Wednesday, August 31, 2011

James Hansen Arrested at White House

He might be the world's foremost climate scientist.  NASA Goddard Space Laboratory director, Dr. James Hansen was arrested outside the White House today while protesting against the Athabasca Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline.

Before he was taken into custody today, Hansen took a megaphone and implored Obama to act "for the sake of your children and grandchildren."

"If Obama chooses the dirty needle it will confirm that the president was just green-washing all along," Hansen, 70, who took a vacation day from his job at the New York based institute to participate in the protest, said in an e-mailed statement.

PBS aired a tar sands/pipeline debate between environmentalist Bill McKibben and Robert Bryce, senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute.   McKibben organized the protests at which Hansen was arrested.  Bryce made the case in favour of the Tar Sands in a very direct fashion.


this tar sands in Alberta is a big deal. It's the second largest pool of carbon on Earth, after the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. Jim Hansen of NASA, who was arrested today, really the world's foremost climate scientist, said -- as he was speaking this morning, said, if we go ahead and begin tapping these unconventional energy sources, of which the tar sands are the biggest example, it is -- and here I quote - "essentially game over for the climate."
Since, for once, Obama can stop a project without having Congress in the way, this has become the focal point. And these arrests have -- actually now over 500 people. The numbers are just growing and growing day after day.


I appreciate Bill McKibben passion on the issue. I understand his position. But my position is very simple. I'm for cheap, abundant, reliable energy, particularly now in the U.S., when we have over 45 million Americans on food stamps, we have more than nine million unemployed. The actually unemployed or underemployed is probably twice that number. 

We need cheap, abundant, reliable energy. And this project will in particular provide abundant and reliable energy. The tar -- the oil sands in Canada have over 100 billion barrels of oil in them. And we need it no, given -- particularly because we want North American energy production. 

Of course what Bryce leaves out is "cheap for whom?"   Cheap for the end users, the American consumer, but devastatingly costly for the masses, mainly in the Third World, enduring the scourge of climate change.   Bryce and those who think like him put a price on those lives ruined and lost - and it's "cheap."

A World Without Food Security

This map, published in today's  Guardian, is an eye opener.   It charts how much of the world faces food insecurity.   That, by the way, is all of the world except those countries coloured green.

Get the picture?   North America (excluding Mexico), Western Europe (excluding Spain), Iceland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand - that's the lot.   This is the Maplecroft Food Security Risk Index, 2011.  This is a world of 7-billion people, racing toward 9-billion even as the ravages of climate change close in on it.

Look at the hardest hit countries - Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Somalia, Sudan,  North Korea, Yemen, India, Pakistan, Burma.   These are countries either in conflict or hovering on the brink of conflict.

But wait, there's more.   Who are the biggest carbon emitters?  China and the United States, of course.  And where is public concern over global warming falling markedly?   You guessed it, China and the United States.   Less than half of Americans say they're concerned about global warming which is no small comfort to the Big Carbon lobby and their bought and paid for minions, the US Congress.  And, in China, which itself faces food insecurity, concern has dropped from 77% in 2009 to 64% today.

With the United States utterly hostile to any effective global emissions control agreement and China nearing indifference, we're simply screwed.  That means us too, all the greenies in that map above.  We'll probably be the last and least impacted, barring all out war (which is a very real possibility), but we'll still be hit eventually.

What else can we expect from political leaders who, in Jared Diamond's words, "consider leaving environmental problems unsolved a money-saving device."

In his fascinating book, Collapse, Diamond wrote "...some people may reason correctly that they can advance their own interests by behavior harmful to other people. Scientists terms such behavior "rational" precisely because it employs correct reasoning, even though it may be morally reprehensible. The perpetrators know they will often get away with their bad behavior, especially if there is no law against it or if the law isn't effectively enforced. They feel safe because the perpetrators are typically concentrated (few in number) and highly motivated by the prospect of reaping big, certain, and immediate profits, while the losses are spread over large numbers of individuals."

That passage pretty much explains the Athabasca Tar Sands in a nutshell.   Our supposed leaders treat ignoring the environmental problems as a money-saving device.

The Japanese Live Longest. Why?

A girl born in Japan today can expect to live to age 86.  Japanese life expectancy has increased 30-years since 1947.   A series of papers in the British medical journal, The Lancet, finds the Japanese success has  cultural, social and political roots.

The remarkable improvement in Japanese health began with the rapid economic growth of the late 1950s and 1960s. The government invested heavily in public health, introducing universal health insurance in 1961, free treatment for tuberculosis and cutting childhood deaths through vaccination and treatment of intestinal and respiratory infections.

Following the control of infectious diseases, Japan tackled its high death rate from stroke with salt reduction campaigns and the use of drugs to control blood pressure.
But beyond the government's initiatives, there are attitudes and cultural practices among the people of Japan that have also helped, says the article by Professor Kenji Shibuya, of the department of global health policy at the University of Tokyo, and colleagues.

"First, Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life," they write. "This attitude might partly be attributable to a complex interaction of culture, education, climate [eg humidity, temperature], environment [eg having plenty of water and being a rice-eating nation] and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others."

"Second, they are health conscious. In Japan, regular check-ups are the norm. Mass screening is provided for everyone at school and work or in the community by local government authorities. A systematic check-up of the whole body, referred to as a human dry dock, is another type of health screening, which is popular amiong business people - they stay at clinics or hospitals for several days to undergo thorough physical examinations.

"Third, Japanese food has a balanced nutritional benefit and the diet of the Japanese population has improved in tandem with economic development over the past five decades."

Another aspect of Japan that contributes to the cohesiveness and prosperity of their society is income equality.  Japan has the narrowest gap between rich and poor in the industrialized world.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Merger? Why?

If the future of the Liberal Party was to be the party that it was under its last two leaders then maybe it would be time to throw in the towel and pack it in.   The right and part of the centre wing of the Libs could gravitate to Harper.   The left and some of the centre might more or less willingly sign on to the new NDP ship of state.  A number of Libs might just wish a pox on both their houses and withdraw from politics or go Green.

But the rationale I most often hear for merger assumes that one election, the last, foretells the future and that's just silly.   Weak Liberal leadership, strong NDP leadership and wiley and deftly manipulative Conservative leadership all played a big role in the last election outcome.   As far as the Libs were concerned, the vote was a referendum on a leader and leadership that's now safely gone.   Is there a Lib who thinks his or her party gave it their all, gave Canadians their best in that election?   If so, please join the merger line.

Something else that hasn't been resolved is just what the LPC would merge with?   This comes down to the heart and soul of the New Democrats - socialism.   Jack Layton, to his credit, very skilfully smothered the issue of whether the NDP, in opposition and with hopes to form a government, would expunge the party's historic commitment to socialism.    Mr. Layton knew that was a powerfully divisive threat if he let it come to the fore.   But, even if New Democrats are willing to let that sleeping dog lie, Liberals tossing about the idea of merger need to know the answer before they go ahead.  Will they be merging into a party that's avowedly socialist?

If the Liberal Democratic Party is to be openly socialist that is going to weigh heavily on the numbers of Liberals, centre-right Libs who will be interested in signing on.   A number of them will migrate, even if begrudgingly, to the Conservatives.   That will greatly weaken the Libs bargaining position in merger talks.   Look what happened to the Progressive Conservatives when they stepped into Harper's lion's den.

If the Liberal Democrats are not to be socialist but choose the path of centrism instead then there are going to be plenty of NDP faithful who won't want any part of it.   After all, some of them have spent generations denouncing the Liberal Party.   Why would they want their own party to take on that mantle?  What about everything they've so proudly stood for all these generations?

