Saturday, November 30, 2013

Death of a Thousand Cuts. Can You Feel It?

Around the world, civil, human and political rights seem to be in retreat.  The rapid onset of our loss of privacy of all sorts is symptomatic of a larger threat.   Corporatism flourishes but not without cost to individual rights and freedoms.  The forces of inequality transfer not merely wealth but associated political clout from the many to the few.   Individuals not in the club of the few are increasingly marginalized.

Japan is going through its own realignment.  From The Japan Times:

If you’re living in Japan, you may be surprised to know that your right to know has been replaced by the right to remain silent. Shhh … don’t protest. It’s practically a done deal.

The first rule of the pending state secrets bill is that a secret is a secret. The second rule is that anyone who leaks a secret and/or a reporter who makes it public via a published report or broadcast can face up to 10 years in prison. The third rule is that there are no rules as to which government agencies can declare information to be a state secret and no checks on them to determine that they don’t abuse the privilege; even defunct agencies can rule their information to be secret. The fourth rule is that anything pertaining to nuclear energy is a state secret, which means there will no longer be any problems with nuclear power in this country because we won’t know anything about it. And what we don’t know can’t hurt us.

The right to know has now officially been superseded by the right of the government to make sure you don’t know what they don’t want you to know.

Reporters Without Borders also noted that Japan’s ranking in the press freedom index had taken a record fall of 31 places from its position in 2012 to a new low of 53 out of 179 countries.

If the state secrets law is passed, Japan’s press freedom ranking next year is expected to sink to nearly Uzbekistan or China levels. Welcome to the land of the setting sun. Let’s see how much darker it will get.

So That's Why Men are Pigs and Women are....

Well, women have evolved.   Men, however, are mainly still pigs.  It turns out that might be our evolutionary steady state.

Turning the theory of human ancestry on its head, Dr Eugene McCarthy — one of the world's leading authorities on hybridization in animals from the University of Georgia has suggested that humans didn't evolve from just apes but was a backcross hybrid of a chimpanzee and pigs.

His hypothesis is based on the fact that though humans have many features in common with chimps, there are a lot more that don't correspond to any other primates. He then suggests that there is only one animal in the animal
kingdom that has all of the traits which distinguish humans from our primate cousins.

He explains: "Genetically, we're close to chimpanzees, and yet we have many physical traits that distinguish us from chimpanzees. One fact, however, suggests the need for an open mind: as it turns out, many features that distinguish humans from chimpanzees also distinguish them from all other primates. Features found in human beings, but not in other primates, cannot be accounted for by hybridization of a primate with some other primate. If hybridization is to explain such features, the cross will have to be between a chimpanzee and a non-primate - an unusual, distant cross to create an unusual creature."
"We believe that humans are related to chimpanzees because humans share so many traits with chimpanzees. Is it not rational then also, if pigs have all the traits that distinguish humans from other primates, to suppose that humans are also related to pigs? Let us take it as our hypothesis, then, that humans are the product of ancient hybridization between pig and chimpanzee," he said.

Another suggestive fact, Dr McCarthy says is the frequent use of pigs in the surgical treatment of human beings. Pig heart valves are used to replace those of human coronary patients. Pig skin is used in the treatment of human burn victims. "Serious efforts are now underway to transplant kidneys and other organs from pigs into human beings. Why are pigs suited for such purposes? Why not goats, dogs, or bears - animals that, in terms of taxonomic classification, are no more distantly related to human beings than pigs?," he said.

On Toppling the Czar

The Tory backbench may have the best idea to emerge from the Conservative ranks since Harper rose to power.  A Conservative backbencher, Michael Chong,  plans to introduce An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act next week that would pose an enormous threat to the survival of authoritarian types like the sitting prime minister.

Passed into law, the Act would allow caucus to oust a prime minister by majority vote, triggering a leadership contest.  If would allow caucus, again by a simply majority, to decide who would be allowed into caucus or expelled.  It would scrap the provision that candidates needed the written endorsement of their party leader to run for office.

In other words, it would force Stephen Harper to open his coffin to the mid-day sun.

What will be interesting will be how the Liberal and New Democrat leadership react to Chong's bill.  They too aspire to the throne.

As If the West Needs Another Reason to Get Out of Afghanistan

For decades Pakistan and it's powerful military intelligence arm, the ISS, has been meddling in Afghanistan's affairs.   The ISS was instrumental in backing the Mujad's battle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and, after their withdrawal, in supporting the Taliban in their rise of power.   In the wake of the 2011 arrival of Western military forces to wage their own Afghan war, the ISS was seen as playing both sides of the fence - supposedly assisting ISAF and the Americans while covertly backing the Talib insurgency.  That sounds ridiculous but there are quite powerful forces driving Pakistan's apparent bi-polar foreign policy.

It took us more than a decade to learn the oft-taught lesson that it's easy to get into a war in Afghanistan and punishingly hard thereafter to extract yourself from it.  Kipling sort of captured the essence in this happy refrain:

When you lie wounded on Afghanistan's plain,
And the women come out to slice your remains,
Just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
And go to your Gawd like a soldier.
As Lord Roberts and Michael Gorbachev might have told us, when you get a chance to clear out of Afghanistan, best take it.  Yet the White House seems intent on hanging around if it can get Karzai to ink an acceptable Status of Forces agreement.  It's not clear just what the United States wants to achieve by staying.  It might hope to avert the collapse of the criminal enterprise that passes for a civil government in Kabul.  It could be some hope of keeping Afghanistan from restarting its unresolved civil war.  It might be an attempt to keep Russia and China from effectively controlling the "Stans" and their resource wealth.  There's been plenty of mumbling but no really coherent policy has emerged.
But maybe the United States should rethink its notions of staying.   Word is getting out that Kabul's intelligence agency wants to do to Pakistan something similar to what the ISS has been doing to Afghanistan.
The November 1 drone attack that killed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (the TTP or Pakistani Taliban) leader Hakimullah Mehsud, and the subsequent appointment of Mullah Fazlullah in his place, was an Afghan intelligence maneuver aimed at "ending the talk of talks" and recommitting the TTP to its insurgency, Pakistani counterinsurgency officials have revealed on condition of anonymity.

Chatter about possible TTP collusion with the NDS (Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security), long a concern for Pakistani intelligence, was not taken seriously till the New York Times' October 28 account of a US special forces raid on an Afghan intelligence convoy carrying Hakimullah's number two, Lateef Mehsud, as he was headed for secret talks in Kabul.

Pakistan's intelligence officials say the NDS is not acting alone, but is rather the lynch pin of a deeper proxy network involving Indian and even American intelligence agencies. That is why the NYT story's novelty was not so much in its content but its timing.

"If you look at it closely, you'll see the insurgency here suiting the Americans. The more the militants are engaged in Pakistan, the less hurdles the Americans face wrapping up in Afghanistan", said the intelligence officials.

"In Hakimullah's case, it was pretty clear that those who invested large sums in arming the TTP would not allow it to submit to a negotiated settlement. It makes no sense for the handlers, except in buying time for it to re-arm".

Crime & Punishment, Harper Style

Rick Mercer, in his latest rant, said what a large and growing majority of Canadians believe - Harper is lying through his teeth about the PMO scandal and he was personally in on it all along.  Mercer drove home his point by noting that, while Nigel Wright was supposedly dismissed by an indignant prime minister, two other PMO staffers, Chris Woodcock and Ray Novak, who were also in on it wound up being promoted.

