Friday, November 16, 2018

CIA Fingers Saudi Crown Prince for Khashoggi Murder

The Saudis have worked overtime to try to insulate Mohammad bin Sultan, their Crown Prince, from the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. It doesn't seem to have worked.

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the Washington Post has reported. 
The Post said US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved. 
It is the strongest assessment to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing, and complicates Donald Trump’s efforts to safeguard US ties with one of the closest American allies in the region. 
...The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother – Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States – had with Khashoggi.
Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said. 
The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction.

Look, Canada's Right Up There With China, Russia

Oh to see ourselves as others see us. Don't we work hard to make sure that never happens?

How does 5 degrees Celsius hit you? A study published today claims that the climate policies of China, Russia and the True North Strong and Free would drive global warming to a 5C rise.
China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries. 
The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safelevel of heating. 
The study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, assesses the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed their example.
...The related website also serves as a guide to how nations are sharing the burden of responding to the greatest environmental threat humankind has ever faced.

Among the major economies, the study shows India is leading the way with a target that is only slightly off course for 2C. Less developed countries are generally more ambitious, in part because they have fewer factories, power plants and cars, which means they have lower emissions to rein in. 
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the industrial powerhouse China and major energy exporters who are doing almost nothing to limit carbon dioxide emissions. These include Saudi Arabia (oil), Russia (gas) and Canada, which is drawing vast quantities of dirty oil from tar sands. Fossil fuel lobbies in these countries are so powerful that government climate pledges are very weak, setting the world on course for more than 5C of heating by the end of the century.
In other words, you've got a prime minister feeding you a diet dangerously rich in horseshit.

Sleight of Hand:
Under the Paris agreement, there is no top-down consensus on what is a fair share of responsibility. Instead each nation sets its own bottom-up targets according to a number of different factors, including political will, level of industrialisation, ability to pay, population size, historical responsibility for emissions. Almost every government, the authors say, selects an interpretation of equity that serves their own interests and allows them to achieve a relative gain on other nations.
Neoliberalism has transformed us over the past 40 years. Not just our governments but us as individuals. We have come to accept as normal policies and practices that maximize consumption without anything more than market restraint. We have cannibalized the achievements our predecessors bequeathed to us. We have rapaciously devoured whatever we could lay our hands on in the present. We embraced an ideology of "because I can" with scant regard to whether we should. Worst of all, we have robbed generations to come of a decent future. Asking us to atone for our excess, even to make basic sacrifices, has become an affront. Somehow it morphs into self-righteous indignation. "How dare you?"

During the Harper years I felt deeply ashamed of my country as it was properly mocked, even denounced as a climate change pariah. When Trudeau marched onto the floor of the 2015 Paris climate summit and boasted "Canada's back," I and many Canadians felt that environmental enlightenment was to return. No longer would we be a climate pariah. And yet we still wallow in the gutter with the worst of the worst. Just the three of us - China, Russia and Canada. This is leadership, responsible Liberal leadership?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Messing Up the Food Chain. Can't We Leave Enough for the Whales?

Okay, they're not really whales. They're a large species of dolphin but the Orca, a.k.a. Killer Whales, are one of the most majestic creatures here on the wet coast. Unfortunately, like other non-human species, we're driving them into extinction.

How so? In my opinion, it begins with the annual harvest of roe herring. A large fleet of fishing vessels follow the herring as they migrate south along the east coast of Vancouver Island to meet the lucrative Asian demand for herring roe.

You know when the herring are passing through by the arrival of the fishing fleet and various creatures from sea birds to sea lions that arrive to feast on the hapless herring. Sometimes the sea changes colour to a pale green from the milt released by the males to fertilize the eggs.

It's not just sea lions and sea birds that depend on the availability of herring. So too do the salmon. Many people link the decline in salmon stocks to the commercial fleet's predation of the herring.

Then there's the food chain. Next rung up are the Orca, the magnificent and majestic beasts that live in the Salish Sea. They're starting to run out of their favourite fish, salmon, and they're endangered because of it. Part of the Orca's predicament, in the mind of the locals at least, is, once again, the commercial fishing fleet. For the salmon, the commercial boats present a double whammy threat.

Now the southern resident Orca so beloved on our coast are endangered.
The unfolding tragedy of the southern resident killer whales – and the government response – has exposed a complex ecosystem in crisis. Chinook salmon, the whale’s main prey, are also disappearing. In an area heavily reliant on tourism and fishing, an impending collapse of the two species has led to feuding over how to stave off an ecological disaster. 
“Shutting us down to create more prey for them is not going to do anything for their diet,” said Chamberland. After the news broke, he began receiving panicked calls from clients, looking to cancel trips planned months in advance. Shock quickly gave way to frustration for the young business owner. “I think it’s really scary that we are the target,” he said of the closures.
...“We have an obligation both legally and from a moral perspective, from the context of sustaining biodiversity, to do what we can to protect and recover these whales,” the federal fisheries minister, Jonathan Wilkinson, told the Guardian. “The decline of biodiversity around the world we’re seeing is extremely sobering.”
Coming from this government, that concern rings hollow. DFO is not going to shut down either the pillaging of roe herring or the dwindling salmon stocks. Worse yet, Justin will brook no opposition to his plan to sail an armada of heavily laden bitumen tankers through the waters frequented by both resident and transient Orca.

