Thursday, July 20, 2017

America's Victim in Chief


Donald Trump knows a thing or two. He knows that he's America's greatest ever reality TV star. He knows he's America's victim in chief.

The victimization of the martyr president was front and center yesterday with the man-baby presidente strutted his stuff before the editors of The New York Times. Not sure why he chose to make his appearance on the epicenter of the fake news circuit. But, I digress.

It turns out that America would be a terrific, awesome place today but for the people who have failed Trump and the malevolent Democrats who obstruct his every move. Never afraid to name names, Trump tore into his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, as a milquetoast. Sessions did the unforgivable. He recused himself from the Russia investigation. Hardly better was Session's deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI director, Robert Mueller, as special counsel to conduct the investigation, despite all of Mueller's obvious conflicts of interest. Then there was that rat, former FBI director and leakfiend, James Comey.

Then there was the Democrats who failed to support a healthcare plan that would throw anywhere from 22 to 35 million Americans off the health insurance rolls. How dare they? And, of course, Hillary and Obama are constantly plotting to bring down the almost duly elected president.

The self-proclaimed martyrdom of Donald Trump is one thing but aren't martyrs supposed to meet with some glorious end?


The Perspective is Jarring.


Let's see, 9 billion tonnes of plastic divided by 7.5 billion human beings. That's 1.2 tonnes of plastic per person or 2,640 pounds.

More than 9 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since 1950, and almost all of it is still around.

A new study that tracked the global manufacture and distribution of plastics since they became widespread after World War II found that only two billion tonnes of that plastic is still in use.


That sounds like a lot, and it is, but consider the "technosphere" which is mankind's overall footprint on the Earth. That's you and me and all of our stuff and every building, road, airport and bridge. Everything man made. That now comes in at 30-trillion tons. Your per capita share of that is a staggering 4 thousand tons, just over 3.6 thousand metric tonnes.



Brazil's Christ the Redeemer statue comes in at just 635 tons. Your share of the technosphere is almost six of those.  The Statue of Liberty comes in at a paltry 225 tons. 

These should be sobering numbers to any who doubt humankind's imprint on our planet especially when you consider that most of the technosphere was built with some sort of fossil fuel energy. That includes you and me for most of the food we have consumed was produced with fossil energy for everything from the machinery involved in planting, harvesting and transportation to the chemical fertilizers used to bolster crop yields.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

John McCain, Brain Cancer


Arizona Senator John McCain has been diagnosed as suffering from brain cancer.



The office for the 80-year-old McCain, the Republican nominee for president in 2008 and a U.S. senator representing Arizona since 1987, released a statement from the Mayo Clinic announcing that, after undergoing a procedure to remove a blood clot from above his left eye last week, “Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot.”

“The Senator and his family are reviewing further treatment options with his Mayo Clinic care team. Treatment options may include a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.”

Okay, Kids. Here's Your Inheritance. You Owe $535 Trillion Dollars.


Imagine if your older generations had handed you a tab of $535 trillion.

That's the estimated cost of "negative emissions" technologies those who follow us will have to implement if they want to survive climate change.

These are the main findings of new research published in Earth System Dynamics, conducted by an international team led by US climate scientist James Hansen, previously the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

The most promising negative emissions technology is BECCS – bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration. It involves growing crops which are then burnt in power stations to generate electricity. The carbon dioxide produced is captured from the power station chimneys, compressed, and piped deep down into the Earth’s crust where it will be stored for many thousands of years. This scheme would allow us to both generate electricity and reduce the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere.
...

Humans have pumped over 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1750. It is not just the amount, but the rate at which this CO2 has been added. The oceans can absorb extra CO2 but not fast enough to remove all human inputs and so it has been progressively building up in the atmosphere. This extra CO2 traps more heat than would otherwise escape out into space. More energy is therefore entering the climate system than leaving it.

Over decades and centuries the climate will move back into balance with the same amount of energy leaving as entering. But this will be at a higher temperature with among other things less ice, higher sea levels, more heatwaves, and more floods. The last time the Earth’s climate experienced such an energy imbalance was the Eemian interglacial period some 115,000 years ago. At that time global sea levels were six to nine metres higher than today.

The Hansen team argues that even maintaining the current energy imbalance risks locking in several metres of sea level rise. That is because slow processes such as melting ice sheets still haven’t “caught up”. The longer the climate is held out of balance, the greater their effect will be.


Whatever assumptions you make about economic growth, or however much you discount future costs, it’s unimaginable that US$535 trillion could be afforded. While these costs will be spread over 80 years, this will also be a period in which the global population will increase from seven billion to perhaps 11 billion and beyond. Humanity will need to grow enough crops to feed these billions while fuelling BECCS schemes at a time when climate change will already be impacting food production. There are also no guarantees that BECCS or any other negative emission technologies will actually work. If they fail then large amounts of CO2 could be released very rapidly with disastrous consequences.

If we are at or are heading to this point, remedies such as BECCS are fanciful nonsense and not just because of the out of this world cost. The amount of energy that would be required to plant, grow, harvest and transport this biofuel feedstock would be massive and the emissions associated with those processes also be massive. Also, we're fast depleting our remaining stocks of high quality, arable farmland. A third of our global stocks of arable land have been lost in just the past 40 years. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that, at the rate we're degrading our productive farmland, we have about 60-years of crop production left. In 2012 the UN FAO announced the world had entered a state of permanent food insecurity. BECCS will only worsen these problems by taking cropland out of food production for intensive biomass production. You can't square that circle.