CBC News has come up with another bit of information  that reinforces Mercer's supposition - what befell the one Tory staffer who resisted the Wright-Duffy-Harper scheme, former LeBreton aide, Christopher Montgomery.

Why is it that the one person who raised a red flag is no longer working in government?

Christopher Montgomery served as director of parliamentary affairs in the office of Conservative Senator Marjory LeBreton when she was government leader in the Senate. Montgomery’s name comes up time and again in the RCMP paper trail. Unlike others, though, the image that emerges is overwhelmingly positive.

When staffers from the Prime Minister’s Office were pressing a Senate committee to amend its report into Senator Mike Duffy’s expenses to go easy on him, the RCMP documents show Montgomery resisting.

On one page, police outline how “he (Montgomery) advised the PMO, specifically Patrick Rogers and Chris Woodcock, that they should not be involved in the Senate audit and reports regarding Senator Duffy.”

“During his seven years in the Senate,” the report continues, “he (Montgomery) cannot recall other times when representatives from the PMO actually attended meetings and insisted on wording of a Senate report.”

As negotiations reached their heated conclusion, Rogers sent an email to Woodcock and Nigel Wright, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, to complain. "This is epic. Montgomery is the problem."

Montgomery eventually did find work just not anywhere near Ottawa where he'd become persona non grata in Conservative ranks.  He had to relocate to Calgary to get it but he did find another job.

That's crime and punishment in Harperland.   The crime was standing up to power, resisting outright wrongdoing.   The punishment for doing the right thing - banishment from the realm.

Beware the Saviour-Industrial Complex

If you've been a bit leery about online "change" merchants like, for example, your caution might have been well grounded.  The Guardian's Oscar Rickett explains there's little real change to be had at the click of a mouse button.

We're living in the age of "change" as an all-purpose concept. What do you want to change? Something. Anything. What matters is that a better world is just an e-petition away and all we have to do is say "Yes we can" and we will. Will what? I don't know – petition sites, enthusiastic high-street drama school graduates and for-profit organisations are selling us the idea of grand change on a small, case-by-case basis. What's the issue? Dude, there are issues plural, across the world and we can solve them all.

We can do it because together, they say, as part of a Facebook group, email action or online petition, we are stronger. If enough people in the west get together they will form a righteous team of Davids and will, with high-speed wifi connections, topple all the Goliaths out there. If enough teenagers really care, then that bad man Joseph Kony will be caught by those good Christian people at Invisible Children and Africa will be saved.

Sites like and 38 Degrees are said to empower people to do anything from fix a road sign to save the NHS., a profit-making operation, claims to have curbed corruption in Indonesia, fought caste discrimination in India, and shut down ex-gay torture clinics in Ecuador. The site may well have helped play a part in all these things but it has essentially followed Facebook's formula, which goes like this: establish credibility before making cash. Last year, its founder and chief executive Ben Rattray talked about "true empowerment" in a company-wide email which was leaked to the Huffington Post. The email set out a change in advertising policy to allow for solicitations from anyone – however unprogressive – who was willing to pay. Rattray's "true empowerment" essentially boils down to being empowered to harness the righteous anger of liberals to build a platform, before, like a good Zuckerberg-style free-marketer, opening up that platform to people with real money.

Earlier this year, the writer Teju Cole tore apart what he termed the "white saviour industrial complex". In one post, he wrote: "The banality of evil transmutes into the banality of sentimentality. The world is nothing but a problem to be solved by enthusiasm." In the next, he said: "This world exists simply to satisfy the needs – including, importantly, the sentimental needs – of white people and Oprah." This banal sentimentality and desire to be patted on the back are behind many of the charity appeals and petition demands we are confronted with today. Facebook pages mean that people don't even have to give money anymore. They can just click "Like" and feel the approval of their peer group wash over them in an awesome wave.

Perhaps these small urges and interest-specific appeals are simply distracting us from bringing about significant societal change. Internet activism is not an extension of resistance; it's an expression of benign idleness. In The Society of the Spectacle, the French theorist Guy Debord wrote of "the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing". "Liking" a page or putting your name to an unverified petition is "merely appearing".

Young Oscar makes the point that change, real change, remains a hands-on business.

The recent imprisonment of the Anonymous hacker Jeremy Hammond is an example of this. He has been sent down for 10 years for his part in revealing some of the shady and unpleasant aspects of the corporate intelligence industry. In a statement, Hammond said: "Could I have achieved the same goals through legal means? I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed."
Like Chelsea Manning, whom he mentions in his statement, Hammond took real risks to expose bad corporate practice and for that he is being rewarded with jail. Signing an e-petition is perfectly understandable and maybe good things occasionally come of it, but Facebook is not going to catch Joseph Kony and we won't tweet our way to peace in Syria. The business of "helping people" has become slicker and slicker but it patronises us, divides us and ultimately benefits the same old elites.

Keep this in mind when the time comes, as it probably will, when we will have to resist the excesses and abuses of our own governments.   Every potential resistor they can get waylaid in social media protests is a win for them.  It's another hundred or another thousand or ten  well-intentioned citizens hived off from what they truly fear - direct confrontation.

It's What You Do With Cattle

You round them  up, herd them along, move them wherever it suits you and, for them, it's always a one-way trip.

That's the rough idea Israel has in mind for the Palestinian Bedouins of the Negev desert.  They're in the way.  They have to  go.  Their lands are wanted for new Jewish settlements.

According to Israel, the aims of the Prawer Plan – named after the head of a government commission, Ehud Prawer – are economic development of the Negev desert and the regulation of Palestinian Bedouins living in villages not recognised by the state.

The population of these villages will be removed to designated towns, while plans for new Jewish settlements in the area are enacted.

But Adalah, a human rights and legal centre for Arabs in Israel, says: "The real purpose of the legislation [is] the complete and final severance of the Bedouin's historical ties to their land."

The "unrecognised" villages in the Negev, whose populations range from a few hundred to 2,000, lack basic services such as running water, electricity, landline telephones, roads, high schools and health clinics. Some consist of a few shacks and animal pens made from corrugated iron; others include concrete houses and mosques built without necessary but unobtainable permission.

The Bedouin comprise about 30% of the Negev's population but their villages take up only 2.5% of the land. Before the state of Israel was created in 1948 they roamed widely across the desert; now, two-thirds of the region has been designated as military training grounds and firing ranges.

Under the Prawer Plan, between 40,000 and 70,000 of the remaining Bedouin – who became Israeli citizens in the 1950s – will be moved into seven over-crowded, impoverished, crime-ridden state-planned towns. The Israeli government says it is an opportunity for Bedouins to live in modern homes, take regular jobs and send their children to mainstream schools. They will be offered compensation to move, it adds.

That's odd.  I haven't heard a word, not a single burst of righteous outrage, from Canada's ForMin, John Baird.  Oh, I get it.  These are Palestinians and we'll instinctively look the other way if Israel is involved.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Is Harper Psychotic Or Just Bent? Rick Mercer Wants to Know.

Rick Mercer reduces the Senate expenses scandal, the PMO scandal and the Senate corruption scandal into one conclusion - Harper was in on it all along.

Now It's Obvious Why Harper Chose Callandra as His Parliamentary Secretary

It's because Callandra has enough blood circulation to stand up on his hind legs but not enough that any of it reaches his brain.

Callandra, the prime minister's laughingstock meat puppet, is the subject of ridicule over his latest stunt, his website,

In the House, Callandra behaves with undisguised contempt of Parliament, right under the nose of the Speaker.

