomats and those entrusted with the leadership of states can speak frankly, without the glare of the media.

But this appears to have been no ordinary proposal for a backchannel. First and foremost, the intent was to avoid monitoring by the United States’ own intelligence agencies. And second, Trump’s team weren’t in government yet (unless the intent was for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration, and thus provide a means to avoid U.S. intelligence monitoring while in office, which would be even more dubious).
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Let’s be clear. There would be nothing inherently illegitimate with the Trump transition team pursuing better relations between the United States and Russia. Indeed, it was a major part of the campaign platform Trump used to win the election. Foreign policy debate between Russia doves and hawks has been going back and forth since the deterioration of post-Cold War relations following the West’s intervention in Kosovo 1999, and those who want the West to have warmer relations with Russia have many reasonable arguments.

But it’s the very legitimacy of wanting better relations with Russia, given Trump’s democratic mandate to pursue such a course, that makes Kushner’s desire to hide the Trump transition team’s connections with the Kremlin from U.S. intelligence so dubious, especially if he did intend for the backchannel to continue, or to start, after the inauguration. That is the kernel of the illegitimacy here: not the effort to improve relations through a backchannel, but the extraordinary measures to keep it secret from one’s own side.

In the Cold War, Kushner’s actions would have attracted the stigma of treachery because Russia was an enemy of the United States. But his actions would not have gotten him indicted because there was no ongoing open war in accordance with the legal definition of treason (18 U.S. code § 2381): “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason”.

Similarly today, what we are talking about is not the legal offense of treason but the stigma of treachery — the broader social meaning of treason.
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If Kushner’s actions should come to attract the stigma of treachery, it would be in the old Roman Republican sense of maiestas, when public values and their expression in state institutions still meant something. Thus, in the Roman Republic, maiestas was about punishing individuals for hijacking their state positions for their personal gain. It could be used, for example, to prosecute official maladministration, like corruption by provincial officials or military officers. An apt modern equivalent would be soliciting personal investments by selling political access or expedited visas to rich Chinese people, which Kushner’s family business has already independently been accused of.

We’ll have to wait for the facts to see what Kushner may have been trying to hide from U.S. intelligence. But my hunch is that far from the “Manchurian Candidate” theories, this will turn out to be a sorry case of operating in the grey areas of the law to enrich oneself whilst in office. Not as bad as aiding the enemy, but still rancid. It is exactly what treachery as maiestas meant in Republican Rome: An offense against the dignity of the state understood as a community bound by its public values.

In Rome, the punishment for maiestas was normally exile. Kushner’s fate is still to be determined. But the public response to it will tell us much about whether the American people, under their new monarch, still have the dignity to protect their ancient majesty.


Merkel Writes Off America, Britain as "Reliable Partners" for Europe


Angela Merkel, it seems, has had her fill of the America's fatuous president and Britain's cadaverous prime minister also.  Having endured Trump and May first at the NATO summit and then the G7, Merkel - a.k.a. new Leader of the Free World - said the U.S. and the U.K. can no longer be considered Europe's "reliable partners."

Merkel's comments came on the heels of what she called a "difficult" and "unsatisfactory" G7 summit. The summit included leaders of the US, UK, Germany, Japan, France, Canada, and Italy, and Merkel characterized the discussions as "six against one."

Trump's platform often runs counter to those endorsed by other G7 members, especially as it relates to issues like climate change, immigration, and trade.

At the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, Trump refused to endorse the Paris climate pact, saying he needed more time to decide.

However, Axios reported that Trump had already made his decision. Trump reportedly told multiple people, including Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, that he would be pulling out of the deal, according to three sources with knowledge of the conversations.
Trump really did make a first class ass of himself on his 2017 Boor Tour to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican, the NATO heads of state meeting and the G7 Summit. Fortunately for Trump, many Americans are no longer capable of being embarrassed by their president.


Here, Merkel celebrates the return of a Trump-free Europe:



Saturday, May 27, 2017

"Six Against One"


Donald Trump is wrapping up his "Fabulous 2017 Boor Tour" at the G7 summit in Sicily.

The Cheeto Benito emerged to praise the G7 chin wag as "tremendously productive." Apparently the rest of the leaders had other thoughts.

Leaders of the G7 group of rich nations have failed to agree a statement on climate change.

Six world leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris accord, the world's first comprehensive deal aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

However, the US has refused to recommit to the agreement, saying it will make a decision next week.

Mr Trump, who once dismissed global warming as a "hoax", has previously threatened to pull out of the accord.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the discussion on climate change had been "very unsatisfactory", adding "we have a situation of six against one".

