Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Grinch That Failed to Steal Florida

Newt Gingrich warned Floridians that, if he won their state primary, he would be the Republican nominee for president.   That was apparently enough to bring an end to the Gingrich rampage that took fire with his win in South Carolina.

Early CNN poll results had Romney walking away with just over 50% compared to Gingrich, trailing 21 points down at 29%.   Newt, however, has vowed to stay in the race hoping the slave states will rescue his race-baiting ass in months ahead.

Welcome to the Snake Pit

By snake pit I mean the Florida everglades, a former refuge for a wide variety of small mammals now being overrun by introduced pythons.  Sightings of prey species such as possums and racoons are down by around 99%.

The Obama administration has responded by banning the importation of several species of python and anaconda, a measure promptly criticized by Republicans and other reptilians.  Republican lawmakers say they're trying to protect the constrictor breeding cottage industry.

Pythons have also been discovered swallowing whole swamp alligators up to six feet long.   If the Everglades top natural predator isn't safe, nothing is.  (If you follow the link you'll find a photo of a python that literally exploded after swallowing a mid-size alligator.)

If the pythons don't ruin the Everglades, water shortages in Florida, Georgia and Alabama might finish the job.   The states' groundwater drainage is causing seawater to flow into the freshwater Everglades, something bound to be worsened by sea level rise and storm surges. 

Canada's Made-by-Harper Structural Deficit

To hear Steve Harper tell it, Canada's finances are a mess.   He ought to know, he created the mess.

Yes, the federal government has a "structural deficit" that won't simply go away once the recession ends (whenever that might be).  Underlying that isn't excessive government spending but, as The Globe's Stephen Gordon points out, the decision by econo-genius SHarper to gut revenues by slashing the GST.

With a hapless Opposition, Steve has Parliament well under control.  As Gordon points out, no party is willing to talk about raising taxes to restore the government Steve defunded which leaves the only way out the very revenue cuts Steve has wanted from the get go.

We know Steve wants to trim government spending and he's more than willing to start with Canada Pension benefits but, overwhelming instincts aside, he may have to trim his own austerity sails instead. 

As Krugman has repeatedly claimed and as his lab rat British PM David Cameron has proved, austerity is all well and good but only when it the timing is also well and good.   Austerity heaped on the back of a weak economy only weakens the economy.  Even the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization have finally accepted that in an open letter to European leaders.

Unfortunately the West is on the brink of another severe recession that can only be made worse by political stupidity.  We can only hope that Steve has finally figured out that he's far from being the smartest man in the room.  All he has to do is look at his awful track record of the past six years.

I'll Get On To That Right Away

A UN report examining population increase concludes that, by 2030, just 18 years from now, we'll need 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water to meet humanity's needs.   Secretary general Ban ki-Moon said "We need to chart a new, more sustainable course for the future, one that strengthens equality and economic growth while protecting our planet."

Strengthening equality, a term that, to some, is code for sharing, perhaps even rationing among nations and peoples.   The UN panel calls for a transition from "unsustainable lifestyles, production and consumption patterns."  If you don't think that's aimed at you, think again.

An interesting recommendation is a new way of valuing and pricing goods and services incorporating the full environmental and social costs of production and consumption.

It's difficult to see how this could possibly work.  It would necessitate some transfer of wealth and resources and a broad based sharing of economic and political powers with the poorest and most vulnerable states.   The recent fiscal meltdown has already left people in the West feeling set upon.   How willing could they possibly be to accept gratuitous transfers of wealth and power for the sake of sustainable growth elsewhere?

The one thing the UN panel can't address is where to find the will, public and political, at local, national and global levels necessary to pull this off.  It's hard to see that the world the panel needs in order to make this happen is or will become a reality within the relatively small window available to effect these changes.

If there's one thing that this report is probably right about it's that, by 2030, mankind will need 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water.   Using that baseline, try to imagine what the world of 2030 is going to look like without those essentials.

What Keeps the F-35 From Crashing?

It's mainly this:

Lockheed has mastered the game of spreading around a government's money to see to it that government has to keep sending it more money.   Not socialism exactly, but...

The jet fighter is needed to replace aging U.S. military planes, but — already the most costly weapons system ever, at $385 billion and rising — it might be more expensive than the nation can afford.

Despite criticism from defense secretaries, government investigators and powerful senators, the Pentagon still wants the Joint Strike Fighter — but the Defense Department might want more plane than it needs.

"A lot of times, the Pentagon just wants to sexy these things up and make them do wow stuff when wow is not required," Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy.

In the current budget crisis, with the Pentagon facing $1 trillion in possible cuts, the F-35's high price tag makes it a prime target. But thanks in part to campaign contributions from its main contractors and their jobs spread across the country, the fighter plane has its own congressional caucus of 48 lawmakers dedicated to saving it at all costs.

In releasing the Pentagon's budget priorities this month, [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta restated the Defense Department's commitment to the troubled Joint Strike Fighter while delivering an endorsement that felt more like kissing a second cousin.

"In this budget, we have slowed procurement to complete more testing and allow for development changes before buying in significant quantities," he said.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Cater provided a blunter assessment.  "The Joint Strike Fighter is not ready to go into full-rate production," he told PBS late Thursday.

It was the third slowdown in as many years for the beleaguered program.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/30/137359/f-35-story-shows-why-its-so-hard.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

It seems America's defence industry has joined the ranks of the country's banks and Wall Street, too big to fail.   The all too flawed F-35 will limp along.  Because of its political backing, it may even survive the emergence of technologies that neutralize its supposed stealth cloaking.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/30/137359/f-35-story-shows-why-its-so-hard.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy

When Is America Truly #1? When It Screws Up.

All the King's horses and all the King's men cannot save America from its own stupidity.   There are many examples of American hubris but one that stands out is the legacy of Dick Cheney's frolic in Iraq.  Asia Times has published an interesting overview of America's greatest, perhaps its conclusive, strategic defeat in the Middle East.

"The US's major mistake in Iraq - in stark contrast to the United Kingdom during its colonial quest - is that it tried to engage in "regime change", where the entire state structure of the old regime was not superseded but destroyed. Later, the US tried to restore it, but the damage was irreversible.

"Secondly, Washington, following the dictum that democracy should spread to any part of the world, launched what were the freest elections in Iraq's history. Both decisions were grave mistakes and led to disaster, at least from Washington's perspective.

"The destruction of the state unleashed anarchy and a milieu where jihadis and other extremists could flourish. The election led to the Shi'ite majority - with its strong pro-Iranian sympathies - gaining power. Then the only force that would have been able to stabilize Iraq and prevent it from becoming Iran's proxy - US troops - left. . 

"With an industrial base in the process of erosion and mounting debt and budget cuts, the hands of Washington were tied; and it would be naive to attribute the withdrawal from Iraq conducted recently to the naivete of President Barack Obama."

"...With the US's departure, a trend where Baghdad was drawing closer to Tehran has intensified, and Iraq supports the regime in Syria - Tehran's proxy.

"At the same time, Sunni violence, with the possible participation of jihadis, has intensified. This also could be said to a lesser degree about the Kurds, who have not lost hope of building an independent state.

"This process has provided an opportunity to Sunni jihadis, the enemy of not just Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government but also that of his masters in Tehran.

"Moreover, they could well reinforce the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, who are the enemy not just of the US but also of Iran. It is not surprising that Iran has engaged in moves not just to prepare for a potential war with the US/Israel but also started maneuvers near its borders with Afghanistan."

