Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What's Next for Canad's Armed Forces - Dumpster Diving?

Yes, That Old!

Hardly a week passes without another example of how Stephen Harper has neglected the armed forces he boastfully claims to revere.   The jumped up little shit doesn't hesitate to proclaim how he's going to buy this for them and that for them but, somehow, this and that never seem to show up.

BBC News reports that Canadian air force personnel had to cannibalize a C-130E Hercules on display at a base museum at CFB Trenton.

"They sort of called up and said, 'Hey, we have these two INUs (intertial navigation units) that we can't use.  Do you have any on yours?'" museum curator Kevin Windsor recalls.  He says they were lucky the parts were available and interchangeable, and took only half an hour to remove.

The former head of military procurement, Dan Ross, says it's embarrassing that the air force has to "cannibalize old stuff that's in museums" to keep up its rescue planes - eight Hercules and six Buffaloes - which are apparently on their last wings.  The planes respond to thousands of emergencies every year.  The government has been promising since 2002 to replace the planes but has kept putting it off  to make sure it's "getting the purchase right."

A Big Win for SpaceX

He may be the Charles Lindburgh of our day.  Elon Musk - born in South Africa to a Canadian mother.  Traveled to Canada, became a Canadian citizen, studied in Canada before moving on to the US where he is now an American citizen.  He has five sons by his Canadian first wife, twins followed by triplets, all of whom now live in the States.

Elon Musk broke into the big leagues by creating PayPal and growing it to the point where, in 2002, Ebay bought it for 1.5-billion dollars in stock.

Musk went on to found Tesla Motors and then made the company's electric battery technology freely available to competitors to encourage production of electric cars.  From there Musk went on to devise the concept for Solar City, operated by his cousins, which has become the largest provider of solar power systems in the US.  Solar City was springboarded on battery technologies developed for Tesla.

What might be the most ambitious venture Musk has undertaken, however, is SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies.  Using his own money, Musk recruited experts from NASA and American aerospace giants to develop his own launch vehicles and capsules.  A breakthrough moment came in April with the successful docking of a SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule with the International Space Station.

Since the end of the Space Shuttle programme, NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz flights to ferry astronauts to the ISS.  However, with the breakdown of US-Russian relations over the Ukraine troubles, NASA has decided to go with a US alternative.

Until recently the contract would have gone to a major US defence contractor. SpaceX got into a similar situation with the Pentagon that ended when it sued to be allowed to compete.  NASA apparently got the message and this time, it split its space station shuttle contract between Boeing  ($4.2-billion) and SpaceX ($2.9-billion).  

Boeing's 5-seat capsule will compete with the 7-seat, Dragon-2 of SpaceX.  

Crew Seating Configuration

If I had to choose, I'd rather go on the Dragon 2.  The capsule comes with a launch escape system, eight rocket motors generating 120,000 lbs. of thrust that will speed the capsule to safety in case of an emergency any time between when the occupants strap in on the launch pad and when they reach orbit.

The system also allows the capsule to effect a soft landing on a prepared pad instead of having to resort to the standard US water landing.

Musk's next goal?  Mars.

Enough Talk About Inequality. It's Time Our Government Acted.

I don't expect Stephen Harper to take any effective action on inequality.   That's a problem facing the Canadian people, not the oil barons of Calgary or his chums in the Beijing politburo.  That said, I do expect our opposition leaders, Muclair and Trudeau to come up with some coherent and credible policies and well prior to the 2015 election.

Fixing this problem begins with acknowledging the problem - the full problem, inequality of wealth, inequality of income and inequality of opportunity.  Equally essential is acknowledgment of the fundamental role government plays in creating and empowering inequality.

The truth is that most inequality is legislated.  It arises out of enactments that create wealth - for a few - from grants, deferrals, tax breaks, subsidies and the transfer of rights to public property at far below fair value and sometimes free of charge.

The infamous "1%" we hear so much about?  It wouldn't be sitting anywhere near as fat and sassy if it wasn't for the political classes serving as its handmaiden.  Read Stiglitz, "The Price of Inequality", to see how Western governments have fallen into service of these elites at the direct expense of the electorates they're sworn to serve and protect.

This screed is brought to you courtesy of The Toronto Star and outgoing TD Bank chief, Ed Clark.  In his farewell speech, Clark referred to inequality in Canada as a "corrosive thing."  Clark also fingered regulators, central bankers, and politicians for helping to create the financial collapse of 2008.

The inequality problem is only going to deepen if the next prime minister plays it safe and seeks political cover in the status quo.  We need a leader who will change Canada's course economically, environmentally and socially.  That sort of change might have the appearance of being revolutionary but that has nothing to do with the imperative merit of change and everything to do with how far Canada has listed to the right.  We're heeled over so far now that the gunwales are kissing the water.

So, let's hear it Tom, let's hear it Justin.  Are you going to be Bay Street bumboys or are you actually going to lead this country to an even keel?

Hard Times on the Miramichi

When we think of a good run of sockeye salmon on the Fraser River, numbers of 20 to 30-million come to mind.  That's one run of one species of salmon on one river, albeit British Columbia's major salmon river.

In that context, this year's Atlantic salmon run on the Miramichi is hard to grasp. New Brunswicks' fabled salmon river accounts for 20 to 25% of all Atlantic salmon spawning in North American rivers.

This year's run on the Miramichi has been devastating, about 12,000 fish.  That's half the annual run in the preceding three years.  In the 1990s the run averaged 82,000 salmon.

Bad as conditions are on the Miramichi, other rivers in Atlantic Canada are reporting even weaker returns.  Atlantic Salmon Federation officials are calling on the federal government to act to save their fishery.  Oh that's right, I forgot, Harper has fired all the scientists at DFO who once dealt with these things.