In response to an NDP question about Nigel Wright:
"I do like flowers and, of course, with lemons I like to make lemonade. My two daughters, this summer, actually had a lemonade stand where they sold lemonade for 5¢ on the street. They did very well. I am very proud of them."
In response to a Liberal question about the Wright-Duffy deal:
"She is sitting in a caucus where, I do not know, three-quarters of them have been convicted of some type of fraud, whether it is the Elections Canada Act or robocalls. The real fraud squad is sitting in the Liberal Party."
"I have two daughters, a seven-year-old and a five-year-old, two beautiful girls, Natalie and Olivia, and each week I give them an allowance. Part of that allowance might be for cleaning their rooms. Both Natalie and Olivia know that sometimes their mother might clean their rooms. They both know that they should not ask for an allowance because they did not actually do the work. If my five-year-old and seven-year-old can figure this out, how is it that these senators cannot figure it out and how is it that the opposition supports that type of activity from our senators?"
"My father owned a pizza store. He worked 16 to 18 hours a day. I can tell the House what my father would not have done if he saw somebody stealing from his cash register. He would not have said 'You are suspended, but make sure you come back every two weeks and collect a paycheque.' What he would have said, 'You're fired, leave,' and he would have called the police."

Has Obama Put America On the Road to Genuine, Universal Health Care?

Barack Obama wanted to introduce true, single-payer health care similar to what you find in Canada or much of Europe.   He didn't get his way due to pushback by Congressional Republicans and a good smattering of Democrats along with the lobbies that buy their votes.  So, Americans would up with a "better than nothing" compromise they all seem to call "Obamacare."

We've had plenty of time to observe how issues like gay marriage and legalizing marijuana have progressed through the United States.  It usually begins with one or two States implementing change while other States look on and wait to see what happens.  It can be an effective means to debunk groundless fears and propaganda.  Why, that State got gay marriage and you mean to tell me the entire society didn't collapse?  People didn't start sleeping with their dogs?  Hmm.  Maybe it's not so bad after all.

Something along those lines may be happening on the health care front.  Vermont is going "single payer."

Vermont is using authority granted under the Affordable Care Act to start a single-payer system. Most Americans still don't know what the phrase "single-payer" even means. It had little support in Congress in 2009 and Senate "Democrats" like Nelson and Lieberman even killed the public option. But, ACA had this sweet little provision that allowed states to set up a single-payer system and now people will see it in action. You know what that means.

As Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opines, "The quickest route toward a national health care program will be when individual states go forward and demonstrate that universal and non-profit health care works, and that it is the cost-effective and moral thing to do.”

Peter MacKay's Reasoning is Wrong, But the Result May Be Right.

RCMP corporal Ron Francis has created a problem for Justice Minister Peter MacKay.   Francis has post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, for which he smokes pot.  He has a medical exemption to possess and use marijuana.  Did I mention he's an active-duty RCMP corporal?

Peter MacKay can't get over the issue that it's legal for Cpl. Ron to toke up, even on duty.  He's seen to it that Francis hand over his uniforms and gear lest he be seen (too late, there are photos) in red serge with a doob.

I don't think there's any need to humiliate the guy but I do think that somebody suffering from PTSD likely shouldn't be around guns.  When I did my undergrad in the States, I ran into more than a few guys freshly back from the jungles of Vietnam, a couple of them with fairly severe mental health issues.  The last thing anyone in that condition should have is access to a gun.

Taking away the guy's cherished uniform, however, seems punitive.

What Was the 8-Digit Launch Code for America's Minuteman Nuclear Missiles?

How about 0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0?   Not just one missile sitting in some lonesome silo in North Dakota.  The lot of them.  For twenty years, before more elaborate safeguards were put in place, punch in eight zeroes and you were away to the races.  You see, the idea was they didn't want to slow down the launch process by putting in random numbers to confuse the crews.

It was possible during those early years for the commander of America's Strategic Air Command to launch the whole bloody lot of those ICBMs.   From 1957 until 1964, that guy was uber hawk, General Thomas Power.

Beyond foreign seizure, there was also simply the problem that many U.S. commanders had the ability to launch nukes under their control at any time. Just one commanding officer who wasn’t quite right in the head and World War III begins. As U.S. General Horace M. Wade stated about General Thomas Power:
I used to worry about General Power. I used to worry that General Power was not stable. I used to worry about the fact that he had control over so many weapons and weapon systems and could, under certain conditions, launch the force. Back in the days before we had real positive control [i.e., PAL locks], SAC had the power to do a lot of things, and it was in his hands, and he knew it.
JFK directed that all missiles be retrofitted with PAL, Permissive Action Link, locking devices.
However, though the devices were supposed to be fitted on every nuclear missile after JFK issued his memorandum, the military continually dragged its heels on the matter. In fact, it was noted that a full 20 years after JFK had order PALs be fitted to every nuclear device, half of the missiles in Europe were still protected by simple mechanical locks. Most that did have the new system in place weren’t even activated until 1977.
Those in the U.S. that had been fitted with the devices, such as ones in the Minuteman Silos, were installed under the close scrutiny of Robert McNamara, JFK’s Secretary of Defence. However, The Strategic Air Command greatly resented McNamara’s presence and almost as soon as he left, the code to launch the missile’s, all 50 of them, was set to 00000000.
Oh dear. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Black Friday, Indeed

Richard Hughes over at Cowichan Conversations has posted a piece, "Ditch Capitalism and Save the Planet."   What follows is a 'train of thought' response I attempted to leave as a comment without realizing that it's far too long to be accepted.  So, here goes.  I'll contact Richard and invite him over to read it here.

Capitalism, Richard, has run its course.  That's not hyperbole.  Few recognize it but we're watching capitalism in its death throes.

One symptom of this is the transfer of wealth out of the working classes, blue and white collar, into the pockets of what has to be seen as an emerging oligarchy.  True wealth is not being created as it was during most of our lifetimes.  Much of what we consider wealth today is being acquired by transfer.

Stiglitz makes this plain in his great book "The Price of Inequality."  He demonstrates more than convincingly that the underlying cause of inequality today and the ever widening gap between rich and poor is neither merit-based nor market driven.  It is the product of legislation that, through grants, subsidies, exemptions and deferrals, allows wealth, often unearned wealth at that, to accrue to a specific category of individuals.

The beating heart of neoclassical, free-market capitalism is growth.  In our society the Holy Grail of growth has been a 3% annual target.  Find an online interest calculator.  Plug in 3% compounded interest.  Run it for 50-years, an approximation of an adult lifetime.  Now make it 100-years, and then 150 and, finally, 200-years, the span of just four adult lifetimes.  What you will find is that, in order to achieve 3% annual growth, the economy in that first lifetime must expand more than four-fold.  Because growth is a cumulative concept, by the time you've completed that fourth adult lifetime, you will have had to grow the economy about 300-times the size it was in year one.

That means 300-times the resources, 300-times the production, 300-times the consumption.  Yet we live on a finite planet with very finite resources that's utterly incapable of supporting the burden of that magnitude of growth.

Now compound that reality with other factors we're experiencing such as population growth and steady increases in per capita consumption.  Do you get the idea that this is a candle burning fiercely from both ends?

We're seeing the limits of what our earth can provide manifested in many ways. One example is the collapse of global fisheries as our industrial fishing fleets constantly "fish down the food chain". They're hunting down species today that were considered garbage just a few years ago.

