Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And They Want to Run a Pipeline Across British Columbia?

Enbridge, backed by their parliamentary bootlicker, our exalted Ruler, want to run a pipeline from Athabasca across British Columbia's incredibly rugged and remote terrain to pump toxic, corrosive bitumen sludge to a supertanker port at Kitimat on the northern coast.

So just how reliable is Enbridge, the company into which we'll have to place so much trust?  The Montreal Gazette has published a year of Canadian oil pipeline failures.  The record speaks for itself and demonstrates how our Ruler is willing to sacrifice the country and our people for Athabasca and his oil patch patrons.

The Astonishingly Short Shelf-Life of Stealth Technology

When you're looking to part with tens of billions of dollars for an aircraft you'll be relying on for thirty years in service, it's best to get something with some real shelf-life.  And that's not the F35, joint strike fighter.

The F35 sacrifices everything that makes a great fighter - range, payload, agility - for a supposed huge advantage in stealth, that is to say, invisibility.  Of course "stealth" is a relative term.  Stealthy, compared to what?   Stealthy,  under what circumstances?  Stealthy, for how long?

News Alert!   America's brass have informed Congress they're "discouraged" to discover that their country's lead in stealth technology is "eroding more quickly than anticipated."

USAF general Herbert Carlisle warned, "Over time I believe we will still maintain an advantage, but I think our advantage will be a shorter period of time.

"I don't see us maintaining an advantage for as long, as I think other nations will continue to gain that technology," he said.

Another witness, USMC general Terry Robling said the answer to the Russian and Chinese stealth fighters now under development will be the next generation of American aircraft at the "next level."

It's beginning to sound that the F35 really isn't a long-term option.  In fact it sounds like we're spending an enormous amount of money to acquire a paltry number of marginally performing aircraft that stands to be overtaken by superior technology fairly early in its projected service life.   This is the sort of result you can expect when you're making your decisions ideologically.

Meanwhile, American warhawk, Senator John McCain, dismayed by latest figures on the skyrocketing costs to maintain the F35, suggests it's time for a rethink.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, "It seems to me [prudent that] we at least begin considering alternatives."

The reason some in the Senate want to start looking for alternatives is the report published last week showing the costs to maintain  the F-35 through 2065 spiraling to $1 trillion.

...Procurement Chief Ashton Carter said,  "Over the lifetime of this program, the decade or so, the per-aircraft cost of the 2,443 aircraft has doubled in real terms. That's what it's going to cost if we keep doing what we're doing. That's unacceptable. That's unaffordable."

Global Food Prices May Double by 2030

What's that awful sound?   Could it be empty bellies - or is that the clarion call of war?

Oxfam is warning that the already record-breaking price of staple foods could more than double by 2030.  It says we're embarking on an era of permanent food crisis that will hardest hit the most vulnerable, the poor, and spark unrest.

Research to be published on Wednesday forecasts international prices of staples such as maize could rise by as much as 180% by 2030, with half of that rise due to the impacts of climate change.

A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.

...[Oxfam] said global food reserves must be urgently increased and western governments must end biofuels policies that divert food to fuel for cars.

It also attacked excessive corporate concentration in the food sector, particularly in grain trading and in seed and agrochemicals.

The Oxfam report followed warnings from the UN last week that food prices are likely to hit new highs in the next few weeks, triggering unrest in developing countries. The average global price of cereals jumped by 71% to a new record in the year to April last month.

Multisource political news, world news, and entertainment news analysis by Newsy.com
Meanwhile Canada is saddled with a Ruler who thinks al Qaeda, not climate change, is the greatest threat to global security and our own.

It's tough to come to grips with this.   We all have an image, an understanding of our world that we've each pieced together over a few decades.   That world, the world as we knew it in the 70s, 80s and 90s, is no longer.   It has been transformed, shifted into a new reality, and that transformation continues and accelerates.   Our climate is changing and it is changing our very civilization, rendering old ways, old wisdom, old rules utterly obsolete.

For most of my lifetime the future was something we had the power to shape to our liking, something through the elixir of knowledge and technology we might grow to suit our needs and wants.   But we overreached and now the future has turned into something we no longer control and to which our primary option is to adapt, if we can.

Adaptation, however, will not be on the priority list of our Ruler as he sells out our country and our people for his dream of fossil fuel energy superpowerdom.  It's filthy lucre our Ruler covets, so shamefully filthy that he deliberately conceals it from the United Nations.  Adaptation is the last thing on a mind that perverted for any meaningful and effective action on it merely shines a giant spotlight on the very thing Ruler works so hard to keep in the shadows - Athabasca.

And so Ruler sails off to Afghanistan to declare our mission a "great success" in the war against terrorism unaware that he's fueling conditions that may give rise to terrorism on a scale he cannot begin to imagine.   Numbnutted fool.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Afghanistan Mission - A "Great Success"

We have to look at this mission
as a Great Success
At least that's how Furious Leader wants us to see the hapless campaign in Afghanistan.   Our Ruler showed up in Kandahar with Mutt MacKay at his side to pronounce Canada's mission to Afghanistan a "great success."  Or did he?

Actually our Ruler said that we "have to look at" the mission as a great success.  Of course a fundamentalist lunatic can see anything any way he imagines it.  That sort of intellectual sleight of hand is second nature in the faith-based community.  To them, reality is anything you say it is.

As Murray Dobbin recently pointed out in The Tyee, Harperland is all about "irrational reality."

It shows up everywhere:

Over a dozen new crime bills and billions on prisons when the science tells him crime is on a steady downward trend.

A determination to close Insite, Vancouver's safe injection site, despite several studies that show it saves lives and gets people into treatment (and off heroin).

An obsession with ending the long-gun registry, despite its constant use by (and support from) every police force in the country.

Massive cuts to science funding agencies, which promoted scores of critical studies and helped keep Canada in the forefront of several disciplines.

 A foreign policy driven not by a rational determination of Canada's interests, but by a kind of visceral and absolute dedication to the interests of another country, Israel. 

...Dismissive to the point of contempt, Harper gives the impression that the facts are little more than an irrelevant annoyance -- just another opposition tactic aimed at interfering with his agenda.
Harper sees himself as one of history's actors -- creating a new reality vis-à-vis crime by passing a raft of new laws that will result in a huge increase in incarceration rates, regardless of the fact that incarceration does not reduce crime, that crime rates are falling, that with a $50 billion dollar deficit we cannot afford to build new prisons, and the fact that crime experts from police to academics decry the policy direction. 

"A Risk Any Sane Person Would Seek to Drastically Reduce"

That is the assessment of Lord Stern of the London School of Economics after reviewing the latest International Energy Agency figures on carbon emissions in 2010.  The report shows that the global recession had only a minimal effect on carbon emissions and that 2010 saw a record 30.6 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions, up a full 1.6 Gt over 2009.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially  "dangerous climate change  " – is likely to be just  "a nice Utopia  ", according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire.   "These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a 'business as usual' path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path ... would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100  ," he said.

"Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce ."

• About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These "locked-in" emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.

"It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking," warned Birol.

• Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.

"People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide ," said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world's nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.

• Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled.  "The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago ," said Birol.

The German government has announced it will abandon nuclear power generation completely by 2022.  It will be interesting to see just how Germany will make good the nuclear power deficiency.  If any country can muster the political will to launch a major renewables programme, it's probably Germany.  However Germany remains committed to coal power generation on the promise of carbon capture and sequestration technology as a solution to emissions problems.

