Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Countries that Matter Most Throw in the Towel on Global Warming

It's a chilling story, one that, if true, has existential implications for life on Earth.  The Guardian reports that rich nations have "given up" on reaching a new climate treaty until 2020.

Ahead of critical talks starting next week, most of the world's leading economies now privately admit that no new global climate agreement will be reached before 2016 at the earliest, and that even if it were negotiated by then, they would stipulate it could not come into force until 2020.

The eight-year delay is the worst contemplated by world governments during 20 years of tortuous negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions, and comes despite intensifying warnings from scientists and economists about the rapidly increasing dangers of putting off prompt action.

...Postponing an operational agreement until 2020 would be fatal to hopes of avoiding catastrophic climate change, according to scientists, economists and green campaigners.

Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency (IEA), and one of the world's foremost authorities on climate economics, told the Guardian: "If we do not have an international agreement whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures below 2C] will be closed forever."

The story comes just one day after the World Meteorological Organization released a report warning that man-made emissions of greenhouse gases have reached a record level and the rate of increase is accelerating.

The IPCC, WMO, NOAA, NASA and other science bodies are all speaking with one voice, all sounding the alarm, all warning that the exit door is closing and virtually no key decision maker is listening.  These leaders are writing the future of our kids and grandkids and generations to follow.  The worst part is it's quite possibly indelible.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Rise of a New Confederacy or Peering Into the Soul of Stephen Harper

Do you ever have trouble figuring out just what makes an authoritarian git like Stephen Harper tick?  An article from In These Times entitled "New Confederacy Rising" offers some helpful insights into why the radical, fundamentalist Right seem so bizarre.  They don't just act nuts, they are nuts.

What has recently come to the fore within the Republican Party, but has been building within it for decades as the religious right’s influence has grown, is a new Confederacy: a nation within a nation, certain of the degeneracy of the usurper “United States,” hostile toward its institutions of education and government, and possessing a keen sense of its own identity as a victimized, righteous remnant engaged in spiritual warfare. As Michele Bachmann put it when explaining her position as a tax accountant for the IRS, she took a government job because she wanted to infiltrate “the enemy.”

 ...For the pragmatic and progressive America that grew out of secularized higher education, truth has a provisional, this-worldly orientation. It’s more evolutionary than eternal in character—a fluid body of knowledge and interpretation, subject to revision and expansion.

For the Confederacy that now dominates the GOP, truth is solid and fixed and divinely embedded in the structure of the universe. Humanity’s responsibility is to accept and believe the truth rather than test ideas against actual experience. The Confederacy’s obsession with “originalist” interpretations of the Constitution—a twin of biblical literalism—is the classic example: truth must be eternal, universal.

Pragmatists and progressives defer to experts and professionals. They expect truth claims to be supported by evidence that emerges from research and testing. They put their faith in this process, and in the communities of inquiry—the disciplines—legitimized by secular institutions of higher education.

The new Confederacy rejects that process wholesale. Its leaders and authorities are the spiritual descendants of the conservative Christians and charismatic radio preachers who broke away from religious modernism in the 1920s and 1930s. For these leaders and their followers, faith justifies—and verifies—itself. You don’t believe an idea because it’s true. It’s true because you believe it.

The Sky is Falling - US Generals Warn America in Real Danger if Military Spending is Cut

A US Marine Corps general is the latest stuffed tunic to warn of dire consequences to America if the Pentagon's budget is cut.   Corps Commandant General James Amos says he's sure that something sort of awful will befall the American military from budget cuts.

We as a nation don’t even know, or have not got a sense of appreciation for, the impact that sequestration’s going to have on the Department of Defense,” Amos said, leaning in to drive home his point. “I don’t think we understand the magnitude of the impact that sequestration would have."

I would love to hear these generals explain how, with defence expenditures greater than every other nation on the planet combined, they have made such a total botch up of America's conflicts in/with Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea.   When was the last time these bozos actually won a war?   That's "won" in the sense of achieving their government's pre-conflict objectives?

It strikes me that, when you've had plenty of chances but have struck out every time, you don't get to bitch if someone wants to burst your bloated budget.   And you certainly don't get to scare the hell out of the public with vague threats of danger that doesn't exist.   And, if that's the best you can do, maybe you should just turn in your stars and take a serious interest in golf.

Propaganda Busting - Social Security

Anyone who follows American politics will have heard the Right's endless demands for "entitlement reform."   They argue that Social Security is on the verge of insolvency and therefore payouts need to be trimmed.   After all, how can you maintain insane tax cuts for the rich if you have to pay the poor?

The Brookings Institute has a telling contradiction of the Right's favourite fairy tale.  The article points out that while Social Security indeed went "cash negative" last year, the private pension industry has been cash negative for 25-years.   It also explains that while contributions to Social Security were less that payouts last year, the system also receives revenues from its investments, revenues that left the Social Security agency with a comfortable surplus.

Greenhouse Gas Increases Accelerating.

The operative word is "accelerating."   The World Meteorological Organization reported today that,
"the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hit a new record in 2010 and that the growth of the buildup is accelerating."

 "The increase between 2009 and 2010 was above the average for the last two decades. “Between 2009 and 2010, its atmospheric abundance increased by 2.3 parts per million — higher than the average for both the 1990s (1.5 parts per million) and the past decade (2.0 parts per million),” the WMO states.

The report tracks several other gases, including methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s again on the rise after a temporary period of “relative stabilization” between 1999 and 2006.

“Scientists are conducting research into the reasons for this, including the potential role of the thawing of the methane-rich Northern permafrost and increased emissions from tropical wetlands,” the WMO notes."

It seems everybody, even Canada, acknowledges the need for sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions yet with emissions not only increasing but the rate of increase accelerating they're heading full throttle in the opposite direction.  Can you find Easter Island on the map?  That's right, it's smack in the middle between Gloucester and Nepean.

Climate Change Isn't Happening If You Can't Learn About It

How else can you explain the extraordinary efforts of the Harper regime and its US Congressional counterparts to suppress climate change information getting to the public.