The limits are evident in the spreading problem of desertification, the exhaustion of once arable  land and its transformation into sterile desert.  Around the world in many places, including China, they're basically killing their farmland.  Look at the massive dust clouds that form over China and sweep across the Pacific. These things are visible to the naked eye from space.  The same goes for deforestation - visible from space.

We're running out of resources. For everyone in the world to have something approximating a western lifestyle we would require an additional planet and a half's worth of resources.  Can't be done, doesn't exist.

Some time ago I read a paper written by a leading Chinese economist.  It focused on the emerging middle class in China (and by extension, India).  The dilemma for the Chinese government was that it could not do without these young, talented people and entrepreneurs and had to see them properly rewarded yet it could not hope to extend the elite's new lifestyle to the bulk of the population that aspired to it.

This fellow concluded that China had to find the means to institute an island of affluence floating on a sea of relative poverty without triggering massive social upheaval.

When our planet's ability to generate essential resources is exploited to its limits - as it has been today - then we are forced to shift from growth-based economics into an allocation-based economy.

There are quite well thought out models for this.  It's a school of what are known as "steady state" or "Full Earth" economics by which the economy has to be brought into equilibrium with the limits of our planet's abilities.

In this model there is no growth - at least not in production or consumption. Growth continues but in the quality of the products we make, their utility, durability and enjoyment and also in our knowledge.  We actually improve our quality of life, enhance our enjoyment of life, by not churning out all the crap that lines the shelves of Walmart.

Some years back Gwynne Dyer wrote an essay on a future based on rationing, a form of allocation-based economics.  He's probably right if only because there's no real alternatives.

What he overlooked was that societies function quite differently in allocation-based conditions than the heady world of free-market capitalism.  We experience this in times of great crisis such as major wars.

We tolerate inequality far better in free-market capitalism settings.  The 'rising tide floats all boats' sort of thing. However, when that model is displaced by an allocation system, we become far less tolerant of inequality.  I may be limited to one pound of butter a month but that rich bastard better not get the idea he can have two or three.

I could go on for hours about this but it's best I wrap it up now. I hope I've made at least a viable argument that classical capitalism has run its course.  It won't die an easy death and it will probably seek to take a good many of us with it. The faster we can realign our society out of free market capitalism and into steady state economics, the easier it will go on us.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Revenge of the Whale

A researcher in the Faroe Islands was doing a bit of exploratory flensing on a dead sperm whale.  Then this happened.

I imagine the smell must have been delightful.

If This is Fact, We Need to Rethink Our Bitumen Policy, Pipelines Included.

Word is coming out of the discovery of a truly massive, shale oil field in Australia that's expected to produce from 233 upwards to 400-billion barrels of crude oil.   That's crude oil, not bitumen.

Even at the lowest range, 233-billion barrels considerably exceeds Canada's 175-billion barrel petro-reserves, most of which are high-cost, high-carbon bitumen.

As Richard over at Canadian Trends points out, the recent accord with Iran is compounding the recent slump in WTI crude, magnifying Alberta's "carbon bubble" problems. 

What impact will the Coober Pedy bonanza have on Canada's high risk energy resources?   You may think back to when Athabasca, on the verge of imminent development, was abandoned cold when conventional oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Australia has grown enormously wealthy peddling its vast coal reserves to China and it's inconceivable that climate-change denier and newly-minted prime minister Tony Abbott will hesitate to get his country's shale oil sailing off to China also.

It's time for this country to take a sober look at our exposure - economically and environmentally - from our tenuous bitumen bounty.  Coober Pedy could easily cause Athabasca to blow up in our face.

Hope for Progressives Thanks to Seattle

Seattle voters have backed a proposition to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in and around the SeaTac Airport.  They also elected the city's first socialist, an Occupy Wall Street activist,  to City Council.

It's just a start, a small beginning, but everything great comes from modest beginnings.

The question now, of course, is how to replicate those electoral successes across the country. In Seattle, the ground already appears to be shifting, as local labor leaders—traditionally comfortable within the Democratic Party fold—are aligning with [newly-elected councillor Kshawma]  Sawant.

An Analog Relic Living in a Digital World

Who's Watching Whom?

My generation has probably witnessed more radical technological change than any other.  We were born in the Golden Era of the Analog Age.  We saw radio displaced by television in our homes.  Vacuum tube electronics displaced by transistors.  "In my day" even jet fighters were analog, operated by mechanical devices more akin to steam locomotives than to i-Pads.  Newsrooms were equipped with manual typewriters and clattering teletype machines, both of them rendered useless without inked, cloth ribbons. The only intelligence in a car was the person with their hands on the wheel and foot on the gas pedal.   It was rare indeed that anything got upgraded without the use of screwdrivers and hammers.

A couple of weeks ago my flat screen TV upgraded itself automatically online.  My WiFi printer did the same thing when I plugged it in.   Yesterday my smartphone and tablet auto-upgraded from Android Jelly Bean to Android Kit Kat, although they did ask my permission first.  I still have no idea what happened to my TV or to my printer, what that's supposed to do for me - or to me.  I did go online to learn a bit about what this Kit Kat business is all about.  I have a pretty good idea of what it does for me, and that does seem pretty neat.  I just have no idea if there's more to it than meets the eye, something that it does for someone else, something that it does to me.  I take some comfort in knowing that damned few children of the Digital Age would know either or even care - but not much.

What are these "Mod Cons" doing to me?  What are they doing to you?  LG flat screen TVs were recently in the news when it was discovered they were logging what was being watched, even the content of USB memory sticks used to display photos and such, and reporting it all back to the company.  Think of all the stuff a cyber-snitch TV could pass along through its meta-data reporting.  They'll figure out your approximate age, your IP address, your social station, your political leanings, stuff you might not want people to know you're watching, your consumer preferences - the list is literally endless.  My smart TV communicates with my computer.  Does that mean it could be a portal for our cyber-spooks to somehow access my computer drives?

It doesn't take a Luddite to rail at this ongoing and apparently growing intrusion into our last refuge of privacy, our very homes.   Today technology enables the corporate world and governments to spy on us far more effectively than the Stasi ever did on East Germans.  It's enough to make you yearn for a return to the good old Analog days.

The NSA's New Weapon - Porn

It's a powerful weapon to use against Islamist extremists - details of their online porn browsing.

The NSA has been collecting details about the online sexual activity of prominent Islamist radicals in order to undermine them, according to a new Snowden document published by the Huffington Post.

The American surveillance agency targeted six unnamed "radicalisers", none of whom is alleged to have been involved in terror plots.

One document argues that if the vulnerabilities they are accused of were to be exposed, this could lead to their devotion to the jihadist cause being brought into question, with a corresponding loss of authority.

As an example of vulnerabilities, it lists: "Viewing sexually explicit material online or using sexually persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls."

The names of the six targeted individuals have been redacted. One is listed as having been imprisoned for inciting hatred against non-Muslims. Under vulnerabilities, the unnamed individual is listed as being involved in "online promiscuity" as well as possibly misdirecting donations.

If We Have Far More Fossil Fuel Reserves Than We Can Use, Why the Stampede to Explore for Ever More?

Why are governments squandering hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and subsidies so that energy producers can explore for ever more fossil fuel reserves?  Seriously, we have no end of better uses for that money such as lightening the debt load we're bequeathing our grandkids by perpetuating pointless grants and subsidies to the fossil fuelers.

That seems counterintuitive if, as we now know, any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change will require that we leave somewhere between two-thirds to four-fifths of existing, known fossil fuels in the ground, unburned.