American arrogance engineered its own defeat in Iraq and the Middle East.   Cheney-Rumsfeld thought their tidy little war would be over in as little as 60-days.   Wolfowitz told Congress the cost would be nominal - a few tens of billions - and would essentially be recovered out of Iraq oil deals.   These miscreants ignored warnings, even retaliated against those who would speak truth to their power.

Iraq today is the inevitable hellspawn of the union of religious fundamentalism, ideological radicalism (neo-conservatism),  a rampant military-industrial complex, and a corrupt, bought and paid for government.   It speaks of a people who no longer understand their own nation, a people rendered inert by a force-fed diet of fear and anger.

Now Can the World Have Its Forests Back?

A main cause of deforestation in South America and Asia has been clearing land for palm oil production.   Palm oil has become a major source of biodiesel, a supposedly green fuel.   Not so fast.

The Guardian has received leaked EU data that shows palm oil biodiesel the second carbon filthiest fuel, next only to Tar Sands bitumen.

Hint - think twice before investing in palm oil futures.   To meet EU standards for certifying biofuels as "sustainable" they have to be 35%  lower in CO2 emissions than conventional crude.  By 2018 that jumps to 60% cleaner.   Those are only emissions standards that don't take into account costs or other factors.   For the Tar Sands the figure given doesn't begin to incorporate the many associated environmental costs of bitumen extraction, shipping and processing.

The more you look at this the more it can come to resemble a dog chasing its tail.   If the warnings from climate science are right, the effective solution is to decarbonize our economies and our societies.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What Could Bring the Tar Sands to Heel and Cost Canadians a Gazillion Dollars

A Saudi prince once quipped, "the Stone Age didn't end because they ran out of stones."   His point was that the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.  He is right.   There are a number of factors that will render oil energy unviable well before it's exhausted.

When I finally quit smoking several years back it was the result of several factors - cost, inconvenience, the way I was feeling, knowledge of what probably lay ahead if I didn't.   All of these factors came together to create the incentive powerful enough to overcome the power of my addiction.   Something similar lies in store for fossil fuels, including oil.

One of these factors being scrutinized now is climate change and the probable effect of an international agreement to limit warming to 2C.   Over the past year the numbers have been tossed around and it has become plain that, if we are to limit GHG emissions to meet that target, we'll be able to use not more than roughly 20% of known fossil fuel reserves.   That's it - 20 per cent.

A key factor in skyrocketing oil prices is the perceived shortage of supply.   But if we're coming into a world that recognizes we have to leave most of that stuff in the ground those prices become wildly unrealistic.   That's why, about ten days ago, a group of prominent Brits from the investment, science and political ranks, wrote to warn the governor of the Bank of England of the risks of a "carbon bubble" similar to the housing bubble that wreaked such destruction in the US economy.   The group went so far as to declare energy assets "sub prime."

If these assessments are right, what does that mean for Canada's Tar Sands, at once the world's filthiest and most costly oil assets?  The Tar Sands have always been world price-vulnerable.   They need today's hefty oil prices to be marginally profitable.   Their profitability is also dependent on substantial government subsidies and deferred obligations such as environmental remediation.

If world markets go cold on oil, come to see it as an investment with significant risks, perhaps even sub-prime, that's really, really bad news for the Athabasca Tar Sands.   Our governments' bargaining position with Big Oil, weak as it now is, would probably collapse.  Our chances of extracting a meaningful return on our subsidies and enforcing Big Oil's wobbly promises for site remediation could also be undermined.

But, of course, we have Steve Harper driving this so there's nothing to worry about, right?  Wrong.   If there's one thing Steve has shown himself incapable of it's seeing the train barreling down the tracks before it hits us.   Here are just two examples.

When the world fell into economic meltdown in 2008, Steve didn't  see it coming.  He even absolved himself of his failure by claiming no one saw it coming.   What nonsense.   Plenty of very knowledgeable people saw it coming and sounded the alarm.  Steve just didn't want to hear their warnings.

Then there's Steve's own Davos meltdown over old age pensions at home.   "Major transformations" are coming, he warned a gaggle of world leaders who won't be impacted by his plans.   This begs the question of why Steve was so horribly incompetent when it came to his 2008 mega-stimulus budget?  He squandered tens of billions of dollars of borrowed money on giveaways that will have paltry long-term impacts.  He had to borrow that money and leave working Canadians saddled with the debt because he had earlier defunded the federal treasury that was well stocked with 'rainy day' funds when he took over.   But, instead of investing that stimulus money on projects that will deliver returns to the taxpayers for decades to come, he just threw it away so we could put new decks on our cottages.

How do we expect a guy who so consistently gets it wrong, who can't look up long enough to see what's so obviously coming, who is incapable of devising effective solutions to great problems of any sort, how do we expect Steve to protect Canadian interests against a potential "carbon bubble"?

As though we needed another reason for a change of management in Canada.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

About that "Secret Agenda"

L'il Steve Harper has spent the past six or more years assuring Canadians at every opportunity that he really doesn't harbour any "secret agenda."

Then he goes all the way to Switzerland, drops his pants, and announces that he's got "major transformations" in store for his small folk at home.

An effective Opposition would be clubbing Harper over his tightly quaffed head on this like a Newfie on a Harp seal.   So, where exactly are they?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Just Too Dumb to Be an Atheist

There I've said it.   I'm just too damned dumb to accept atheism.   And, the way I see it, so are you even if you won't admit it... yet.  It's the whole faith thing that stops me in my tracks.   What is faith but a willingness to accept as true something that you cannot prove and otherwise wouldn't believe?  It's a suspension of the common sense skepticism that we invoke every day to see us safely through a limitless variety of situations great and small. I know that's a crude definition but it works for my purposes.

To me, atheism is itself a quasi-faith.   The belief that there is no greater moral power than man himself is a bit over-reaching.   It is a conclusion that is founded on man's own intellect which is probably quite feeble and flawed.  It's a conclusion that cannot be reached until we know everything that is inside us and outside us.   Do we have any real idea of what a God would look like, how we can discern the presence or absence of a God?

Just look at how precious little we actually know.   Quantum physics suggests there are no fewer than eleven dimensions.   Mankind's entire experience is based on just four dimensions, one of which we don't even understand.   We have the left/right dimension, the up/down dimension, the forward/backward dimension and we have something that may or may not actually even exist, time.

Time may not exist?  Absolutely.  Years ago I heard this perfectly explained by a senior US Navy officer who commanded the atomic clock at the US Naval Observatory.   Every day he went to work with an awareness that we don't understand time, we can't even prove it exists.

All of our faiths, atheism included, are formed out of this four-dimensional awareness.   Any other  dimension could instantly shatter the wobbly foundations of our strains of faith.   And who is to say that our dimensional realities - four, seven, nine or eleven - would be constant throughout our universe or anything that lies beyond?

It is no wonder we cling to so many "revealed" religions, each founded on one or several supposed human-deity interfaces from the ancient past.   All it takes is for some guy to convince his people that he just had a quiet word with their Maker who told the guy to pass along thus and so.  It either gets traction or it doesn't.   If it gets traction, there you go - scripture.   And then you can hand that down, century by century, unless your religion gets overtaken by another faith or your faithful get trashed by conquerors who set up their Gods instead.   But the longer you keep it going the more certain adherents are to believe it's true.

Revealed religions are, in my opinion, hooey.   That's why there are so many of them each convinced that all others are hooey.  See, no matter what revealed religion you embrace, you already agree with me about each and every other revealed religion.   That speaks volumes.

