Sunday, June 17, 2018

Happy Father's Day Everyone (who qualifies, that is)

Ever notice how nobody says "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" in a flattering, positive sense. But if your kid, just once, is on the run from the cops, you'll never hear the end of it.

Happy Father's Day!!!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Just Say "No" to You Know Who

An Ipsos poll released Friday finds that 70 per cent of Canadians intend to boycott American goods.
Seventy per cent of Canadians say they will start looking for ways to avoid buying U.S.-made goods in a threat to ratchet up a trade dispute between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump, an Ipsos Poll showed on Friday. 
The poll also found a majority of Americans and Canadians are united in support of Trudeau and opposition to Trump in their countries’ standoff over the renegotiation of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
...Canadian respondents also signalled approval of the united front their politicians have shown, with 88 per cent saying they welcomed the support of politicians from other parties for the Liberal government’s decision to push back on tariffs. 
The Ipsos Poll of 1,001 Canadians and 1,005 Americans – including 368 Democrats, 305 Republicans and 202 Independents – was conducted June 13-14. It has a credibility interval of 3.4 percentage points.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thoroughly Nice People

Naomi Schulman points our that it's often genuinely nice people who empower thugs like Donald Trump.


Supremes Side With Law Societies, Nix Christian Law School

It's a bleak day for BC's Trinity Western University.

The Supreme Court has upheld the right of provincial law societies to reject the graduates of a proposed Christian law school over a rule that prohibits students from having sex outside of heterosexual marriage. 
The ruling may end the dream of Trinity Western University, of Langley, B.C., to open a law school. The B.C. government withdrew its approval of the law school after the Law Society of B.C. refused to license its graduates. 
“It is inimical to the integrity of the legal profession to limit access on the basis of personal characteristics,” the court said in a 7-2 decision. (There were two 7-2 decisions, in separate cases involving the B.C. and Ontario law societies.) “This is especially so in light of the societal trust enjoyed by the legal profession.”

The case was one of the most widely watched freedom of religion cases in Canadian history. A record 26 groups, mostly from the faith, same-sex and legal communities, intervened, offering the court legal arguments and social context.
Unlike the hedonistic hell pits that pass for typical Canadian universities, Trinity frowns upon sex, drugs and rock'n roll. And, definitely, no homos - nope, never, absolutely not.

Oddly enough, though, the school's teams are called the "Spartans." I'm not sure they thought that one through given that Spartan warriors were supposedly dead keen on pederasty, man-boy love.

Manafort Off to Jail

Former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has new digs. He's off to the Greybar Hotel at least until his trial commences in September.  Witness tampering, not the brightest move.

The Guardian Praises Canada - At Least Our Libraries

The Brits are still taking the piss out of us for electing Rob Ford's evil brother and for the Tar Sands and Trudeau's Trans Mountain Memorial Pipeline. However...

The folks at The Guardian are positively gushing over the state of Canada's libraries. They reckon they're the world's best.

Public libraries throughout the western world are struggling. Britain has closed hundreds since 2010, reduced hours in others and replaced many paid librarians with volunteers. In Belgium, an advocacy group called Public Libraries 2020 aims to “challenge outdated perceptions” of libraries – in part by cajoling politicians to set foot inside one. In North America, staff per visitor has fallen across the board since 2012, and circulation and visits are dropping. The “disruption” of Silicon Valley – in which Uber replaces taxis, Airbnb replaces hotels and Netflix replaces video stores – has many governments asking: why pay for physical book repositories when you can get so much reading material online?

And yet researchers from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf have ranked Canada as having the best public library systems among 30 major cities studied. (All three Canadian cities included – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver – came in the top 10.) 
You can see why. Readings and events at the 575-seat theatre at the Toronto reference branch are free, and you’d be well advised to book your ticket early: a recent appearance by Roxane Gay sold out in 88 seconds. Sensibly, the researchers also rated the libraries on the availability of snacks – behind me is a cafe with Balzac quotes on the walls and urns of Margaret Atwood-themed coffee. Not bad, though no match for Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque, where you can get a risotto dinner with wine.
The Toronto reference library hosts Hand-a-thons, in which school groups use the 3D printers along with Arduino robotics kits to make working prosthetic hands. In the maker space a printing press, for self-publishing paperbacks, smells comfortingly of hot glue. There’s a podcasting studio and a green screen, where actors, models and real estate agents come to take headshots. A colleague is usually present to help answer questions about the scanners or photo suites, my guide explained, but right then he was setting up the VR superhero demo in the gallery.

“Access to information and pathways to learning were the great equalisers of the 20th century,” says Vickery Bowles, Toronto’s head librarian. “In the 21st century, we’re increasingly dependent on access to online services, and understanding of and comfort with that technology.”

Bowles sees a vital role of the public library in strengthening civic discourse and enabling political participation. Right now, the library is offering workshops on how to run for office or get involved in an election campaign (disclosure: I will be a paid panellist on a planned event in the library’s On Civil Society series). “We’re seeing more and more challenges to our democratic values and principles,” she says.

Pre-Dystopian India. It's Real.

200,000 people in India die every year from lack of access to clean freshwater. India's groundwater resources are failing. Up to 70% of what freshwater India still has is contaminated.

By 2030 the situation is going to grow worse, far worse, according to a government think tank.

The Niti Aayog report, which draws on data from 24 of India's 29 states, says the crisis is "only going to get worse" in the years ahead.
It also warns that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 despite increasing demand. 
This would also threaten food security as 80% of water is used in agriculture. 
Indian cities and towns regularly run out water in the summer because they lack the infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home.
Rural areas are also badly affected by a lack of access to clean water. 
They cannot rely on groundwater due to erratic rains and the fact that the groundwater is increasingly used for farming when monsoon rains are delayed or insufficient.
As cities and towns grow, the pressure on urban water resources is expected to increase - the report estimates that demand will be twice as much as available supply by 2030.

...But what remains alarming is that the states that are ranked the lowest - such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in the north or Bihar and Jharkhand in the east - are also home to nearly half of India's population as well the bulk of its agricultural produce.
Meanwhile, India's air pollution problems are also worsening. In the capital, Delhi, smog levels are so bad they're defeating monitoring equipment.

Smog more toxic than can be measured by monitoring devices has blanketed the Indian capital this week, months before the start of Delhi’s traditional “pollution season”. 
A thick haze was visible across the city from Tuesday and some government pollution monitors have recorded concentrations of 999 – the highest they can measure – as dust storms kicked up in nearby Rajasthan state blanketed the region. 
Though the billowing clouds of dust and sand were blamed for the immediate spike in pollution levels, the sight of dense smog engulfing Delhimonths before winter has underscored a growing awareness that harmful air is a year-round problem for the city.

Well Worth a Read. 1965, June Callwood's, "In Defence of the Parliamentary Press Gallery."

A blast from the past and a breath of fresh air. June Callwood's stirring defence of the Parliamentary Press Gallery as it then was when journalists and politicians truly despised each other.

Politicians no longer rise in the House to praise their eyes and ears. Prime ministers view them darkly. In recent years, the gallery has endured insult at public meetings, such as last summer's Couchiching Conference; on television shows, such as the CBC’s Inquiry; in magazines and in newspaper editorials; from politicians in the House, politicians on the hustings, politicians bellying up to the bar A mari usque ad mare and, most unforgivably, from its own members. Along with such epithets as “drunks,” “incompetents” and “deadbeats,” the gallery has been belabored with “dull and pedestrian” (Frank H. Underhill), “servile'’ (John Diefenbaker) and “mediocre” (Douglas Fisher). 
In addition to this rude harassment, the press gallery currently is facing a crisis in its housing arrangements: it is about to be evicted from its snug quarters, three rooms and the corridor in the heart of the Parliament Buildings, for no good reason except that the space annually is condemned by the dominion fire commissioner as a fire hazard, is provided rent-free and costs Canadian taxpayers more than one hundred thousand dollars a year, operates untidily as a blind pig for the distribution of bootleg booze throughout Parliament Hill, and has been described by its most charitable admirers as a slum area and a disgrace.
...Among the milder opinions of a taut MP from Jasper-Edson. Progressive Conservative Dr. Hugh Horner, are the convictions that members of the gallery turned against John Diefenbaker because he didn't provide them with free liquor and that the entire gallery hates the entire House of Commons ever since MPs voted themselves a salary increase. "We got a raise and the gallery didn't, so they're sore,” he declares. "Ha, most of them couldn't be elected dogcatcher.”

