Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How the Empire Falls

Flag designed by Mark Twain. No, really.

You may remember Lawrence Wilkerson, former secretary of state Colin Powell's chief of staff.  A veteran of combat in Vietnam, Wilkerson went on to serve with the US Navy and Marine Corps. He's been an assistant to Powell when he was National Security Advisor to Reagan and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

For all of that, Wilkerson proved to be anything but some rightwing zealot. He now lectures quite a bit and has given some eye-opening talks on the looming demise of the American empire.

Wilkerson warns that America's empire might meet its end abruptly in chaos. He sees the signs of imminent demise in attributes the USA shares with former great empires. A sign of the end is when the empire chooses to pursue the status quo forever, the underlying premise of the Bush doctrine. This is marked by the concentration on military force in lieu of diplomacy and other instruments of foreign policy. Empires in the final stages maintain massive standing armed forces supplemented eventually by large mercenary forces. The nation enters a state of ethical, moral and economic bankrutpcy, paying only lip service to the principles and aspirations on which the state was founded. Economic and political power merge usually under the control of the financial sector.

Wilkerson notes that past empires usually collapsed following some massive display of their military prowess which he sees mirrored in America's multi-trillion dollar adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Canadians need to have a clear sense of just where America and its empire are, where they're heading and what lies ahead. Wilkerson even thinks it more than just possible that the United States could break up. He warns the separatist South that, if it wasn't for the massive influx of money from New York and California, the South would be America's Bangladesh (49:30 mark).

So, Is "Strategic Voting" Still a Thing?

Back at the beginning of the federal election campaign, Tom Mulcair's New Dems enjoyed a commanding lead and seemed poised to become our next government.

Back at the beginning of the federal election campaign, New Dems were ardent champions of "strategic voting." The idea was that Libs and Greens should throw in with the NDP because of the imperative need to absolutely rid Canada of Stephen Harper.

We don't hear the clarion call to strategic voting much these days. I suppose that might have something to do with how strategic voting tends to favour the party leading in the polls. No one understood that better than Green Party supporters who were routinely castigated with claims that supporting their party meant supporting Shifty Steve Harper.

I suppose it doesn't help much that Tom Mulcair is back in "attack the Libs" mode, the now shopworn tactic introduced by Layton that treated the Liberals as the NDP's Great Satan no matter how that played to the direct and powerful benefit of the Harper Conservatives.

Mulcair is running to salvage second place. That's many things but it's not running to win. If one guy, Trudeau, is running to win and the other guy, Mulcair, is running mainly to stop Trudeau, then the rationale for strategic voting is flushed straight down that big orange toilet bowl.  Sort of reminds me of that fable of the scorpion and the frog.

Let's Remember, They're a "Permanent Warfare State."

Canadians should be concerned over the direction our military leadership is pursuing - integration with the armed forces of the United States of America.

Uncle Sam has transitioned into a state of "permawar." That's constant, never-ending warfare. It's the type of warfare in which victory or defeat becomes irrelevant. It's the type of warfare that's not fought to achieve some clear political objective. It's not the type of warfare that ever ends. Unlike warfare in previous eras it doesn't lead to peace.

Part of this is not America's doing. Part of it is. Modern warfare is sometimes called Gen 4 warfare. It's not the old state versus state conflict that produced a winner and a loser and a treaty followed by a return to peace. Today's warfare engages a confusing array of parties - state actors and non-state actors that run the gamut from militias to rebels, insurgents, terrorists and an array of criminal organizations, some local some regional or transnational.

Every morning each of them starts off with an agenda that, at times, may evolve rapidly according to changing circumstances. Alliances are made out of convenience and broken for the same convenience. Each actor pursues its own interests which renders the major players, i.e. the United States, having to herd some very vicious cats.

The question Canadians have to ask is whether we want our soldiers committed to fighting wars that we are not prepared or willing to win? That, ultimately, is the price of integration. It means consigning both our military and foreign policy to an endless trail of suffering, death and misery with names like Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. It is a type of warfare that turns wobbly states into failed states. Is that what we really want? Is that what we're prepared to allow our already suspect military commanders to talk us into, to back us into?

Except for North American defence, Canada should be reclaiming our nation's foreign and military sovereignty, our independence from Washington. That's not to say we can't support American military actions abroad but only provided that we first know what we're out to achieve and how we're going to meet our objectives within a reasonable but finite time period.

When our military leadership talks us into pointless adventures that are doomed to failure, they're betraying our country and the Canadian people.

Volkswagen - You Owe Me a New Power Plant

Here's the deal. There's not much wrong with my VW Golf TDI "clean diesel" except for the clean part.

I was promised an ultra fuel-efficient, ultra low-emissions engine that, it turns out, was neither but for a "defeat device" that turned off much of the emissions control system.

To add insult to injury, VW's TDI clean diesel engine wasn't available in their base models. If you wanted the diesel you had to pay for a mid- to high-grade model. The diesel was for top-end customers, not ordinary Volk.

So I wound up with a great little car with the leather upholstery, top-end sound system, and oodles of handling and safety systems some of which I can disengage if I get that sporty feeling.

Problem - answer. Keep the car. Replace the powerplant. VW could engineer a hybrid system. They could even consider refitting their straight electric powerplant now coming out in the e-Golf in the States.

Now, getting VW to do something, that will be the trick. And the chances of getting that just grew less cheery with word that VW isn't the only automotive bad boy.

New diesel cars from Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Citroen, Fiat, Volvo and other manufacturers have all been found to emit substantially higher levels of pollution when tested in more realistic driving conditions, according to new data seen by the Guardian.

Research compiled by Adac, Europe’s largest motoring organisation, shows that some of the diesel cars it examined released over 10 times more NOx than revealed by existing EU tests, using an alternative standard due to be introduced later this decade.

If you follow the link you'll see a chart showing how poorly each vehicle did in testing. Curiously enough, the Audi TT which uses the same 2.0 TDI engine that's in my car was one of the cleaner types.
Enough bickering. This may be an ideal opportunity to transition the automotive industry into clean, near fossil-free engines.

Mark Carney Again Warns of Climate Change Induced Financial Collapse. Is Anyone Listening?

The former governor of the Bank of England said it. The current governor of the Bank of England is saying the same thing - to anyone who'll listen.  Mark Carney who recently left the top perch at the Bank of Canada to sit on the top perch of the Bank of England says, unless we get climate change under control, soon (as in now), we'll enter an era of financial crises and collapsing living standards.

In a speech to the insurance market Lloyd’s of London on Tuesday, Carney said insurers were heavily exposed to climate change risks and that time was running out to deal with global warming.

The governor said that proposals would probably be put to the G20 meeting in Turkey in November urging the world’s leading developed and developing countries to bring in tougher corporate disclosure standards so that investors could better judge climate change risks.

...“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come,” Carney said. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security. So why isn’t more being done to address it?”

...“Climate change is the tragedy of the horizon. We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.

“The horizon for monetary policy extends out to two to three years. For financial stability it is a bit longer, but typically only to the outer boundaries of the credit cycle – about a decade. In other words, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.”

Carney addressed the subject that Canada's political leadership relentlessly avoids mentioning, the looming Carbon Bubble, and the inevitability that high-cost, high-carbon fossil fuels - yes, including bitumen - will become "stranded assets."

“Take, for example, the International Panel on Climate Change’s estimate of a carbon budget that would likely limit global temperature rises to 2 degrees [centigrade] above pre-industrial levels.

“That budget amounts to between a fifth and a third of the world’s proven reserves of oil, gas and coal.  If that estimate is even approximately correct it would render the vast majority of reserves “stranded” – oil, gas and coal that will be literally unusable without expensive carbon-capture technology, which itself alters fossil fuel economics.