As chronicled in The Guardian recently, Steve Harper has been using spending cuts to undermine groups such as Climate Action Network Canada, a NGO that once served to coordinate some 80 other organizations even as Harper broke his own commitments to continue $1.4-billion in government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

Now, south of the line, Congress has vetoed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's efforts to create a National Climate Service akin to the agency's National Weather Service.   The telling part is that the NOAA wasn't asking for any new funding.

"...in a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.” Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.

"Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco told Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates."

"...with data spread across agency offices and Web sites, people are “often confused where to go for climate information,” said Mary Glackin, the NOAA deputy undersecretary heading up the proposal. The new service would streamline delivery, she said, and make it easier for people to find information, such as seasonal growing outlooks and drought, wildfire and flood forecasts.

The proposal has drawn wide-ranging support. NOAA’s administrator from 2001 to 2008 under Bush, Conrad C. Lautenbacher, urged Congress to approve it this year. So did scientific, weather and industry groups, including the Reinsurance Association of America, which represents huge firms that backstop home, car and life insurance companies.

Franklin W. Nutter, president of the RAA, said insurance companies are increasingly relying on the predictions of a changing future that NOAA provides. “It’s become clear that historic patterns of natural catastrophes — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods — are not good predictors of future risks,” he said. In other words, the future’s looking rougher."

America - Segregation is Back

The United States has been wrestling with racial segregation for decades and, while considerable progress has been made in some areas, plenty remains to be fixed.   But a new form of segregation is on the rise - wealth segregation.  The gap between rich and poor is more than statistical.

A study by Brown University finds that income segregation is quickly rising in the US.   It found that, in 1970, only 15% of Americans lived in communities that would be considered "affluent" or "poor."  By 2010 those percentages had doubled.  "Affluent" was defined as neighbourhoods in which the median income was 150% or more higher than the median income of their metropolitan areas.  "Poor" was a neighbourhood with a median income 67% or less than the median of its metropolitan area.   The rest lived in neighbourhoods of mixed income.

In other words, the rich are far more likely today to live with their own kind as are the poor. The report's authors found that the isolation of the rich today is much more intense than the evolving isolation of the poor.

The increasing concentration of income and wealth in a small number of neighborhoods,” the two authors note, “results in greater disadvantages for the remaining neighborhoods where low- and middle-income families live.”

In 1991, Robert Reich defined the trend as the "succession of the successful."

While gated communities have become fairly commonplace, they're now being superceded by gated municipalities with their own schools, fire, police and utilities services.   Within these muni-bubbles, the affluent essentially take care of themselves, free of the burden of supporting the less fortunate.  It is a money-saving option for those with all the money.   It also undermines social cohesion which, as argued here many times, is going to be one of the most critical factors in meeting the looming challenges of the 21st century.   This is not the moment in time for America to embrace a "let them eat cake" mentality.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Harper EnviroShill Kent Calls Opposition "Treacherous"

According to Harper's greasy EnviroShill, Peter Kent,  two NDP MPs who went to Washington to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline were "treacherous."

"One of the opposition parties has taken the treacherous course of leaving the domestic debate and heading abroad to attack a legitimate Canadian resource which is being responsibly developed and regulated," Kent told reporters.
The Regime obviously believes that it alone is entitled to speak on issues abroad and others failing to keep their mouths shut are treacherous.  Neither Kent nor Harper will comment on the remark.  Swine, both of them.

We're Causing Climate Change. It's Here and It's Going to Keep Getting Worse.

So, it's official.   The latest IPCC report is out and it does link man-made global warming directly to the climate change we've been experiencing.   The report also concludes that man-made global warming will lead to a continuation of severe storm events of increasing intensity and frequency; cyclical droughts and floods, and sea level rise.   In other words, bad as the weather has been the past several years, it's going to worsen for the foreseeable future - i.e. your lifetime, your kids' lifetimes and your grandkids' too.

It won't be the same everywhere.  What's happening is still often unpredictable.  Some regions will get inundated with rain when they don't need it and then suffer drought when they do.  Other regions are simply drying up.  Most places will be getting hotter, some a lot more so than others.   Only now are we beginning to appreciate that, for the past many centuries, we've been living in a meteorological Eden with quite moderate temperatures, precipitation patterns and storm events.  Now we're shifting into what, contrasted to our benign climate of the past, is considered extreme.

Take the American and Canadian mid-west, the heartland regions, the Great Plains, the prairie.  When Europeans showed up they had no way of knowing this vast region was enjoying a protracted and abnormal "wet" period.   There was a reason it was all grassland but we didn't twig to it.   Prairie grasses dominated instead of boreal forest because its normal climate state featured extended, severe drought cycles.   Some are now understood to have lasted up to 60-years at a stretch.   The absence of forests in an otherwise heavily forested continent ought to have been a giveaway but we didn't get it.  Oopsie!

Europeans stumbled upon an area ideal for agriculture.   Easy to plough under.   Flat.   Ample (for the time) precipitation.  Enormous stocks of freshwater in huge aquifers.  Good growing season.  And so we transformed it into our grain belt and for a good, long time it fed us and plenty of others abroad.  We built communities and then cities along the breadth and width of the region although, blessedly, the populations remained fairly small.

The Americans fell for it hardest.   They populated not only their prairie but even their deserts.  Masses flocked to the southwest for the dry heat always assuming that hot and dry though it was there was still plenty of water for their needs.  Another oopsie!

And it's hardly better in the US southeast.  McClatchey Newspapers last month reported that Florida, Georgia and Alabama are locked in a fierce dispute over water rights.   Unable to come to  agreement about sharing their watersheds, the states are each pressuring the Army Corps of Engineers to come through, even threatening to sue the Corps if they don't get their way.

The Corps said it's trying to steer clear of picking sides in the regional squabble.

"We don't own the water — the water is owned by the states," said Rob Holland, a spokesman for the Corps' regional office in Atlanta. "We encourage the states to resolve their problems, but we can't solve them for them."
 ..."The drought in the Southeast is far more widespread," said Mike Hayes, the director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. "People wonder, 'Can I ask my neighbor for water if they are in the same boat?' Other natural disasters, like hurricanes and floods, bring people together. Drought, if people aren't careful, can really set one sector against another sector and can create chronic tension."