Somewhere along the way did we forget the old line about "taking coals to Newcastle"?  Or have the governments of the industrialized and developing worlds become so locked into an energy-extractive paradigm that they simply cannot stop themselves?

Right now the Arctic nations are just waiting for that sea ice to clear out enough that we can get big time at the seabed oil and gas resources.  Why?  Is it really just because we can? 

Here's a way to look at it to recalibrate your fossil fuel perspective.   Over the past two centuries we have brought to the surface and burned hydrocarbons in volumes that took many, many hundreds of millions of years to create.  Think about that.   It took what, for all practical purposes, was an eternity to create those fossil fuels and we have rapaciously exploited them in just two hundred years.  And we did that thinking that it wouldn't have a devastating impact on our environment, our biosphere, our Spaceship Earth.

Check out this neat, interactive graphic from The Guardian that asks, "why are fossil fuels growing?"

While you're at it, try digesting this graphic that I filched from a must-read item by Marie over at A Puff of Absurdity.

Word is getting out of a major new, shale oil find in Australia that could leave the land down under second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves.   The initial discovery at Coober Pedy  is estimated to represent 233 billion barrels of genuine oil (not bitumen) which far exceeds Canada's estimated 175 billion barrels.  Some experts believe the initial find could lead to a larger oilfield of perhaps 400 billion barrels of capacity.
Just what Athabasca needs now, a bountiful source of relatively clean crude oil to lure Chinese buyers away from our own high-cost, high-carbon bitumen.

New Democrats, Take the Hint, We Need You to Go Home.

Hard as it's been to watch the Liberals morph into Conservative-Lite, it was vastly harder to witness the NDP slip its moorings on the left and migrate to the centre to become Latter Day Liberals.

Under Layton and Mulcair, the NDP abandoned the flank in a shameless bid for power  and Canada is much the worse for it.   Just when we needed the balancing force of the Left more than at any time in the past half century it stands deserted.

If Canadians are to weather the challenges of the 21st century, the overwhelming majority of Canadians and not merely the top 5 per cent, we absolutely must have a strong Left presence in our politics.  Without that presence we will have a devilish time dealing with forces that will sap our social cohesion - inequality, climate change, globalization, the assault on organized labour and collective bargaining, corporatism, our dysfunctional electoral system and other grave threats to our democracy.

Canada doesn't need another liberal party.  The voters said as much just days ago in four by-elections.

Canada needs a party of the Left.   Marginally a tad left of the other guys doesn't cut it when they've all headed off to the Right.   Canada needs a party willing to unapologetically stand for lofty principles to both inspire and guide the public and to keep the other parties at least a little more honest.

If the New Democrats are really done with the Left, then they should pack up and clear out and make way for a new party of principle, a new "conscience of Parliament."  That's what Canada is lacking and what the country needs now more than ever.

Taunting the Dragon

The United States has wasted little time letting China know what it thinks of China's attempt to establish air superiority over the East China Sea and, in particular, the disputed Senkaku island.

In a provocative move last week, China announced the implementation of an "air defence identification zone" over the region and warned that foreign aircraft passing through the Chinese-controlled air zone could either obey its rules or face emergency defensive measures.

Yesterday a pair of B-52 bombers from Guam ignored China's warnings and overflew the area including Senkaku island.   Two Japanese airlines have announced they will follow their government's requests and likewise ignore China's new rules.

That's the problem when a country makes demands and threatens to back them up with military muscle.   If other countries simply ignore the blustering, you've painted yourself into a corner.   In this case if China now tries to molest foreign aircraft passing through its purported zone of control in defiance of China's rules, it could trigger a multi-national response, an international push back.

That's the sort of thing that can get out of hand very quickly.  If, on the other hand, China ignores the defiance, then it looks like it was foolishly bluffing.   That, in turn, could have repercussions in China's other territorial and resource claims in the region.

 Patrick Cronin, an Asia specialist at the Center for New American Security, a research group that advises the Obama administration, said the Chinese are gambling on how Washington will respond.

"China's betting that we are more worried about a military confrontation than they are to some extent, but they're not thinking this through very deeply. China will be embarrassed by some kind of confrontation," said Cronin.

The U.S. sees China's decision to impose restrictions on U.S. aircraft as a dangerous move that analysts say could lead to a major international incident.

"While nobody is looking for conflict, and while it's not likely to lead to war, the possibility and the risk of some shots being fired, or some aircraft or ship being shot at, has increased markedly because of Chinese unilateral changes to the status quo," declared Cronin.

Who Will Lead the Tories into the 2015 Election?

If there was just one thing that Tories learned from Monday's by-elections it was that they're up against a resurgent Liberal challenge with Justin Trudeau at the helm.  They probably didn't need the by-elections to tell them that, by contrast, their own leader is becoming increasingly unpopular if not outright toxic to Tory fortunes.

Stephen Harper has said he intends to lead the Conservatives into the 2015 election but that decision might not be his to take any longer.

The party establishment isn't going to want a wounded leader going up against a popular, energized Liberal contender.  There are rumours of two, possibly three, latter day Dalton Camps already operating in the wings.

At this stage it's hard to imagine too many Tories willing to risk all by rallying to the side of Stephen Harper.  He's just not the sort of guy who makes a lot of friends.   He doesn't earn loyalty.  If anything he's a nasty little shit.

What happens next depends on whether Harper has not only taken himself down but has taken down the Reform wing with him.   The conditions might be ripe for a PC reformation.

There's not a lot of depth from the Tory front bench to answer the call for a new leader.  MacKay might have aspirations but he's something of a spent force and then there's the little matter of how he sold out the PCs.   Jason Kenney?  Possibly, but I think he has a "no wife, no babies" problem with the social conservative base.  He's also a westerner.  And, besides, Kenney- MacKay et al have  all logged years of  loyal service to the Grand Corrupter, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub himself.   With an election less than two years away and a party in need of rehab, Tories might well be looking for a new, fresh face.

Did I mention Jim Prentice?  No?  Well he's said to be weighing his options.  Although he's a Calgarian, he has lengthy Progressive Conservative credentials.   He was generally seen as moderate (at least compared to some of his colleagues), sophisticated (not a faith-based mouth breather) and he's been out of Harper's cabal long enough for the taint to wash off.

There's another name that's surfaced on the rumour circuit.   Now brace yourself.   How 'bout Jean Charest?   Some Tories think Charest could be a viable contender in a race to replace Stephen Harper.  Charest stepped in before when the party was in extremis.  He's affable, fairly well known and liked across Canada, and he's from Quebec.   Those are attributes the Tories could use in a leader right now.

Who knows, maybe Harper will find some way to hang on.   Maybe the Tories will answer the Liberals' prayers and go into the 2015 election behind this prime minister.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Even NatPo Figured It Out, Finally.

Five days after the Wright-Duffy-Harper offshoot of the earlier Senate expenses scandal became public, your humble scribe predicted that Harper's Achilles' Heel in the PMO scandal was the fact that two of the parties directly implicated, Nigel Wright and Benjamin Perrin, were lawyers.

That was May 20th.  Now, slightly more than six months later, the National Post has figured out the same thing.   There are rather dire consequences when lawyers participate in a fraud.   The payment of money to Duffy without Harper's consent is quite likely a criminal act.   That's why it's all but inconceivable that lawyer, indeed law professor, Benjamin Perrin, personal legal advisor to the prime minister, would have negotiated the deal with Duffy's solicitor unless he knew that he was acting with his client, Stephen Harper's consent and authorization.