Another Threat to Renewable Energy

The world is poised on the brink of  a "cheap gas" era that may undermine the viability of renewable energy options.   Not gas as in gasoline but as in natural gas, shale gas released by fracking.

"More gas [power plants] than wind and solar will be built [in the 10 to 20 years]," said Steve Bolze, chief executive of General Electric's  power and water division, which makes gas-fired turbines. "Gas is a good alternative to being 100% renewable."

...The International Energy Agency has predicted that if the anticipated   "dash for gas " goes ahead, the world will be far adrift of its greenhouse gas emissions targets. Laszlo Varro, head of gas, coal and power markets at the IEA, said:  "We have said repeatedly that on our current trajectory we will miss these targets ."

The gas industry is banking on a "cleaner than coal" argument to win over government resistance - if there is any.  This is another enormous hurdle in the path of alternative energy initiatives.  It reinforces the necessity of strict carbon taxes - the very idea embodied in Stephane Dion's "Green Shift" proposal - to curb fossil fuel consumption.  Of course our new leader of the official opposition was more than happy to trash Dion over carbon taxes and with Layton in the lap of a Petro-Pol prime minister, Canada's not going anywhere on carbon emissions.

Another Big Win for American Corporatocracy

The other shoe drops.  A federal judge in Virginia has leapfrogged the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and ruled that a century-old law barring corporate contributions to political candidates is unconstitutional.  Let the buying begin.

Citizens United held that US companies were entitled to pour money into election campaigns as part of political free speech.   The Virginia ruling allows corporate cash to flow directly to candidates.

The caps on direct donations remain in place but are meaningless to corporations.  They can simply create as many straw companies as they like to circumvent the limit problem.

Of course, America already has a "bought and paid for" Congress unabashedly beholden to corporate interests.  This ruling just makes it easier to get those corporate payoffs directly into the hands of grateful candidates.  Welcome to ancient Rome.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Canada About to Lose 400,000 Sq. Kms.

A study released today warns that Canada will lose access to 400,000 sq. kms. of northern territory by 2050 and that's due to global warming.  The report by scientists at UCLA that a lot of northerners, dependent on ice roads for their survival, will find themselves cut off.

Canada is going to be feeling the harsh edge of the sword more strongly than other Arctic states,” says Scott Stephenson, lead author of the study that forecasts that the Northwest Passage will be the last Arctic shipping route to become ice free.
400,000 square kilometres of Canada — most of it in the southern Northwest Territories and the northern Prairie provinces — is predicted to become inaccessible by road by mid-century because of milder winters and deeper snow will prevent the ground from freezing solid.

"This study would suggest that Canada has more to lose that it realizes," senior author Laurence Smith, a UCLA climate researcher, said in a telephone interview.

“Popular conception has it that the Arctic is thawing, that it is opening up, and we’ll go in there and get the resources,” he says. “This study shows it is not as simple as that. In fact much of the landscape will become less accessible.“


A Rational View on Nuclear Power

Like George Monbiot or James Hansen and James Lovelock, I don't think we're going to be able to free ourselves of our fossil fuel addiction without embracing every non-carbon energy source currently available to us.  What that means in the short term is clear - accepting nuclear power.   What that means in the medium and long term remains to be seen.  We're only beginning to explore alternative energy options, many of them still in their infancy, and it is entirely conceivable we may be able to mothball our nuclear energy resources in two or three decades.  I just don't know.  Neither do you.

The nuclear option has clearly left a deep rift in the environmental movement, especially in the wake of Fukushima.   Yet plenty of very knowledgeable voices in the science community - the same community we implore others to accept on global warming - stand behind nuclear power.

If, like me, you're less than scientifically competent on nuclear power technology - and still have an open mind - here's an article I think you'll find helpful:


Take a read and see if it helps answer some of your questions and doubts.

Think of Them As "Terrorists In Training"

Another screwed up NATO airstrike in Afghanistan.   14-dead, reportedly all women and children.  Six others wounded.  The Talibs are busy signing up new recruits.

Karzai's beating his chest.   Says this is his "last warning" to ISAF and US forces to stop whacking Afghan civilians.  Doesn't say exactly what he's got in mind for when it happens again the next time (as it almost certainly will).

Poor old Hamid.  Where does he go from here?  The coming civil war won't go well for him and he's enough of a survivor to be under no illusions about that.  Try to imagine the contents of his top, desk drawer.   My guess is that you'll find a well-worn Makarov pistol, a souvenir of the old Soviet/Mujad days; and three neat stacks - one a bundle of bank books, the next a bundle of passports and the third a stack of first-class airline tickets to Paris.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reconfiguring Democracy

Even when I was a kid (and, yes, they had indoor plumbing back then) I understood that democracy, as we embraced it, was something of a work in progress.  It was never truly complete.  It was something that should advance and expand.  Every now and then something or someone would come along, a game changer for democracy.  In my lifetime it was Trudeau with his Just Society and his Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But as a history buff I also knew that Western democracy was an evolutionary thing that had suffered plenty of setbacks over the centuries.  There's been no shortage of would-be leaders who chafed at the restraints of democracy until they swept them aside.   And even the most democratic society accepts suspension of rights and freedoms as sometimes necessary in emergency situations.  Unfortunately this affords an opportunity for undemocratic types to exploit fears so that the public may accept the indefinite loss of  democratic freedoms.  Hitler did it.  So did Bush/Cheney with their Patriot Act.

In Western civilization there doesn't exist a single right or freedom that hasn't been paid for, in blood, often more than once.   Nor does there exist a single right or freedom that can't be quickly revoked or stolen if we are not vigilant in our defence of it.   For there's true value in those rights and freedoms - power and money to be had.

Today in North America democracy is not flourishing.  It is being economically and politically undermined, it's declining power siphoned off to an emerging oligarchy.   Instruments of democracy are being harnessed into the service not of the public but of special interests, almost entirely corporate.  We are witnessing the gradual union of political and corporate power which was, to Benito Mussolini, the very essence of modern fascism.

A voting public is a hurdle to anti-democratic forces but far from insurmountable.  There are various means by which the public franchise can be weakened.  Why chase informed consent when misinformed or manipulated consent will do just as well?   Consent, like just about everything else, can be manufactured with the right tools and enough money.

Three of those tools, the hallmarks of anti-democratic charlatans, are secrecy, deception and fear.   Hide your purpose, create in your own supporters a misapprehension of facts and make them fearful or distrustful of those who stand in your way.   Every despot and would-be tyrant understands those techniques and never hesitates to employ them.  With them he weakens, sometimes subverts, existing democratic institutions and their connection with the public.  He insinuates himself between those institutions and the public.  He becomes the public face of those institutions.  In this way he comes to rule rather than merely govern.

We seem to have just such a Ruler in Canada at the moment and he's expected to be our overlord for the next four, perhaps five years.   His alone will be the face of the government.  As in any organization, underlings will be appointed to carry out his will but their every step, their every word will be prescribed by their overlord.   They will do as he directs them to do, they will say what he directs them to say if, indeed, they say anything at all.

Officially he is prime minister but that is a title he does not deserve.  He has no love, no faith in parliamentary democracy.  He has repeatedly shown his abject contempt for Parliament.  It does not suit his imperial ways.   If he could not honour Parliament while leading a minority government, why would he honour it now that he is relieved of all restrictions?   With a sophomoric popinjay leading the opposition, the Ruler will have no need to engage Parliament at all.  He may rule by fiat.