But in the historically water-rich South, the battle over dwindling water sources already has turned nasty.

Georgia's congressional delegation is pushing legislation that would give all states the power to suspend the Endangered Species Act during extreme droughts, a move that would cut short Florida's claims to extra water.

"While they're worrying about an endangered species of mussels in Apalachicola, we're worried about the endangered people," Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said Thursday.

The turmoil of the US southeast illustrates how the future impacts of climate change can compound problems in "me first" societies where inequality is embraced as a bulwark against supposedly tyrannical socialism.  It is why winning the battle against inequality - of wealth and opportunity - is a pressing concern.  Adapting to what's coming is going to require the most cohesive societies possible and inequality fractures that cohesiveness.

Bad as the water problem is in the southeast, conditions are worse in the US southwest.  A new report examining tree rings has found that megadroughts lasting upwards of 50-years and extending from New Mexico as far as Idaho can be found as far back as the second century.

Paleoclimatologist Connie Woodhouse, a co-author of the study that will be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, said scientists have wondered if the severe Western droughts that occurred between 900 and 1400 were unique.

The new tree ring record indicates they weren't -- and could occur again. “There is no good reason that we shouldn’t expect to have those,” Woodhouse said.

The southwest is currently reeling from a sustained, severe drought.   In Texas, where governor Rick Perry denounces the very idea of man-made global warming and prays for rain instead, horse owners, unable to provide either feed or water to their animals, are simply abandoning them to face starvation.

Even once ever-soggy Britain worries about droughts continuing into next year.

The latest drought scenarios follow some of the driest weather since the Met Office records began in 1910, with rainfall in much of central England below 60% of the average for the last year, and much lower than that in some pockets. The mild, dry weather has continued into November in much of the UK, though regions in the north and west have become much wetter and colder.

The Met Office has told government emergency planning groups that there is only a low risk of an exceptionally dry year, however the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting expects above average pressure over the next few months, which would usually lead to lower rainfall.

In a new approach, Thames Water, the country's biggest water supplier, said it was planning what is thought to be the first poster campaign showing customers the local river their water comes from in a bid to persuade more of them to help protect it while levels are low. Posters showing a pretty-looking stretch of the Kennet will be put up around Marlborough and Swindon in December as part of the push.

We're caught in a dilemma.   Climate scientists, the people who warn us we have somewhere between 5 and 20-years to massively slash our carbon emissions, say it's too early to conclude what is already happening is the result of anthropogenic climate change.  It's their inability to close that circle that gives the fossil fuel industry and its bought and paid for political stooges the wiggle room to stall and dodge until the measures called for by the climate scientists are beyond our grasp.

Take even the most moderate front-runner in the Republican presidential race, Mitt Romney.

"Romney calls for greater U.S. production of coal, oil and natural gas. He'd block new pollution regulations and roll back some old ones. He'd also abandon federal subsidies for "green" technologies such as wind and solar power, deriding the Obama administration's "unhealthy 'green' jobs obsession."

There it is.  It just doesn't get much bleaker than that.  And at home we have a Parliament chock full of Petro-Pols who won't even talk about shutting down the filthiest, most dangerous fossil fuel project on Earth, the Tar Sands.

Herman Cain, Save Your Campaign. Shut Up!

Like Rick Perry, Herman Cain's worst political enemy is his mouth.   Once he opens that, gibberish pours out, decidedly unpresidential gibberish.

Herman has told the world that China is a threat because it is actively seeking nuclear weapons, oblivious to the fact China has had a nuclear arsenal for a scant half a century.   Then the pizzaman couldn't explain whether he supported the Libyan opposition that had ousted Muammar Gaddafi.  The best he could come up with was a rambling, incoherent explanation that Obama hadn't handled it right and he would do better.

Herman Cain apparently realized his Libyan gaffe had been serious so he wasted no time setting the record straight by claiming the Taliban and al-Qaeda are about to become part of the new Libyan government.

"Do I agree with siding with the opposition? Do I agree with saying that Gaddafi should go? Do I agree that they now have a country where you've got Taliban and al-Qaida that's going to be part of the government?"

I don't know, Herman, do you?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

When They Preach Austerity, They're Just Screwin' With You

Western leaders weren't listening in 2006 and 2007 when genuine "thinking" economists like Krugman and Stiglitz were warning that their house of cards was about to collapse.   Even self-proclaimed economists like Harper ignored them and later said no one could see the collapse of 2008 coming.  No one who couldn't be bothered to listen.

And they're not listening now - on either side of the Atlantic.  Genuine economists are warning this is no time for austerity crackdowns.  You don't go the austerity route, they warn, until your economy is back on its feet.  Premature cutbacks will only worsen the situation.

Now, it seems, the Euros are coming to realize these guys are right - austerity doesn't pay off.

"...suddenly, as investors’ fears mount that many euro area nations are about to tip into recession, even countries like creditworthy France are finding it much more expensive to borrow money in the open market. And with that development comes a dawning realization: that austerity, rather than making it easier for them to pay down their higher debts, could make it harder — and more expensive."

Ireland should have been the miners' canary.   The Irish government slashed spending and benefits and all it got for it was even higher costs on government bonds.    Austerity measures both undermined economic activity and increased the government's cost of borrowing.  Brilliant, eh?

A Call to Arms - The Case For Fighting Back Against the Northern Gateway Pipeline

Rafe Mair, writing in The Tyee, makes a powerfully compelling argument for British Columbians to do whatever it takes to stop Harper and Alberta from imperiling our province's coastline with tar sands supertanker traffic.

It's not a matter of if there's an accident, it's only a matter of time and it's only a question of how often and how much devastation will be inflicted on British Columbia.   Mair predicts that British Columbians will turn out en masse to stop this monstrosity and warns that we must be prepared to go to jail for it.  But he adds that if enough of us stand against it there won't be remotely enough cells to hold us.