Perrin abruptly left the PMO and hightailed it back to Vancouver only about a month after the under-the-table cash deal was transacted.  He more than curiously popped up only once and then only to deny having had anything to do with the deal, something the documents flatly disprove.  My guess is that Perrin split for his own sake and for the prime minister's.

Wright may face prison, and two lawyers who had knowledge of the deal may face sanction from their law societies, unless Harper says that he knew about the deal.

“He can’t say that,” said Walsh. “He would then be publicly responsible for the shenanigans that were going on. That’s a political problem for him. Now, legally if he were to say that, these guys get off. If Harper knew what was going on, that removes the criminality.”

Walsh says this situation may explain why Harper has been reluctant to discuss in detail what he did know about the deal.

Throwing somebody under the Conservative Party bus is old hat to Stephen Harper.   Sending them to the Greybar Hotel to cover his ass is something else entirely.

It would have all been so much simpler if Nigel Wright had simply followed the Mulroney protocol and met Duffy at a coffee shop to slide an envelope full of cash across the table.

Afterthought - I have long thought that Stephen Harper had many of the instincts of Joseph Stalin.  Maybe I underestimated him.  Lately he's looking a lot more like Ivan the Terrible.

Ontario's Infrastructure Marshall Plan

Kudos to Ontario's Liberal government.   While their provincial counterparts elsewhere in the country are furiously burying their heads in the sand, Ontario is going to introduce a 10-year plan to replace crumbling infrastructure

Infrastructure means funding and funding means taxes.   Infrastructure also means investment and investment means long-term returns on capital.   However not spending on infrastructure only makes the problems more expensive in the long run.   There's a reward if you do it and there's an even bigger penalty if you don't.

One of the greatest leadership failings of contemporary politicians is their short-sightedness.  When you see the world in the context of the next election cycle, there's a powerful temptation to kick problems down the road.  Eventually, however, these problems tend to grow too large to avoid any longer and that's usually when they've become punishingly expensive to address.

Bear in mind, it's not a matter of replacing the sort of infrastructure we enjoyed in the 70s and 80s.  That world is gone and it's not coming back for generations to come.  We now have to build better, stronger and sometimes different infrastructure to cope with the onset of climate change impacts.  Roads, bridges and such have to be built to withstand more heat, more cold and potentially severe flooding.  There's not much point building more stuff that's susceptible to those conditions.

Remember back in June when Calgary's SaddleDome was awash in floodwater?  By sheer coincidence that was when the World Council on Disaster Management gathered in Toronto for its annual conference.  One of the experts in attendance was McGill University professor emeritus, Dr. Saeed Mirza.   The professor, a specialist in structural engineering, estimated that Canada needed a trillion dollars worth of infrastructure upgrades to meet the conditions that will be coming at us this century.

So congratulations Ontario for being willing to finally bite the bullet on infrastructure.  May you example inspire every other provincial government across this country.

Jeffrey Simpson Post-Mortem - Harper Now "Dead Weight" for Tories

The Globe's Jeffrey Simpson writes that yesterday's by-election results sent a clear signal to federal Tories - they're floundering and a big part of their problem is Stephen Joseph Harper.

The results collectively showed two things. First, the Conservatives are in political trouble. Second, it’s the Liberals, not the New Democrats, that are the Conservatives’ most formidable opponents.

Yes, by-elections are not general elections. By-elections are snapshots in time that can be erased or altered in a national vote two years hence.

But Brandon-Souris? How could this riding west of Winnipeg not have been a Conservative laugher? The party lost it only once, in 1993. For the rest of the time since the Second World War, the riding was Conservative.

So weak were the Liberals in Brandon-Souris in 2011 that their candidate captured just 5 per cent of the vote. That the Liberal candidate got more than 40 per cent Monday night was an earthquake. Similarly, in the dead-safe Conservative seat of Provencher, southwest of Winnipeg, the Liberal vote soared from 8 to 30 per cent.

In Brandon-Souris, the most interesting and politically consequential of the four ridings, the Conservatives had every advantage on paper. Their candidate was a provincial MLA, well known and well liked. He had a machine, whereas the Liberal candidate did not. The Canada-European Union trade and investment deal ought to have been popular with farmers, because their exporting, especially pork, will be easier. The abolition of the gun registry and the Canadian Wheat Board were ostensibly vote-winners.

The Liberal candidate, Rolf Dinsdale, carried a famous last name, because his father Walter represented Brandon-Souris as a Progressive Conservative for three decades. But the younger Mr. Dinsdale had not lived much in the riding, nor distinguished himself in local affairs. And yet he defied all the Conservatives’ paper advantages and nearly won in a riding where, normally, the only thing protecting Liberals is the game laws.

The Senate scandal, where polls consistently demonstrate the public does not believe the Prime Minister, and the government’s overall thuggish tone and style, are apparently eating away at the Conservatives’ fortunes. Conservatives had a case to make to the voters on trade, economic management and issues such as the gun registry. They put a lot of effort and money into the Brandon-Souris. Yet the Conservatives barely won, despite having a much better-known candidate.

Only the Liberals demonstrated serious appeal in all four ridings. The Conservative totals in Bourassa and Toronto-Centre were risibly below 10 per cent, as were the NDP results in the two Manitoba ridings. The worst NDP result arguably came in Toronto Centre – a Liberal stronghold, yes, but a place where the NDP had hoped to make things close. Instead, Liberal Chrystia Freeland trounced New Democrat Linda McQuaig.

Everything the Conservatives have tried politically since the summer has failed. The Prime Minister doubled down on his narrow-casting strategy of appealing only to the party’s core voters. On Monday, he paid a price.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

"User pays," "personal responsibility," "accountability," "no free lunch," words and phrases like these have become part of the modern political lexicon.  We hear them used a lot but almost always in the context of denying someone something.

Unfortunately what's sauce of the goose is rarely sauce for the gander.  We saw that in practice at the COP 19, climate change summit in Warsaw.  That's where the little countries were looking for a little bit of that 'user pays,  personal responsibility, accountability' from the rich countries.

You know what it's like.  If your kid tosses a ball through your neighbour's window, it's on you to pay to have that window fixed.  If you don't, you're a jerk.

That's pretty much what the little countries had in mind.   We, the rich countries, are predominantly responsible for the past two centuries of greenhouse gas emissions which are causing such devastating impacts on the weakest, poorest and most vulnerable countries that tend to be closest to the equator.  So they would like us to come up with the cash to repair their broken window.   And, right now, the last thing we want to do is just that.

Rich countries are desperate to avoid taking the blame for the impacts of climate change on nations with a lot less money but an awful lot more to lose (like their entire country, for example).

More specifically, the developed countries won't let any statements slip into any UN climate document that could be used against them in the future. 

But wait, there's more.  You see it's not just that we don't want to pay for their broken window, we don't want to stop lobbing that ball around either.  We don't want to talk about not breaking any more of their windows or anything else that might cramp our style.

Afghanistan Returns to the Stone Age

If there's still anyone willing to claim that what we did in Afghanistan was worth even one Canadian life, mention this.   Afghanistan is on the brink of reinstating public death by stoning for the offence of adultery.   The proposal is tucked into a draft revision of the country's penal code.

The good news is that simple fornication by unmarried individuals will only be punished by flogging.

The bad news is that there have been cases where, when a married man rapes a girl, she is considered a party to adultery liable to the same punishment.