So far the best we're getting out of our political leadership are promises of carbon pricing or cap and trade schemes with the revenues handed off to the provinces in one form or another. Nobody is willing to say they'll take that money and keep it in Ottawa's treasury and use it to replace and reinforce our national infrastructure that is already decaying and definitely not Anthropocene-ready.

Our supposed leaders are waiting for market conditions to kill off Athabasca but there's no discussion of who cleans up the mess afterwards, after the foreign oil companies have bugged out.  We're not discussing the enormous environmental hazard that is Athabasca, how we're going to clean it up and at what cost and who'll get stuck with the tab or what awaits Alberta and the rest of Canada if we don't clean it up. These are conversations that come with price tags of hundreds of billions of dollars, definitely not suited for delicate ears wanting to hear only lies about balanced budgets and sunny tomorrows.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Turnaround Tom, Where Are You?

I knew that New Dems were getting wobbly in the knees about their party's flagging campaign when I started getting the line about how a vote for the Green Party is a vote for Harper. Isn't that what they used to call "projection"?

The NDP doesn't need my help to sink their campaign. Tom Mulcair seems to be doing that for them.  The Toronto Star's Tim Harper writes the NDP needs to focus on putting some spine back in their campaign.

In the early months of 2015, the team around Mulcair worked hard to humanize their man, having him drop biographical snippets into his speeches, trying to ensure he looked accommodating and non-threatening.

With it came the ubiquitous reassuring smile. But Mulcair began the campaign so focused on appearing comforting and prime ministerial that his passion appeared to be vacuumed out. In the French debate a bit of his aggressiveness returned, but Mulcair seems so leery of being caricatured again as “Angry Tom” that he has forgotten that part of his appeal in the first place was the indignation he regularly flashed when taking on Harper in Ottawa. He was channelling some of the passion of voters seeking change, but too few voters have seen that Mulcair and have only been exposed to this toned down, more vanilla version of the NDP leader.

He argues that Mulcair made a strategic blunder when he 'toned down' his platform.

Mulcair would raise the corporate tax rate, but not tax the upper income 1 per cent or make any changes to Harper’s child care benefit. It is Trudeau who would tax the rich and take the child benefits away from “millionaires.”

A drug-buying scheme that sounds like pharmacare stops just short of being pharmacare. A bold daycare plan would take years to unspool and is predicated on provincial buy-in.

Trudeau would end any bid to buy the F-35 fighter jet, leaving Mulcair to muddle in the middle of the jet fighter debate, criticizing Harper’s defence procurement but defending the open competition process.

It’s not that the NDP hasn’t put an electoral package on the table. It is that they seem reluctant to go the extra, bold step in selling their ideas because Mulcair got trapped in the cautious front-runner frame of mind.

Now he has a niqab problem in Quebec. He has had to spend too much time threading the needle on issues — and taking on Trudeau instead of Harper.

Similarly on the question of the environment and pipelines, proximity to power has forced Mulcair to pull his punches.

His position on the Energy East pipeline sounds murky to this ear and he has to be careful of the opposition to the pipeline in Quebec, home to the lion’s share of his support, while appearing sufficiently responsible on the energy sector to look like a man who could run the country. It is a tight fit politically.

An election campaign is a lousy place for the timid. To some you may appear indecisive, to others insincere.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's a Dog Eat Dog World in GOP Politics

Just how Tea Party does a Republican have to be now to get elected?  In North Carolina, Repug representative Renee Ellmers won office five years ago by defeating an incumbent Democrat she smeared for supporting a "Victory Mosque" in lower Manhattan.

Since then Renee's shown glimpses of moderation on women's reproductive rights, gay marriage and immigration - and it looks as though it's going to cost her. Ellmers' challenger, Kay Daly is bringing some firepower to the race.

But America's Dick of the Week honours have to go to South Dakota's Donald Anthony Watson for, well, shooting himself in the dick and then trying to blame it on a black guy. Watson, a convicted felon, was illegally trying to buy a hand gun. He put it in his pants, it went off, and the bullet struck Dickless Don where no man ever wants to be hit. When cops checked Watson's apartment it was obvious his story about being mugged by a black guy in the alley was nonsense. Apparently the neighbours' comments about having heard him howling in pain earlier in the evening caused Watson to come clean about his dirty tricks and damaged dick.

It Gets Worse - They Knew, Years Ago

Volkswagen officials knew, at least as far back as 2011, that their diesel engine emissions software was rigged.

A Volkswagen engineer warned the company about cheating over its emission tests as early 2011, a German newspaper reports.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung says the warning emerged during VW's current investigation into the scandal.

Separately, Bild am Sonntag said the internal inquiry had found that parts supplier Bosch had warned Volkswagen not to use its software illegally.

One of VW's own engineers blew the whistle on the gamey software years ago. Bosch also warned Volkswagen. Two warnings that have surfaced so far and yet the company kept churning out these cars, kept them flooding onto the streets of Europe, Canada and elsewhere for years right up until they were exposed.


According to The Globe and Mail, VW officials knew about the rigged software much earlier, 2007, right from the start. That was the date of the warning letter from Bosch.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Suzuki's "Sanctimonious Crap"

In the red corner, Trudeau. In the green corner, Suzuki. The bell sounds, it's on.

Justin Trudeau might as well have been speaking for the leaders of all the major parties when he referred to David Suzuki's policy on shutting down the Athabasca Tar Sands as "sanctimonious crap."

The renowned scientist, broadcaster and activist says Trudeau called him personally June 28, 2015 to talk about the Liberal platform on climate change that was to be revealed the next day. “I didn’t call Justin, he called me,” Suzuki said. “He wanted an endorsement and he wanted to tell me exactly what his program was.”

For the record: Justin Trudeau’s speech on the environment: June 29, 2015

The program includes support for the Keystone XL pipeline, a rejection of the Northern Gateway pipeline and a commitment to work with the provinces to establish a cap-and-trade system.

“I said, ‘Justin, stop it, you’re just being political, you just want to make headway in Alberta,’” Suzuki says he told Trudeau. “You’re for the development of the tar sands, you’re for the Keystone pipeline, but you’re against the Northern Gateway, you’re all over the damn map!”

Suzuki went on to advise Trudeau that taking the target of a 2 degree rise in temperature seriously means 80 per cent of the oil sands has to stay in the ground. Suzuki believes stopping oil sands development will mean “no debate about pipelines or expanding railways or shipping stuff offshore—none of that comes into it.”

Suzuki says this is when the exchange turned nasty. “He said, ‘I don’t have to listen to this sanctimonious crap. I proceeded to call him a twerp.”

Suzuki says he has not spoken to Thomas Mulcair or Stephen Harper about their climate change or their plans for the environment. “My feeling is that none of the parties except for the Greens is really taking it seriously.”

I have to admit being sorely tempted to set aside my commitment to the Green Party and vote strategically in this election, but I can't. Whether it's Trudeau, Mulcair or Harper, they all support the continuation of the Tar Sands fiasco bickering among themselves only as to the best way to get dilbit to "tidewater." That's the stuff of petro-politics and petro-politics today is the politics of nihilism.

I just can't do it. I cannot vote for any of them.

Voices On Neoliberalism

The late Tony Benn.

Naomi Klein on the global neoliberalism.

Well, When You Put It That Way. The Staggering Cost of an Ice Free Arctic.

Brace yourselves.  When miscreants like Harper and his polar petro-pal Putin think of an ice free Arctic dreams of oily sugarplums dance through their pointy little heads. Civilization-destroying wealth is on their minds, nothing else.  Time for a reality check.

A new study explores not the dubious seabed bounty but the cost to mankind of the loss of the Arctic sea ice and it dwarfs the oil wealth.