As a centre-left Liberal, I should be the least troubled by the idea of merger but it still concerns me deeply.  What's the rush?   If there is to be a merger, it's going to take time and effort and a lot of compromise if we're to get it right.   We can't risk getting it wrong.   That goes for both sides.  We have to measure our compatibility, our commonality of interests and in that identify our differences and weigh each side's ability to overcome them.  Who gives?  What?  How much?

We still need to consult the public and the best way to discern their opinion is at the polls.  We need another election, probably two, before we can safely gauge public support for a merged party.  The whole idea could backfire with the electorate.

I have always associated the New Democratic Party as a party of lofty ideals and fiercely held principles.  I have always valued the immeasurable role the NDP has played as the conscience of Parliament.   But if the NDP want to pursue the path to Sussex Drive, they'll have to embrace pragmatism and compromise.   Their future progressivism will have to be sharply muted from what it was in the past.

If the NDP believes it can campaign its way into government on a socialist platform then it should reject the Liberals.  They'll only drag you down.   If, however, the NDP believes it should become a latter day centre-left liberal movement, then it should come to that decision openly and democratically.  Its lifelong, dedicated members deserve nothing less.

No, merger initiatives at this point smack of desperation and are riddled with potential pitfalls.  The NDP needs to consolidate its organization in the wake of Mr. Layton's horribly untimely death.  The Libs need to rehabilitate their own tattered organization.   Neither side is currently ready for merger.

Is It Just Me? Do You Think Lloyd Robertson Was a Great Journalist?

At long last Lloyd Robertson is stepping down, resigning as anchor of CTV national news.  I'll bet Lloyd can't find anyone still in the business who was there when he got in back in the early 50's.   Pretty much anybody and everybody he looked up to has long settled in for the eternal dirt nap.

Lloyd is a fixture, I'll give him that.   Then again, so is a lamp post but you won't find too many lamp posts still around from the early 50's.

But was there any real greatness to Lloyd Robertson or is he just an old fart with a faithful following?  I can't think of any great journalistic moment that characterizes Lloyd.   I remember during the Montreal Olympics when some Russian ox set a world record for the clean and jerk in weightlifting whereupon Lloyd opined, "Gee, that looks heavy."  Really, Lloyd?  Really?  It "looks heavy"?

I was disappointed so many years ago when Lloyd didn't step down as expected to make way for Keith Morrison.  Of course I wasn't quite so disappointed as Keith must have been before he made his way to the TV studios of California and spent much too much time in the sun.  Keith, however, was a journalist and did some good work in his day which concluded before he got into hawking lurid tales of sensational murders.

I grew up in the era of Cronkite, Chancellor, Huntley, Brinkley, Howard K. Smith and Eric Sevareid, and later, Dan Rather, Robert McNeil & Jim Lehrer, Peter Jennings, and Bob Schieffer - all Robertson's contemporaries.  If he's to be measured by anybody it's those guys.  They set the bar and, when you look at it that way, Lloyd Robertson was pretty damned mediocre.

U Vic's Gift to the World

The University of Victoria in conjunction with the British Columbia government is releasing online a 4-part course on climate change.   The programmes cut through the scientific jargon and present the facts in layman's language.   The course was created for the BC public service and educators but is also available free to the public.

You can access it here.   The course was created by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions which is hosted by U Vic in collaboration with UBC, Simon Fraser and the University of Northern British Columbia.   The first module was unveiled Monday by BC EnviroMin Terry Lake at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada annual conference.

PICS director, Tom Pedersen, hopes the videos will go viral.

"I hope the public and policy-makers will understand when they are being duped by those segments of society that would rather we do nothing about acting on climate change," he said.
"Some sectors, driven by particular political ideologies, seem to think [that] if we continue to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, everything will be fine. Everything will not be fine."

 No word yet on when Harper and his caucus will schedule their own private screening of the programmes.  Maybe they can just watch these, the stuff prepared for grade school kids:

Or, if you like, you can check out Lecture 1 here.   Warning, long pants  required to view this.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Michelle Bachmann - Hurricane Irene Was a Message from God

“I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.”
                                                                                   - Michelle Bachmann

It's hard to know if there's an imbecility limit for Republican presidential nomination candidates but Michelle Bachmann shows us no one has reached the bottom yet.   Apparently this outburst was even too much for Bachmann's handlers who brushed it off, saying the Congresswoman was speaking in jest.  Yeah, no.

Meanwhile Bachmann rival and current Republican frontrunner, Rick Perry, is flopping about like a freshly landed lake trout.

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has a record of intense opposition to Social Security. The Texas governor has not only dismissed the bedrock program as a “Ponzi scheme,” he even wrote in his book that Social Security is unconstitutional. Given the program’s popularity, this would appear to be a political problem for the apparent GOP frontrunner.

Indeed, two weeks ago, asked about his antipathy towards Social Security, Perry stuffed food in his mouth so he wouldn’t have to answer the question. Around the same time, Perry’s campaign said the candidate no longer stands behind the book he published just nine months ago.

Help me out here.   When did "absurd" become a job prerequisite for Republican candidates?  This is how Richard Dawkins has it figured:

There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.

Has Libya Already Fallen to al-Qaeda?

According to Asia Times, the Libyan rebel commander now in charge in Tripoli and his colleagues elsewhere throughout the country are al-Qaeda assets.

His name is Abdelhakim Belhaj. Some in the Middle East might have, but few in the West and across the world would have heard of him.

Time to catch up. Because the story of how an al-Qaeda asset turned out to be the top Libyan military commander in still war-torn Tripoli is bound to shatter - once again - that wilderness of mirrors that is the "war on terror", as well as deeply compromising the carefully constructed propaganda of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO's) "humanitarian" intervention in Libya. 

...Abdelhakim Belhaj, aka Abu Abdallah al-Sadek, is a Libyan jihadi. Born in May 1966, he honed his skills with the mujahideen in the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.

...After 9/11, Belhaj moved to Pakistan and also to Iraq, where he befriended none other than ultra-nasty Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - all this before al-Qaeda in Iraq pledged its allegiance to Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and turbo-charged its gruesome practices.

In Iraq, Libyans happened to be the largest foreign Sunni jihadi contingent, only losing to the Saudis. Moreover, Libyan jihadis have always been superstars in the top echelons of "historic" al-Qaeda.

 In 2003, Belhaj was finally arrested in Malaysia - and then transferred, extraordinary rendition-style, to a secret Bangkok prison, and duly tortured.

In 2004, the Americans decided to send him as a gift to Libyan intelligence - until he was freed by the Gaddafi regime in March 2010, along with other 211 "terrorists"
, in a public relations coup advertised with great fanfare.

The orchestrator was no less than Saif Islam al-Gaddafi - the modernizing/London School of Economics face of the regime. 

...The late July killing of rebel military commander General Abdel Fattah Younis - by the rebels themselves - seems to point to Belhaj or at least people very close to him.

It's essential to know that Younis - before he defected from the regime - had been in charge of Libya's special forces fiercely fighting the LIFG in Cyrenaica from 1990 to 1995.

 Hardly by accident, all the top military rebel commanders are LIFG, from Belhaj in Tripoli to one Ismael as-Salabi in Benghazi and one Abdelhakim al-Assadi in Derna, not to mention a key asset.

...It doesn't require a crystal ball to picture the consequences of LIFG/AQIM - having conquered military power and being among the war "winners" - not remotely interested in relinquishing control just to please NATO's whims.

Back in February, a month before our NATO blunder, this blog urged that America get the Egyptian military to enter Libya and put a quick end to the Gaddafi regime.   The reasoning was that a protracted campaign could allow al-Qaeda to get the toe hold it had failed to achieve during the Egyptian uprising.   By July it was apparent that our worst fears had come true.