But this is about atheism which, for many, seems to be the default option when revealed religion is rejected.   Why?   Because you say so.  Really?  Because you with your pointy little head, you who understands so little, you who has never looked high and low or far and wide, you can't see God so he can't exist.   And we're supposed to put aside our skepticism because of that?

So where does that leave me?   I think I'm going to go with Einstein and accept that, somewhere on a scale between possibly and probably, there exists a superior being that we can perceive as Godlike.  I'm going to accept this is evident in the vast mysteriousness of the universe and in human consciousness, compassion and reason.   I guess that is a loose sort of Deism.  Maybe that's just where you wind up when you're too dumb to be an atheist. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Capitalism No Longer Fits

"Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us."  What a curious thing for the founder and chairman of the Davos World Economic Forum, professor Klaus Schwab to declare.  "A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility," he added.

"Growing inequities within and between countries and rising unemployment are no longer sustainable ... We must rethink our traditional notions of economic growth and global competitiveness, not only by focusing on growth rates and market penetration, but also, equally — if not more importantly — by assessing the quality of economic growth."

"How sustainable is it and at what cost to the environment? How are the gains distributed? What has become of the family and community fabric, as well as of our culture and heritage? The time has come to embrace a much more holistic, inclusive and qualitative approach to economic development."

Into this burst of overdue enlightenment plods Canada's own mildewed cardboard leader, Steve Harper, to deliver an unlikely keynote speech laced with economic Calvinism.   Steve is widely expected to scold the Euros and preach fundamentalist capitalism as the cure for what ails everyone else.

Why is it that, no matter the venue, Steve must be such an embarrassment to his country and the Canadian people?  His followers say Steve always considers himself the smartest man in the room but that only begs the question of what perverse notion of "smart" must this out-of-touch demagogue hold?

Like Obama, the Davos chairman is zeroing in on the malignancy of inequality.   Professor Schwab speaks of sustainability and the environment, community, socially responsible capitalism.   These are notions utterly alien to Steve Harper, beyond the realm of his constipated intellect.

The good thing is that broadbased movements like Occupy, shifting public attitudes and an awareness at the altitudes inhabited by people like Professor Schwab and Barack Obama, suggest that we're on the brink of social change that, at this point, probably can't be stopped.   The bad thing is that there remain plenty of Steve Harpers with atrophied and myopic thinking that will have to be swept out of the way before the floor is clean enough to move on.  These obstacles to progress are invested in their fundamentalism and they won't go until they're forced out.  And we owe just that to them.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Disneyfication of America

It's much easier to understand the bizarre antics of our cousins to the south when you realize they're not on the same page as the rest of the world.  In fact, they're not even on the same book.   The thing is, it's not funny.   It's potentially quite dangerous - to them and to everyone else.

Retired US Army colonel turned free thinker, professor Andrew J. Bacevich writes, in this month's Harper's magazine, about the dangerous "Disneyfication" of the way Americans have come to understand their country and the world.

"The ;Disneyfication' of World War II...  finds its counterpart in the Disneyfication of the Cold War, reduced in popular imagination and the halls of Congress to Ronald Reagan's demanding 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!'   The Soviet leader meekly complied, and freedom erupted across Europe.   Facts that complicate this story... ultimately get filed under the heading of Things That Don't Really Matter.   The Ike Americans like even today is the one who kept the Soviets at bay while presiding  over eight years of peace and prosperity.   The other Ike - the one who unleashed the CIA on Iran and Guatemala, refused to let the Vietnamese exercise their right to self-determination in 1956, and ignored the plight of Hungarians who, taking seriously Washington's rhetoric of liberation,rose up to throw off the yoke of Soviet power remains far less well known...

Self-serving mendacities - that the attacks of September 11, 2001, reprising those of December 7, 1949, 'came out of nowhere' to strike an innocent nation - don't enhance the safety and well being of the American people.  To further indulge old illusions of the United States presiding over and directing the course of history will not only impede the ability of Americans to understand the world and themselves but may well pose a positive danger to both.  ...Only by jettisoning the American Century and the illusions to which it gives rise will the self-knowledge and self-understanding that Americans urgently require become a possibility.   Whether Americans will grasp the opportunity that beckons is another matter."

Yet so many Americans remain in thrall to their fantasies.  It's the capacity for delusion that fuels the successes of outrageous charlatans like Newt Gingrich.   Conditioning a people to embrace a powerfully manipulated and skewed perception of themselves and everyone else has been the stock in trade of every tyrant from Adolf Hitler on down.   It is the precursor to villanies.

What Did Steve Harper Just Say?

The Grand Dissembler, Steve Harper, picks his words carefully.  That's why it's often worthwhile to pay close attention to what comes out of his mouth.   Take his remarks to a conference of First Nations chiefs in which he promised not to scrap the Indian Act:

"After 136 years, that tree [the Indian Act] has deep roots. Blowing up the stump would just leave a big hole."

Just what is Harper on about?   In one breath he's talking about a grand old tree.   In the next he's focusing on bad ways to get rid of the stump.  Is that Harperspeak for "hold on to your hats 'cause I'm coming for you with a chain saw but don't you worry I won't blow up the stump"?
Wow.  White man speaks with forked tongue.

F-35 Update

F-35 Killer?

With Europe hovering on the brink of meltdown, with pipelines to stop, with the Republican presidential clown car careening through the Deep South, it's easy to lose sight of the F-35 controversy.

Fortunately there are some, like the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese, who keep an eye on the difficult childbirth of Lockheed's mega-costly bomb truck.   Pugliese writes that the aircraft is making some progress in development but may be running into trouble in cash-strapped Europe.  Italy may drop out all together and Denmark is now conducting a competitive fly-off to find the best bank for its buck.

What struck me as particularly interesting was a Pugliese piece yesterday on the unveiling of an updated version of an old Russian fighter, the Su-35S-3.   The Russkies say they've given it state of the art electronic systems, coated it with radar absorbing materials and tidied up all the exterior garbage that is a radar give-away.   But the important part is an obscure reference to the aircraft's new radar system.

"The special features of the aircraft include a new avionics suite based on digital information control system integrating onboard systems, a new phased antenna array radar with a long aerial target detection range and with an increased number of simultaneously tracked and engaged targets (30 aerial targets tracked and 8 targets engaged plus the tracking of 4 and engagement of 2 ground targets), and new enhanced vectored thrust engines."

The "long aerial" reference seems to indicate the new/old Russian fighter will be equipped with L-band radar as well as the X-band radar standard in modern fighter nose cones.   L-band radar requires a long array or aerial which the Russians have decided to mount in the leading edge of their fighter's wings.   So what?   The stealth technology of the F-35 is designed to defeat X-band radars but is reported to be ineffective against L-band radar.

It seems the Russians are announcing they're about to churn out a fleet of low-cost F-35 killers.   If they can detect and track the F-35 they've leveled the playing field years before we even get the damned things in Canadian hangars.   Without stealth it's mano a mano, hand to hand combat, and with its already identified speed, agility, payload and range deficiencies, that could just make the F-35 dead meat.

Think about it.   This is America's biggest defence project ever - ever.   Lockheed Martin's future hinges on the success of the F-35.  That's Lockheed Martin as in America's pre-eminent defence contractor.   Render the F-35 obsolete before customers are safely in the corral and you've just struck a bodyblow to America's defence industry - all for the cost of churning out a fleet of budget, high-performance stealth killers.