Mr Trump tweeted: "I will make my final decision on the Paris Accord next week!"

His economic adviser, Gary Cohn, said Mr Trump "came here to learn. He came here to get smart. His views are evolving... exactly as they should be."



Not Even Twenty Years



It was December, 1997, not that long ago yet, in many ways, an eternity. Bill Clinton was president. 9/11 was still years off. We hadn't invented "perma-war" that now holds us hostage in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other hell holes still to emerge in the public consciousness.

It was December, 1997, and The Atlantic published an essay on democracy written by Robert D. Kaplan.  It's a terrific piece, eerily prescient when read today. Friend Dana sent me the link and I'll extend his courtesy to you. Here are a few passages to pique your interest:


I submit that the democracy we are encouraging in many poor parts of the world is an integral part of a transformation toward new forms of authoritarianism; that democracy in the United States is at greater risk than ever before, and from obscure sources; and that many future regimes, ours especially, could resemble the oligarchies of ancient Athens and Sparta more than they do the current government in Washington.
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HITLER and Mussolini each came to power through democracy. Democracies do not always make societies more civil—but they do always mercilessly expose the health of the societies in which they operate.
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As an unemployed Tunisian student once told me, "In Tunisia we have a twenty-five percent unemployment rate. If you hold elections in such circumstances, the result will be a fundamentalist government and violence like in Algeria. First create an economy, then worry about elections." There are many differences between Tunisia and its neighbor Algeria, including the fact that Tunisia has been peaceful without democracy and Algeria erupted in violence in 1992 after its first election went awry and the military canceled the second. In Kurdistan and Afghanistan, two fragile tribal societies in which the United States encouraged versions of democracy in the 1990s, the security vacuums that followed the failed attempts at institutionalizing pluralism were filled by Saddam Hussein for a time in Kurdistan and by Islamic tyranny in much of Afghanistan. In Bosnia democracy legitimized the worst war crimes in Europe since the Nazi era. In sub-Saharan Africa democracy has weakened institutions and services in some states, and elections have been manipulated to restore dictatorship in others.

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Because both a middle class and civil institutions are required for successful democracy, democratic Russia, which inherited neither from the Soviet regime, remains violent, unstable, and miserably poor despite its 99 percent literacy rate. Under its authoritarian system China has dramatically improved the quality of life for hundreds of millions of its people. My point, hard as it may be for Americans to accept, is that Russia may be failing in part because it is a democracy and China may be succeeding in part because it is not.
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Look at Haiti, a small country only ninety minutes by air from Miami, where 22,000 American soldiers were dispatched in 1994 to restore "democracy." Five percent of eligible Haitian voters participated in an election last April, chronic instability continues, and famine threatens. Those who think that America can establish democracy the world over should heed the words of the late American theologian and political philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr:

'The same strength which has extended our power beyond a continent has also . . . brought us into a vast web of history in which other wills, running in oblique or contrasting directions to our own, inevitably hinder or contradict what we most fervently desire. We cannot simply have our way, not even when we believe our way to have the "happiness of mankind" as its promise.'
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The demise of the Soviet Union was no reason for us to pressure Rwanda and other countries to form political parties—though that is what our post-Cold War foreign policy has been largely about, even in parts of the world that the Cold War barely touched. The Eastern European countries liberated in 1989 already had, in varying degrees, the historical and social preconditions for both democracy and advanced industrial life: bourgeois traditions, exposure to the Western Enlightenment, high literacy rates, low birth rates, and so on. The post-Cold War effort to bring democracy to those countries has been reasonable. What is less reasonable is to put a gun to the head of the peoples of the developing world and say, in effect, "Behave as if you had experienced the Western Enlightenment to the degree that Poland and the Czech Republic did. Behave as if 95 percent of your population were literate. Behave as if you had no bloody ethnic or regional disputes."
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States have never been formed by elections. Geography, settlement patterns, the rise of literate bourgeoisie, and, tragically, ethnic cleansing have formed states. Greece, for instance, is a stable democracy partly because earlier in the century it carried out a relatively benign form of ethnic cleansing—in the form of refugee transfers—which created a monoethnic society. Nonetheless, it took several decades of economic development for Greece finally to put its coups behind it. Democracy often weakens states by necessitating ineffectual compromises and fragile coalition governments in societies where bureaucratic institutions never functioned well to begin with. Because democracy neither forms states nor strengthens them initially, multi-party systems are best suited to nations that already have efficient bureaucracies and a middle class that pays income tax, and where primary issues such as borders and power-sharing have already been resolved, leaving politicians free to bicker about the budget and other secondary matters.