Another Part of the Puzzle - Our Warming Oceans

The playpen of climate change denialists is on temperature change.  They like to cherry pick statistics, sweep the bulk of the data under the carpet, and declare that global warming has stopped.

Not so fast.

Here's an example of what the denialist mantra carefully omits.

This is a depiction of what's happening in the  North Pacific and Bering Sea.  The red areas such as the Bering Sea are up to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. From the US Pacific Northwest along British Columbia up to the Gulf of Alaska it's 2-3C warmer.

As I've written several times before we in coastal BC are seeing species migrating into our waters that we rarely saw before - fish, marine mammals, sea birds.  This translates into massive schools of sardines, white sided dolphins, even brown pelicans.  We've even had an apparent influx of transient orca perhaps in pursuit of the larger dolphin newcomers. That is the face of climate change.

Here's a pod of transients that has herded a school of white-sided dolphins into the ferry dock at Nanaimo's Departure Bay.


In Alaskan waters newcomers include thresher sharks, skipjack tuna and the giant sunfish or Moa.

What's important is how this warming weather is building up.

Normally storms and winds roll through to cool off the surface of the Northern Pacific, but a weather pattern popped up for a few months in winter 2013 that inhibited those storms from developing, said Nate Mantua, a NOAA research scientist. Then, from October 2013 through January, the weather pattern came back as a ridge of high pressure (the same one connected to the California drought). All of that made the already warm waters in the Alaskan gulf even warmer, a layer about 100 meters thick, Mantua said.
In the spring, warm water started to develop in other Northern Pacific waters, namely the Bering Sea. There's also a chunk of warm water developing off the coast of California.
"You have lots of warm water, and it's due to weather patterns that basically don't take heat out of the ocean," Mantua said. "They are letting the ocean warm up rapidly, and stay warm."
The oceans are heating because the wind patterns have changed in the northern hemisphere.  It's the same wind pattern change that has brought severe drought to the west coast of the US, that brought the Polar Vortex slamming across eastern US and Canada last winter and that gave us a summer of flash flooding from southern California to Burlington to New England.
Some research suggests we should have had a powerful El Nino by now.  The water conditions changed as expected in the central Pacific but the winds associated with El Nino didn't appear to carry that warm water moisture up into California as hoped.  
We're just beginning to explore what these phenomena could mean in the long term.  Are El Ninos destined to become less frequent and less powerful just as we're discovering how dependent the ecology of the American southwest is on them?  What happens to all this heat that's accumulating in our oceans?  What does it do to the oceans and all life that lives in or depends on them?
The answer is as brief as it is troubling - right now, no one really knows.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Will Mike Duffy Call the Next Election?

Sure, it sounds far fetched, but the opposition parties had better be prepared for Harper to call a snap election.

Word I'm getting from Ottawa is that the evidence in the Duffy trial will directly implicate the prime minister in the under-the-table payment/bribery scheme.  If that happens, Stephen Harper's political career is essentially over.

Duffy is pushing for an early trial date, the sooner the better.  Given his circumstances - the cost, two open-heart surgeries, stress - he's apt to get a receptive response from the court.

From Harper's perspective the Duffy trial is a matter of optics and, for SJH, none of the possibilities is good, not good at all.  Harper is already damaged goods and, even if he escapes efforts to compel him to testify, what remains of his reputation will become a political pinata in the course of the trial.

The question becomes how badly does Harper want another term as prime minister?  His odds aren't good in any event but he's still got a shot, perhaps a minority at best, if he can trigger an election before the trial gets underway.

My take on it is that Harper will do a Mulroney.  He'll see the writing on the wall and bail out, leaving his successor to go up in flames.

I am left wondering whether these side pressures played a role in Harper's decision to ink the FIPA deal with his kindred spirits, the politburo in Beijing. He's done his damage.  Why hang around to take the heat for the fallout?

Scotland Would Hardly Be the First to Go Its Own Way

Back when Rule Brittania meant something, much, if not most, of the world's population was under British rule, part of the British Empire.  This handy map from shows how many countries have come to independence from the Empire.

If the Scottish people do vote this week to secede, they'll be in good company.

Duffy to Trial

Mike Duffy will be heading straight to trial.  Counsel appeared briefly in court today and were told to come back on the 23rd to set a date for trial.

That ups the ante for Stephen Harper, increasing the chances that the trial might happen before the general elections scheduled for October, 2015.  The evidence will expose the dirty dealing of Harper's Prime Minister's Office and his top officials as well as the corruption of the Conservative leadership in the Senate. The greatest risk for Harper is the prospect of being directly tied to the Duffy deal, something the prime minister has struggled to deny.

I think Harper would have an extremely tough time if compelled to take the stand and give evidence under oath.  Duffy's account of the $90,000 "gift" from Nigel Wright is remarkably solid.  By contrast, Harper has played fast and loose with the facts as is his way.

Harper has a habit of taking forceful, cut and dried positions on situations that turn into scandals.  As facts emerge Harper has to fall back and make contradictory and inconsistent statements.  He invents new lies when his initial lies collapse.  

A perfect example is Harper's handling of the Bruce Carson/PMO debacle when people began asking how a controversial character with multiple fraud convictions who had done prison time managed to get into a sensitive position inside the Prime Minister's Office.  

At first, Harper claimed he'd been blindsided.  He knew nothing about Carson's shady past.  Harper blamed it on the failure of his staff to properly vet the guy before he was hired.  Harper said if he'd known anything about Carson's past he'd have booted him straight out of the PMO.

Then it came out that somebody had waived the otherwise mandatory RCMP security check.  Who might have the power to do that?  Remember, at that time, the commissioner was a veteran Conservative backroom operator and career civil servant, Bill Elliott.  