Time was very much of the essence in this one.  In neighbouring Egypt, Mubarak had only recently been toppled but the face of the government that would ultimately succeed him was undetermined.  al Qaeda and other Islamist groups lurked in the wings and openly proclaimed they were waiting for the right moment to make their move.    They were looking for a window of chaos.

The Libyan uprising was just what the Islamist planners so badly wanted.  It would be much easier to establish their presence within Libya, on Egypt's border, than within Egypt itself if only the Libyan chaos would drag out.

...Our Western leaders dawdled.  Eventually they fell back on their demonstrated political and military incompetence and decided an air war would do the trick.  And so they have brought to Libya the very same result they achieved so spectacularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Fools - the lot of them.

Now it isn't just Libya that's at risk from Islamist extremists.  It's Egypt itself where the country remains in a state of chaos and unrest.   And what lies immediately beyond Egypt?

Is This Harper's Plan for Athabasca?

The Australian government is moving to protect steelworkers' jobs against the impacts of its own carbon pricing regime at a cost of $36,000 per year per worker.

In a report to be released today, the institute finds the steel industry - under pressure from the high Australian dollar - will make a windfall per tonne of steel from carbon tax compensation over the first four years of the scheme.

The institute also finds the government's commitment of a large swathe of free permits, and a $300 million adjustment fund for steel under the carbon price, will cost it over $320,000 per worker from 2012 to 2020, or on average $36,000 a year.
So the idea seems to be that you levy carbon taxes on the major carbon emitters and then refund the tax as job-saving "compensation."   That sounds like the perfect deal for Big Oil in Athabasca. 

Kapitalism = Capitalism - Regulation

Karl Marx had a theory of capitalism that few of us have managed to understand and fewer still accept.  We wrote him off as a communist agitator, an enemy of democracy and our economic model.   In that, we failed to heed his warnings, dire predictions that have now arrived at our feet.

What we're learning the hard way is that capitalism works best for us when it's subordinate to the state, that is to say it's regulated.   Today the evidence is inescapable that capitalism without regulation becomes the Kapitalism that Marx foresaw.

Ronald Reagan and his followers like Brian Mulroney ushered in an era of deregulation that achieved a near-religious stature.   Republicans to this day, whackos like Rick Perry, still worship at the altar of deregulation despite all the damage that has caused their country and their people.

A word about deregulation.   When you see a politician preaching deregulation you should immediately look for the "for sale" sign tattooed on his forehead.   A politician in a mood to deregulate is generally a politician with something to sell.   What he's selling, in many cases, is the public interest but, of all the forms of political larceny, deregulation is, hands down, the safest.   Sell government assets out the back door and you can go to jail.   Get caught fixing a contract and you may be headed for the Greybar Hotel.   Push through deregulation and you're merely freeing up the economy.  That's why there are six registered lobbyists for every member of the House and Senate - to buy subsidies, tax favouritism, and deregulation for the rich and powerful.   Now, in fairness, not all deregulation is corrupt but a lot more of it is than we often recognize.

But let's get back to Uncle Karl. Writing in today's Sydney Morning Herald, the senior economic advisor at UBS, George Magnus, suggests Marx saw this coming in deregulated capitalism:

As he wrote in Das Kapital, companies' pursuit of profits and productivity would naturally lead them to need fewer and fewer workers, creating an "industrial reserve army" of the poor and unemployed: "Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery."

The process he describes is visible throughout the developed world, particularly in the US companies' efforts to cut costs and avoid hiring have boosted US corporate profits as a share of total economic output to the highest level in more than six decades, while the unemployment rate stands at 9.1 per cent and real wages are stagnant.

US income inequality, meanwhile, is by some measures close to its highest level since the 1920s. Before 2008, the income disparity was obscured by factors such as easy credit, which allowed poor households to enjoy a more affluent lifestyle. Now the problem is coming home to roost.

Marx also pointed out the paradox of over-production and under-consumption: The more people are relegated to poverty, the less they will be able to consume all the goods and services companies produce. When one company cuts costs to boost earnings, it's smart, but when they all do, they undermine the income formation and effective demand on which they rely for revenues and profits.

This problem, too, is evident in today's developed world. We have a substantial capacity to produce, but in the middle- and lower-income cohorts, we find widespread financial insecurity and low consumption rates.

The result is visible in the US, where new housing construction and automobile sales remain about 75 per cent and 30 per cent below their 2006 peaks, respectively.

As Marx put it in Kapital: "The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses."

So what is the answer?  We could begin by acquiring an adult view of government regulation.  Blindly accepting that regulation is inherently bad is good for someone, just not you or me.   The Crown Prince of deregulation is globalism, free trade.   Governments surrendered state sovereignty to corporatism, their sovereign right to impose tariffs and trade restrictions to benefit domestic economic and political interests.   It leads to massive job outsourcing and income inequality.  Go back to what Magnus wrote:
"When one company cuts costs to boost earnings, it's smart, but when they all do, they undermine the income formation and effective demand on which they rely for revenues and profits."  Nike may like to make those trainers in Vietnam with $3 a day labour but they depend on other companies at home paying their employees $25 an hour so they can afford to buy those shoes.

We need to realize that Marx was right when he wrote that capitalism can self-destruct and, left to its own devices, probably will.   That is what's happening today.   Capitalism doesn't operate as an organized, self-regulating force.   In practice it looks much more like "for profit" anarchy.  If it is going to benefit our societies instead of undermining them, we have to tell it how it is going to behave.  Like an unruly child, it needs boundaries, limits.

Most of all we need a new generation of leaders, a generation whose future financial wellbeing hasn't already been assured.   We need a fresh crop of leaders with vision who can explain these lethal paradoxes to the public and rally support for reform.  Above all else, we need to rid our country of those who would prefer to rule not lead, those who have no vision of the challenges that lie ahead.

We have to recognize the social dimension to healthy capitalism because that is what generates stable, robust societies.   Economic income has to be fairly apportioned between capital and labour to bolster "income formation and effective demand on which companies rely for revenues and profits."   That's not programmed into the system that is the true legacy of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney.   They left that out entirely and that was very much by design.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Funniest Ad I've Seen in a Long Time

I was in London Drugs a couple of weeks back and on the shelves I spotted a new product, "Fresh Balls."

Here's their ad, courtesy of YouTube:

And If You Had Any Doubt the Radical Right Is Stark Raving Mad

House Republicans maintain that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is a huge waste of money.   In fact it's such a huge waste of money they're planning to force through cuts that would trim NOAA's budget by 30%.

The agency is warning the cuts will leave it effectively blind and will destroy its ability to give 5-10 days advance information of approaching hurricanes.

The $1.2bn (£730m) of cuts will force NOAA to delay replacing ageing satellites – meaning that it could go for up to 18 months without an eye in the sky at some time in the next five years.

"Whether the gap is longer than that depends on whether we get the money in the next budget," Jane Lubchenco, the head of NOAA, told an audience in Denver earlier this month.

For a country that still hasn't recovered from hurricane Katrina and has just been blasted by hurricane Irene, blinding the one agency that furnishes advance warning of major storm events is utter madness.  This from a government that is still spending about $10 billion a month to wage a senseless, decadal war in Afghanistan.

Madness, Republican style.

The Ugly Face of the Corporatist State

A big h/t to Carey over at Finding Clarity for posting this Carlin sketch.   And they called Carlin a "comedian."  I'm reposting the clip because it needs to be disseminated as broadly as possible.

What We Need Now - Another Square Deal

Nothing would please me more than the implementation of an entirely conservative policy platform.   The conservative was US President Theodore Roosevelt.   The policy platform was Roosevelt's "Square Deal."

