Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Complacency Kills

Complacency can be a mortal threat to civilized society. That message is driven home by anthropologist Jared Diamond in his book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail."

In the book Diamond explains how societies from the Mesopotamians to the Mayans to the Easter Islanders made decisions that essentially ruined future generations.

It's beyond question that is precisely what we're doing today. We're inundated with weather porn - severe flooding here, flash drought there, wildfires everywhere, the Polar Vortex plunging eastern North America into a deepfreeze while, at the same time, in the permanent pitch dark of the high Arctic winter the polar region experiences a succession of heat waves.

There's still a novelty element to today's severe weather events. The newsies still talk of 'once in a century' natural disasters that are now showing up once every few years.

The science types issue dire warnings about how the latest disaster is our 'new normal' only that's not true. This is an ongoing, worsening process. This is the prize for allowing the climate to warm just one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There are bigger prizes to come.

The consensus seems to be that we're headed for at least three degrees Celsius of warming, possibly more, perhaps a lot more. What we're struggling to cope with today is 1C severe weather. 2C severe weather is going to be an entirely 'new normal.' 3C is an order of magnitude worse yet. And, as these increasingly severe weather events set in, the chances increase that you won't be watching them on TV in the comfort of your home, you'll be an unwilling participant. In 20 years you might be those people you're now watching as they wade through what's left of their possessions.

This is about complacency and complacency, doing nothing, is a choice. That's what the title of Jared Diamond's book means. It's how societies choose to succeed or fail. Right now you're not choosing success.

What might choosing success look like? Perhaps things like demanding your government change course. It's time to give up our petro-economy. The science types, guys like Schellnhuber, tell us that we're not going to make it if we don't. It's time to rethink our pursuit of perpetual, exponential growth, young Trudeau's sacred quest. It's time we figured out just what we can do, must do, to least screw up our grandchildren's future. It's time we agreed not to rip them off any longer to engorge our own luxury and comfort.

But, being self-centered and insatiably avaricious, we'll stick with the complacency option. We'll stick with the tried and true option of voting for the least worst option especially if he's slick enough to tell us - to our faces - that we can have a burgeoning petro-economy and fight climate change at the same time. Don't worry, be happy - that's the ticket.

The world is changing. The 'new normal' is transitory, year upon year. Resilience should be our priority but it's not. Not just yet, anyway. Later, maybe.

Monday, September 17, 2018

What is Ford's Problem? I Don't Get It.

One of my first assignments as a fledgling reporter in Ottawa in the early 70s was to cover the local municipal governments, the City of Ottawa in particular.

Back then they had a mayor, a deputy mayor, alderman for every ward and an executive council called the Board of Control. I looked it up online and found the city had 24 elected representatives on council. Ottawa back then had a population of about 300,000.

As I recall it the city government functioned quite smoothly. Debates were lively and constructive and, overall, congenial.

Toronto today has a population just shy of three million, ten times more populous than Ottawa in the early 70s. But Ford thinks Toronto can be adequately governed by culling council from 47 wards to 25 wards. That would make each ward councilor the reeve of a small city.

I don't know about Toronto politics but how in hell is that supposed to work to the benefit of the people of Toronto?

What is Doug Ford's problem?

More Dirt on the National Energy Board's Stacked Deck

During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau didn't hesitate to attack the Harper National Energy Board as utterly corrupt. Then, once in power, he took a real shine to the NEB.

When garnering votes, Trudeau said a Liberal government would throw out the NEB's rigged assessment and start over, doing it right. Once in power he concluded that a few tweaks would suffice.  Then he got conned into buying the damned pipeline for a grossly inflated price and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Federal Court of Appeal quashed the Liberal government's approval of the TransMountain pipeline. Trudeau vowed to power through and see that pipeline built come hell or high water.

Now it seems the remainder of the NEB assessment, the parts that the government still relies on, is still rigged - biggly rigged.
In a letter sent to the National Energy Board on Sept. 8, [economist Robyn] Allan challenges the report’s claim that tanker traffic from Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby terminal would increase 680 per cent. 
The actual increase would be twice as much, she said.
Say what again?
...The tanker traffic issue will be critical if government asks the board to reconsider its impact in a new report, Allan says in her letter. 
“The board cannot rely on any of the tanker traffic risk evidence filed with it because that evidence is not based on an accurate and reliable estimate of incremental tanker traffic.” 
Allan said other errors in the original report could also be used to challenge any revised report from the NEB unless they’re corrected. 
The errors exist because “the board made serious mistakes in the preparation of its report,” says Allan in her letter. 
The original report also pegged the pipeline expansion cost at $5.5 billion, although Kinder Morgan had already revealed the cost had jumped to $6.8 billion prior to the end of the review. 
“The capital cost estimate had serious implications for the project’s financial and commercial viability, its economic impact, and whether the shippers could exercise termination rights in their Firm Service Agreements (FSAs),” notes Allan’s letter.
...The more it costs to build a pipeline, the higher tolls have to be for shippers. Higher tolls, in turn, affect the entire commercial feasibility of the project as well as any claimed benefits for the public. 
“Nowhere in the report did the board alert cabinet to the potential negative economic impact increasing project cost would be expected to have on oil producers and projected revenue benefits tabled by Trans Mountain.” says Allan’s letter.
The NEB pegged the TransMountain expansion cost at $5.5 billion. As if.
Earlier this year Kinder Morgan estimated the costs to be $9.3 billion just prior to approving the sale of the existing pipeline and the expansion project to the Canadian government for $4.5 billion. 
Allan suspects the final cost could be even higher and that escalating costs have nullified any economic benefits and existing shipper agreements. 
Allan notes the board also claimed in its 2016 report that shippers contracted to fill the pipeline expansion “said that it is in the best interest of Canadians to maximize the prices received for Canadian crude oil production.” 
Shippers never said any such thing during the Trans Mountain hearing, Allan says.
So let's see. KM fleeced the Trudeau government to the tune of $4.5 billion. Expanding the TransMountain line will add, by Kinder Morgan's estimate, another $9.3 billion, perhaps a good deal more.  All of that money, plus interest, is going to have to be recovered  from dilbit shippers. For a low-value, high-carbon, garbage product that's a pretty stiff toll for shippers to swallow.