Something else there won't be.  There won't be a provincial government willing to risk the electoral blowback of sitting back as hundreds, probably thousands of its voters are bused off to jails for their beliefs.  It's one thing to throw reprobates behind bars.   It's another matter all together to imprison previously law-abiding, upstanding citizens for acting as their collective conscience dictates.

I personally have no experience of this sort of civil disobedience.  But there's always a first time for just about everything.

While I have framed this as a British Columbia issue, it's actually a national issue.  If you're not from BC you need to ask yourself if you're prepared to sit by and let Harper do this to your Canada?  Are you willing to take a stand against this?  I also hope that a good many of the Keystone XL dissidents throw their support behind the effort to kill off the Northern Gateway.  If we're going to stop a despot like Harper and his tar sands patrons, we're going to need all the help we can get.

Please  read Rafe Mair's column.  Then follow this link to see an interactive graphic of what will happen to the British Columbia coast when the tanker accidents begin.  If you haven't experienced the Hecate Strait it's really difficult to convey just how violent and treacherous those waters can be and how rapidly the strait can go from calm to outright fury.  I nearly drowned there, saved only by being able to keep bailing until a sudden storm just as suddenly passed.  I have seen a very large yacht whose deck and cabin had been peeled back like a sardine tin from just one wave. As noted by EnergyBC, storm waves of 20-30 metres have been recorded in that strait.  Now try to visualize a wall of water 100-feet in height.  "Of particular concern is the  rapidity within which the seas can increase, often within hours."  I have lived to tell you that is no exaggeration.   And yet Harper and his home province think it's just dandy for heavily laden supertankers to ply those waters?  To hell with them.


By the way, the Hecate for whom the strait is named was the Greek goddess of magic, witchcraft, the night, ghosts and necromancy.   Her name was slapped on that strait for very good reason.  Liberal Supporter kindly drew my attention to the 2008 Canadian/US Coast Guard report on the Tanker Exclusion Zone for the BC coast.

So how do they figure out the Tanker Exclusion Zone?   Brace yourself.   The TEZ line defines an area off the BC coast where a disabled tanker would likely drift ashore before rescue tugs could reach it in "unfavourable weather conditions."  Yet that fiend Harper is content to have 220 tankers transiting directly across that zone, rolling the dice, every year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dear Alison, You Can Shove Your Tar Up Your Ass As Far As I'm Concerned, Just Keep It Out of BC

Alberta's premier, Alison Redford, complains that public policy is shaping Canada's energy future.  Well Alison, so what?  What's so damned toxic special about Alberta bitumen that it should be exempt from public policy?

Now that the Keystone XL pipeline proposal is temporarily delayed, Alison is foaming at the mouth for the Northern Gateway pipeline to carry her province's shit across British Columbia's mountain ranges and into our fjord for tanker shipment to Asia.   She knows without a troublesome pipeline through some stranger's backyard she's stuck with a load of useless crap.  And trust me, Alison, when it comes to Alberta and British Columbia, we're strangers.  We know you'll go the "stranger" route when something goes wrong in the treacherous waters around Kitimat and a load of that toxic sludge contaminates those pristine waters and coastline.

We know it's not oil you're selling, Alison.  We know it's the pitch our natives once used to seal the bottom of their canoes.  We also know the stuff you run through those pipelines is heavily laced with abrasives, corrosive chemicals, toxins, even carcinogens.  We know the stuff literally 'eats' pipelines.  We know that pipelines and seismically active regions are a bad mix.  We know that oil tankers have no business navigating the waters around Kitimat.   We know that nobody - not the Feds, not Enbridge, not the government of Alberta - is going to maintain the extensive, fully-manned emergency ships and equipment that'll be needed immediately if there's a tanker wreck in those waters.  We know that Alberta is getting all the money and we'll be taking all the risks.  We know Alberta bullshit when we get a whiff of your breath.

There's a basketful of very good reasons the Americans don't want that pipeline, Alison.   And British Columbia has all those reasons and a great many more for saying "no" to the Northern Gateway.  There's going to be war.

The Goldman Technocrats Take the Throne in Europe

Did Goldman Sachs play a key role in Europe's fiscal meltdown and are Goldman Sachs alumni now moving into top positions in the most unstable Euro nations?  Apparently so.  This one's a true eye-opener.

"According to its detractors, the European network of influence woven by American bank Goldman Sachs (GS) functions like a freemasonry. To diverse degrees, the new European Central Bank President, Mario Draghi, the newly designated Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Monti, and the freshly appointed Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos are totemic figures in this carefully constructed web.

"Draghi was Goldman Sachs International’s vice-chairman for Europe between 2002 and 2005, a position that put him in charge of the the “companies and sovereign” department, which shortly before his arrival, helped Greece to disguise the real nature of its books with a swap on its sovereign debt.

"Monti was an international adviser to Goldman Sachs from 2005 until his nomination to lead the Italian government. According to the bank, his mission was to provide advice "on European business and major public policy initiatives worldwide". As such, he was a "door opener" with a brief to defend Goldman’s interest in the corridors of power in Europe.

"The third man, Lucas Papademos, was the governor of the Greek central bank from 1994 to 2002. In this capacity, he played a role that has yet to be elucidated in the operation to mask debt on his country’s books, perpetrated with assistance from Goldman Sachs. And perhaps more importantly, the current chairman of Greece’s Public Debt Management Agency, Petros Christodoulos, also worked as a trader for the bank in London.

:Two other heavyweight members of Goldman’s European network have also figured large in the euro crisis: Otmar Issing, a former member of the Bundesbank board of directors and a one-time chief economist of the European Central Bank, and Ireland’s Peter Sutherland, an administrator for Goldman Sachs International, who played a behind the scenes role in the Irish bailout."

"...In Europe, on the other hand, Goldman Sachs has worked to accumulate a capital of relationships. But unlike its competitors, the bank has no interest in retired diplomats, highly placed national and international civil servants, or even former prime ministers and ministers of finance. Goldman’s priority has been to target central bankers and former European commissioners.