What we have to find is a way to slash emissions from fossil fuels and, yes, biofuels which are energy from the "surface carbon cycle" will be needed. However it's all for naught if we fail to resolve two other man-made existential threats - overpopulation and over-consumption. We can't go to nine billion. We have to shed more than half of our existing population until we're at or below the three billion mark. Even then we will have to slash our demands on the the Earth's resources, renewable and non-renewable until the economy returns to the safety zone as a subset of the environment.

There are ways but we won't find them with our current political leadership both within our country and globally.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Plot to Assassinate Democracy


Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Charles Koch and one James McGill Buchanan and there you have the radical right's stealth plan to dismember democracy in America. The worst part, according to George Monbiot, is that it's gone past the point of plotting. It's underway in America today and catching hold across the Atlantic.

It’s the missing chapter: a key to understanding the politics of the past half century. To read Nancy MacLean’s new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, is to see what was previously invisible.

The history professor’s work on the subject began by accident. In 2013 she stumbled across a deserted clapboard house on the campus of George Mason University in Virginia. It was stuffed with the unsorted archives of a man who had died that year whose name is probably unfamiliar to you: James McGill Buchanan. She says the first thing she picked up was a stack of confidential letters concerning millions of dollars transferred to the university by the billionaire Charles Koch.

Her discoveries in that house of horrors reveal how Buchanan, in collaboration with business tycoons and the institutes they founded, developed a hidden programme for suppressing democracy on behalf of the very rich. The programme is now reshaping politics, and not just in the US.


James Buchanan ...argued that a society could not be considered free unless every citizen has the right to veto its decisions. What he meant by this was that no one should be taxed against their will. But the rich were being exploited by people who use their votes to demand money that others have earned, through involuntary taxes to support public spending and welfare. Allowing workers to form trade unions and imposing graduated income taxes were forms of “differential or discriminatory legislation” against the owners of capital.

Any clash between “freedom” (allowing the rich to do as they wish) and democracy should be resolved in favour of freedom. In his book The Limits of Liberty, he noted that “despotism may be the only organisational alternative to the political structure that we observe.” Despotism in defence of freedom.

His prescription was a “constitutional revolution”: creating irrevocable restraints to limit democratic choice. Sponsored throughout his working life by wealthy foundations, billionaires and corporations, he developed a theoretical account of what this constitutional revolution would look like, and a strategy for implementing it.

...

In 1980, he was able to put the programme into action. He was invited to Chile, where he helped the Pinochet dictatorship write a new constitution, which, partly through the clever devices Buchanan proposed, has proved impossible to reverse entirely. Amid the torture and killings, he advised the government to extend programmes of privatisation, austerity, monetary restraint, deregulation and the destruction of trade unions: a package that helped trigger economic collapse in 1982.
...

Buchanan saw stealth as crucial. He told his collaborators that “conspiratorial secrecy is at all times essential”. Instead of revealing their ultimate destination, they would proceed by incremental steps. For example, in seeking to destroy the social security system, they would claim to be saving it, arguing that it would fail without a series of radical “reforms”. (The same argument is used by those attacking the NHS). Gradually they would build a “counter-intelligentsia”, allied to a “vast network of political power” that would become the new establishment.

Through the network of thinktanks that Koch and other billionaires have sponsored, through their transformation of the Republican party, and the hundreds of millions they have poured into state congressional and judicial races, through the mass colonisation of Trump’s administration by members of this network and lethally effective campaigns against everything from public health to action on climate change, it would be fair to say that Buchanan’s vision is maturing in the US.

...

In one respect, Buchanan was right: there is an inherent conflict between what he called “economic freedom” and political liberty. Complete freedom for billionaires means poverty, insecurity, pollution and collapsing public services for everyone else. Because we will not vote for this, it can be delivered only through deception and authoritarian control. The choice we face is between unfettered capitalism and democracy. You cannot have both.

Buchanan’s programme is a prescription for totalitarian capitalism. And his disciples have only begun to implement it.


UPDATE:

For more on Nancy McLean and her book, there's an interview here.




Has Justin's Supertanker Fantasy Already Sailed, Leaving Him Alone at the Dock?


Former oil executive, Ross Belot, has a message of Canada's prime minister concerning the Tar Sands. The party's over.

The oilsands have become, politically, the gift that keeps on taking. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s brand has been badly tarnished by his pro-pipeline stance even as evidence mounts that new pipeline capacity isn’t needed. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley continues to pretend pipelines will bring back the glory days for the province’s energy sector — even as crude prices languish in the mid $40s due to cheaper U.S. shale oil, and even as OPEC and Russia hold back their own production to shore up prices.

Headlines like this one don’t bode well for future investment: ‘Suncor wins favour by ignoring core business of oil sands’. RBN Energy also reported recently that the differential for Western Canadian Select between Cushing and Edmonton isn’t enough even to pay for the pipeline tariff, indicating surplus capacity headed in that direction must be being sold at a discount. Yet we’re still seeing headlines talking about growing production being transported by rail in future, with no reference to what is actually going on today.