...The gallery retaliates with the charge that the average MP's notion of impeccably fair journalism is when his speech is printed in its entirety on the front page of his home-town newspaper. "They don't grasp the nature of news,” explains the CBC’s respected television commentator. Norman DePoe. “There’s no drama in a daily item that ‘Flight 539 has landed at Malton after an uneventful flight and all passengers are safe.’ ”
The bitterness of parliamentarians toward the press in Ottawa can be traced back to the Great Pipeline Debate of 1956, when the Liberal government used closure to terminate discussion in a rebellious House. The press gallery found itself caught up in a spirit of flaming outrage and abandoned all pretensions of writing impartially. The Speaker, for instance, was described as “crooked” and a “self-seeking Liberal hack”; one reporter compared the unhappy man, to his disadvantage, with a bank robber.
... Many observers are inclined to blame the gallery's poor housing for any deficiency in the quality of its literature. “Those conditions wouldn’t be tolerated in a factory," asserts Grattan O'Leary. “It's just not possible to write well in such a mess." 
The Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery's quarters are indeed a wondrous sight. They have the impact upon a newcomer, approaching them along the austere marbled and cathedral-roofed corridors of the Parliament Buildings, of stumbling upon a Hogarth saloon in Westminster Abbey. There is, to begin with, bedlam: Teletype machines clattering against a vibrato of fifty typewriters, a hoarse squawk-box voice paging newsmen, telephones ringing, voices tiered to be heard over or under the uproar, radio reporters cupped over telephone hook-ups with their stations and the sweet lost sound of a cuckoo clock, a possibly not significant gift from a departed gallery member. 
The décor is Early Squalor, with sprightly touches of dust, empty beer bottles and solitary galoshes. When the main newsroom became crammed with antique oak desks, stalagmites of yellowed Hansards and elk-horned coat racks during the gallery's rapid wartime growth, Mackenzie King suggested that the overflow make temporary use of the broad corridor just outside. That was twenty years ago, when the gallery was less than half its present size. By actual count, a stretch of the corridor that connects the hallowed House of Commons gallery with the hushed Senate gallery now contains thirty-two desks, fifty-eight filing cabinets, fifteen coat racks, twenty-four bookcases and a festoonery of wastepaper baskets, cigarette machines, electric fans, water-coolers. Teletype machines, telephone booths and whiskey cartons rakishly stuffed with old budget debates.
The overall effect is not enhanced by the gallery's unique coalition of newsroom and bootlegging establishment. In a tradition dating back to the dark days of 1921, when politicians and press moved into the rebuilt Parliament Buildings and found them prohibition-dry, the press gallery has operated as a benefactor to the thirsty of all political faiths, but most especially writers.
...The raffish operation is sustained because, by happy chance, it is invisible: everyone on Parliament Hill pretends it doesn’t exist. When the Speaker in 1961 coarsely referred to the press gallery as “that blind pig on the third floor” in a written order to the sergeant-at-arms, he was informed of his error and obligingly erased the offensive phrase from the inter-branch journals of the House. There has been no further fuss, except the minor flutter caused when press gallery beer was delivered one day in a Government of Canada van. "Only happened once,” comments the sergeant-at-arms grimly. 
Even without its roguish sideline, the press gallery presents a disheveled picture, unmistakably stamped with the calculated neglect of a landlord hoping to have his lease broken. The paint is peeling, the windows dirty, the debtors’-auction leather chairs in the lounge are sprung and cracked. The government has been trying to rid itself of this eyesore for many years: it now is nigh on to frantic.
The Radio Boys
Douglas Fisher offered a particularly unpleasant experience a year ago because of an edited tape. The west coast’s jovial Jack Webster dropped in to Fisher’s office and the two struck up a fast rapport. Webster asked permission to tape-record an interview, during which he asked Fisher what he thought of the press gallery. Fisher, responding to Webster’s blithe mood, answered cheerfully that the members were a bunch of "lushes, drunks and incompetents.” Ed Murphy, a gallery member who represents a number of radio stations, obtained the tape and inserted his own voice for Webster's, retaining Fisher’s reckless reply. It was used on Ottawa's CFRA and the gallery reeled like a dowager confronted with a dead cat. Murphy’s deceit was overlooked, but Fisher was judged a bounder. He was obliged to apologize in writing.
I post these excerpts apropos of nothing at all save a few terrific memories almost lost to the ravages of time. For good and bad, those days are gone.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Free World Has a Bad Case of the Trumps. But That's Only a Symptom.

Brit journo, Paul Mason, is no friend of America's Mango Mussolini but, like a growing chorus of critics, he sees Trump as a symptom of a greater contagion. Mason has a few interesting ideas about what should be Act II for the developed nations. I can't say that I embrace them or even fully understand them but we find ourselves in a mess and we have to begin thinking about where to head next.

From The New Statesman:

With the G7, we knew it was coming. Trump ran on the slogan “America First” and has delivered on it: he has promoted economic growth at the expense of the US’s lenders, and by saddling future generations with unpayable debts; created jobs at the expense of America’s competitors and launched a trade war.

For certain, Trump looked stupid and, with hindsight, weak throughout the entire two days. He got pushed by his diplomats and the other leaders into signing a document he didn’t believe in. But that doesn’t matter: because, in the geopolitical turmoil that is about to deepen, the USA has three important things: the dollar, the world’s biggest military and a $6trn debt to the rest of the world.

Three years ago, in Postcapitalism, I outlined two scenarios if the world’s elites refused to contemplate a break from the free market economic model. The first was long-term stagnation and austerity. In the second: 
“The consensus breaks. Parties of the hard right and left come to power as ordinary people refuse to pay the price of austerity. Instead, states then try to impose the costs of the crisis on each other. Globalisation falls apart, the global institutions become powerless and in the process the conflicts that have burned these past twenty years – drug wars, post-Soviet nationalism, jihadism, uncontrolled migration and resistance to it – light a fire at the centre of the system.

The Last True Believers
... There were only two committed defenders of globalisation in its old form – Macron and Justin Trudeau - and, as they will now find out, the changed situation will soon force them, too, into measures needed to survive the breakdown of a rules-based order.

The question: “what do we do?” should be on the minds of all political people who understand, from the example of the 1930s, what happens when a rules-based order is fragmented. But it’s not. 
The reason for is that, for 30 years, neoliberal ideology has been founded on the perfection and unchangeability of the current system: not just of the free market economic model and free trade, but of a global order underpinned by unipolar American power, Chinese isolationism and a Russia contained and constrained by its economic weakness.
Mason's Question - What Then Must We Do?
...what do we do about long-term economic stagnation, which has led to a rush for the exits from the multilateral global system, posing the possibility of trade wars, the fragmentation of the global finance system, military conflict and a threat to the global architecture that protects universal human rights? 
I fear the moment is past where that question can be answered inside a global institution. Indeed, the true global institutions, like the IMF and the Bank for International Settlements must be asking themselves searching questions about who they will serve in future. Is it conceivable that, within 20 years, the IMF will become a tool for China to impose its values and economic doctrines on the world, as it was for the US in the 1980s and 1990s? Is it conceivable that a globally co-ordinated central banking system can survive when treasures and central banks take up the game of beggar thy neighbour in earnest? 
...The answer is: design and execute a new kind of capitalism that meets the needs of people in the developed world. The design is not impossible: the elements of it lie in the provision of universal basic incomes or services, a Green New Deal, rapid automation and the creation of increased leisure time, massive investments in education, and an end to outsourcing, offshoring and privatisation. 
We can either do this collectively, as Europe, or the G7, or as NAFTA. Or, more likely, as a series of national projects where borrowing to invest, printing money where necessary and stimulating moderate inflation creates the same - albeit unstable - synergies as in the “thirty glorious years” after 1945. 
...We now need an alliance of parties, movements and individuals who are not going to fight for the system that has failed but to imagine a new one: a capitalism that delivers prosperity to Wigan, Newport and Kirkcaldy, if necessary by not delivering it to Bombay, Dubai and Shenzhen. 
Is that an argument for economic nationalism? No, rather an internationalism that says to the rest of the world: if the developed, democratic countries of Europe, America and Asia collapse into authoritarian rule, the 400-year upswing of industrial societies alongside democracy will have, once again, stalled - and, with China's inevitable hegemony, it might go into reverse.

