Monday, October 23, 2017

Putin Hints at Russia's Next Super Weapon, Worse Than Nuclear Bombs.

Vlad Putin claims the world is on the brink of developming of a new super weapon.

Vladimir Putin warned a crowd of young students that scientists in Russia will soon break the genetic code and create something "worse than a nuclear bomb".

In a shocking speech yesterday, the Russian leader suggested that his world could soon seen sci-fi super-human soldiers who cannot feel pain or fear.

President Putin said that science is moving at such a fast pace that the world is running out of the time to develop regulation around these eerie advances.

Genetically Modified Humans.

The Russian leader revealed that the possibility of "creating a human with predesigned characteristics" was already around the corner.

"A man has the opportunity to get into the genetic code created by either nature, or as religious people would say, by the God.

"All kinds of practical consequences may follow. One may imagine that a man can create a man not only theoretically but also practically.

"He can be a genius mathematician, a brilliant musician or a soldier, a man who can fight without fear, compassion, regret or pain.

"As you understand, humanity can enter, and most likely it will in the near future, a very difficult and very responsible period of its existence.

"What I have just described might be worse than a nuclear bomb."

War studies experts have written at length about this dynamic, the urge to develop an unwanted weapon out of fear that otherwise you adversary might get it first and use it against you.

In Other Cold War News...

Hide and Seek is back. US Navy surface units in the Mediterranean were caught unaware last May when a new Russian sub launched a salvo of cruise missiles at targets in Syria.  The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier and its battle group had no clue the Russian boat was in the vicinity until those missiles started flying.

For weeks the Bush, it's surface fleet, helicopters and P-8 anti-submarine aircraft tried to track the Krasnodar and repeatedly it eluded its trackers.

The Krasnodar is wrapped in echo-absorbing skin to evade sonar; its propulsion system is mounted on noise-cutting dampers; rechargeable batteries drive it in near silence, leaving little for sub hunters to hear. “The Black Hole,” U.S. allies call it.

The problem isn't so much tracking the sub down, it's having no idea that it's around until it reveals its presence. What that means is that it could have just as easily attacked and sunk the American carrier as stealthily as it did getting into position to launch a volley of cruise missiles.

The US Navy got a taste of this in the South China Sea some time ago when a Chinese sub popped up behind a carrier inside the battle group formation. It too was in a perfect kill shot position.

The U.S. Navy, which for years trained its sub-hunting teams through naval exercises and computer simulations, is again tracking Russian submarines in the Baltic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The challenge extends beyond Russia, which has sold subs to China, India and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in a return to the Dr. Strangelove era, the US Air Force is reported to be planning to put America's venerable B-52 bomber force back on 24-hour nuclear alert. That was stopped in 1991.

The Deviant-in-Chief. This Week's Episode.

We're nearing this year's global climate summit in Bonn, Germany. What a fitting time for Trump to fill the White House environmental advisory post.

And the nomination goes to - Kathleen Hartnett-White!!!

So just who is the diminutive Ms. Hartnett-White and what are her credentials?  Well she has degrees,  a bachelor's and a master's degree, and from Stanford. They were both in humanities and religion. From there she was admitted to doctoral studies at Princeton, again in religion. Oh yeah and she finished one year of law school in Texas. In a nutshell, she's a theology grad.

But there's one thing she does know and that's carbon dioxide, good old CO2. She's called it "the gas of life."  I won't recite the rest. Read it for yourself here and here.

Why That's Certainly Slimming

Only not, perhaps, in a good way. We, mankind, us, you, me - have so f#@ked up our oceans that the creatures who call them home are in a world of woe. That translates into real change. By the end of the century scientists warn that Atlantic Cod in the Barents and Baltic sea could be just one quarter of their current size. The culprit this time? Acidification, the aquatic scourge of our greenhouse gas emissions.

We're doing a lot to redecorate the marine habitat. Plastics, we all know about that. An ocean of plastics. Marine pollution, the toxic runoff of man-made chemicals into coastal waters now triggering oceanic dead zones where fish swim in and don't swim out. Add over-fishing and seabed mining and deepwater oil drilling. And then there's the warming, our heating waters that are driving marine migrations and killing off creatures that can't migrate such as coral. All of that stuff is really lousy but it doesn't hold a candle to ocean acidification which, just in case you're interested, may kill off marine life but, eventually, it will kill us too.

Climate change denialists like to argue about temperatures and such but, like vampires and the noonday sun, they crawl back into their crypts when the conversation gets around to our oceans. That's because the marine science - oceanography, hydrology, marine biology, chemistry and physics - well they're as brilliant as the noonday sun and as hard as concrete. And one of the facts not up for debate is how rapidly our oceans are turning acidic from absorbing atmospheric CO2.

Ocean acidification is progressing rapidly around the world, new research has found, and its combination with the other threats to marine life is proving deadly. Many organisms that could withstand a certain amount of acidification are at risk of losing this adaptive ability owing to pollution from plastics, and the extra stress from global warming.

The conclusions come from an eight-year study into the effects of ocean acidification which found our increasingly acid seas – a byproduct of burning fossil fuels – are becoming more hostile to vital marine life. 


Peter Thomson, UN ambassador for the oceans and a diplomat from Fiji, which is hosting this year’s UN climate change conference in Bonn, urged people to think of the oceans in the same terms as they do the climate. “We are all aware of climate change, but we need to talk more about ocean change, and the effects of acidification, warming, plastic pollution, dead zones and so on,” he said. “The world must know that we have a plan to save the ocean. What is required over the next three years is concerted action.