Want more proof? Look at this recent Wall Street Journal article: ‘A New Problem for Keystone XL: Oil Companies Don’t Want It’. The WSJ reports that Transcanada can’t generate enough interest from industry to take on the guarantees necessary to move the line ahead.

The party’s over. It was over some time ago and the only ones still reluctant to bin the leftovers and turn out the lights are politicians. Trudeau seems especially loathe to confront reality, but energy sector corporations are in the business of making money, not shaping perceptions; they know the world is changing and they have to change with it.

It's easy to understand why bitumen bounty is so enticing to Trudeau, Notley and Wall. It's low-hanging fruit. Issue a couple of licenses, a tax dodge or two here and there, and just wait as the royalties fill the federal and state treasuries. What's better is that the books are so easily cooked. Costly environmental consequences can be kicked down the road, left to future governments and future taxpayers. The hangover always comes after the Mardi Gras celebration. Besides he's already bought all those strings of beads. What's he going to do with them if he calls off the party?



Why Is the Trump Regime Going Soft on War Criminals?


Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is shutting down the section of his department that has pursued war criminals.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is downgrading the U.S. campaign against mass atrocities, shuttering the Foggy Bottom office that worked for two decades to hold war criminals accountable, according to several former U.S. officials.

Tillerson’s office recently informed Todd Buchwald, the special coordinator of the Office of Global Criminal Justice, that he is being reassigned to a position in the State Department’s office of legal affairs, according to a former U.S. official familiar with the move. Buchwald, a career State Department lawyer, has served in the position since December 2015.

The decision to close the office comes at a time when America’s top diplomat has been seeking to reorganize the State Department to concentrate on what he sees as key priorities: pursuing economic opportunities for American businesses and strengthening U.S. military prowess. Those changes are coming at the expense of programs that promote human rights and fight world poverty, which have been targeted for steep budget cuts.

The Biggest Lie of All


Donald Trump Jr., a.k.a. "Fredo," has been snared in a web of lies of his own weaving, forced to change his story on the meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives to conform to emerging facts at least five times.

There's one lie, the biggest of them all, that Fredo, Kushner and Manafort must cling to as a man clings to a life raft in a storm tossed sea. It's the grand lie of the meeting being a waste of time, a "nothingburger."

Trump was told, via email, that he would be meeting with a Russian lawyer connected to the Kremlin who was coming to offer the Trump campaign evidence damaging to their opponent, Hillary Clinton. Only, when they arrived, Old Mother Hubbard's cupboard was bare. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, just wanted to talk about American adoption of Russian babies.

Now try to process that statement from the perspective of a criminal defence lawyer. Look for the incongruous, the inconsistent, the contradictory.

Is there any reason to consider Trump Jr., Kushner or Manafort's accounts credible? No. Are there reasons to consider their claims suspect, untrustworthy? Yes, plenty. Trump has been changing his story like the ebb and flow of the tide. Kushner omitted to even mention the meeting on his disclosure statement for a security clearance. Manafort was compelled to leave the Trump campaign when it emerged that he'd been paid several millions of dollars by pro-Russian Ukrainian gentlemen. It's pretty obvious they've been making up stories as this scandal has gone along.

And what about Natalia Veselnitskaya. Is it even remotely credible that she would lure three top officials of the Trump campaign to a private meeting on the promise of dishing up dirt on Hillary Clinton and then show up empty handed. How would such an outrageous stunt help Veselnitskaya and those she represented? What did she stand to gain by alienating the Trump gang? What might she and those she represented stand to lose by such a boneheaded stunt?

What about Natalia Veselnitskaya in the months following this nothingburger meeting? What price did she pay for misleading the Trump campaign, for playing her dirty trick on Fredo, Kushner and Manafort? Did she beat feet back to Moscow and keep her head down, lay low?

Hardly. Things just suddenly started going her way especially as instructing counsel on a legal battle with the federal government over Russian money laundering in pricey real estate in Manhattan. One. Somebody decided to make Natalia's US immigration struggle disappear. She wasn't granted a visa but she was given "parole" which allowed her the necessary access to New York. Two. Then her nemesis, US Attorney for New York, Preet Bharara, a man who had been praised by Donald Trump, was abruptly fired by Donald Trump. Three. Finally, just two days before trial, Attorney General Jeff Sessions scuttled the $230 million lawsuit, settling for a token six million. The laundered money, or about 97% of it, was released. So delighted was Veselnitskaya that she went back to the Kremlin boasting that the Trump administration had done everything but apologize to her client.

One, two, three - that's a lot of nothingburger.

Then there are the corrupting stubby fingers of the president himself, the guy who abruptly fired FBI director James Comey while his bureau was investigating links between the Trump campaign and some sketchy Russian characters. Remember that Comey complained Trump had sought to compromise his independence? Bharara tells a remarkably similar tale:

In a subpoena from September, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York summoned another figure in the alleged scheme, Andrei Pavlov, to testify before a grand jury in New York. According to the subpoena, which was attached to a court filing, prosecutors wanted Pavlov to bring documents and copies of his correspondence with six people - including Veselnitskaya.