Roosevelt's policy focused on environmental conservation, reining in corporate excesses and basic consumer protection.  Bear in mind that what follows was said in 1910, a long century ago:

...the man to whom we owe most is, of course, Lincoln. Part of our debt to him is because he forecast our present struggle and saw the way out. He said:

"I hold that while man exists it is his duty to improve not only his own condition, but to assist in ameliorating mankind."

And again:

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

...In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth. 

...our government, National and State, must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interests. Exactly as the special interests of cotton and slavery threatened our political integrity before the Civil War, so now the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice-full, fair, and complete-and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth; who insists that the creature of man’s making shall be the servant and not the master of the man who made it. The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have called into being.

There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs

...The duty of Congress is to provide a method by which the interest of the whole people shall be all that receives consideration.

The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise. We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. 

No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered. The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size, acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as in degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective-a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion, and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

The people of the United States suffer from periodical financial panics to a degree substantially unknown to the other nations, which approach us in financial strength. There is no reason why we should suffer what they escape. It is of profound importance that our financial system should be promptly investigated, and so thoroughly and effectively revised as to make it certain that hereafter our currency will no longer fail at critical times to meet our needs. 

...Conservation means development as much as it does protection. I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us. I ask nothing of the nation except that it so behave as each farmer here behaves with reference to his own children. That farmer is a poor creature who skins the land and leaves it worthless to his children. The farmer is a good farmer who, having enabled the land to support himself and to provide for the education of his children, leaves it to them a little better than he found it himself. I believe the same thing of a nation. 

...Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us, and training them into a better race to inhabit the land and pass it on. Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation. Let me add that the health and vitality of our people are at least as well worth conserving as their forests, waters, lands, and minerals, and in this great work the national government must bear a most important part. 

Nothing is more true than that excess of every kind is followed by reaction; a fact which should be pondered by reformer and reactionary alike. We are face to face with new conceptions of the relations of property to human welfare, chiefly because certain advocates of the rights of property as against the rights of men have been pushing their claims too far. The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it

...One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests.

...In the last analysis, the most important elements in any man’s career must be the sum of those qualities which, in the aggregate, we speak of as character. If he has not got it, then no law that the wit of man can devise, no administration of the law by the boldest and strongest executive, will avail to help him. We must have the right kind of character-character that makes a man, first of all, a good man in the home, a good father, and a good husband-that makes a man a good neighbor. You must have that, and, then, in addition, you must have the kind of law and the kind of administration of the law which will give to those qualities in the private citizen the best possible chance for development. The prime problem of our nation is to get the right type of good citizenship, and, to get it, we must have progress, and our public men must be genuinely progressive

Every few years I like to return to Roosevelt's 1910 speech to recalibrate my political compass.  He speaks of a great political morality that has been abjectly trampled upon through the rise of corporatism over the past thirty or forty years.

Roosevelt warned his countrymen back then that direct or indirect corporate funding leads directly to the corruption of government.  That's a lesson every Canadian needs to grasp as our own country descends into Petro-statehood.

Teddy Roosevelt makes the point that progressivism is more than quaint notions.   It is a fundamental requirement of any sound society.  "Public men must be genuinely progressive."  In those words you'll find the perversion of anything remotely conservative in today's Conservative Party of Canada.  Harper has taken his radical movement so far beyond the political philosophies pronounced by Burke, Lincoln and Roosevelt that they would not consider it conservative.   It was Harper who demanded that "progressive" be expunged from the name of his party and from its twisted soul.

I am more deeply troubled when the question becomes whether the Liberal Party has itself drifted far to the right of Roosevelt's progressivism.  I believe it has.   That it was willing to annoint as its leader a man with the views of Michael Ignatieff cannot be overlooked.   The Liberal Party wonders how it came to fall from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6 yet that ugly road was paved by its rejection of progressivism.

More than anyone else, the movers and shakers within the Liberal Party need to digest Roosevelt's speech and stop treating progressivism as a weakness or, worse, some disease no longer relevant in the 21st century.   Our country has fallen into the throes of corporatism - there's the disease that plagues our people.  We're lucky in that it's not yet terminal as it has become within our neighbour and major trading partner.   We can - and must - bring it to heel - through reining in corporate power, putting corporations into service of the public, strong environmental regulation and, above all else, sharply reversing the wealth gap between rich and poor.  We need a Square Deal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

About British Columbians' Supposed Tax Revolt

There has been a lot of uninformed opinion by people in distant parts of Canada about the meaning and significance of the referendum in which a majority voted to repeal British Columbia's harmonized sales tax.   Usually these critics take the HST in isolation, as a stand-alone issue.  In that lies their profound ignorance.

The HST was merely the straw that broke the camel's back and nothing more.   It was a referendum that was as much about the government of the day as it was the tax itself.   There is a lot of anger toward our corporatist provincial government, probably the second-most corporatist provincial government in Canada.  To make any sense of the HST vote you would have to grasp the public anger over this government's handling of BC Ferries, BC Hydro, BC Rail, its unaccountability and secrecy on everything from gas fracking to the Tar Sands pipeline and supertanker port.  Stephen Harper would be quite at home with a government of the style of British Columbia's.

Remember that Gordon Campbell had to resign over his botched HST coup.  He was driven from office by his own party long before the voters had a chance to toss him out.   The premier's party ditched Campbell out of sheer self-preservation.

Now some may deride British Columbians as "hippy dippy" for trying to dodge a viable sales tax but that's an opinion mired in abject ignorance.   There's an air of civil disobedience building in British Columbia, a discontent that the provincial NDP has, so far, failed to engage.  The HST referendum did very little to vent that discontent.

Friday, August 26, 2011

BC HST Dead as a Doornail

The people of British Columbia have spoken.   The Harmonized Sales Tax initiative sprung on them in a totally underhanded manner by Stephen Harper's new ambassador to Britain has gone down in flames on a public referendum vote.   It was defeated on a 55-45 split.

Disgraced premier Campbell's stand-in, Christie Clark, claims to have a Plan B option in the wings to deal with the HST rejection but she's yet to disclose it.   Given that it could cement her fate at the polls in the next election she'll have to tread very carefully.

US State Department Declares Keystone Pipeline Low Risk

TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline to move Athabasca Tar Sands bitumen to Gulf Coast refiners cleared a big hurdle today.   The US State Department reported the venture poses "no significant impacts to most resources" so long as the operator complies with US laws and follows recommended safeguards.

The State Department’s report failed to back up its conclusions, Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, international program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, said in an interview.

“When you read through the executive summary, they are noting a lot of real potential problems,” Casey-Lefkowitz said. “For them to do that and then conclude there no significant impact minimizes the very legitimate concerns of people who depend on the Ogallala aquifer and the 1,000 rivers that this pipeline would cross.”

The 1,700 mile pipeline could deliver up to 700,000 barrels of toxic, corrosive bitumen sludge a day to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma.   The Gulf Coast refineries are facing declining production from Venezuela and Mexico even as their capacity is expected to rise by 500,000 barrels a day by 2020.

F-35 Grounded, Again

The Pentagon has just announced it is again grounding the F-35 fleet, the third time this year.

The 20 operational test and training aircraft were ordered parked Wednesday until engineers and technicians can find why a power system that starts and cools the aircraft failed during an engine ground test Tuesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Suspending flights "is the prudent action to take at this time until the F-35 engineering, technical and system safety teams fully understand the cause of the incident," the F-35 Joint Program Office said in a statement. The program office oversees contractors and military test teams.


What Adam Smith Didn't Know. The "Invisible Hand" of the Market is Holding a Knife to Our Throats.

We weren't supposed to have to worry about such things.   The "market" was supposed to be self-regulating, self-correcting.   Adam Smith told us as much and, after all, he was a Scot.

But the free market capitalism that Smith foresaw was an illusion, a theory that worked moderately well for a good long while - until it didn't.   Now some, such as noted economist Nouriel Roubini, ponder whether Marx wasn't right when he described capitalism as inherently self-destructive.  The Guardian warns that the modern perversion of capitalism is ready to blow.  Nobel laureates Krugman and Stiglitz have been warning us for so long they're getting warned out.   Robert Reich implores us to recognize, in time, that wealth inequality of itself will doom our consumer economy with the rich taking the greatest losses but the poor suffering the greatest misery.

Now it's Paul Woolley speaking out.   The expert in market dysfunctionality who founded a research institute into the subject at the London School of Economics, tells Der Spiegel that today's markets are spinning out of control.

The developments in recent weeks have made it quite clear that the markets don't function properly. Things are spinning out of control and are potentially dangerous for society. Only a fraternity of academic high priests connected to the finance markets is still speaking of efficient markets. Still each market participant is pursuing their own selfish interests. The market isn't reaching equilibrium -- it's falling into chaos.

...The finance sector can -- and is -- growing until it overwhelms the economy. In good years the US finance industry cashes in on more than 40 percent of all corporate profits. In bad years they are saved by the taxpayers. The agents are doing a devilishly good job of developing innovative, complicated new products that people can't understand. It gives them the opportunity to earn excess returns and attract the best talent. While they are acting rationally, the result is a catastrophe.

Woolley's focus is on reforming the markets.  He doesn't believe governments still have the ability to regulate market stability.  His view is that it is up to the truly big investors to compel fund managers and bankers to mend their devious and avaricious ways.  Yet, while Woolley's proposals could, if enacted, restore some commercial stability to world markets, they would no nothing to answer the greatest threat, the social challenge.

Of Course It's a Hoax - A 35-Billion Dollar and Counting Hoax

Memo to Congress.   The U.S. has tied its previous record for weather/climate-related losses.  That's the bad news.   The worse news is that it's only August and you've got three more months of hurricane season still to come.

"I don't think it takes a wizard to predict 2011 is likely to go down as one of the more extreme years for weather in history," National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes told journalists on a conference call.

The agency's parent organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA, launched a campaign on Wednesday to better prepare Americans for violent weather.

There have so far been nine separate disasters this year that caused an economic loss of $1 billion or more in the United States, tying the record set in 2008, NOAA said. The most recent was the summer flooding along the Missouri and Souris rivers in the upper Midwest.

The "new reality" is that both the frequency and the cost of extreme weather are rising, making the nation more economically vulnerable and putting more lives and livelihoods at risk, Hayes said.
The number of U.S. natural disasters has tripled in the last 20 years and 2010 was a record breaker with about 250, according to property and casualty reinsurer Munich Reinsurance America.

Average thunderstorm losses have increased five-fold since 1980. For the first half of 2011 there have been $20 billion in thunderstorm losses, up from the previous three-year average of $10 billion, NOAA said.

But American attitudes and perceptions are stubbornly slow to change.   With Hurricane Irene barreling toward North Carolina, governors are still calling it a "once in a hundred year event."  Really?  How many times does a once in a hundred year event have to occur in short succession to no longer be a once in a hundred year event?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Battle of Underground Tripoli

Where's Waldo, er Gaddafi?   After all, the guy swore he'd fight to the end but, then again, some of us remember when Muammar Gaddafi was determined to fight Israel to the last, well to the last Egyptian anyway.   The Libyan rebels appear to be holding about 80 per cent of the Libyan capital yet the battle with Gaddafi loyalists seems to just go on and on.   It now appears the Gaddafi troops are using a labyrinth of tunnels under the city to keep the battle raging.

Israel's Extremist Right's Alliance with Evangelist Lunacy

The Israeli paper, Haaretz, isn't pulling any punches in denouncing the despicable way the Netanyahu government cozies up to radical Christian evangelists of the ilk of Glenn Beck:

In recent years the extreme Israeli right has developed an alliance with the heads of the evangelical movement, who define themselves as Christian Zionists. National religious rabbis and politicians connect with these preachers, including those who spread the belief in the need for another Holocaust of the Jews in order to ensure the resurrection of Jesus. These rabbis and politicians accept donations from these preachers. It is mystifying that people from Israel's ruling party, Likud, foremost among them Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and World Likud Chairman Danny Danon, have joined the circle of Beck's fans. So has Atzmaut MK Einat Wilf. 

One might have expected the government and police to prohibit the East Jerusalem Development Corporation (a government-municipal company ) from making available the archaeological park near the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Silwan neighborhood for the fulminations of extreme rightists. These are unnecessary and harmful fulminations that testify to Netanyahu's distorted priorities.

It was just a few weeks ago that the government denied dozens of peace activists entry into Israel; they wanted to demonstrate nonviolently their support for the Palestinians' struggle for independence. At the time, it was claimed that this was a "provocation." The "support event" in Jerusalem was no less provocative.

But, for all its sincerity, the editorial is really just pissing into the wind.  Harper wasted no time giving your government, the Canadian government's blessing to the marriage of Christian Evangelical and Israeli Zionist extremists when he presided over the creation of the Canadian arm of the International Israeli Allies Caucus Foundation in 2007, just six months following its American debut.

If you want to learn more about the IIACF to help understand how it shapes Canadian policy in the Middle East, you can begin at its web site here.

Arms Race Update - American Hegemony in Peril in East Asia, China and India Showdown

"The PLA seeks the capability to deter Taiwan independence and influence Taiwan to settle the dispute on Beijing’s terms. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing is developing capabilities intended to deter, delay, or deny possible U.S. support for the island in the event of conflict. The balance of cross-Strait military forces and capabilities continues to shift in the mainland’s favor."

That was the essence of a report entitled "Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, 2011" delivered by the Pentagon to the US Congress.   It could more properly be titled, "Threats to American Hegemony in East Asia."

The 54-page report is full of gems.  Great attention is paid to the expansion of China's air and naval forces required to dominate and potentially repel American forces from Chinese territorial seas.  The Pentagon is used to maintaining superiority of naval and air forces right up to China's territorial limits and the report almost winces at the thought of that being forever lost.

The paper focuses on the development of Chinese naval air power.  The country is just finishing the refit of a Russian-built carrier the Chinese picked up from Ukraine.  The report notes that China is expected to begin building its own carrier fleet very soon.

America isn't the only potential threat China faces.   The Indian Navy, the world's fifth largest, is also rapidly bulking up, especially its Eastern Command.   India is positioning an aircraft carrier, all of its guided missile destroyers, and its submarine fleet including the three nuclear boats soon to be in service.   The Chinese navy is predicted to establish a permanent presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean even as the Indian navy has a stated goal of establishing maritime supremacy as far east as the Kurile Islands, effectively blanketing China's entire coastline.  See where this is heading?

Giap at 100

Just a few days ago, Australian PM. Julia Gillard declared the Vietnam War now a "page in history" and noted that the chief actors, US presidents Kennedy and Nixon, Aussie prime minister Menzies and brilliant Vietnamese general Giap were all long dead.

Oopsie.  Sure Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and, yes, if we must Aussie Menzies are united in the eternal dirt nap but Vo Nguyen Giap, the guy who defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu and directed the war that led to the conquest of South Vietnam and the unification of the Vietnamese state, well he's still around and turned 100 today.

There's a picture of the old bugger in full dress uniform receiving birthday greetings.  Who knew?  Apparently not Aussie PM Gillard.