Ocean acidification is another effect of pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as the gas dissolves in seawater to produce weak carbonic acid. Since the industrial revolution, the average pH of the ocean has been found to have fallen from 8.2 to 8.1, which may seem small but corresponds to an increase in acidity of about 26%. Measures to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide reaching the atmosphere can help to slow down this process, but only measures that actively remove carbon already in the atmosphere will halt it, because of the huge stock of carbon already in the air from the burning of fossil fuels.
Worse still, the effects of acidification can intensify the effects of global warming, in a dangerous feedback loop. The researchers pointed to a form of planktonic alga known as Emiliania huxleyi, which in laboratory experiments was able to adapt to some extent to counter the negative effects acidification had upon it. But in a field experiment, the results were quite different as the extra stresses present at sea meant it was not able to form the extensive blooms it naturally develops. As these blooms help to transport carbon dioxide from the surface to the deep ocean, and produce the gas dimethyl sulfide that can help suppress global warming, a downturn in this species “will therefore severely feed back on the climate system”.
I know, here's an idea. How about we launch an armada of supertankers just full of the highest-carbon ersatz oil that the world should absolutely not be burning at this point? Oh geez, I just slipped out of cognitive dissonance mode again. Okay, that's not such a good idea. It's a really, really terrible idea. 

And here's one other thing you should keep in mind. Ocean acidification is a mass extinction tipping point. Once that tipping point is crossed, nature takes over and it finishes the job. Here's how paleontologist, Peter Ward, sums it up in his book, "Under a Green Sky."

First, the world warms over short intervals of time because of a sudden increase of carbon dioxide and methane... The warmer world affects the ocean circulation systems and disrupts the position of the conveyor currents. Bottom waters begin to have warm, low-oxygen water dumped into them. Warming continues, and the decrease of equator-to-pole temperature differences reduces ocean winds and surface currents to a near standstill. Mixing of oxygenated surface waters with the deeper, and volumetrically increasing, low-oxygen bottom waters decreases, causing ever-shallower water to change from oxygenated to anoxic. Finally, the bottom water is at depths were light can penetrate, the combination of low oxygen and light allows green sulfur bacteria to expand in numbers and fill the low-oxygen shallows. They live amid other bacteria that produce toxic amounts of hydrogen sulfide, and the flux of this gas into the atmosphere is as much as 2,000 times what it is today. The gas rises into the high atmosphere, where it breaks down the ozone layer, and the subsequent increase in ultraviolet radiation from the sun kills much of the photosynthetic green plant phytoplankton. On its way up into the sky, the hydrogen sulfide also kills some plant and animal life, and the combination of high heat and hydrogen sulfide creates a mass extinction on land. These are the greenhouse extinctions.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Imperative of Electoral Reform

It's not just a nice idea. It's more than some feel good proposition. It, electoral reform, may be our society's last best chance of restoring representative democracy.

Justin Trudeau teased us with the promise that 2015 would be the last time Canadians would vote under the first past the post electoral system that has seen a succession of governments that 60 per cent of Canadians didn't support rule us with a majority. Two out of five or something even less than that constitutes a majority.  That's how we would up with Harper. That's how we wound up with Trudeau. Whoever can maintain the most convincing lies until the polls close wins.

I like the way George Monbiot sums up our predicament.

You lost, suck it up: this is how our politics works. If the party you voted for lost the election, you have no meaningful democratic voice for the next five years. You can go through life, in this “representative democracy”, unrepresented in government, while not permitted to represent yourself.

Even if your party is elected, it washes its hands of you when you leave the polling booth. Governments assert a mandate for any policy they can push through parliament. While elections tend to hinge on one or two issues, parties will use their win to claim support for all the positions in their manifestos, and for anything else they decide to do during their term in office.

If you raise objections to their policies, you’re often told, “if you don’t like it, stand for election”. This response is revealing: it suggests that only 650 people out of 66 million have a valid role in national politics, beyond voting once every five years. Political control under this system is so coarse and diffuse that democracy loses all but its crudest meaning.

It is astonishing that we put up with this. The idea that any government could meet the needs of a complex, modern nation by ruling without constant feedback, and actual rather than notional consent, is preposterous.

Electoral reform is perhaps our only remaining way to get ourselves out from under the neoliberal order that forms our political orthodoxy. For that reason alone it is imperative we ditch FPTP and the parties that defend it.

Monbiot argues for periodic referenda along the lines of the Swiss model.

There, the people vote in about ten or a dozen referendums a year, clustered into three or four polling days, challenging federal laws or proposing constitutional amendments. The referendums are triggered when someone can gather enough signatures. These plebiscites foster a strong sense of political ownership: people perceive that government belongs to them. This might explain why, in its survey of 40 nations, the OECD discovered that the Swiss had the highest levels of trust in government. Far from causing voter fatigue, the process stimulates a rich culture of engagement, debate and persuasion. Across the year, around 80% of the electorate vote in referendums.

When I mention the Swiss system, people tend to react with horror. What if, as they often do in Switzerland, people make conservative choices? Well, they are entitled to their conservatism. A true democracy reveals the character of a nation: in Switzerland it is generally conservative. And if you don’t like it, you have the opportunity, through the debates surrounding these plebiscites, to change people’s minds. (There is, however, an argument for preserving some constitutional norms, to prevent majorities from oppressing minorities).

Canada, with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, already affords minority protections. I certainly wouldn't mind turning out to the polls three or four times a year to have a say on how I'm governed.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Is Trump Gearing Up for War?

An executive order signed by Trump late Friday may indicate that the Mango Mussolini has war on his mind.

The order allows Trump, among other things, to press into active duty a thousand retired military pilots.

President Trump signed an executive order Friday allowing the Air Force to recall as many as 1,000 retired pilots to active duty to address a shortage in combat fliers, the White House and Pentagon announced.

By law, only 25 retired officers can be brought back to serve in any one branch. Trump's order removes those caps by expanding a state of national emergency declared by President George W. Bush after 9/11, signaling what could be a significant escalation in the 16-year-old global war on terror.

"We anticipate that the Secretary of Defense will delegate the authority to the Secretary of the Air Force to recall up to 1,000 retired pilots for up to three years," Navy Cdr. Gary Ross, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.

This is serious stuff. Those retired pilots have entered the civilian economy, usually in important positions.  Taking them out of airline cockpits and putting them back in uniform for three years may wreck their civilian careers and cause widespread disruption across the private sector.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and a member of Armed Services Committee, said that the fight against Islamic State and al-Qaeda linked terrorists will be expanding. He spoke to reporters while speaking about the four U.S. soldiers killed Oct. 4 in Niger.