The United States attorney supervising that investigation, Preet Bharara, was fired by Trump in January after what the lawyer said were a series of “uncomfortable” calls in which Trump seemed to be trying to compromise his independence.


Sound familiar?

For more on Donald Trump's remarkable 30-year involvement with Russia and sketchy Russian figures with fortunes in need of laundering, The New Republic has an excellent article, "Trump's Russian Laundromat."

On the campaign trail Trump routinely boasted how he retained a team of lawyers to sue the pants off anyone who disparaged him. With all the articles, like the Laundromat piece, you would imagine a legion of attorneys spreading out around the land to take down Trump's critics. Only that doesn't appear to be happening. As these exposes close in on Donald Trump he's suddenly fallen silent, almost mute.

UPDATE

Trump Jr.'s cozy little meeting with Veselnitskaya has grown and grown and grown. It's gone from four to five to six and now eight attendees. The latest, Ike Kaveladze, is, just like all the others, a piece of work in his own right.


In a nine-month inquiry that subpoenaed bank records, the investigators found that an unknown number of Russians and other East Europeans moved more than $1.4 billion through accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco. The accounts had been opened by Irakly Kaveladze, who immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991, according to Citibank and Mr. Kaveladze. He set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened the bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations, according to the report by the General Accounting Office, which has not been made public. The report said the banks had failed to conduct any ''due diligence'' into identifying the owners of the accounts…The G.A.O. report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime. More than $800 million was wired from abroad to 136 accounts that Mr. Kaveladze opened at Citibank for Russian clients, and most of that was then sent to overseas accounts, said the report, which was provided to The New York Times by government officials who want to see its findings receive maximum exposure. The report is to be released on Thursday. About $600 million moved through the Commercial Bank, the investigation found.

The latest Republican/FOX talking point is that the large number of people identified as attending the Trump Jr. meeting proves there was no skulduggery between Russia and the Trump campaign. That might pass muster until you look at the attendees individually and then ask what else might have brought that nest of vipers to the same room at Trump Tower? Three from Team Trump including the candidate's first born and namesake, the remaining five from Team Putin. And now Mueller & Company are closing in fast.

This must be a difficult time for the Cheeto Benito.

It was always about the money. The reason we never saw the tax returns was because of what they would show about the money. The reason we can't get a straight answer about the family's dealings with the Russians is the money. Preet Bharara got fired because of the money and how the money had been allegedly laundered. James Comey got fired because of the money. Without the money, specifically the money from Russia, the Trump empire likely would have collapsed under a hail of writs and the paterfamilias would have been rendered invisible, even in the mirrors of Mar-a-Lago.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Field Day for Robert Mueller



Special counsel Robert Mueller and his staff must be shaking their heads as the latest Trump/Russia fiasco unfolds.

Donald J. Trump Jr., "Fredo," has now given four, perhaps five different accounts of his meeting in Trump Tower with Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Each revision erodes his credibility to the point where there's now none left. Like his father, the probative value of anything Fredo says is just about nil. I suppose that was to be expected.

It's now emerging why Veselnitskaya wanted to meet with representatives of the Trump campaign. She had a powerful Russian client she wanted taken off the hook. Her client was defending a law suit brought by US Attorney Preet Bharara. The government argued that her client had laundered about 230-million in pilfered Russian rubles through Manhattan real estate deals. It's believed she was also lobbying for a repeal of America's Magnitsky Act. The quid pro quo, according to the email trail, was damaging Hillary Clinton emails. It is suggested they were to be released through WikiLeaks.

Shortly after being sworn into office, Trump abruptly fired US Attorney Bharara, Veselnitskaya's nemesis. Then, two days before trial, Trump's attorney general, Jeff Sessions, settled the law suit for a piddling six million dollars with no publicity, no explanations. Veselnitskaya went home laughing at how the Americans had practically apologized to her.

Meanwhile Trump keeps talking about lifting sanctions against Russia and prominent Russians which likely means repeal of the Magnitsky Act. Fortunately there's too much heat on Trump & Company at the moment for him to get away with it.

As for former US Attorney Bharara and his curious firing, there are additional concerns:

In a subpoena from September, prosecutors from the Southern District of New York summoned another figure in the alleged scheme, Andrei Pavlov, to testify before a grand jury in New York. According to the subpoena, which was attached to a court filing, prosecutors wanted Pavlov to bring documents and copies of his correspondence with six people - including Veselnitskaya.

The United States attorney supervising that investigation, Preet Bharara, was fired by Trump in January after what the lawyer said were a series of “uncomfortable” calls in which Trump seemed to be trying to compromise his independence.


Trump trying to compromise his independence? That sounds a lot like fired FBI director Jim Comey's account about getting the squeeze from Trump.





Sunday, July 16, 2017

Let's Talk Famine.


Over the past few days we've focused on mass extinction, climate change, overpopulation and the exhaustion of essential resources through over-consumption.

How about we move on to something else? How about famine?

Famine is the scarcity of food in a certain area or region. It's causes can be myriad. Crop failures is a prime cause and it's the one addressed in a recent report from Britain's Met Office.