Climate Wars, 60-years Running and Only Just Getting Started

We call it the "southern oscillation," the Pacific Ocean current variation that gives us El Nino and his ugly stepsister, La Nina.   People living on the Pacific Rim tend to be slightly more aware of it but the impacts are global - and they're deadly.

Researchers at Columbia University have linked El Nino as the proximate cause, or trigger, of 50 of 250 conflicts between 1950 and 2004.

Researchers connected the climate phenomenon known as El Niño, which brings hot and dry conditions to tropical nations and cuts food  production, to outbreaks of violence in countries from southern Sudan to Indonesia and Peru.

Solomon Hsiang, who led the research at Columbia University, New York, said: "We can speculate that a long-ago Egyptian dynasty was overthrown during a drought. This study shows a systematic pattern of global climate affecting conflict right now. We are still dependent on climate to a very large extent."

Hsiang said that pre-emptive action could prevent bloodshed because El Niño events could be predicted up to two years ahead. "We hope our study may help reduce humanitarian suffering."

Global warming caused by humans, with the continual ramping up of temperature and extreme weather, differs from the natural El Niño cycle, the scientists are careful to note.

Mark Cane, a member of the team, said global warming would have greater climatic impacts than El Niño, making it "hard to imagine" it would not provoke conflicts.  

The scientists are beginning work to discover the factors involved in the climate-conflict link. Food is likely to be key as crop yields and incomes from agriculture are known to fall heavily in El Niño years. 

"When crops fail, people may take up a gun to make a living," said Hsiang.

"Take up a gun to make a living."   Hmm, isn't that what Texas governor Rick Perry has in mind?

 Another team of researchers, this time from Cornell, have released a paper.   Here is the chilling abstract:

Despite the many possible contributing factors, the timing of violent protests in North Africa and
the Middle East in 2011 as well as earlier riots in 2008 coincides with large peaks in global food
prices. We identify a speci fic food price threshold above which protests become likely. These obser-
vations suggest that protests may reflect not only long-standing political failings of governments,
but also the sudden desperate straits of vulnerable populations. If food prices remain high, there is
likely to be persistent and increasing global social disruption
. Underlying the food price peaks we
also a nd an ongoing trend of increasing prices. We extrapolate these trends and identify a crossing
point to the domain of high impacts, even without price peaks, in 2012-2013
. This implies that
avoiding global food crises and associated social unrest requires rapid and concerted action.

Did you get that?   There is a specific food price index above which instability is triggered.   The UN FAO fixes that at 210.   Right now we're at 234 and the Cornell team believes the world will become permanently above 210 within just a year or two.   And that's with the onset of climate change impacts just beginning.  I'm sorry, I know this is a huge downer but that's only because we live in such a totally advantaged country.   Imagine, just try to imagine, what this revelation means to most of the people living in most of the world and then explain to me, one more time, about that Tar Sands thing.

FOX News Admits Global Warming Science is Legit

This FOX News panel has stumbled upon a breathtaking discovery - apparently this anthropogenic global warming theory is true.   Yep, the facts do seem to back it up.  Why they've even got the FOX "brain room" looking into it right now.

So you're probably asking, "what's the catch?"   And there is indeed a catch.   While FOX News says Republican presidential nomination contender Rick Perry is a bag of wind for denying the truth of global warming - wait for it - it doesn't matter.   That's right, global warming doesn't matter.   Republican primary voters couldn't care less about global warming.  It simply doesn't matter.

And while we're on the topic of the Republican front-runner whack job, Rick Perry, there's this report from Grist that the never-ending extreme drought plaguing Texas may shut down several of Perry's state's power plants this fall.   Even though these plants are run on fossil fuels, all that heat is useless unless there's plenty of fresh water to boil to produce the steam that turns the generator turbines.  No water, no power.   No water, all you're left with is more useless hot air, just like the governor himself.

A number of Texas power plants may need to cut back operations or shut down completely if the state’s severe drought continues into the fall, an official with Texas’ main transmission manager told FuelFix.
 If the state’s drought continues for much longer and water levels continue falling at other power plant reservoirs, other units could be forced to curtail operations or shut-down completely, [said Kent Saathoff, vice president of system planning and operations for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.]

Now the bitch is no power, no air conditioning, no refrigeration, which also, in a state beset by record-breaking temperatures, means no economy.   Simply put, Texas is screwed and it's screwed by something its highest elected officials won't even acknowledge exists.  Adios, suckahs!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Put It On the Kids' Tab - A Cautionary Tale

We got used to it after WWII, governments borrowing money to be repaid by taxpayers in the future.  In an era of foreseeable, sustained growth that wasn't so bad.   The next generation of taxpayers would be much better off and quite capable of handling the government debt they inherited.

The problem today is that our political classes are still playing the long-term debt game even though it's becoming abundantly clear that the next generation of taxpayers not only will be less well off but will also be saddled with the social burden of a rapidly aging society.   With a deal like this - not of their making, not of their choosing - what choice do they have but to revolt, to take to the streets?

Ulrich Beck, who teaches sociology at the London School of Economics and at Harvard, says it's high time for young people to get very, very angry.

...For the first time, Europe's young people are experiencing their own "European fate." Better educated than ever and possessing high expectations, they are confronting a decline in the labor markets triggered by the threat of national bankruptcies and the economic crisis. Today one in five Europeans under 25 is unemployed.
In those places where they have set up their tent cities and raised their voices, they are demanding social justice. In Spain and Portugal, as well as in Tunisia, Egypt and Israel, they are voicing their demands in a way as nonviolent as it is powerful. Europe and its youth are united in their rage over politicians who are willing to spend unimaginable sums of money to rescue banks, even as they gamble away the futures of their countries' youth.

The headlines have been interchangeable for some time: Insecurity Over the Future of the Global Economy, EU Bailout Fund in Jeopardy, Merkel Attends Crisis Meeting with Sarkozy, Rating Agency Announces Downgrade of US Debt. Does the global financial crisis signal the deterioration of the old center? Ironically, it is authoritarian China that is playing the moral apostle on the financial front, with its sharp criticism of both democratic America and the EU.

There is one thing the financial crisis has undoubtedly achieved: Everyone (experts and politicians included) has been catapulted into a world that no one understands anymore. As far as the political reactions are concerned, there are two extreme scenarios that can be juxtaposed. The first is a Hegelian scenario, in which, given the threats that global risk capitalism engenders, the "ruse of reason" is afforded an historic opportunity. This is the cosmopolitan imperative: cooperate or fail, succeed together or fail individually.

At the same time, the inability to control financial risks (along with climate change and migration movements) presents a Carl Schmitt scenario, a strategic power game, which opens the door to ethnic and nationalist policy.

Ulrich Beck's article is presented in the context of challenges facing the European Union and, granted, the youth uprisings he mentions have broken out on the streets of Greece, Italy and Spain and not yet in North America, but pledging the kids' credit is not (unfortunately) limited to Europe by any means.  The United States clearly leads the pack on that one even as its hopelessly corrupt government and institutions cater to the well being of the richest of the rich at the expense of the worsening fate of the wage-earning, tax paying middle classes.   American youth haven't taken to the streets en masse - not yet anyway.   Yet theirs is a candle very much burning fiercely from both ends.

Welcome, again, to the Century of Revolution.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Big Coal Faces Killer Argument in Court

It might just be the moment fossil fuelers dread most - their production tied to direct environmental consequences.  The Queensland, Australia coal-mining giant, Xstrata is going to court today over a plan to mine 30-million tonnes of coal per year for 30-years for the export market.   Friends of the Earth Brisbane is objecting and plans to introduce scientific evidence of the specific consequences from this venture.