What if the shippers decide "thanks but no thanks"? What happens to the Justin Trudeau Memorial TransMountain pipeline?

And what if, instead of 408 tankers a year, the NEB estimate, it will really be more than 800 tankers a year having to ply the often treacherous south coast waters? Surely that would increase the need to keep tankers moving even in the worst conditions lest the whole thing, including the inner harbour, backs up.

Will Harper/Trudeau just keep doing what they've done all along - bury the difficult parts and hope no one notices? Or will this government do what it pledged to do during the 2015 campaign and finally come clean with coastal British Columbians? For some reason I'm not optimistic.

Nikiforuk Slams "Trudeau's Sordid Pipeline Deal."

Andrew Nikiforuk, Western Canada fossil energy super-scribe, mocks the reaction of the fossil fuelers, corporate and political, to the decision of the Federal Court of Appeal quashing the federal government's approval of the TransMountain pipeline.

The debate about the Federal Court of Appeal decision that killed the approval for the Trans Mountain $7.4-billion pipeline expansion speaks volumes about the oily state of Canadian politics. 
The leaders of Canada’s die-hard petro republics, Alberta’s Rachel Notley and Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe, predictably chaffed and frothed. 
They complained that they had been let down, billions of dollars are being lost and Parliament must address “this crisis.” 
Business types lamented that the courts had dealt another blow to Canada’s mining republic reputation by slowing down another noble megaproject promising jobs and prosperity — for China no less. 
The power of oil to construct narratives that bear little or no relation to the truth is a global phenomenon and, in Canada, a new boreal specialty. You can’t find a more entitled political player than a petroleum exporter
All in all, the media and Canadian politicians reduced the court decision to a dubious concession to pesky First Nations and environmentalists and another damned hurdle for “the national interest” and the pursuit of jobs. 
But that’s not the truth or the reality.
...Canada remains another unaccountable petro state when it comes to reducing emissions from fossil fuels. Canada won’t be able to meet any of its climate targets because of rising emissions from the oilsands and, for that matter, from proposed LNG production. When Notley, Alberta’s petulant petro leader, pulled out of the nation’s carbon pricing plan over the court decision, she merely abandoned an already doomed strategy designed by cynics to serve the status quo. 
The economist Jeff Rubin recently stated the obvious. “For the publicly climate-change-conscious Trudeau government, which seeks to eradicate widespread international perceptions of Canada as a climate change laggard, the country’s recent emission performance is no better than during the previous Harper government, which was ignominiously awarded a ‘Lifetime Unachievement’ Fossil award at the UN climate change conference in Warsaw in 2013.” 
Mark Jaccard has also called a spade a spade. “National studies by independent researchers (including my university-based group) consistently show that Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 Paris promise of a 30-per-cent reduction by 2030 is unachievable with oilsands expansion. His staff know this, so he knows it, too.”
...The real law-breaker in this sorry narrative remains the federal government. Trudeau and company have frequently attacked the B.C. government’s opposition to the pipeline expansion, arguing that “the federal government will not allow any province to infringe on federal jurisdiction over making decisions about resource development in the national interest.” But the Federal Court of Appeal found that it was the federal government that actually broke the law. 
It didn’t engage with First Nations in a rigorous or honest way and it failed to assess the impact of increased tanker traffic on B.C.’s wildlife and coastal economy. As such the court decision vindicates the 220 people who have been arrested at Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby facility for protesting the pipeline expansion
Before approving the pipeline, Trudeau had promised to fix the flawed National Energy Board process for reviewing such projects, but he didn’t. He emerges from this drama as a consistent law-breaker and promise-breaker — a weak and feckless leader with no moral code.
...The fictional billions that Notley, Alberta opposition leader Jason Kenney and Moe claim the industry has lost due to the stalled construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline remain the biggest lie now eroding Canadian politics and democracy.