What we're witnessing first hand is the same human predation that has caused the global population of wildlife to shrink by more than half since the 1970s. We're destroying their habitat, fracturing delicate food chains, a process that claims its victims all the way up the food chain.

We've got the very worst form of government in the wheelhouse, the neoliberals, Conservative or Liberal. Whether it's their obsequious obedience to Big Oil or the predation of our endangered wildlife and biodiversity, business trumps the environment and the Canadian people every time.

Trudeau may like to pose for photos in a canoe, adorned in his father's famous buckskin jacket, but that's as close to Pierre Trudeau as he's going to get. Liberals need to come to grips with what they're really got. Author Donald Gutstein recently compared father and son.

One Trudeau tried to counter Big Oil’s dominance; the other did Big Oil’s bidding. Pierre Trudeau’s message was this: Canadian oil policy must be for the benefit of Canadians. Justin Trudeau’s message was this: Climate change isn’t a crisis but a market opportunity. We can deal with it by putting a price on carbon and by investing in clean growth. 
How did this happen? How did we go from giving the oil industry orders to having the oil industry dictate climate policy?

When Trudeau the elder created Petro-Canada and introduced the National Energy Program, Keynesianism still reigned supreme. Government intervention in the economy was legitimate. By the time of Trudeau the younger, neoliberalism had transformed economic and political thinking, decreeing that only the market can make decisions. 
Neoliberalism reduces the role of government to creating and enforcing markets, and propping them up when they fail, as in the 2008 financial meltdown. Otherwise, just get out of the way.
This neoliberal stamp is all over Canada. You see it in Trudeau's energy policy. You see it in Morneau's dismissive "lump it" warning that Canadians are just going to have to prepare for a life of "job churn." You see it in the threatened Boreal caribou herds. You see it in Trudeau's obsession with flooding the world with climate-killing bitumen carried by an armada of supertankers plying the waters of coastal British Columbia. You see it in the declining salmon stocks. You see it in the endangered Orca population. This is the face of neoliberalism and, as anyone willing to open their eyes will see, it ends badly.

Make no mistake about it. This is what you'll be endorsing when you go to the polls next year. The only option Trudeau will have on offer is to choose the lesser of two evils - him or Scheer. "Better than the other guy" has become pretty thin gruel.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

LA Times - Trump's "Cocoon of Bitterness and Resentment"

It's perceptible, even palpable. Donald Trump is showing the strain of the mid-term elections. He's looking worn and acting like an angry child. This, from the Los Angeles Times:

For weeks this fall, an ebullient President Trump traveled relentlessly to hold raise-the-rafters campaign rallies — sometimes three a day — in states where his presence was likely to help Republicans on the ballot. 
But his mood apparently has changed as he has taken measure of the electoral backlash that voters delivered Nov. 6. With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources. 
Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials. “He’s furious,” said one administration official. “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

From Belleau Wood to Arlington National Cemetery to the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit, Trump has gone AWOL.
What makes Trump’s perceived snub to the Asian powers more significant is that it comes on the heels of his brief European trip, which showcased his growing isolation from transatlantic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked Trump in a speech, stating that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” as the U.S. president looked on sullenly.

Trump’s relations with Latin America, already strained, are little better after the White House last week announced that he was reneging for a second time on a commitment to visit Colombia. He had planned to go there later this month on his way back from the G-20 meetings.

In April, he’d sent Pence in his place to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, citing a need to remain in Washington to monitor the U.S. response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. He’d planned to visit Bogota on the same trip.

This time around, there appeared to be no extenuating circumstances preventing a visit.
There's a natural temptation to revel in Trump's apparent misery but Schadenfreude shouldn't mask the fact that this guy is seriously unstable and volatile. Worse yet he seems to be moving to purge the voices of moderation from his inner circle, swapping them out for radical sycophants.

Meanwhile, Anne Summers writes in today's Sydney Morning Herald that Trump may be a one-term president. Summers says he's cornered - and he knows it.
A helluva lot was riding on the [mid-term] elections and even if on the night it might have seemed the results were more a rebuke than a repudiation, on closer examination the results are not just good, they are very good.

The next two years are going to be very nasty. Trump is cornered and he knows it. His behaviour since the election indicates how he intends to fight: firing his Attorney-General, no doubt setting in train an attempted firing of Special Prosecutor Mueller, escalating his war against the media.