Der Spiegel Conducts a Biopsy on Liberal Democracy and the Authoritarians Seeking to Destroy It

Der Spiegel has published a two-part special on the rise of authoritarianism and the threat it poses to the continuation of liberal democracy. Not surprisingly, the focus is on Trump, Putin and Xi.

Trump is continuing his assault on the widely accepted norms regarding how a president should behave. He has the "absolute right" to pardon himself in the Russian affair, he recently claimed -- and then he went off the rails in Canada, picking fights with his allies and revoking his support for the summit's closing statement by sending out a tweet from Air Force One as he left. Trump, to be sure, is an elected president, but he is one who dreams of wielding absolute power and sees himself as being both above the law and above internationally accepted norms of behavior.

The upshot is that global politics are currently dominated by a handful of men -- and only men -- who have nothing but contempt for liberal democracy and who aspire to absolute control of politics, of the economy, of the judiciary and of the media. They are the predominant figures of the present -- and the decisions they make will go a long way toward shaping the future ahead. The globalized, high-tech, constantly informed and enlightened world of the 21st century finds itself in the middle of a slide back into the age of authoritarianism.

And this is not merely the lament of Western cultural pessimists, it is a statement rooted in statistics. A recent study by the German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung found that 3.3 billion people live under autocratic regimes, while the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit found that just 4.5 percent of the global population, around 350 million people, live in a "full democracy." In its most recent annual report, issued in January of this year, the nongovernmental organization Freedom House wrote that in 2017, "democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades." It went on to note that "the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press and the rule of law are under assault and in retreat globally."

How can this global trend be explained? Are autocrats really so strong, or are democrats too weak? Is liberal democracy only able to function well in relatively homogeneous societies where prosperity is growing? Why do so many people doubt democracy's ability to solve the problems of the 21st century, challenges such as climate change, the tech revolution, shifting demographics and the distribution of wealth?

The optimistic Western premises -- that greater prosperity leads to more freedom, increased communication leads to greater pluralism, and more free trade leads to increased economic integration -- have unraveled. Following the end of the Cold War, the American political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan said in 1996 that Western democracy was "the only game in town." Now, though, it would seem to have lost its attraction. The expectation that democracy's triumphant march would be impossible to stop has proven illusory. China is currently showing the world that economic success and societal prosperity are also possible in an authoritarian system.
..."Until recently, liberal democracy reigned triumphant. For all its shortcomings, most citizens seemed deeply committed to their form of government. The economy was growing. Radical parties were insignificant," writes the Harvard-based German-American political scientist Yascha Mounk in his book "The People vs. Democracy." But then the situation began changing rapid: Brexit, Trump's election and the success of other right-wing populist movements in Europe. The question, Mounk writes, is "whether this populist moment will turn into a populist age -- and cast the very survival of liberal democracy in doubt."
The Western political system, Mounk writes, is "decomposing into its component parts, giving rise to illiberal democracy on the one side and undemocratic liberalism on the other." The one, he argues, is dominated by manipulated majority opinion while the other is controlled by institutions such as central banks, constitutional courts and supranational bureaucracies like the European Commission that can operate independent of direct, democratic debate. 
"Take back control" was the slogan used by the Brexiteers during their successful campaign. Indeed, the feeling of living in an era in which they have lost control is likely a common denominator among all European populists. Taking back that control is something they all promise.
...These days, it is rare that democracies collapse under attack from armed, uniformed adversaries. Such images belong to the past; the coup d'état has become a rarity. On the contrary, many autocrats have come to power by way of the ballot box, govern in the name of the people and regularly hold referenda to solidify their power. 
But once in power -- in Turkey, Venezuela or Russia -- they bring the institutions of democracy under their control. They tend not to be committed ideologues. Rather, they are strategists of power who used ideologies without necessarily believing in them themselves. Furthermore, they don't generally wield violence indiscriminately, another difference to the murderous regimes of the past. Sometimes, a journalist loses their life, or an oligarch ends up in jail. But otherwise, the new autocrats are much subtler than their totalitarian predecessors. Generally, a timely threat issued to insubordinate citizens suffices. And they are particularly adept at the dark art of propaganda. They know that many people have become insecure and are afraid of the future and foreigners. They have learned how to augment those fears, so they can then pose as guarantors of stability.
...Migration, climate change, technological development, demographics: Nowhere are such challenges so openly discussed as they are in Western democracies. Yet we often seem unable to address them. Freedom, it would seem, is not a necessary precondition for entrepreneurial or societal creativity. 
That is an extremely uncomfortable realization. The belief that the guarantee of individual freedoms makes our system superior to others is at the very core of our self-image. What if it's wrong? 
There are, at the very least, alternatives. China seems to have found one of them.

For many centuries, Chinese civilization was extremely well developed culturally, technologically and militarily. But around 200 years ago, the West left China behind, a development connected to the Renaissance, to science, research and weapons technology. None of that, though, is merely a Western privilege anymore, which is why that era could now be coming to an end. It is not an inevitability, but it is certainly possible.

...Now we have Donald Trump, a man who apparently gets along better with political leaders like Duterte, Erdogan, Xi and, most recently, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un than he does with democratic leaders like Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Based on what he says in person and on Twitter, based on his plans and the way he makes personnel decisions, based on the way he mixes his office with his business empire and, finally, based on the way he constantly insults the news media, he seems to be more of a wannabe autocrat than a reliable proponent of liberal democracy. 
In their new book "How Democracies Die," political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write that Trump had wanted to follow the playbook of an authoritarian ruler. But the president "has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized."  
Still, the long-term damage is likely to be immense. The populists of this world now have an ally in the White House and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell even said recently that he hopes to strengthen conservative, anti-establishment movements in Europe. Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon was recently in Rome celebrating Italy's new government as the next domino in a complex chain that, he says, will ultimately lead to the EU's collapse. 
It used to be that America promoted the spread of democracy. These days, however, it is promoting the spread of populism. 
The autocrats and illiberals of the 21st century have many similarities. They are both racist and nationalist, and they constantly evoke an external threat that must be kept in check. They also harbor distrust of real or perceived elites, of the privileged who have purportedly forgotten the language of the common people. They make campaign promises that can only be financed through massive borrowing and huge debts. They despise democratic institutions. 
They also share a penchant for promising to restore some grand past. Trump's motto is "Make America Great Again." President Putin promises the Russians national glory. Erdogan conjures up the return to the greatness of the Ottoman Empire. Viktor Orbán has erected statues throughout his country commemorating Hungary's glorious past. In Poland, the PiS has even passed a law forbidding any share of the responsibility for the Holocaust being attributed to the Polish nation, as if historical truth was subject to present-day law. 
History, they believe, must be a source of pride. Otherwise, it is false. 
The opposite can be observed in liberal democracies. Admitting responsibility for past crimes is practically one of their structural characteristics. This is not only true of Germany, but also of the United States, where the debate continues today over slavery and its consequences. French President Emmanuel Macron has described his country's colonialism in Algeria as a "crime against humanity." 
No modern democracy believes it can avoid coming to terms with its past. Under that tacit agreement, only those who learn from the crimes of their grandfathers can create a better society. 
But authoritarian forces reject this claim, it is one of their trademarks. For AfD Chair Alexander Gauland, the Nazi era is only "a speck of bird shit " relative to the achievements of Germany's long history and his party is calling for the country to turn its back on its culture of remembrance of the atrocities it committed during WWII. 
Among Brexiteers in Britain, there is no small number who would like to restore the lost British Empire. In Donald Trump's America, white nationalists glorify racism in the southern states that were defeated in the Civil War with the president's tacit approval.

Vast Patronage
Once they come to power, enemies of liberal democracy have another commonality: corruption. Almost all of them are corrupt. And this despite the fact that almost all have risen to power on the pledge that they will put an end to corruption. 
This also applies to Donald Trump, who as president benefits his own family business, issues pardons to political friends and whose daughter Ivanka suddenly benefited from Beijing registering trademarks for her company in the course of negotiations with China.  
...After 1945, liberal democracy provided the framework for European unification, the social welfare state and the Ostpolitik policies of detente between Western and Eastern Europe. None of these achievements was without conflict. But that was also the point: identifying problems, offering solutions, mediating conflicts and building societal consensus time and again. It was one of the reasons why liberal democracy prevailed in the Cold War. It also happened to be economically and militarily superior. It was simply the better system. 
But these days, that's no longer considered a given. 

'Democratic Recession' 
American political scientist Larry Diamond refers to the finding that the number of functioning democracies is shrinking again as the "Democratic Recession." But why? "The most important and pervasive answer is, in brief, bad governance," he wrote in a January 2015 essay in the Journal of Democracy. 
In fact, the reversal of liberal democracy's global reputation coincided with serious failures on the part of the West: the disastrous Iraq War, which began under false allegations and undermined the credibility of Western parliamentary systems around the world, and the global economic crisis, which shook confidence in the Western economic order after 2007. 
...This list could go on and on. Climate change, demographics, technological development, the coming transformation of the working world and the distribution of wealth are but a few items on that list.

...With the Marshall Plan, liberal democracy once had its own New Silk Road. If the money that the U.S. pumped into Europe between 1948 and 1952 were translated into today's dollars, it would amount to about $135 billion. The idea was to make Western Europe liberal, democratic and able to stand up to the Soviet Union. That was the plan. And it worked, as we now know.

And it wasn't just about money. Liberal democracy in Germany was also reinforced by the soldiers sent by the Americans, the British and the French who were stationed in the country for almost 50 years. It was supported by educational programs, economic cooperation and through institutional interdependencies. These efforts all had to be fought for and implemented with an enormous amount of effort - all in the belief that this system was the best one possible. And that it is beneficial to democracies when other countries adopt the system as well.
Our problems today are different than they were then. Germany no longer has any war rubble to clean up. At issue today are the consequences of global capitalism and technological developments, migration and the fear of refugee influx. But we were once able to solve such problems. Merely recalling those times isn't enough.

Preston Goes "Full Churl" on Trudeau

Whatever he might once have been, Preston Manning has become the old man sitting on the front porch rocker yelling at the Future to "get the fuck off my lawn."

Some of you may be too young to recall with clarity the heady days when Preston's racist-laced Reform Party muscled the Progressive Conservatives from their Parliamentary perch in the post-Mulroney years. It was an Alberta-centric pack of rednecks who had no time for those darn Quebeckers, especially if they were named "Trudeau." Preston became leader of the Opposition, ditched his prairie shitkicker duds, the uber-nerd hairdo and got fitted for contacts. He even brought this peckerhead into federal politics as his right hand man.

Yet for all his quirks, Manning was a capable parliamentarian and, at the time, I considered him the most dangerous MP from Western Canada.

Apparently Preston still finds mention of the "Trudeau" name a pain in the goiter. He seems particularly vexed at the federal government's decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline but if there's one thing even worse it's Trudeau's carbon pricing initiative.

Like a bitter old man, Preston attacks Trudeau's policies but without any cogent reasons other than "why it's Trudeau, dammit." Yet the really odd part is that Manning has been all over the board on climate change, petro-pollution and carbon pricing in the past. Let's be kind and just call him "flexible."

When in Rome - Call the Emperor a "Demagogue"?

It's one thing to know Donald Trump is a demagogue. It's another thing to say he's a demagogue. It's something altogether different to go into the American capital and say:
"When people feel their economic future is in jeopardy; when they believe their children have fewer opportunities than they themselves had in their youth; that’s when people are vulnerable to the demagogue who scapegoats the outsider, the other -- whether it’s immigrants at home or foreign actors."
That was part of a speech foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland delivered last night in Washington where she received Foreign Policy magazine's 'diplomat of the year' award.

Freeland offered a brief history of the formation of the G20 and G7, and how international rules-based order came to be. And although those systems spread across the world and created positive change, the assumption that democracy was inevitable everywhere was wrong, Freeland said. 
“The saddest example for me is Russia. Even China, whose economic success in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty is one of the great accomplishments of recent times, stands as a rebuke to our belief in the inevitability of liberal democracy. 
“And within the club of wealthy Western nations, we’re seeing homegrown anti-democratic movements on the rise. Whether they are neo-Nazis, white supremacists, incels, nativists, or radical anti-globalists, such movements seek to undermine democracy from within. 
“The idea that democracy could falter, or be overturned in places where it had previously flourished, may seem outlandish. 
“But other great civilizations have risen -- and then fallen. It is hubris to think we will inevitably be different. Our prime minister likes to say about our country that Canada didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort. The same can be said of democracy itself.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Trump's Fixer in a Jam

Time for a bit of juicy gossip. Recent reports claim Trump is scared sh_tless that his personal fixer, the guy who knows where the bodies are buried, is about to spill his guts to Robert Mueller's crack team of prosecutorial sleuths.

The news today is that Michael Cohen's lawyers will be taking their leave on Friday. When lawyers 'fire' a client it usually results from one or more of just a few causes: the client won't accept the lawyers' advice, the client has stopped paying, or the lawyers have learned incriminating facts about their client that would prevent them from representing that client at trial (a lawyer can be in serious trouble if she/he knowingly allows the client to lie in court). Chances are this is one of those "Door Three" situations.

Apparently federal prosecutors (not Mueller's) from the Southern District of New York, have told Cohen's lawyers that they're just finishing up the indictments. Cohen has said he expects to be in the case-hardened chrome bracelets in the next few days.

From CNBC:
President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is expected to lose his current legal defense team and is likely to begin cooperating with federal prosecutors who are investigating him, according to new reports Wednesday. 
ABC News, which first broke the news in an article citing unidentified sources, said Cohen's current attorneys, Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison, are not expected to represent him going forward in the pending criminal probe in New York City. 
The Wall Street Journal said Ryan's and Harrison's expected departure would come after completing an ongoing review of files seized from Cohen in an April 9 FBI raid.

The Journal article said Cohen is searching for a new criminal defense lawyer and has not yet decided whether to cooperate. ABC News said it is likely that Cohen will cooperate. 
A source close to Cohen who spoke with NBC News confirmed the expected split from Ryan and Harrison and his plan to hire a new lawyer. NBC reported that it is unclear whether the move signals a change in legal strategy or future cooperation by Cohen. 
It is not unusual for a target of a criminal investigation to switch lawyers when they are on the verge of cooperating with prosecutors.
Let's hope that Cohen doesn't get the "full Jack Ruby" before he sings. Stranger things...

Jeremy Grantham - "Capitalism Is Killing the Planet"

Billionaire investor, Jeremy Grantham, knows a lot about capitalism, how it works and when it doesn't. He's known for calling the last two major market bubbles. Now he sees a greater danger on the horizon - climate change - and warns that capitalism of the type so beloved to neoliberals, is making that danger utterly ruinous. Capitalism, he warns, is killing the planet.

"Capitalism and mainstream economics simply cannot deal with these problems. Mainstream economics largely ignore [them]," Grantham, who co-founded GMO in 1977, said Tuesday in an impassioned speech at the Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago. "We deforest the land, we degrade our soils, we pollute and overuse our water and we treat air like an open sewer, and we do it all off the balance sheet."] 
This negligence is due in large part to how short-sighted corporations can be, Grantham said. "Anything that happens to a corporation over 25 years out doesn't exist for them, therefore, as I like to say, grandchildren have no value" to them, he said.
Grantham also pointed out that many of the problems with how capitalists deal with climate change stem from the very nature of corporations. "A corporation's responsibility is to maximize profit, not to spend money and figure out how to save the planet," he said.
It couldn't be plainer that corporate interests conflict with the public interest. Nowhere is this more apparent than in globalized free trade agreements of the type promoted by our prime minister and every one of his predecessors starting with Brian Mulroney and NAFTA.

These insidious pacts all contain the ultimate gift to capital, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, that essentially yields significant elements of national sovereignty to the private sector, that can deter or even prevent government planning for the longterm well being of the public.

Whether Trudeau realizes the trade trap Canada is in is unknown. If he does he shows no sign of it. That he is such a cheerleader for expanded free trade deals suggests he does not.

The evidence mounts that capitalism is killing the planet. The trick is changing course. That will require the sort of leadership Canada hasn't known for many decades.

Living With Trump in the Age of Entropy. We Have to Figure This Out and Soon.

The Washington Post carried this message of warning from Steve Bannon in February, 2017:

Bannon dismissed the idea that Trump might moderate his positions or seek consensus with political opponents. Rather, he said, the White House is digging in for a long period of conflict to transform Washington and upend the world order
“If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken,” Bannon said in reference to the media and opposition forces. “Every day, it is going to be a fight.” 
Bannon says that the post-World War II political and economic consensus is failing and should be replaced with a system that empowers ordinary people over coastal elites and international institutions.
Bannon's warning came to mind following the fractious G7 meeting in Quebec over the weekend. This too seems to be borne out in an analysis piece in Foreign Policy, "The West Will Die So That Trump Can Win." is not surprising that a U.S. administration no longer sees an overriding political need to restrain itself from pushing allies into making trade concessions. The Soviet Union no longer exists. To the extent that the administration’s detractors argue that its demands are unreasonable, or that the United States has bigger fish to fry — like maintaining solidarity in the face of Russian aggression — Trump’s response would presumably be twofold. First, a better deal is always better — “reasonable” is for chumps. Second, if geopolitics stand in the way of the United States getting better trade deals, then geopolitics should give way. Americans don’t care about Crimea; they don’t care about the abstractions of democracy. They care about winning trade wars
To the extent that these two things are true, at least to the average American, Canada and the EU have a bigger problem than they realize. Their strategy at the moment, reflected in tempered responses to Trump, is to wait him out — on the assumption that he will be gone in two and a half years, or less, and that the United States will then go back to normal. But Trump may be the new normal — not in the sense that future presidents will be as crude and loose with the facts, but in the sense that they, reacting to a seismic shift in U.S. public sentiment, will no longer recognize the constraints of solidarity with fellow free-market democracies. Those days are, perhaps, as Bolton would say, “no more.”
In the same issue, Daniel Sargent writes of, "The Slow Rise and Sudden Fall of the G7."

The end times have come and gone for the West over 70-odd years, but it is difficult these days, to escape the sensation that the dusk really is falling.

...After showing up late and interrupting a forum on gender equality, President Donald Trump scowled his way through sessions before departing early for Singapore. And as he headed out, Trump insulted his host and neighbor, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and retracted his signature from the G-7’s communique, ending a 42-year run of choreographed collegiality. Then, over the past 24 hours, Trump has showcased his preference for the company of a callow despot, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, over engagement with what used to be considered America’s closest allies and peers.

...On the most urgent dilemmas of our times — economic inequality, sustainable development, and the looming peril of ecological catastrophe — the G-7 has been irrelevant. The G-7 has not evolved into a directorate capable of offsetting a historic slippage in U.S. hegemonic capabilities, as political scientists like Robert Keohane once hoped it might. To call Donald Trump’s Canadian temper tantrum an assault on the West’s governing framework is to overstate, by a mile, the G-7’s institutional significance. 
Trump’s assault is no death knell; as a project in global leadership, the G-7 was already dead. Its supersession by the G-20 during the global financial crisis confirmed its obsolescence as a framework for governance. The G20, not the G7, functioned as the forum for the coordination of fiscal stimulus efforts in the nadir of 2009. The same goes for the current GDP data. In 1980, the G-7 countries constituted about 51 percent of global production on a purchasing power parity basis; today, the G-7 claims just over 30 percent. The G-7 can no longer maintain a plausible pretension to run the world — it has become a niche organization
And herein lies the real significance — and the real tragedy — of Trump’s petulant behavior. The point of the G-7, as Schmidt, Pompidou, and Ford all grasped, was to foster unity in a historical phase when geopolitical trends were corroding the West. Dialogue on common economic problems, all hoped, would offer an alternative source of cohesion. Or, as Kissinger explained in 1975: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure. 
...Today, it is the sense of unity the G-7 has cultivated that is imperiled. Configurations of power and interest are an insufficient basis for durable order among nations, as diplomatic historians well understand. The West cohered after 1945 not only because of shared enmities but also because its elites cultivated sociability and common values. From the Bilderberg Group to the Trilateral Commission, sociability proved both a source of cohesion and a salve for disagreements. 
Functioning at the most elite level of all, the G-7 nurtured unity among the world’s liberal democracies through economic crises and geopolitical transition. Its debasing by a feckless U.S. president will serve only to tear the West’s fraying bonds of commonality still further asunder. In Beijing and in Moscow, the West’s rivals are cheering.
If Trump is not simply a perverse aberration but the "new normal" of the United States, it seems foolish, even reckless, for Ottawa to imperil Canada by pretending that it's still business as usual.

Maybe there is, finally, a real "Axis of Evil." Maybe there is an emerging alliance of despotism, strongman rule that see lesser, weaker nations as prey for the picking. Look at the leaders Trump is so obviously drawn to - Putin, Xi, Kim, the House of Saud, Erdogan, Orban - just about every murderous thug on the planet.

Don't forget it wasn't that long ago that another gang of thugs sought to carve up the nations of the world among themselves. Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, and the government of the Sun God, Emperor Hirohito. Why should today's thugs be much different?

The world today is vastly different than the world of the 1930s. It is a world that is massively overpopulated; rapaciously consumptive and rapidly running out of resources of all descriptions; and just beginning to become battered by the early onset impacts of climate change and environmental degradation. It would not be rash to think of it as pre-dystopian.

Recently Britain's prestigious think tank, Chatham House, warned that Trump is intent on taking down the World Trade Organization, a precursor to creating a world without rules in which the large economies can pillage lesser economies.
In a world where there are no internationally predictable rules, most countries faced with protectionist actions, crudely, have two options – retaliate or concede. If they choose to retaliate, the optimal strategy is to cause enough pain to the political leadership of the protectionist country that they will back down. This is the course of action that the EU and China have so far taken, with the hope that powerful political constituencies in the US will successfully lobby the administration to change course. 
However, this can only be effective for large economies that the US exports to significantly. For smaller countries without significant leverage, the alternative is to concede and try to negotiate a favourable settlement, which will still be asymmetrical.
In 2014, before Trump declared he was running for president, political scientist R. Schweller described how the world had already embarked on an "age of entropy."
It increasingly seems that the world will no longer have a single superpower, or group of superpowers, that brings order to international politics. Instead, it will have a variety of powers -- including nations, multinational corporations, ideological movements, global crime and terror groups, and human rights organizations -- jockeying with each other, mostly unsuccessfully, to achieve their goals. International politics is transforming from a system anchored in predictable, and relatively constant, principles to a system that is, if not inherently unknowable, far more erratic, unsettled, and devoid of behavioral regularities. In terms of geopolitics, we have moved from an age of order to an age of entropy
Entropy is a scientific concept that measures disorder: the higher the entropy, the higher the disorder. And disorder is precisely what will characterize the future of international politics. In this leaderless world, threats are much more likely to be cold than hot; danger will come less frequently in the form of shooting wars among great powers than diffuse disagreements over geopolitical, monetary, trade, and environmental issues. Problems and crises will arise more frequently and, when they do, will be resolved less cooperatively.
During the Occupy movement there were many warnings about America falling into class warfare. That prompted billionaire investor, Warren Buffet, that America had already gone through a class war and his class, the wealthiest, had won it. The poor and the working class, by the time they woke up, they had already lost.

Perhaps what we should be focusing now is on whether our government, the Trudeau Liberals, have the measure of these seismic shifts in the world order. Do they understand the uncertainties we face and our vulnerabilities? Why do they keep acting as though we're still in the 80s? Why do they keep dreaming that Donald Trump could ever be our friend?

"A Big Step Backwards"

Global consumption of fossil fuels - oil and coal - rebounded last year. It's enough that fossil energy giant, BP, called it "a big step backwards" and warned that the world may be on course to miss the already paltry goals of the Paris Climate Summit.

The renewed upward march of global carbon emissions is worrying and a big step backwards in the fight against climate change, according to BP
Emissions rose 1.6% in 2017 after flatlining for the previous three years, which the British oil firm said was a reminder the world was not on track to hit the goals of the Paris climate deal
Renewable power generation grew by 17% last year, led by wind and followed by what BP called “stunning” growth in solar. 
But strong economic growth led to above-average energy demand, coal use bounced back in China and efficiency gains slowed down, causing emissions to jump, the company’s annual statistical review of world energy found.
That should be music to Justin Trudeau's bitumen-clogged ears. Misery loves company and he already has Canada on course to miss our emission cut targets. Besides, if China is going back to coal again, they're going to love our bitumen.

Well played, Justin.

Monbiot Trashes NAFTA

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, hates NAFTA. He thinks it a scam perpetrated without the consent of the peoples of Canada, America and Mexico by their political bosses. Monbiot especially detests the ISDS or Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause. He also defends Donald Trump's demand for a 5-year "sunset clause."

In seeking to update the treaty, governments in the three countries have candidly sought to thwart the will of the people. Their stated intention was to finish the job before Mexico’s presidential election in July. The leading candidate, Andrés Lopez Obrador, has expressed hostility to Nafta, so it had to be done before the people cast their vote. They might wonder why so many have lost faith in democracy.

Nafta provides a perfect illustration of why all trade treaties should contain a sunset clause. Provisions that made sense to the negotiators in the early 1990s make no sense to anyone today, except fossil fuel companies and greedy lawyers. The most obvious example is the way its rules for investor-state dispute settlement have been interpreted. These clauses (chapter 11 of the treaty) were supposed to prevent states from unfairly expropriating the assets of foreign companies. But they have spawned a new industry, in which aggressive lawyers discover ever more lucrative means of overriding democracy. 
The rules grant opaque panels of corporate lawyers, meeting behind closed doors, supreme authority over the courts and parliaments of its member states. A BuzzFeed investigation revealed they had been used to halt criminal cases, overturn penalties incurred by convicted fraudsters, allow companies to get away with trashing rainforests and poisoning villages, and, by placing foreign businesses above the law, intimidate governments into abandoning public protections
Under Nafta, these provisions have become, metaphorically and literally, toxic. When Canada tried to ban a fuel additive called MMT as a potentially dangerous neurotoxin, the US manufacturer used Nafta rules to sue the government. Canada was forced to lift the ban, and award the company $13m (£10m) in compensation. After Mexican authorities refused a US corporation permission to build a hazardous waste facility, the company sued before a Nafta panel, and extracted $16.7m in compensation. Another US firm, Lone Pine Resources, is suing Canada for $119m because the government of Quebec has banned fracking under the St Lawrence River. 
As the US justice department woke up to the implications of these rules in the 1990s, it began to panic: one official wrote that it “could severely undermine our system of justice” and grant foreign companies “more rights than Americans have”. Another noted: “No one thought about this when Nafta implementing law passed.”
Nafta obliges Canada not only to export most of its oil and half its natural gas to the US, but also to ensure that the proportion of these fuels produced from tar sands and fracking does not change. As a result, the Canadian government cannot adhere to both its commitments under the Paris agreement on climate change and its commitments under Nafta. While the Paris commitments are voluntary, Nafta’s are compulsory. 
Were such disasters foreseen by the negotiators? If so, the trade agreement was a plot against the people. If not – as the evidence strongly suggests – its unanticipated outcomes are a powerful argument for a sunset clause.
...Those who defend the immortality of trade agreements argue that it provides certainty for business. It’s true that there is a conflict between business confidence and democratic freedom. This conflict is repeatedly resolved in favour of business. That the only defender of popular sovereignty in this case is an odious demagogue illustrates the corruption of 21st-century liberal democracy.  
...Trump was right to spike the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He is right to demand a sunset clause for Nafta. When this devious, hollow, self-interested man offers a better approximation of the people’s champion than any other leader, you know democracy is in trouble.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

What Then Must We Do? Canada's Place Alongside the United States in Turbulent Times.

Do you ever wonder how close the United States may be to abandoning democracy? Do you ever wonder what that might mean for Canada? Are you familiar with the word, "anschluss"?

Even The Economist recently rated the US as a "flawed democracy."  That might have been overly generous. A paper released by Princeton in 2014 written by two professors, Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern), contrasted the voting record of Congress to the public will and reached the compelling conclusion that democracy had yielded to plutocracy in the American state. America's "bought and paid for" Congress had been "captured" by narrow, powerful interests and had ceased to serve the public interest. America was in the process of transforming into an oligarchy.

We watched as America's legislatures, state and federal, were captured. The telltale signs included the thwarting of campaign finance reform, the rise of a dominant corporate media cartel (think Sinclair Broadcasting) and the arrival of organizations such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where captured legislators made pilgrimage to be given industry-drafted bills to take back and pass into law.

This sort of big money corruption is gangrenous and, true to form, it quickly spread to regulatory capture where representatives of regulated industries come to control the quasi-judicial boards that regulate those same industries. Trump's poster boy for this is EPA head, Scott Pruitt, who is out to dismantle most environmental regulations.

A lot of the corruption-fueled decline in American democracy predates Donald Trump but the Mango Mussolini has been a powerful catalyst who may propel the United States into a new level of authoritarianism, possibly extending into outright fascism.

When it comes to global leadership, Trump spurns America's traditional allies but has revealed a preternatural affinity for tyrants including some of the most murderous. Trump sees the retreat of liberal democracy through much of the world and will not come to its aid or defence.

Trump has little time for America's vaunted system of checks and balances. He does not recognize three co-equal branches of government. He regularly attacks law enforcement and the judiciary. He is intent on contaminating the US Supreme Court by transforming it into a partisan political agency. Neither Congress nor the American people seem to realize that a partisan political Supreme Court cannot uphold justice in the land. The Rule of Law becomes meaningless. Trump insists that the Department of Justice works for him, not the nation. When impartiality is extinguished what remains is one party rule and when that is coupled with an imperial presidency you have one-man rule.

As American public intellectual, Henry Giroux, recently wrote:
While the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, passions and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism and militarism, are at the center of power in the Trump administration. 
When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices.
Before America's Electoral College handed Trump the presidency, several scholars who listened to his campaign rhetoric observed that Trump's vision of reforming the United States government strayed well into the extra-constitutional. Trump would have to go rogue, unconstitutional. To do that he would need to subdue or disable both the judicial and legislative branches of government. He's done a good job with House leader, Paul Ryan, and Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. With two, possibly even three more, Supreme Court vacancies in the near future, he can probably capture the already compromised judiciary also. Then it's just a matter of a Reichstag Fire.

These are problems that the American people will have to address. Perhaps they're willing to accept a post-democratic authoritarian government, strong man rule. That's their call.  Canadians, however, will be impacted by developments south of the 49th parallel perhaps more than ever in the history of our two nations.

We need to start considering how the decline of American democracy will alter the relationship between our nations; how it may impact us as individuals; whether we need to formulate some bottom line or red lines that will limit or regulate dealings between our countries. Are we at risk of succumbing to this American contagion? Should we be taking steps to rehabilitate and renew liberal democracy in Canada? Is democracy really all that secure in the True North or are we deluding ourselves? Can we afford this "open border" policy we once took such pride in? There are doubtless many issues we need to consider, questions we need to ask.

We're going to have to figure this out somehow. America is changing. It already has changed. It's not the beacon of democracy any more. To ignore that, to pretend that it's still Ozzie & Harriet and that the 2020 presidential elections will provide some magical reset button is delusional. Being next door neighbours leaves us uniquely exposed and vulnerable to this new America that seems intent on trying to forestall its decline by throwing out the rule books and exacting tribute from friend and adversary alike.

Churchill famously opined that America could always be counted on to do the right thing, after it had exhausted every other option. I wish that still held true. It doesn't. The right thing seems to have lost its currency in Washington.

This is as good a time as any to start talking among ourselves. We have a lot of catching up to do.

They're the Oldest Living Giants on Earth and They're Dying

Some of them are believed to pre-date the Christian era. The oldest is thought to be 2,500 years of age. They're Africa's iconic Baobab trees and yet, after enduring centuries, millenia for some, they're dying off. Yes, it's climate change that's the most likely culprit.

The trees, aged between 1,100 and 2,500 years and in some cases as wide as a bus is long, may have fallen victim to climate change, the team speculated. 
“We report that nine of the 13 oldest … individuals have died, or at least their oldest parts/stems have collapsed and died, over the past 12 years,” they wrote in the scientific journal Nature Plants, describing “an event of an unprecedented magnitude”. 
“It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages,” said the study’s co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babeș-Bolyai University in Romania.

Among the nine were four of the largest African baobabs. While the cause of the die-off remains unclear, the researchers “suspect that the demise of monumental baobabs may be associated at least in part with significant modifications of climate conditions that affect southern Africa in particular”.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Living in a World Without Rules

The international order is beginning to feel like the League of Nations. Donald Trump wants a "might is right" world and his steel and aluminium tariffs are a ploy to create it.

These tariffs, whether by coincidence or design, continue President Trump’s ongoing efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement process. 
The tariffs were ostensibly levied on national security grounds, and the WTO allows for trade policy to protect industries relevant for national security. But this has been invoked so rarely and narrowly that there is little precedent as to what constitutes a legitimate national security concern. 
Indeed, the WTO will be wary of finding against a state that invokes national security concerns – it is not a politically sustainable position for an unelected international body to claim it understands a state’s national security needs better than the state’s own government, no matter how implausible the justification might be on its face. President Trump has already said he will withdraw the US from the WTO if they receive an unfavourable ruling, and such a ruling would provide a justifiable reason. 
Meanwhile, the Trump administration refuses to approve any new members of the WTO Appellate Body, which adjudicates disputes. This will leave it without a quorum to decide cases against the US, China or India when the next Appellate Body member’s term expires in September, and without the requisite three members to adjudicate any disputes by the end of 2019.

The Ugly American.
In a world where there are no internationally predictable rules, most countries faced with protectionist actions, crudely, have two options – retaliate or concede. If they choose to retaliate, the optimal strategy is to cause enough pain to the political leadership of the protectionist country that they will back down. This is the course of action that the EU and China have so far taken, with the hope that powerful political constituencies in the US will successfully lobby the administration to change course. 
However, this can only be effective for large economies that the US exports to significantly. For smaller countries without significant leverage, the alternative is to concede and try to negotiate a favourable settlement, which will still be asymmetrical. This course of action was taken by South Korea in response to the tariffs, which agreed to export quotas on steel in exchange for a permanent exemption.

Scientists Want New Hurricane Upgrade - Category 6

It seems that Category 5 may no longer cut it.

As the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season begins, scientists are worried that U.S. coastal communities could face more super storms with winds, storm surges and rainfall so intense that current warning categories don't fully capture the threat.

The analysis, published this week by four prominent climate scientists, also shows other clear trends, including a poleward migration of the areas where storms reach peak intensity, which puts new areas at risk, including New England and even Europe. 
Storms are also intensifying more quickly, with a greater chance they will drop record amounts of rain, especially if they stall out when they hit land, as Hurricane Harvey did in Houston last year. 
"The weight of the evidence suggests that the 30-year-old prediction of more intense and wetter tropical cyclones is coming to pass. This is a risk that we can no longer afford to ignore," wrote the authors—Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Kerry Emanuel of MIT, Jim Kossin of NOAA and Mann.
..."The current intensity scale doesn't capture the fact that a 10 mph increase in sustained wind speeds ups the damage potential by 20 percent," Mann said. "That's not a subtle effect. It's one that we can see." Based on the spacing of Categories 1-5, there should be a Category 6 approaching peak winds of 190 mph, he said. 
Creating a new warning level for unprecedented storms could help save lives. When Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record, hit the Philippines in 2013, people died in shelters that had been designed to withstand a historic storm surge but still flooded.
...The question is how to prepare, and in many parts of the U.S., existing disaster recovery programs are resulting in infrastructure being rebuilt in harm's way, without consideration of how global warming will intensify impacts, said Jessica Grannis, adaptation program manager with the Georgetown Climate Center in Washington, D.C. 
"There are bad recovery decisions being made," Grannis said, using the impacts of Hurricane Irene in Vermont as an example. 
Flooding from the 2011 storm destroyed big sections of the state's road system by washing out old culverts designed for a climate that no longer exists. Recovery included plans for replacing the old drainage systems with new "bottomless" culverts that can handle much more water, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency "denied them the cost of those culverts," she said. "Disaster recovery programs push people into replacing old systems with the same thing."
... Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said another big concern is the Trump administration removing flood safety standards "without any regard as to why they exist." 
"The damages that occurred last year strongly suggest that small investments in resilience in the past 10 years could well have saved hundreds of billions of dollars and lots of strife," he said. "After Hurricane Katrina, the Corp of Engineers built back the levees to withstand a Category 3 hurricane, but not a Category 5 hurricane. That makes no sense to me, and in many areas the U.S. seems incapable of planning ahead for real risks.

As You Sow, So Shall You Reap

Yeah, sure. Yada, yada, yada. Only this time it seems it's for real.

For some while now we've been hearing about microplastics and our oceans. Now we're eating the microplastics that we ditched.

Shellfish are the natural filter systems of our seas, mechanisms of purity. So, to discover in a report released on World Oceans Day that mussels bought from UK supermarkets were infested with microplastic seems like a final irony in the terrible story of the plasticisation of the sea. According to the study by the University of Hull and Brunel University London, 70 particles of microplastic were found in every 100 grams of mussels. 
There’s a vital disconnection here – highlighted by the bottled water you drink to wash down your moules-frites, and the fact that 89% of ocean trash comes from single-use plastic. No sea is immune from this plague, nor any ocean creature, from the modest mussel or zooplankton to the great whales.
That we cannot look underneath what Herman Melville called “the ocean’s skin” is part of the problem. It is as if, defeated by the sea’s mystery, we punish it for defying our dominion. And so, it wreaks its revenge, feeding our own rubbish back to us. Shakespeare’s Ariel looked down into the ocean and saw “something rich and strange”; we look down and see our consuming society reflected back at us.

Gunning for Galen

And he seems like such a nice, thoughtful young man. Perhaps not.
Britain’s biggest asset manager wants to remove the chairmen of the board at eight companies worldwide, which it says have failed to confront the threats posed by climate change. 
Legal & General Investment Management, the fund arm of insurer Legal & General (LGEN.L), has been among the most vocal asset managers on the topic, recently writing to some of the world’s top companies calling for more action.
One of LGIM's targets is Loblaw Companies and its CEO, Galen Weston. Loblaw says it was a mix-up in communications.
Loblaw said it believed LGIM was referring to a mid-May request for information about its environmental commitments to which it had yet to reply. The Canadian firm said it intended to do so, highlighting commitments including a detailed plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent by 2030.

The Fight Against Neoliberal Fascism is Anchored in Memory

Fascism today doesn't look exactly as it did when it spread through Germany and Italy in the 30s but the foundational elements are alive and well around the world today, including the United States of America.

Henry Giroux contends the key to beating back modern neo-fascists rests in historical memory.

As Hannah Arendt reminds us, the protean elements of fascism always run the risk of crystallizing into new forms. Historical memory is a prerequisite to the political and moral witnessing necessary to successfully counter growing fascism in the United States today. As Richard Evans, the renowned historian of modern Germany, observes, the Trump administration may not replicate all the features of Germany and Italy in the 1930s, but the legacy of fascism is important because it echoes a “warning from history” that cannot be dismissed. What historians such as Evans, Timothy Snyder and others have suggested is that it is crucial to examine history in order to understand what tyranny and authoritarianism look like and how we can use the past to fight against such forces. While the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, passions and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism and militarism, are at the center of power in the Trump administration.

When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices. Fascism is not unvarying and expresses its most fundamental attacks on democracy in different arrangements, which is all the more reason for people to develop what Timothy Snyder calls “an active relationship to history” in order to prevent a normalizing relationship to authoritarian regimes such as the United States under Trump’s rule. Surely, a critical understanding of history would go a long way in enabling the American people to recognize the elements of a fascist discourse in much of Trump’s racist tweets, speeches and policies.
...If there is one thing that the important lessons of history in the work of writers such as George Orwell have taught us, it is that we must refuse to be complicit in the mockery of truth. This is especially crucial in the current historical moment, given the way the Trump administration — along with far-right media giants, such as Infowars, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Fox News and Breitbart News Network — work to aggressively propagate a vast disimagination machine. With the death of historical memory comes the nightmare we had thought was no longer possible to witness again.
The Rise of Civic Illiteracy.
Donald Trump’s ascendancy in American politics has made visible a plague of deep-seated civic illiteracy, a corrupt political system and a contempt for reason that has been decades in the making. It also points to the withering of civic attachments, the undoing of civic culture, the decline of public life and the erosion of any sense of shared citizenship. As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. ...At the same time, reason and truth are not simply contested or the subject of informed arguments as they should be, but wrongly vilified — banished to Trump’s poisonous world of “fake news.”
Under the Trump administration, language has been pillaged, truth and reason disparaged, and words and phrases emptied of any substance or turned into their opposite, all via the endless production of Trump’s Twitter storms and the ongoing clown spectacle of Fox News. ...What we are witnessing is not simply a political project to consolidate power in the hands of the corporate and financial elite, but also a reworking of the very meaning of literacy and education as crucial to what it means to create an informed citizenry and democratic society. In an age when literacy and thinking become dangerous to the anti-democratic forces governing all the commanding economic and cultural institutions of the United States, truth is viewed as a liability, ignorance becomes a virtue, and informed judgments and critical thinking are demeaned and turned into rubble and ashes. ...Traces of critical thought appear more and more at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society.
...The culture of manufactured illiteracy is also reproduced through a media apparatus that trades in illusions and the spectacle of violence.  ...In the age of manufactured illiteracy, there is more at work than simply an absence of learning, ideas or knowledge. Nor can the reign of manufactured illiteracy be solely attributed to the rise of the new social media, a culture of immediacy and a society that thrives on instant gratification. On the contrary, manufactured illiteracy is a political and educational project central to a right-wing corporatist ideology and set of policies that work aggressively to depoliticize people and make them complicitous with the neoliberal and racist political and economic forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.
The War on Education.
Increasingly, neoliberal regimes across Europe and North America have waged a major assault on higher education and those faculty and students who view it as crucial to producing the modes of learning and formative cultures necessary in the struggle for a strong and healthy democracy. For instance, in the United States, higher education is being defunded, devalued and privatized while also restricting access to working- and lower-middle-class students. Those underprivileged students who do have access to some form of post-secondary education are too frequently burdened with financial debts. ...The attack on higher education has a long history. Since the 1980s, the democratic principles of the university have been under assault by right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, a select financial elite and big corporations, “leading to a blurring of the lines between the university and the corporate world.” Increasingly, the object of higher education is the individual consumer rather than the public good.
... One of the challenges facing the current generation of educators, students and others is the need to address the question of what is the role and mission of education in a time of tyranny. What should it attempt to accomplish in a society at a historical moment when society is slipping over into an abyss of fascism? Central to such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What will it take for higher education not to abandon its role as a democratic public sphere? What work do educators have to do to create the economic, political and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people and the general public with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? What kind of language is necessary for higher education to redefine its mission, one that enables faculty and students to work toward a different future than one that echoes the present, to confront the unspeakable, to recognize themselves as agents, not victims, and to muster up the courage to act in the service of a substantive and inclusive democracy? In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic values and impulses, what will it take to educate young people and the broader polity to challenge authority and hold power accountable?

Neoliberalism and Fascism - the Bond.

I bring the two terms together in the phrase “neoliberal fascism,” which I define as both a project and a movement. Neoliberalism is an enabling force that weakens, if not destroys the commanding institutions of a democracy while undermining its most valuable principles. It is part of what Sheldon Wolin called a totalitarian imaginary that constitutes a revolutionary break from democracy. This is a form of fascism in which state rule is replaced by corporate sovereignty and a culture of fear, insecurity and precarity reinvigorates executive power and the rise of the punishing state. Consequently, neoliberalism as a form of gangster capitalism provides a fertile ground for the unleashing of the ideological architecture, poisonous values, and racist social relations sanctioned and produced under fascism. Neoliberalism and fascism conjoin and advance in a comfortable and mutually compatible project and movement that connects the worst excesses of capitalism with fascist ideals: the veneration of war and a hatred of reason and truth; a populist celebration of ultra-nationalism and racial purity; the suppression of freedom and dissent; a culture which promotes lies, spectacles of disparagement and a demonization of the other; a discourse of decline, brutal exploitation and ultimately, state violence in heterogeneous forms. All vestiges of the social are replaced by an idealization of individualism and all forms of responsibility are reduced to individual agents. Neoliberalism creates a failed democracy, and in doing so, opens up the fascists’ use of fear and terror to transform a state of exception into a state of emergency. As a project, it destroys all the commanding institutions of democracy and consolidates power in the hands of a financial elite. 

It is time to repudiate the notion that capitalism and democracy are the same thing, renew faith in the promises of a democratic socialism, create new political formations around an alliance of diverse social movements and take seriously the need to make education central to politics itself. As Walter Benjamin reminds us, fascism is the product often of failed democracies, and under the reign of neoliberalism, we are in the midst of not simply a dysfunctional democracy, but in the grip of an extreme form of gangster capitalism wedded to unbridled forms of corporate power that produce massive inequalities in wealth and power, and aggressively wage war on everything crucial to a vibrant democratic society.