Bitumen will soon be subject to more discounts that have nothing to do with pipelines or global markets. The International Maritime Organization plans to reduce the amount of sulfur in fuel used by ships from 3.5 per cent to 0.5 per cent by 2020. The change has major ramifications for the global refinery business and Canada, one of the world’s largest producers of high sulfur heavy crude. The Canadian Energy Research Institute even predicts that “the price discount on Western Canada Select (WCS) crude... will expand significantly due to the IMO regulation.”
...Partial upgrading of bitumen could solve this problem while improving quality and adding value. Such ventures are expensive, and would also be heavy carbon emitters. But they could free up 30 per cent more pipeline capacity. If Trudeau was interested in a political compromise and a deal good for the national interest, he would kill the Trans Mountain expansion and invest in partial upgrading in Alberta. 
In one blow he would remove an egregious pipeline that threatens B.C.’s coastal economy and put Albertans back to work by producing a higher value product for the marketplace. It wouldn’t be good for climate change but petro states don’t give a damn about the future or their children anyway. They live for oil, and only oil.
If you've got a slavish loyalty to the Liberal Party or just a raging crush on Justin Trudeau, that's your problem. His handling of this dilbit fiasco and the laughable TransMountain pipeline has stripped the mask off this self-proclaimed environmentalist prime minister. His claim that he can expand Canada's high-carbon petro economy and defend the environment is nothing more than another fraudulent pitch by a 21st century iteration of an alchemist.

Who is Leona Alleslev and Why Should I Care?

The honourable backbencher for Aurora-Oakridge-Richmond Hill has left the government bench for supposedly greener pastures on Andrew Scheer's side of the House of Commons.
“On behalf of my Conservative colleagues, I’m extremely pleased to welcome Ms. Alleslev to the Conservative team,” Scheer said. “She brings with her an extraordinary wealth of experience in military and foreign affairs, government procurement, and private sector leadership. She will be a strong asset in our growing Conservative team as we work toward 2019.”
In 2015 Alleslev defeated her Conservative opponent by well shy of a thousand votes, 47% to 45%.

American Democracy in Crisis - HRC

I know, I know - consider the source. People in glass houses, he who is without sin, yada, yada, yada. For all that, it's a message that deserves to be heard, albeit a very belated warning.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has penned an op-ed for Atlantic magazine analyzing Donald Trump's five-pronged attack on American democracy.

To summarize:

1.  Trump's assault on the rule of law.

2.  The constant undermining of the legitimacy of American elections.

3.  Trump's war on truth and reason.

4.  Trump's "breathtaking" corruption.


5.  Trump's undermining of national unity "that makes democracy possible."

Her points are well argued. Follow the link, read them if you like. They're persuasive but misleading in a somewhat simplistic way. Clinton omits any mention of her own party's failures and fundamental contributions to the political (legislative and regulatory) capture of the federal government.  The Dems were not exactly charging Capitol Hill with pitchforks and torches while that was going on for so many years. The Dems have been pretty wantonly opportunistic for decades as progressivism in American politics steadily waned.  It's not like there's just one "bought and paid for" party in Congress. The Dems may stop short of the excesses of their GOP brethren but they're hardly saints.

For all of that, American democracy is in crisis if not already extinct. I again fall back on the Gilens and Page study published by Princeton in 2014, back in the Obama years, that confirmed what many already suspected - that American democracy had succumbed to plutocracy, rule by the rich and powerful. The United States has not had a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" for a very long time.

This omission in Hillary's logic makes her prescriptive remedies seem a lot like "vote for us" bromides.

She begins by laying the entire blame for Trump's election on "the increasing radicalism and irresponsibility" of the Republicans. In other words, the Dems had nothing to do with it. Not even for fielding the least popular candidate they could find to go up against Trump. Sorry, Mrs. Clinton, that doesn't sell.

She argues for the mobilization of a massive turnout this November. Fair enough, good idea.

Then she wants future presidents to be required to make public their tax returns, and be subject to effective ethics requirements and conflict-of-interest rules. Okay, but the operative word has to be "effective."

She wants to improve and protect America's elections - paper ballots, vote audits, cyber security, etc. A restoration of the protections of the Voters Rights Act. All good suggestions. Ditto for overturning Citizens United and abolition of the Electoral College.

Conspicuous by its absence is any call for campaign finance reform, rule by the best, and generally most-compromised fund-raisers. Paper ballots and cyber security don't really matter much if elections are bought before the first ballot is cast. That, however, doesn't seem to be on Hillary's radar.

Mrs. Clinton addresses the need to "restitch our fraying social fabric and rekindle our civic spirit." Unfortunately the federal government cannot rehabilitate social cohesion when it is so deeply in thrall to special interests instead of the public interest. (See campaign finance reform, above).

She concludes:

In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman on the street outside Independence Hall, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” That response has been on my mind a lot lately. The contingency of it. How fragile our experiment in self-government is. And, when viewed against the sweep of human history, how fleeting. Democracy may be our birthright as Americans, but it’s not something we can ever take for granted. Every generation has to fight for it, has to push us closer to that more perfect union. That time has come again.

She is right in a way. It is time for Americans to fight to reclaim their democracy. Unfortunately it will take more than just returning the Democrats to power for the American people to regain what has been taken from them.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Diagnosis Seems Sound. The Prescription, Who Knows? "Beautiful Country Burn Again."

What is it about the American character that allows the long con of our politics to go on and on, electing crooks, racists, bullies, hate-mongering preachers, corporate bagmen and bald-faced liars? Not always, but often. The history is damning. We must on some level, want what they are offering.”

That is sometime Guardian scribe and novelist Ben Fountain's take on the people and politics of 21st century America.