Counter-terrorism rules under President Obama had been too restrictive and ineffective, Graham said.

“The war is morphing," Graham said. "You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You’re going to have decisions made not in the White House but out in the field. And I support that entire construct.”

Last month, President Trump became the third president to renew the post-9/11 state of national emergency, which allows the president to call up the national guard, hire and fire officers and delay retirements.

Those extraordinary powers were supposed to be temporary. But even after 16 years, there's been no congressional oversight of the emergency.

It allows the military to recall retired officers to active duty. A USA Today article about this executive order (or rather, this amendment to an existing executive order) noted that the Air Force has been particularly crucial in military operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, the Air Force has had a pilot shortage brewing for over a decade. In September 2017, military leaders interviewed by United Press International (UPI) that the military was in a crisis. “We're 1,500 pilots short, and if we don't find a way to turn this around, our ability to defend the nation is compromised,” Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, told UPI. Likewise, a report by the RAND corporation, a think tank, stated that the shortage was partially because “employment opportunities are excellent in the private sector.”

There has been little media coverage of the executive order as of Friday evening, beyond the aforementioned USA Today piece. Around the internet, some social media users were alarmed at the nonspecific nature of the term “national emergency,” which seemed to hint at executive overreach. In the /r/Military subreddit, a nonpartisan US military forum with many veterans and enlisted officers, debate raged over the ramifications of the order. “Can someone convince me this isn’t a prelude to war in Korea,” wrote one user with the handle "NotARandomNumber." Others were less conspiratorial. “My guess is that this is the most deficit neutral way to maintain Air Force staffing in the face of upcoming tax cuts. At least that's what I hope,” wrote user "TheBigRedSD4."

If We Don't Get This Right, We May Pay Dearly For Failing

Like most people I had a weak grasp of neoliberalism when ushered in by Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney as our new default governmental operating system.  It's not easy to pin down which is why it's been so hard to challenge.

We tend to recognize neoliberalism by its components, each of us focusing on the aspects we most dislike.  For some it may be globalization, the global economy, the free trade regime. For others it is the surrender of facets of national sovereignty and the weakening of the nation state. Others resent the intrusion of the invisible hand of the marketplace into our democratic fabric. Many associate neoliberalism with the withering of a once robust and broad based middle class and the choking off of social mobility.  Some recognize it as the engine of inequality and social disparity. Others see it as an alien force that insinuates itself between the voting public and those they elect to high office.

The fact is all of those criticisms are demonstrably true. Even the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have broken ranks with neoliberalism. They see it as a socially destructive force, a plague on government. Public intellectuals such as John Ralston Saul have denounced it for what it really is, just another faith-based ideology akin to nothing so much as a religion albeit with a 30-year useful shelf life.  Before his death even Milt Friedman, the high priest of neoliberalism, declared it a failed experiment.

Yet this horribly flawed and malignant political-economic model was embraced not just by the Right but also by the Center and even the Left across the developed economies. First embraced it quickly became deeply embedded in western democracy. It still lives in our political caste today and no matter how flawed and how contradictory or how destructive, it's all they know and none has the courage to chart another course. And, yes, that does include Canada and the current Liberal government.

Is neoliberalism really that bad?  Yes, it is that bad. Here's an example. A major part of the neoliberal theology is the pursuit of perpetual, exponential GDP growth. That is the yardstick by which neoliberals measure success. They persist in this horrible orthodoxy even today despite the clear and abundant evidence that we have already exceeded the limits of growth on this very finite planet, an ecological red line we first crossed in the early 70s.

We're exploiting the Earth's resources at somewhat over 1.7 times the planet's resource carrying capacity. We're doing this by "eating our seed corn," rapidly depleting the planet's reserves. Groundwater is a perfect example. Around the world we've maintained this Green Revolution (that  enabled us to expand our human population by threefold in just one lifetime) by rapaciously depleting our groundwater reserves, our ancient aquifers. We have become mortally dependent on pillaging a limited resource that cannot be replenished at anything beyond a small fraction of our demand. And now many of those critical aquifers are nearing the point of exhaustion. Water is becoming harder to find, in some places impossible, even as the need for it steadily expands.

There is an abundance of examples of the folly of perpetual, exponential growth. You can find them all over this blog but that is not the point of this essay. Time to move on.

As I came to recognize neoliberalist globalism as a genuine threat to our civilization and most non-human life on Earth, I began to explore alternatives we might pursue. As neoliberalism is the ultimate dead end road I decided to head back to see what once existed before we turned this treacherous corner.

I think (I'm not sure but I think) I hit the mother lode when I got to the bedrock of progressivism.

A preliminary matter. You may imagine yourself progressive. You may think the party you support is progressive. We've come to perceive that simply being somewhat to the left of the guy on the right qualifies as progressive. It doesn't.

Progressivism, as I have written repeatedly elsewhere and at length, is a philosophy and a series of principles to guide the relationship between a people and their government for the improvement of the general public rather than the narrow special interest, especially the corporatist element that today holds so much power sapping our democracy. Progressivism is a contradiction of the policies of today's Conservatives, Liberals and even, regrettably, the New Democrats.

When I started this blog more than a decade ago, I wrote, "Dedicated to the restoration of progressive democracy." At the time I was thinking of Pierre Trudeau/Lloyd Axworthy liberalism as I had experienced it as a young man. That's what I wanted to bring back. Then came Dion, Ignatieff and J. Trudeau and I realized liberalism as I once saw it had been extinguished.  Some, especially from the NDP, will disagree with that, obviously, but they would do better to examine how their party abandoned the left and drifted to the center under Layton and Mulcair. They have their own atoning to keep themselves plenty busy.

I believe more fervently today than ever before in the need for a progressive restoration. I no longer believe that can be accomplished within either the Liberal or New Dem parties.

Why do I believe we need to change course so abruptly? Because progressivism is our last hope of rebuilding social cohesion among the Canadian public. We, but especially the generations that will follow mine, will need that cohesion, that common bond of will and purpose, to meet the looming challenges that will confront them over the course of this century. These are challenges that are unprecedented in man's history. They'll run the gamut of natural and man-made catastrophes from climate change (severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; heatwaves and flash droughts; cyclical and severe flooding; disease and pest migration; sea level rise and more) to crop failures, mass migrations, the destabilization and spread of failed states, and, yes, war.  A people divided, distrustful and hostile will be wiped out. The divisions that neoliberalism engenders are already undermining us.