As attention was drawn to senior PMO and Privy Council staffers and the top brass in the RCMP, Harper changed his tune.  He implicitly admitted he'd been lying.  Now, he said, he had known about Carson's criminal past - but only part of it - and yet he wanted to give the guy a second chance to rehabilitate himself. Call it Christian charity.

When the scandal broke Harper claimed to have been duped, let down by his staff, blindsided.  He denied knowing anything about Carson's past.

When the scandal closed in, Harper suddenly said he had known about Carson's past but wanted to do the guy a favour.  And, with that admission, Harper also admitted he'd been straight out lying all along.  

There's been enough of this sort of thing that Harper would have trouble defending his credibility under cross-examination by someone like Mr. Bayne.

It remains to be seen whether Bayne can persuade a judge that Harper's evidence is essential to the conduct of the trial.  A chronic liar like our prime minister won't submit without a fight.  

Last Month - Hottest August On Record

NASA has run the numbers.  August, 2014 was the hottest August since records were kept of these things starting about 130-years back.

May, 2014 was also the hottest May on record.  March, 2014 was the third hottest since 1880.

The powerful El Nino everyone, especially Californians, were hoping for hasn't materialized which leaves the Golden State with no end in sight to its already severe drought.

Texas Brainwashing Youth

Well I guess North Korea doesn't have a monopoly on this any more.

The great state of Texas wants to implant lies in the minds of its youngsters.

Texas has proposed re-writing school text books to incorporate passages denying the existence of climate change and promoting the discredited views of an ultra-conservative think tank.

The proposed text books ...were already attracting criticism when it emerged that the science section had been altered to reflect the doctrine of the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by the Koch oil billionaires.

In the proposed 6th grade texts, students were introduced to global warming amid false claims that there was scientific disagreement about its causes.

"Scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing.  They do not agree on what is causing the change," the passage reads.

In my view, this sort of thing - misleading young and trusting minds - is just another form of child abuse.  There's a perniciousness to this, a genuine malevolence.  It reeks of bad faith and an abuse of the trust parents must place in the authorities who educate their children.

Perhaps we need to revisit our notions of crime and punishment.  Those who would place society at risk and would imperil future generations must be held accountable in some way.  In societies as indoctrinated as ours have become by popular culture and the corporate mass media, relying on the ballot box is no longer an effective way to deter this sort of conduct.  That's why they're doing it whether by distorting text books or signing multi-decadal agreements surrendering sovereignty to totalitarian states abroad.  They do it, not because it's right, but because they can get away with it and they act without the slightest concern about retribution at the ballot box.

Clean Is Cheap, Cheaper Than Dirty.

Of all the Big Lies embedded in our collective consciousness by the fossil fuelers and their minions in government is the scary tale that going green, decarbonizing our economies and our societies, would be devastatingly expensive.  They keep drumming into our heads that shifting off fossil fuels would destroy our economies and plunge us into poverty and darkness.

That's bullshit.

A report to be released today contends that going green would essentially cost almost nothing.

A global commission will announce its finding on Tuesday that an ambitious series of measures to limit emissions would cost $4 trillion or so over the next 15 years, an increase of roughly 5 percent over the amount that would likely be spent anyway on new power plants, transit systems and other infrastructure.
When the secondary benefits of greener policies — like lower fuel costs, fewer premature deaths from air pollution and reduced medical bills — are taken into account, the changes might wind up saving money, according to the findings of the group, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate.

The commission found that some $90 trillion is likely to be spent over the coming 15 years on new infrastructure around the world. The big challenge for governments is to adopt rules and send stronger market signals that redirect much of that investment toward low-emission options, the report found.

“This is a massive amount of investment firepower that could be geared toward building better cities, and better infrastructure for energy and agriculture,” said Jeremy Oppenheim, who led the research for the report.

While the commission found that the requisite steps may make economic sense, that does not mean they will be politically easy, the report says. For instance, the group will recommend that countries eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels, which cost about $600 billion a year but are vigorously defended by vested interests.

This isn't about making our lives better or whether we can maintain maximum affluence and ease.  It's about what sort of life we're going to bequeath to our children and theirs.  There are already a lot of climate change impacts in the pipe that we can't do much about.  That's not to say that we, today and in the coming years, can't make those impacts far worse than they need be.  If we don't have the courage to change our behaviour, the bill for our cowardice will be foisted off on those to come.

Monday, September 15, 2014

There's This Story Making the Rounds...

It's an item from Reuters that has been picked up by a number of newspapers, including The Globe & Mail.  It concerns a study that found one species of algae has managed to adapt fairly quickly to warming and more acidic oceans.

What's interesting is that the authors of the study went to great lengths to point out the limits of their discovery and to stress that this wasn't some sort of "all clear" on either the warming or acidification of our oceans.  Having noted that, the reporter went on to simply ignore the cautions and proclaim some sort of miracle.

An essential point that's completely overlooked is that, yes algae or phytoplankton do absorb CO2.  Sure they suck it right up like a sponge.  Great, they're carbon-based life forms.  What the writer ignores is what happens to that absorbed CO2.  It's fixed in these organisms and, being organisms, they eventually die and when they die these tiny little organisms sink to the bottom where they decay and release their fixed carbon into the waters of the ocean depths.  They don't make the acidification vanish.  They're simply a conveyor that carries it to the ocean floor.

We know that algae blooms also suck up enormous amounts of dissolved oxygen.  In large concentrations algae can turn water anoxic giving rise to "dead zones".  None of this makes its way into this "feel good" news report either.

However the giveaway that this is a journalistic con job is apparent in the final two paragraphs.  The writer mentions some "U.N. panel of scientists" that is 95% sure that climate change is man made.  That's followed by this closer:

Opinion polls, however, indicate that many voters believe that natural variations are to blame.  The mismatch between scientific and public opinion complicates a plan by almost 200 governments to work out a deal to limit global warming at a summit in late 2015 in Paris. 