We've had plenty of experience of crop failures. They typically involve some staple in a particular region that is hit by severe weather, usually heat waves and drought. Where we've been lucky is that major failures have affected just one producing region - Russia, Australia, the United States - which meant the remaining growing regions could make good most of the loss albeit at premium prices.

There has been limited discussion of what might happen if more than one growing region failed at the same time.  What if two of them failed, or three? Well, we'd be in deep kimchee, that's what.

The Met Office analysis finds that governments are underestimating the risks of multiple crop failures leading to global famine.

The group found there is a 6% chance every decade that a simultaneous failure in maize production could occur in China and the US – the world’s main growers – which would result in widespread misery, particularly in Africa and south Asia, where maize is consumed directly as food.

“The impact would be felt at a global scale,” Kent told the Observer. “This is the first time we have been able to quantify the risk. It hasn’t been observed in the last 30 years, but the indications are that it is possible in the current climate.”

An example of the kind of disaster that could occur is provided by the maize harvests that failed last year in Africa. Communities in Zambia, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madagascar were affected and six million people were left on the brink of starvation. A joint failure of China and America’s maize harvest would have a far greater impact.

Having studied the risks facing maize production, the group is now following up this work by studying climate impacts on the world’s other staple crops – in particular rice, wheat and soya beans – in order to assess how weather extremes could affect their production.

Right now there is a major drought impacting the wheat growing belt of the High Plains.

Some longtime farmers and ranchers say it’s the worst conditions they’ve seen in decades — possibly their lifetimes — and simple survival has become their goal as a dry summer drags on without a raincloud in sight.

“We’ve never been in this sort of boat, honestly,” said Dawn Martin, who raises beef cattle with her parents and husband in the southwestern part of the state, an area the U.S. Drought Monitor says is in “extreme” drought.

“We’re just trying to make it through and work it out,” she said. “There are a lot of people in the same boat. I don’t know what the answer is.”

The drought’s impact likely will be felt not just by farmers but also consumers, state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said. Agriculture in North Dakota is an $11 billion a year industry, and the state leads the nation in the production of nearly a dozen crops.

“It’s going to affect bread at the grocery store counter,” Goehring said, though he didn’t put a figure on how much costs might go up for shoppers. “Dry beans — navies, pintos — are going to be affected to a degree. Canola, that production is going to be cut, and that’s going to have an effect on vegetable oil.”

The problem isn't confined to American farmers either. Saskatchewan farmers are also reeling.

Saskatchewan farmers say drought conditions in some parts of the province are the worst they have seen in decades and higher operating costs these days will make it harder to bounce back.

Fields in some southern parts of the province are so parched that seeds have failed to germinate, leaving some farmers with little or no hay for feed.

There's something else our government needs to discuss with us, food security. With climate change threatening global production and raising the spectre of worsening famine, Canada should consider the need for making domestic food production - crops, fish, livestock -  a strategic resource.








Saturday, July 15, 2017

It's Time Halifax Said Good Riddance to that Sonofabitch.



The City of Halifax has responded to First Nations protests by putting a shroud over the statue of Edward Cornwallis, the city's founder.

It seems the Mi'kmaq people still hold a grudge over Cornwallis' 1749 "scalping proclamation" by which he offered a bounty for anyone killing a Mi'kmaq. Fair enough, I suppose.

In fact, Cornwallis was a son-of-a-bitch, through and through. From Wiki:

Cornwallis played an important role in suppressing the Jacobite rising of 1745.[3] He fought for the victorious British soldiers at the Battle of Culloden and then led a regiment of 320 men north for the Pacification of the Scottish Highlands. The Duke of Cumberland ordered him to "plunder, burn and destroy through all the west part of Invernesshire called Lochaber." Cumberland added: "You have positive orders to bring no more prisoners to the camp."[6] Cornwallis's campaign was later described as one of unrestrained violence.[7] Cornwallis ordered his men to chase off livestock, destroy crops and food stores.[8] Cornwallis's soldiers used rape and mass murder to intimidate Jacobites from further rebellion.[9]




It's Time We Had the Conversation Our Governments Have Avoided Giving Us





If a major emergency was happening in your family wouldn’t it strike you as a bit strange if no one mentioned it. You would sit down for dinner and everyone would act as though nothing worth discussing was occurring even though you all knew that everyone knew it was.

Isn’t that a lot like the situation we’re in today with our government? Many of us have read the reports that have kept rolling out week by week for the past several years warning us that we’re facing some very real dangers and very tough times in the near future because of climate change.

You don’t have to read many of those reports to understand that a little carbon tax on this or that really isn’t going to be of much help when those climate impacts worsen and interrupt the functioning of our society.

We like to talk of Canada “from coast to coast to coast.” Yet all three of those cherished coasts face real threats that a carbon tax at this point can’t change. That’s not to say that a carbon tax isn’t worthwhile. It is. If it helps cut our use of carbon fossil fuels and thereby cuts our overall emissions that’s great. But it’s no “get out of jail free” card.

So isn’t it time for an adult conversation with our government about what we’ll face over the next twenty or thirty years and what sort of responses we should be considering. Not solutions but responses, a blend of both adaptation and mitigation. The window for effective solutions is probably closed by now.

What will this mean for our country, province by province, and how can we best adapt to what’s coming? How will we have to change? What will be expected of us? What can we do today to protect our grandkids 20 to 30 years from now?