Watch for the Ruler to move boldly and swiftly.   Henceforth his only real opposition won't be in the House of Commons much less the Senate but down the road, in the Supreme Court of Canada.   The Ruler will be desperate to reconfigure Canadian democracy and to do that he will have to ideologically pervert the highest court of the land.   He will seek to transform it into the political waterboy like its counterpart in Washington.   A Supreme Court with a majority beholden to the Ruler instead of the country vests complete power in the Ruler.

This promises to be a difficult, possibly even dangerous, four or five years for Canadian democracy.  We will be challenged to find ways, outside of the doldrums of the Commons, to uphold and defend our democratic legacy.  The same forces at play in the United States won't pass up the opportunity to empower the Ruler to achieve the same ends in our country.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foreign Diplomats Surrounded by Gunmen in Yemen

Gunmen said to be loyal to Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh have surrounded the Emirates embassy in Sanaa.   Inside a group of foreign diplomats have convened awaiting a decision from Saleh whether he will accept a deal they proposed to leave office within 30-days.  The group includes diplomats from the EU, Britain and the US.

A  ...diplomat said men armed with knives, daggers and swords were seen roaming the streets outside the UAE embassy.

"Everybody is worried; we can't leave the embassy ," said the diplomat.

Mr Saleh's militiamen have increasingly been seen around the capital, and hundreds have cut off the road to the presidential palace.

Update - TorStar is reporting the diplomats were rescued from the embassy by Yemeni army helicopters.   Saleh is said to have rejected the peace overture.

The Week In News

According to The Onion at least:

Cash-Strapped PBS Releases Nova Special On Physics Behind Rhythmically Bouncing Breasts

A Pox On All Their Houses

With some regret I concluded before the last election that there was not a national party or national party leader even remotely worth supporting.  They were all, including the polished turd who now camps out in Stornoway, a bunch of dead-enders unwilling to come to grips with the real issues of the day, fixed in 20th century politics and thereby left with no vision whatever for the 21st.

A reader of this blog recently drew my attention to an article chronicling how today's governorship has become incapable of leading, preferring to simply ignore the pressing problems of the day.  How true.   There's no courageous vision to be had on Parliament Hill.

My post yesterday noted that 17 Nobel Laureates, constituting the Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability, warned that "unsustainable patterns of production, consumption and population growth" were imperiling mankind and most other life on our planet.   They emphasized that man absolutely must stop the growth of carbon emissions by no later than 2015 - just four years hence.  Reading their injunctions and then looking at the leadership of our Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats - it was simply too much.

Warnings abound.   Even the World Bank is sounding the alarm.  It reported that, worldwide, major flooding events have tripled over the past three decades.  A threefold increase in just three decades.  And the bank didn't pull any punches on what was causing this either - "human caused climate change."

If you still don't get it, throw on your chest waders and head to Manitoba.  Go a day's drive West and help put out wildfires in Alberta.   Or take a meandering drive through central British Columbia and marvel at how our rich, green forests have turned a lovely shade of rust.

So, how does any of this resonate on Parliament Hill?  Who is sounding the call to arms?  No one.  They can't and for good reason.   They're all stuck in the "growth and jobs" paradigm.   They still view the world through scratchy old 20th century glasses.  They can't meet challenges they prefer not to see.  They're comfortable enough with chicken scratch politics.  They're content to meander the farmyard, scratching the surface in the hunt for an overlooked bit of grain or seed.

20th century politics holds no answers for us in the 21st.  Even the brightest minds at the Pentagon understand this.  Check out this paper, from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, "A National Strategic Narrative."

The assumptions of the 20th century, of the U.S. as a bulwark first against fascism and then against communism, make little sense in a world in which World War II and its aftermath is as distant to young generations today as the War of 1870 was to the men who designed the United Nations and the international order in the late 1940s.

Consider the description of the U.S. president as “the leader of the free world,” a phrase that encapsulated U.S. power and the structure of the global order for decades. Yet anyone under thirty today, a majority of the world’s population, likely has no idea what it means.

The authors explain that the world has passed from the closed system of the 20th century into an open system for the 21st.

[The] strategy of containment was designed for a closed system, in which we
assumed that we could control events through deterrence, defense, and dominance of the international system. The 21st century is an open system, in which unpredictable external events/phenomena are constantly disturbing and disrupting the system. In this world control is impossible; the best we can do is to build credible influence – the ability to shape and guide global trends in the direction that serves our values and interests (prosperity and security) within
an interdependent strategic ecosystem. In other words, the U.S. should stop trying to dominate and direct global events. The best we can do is to build our capital so that we can influence events as they arise.

It's a good read if only to show that 20th century strategies and pursuits will avail us little in the 21st.  That holds true for security, geopolitics, economics and environmental challenges.

What does the "vision" that I find so lacking in Canadian political leadership look like?  That's easy.  It looks like the honest, open and forthright policies introduced by Labour and reinforced by Britain's current Conservative government.  Our leaders, the lot of them, instead shirk their responsibility to do at least as much for Canadians as British governments are doing for their citizens.

If the Liberal Party sincerely wishes to rebuild, to redeem its credibility, this is where they can do it.  Take up this challenge, make it their own.  Shape a vision of government for Canada in the 21st century.  Leave these putzes to wallow in the last century.  The crises and challenges are building.   They're not going away.  Canada won't be immune to them either.  If you accept those truths, you're well on the way to charting a path for a Liberal renaissance.  If not, you deserve your demise.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

17 Nobel Laureates Call Out - Is Anybody Listening?

They gathered in Stockholm this week for the 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability.    Their report, the Stockholm Memorandum, is an urgent call to action that will almost certainly be ignored by world leaders, including our own.

Unsustainable patterns of production, consumption, and population growth are challenging the resilience of the planet to support human activity. At the same time, inequalities between and within societies remain high, leaving behind billions with unmet basic human needs and disproportionate vulnerability to global environmental change.

Humans are now the most significant driver of global change, propelling the planet into a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. We can no longer exclude the possibility that our collective actions will trigger tipping points, risking abrupt and irreversible consequences for human communities and ecological systems.

We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence.

The Symposium published an urgent "to do" list that is, frankly, disheartening.  Yes, we must do the things they suggest but, No, we won't.   Stopping the growth of carbon emissions by 2015?   That would mean a Herculean, inter-governmental initiative unlike any ever seen to abandon fossil fuels and shift to alternative energy beginning immediately.   That wouldn't mean just mothballing coal plants and building windmills or solar panels.  It would require a fundamental restructuring of our societies and our economies.   It would mean abandoning the "growth and jobs" paradigm that has driven Western economies and politics for centuries.  It would mean embracing core principles from which some, particularly the most advantaged, would recoil.

Charting the Moral Bankrutpcy of the Rich

It's becoming dirtier and more dangerous to be rich in Britain.  At least that's the conclusion in Bankrupt Britain, An Atlas of Social Change, due to be released soon.

Levels of crime, pollution and antisocial behaviour are rising more sharply in London's  three richest neighbourhoods than anywhere else in Britain, according to an atlas which maps the changing social geography of Britain for the first time.

A comprehensive analysis of nationwide data for 2007-08 and 2008-09 concludes that the quality of   "local environmental conditions  " in the capital's boroughs of City of London, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea plummeted over that period.