There's a journalistic device that pits a powerful scientific consensus based on extensive and ongoing research into every natural science discipline by accomplished and highly-educated experts in those fields against "many voters" whose only qualification appears to be an ability to cast a ballot and then declares a "mismatch".  No, sorry, it's not a mismatch when you pit one powerful consensus based on knowledge, experience and research against a contrary opinion based on nothing.

We Still Don't Know the Depths of Harper's Perfidy

Canada's Manchurian Candidate?

But we've got 32-years to find out.  That's the toxic lifespan of the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement whereby Harper sold Canada down the river to Beijing in exchange for a bag of silver coins.

According to The Tyee, Harper knuckled under to China's demands for one reason - to keep Chinese money flowing to the Oil Patch.

Gus Van Harten is an associate professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School and an expert in investment treaties.

Van Harten said FIPA is practically a one-way deal in favour of China, and Ottawa needs to acknowledge the non-reciprocal aspects of the deal and explain why they would ratify it two years after it was first signed.

"It seems to me the federal government has conceded to China under pressure to give them this treaty," said Van Harten. "My guess is this is the price China has demanded to open its purse strings for investing in the resource sector in Canada."

In a press release today, Ottawa insisted the deal will protect such Canadian investors in China and help build trade relations.

The release claims the deal will give "Canadian investors in China the same types of protections that foreign investors have long had in Canada."

But Van Harten doesn't buy that line.

"One aspect of the treaty is it has an exclusion of all existing discriminatory measures in Canada or China," he said. "China, it's safe to say, has far more existing discriminatory measures than Canada does."

Local government rules or different tax rates will now be locked in under the agreement, giving Chinese officials a tool to punish any Canadian investors it wishes to, he said.

We probably won't have to wait too long before we feel the lash of FIPA.

How South Americans are Killing Their Environment

In some places, cutting down trees can have huge consequences.  In South America, the impacts are especially far-reaching.  Deforestation has picked up again in the Amazon.  That, in turn, is causing havoc to the region's hydrological cycle, triggering severe drought.

The unprecedented drought now affecting São Paulo, South America’s giant metropolis, is believed to be caused by the absence of the “flying rivers” − the vapour clouds from the Amazon that normally bring rain to the centre and south of Brazil.

Some Brazilian scientists say the absence of rain that has dried up rivers and reservoirs in central and southeast Brazil is not just a quirk of nature, but a change brought about by a combination of the continuing deforestation of the Amazon and global warming.

This combination, they say, is reducing the role of the Amazon rainforest as a giant “water pump”, releasing billions of litres of humidity from the trees into the air in the form of vapour.

...Deforestation all over Brazil has reached alarming proportions: 22% of the Amazon rainforest (an area larger than Portugal, Italy and Germany combined), 47% of the Cerrado in central Brazil, and 91.5% of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area.

...As long ago as 2009, Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, warned that, without the “flying rivers”, the area that produces 70% of South America’s GNP would be desert.
In an interview with the journal Valor Economica, he said: “Destroying the Amazon to advance the agricultural frontier is like shooting yourself in the foot. The Amazon is a gigantic hydrological pump that brings the humidity of the Atlantic Ocean into the continent and guarantees the irrigation of the region.”

“Of course, we need agriculture,” he said. “But without trees there would be no water, and without water there is no food.

“A tonne of soy takes several tonnes of water to produce. When we export soy we are exporting fresh water to countries that don’t have this rain and can’t produce. It is the same with cotton, with ethanol. Water is the main agricultural input. If it weren’t, the Sahara would be green, because it has extremely fertile soil.”

Drought visits all manner of consequences on Brazil.  Sao Paulo, a city of 9-million, is facing the prospect of running out of water within just two or three months.  Brazil has also been the second-largest hydroelectric power generator in the world.  Now it's power infrastructure undermined by drought, Brazil is trying to shift to wind power.  In the meantime, as Brazil's hydro-electric generation falters, the country is left to turn to fossil fuel-powered generation.

Two years ago, hydroelectric power accounted for 89 percent of electricity production from January to July, while fossil fuels accounted for 7.3 percent of the mix. This year, hydroelectric is down to about 75 percent of the total, with fossil fuels rising to about 22 percent, Valor Economico said, citing data from the national electricity operator.

As for the future of the Amazon, the fear is that deforestation could so alter the environment that the rainforest dries up, dies, and then begins its own natural feedback mechanism - wildfires.  Unlike temperate forests, the trees of the Amazon have no resistance to fire.

How America Wakes Up to Climate Change

It's not temperature that's finally sweeping Americans into acceptance of anthropogenic climate change.  It's precipitation or, in some cases, the lack of it that they can't get around.

There are still some holdouts in the Republican ranks, federal and state, and a few Dems too and they'll probably keep the argument going about global warming until the Koch brothers, Heinrich und Wolfram, run out of money.  But all the denialism money can buy won't hold back the sea, won't stop the torrents of flash flooding sweeping the US, won't break the crippling drought in the American southwest.

A fellow in a nice Michigan town was interviewed a few days ago about a series of flash floods that had hit his street.  He talked about how the recurrent flooding was breaking his house down, ruining his flooring, spreading mould into his walls, slowly rendering his house unfit for habitation.  He was in no mood to debate the reality of climate change because the impacts were already on him, leaving him facing ruinous losses.

When it comes right down to it, most of us live in a temperate zone.  It doesn't much matter if it's a little hotter or a little colder from time to time.  That we can adapt to, usually.  But when it turns a lot wetter or a lot dryer, that's another matter. When the sea fills your streets and cellars and subways; when recurrent flash floods turn your home into a mould farm; or when rain stops coming at all and your lakes dry up and your orchards die and there's nothing left to pump out of your well - then you've got problems that can't be shrugged off.   That goes directly to peoples' livelihoods.  It goes to the viability of their homes and communities.  It goes to costs and losses, real chequebook stuff.  It goes to your economy.  And then, finally, when much of the damage is already upon you, it goes into your legislatures.

The Cavendish Cottager Comes Roaring Back to the Front Page

Stephen Harper's pucker factor must be at "Level 7- Deep Purple" at the prospect of what awaits when Conservative senator Mike Duffy begins his criminal trial process this week.   A former top advisor to the reigning prime minister says the word is that they're shitting bricks about what Duffy might have up his sleeve.

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives should be worried about the pending trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy because of "what Mike might have up his sleeve," a former senior adviser to the prime minister says.
Keith Beardsley, who served for five years as Harper's deputy chief of staff for issues management, warned the court proceedings could leave Harper and his staff scrambling to put out fires. 
"Duffy, being the showman, he'll release whatever he can release when it's the most damaging and that's what the party, the prime minister, PMO has to be on guard for. And they just sit and wait for it to come and you have no control over those types of situations, you simply react," Beardsley told CBC News.
"So as we get closer, the longer this goes on and the closer it gets to the election date, the more damaging that type of information is."
And, yes, Duffy is coming out fighting and, perhaps, Harper & Co. have reason for concern.  That much seems apparent from accounts that Duffy's counsel is considering waiving the preliminary hearing and proceeding directly to trial.
A source tells CBC News that Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, is considering skipping the preliminary phase to move to trial quickly.
Duffy is facing 31 charges in connection with allegations of misspending of public money. The charges include fraud, breach of trust and bribery of a judicial officer. The RCMP laid the charges July 17, after a year-long investigation relating to Duffy's Senate living allowance, expense claims, awarding of consulting contracts and a $90,000 payment from the prime minister's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
Waiving the prelim?  There's a cannon shot across the bows.  Bayne knows what he has in his arsenal, the documents.  Here's the important thing to keep in mind.
NONE of these events was ever expected to become public.  It was all done very covertly - the deal, the money, the corruption of the majority in the Senate to launder Duffy's audit reports - in the party cloakroom.
NONE of these events would have surfaced save for one e-mail that Duffy couldn't help but send to his Ottawa confidantes detailing (in advance) what was to unfold in the deal he'd reached with the PMO.  
It was Duffy's e-mail.  It was sent contemporaneously with or in advance of events that it describes quite accurately.  It's one thing to deceitfully tell others that the prime minister has a fondness for your man-musk.  It's another altogether to describe to your nearest and dearest what the prime minister is willing to do for you and to thereafter have them come to pass.  
As it turns out, it's that one Duffy e-mail, leaked to CTV's Bob Fife that, for Harper & Co. was their live grenade.  They literally indict themselves when they deny the existence of an agreement, documented in advance and circulated broadly, the particulars of which came to fruition.  That's a situation that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck - it's a duck.
By denying events that are attributed to you on a date before which they came to occur, is to self-convict.  That might, in open court, give rise to a situation in which certain members of Harper & Co, Harper's personal nest of vipers in the PMO and Senate leadership decided to drop the pretence. It seems like a "weakest link" situation.  It's an old tactic. To a lawyer with Bayne's experience and achievements, little nuanced inconsistencies become sledgehammers.  

Any idea about the documents in this case?  I've read that, between what the PMO, Nigel Wright, and Mike Duffy coughed up, it was around 600-pages in length.   I've also heard that there are another 250 documents from post-it notes to messages and solicitors' letters that pretty concisely chronicle the fact and sophistication of what transpired.

This was a fairly well thought out scheme to make a potentially big political problem go away.    Then someone talked.  Others talked. It was in the papers.  

E-mails surfaced.  They revealed both a plan and a benefits package.

Going directly to trial is a gutsy move but is it an act of desperation or an act of revenge?  Is it Duffy's way of taking the fight to Harper, dragging Harper's former key advisors back into the fray?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sound Familiar?

The current decline of the United States from global economic hegemon re-enacts the same path that brought low the previous dominant economies of Spain, the Netherlands and Great Britain.  Here's a brief account of what happened to Spain from Le Monde.

In the 16th century, Spain pillaged the New World and the gold and other precious metals that flooded into Spain turned its merchants into rich rentiers. Their wealth benefitted the nascent industries of the rest of Europe but Spain’s manufacturing sector declined, as did its empire. As the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote, “Spain owned the cow, but others drank the milk.”

It's the same dynamic at play today between the United States and China.  America, flush with wealth and with an appetite for quick, big returns for its rentier class, has abandoned its manufacturing sector and used its wealth to grow the economy of its successor, China.  It's deja vu all over again.

The Le Monde article also has an insightful examination of China's resource rampage underway in Latin America.  It should provide an object lesson for what could lie in store for Canada thanks to the unfortunate trade pact by which Stephen Harper this week indentured Canada to China for decades.

Latin America is still largely missing out on the added value created by industrial processes. The relationship with China is heightening the re-primarisation of economies in the region, now more dependent on the global market and on the primary sector, which creates little wealth and few jobs. Latin America now owns the cow, but it still isn’t getting much of the milk. The growing demand for primary products is exacerbating another problem in Latin America. Andrés Velasco, former Chilean finance minister, recently said: “You look out the window and what you see is a tremendous tsunami of wealth coming your way. And this, which once upon a time might have been welcomed, I view ... as a terrifying sight ... Because this tsunami is going to make your politics very difficult ... and your macro trade-offs very sharp” (5).