The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the global average, and as it warms, its permafrost layer melts, releasing carbon dioxide and methane gases. By 2200, the economic impact of these additional atmospheric emissions could be a stunning $43 trillion, project researchers from the University of Cambridge and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Boulder, Colorado, in a paper published earlier this month in the journal Nature Climate Change.

To calculate the toll of Arctic emissions, the researchers used a scenario developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which predicts human-related emissions up to 2100. Based on one model of that scenario, they calculated potential global emissions-related costs from factors including lost agricultural land, human health problems and even higher air-conditioning bills due to warming temperatures, over the next two centuries.

Even assuming that humans manage to curb their own emissions by 2100, the researchers predicted that the total cost of climate change would be about $326 trillion by 2200. Once they included permafrost emissions, that figure rose to US$369 trillion.

That’s as much as every country’s GDPs in 2014, added together, and then multiplied by five.

It's important to keep in mind that the costs of our ice-free Arctic represent one aspect of the overall costs we'll bear from the impacts of climate change.  The burden on civilization and all life on Earth neither begins nor ends at the Arctic Circle.  These costs will damage our civilization, they'll disrupt our economies and they'll destabilize societies, some far worse than others. Some of this is already happening and the knock-on effects - the loss of biodiversity, the freshwater crisis, civil wars and mass migrations - can be devastating, insoluble. There are things we simply cannot accommodate and cannot fix. 

Friday, September 25, 2015


It doesn't matter much except to people of the Pacific coast of North America. It's called "The Blob" - a vast area offshore that is unusually warm, by some accounts up to 3C warmer than normal water temperatures. It's messing up marine life and doing a few other things and it might impact on the evolving El Nino and there's not a damned thing we can do about it.

The Blob has now split up with the southern chunk off the coast of California and Baja. The northern part is centered off the coast of British Columbia between Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii.  It sort of looks like this:

But now the Atlantic has developed a Blob of its own only this one is a cold water event. It looks like this:

The Atlantic blob is shown as that expanse of dark blue off the southeastern tip of Greenland, immediately south of Iceland.

Prior studies have predicted such a trend. Climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research) and Michael Mann (Penn State) published a paper in the March issue of Nature Climate Change which found that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC, is growing weaker.

The scientists hypothesized that "conspicuous cooling" in the northern Atlantic could be "due to a reduction in the AMOC over the twentieth century and particularly after 1970." A possible contributor to this trend is the "melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet," which they say is infusing the area with cold, fresh water, which is then interfering with the interplay between the varying temperatures and levels of salinity that drive the current.

The Washington Post's Chris Mooney questions whether the Atlantic Blob is the telltale of a weakening of the Atlantic Ocean conveyor:

I was formerly somewhat skeptical about the notion that the ocean 'conveyor belt' circulation pattern could weaken abruptly in response to global warming. Yet this now appears to be underway, as we showed in a recent article, and as we now appear to be witnessing before our very eyes in the form of an anomalous blob of cold water in the sup-polar North Atlantic.

Mooney writes that, if this trend continues, "there could be many consequences, including rising seas for the U.S. East Coast and, possibly, a difference in temperature overall in the North Atlantic and Europe."

Whatever is happening in the North Atlantic, it doesn't look like there's a goddamned thing we can do about it now.  Same, same for the Pacific. We're all just along for the ride at this point. Buckle up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Dethroning Climate Change Skeptics

The influential Associated Press style book is rewriting the rules for writing about climate change deniers.

Among other things they're no longer to be called "skeptics" because that demeans real skeptics.

Scientists who consider themselves real skeptics – who debunk mysticism, ESP and other pseudoscience, such as those who are part of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry – complain that non-scientists who reject mainstream climate science have usurped the phrase skeptic. They say they aren’t skeptics because “proper skepticism promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” That group prefers the phrase “climate change deniers” for those who reject accepted global warming data and theory. But those who reject climate science say the phrase denier has the pejorative ring of Holocaust denier so The Associated Press prefers climate change doubter or someone who rejects mainstream science.

At least AP hasn't ruled out "moron."

The Environmental Time Bomb We Never Talk About

There are major food security threats building around the world and yet there's very little public discourse over what it is, what it means, what we can do about it and what may befall mankind if we don't act.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a grim warning in March of this year that, globally, farmland is being rapidly degraded through industrial level agriculture and, unless we implement radical changes, most of it may be gone - yes, gone - within 60-years.

Here's the thing.  The FAO report has been the subject of research and analysis over the past several years.  Studies from botanists, agronomists, horticulturalists and others have been piling up and they're still coming in.  In the poorer, least food secure countries the soil degradation seems to be happening faster but, according to one study I came across last year, even in the developed world our best farmland is already experiencing some degradation.

This predicament was addressed today in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star.

Moving away from producing vegetables and towards cereals and oils has been made possible by trading agreements that allow us to import the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables from places like California. This is a fine system when it works, but the low Canadian dollar and the drought in California mean that our food prices, and in particular the price of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, are rising much faster than inflation.

As a result, our domestic food supply looks pretty dismal. As most of us know, nutritional guidelines suggest about 50 per cent of our diets, when measured in dietary servings, should be fruits and vegetables. However, when we convert the food we have in Canada into dietary servings, we discover that only 11 per cent of our food is actually fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, about a quarter of our food supply are oils and fats (which should only make up about 3 per cent of our diets) and another quarter of our supply are sugars, which we should be cutting back on.

While it would be tempting to simply blame consumers’ love of fat and sugar, or farmers’ chasing high corn and soy prices, for this situation in many ways these issues are linked to policy.

One of the negative consequences of the large trading agreements that our federal government has embraced has been a loss in our food processing industry. Because our vegetable farmers are relatively uncompetitive when compared with California, New Mexico or Florida, liberal trade agreements have allowed North America’s fruit and vegetable processing industry to move south. This means that Canada has lost more than 143 food manufacturing plants and shed 24,000 jobs since 2008. It also means fewer markets for vegetable producers.

...over the past 10 years, we have seen Canadian farmers plant significantly more corn and soybeans (up by a third in terms of hectares between 2006 and 2013) and less forage crops and vegetables (we lost about 6,000 hectares of vegetable production). From an environmental perspective, therefore, we are losing crop diversity and this means poorer soil health and more agrochemicals. According to the UN, pesticide use in particular has risen between 2006 and 2010 (the last year for which data are available).

The California drought illustrates how we may be setting ourselves up for a hard fall through our engineered vulnerability to crop failures in other areas. The kicker to this is that, in the process of this industrialized, free trade agriculture, we're actually harming our limited stocks of productive farmland.

To the Whole Foods crowd it's out of sight/out of mind. They find what they want on the well-stocked aisles, perhaps grumble a bit at a hefty price here or there, and then load up the SUV for the trip home.

"It's Not Doing Any Good" - Our Failed Air War against ISIS

The Independent's Robert Fisk has been reporting on all things Middle Eastern for three decades now. When it comes to knowing the region, he's it.  Naturally, a lot of his attention of late has been focused on ISIS and the West's air war against the Islamist movement that Fisk describes as a "cult."

His take on our "coalition" air war is that we should just shut it down, it's not working.  In Fisk's opinion the key to shutting down ISIS is (as I've been writing for months) getting the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, to clean up their own mess, to take down the monster of their own making.

To Fisk, ISIS is not an ideological movement, however misguided. Rather, it is an emotionless machine — a weapon designed to counter any American shift toward Shiite Iran.
Whose weapon? He didn’t exactly answer that question. But he did say that peace can come only when Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar make clear to ISIS that the game is over.