Social stability results from the establishment of a middle class. Not democracies but authoritarian systems, including monarchies, create middle classes—which, having achieved a certain size and self-confidence, revolt against the very dictators who generated their prosperity.

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AUTHORITARIAN or hybrid regimes, no matter how illiberal, will still be treated as legitimate if they can provide security for their subjects and spark economic growth. And they will easily find acceptance in a world driven increasingly by financial markets that know no borders.

For years idealists have dreamed of a "world government." Well, a world government has been emerging—quietly and organically, the way vast developments in history take place.
I do not refer to the United Nations, the power of which, almost by definition, affects only the poorest countries. After its peacekeeping failures in Bosnia and Somalia—and its $2 billion failure to make Cambodia democratic—the UN is on its way to becoming a supranational relief agency. Rather, I refer to the increasingly dense ganglia of international corporations and markets that are becoming the unseen arbiters of power in many countries. It is much more important nowadays for the leader of a developing country to get a hearing before corporate investors at the World Economic Forum than to speak before the UN General Assembly. Amnesty International now briefs corporations, just as it has always briefed national governments. Interpol officials have spoken about sharing certain kinds of intelligence with corporations.

...

Of the world's hundred largest economies, fifty-one are not countries but corporations. While the 200 largest corporations employ less than three fourths of one percent of the world's work force, they account for 28 percent of world economic activity. The 500 largest corporations account for 70 percent of world trade. Corporations are like the feudal domains that evolved into nation-states; they are nothing less than the vanguard of a new Darwinian organization of politics. Because they are in the forefront of real globalization while the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants are still rooted in local terrain, corporations will be free for a few decades to leave behind the social and environmental wreckage they create—abruptly closing a factory here in order to open an unsafe facility with a cheaper work force there. Ultimately, as technological innovations continue to accelerate and the world's middle classes come closer together, corporations may well become more responsible to the cohering global community and less amoral in the course of their evolution toward new political and cultural forms.
...

The level of social development required by democracy as it is known in the West has existed in only a minority of places—and even there only during certain periods of history. We are entering a troubling transition, and the irony is that while we preach our version of democracy abroad, it slips away from us at home.

...

Corporations, which are anchored neither to nations nor to communities, have created strip malls, edge cities, and Disneyesque tourist bubbles. Developments are not necessarily bad: they provide low prices, convenience, efficient work forces, and, in the case of tourist bubbles, safety. We need big corporations. Our society has reached a level of social and technological complexity at which goods and services must be produced for a price and to a standard that smaller businesses cannot manage. We should also recognize, though, that the architectural reconfiguration of our cities and towns has been an undemocratic event—with decisions in effect handed down from above by an assembly of corporate experts.


"The government of man will be replaced by the administration of things," the Enlightenment French philosopher Henri de Saint-Simon prophesied. We should worry that experts will channel our very instincts and thereby control them to some extent. For example, while the government fights drug abuse, often with pathetic results, pharmaceutical corporations have worked through the government and political parties to receive sanction for drugs such as stimulants and anti-depressants, whose consciousness-altering effects, it could be argued, are as great as those of outlawed drugs.

...

True, there are strong similarities between now and a century ago. In the 1880s and 1890s America experienced great social and economic upheaval. The combination of industrialization and urbanization shook the roots of religious and family life: sects sprouted, racist Populists ranted, and single women, like Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie, went to work in filthy factories. Racial tensions hardened as the Jim Crow system took hold across the South. "Gadgets" like the light bulb and the automobile brought an array of new choices and stresses. "The city was so big, now, that people disappeared into it unnoticed," Booth Tarkington lamented in The Magnificent Ambersons.
...

THIS rise of corporate power occurs more readily as the masses become more indifferent and the elite less accountable. Material possessions not only focus people toward private and away from communal life but also encourage docility. The more possessions one has, the more compromises one will make to protect them. The ancient Greeks said that the slave is someone who is intent on filling his belly, which can also mean someone who is intent on safeguarding his possessions. Aristophanes and Euripides, the late-eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson, and Tocqueville in the nineteenth century all warned that material prosperity would breed servility and withdrawal, turning people into, in Tocqueville's words, "industrious sheep."

...

According to Aristotle, "Whether the few or the many rule is accidental to oligarchy and democracy—the rich are few everywhere, the poor many." The real difference, he wrote, is that "oligarchy is to the advantage of the rich, democracy to the advantage of the poor." By "poor" Aristotle meant laborers, landowning peasants, artisans, and so on—essentially, the middle class and below.