...We know from Bob Woodward’s recent book, from "Anonymous" in The New York Times and from almost everyone who reports on the White House that we are dealing with an unmoored and dangerous man. We also know that Mueller has a truckload of sealed indictments, including against members of Trump’s family.

Trump has no political skills. Nor does he know how to govern. But neither of this matters any more. 
He is fighting - not for his political life, which is all but over, but for his very liberty. 
The end game, as US commentators are already calling it, is likely to get very ugly.

But it is the end we are looking at, which means we can look forward to it being over. 
...Trump’s so-called base is now locked geographically and demographically. They are overwhelmingly white in a country where "minorities" are fast increasing their share of the population and they are mostly older, often considerably older than the Democrats’ new base. The future is not with them, not even the near future based on Tuesday’s results when a clear majority of Americans delivered a clear and unambiguous verdict on their President.
... But the most heartening result for those worried about incipient fascism was the decisive return to blue of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

In Michigan, 57.5 per cent of registered voters, the biggest voter turnout since 1967, went to the polls. In the Wisconsin suburbs the affluent Republicans who had kept the odious Scott Walker in the governor’s mansion turned their backs on him – and Trump. In Pennsylvania the Democrats picked up three seats and a governor with almost 60 per cent of the vote. 
These are the three states that enabled Trump to win in 2016. Now, with Democrats in control of their redistricting and with 46 Electoral College votes between them, they will ensure he cannot win in 2020.

It'll Be the Death of Us All. Trudeau's Failed Climate Policy.

I like to think George Monbiot had Justin Trudeau in mind when he wrote:

Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. As if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds.

Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.

In the latest Tyee there's a piece entitled, "The Rise and Fall of Justin Trudeau's 'Grand Bargain' on Climate."

The article, excerpted from Donald Gutstein's book, "The Big Stall," It begins with a dinner meeting in Ottawa between Rachel Notley and her courtiers and Justin Trudeau and his own just days after the election in 2015. Notley was in the national capital to pitch the Dauphin on her climate change policy before he headed off to the Paris climate summit.

After they discussed Alberta’s miserable reputation on the international climate change front, it became clear that Trudeau would back Notley’s carbon tax and “take it national” in short order. And the national carbon tax would give Trudeau licence to approve pipelines that would expand Alberta’s oilsands production. Knowing that Trudeau had her back, Notley could proceed with her plan. The stars were aligning nationally and provincially: Trudeau and Notley could count on each other’s support during the carbon pricing and pipeline approval wars. 
It didn’t take long for events to unfold. Two weeks later, John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, gave Trudeau some advice on how to get serious about climate change. Writing in the online magazine iPolitics, Manley reminded Trudeau that the chief executives had been on record since 2007 about the need to put a price on carbon in order to erase uncertainty for corporate planners and investors. 
Manley then made two points: Trudeau had to demonstrate a commitment to “responsible” climate action and he needed to step up efforts to support the export of energy products. More pipelines please. And from the actions Manley said must be undertaken — don’t damage the competitiveness of Canadian companies, phase in carbon pricing gradually, use revenues raised primarily to cut corporate and personal income taxes — it’s clear the responsibility was to the financial well-being of Canadian companies and not to the future of the planet.
And that’s what Trudeau did over the next year, demonstrating a commitment to “responsible” climate action without damaging the corporate bottom line, an agenda also followed by Notley. On the export side of the equation, Trudeau approved two diluted bitumen pipelines plus a liquefied natural gas plant on the British Columbia coast. But he rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which by this time was clearly dead to everyone, probably including Enbridge.
Justin Trudeau went on to comfort the Oil Patch with assurances that he was not his father's boy. And, boy, he was not.
For most of the world, the oil crisis of the 1970s and the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 have little in common beyond the fact they both were all about humanity’s seemingly bottomless appetite for burning fossil fuels. 
But Canada has an additional commonality: a member of the Trudeau family was leading the country during each of these events.
Prime minister Pierre Trudeau took dramatic action, creating a national energy company and exerting aggressive public oversight of the industry, in the process enraging the big oil companies and their allies in Edmonton and Washington, D.C. 
His son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, put forward modest measures Big Oil itself had been advocating for a decade, receiving industry’s plaudits. 
One Trudeau tried to counter Big Oil’s dominance; the other did Big Oil’s bidding. Pierre Trudeau’s message was this: Canadian oil policy must be for the benefit of Canadians. Justin Trudeau’s message was this: Climate change isn’t a crisis but a market opportunity. We can deal with it by putting a price on carbon and by investing in clean growth. 
How did this happen? How did we go from giving the oil industry orders to having the oil industry dictate climate policy?