It's our own damned fault and that of today's mediocre military leadership.  We're gambling everything on a brittle technology and sacrificing every other quality that makes a great aircraft in the process.   That's an enormous Achilles' Heel and we'd be fools not to expect our potential adversaries to exploit that insane vulnerability.

The Integrity of Science

I have a friend who is an ardent defender of the Athabasca Tar Sands.  We get into friendly arguments by e-mail that can go for several days at a time.

The most recent topic has been the safety problems surrounding the TransCanada and Enbridge proposals to ship bitumen thousands of miles through pipelines.  Bitumen is laced with abrasive, grit-like particles and corrosives, acids, that "eat" pipelines.   In reply to these claims, my friend sent me a link to a press release from Alberta Innovates debunking the myths of dangerous bitumen.

Alberta Innovates said it, "sought an independent fact-based analysis to address the pipeline safety issues."   It then commissioned a "corrosion specialist" to conduct the analysis.   And who did they pick?   Why Dr. Jeremy Beens, P.Eng., of - wait for it - Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures

Can you hear the conversation now?  "I know just the fellow to do this study - down the hall, on the right, two doors this side of the lunchroom."

But, remember folks, scientists are all liars except when they work for Alberta Innovates.   Those guys always give us "independent, fact-based analysis."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Did Keystone Kill Off the Northern Gateway Pipeline?

According to Andrew Nikiforuk, the Keystone  XL pipeline may have only sustained a flesh wound but it was a killer blow to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The best analysis of all things related to the Athabasca Tar Sands is plainly that of Andrew Nikiforuk.   Formerly an author and freelancer, Nikiforuk now writes for The Tyee (www.thetyee.ca).  In the latest Tyee Nikiforuk canvasses the setback sustained by Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal.

Keystone, Nikiforuk writes, may not be dead but it has ensured the Northern Gateway is going nowhere.

"In the end, water concerns legitimately and fairly killed the irresponsible route over the Ogallala aquifer just as water concerns have already killed the Gateway project.

"...TransCanada says it will apply again in 2013 with a different pipeline route. For oil-sand developers, Keystone XL still remains Plan A to get bitumen to foreign markets. It's not as cheap as moving bitumen to the Canada's West Coast but it comes with fewer risks.

"Most senior executives in the oil patch quietly admit that Enbridge Gateway project (Plan B) will never be built. The local opposition against this desperate pro-China folly is much stronger and just as committed as that against Keystone XL.

"In fact, the path closed long ago due to ineptness and hubris as well as a ruthless disregard for the power of salmon, whales and First Nations.

"It's deader than Keystone."

I so hope Nikiforuk has this one right.   His article is well worth a read.   One by one it debunks a lot of myths about these pipelines and exposes how reckless Harper is about properly managing Canadian resources for the benefit of Canadians.

I'm not as confident as Nikiforuk that Big Oil or Harper will give up on Northern Gateway that easily.   Harper is a bully and his instincts will compel him to try to run roughshod over legitimate opposition to push this through, consequences be damned.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Carney Drops a Bombshell

Kudos to Bank of Canada governor, Mark Carney, for coming right out and warning that the crippled U.S. economy is unlikely to ever fully recover.

It’s going to take a number of years before they get back to the U.S. that we used to know — in fact, they are not, in our opinion, ultimately going to get back to the U.S. that we used to know,” he said.

Carney pointed to China as a market with great potential and as a place where Canada is currently under-represented, but cautioned it would take time to enhance trade between the two countries.

“It’s going to take multiple visits, multiple initiatives. Not, obviously, from the public sector alone, but clearly a focus from the private sector,” Carney said. “That is absolutely essential for developing our future and it’s a key element of our medium-term growth.”

Reagan and his contemporaries, Mulroney and Thatcher, set America's demise in motion with their delusional free trade notions.  Reagan's apostles continued his work, gutting America's manufacturing base and, with it, displacing its once vibrant and robust middle class that manufacturing once anchored and nourished to make way for what became casino capitalism.

Yet a permanently degraded economy is but one wound America has suffered.  There are others.   These include the greatest levels of inequality in the developed world, class warfare, the strangling of social and economic mobility, and the evolution of the United States as the first true warfare state in modern history.   All of these open wounds will continue to sap American strength.   In America, as in Canada, the ability of the government to intervene to set these troubles right seems to have been lost.   Now it will be up to the American people to compel change.

Can Someone Explain This to Me?

At the heart of much of the opposition to the Athabasca Tar Sands is that it exports dangerous contaminants that put entire ecosystems at risk.  We export a semi-refined product bearing significant quantities of abrasives, corrosives, heavy metals and other toxins.   We export this product to places where it is refined into synthetic crude.  In other words, we export dangerous contaminants to distant places where they are removed.

Obama tossed out the Keystone XL pipeline proposal because of serious environmental risks it posed to Nebraska.   If the stuff is too dangerous for wide open Nebraska how could it possibly be safe to pump it across BC's mountainous and seismically active north?

What I don't understand and what nobody seems willing to discuss is why doesn't Harper want that product refined on site in Alberta?  Why don't we remove the contaminants right there and simply export a clean synthetic crude product?

I suppose one reason this doesn't fly is because of the surplus refining capacity these days in Texas.   The same outfits that are extracting the bitumen are the outfits that own this refining capacity.  They want to keep the whole thing "in house" and building new refineries in Alberta while their Texas operations sit idle isn't in their interest.   But what about China?

If we must export oil to China, why should that not be refined in Alberta before it's exported?   Why should coastal BC be exposed to a toxic, carcinogenic and virtually irreparable bitumen spill?   Isn't an ordinary, refined oil spill risk bad enough?

There's an answer to this somewhere.  My guess is that the profit margins for the Tar Sands are already so minimal that incorporating the cost of complete refining into the price would sheer Alberta's and Ottawa's royalty revenues to the bone.  Imagine the state of affairs that would result if Athabasca carbon emissions were properly priced, if Tar Sand operators were required to pay world price for the vast quantities of water they consume for nothing, if their operations weren't bolstered by tax write offs and subsidies, if they had to fund up front a programme for contamination clean up and site remediation.   All you would hear is a whooshing sound of Big Oil beating a quick retreat from Athabasca.  And that's just sad.

The South Shall Rise Again

Newt Gingrich swept back to prominence in the Republican ranks by a convincing win in South Carolina.   Gingrich has been openly race-baiting and it seems the good folks of America's south like what they hear.   Bill Moyers tells Bill Maher that the radical fringe now dominates the Republican party.

One scary feature of the radical Right is its utter rejection of science. They see the world not as it is but as they want to see it. They want the EPA defunded. Rick Perry even wanted it scrapped entirely. Can you think of any one that sort of thing appeals to in Canada?

Can the world really afford to be dominated by crazy people who happily ignore science and reality?   Can America survive this degree of institutional derangement?    The Republicans are doing what many crazy people do, they're destroying themselves and, in the process, their country.

Britain - Difficult Dry Days Ahead

It's the 21st century's double-whammy - population growth coupled with global warming - and even soggy old Britain isn't immune.

Britain's Environment Agency has released a study on what lies in stores for rivers in England and Wales by 2050.   It warns that some rivers could see summer river levels drop as much as 80%, transformed into "puddles of warm, stagnant mud."

The Guardian article cites a government White Paper, "Water for Life", that explores a wide range of possible actions, including some such as desalination plants and re-cycling of effluent water that would have seemed unimaginable for Britain only a decade ago.