This would be a great time to discuss economics and our stubborn obsession with the pursuit of perpetual exponential growth. We could begin with an open acknowledgement that we live in a very finite world, one that’s already reeling in many ways from decades of excess consumption. We could discuss growth as a double edged sword. We could explore what it’s going to mean for our children and grandchildren when this Ponzi scheme that forms our economic and trade policies collapses under its own weight as all Ponzi schemes must.

It's encouraging that climate scientists have, of late, taken a holistic approach to what ails mankind. One by one they've broken out of their narrow climate change focus to incorporate the challenges of overpopulation and our rapacious overconsumption of resources our world simply cannot sustain.

One by one they're saying that our best, perhaps only hope in the decades to come demands radical change in the way we're organized - industrially, economically, socially and perhaps even politically. There are various proposals but all incorporate an end to neoclassical economics and the obsessive pursuit of growth - perpetual, exponential growth. It's already caused a huge, unsustainable ecological deficit. We're exhausting our biosphere through excess exploitation of resources, including renewables, and the production of destructive levels of waste.

Our prime minister is an adherent of constant growth in GDP. I fault him but only because he's the sitting prime minister. The rest of our political leadership holds the same perspective.

Our best scientific minds tell us that the days of over are over. Those who overconsume must slash consumption. That means the people of the developed nations will have to enter a period of sustainable retreat. As Lovelock put it we have to grow smaller.

Here's a way to maybe get a sense of where we're at. It took almost the entirety of our 12,000 years of civilization to grow our population to one billion. In just two centuries we have grown from one billion to 7.5 billion. Just two centuries. In just one lifetime, my own, the human population has grown from 2.5 billion to 7.5 billion. It has tripled and, given the stats, I've got several years to go.

About those stats. When 1900 rolled around average longevity in Canada was 50. In the U.S. it was 46.3 years. In Canada today the average lifespan is 81 years, an increase of 60% in barely more than one century. One individual life now demands 60% more total resources and generates 60% more waste just by living longer. Only that's not the end of the story.

I remember the early 50s. I was from an average Canadian middle class family. I remember how we lived. How our standard of living has skyrocketed in the post-war era. We live in bigger houses than we had in the 50s and they're climate controlled. We have more cars. We travel. We have more stuff of all descriptions, all the mod-cons. More of the stuff we have is incipient junk - major appliances, for example, that go to the recycling yard after 7 or 8 years. Contrasted to what the average North American of 1900 or even 1950 was like we've become monsters of consumption- and waste - today.

Here's another way of looking at our situation. Post WWII the U.S. population grew by about 100-million. India's population burgeoned by nearly a billion. Yet the environmental footprint of those 100-million Americans roughly equalled that of those extra billion Indians. That's important when you need to see our global dilemma from their perspective.

Global problems, especially of the current magnitude, demand global solutions but that, in turn, demands fairness and equity. Without fairness and equity - good faith and plenty of it - you'll only wind up with bitter finger pointing.

Everybody has to give. We in the affluent economies have to curb our consumption, sharply pare our standard of living while focusing, instead, on improving our quality and enjoyment of life. Yes, you can actually do both.

Those in Asia and Africa have to reverse their overpopulation. They have to sharply pare their overall numbers. It's hard to imagine how that can be achieved peacefully except by mandatory mass sterilization. They've only got two generations, perhaps three, to get back to their immediate post-war numbers. And we can't call on them to do that without a willingness to do our bit.

Keep this in mind. These "sacrifices" sound terrible, ruinous but only until you consider the alternative that waits if we don't implement the measures our scientists unhesitatingly call "radical." They know that our future demands radical action. Half measures are pointless. This neoliberal, globalized order has to be stopped in its tracks.

The ship is sinking and we have to see ourselves as taking to the lifeboats. Lifeboats can hold crew and passengers, officers and stokers, first class and steerage passengers. The officer in command can heed no distinctions. Food and water must be shared equally. The weak must be cared for by the strong.

But our lifeboat is the entire nation and we need rules of organization for the post-neoliberal era. Fortunately those rules already exist. They were formulated during the decades of the Progressive Era. They're every bit as valid today if not even more so than they were a century ago. It's time to revisit the lessons of the past that we so foolishly discarded on our path to calamity.

It's time for an honest, adult conversation with our government.


Friday, July 14, 2017

About That Extinction Business.


Like so much of climate science, recent reports that the Earth is already in the throes of a sixth mass extinction event have quickly shifted from science into public relations only this time it's the scientific community behind it not some conglomerate of petro-giants.

The point is well made in this report from Deutsche Welle.  It seems to come down to, for God's sake don't use the "E" word.

Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it was headlined with the words "biological annihilation" - a startling term for a scientific paper. The authors said this wording was necessary to convey the magnitude of the crisis our planet is facing.

The PNAS study is just the latest in a series of studies to warn of a sixth mass extinction event. Unlike its predecessors, it looked not just at the rate at which species are being wiped out, but also the dramatic decline in the range and populations of species that are still with us.

It came to the sobering conclusion that 50 percent of individual animals "that once shared Earth with us are already gone."