Is it not conceivable that corporations will, like the rulers of both Sparta and Athens, project power to the advantage of the well-off while satisfying the twenty-first-century servile populace with the equivalent of bread and circuses? In other words, the category of politics we live with may depend more on power relationships and the demeanor of our society than on whether we continue to hold elections. Just as Cambodia was never really democratic, despite what the State Department and the UN told us, in the future we may not be democratic, despite what the government and media increasingly dominated by corporations tell us.


There is great food for thought in this essay, the more so since we have the benefit of the past 20 years to assess it.  Democracy has been a central theme of this blog which is "dedicated to the restoration of progressive democracy." As you read Kaplan's thoughts consider them in the context of our own Canada, our new generations of the young and those to follow, and the incredible challenges those who succeed us will have to confront.  Perhaps as several have written, the 21st will truly be a "century of revolution."

Again, many thanks to Dana for the link.



Friday, May 26, 2017

Is Facebook a Threat To What Remains of Our Democracy?


Social media was credited with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak during Egypt's Arab Spring uprising.

New evidence suggests it could be a double-edged sword, one capable of ending liberal democracy.

The essence of liberal democracy is governance at the consent of the governed. For that to have any meaning that has to be "informed consent" freely given. If that consent can be manufactured then liberal democracy doesn't stand a chance.

I've written three posts about this: The Big Chill, Is This How Trump Rigged the Election, Really?, and We Need to Have This Figured Out by 2019. On It Rests Our Democracy.

These posts explore how Facebook and other social media can be mined. Here's one chilling passage:

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.”


Even Scientific American asked, "Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?"  Consider this:

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.

Surely the case is made for intervention, whipping Facebook and other social media into line, protecting the public from those who would use their own data to manipulate them.  Remember the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and the notion of banks "too big to fail"?  Compared to Facebook, those "too big to fail" banks are nothing.


A couple of years ago, Vladan Joler and his brainy friends in Belgrade began investigating the inner workings of one of the world's most powerful corporations.

The team, which includes experts in cyber-forensic analysis and data visualisation, had already looked into what he calls "different forms of invisible infrastructures" behind Serbia's internet service providers.

But Mr Joler and his friends, now working under a project called Share Lab, had their sights set on a bigger target.

"If Facebook were a country, it would be bigger than China," says Mr Joler, whose day job is as a professor at Serbia's Novi Sad University.

He reels off the familiar, but still staggering, numbers: the barely teenage Silicon Valley firm stores some 300 petabytes of data, boasts almost two billion users, and raked in almost $28bn (£22bn) in revenues in 2016 alone.

And yet, Mr Joler argues, we know next to nothing about what goes on under the bonnet - despite the fact that we, as users, are providing most of the fuel - for free.

"All of us, when we are uploading something, when we are tagging people, when we are commenting, we are basically working for Facebook," he says.




Credit Where It's Due. Kudos to Volkswagen.


The Boys from Wolfsburg will always be associated with the diesel emissions scandal. It began when VW was caught cheating. When undergoing tailpipe testing its "clean diesel" engine proved remarkably clean. When in ordinary use, however, the engines produced legendary fuel efficiency and impressive power only at settings that generated prohibited levels of toxic nitrous oxide emissions.

VW went into full bore damage control mode. It offered to buy back the cars from disgruntled owners along with a modest settlement for damages. Owners also have the option of having their cars "fixed" - i.e. the cheating software replaced - and just take the damages.

Here's the irony. A lot of automakers produce diesel cars or trucks and most of them are also cheating, some far worse than Volkswagen. Yet, perhaps because this is now a more or less universal problem, the others haven't been prosecuted or forced to institute buybacks or recalls.

This week it became General Motors' turn for its Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

"This is a shocking discovery, and a really big deal because the [nitrous oxide] limits for these big trucks are four times what the limits were for the much smaller Volkswagen passenger cars and there are more of these trucks on the road," said Steve Berman.

An article in The Guardian last year reported that 97% of diesel vehicles exceeded the NOx emissions ceiling.  The exception? That would be Volkswagen.

Surprisingly, the tiny number of models that did not exceed the standard were mostly Volkswagens, the carmaker whose cheating of diesel emissions tests which emerged last year sparked the scandal. Experts said the new results show that clean diesel cars can be made but that virtually all manufacturers have failed to do so.

The EA analysis found that just one of the 201 Euro 5 diesels tested – a Skoda Octavia – did not exceed the official limit on the road. Over a quarter of the Euro 5s pumped out at least five times the official limit, including models from BMW, Range Rover, Mercedes, Nissan, Renault and Vauxhall.