These damned Sunni sheikhs, princes and emirs are supposedly our allies and yet they launch outfits like al Qaeda and ISIS and then, when they go rogue, expect us to intervene while they sip sweet tea in their palaces.  Meanwhile, their military effort is focused on beating the hell out of the Houthis in Yemen who, just coincidentally, are battling al Qaeda and ISIS in their country.  In other words, the Saudis and their Sunni allies are flying airstrikes in support of al Qaeda and ISIS forces in Yemen. Yet they're our allies.

As Fisk notes our noble bombing campaign is not having any meaningful impact on ISIS. For all the good we're doing - leaving all the bullshit aside - we might as well pack it in and come home.

I know what I want for Christmas.  All I want is my government, which ever party that might be, to promise that Canada won't get into any more wars that it cannot or is not prepared to win.  We left Kosovo in a mess. Afghanistan is a mess. Libya - a mess, naturally. Now we're pissing into the wind in Syria and Iraq. This American "permawar" that we keep getting sucked into is achieving nothing except to empower Islamist radicalism.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A German Call for "Planetary Guardrails"

From the WBGU, Germany's climate advisory council, a call for environmental/ecological guardrails. It's about more than slashing carbon emissions. It's about defining limits of mankind's ecological footprint on everything from ocean acidification, soil degradation, biodiversity collapse and, yes, global warming.

My impression is that this horse has already left the barn. This would have been a grand notion if the nations of the developed world had embraced it twenty or thirty years ago. That, of course, didn't happen.

They're right about the need for these guardrails but, I fear, it's wishful thinking. What they envision would require some sharp limits on the developed nations' economies and what legislature, what parliament, what congress would impose that today?

Did Trudeau Blunder by Rejecting the F-35?

From everything I've learned about that warplane, Trudeau made the right call only it might not have been the right time.

The overdue, overpriced, under-performing F-35 is not the aircraft Canada needs unless we're planning on attacking China or Russia and, if we did, that would invite some massive retaliation from people who have some impressively powerful weapons.

At home and in the newly militarized Arctic, the F-35 would be of extremely limited use. It can't go very far. It can't go very fast. It can't carry very much fuel or payload. It can't even go stealthy without the support of sophisticated aerial intelligence aircraft such as AWACS and JSTARS and Canada isn't buying any of those, not now, not ever.

As the head of the US Air Force Air Combat Command said recently, it's not a fighter. The very limited number of missiles it carries are strictly defensive, a last chance to avoid destruction by intercepting fighters. If it does get in a dogfight, it's trapped, doomed.  It very quickly becomes the world's most expensive lawn dart.

I think the NDP leader knows what Trudeau knows - unless Harper is re-elected, the F-35 is toast. But is canceling out on the F-35 a suitable election platform? I seem to recall Jean Chretien promising to cancel the Mulroney/Campbell government's plan to buy a fleet of very expensive anti-submarine helicopters for our navy. Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't that occur during the pivotal 1993 election?

Mulcair took a shot at Trudeau for not waiting until there had been a full competition before deciding the F-35's fate. Fair enough, it's an election and his momentum seems to have stalled. I wonder, however, how many of the NDP rank and file would regret seeing the F-35 eliminated? My guess is very, very few.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like this election has run out of steam? From Trudeau's perspective was this just an attempt to stir something up - something, anything? From Mulcair's perspective could he have done anything else but criticize Trudeau? It just seems, to me at least, as though the whole life has gone out of this campaign and there's really nothing much to say beyond repeating what's already been said again and again.

Wait, I know! How about going to bat for those poor Canadians who got stuck with Volkswagen diesels? Tell'em we're going to cross the Rhine again to finish what we left undone in 1945. That's the ticket.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Mulcair to Spend More Than Harper on Veterans.

My stomach churned a little bit when I saw the photo of Tommy with some old, bemedalled vets rolling out his platform of hundreds of millions more in funding for Canadian vets. That's when I knew those vets were mere props in Tommy's campaigning.

You don't offer money to disabled war vets. That's what Harper did. Mulcair is simply upping the ante.

Money is something you provide, not something you calculate for maximum political benefit. Money is whatever these vets need as the decades pass. As I've written before, my first six decades were spent living with a horribly wounded WWII vet, my Dad. He was a magnificent athlete before he boarded that troop ship in Halifax. It wasn't the same man who came back.

Still and all, my Dad did well after a few years finally getting re-established. This ex-foundary hand found an executive spot, first in chemicals, later in specialty steels. He made a lot of money and he paid a lot of taxes.  My older brother was the first in either family to attend and graduate from university. All three of his sons would wind up with bachelors' and professional degrees.

Dad did well by his country. He made good money and he never balked at paying equally good taxes. It was my Dad who made me understand that taxes were not a universal obligation, that the most advantaged got the most advantages and it was fair that they pay higher taxes.

Anyway, he was a great citizen; a real, no matter how ordinary, a real Canadian. He thought of the wrecked body he brought home and his friends who remain over there, underground, as an investment in the country. He had to find some way to rationalize his nightmares. He grew a belief in this country that he'd never have had tripping a steam hammer in the forge.

As he got older, his conditioned worsened - an immensely strong but equally old man who has to relent. Mom was dead and he was living alone, his closest son a hundred miles or so distant.

Dad's last few years of life were tough on him physically. Three times I spent several days with daily briefings from his doctor at the time about how, surely, he must be dying. "Prepare yourself. Make your travel arrangements. He'll probably never see you again."

Twice they were wrong. Dad staged what they found to be unbelievable recoveries and they decried the slightest ability to account for it medically. The third time was when, a few days before, he stopped eating anything, even refusing water.

Then he was gone.

I can say, without the slightest hesitation, that he would not have had that last ten to fifteen years without the incredible support of what he always pronounced the "D-V-A." I know what, in his heart, he meant. I dealt with these people on his behalf as he became enfeebled.

I can also say that, without the support of these people and successive governments, my Dad and Mom would not have been able to so enjoy their last 20-years together.  After so many bad years, all the loss and sacrifice, they were rewarded at the end. How did that happen.

Decent governments didn't talk money, except for budgeting, as obviously they weren't limited to some funding regime. If my Dad needed it, it was his. If he deserved it, maybe even just a bit more was his.  Seriously, they were about as committed a bunch of people as I've ever encountered. They even had a woman come in twice a week to give him a proper bath. When I needed their help on his behalf they never shirked. They talked me though everything for what I wanted to do and even what I needed to do afterward. The focus was never on cost or resources so much as it was on preserving the individual's dignity.

What's wrong with a fixed term compensation system.

Plenty. It's actuarially corrupt. It refuses to see that, as a wounded vet gets older, his wounds may treat him differently, even worsen catastrophically. It's nothing for wounds you sustained before 1945 to come back to claim your life 70-years later.

When government's approach is to impose a contractual, "take it or leave it - only we can force you to take it" approach, it's an affront to basic, human decency. I have only to imagine my own father, at the ridiculous age of 92, falling to the brutality of Harper's plan.

Mulcair says he'll pump $400+ million more into veterans spending. That's a political game and shame on any politician who emulates Harper.

Veterans spending? You spend what it takes. If that's more than you would prefer to spend, tough.  You send these kids into harm's way to be killed or mutilated on our behalf, then it becomes our obligation to ensure you don't dishonour us and, far worse, them.

You pay what it costs. You spend what it takes. You can't begin to compensate them for what they've done, what they've lost and yet most of them would do it again tomorrow if only they could somehow be made whole again. You can rarely provide value for what they have sacrificed. They're not looking at it that way. Why are you?

You pay - every last dime - of what is needed in funding. You don't defend this generosity and kindness for none is required. You sure as hell don't boast of it or exploit it in politicking.