He was referring to “Dutch disease”, coined after the discovery of the world’s largest deposit of natural gas in the Dutch province of Groningen, in 1959. Dutch gas exports soared, bringing in huge amounts of foreign currency and causing the value of the florin to rise sharply. The prices of Dutch products on foreign markets rose, while the cost of imports fell, and Dutch industry declined. Latin America today is in a similar position. The influx of foreign currency (linked to exports, but also to investment) has caused regional currencies to appreciate significantly. The value of the Brazilian real rose by 25% from 2010 to 2011, and the finance minister, Guido Mantega talked of a “currency war”, fuelled by China (6). On a trip to Beijing in 2011, President Dilma Rousseff urged China to rebalance trade between the two countries.

For What It's Worth - Ignatieff on ISIS

Der Spiegel interviews Harvard professor, Michael Ignatieff, on ISIS, Obama, the Middle East generally, Israel and Palestine.  Some interesting thoughts, some banal and predictable.  You be the judge.

Why Getting Our Arab Allies Off Their Fat, Pampered Asses Matters

Since Obama started this 'get ISIS' coalition-building business, the Sunni Arab world has been conspicuous by its absence.

The Sydney Morning Herald's chief foreign correspondent, Paul McGeough, weighs in on Australian prime minister Tony Abbott's decision to jump in with both boots.

The smart thing for Western leaders in the wake of John Kerry's session with Arab leaders in Jeddah on Thursday last, would have been to bide their time. And it would have been smart too to bide their time a bit more after Sunday's grim reports of another Westerner beheaded by these crazed thugs who strut as Islamic freedom fighters in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

But Tony Abbott leapt straight in – committing 600 Australian military personnel and more aircraft to the conflict, thereby giving the Arab leaders good reason to believe that if they sit on their hands for long enough, the West will fight their war for them.

Even as Abbott made his announcement in Darwin, the US Secretary of State was trailing his coat-tails in Cairo, making little headway with pleas for assistance from a murderous military regime that will shoot its own people, but seemingly dares not volunteer to face the so-called Islamic State on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.

Either collectively in Jeddah or in one-on-one meetings with Kerry as in Cairo, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Lebanon all have baulked at making explicit military commitments to confront a force that they all see as a direct threat to their thrones, bunkers and, in one or two cases, tissue-thin democracies. With the exception of Iraq, which has no option because it is under attack at home, none has publicly committed military support.

McGeough warns that, despite Obama's assurances that we'll only be dropping bombs on Islamic State forces, it's a formula for failure.

...An air war cannot succeed without a substantial boots-on-the-ground accompaniment – and that part of what Obama calls a strategy is very much on a wing and a prayer.

The Kurdish Peshmerga can fight, but they can't defend all of Iraq. The Iraqi army, trained and equipped by Washington at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, is erratic and more likely to cut and run than to stand and fight. Next door in Syria, Obama is banking of the ranks of the Free Syrian Army – which for years he has complained could not be counted on, and which Washington now tries to convince us can be taken to Saudi Arabia, retrained and sent home to win the war.

More than a decade trying to wave a magic wand over the security forces of Iraq and Afghanistan should have convinced the White House that relying on these newly trained forces qualifies for dismissal under the Obama dictum of "don't do stupid stuff!"

 Meanwhile McGeough questions what makes fools rush in.

Oddly, the Prime Minister warned Australians to prepare for a fight that might last "months rather than weeks, perhaps many, many months indeed…" Seems he's in as much of a hurry to get into this war, as he seemingly thinks he will get out of it.

It's not clear why. This "we must do something right now" response is likely to create a bigger mess than already exists in the region. Consider: the death of 200,000 locals in Syria failed to rouse much of a reaction in the West; but the deaths of two Americans – and now a Briton – has raised a crescendo for international war when it might have made more sense to tackle regional politicking and feuding first.  He might be right.  Random acts of warfare might just be the political Viagara for ailing, flaccid heads of state who can't find any other way to get their peckers up. 

Oh Hell, There Goes the NATO Neighbourhood

The allegation:  our longtime NATO partner, Turkey, has been supporting al-Qaeda in Syria.  The accuser, Francis Ricciardone, until late June the American ambassador to Turkey.

"Turkey has directly supported al-QAeda's wing in Syria, in defiance of America, the former US ambassador has disclosed.

"The Turkish authorities thought they could work with extremist Islamist groups in the Syrian civil war and at the same time push them to become more moderate, Ricciardone told journalists in a briefing.  That led them to work with Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda offshoot, as well as hardline Salafi Islamist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham.  Mr. Ricciardone said that he tried to persuade the Turks to close their borders to the groups, but to no avail.

Turkey has declined to join Obama's coalition to beat back the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria and has prohibited US forces from launching missions against ISIS from bases inside Turkey. In another, "whose side are you on anyway?" moment, it's reported that Turkey has failed to interfere with ISIS' oil marketing by which ISIS has become one of the wealthiest terror groups ever.

Pope Warns We May Already Be In "Piecemeal WWIII"

Has the world already stumbled into a third world war?  Pope Francis thinks that could well be the case.  Denouncing war as "madness", the Pope made his remarks while visiting Italy's largest military cemetery.

In Saturday's homily, standing at the altar beneath Italy's fascist-era Redipuglia memorial - where 100,000 Italian soldiers killed during WWI are buried, 60,000 of them unnamed, the Pope paid tribute to the victims of all wars.
"Humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep," he said.

"Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction," he said.
I don't know about you but I'm thinking Francis might just be right.  What's going on today around the world, the brutal chaos, the clash of state and non-state actors, the "new war" type of warfare is very much in keeping with the models of warfare for the 21st century canvased in a recent course I took from the war studies department of Kings College London.

Gone are the days of Haig and Kitchener, Rommel and Patton.  Gone are the days of massive armies clashing over reasonably understood objectives.
Gone are the days of victors and vanquished, of declarations of war and treaties of peace.