Of the 62 Euro 6 models tested by EA, seven did not exceed the official limit in real-world driving: four Volkswagens, a BMW, an Audi and a Skoda. However, an Audi A8 and a Fiat 500X were found to emit more than 12 times the official limit, while a BMWX3, a Volvo S60 and a Vauxhall Zafira were among models emitting more than six times the official limit on the road.


Another report from today's Guardian warns our regulators are not making much progress.

Diesel cars that emit up to 18 times the official limit for toxic pollution when taken on to the road are still being sold, 20 months after the emissions scandal erupted and amid an ongoing air pollution crisis.

In real world conditions, the Nissan Qashqai produces 18 times more nitrogen oxides than the official lab-based test allows under EU directives, while Nissan’s Juke pumps out 16 times more NOx pollution than the limit, according to data from vehicle testing company Emissions Analytics seen by the Guardian.

Further data reveals Renault’s Mégane and Captur models both produce 16 times more NOx when on the road. Overall, the data shows that 80% of new diesels on the market in the last nine months fail to meet the official limit when on the road.

...software upgrades from manufacturers would quickly and significantly cut the emissions of many existing diesel cars: “What you can do is turn up the effectiveness of the emissions reduction technology – it’s almost like a volume knob – and that is a software change. If they turn up the volume, you have a clean car.” But apart from cars from VW, which was caught blatantly cheating, few vehicles in Europe have been recalled.




Justin - "The Political Equivalent of a YouTube Puppy Video."




He gave it a good run but the pundits are finally catching on to the fact that Justin Trudeau, the King of Selfies, is "all hat and no cattle."



The CBC took a swipe at political journalism in Canada with a report, "The media should know better but we keep falling for Trudeau's PR."  Trudeau, it seems, manufactures these "photo bombs" that the media, Canadian and foreign, then splash across their pages.



Today it's The Guardian's turn to call out the Dauphin.



He’s tackled quantum physics, photobombed a beach wedding, posed shirtless for selfies with a family hiking in the woods and, most recently, jogged past a group of Canadian teenagers heading to prom.

And each time, Justin Trudeau’s actions have earned lavish attention from media outlets in Canada and around the world.

But after it was pointed out that the shot of Trudeau breezing past the prom-bound teens was snapped by his official photographer, some Canadians have been asking why the media continues to fall for what seems to be a constant stream of PR stunts.

In politics, even the most spontaneous run-ins are carefully set up, noted Robyn Urback, a columnist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “And public photobombs by politicians in their Sunday sweats usually involve some sort of prior coordination,” she said.

In order to capture the moment that Trudeau jogged past the teens, the Maclean’s reporter Aaron Hutchins wrote this week, the staff photographer would have had to run ahead of a planned route, set up his equipment to carefully frame the desired shot and ensure he was ready to snap when Trudeau came by. “And what once appeared like a pleasant coincidence of timing for whomever gets to pose with the prime minister, it’s starting to feel even more like a staged exercise than it was before,” said Hutchins.





Trudeau is a social media savant, the Toronto writer Jesse Brown wrote in the Guardian last year, and he has used this to position himself as a sunny antidote to the turbulent news spilling out from other parts of the world. “Trudeau is the political equivalent of a YouTube puppy video,” he wrote. “Each week, Trudeau feeds the news cycle a new sharable moment, and our Facebook feeds are overwhelmed with shots of the adorable young statesman cuddling pandas and hugging refugees and getting accidentally photographed in the wild with his top off, twice.”

The result is a media frenzy that has at times overshadowed the crucial questions being asking about his government, such as how they can claim to fight climate change while throwing their support behind two pipelines in Canada and Keystone XL or why they signed off on a C$15bn deal to sell weaponised military vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite critics who worry the vehicles will be used by the House of Saud against its own citizens. Others wonder whether Trudeau’s self-described feminism will result in tangible change for the families of the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women or those who left behind in a country where the cost of childcare and the gender pay gap rank among the highest in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).


So kids, if you're having an event but just can't come up with a shameless celebrity whore for the occasion, contact the prime minister's office. Be sure to give at least two weeks notice.


Credit Where It's Due. Cathy Imposes Obama-Grade Methane Rules for Fossil Fuelers.


Trudeau enviromin, Cathy McKenna, has announced new rules for cracking down on methane leaks from oil and gas wells.

The government will publish proposed regulations May 27 that would cover “over 95 per cent” of emission sources for methane, which is 84 times as powerful as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period at warming the planet, according to officials from Environment and Climate Change Canada. The proposal will then be open for a 60-day public comment period.