When it comes to social cohesion, hyper-partisanship is enormously destructive. It pulls us apart and tears us down. It says we're good and they're bad. They must be bad for us to be good. The badder we can make them out to be the better we must be. Both sides can play this rancid game constantly widening the rift by sowing distrust, hostility even paranoia.  And what good comes of this? Nothing. It diminishes us and obstructs reconciliation, dismissing that as an impossibility, a moral lapse. The self-righteousness of these types is nauseating.

Two of my best and oldest friends are devout Conservatives. One of them has done particularly great things in public service as counsel, on the bench, and in elected office.  That particular friend knows that I will always be of the Left as I know he will always be of the Right but that has no bearing on our friendship or our ability to discuss the pressing political issues of the day. I think what keeps our friendship vital over these past three decades is how much common ground we can find between us.

I'll give you a quick example. My opposition to the trafficking in bitumen is pretty obvious. My Conservative friend supports the oil export initiative. He challenged my opposition and I explained the dangerous qualities of bitumen and dilbit. His response? He asked why don't they just refine that stuff on site in Alberta? That was the first time I'd heard a Conservative say that. It showed that there's enough goodwill, enough common ground that we can compromise.  (By the way, I think he just might have voted for Trudeau in 2015, not that he would ever admit it.)

Progressivism, like human decency and goodwill, isn't a function of which party one identifies with. Progressivism was supported by Abraham Lincoln who proclaimed labour to be far the superior of capital. Later it was championed by Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, and then by Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor.  Progressivism rightly spans both sides of the aisle. There is absolutely no reason that Conservatives cannot accept it.  You can trace progressivism straight into the writings of the father of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke. We can't have 40 per cent of the population on the wrong side of these things.

We have hyper-partisans in our ranks too, brimming with self-righteous indignation and always ready to lash out at those they don't find sufficiently partisan. They always paint the other side as ghastly and vile and horrid as though they were aliens, beyond redemption, no common ground to be found. Just like their spitball throwing colleagues on the other side, they obstruct reconciliation and the restoration of social cohesion. Without a sufficient degree of social cohesion, there will be no progressive restoration and the narrow special interests that the neoliberal order serves will prevail.

There is so much rebuilding to do and time is not on our side.

Even Trump Can Do the Right Thing Occasionally

It's a small thing but it's still important to some Americans. Donald Trump says he won't block the release of the government's remaining tranche of documents about the Kennedy assassination when the embargo expires on October 26.

It's believed that about 3,000 documents remain under seal, embargoed by Congress 25 years ago.

The files are scheduled to be opened by the US National Archives on 26 October, but the president is entitled to extend their classified status.

Kennedy was shot dead by a sniper in November 1963 in Dallas, Texas.

The National Archives has already released most documents related to the assassination, but a final batch remains under lock and key.

"Subject to the receipt of further information, I will be allowing, as President, the long blocked and classified JFK FILES to be opened," Trump said in a tweet.

Congress ruled in 1992 that all JFK documents be released within 25 years, unless the president decides the release would harm national security.

The archive contains more than 3,000 previously unreleased documents, and more than 30,000 that have been released before but with redactions.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Well, That Didn't Take Long

The political two-step over Quebec's law that would deny public services to those wearing face coverings is triggering the expected greasy responses from the NDP, the Tories, and the prime minister.

The new leader of the party recently burned over the hijab issue, the NDP's Jagmeet Singh, offered this obscure statement.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was quick to condemn the bill upon its passing.

"I'm completely opposed to the bill, but I am completely confident in the existing protections that are in place in Quebec that will protect human rights," Singh said, adding he believes the law violates human rights.

Way to duck and cover, Jagmeet. He's completely opposed to the law and just as completely confident there's no real problem.  Nice one, Jagmeet.

The Tories also stopped well short of demanding the federal government intervene.

"Ultimately, it's up to Quebecers to pass judgment on this legislation. The Conservative Party believes every Canadian has the right to express themselves and practice their religion, not just in private but in public too," said Jake Enwright, director of communications for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Which brings us to the prevaricator in chief, our prime minister. Yesterday Mr. Trudeau seemed unwilling to get dragged into the fray saying that it's not up to the federal government to challenge the Quebec law.  In the same breath Mr. Trudeau said that he believes fundamentally in human rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will always defend that - somehow, maybe, eventually.

Today Mr. Trudeau seemed to react to the overnight criticism by saying that his government is looking into the implications of Quebec's bill 62.

"I will always stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's what Canadians expect of me.

He's right. Canadians do expect him to stand up for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially when he has a crystal-clear, per curiam, unanimous interpretation of Charter rights as the Supreme Court of Canada delivered in the Carter assisted death case. Nine to nothing, "one voice," slam dunk ruling only he didn't like it and so, instead of 'always' standing for the Charter and the rule of law, he came up with his own interpretation that is genuinely afoul of the law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Now it's obvious that the opposition parties are hoping that the niqab/hajib controversy will gore Trudeau as it did Mulcair in the last election and it's just as obvious that Trudeau is terrified at the prospect of this blowing up in his face as it did Mulcair's.

This is not an age of courage and principle. That is long past. This is an age of expedience in the pursuit of personal interest and little else. And so the jackals gnaw on each others' legs, hoping that one of them will be brought down.

It's Funny How a Little Truth Changes a Narrative

The US government and its allies never pass up an opportunity to vilify Iran.  We make it out to be a horrible theocracy ruled by despotic Mullahs intent on nothing but religious extremism and the destruction of Israel and the greater Middle East.

That, of course, is a load of self-serving bullshit and it always has been.  Compared to our buddies, the sheikhs, emirs, princes and generals of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, Iran, while far from ideal, compares very favourably.