Today's warfare sees parties mix and blur, sometimes drifting in and out of conflict, with often ill-defined objectives or no particular purposes at all. Conflict has become more fluid, actors are apt to change sides or vary allegiances.  The distinctions that once separated crime, terrorism, and insurgency are increasingly meaningless.

The Afghanistan debacle demonstrates how ill-prepared the West is for this transition in warfare.  Despite our claims to the contrary, we went into Afghanistan to fight a conventional military war - heavy on firepower, weak on troop strength.  It wasn't for lack of bombs or strike fighters, tanks, artillery or any of the other accoutrements of modern warfare that we failed to defeat a bunch of illiterate farm boys equipped with Korean war vintage rifles and light machine guns.  We failed because we stupidly never had remotely enough soldiers to fight their war and because they chose, not stupidly, not to fight ours.   At the end of the day the only war that mattered was theirs, the only one still in play when the clock ran out on our war.

Wars of theology seem to have supplanted wars of ideology as the new expression of nationalism.   The rise of religious fundamentalism as a driving force even in the halls of grand palaces and national legislatures has introduced a new element of zealotry and an acceptance of brutality that might have been unacceptable previously.  Who needs morality when you follow the fierce burning light of religious extremism whether Muslim, Christian, Judaic, Hindu or whatever?

Warlordism and tribalism often frustrate both the ability to conduct an effective war and any prospect for achieving peace from conflict.  We in the West have exacerbated those tensions by the manner in which we carved up so much of the world as our spoils of war, drawing lovely neat borders to suit our convenience and without concern for the ethnic realities of the people we were corralling together.

In contemporary warfare before the turn of the 20th century, fatalities were roughly 85% military, 15% civilian.  A century later those ratios had been reversed.  Today the brunt of warfare is inordinately borne by civilian populations as the laws of war intended to protect them are routinely flouted by non-state actors and state actors alike.  Even in Canada we sit by complacently as our allies deliberately target civilian populations with impunity.  They do it and, by our silence, we condone it and become complicit in it.

Morality has gone straight out the window.  There are more failed and failing states, ever more illiberal democracies (we're not all that far off either) ushering in a new era of authoritarianism.  And we have collectively arrived at this tragic place just at the moment when we must decide if mankind can find some means of equitably and peacefully sharing this biosphere, our one and only habitat, through what promises to be an increasingly challenging and dangerous century.                                        

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Welcome Visit from God

God exists.  I know this because He's on Twitter.

From the "Tweet of God":

I'm restoring the world to factory settings.

Life is sexually transmitted.

The great thing about sarcasm is, no one ever misunderstands it.

The answer to the question "can people really be that stupid?" is always yes.

Thank you for praying.  All available angels are currently assisting other prayers. Stay on your knees. We will be with you vaguely.

Because of Rob Ford and Justin Bieber I am officially revoking Ontario's provincial licence.  From now on it will be known as East Manitoba.

I am God.  I had a son.  He was also Me.  He was a man, though.  I had him killed.  He came back. I did it to save you from how I made you.

Always remember that, in times of trouble, I am right there at your side, throwing the trouble at you.

11.  Thou shalt not take nude pics.

I apologize to some of you for the rest of you.

"World's largest ice sheets melting at fastest rate ever recorded."  You like ice challenges?  There you go.

I created the entire universe on behalf of one group of one species on one planet in one solar system in one galaxy.

I wish I'd had room to outlaw rape in the Ten Commandments but obviously working on Saturday and neighbourhood donkey-coveting had priority.

When a sentence begins "The unarmed black man was" and ends "at least six times"  the verb in the middle is usually not "hugged." 

No matter how difficult it looks, no matter how impossible the challenge seems, if you believe you have God on your side, that's nice.

Most of you are why the rest of you have no faith in any or all of you.

Remember good news?  Man, that takes Me back!

I giveth and I taketh away and it sucketh.

If it's any consolation, the nine quintillion other universes I oversee are all going to shit too.

Texas Republicans are arguing that marriage equality could lead to incest.  You know what DEFINITELY leads to incest?  Creating Adam and Eve.

Food and clean water are so awesome I sometimes think everybody should have them.

Science is true whether or not you believe it, but religion is true whether or not it's true.

Why can't you all just get along?  Oh yeah, Me.

Religions Ranked by Truth.  1.  Yours,  2.  All Others.

When Jesus said "Love Thy Neighbour," the "when it's politically convenient and they look like you" was implied.

Have a great weekend!

Naomi Klein's Confession - Is It Yours, Too?

In the run-up to the release of her new book, "This Changes Everything," Naomi Klein has come clean.  For far too long she was in what she describes as a "soft denial" about climate change.  Does this sound familiar?

"A great many of us engage in this kind of denial.  We look for a split second and then we look away.  Or maybe we really do look, but then we forget.  We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons.  We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything.

"And we are right.  If we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, major cities will drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas; our children will spend much of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts.  Yet we continue all the same.

"What is wrong with us?  I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things needed to cut emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have struggled to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck, because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe - and benefit the vast majority - are threatening to an elite minority with a stranglehold over our economy, political process and media." 

Ms. Klein may be late coming to the party but she's right.  We - you and I - are today deciding our children's fate or we're more likely abrogating our responsibility to our children and theirs, handing it over to people with names like Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair.  Of the lot, Harper is obviously the worst but the other two barely manage to hold the distinction of being "less worse."

While I'll wait until next week when my copy of Klein's books is to arrive before passing judgment, I'm curious about her focus on cutting GHG emissions.  That is plainly necessary, abjectly critical, but is it too narrow a focus?  How does it answer our other pressing existential challenges such as over-population, over-consumption; the loss of biodiversity, particularly the collapse of global fisheries; resource depletion including the global, freshwater crisis; food insecurity and all the ills that spawns from the spread of failed states to terrorism and resource wars?