In statements already filed to the court, Dr Malte Meinhausen, a leading climate researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, states the mine “could cause the extra annual flooding of the settlements and houses of 23,000 people worldwide by the 2080s”.

According to Xstrata's own Environmental Impact Statement, the mining operations and the burning of the mine's coal over 30 years will add more than 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Dr Meinhausen's statement says the emissions are the equivalent of more than seven times the Federal Government's target to cut emissions by five per cent by 2020.

Calculating the impact of those emissions, Dr Meinhausen claims they will push average global sea levels 23 millimetres higher, causing an extra 23,000 people's homes to flood every year.

This case could be the opening salvo in an effort to "make the polluter pay, globally." It's obvious that dredging up fossil fuels out of the ground contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and that those emissions are quantifiable.  Xstrata's own Environmental Impact Statement plainly admits that much.  But evidence which ties those emissions to even a threshhold, quantifiable consequence such as sea level rise may open the way for affected (injured) nations to demand direct compensation from fossil fuel producers and the national and local governments that regulate them.   And wouldn't that be a shock to the Petro-Pols of Parliament Hill?

The Guardian's Ominous Warning of Global Capitalism Collapse

It isn't often you find apocalyptic tomes in business publications warning of the imminent demise of global capitalism but that seems to be changing.   Ten days ago the Wall Street Journal, in an interview with noted economist Nouriel Roubini tossed around the idea that perhaps Karl Marx was right, that capitalism inevitably self-destructs.

Today it's The Guardian warning that capitalism is facing its own "Scrooge" moment:

For the past two centuries and more, life in Britain has been governed by a simple concept: tomorrow will be better than today. Black August has given us a glimpse of a dystopia, one in which the financial markets buckle and the cities burn. Like Scrooge, we have been shown what might be to come unless we change our ways.

...It was chastening to see consumerism laid bare. We have seen the future and we know it sucks. All of which is cause for cautious optimism – provided the right lessons are drawn.
Lesson number one is that the financial and social causes are linked. Lesson number two is that what links the City banker and the looter is the lack of restraint, the absence of boundaries to bad behaviour. Lesson number three is that we ignore this at our peril.

 The system is an utter mess, particularly since almost every country in the world is now seeking to manipulate its currency downwards in order to make exports cheaper and imports dearer. This is clearly not possible. Sir Mervyn King noted last week that the solution to the crisis involved China and Germany reflating their economies so that debtor nations like the US and Britain could export more. Progress on that front has been painfully slow, and will remain so while the global currency system remains so dysfunctional. The solution is either a fully floating system under which countries stop manipulating their currencies or an attempt to recreate a new fixed exchange rate system using a basket of world currencies as its anchor.

The break-up of the Bretton Woods system paved the way for the liberalisation of financial markets. This began in the 1970s and picked up speed in the 1980s. Exchange controls were lifted and formal restrictions on credit abandoned. Policymakers were left with only one blunt instrument to control the availability of credit: interest rates.

For a while in the late 1980s, the easy availability of money provided the illusion of wealth but there was a shift from a debt-averse world where financial crises were virtually unknown to a debt-sodden world constantly teetering on the brink of banking armageddon.

Currency markets lost their anchor in 1971 when the US suspended dollar convertibility. Over the years, financial markets have lost their moral anchor, engaging not just in reckless but fraudulent behaviour. According to the US economist James Galbraith, increased complexity was the cover for blatant and widespread wrongdoing.

Looking back at the sub-prime mortgage scandal, in which millions of Americans were mis-sold home loans, Galbraith says there has been a complete breakdown in trust that is impairing the hopes of economic recovery.

"There was a private vocabulary, well-known in the industry, covering these loans and related financial products: liars' loans, Ninja loans (the borrowers had no income, no job or assets), neutron loans (loans that would explode, destroying the people but leaving the buildings intact), toxic waste (the residue of the securitisation process). I suggest that this tells you that those who sold these products knew or suspected that their line of work was not 100% honest. Think of the restaurant where the staff refers to the food as scum, sludge and sewage."

Finally, there has been a big change in the way that the spoils of economic success have been divvied up. Back when Nixon was berating the speculators attacking the dollar peg, there was an implicit social contract under which the individual was guaranteed a job and a decent wage that rose as the economy grew. The fruits of growth were shared with employers, and taxes were recycled into schools, health care and pensions. In return, individuals obeyed the law and encouraged their children to do the same. The assumption was that each generation would have a better life than the last.

This implicit social contract has broken down. Growth is less rapid than it was 40 years ago, and the gains have disproportionately gone to companies and the very rich. In the UK, the professional middle classes, particularly in the southeast, are doing fine, but below them in the income scale are people who have become more dependent on debt as their real incomes have stagnated. Next are the people on minimum wage jobs, which have to be topped up by tax credits so they can make ends meet. At the very bottom of the pile are those who are without work, many of them second and third generation unemployed.

...Together, the global imbalances, the manic-depressive behaviour of stock markets, the venality of the financial sector, the growing gulf between rich and poor, the high levels of unemployment, the naked consumerism and the riots are telling us something.
This is a system in deep trouble and it is waiting to blow.

Like Roubini, Stiglitz, Krugman and others, The Guardian piece lays bare the entirely self-destructive, predatory instincts of unregulated global corporatism.  It's akin to handing the delinquent teenage son the keys to Dad's liquor cabinet and his Corvette.   The outcome is preordained and it's awful.

Miscreants like Cheney, Bachmann, Perry and Harper are the High Priesthood of malignant corporatism that preys upon and ultimately destroys societies.   They don't openly seek the outcome, yet they certainly ensure it.  Decades of right wing politics in the U.S. (Republican and Democratic) have facilitated the ascension of the uber-rich and the massive transfer of wealth from the once vibrant middle classes to the richest of the rich.   Whenever they're criticized they scream "socialism" and raise images of Lubyanka.

We don't need to overthrow our political institutions but we do need to purge the temple of these crooked moneylenders.   We face many challenges this century, a number of them of a potential magnitude greater than anything our civilization has known.   To meet these threats it is essential that we have the strongest, most cohesive societies possible and you simply cannot achieve that without first harnessing corporatism to the service of the public and reversing the utterly cancerous spread of inequality.

As a former Liberal, one thing I found unbearable in the Bay Street Boys' boy, Ignatieff, was his refusal to acknowledge much less promise to reform Canada's own chasm between rich and poor.  Then again I didn't see much of anything recognizably Liberal in that character.   To the contrary, Ignatieff was determined to move the Liberals to the centre-right and the voting public rewarded him and his followers appropriately for that, sending the Liberals from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6.

What chance is there to turn this around, to rescue our societies from the jaws of global corporatism?  Slim to none.   There are too many Harpers and Camerons in office.  In the United States there is a truly "bought and paid for" Congress and a timid, feckless man in the White House.   Fire up the Corvette and pass the bottle.

Footnote:   Just as all this unfolds Canada loses Jack Layton to cancer.   His absence will be deeply felt, particularly as we confront the struggles that now befall us.

Where's Waldo? Tripoli Style

Muammar Gaddafi has gone to ground and nobody seems to know where.   He might be hunkered down inside his personal compound where a fierce firefight continues as rebels close in.  He might have already fled the country.  Al Jazeera yesterday reported the mysterious appearance of two, South African jetliners seen circling over the Libyan capital.

The rebels say they've captured two of Gaddafi's sons - the brutal killer, Saif, and the relatively likeable eldest son, Muhammad.  Al Jazeera spoke with Muhammad who first said he was being treated decently by rebels who had surrounded his compound.   Later, however, with the sound of automatic gunfire in the background, Muhammad said fighting was underway inside his house.   Then the phone line went dead.  That is, apparently, the last anyone has heard from Muhammad Gaddafi.