In contrast, the constituencies whose scores improved most were almost all in the north of England, with the three biggest improvements in Sedgefield in County Durham, north Lincolnshire and Blaenau Gwent.

 "Our maps reveal the extent of Britain's bankruptcy in financial, residential, political, moral, emotional and environmental aspects of life across Britain ," said the atlas's co-author, Prof Danny Dorling, from Sheffield University.

..."What is most interesting is how these rankings are changing ," said Dorling. "The bigger picture shows that, when it comes to environmental sustainability and sociability in Britain, some of the richest areas are suffering while some of the poorest areas are winning out ."

...Prof Kate Pickett, co-founder of the Equality Trust [and co-author of the book, "The Spirit Level "], said the atlas revealed   "the damage caused to the vast majority of us by the moral bankruptcy of the rich and powerful" .

...This may turn out to be the last time such comprehensive research can be presented, thanks to the government's cuts.   "It will not be possible to produce an update of all the topics included here in the future, due to the effect of government cuts on data collection and dissemination ," Dorling said.   "Many of the surveys we have relied on to plot out the current status of Britain have recently been cancelled ."
The last paragraph above made me think of Stephen Harper, his obsessive secrecy and the demise of the longform census.   I wonder if Steve wants to shutter any windows we might have to look at our society and ourselves while he completes his radical rightwing transformation of Canada.  Cutting "data collection and dissemination" is an effective means to blind the public, to keep them unaware of the degradation of their society.  I don't think it's unfair to say that the less we know, the better Steve likes it.

What Really Happened at Fukushima

The Guardian has published a series of photographs of the tsunami inundating Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant.   Here are four of them showing just what occurred inside the plant:

It's pretty easy from these to gauge the massive amount of seawater that slammed into the plant, carrying cars and debris that smashed critical pipes and even broke down walls.

Rapture Ruptured

Either God gave Australia and New Zealand a pass or Christian doomsday seer Harold Camping is just another windy bag of shit.

Camping prophesied that "the end" would arrive today at 6 p.m. according to whatever time zone you live in.   Dead folks were supposed to emerge from their graves.   The goodies would be swept up to heaven.  The baddies to be shamed in ways only the 89-year old nutjob could foresee.

Apparently the dead on the t'other side of the International Date Line didn't get the message and their eternal dirt nap continues undisturbed.  The Guardian claims that some people actually believed the old fart, sold their possessions and took to the streets.   Bet there were some sweet deals there.

The line of the day:

Kieran Healy had a slightly more comforting message for those disappointed at not joining Jesus:   "I guess on Sunday when the #Rapture people feel really upset, we can't console them by saying 'Cheer up, it's not the end of the world.'"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Individualism Sucks

Has there ever been a country more enthralled with delusions of individualism than our neighbour to the south?  It's where, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, so many still cling to the image of the Marlboro Man and cherish the fairy tale of the "self made man."  They have been force fed the lie that their nation is the land of milk and honey where anything can be had if only someone wants it badly enough and works for it hard enough.

It was a harmless if not helpful narrative back when that country served its true economic engine, its middle class.   But then a new gang of wranglers showed up on the scene and realized they could use that fantasy to their purposes not to inspire but to ensnare its adherents.   The new boss with the movie star voice promised these believers that their best days were ahead of them, got them dutifully in harness, and then proceeded to relieve them of their wealth, their jobs and their future.  He transferred their wealth to the already wealthy and explained that it would all trickle back down to them and everybody would be rich.  One by one he cut the ropes that tied the ultra rich to the rest of the people and watched as the gap between rich and poor grew wider and wider and ever wider.

These wranglers realized that their nation had another great, untapped asset - it's unrivaled credit standing around the world.   Foreigners would send it money at rock-bottom rates for the mere asking.   Those with that money could then get rich beyond their imaginations by merely moving it around.   What good was money invested in manufacturing with a return of three or four percent when you could get three or four times that much from "new economy" investing?

The "new economy" was a madness all unto itself.   People needn't fret about their factory jobs being shipped overseas.   There would be work and wealth for all from the information sector.   Their country would no longer have to build so many things.  It would instead trade paper.

As soon as the ocean of borrowed money found a suitable home, wealth would appear as if by magic.   And so began what came to be known as the "dot com" bubble.   High tech companies that had a handful of employees and had never realized a profit became worth tens of millions overnight.   Those millions came in the form of stock certificates in the purchasing company - paper printed for just cents a sheet.    Those shares, in turn, went to the stock exchanges where moms and pops eagerly snapped them up, investing their retirement savings lest they be left behind.  And then, with that middle class wealth successfully transferred into the accounts of the uber rich, the bubble burst.

All that money was left to float along until it found another safe harbour.  This time it flowed into the housing market where it quickly inflated another bubble.  As middle class incomes faltered and stagnated, along came an elixir - their own homes.   Housing prices began shooting up and, as they did, homeowners managed to maintain their middle class affluence by regularly refinancing their mortgages, taking more "equity" out of the houses as though they were personal ATMs.

Yet that wasn't nearly enough for the wranglers.   But just in time they came up with an even better idea.   They would "securitize" that mountain of mortgages, bundle them up and transform them into marketable commodities.   No longer would the mortgage lender have to look to the mortgage itself as security for the loan.   The lender would simply flog the mortgage upstream, take a few points, and hunt for new borrowers.   The lenders wanted borrowers and they became less than fussy about who they were.   It didn't matter.   The paper, and risk, would be out of their hands just as quickly as it could be bundled and tossed on the market.  Lenders introduced a new form of loan, the "liar loan," in which the borrower's credit background was just made up so that bad risks became good risks with a few strokes of a pen.

As these bundled mortgage securities made their way up the food chain it became increasingly harder to assess their true value.   So, to grease the wheels, the big security houses began selling "credit default swaps," a form of insurance that just a few years earlier had been illegal.  Why illegal?  Because, unlike legitimate insurers, the security houses never had the capital reserves necessary to make good on their obligations.

As though securitized mortgages of doubtful value weren't enough, a new market in credit default swaps opened up.   For pennies on the dollar total strangers could
buy insurance on investments they didn't even own, for risks they didn't bear.  In a sane world that's called "gambling," not investing.  Yet this wasn't a sane world.   The Wranglers had driven their nation, their people stark raving mad and the uber-rich grew insanely wealthy from it.

People like Krugman and Stiglitz and Reich yelled to anyone who would listen that this fiscal emperor had no clothes only to discover that the insane don't heed warnings.   Finally the grand confidence game that was the housing bubble ended as all bubbles do.  It burst.

The little people got burned on their mortgages as insanely inflated property prices collapsed.  They lost their jobs as credit needed for their businesses to function evaporated.  Upstream, those who had invested in securitized mortgages realized they were holding garbage and went after the banks and security houses behind them.   Hundreds of billions of credit default swaps were called in and the security houses had no capital to honour them.  The whole rotten, bloated security monster was set to collapse under its own weight.   The nation, bled white, began to totter.

The Texas cowboy had to act.   This fiasco had, after all, happened on his watch even as he had debased his nation for the greater glory and wealth of the uber-rich.   So he did what the uber-rich expected of him.   He had the nation, the moms and pops, pick up the tab.   He pledged their good credit and their children's good credit to borrow the hundreds of billions needed to bail out banks and security houses and restore them to profitability.  He gave the financial sector the public's money and they gave him their degraded securities.

It was a time of chronic doom and gloom that cut across all class lines.   But was it?  Not really.  The narrative was simply edited to omit mention of what actually happened to all the money.   Everyone supposedly lost.   Nobody won.  That's nonsense.  There were a great many winners at the top who reaped enormous wealth out of these scams, many of whom ought to be behind bars except for the immunity of the anonymity carefully lavished on them.

Sane people might have been driven into the streets carrying torches and pitchforks to hunt down these scoundrels but that never happened.   Their frustrations and fury were instead diverted, harnessed into harmless movements of collectivized individualism like the Tea Party.   Harmless, that is, to those who made out like bandits at their expense.   People with silly names like Rush and Newt and Rupert realized the movie star's narrative could be recycled just as confidence schemes return again and again.  People with ominous names like Koch and Coors send rivers of money into the effort.   And with enough money and the ear of the public they've largely succeeded.

The little people believe that their individualism anchors their hope for the future.  It's why they believe that universal healthcare will somehow enslave them.   They recoil at the very mention of the word "socialism" without understanding what it means.   They don't understand that what they have just witnessed, the burden they and their children now shoulder, was yet another example of their country's socialism - for the very rich.

With the former wealth of the middle class now safely transferred, their core assets devalued, their governments paralyzed with debt, what remains to be taken?   Once you have sapped their economic power what remains to be purloined is their political power.   It doesn't matter that they can still vote so long as you can control the vote and the legislators they elect.  It's also handy if you can control the judiciary.   That way you can get legal authority, such as the Citizens United decision, to corporatize government.   Call it "reverse election finance reform."   In elections, money talks and the money that talks the loudest during an election is the one that gets the legislator's ear afterward.

Once you have transferred the public's wealth, impoverished their institutions and achieved a "bought and paid for" legislature what's left for the Little People?   Oh yeah, I forgot - individualism.   Then again, individualism sucks. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Some People, Like Les Paul, Deserve to Be Revered

I caught a documentary tonight about the legendary and recently departed Les Paul, guitarist, inventor and so much more.   It reminded me of this tribute by Jeff Beck and Irish singer Imelda May performing "How High the Moon."   This was well before my time but my isn't it awesome.  By the way, Beck is playing a Gibson, makers of the first modern electric guitar invented by - you guessed it, Les Paul.

Don't Let Our Democracy Go the Way of America's

Cenk Uygar is right.   Corporatism has utterly corrupted American democracy and, as shown by the Citizens United decision, the country's top court to boot.  The thing many don't understand yet is that the deed is all but a done deal.

We in Canada can wipe the self-righteous smug grins off our faces.  With the support of every party in the House of Commons, Canada is descending into the squalid status of a petro-state in the very worst sense of the term.  If you don't really understand that I'd recommend you read Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands, Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent.

Obama to Netanyahu - Get Back. Obama Calls for Pre-1967 Palestinian State

President Barack Obama has called for the creation of a non-militarized Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 Israeli borders.

At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent that ever,” he said.

Although Mr. Obama said that “the core issues” dividing Israelis and Palestinians remained to be negotiated, including the searing questions of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees, he spoke with striking frustration that efforts to support an agreement had so far failed. “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” he said.

The outline for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement came in what the president called “a moment of opportunity” after six months of political upheaval that has at times left the administration scrambling to keep up. The speech was an attempt to articulate a cohesive American policy to an Arab Spring that took a dark turn as the euphoria of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt gave way to violent crackdowns in Bahrain and Syria, a civil war in Libya and political stalemate in Yemen. 

The American posture seems to reflect the growing international frustration with Israel's occupation of the Palestinian homeland.  That is expected to result in a United Nations vote this September to recognize Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu wasted no time responding to Obama's speech.  He rejected the demand that Israel withdraw to what he described as "indefensible" borders and said he expected Washington to allow Israel to retain illegal settlements in the West Bank.

"Israel appreciates President's Obama commitment to peace ," Netanyahu said, but stressed that he expects Obama to refrain from demanding that Israel withdraw to  "indefensible " 1967 borders  "which will leave a large population of Israelis [illegally] in Judea and Samaria and outside Israel's borders."

Some in the Israeli press have recently observed that Netanyahu now finds himself in a predicament beyond his control and for which he has no response except to say "no."   You can sure as hell bet he'll be summoning every ounce of support he can muster from the fundamentalist Christian Right in the U.S. and Canada in the coming weeks.  It'll be interesting watching Harper weigh in on this one.

Of Course It's Going To Be Messy

These things usually are.   When the West, particularly the Americans, finally leave Afghanistan it's probably going to be messy - for a time.   The Western presence in Afghanistan, military and civilian, has been enormous at least in Afghan terms.  Neither effort, military or civilian, has been particularly successful but, when ended, both will leave a pretty big vacuum that others will seek to fill as others inevitably do when these opportunities arise.

Fortunately the past half century has given us numerous examples of Big (or lesser) Powers leaving small states.   The Brits did it.  So did the French and the Dutch.   The Russians did it - a lot.   Even the Americans did it in Vietnam.   While the circumstances of each withdrawal varied enormously from the others, the wailing and gnashing of teeth in anticipation was almost uniform.  It was usually cast as the end of the world, the Munchkins descending on their fellow Munchkins in an orgy of barbarism and chaos.   Not that this didn't happen sometimes.   Sure it did just not nearly as often as predicted.

Many times it turned out that civil strife followed our departure because of what we had done for our convenience when we ruled.   Look at Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.   Look at the borders.   Look at all the straight lines.  We drew those straight line borders as jurisdictional demarcation lines for the administrative convenience of the various colonizing powers.

Now consider those border enclosures as sort of corrals.   Then look at what's been herded into those corrals.   Inside we find groups of people of differing tribes, languages, ethnicity and religions.   They just happened to be caught inside when we carved up their historic homelands with our straightedge borders.  When they got uppity about it, we just put the boot in and maintained order at bayonet point.  

Quite often we picked a submissive favourite to instal as the ruling clan.  That's how Saddam's Sunnis got to dominate Iraq's Shia majority when that country was carved out of the Ottoman Empire by the Brits and French after WWI.   But all good things must end and when we pack up our bayonets and go home, we leave behind us scores to be settled.   Ask the Biafrans.   Ask the Kurds or the Rwandans or the Congolese or the Balochs and Pashtun.

Afghanistan is about the most mixed up of the lot.   For millenia it's been the meeting place of a lot of cultures, the pathway of conquering armies and marauders.   Ethnically it's a hodgepodge of Persians, Orientals and South Asians.  It's a herd of cats jammed inside borders that are often bureaucratic formalities.   Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Baloch, Turkmen and more.  Despite the centuries they haven't homogenized.  A Tajik is still a Tajik, a Pashtun remains a Pashtun.  Their shared values are usually reduced to distrust and resentment.  That explains why truly effective central government has eluded them.   The best they've ever managed was a loosely federated, highly decentralized state - an association of convenience of tribes that more or less accepted a Pashtun monarchy that wisely knew not to push its luck.

The thing is, we really haven't moved Afghanistan past Square One.  We haven't settled the tribal issue, we haven't even tried.  The ethnic warlords are still around and, right now, it's said they're busy reconstituting their militias in anticipation of our departure.   We have babysat their unresolved civil war for more than a decade now but we haven't defused the conditions and circumstances that fueled it.   What we must realize is that the resolution isn't going to happen while we remain there.

Those of us who've had the experience of teaching a child to ride a bicycle are familiar with the moment when the training wheels come off and you run alongside the child steadying the bike with a hand on the seat post until it's the moment of truth and you let go.  You have to let go and stop and just stand there while you wait to see what happens.  It doesn't always work out the first time but it usually does by the second or third try.

We're at that stage with Afghanistan.  It's time to let go and see if they can ride their own bike.   If the tribes can't rally behind a central government now, why would we think they will if we only stayed another ten or fifteen years?  We keep saying it's a matter of giving them an adequate army and security force.  No it's not.  That's nonsense.   No Afghan army can be any more valid or effective than the government it serves.   If the government is too weak, too flawed to stand the army will simply devolve into constituent ethnic militias and return to the service of their tribal authority.

Leaving won't be a test of the Afghan National Army.   It will be a test of the Afghan government, the executive and legislature in Kabul.   The tribes must now decide whether they want central government.   If they do they'll rally and find a form of government that works for all the tribes, including the Pashtun.   If they don't they'll probably just resume the war we interrupted a decade ago perhaps this time as a proxy war between Pakistan and India.   Either way we've stayed too long for the good we've done.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

For Want of a Balloon

Every time I see this guy on TV I think the same thing.

When will somebody find a way to drop a water balloon on this guy's head?  I so want to see the real face of Donald Trump.

The World Bank Weighs In On Global Warming

We're not to blame for it.  It's what we do.  It's human nature and it's also one of our greatest weaknesses.

Anthropologist Jared Diamond uses the term "landscape amnesia" to describe it.  Imagine regularly driving across a near pristine Alpine meadow for forty years.  Then, suddenly, there's a mega-shopping mall put in on each side of the road.  It's a real shock at first but, within five or ten years, you come to accept it as normal, expected.   It has all but erased the original view you had been so familiar with for decades.

Climate change works the same way.  We forget about the past.   We don't step outside in the morning and say, "wow, this is nothing like the 60's."  We've largely erased what the 60's, the 70's, even the 80's were like and we've replaced all that with a new "normal," the climate of the second decade of the twenty first century. The thing is, if you don't remember how much it's all changed, you can't be alarmed by it, you can't respond to it.   It's like boiling a frog.

The question is whether we're going to jump out of the pot before we're boiled alive.   Vinod Thomas of the World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group has an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer warning that we have to act, and soon:

 Flooding and windstorms in particular are linked with climate change, and the number of disastrous floods and storms reported globally has tripled over the past three decades. Very heavy precipitation increased sharply in the last half-century across the globe and in the United States, especially the Northeast and Midwest.

...New studies tie increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions with higher sea-level temperatures and changes in precipitation, indicating that human-caused climate change doubles the risk of extreme floods.

In the wake of the recent tornadoes that tore into seven Southern states, President Obama said,  "We can't control when or where a terrible storm may strike, but we can control how we respond to it ." Indeed, the price of delayed response was brought home by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But  water-related calamities have increased to the extent that rapid relief efforts won't be enough.

We must also take steps to prevent and mitigate such disasters. First and foremost, that means slowing the pace of climate change. This will take time, but as President John F. Kennedy said 50 years ago,  "We must think and act not only for the moment, but for our time ."

...The key is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released, especially by shifting to a low-carbon economy. Energy prices must reflect the damage caused by emissions, especially in energy-intensive countries such as the United States. And promoting energy efficiency defers the need for more fossil-fuel plants, buying time for wind and solar power to become more competitive.

...Prevention also means environmental protection. Wetlands provide a buffer against flooding, but half of them worldwide - from Australia to the United States - have disappeared in the past century. Shrinking forests, meanwhile, have diminished protections against flooding and landslides. Examples of environmental solutions include the restoration of Vietnam's coastal wetlands to reduce erosion and the building of terraces in China's Loess Plateau to reduce flooding.

No longer can we respond to hazards of nature with cleanup and reconstruction alone. Climate change has introduced an unnatural dimension that calls for more preventive measures. Difficult as it is to muster the political will to do so, we must invest in slowing climate change, protecting the environment, controlling development, and improving warning systems. Only then can we lessen the fury and devastation of these events.

Of course Mr. Thomas is from that lefty, tree-hugger outfit, The World Bank.  I'm slowly coming to appreciate that it may be the financial sector that finally sweeps the Tar Heads and Petro-Pols like Steve Harper off the porch and into the gutter where they belong.

Globally, the insurance sector is already being battered by the impacts of global warming and the essential fiscal safety net upon which our economies and societies are built is rapidly fraying.  Throughout life - whether at home, on the road, in the boardroom - we take risks because we can buy protection to make potential loss bearable.   What happens when that protection is no longer for sale, when we have to accept that risks are no longer economically survivable?  

What happens when the US eastern seaboard or the Mississippi basin become off limits for flood or storm insurance?   If the insurance companies won't carry the loss people expect governments to step in with disaster relief.   Today's governments?   The governments that are broke because they don't have the courage to levy taxes?  Hell, my dog can do that much math.

As I read Mr. Thomas' op-ed I was struck that the only thing new in his remarks was that someone was actually saying these things.   We shouldn't need someone like a World Bank guy to tell us this.   We should already know it, all of us.   Our governments all along should have kept us educated and well informed of these "inconvenient truths."   That's their job, that's their duty.   They owe us that much.  Yet they stand mute about these things and they do that quite deliberately.

Floods and other severe storm events have tripled in just the past three decades!   How can we possibly justify massively expanding production of the filthiest, high-carbon fossil fuel on the planet?   How can we elect politicians from all parties content with doing just that?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcome to The Republic of Canada

El Presidente Harper bids you welcome to the Republic of Canada.   In case you're new to our Republic, here's how it works.   Decisions about how the country and our people shall be governed are the exclusive preserve of the Imperial Presidency.  Our Fuhrer Leader steers the country with the assistance of his aides, people formerly known as cabinet ministers.   The Leaders decisions shall, in all cases, be unanimously endorsed by his aides and the lower ranks, the water boys, people formerly known as members of parliament.

For the sake of tourism and public calm, the Republic will stage regular shows of "parliamentary democracy."   These will be conducted in an exact replica of what was once known as the House of Commons.   There visitors can be amused by the pointless bickering of the rabble, formerly known as opposition members of parliament.  To help pass the time, vendors will walk through the gallery offering visitors a selection of delicious snacks and beverages.

If, while ambling through the halls, visitors spot what appears to be a life-sized cardboard cutout of El Presidente, it in all likelihood is El Presidente and approaching him is strictly prohibited.

Those of particularly robust constitution may proceed to take in the spectacle of the trained chimps in the second chamber, formerly known as the Senate.  It will be immediately apparent that the animals have been fully neutered for the safety and enjoyment of El Presidente.   When entering the Senate, visitors will be cautioned to please watch where they step.

El Presidente hopes you enjoy your visit to his Republic and, especially, his parliamentary theme park.  Those who return next year will be able to tour "Bible World" now being constructed in the recently emptied Supreme Court of Canada building. We hope to see you again very soon.

Will Afghanistan Become a Somalia on Steroids?

One of the most knowledgeable journalists on all things Afghani is McClatchey Newspaper's Jonathan Landay.  He's been running the hills with the Mujaheddin since the Soviet days.

Recently, Landay appeared on the Diane Rehm show on WAMU radio.  The question was whether, in the post-bin Laden era, the United States should pull its forces out of Afghanistan.

Landay made the case that the United States is obliged to stay.  He contends the U.S. has created a volatile situation in which a precipitous American withdrawal could turn Afghanistan into a "Somalia on steroids."

According to Landay, tribal leaders are already reconstituting their forces in anticipation of a resumption of the civil war that was interrupted by the American invasion in 2001.   He says it will be a repeat of the Northern Alliance forces versus the Pashtun, presumably again under Taliban leadership.   This time, however, it will be infinitely worse than it was when American forces showed up a decade ago.

Landay foresees the next Afghan civil war as a proxy war between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed India backing the Northern Alliance while nuclear-armed Pakistan supports the Pashtun forces.   With a fierce proxy war on Pakistan's doorstep the prospect of a direct conflict between Pakistan and India is dangerously enhanced.

Unfortunately, Landay doesn't have a clear vision for how or when America can safely leave Afghanistan.   He seems to believe, or hope, that the solution, the right moment, will become apparent eventually.  Worse yet, he offered no suggestion as to how Obama can restore American public support for continuing the conflict.

Breaking The Silence

One of the more odious aspects of the era ushered in by Steve Harper and Mike Ignatieff was the wholesale embrace of Israel over the Palestinians in Canadian foreign policy.   Ignatieff seemed to go so far as to pre-absolve Israel for its excesses in the Gaza invasion by claiming the Palestinians had only themselves to blame.   Canada has always supported Israel, just not as uncritically as it has over the past five years.

So just what have we bought into with this new policy?   A group of former Israeli soldiers have created an organization, Breaking the Silence, to tell the world how Israeli forces routinely and systematically abuse, degrade and humiliate the Palestinian people.  They're posting a series of YouTube clips explaining what happens, day to day, in the Occupied Territories.

Once again we find ourselves at odds with the international community that, in September, will pass a United Nations resolution to recognize Palestinian statehood.   With that, supportive nations will be legally entitled to recognize the sovereign Palestinian state and its government and to enter into agreements, even alliances with it.  Other states, exercising their sovereign rights to deal with another sovereign nation may well challenge Israel's policy of denying, by force, access to the Palestinian nation.   Israel could very quickly find itself isolated, an international outlaw or rogue state.

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Sea Level Rise Will Look Like

A lot of the world's population is concentrated in low-lying coastal regions.  These are areas vulnerable to the sea level rise of up to 1.6 meters now predicted by the turn of the century.

The Japanese are living with a preview of those very conditions.   The recent earthquakes pulled the country out and down into the sea.   Some areas, according to The Japan Times, sank 1.2 meters.

When water begins to trickle down the streets of her coastal neighborhood, Yoshiko Takahashi knows it is time to hurry home.
Twice a day, the flow steadily increases until it is knee-deep, carrying fish and debris by her front door and trapping people in their homes. Those still on the streets slosh through the seawater in rubber boots or on a bicycle.

"I look out the window, and it's like our houses are in the middle of the ocean," says Takahashi, who moved in three years ago.

...In port cities such as Onagawa and Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, the tide flows in and out among crumpled homes and warehouses along now uninhabited streets.

A cluster of neighborhoods in the city of Ishinomaki is rare in that it escaped tsunami damage through fortuitous geography. So, many residents still live in their homes, and they now face a daily trial: The area floods at high tide, and the normally sleepy streets turn frantic as residents rush home before the water rises too high.

...Most houses sit above the water's reach, but travel by car becomes impossible and the sewage system swamps, rendering toilets unusable.

Scientists say the new conditions are permanent.

This is the impact of tides on areas of subsidence.   It doesn't begin to reflect what these areas will endure from future storm surges.   These areas are essentially uninhabitable.   Their value has dropped to zero leaving homeowners with no assets and enormous debts yet having to relocate.
What are we doing in Canada to prepare for this coming reality?   An awful lot of precious little.

An Ominous Message from Benny Netanyahu

It couldn't be clearer.   As far as Israeli prime minister Netanyahu is concerned, the occupied Palestinian territories are Israel's homeland.   That much was obvious when he proclaimed that Israel was willing to "cede parts of our homeland, " for true peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu said he believed that most Israeli people would stand behind a foreign policy based on the following points:

The demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people; a commitment to end the conflict; a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue that did not require absorption within Israel's borders; the establishment of a Palestinian state only in accordance with a peace deal that did not infringe on Israel's security; that said Palestinian state be demilitarized; the preservation of large settlement blocs within the West Bank; and the insistence that Jerusalem remain the undivided capital of Israel

What Netanyahu failed to mention is that his hardline conditions for lifting the occupation of the Palestinian homeland are unacceptable to the world community and afoul of international law.

Netanyahu has been roundly criticized by opposition leader Tzipi Livni for being too weak to prevent the United Nations vote on a Palestinian state scheduled for September.   With the vote widely expected to be passed, nations will then be free to establish diplomatic relations with the Palestinians and enter into alliances with the P.A.

"Unity to protect your leadership, prime minister, is not a worthy unity," Livni said.

"Today we are united to protect Israel against those who are working against our existence as a Jewish State ," Livni said   "But this unity is not enough. We need a vision. If only Herzl could shout out anti-Semitism! But he was a visionary because he understood that it is not enough to shout out, he has to implement policies to fulfill his vision. He understood that he needs the world's support of a Jewish State in order to fulfill his vision ." 

"I don’t know what is worse, the fact that you [Netanyahu] know what will save Israel and are afraid to make the decision, or that you are clueless ," she said.

Livni went on to criticize Netanyahu for travelling next week to the United States without a prepared peace initiative, and said that it was "unacceptable that Israelis have to pay the price for Netanyahu's weakness ."

Losses from Natural Disasters Outpacing Creation of Wealth

In the world's wealthiest (OECD) countries, losses from flooding have shot up 160% over the past 30-years.   Losses from tropical cyclones have swollen by 262% over the same period.

"The risk of losing wealth in disasters is actually increasing faster than that wealth is being created ," said Andrew Maskrey, coordinator of the 2011 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

The report by the UN's disaster reduction unit said the damage inflicted by mainly natural disasters on housing, infrastructure and public assets such as schools and hospitals was  "soaring in many low and middle income countries ."

Maskrey suggested that the costs were growing largely because prevention or mitigation measures -- such as land planning in hazard areas or resistant housing, schools or hospitals - were failing to keep pace with faster and broader economic growth.

The report also reiterated warnings about growing pattern of extreme and destructive weather events that has been linked to climate change.
"The world's vulnerability to disaster risks is growing faster than our ability to increase resilience ," he warned.

Of course in Canada we're immune to all this or at least you could easily get that impression judging from the indifference of all of our political leadership.   And it's not as though anyone expects them to reinvent the wheel either.   The Brits have provided a very good blueprint for climate change remediation and adaptation initiatives.   Unfortunately with Parliament packed to the rafters with Petro-Pols, Canadians are pretty much left to our own devices.

Yippee, the Bitch Is Dead!

La Nina, ugly stepsister of El Nino, seems to have run her course.   A commercial weather forecasting service reports that sea surface temperatures, winds and clouds over the Pacific have returned to long-term averages.

  The [Australian] Bureau of Meteorology was reluctant to call the end of La Nina just yet, but a senior climate scientist at the bureau, Grant Beard said: ''If it's not dead yet, it's darn close.'' 

Neutral conditions should prevail for the rest of the year, Mr Beard said.
He warned that extreme short-term weather events, such as heat waves, cold snaps and big storms, were still possible. 

The present La Nina will go down as one of the most deadly and expensive ever. 

Persistent and heavy rainfall led to record flooding across eastern Australia, leading to the deaths of at least 35 people.

The Southern Ocean Oscillation is one of the most powerful influences on weather around the globe.   Scientists still haven't sorted out how these weather events interact with climate change influences.

OBL is Dead, Now Can We Go Home?

Now that America's nemesis, Osama bin Laden, is gone, it's a good time to scrutinize Washington's ongoing interests in South and Central Asia.   The Great Game is very much in play and we need to ask whether Canada should be a footman on America's war carriage.

Relax, I won't bore you by claiming this is all about oil.   It's about oil and gas and a whole gaggle of insanely valuable mineral resources and it's about China and Russia and America and which of them will hold sway in this strategically important region.

For a host of reasons, none of them remotely tied to terrorism, the United States wants to be top dog in a new, united Asian region.   This is nearly as much about keeping Russian and Chinese influence at bay as it is in securing the great, largely untapped resources of the region.

The Taliban could lay down their arms and open up ice cream parlours tomorrow and Washington would still want a permanent presence in Afghanistan and a dominant influence over the neighbouring Stans plus Iraq plus India.  It wasn't that long ago that the Americans showed up in Baghdad begging to be allowed to keep their key bases manned after the scheduled end-of-year pullout of American forces.  They're even less interested in leaving Afghanistan any time in the foreseeable future.  

Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the John Hopkins University. Starr proposed a matrix for a "Great Central Asia cooperative partnership for development" with the US taking the lead, the five Central Asian states and Afghanistan entering as the main members, and India and Pakistan participating.

Starr wrote, ''The main idea of the proposal is to take the US control of the situation in Afghanistan as an opportunity, promote optional and flexible cooperation in security, democracy, economy, transport and energy, and, make up a new region by combining Central Asia with South Asia. The United States is to shoulder the role of a midwife to promote the rebirth of the entire region. " 

America intends to stay put and establish something like a Central Asian Monroe Doctrine.   Russia and China, however, are making their own moves on the region which, unlike America, lies in their backyard.

Russian and Chinese diplomats ...are now ready to unveil their new avatar in the forthcoming summit meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana on June 15. To sum up a long story, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made a terse remark on May 15 following a meeting of SCO foreign ministers in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ''A few days ago, Afghanistan submitted a request to grant it observer status. The request will be considered at the upcoming [SCO] summit.''

What he didn't say was that earlier in the week, Afghan Foreign Minister Rasoul paid a four-day visit to Beijing and discussed his country's proposal with the Chinese government. The Afghans, Russians and the Chinese seem to have acted in concert and with a speediness that probably took the Obama administration by surprise. The US has been consistently discouraging Kabul from any dangerous liaison with the SCO.

Kabul's ''defection'' constitutes a setback to the US's diplomacy in the Central Asian region, which Washington has been lately insisting is brimming with renewed energy. It certainly weakens the push by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) push to secure long-term military bases in Afghanistan. Put simply, it reduces Washington's capacity to pressure Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai.

...Lavrov further revealed that India and Pakistan had both submitted formal applications for upgrading their observer status to full membership of SCO and he hinted that the Astana summit would grant the membership. Clearly, Moscow and Beijing have simultaneously steered the Indian, Pakistani and Afghan applications.

This suggests a broad conceptualization and understanding of the emergent regional security scenario in South Asia on the part of Moscow and Beijing. Ironically, Afghanistan is all set now to become the ''hub'' that will bring Central Asia and South Asia together - except that the historic process is taking place not under US stewardship, as Starr conceived, Bush probably wanted and Obama failed to follow up, but under Chinese and Russian partnership

Imagine American hegemony over Central and South Asia, won at such enormous cost in lives and treasure, being displaced by the Chinese and Russians with the stroke of a pen.   What can America possibly offer the region that China can't handily trump?   America is fractured, distracted and in decline.   China is ascendant and literally next door.

What is concerning is how this will play into America's modern militarism due to which, Andrew Bacevich points out, military force instead of diplomacy has become the instrument of choice in American foreign policy.  Losing this region and its vast resources to the Chinese will likely accelerate the decline of American hegemony in other regions of the world including the Middle East and Africa.  Is this a ship America is willing to give up without a fight?

What possible business is it of Canada's to become entangled in this?  If we continue on blindly believing our side's presence in Afghanistan is all about holding terrorism in check what unmentioned risks are we willing to run?  It's about time we had a grown up discussion of what lies ahead.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

This Is What Happens When You Surrender to "Free Trade"

My stomach churned as I read this paragraph in The Guardian:

"More and more, we hear that nothing can be done to tax major corporations because of the threat of how they would respond. Likewise, we cannot stop their price-gouging or even the government subsidies and tax loopholes they enjoy. "

It's a fair statement.  It might even be an understatement.  The question becomes how did major corporations gain the power to threaten our governments, our societies - the power to write our legislation?   The answer is simple.   We gave it to them.

Free trade, first regional and later global, was pitched on the notion of free movement of capital.   That was a lie.   With a few exceptions, capital has always been relatively free to be moved around the planet.   What Free Trade initiatives were all about wasn't capital but markets or, rather, unfettered access to lucrative markets for companies that took their capital elsewhere in search of lower taxes, laxer environmental regulation and weaker labour laws.

Why would Nike pay an American $25 an hour when it could get a guy in Vietnam to do the same job for $2 a day?   Why indeed when its target market nations had yielded their sovereignty over their marketplaces?  It's great to get labour at $2 a day provided there are still enough people making $25 an hour elsewhere to buy your damned shoes.  It's win/win for the corporations and lose/lose for the affluent nations that allow those companies free access to their markets.   Oh the richest of the rich, the rentiers, win of course.   Their dividends skyrocket on the spread.   But it's tough titty for the guy who loses his factory job and winds up in the "service" industry at half salary, propping up his lifestyle on cheap and easy credit.

Yes, corporations threaten us when we want to do something they don't like but that's only because we've loaned them the knife.   Why don't we take that knife back?   Why aren't we the ones able to threaten corporations?   Why don't we reclaim our sovereignty so foolishly surrendered by people of the ilk of Reagan and Mulroney?   All we have to do is call their bluff.   There will be "repercussions" initially but, then again, haven't we been living with the horrible repercussions of Free Trade for decades?

Bear in mind that globalization stands to become a far greater drag on world economies in coming decades.   World oil prices are going nowhere but up which is why we're so eager to exploit toxic, polluting, even deadly sources of unconventional petroleum.   We can't get the good stuff any more so we'll smoke the Burley Scrap right off the floor of the barn.   Globalization is founded on cheap, long distance transportation to move materials and products around the world.  That's going to become increasingly less viable.

Likewise as we enter upon an era of depleted or even exhausted resources, globalization again becomes less viable.   And, in case you haven't noticed, social and political upheaval which has already coined the term "Century of Revolution" is well and truly upon us.   Again that doesn't bode well for the future of globalization.

It's quite foreseeable that, overall, globalization may be poised to collapse under its own weight.   Shouldn't we be considering the possibility?   If globalization isn't the Holy Grail of global prosperity for the 21st Century, why in hell should we be allowing corporations to hold us hostage to their demands?   We should be launching a deglobalization initiative - something that would stop corporatism exploiting the poor and vulnerable in the Third World in order to exploit the rest of us in the developed world.  Enough is enough.   Time to take back our knives.