The proposed rules will require companies to create and maintain a program to detect and repair gas leaks, upgrade automated equipment and mechanical devices, and limit the direct release of methane gas into the atmosphere, including during fracking operations. There will also be rules for air pollutants that contribute to smog, or so-called volatile organic compounds.

Officials said these rules, empowered under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, would help reduce nationwide emissions by 282 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, or the same as taking almost 60 million cars off the road for a year. That is expected to save $13.4 billion from 2018 to 2035 in “avoided climate change damages.”


Well, it sounds as though she's off to a good start at least. Given the massive hole the Trudeau clan have dug for Canada by facilitating the expansion of Tar Sands production, it's about time they entered something on the other side of the ledger, if only for appearances.

Prohibiting methane discharges is one thing. Monitoring the often remote well sites where methane can be released - inadvertently or deliberately - is another matter altogether.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Ray of Sunshine

Via Stephen Colbert and Paul Simon

The Atrocity Known as TrumpCare

Trump's Health Care Victory Party

The Republican majority pushed it through the House of Representatives although many legislators admitted they hadn't even read it. They voted without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office appraisal and that was no accident.

However the CBO ran the numbers on TrumpCare and it's looking like the Great Orange Bloat's victory celebration was premature.

The American Health Care Act would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance over the next decade, and would disproportionally impact older, poorer Americans, according to an analysis released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
...

The amended version of the bill — which would allow states to waive pre-existing condition protections as well as mandates on procedures and services insurance companies must cover — had not been scored by the CBO when the House passed it.

But the CBO has now scored the amended version, and the analysis is unlikely to make the bill any easier for the Senate to pass.

For example, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year in a state that took waivers would see their premium rise from $1,700 a year to $13,600, the CBO says of the amended AHCA. That's a 700% increase.

Even more, the CBO says the provision allowing states to waive pre-existing conditions would have sweeping negative consequences for those with existing health conditions.


Unless Trump starts kidnapping senators' grandchildren and holding them for ransom, his healthcare bill is not getting through the Senate.






The Queen of Political Cash Comes Up a Dollar Short


British Columbia's far from liberal premier, Christy Clark, appears to have come up short, finally, ending her party's majority rule over the province going back to 2001.

Give Christy her due. She made the most of her advantage while it lasted, extracting the fullest benefit for her party and herself usually at the expense of the province and our people. She ruled largely by fiat. Being a legislator was a part-time vocation at best. The legislature rarely sat except to push through the latest budget.

Christy doesn't deserve all of the credit for her Liberals' lengthy run. That has to be shared with the woefully mediocre and wholly uninspiring opposition New Democrats from Carole James to Adrian Dix to Jim Horgan.

Now it's all down to one riding, Courtenay-Comox. The NDP won it by a narrow, 9-vote margin. Then it was on to the absentee ballot count that many believed would hand the riding to the Liberals. As of last night, however, the NDP lead had grown to over 100 votes.  That's now grown to a 148 NDP margin with a few hours counting left to go.

This horse race hands the balance of power to the Green Party that has been much abused by the NDP in this and past elections.  Suffice to say the Dippers have done nothing to endear themselves to or earn the trust of the Greens.

I would prefer my Greens reject both parties until they extract ironclad concessions on a couple of major issues including electoral reform, Kinder Morgan and the Site C dam.  Of course the counting isn't finished yet and there's a longshot chance the Liberal fortunes could recover in Courtenay-Comox.

Update:

I just had a look at what might have been the outcome had proportional rep been in place.  The Liberals instead of 43 would have garnered around 36 seats. The NDP would have wound up with about 35 seats instead of 41. The Greens would have taken 14 seats instead of 3. Clearly then proportional representation represents nearly as great a threat to the NDP as it does to the Liberals because it gives seats to the grossly under-represented Green voters. Small wonder the Dippers went after the Green vote so aggressively in this campaign. All the more reason for the Greens to use their balance of power strategically to squeeze the parties for electoral reform.



At Last, An Intelligent Discussion About Overpopulation.


The May edition of Foreign Policy magazine is their climate change issue.

As a keen follower of climate science for the past 15 years or more, the shortcomings in the treatment of this potentially existential threat to human civilization has been the fractured and shallow coverage it has received. This has led some to see climate change as something to do with global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. That has encouraged many to see it as resolvable by measures such as geo-engineering. These are facile responses.

Even many climate scientists treat climate change as some stand alone issue that can be approached in isolation. It's a blinkered outlook that goes a long way to ensuring that answers will elude us.

Many years ago I began to assemble a list of the major problems confronting mankind this century. It was an extensive list. I no longer have it memorized but I'll do my best here:

Climate change and associated, largely anthropogenic or man-made challenges including severe storm events of increasing intensity, frequency and duration; a broken hydrological cycle contributing to severe flooding and drought, both cyclical and recurrent; a shift in jet stream circulation carrying warm air into the Arctic and cold polar air deep into southern regions; the heating of the Arctic manifesting in the loss of Arctic sea ice (the albedo), the thawing of Arctic permafrost, the drying out of the tundra leading to uncontrollable wild fires producing black soot; disease and pest migration; species (terrestrial, marine, plant and animal) extinction and migration; the loss of ice caps and glaciers; sea level rise, coastal flooding and the saltwater inundation of coastal freshwater resources; the rapidly spreading freshwater crisis; severe heat events including situations nearing "wet bulb 35" conditions; the collapse of global fisheries from rapacious overfishing; massive deforestation, particularly in South America and Asia Pacific; pollution and contamination of all forms including algae blooms from industrial and agricultural runoff, coastal dead zones; resource exhaustion and depletion; desertification and the rapid loss of arable farmland through soil degradation caused by excessively intensive agriculture; and a host of security challenges including overpopulation and population migration, famine, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, various regional arms races and the onset of resource wars.

I don't claim the list to be exhaustive, merely the best my memory can muster in the moment. I spent a few years looking at this list trying to discern whether and, if so, how these looming calamities were connected. Were there common threads that ran through them?

It turns out they are all, in varying degrees, connected. Each falls into one or more of three basic categories - anthropogenic global warming, overconsumption of resources and overpopulation.  Those common threads, all of them, run straight back to us, how we're constituted as societies and a global civilization, and how we're organized politically, socially, economically and industrially. It was then that I realized that Jared Diamond is right - we don't have much chance of solving any of them unless we're willing and able to solve them all.

I was pleased in skimming through the digital version of the latest Foreign Policy to discover a genuinely thoughtful, well-reasoned and in depth discussion of the overpopulation challenge from and center in their climate change edition. The article asks "Is there a case to be made against baby making?" before unpacking the social, cultural and environmental pros and cons that bedevil the issue.

FP editor, David Rothkopf, has an essay dealing with the scourge of denialism, "The Wages of Sin Is the Death of the World; the biggest threat to a fragile world is human frailty." He looks at how the most climate change hostile government, Trump's, came to power thanks to a deviant sexting a minor.

Rothkopf cites Nate Silverman's conclusion that Comey's decision, just days prior to the election, to announce a new investigation into Hillary's emails discovered on Anthony Weiner's laptop while the FBI pursued the sexting crime was enough to swing three states to Trump that gave him the Electoral College win.

The FBI was hunting down a perv. They seized his computer. On the hard drive were Huma Abedin emails. That caused the FBI to re-open the investigation. Comey made his announcement. Trump won the electoral college.  Now Trump is dismantling the EPA and threatening to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate change accord.

It looks like a good issue. Mine's in the mailbox but you may want to check it out on a newsstand or in your library.









In Defence of the Deep State.




To some, conspiracy theorists and those with a feeble understanding of governance, the Deep State is a sinister group of powerful insiders manipulating the strings of government for devious ends.  If you insist on believing that, this would be a good time to go to another blog or web site.

To me, the Deep State is something else. It is the institutional memory of government, the muscle memory, without which government cannot function. It exists, at times defiantly, because it is indispensable. Today when elected representatives routinely put partisan and special interests ahead of the public interest and the good of the country, the Deep State can be the last redoubt of liberal democracy.

The Globe's Lawrence Martin writes that this dreaded Deep State may be America's only effective counter to its president.

We’ve been hearing that potent term, relatively new to the political lexicon, a lot lately. It has different shades of meaning but generally denotes an entrenched natural governing elite. Conservative governments in Canada, notably John Diefenbaker’s and Stephen Harper’s, feared they would be undermined, though the term wasn’t in use then, by a hostile deep state in the form of a liberalized bureaucracy, media and foreign service.

In Ottawa, you might find the deep state’s charter members in leafy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood; in Washington, in the cozy conclave of Georgetown, where the establishment forever has been moored.

...

Georgetowners were predictably appalled by the onslaught of the rubes and the rabble. But much of the fear on these narrow stately streets has already lifted. Against the infidels, the long-rooted Washington establishment is holding strong. The deep state is winning.

The renegade Trump administration becomes more conventional by the week. Much of foreign policy has been given over to Foggy Bottom traditionalists. Threats against immigrants have been pared down. The Steve Bannons in the administration are losing their clout. Trade threats have diminished, meaning Canada need not panic. For the NAFTA renegotiation, Ottawa holds some good cards and has a foreign minister in Chrystia Freeland who knows what she is doing.