How this apple fell so far from the tree.
When Trudeau the elder created Petro-Canada and introduced the National Energy Program, Keynesianism still reigned supreme. Government intervention in the economy was legitimate. By the time of Trudeau the younger, neoliberalism had transformed economic and political thinking, decreeing that only the market can make decisions. 
Neoliberalism reduces the role of government to creating and enforcing markets, and propping them up when they fail, as in the 2008 financial meltdown. Otherwise, just get out of the way.

Canada's climate sleight of hand.
In Paris..., at the make-or-break climate change meetings, the talk had been all about two degrees Celsius and even 1.5 degrees Celsius, a vastly more ambitious target promoted by Trudeau’s Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna. It was a target Canada had no intention of meeting, as became obvious over the next year.

Canada’s goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions — its intended nationally determined contribution — 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, reducing emission from 742 megatonnes to 517 megatonnes, admittedly a daunting task (projected as of December 2016). “Canada is back,” Trudeau was telling the assembled dignitaries. Yet while McKenna was setting praiseworthy temperature and emission-reduction targets, she was designing Canada’s escape hatch as well, as chair of the Article 6 committee that authorized emission markets.

...Article 6 of the Paris Agreement lays out rules for countries that choose to engage “on a voluntary basis in co-operative approaches that involve the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards nationally determined contributions.” In plain English, this article authorizes countries to participate in carbon markets as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by buying credits from other countries. 
Canada may have taken the lead in this effort because it already knew it could never meet its nationally determined contribution without buying credits from other countries.
Quagmire, or feet of clay.
During 2018, Justin Trudeau faced mounting obstacles to the execution of the “grand bargain” he’d struck with the oil industry: we’ll allow pipeline expansion if you agree to a carbon tax. Trudeau was having difficulty delivering on either side of the equation. Some provinces dragged their heels on any kind of pricing scheme — with the election of Doug Ford, Ontario bailed on the entire concept. Meanwhile, federal opposition parties vowed to kill pricing if they came to power 
At the same time, new pipelines bringing diluted bitumen to the east or  west coasts, or even to the U.S., were bogged down in well-funded, highly organized opposition by environmental lobbies and First Nations, threatening oilsands expansion plans
Unable to deliver, would Trudeau continue to receive oil industry support? His unusual step in the summer of 2018 of bailing out a pipeline that hadn’t even been built was a sign of how far Trudeau’s government would go to support the market. As another federal election loomed, so did the impossibility of squaring a circle. How long could Canadians be persuaded that we could burn more fossil fuel yet not cook the planet?
Will we finally come to realize that progressivism has no home in the realm of neoliberalism? The neoliberal order brought to dominance especially during the era of Harper, Ignatieff and now Trudeau the lesser is oriented in service to the markets. The public is left with broken promises and the fallout from the petro-state. Trudeau is not an enemy of the Canadian people but he certainly is a peril to them, to us.

Monbiot on "Climate Breakdown" - a Call to Arms

The signs are inescapable. They still take many of us by surprise. A lot of us can't or desperately seek to avoid having to connect the dots but that does nothing to keep those dots from growing in number and intensity.

We've been put on notice that this is "last call." We must choose whether we shall succeed or we shall fail. The default option, the one our leaders are following, is failure. We haven't figured out yet that it's in their immediate personal interests to stay on this nihilistic course.

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, says it's time we stopped swallowing the swill our leaders dish out.
Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out. 
Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.
Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable.  
I don’t believe such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the second world war in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a navy contract to build anti-shipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.
It's not climate change that holds a knife to our kids' throats. It's our political and corporate leadership.
The problem is political. A fascinating analysis by the social science professor Kevin MacKay contends that oligarchy has been a more fundamental cause of the collapse of civilisations than social complexity or energy demand. Control by oligarchs, he argues, thwarts rational decision-making, because the short-term interests of the elite are radically different to the long-term interests of society. This explains why past civilisations have collapsed “despite possessing the cultural and technological know-how needed to resolve their crises”. Economic elites, which benefit from social dysfunction, block the necessary solutions. 
The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Donald Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires; the influence of the Koch brothers in funding rightwing organisations; the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial; or the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies.
We may not have oligarchy in Canada yet, not openly, but our political leadership has shown itself incapable of freeing our country from the dominance of the giant oligarchy next door. We slavishly and, yes, obediently follow their economic policy, their military policy and in our bizarre fidelity to Netanyahu their foreign policy. When Saudi Arabia resorts to butchery of its own and slaughters women and children in nearby Yemen we wouldn't dream of stopping the supply of armoured vehicles to the monstrous monarchy. It's General Dynamics, FFS, a Canadian subsidiary of one of the giant US defence contractors. Right up there with Raytheon, Boeing and Northrop. No, American foreign policy dictates what our branch plant is going to do.

The Failure of the Academics
Even the bodies that claim to be addressing our predicament remain locked within destructive frameworks. Last Wednesday I attended a meeting about environmental breakdown at the Institute for Public Policy Research. Many people in the room seemed to understand that continued economic growth is incompatible with sustaining the Earth’s systems.
As the author Jason Hickel points out, a decoupling of rising GDP from global resource use has not happened and will not happen. While 50bn tonnes of resources used per year is roughly the limit the Earth’s systems can tolerate, the world is already consuming 70bn tonnes. At current rates of economic growth, this will rise to 180bn tonnes by 2050. Maximum resource efficiency, coupled with massive carbon taxes, would reduce this at best to 95bn tonnes: still way beyond environmental limits. Green growth, as members of the institute appear to accept, is physically impossible.
Yet on the same day, the same institute announced a major new economics prize for “ambitious proposals to achieve a step-change improvement in the growth rate”. It wants ideas that will enable economic growth rates in the UK at least to double. The announcement was accompanied by the usual blah about sustainability, but none of the judges of the prize has a discernible record of environmental interest.

Those to whom we look for solutions trundle on as if nothing has changed. As if the accumulating evidence has no purchase on their minds. Decades of institutional failure ensures that only “unrealistic” proposals – the repurposing of economic life, with immediate effect – now have a realistic chance of stopping the planetary death spiral. And only those who stand outside the failed institutions can lead this effort. 
Two tasks need to be performed simultaneously: throwing ourselves at the possibility of averting collapse, as Extinction Rebellion is doing, slight though this possibility may appear; and preparing ourselves for the likely failure of these efforts, terrifying as this prospect is. Both tasks require a complete revision of our relationship with the living planet. 
Because we cannot save ourselves without contesting oligarchic control, the fight for democracy and justice and the fight against environmental breakdown are one and the same. Do not allow those who have caused this crisis to define the limits of political action. Do not allow those whose magical thinking got us into this mess to tell us what can and cannot be done.

Maybe Newspapers Don't Have to Fail (Even If Some Really Should)

Except that is for the National Post. It needs to be put out of its misery. Adios, Paul Godfrey and take Black with you, preferably before the power is cut off.

Just when many thought newspapers were doomed, going extinct, there's what may be good news from The Guardian. Editor in chief, Katherine Viner, says an experiment in online reader support may have turned the venerable newspaper's fortunes around.

Three and a half years ago, when I took over as editor-in-chief, we were faced with the urgent challenge of how to make the Guardian sustainable. 
The situation looked bleak across the media. Print advertising was in steep decline, and digital advertising growth was going almost entirely to Google and Facebook. News organisations everywhere were searching for answers to the challenge that they were being read more than ever before, but with fewer ways to cover costs. Month by month, more and more news outlets went behind a paywall. 
We realised we had to find a new way to fund Guardian journalism. The obvious answer was to go to you, our readers – at that time we had 150 million, and you have always had a special relationship with the Guardian, valuing our editorial independence, our commitment to investigative reporting, and our progressive viewpoint rooted in the facts.
...When we asked for your support, we weren’t sure whether it would work. Both friends and competitors were deeply sceptical for a long time, but you, our readers listened and responded. It was inspiring how many of you from more than 180 countries wanted to play a role in supporting the Guardian financially.
...To be able to announce today that we have received financial support from more than 1 million readers around the world in the last three years is such a significant step. This model of being funded by our readers through voluntary contributions, subscriptions to the Guardian, the Observer and Guardian Weekly, membership or as part of our patrons programme is working.

This means that within just three years, the Guardian is on a path to being sustainable. We hope to break even by April 2019.
...We are living in dangerous times when dark ideologies flourish, and it’s no surprise that people feel anxious and confused. I know it can sometimes be tempting to turn away from news coverage. But I’m sure you feel, as I do, that we have to understand the world if we’re going to have a chance of making it better for everyone.
I answered the call on the first wave of solicitations and I received a lovely hemp tote bag that's kicking around here someplace and a lovely plastic "membership" card although what it does is apparently nothing.

Is The Guardian good? Yes. Is it perfect? No, far from it. It is, however, progressive and that, in its own right, is worth supporting. It also has a decent environmental section that I appreciate. With the state of the world and the threats that loom any newspaper that doesn't has forfeit any claim to my support because they're not covering the most important issue in the history of mankind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Your Government Has Succumbed to Cognitive Dissonance

Peter Lowry (Babel-on-the-Bay) posts that some sort of donnybrook that pits Liberal caucus petro-pols against their fellow environnmental backers is underway. To me it seems like they're debating whether to continue their pursuit of perpetual exponential growth by any means possible (i.e. bitumen) or do we do our bit not to destroy the planet.

At this point with this government and its Tory rivals it would be enough for me if they just came clean and said, "Ah, screw the planet, let's make some money. The grandkids will just have to figure out something - or not."

We've had the warnings. Two years to staunch the loss of biodiversity or we're toast. 12 years to cut our greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half or we're toast. And that's just two of the existential threats we're facing.

It pays no heed to the rapid and severe degradation of the planet's arable land, the dirt in which we grow humankind's food. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported four years ago, we have less than sixty years of food production left before those essential farmlands are exhausted. No mention of that other kicker from greenhouse gas buildups, ocean acidification, that's well underway and which is believed to have triggered four of the past five mass extinction events. It's said we're in the early stages of the sixth extinction - and we're debating a massive expansion of one of the very worst fossil fuels. Even for a Liberal mind that's amazing.

I've got a buddy from Toronto, a highly successful financial sector type who even has his own charitable institute. He does plenty of good works but, like so many I've met from central Canada, he's oblivious to these environmental threats. His attitude is "they'll think of something." Yes, buddy, they already have. That's why we're in this mess. He's not some outlier either. There's a lot of that same thinking inside the ranks of both major political parties.

What about the good news on the horizon. What good news? In September, OPEC forecast a massive increase in demand for fossil fuels, including coal, to 2040 at least.  The International Energy Agency sees much the same future for fossil energy.

Here's another little gem, overpopulation. We're expecting to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. We're just over 7.5 billion now.  To get to 7.5 we've had to destroy so much wilderness habitat that, since 1970, total numbers of other animal species have plummeted by half. To top it off, we've been tearing the guts out of our farmland as this chart from four years ago shows.

So here's the latest. New research finds that, if we keep this party going, by 2050 humans will be larger, heavier and eat a lot more.

Professor Daniel B. Müller and colleagues Felipe Vásquez and Vita analysed changes in the populations of 186 countries between 1975 and 2014. "We studied the effects of two phenomena. One is that people on average have become taller and heavier. The second is that the average population is getting older," said Vita. 
An average adult in 2014 was 14 percent heavier, about 1.3 percent taller, 6.2 percent older, and needed 6.1 percent more energy than in 1975. Researchers expect this trend to continue for most countries. 
"An average global adult consumed 2465 kilocalories per day in 1975. In 2014, the average adult consumed 2615 kilocalories," says Vita. 
Globally, human consumption increased by 129 percent during this time span. Population growth was responsible for 116 percent, while increased weight and height accounted for 15 percent. Older people need a little less food, but an ageing population results in only two percent less consumption.
So it's not just that we'll have to squeeze more asses into the lifeboat, those asses are also getting bigger. Yippee.

Look, folks, this is all just part of the Great Acceleration. If you dare, click on that link and glance at the charts. There are dozens of them and they're all pretty much the same. They all show where we were in 1950 and how we changed everything by 2010. As I wrote at the time:
For all the challenges that will face the world, including Canada, over the balance of this century, the pursuit of perpetual, exponential growth is akin to a lung cancer patient choosing to go from a two pack a day habit to three packs a day. You would think that person crazy. Why do you think better of your political leadership?

...Despite all this data, all the science, we have a "business as usual" government that pays it not the slightest heed. Our planet is already grossly overstressed yet our government believes a rosy future awaits us in the pursuit of perpetual exponential growth. Does that strike you as sane? Do you think they're crazy, out of their minds? Or do you think there's something far worse in play?

One of the most elusive statistics to hunt down is per capita GDP growth. It is a measure of output but it also reflects energy and resources consumed, production of goods, services and waste. Record keeping in Britain has allowed per capita GDP to be charted from today back to 1270. The results are impressive. Per capita GDP first reached 2,000 pounds (adjusted to 2013 sterling) in 1832. By 1900 the Industrial Revolution had swelled that to 4,800 pounds per capita. The 12,000 pound mark fell in 1970. That doubled again to 24,000 pounds per capita GDP in the year 2000, increasing to 28,000 just before the crash of 2008. To make sense of this, the average Briton's production increased from 4,800 pounds in 1900 to close out that century at 24,000 pounds per capital GDP. In the course of one century, the 20th, that's a five fold increase in per capita GDP. In 1900 the global population stood at 1.6 billion. We closed out that century at just over 6 billion and now stand at 7.5 billion. Taking total per capita GDP in 1900 and total population in 1900 we have now grown humanity's ecological footprint by something in the order of 30 to 40 times. And we're still trapped in perpetual, exponential growth. It's still going on. We can't stop it. We won't stop it. 
It is not hard to make the case that government policy, including our pursuit of endless growth propelled by bitumen exports, is ultimately nihilistic. This is not how you build a nation. This is not how you build a future. This is, however, an effective way to destroy a nation and its people's future. They won't admit it but that's exactly what they'll be debating in the Liberal caucus.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Now That's It's Over for Another Year

A still from a film shot on November 11, 1918

Today is a stat holiday, Remembrance Day, and the malls are sure to be swamped with those getting a head start on their holiday shopping.

I posted nothing on Remembrance Day. I watched no televised spectacles at national and provincial cenotaphs. I avoided the gathering of world leaders in Paris.