In my Dad's six decades as "Dead Eye"  I saw how government's concern about the welfare of our wounded and the dead's dependents was directly proportional to the public's awareness of them.  Oh, by both Odin and Freya, trust me - when you're out of mind, you are in trouble.

The worst I ever saw was when legitimate claimants, who might have spent a decade or up to three, psychologically never fit to return to civilian life, were leaving the alleys to find a way back and getting swept aside.

You don't ask, you just pay. You get these people and you bring them in and you give them the best possible chance they might ever have to find their way back to all of us. The devil take us if we say we don't want to pay it and would choose instead to burn that bridge.

There is no budget for this. Anyone who prescribes any number is a charlatan.

This Might Be the Mother of All Class Action Lawsuits

The operative principle is that fraud vitiates (negates) consent. When a person is induced to enter a contract on the strength of fraudulent misrepresentation, the standard remedy is rescission of the contract. The contract is deemed rescinded and the parties are restored to their position prior to entering into the contract.

Now we have a situation involving vehicles equipped with Volkswagen's vaunted "Clean Diesel" or TDI engine.There are many like me who bought the vehicle because of its advertised low emissions and fuel economy. It turns out we were sold a bill of goods.

Volkswagen used a software trick to contrive the low emissions and fuel economy. When emissions testing equipment was being used the engine detected what was going on and responded by turning on the full emissions-control system. In ordinary operation part of the emissions-control hardware was deactivated to give increased performance and fuel economy.

It was a deliberate deception. Government regulators were deceived and so too were purchasers of the Volkswagen vehicles.

VW was exposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency which ordered half a million vehicles recalled and slapped the company with a multi-billion dollar fine. Presumably criminal prosecutions will follow. Somebody hatched this scheme. Software was written and installed in these vehicles. Results were fabricated to mislead regulators and customers alike.

And what of those half-million plus customers? There will be no cheap and dirty fix for this. Their vehicles, once highly regarded, are now infamous in the sort of way that tears the bottom out of market values. They too have been defrauded. They too will claim damages from the manufacturer, possibly the dealers also.

CBC News is reporting that Volkswagen Canada has issued a directive to dealers to stop selling certain models effective today. That's a start.

I'm figuring there'll be one if not several class action lawsuits filed against VW. Where do I sign up?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The F-35 Is Living on Borrowed Time

Barring a comeback win by Stephen Harper, Lockheed's sort of stealthy, light attack bomber will not be adopted by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Mulcair's against it and, now, so is Trudeau.

That means if either of them or the two of them in coalition form the next government, Canada will be looking for something more appropriate to replace our aging fleet of CF-18 Hornets purchased by the government of Pierre Trudeau.

This comes on the heels of an item by Ottawa Citizen defence correspondent, Dave Pugliese, concerning the F-35's laughable capability as a fighter jet.  The article cited US Air Force general Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, admitting the F-35 is no dogfighter. That role, according to Hawk, belongs to the F-35's big brother, the F-22 Raptor.

Of course the Harper government's aborted buy was only for the F-35. The Americans won't allow even their closest allies to buy the F-22, not even Canada which is integral to the States' air defence through NORAD.

Fortunately upgraded versions of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the French Rafale and the Swedish SAAB Griffin are coming online, and they are fighters.

Our Brave New World is Here and We're Wearing It

Your personal privacy may be heading the way of the Dodo bird.

Privacy may be the least appreciated human right we possess given how readily we shed it these days through social media. This election itself has been an eye-opener into how many candidates have been caught up in their own imprudent, misogynistic or racist comments on Facebook and such.

Well, prepare for your privacy to take another body blow, this time from wearable devices, things like FitBit activity monitors.

I got one of these devices recently, a Jawbone Up3 monitor. It tracks things like sleep patterns as well as resting and waking heart rates.  As new apps are written it will track other things. This small bracelet embodies both GPS and Bluetooth. It transmits data by Wi-Fi to the cloud and interacts with an app on your smart phone. The data that it gathers are digested into weekly and monthly email reports. They're available online for a span of up to five years. Five years of your sleep, respiratory and cardiological data floating about on the cloud, the internet, and thankfully that's so secure.

My cardiologist is a real techie. He looked into this Up3 technology and sees great promise in it. He thinks the embedded biometric sensors should be able to detect a medical emergency that could auto-dial a smart phone to place a 911 call transmitting your location (GPS) and pre-entered data about how best to access your home and such. The device could pass along the apparent nature of your medical emergency and monitor things such as heart rate in real time as paramedics travel to you.

There's now even a smartphone case for i-Phones and some Samsung Galaxy models.  It looks like any generic phone case except for two metal squares on the back. If the user senses a heart problem it's a matter of opening an app, placing the index and middle finger tip of each hand on the squares on the back and - voila - instant electrocardiogram. I'm told if the system detects a heart failure event it can autodial a call that will pop up on the doctor's desktop monitor with all the data. At least I think that's how it works.

The promise of these devices is still not proven but we also don't have a measure of the dark side of these technologies. What if your life insurer demands that you wear one of these things and allow the company to access to your data? What if they cajole you into it by announcing premiums won't increase for those who comply but will jump should you refuse? Employers are also becoming conscious of employee health and the impact on sick days and long-term disability claims. What if a condition of employment is that you wear one of these things, on and off the job? Do you want your boss to get a digest of where you're spending your time off the clock, when you get to sleep and when you wake, your heart rate and all the personal information that can convey? My but aren't you a frisky one at 11 o'clock.

And if this information is valuable to your employer who is to say what another company might seek to glean about key personnel at its competitor? Let the hackfest begin.

The thing is that these developments are in the works and they may be coming to your desk soon.  Check out this article from The Guardian last month.  Brave New World indeed.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Kevin Page Versus Tommy Mulcair - Which One Will You Believe?

One man is blowing smoke up your ass. Care to guess?

At the end of the day it comes down to this: who are you going to believe, the most credible and courageous voice from Parliament Hill or the artful dodger, a.k.a. "The Angry Beard", Thomas Mulcair?

One didn't have to be particularly sentient to catch the steady waft of bullshit emanating from Mulcair's spending promises in recent weeks coupled with his assurance that he'd not only balance the federal budget but produce surpluses during his first four years as prime minister.  Move over Virgin Birth, you've got nothing on this guy.

Enter our revered former parliamentary budget officer,  Kevin Page.  The learned Page, who has been advising the NDP, says Mulcair's numbers and his promises are a load of "Swiss cheese" based on recklessly optimistic projections.  HuffPo has all the details.

An Ungovernable World for the 21st Century

I've heard this before from some of the world's top experts in war studies. Now it's James Hansen's turn. The renowned climate scientist is warning that climate change impacts could render all or big parts of the world ungovernable.

Time is running out to transition to renewable energy, Hansen said, yet the most “relevant” people in power aren’t aware of the situation’s gravity. “Even people who go around saying, ‘We have a planet in peril,’ don’t get it. Until we’re aware of our future, we can’t deal with it.”

Mass species extinction, extreme weather events, dry spells and fires are climate change impacts which are happening now. A warmer atmosphere and warmer oceans can lead to stronger storms, he explained. Superstorm Sandy, for example, remained a hurricane all the way up the Eastern seaboard to New York because Atlantic waters were abnormally warm.

“Amplifying impacts” and feedback loops will accelerate the changes, according to Hansen. “It will happen faster than you think,” he said. If major coastal cities become “dysfunctional” because of sea level rise, as he believes is possible, the global economy could be in peril of collapse.

We've long ignored the enormous vulnerabilities embedded within our globalized economy. Things don't have to go down where you live to send you reeling. Everything is interconnected. Supply chains for distribution of resources and components, delivery routes for outsourced production and more are dependent on an unbroken line of stable, governable nations. There are groups today, non-state actors, preparing to exploit those vulnerabilities. Climate change may get there first.