The UN calculates that the absolute minimum daily requirement for clean, freshwater for drinking, cooking and hygiene is 20-litres per person.   Britain's average consumption now stands at 160-litres per person per day.   The government hopes to get that down to 130-litres per day.   To give you an idea of what that means, in 2004 Canadian daily per capita freshwater consumption (residential) was 329 litres.   Now imagine your water consumption cut by two-thirds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Looney Lefties Call for End to Austerity

Lefties - as in the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization - have joined in a warning to western governments of the economic and social risks they're inviting through austerity budgeting.

"Expressing concern about the weakness of economic activity and rising unemployment, the IMF's Christine Lagarde, the World Bank's Robert Zoellick and the WTO's Pascal Lamy joined the heads of eight other multilateral and regional institutions in calling for policies to create jobs, tackle inequality and green the global economy.

"The world faces significant and urgent challenges that weigh heavily on prospects for future growth and on the cohesion of our societies," said the statement by the global issues group of the World Economic Forum. It was published ahead of the forum's annual meeting in Davos next week, amid concerns that 2012 will see the global economy flirt with recession as a result of the eurozone crisis.

"Our shared objective is the strengthening of growth, employment and the quality of life in every part of the world," said the statement. 
"But entering 2012, we worry about: decelerating global growth and rising uncertainty; high unemployment, especially youth unemployment, with all its negative economic and social consequences; potential resort to inward-looking protectionist policies."

In addition to Lagarde, Zoellick and Lamy, the signatories were Mark Carney of the Financial Stability Board, Margaret Chan of the World Health Organization, Angel GurrĂ­a of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Donald Kaberuka of the African Development Bank, Haruhiko Kuroda of the Asian Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno of the Inter-American Development Bank, Josette Sheeran of the United Nations World Food Programme, and Juan Somavia of the International Labour Organisation. The forum said it was the first time the heads of the world's major institutions had come together in such a way.

If the first decade of this century has demonstrated anything, surely it must be that what passes for national leadership today is all but deaf to warnings such as this.   For example, despite supposed-economist Harper's self-serving claim that no one saw the collapse of 2008 coming, there were plenty of voices sounding the alarm years in advance - people with names like Roubini, Krugman, Stiglitz.   The only thing that kept Harper from heeding their clear warnings was his ego, his fundamentalist belief that he is the smartest guy in every room.

Has Harper's Buddy Bruce Carson Conveniently Fallen Between the Cracks?

What happened to the RCMP investigation into Bruce Carson that Harper himself ordered, presumably to get his own lard arse off the hook?   Carson, you will recall, is the convicted fraud artist/disbarred lawyer/courtesan frequenting and purported influence peddling dirty old man who wangled his way into a fixer job in Harper's inner sanctum, the PMO.

It's not easy finding anything recent about Bruce Carson.  He seems to have fallen off the face of the earth.   Last September, Aboriginal TV news tried to follow up with the RCMP and got the runaround.  One RCMP spokesperson said the investigation had been concluded and found not to warrant charges.   That was followed up by another officer who said the matter is still before the Commercial Crime unit.   Yet another said the investigation ordered by the Prime Minister himself still hadn't been opened.

Has the investigation been quashed?   If so why, by whom, when?  Surely this scandal, one that reaches right into Harper's office, warrants some explanation, some findings, a report.   Who let this guy in?  Why?  What did Carson do when he was there, what did he see or learn?   Was there any illegality in Carson's dealings?

Regardless of the conclusions, this is one of those cases where the RCMP needs to show it has done its job.   "Case closed" isn't good enough, not nearly good enough.

Did Bishop Mitt Coerce a Woman into a High-Risk Childbirth?

A lot of people have been predicting that Mitt Romney's Mormon mishaps could undermine his presidential aspirations.  Perhaps they're right.

"...the Republican presidential front-runner, has been accused in a new biography of forcing a female member of his Mormon church to risk death by giving birth despite complications with her pregnancy. Another woman has claimed that he threatened to expel her unless she gave up a child for adoption.

...As Boston ''stake president'', Mr Romney led a church region comparable to a Catholic diocese. The book claims that in 1990, he told a congregant with five children that she must not abort her sixth pregnancy even though doctors warned that a pelvic blood clot meant giving birth might kill her and the infant.
...As a ward bishop in 1983, Mr Romney allegedly also told Peggie Hayes, a pregnant 23-year-old single mother, to give up her second child for adoption because ''a successful marriage is unlikely''. He reportedly told her: ''You could be excommunicated for failing to follow the leadership of the church.''

Don't Get Caught Holding the Bag on Fossil Fuels

The expected global drive to curb carbon emissions could create a fossil fuel bubble collapse.   A coalition of prominent UK investors, politicians and scientists has warned the Bank of England that massive reserves of coal, oil and gas could turn into sub-prime assets.

In an open letter on Thursday, they tell [Sir Mervyn] King that the global drive to reduce carbon emissions could mean billions of pounds of fossil fuel reserves will rapidly lose value and cause a "major problem" for institutional investors and pension funds.

At the most recent UN climate change summit in December, 194 of the world's nations agreed to enact legally binding curbs on greenhouse gas emissions within three years to limit global warming to 2C. But meeting this limit would mean just 20% of existing fossil fuel reserves could be burned, according to recent research.

"These high-carbon assets pose significant strategic challenges for the future prosperity of Britain that just can't be ignored," said investment manager James Cameron, who is a member of the prime minister's business advisory group. "Investors continue to pour cash into unsustainable assets without understanding the risks associated with these investments, such as climate change,  local pollution, fossil fuel price volatility, political risk  and catastrophes such as Deepwater Horizon."

The letter is also signed by the government's former chief scientific adviser Sir David King, Zac Goldsmith MP, former environment minister John Gummer and 17 others. It urges action to investigate the risk of the "carbon bubble".

If they're right and we are headed for a "carbon bubble" what would that mean for the world's filthiest - and costliest - fossil fuel, Athabasca bitumen?   Should our federal and provincial governments be pouring unknown billions of dollars in subsidies into potentially worthless, not to mention destructive, assets?  Also, if Athabasca is poised to be one of the first fossil fuel ventures to fail in a carbon bubble collapse, how are we going to force Big Oil to live up to its promises to clean up its massive, highly toxic mess and restore the Tar Sands to their natural state?

And, with this warning of a carbon bubble on the horizon, what are Big Oil and the Harper government doing plotting to build the Northern Gateway pipeline?

If the market goes south on fossil fuels, if bitumen turns into the ultimate energy sub-prime asset, the Athabasca Tar Sands would probably be the first and hardest hit.  It's always been an economic gamble envisioning a steadily increasing market price but the odds now seem to be worse than we'd counted on.


BTW, The Guardian has a very helpful look at energy subsidies today.

Mad as a Newt

Newt Gingrich is going all out to snatch the Republican presidential nomination from the man nobody seemingly wants, Mitt Romney.  And Newt figures the guy most Republicans are looking for, the man who'll keep them from voting Romney, is an outright lunatic.

He recently told a coven of South Carolinians that their native son, Andrew Jackson, knew how to deal with America's enemies, "kill them."

Newt knows a thing or two about the U.S. constitution or at least those parts he doesn't like.   One of them is the "rule of law."  According to Newt, if he becomes Imperatore or Godfather or the Big Cheese, he'll put himself above the law where he disagrees with it.

"I fully expect as president that there will be several occasions when we will collide. The first one, which is actually foreign policy, the Boumediene decision which extends American legal rights to enemy combatants on the battlefield is such an outrageous extension of the court in to the commander in chief's role.