Mark Williams, a professor of palaeobiology at Leicester University in the UK, told DW that although the study makes for depressing reading, he agreed that the strong language was justified. "I am surprised by the title - but with what's going on in the biosphere, it's probably a good way to word it."

But is the claim that we are undergoing mass extinction event to rank alongside the five major wipeouts of the last half-billion years justifiable?
...

"The modern biosphere is completely and utterly different from any prior state," Williams says. "This reconfiguration is driving biodiversity loss, because we're squeezing out natural habitats that organisms can flourish in."

Add to this the speed: it's "quite a cocktail of very fundamental changes that all came very fast," Schwägerl told DW. So fast, Williams says, the sixth mass extinction could outpace any before - bar that resulting from a sudden asteroid strike.
...

The PNAS paper warns, "the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most." Yet there's an argument that framing the issue in apocalyptic terms risks paralyzes us against such action.

"It's really important to have the sense we can still turn it around," Schwägerl says. Otherwise, "people just give up."

"We can still turn it around - or at least slow it down."

"The idea of the Anthropocene helps us to view the history of our species as part of natural history," Schwägerl explains. "It helps us to integrate our civilization into the big planetary processes and the planetary history - it can create a horizon for something better."

In its conclusion, the PNAS paper warns that the ultimate drivers behind mass extinction, such as overconsumption, "trace to the fiction that perpetual growth can occur on a finite planet."

Schwägerl argues that rethinking how we see ourselves in relation to our home planet can help us address damaging ideas behind our misuse of the Earth's resources.

"Economic practice is based on the fantasy that human civilization is somehow detached from nature," Schwägerl says. "We say in economics that environmental effects are an externality - as if nature was something external - no, it's the baseline of every economic activity."

"We need to think about ourselves as part of a continuum that's been unfolding for 4 billion years," Williams adds.

"We need to make sure our brief stewardship of the biosphere preserves that biodiversity. I think if we started to think about ourselves in those terms, we might be able to stand back and become a bit less self-important."
No good can come from leading people to simply give up. For some time I have resisted posting anything on Guy McPherson's apocalyptic predictions for that very reason. Yet what had once been a solitary voice has become, in recent months, a choir. It can no longer be spiked. 
The call for radical change in the way we are organized - politically, economically, and socially - is unassailable. Environmental impacts are not an externality no matter how fiercely commercial interests that prey upon free natural capital argue the point. 
There is no time left to waste on political leadership that clings to the fiction of perpetual exponential growth on this very finite planet.  And, yes, that means Justin Trudeau but it also means the Tories' Scheer and whomever the NDP will probably choose as their leader. They're invested, all of them, in maintaining this self-destructive status quo.
This idea about carbon pricing? Bollocks. That falls laughably short of the radical change these times demand.

WTF? Hagfish. Who in Hell Eats Hagfish?



They're the deep ocean's sanitation department.  You may have seen teeming masses of hagfish gorging themselves on the decomposing carcass of a great whale, a process that can take upwards of a year or more. They're slimy, disgusting creatures which made it even more surprising when video surfaced of an Oregon road after a truck overturned spilling 3400 kgs. of hagfish.



I had to find out just what in hell anyone was doing commercially fishing for hagfish. Sure enough there's an answer:

Hagfish are a type of non-vertabrate chordate--not a true fish, but not a true invertebrate. Locally called meokjangeo (먹장어), or "slime eel," they are only eaten only in Korean cuisine--mostly in Korea, but sometimes by Korean expatriates in Japan and California.

Hagfish are chewy, with a softer spinal chord that runs through their back, and have a mild taste, with an unpleasant aftertaste. Though unpalatable to foreigners, they are popular in Korea, where they are usually eaten by men as an aphrodisiac. For that purpose they are considered by Korean men to be interchangable with eels, an unrelated animal with a similarly phallic shape but remarkably different taste and texture.

An adventurous eater seeking to try one will have no trouble finding them in Korea, where seafood is displayed in large glass tanks. But the travel-limited culinary xenophile might also be able to obtain them directly from fishermen in California, and prepare then as described, using a hot plate instead of the traditional Korean barbecue set up.

To prepare them, they are sliced down the middle to remove the digestive tract, then marinated in a sauce used for Korean barbecue. Traditionally, the raw fish are then placed on a heated plate at the center of the table, where they are cooked and served like galbi, using scissors to slice the hagfish up. The cooked fish are moved to the side of the dish, with lettuce and gochujang, no amount of which can mask the animal's distinct taste. The head, containing the skull is left on the fish, and if a foreigner dines with Koreans, the honor will be offered to the foreigner.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that they are also popular eaten raw.

Is Steve Bannon Catholic? Why Do You Ask?


It seems Trump strategist, Steve Bannon, has run afoul of Pope Francis.

An explosive article written by two close associates of Pope Francis has accused Steve Bannon, the chief White House strategist, of espousing an “apocalyptic geopolitics” whose roots are “not too far apart” from that of Islamist extremism.

The article in La Civiltà Cattolica, which is vetted by the Vatican before publication, lays out a scathing critique of “evangelical fundamentalism” in the US, arguing that, on issues ranging from climate change to “migrants and Muslims”, proponents of the ideology have adopted a twisted reading of scripture and the Old Testament that promotes conflict and war above all else.