I find it hard to argue with his assessment that Americans must want what their caste of political charlatans are offering. What else can explain how they persistently and, worse, reliably are herded into voting against their own and collective working-class self-interest?

Harper Collins reviews Fountain's new book, "Beautiful Country Burn Again."
Twice before in its history, the United States has been faced with a crisis so severe it was forced to reinvent itself in order to survive: first, the struggle over slavery, culminating in the Civil War, and the second, the Great Depression, which led to President Roosevelt’s New Deal and the establishment of America as a social-democratic state. In a sequence of essays that excavate the past while laying bare the political upheaval of 2016, Ben Fountain argues that the United States may be facing a third existential crisis, one that will require a “burning” of the old order as America attempts to remake itself
Beautiful Country Burn Again narrates a shocking year in American politics, moving from the early days of the Iowa Caucus to the crystalizing moments of the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and culminating in the aftershocks of the weeks following election night. Along the way, Fountain probes deeply into history, illuminating the forces and watershed moments of the past that mirror and precipitated the present, from the hollowed-out notion of the American Dream, to Richard Nixon’s southern strategy, to our weaponized new conception of American exceptionalism, to the cult of celebrity that gave rise to Donald Trump.

From The Guardian:
His eye for the absurd and ability to draw attention to the sheer strangeness of America made him a perfect observer of 2016: when politics met reality TV, where penis size briefly became a measure of suitability for high office and where a candidate for the White House was revealed weeks before polling day as a self-declared sexual predator, and still won. 
Fountain’s essays for the Guardian, which I commissioned, saw him move from the snows of Iowa through Dallas for the opening day of the baseball season and on to the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky. In Cleveland, Ohio, his coverage of the Republican convention drew a direct line to Norman Mailer’s view of the 1968 race, Miami and the Siege of Chicago. His year ended with an examination of the benefits of big government in rural Texas, just as Trump’s anti-Washington bulldozer was accelerating.
Two years on, in the whirling chaos of the Trumpian news cycle, his election-year commentaries could have seemed faded, almost quaint mementos. But in book form, expanded, they live up to his own description: they are both a diagnosis of America’s symptoms of stress and a record of developing crisis. 
...He is unsparing in scorn for the amped-up patriotism used to create the myth of American exceptionalism, the idea of a chosen land specially blessed and purposed with a world-changing mission. 
“It’s the I-Love-America-More-Than-You smackdown: America is and always has been the greatest, ever, at everything, and anyone who disagrees just doesn’t love America enough. Which is political discourse as fairy tale, a made-up story for children.
America had to remake itself twice to survive as a plausible constitutional democracy – first due to the crisis of slavery, then with the Great Depression. Now, Fountain warns, America is again in danger of becoming a democracy in name only.

“One wonders how close to hell we’ll have to come in our own time before a similarly drastic act of reinvention is attempted.”

Wow, We've Even Managed to Poison Babies in the Womb

Man-made pollution is managing to poison babies before they're even babies.

Scientists have found the first evidence that particles of air pollution travel through pregnant women’s lungs and lodge in their placentas.
Toxic air is already strongly linked to harm in foetuses but how the damage is done is unknown. The new study, involving mothers living in London, UK, revealed sooty particles in the placentas of each of their babies and researchers say it is quite possible the particles entered the foetuses too. 
...The research is being presented Sunday at the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) international congress in Paris. “This research suggests a possible mechanism of how babies are affected by pollution while being theoretically protected in the womb,” said Prof Mina Gaga, who is ERS president and at the Athens Chest Hospital in Greece. 
“This should raise awareness amongst doctors and the public regarding the harmful effects of air pollution in pregnant women,” she said, noting that harm to foetuses can occur even below current European Union pollution limits. “We need stricter policies for cleaner air to reduce the impact of pollution on health worldwide because we are already seeing a new population of young adults with health issues.” 
Unicef executive director Anthony Lake recently warned of the danger of air pollution to babies: “Not only do pollutants harm babies’ developing lungs, they can permanently damage their developing brains – and, thus, their futures.” 
Separate research, also presented at the ERS congress, found that children with early onset and persistent asthma fared far less well in education than those without the condition. Asthma in children has long been linked to air pollution.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

We Better Get Used to It Because We're Not Fixing It.

How do twenty homes in three communities north of Boston just up and explode? It's easy, rotten infrastructure.

Infrastructure is more than roads and overpasses. It also is everything from water mains, fire hydrants, the electrical grid, sewer lines and, yes, gas lines.

Back in 2012, scientists took a ride through Boston streets identifying and mapping leaks from the city's ancient gas lines.

To take a snapshot of this problem, scientists from Boston University and Duke University took equipment that detects methane — the main constituent of natural gas — on a 785-mile van ride through Boston’s streets. The result, published today in the journal Environmental Pollution, is a map showing more than 3,300 spikes in gas concentrations representing leaks of various sizes.
What they found looks like this:

The video is spectacular. Using infrared camera technology you can see plumes of fugitive natural gas come up through streets and sidewalks, all day and all night, month upon month, year upon year.

The Duke team took their gear to Washington, D.C., where they found 5,900 leaks.

In this era of 'everyday low taxes' it's unclear where the funding will come from to repair our aging gas infrastructure which is going to have to compete for scarce revenues with badly needed repairs to everything else - our aging water and sewer lines, roads and highways, bridges and overpasses, the electrical grid, on and on. It's been estimated these repairs, replacements and upgrades would cost Canada upwards of a trillion dollars but far more than that in economic losses if we don't fix these things.

The fracking industry is another major source of fugitive methane emissions. Environmentalists equipped with infrared cameras have been monitoring large gas leaks on active sites where crews are still working. And then there are other leaks along transmission lines.

What looks like steam coming off is actually methane recorded on infrared.

It's Going to Take More than Wind Farms

It seems like an impossible challenge. A new study contends that Europe's chance of meeting its greenhouse gas emissions targets will require that consumption of meat and dairy be scaled back, way back, by 2050. How far back? By half based on today's numbers.

Population may grow, wealth may increase, no matter. Meat and dairy consumption has to be throttled way back.
The study calls for the European commission to urgently set up a formal inquiry mandated to propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – that “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”.

Livestock has the world’s largest land footprint and is growing fast, with close to 80% of the planet’s agricultural land now used for grazing and animal feed production, even though meat delivers just 18% of our calories
Europeans already eat more than twice as much meat as national dietary authorities recommend – far beyond a “safe operating space” within environmental limits, says the Rise foundation study.
Can it be done? I suppose anything is possible but, once again, it comes down to public acceptance and a greatly shored up political will, so often found lacking these days.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Conservative Columnist - Time for Trump to Panic.

The Washington Post's conservative columnist, Jennifer Rubin, thinks the jig is up for Donald Trump now that Manafort has cut a cooperation deal with special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

That’s the news Trump never wanted to hear. The prospect of just such a deal is why his lawyers reportedly dangled the promise of a pardon in front of Manafort’s lawyers. A plea deal that could put the Russians inside Trump’s campaign blows to smithereens the notion that only low-level, non-players or those distantly related to the campaign had Russian connections. Trump, who was praising Manafort to the heavens just weeks ago, will find it hard (but not impossible) to now smear him as a liar. 
“The relentless Mueller push continues — as does that of the rule of law,” observes former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen. “The reported cooperation agreement could be devastating to the president — and those around him. Manafort for example could implicate not only the president in the Trump Tower meeting — but also others who were involved such as Don Jr. or [Jared] Kushner. The same is true on the mysterious [RNC] platform change, and indeed on all the possible collusion offenses.” 
The plea certainly explodes Trump’s claim that Mueller is engaged in a “witch hunt.” The only “hoax” here is the pretense that there was nothing out of the ordinary going on inside the Trump campaign or that it was too disorganized to have spent time colluding with Russians.
Trump also loses the argument that Mueller is wasting taxpayer money. As part of the plea deal, Manafort is going to cough up $46 million in forfeited assets, according to news reports. That more than pays for Mueller and his team (who at last glance had spent $20 million). Then again, it all depends how high a price you put on restoration of American democracy. 
Trump was already crashing in the polls and Mueller’s approval rising, in large part due to, in August, the trial and conviction of Manafort and the plea deal with Michael Cohen. The recording of Trump discussing a payoff with Cohen surely didn’t help his credibility. 
What we will find out in the days and weeks ahead is just how much Manafort knows and how much he can tell us about what Trump knew regarding Russian interference on his behalf. For Republicans who have been carrying water for the president, it might be time to put down the buckets and run for their political lives. Frankly, voting for impeachment and removal might be a good option for Republicans at some point. Before we get there, however, there are the midterms, which are shaping up to be a wipeout for the GOP.

Another Trump Weekend Ruined

I suppose Hurricane Florence will keep Donald Trump White House-bound this weekend. No time to be seen hitting the links at Bedminster while Red State voters are heading for high ground.  Besides, Trump has other things on his mind at the moment now that his former campaign manager (and more) Paul Manafort has agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation.

If you want to know what Manafort means to Trump, his family and top aides like commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, you really should watch the new documentary, "Active Measures." It's available on the American streaming service, Hulu. Apparently you can rent or buy it on iTunes. Even that, however, just scratches the surface. Team Mueller is certain to know more, probably vastly more than documentary maker, Jack Bryan.

Now imagine yourself as Donald Trump. You know some of what Manafort knows that could be problematic for you. You also know some of the other people, the Russians and Ukrainians and guys like Wilbur, whom Manafort also knows stuff about.

You've got mid-term elections looming and the prospect of facing a solid Democratic House of Representatives in the new year just itching to launch a tsunami of investigations into everything the Republicans have laboriously smothered for the past two years.

With Manafort singing like a canary, doing something as outrageous as killing the Mueller investigation would be political suicide. Mueller's popular support is rising rapidly and your numbers are tanking.

You'll also be wondering how much longer you'll be able to count on Congressional Republicans to sacrifice the party and their seats to save your backside. You already know those inside your White House are choosing, as they see it, to put country ahead of their president.

Maybe a few rounds of golf isn't such a bad idea after all.

Manafort Has His Deal. It's Big.

Paul Manafort has agreed to grass on Donald J. Trump. He will spill the beans. And he did not sell himself cheaply.

With eight felony convictions on the most minor indictments and a looming trial date next week on the serious indictments, Manafort and Mueller have struck a deal, one that will see the 'life behind bars' charges dropped.

Appearing in court for the special prosecutor was the legendary ball-buster the Trump campaign so fears, Andrew Weissman. The New York Times calls Weissman, "Mueller's Legal Pit Bull."

From The Washington Post:
“Manafort is effectively admitting to being an instrument of the Kremlin — something that didn’t stop when he was in charge of the Trump campaign,” says Max Bergmann, who heads the Moscow Project at the Center for American Progress. “This is what collusion looks like.” 
And once again, it reveals that the president’s assurance that no one from the campaign had Russian contacts was flat-out false.


The New York Times has published the entire plea agreement between the government and Manafort along with other court filings. Manafort is forfeiting several properties to the government including his apartment in Trump Tower, Soho and this modest getaway in Bridgehampton.

NBC adds this context to the Manafort plea deal.
After insisting that he would never flip — and earning praise from Trump as a stand-up guy — Manafort buckled under the weight of the legal burden facing him and cut a deal that requires him to cooperate fully and truthfully with Mueller’s team. 
He has to meet with investigators without a lawyer, turn over documents, testify in court, and delay his sentencing until Mueller is satisfied, court documents say. 
In exchange, he could end up with no prison sentence, instead of the decade or more he was facing, as long as Mueller tells the judge his cooperation was substantial. 
“They must know that he has something of value,” Goldman said of prosecutors.

Manafort was allowed to plead guilty to two charges — conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice. But prosecutors filed a document that summed up all the allegations against Manafort in both Virginia and Washington, and Manafort admitted in court that all of it was true, including the charges on which a Virginia jury failed to convict him last month.
...The question now is what does Manafort know, and who, if anyone, he can incriminate.

What will he tell prosecutors, for example, about his relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin? Emails show Manafort was offering Deripaska private briefings about the Trump campaign, trying to make good on $10 million Deripaska had lent him — a loan that prosecutors say was never repaid.
...Prosecutors will also want to know about loans made to Manafort by Trump supporters after he left the campaign in 2016, including some from a Chicago banker Manafort recommended for a job in the Trump administration. 
And they will want to know about any conversations Manafort had with the Trump team about defending the Mueller investigation, or about a pardon. Manafort, experts say, could be a witness not only in the Russia conspiracy investigation, but in the probe into whether the president obstructed justice.

“I think that Manafort likely was sent signals about a pardon,” Figliuzzi said. “It echoes right back to the obstruction-of-justice case.”

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Signs of the Times

C'mon, you know he's right.

Don't ya just wish?

How Canadian angels will pass the time come October 17th.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Don't Let America Drag Us Into Its Cesspool In the Name of Competitiveness

A disturbing report from Price Waterhouse Coopers prepared on behalf of the Business Council of Canada (the usual suspects) warns that the Trump tax cuts could put 635-thousand Canadian jobs at risk and cause a 4.9 per cent drop in Canada's GDP.

The dodgy narrative is that, unless Canada follows suit, cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, it's economic Armageddon for Canada.

It's time to tell PwC and the Business Council to shove it straight up their fat arses. That vaunted tax cut they clearly want Canada to emulate is adding somewhere between 1 to 1.5-trillion dollars in deficit that working class Americans are going to have to shoulder.

If the only way to protect Canada's deeply integrated economy is by waging class warfare on the Canadian people as the United States has done then it's time we became less integrated and quickly. If we have to take a hit so be it but let's get something worthwhile out of it for the sacrifice starting with more independence and a whole lot less Trump toadyism.

It's time to see the big accounting houses, PwC, KPMG, etc. and their corporate clients for what they are - shake down artists.

A Eulogy for Rachel Notley

The Tyee's Mitchell Anderson has penned a farewell to "The Sad, Timid Failure of Rachel Notley," the soon to be ousted premier of Alberta.

Notley, writes Anderson, came to power promising to get tough with the oil giants, see that Alberta got its fair share of energy revenues, only to "morph into a fossil fuel sycophant," an avatar of the late Ralph Klein.
Albertans are entirely correct to believe they have been ripped off for decades on resource wealth. Since 1972 the province has produced over 17 billionbarrels of conventional crude oil worth almost $1 trillion, assuming a price of $40 USD per barrel. (Alberta sweet crude was at over $80 in 2014.) Where did the money go? 
Under our constitution this is Alberta’s oil, not Canada’s. For all the whining about western alienation, the fact is that successive Alberta governments have conjured the almost unimaginable alchemy of somehow converting $1 trillion in resource bounty (not even counting bitumen or natural gas) into $47 billion of provincial debt. 
Notley now plays the same dog-eared card used by so many premiers before her — that this is somehow all the fault of Ottawa and the rest of the country. The oil barons of Texas must be clinking glasses of bourbon in celebration of how easy it was to divide and dupe such Canadian bumpkins.
If the Wild Rose is the symbol of Alberta, taking massive revenue windfalls and "pissing it all away" is the provincial ethos. Coastal British Columbians keep that in mind when the governments in Ottawa and Edmonton angrily shout that keeping this dark farce going is a matter of "national interest." For this we're supposed to submit to their plans to put our pristine coast at serious risk of environmental catastrophe?

Jason Kenney will be in power soon enough and then the fight will worsen. It'll be Jason and Justin and their damned, bitumen-fueled Gotterdammerung.

Here Come da Judge

This is Bob Meadows, a circuit court judge from Florida. That won't matter much to you but listen to what he wrote:

Here is one American’s take on the growing trade war with the US and Canada.

"Have you ever stopped to consider how lucky we Americans are to have the neighbors we have? Look around the globe at who some folks have been stuck sharing a border with over the past half century:

North Korea / South Korea

West Germany / East Germany

Greece / Turkey

Iran / Iraq

Israel / Palestine

India / Pakistan

China / Russia

We’ve got Canada! Canada. About as inoffensive a neighbor as you could ever hope for. In spite of all our boasts of “American exceptionalism” and chants of “America first,” they just smile, do their thing and go about their business. They are on average more educated, have a higher standard of living, free health care, and almost no gun problems. They treat immigrants respectfully and already took in over 35,000 Syrians in the last two years.

They’re with us in NATO, they fought alongside us in World War I, World War II, Korea, the Gulf War, the Bosnian War, Afghanistan, the Kosovo War and came to our defense after 9/11. There was that one time when Canada took a pass on one of our wars: Vietnam. Turned out to be a good call.

They’ve been steady consumers of American imports, reliable exporters of metals and petroleum products (they are the biggest importer of U.S. products from 37 states), and partnered with NASA in our space missions.

During 911 many aircraft were diverted to Newfoundland, an island province off Canada's east coast where Americans were housed in people's homes for two weeks and treated like royalty. In return for their hospitality, this administration slapped a 20% tariff on the products of Newfoundland's only paper mill, thereby threatening it's survival.

And what do Canadians expect of us in return? To be respected for who and what they are: Canadians. That’s what I call a good neighbor.

But the King of Chaos couldn’t leave well enough alone. Based on his delusions of perpetual victimhood, out of the clear blue, he’s declared economic war on Canada. On CANADA! And he did it based on Canada being a national security risk to the US! For no good reason, other than the voices in his head that told him it was a war he could win. So why not do it, then?

Trump went ahead and imposed his tariffs on aluminum and steel even though we have a trade surplus with Canada on those products! Trudeau retaliated in kind. And now this morning, the White House is preparing a new wave of tariffs in retaliation for Trudeau’s retaliation. This time he threatens a tariff on automobiles even though 70% of their components originate in the U.S.! It’s just a temporary spat, right? Except for that smile on Vladimir’s face in the Kremlin, as the NATO pact unravels a little more with each passing day.

Again, we’re talking about Canada. Our closest ally, friend and neighbor.

On behalf of an embarrassed nation, people of Canada, I apologize for this idiotic and wholly unnecessary attack. Please leave the back channels open. We the People of progressive persuasion stand with you.

Trump's 30 Years of Red-Square Bashing

It seems that Donald Trump has been studying the Kremlin drill manual for about thirty years. Now, just in time for the mid-term elections, two exposes of Trump's lengthy ties to Russian gangsters are out.

One is a documentary, "Active Measures," that will be in theatrical release soon in Canada, perhaps, somewhere.

It's apparently available now on the American streaming service, Hulu, for those who have access to it.

Then there's journalist Craig Unger's new book, "House of Trump, House of Putin."
The book claims to unpack an “untold story,” but it’s not entirely clear how much of it is new. One of the hardest things to accept about the Trump-Russia saga is how transparent it is. So much of the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and somehow that has made it harder to accept. 
But make no mistake: Trump’s ties to shady Russian figures stretch back decades, and Unger diligently pieces them together in one place. Although Unger doesn’t provide any evidence that Trump gave the Russians anything concrete in return for their help, the case he makes for how much potential leverage the Russians had over Trump is pretty damning.
Unger maintains it's clear the Kremlin targeted and compromised Trump, largely through money laundering and bailing Trump out when he was effectively broke.
The key point I want to get across in the book is that the Russian mafia is different than the American mafia, and I think a lot of Americans don’t understand this. In Russia, the mafia is essentially a state actor. When I interviewed Gen. Oleg Kalugin, who is a former head of counterintelligence in the KGB and had been Vladimir Putin’s boss at one point, I asked him about the mafia. He said, “Oh, it’s part of the KGB. It’s part of the Russian government.” 
And that’s essential to the whole premise of the book. Trump was working with the Russian mafia for more than 30 years. He was profiting from them. They rescued him. They bailed him out. They took him from being $4 billion in debt to becoming a multibillionaire again, and they fueled his political ambitions, starting more than 30 years ago. This means Trump was in bed with the Kremlin as well, whether he knew it or not.
I can’t prove what was in Trump’s head, or what he knew or when he knew it. But I document something like 1,300 transactions ...with Russian mobsters. By that, I mean real estate transactions that were all cash purchases made by anonymous shell companies that were quite obviously fronts for criminal money-laundering operations. And this represents a huge chunk of Trump’s real estate activity in the United States, so it’s quite hard to argue that he had no idea what was going on.

...Russia had hundreds of agents and assets in the US, and Gen. Kalugin, the former head of KGB operations in Russia, told me that America was a paradise for Russian spies and that they had recruited roughly 300 assets and agents in the United States, and Trump was one of them.

But it’s not just the money laundering. There was a parallel effort to seduce Trump. Sometime in 1986, Russia’s ambassador to the US, Yuri Dubinin, visited Trump in Trump Tower and told him that his building was “fabulous” and that he should build one in Moscow, and they arranged for a trip to Moscow. 
According to Gen. Kalugin, that was likely the first step in the process to recruit and compromise Trump. Kalugin told me he would not be surprised in the least if the Russians have compromising materials on Trump’s activities in Moscow, something they were quite good at acquiring.
... One weird anecdote that jumped out to me was this story about Ivana Trump, whom Donald married in 1977. It turns out the Czech secret police were following her and her family, and there’s a fascinating file I quote in the book that says they started tracking her in the late 1980s, and one of the Czech secret police files says that Trump was being pressured to run for president. 
But what does that mean? Who was pressuring him? How were they applying the pressure, and why? And did it have anything to do with potentially compromising materials the Russians had on Trump from his 1987 trip to Russia? 
What we do know is that Trump returns from that first trip to Moscow and he takes out full-page ads in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Boston Globe — and it’s fascinating because the ads essentially pushed the same foreign policies that he’s pushing today. They were anti-European, anti-NATO — basically they were aligned with the Soviet plan to destroy the Western alliance. And Trump takes out full-page ads in major American newspapers affirming this view. Maybe that’s just what he always believed. In any case, it’s worth noting.
Unger chronicles how Russia operates openly in America today from Main Street to Wall Street.
One of the things I hope this book shows is that there’s a new kind of war going on. It’s a global war without bombs or bullets or boots on the ground, and the weapons are information and data and social media and financial institutions. The Russian mafia is one weapon in this global conflict, and they’ve been fighting it smartly since the fall of the Soviet Union. 
The Russians start businesses and front companies and commodities firms that appear legitimate but essentially work to advance the interests of the Russian state. They’re very good at getting people entangled financially and then using that as leverage to get what they want. This appears to be what they’ve done with Trump, and now he’s president of the United States.
...There’s an old saying that sometimes the worst part of the scandal is what’s legal, and the Russians, to their credit, studied our system and campaign finance laws and they exploited it masterfully. They’ve used pharmaceutical companies and energy companies and financial institutions to pour money into our politics, and we really have no idea the extent of their influence. 
One thing Vladimir Putin got right was his insistence that American democracy is also corrupt, and I think he’s showing us exactly how corrupt it is. Trump is just the most glaring example, but surely there are others, most of which we know nothing about.
From Michael Wolff's "Fire and Fury," to Isikoff and Corn's "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump," to Bob Woodward's "Fear, Trump in the White House" we're immersed in details about the most improbable president in American history, a man with deep ties to Russia and whose campaign and administration have been liberally salted with key officials who have their own histories with the Kremlin. Next up are Bryan's documentary, "Active Measures," and Unger's book, "House of Trump, House of Putin." If you somehow manage to wade through all that, Michael Moore's next documentary, "Fahrenheit 11/9" will be released on 21 September.

I've read "Fear and Fury" and "Russian Roulette" and I'm now halfway through "Fear." Pretty impressive stuff. I plan on watching "Active Measures" and "Fahrenheit 11/9" but I wonder if this is just going to overwhelm many Americans, numb them out. Even the inescapable signs that their president is not connected to reality may no longer be significant.

What keeps me digesting this stuff is the knowledge that what I'm reading is known to special prosecutor, Robert Mueller, and his cadre of investigators and federal and state prosecutors. I'm confident they know all of this and probably a great deal more. It's the very stuff of an investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 election and it's almost inconceivable that this and plenty more won't be raised in Mueller's report.

North Carolina - the First Little Piggy. Now the Big, Bad Wolf Is At The Door.

Oh, well. It's not like they couldn't have seen it coming - if only they had bothered to open their eyes. North Carolina is about to receive what southerners like to call a big old can of whoopass in the form of Hurricane Florence.

Those North Carolinians think so little of climate change that they banned any mention of it in government policy.

In 2012, the state now in the path of Hurricane Florence reacted to a prediction by its Coastal Resources Commission that sea levels could rise by 39in over the next century by passing a law that banned policies based on such forecasts. 
The legislation drew ridicule, including a mocking segment by comedian Stephen Colbert, who said: “If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying the result is illegal. Problem solved.” 
North Carolina has a long, low-lying coastline and is considered one of the US areas most vulnerable to rising sea levels.
But dire predictions alarmed coastal developers and their allies, who said they did not believe the rise in sea level would be as bad as the worst models predicted and said such forecasts could unnecessarily hurt property values and drive up insurance costs. 
As a result, the state’s official policy, rather than adapting to the worst potential effects of climate change, has been to assume it simply won’t be that bad. Instead of forecasts, it has mandated predictions based on historical data on sea level rise.
...Orrin Pilkey, a retired Duke University coastal geologist, wrote in a recent op-ed in the News & Observer that the state has still failed to take the steps that communities in Virginia and New Jersey have taken, to prepare for rising sea levels. 
“Instead coastal development flourishes as more beachfront buildings, highways and bridges are built to ease access to our beautiful beaches,” he wrote. “Currently the unspoken plan is to wait until the situation is catastrophic and then respond.”
Another southerner, comedian Ron White, figured out North Carolina's problem years ago: