Saturday, November 22, 2014

Polar Vortex be Damned. 2014 Could Be the Hottest Year Ever.

Take it from NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.  2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

According to the NOAA, five of the past six months have been recorded warm for their respective months; July was the fourth warmest.
The October global land temperature was the fifth highest on record at 1.05 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average of 9.3 degrees Celsius.
Warmer-than-average temperatures were evident over most of the global land surfaces, except for large parts of central Asia.
NOAA said record warmth was notable across a large area of southern South America, the US western coastal regions, Far East Russia, parts of southern and southeastern Asia, much of southern and western Australia, and parts of southern Europe.

How to Militarize the South China Sea

China is seeking to bolster its military presence in the South China Sea and where better but in the vicinity of the hotly contested Spratley Islands.

The prestigious British military journal, Janes, believes China is upping the ante in the region by constructing an island to accommodate a joint air and naval base at the Fiery Cross reef.


Hong Kong media have reported that China intends to establish a military air base at Fiery Cross reef, something that will no doubt be a burr under the Pentagon's saddle.

Does Your Bank Back the Bomb?

We're all familiar with the ongoing campaign to urge institutions such as universities and churches to divest their shareholdings in fossil fuel companies.

Well, if we believe that these institutions should be walking away from fossil fuels, how do we feel about their investments in the nuclear weapons industry?

A Dutch organization, Don't Bank on the Bomb, has compiled a list of what it calls nuclear weapons producers and the entities that invest in them.

When you look at the list of producers you'll find a lot of companies you would not be surprised to find on any mutual fund's books.  Familiar names like Raytheon, BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed, Bechtel, Airbus, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Rolls Royce and ThyssenKrupp.  These companies may not produce actual nuclear warheads but they do manufacture missiles, rockets, cruise missiles, and submarines that get those devices onto their assigned targets.

The organization also lists institutions that invest in these companies on a country by country basis.  Here's Canada's.  The only Canadian lender listed as developing a nuclear weapons policy is the Royal Bank.

Investment opportunities seem plentiful, especially after US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced a 30-year, trillion dollar programme to refurbish America's nuclear arsenal.  There's going to be a lot of money splashed around and a great deal of profit to be skimmed off some decidedly apocalyptic hardware.

Now that our leaders seem hell bent on getting us firmly stuck into Cold War II we should try to get a handle on this nuclear arms business and the role we all may inadvertently have in it.

Update -

While this is an obscure issue in Canada, it is generating controversy in Australia where the country's sovereign wealth fund, Future Fund, is investing millions in these nuclear weapons producers.

Then consider this item from Forbes that seems to be hyping America's nuclear rearmament by suggesting that Russia could defeat the US in a nuclear war.  It paints Russia as having the upper hand and a willingness to resort to tactical nuclear weapons in the belief the Americans have become too decadent, too weak to respond in kind.  This brings to mind an editorial that appeared in the leading German financial paper, Handelsblatt, in August that warned civilian populations in the West are undergoing "a kind of mental mobilization: war fever."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Harper's no Conservative. Not remotely. He's Something Well Past Anything Conservative.

The father of true conservatism is, has always been, Edmund Burke. What I find most interesting about Burke and his conservatism was the underlying grasp of decency.

The sad reality is that traditional conservatism has been replaced, the new Right. People like Harper and Tony Abbott are of the "new Right."  You can let Edmund Burke demonstrate why.








America's Back in Business in Afghanistan


The end of America's combat mission in Afghanistan has, well, ended.  The New York Times reports that Obama has signed a no longer secret order re-instating his military's combat role in support of the Afghan government.

The order authorizes American troops to conduct missions against the Taliban and other groups.  It also authorizes strike fighter, bomber and drone missions in support of Afghan government forces.

In recent weeks some foreign policy experts have suggested that the Islamic State movement could spread to Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan via the Baluch insurgency.

Top British Tories Slam Tony Abbott. Carol Goar Gnaws on Harper.

Who better to give Australian prime minister Tony Abbott a real hiding but a number of prominent Tories.  Real Tories, not what passes for conservative under the Harper regime.  Real Tories, as in the Brits.

The attitude of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the global challenges of climate change is "eccentric", "baffling" and "flat earther", according to a group of senior British Conservatives.

The group, including Prime Minister David Cameron's Minister for Energy and a former Thatcher Minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, says Mr Abbot's position on climate change represents a betrayal of the fundamental ideals of Conservatism and those of his political heroine, Margaret Thatcher.

In a series of wide-ranging, separate interviews on UK climate change policy with The Age, they warn that Australia is taking enormous risks investing in coal and will come under increasing market and political pressure to play its part in the global battle against climate change. 

They could as easily be speaking of our own "flat earther" prime minister and all the other flat earthers who populate both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons.

A  former chairman of the British Conservative Party, Lord Deben said Mr Abbott has betrayed the fundamental tenets of conservatism itself.

 "I have no doubt that people like David Cameron will be saying to Tony Abbott 'look conservatives are supposed to conserve, they are supposed to hand on to the next generation something better than they received themselves'."

Tim Yeo, chairman of the UK's parliamentary select committee on energy and climate change and a former environment minister under John Major, likened those who question the existence and the science of climate change as "the flat earthers of the 16th century".

"Some of us are very perplexed. I was last in Australia at the beginning of last year, before the election and had conversations with people on both sides of the political divide. I was amazed at some of the views.

 "If I was Australian, I'd be concerned if my country's economic future and prosperity became dependent on continued coal export."  

Meanwhile, TorStar's Carol Goar observes that Stephen Harper is also fast running out of places to hide.

Harper still has a few allies. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shares his view that it would be economic folly on impose “a job-killing carbon tax” on energy producers. He can make common cause with the remaining climate change holdouts: Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and Egypt.
But he has become increasingly isolated and Canada’s relations with its allies and trading partners are showing the strain. French President Fran├žois Hollande made a vain plea to Harper to act on climate change during his visit to Ottawa last month. The 120 heads of state who attended September’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York noted his absence. His aggressive lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline alienated Obama.
On his latest foreign trip, the prime minister paid lip service to the environment. When the U.S. and China announced their game-changing deal to slash greenhouse gas emissions, he grudgingly welcomed the breakthrough. “For some time we have been saying we favour an international agreement that would include all the major emitters,” he said. But he made no move to cut or cap Canada’s fossil fuel emissions. 
...Skeptics discount these vague promises. Harper will procrastinate, shift the focus, then move into election mode. His deft political footwork at last weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane suggests they’re right. He succeeded in eclipsing Canada’s poor environmental record by boldly confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over his incursions into Ukraine.  
...Harper is a master strategist. He knows how to get around obstacles, divide his opponents and silence his critics. He has navigated his way through trickier junctures than this.
But the moment Canadians decide they don’t want to be on the wrong side of the climate change issue, his last bulwark will buckle.


Vice Asks, "Who's Afraid of the Surveillance State?"

Those who hold their freedom cheaply must surely lose it.

Since the turn of this century, many Western countries have become true surveillance states.  Governments, allied with the commercial sector, are relentless on keeping tabs on us, monitoring and analyzing our activities and views, flagging us even for our dissent.  Add foreign state and non-state, criminal hackers to that and it can be really hard to find a place where your privacy is inviolate.

With the complicit silence of the opposition, the Canadian government has established at least one secret police agency - the network of government police, intelligence and surveillance agencies charged with the duty to aid and abet the pipeline industry.  Don't think there aren't others.

I was brought up to understand that we have not one right or freedom that had not been paid for, often more than once, in blood.  There is not one right or freedom that will not be taken from us if we fail to exercise or defend it.  There is not one right or freedom that doesn't have an enormous value to those persons or entities that would deprive us of it.  And, once lost, you can expect to have to fight to recover it - yet again.

So why do we tolerate the Surveillance State?  An report from Vice suggests that today's operatives have achieved such technological prowess that we don't even realize when they're standing behind us.

Fictional surveillance states are thrilling and almost never subtle. Dictators are ubiquitously projected on vast public monitors, "thought criminals" are dragged away screaming from city squares, automaton armies visibly stand watch, and protagonists are tortured according to their deepest fears. Dystopian narratives of totalized surveillance bring its horror to the fore.
Our very real surveillance state contains no fewer dark elements. There is torture, targeting of dissidents, and armed enforcement aplenty. But the supposedly compelling story — that we are inescapably watched by a powerful corporate-government nexus — is, as a lived reality, kinda boring.
 ...for all the initial furor [of the Edward Snowden revelations], the rest of us have accepted disclosures of the NSA's unbounded data hoarding as an everyday matter of fact. Outside of a dedicated cadre of appalled privacy advocates, activists, and journalists, life has seemingly carried on as normal. Faced with a very real surveillance state, most of us have not cast ourselves as protagonists, or even minor characters, in the story of a struggle against it.
...I agree entirely with Greenwald that "the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the US government is… the US government." He rightly points out that significant reform will not come through legislative efforts, but through widespread shifts in our individual online behavior and the use of tools that make the work of spies more difficult, ideally to the point where they're simply not worth the effort. 
"Governments don't walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power," Greenwald writes, "and that's particularly true of empires."
...Of course, the surveillance state does not reside entirely in intelligence office parks. It lives in the online networks and cell phone towers through which our every communication passes, it has purchase in the back doors written into the code of our email services, it lurks in our unencrypted messages. It is everywhere and nearly everywhere unseen — and therein lies the threat of insidious and totalized systems of governmental control.
The importance of privacy cannot be overstated. Subjects who know that they are the targets of state observation are controlled and managed by this knowledge; dissent and creativity are foreclosed by the effect of being observed. Yet this is a creeping control and one that latches, perversely, onto the very freedoms ostensibly provided by contemporary networked communications.
In a democracy, government is supposed to fear the public.  Or maybe that was just a time now long past.

What Do We Do When the Warnings Stop?

It's hard to tell what's going on in our minds but the cognitive dissonance displayed by our political leaders on climate change has apparently taken hold among the rest of us as well.

It's as though we're trying not to make a decision out of fear of the decision and what it might mean, the changes it might require.  Yet, by avoiding it, we are making a decision.  We are opting for an outcome, a very dangerous result.

Those of us in the ripening years may escape the worst of it but our kids won't and our grandkids will bear the full brunt of this very decision we're taking by looking the other way.

Anyway, here's the Associated Press report that was incorrectly formatted in the previous post.


The world still isn't close to preventing what leaders call a dangerous level of man-made warming, a new United Nations report says. That's despite some nations' recent pledges to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions... 

"The time window (for reaching that goal) is closing, closing," said United Nations undersecretary for environment Achim Steiner. And the cost of getting to that goal "is increasing, increasing."

To meet that goal, the world has to hit a peak of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases before 2030, said the report's chief scientific editor, Joseph Alcamo. But the study says carbon emissions will continue to soar until 2050 and by then it will be too late.
If the U.S. and China follow through with their promises, they may shave a few billions of tons off the total, said former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation. Those pledges and an earlier one by Europe, while narrowing the gap, aren't large enough to close it, Alcamo said.

In his forward to the report, Steiner wrote that the "analysis reveals a worrisome worsening trend. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to an even warmer climate and exacerbate the devastating effect of climate change."

Outside scientists praised the numbers in the study, but Granger Morgan at Carnegie Mellon University raised a question that scientists have been debating more frequently: Is it time to abandon the two-degree goal as unrealistic?

"Today a two-degree target is akin to a 60-year-old man who resolves to be 25 years old next year," Morgan said in an email. "It ain't gonna happen, but it's time to get really serious about achieving what we can."

Steiner said because of the dangers of a warmer world, it is unthinkable to abandon the two-degree goal.

When the scientific community is prepared to throw in the towel on the 2C target, that's about as blunt a warning as you can get.  That's what they used to say in private, over a couple of beers.

As I concluded in the previous post:   

We either have to find a way to live on this Earth, right now, or we have to find a place to die on this Earth.  It's that simple.  It really is.
  ___

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Justin, Tommy - Please, Please Wake Up!

This Associated Press report from the Houston Chronicle, lays it out about as well as it could be said.

The world still isn't close to preventing what leaders call a dangerous level of man-made warming, a new United Nations report says. That's despite some nations' recent pledges to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions.

"The time window (for reaching that goal) is closing, closing," said United Nations undersecretary for environment Achim Steiner. And the cost of getting to that goal "is increasing, increasing."
To meet that goal, the world has to hit a peak of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases before 2030, said the report's chief scientific editor, Joseph Alcamo. But the study says carbon emissions will continue to soar until 2050 and by then it will be too late.
 
If the U.S. and China follow through with their promises, they may shave a few billions of tons off the total, said former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation. Those pledges and an earlier one by Europe, while narrowing the gap, aren't large enough to close it, Alcamo said.
 
In his forward to the report, Steiner wrote that the "analysis reveals a worrisome worsening trend. Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to an even warmer climate and exacerbate the devastating effect of climate change."
 
Outside scientists praised the numbers in the study, but Granger Morgan at Carnegie Mellon University raised a question that scientists have been debating more frequently: Is it time to abandon the two-degree goal as unrealistic?
 
"Today a two-degree target is akin to a 60-year-old man who resolves to be 25 years old next year," Morgan said in an email. "It ain't gonna happen, but it's time to get really serious about achieving what we can."
 
Steiner said because of the dangers of a warmer world, it is unthinkable to abandon the two-degree goal.

We either have to find a way to live on this Earth, right now, or we have to find a place to die on this Earth.  It's that simple.  It really is.

Grandmas on Weed

Hilarious.  In Washington State, 3 grandmothers hit the bong for the very first time.  They're so precious.  Now, pass the chocolate chips.

Well, That's a Plan!



We don't need to let the Ukraine plunge us back into cold war.  There is a way out.  A duel.

The head of east Ukraine’s separatist People’s Republic of Luhansk (LNR) has challenged Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to a duel to bring a decisive end to the conflict between government loyal forces and pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s east.
“Let’s follow the example of the ancient Slav and Cossack chieftains and face each other in a duel,” said Igor Plotnitsky, head of the self-proclaimed LNR, told Russian state news agency TASS on Wednesday.
“Whoever is declared winner dictates the rules the loser’s country has to follow,” Plotnitsky added, before putting himself forward to represent both his own separatists and those in neighbouring Donetsk in a duel with Poroshenko to “put an end to the war”.
And, while we're on the subject, wouldn't this be a dandy way for Harper and Putin to sort out their differences?

Now This Is an Eye-Opener. Greenland Goes Black.

Glaciologist Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland is trying to wake up the world to just what's actually happening to the Greenland ice sheet.  He's crowd-sourced a venture to bring these photos to the public. They reveal the extent of dust and soot contamination of the ice fields and how they're accelerating the melt, the water digging crevasses before racing to the sea.







Now, remember, what these photos evidence is a very powerful, mechanical process that is devastating the ice field beneath.  This is an enormously powerful event that will impact the entire world.  You can watch it grow, quite discernibly, probably for the rest of your days.  And, when that happens, it's likely that a lot of what is seen in these photos will already be long gone.

The Royal Canadian Rent-a-Navy

Protecteur Being Towed Home

Mr. Harper.  It's probably not a brilliant idea to get into Vlad Putin's face when you've left Canada with as navy so neglected that it can't defend one coast much less three.  Our essential supply ships beaten and battered, our air defence destroyers rotted out - it takes a Heart of Oak to sail on under the conditions you've created for Canada's navy.

Algonquin is gone, along with the Iroquois.  Our two supply ships, Protecteur and Provider, - same story.

Without those supply ships we can't send a fighting formation, a task force, to sea.  The best we can do at the moment is hope an ally's replenishment ship can help out.

The worst part is that, with the by now standard incompetence of the Harper government, the replacement ships are years away.

New joint support ships were initially proposed to the Chretien government in 1994, but it wasn't until Paul Martin became prime minister that the vessels were finally ordered.
The Conservatives, however, cancelled and then restarted the program in 2008 when the initial cost estimates exceeded the government's budget envelope. The program has struggled to get back on track ever since.
The parliamentary budget office put out a report last year that said, had the government stuck with the original plan, the navy would already have their ships and they would be cheaper and more capable than what is being proposed now.
So Harper has left Canada essentially defenceless - again.  It's a hell of a jam to be in now that we've plunged into Cold War II.  We know the Russian navy has plenty of ships and plenty of reach.  They showed that by sailing into waters north of Australia during last week's G20 summit.  If there's one thing Putin has shown the world it's that, when you push him, he pushes back.
Still, prime minister Thumb-up-his-Ass does have a few options.  The US Navy has a number of "like new" replenishment ships in mothballs.  They're just ten years old or, in other words, 30-years newer than HMCS Protecteur.  We could rent or, if necessary, even buy a couple of those.  Likewise we might be able to get the Americans to lend or sell us two or three of their substantial fleet of air defence destroyers - just to plug the holes in the RCN's bottom while we still can.

You May Know a Man By the Company He Keeps


There's much to be learned by exploring the type of persons our prime minister seeks out; the gaggle of fixers, hustlers, punks, pocket liners, bullies, thieves, pimps and reprobates who surround him.


Here, in no particular order, are but a few.  The Sullied.


Fantino

Ford

Jacobsen

Abbott

Anders

Porter

Redford

Zaccardelli

Brazeau

Wright

Del Mastro

Duffy

Wallin

Flanagan

Oda

Netanyahu

Tkachuk

Sona

Carson
Mulroney

Jaffer


 And, by the company Stephen Harper keeps, it's pretty easy to take the measure of the man.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sona Bags Nine Months for RoboCalls



I hope Michael Sona gets a frail, elderly cellmate.  He's not the sort who would do well sharing with some guy named "Bubba."

Off to the Greybar Hotel for Michael Sona.  The little bugger scored himself nine months plus a year of probation for  his "blatant disregard of the right of people to vote."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is America About to be Stabbed in the Back by Its Own Defence Contractors?



It's one thing when an outfit like RubberMaid gets bought out, packed up and moved overseas.  It's another thing when what have been considered "strategic industries" go the same route.

Imagine if Lockheed or Raytheon decided to open start-up, mirror operations in, say, China to build and supply high-tech wizardry to the Chinese military. Sound preposterous?  It shouldn't.  It's happened before.  During WWII, certain US companies maintained their involvement with German companies producing key products for the Nazi war effort.

Aviation Week reports that momentum for something similar is building today.

U.S. companies are trying to replicate themselves in other countries, from factories and engineering centers to charitable giving and political lobbying. To do so, they are hiring locals in numbers not seen before, seeding them into U.S.-based corporate leaderships in more important ways, and “marrying” local companies in partnerships that go far beyond satiating politically driven offset requirements.
 
The end-goal is to be ingrained locally, internationally, in order to tap the growing amount of business and talent happening outside the U.S.—and in spite of it. That growth comes as emerging economies develop and FMS plateaus (see chart). Mirroring the effect, foreign-based giants are adhering to that same game plan in the U.S., as evidenced by Airbus Group’s new Mobile, Alabama, plant and Finmeccanica’s DRS Technologies foothold.
 
“We really believe to do this you can’t just fly in a team, conduct business and come back home,” says Gib LeBoeuf, vice president for Washington relations at Raytheon International. “We need to be there next door with our customers. We need to start building better relationships.
 
“And we understand our customers today are no longer looking for the old ways of doing business, which was buying an FMS product from us here in the United States. They really are looking farther than that today. They’re looking for jobs just like we are. They’re looking to be able to coproduce, to co-develop. They want to have a piece of the action,” LeBoeuf adds.
 
High-tech of course, especially military high-tech, is one of America's last bastions of economic viability. Much of the technology and knowledge-base these companies possess has been underwritten by the American government.  Once that walks out the door and sets up shop overseas, it will be a new world for America, economically and strategically.

Once you get that first foot out the door, the second one just seems to follow. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Will We Get It Right This Time? Do We Dare Get It Wrong?

David Cameron is adding his voice to the chorus warning that we're nearing the brink of another global economic meltdown.  The British prime minister, whose failed austerity programmes have done so much to bring Britain low, penned a lament for The Guardian following the G20 summit.

Cameron  generously pats himself on the back and proclaims that what Britain needs now is more Cameron than ever.

As I met world leaders at the G20 in Brisbane, the problems were plain to see. The eurozone is teetering on the brink of a possible third recession, with high unemployment, falling growth and the real risk of falling prices too. Emerging markets, which were the driver of growth in the early stages of the recovery, are now slowing down. Despite the progress in Bali, global trade talks have stalled while the epidemic of Ebola, conflict in the Middle East and Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine are all adding a dangerous backdrop of instability and uncertainty.

Cameron's op-ed is blatant electioneering.  That said, what if he and all the other voices are right?  What if we are heading for another global economic collapse?  What if?

A bit of risk assessment would seem in order.  Remember Harper's completely disingenuous excuse about how "no one could see it coming" to explain his inability to see the Great Recession of 2008 until it had already overwhelmed us?  Harper, being a chronic lying shitsack, was of course wrong.  Plenty saw it coming.  People like Krugman ("The Great Unraveling", 2005), Stiglitz and Nouriel Roubini saw it coming but Harper likes his economics at the undergrad level where ideology reigns unchallenged.

So what is Harper doing to ensure that he 'sees it coming' this time around?  What is he doing to position Canada to meet another seismic hit to the economy?  Apparently nothing.  His focus is on persuading Canadian voters that he's balanced the budget and set Canada on a path to perpetual budget surpluses forever and ever, amen.  Harper wants his base to believe that you can cut taxes, defund government and yet magically leave the country economically robust enough to weather whatever the future throws at us.  That's the sort of thing that appeals to the stupid, the gullible or those with 'faith based' minds adept at magical thinking. 

Canada got through 2008 relatively unscathed but it was thanks to the prudent fiscal policies of previous Liberal governments who handed Harper a government in surplus and a hefty 'rainy day' cash reserve.  Harper immediately set out to defund the government, slashing the GST, and setting Canada's banking industry on the path to emulating America's madness.  Fortunately the Great Recession arrived before Harper could leave us totally exposed - as he has this time.

Harper not only failed to foresee the Great Recession and prepare Canada to meet it, he absolutely bungled the recovery.  Iggy's Liberals also did their full share to fail Canada. Remember Steve & Mike's "Pinata Budget"?  By December, 2010, then parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page, delivered a damning assessment, concluding that the Conservative/Liberal budget had utterly failed to produce the jobs that sort of stimulus spending could have created.

I have never forgiven the Liberals for Ignatieff.  When the recession sent Canada reeling and Harper had to prorogue Parliament, Ignatieff did nothing to answer the country's call.  Instead he treated the extended Christmas break as an opportunity to finish a book on his maternal family's history.  If he wasn't such a goddamned dilettante, Iggy could have forged a shadow, stimulus budget proposal and then pounced on Harper, forcing Harper to either adopt the Liberal budget or face the voters with their competing visions.  Instead Ignatieff returned empty handed save for an obscure book no one could be bothered to read.

Would Trudeau the Lesser do any better than Iggy if Canada was, yet again, caught by surprise by another global recession?  Or would he place the country in the same mess as his party did in 2008/2009?  A big part of the answer is whether the Liberal Party remains lashed to the lunatic ideology of neoliberalism that is wracking the world economy again.  Because the past six years have taught us that the responses to these calamitous meltdowns will not be found in any neoliberal playbook. 


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Arms Race Update - US to Spend a Trillion Dollars on Upgrading Nukes

US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, put it bluntly.  "No other mission we have is more important."

The mission Hagel was referring to was a trillion-dollar, 30-year programme to upgrade America's nuclear weapon arsenal.  A trillion dollars.  Even today that's serious money.

According to the Associated Press, Hagel told the Pentagon on Friday that the decision to upgrade the US nuclear weapons arsenal came after a series of reviews. He said that the internal and external reviews revealed "a consistent lack of investment and support for our nuclear forces over far too many years has left us with too little margin to cope with mounting stresses".

The embarrassing state of the US arsenal was underlined by the review finding that some of the aircraft used by the US military date from 1969 and had seen action in the Vietnam War.

Hagel admitted: "The root cause has been a lack of sustained focus, attention, and resources, resulting in a pervasive sense that a career in the nuclear enterprise offers too few opportunities for growth and advancement."

The US annual spending on its nuclear forces is $16bn and it is expected to increase on average by 10% annually for the next five years.

The programme conflicts with Obama's previous campaign promise to create "a nuclear-free world".

However, with the rise in tensions between the White House and the Kremlin over Ukraine, and the longstanding threat of North Korea, Obama's nuclear upgrade will do little to help international relations.

Russia announced last week that it would be boycotting an international nuclear security summit, scheduled to be hosted by Obama in 2016.

And there it is, kids, we're back.  Cold War II is underway.  Russia and the US are building new warheads.  Russia is developing new intermediate- and intercontinental-range missiles.  Russia is developing new submarines.  Russia and the US are developing new strategic bombers.  And that's to say nothing about what's underway in Pakistan, India and China.  France won't cut its nuclear force and Britain is upgrading hers.

It takes enormous courage to end one of these things and just a cold wind on the back of the neck to start it up again.

The Humiliation of Tony Abbott

Hosting a G20 summit is supposed to be prestigious.  You get the leaders of the world's largest economies to come to your country, to gather in your town, to discuss the great problems of the day.   As host you even get to set the agenda for the summit.  You get to steer all those big wigs and they're supposed to follow your lead.

Now, following the G20 pow wow in Australia, we may have come away with the "Brisbane Rule."  This applies in the situation where the host is a total dick. It operates to override the host's prerogative on setting the summit agenda.  It's sort of like saying, "Look, we didn't come here to put up with childishness."

Case in point.  Tony Abbott, inveterate fossil fueler that he is, struggled and strained mightily to thwart any discussion of climate change.  He resisted every request to place climate change on his agenda.  He had the backing of Canada and Saudi Arabia.  Three peas in a pod.  Nice one, Canada.

And so the grownups at the summit introduced the Brisbane Rule and discussed the climate change issue anyway.  To avoid completely humiliating their host they agreed their discussions would be behind closed doors.  All of this set the tone for the leaders' communique, a process one official described as "trench warfare."

Over the objections of Australia, Canada and Saudi Arabia, the communique calls for phasing out of "inefficient fossil fuel subsidies."

The communique included references to taking practical measures to combat global warming and an explicit endorsement of the climate fund.

As revealed by Fairfax Media, the communique includes a line: "We reaffirm our support for mobilising finance for adaptation and mitigation such as the Green Climate Fund."

The inclusion of a detailed passage on climate change comes despite the issue not being on the formal agenda of the G20 summit and Mr Abbott's insistence that the focus of discussions should be on economic reform.

Mr Abbott has said previously he opposed any financial contribution to the climate fund, which was reportedly described in a Cabinet document as a measure that amounted to "socialism masquerading as environmentalism".

The Green Climate Fund aims to assist poor nations combat climate change and relies primarily on funding from governments and private firms in industrialised countries. US president Barack Obama announced the US would devote $US3 billion to the fund, before he made a rallying call on Saturday for global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Japan pledged it would contribute $US1.5 billion to the climate fund on Sunday, taking the total commitment of nations so far to about $US8 billion. The fund wants to raise $US10-15 billion by the end of the month. 

What a novel idea, "polluter pays."  Yet even the paltry amount proposed for the Green Climate Fund sends miscreants like Abbott and Harper reeling.

It's a safe bet that Tony Abbott wasn't sad to see his visitors leave Australia.  The writing's on the wall.  It's not just environmentalists and the young any more. Now even their peers see Abbott and Harper as pariahs. Meanwhile, Jeffrey Simpson writes that, for Harper, international opprobrium is just water off his oily plumage.