A new survey led by a University of California, Los Angeles sociologist paints an Iran with a constrained but active political and civil society, an engaged electorate receptive to campaigning, and a sensitivity to shifts in public opinion.
The Iran Social Survey, conducted in December 2016 and set to be released over the next week, was conducted among 5,005 Iranians. It was designed to track public opinion and tease out political connections between different groups, ethnicities, and political parties.

“I don’t want to deny the brutal consolidation of the revolutionary state, but I did I want to show that there were different ways that the government reached down into society,” said Kevan Harris, the survey team leader.

“There is a great lack of appreciation for internal politics in Iran in the United States,” said Barbara Slavin, the head of the Future of Iran initiative at the Atlantic Council. “We have a very stereotypical notion that the regime decides on three or four candidates and they’re put in front of people and that’s it — that they don’t really have any kind of choice.”

Rather, says Harris, Iran’s body politic is a lot more complicated. Take an argument often made in the United States: that Iranian voters are beholden to government-sponsored welfare organizations. In that view, a political machine distributes oil revenues to win over the populace with payouts, similar to Hugo Chávez during Venezuela’s economic heyday and monarchies in the Persian gulf.

It doesn’t seem to be the case in Iran, though. Harris says there’s no correlation between receiving welfare and voting participation or party preference. “People are participating in pretty central civic activity, and you don’t see any distinction between how they’re linked to the state,” he said. (Harris literally wrote the book on politics and welfare in Iran.)

Another surprise is the degree of civic engagement in political campaigns. Harris described scenes during city council elections in the city of Tabriz, with candidates distributing business cards on the street, trying to rally supporters in the days before election day. “These are stories you don’t hear outside Iran,” he said. “There are huge efforts to mobilize people to vote, and they’re pretty competitive. It’s suspenseful.”

Yes Iran supports Hezbollah. Our pals have nurtured radical Islamism, Wahhabist and Salafist, and have supported al Qaeda, al Nusra, Boko Haram and the Islamic State. Yes, Iran has recently given support to the Taliban. Why? Because it sees the Taliban as the most effective force to fight ISIS in Afghanistan.  Our 'allies' have been linked to the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the 9/11 attacks and every terrorist attack on European cities. And our buddies continue to spread Islamist extremism through their network of madrassas, religious schools, throughout the Muslim world and elsewhere.  But Iran is the "state sponsor of terrorism," not our fiendish friends, right?

And This Is a Democracy?

I know, I know, it's Texas. But still.

In the hurricane battered town of Dickinson, 30 miles southeast of Houston, disaster relief comes with some pretty weird strings. Those applying have to commit to not boycotting Israel.

The city of Dickinson, Texas recently posted applications online for relief grants "from the funds that were generously donated to the Dickinson Harvey Relief Fund," the city's website says. The application, however, includes a provision requiring applicants to promise not to boycott Israel.

Section 11 of the four page document is titled: "Verification not to Boycott Israel".

The text reads: "By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement."

The city attorney for Dickinson told a local television station he was only following a state law forbidding state agencies from doing business with Israel boycotters.

That's what happens when you skip straight to the 2nd Amendment without reading the 1st.

In May, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the Anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions) bill into law. The statute "prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel," according to the governor's website.

"Anti-Israel policies are anti-Texas," Abbott said at the bill's signing. "We will not tolerate such actions against an important ally."

How the law would apply to individuals seeking disaster relief - rather than businesses seeking contracts - is unclear.

That's Refreshing. Election Hacking is "Warfare."

It's always notable when a Trump appointee strays from the script. This time it's America's UN ambassador, Nikki Haley.

While the Mango Mussolini does his best to dismiss Russia's meddling in the 2016 election that landed him the presidency, ambassador Haley says what the Russians did is tantamount to "warfare."

US Ambassador Haley lashed out at Russia's efforts to "sow chaos" in elections across the world during a conference hosted by the George W. Bush Institute.

"The Russians, God bless them, they're saying, 'Why are Americans anti-Russian? And why have we done the sanctions?' Well, don't interfere in our elections and we won't be anti-Russian," Haley said.

"When a country can come and interfere in another country's elections, that is warfare."

The comments come as Trump continues to question the intelligence community's determination that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

Meanwhile the ex-Worst President in American History, George w. Bush hisself, left no doubt what he thinks about what Russia did.

"America has experienced a sustained attempt by a hostile power to feed and exploit our country's divisions," Bush declared.
"The Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other."

And, without mentioning Trump by name, Barack Obama added his own scathing criticism.

Bugs Give Monbiot the Willies.

A couple of days ago The Guardian reported on a German study that flying insect populations had declined by 75 per cent over the past 25 years.

Another report for the Dire Warnings file.

Only The Guardian's enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, says don't take this lightly.

Which of these would you name as the world’s most pressing environmental issue? Climate breakdown, air pollution, water loss, plastic waste or urban expansion? My answer is none of the above. Almost incredibly, I believe that climate breakdown takes third place, behind two issues that receive only a fraction of the attention.

This is not to downgrade the danger presented by global heating – on the contrary, it presents an existential threat. It is simply that I have come to realise that two other issues have such huge and immediate impacts that they push even this great predicament into third place.

One is industrial fishing, which, all over the blue planet, is now causing systemic ecological collapse. The other is the erasure of non-human life from the land by farming.

And perhaps not only non-human life. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, at current rates of soil loss, driven largely by poor farming practice, we have just 60 years of harvests left. And this is before the Global Land Outlook report, published in September, found that productivity is already declining on 20% of the world’s cropland.

Monbiot blames industrial agriculture and the pesticide industry for the collapse of insect populations and the knock-on effects that triggers. He suggests a global treaty to regulate pesticides, environmental assessments of the global fishing industry and the agricultural industry, a sharp reduction in land use (yes, he means to take your steak off the grocer's shelves) and an end to the use of land for growing corn for biofuels. 

There's no use in debating the fine points and nuances of Monbiot's solutions. These are things that are simply not going to happen.

Maybe when, like the insects, we've pared the human population by 75 per cent all these problems will be solved. There'll be fresh air, clean water and plenty of delicious filet mignon for everybody. We've still got a way to go before we get there.

Remember, kids. Nature bats last.