"Its main goal is to legally collect information on initiatives in the near future and on the interest rates set by central banks. At the same time, Goldman likes its agents to remain discreet. That is why its loyal subjects prefer not to mention their filiation in interviews or in the course of official missions.

"These well-connected former employees simply have to talk about this and that secure in the knowledge that their prestige will inevitably be rewarded with outspoken frankness on the part of those in powerful positions. Put simply they are there to see "which way the wind is blowing," and thereafter to relay exclusive information to the bank’s trading rooms."

Just keep telling yourself that nothing's changed, the oligarchy hasn't taken over, they don't really hold the levers of power, we don't need protest movements like Occupy.

The Danube Runs Dry

The UN recently issued a report warning of the effects of global warming on the world's major river systems.  Increased evaporation, drought and irregular rainfalls are expected to leave water levels chaotic.  Even Europe isn't immune.   Drought this summer hit the Danube, Europe's second biggest river system, and closed much of it to navigation.

"Problems on the long waterway are literally coming to the surface. In Prahovo, a harbour in Serbia, due to the low water level, the rusty bows of German ships from the Second World War can be seen pointing skywards. The Germans scuttled a fleet there in the summer of 1944 to prevent ordnance coming into the hands of the advancing Russians and partisans. There are still 22 German vessels on the Serbian riverbed and more than one hundred on the Romanian side.

"It is an inheritance that you are normally unaware of. Experienced captains have been navigating around them for decades. In the same way as they have also been slaloming around the shallows and guarding against dropping their anchors in one of the eight areas in Serbia where the river possibly conceals unexploded bombs from the NATO airstrikes in 1999.

"...Due to the low water, cargo vessels with a draught exceeding 1.70 metres can hardly progress. They face a seven-hundred-kilometre stop-and-start journey along dry, yellow riverbanks to the Black Sea. Tens of them have run aground on sandbanks, hundreds of cargoes face delay or have been transferred to trains and trucks."

In Romania, this cruise ship ran aground.  The passengers were offloaded and bused to Bucharest.

"The Romanian Transport Ministry has recently asked the Government for EUR 1 million (RON 4 million) to unblock the 257 ships that are blocked on the Danube as water levels have dropped in recent days, and to remove the “risk situation”. The Ministry didn’t specify what method will be used to do so."

We'd better get used to it.   This is the new normal and that means we're all going to have to spend an awful lot of money on climate change adaptation.   Sooner or later you have to pay the piper.

Father Knew Best - Not Really.

It seems our European cousins are coming to grips with the utter madness of the past.   Along the Atlantic coast and in the Baltic sea thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons littering the seabed are close to corroding through.

"Nobody knows exactly how many discarded chemical weapons are hidden in the waters around Europe. For instance, in the Baltic, where after World War II the Allies dumped munitions originating from German arsenals, there are at least 40,000 tonnes, of which at least 13,000 tonnes contain poisonous substances. A sixth of this amount would be sufficient to kill all life in the Baltic for a hundred years.

"Not a reassuring idea, for anyone who knows that mustard gas, chloropicrin, phosgene, diphosgene and arsenic compounds are packed in cases and drums that will rust through sooner or later. No one knows when this will happen, but it is certain to.

"Ten years ago, the Russian scientist Aleksander Korotenko predicted that somewhere between 2020 and 2060 the corrosion will have progressed so far that the poison will start to leak out. Sixteen percent is sufficient to wipe out all life in the Baltic."

The best thing the Euros have going for them is that these discarded weapons will release their toxins gradually and over a very wide area.   That's about the best that can be hoped for.   The weapons are now far too dangerous to attempt to recover.  That would pose an unacceptable risk of a major poison discharge.

A Few Good Men

Canada may be a Pacific Rim country just not, perhaps, to our corporate news media.  There's a lot happening in the South-Asia/East Asia arc involving China, India, the United States and, most recently, Australia.  Too bad Canadians hear so little of it.

Washington has now reached a deal with Canberra to deploy a permanent force of 2,500 US Marines to Australia.  The message is clear.

"...Obama said the US was "stepping up its commitment to the entire Asia-Pacific", not excluding China.
"The main message that I've said, not only publicly but also privately to China, is that with their rise comes increased responsibility," he said.
"It is important for them to play by the rules of the road."

China has issued its own ominous warning to Australia about the price it may have to pay.

"The Global Times, a newspaper produced by the Communist Party-controlled People's Daily group, has been much more bellicose, says the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Beijing.
"An editorial warned it was "certain" that if "Australia uses its military bases to help the US harm Chinese interests, then Australia itself will be caught in the crossfire".

India, meanwhile, has been bumping shoulders with China in the South China Sea where India has joined with Vietnam to collaborate on a resource venture in territory that China claims as its own.  India's new "blue water" navy has already stated its goal of establishing sea control from the Bay of Bengal to the Kuril Islands which, quite coincidentally, blankets China's entire coastline.

The Chinese media has released new criticisms of India's military buildup.  The People's Daily says India's policy is three dimensional.

"One, India needs to exaggerate the ‘threat perception’ in order to justify its defence budget and arms purchases at a time when the economy is slowing. Two, India is adopting a ‘containment’ policy toward China. Three, India hopes to gain US’s military and political support. "

And, as if tensions with India weren't enough, now China is said to be facing a showdown with a joint US-Philippine resource venture in the South China Sea.

"Tensions over the oil-rich and strategically important South China Sea have escalated as Chinese state media accused the US and the Philippines of planning a ''grab'' for its resources.

"The South China Sea is a potential flashpoint between the US and China as the two powers seek to assert their diplomatic, economic and security interests in Asia, the fastest growing region in the world.

"The US has leapt on nervousness among smaller Asian nations about China's growing military might and bellicose diplomacy to reassert its long-standing role as an anchor of security in Asia, even as its economic importance wanes."

Did a Fanatic Fire on the White House?

There's a warrant out for Oscar Romero Ortega, suspected of firing a couple of shots at the White House Friday evening.  According to BBC News there is evidence one round hit a White House window and two bullet casings have been recovered on the grounds.