While we're on the topic of the perils of climate change, how's this for a bummer? Scientists are finding giant, prehistoric viruses coming back to life in the melting Arctic permafrost.

30,000 Years Old and Still Going Strong

French scientists announced this week that working in the lab, they have found a “giant virus” in a 30,000-year-old sample of permafrost from Siberia.

It is the second giant virus isolated from the same permafrost sample in two years. The team found each one by infecting Acanthamoeba, a common contemporary protozoan, with viral material from the sample.

“That fact that two different viruses retain their infectivity in prehistorical permafrost layers should be of concern in a context of global warming,” the scientists wrote in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Shit, oh dear.

Well, After All, They Did Invade Poland - a Lot.

The people's carmaker, Volkswagen AG, has been caught with its Teutonic hand in the environmental cookie jar. It's not exactly the Reichstag Fire - but close.

The US EPA is ordering VW to recall half a million cars.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued the company a notice of violation and accused the company of breaking the law by installing software known as a “defeat device” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi vehicles from model years 2009-15. The device is programmed to detect when the car is undergoing official emissions testing, and to only turn on full emissions control systems during that testing. Those controls are turned off during normal driving situations, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the manufacturer, the E.P.A. said.

Now Who's Under the Bus?

Wait, yes, it's orange. Oh my goodness, it's the NDP! Who threw the New Democratic Party under the bus? What, it was Tom Mulcair? The NDP's in-house Manchurian Candidate?

Tommy Angry Beard, determined to persuade voters that his New Democratic Party isn't the NDP at all anymore threw it down when he promised he'd deliver balanced budgets, with a modest surplus, in his first four years as prime minister.

There'll be no Keynesian bullshit for old Tommy, no sir. It'll be austerity all the way. Suck on that, Dippers. You brought him in. You knew his dodgy background - a Thatcherite, a guy who courted Steve Harper for a job, an ex-Liberal, a free trader/market fundamentalist, even a Likudnik. Maybe he didn't shag your mom but, in fairness, who's to know for sure?

As for me well whatever second thoughts I might have had about "strategic voting" evaporated when I read an interview in which your boy Tom said he wasn't against pipelines, just Harper's pipelines. Tommy's pipelines will be better than Steve's, prettier maybe.

I'm not up on these things but maybe you New Dems still have time to find a new leader, someone well to the Left of Tommy. I hear there's this guy who just came available - Tony Abbott.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Come October 20th, I Know What I'll Be Doing

When I created this blog many years ago I dedicated it to the "restoration of progressive democracy." I chose the term "progressive" quite deliberately, knowing that it has a genuine meaning. It's more than "to the left of that other guy," the context in which it has come to be popularly known today.

At its heart, progressivism focuses on the eternal struggle between labour and capital. It recognizes that in a true, liberal democracy, government must regulate this struggle to ensure; for the benefit of the nation, its people and its commerce; that labour remains superior to capital. This is how nations achieve greatness.

Don't take it from me. Take it from Teddy Roosevelt and, before him, Abraham Lincoln.  Read it with your own eyes. The basic precepts are clearly spelled out in Roosevelt's "Square Deal" speech delivered at Osawatomie, Kansas in the summer of 1910.

Read it, absorb it, and then tell me you'll be content with a Mulcair government or a Trudeau government should either man prevail over Harper next month.

One fundamental tenet of progressivism is equality of opportunity to ensure that all individuals have access to the means to make of themselves as much as they possibly can.  Among those "means" are education, health care and a free and open society.

Progressivism recognizes that corporatism leads to cartels that in advancing their own ends thwart the very "means" progressivism seeks to nurture. One example is Canada's corporate media cartel.  A healthy, progressive, liberal democracy must have an informed public. The cornerstone of that is a truly free press. The hallmark of a free press is how it is owned. In order to ensure a free press in service to the public it is necessary that the media be owned in such a way as to offer the public access to information from many voices and the broadest possible range of opinion from far Left to far Right and everything in between.

Those objectives are defeated when, through concentration of ownership and cross-ownership, media outlets fall into the control of increasingly fewer owners, invariably powerful corporations. You know it's happening when newsrooms are hollowed out or closed altogether. That's when you begin hearing just one or two voices, all that are required to disseminate the corporate message.  Information and opinion blur, facts are spun, the public is left confused or misled. A misinformed public cannot vote freely and that's the purpose of corporate media. That's how media voices go from being the watch dog of government and transform into government's lap dog. Theirs is a powerfully symbiotic relationship in which the only losers are you and me and the generations to follow ours.

Do you hear the opposition parties promising to break up this powerful instrument of neoliberalism, corporatism, that so besets our democratic freedom? I don't. The Greens have a policy to restore a free press to Canada but, let's face it, they're a few years away from coming to power.

This is why I refer to today's political leadership as grey suits stuffed with wet cardboard. This blanket of neoliberalism that took hold of our country from the era of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney has smothered political vision in our nation. Our once moderately broad political spectrum has shriveled up, atrophied. Today everybody wants to be "centrist" even though the political centre, the nation's keel, has moved well to the right from what was just a few decades ago. This migration has not occurred accidentally. It has been steered (perhaps even herded) by globalization and free market fundamentalism.

The shift from liberal democracy to illiberal democracy isn't some seismic event. It occurs gradually, incrementally. You may have a sense of it but you don't feel it - until it's too late by which time it is a fait accompli. In an illiberal democracy you still get to vote only your vote becomes increasingly irrelevant. What is a vote if the person casting it has been misled or confused? The value in that vote and the power associated with it transfers to the agent who sows deception and confusion, the puppeteer who pulls the strings even as the ballot is cast.  A free press makes that corruption far more difficult but we don't have one of those any longer and nobody is suggesting we shall in the future.

We are gradually distanced from our government. It knows more and more about us and we know less and less about it.  Secret government is, even at its best, the harbinger of illiberal democracy. Secrecy shifts the balance of power from citizen to the state. It undermines the public's constitutional protections and freedoms. Once that curtain of secrecy is raised, government is free to do all manner of things. That's the reason it was created and raised in the first place. It has no other purpose.

The failure of Barack Obama began in his decision not to prosecute officials of the former regime for their crimes. When he did that he fettered many of the prohibitions America needed to prevent a recurrence of those past excesses. He has done some wonderful things but Obama has not dismembered America's imperial presidency. He has not even restored the crown jewel of Magna Carta, habeus corpus.

I have no confidence that, no matter how well intentioned, either Mulcair or Trudeau will pay more than lip service to progressivism should they form our next government. Progressivism is one of those things that's not bequeathed to the public. It is something that is achieved through demanding it, forcing the hands of those who have no interest in yielding to it.

Progressivism is about the future. It is about leaving a better, more responsive government for our children. It is about rehabilitating social cohesion and pushing back the forces of inequality. It is about restoring liberal democracy to its rightful place. This is going to be a difficult century for our grandkids and they shouldn't have to fight alone to break the shackles of neoliberalism and illiberal democracy.

Although the Square Deal speech is a century old, these are not fanciful but quaint notions. These principles are how we restore progressive democracy, true liberal democracy, to our nation.  Read it. Use it as I do to recalibrate your political and moral compass. See how much will remain to be done when you rise on the morning of October 20.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Best Lawyer Joke - EVER

I like good lawyer jokes. They're far and few between. Everyone seems to have one but they're usually just some version of one of four.  Boring.

Best lawyer joke ever.  From some Stephen Fry game show on BBC.

Q: What do lawyers and sperm have in common?

A: One in 50-million has a chance of becoming a human being.

Yes!  Love it.  A new, genuinely original, lawyer joke.

BTW - I used to keep track of clients' lawyer jokes with a sort of hash mark on the bottom left side of the file. When, but only when, I won the client's case I would count up the notches and add an appropriate amount to the fee. The odd thing was, even those in truly dire straits couldn't help but tell lawyer jokes to the one guy in whose hands they had entrusted their fate. If you're ever in that situation, do yourself a favour - DON'T.

Republicans Debate Again Tonight. Trump's Leading. Here's What Might be Wrong.

When it comes to political debates, few rise to the mark of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.  The Republicans' Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas for the Democrats went at it, hammer and tong, in seven, three-hour debates and they were debating nothing less than the future of slavery in America.

The way the debates were structured is interesting. The first guy up spoke for 60-minutes. His opponent spoke for 90-minutes. Then the first guy got a 30-minute rebuttal. As the incumbent, Douglas got to open in four of the debates.

Those were debates.  Issues discussed and argued at length. You've got to believe something to be able to effectively discuss it for 90-minutes. You have to have a message that's forceful and effective.

When I was in school students had to recite a quota of lines of poetry or prose. The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service was popular with the boys because it was vivid, easy to remember and quite long.

Today's debates are a pale shadow of what we used to do in high school. Hell, there's airtime involved. Nobody gets to talk for more than a couple of minutes just enough to recite a few talking points, parry an opponent's attack and, if lucky, stick him with a quick thrust you hope the folks at home will remember.

These modern debates aren't really debates at all. There's no time for meaningful discussion of ideas.  No time to convey to the electorate why they should support you and your vision, not the other candidate's. It's all about zingers, the rhetorical equivalent of spitballs. Sarah Palin managed to write hers on the palm of her hand.

And that, kids, is why people like Donald Trump can emerge victorious in the Republican debates. In fact that's why all but one or two of them are spared the humiliation of having to reveal they don't have ideas in their heads at all, just bullet points memorized.

Okay, so we've got the realities of television and audiences with the attention span of ruminants but why can't we at least give them 15 or 20-minutes because there's nothing better to expose the idiots, to cull the herd. Can you imagine what would have happened if Sarah Palin was told to say something, anything, coherent for 20-minutes without notes? She would have self-destructed at a podium on live TV. If she had to be capable of meeting that standard, McCain would never have considered her.

But it is what it is which is why most of the people at these debates are really just sideshow hustlers, carnies. And this is how the Republicans will choose their leader.

Hey Kids, Christmas Isn't Far Away. This Year, Tell Dad You Want a "Cruzado" Under the Tree

Cruzado, it's just another AR-15 assault rifle knock off only with that little Heavenly difference. When you slap in another 30-round mag, you'll see the Templar Cross and shield. On the other side there's this:

The makers claim the cross and scripture will ensure that their instruments of death never fall into the hands of Muslims. How thoughtful.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Other Shoe Drops

It was barely a year ago that a report came out from the World Wildlife Foundation in conjunction with the London Zoological Society that warned terrestrial life forms had declined by a staggering 50% since the 1970s. Well the WWF and LZS have just completed their inventory of Earth's marine life - mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, the lot - and the results are almost identical. We've lost, as in wiped out, about half of the planet's marine life since the 1970s.

Here's a quiz. What hasn't declined by 50% since 1970? What has doubled since 1970? Full points if you guessed mankind. That's right. We've doubled in numbers while every other variety of life has been halved or, in too many cases, fallen extinct entirely.

We've been pretty voracious in our consumption especially when it comes to fish. Our industrial fleets have been collapsing one global fishery after another, "fishing down the food chain."

But, just like the earlier report on the cataclysmic loss of terrestrial life this report on marine life is almost certain to be flushed straight down the memory hole in a matter of days. There'll be no outpouring of concern, no demands for immediate action, nothing. And the price of our utter indifference will be extinction. This is a one-way road and we don't care.

Stephen Harper's "Kiddie Porn Surplus"

Let's call a spade a spade. Once again the Prince of Darkness is doing what he does best - lying straight into the face of the Canadian public.

Harper defends his ersatz budget 'surplus' by admitting that there might have been some government departments that didn't spend all of their budgets but adding that government agencies aren't expected to spend every last dime they're given. Sounds good except it's just another Harper lie.

This item from CBC News last February reveals just how Harper is twisting the truth.  It concerns the RCMP's unspent and 'refunded' budget for child pornography investigations.

Canada's national police force Mounties withheld some $10 million in funds earmarked for its National Child Exploitation Co-ordination Centre and related projects, linchpins of the government's anti-child-pornography agenda.

The cuts, made partly as an RCMP contribution to the government's so-called deficit reduction action plan, have occurred even as the number of child-exploitation tips from the public increase exponentially.

The systematic underfunding is highlighted in a draft report prepared for Public Safety Canada, and obtained through the Access to Information Act.

The document, dated November last year, says the RCMP failed to spend its full $8-million annual budget to catch online child abusers throughout the five-year period ending in 2013.

Maybe there's less kiddie porn. That might account for the savings. Except that's not the case, just the opposite. In 2012 the RCMP received 10,000 tips. By 2015 that had swelled to 40,000 tips a year. The RCMP could have saved money, perhaps by not doing intimidation door calls on behalf of Kinder Morgan but it seems they chose to lighten up on child pornographers instead.

And let's not even get into what they've done to deserving veterans. 

WHAT? Assad Was Willing to Go Three Years Ago and We Ignored the Deal?

Okay, this is directly from former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate, Martti Ahtissari.  He says Russia came up with a deal in 2012 whereby Bashar Assad would step down as president of Syria as part of a comprehensive peace plan.

Ahtissari says that France, Britain and the US turned their backs on the proposal, confident that Assad would soon be deposed anyway.

Former Finnish president and Nobel peace prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari said western powers failed to seize on the proposal. Since it was made, in 2012, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions uprooted, causing the world’s gravest refugee crisis since the second world war.

“It was an opportunity lost in 2012,” Ahtisaari said in an interview.

Officially, Russia has staunchly backed Assad through the four-and-half-year Syrian war, insisting that his removal cannot be part of any peace settlement. Assad has said that Russia will never abandon him. Moscow has recently begun sending troops, tanks and aircraft in an effort to stabilise the Assad regime and fight Islamic State extremists.

Ahtisaari won the Nobel prize in 2008 “for his efforts on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts”, including in Namibia, Aceh in Indonesia, Kosovo and Iraq.

On 22 February 2012 he was sent to meet the missions of the permanent five nations (the US, Russia, UK, France and China) at UN headquarters in New York by The Elders, a group of former world leaders advocating peace and human rights that has included Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

...Ahtisaari said he passed on the message to the American, British and French missions at the UN, but he said: “Nothing happened because I think all these, and many others, were convinced that Assad would be thrown out of office in a few weeks so there was no need to do anything.”

What Did We Expect?

It's been a while since the Americans started telling us about this invisible wunder-plane they were developing. Many years later they're still developing the F-35, their overpriced, overdue, underperforming, bottom-tier stealth warplane.

The rationale for the F-35 was that we needed a stealth light attack bomber to, well, attack some nation with sophisticated air defences. "Some" is code for either or both China and/or Russia.  To the folks in Beijing and Moscow there was never much doubt who the invisible warplane was aimed at and so they took advantage of the endless development delays to figure out how to make the invisible visible again. Word has it they've done a fine job.

The Russkies have deployed what many consider the world's finest surface to air missiles, the S-300 and the new and improved S-400 now just entering service. The Chinese have focused on the development of multi-band, multi-sensor detection and jamming systems to uncloak the F-35's limited stealth and disable its systems. Both China and Russia are also nearing deployment of their own stealth fighters and at some point we'll admit that stealth is far better for the defenders than the attackers.

The Russians and the Chinese are focusing on what's known as A2/AD. That stands for Anti-Access/Area Denial. We take offence at this but what A2/AD is all about is keeping us out of their airspace. How dare they?

“The advantage that we had from the air I can honestly say is shrinking,” Gen. Frank Gorenc said, “not only from with respect to the aircraft that they’re producing, but the more alarming thing is their ability to create anti-access/area denied [zones] that are very well defended” by batteries of ground-based anti-aircraft missiles.

After embarrassing fumbles in the 2008 invasion of Georgia, the Russians embarked on “a very large modernization” to improve both training and equipment, Gorenc said. “They learned a lot,” he told an increasingly unnerved roundtable of reporters at the annual Air Force Association conference here. “They [improved] quality and quantity.”

Russian fighter jocks are famous for flashy (sometimes fatal) maneuvers at air shows. But Gorenc isn’t solely or even primarily worried about their Top Guns: It’s ground-based radars and missiles that have him most concerned.

“It’s one thing to address an aircraft threat which has increased significantly — which by the way it has –but clearly surface to air missile systems are much cheaper, they’re much more available,” he said. “There’s clearly a whole set of modern long-range surface-to-air missile systems that are being layered in a way that makes access into that area more difficult.”

Gorenc is focused on the anti-aircraft kill zones that extend from two pieces of Russian territory in particularly: Crimea in the Black Sea and Kaliningrad on the Baltic. (He’s also keeping an eye on the Russians in the Arctic, he said, but that’s less immediate).

“Some of the array that’s in Kaliningrad extends into Poland today. That’s a fact,” he said. In other words, launchers on Russian soil can hit targets in NATO airspace. In fact, Gorenc has said in the past that a third of Polish airspace is in the Russians’ range.

Gorenc seems oblivious to the fact that the Russians are responding to our decision to march NATO forces right up to Russia's borders and our stated decision to deploy our stealth light attack (nuclear weapon capable) bombers, our "kick in the front door" warplanes, within spitting distance of the Rodina.

Just what did we expect? We engineered this very outcome.


This illustrates a point that's regularly overlooked.  Sure when we see video of an American supercarrier and its battle group it's easy to see American military omnipotence. They spend way more. They're bigger and badder than anyone. They've got the latest and greatest and loads of it. That's the illusion but it's an illusion.

What this A2/AD business is all about is finding small ways to neutralize seemingly huge advantages.  You see, we're not the best at everything, just most things. There are some things, such as Russia's S-400 missiles, that the other (bad) guys are just way better at. They're defensive weapons and they can keep us out of the adversary's turf and that's really all they need to do.

Time and again we've seen that All the King's Horses and All the King's Men have failed to deliver meaningful, effective outcomes. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, now Syria and Iraq again. We bomb and bomb and bomb and bomb but, when we're done, there's no victory. They've killed a bunch of us, we've killed a shitload of them, but it's all gutterballs and spares and there's always another frame and another after that. You get in this quagmire and you don't get out, not for long anyway, and, day by day, your treasury bleeds out.

We need to understand how severely the nation state is in decline. Borders are no longer inviolate. You don't need tanks to invade just hordes of migrants and refugees will do nicely.  We Westerners don't have the will to resort to the murderous brutality required to enforce our borders. Show up with enough people to overwhelm our border security and, eventually, we'll let you in.

We've freely surrendered several incidents of state sovereignty in pursuit of globalization. We've outsourced both political and judicial functions under free trade agreements in the name of free market fundamentalism. We've allowed corporations to become peer institutions. We really haven't thought this through very well. We never did understand that neoliberalism was just another ideology, based as much on belief, faith if you will, as in fact.

One thing we never grasped was that the state powers yielded to the corporate sector might only be exercised to the extent they directly benefited that sector. Another way to put this is that the powers transferred would only be exercised as and when it suited the new holder and, like most powers that are unexercised, would give rise to vacuums that certain bad actors can exploit.

This weakening of state sovereignty has encouraged the rise of non-state actors from militias to guerrillas, insurgents, terrorists and even criminal bands. They, in turn, are becoming increasingly sophisticated in adopting and exploiting modern technologies. - to be continued

Peeking Under Shifty Harper's Carpet

Canada's information commissioner is taking the Harper government to court to compel release of PMO documents pertaining to Senators Duffy, Wallin, Brazeau and Harb since March of last year.

The PCO identified 28 pages of responsive records, but withheld 27 of those pages, releasing just two emails in which its staff discussed similar access-to-information requests.

PCO claimed every single word on every single one of those 27 pages might jeopardize solicitor-client privilege, or reveal personal information, or third-party information, or details on secret deliberations.

Personally, I'd love to see the phone logs of calls between Harper and his aides and both Nigel Wright and Benjamin Perrin for, say, the past six months. Loki only knows what Shifty has swept under the carpet.

Sue the Bastards. It Could Be Our Last Best Hope.

The next step in the fight to arrest climate change is court action.

I do something that I know or ought to know is probably injurious to others. You are consequently injured by my act. You're entitled to compensation, to be made whole. I'm obliged to pay. It then comes down to an assessment of damages.

I do something that I know or ought to know is probably injurious to others. You are one of those others. You are entitled to an order that I stop doing what is injuring you. It's called an injunction. It restrains me from doing what is foreseeably injurious to you. I don't get to empty my manure spreader into your backyard pool even if I am willing to write cheques.

Those, very loosely stated, are the principles on which major emitters of greenhouse gases may face court action.  They don't own the atmosphere. It's a shared resource. Yet they contaminate it for everyone and it just happens that the contamination they create wreaks proper havoc - everything from dislocation to death on a massive scale - in other places, to other peoples.

Isn't it curious that if an industry discharges toxic waste, the really bad stuff, into one of our own rivers, we won't have it - we sue them. They're required to clean up their mess, compensate those they've harmed and we often slap them with a fine for good measure - at least in theory.

When it comes to distant lands, we've been trying to avoid seeing their claims wind up in some international tribunal by agreeing to fund compensation schemes. However, like all schemes, they've been long on promises and very, very short on funding which was never set to be all that generous to begin with. We just don't want to pay. Those people who are dying, either from climate change impacts (heatwaves, drought, floods) or from trying to escape them, simply don't understand that we're in austerity mode. We're in no mood to give out money. What's their problem, why can't they get it? Sheesh.

An article in The Globe and Mail discusses how the Canadian government and major Canadian corporations (can you say "Big Fossil"?) may soon find themselves dragged before our courts only this time the plaintiffs will matter. They'll be us.

Canada could one day face a lawsuit such as the one that saw a court in The Hague order the Netherlands government to slash greenhouse gases, the lawyer who spearheaded the groundbreaking legal action says.

In that decision, the court ordered the Netherlands to reduce the county’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020, citing the government’s international obligations and its “duty of care” to protect its citizens from the harm that would come with failing to stop climate change. The Dutch government is appealing.

Imagine that, a government having a duty of care to stop harming its own citizens. What a radical concept! That sounds like the handiwork of anarchists, doesn't it? 

As for Big Fossil, they could find themselves in Big Tobacco's shoes which, on reflection, would probably do more than anything else to transition the developed nations to clean, alternative energy. For years their stock prices have been buoyed by a lie - that the trillions of dollars of proven fossil fuel reserves they have logged on their books are real, that is to say they will be extracted, they will be sold and they will be burned. They say this even though we know that what they're depicting for the future would be the end of civilization and most life on Earth.

So, yeah, let's sue the bastards - the federal and provincial governments and their Big Fossil allies. The sooner, the better.