Oh Dear Me

Our friend, the Salamander, left a comment that got me thinking.   He asked what John A., were he alive today, would have said about Stephen Harper?

That brought to mind a much more recent prime ministerial heavyweight.  Pierre Elliott Trudeau.   Can you imagine, had he not been lost to us much too soon, what Pierre Trudeau, from the comfort of his retirement, would have had to say about Stephen Joseph Harper and his devious, authoritarian, undemocratic ways?

I can imagine Pierre Trudeau energizing the Canadian people to storm Sussex Drive with pitchforks and torches.   Punks like Harper were always his favourite sport.

Tell Us Why, Nigel

The prime minister says he didn't know.  Nigel Wright says the prime minister didn't know.

Wright didn't tell Harper.  Perrin didn't tell Harper.  Woodcock and van Hemmen didn't tell Harper either.   Harper's top and most trusted advisors didn't tell the prime minister, the very person they were hand-selected to work for, anything about the $90K under-the-table-cash deal between Wright and senator Mike Duffy.

Why didn't even one of them tell their prime minister about something this potentially explosive?

Did it simply slip their minds, all their minds?  That might be plausible if Harper had surrounded himself with mental defectives but these guys were A-List talent.

As RCMP cpl. Greg Horton avers, there were dozens, perhaps hundreds of e-mails written pertaining to the Wright-Duffy-Harper scandal.   This was on a lot of people's minds.  It occupied a lot of their time.  They were communicating among themselves.  They were communicating with top Tory senators.  They were communicating with top officials of the Conservative Party.   They were communicating with Duffy and with Duffy's lawyer.

Recall that there was already a scandal simmering in the media before the under-the-table-cash scandal erupted in mid-May.  The Wright-Duffy-Harper scandal was born out of the original residence/housing expenses scandal.  That was the one where Duffy denied he owed a dime and said his status and expenses had been cleared from the outset.

The prime minister knew all about that scandal.  He and Nigel Wright specifically met with Duffy where the prime minister told Duffy it wasn't a question of whether his claims were legitimate.   The prime minister said that the Tory base were a bunch of bumpkins and would never accept the optics of Duffy's pre-cleared expense claims.

Harper never said the claims weren't valid.  Neither did the Tory Senate leadership.  Neither did Nigel Wright.   Not at first, they didn't.  Not for years, they didn't.  No, it was only once the story was spoonfed to the media and the optics changed that there was even a hint of impropriety on Duffy's part.  And that was the moment that Mike Duffy was thrown under the bus, when Harper said, "this doesn't look good, pay it all back."  That marks the starting point of the PMO scandal.

You might want to remember this the next time you hear Nigel Wright's patriotic plea that he only coughed up the money out of a noble concern that the lowly taxpayers should not be out of pocket.   That is unadulterated mouth-crap.  Nigel Do-Right didn't give a damn about Duffy's expenses until daylight began to shine on the prime minister.  He's already told the cops he considered Duffy's expenses valid right up to the point where they became a political problem.   That would appear to fix the point in the timeline at which Nigel Wright begins to lie his ass off.  Whatever he says about events after that point needs to be viewed with real skepticism.

The prime minister would have us believe that, despite the story being front and centre in the papers and on the evening network newscasts, the ultimate prime ministerial control freak simply handed it all off to his top aides and went on to other business, everything but this scandal that was slowly scorching his party and closing in on his three "celebrity" Senate appointees.

It was at this point that the PMO sprung into action, erecting the Wall of Plausible Deniability around their prime minister.  Henceforth Harper would be kept out of sight, shielded behind Nigel Wright; Wright's 2-i-C, David van Hemmen;  the PMO Director of Issues Management, Chris Woodcock;  and the PMO legal top gun, Harper's personal legal advisor, Benjamin Perrin.   If you were the prime minister and you got the waft of burning flesh from the flames of scandal licking at your feet, who better to surround yourself with?

Wright has identified this foursome as the group within the PMO that had knowledge of his Duffy payout.   Yet he's minimizing what they knew and the role they played in the under-the-table scheme.  Almost as quickly as the wall was raised and the deed was done, Festung Harper was dismantled.  Perrin, his work done, hightailed it back to Vancouver perhaps unwisely popping up just once to deny having had anything to do with the Duffy payoff.  Within days of the under-the-table-cash/PMO scandal hitting the airwaves, Wright resigned/was canned. Woodcock and van Hemmen eventually followed suit.  The prime minister's office was sanitized of every individual who could implicate the boss directly.

So, look at the four who were instrumental in the under-the-table-cash deal - the chief of staff, the assistant chief of staff, the director of issues management, and the chief legal counsel - the Big Four - all in on it and not one mentioning a word of it to the prime minister and then, all four, at respectable intervals, scarpering off into the night.   If only there was musical accompaniment it might be a ballet, it was so plainly choreographed.   And yet Harper, supposedly, knew nothing until he read it in the funny papers.

Of course it wasn't just the Big Four who had knowledge of the affair or who played a role in it.  You have to throw in senators Marjory LeBreton, Carolyn Stewart-Olsen, Dave Tkachuk, and Irving Gerstein and toss in one or two officials of the Conservative Party including Arthur Hamilton.

So not only did Wright keep Harper in the dark, so too did van Hemmen, Woodcock, Perrin, LeBreton, Stewart-Olsen, Tkachuk, Gerstein and Hamilton not to mention every Tory that Duffy disclosed the scheme to - they all had to keep Harper completely in the dark.   Can you imagine that?  Listen, that's the very sort of thing that's known to happen all the time - in the alternate universe.

Nigel needs to tell us why he supposedly kept Harper in the dark.  Woodcock, van Hemmen, Perrin (especially Perrin), LeBreton, Stewart-Olsen, Tkachuk, Gerstein and Hamilton all need to tell us why they supposedly kept Harper in the dark. What was the protocol, the understanding?  Who said, "we do not discuss this with the prime minister"?   Because somebody in authority had to have said that or else Harper's lying, he knew.

So cpl. Horton, you've got a lot of work left to do.  You could start by asking these usual suspects to tell you "why."

Sunday, November 24, 2013

If We're Already Seen as the Government's Enemies, Why Do We Think They Might Listen to Us?

Of the many dark farces of the Harper government, the best one is that there'll be a full and fair environmental assessment of the Northern Gateway pipeline initiative and the claim that the government remains open-minded.   The Victoria Time Colonist pundit, Jack Knox, writes that's sheer bollocks:

Emails released this week show a cosy relationship in which CSIS, a section of the RCMP, our pro-pipeline federal government, the National Energy Board and energy companies are inside the club, while those who oppose Enbridge’s proposal are treated like woolly headed radicals working against the national interest.

Which leads to the obvious question: If that’s what Ottawa thinks of British Columbians who worry about oil tankers doing an Exxon Valdez in the tricky inside waters of our coast, how seriously will it listen to them?

The emails came to light through an access to information filing initially reported in the online Vancouver Observer. They showed communications between the RCMP, CSIS, the National Energy Board and its security chief before and during the regulatory hearings into Enbridge’s proposal to pipe Alberta bitumen to a tanker terminal at Kitimat.

The messages talk of using social media and other sources to monitor everything from the Idle No More movement to the Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative to the annual all-native basketball tourney in Prince Rupert. One of the emails, a security summary prior to January’s hearings in Kelowna, refers to a gathering at which Elizabeth May — the Saanich-Gulf Islands MP and Green Party leader — and Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming were to speak.