The piece was published just days after evangelical leaders met US president Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House and “laid hands” on him in prayer following discussions about religious freedom, support for Israel and healthcare reform.

...

The article refers to the controversial evangelical theologist John Rushdoony as the father of today’s American Christian fundamentalism, and calls Bannon an exponent of this philosophy.

“Rushdoony’s doctrine maintains a theocratic necessity: submit the state to the Bible with a logic that is no different from the one that inspires Islamic fundamentalism. At heart, the narrative of terror shapes the worldviews of jihadists and the new crusaders and is imbibed from wells that are not too far apart,” the authors state. “We must not forget that the theopolitics spread by Isis is based on the same cult of an apocalypse that needs to be brought about as soon as possible.”


I somehow get the idea that Trump won't be getting another audience with Pope Francis.







All Roads Lead, Well, In Trump's Direction


With the air in Washington this foul even the smell test is losing its effectiveness.

Case in point, that Russian lawyer Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort met with during the election campaign. Of course we know that private meeting went nowhere. It was a giant "nothingburger." That would be assuring if it didn't come from demonstrated chronic liars.  We know they met. We know what the meeting was clearly stated to be about. We don't have any credible information on what actually transpired.

But what about that enigmatic Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya? Fredo claims she only wanted to talk about re-opening the conduit that allowed Americans to adopt Russian babies. As if.

Well she's surfaced again and she's raising eyebrows. Lawyer Veselnitskaya has been representing some rather sketchy Russians accused of laundering more than $200-million worth of purloined Russian rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.

The case was launched by - wait for it - the former US Attorney Trump first praised and then abruptly fired, Preet Bharara. That 230 million dollar lawsuit? Trump appointee, Jeff Sessions, settled it for 6 million which had Veselnitskaya rolling in the aisles.

Veslnitskaya was surprised by how generous the settlement was, telling one Russian news outlet the penalty appeared like “an apology from the government.”

While the Congressmen didn’t cite any evidence that the two events are definitely related, they sent Sessions a laundry list of questions. They want to know if there was any contact between members of the Trump administration or campaign and the Department of Justice or the Russian attorney about the case.

It's now emerging that Veselnitskaya wasn't worried about Russian orphans but about repealing the Magnitsky Act.

The Magnitsky Act was passed to punish those suspected of being involved in the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme in 2008 that implicated high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin. The scheme quickly snowballed into one of the biggest corruption scandals of Putin's tenure.

Magnitsky uncovered the scheme on behalf of the investment advisory firm Hermitage Capital, which was at that point the largest investment firm in Russia. Magnitsky was later thrown in jail by the same Interior Ministry officers he testified against during criminal proceedings to punish those involved in the tax scheme, Hermitage founder Bill Browder recalled in 2015.

Magnitsky died in custody after being held for 358 days, and an independent human-rights commission found he had been illegally arrested and beaten. The Kremlin maintains that Magnitsky died of a heart attack.
...

Browder, the founder of Hermitage, said in an interview on Saturday that fighting against the Magnitsky Act was Veselnitskaya's "main project last year. And "t here was no obvious reason," Browder said, for Veselnitskaya and her team to engage in this lobbying "as part of their defense for Prevezon."

"It wouldn't have helped the company address the money laundering allegations mounted by the US Department of Justice," Browder said. "The only reason for them to do this would have been at the behest of the Russian government."



Welcome to the Age of Chronic Inundation



They've coined a term for it, "chronic inundation." That describes flooding when a coastal community's non-wetland area floods 26 times a year or roughly once every two weeks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has mapped out places already beset by chronic inundation and those that will join the list over the next two decades. The report can be found here.


More than 90 communities, mostly in rural Louisiana and Maryland, already face chronic inundation. Subsidence is an issue in both states.

Miami Beach hasn't hit that threshold yet. But it faces future chronic inundation under the report's most conservative climate change projections, along with New Orleans and Savannah, Ga.

That scenario assumes global warming stays under 2 degrees, as the Paris climate agreement calls for. The picture becomes bleaker in the intermediate scenario, which assumes carbon emissions peak around midcentury and global sea levels rise about 4 feet.

That scenario leads to about 170 communities facing chronic flooding by 2035, rising to 270 by 2060, according to the report.

That's the "best case" scenario. 

The “high scenario” — which the researchers warn is becoming more likely — assumes emissions rise through the end of the century, leading to about 6 ½ feet of sea-level rise.

That would chronically flood about 670 communities, including roughly 60 percent of all oceanfront communities on the East and Gulf coasts, according to the researchers.

Chronic inundation denotes something much worse than what's called "nuisance flooding." Regular saltwater inundation can cause major damage to buildings and to buried services - water, sewer and power lines. Chronic inundation may cause coastal residents to leave for higher ground inland.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has posted an interactive graphic showing areas likely to succumb to chronic flooding. It's an eye-opener. The report notes that many of the vulnerable communities have less than 20 years to implement whatever flood control measures they intend to take, if any. If you do check out the graphic bear in mind that no provision is made for storm surge, severe flooding caused by hurricanes, etc.

There's no sign of any similar studies mapping chronic inundation for Canada's coastal communities which is odd given that Montreal and Vancouver/Lower Mainland, two of Canada's three largest municipal areas, are particularly vulnerable.