The New York Times Slams Athabasaca Bitumen

The New York Times has thrown its full editorial weight against the Keystone XL pipeline proposal and the Athabasca Tar Sands that underlies it.

We have two main concerns: the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and the fact that the extraction of petroleum from the tar sands creates far more greenhouse emissions than conventional production does.
The Canadian government insists that it has found ways to reduce those emissions. But a new report from Canada’s environmental ministry shows how great the impact of the tar sands will be in the coming years, even with cleaner production methods.

It projects that Canada will double its current tar sands production over the next decade to more than 1.8 million barrels a day. That rate will mean cutting down some 740,000 acres of boreal forest — a natural carbon reservoir. Extracting oil from tar sands is also much more complicated than pumping conventional crude oil out of the ground. It requires steam-heating the sands to produce a petroleum slurry, then further dilution.

One result of this process, the ministry says, is that greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020 — even as other sectors are reducing emissions. Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame.

Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, “I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.”) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline. 

Anti-pipeline protesters are planning to stage a 2-week demonstration outside the White House to ratchet up pressure on Barack Obama.   In what may be the conclusive test of his presidential integrity, Obama will have the final say on the Keystone XL pipeline.   If he signs off on it, Keystone goes ahead.  If he withholds his approval, it's dead.   With his Republican 2012 rivals in a "drill baby, drill" rut, it's hard to imagine that Ol'Barry Tossinthetowel will have the cojones to stop Keystone.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Lockheed's Lame Ducks

Lockheed Martin represents the bleeding edge of American military airpower.   Lockheed produced the F-22 Raptor stealth super fighter and is struggling to churn out the F-35 Lightning II stealth bomb wagon.

Lately, Lockheed's lions have turned into lame ducks.   The F-22 is reported to have been grounded since May.  An investigation is underway into problems with the aircraft's pilot oxygen supply system.  That is expected to keep the Raptor groundbound for at least a few months to come.

The F-35, however, is back in the air following a two-week grounding to look into a failure of the aircraft's Integrated Power Package.   Apparently there's some sort of glitchy valve but it's not serious enough to keep the freshly-minted F-35 grounded until it's fixed.   A spokesman for the overdue, over budget and under-performing F-35 project office noted the aircraft still faces five years of "developmental testing" before it is used operationally.

When the F-35 is capable of actually flying, the Harper government will have 65-of the things to defend some small part of Canada against some potential threat of some kind from somewhere, details to follow, maybe.

Australia is also looking to buy the F-35, maybe.   It had planned to pick up an even hundred Lightning IIs but, due to delays and budget overruns, has decided to defer a final decision until next year.  Australia is also looking at picking up additional new technology Super Hornet F-18s if they ditch the F-35.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Yikes! Bachmann Wins Iowa Straw Poll

The extremely mediocre but profoundly radical Michelle Bachmann defeated her Republican presidential nomination rivals to win yesterday's Iowa straw poll.

The unwittingly amusing Bachmann proclaimed her win sent a "big message to Washington."   It's hard to argue with that.   The nature of that big message probably depends on your perceptions of the dim-witted Congresswoman.

It remains to be seen whether the unscientific, non-binding Iowa poll marks a race to the bottom of the intellectual gene pool for the Republican nomination race especially after Texas governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy.   You'll probably know where this is heading if Mitt Romney goes along and likewise dives to the bottom of radical Republicanism.

Surfing the Wave of Change

The enormity of the changes underway is finally settling in.  We're coming to realize that the 21st century will not be a mere successor to the 18th, 19th and 20th.   The old economics, the old industrialism, the old geo-politics are heading for the dust bin without any good idea of what should replace them.  That's a conversation we've not yet been willing to have with ourselves.

We're changing but, unlike the progression of change over the past three centuries, this time we're having increasingly less control over the pace and direction of changes that are, well, overtaking us.  If you're fond of big surf, you'll know the feeling.

The environment is changing, moving surprisingly rapidly toward a new steady state, an epoch that has already been named the "anthropocene."   All we seem to do in response is bicker about 'drop in the bucket' proposals that never get off the ground.   Global warming isn't coming, it's here, and even if we could break our civilization's carbon addiction today, the warming would substantially worsen for another century.

And, even as the environment changes, the effects are compounded by overpopulation, over-consumption and over-contamination of our increasingly unstable biosphere, Earth.   More billions of people with ever-increasing consumption habits results in ever greater contamination or pollution of the soil, water and atmosphere.  It generates civil unrest and regional instability hallmarked by revolt, violent suppression, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and regional arms races now underway.

It's quite reasonable to expect that the magnitude of the environmental change coming our way will direct, even perhaps define, the political, military, economic, industrial and social structures and institutions of the 21st century.  "Adaptation" (a delightfully benign and non-threatening synonym for 'survival') will probably supplant the concept of growth in driving our decisions.

When you're on a ride like this, you have to think and act well ahead of events if you're not to be overtaken by them, if you're to retain the initiative to act, control.   The surfer analogy works again.  They have to sit and study the sea behind them.   They have to identify that one swell that will transform into the best wave to ride.   They have to anticipate its approach speed and then paddle to gain enough speed to catch it and then surf it.   The whole exercise is a culmination of a series of correct assessments and decisions.   Get it wrong and you're left with an entirely different slate of options, none of them particularly pleasant.

Of all the things the best surfers have that our political leadership lacks, vision is the most critical.  Our political class is myopic, a condition arising from perpetually gazing at its feet.  It doesn't look out to the horizon, it doesn't focus to infinity and, hence, it doesn't see or question or evaluate or anticipate or plan for what's coming.  Yet only our political leadership has the authority, resources and the powers to undertake a chore so Herculean.   I understand they're apprehensive of the consequences of shaking the boat but the boat is already rocking if only they could get past their denial.

I thought I should add the following insights from U Calgary, professor emeritus Phil Elder who sees centuries of human nature standing in the way of action:

The scariest thing is that this potential threat to civilization, created by the wealthiest countries, gets a big shrug from many sincere, well-meaning people who are living happily in a state of denial. Yet despair leads to self-defeating paralysis (which may account for young people’s abstention from politics). Disaster is not inevitable; with political will, we can prevent it.

Why are we so slow to respond decisively? Human nature? Our species, accidentally created in Africa by evolution’s dumb engine, has opposable thumbs, powerful brains, and self-consciousness. But, at the same time, our mammalian bodies house strong, embedded instincts, which could endanger our survival.

Originally small roving bands of omnivores, humans now live in mega-groups and have so overrun the planet that civilization may be endangered. True, our intellect and technological creativity have created an unprecedented standard of living for huge populations. But, as Roland Wright suggests in his book A Short History of Progress,
… to use a computer analogy, we are running 21st-century software on hardware last upgraded 50,000 years ago ... . This human inability to see ... long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering.
For eons, change was so slow as to be imperceptible, except for decade-by-decade fluctuation of game resources. Therefore, long-term thinking had no survival value. When things got tight, bands moved on to more favourable territory in a limitless world, and, if other humans were already there, violence decided who would survive.  

In these circumstances, we developed strong, embedded, aggressive instincts; fight-or-flight adrenaline; “nature, red in tooth and claw”; a need for short-term survival, regardless of tomorrow. Yet this mindset is deeply unsuitable for the modern world, which needs long-term planning and co-operation.

We also became mistrustful of outsiders and fearful of change. Defence mechanisms like denial, rationalization, and magical thinking were helpful comforts. So were greed – for our extended family, if not just for ourselves – and a willingness to exploit others.

Addressing these challenges isn't Apocalyptic.  Ignoring them may well be.