I'm convinced by the considered arguments of Jared Diamond and others that global warming is but one part of a greater problem and that, if we're going to "fix" any of these challenges we'll have to solve them all.   "Winning" has to be something better than mere survival, eking out an existence, and it has to be for everybody not just the advantaged.

Obama Doesn't Have a Clue

Barack Obama has a mess on his hands in Iraq and has no idea what to do to clean it up.  And so he falls back on neo-America's default option - bomb it.

Retired US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, offers some insights that reveal how hapless - and hopeless - American policy toward the Middle East has become.  American policy is in a rut reminiscent of the movie, "Groundhog Day."

Even if Obama cobbles together a plan to destroy the Islamic State, the problems bedeviling the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East more broadly won’t be going away anytime soon.

Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant won’t create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won’t restore the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won’t dissuade Saudi Arabia from funding jihadists. It won’t pull Libya back from the brink of anarchy. It won’t end the Syrian civil war.  It won’t bring peace and harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won’t persuade the Taliban to lay down their arms in Afghanistan. It won’t end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan. It certainly won’t resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All the military power in the world won’t solve those problems. Obama knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary — mostly because he and his advisers don’t know what else to do. Bombing has become his administration’s default option.

Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues to drift, guns blazing.

America has fallen captive to its very own game of "Whack-a-Mole".  Bacevich seems to suggest that America and her posse (that's us) need to accept the fact that we can't play wet nurse to every double-dealing Sheikh and Crown Prince and general across the Muslim world.  We're beating our heads against a wall and emptying our treasuries while they're sitting back on their fat arses unwilling to do any heavy lifting.

Whether the president will make good his promise to “degrade and ultimately defeat” Islamic State militants will depend less on the accuracy of U.S. bombs and missiles than on the effectiveness and motivation of surrogate forces fighting on the ground. Identifying willing and able proxies is like to pose a challenge.

The Iraqi security forces, created by the United States at such great cost, have shown neither fight nor skill. Though the Kurdish peshmerga have a better reputation, their primary mission is to defend Kurdistan, not to purge Iraq as a whole of invaders. The Syrian army is otherwise occupied and politically toxic.

The countries that ought to care more than the United States simply because they are more immediately threatened by Islamic State fighters — Iran, Turkey, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia — have not demonstrated a commensurate willingness to act.

There was a brief moment when the Obama administration let slip that the key to defeating ISIS was the formation of a multinational force from the region's Sunni Muslim countries.  A Sunni army to take down a Sunni insurgency.  Makes perfect sense especially as those Sunni countries are drowning in modern military hardware we supplied to them.  But all that hardware sits secure from the harsh desert sun in hangars and arsenals put to use mainly to crush democratic protest movements in countries like Bahrain or on the streets of Cairo.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Smear Job or Indictment? The Rise and Collapse of Boeing's Corporate Culture

Al Jazeera pulls the wings off Boeing's 787 to reveal the "new Boeing" where profit comes first, even at the expense of quality. 

There was a time when "Boeing" meant the essence of quality.  From the B-17 to the B-52, and the magnificent history of the "7" series - 707, 737, 747, 757 and 767.  And then something changed and it began in Boeing's corporate culture. 

The company built on its quality, Washington state workforce, turned on its workers, beat up their union and the State government.  Boeing decided to outsource assembly work to the Third World, a.k.a. Charleston, South Carolina. 

Ordinarily I wouldn't post a documentary this long but, on watching it, the reality sank in that this is the face of today's corporate culture and we all need to be aware of that.   As for me, I've pretty much given up commercial flying but if I do have to travel, it sure as hell won't be on a Boeing 787.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Arab States Back US Push Against Islamic State"

Saudi Armour on Anti-Democracy Patrol in Bahrain

That was the headline from the BBC report on a mini-summit attended by US State Secretary, John Kerry, and senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

So what do these Arab powerhouses mean by "backing the US."  Are they fueling their strike fighters, mobilizing their tank brigades, parading the troops, gearing up to take the fight to the Islamic State?  No, not so much.

What they have agreed to do - and this time they mean it, really - is to "help stop the flow of funds and foreign fighters" to the Islamic State.  In other words, they're going to put away their cheque books and start screening the departure lounges at their airports.  That's it?  Apparently so.

The Arab princes, it seems, want the infidels to do their dirty work for them. Maybe they just can't bring themselves to exchange fire with the same murderous bastards they funded in the first place.  Maybe they think we're their Crusader Brigade, their Arab Foreign Legion.  Whatever they think, they're right. Christendom is rallying to do their bidding.  We're back in their "reliable" fold.

Sorry but this is bullshit.   The Islamic Caliphate is as much a threat to these pampered oil swine as it is to Syria or Iraq.  This is a cause that needs a Sunni army sweeping ISIS out of Syria and Iraq.  The US has armed these countries to the teeth.  Time for them to show they know how to use the stuff.

Mayor Discovered on Tumour

Too soon?  Too cold?  Sorry.

When it was announced yesterday that Mayor Rob Ford's doctors discovered he has developed a tumour I was surprised, sort of (not really).  For a long time I marveled at how he kept going with the manner(s) in which he abused his body.  Booze, drugs of all descriptions, and obviously a hearty feed of junk food. 

We know from constant warnings in the media that medical science believes we're doing no end of harm to our physiology with the stuff we're cramming into it.  And we don't even understand the chemicals in some of our food and medicines.  For the most part we just take what's put in front of us and wait to be informed of its degree of lethality.

So, when a bloato like Ford develops a tumour I don't know that it's much of a shock.  More like, "yeah, okay, yawn."  Yet Ford's conduct and the ramifications that visits on his health are part and parcel of what Torontonians are voting for.  He's not Keith Richards.  It's not the price of a concert ticket at stake.  It's the mayoralty of Canada's largest city.  A toxic waste dump should not be draped in the chains of office.