Evidence links Ortega as the possible shooter.  So who is this guy and what would drive him to grab an AK-47 and fire on the White House.   Here's his description:

"Mr Ortega is described as a white Hispanic male of medium build, with several distinguishing tattoos - including three dots on his right hand, his name across his back and the word Israel tattooed on his neck."


Police have arrested Oscar Romero Ortega-Hernandez near Indiana, Pa.  Secret Service agents in Pittsburgh were said to have tracked down the 21-year old Idaho man.

F-35 In Free Fall?

Look, It's a Turkey - Sitting in Front of a Turkey

The way things are going, the F-35 may save Canada from getting F-35'd.   Every couple of weeks I Google F-35 to harvest the latest litany of gaffes, setbacks and blunders surrounding Lockheed's vaunted Joint Strike Fighter.

The U.S. is watching potential foreign orders turn all wobbly.   The Pentagon is counting on those sales to keep its own unit costs for the F-35 in some manageable range.   Already the Pentagon has cut the number of F-35s it'll buy but that was in order to keep the overall cost from bursting through projected costs.   In other words, it will buy fewer airframes but at greater unit cost - standard Pentagon sleight of hand.

So, how desperate is the Pentagon to flog the F-35 overseas?  Plenty desperate as India recently discovered.  The US offered the fighter to the Indian Air Force.  The offer was said to reflect America's new defence partnership with India.   But, when Indian authorities looked into what was behind the unsolicited American offer they discovered the real reason was panic over collapsing overseas sales.  The Pentagon wanted Indian orders to bolster the programme.

"...the analysts' "discovery" is that the US has desperately sought Indian participation in the JSF's development as the program faces unaffordable rising costs, with a price tag estimated at $150 million per aircraft. In sum, the JSF has become a white elephant and, hopefully, cross breeding it with the Indian black elephant might just about make its uncertain progeny probably airworthy as a beast of burden. 
"The tragi-comic episode exposes an aspect of the US-India "partnership" hardly glimpsed by Indian pundits, namely, the desperate need for the US to conjure up an ideology-driven relationship that enables it in real terms to boost its exports to the Indian markets - the latter being one of the few world markets today enjoying growth prospects of around 7-8% in its gross domestic product (GDP)." 

Meanwhile The Guardian reports that the US Marine Corps, scheduled to be a big buyer of the F-35, has inked a deal to acquire all of Britain's now mothballed, second generation Harrier jump jets.

"Speaking to the NavyTimes, Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich, chief of the US Navy's supply corps, said buying the Harriers made sense because many of the jets had been recently upgraded, and the US already had pilots who could fly them.
"We're taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them," he said. "It's like we're buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it. These are very good platforms."
But, fellas, if you buy those 74-Harriers from the Brits, how are you going to scrape up extra money for that brand new F-35?  It sure sounds as though "The Corps" isn't holding its breath waiting for Lockheed's wunderplane to show up in USMC hangars.
In Ottawa, the Harper government has shown its standard cavalier disregard of facts and still insists Canada will get the F-35 for between $70-80 million a copy even though the current estimated US and foreign price is pegged at $150-million.  Hey, what's 150 times 65?  Gee, that's only $250-million shy of a trillion dollars for an airplane that makes no sense whatsoever.  Then again we'll need that extra $250-mill to cover the costs of replacement aircraft for fighters lost in service.  So, let's just call it an even trillion bucks.  A TRILLION Freaking Dollars for an airplane that'll probably be obsolete by the time it finally shows up in Canadian Air Force hangars?  Really?
In Washington, DefSec Panetta is warning Congress that the F-35 programme could well be on the block if the supercommittee opts for across-the-board budget cuts that hit the US military.  Congress may not get it but it sure  sounds as though the US Marine Corps has seen the writing on the wall.  Semper Fi.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Guardian Exposes Harper's War on the Environment

Steve Harper said he'd put Canada on the map and he has, in spades.  Harper has drawn plenty of world attention to Canada.   Regrettably,  it's uniformly bad.

The Guardian has chronicled Harper's devious schemes to gut environmentalism in Canada, beginning with extensive spending cuts.  It would be one thing if that Born Again bastard was man enough to admit what he's doing and defend his actions.   But the lard-assed authoritarian with his beach blanket bingo hairdo simply lies about what he's up to behind the backs of the Canadian people.

As the newspaper points out, Harper is slashing budgets at Environment Canada even as he's determined to squander $30-billion on dodgy fighter aircraft.

"Among the first acts of the Harper government was to cut our funding to zero," said Hannah McKinnon of the Climate Action Network Canada(CAN Canada), an environmental NGO that used to get some government funding prior to the 2006 election.
CAN Canada has obtained some funding from its more than 80 member civil society organisations. It acts as the coordinator on climate issues, and once worked with government to improve programmes and policies for the benefit of all Canadians. Now has become the de facto watchdog on government promises and actions to tackle climate change.
 Instead of actions, the Harper government makes promises and pushes propaganda that the economy is more important and that protecting the environment comes at too high a cost, she said. The only action being taken is at the local and provincial level, McKinnon added.
"If there is a need to reduce the federal budget deficit, why is Canada continuing to give the oil and gas industry 1.4 billion dollars (1.3 billion U.S.) in subsidies every year?" she asked.
Harper promised to end these government subsidies in 2009. The International Monetary Fund, the International Energy Agency, the United Nations and many others have called for an end to such subsidies to the world's most profitable industry.
"Canada can't afford to pay scientists but we can line the pockets of big oil? That is totally backwards," McKinnon said.

How America's Greatest War Correspondent Remembered

From Chris Hedges' "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning"

"When Ernie Pyle, the American war correspondent in World War II, was killed on the Pacific island of Ie Shima in 1945, a rough draft of a column was found on his body. He was preparing it for release upon the end of the war in Europe. He had done much to promote the myth of the warrior and the heroism of soldiering, but by the end he seemed to tire of it all:

"But there are many of the living who have burned
into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men
scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows 
of hedge throughout the world.

Dead men by mass production - in one country after another -
month after month and year after year. Dead men in
winter and dead men in summer.

Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they
become monotonous.

Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come to
almost hate them. These are the things that you at home need
not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns
of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just
didn't come back. You didn't see him lying so grotesque
and pasty beside the gravel road in France.

We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands.

That's the difference.

A Couple of Thoughts on Remembrance Day

On this day I sometimes thumb through my dog-eared copy of Barry Broadfoot's "Six War Years, Memories of Cahadians at Home and Abroad (1974)."   Broadfoot used the same technique as he did for his earlier Depression-era work, "Ten Lost Years."  He traveled the country with a tape recorder and sat down with hundreds of people to get their memories before they were lost forever.

One thing that comes through with real clarity is that not a lot of these men and women signed on with the altruism we venerate at our cenotaphs.  One young guy said he joined the army to get a pair of real boots.  Others joined because that seemed to be the "thing to do" at the time.  Some just wanted employment or the chance to go to sea or to learn to fly.  Others wanted the adventure of war fighting.  Some enlisted just to get away from the old lady and the kids.

On Remembrance Day we omit all these people.  We cherish those who answered the call to defend Canada or to defend democracy or to fight fascism.  But they were just a subset of the masses who signed on, a slice of a Venn diagram.   Why don't we equally recognize all the others?  Were their deaths or mutilation any less deserving of our appreciation because their motives for joining were less than altruistic, anything but patriotic or even as petty as wanting a pair of boots?

To me, it cheapens Remembrance Day when we portray the dead as something many were not.  Worse yet, when we reconfigure the dead to suit a deceptive narrative we both demean them and  romanticize war.  Enough.

Atmospheric Rivers

That's right, high level rivers of moisture crossing the globe.   Some are thought to carry more water than the Amazon.  A report in New Scientist claims it was an Atmospheric River (AR) that caused the UK's worst floods.

"Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are giant ribbons of moist air, at least 2000 kilometres long and several hundred kilometres across, which move water across the mid-latitudes. They flow in the lower troposphere, where winds with speeds in excess of 12.5 metres per second can carry as much water as the Amazon river. At any given time, four or five ARs carry nearly 90 per cent of the moisture that is moving towards the poles."

Cop Who Infiltrated Occupy Oakland Denounces Police Violence

Meet Oakland police officer Fred Shavies who infiltrated the Occupy Oakland movement.  He says the police violence against the Occupy protesters could be their "Birmingham moment."  It's a rambling commentary but you can skip forward to 4:30.

OPD Officer Discusses Viral Copwatch Video from Justin Warren on Vimeo.

Hilarious (or Scary) Anti-EPA Campaign Video

Bette Grande, a North Dakota Republican running for Congress, says she'll "padlock the doors" of America's Environmental Protection Agency.  Watch her bizarre campaign video:

Is John McCain Turning Progressive - Again?

If you want to know which way the political winds are blowing, watch John McCain.  He was noticeably moderate, even a tad progressive, when he first ran against George w. Bush for the Republican nomination.  Then he turned hard right when he finally got his chance to take on Obama and seemed to be fixed as a grumpy old geezer in the wake of his loss.

Now, however, John McCain is making progressive grumblings again.  He's talking about a seismic shift in US politics and the inevitability of a third party.

"Unless both parties change, then I think that it's an inevitability. We aren't doing anything for the people," McCain said in blunt remarks at the Reuters Washington Summit.
Americans, he said, are frustrated by sluggish economic growth that has depleted their incomes while corporate executives take in massive salary bonuses.
As for his own party, McCain expressed frustration that Republicans have not concentrated enough on the concerns of Americans struggling to make ends meet.
"The party, I think, has got to be a lot more responsive to the plight of the people," said McCain, who lost the presidential race to Barack Obama three years ago this month.
"I think we have to weigh in far more heavily on the side of things like reforming the tax code. If we reform the tax code, then many of these large corporations that paid no taxes last year ... maybe they would."
Could it be that America's self-defeating, hard-assed, hard-right nightmare is nearing its end?  We can only hope and pray.

Global Weirding Settles Into Oklahoma

It's been going on since January - record winds, an earthquake, floods, drought, tornadoes.  Call it "global weirding" Oklahoma style.

"Even for Oklahoma, this is crazy," said Rick Smith, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Norman. "Since January, we've been setting records. People are just kind of amazed and shocked."
State records set this year have ranged from the lowest temperature (31 degrees below zero in Nowata in northeast Oklahoma) to snowfall in a 24-hour period (27 inches, also in Nowata) to the largest hail stone (a spiky, six-inch piece recovered in Gotebo, in southwest Oklahoma).
This year also produced the state's highest-ever-recorded surface wind speed (151 miles per hour near El Reno, outside of Oklahoma City) and biggest known earthquake (5.6 magnitude, breaking the 1956 record).
On Wednesday, Governor Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency for 20 counties because of earthquakes, tornadoes and severe storms.

Is America Finally Coming to Its Senses?

According to Salon's David Sirota, America is coming to its senses.  He attributes it to a recent awareness of just two things - his country's burgeoning wealth gap and its collapsing social mobility.

When even the most local of television journalists are compelled to acknowledge this crushing emergency in a country whose media aggressively promotes American dream agitprop, it means the Occupy protesters have scored a monumental victory. You can almost imagine a Wall Street CEO turning to an aide and muttering a slightly altered riff off LBJ: “If we’ve lost Ron Burgundy, we’ve lost Middle America.”

"...the last three decades have invalidated our standing hypothesis. After the conservatives’ successful assault on the New Deal, America has lived a different reality — one perfectly summarized by a new Federal Reserve study revealing that today’s increasing inequality accompanies comparatively low social mobility.