Those revelations follow a series of stories in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which reported that the Canadian government has an extensive spying program aimed at domestic environmental organizations. Since 2005, twice-a-year meetings involving energy companies, police, CSIS and other federal agencies have been convened to discuss threats to the energy sector, including challenges from green groups. The Guardian produced the agenda for one such meeting in May: sponsored by Natural Resources Canada, it was held at CSIS headquarters in Ottawa, with breakfast, lunch and coffee provided by Enbridge and a networking mixer paid for by Bruce Power and Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners. arrangements bordered on the absurd when the regulatory road show came to the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe for eight days in January. Hotel doors were guarded by a contingent of Victoria police officers working on overtime (the bill was ultimately paid by Enbridge, as the applicant was responsible for all costs related to the pipeline review). Members of the public could only watch online or on a big screen at the Ramada three kilometres away. Even the people scheduled to testify (they had to wait at least 15 months for the privilege) were herded into a holding room down the hall from the hearing room. Never mind that they looked less like wild-eyed anarchists than a United Church prayer circle, a bunch of grey-haired retirees in fleece vests and Gore-Tex.

That betrays a troubling mindset by a federal government that starts with the assumption that anyone who disagrees with the Northern Gateway plan is by definition a kook, a fringe character hiding behind a balaclava or one of those moustachioed Occupy Everything masks. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver infamously ranted about “environmental and other radical groups” blocking pipeline proposals. The feds poured $8 million into a witch hunt targeting environmental charities that it blamed for bogging down the approval process. In Ottawa, green is the new black.

Here's the thing.  When your government treats you as an enemy of the state, no good will come from ignoring that warning.  That's when you have to start asking if the state hasn't become your enemy.

They're Beautiful, They're Rich and They're Betrothed.

In a world where, these days, the rich and powerful seem immune to consequences, it's almost heartwarming to read of a couple of socialites getting their comeuppance.

He is 64-year old Winston Bontrager of Seattle.   She is 65-year old Australian expat and socialite, Pauline Anderson.   The beaming couple are engaged and, when this picture was taken, oh so happy.  That was before they were caught failing to declare about $24-million in income from property development deals in Washington state.

Pauline netted just over three years and a deportation order.  Winston, however, earned an 11-year, all-expenses stay in the Greybar Hotel for his efforts.
In The Observer this weekend the editorial laments the collapse of public accountability and the emergence of a class of wealthy and powerful people who can "get away with whatever they choose."  Hell, we've got a prime minister who thinks that very way.

Less Ice = More Guns

That's the formula for the militarization of the Arctic Ocean.  U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, said as much in a slightly different fashion.

Hagel said the U.S. military would adapt infrastructure and capabilities “at a pace consistent with changing conditions.”

Vlad Putin has recently announced plans to up-muscle Russia's forces in the Arctic to defend Russian sea lanes against what he perceives to be potential threats from other Arctic nations. 

Even China, not itself an Arctic nation, has stated its intention to establish some permanent, military presence in the Arctic to protect Beijing's interests in the sea lanes and exploitation of Arctic seabed resources.  Did you get that, "resources"?  China, by the way, operates the largest, non-nuclear icebreaker in the world and plans for armed sister-ships are said to be in the works.

Meanwhile Stephen Harper dances around with F-35s up his arse doing nothing meaningful to secure Canada's vast northern frontier.  Oh happy day.

No Prime Minister Deserves a Taxpayer-Funded, In-House Criminal Enterprise

Stephen Harper's greasy premiership relies on the notion that what goes on within his private, personal agency, the PMO, is not his responsibility.   This from Prime Minister Accountability & Transparency (tm).

happened just down the hall from the prime minister's own office
-  entailed at least four top aides, people with whom he would meet several times each day
-  was transacted by his chief of staff and his personal legal advisor
-  transpired over the course of days, weeks,  months even
-  extended to at least four senior Tory senators
-  involved a scandal known to the prime minister, one in which he met with the principal, Duffy
-  resulted in some solution, the fact of which he was informed by his CoS
-  apparently led to the resignation and departure of his personal legal advisor weeks later
-  was regularly in the newspapers and TV news before the scandal itself actually broke

Sorry but if the prime minister didn't know it's because he chose not to know in circumstances as deliberate as they were inexcusable.  His top aides knew he didn't want to know.   Stephen Harper cannot plead in his defence that he didn't know when that was a pre-ordained result.  He cannot shirk direct and full responsibility for allowing his prime minister's office and its staff, accountable solely to himself, to become a taxpayer-funded, in-house criminal enterprise.

When this many people were involved - all his major aides in the PMO and four top Tory senators - they were his agents.   This is a clear case of agency.   The prime minister doesn't get the benefit of the doubt on this, not after the Bruce Carson scandal.  He knew about the Duffy issue, he knew it was a serious problem to his administration, and if he didn't know how Nigel Wright acted to solve it, that's only because he chose not to ask.

Bruce Carson taught us that Harper could not be trusted with something so easily corrupted as a prime minister's office.  Now he's shown what we get for ignoring that.

While You're Waiting for the Game

Killing time before the Grey Cup isn't always easy.  Here's something to occupy a bit of it.  The Guardian has a neat quiz, The Geography Game, where you race against the clock first to identify countries in specific regions on a map and then to order them according to per capita GDP. 

Warning:  you may think you're up to date on this stuff but the quiz is very challenging.

Don't Blame Them. Blame Yourself Too.

The Guardian has published two articles that blame climate change, or most of it, on a few corporate fat cats.  One claims just 90-companies cause two-thirds of global warming emissions.  The second item is a companion piece with a graphic showing which fossil fuel companies are the most blameworthy.

How do we blame fossil fuel companies for most of our emissions?   Sure they're responsible for the consequences of extraction, production and transportation of their product to end-users but once we get our winter supply of home heating oil for our cavernous, empty McMansion or fill up the SUV to make our massive workday commute from the ex-urbs or wing our way to the beaches of Hawaii, surely that's on us, isn't it?

Are the fossil fuel companies solely to blame when we continue to elect governments that lavish on them grants, subsidies and deferrals that make Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Gas even wealthier than just enormously wealthy?  Hint - if we stopped voting for these petro-pols, be they Liberal, Conservative or New Democrat; they would stop doing it.

The fact is, if we stop doing all sorts of things, others stop too.   If we stop buying unnecessary junk manufactured on the other side of the world under exploitative and unregulated conditions, they'll stop making that stuff.   If we buy the stuff we do need, just that stuff and none of the crap, we'll have more people in our communities making ever better stuff that does meet our needs.  We can have stuff that lasts, we can have food that's not laced with antibiotics, hormones and preservatives.  We can become aware of the distinction between stuff we really need and all the stuff we've become conditioned to think we want.

We can reject the malfunction in the operating system of modern governance, the slavish addiction to never-ending growth.  It's not feasible in a finite world.  You know that, I know that, we all know that so why are we building a society on that?  

Just as there's healthy cholesterol and unhealthy cholesterol, there's also healthy growth that doesn't entail increasing production and consumption.  We can direct much of that energy and capital we put into making ever more things into making fewer things that are better, more helpful,  less harmful and that will actually increase our enjoyment of life.   If happiness is the key, why don't we do things that can actually bring us happiness?  That sounds awfully radical, doesn't it?

Changing our ways is not easy.  We need to find new ways of social organization that will facilitate a tide change in governance necessary to usher in a new economic vision that serves people instead of preying on them.   The thing is, we can't begin to get there while we choose to blame others for what we've brought on largely by ourselves.