Nine Million a Year, But Who's Counting?

Other than The Lancet, that is. A study published in the prestigious British medical journal finds that 9 million premature deaths are caused every year by man-made pollution.

With our new Blade Runner sensibilities that figure should elicit a yawn and be down the memory hole within days. 

Sure, it means that our toxic emissions are killing more of us than all of our wars and smoking combined but, so what?

The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

“Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050.

Dire warning duly noted and filed under "dire warnings." That file is getting pretty thick. Still, it's an interesting benchmark, another milestone in humanity's march to whatever waits ahead.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Have the Republicans Developed "Stockholm Syndrome"?

An article in Foreign Policy by displaced former Republican pundit Max Boot suggests that Congressional Republicans have capitulated to Donald Trump's will and have begun accelerating his and their own "race to the bottom."

The lobotomization of the Republican Party appeared complete last year when the same GOP paladins who had denounced Donald Trump as a “lunatic trying to get ahold of nuclear weapons” (Marco Rubio), as a bigot who was guilty of “the textbook definition of a racist comment” (Paul Ryan), and as a “narcissist,” “serial philanderer,” “pathological liar,” and “bully” (Ted Cruz) nevertheless endorsed him for the most powerful position in the world. Tragedy turned to farce (or is it the other way around?) after the emergence of the “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape on October 7, 2016. Republicans such as Sens. John Thune, Mike Crapo, and Deb Fischer called for Trump to leave the race on the grounds that he was unfit for office, only to change their minds and re-endorse him when it became evident that he was still polling strongly among base voters.

But the Republicans’ race to the bottom — to the absolute lowest moral and intellectual depths — wasn’t over last year, and it’s not over now. It’s still continuing, with even supposedly “normal,” “moderate,” “mainstream” Republicans increasingly echoing Trump’s know-nothing effusions.

The leaders of Congress seem to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, which by now should really be renamed Republican Syndrome. There, on Monday, was Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell singing kumbaya with Trump in the White House Rose Garden only hours after the president disavowed any blame for “not getting the job done” legislatively. “I’m not gong to blame myself, I’ll be honest,” Trump said. (When has he ever blamed himself for anything?) “They’re not getting the job done.” In case there is any doubt about who “they” is, Trump has been explicit in calling out McConnell as a weak leader, tweeting in August, “The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed!” McConnell nevertheless pledged fealty to his abuser. “Contrary to what some of you may have reported,” he dutifully intoned, “we are together totally on this agenda to move America forward.”

This GOP attitude was taken to its logical if laughable extreme when Sen. Rob Portman, another supposed Republican adult, was asked about the victory in Alabama’s Senate special election primary of far-right rabble-rouser Roy Moore, who makes Trump seem wonkish by comparison. Portman’s only response? “He’s going to be for tax reform, I think.” Never mind about the Constitution, which Moore and Trump both seek to shred in their own ways — Moore is opposed to the separation of church and state, Trump to the freedom of the press. (He thinks that “it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write.”) As long as they’re for tax cuts, we’re all good!

It becomes ever harder to disagree with the verdict of foreign-policy sage Robert Kagan, like me an erstwhile Republican, who writes that the GOP in its current form is doomed and that Republicans who cannot stomach Trumpism “should change their registration and start voting for Democratic moderates and centrists, as some Republicans did in Virginia recently, to give them a leg up in their fight against the party’s left wing.” As I’ve explained before, I have my qualms about the Democratic Party, which is lurching to the left, but I am done, done, done with the GOP after more than 30 years as a loyal Republican.

This is truly Trump’s party, and that leaves me to root for Democrats to win a landslide victory in the midterm elections next fall. I have my differences with many Democratic candidates, but on the most important issue facing our nation — whether Trump is fit for office — they are right and Republicans are a disgrace.

Another Sign? I Sure Hope Not.

Something has changed over the past two years.  My home is bordered along the back by a row of large cedar trees.  When I moved here some 15 years ago one of the delights I discovered was being awakened in the mornings by the chirps and songs of a seemingly massive variety of small birds that nested in those cedars.

Last year that stopped. This year it's been the same.  My neighbour has several feeders in her yard and she says the usual birds haven't been coming to her place either, not even to eat.

Something seems to be happening, but what?

Then I came across an article in The Guardian about a severe and massive decline in flying insect populations in Germany.  A 75 per cent decline. That's pretty drastic.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

Could something akin to that be underway out here on the island? It's hard to imagine. We don't have any industrial agriculture in the vicinity, just rocks and Christmas trees.

That said, the World Wildlife Fund in conjunction with the London Zoological Society and other agencies has been warning us over the last several years how severely human activity is pummeling other forms of life on Earth. The Living Planet Report of 2014 took an inventory of terrestrial animal life on the planet and found we had collapsed the total numbers by 50 per cent since the 1970s, the neoliberal era.  The Living Planet Report of 2015 inventoried marine species over the same time frame and, again, found a loss of 50 per cent.  The Living Planet Report of 2016 updated the loss figures for terrestrial and marine life at 58 per cent since 1970.

There is a confluence of events that occurred in the early 70s. That was when mankind drove the world into "overshoot." That's when our population passed the 3 billion mark and our consumption of the Earth's renewable resources - water, air, biomass - exceeded the planet's carrying capacity. We exceeded the world's capacity to cleanse our pollution and waste output. We began drawing more surface and groundwater than the Earth could replenish. We began exploiting more of the planet than was needed for the survival of other species and their numbers began to plummet.

This research connected the dots, linking climate change to two other existential threats, overpopulation and over-consumption/depletion of natural resources.  From 3 billion in the early 70s, we've grown to 7.5 billion today en route to at least 9 billion, possibly by 2030-2040.  And, while we've done that, our per capita consumption and our per capita environmental footprint has continued to expand rapidly with the emergence of new, massively populated emerging economies in India and China.