"I will issue an instruction on the opening day, first day I'm sworn in, I will issue an executive order to the national security apparatus that it will not enforce Boumediene and it will regard it as null and void because it is an absurd extension of the supreme court in to the commander in chief's (authority)."

Gingrich has said before that he regards the president as above the court when the two branches have fundamentally differing views but he went further in committing himself to setting up a constitutional crisis on his first day in office.

...Gingrich's interpretations have previously been met with disdain. President George W Bush's attorney general, Michael Mukasey, has said that a president selectively ignoring supreme court decisions would turn the US in to a banana republic. 

It turns out this very genuine contender for the Republican nomination is overstuffed with wacky notions.

"Newt has 10 ideas a day," former Republican Congressman and Gingrich supporter Scott Klug told the WSJ last week. "Two of them are good, six are weird and two very weird."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why North Americans Don't Get Climate Change

I was talking to a friend tonight about the studies and planning undertaken by the province and municipalities of the Lower Mainland of sea level rise projections.  It's a complex issue comprising impacts such as salt water inundation of fresh groundwater stocks, the extension of brackish water zones in the Fraser and other rivers, land subsidence in low-lying coastal areas, dikes and dams, storm surges and flooding accompanied by an increase of severe storm events of greater intensity and frequency - on and on and on.

Study upon study upon study.   Yet, for all the studies, all the expensively researched knowledge, there's very little to show for it.  Being based on the chronically understated IPCC evaluations, the home grown stuff is truly "best case" scenario thinking.  It's also disturbingly distant in focus, looking at where our successors will be in 2100 instead of what's coming in 2020, 2030, 2050 and what we need to be doing about that right now.   It's a construct designed to simply kick the problems down the road.

That got me thinking about the approaches to global warming taken by the Brits, the Dutch and other coastal European states.   They're engaged in practical, "hands on" planning and adaptation measures.  Their approach almost suggests that we North Americans are in denial.  We do lots of studies, tuck them away in neatly indexed drawers and that's where it ends.

I've long wondered why we seem to be sitting on our hands.   The Americans, for example, are said to be facing a future wave of internally displaced citizens, something normally seen in war zones, forced by coastal inundations or sustained droughts to abandon those areas and to relocate elsewhere.  In general terms it'll be people leaving the south and heading north.  So why aren't the Americans doing anything about it?

I suspect what distinguishes our approach from the Europeans' is that we North Americans have no cultural or societal experience of this sort of upheaval.   Reality, for us, is a more or less stable continuum of the status quo.   The Euros, by contrast, are steeped in national catastrophes, usually at their own hands.  To them this sort of potential cataclysm is very credible.   To us, living in pampered societies that have never gone through that experience once, much less on the regular basis of our European cousins, the magnitude of the problem seems too much to accept, unbelievable.   That sort of thing simply doesn't happen to us, thank you very much.

If we don't shake ourselves free of our cultural and societal stupor, others such as our children and grandchildren will pay for that very dearly in years to come.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

If You've Got an Itchy Trigger Finger

Snow On the Wet Coast

Snow, what the hell?

Just Sayin'

Now imagine this was a supertanker filled with bitumen.

Only imagine it's a supertanker full of diluted bitumen wrecked off the proposed tanker port of Kitimat.  Okay, there are differences.   This is a cruise ship, fairly benign as wrecks go.   The supertanker would be disgorging tons of diluted bitumen, dilbit, full of acids, heavy metals and other toxins.   Another difference is that you wouldn't see the supertanker, not for long, because the rocky bottom around the port site can lie 600 feet down where there'd be no effective means to clean up the disaster.
And then there's this observation from The Guardian about what may have happened to the cruise liner, Concordia:

Like all forms of modern mass transport, cruise liners are utterly dependent on complex electronic devices to steer them – and on electricity to run these systems. Without power, a ship is stricken and with reports suggesting that an explosion occurred in Concordia's engine room shortly before the ship ran aground, early analysis indicates power loss is likely to have been a key factor in the accident.

With Harper's Kitimat supertanker port it's not a matter of if, it's only a question of when.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why No One Ever Wins in Afghanistan

Afghanistan defines the notion of "wheels spinning within wheels."  It is the very home of policy chaos where virtually every action invites blowback of one or more kinds, usually unforeseen.  This brief paragraph from Asia Times aptly captures this quagmire factory:

"The [current] war in Afghanistan involves Pakistan against India, China against India, the Pashtun Afghans against the northern peoples, Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Russia against China. So arcane and intricate are these conflicts that the US is allied with enemies and at odds with allies." 

The important question is not how this war, our war, ends but what will the next war look like?  Who will be the players once we walk away from the table?   It's entirely conceivable that the United States will want to keep playing.   The Caspian Basin oil and gas riches are too hard to give up and now there is a lot of interest in developing oil and gas reserves in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.   When you've got strategic rivals like China and Russia also determined to control those very assets, you can't afford to sit out the next hand.

That's not to say that China and the U.S. or Russia will go to war with each other in South Asia.   Their participation is much more likely to be through surrogates or proxies.   The U.S., for example, knows the importance of Pakistan but risks being displaced by China which knows a direct land route to Iran when it sees one.

If China moves to give Pakistan what it most wants, powerful protection, that's bound to give India fits but it's unclear how the U.S. will be able to overwhelm Russia's decades-long support of India.  That one is definitely up for grabs.

Then there's the looming water conflict that may drag India, China and even Pakistan into confrontation.

And, in Afghanistan itself, as in collapsing Iraq, the central government has failed to reconcile ethnic disparity and distrust.  The peoples of the north - Tajik, Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkmen, Hazara and others have largely ruled the roost over the majority Pashtun of the south.   These northern tribes see the Pashtun as placeholders for the Taliban.   So post-U.S. Afghanistan, like post-U.S. Iraq, seems perfectly poised for a resumption of their unresolved civil war.

As Asia Times noted, it's hard to imagine winning anything when you find yourself allied with your enemies and at odds with your allies.

First They Battled Evolution, Now They're Fighting Climate Change

There's a powerful conservative movement in America determined to purge unwanted subjects from their schools' curricula.   For generations they've fought against teaching kids about the theory of evolution.   Now that same group is adding climate change to their agenda.

The National Centre for Science Education (NCSE), which has worked for 30 years to keep evolution in the classroom, said it will begin offering teachers advice on how to deal with students, parents, and even school authorities demanding they drop classes on climate change.

"We have been getting anecdotal reports for a couple of years now of teachers getting hammered for teaching climate science – just like they did for teaching evolution," said Eugenie Scott, director of the centre.

The new initiative launches on 16 January – in the throes of a Republican primary contest in which candidates have fallen over each other to discredit climate change, or the link to human activity.

In the last two years,  ...the NCSE has registered a crossover effect, with opponents of evolution also taking on climate science. "Evolution is still the big one, but climate change is catching up," Roberta Johnson, director of the National Earth Science Teachers Association (Nesta), told Science earlier this year.

A number of state legislatures have taken up bills that would limit teachers' ability to discuss topics such as evolution, climate change, and stem cells.

First It Was International Law. Now Israel's Supreme Court Trashes Human Rights.

Israel's paper thin veneer of being a Western-style liberal democracy is being shredded.  It's the inevitable result of Israel having to come to grips with issues it has for decades been able to duck.  Issues such as breaching international law to enable Israeli companies to exploit Palestinian resources in the West Bank.

Now Israel's supreme court, to use the term very loosely, has ruled that thousands of Palestinians married to Israelis may be banned from living in Israel.   The law has been denounced as racist.   Really, ya think?

"Following a five-year legal battle, the court ruled the Palestinians could pose a security threat. 'Human rights are not a prescription for national suicide,' wrote Asher Grunis, one of the judges in the 6-5 majority ruling."

In Israel, it seems, international law and human rights are all well and good so long as they don't interfere with the government's wishes.

Mitt's Hot Potato

Barack Obama seems to have found Mitt Romney's petard.  Now if he can only light the fuze. 

The petard, or bombshell, is the issue of income inequality in America.   While Harperland is doing its best to widen the gap between rich and poor, we still rank well behind our American cousins.   But a recent Pew poll found that nearly two out of three Americans have clued into the reality of the class war that has overtaken their country and that it's their side that's been taking fire.

And this is where Magic Undies Romney has left himself, er, exposed.    Confronted with the challenge of America's inequality crisis, the one that's fueling the Occupy movement, Romney scrambled to Republican safe ground with these politically-loaded gaffes:

"You know, I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare. When you have a president encouraging the idea of dividing America based on 99 percent versus one percent, and those people who have been most successful will be in the one percent, you have opened up a wave of approach in this country which is entirely inconsistent with the concept of one nation under God."

And he didn't hesitate to put the other shoe in his mouth either:

"I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like. But the president has made it part of his campaign rally. Everywhere he goes we hear him talking about millionaires and billionaires and executives and Wall Street. It’s a very envy-oriented, attack-oriented approach and I think it will fail."

"Quiet rooms"?   Really?   Americans and their leaders shouldn't be talking about inequality in public?   And talking about inequality in wealth, income and opportunity constitutes class warfare?

Oh Mitt, you've identified the target - the One Per Cent - and you've put yourself firmly in their camp (which is where you actually are in terms of your own wealth).   Unfortunately that 1% doesn't yet have the political power to get you elected although they'll sure try.

Once again the Mittster reveals the political instincts of a boar hog.  Public opinion on this issue seems to have already reached critical mass.  It has traction.  That suggests it could be a powerful theme on voters' minds come November.  Oopsie!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

And, Speaking of Afghanistan

The War Without End drags on laboriously.   The past few months saw a curious optimism about a political settlement between Kabul and the Taliban.   That might have been premature.

A new American intelligence (I know, I know) assessment concludes the Taliban still pursue their goal of reclaiming power and restoring strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan.  In other words, they're intent on going back to where things stood before the Americans intervened.

"The National Intelligence Estimate presented to President Barack Obama last month also concluded that security gains won since last year's 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge may be unsustainable, a finding that top U.S. commanders and the White House dispute, according to U.S. officials and people familiar with the report's findings."

And, as though that wasn't bad enough, a video has come out purporting to show four U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of three dead Afghans.

"In the 38-second video, which appeared on TMZ.com and other websites Wednesday afternoon, four men who appear to be Marines are shown standing over what look like the bodies of three Afghans, one with a bloody shirt. One man says, "Have a good day, buddy" as he urinates on one of the motionless men.

"Another says, 'Golden like a shower.' Someone else starts to say, 'The whole thing,' before the video cuts off. An overturned wheelbarrow lies next to the prone men but there's no sign of weapons."

Maybe the wisest observation ever to pass the lips of US General David Petraeus was that counter-insurgency forces (our side) have a very brief shelf life after which they go from liberator/defender to occupier/oppressor in the hearts and minds of the local civilian population - at which point your forces' chances of winning anything plummet.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/11/135585/video-of-troops-urinating-on-afghans.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/01/11/135574/intelligence-report-taliban-still.html#storylink=cpy

The Middle East, 2012 - All Embers and Kindling

The Middle East is a smouldering mess that could erupt into a regional conflagration this year among Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as Israelis.  That's the assessment of the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

The UN warns that 2012 could see an escalation of conflicts in Syria and Iraq that could spill over into Lebanon and even impact Iran.  If Syrian dictator al Assad is toppled analysts believe it would weaken Hezbollah which might present Israel with an irresistible opportunity to take them out.

Iraq is heading back to where it was in the first years following the ouster of Saddam, namely civil war.   As discussed before the New Year, Iraqi Kurds could fuel the Arab Iraqi conflict in the south.

Food and water shortages are expected to worsen throughout the Middle East, a problem compounded by corrupt and incompetent governments.   With their economies still in tatters, the nations of the Arab Spring still have no solutions to that other flashpoint, youth unemployment and inequality, particularly among unemployed university graduates.

The best hopes for a spread of democracy throughout the Arab world may have passed.   This year could see counter-revolutions and the restoration of authoritarian governments, particularly in Egypt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Americans Waking Up to Class Warfare, Find Themselves Under Attack

This could just be what the corporatist Right fears most; the American public realizing there's a class war underway and they've been taking fire.   If the American people get in a mood to counterattack, the forces of corporatism and their rightwing political minions could be in a very bad way.

A Pew Research Center study has found two-thirds of Americans now believe there are "very strong" or "strong" conflicts between rich and poor America.   That's up almost 20% since just 2009.

"Not only have perceptions of class conflict grown more prevalent; so, too, has the belief that these disputes are intense. According to the new survey, three-in-ten Americans (30%) say there are “very strong conflicts” between poor people and rich people. That is double the proportion that offered a similar view in July 2009 and the largest share expressing this opinion since the question was first asked in 1987."

And the Pew study found the rich-poor divide had taken top spot among socially divisive issues plaguing America.

"As a result, in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension—between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old."

"...While blacks are still more likely than whites see serious class conflicts, the share of whites who hold this view has increased by 22 percentage points, to 65%, since 2009. At the same time, the proportion of blacks (74%) and Hispanics (61%) sharing this judgment has grown by single digits (8 and 6 points, respectively).

"The biggest increases in perceptions of class conflicts occurred among political liberals and Americans who say they are not affiliated with either major party. In each group the proportion who say there are major disagreements between rich and poor Americans increased by more than 20 percentage points since 2009.

"These changes in attitudes over a relatively short period of time may reflect the income and wealth inequality message conveyed by Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country in late 2011 that led to a spike in media attention to the topic. But the changes also may also reflect a growing public awareness of underlying shifts in the distribution of wealth in American society."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Where Is America's "Reset" Button?

There's over the top and then there's "over the top" American style.  Perhaps it's all just part of America's transformation into a full-blown warfare state but an article in today's Guardian reveals just how debased some parts of the US have become.   The item chronicles the increasing number of American schools that have full time police officers patrolling their corridors charging kids criminally with misdemeanors for outrages such as swearing or even throwing paper airplanes.

Each day, hundreds of schoolchildren appear before courts in Texas charged with offences such as swearing, misbehaving on the school bus or getting in to a punch-up in the playground. Children have been arrested for possessing cigarettes, wearing "inappropriate" clothes and being late for school.

In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 "Class C misdemeanour" tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.'

"We've taken childhood behaviour and made it criminal," said Kady Simpkins, a lawyer who represented Sarah Bustamantes. "They're kids. Disruption of class? Every time I look at this law I think: good lord, I never would have made it in school in the US. I grew up in Australia and it's just rowdy there. I don't know how these kids do it, how they go to school every day without breaking these laws."

Americans have always feared creeping socialism but perhaps they should be more concerned with creeping feudalism.   Any society that doesn't see this sort of excess as abhorrent is embarking on a very dark path.

It's Romney In a Landslide

Mitt Romney can say all sorts of crazy stuff such as how much he likes to be able to fire people.  It don't matter.   Short of getting caught in public soiling his magic Mormon undies, Mitt's next adversary will be Barack Obama.