For Remembrance Day I watched Peter Jackson's brilliant documentary, "They Shall Not Grow Old." My daughter asked what I thought of it and I replied honestly that I don't know. Then she asked if it was good and I told her it was brilliant, just really hard to digest.

On November 11th we stage these elaborate ceremonies supposedly to honour our war dead but we do a miserable job of it.  Wearing a poppy, showing up at a cenotaph, some young men in uniform, a piper or two, perhaps a fly past, the thinning ranks of the Legion, a moment of silence and then we wrap it until next year.  When it comes to honouring our dead, that's pretty thin gruel.

Our young men and women just went through a war, of sorts. We lost more than 150 men and women, mainly to improvised explosive devices and small arms fire. Yet we don't honour their deaths enough to have an honest discussion of why they were sent to their deaths, what they sacrificed for, and who should be held responsible for it all.

We need to have that conversation. Somebody has to explain what we sent them there to do and why we never gave them a chance to succeed. Those soldiers didn't fail. Our leadership, political and military, failed them. We sent them to a war when we weren't in it to win.

No one, it seems, sat down and figured out what would be needed to tame and secure Kandahar province for the central government. Counterinsurgency doctrine holds that it is the most labour-intensive of all forms of warfare. You must secure the towns and villages and the people from the coercion and predation of the insurgents.

The French in Algeria and again in Indo-China and the Americans in Viet Nam demonstrated that you can't defeat a determined insurgency with a garrison force that retreats behind the wire at night, ceding the contested population centers to the enemy except when you show up.

For a province with the population of Kandahar, something in the order of fifteen to twenty thousand combat troops would be needed. We sent a contingent of two thousand, later bumped up to 2,500, out of which we might on a good day field a maximum force of twelve hundred for daytime assaults.

Failure was pre-ordained which makes the loss of those 150+ lives obscene. Sure we killed a good many more of them but, at the end of the day, we left them in possession and control of the field.

If we want to honour those dead, we can start by ensuring that we never send those like them into a war that we are not prepared to win. We have to understand that wars that are not fought to win are fought to lose. They give rise to quagmires, perma-war, of the type that now plagues the Middle East.

Make no mistake about it. There is going to be an immense amount of conflict in the decades ahead. Climate change alone guarantees that. We'll see a spread of failed states and the sort of "new wars" they engender. These are wars that combine state actors (military forces supporting civilian governance), quasi-state actors (regional militias) and a bevy of non-state actors (tribal warlords, drug lords, rebels, insurgents and even organized criminals) each pursuing its own agenda and marked by shifting alliances. If we cannot win we must not drop our soldiers into these quagmires.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Banned in Britain

British grocer, Iceland, released its Christmas ad/video.
Iceland said it would remove palm oil from all of its own-brand foods, the first UK supermarket (a grocery store chain) to do so. The critically endangered status of orangutans has been caused in part by the production of palm oil in productions such as Malaysia, noted The Guardian.
But Iceland’s advert was said to be in breach of the 2003 Communications advert, according to the vetting organization Clearcast, which clears ads on behalf of the four major UK commercial broadcasters. It noted adverts cannot be “directed towards a political end” as part of the broadcast code for advertising practice (BCAP).
 Here's the video that won't be on British television this Christmas:

Friday, November 09, 2018

Michael Harris' Swan Song.

Pundit Michael Harris has told his readers he's leaving iPolitics - but not before giving a well deserved shot to Tony Clement and his former boss, Andrew Scheer.  Harris asks why, if Clement isn't fit to be in the Conservative caucus, he's fit to be anyone's MP?
Though he may not know it, Tony Clement is roadkill on the information highway. 
This high-ranking, veteran Conservative politician is making the same mistake that Democratic U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner made: deluding himself into thinking that he doesn’t need to resign from public office after getting caught sexting. 
He does. 
It took Weiner a full 20 days to realize he had to resign after a photo of “his man bulge in boxer briefs” hit Twitter on May 27, 2011. He denied that it was his … well, that it was him. Then more photos showed up. Weiner still insisted he didn’t need to resign.
...Weiner and Clement held high public office. Every day they conducted the public’s business, benefactors of the public trust. What they do privately cannot be divorced from their heavy public responsibility to maintain and protect the integrity of the system they serve. Both men failed utterly to do that, which is why Weiner ultimately resigned — and Clement ought to. 
Clement was on Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. That means he was privy to the country’s deepest secrets. He has admitted that he was duped into thinking his sexting, including a dubious video that he sent, was going to a consenting woman. The former Conservative now says he’s being “extorted” over their sexually explicit communications. The RCMP is investigating. This is the kind of gross recklessness that turns the hair of security officials prematurely grey.