The Washington bureaucracy, liberalized under Barack Obama, has played a big role, especially through leaks, in the deep state resistance. But the most powerful element has been the bold resurgence, chiefly in the form of The New York Times and The Washington Post, of a traditional mainstream press thought to be in decline.


The Post and Times have hit this White House with one news jolt after another. It’s like they’re back in their heyday of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Chiefly as a result of their work, a special counsellor is now probing the Trump administration’s Russia ties. Comparisons to Watergate are premature and overheated. But it is worth remembering how the deep-state institutions of the day brought down Richard Nixon who, like Mr. Trump’s political base, railed against eastern elites.

“Of course, the deep state exists,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says. “There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president.”

Says Mr. Trump of the media: “No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly.” His cause would perhaps be helped if in his first 119 days he hadn’t, as the Post reports, made 586 false and misleading claims.

Coinciding with the newspaper muscle-flexing has been the fall of Fox, the President’s media enabler. Fox has been hit by scandal, the departure of top talking heads and the death of its architect, Roger Ailes, who pandered to prejudice like none other and polarized the country in so doing.

The Trump Republicans are not caving to establishment forces on all fronts. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency stands for environmental destruction. The Attorney-General is a lock-em-up lawmaker with a bigoted background. Obamacare is threatened by an appalling piece of House legislation.

But chiefly owing to a robust free press, this administration is being held to clear-eyed account, an account that is allowing the forces of normalization to make headway. If that’s what a deep state is about, the United States should be happy it has one.



Welcome to WaterWorld. No, Not the One With Costner.



Even Americans pay attention to this facet of climate change - sea level rise. And the news is bad and getting worse.

You probably remember the early 1990s well enough. Not that long ago really. Well, over the past 25 years, the rate of sea level rise has increased threefold. And it's still speeding up.

A study published in scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggests the threat of rising sea levels has been drastically underestimated.

"The acceleration in global mean sea-level rise is much larger than previously thought," Sönke Dangendorf, the paper's lead author, told DW.

"It underlines that sea-level rise is a serious threat," he added.

Dangendorf, from the University of Siegen in Germany, worked with an international team of scientists from Spain, France, Norway and the Netherlands. They discovered that sea levels had risen relatively slowly - by about 1.1 millimeters, or 0.04 inches, annually - for much of the 20th century. But that changed in the early 1990s

...

This study isn't the first to highlight that the rate of sea-level rise is speeding up. But its findings suggest a significantly faster rate of increase than past research. One of the reasons for the recent acceleration, Dangendorf told DW, is the melting of ice sheets over recent decades.

"We have always had a great uncertainty over the contribution of the large ice sheets, which store 100 times more sea-level equivalents than glaciers," Dangendorf said.

The new research shows the impact of Greenland and Antarctica's ice sheets melting rapidly over the last 20 or 30 years has been greater than expected, and is likely to result in a larger future sea-level rise than previously predicted.

That spells trouble for coastal areas.


Over to you, America. Yes, we mean you, Louisiana. Brace yourselves.

The small floods that submerge roads and sometimes enter homes along Louisiana's coast could become more than an occasional headache. A new study suggests that the frequency of "nuisance flooding" around the Gulf of Mexico will double every decade thanks to small rises in sea level.

In lower latitudes, the flooding will be worse. The tropics, including South America and Africa, will experience a doubling of extreme flooding due to sea level rise, said Sean Vitousek, lead author of the study published in the Scientific Reports journal this week.

On the Louisiana coast, hurricanes, rather than sea level rise, will continue to pose the biggest flood danger. The same is true for the Caribbean Sea and the East Coast. "But the smaller floods are something to worry about, especially as they happen with more frequency," said Vitousek, a coastal hazards researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Nuisance flooding can degrade drainage and sewer systems, contaminate drinking water supplies, damage buildings and disrupt transportation and commerce. Decades ago, it was powerful storms that caused such problems.

"But due to sea level rise, more common (storm) events are now more impactful," wrote National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists in a 2015 report on nuisance flooding. The agency said small coastal floods have been happening two or three times more frequently than just 20 years ago.


"The takeaway is that it doesn't take much sea level rise - just 5 to 10 centimeters - to double the frequency of floods," Vitousek said. 

The latest reports indicate sea level rise is about 4 mm. per year, nearly 1.6 inches per decade.  To add a little perspective here's a handy chart showing sea level rise back to the start of the Christian era.