What's the giveaway?  That's easy.   When presidential nomination candidates from the most corporatist party in the most corporatist American government in a century start attacking the frontrunner for, well, practicing 21st century corporatism, they're all but formally admitting it's over.

In a sharp departure for a party known as friendly to business, Republicans seeking to slow Romney sounded more like populists as they bashed his work as a venture capitalist.

Former House Speaker Gingrich, brooding over negative attacks from Romney and his backers that knocked him out of the front-runner position, has launched the toughest onslaught.

"Mitt Romney was not a capitalist during his reign at Bain. He was a predatory corporate raider," a video produced by a pro-Gingrich group said. 

And that, in case you missed it, was the sound of pressurized gas escaping that grotesque windbag, Gingrich.  Is it really too late for Sarah Palin to get behind the wheel of this clown car?   

Monday, January 09, 2012

Will Britain's PM Energize Quebec Sovereigntists?

British PM David Cameron is prepared to roll the dice.  He'll tell the Scots this week they can hold a binding referendum on sovereignty provided, 1) that it be held in the next 18 months, and, 2) that if it fails any future referenda will be advisory only.

Cameron is also ruling out a third option, something akin to "sovereignty association."   The referendum has to be a straight "yes/no" question.   The Scots will have to decide they're either part of the UK or not.

The Scots won't be happy with Cameron's terms.  They wanted the referendum in 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.   They're also chafing at the notion that London could frame the question to be put to the Scottish people.   Sound familiar?

Will a Scottish vote in favour of independence be enough to stir restive sovereigntists in Quebec?  It'll be something to keep an eye on.

Spain Pushes the Consumer "Reset" Button

Spain, like Italy, and especially Greece and Ireland, is in the throes of an austerity purge.  Some 64% of working Spaniards now take home about a thousand Euros per month.   For a country that was riding high for the past two decades, that's a big hit.

Spanish consumers have responded by embracing what's called "low-cost shopping."   And some observers claim that, if and when Spain's economy bounces back (don't count on it), the lessons being learned today will live on.

Compulsive and disproportionate shopping is a pathological condition that we frequently encounter. On the other hand, saving, even in a compulsive way, doesn’t figure in any medical handbook,” says Guillermo Fouce, Doctor of Psychology and professor at the Universidad Carlos III (Madrid). No one is pathologically thrifty. This is not a trivial remark, since any pattern of consumption taken to the extreme can lead to problems.

No doubt, the consumer in the post low-cost shopping era will differ from the consumer of today. First, he will have learned some lessons. “The buyer is finding that low-cost shopping helps him purchase similar articles at lower prices. And anyone who wants to sell things more expensively these days may as well close up the shop,” declares Javier Vello, responsible for Distribution and Consumption at the PricewaterhouseCoopers. Secondly, “after the crisis the client will look more closely at their money and will be more aware of what is behind each item,” Vello anticipates.

Which will have consequences. Little by little, it will be harder to build up a profile of the consumer, and business strategies will be greatly influenced by the trend. Some consumers, for example, may buy cheaply for certain products, but when it comes to other products the very same people, with the same purchasing power, may go for the most expensive items.

Whether things work out this way remains to be seen, however. In the meantime, the low-cost concept is spreading fast and wide. “The consumer has gone from looking for what I call a 'superior functionality' to looking for the 'good enough functionality', which is cheaper. In other words, why should I buy a car with all the extras if I don't really need them?” asks Javier Rovira, a professor at the ESIC Business and Marketing School.

What I find interesting in this EuroPress report is that it reveals how adaptable Western consumers are in the face of necessity.  Much of the suffering underway in Western Europe resulted in large part from governmental mismanagement but other forces will cause a much broader, perhaps even global, shrinkage in per capita production during this century.  We're running out of stuff, especially food and water, and we face the sort of global stability threats that may disrupt supply lines that we're utterly dependent upon and so it's likely we may all be required to live smaller, more frugally.   What the Spanish seem to be demonstrating is that it's not too hard to learn those habits and the market does respond.

Still Not Sure The World Has Gone Mad?

Well then how 'bout this?   Investors paying a premium to lend money to Germany.  That's right, negative interest.

The auction of six-month German government bills on Monday produced a negative interest rate. Even the Federal Finance Agency, which manages Germany's debt, was astonished. "That has never happened before," said a spokesman.

The average rate amounted to minus 0.01 percent. The auction generated €3.9 billion ($4.9 billion). Demand for the securities was so high that the sale was 1.8 times oversubscribed.

In December, Germany had managed to place paper at a tiny interest rate of 0.001 percent in an auction that was 3.8 times oversubscribed. Germany isn't the first country to receive a premium from investors. Denmark too was recently able to auction bonds for which the government will have to pay back less than it borrowed. 

Now, at minus 0.01%, you still have to hold on to that borrowed money a long, long time before you have to pay nothing back but in any circumstances you'll be paying back less than you borrowed.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Hypocrisy of the Petro-State

"It is a pitiless, one-sided, mechanical view of the world, which elevates the rights of property over everything else, meaning that those who possess the most property end up with great power over others. Dressed up as freedom, it is a formula for oppression and bondage. It does nothing to address inequality, hardship or social exclusion. A transparently self-serving vision, it seeks to justify the greedy and selfish behaviour of those with wealth and power."

That is The Guardian's George Monbiot's explanation for why Libertarians (along with leading Republicans, the Tea Party, and rightwing think tanks not to mention Alberta and Canadian legislators) are bound to reject meaningful climate change action.

But Monbiot cites a piece written by Matt Breuning that eviscerates the Right's hypocritical "do as I say, not as I do" arguments.  Breuning writes:

Coming onto my property without my consent is a form of trespass under this picture. Doing anything to my property — whether it be painting it, dumping stuff on it, or causing some other harm to it — is totally off limits.

So environmentalists point out that carbon emissions are warming the planet, one consequence of which is that harm will be done to the property of others. Most environmentalists — being the leftists that they generally are — do not make too much of the property rights issues, but one certainly could. Coal plants release particulates into the air which land on other people’s property. But no permission is ever granted for that. Coal plants do not contract with every nearby property owner to allow for them to deposit small amounts of particulate matter on their neighbors’ land. They are guilty of a form of property trespass.

 Beyond that, all sorts of industrial processes have environmental externalities that put things into the air or the water that ultimately makes its way into the bodies of others. This is a rights-infringing activity under the procedure-focused libertarian account. The act of some industry is causing pieces of matter to land on me and enter into my body. But I never contracted with them to allow them to do so.

... No story about freedom and property rights can ever justify the pollution of the air or the burning of fuels because those things affect the freedom and property rights of others. Those actions ultimately cause damage to surrounding property and people without getting any consent from those affected. They are the ethical equivalent — for honest libertarians — of punching someone in the face or breaking someone else’s window.

And this is particularly true for rash and hazardous, greed-fueled, environmental degradation of the Athabasca Tar Sands sort.   What possible right do they and their sponsoring governments have to dump massive amounts of greenhouse gas into the air, to pour carcinogens into the local water, to leave in peril the MacKenzie River watershed, the world's third largest?   By what right do they now threaten to threaten with devastation British Columbia's coastal waters?

Every argument they make is grounded, not in principled rights and fairness, but in hypocritical privilege.   They demand that of which they would deprive others without their consent.   It is their Big Money double standard that makes the Tar Sanders and every government and party that props them up, including Libs and NDP alike, a disgrace to our country and our people.