Scheer's Folly
Doing the right thing is no longer in vogue. 
And it’s not just Clement hanging on when he should be saying goodbye. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has not done the right thing in the current circumstances. For the family-values party, Scheer’s initial reaction to Clement’s admission was laughable. After a stern talking to by Scheer, Clement resigned as justice critic and saw his committee roles assigned to Lisa Raitt. That done, Scheer had no problem with Clement remaining in caucus. 
Just a few hours later, Scheer reversed field. Faced with more allegations of sexting by Clement, Scheer asked him to resign from caucus so he could “respond” to these “allegations.” That leaves the door wide open for Clement to return. Not a word about the violation of public trust in play here. 
Scheer’s wishy-washy reaction is strange for another reason. From what the Conservative leader himself has claimed, Clement lied to him about the number of times he has sexted anonymous women. The initial story was that this was a one-off between consenting adults, which Scheer could apparently forgive as a “terrible lapse of judgment.” 
That meant that Scheer was willing to keep Clement in caucus after his admission of the most reckless kind of sexting. That says as much about Scheer’s judgment as it does about Clement’s.

Climate Change on a Rampage

Thirty one dead so far, many found burned to death inside their cars as they failed to escape California's killer wildfires. About 220 are listed as missing. The 30,000 population city of Paradise, northeast of San Francisco has largely been wiped out.

This CNN report from yesterday on the Camp Fire that swept Paradise shows that these are no ordinary wildfires.
Tanah Clunies-Ross woke up in the dark to what sounded like lumps of coal raining down her Northern California home. Within minutes, her family and thousands of people were racing to escape the raging flames of the Camp Fire. 
"The smell of the smoke and realizing the smoke was a lot closer than I thought and then seeing flames up to my knees. ... I lost it," she said.
The fire broke out early Thursday morning before sunset, spreading rapidly across Butte County, California, at a rate of about 80 football fields per minute. So far, it has burned through 20,000 acres, injured firefighters and residents and prompted hospitals and schools to quickly evacuate.
...The extent of the destruction is still unknown as firefighters have not been able to access Paradise to assess the damage, Butte County Fire Battalion Chief Bill Reid told reporters Thursday. 
A red flag warning is in effect through Friday morning, meaning that firefighters face high winds and low humidity that help spread the wildfire. Authorities fear the fire, fueled by winds, would reach the city of Chico -- a city of 90,000 people where many Butte County families already have evacuated to shelters.

"80 football fields per minute," is really scary. That's more than half a mile a minute. You can't run nearly that fast. You need a reliable and quick car or truck if you're going to reach safety. And there'll be no time for gathering up family treasures.

Now two more wildfires are sweeping the area west of Los Angeles. Malibu has been hard hit.

Ordinarily California's wildfire season began in mid-summer and extended into mid-autumn.  Now some are suggesting California's wildfire season could become a permanent, year-round phenomenon.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and NCAR, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said the frequency and scope of these fires is changing the way Californians will live.
Swain said officials need to start reexamining how and where homes are built in areas susceptible to wildfires.

"Many times these homes are in desirable places because you're surrounded by pretty views," Swain said. "But they're also high-risk areas, so these are decisions that we have to make — whether it's wildfires or floods or storm surges — do we keep rebuilding in these same places?"
Unreal as these new fires may be it is important to appreciate that these are "early onset" impacts of climate change and that this is just one face of the greater climate change calamity. It is one more urgent warning that we have to decarbonize our societies and our economies as rapidly as possible. The "just not yet" mentality of those who want to push fossil fuels and cling to the pursuit of perpetual exponential growth must change.

Michael Cohen Pleaded Guilty to Campaign Finance Offences. He Had an Accomplice.

What's sauce for the goose, that is to say former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, is probably sauce for the gander and, in this case, that's Donald J. Trump.

According to a new Wall Street Journal report, Trump was deeply involved in those hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who had alleged sexual encounters with him. He was “involved in or briefed on nearly every step,” reporters Joe Palazzolo, Nicole Hong, Michael Rothfeld, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, and Rebecca Ballhaus write. 
That matters because, as a candidate for office, Trump may have violated campaign finance law by not disclosing these payments. Cohen has already pleaded guilty to two campaign finance charges in connection with all this back in August. 
Since Cohen’s plea deal, the state of this investigation — which is being run by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) — has been somewhat unclear. All we knew for sure was that it wasn’t over, since federal prosecutors said the grand jury probe was “ongoing” in a court filing last month. And now, per the Journal, “the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has gathered evidence of Mr. Trump’s participation in the transactions.” 
Earlier this week, Trump pushed out Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed a loyalist, Matt Whitaker, at the top of the Justice Department. Whitaker has a history of criticizing the Mueller probe and may want to try and protect the president. But in his new role, he’ll gain authority over and visibility into the SDNY probe too — and that’s a probe that could be very threatening to Trump as well.

The Wall Street Journal story is behind a seemingly airtight paywall but Vox has the details of what supposedly happened, most of which you probably know, how deeply Trump was involved, and the exposure that presents the sitting president of the United States. It's worth a read.