And yet, even as these events of the past forty years - just forty years - have unfolded; even as the research has come in revealing how severely we're overtaxing the planet, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere; even as the early onset impacts of our excesses begin to send us reeling; our politicians, including Canada's, still pursue perpetual, exponential growth. They believe their policies are constructive, positive when they're actually nihilistic. And you and me, we're just along for the ride.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Climate Change - Turns a Calamity into Catastrophe

Even the most affluent nation on Earth can't escape the knock-on effects of climate change. The Pentagon thinks of it as a "force multiplier." It magnifies difficulties, makes them more protracted and sometimes leaves irreparable damage in its wake.

That's what the United States is now facing from the devastation of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, the mass depopulation of the territory.  From The Washington Post.

During the decade before Maria, economic decline and depopulation, a slower-moving catastrophe, had been taking a staggering toll: The number of residents had plunged by 11 percent, the economy had shrunk by 15 percent, and the government had become unable to pay its bills.

It already ranked among the worst cycles of economic decline and depopulation in postwar American history, and projections indicated that the island’s slide could continue for years.

Then came Maria.

Now, even as officials in Washington and Puerto Rico undertake the recovery, residents are expected to leave en masse, fueling more economic decline and potentially accelerating a vicious cycle.

We are watching a real live demographic and population collapse on a monumental scale,” according to Lyman Stone, an independent migration researcher and economist at the Agriculture Department. The hurricane hit “might just be the kick in the pants Puerto Rico needs to really fall off this demographic cliff into total epochal-level demographic disaster.”

Whatever happens with Puerto Rico, moreover, will have far-reaching effects, because while the disaster is felt most keenly on the island, the accelerated exodus is already being felt on the mainland.

Cities popular with Puerto Ricans, such as Orlando, Hartford, Conn., and Springfield Mass., are bracing for more students, many of whom come from families living below the poverty level.

Politicians, meanwhile, are weighing the potentially significant electoral consequences of a wave of migrants expected to lean Democratic — especially in Florida. The swing state already boasts half a million Puerto Rican-born residents, and more are expected in Maria’s aftermath.

Indeed, at a news conference last week, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned that without significant help, “millions” could leave for the U.S. mainland.

“You’re not going to get hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to the States — you’re going to get millions,” Rosselló said. “You’re going to get millions, creating a devastating demographic shift for us here in Puerto Rico.”

Puerto Rico Treasury Secretary Raúl Maldonado has warned, meanwhile, that without more aid, the government could suffer a shutdown by the end of the month.

“Even before Maria, you had what looked like a death spiral going on,” said Gregory Makoff, a bond researcher who worked on the Treasury Department’s Puerto Rico team and now is a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. “Now it’s no longer theoretical. In a week’s time, they’ve lost another huge chunk of the population.”

For years before the economic slide, companies such as Merck, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo had collectively saved $2 billion or more annually under a key tax break that gave U.S. companies an incentive to set up operations on the island.

But in 2006, the tax break was eliminated, taking away a key incentive for companies to operate there. It was one of many factors blamed for the island’s decline.

Among the others: The island’s electrical power system is outdated and saddles islanders with bills roughly double what they are on the mainland; an exodus of doctors has opened holes in the health-care system; and the economy’s most critical sector, manufacturing, has been shrinking even more rapidly than the rest of the economy, affected not just by the lost tax break but also by global competition.

Only about 40 percent of people in Puerto Rico are employed or seeking work. By contrast, the U.S. figure for what economists call “labor force participation” is about 63 percent.

Finally, the government’s inability to pay off more than $70 billion in debt has provoked a congressionally mandated oversight board and a new fiscal plan that calls for efforts to raise taxes and significant cuts to the government. Even with optimistic assumptions, that plan predicted continuing shrinkage of the economy.

Like many on the island, Sergio M. Marxuach, policy director for the Center for a New Economy, a San Juan-based think tank, said a massive federal investment is necessary.

“We’re going to need some significant government intervention — essentially a big rescue package, not only to rebuild the economy but get it growing,” he said. “People are saying, ‘I don’t want my children to grow up in a place where the economy is going to be devastated for the next 10 years.’ If enough people think that way, it’s going to be a self-reinforcing downward spiral.”

Even those who evince optimism acknowledge that more difficult times lie ahead.

“We will move forward better than we were before,” said Joaquín Fernández Quintero, the president of Telemedik, a telehealth company that employs about 400 people.

But he said that about 10 percent of the employees in his Mayaguez office will move to the States in the coming weeks, several of them “high-level” employees. And he’s not sure when they will be coming back.

“People are getting frustrated and depressed,” Fernández Quintero said. “A lot of small and medium companies will be closing because they cannot maintain their operations. It will be a complicated process.”

Trump's dilemma - long promised tax cuts and Republican credibility or a massive bailout to salvage what remains of Puerto Rico. Then there's the threat the migrants pose to Republican incumbents in next year's mid-term elections when they may be able to swing critical Congressional seats to the Democrats. That could alter the balance of power, especially with the current, bitterly divided Republican caucus.

Trump may treat the Puerto Ricans like Mexicans only they can travel freely within the United States and they can vote.

By the time those internally displaced citizens go to the polls, the losses and the death toll will be known. At the moment it's expected to top 450.

The official count is now 48 deaths. But the news site Vox thought that number seemed off.

"We knew from reports on the ground, and investigative journalists who've also been looking into this, that this was very likely way too low of a number,” said Eliza Barclay, an editor at Vox.

So they dug into the numbers, cross-checking with news reports, and found that the number of casualties resulting from the hurricane was probably much closer to 450.

It's Not Just Some Fable Any More.

Thanks, Aesop, the tortoise will take it from here.

Is It Unreasonable?

It's a simple question. Is climate change an existential threat?

Does anthropogenic global warming imperil the continuation of life as we know it on Earth?

C'mon people. This question is going to be decided before this century is out, possibly much sooner than that. The only thing that ignoring the question changes is the probability/certainty that it will be existential, determinative of the continuation of not just our civilization but most life on Earth. The longer we put it off, the worse our odds.

You would think that our parliaments and our legislatures would be alive with discussion and debate over this most critical of all questions. How then are we to explain the virtual silence it elicits from them?

If climate change is an existential threat, and all the science says it is, then there has to be real meaning in the silence among our political caste. They have to be avoiding the subject, collectively ducking it. How else can you reconcile a threat of this magnitude - mass extinction - with such resolve not to take action to avert it while there might, just might, still be time to pull out of this nose dive and at least achieve a somewhat survivable forced landing?

What would you think of a nanny out walking your baby in a pram who, just for a lark, decides to see if she can cross a busy highway while blindfolded? That's akin to how I feel about our political leaders beginning with the prime minister, his government and the opposition parties in Parliament, and the premiers and their legislatures across the land. It's our babies, our grandkids and great grandkids in that pram.

So, how does that leave you feeling about your government, the outfit you trust to keep you and your country safe now and into the future? Are you still left with warm, fuzzy feelings for the Liberal Party or the New Dems or the Conservatives? I'm not.

We have given them a monopoly on the power and the money to deal with our problems and nothing surely can be a greater problem than an existential threat.

How does it make you feel about the narrow, special interests who successfully importune our politicos to either go slow or perhaps simply do nothing?

I used to be "alarmed" at climate change. I used to be worried at the warnings that, if we didn't do thus and so, dire consequences might set in by the end of the century. I used to be concerned about these "tipping points," natural feedback loops, we were told might be triggered if we didn't slash our greenhouse gas emissions drastically by 2100. I used to be that way less than 20 years ago.

Yet here we are. Climate change impacts we were told could be felt by 2100 have arrived 80 years sooner than predicted. Tipping points? Nobody even talks about those any more. We got that wrong too. Those "do not exceed" points have already been tipped, loads of them.  Natural feedback loops - from the early and widespread loss of Arctic sea ice, to the retreat of polar ice caps and glaciers, to the warming of the Arctic and its now energized atmosphere, to the onset of severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration, to Western wild fires that rage from Mexico all the way north into Alaska, to sea level rise and coastal inundation, to the melting of seabed methane clathrates and the thawing of onshore permafrost and the release of its once safely sequestered methane and CO2, to flash floods and the newby, flash droughts - this is nature on a rampage and we're just sitting by and watching it unfold.

It's too late for alarms. The tests have been run, we've got the lab results. We have the diagnosis. Yet we have a pretty boy prime minister who looks us straight in the eye, pisses all over our pant leg and tells us that the path to our green future lies in ramping up the extraction, processing and transmission of the most carbon-intensive and toxic ersatz petroleum on the planet. Ever ask that dummy how the first ensures the other? Ever ask that lying weasel when exactly this magic is going to happen? Ever ask him just whose interests he's protecting because it's sure as hell not yours.

Is it unreasonable to see your government as a threat, a peril to your grandkids and their children? Maybe so, provided you can put all the science, all the warnings and all the early-onset impacts we're already dealing with out of your mind. The more mindless you are the more benign they can seem. Only being mindless is not reasonable.

Back to the Drawing Board, Rachel.

If there's one thing that petro-states know it's that honesty never pays. In fact, honesty almost always costs and sometimes the costs can be huge.

And, yes, by petro-states I mean Alberta, Saskatchewan and our federal government. They're incorrigible.

Alberta has been caught out underestimating methane leaks from the province's oil wells. Underestimating by about half.

New research suggests industry and government are badly underestimating Alberta's emissions of one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

The difference between official estimates and the measured results suggests the province's energy industry could have to double its planned methane emission cuts if Alberta is to meet its promised 45 per cent reduction.

Currently, industry is only required to report how much methane is released during flaring and venting. So-called fugitive emissions from equipment such as leaky valves have only been estimated.

In Lloydminster, results from the airborne tests found the type of heavy oil recovery used in that area released 3.6 times more methane than previously thought.

That same heavy oil technique is widely used elsewhere in Alberta, including the Peace River, Cold Lake and Athabasca regions.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Now There's an Idea

Brookings Institute fellow Ranj Alaaldin has a clever idea about how Trump can strike back against Iran, back the Iraqi Kurds in their independence struggle against the Shiite-controlled central government in Baghdad.

The Kurds and their Peshmerga have always been America's best allies in the region going back well before Saddam was driven out of Kuwait.

The Kurds are a people without a homeland. The French and British had promised them they would get just that during WWI after the Ottomans, Germany's ally, were toppled. That led to the Treaty of Sevres in 1920.

But then along came a fierce Turkish nationalist, Ataturk, threatening to give the Brits and the French another bloody nose and so they folded and replaced Sevres with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 that restored Turkey to the boundaries that stand today.

While they were at it, the Brits and the French carved up the rest of the Ottoman empire between themselves creating new nations including Syria, Iraq and Iran. It was called the Sykes-Picot or Asia Minor agreement.

France was to have control of A while the Brits got B. The deal was drawn strictly for European convenience and ignored all the ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural realities on the ground. That also meant that the Kurdish homeland was carved up among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey where, as ethnic minorities, they fared pretty much as minorities fare in the Middle East.

The Brits and the French made a horrible mess of it, lumping Shiite minorities with Sunni majorities here, Sunni minorities with Shia majorities there, Arabs here and Persians there. A formula for the conflicts that have persisted ever since.

Right now Trump is really pissed with Iran but he's also pissed with Iraq, Syria and, more recently, Erdogan's Turkey.  The only group that has given America no grief is the Kurds.  And wouldn't it plant a burr under the saddle of the Turks, the Syrians, the Iraqis and especially the Iranians if Trump backed the Kurdish north's independence from Baghdad?

Then again, given America's record of winning wars in that region, maybe Trump will sit this one out.

Kids Will Be Kids

Even as they're embarking on their 30s, our children can sometimes sugar coat things especially if they don't want their to upset their parents.

I have a daughter who lives and works in Dublin.  She's got a good job and it seems like she's there for the long haul.

Given the time difference I sometimes have difficulty reaching her as quickly as I would like. With hurricane/tropical storm Ophelia barreling down on Ireland I thought to send her a facebook message: "Stay indoors. Stay safe. Stay in touch."

That was greeted with assurances she was perfectly safe. The whole thing was nothing really. Then she let slip that she and her girlfriends were standing near her balcony when they saw the winds tear the door off the Starbucks across the street.

Nothing to see here, unless you're missing a front door.