“U.S. family income mobility has decreased over the 1969-2006 time span, and especially since the 1980s,” notes the Fed paper, adding that “a family’s position at (the) end of (the) 2000s was … more correlated with its start position than was the case 20 years earlier.”
Of course, some class mobility still exists. The trouble is that it’s primarily of the downward kind. As the Pew Charitable Trusts reports, roughly a third of those who grew up in the middle class have now fallen below that station in adulthood.
...this is why, among all the fights over economic policy, the debate about taxes is the most crucial of all.
As the Fed noted in a separate report, the federal tax code — which remains vaguely progressive — has been the one proven way to “mitigate income inequality.” But with congressional Republicans gradually flattening federal income tax rates and with already-regressive state tax rates in GOP bastions like Texas, Wyoming, Tennessee, South Dakota and Mississippi, the tax system has lately been preserving or exacerbating existing inequality.
But coming to their senses won't be enough.   The forces of what George w. Bush referred to as the "'haves and the have mores' - my base" aren't going to give up three decades of enormous advancement at the expense of the American people, at least not without a fight.   Yet it's a fight they're not going to win if only because they can't.

America's New Strategy for Fighting Iran and Everybody Else

It's called the "Air-Sea Battle" concept and the US military has established a separate agency to put it into operation.  Reading the Marine Corps concept summary the unmentioned name "Iran" leaps out at the reader, again and again.

"... In the aftermath of DESERT STORM, it was apparent to many potential adversaries that it would be inadvisable to oppose the U.S. in a force-on-force conflict, and they explored how to disrupt U.S. power projection through means designed to complicate both movement to and maneuver within an area of mutual interest. These two elements of an adversary's comprehensive warfare strategy are referred to as "anti-access" and "area denial" or "A2/AD".
"Over the past two decades, the development and proliferation of advanced weapons, targeting perceived U.S. vulnerabilities, have the potential to create an A2/AD environment that increasingly challenges U.S. military access to and freedom of action within potentially contested areas. These advanced systems encompass diverse capabilities that include ballistic and cruise missiles; sophisticated integrated air defense systems; anti-ship weapons ranging from high-tech missiles and submarines to low-tech mines and swarming  boats; guided rockets, missiles, and artillery, an increasing number of 4th generation fighters; low-observable manned and unmanned combat aircraft; as well as space and cyber warfare capabilities specifically designed to disrupt U.S. communications and intelligence systems. In combination, these advanced technologies have the potential to diminish the advantages the U.S. military enjoys in the air, maritime, land, space, and cyberspace domains today. If these advances continue and are not addressed effectively, U.S. forces could soon face increasing risk in deploying to and operating within previously secure forward areas--and over time in rear areas and sanctuaries--ultimately affecting our ability to respond effectively to coercion and crises that directly threaten the strategic interests of the U.S., our allies, and partners."
So there it is.   Iran has "ballistic and cruise missiles."  It has a "sophisticated air defense system."  It has "anti-ship weapons ranging from high-tech missiles and submarines to low-tech mines and swarming boats" that could readily shut down oil tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf.
The Air-Sea Battle agency is plainly designed to network and co-ordinate an early, perhaps initial if not pre-emptive, system to de-fang an adversaries defences before they can be deployed against US forces.  It sounds tailor-made for Iran.  After all, who else deploys "low-tech mines and swarming boat" defences?

Shutting Down the Tar Sands

We have no defensible choice but to end the development of the Athabasca Tar Sands.

The 'best case scenario' International Energy Agency analysis released a few days ago warns we're on course to exhaust our atmosphere's safe carbon-carrying capacity by 2017.   After that, the report maintains, we will have foreclosed our last hope of avoiding cataclysmic global warming-driven climate change.

So what's wrong with Canada's position on the Tar Sands?  Plenty.

We in the West are terrified of an emerging economic superpower such as India going full bore into fossil fuel energy, especially coal.  India's per capita carbon footprint is minuscule compared to any Western nation's, especially if they're North American.  An Indian carbon footprint approaching our own would unquestionably doom mankind.  So we can't be having any of that.  India will just have to forego its uppity aspirations.

The history of man-made atmospheric carbon contamination dates back to the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy, primarily coal.   Cheap fossil fuel energy has, over two centuries, underwritten the West's transformation from agrarian states into enormously wealthy industrial behemoths.   During all but the past twenty years, little was understood of the link between industrial-scale carbon emissions and global warming, what is known as AGW or anthropogenic global warming.  In the process, the West consumed well more than half our atmosphere's total carbon-carrying capacity.

We can say we didn't know any better but that doesn't sell very well in the emerging economies.   They want the same opportunities or at least as much as they can achieve having arrived at the Prosperity Ballroom at last call.  We know and they know that they can't repeat our 200-year long fossil fuel bacchanal.   They're not northern countries like us.  Mostly they're in tropical or sub-tropical zones that stand to be particularly hard hit by climate change.

So, for the sake of the future of our civilization, we want the emerging economies to show restraint when, from their perspective, they're only just getting started.   This gives rise to an eminently sound argument that if the West wants them to show restraint, the West, which has had the benefits that flowed from creating this crisis, has to show even more restraint.  Fair is fair.   But how do we do that?  There's only one way.  We have to bring our carbon footprints into line with theirs.   And we can't do that without breaking our fossil fuel addiction and, according to the IEA warning, in less than six years.

What do we do to show our good faith, our willingness to mend our destructive ways?  We go to the tar pits to dig up bitumen, the dirtiest fossil fuel on the planet.

Now remember the Prosperity Ballroom, fossil fuel 'last call' argument?   The emerging economies can't replicate the West's fossil fuel binge precisely because they showed up too late.   The genie is out of the bottle.  We know better now.   Sorry, at this late stage, that can't be done.

Yet Canada thinks it's exempt from the last call business.   Fossil fuel production, no matter how filthy the product, is somehow divorced from fossil fuel consumption.  Really?   What kind of twisted, sick mind can come up with that tortured logic?   Surely that is a distinction without a difference.  It's a gossamer-thin contrivance at best but, then again, it need only be enough to allow us to look the other way.  And so we have.

Back in the days when we "didn't know any better" bitumen extraction and processing might have made sense.  Only back then it couldn't compete in cost or quality with abundant reserves of conventional crude oil. Only now, at last call, is bitumen economically viable but only to those willing to write off its environmental costs.   This is something you can't afford to do at last call.

Now, for a little levity, here's the Denial Tango: