Saturday, June 30, 2012

Let's Not Get Backed Into Another Cold War

Nobody wants to talk much about it but the Harper/MacKay pinwheels seem intent on signing Canada on to America's next Cold War, this one in Asia.

Already announced by Obama/Panetta, America's military posture has pivoted away from the Middle East into the direction of Asia.   The Pentagon is already conducting stealth bomber and fighter attack exercises, simulating a first-strike to destroy Chinese air defences and other military installations.  Imagine how the Pentagon would react to a Chinese aerial live-fire exercise simulating an attack on, I don't know, Pearl Harbour?

But what is this new Cold War all about?  Cold War One (CW1) was relatively straightforward.  It was about preventing a Soviet takeover of Western Europe, at least ostensibly.   Cold War Two (CW11) is a different animal altogether.

CW11 is about spheres of influence in the face of power shifts.  It is about the rise of new hegemons and the decline of an older hegemon.  It is about economic, political and military rivalries.  And alas, true to form for the 21st century, it's about oil or, more specifically, oil and gas - Persian, Asian and Caucasian oil and gas.

Asia Times Online has a useful summary of the Russian play now underway in Pakistan and the move to create an "energy club" linking the major regional producers with the major regional customers, China and India.   The basic idea is for a pan-Asian/Caucasian/Persian oil and gas bloc in which there's no room reserved for the United States.

These developments constitute a daunting challenge to the US' regional strategies in Asia and the Middle East. The ramifications are quite far-reaching. First and foremost, Pakistan's "defection" from the Western camp all but amounts to a crippling blow to the US' New Silk Road Initiative aimed at rolling back the Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia. Along with that, the US' dreams of getting access to the vast mineral resources of Central Asia and Afghanistan would also suffer setback.

On a practical plane, Pakistan's geography has been the lynchpin of the US regional strategies in Afghanistan and Central Asia, and without Pakistan's cooperation no viable (non-Russian, non-Iranian) communication link with those regions is sustainable, which in turn, jeopardizes the plans for the establishment of a permanent US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military presence in the region in the "Eurasian heartland".

...Again, a coming together of the energy producing and energy consuming countries of Asia is the ultimate nightmare scenario for the US, which fears exclusion from the ensuing matrix of regional cooperation involving countries that happen to be spearheading the fastest-growing region in the world economy. The entire US strategy in the post-Soviet era had aimed at forestalling such a catastrophic eventuality that might put paid to the US efforts to get embedded in the "Eurasian heartland", which includes or overlooks some of the major regional powers in the coming decades - Russia, China, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan and Iran. (Turkey's admission as a "dialogue partner" of the SCO - at China's behest - at the Beijing summit last month further unnerves the US.)

...This is indeed going to be a cat-and-mouse game. The signs are ominous. The relentless drone attacks through the recent months have destabilized Pakistan's tribal areas adjacent to the border with Afghanistan. The drones are causing a lot of civilian casualties, so much so that the United Nations officials begin to wonder if these wanton killings would constitute "war crimes".

The drone attacks infuriate the people who live in the tribal areas and in turn are fueling anti-government sentiments, while Islamabad looks helpless in stopping the US from violating the country's territorial integrity. Quite obviously, Pakistan is hunkering down, and the US won't allow that to continue. The indications are that the US will step up pressure on Pakistan and escalate the tensions in a calibrated way.

The heart of the matter is that Pakistan's "strategic defiance" has taken the US by surprise. The US always counted on the perceived comprador mentality of the Pakistani elites and has been somewhat thrown off balance in discovering that those very same elites (the military leadership, in particular) are no longer what they were supposed to be.

Of course, this is a flawed perspective and at the root of it lies Washington's unwillingness to countenance an honest appraisal as to why this paradigm shift has occurred at all. The US doesn't have to look far to realize the complexities. The latest survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, released on Wednesday, shows that 74% of Pakistanis "hate" the US and hold President Barack Obama in exceptionally low esteem. Interestingly, the most popular Pakistani politician today is Imran Khan (70%), whose main plank is that Pakistan should pull out of the war in Afghanistan and demand that the US troops should pack up their gear and leave the region for good with their war machinery.

The US faces a more complicated challenge with regard to India. Washington has audaciously complimented New Delhi recently by naming India as the "lynchpin" in its Asia-Pacific strategies. But to the discomfiture of the US, India's response has so far been one of deafening silence, while demonstratively distancing itself from any perceived "ganging-up" against China. On the other hand, a crucial mass is steadily accruing in the Sino-Indian normalization. Equally, India has been carefully sequestering its dialogue process with Pakistan from the chill and vagaries of the US-Pakistan standoff. Even with regard to Iran, India has drawn a bottom line and made it clear that it won't be pushed around - and the current signs are that Washington has finally got the point.

What we need to remember before blundering into CW11 with out spanking new CF-35 stealth bombers is that America's current bout of hyper-militarism warrants a great deal of caution and prudence from those it recruits as its minions in this very risky venture.  The United States has become a global bull in the china shop, relying on military prowess rather than diplomacy to advance its foreign policy.  That didn't work in Iraq and it hasn't worked in Afghanistan and it has far less chance of working against Russia or China, especially in what they see as their own backyard.   This is none of Canada's business and, arguably, none of America's either.

Farewell, Voyager

It's been hurtling through space since May 5th, 1977.   Now, almost 35-years later, NASA's Voyager 1, has made it through our solar system.

Voyager completed its intended mission 30 years ago but somehow it just kept working, measuring and recording and relaying its data back to earth.   And it's still going.   Although some of its sensors are shutting down as their nuclear power source is nearing exhaustion, Voyager is expected to remain in radio contact with NASA until 2025.   It is so far distant now that its messages take 16 hours to reach Earth.

If It Looks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck, It's Probably Global Warming

You may have heard about the waves of wildfires sweeping across Colorado for the past several weeks that continue to rage with no end in sight.   Welcome to the new era, the era of Global Warming.

"'What we're seeing is a window into what global warming really looks like," said Princeton University's Michael Oppenheimer,  a lead author for the UN's climate science panel. "It looks like heat, it looks like fires, it looks like this kind of environmental disaster … This provides vivid images of what we can expect to see more of in the future."

"In Colorado, wildfires that have raged for weeks have killed four people, displaced thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes. Because winter snowpack was lighter than usual and melted sooner, fire season started earlier in the US west, with wildfires out of control in Colorado, Montana and Utah.

"The high temperatures that are helping drive these fires are consistent with projections by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said this kind of extreme heat, with little cooling overnight, is one kind of damaging impact of global warming.

Others include more severe storms, floods and droughts, Oppenheimer said.

"The stage was set for these fires when winter snowpack was lighter than usual, said Steven Running, a forest ecologist at the University of Montana.

"Mountain snows melted an average of two weeks earlier than normal this year, Running said. "That just sets us up for a longer, drier summer. Then all you need is an ignition source and wind.'"

Britain, meanwhile, has come off an extended, nationwide drought to endure widespread, once a century flooding.   Severe storms and torrential rains have triggered flash floods, power outages, the closure of rail lines and the evacuation of hundreds of homes.   This, too, is a predicted outcome of global warming - cyclical severe droughts and floods.

The reality is that we have already broken the Earth's hydrological cycle.  We have heated the atmosphere which causes it to absorb and hold more water vapour.   Those trillions of tonnes of water vapour change precipitation distribution patterns.   Some regions get passed over and wind up in sustained drought, as in the American southwest.   Other regions now receive torrential rains and flooding.   Drought or flood, the affected regions are hammered.   That is not the sort of conditions necessary for agriculture.   It makes little difference whether crops wither in the field from drought or rot away under floodwaters.   It makes little difference whether cattle die of drought or drown.  For a world that the UN FAO has already declared to be now in a permanent state of food insecurity, the fracturing of our traditional hydrological cycle, so instrumental in mankind's growth to 7+ billion people, is potentially devastating.

But, as we were told this week by the CEO of Exxon Valdez ExxonMobil, sure fossil fuels are warming the planet but, don't worry, be happy, we'll adapt.   Rex Tillerson told the Council on Foreign Relations that concern about climate change, drilling and energy dependence are overblown.

"We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt," he said. "It's an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution."

Well, since Mr. Tillerson has broached the subject, perhaps we should consider his views on adaptation.  Adapt how, to what, on whose tab, Mr. Tillerson?

Adaptation is costly and it's money down the drain.   Adaptation is perpetual, ongoing.   Adaptation is the supply of a commodity, services and materiel.   Adaptation draws from the economy essential revenues that could be put to use elsewhere.

Adaptation comes in two flavours - public sector and private sector or some combination of both.  Think Disaster Capitalism.   Yet governments today have been so effectively defunded that the private sector will likely have a powerful edge in future adaptation initiatives.   And, as we have seen in so many other areas, the more private sector a field becomes, the more market-driven, the less universal it turns out to be.

Adaptation is not uniformly viable.   There's a lot more "me" and a lot less "we" in it despite Tillerson's sophistry.   The countries and peoples who will need the greatest, most powerful adaptation strategies also happen to be the poorest, most vulnerable, and most heavily impacted by global warming.   Tillerson's facile commentary pretty obviously excludes these peoples as irrelevant, invisible.

But maybe we ought to regard Tillerson's adaptation remedy in the context of Big Tobacco.  Throughout the West, the tobacco industry is being sued for many hundreds of billions of dollars in damages for the costs governments have borne from smoking-related illness.   Why should Big Fossil be treated any differently?  Why should we not look to oil, coal and gas company assets to fund adaptation measures necessitated by the burning of fossil fuels?   We know from the track record of Tillerson's own company in paying damages to those who lost so much from the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster that we can't trust Big Fossil to own up.

If nothing else we should be having a frank discussion with Mr. Tillerson and the other Tillersons who make up Big Fossil about just what responsibility they think they should bear in the question of adaptation.  That's a talk that's already long overdue.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A World of "More"

I know there are many good, thoughtful, well-intentioned, intelligent, generous. honourable, even noble Americans.   I also know there are not nearly enough of them.   They don't hold sway in their homeland which is genuinely, deeply unfortunate for America and for the rest of the world.

America is the linchpin that holds fast the chains of expansive consumerism that bind our planet.  It is, after all, the illusion of America's Disneyesque standard of living to which so many of the people of our planet, Americans included, aspire.   Our craving, our quest can be seen everywhere.  You can see it in our malls.   You can see it in the congested streets of Mumbai.   You can see it in the 2,000 new cars that are added each day to the traffic load in Beijing.

Career soldier turned professor, Andrew J. Bacevich, tackles the job of defining what it means to be an American in the twenty-first century in his book, "The Limits of Power", a wonderful companion work to his seminal book "The New American Militarism" reviewed here, here and here.

"If one were to choose a single word to characterize that identity, it would have to be more.  For the majority of contemporary Americans, the essence of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness centers on a relentless personal quest to acquire, to consume, to indulge, and to shed whatever constraints might interfere with those endeavours.

"...dissenters, intent on curbing the American penchant for consumption and self-indulgence, are fighting a rear-guard action, valiant perhaps but unlikely to reverse the tide.  The ethic of self-gratification has firmly entrenched itself as the defining feature of the American way of life."

"...the foreign policy implications of our present-day penchant for consumption and self-indulgence are almost entirely negative.  Over the past six decades, efforts to satisfy spiraling consumer demand have given birth  to a condition of profound dependency.   The United States may still remain the mightiest power the world has ever seen, but the fact is that Americans are no longer masters of their own fate."

Bacevich writes that America's global leadership underwent a subtle but immensely damaging transformation, a pivot marked by one president's speech in the summer of 1979 and that of his successor in 1983.

The first of these speeches was given by Jimmy Carter, initially to address America's then energy crisis.   Carter shelved that speech and came back 10-days later to address his countrymen about what truly ailed the United States.

"The energy crisis of 1979, he suggested, was merely a symptom of a far greater crisis.  'So I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation.  I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.'"

"The nation as a whole was experiencing ' a crisis of confidence,' he announced, 'It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will.   We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.'

"Americans had strayed from the path of righteousness.  'In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.   Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.'"

Enter Ronald Reagan.

"Reagan portrayed himself as conservative.  He was, in fact, the modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption.  Beguiling his fellow citizens with his talk of 'morning in America,' the faux-conservative Reagan added to America's civic religions two crucial beliefs:  Credit has no limits, and the bills will never come due.   Balance the books, pay as you go, save for a rainy day - Reagan's abrogation of these ancient bits of folk wisdom did as much to recast America's moral constitution as did sex, drugs, and rock and roll.

"Reagan offered his preliminary response to Carter on November 18, 1979, the day he officially declared himself a candidate for the presidency.   When it came to confidence, the former governor wanted it known that he had lots of it.  In a jab at Carter, he alluded to those 'who would have us believe that the United States,m like other great civilizations of the past, has reached the zenith of its power' and who 'tell us we must learn to live with less.'  Reagan rejected these propositions.  He envisioned a future in which the United States would gain even greater power while Americans would enjoy even greater prosperity, the one reinforcing the other."

Bacevich laments an American democracy that has been usurped.

"Americans can no longer afford to underwrite a government that does not work.   A condition of quasi-permanent crisis stretching across generations has distorted our Constitution with near-disastrous results.   To imagine at this juncture that installing some fresh face in the White House, transferring the control of Congress from one party to the other, or embarking upon yet another effort to fix the national security apparatus will make much of a difference is to ignore decades of experience.

"Yet if presidents have accrued too much power, if the Congress is feckless, if the national security  bureaucracy is irretrievably broken, the American people have only themselves to blame.   They have allowed their democracy to be hijacked.   The hijackers will not voluntarily return what they have stolen.

"One result of that hijacking has been to raise up a new political elite whose members have a vested interest in perpetuating the crises that provide the source of their power.   These are the people who under the guise of seeking peace or advancing the cause of liberty devise policies that promote war or the prospect of war, producing something akin to chaos.

"To attend any longer to this elite would be madness.  This is [a] lesson that the Iraq War ought to drive home.   What today's Wise Men have on offer represents the inverse of wisdom.  Indeed, to judge by the reckless misjudgments that have characterized U.S. policy since 9/11, presidents would be better served if they rel8ied on the common sense of randomly chosen citizens rather than consulting sophisticated insiders.   It is, after all, the children and grandchildren of ordinary citizens who wind up fighting the wars that Wise Men concoct."

America has gone mad.  It is being swept along toward a juncture at which, barring revolution, its vaunted and largely symbolic democracy must finally yield to oligarchy.

But America is not alone.   Other nations are similarly coming unhinged.   We see it but try not to acknowledge it.   Take China, for example.   When I was born it was a nation of just over 300-million, roughly the same size as America today.   In my lifetime it has more than tripled to some 1.2-billion.   Yet even as the population has exploded, China has sustained enormous environmental depredations manifested in spreading desertification and the toxic contamination of its vital air, water and now even land resources.  There are some today who believe China has become so environmentally degraded as to be incapable of sustaining a population greater than 700-million.   Overpopulation looms as an existential threat to China's economy and even its government.

Yet the grave problems besetting the United States, China, India and so many other countries hardly mattered at the recent Rio+20 Earth Summit where the concluding theme was "sustainable growth."  Monbiot is right.   Governments have given up.   They've thrown in the towel on global warming and just about every other emerging challenge to the future of our very civilization.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Our Cowardly Governor-General

Ex G.G. Michaelle Jean agreed to prorogue Parliament in December, 2008 apparently because she was intimidated by our thug prime minister, Stephen Harper, and feared that the Tory slime machine would subvert Canadian democracy if she refused.

Constitutional scholar Peter Russell told this week that weighing on Ms. Jean’s mind at the time was the likelihood the Tories – had they lost office – would have poisoned confidence in the coalition government through a PR campaign framing the change as an illegitimate transfer of power.

The Conservatives, he told the Ontario-based news website, “have a huge publicity machine” at their fingertips.

“If a ‘no’ had come out of Rideau Hall and an attack launched on a Dion-Layton coalition that said we’ve had a coup d’etat in Canada,” he said, “we would have been there in the headlines of the world like Greece. [That’s] not very good for the country in any which way.”

As is already known, Ms. Jean also extracted pledges from Mr. Harper at the time: that he would bring back Parliament shortly and produce a budget to win sufficient support in the Commons.

Asked why she ultimately consented to Mr. Harper’s request, Mr. Russell said: “I think her reasons were that parliamentary democracy is going to be protected sufficiently to avoid a dangerous and dreadful crisis by giving an affirmative answer to the Prime Minister.”

Reached Monday by The Globe and Mail, Mr. Russell said he believes Ms. Jean was concerned about a Conservative backlash that could generate a crisis of confidence in Canada’s political system. “My best guess was that she was,” he said.

If Russell is even remotely correct then our prime monster flat out bullied the G.G. into capitulating to his demands to protect Canada from this animal and his machine.   Did she believe that really helped Canada?

ed.  This story came out last week but I sat on it because I wasn't sure what to make of it.  I'm still uncertain what it says of Michaelle Jean although I'm clear what it says of Steve Harper.

Define "Adapt"

ExxonMobil CEO Ralph Tillerson has a comforting message on climate change - don't worry, be happy - we'll adapt.

Tillerson acknowledged that burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet, but said society will be able to adapt. The risks of oil and gas drilling are well understood and can be mitigated, he said. And dependence on other nations for oil is not a concern as long as access to supply is certain, he said.

Tillerson blamed a public that is "illiterate" in science and maths, a "lazy" press, and advocacy groups that "manufacture fear" for energy misconceptions, in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

He highlighted that huge discoveries of oil and gas in North America have reversed a 20-year decline in US oil production in recent years. He also trumpeted the global oil industry's ability to deliver fuels during a two-year period of dramatic uncertainty in the Middle East – the world's most important oil and gas-producing region.

"No one, anywhere, any place in the world has not been able to get crude oil to fuel their economies," he said.

Of course, Tillerson's message can be taken several ways depending on just how you define "adapt" and just who you include or exclude from "we."  I'm pretty sure Tillerson and the rest of the board of directors of ExxonMobil  will "be able to adapt."  By the way, is this the same ExxonMobil that hasn't coughed up the damages it owes for the Exxon Valdez disaster?

FOX News Bundled With Rupert's Sitcoms

Rupert Murdoch is restructuring his media empire.   There'll be two divisions, publishing and entertainment.   The publishing arm will control Murdoch's book and newspaper holdings - the information stuff.   The Old Fart's pay-TV, movie and other broadcast interests will be hived off to his entertainment division.   Guess where Rupe's all sitcom channel, FOX, winds up?   Right where it belongs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nature Is Now On Her Own. World Governments Throw In the Towel On Climate Change.


Rio + 20 was, according to U.N. Gen-Sec Ban Moon, too important to fail yet that's exactly what it did and that's all it did - fail.

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, calls it, "the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war."

"The Earth's living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the United States, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit in Rio last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue "sustained growth" the primary cause of the biosphere's losses.

"The efforts of governments are concentrated not on defending the living Earth from destruction, but on defending the machine that is destroying it. Whenever consumer capitalism becomes snarled up by its own contradictions, governments scramble to mend the machine, to ensure – though it consumes the conditions that sustain our lives – that it runs faster than ever before."

"...The governments which allowed the Earth Summit and all such meetings to fail evince no sense of responsibility for this outcome, and appear untroubled by the thought that if a system hasn't worked for 20 years, there's something wrong with the system. They walk away, aware that there are no political penalties; that the media is as absorbed with consumerist trivia as the rest of us; that, when future generations have to struggle with the mess they have left behind, their contribution will have been forgotten."

Monbiot then gives three reasons why, absent meaningful governmental action, individuals and non-state agencies should keep up the fight.   One is to "draw out the losses over as long a period as possible" to keep as much intact as we can for our children and grandchildren.  The second is to preserve as much as we can in hope that conditions, attitudes may change.   The last is that, while we may not be able to influence global action, there remains much we can do in our own homelands - restoration, adaptation.

Monday, June 25, 2012

When I'll Vote Liberal

Who should lead the Liberal Party?   Who cares?   To me, and I suspect a great many other Canadians, the Liberal Party is and will remain irrelevant until it speaks to us about things that matter.

I have resolved never to support the LPC again until it commits to meaningful policies to address two vital threats to our nation - inequality and climate change.   Inequality - of wealth, of income and of opportunity.   Climate change in the context of both adaptation and remediation including the sort of emissions cuts our civilization needs if we're to survive this century without going for each other's throats in warfare.

A Liberal Party that cannot convincingly speak to those immediate and mounting challenges is frivolous to the point of being meaningless.   And so I'll wait.

Bad Schadenfreude, Bad!

When writing about environmental calamity descending on the United States one must resist the urge to resort to "they had it coming."  Yes, America has been a huge and to date insurmountable obstacle to any meaningful global consensus on fighting climate change.  Yes, that's especially true for the American south and its "heartland" of the mid-west, the areas plagued by protracted drought or cyclical droughts and floods.  But, still...

Americans are coming around.   They are accepting the reality of climate change although they're much less accepting of the link between what is happening and the root cause of global warming.  And, according to new research, a lot more Americans along their Atlantic coast are going to "get it" very soon.

"Sea level rise is accelerating three to four times faster along the densely populated east coast of the US than other US coasts, scientists have discovered. The zone, dubbed a "hotspot" by the researchers, means the ocean from Boston to New York to North Carolina is set to experience a rise up a third greater than that seen globally.

"Asbury Sallenger, at the US geological survey at St Petersburg, Florida, who led the new study, said: "That makes storm surges that much higher and the reach of the waves that crash onto the coast that much higher. In terms of people and communities preparing for these things, there are extreme regional variations and we need to keep that in mind. We can't view sea level rise as uniform, like filling up a bath tub. Some places will rise quicker than others and the whole urban corridor of north-east US is one of these places."

"'Coastal communities have less time to adapt if sea levels rise faster," said Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute Germany, who published a separate study in the same journal, Nature Climate Change, on Sunday. Rahmstorf's team showed that even relatively mild climate change, limited to 2C, would cause global sea level to rise between 1.5 and 4 metres by the year 2300. If nations acted to cutting carbon emissions so the temperature rise was only 1.5C, the sea level rise would be halved, the researchers found.

"The impacts of the rising seas are potentially devastating, said the scientists. "As an example, 1 metre of sea level rise could raise the frequency of severe flooding of New York city from once per century to once every three years," said Rahmstorf, adding that low lying countries like Bangladesh are likely to be severely affected. His colleague Michiel Schaeffer, at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said: "Sea level rise is a hard to quantify, yet a critical risk of climate change. Due to the long time it takes for the world's ice and water masses to react to global warming, our emissions today determine sea levels for centuries to come."

Sea level rise is expected to introduce a phenomenon new to North America, that of "internally displace persons" or IDPs.   We have learned to associate the term with populations of war-ravaged countries like Iraq or Afghanistan that migrate out of conflict hotspots to safer locales within their own countries.   In North America, sea level rise resulting in flooding, storm surges, coastal erosion and saltwater inundation; combined with megadrought in the south and the exhaustion of groundwater resources, is expected to render large regions, some of them heavily populated, less habitable or even uninhabitable, giving rise to internally displaced populations.   This challenge will arrive at roughly the same time as the U.S. has to confront climate migration heading north out of Central America and Mexico.   Whether northern or southern hemisphere, climate migration will be polar oriented.

And what of Canada?  Is it realistic to expect this magnified sea level increase to halt at the Canadian border?   What does it hold for the Maritime provinces?  Do we need to prepare for some degree of population relocation - on both coasts.

The flooding underway on British Columbia's Fraser River is a harbinger of things to come.  59 per cent of the B.C. population is resident in the Lower Mainland, most of which is the low-lying Fraser River estuary abutting the rising sea.   Large parts of built-up municipalities such as Richmond are already below sea level.  This region is faced with a witches' brew of climate change challenges - heavy winter snowpacks and early Spring thaws; ground level subsidence; meltwater flooding; sea level rise and the associated threats from storm surges and saltwater inundation.   In other words, even as the population of the Lower Mainland continues to burgeon, climate change impacts just beginning to appear will make it increasingly difficult to sustain large population loads.   These changes will also make it increasingly difficult to weather the mega-earthquake expected to hit the region sometime within this century.

These are challenges that Harper's emasculated EnviroCan is left to kick down the road to await some future government that puts Canadians, including the coming generations, ahead of our fossil-fuel revenue addiction.

Stiglitz - Pushing Back the Oligarchs

Nobel laureate economist, Joe Stiglitz, has a warning for America - and for Cajnada too -  we cannot hope for our societies to survive the cancer of inequality.   Stiglitz had some noteworthy comments during a recent AlterNet interview, excerpted here:

what drives capitalism is the profit motive. You can profit not only by making good things, but also by exploiting people, by exploiting the environment, by doing things that are not so good.  ...a lot of the inequalities in the United States are not the result of creative activity but of exploitive activity. And if you look at the people at the top, what is so striking is that the people who've made the most important creative contributions are not there.

By that I mean the really foundational things like the computer, the transistor, the laser. And how many people at the top are people who made their money out of monopoly -- exercising monopoly power? Like bankers who exploited through predatory lending practice and abusive credit card practices. Or CEOs who took advantage of deficiencies in corporate governance to get a larger share of the corporate revenues for themselves without any regard to the extent to which they have actually contributed to increasing the the sustainable well-being of the firm.

...If you had an economic machine that worked the way it was supposed to, everybody would be getting better. And an economy that's normally growing, say, 3 percent, even over a 20-year period. Steady accumulation would lead to their wealth more than doubling in that period. And it clearly hasn't happened.

...We're paying a high price for this inequality. Now, one of the mischaracterizations of those of us who want a more equal or fairer society, is that we're in favor of total equality, and that would mean that there would be no incentives. That's not the issue. The question is whether we could ameliorate some of the inequality -- reduce some of the inequality by, for instance, curtailing monopoly power, curtailing predatory lending, curtailing abusive credit card practices, curtailing the abuses of CEO pay. All of those kinds of things, what I generically call "rent seeking," are things that distort and destroy our economy.
So in fact, part of the problem of low taxes at the top is that since so much of the income at the very top is a result of rent seeking, when we lower the taxes, we're effectively lowering the taxes on rent seeking, and we're encouraging rent-seeking activities. When we have special provisions for capital gains that allow speculations to be taxed at a lower rate than people who work for a living, we encourage speculation. So that if you look at the design bit of our tax structure, it does create incentives for doing the wrong thing.

...By definition, waste is waste. The Republican rhetoric has focused on waste in the public sector. But waste, at some level, is an inherent consequence of human fallibility. We're going to make mistakes, and that's going to be true in the public and the private sector. No government program has ever wasted resources on the scale of America's private financial sector in the run-up to the crisis. So the first thing you realize is there is waste everywhere including in the private sector.

Now if you ask people about things there are important to them ... obviously they care a lot about the school their children go to. They worry about too-large classes. They worry about police protection. Those are all things that people value a lot. They value the Internet, which was created by government-funded research. Health care and drugs were are all based on government-funded research. So the bottom line is that government services have proved highly valuable. And this is where the big lie, the big distortion is. By talking about the few instances of inefficiency, they try to direct the attention away from the teachers, the policeman, the fireman, the researchers, the people building the roads to make our society function. And they turn our attention away from the failures in the private sector.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

For What?

That cagey prison shower look?

Ex-con, ex-financier, ex-Canadian Conrad Black is at it again, telling Canadians what's wrong with us and our country.

This time he used a podium opportunity to exhort Canada to "seize more global influence" in a world rocked by global instability and broad decline of the affluent states.   Black said this presents an invaluable opportunity for big resource exporters like Canada and Australia to step up and throw their newfound weight around.

As I read the news reports I was struck with the idea of Canada "seizing" anything.   Seize what exactly?   Seize it from whom?   Just what do we do with whatever we've seized once we've seized it?   What is there to seize that we really want in the first place?  Questions, questions, so many questions.

So vague and ill-defined was Conrad's quest that it was borderline Quixotic.   Yet it seemed to reveal a man whose character might be the love child of a shark and a turkey buzzard.

Remember it was the Prince of Darkness, Harper himself, who promised to elevate Canada on the world stage and yet has succeeded mainly in transforming Canada into a global pariah, a petro-schemer and saboteur of international consensus.   The Harper-Black formula would surely be a circus act of one step forward, two steps back.

Lord Black has delivered himself of a thoroughly unhelpful and unwanted opinion.   Perhaps it's time for his Lordship and his Lady to pack up their bags and head back for the Olympics.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Industrialized Poverty

The House(s) That Brian Built

If there was any people NAFTA was supposed to help, surely it was the Mexicans.   It was supposed to be their admission ticket to industrialization and the great Middle Class, their path out of poverty.  As McClatchey Newspapers reports, Mexican workers have found those fancy factory jobs just another dead end.

Some four decades after welcoming foreign assembly plants and factories, known as maquiladoras, Mexico has seen only a trickle of its industrial and factory workers join the ranks of those who even slightly resemble a middle class. Instead, the poverty trap clutches them tightly. Some have earned the same wages for years. The government subsidizes credit, allowing purchases of appliances and even simple houses. But the credit sinks them into debt they can never hope to repay. Their teenage children, rather than staying in school, rush to factories themselves or join criminal gangs.

Without deep political and social reforms, experts say, the thousands of maquiladora plants that cluster at the U.S. border and around cities in the interior will remain a fixture for decades to come, and Mexico won’t build a middle class that’s big enough to fuel faster economic growth.

Mexico does all it can to ensure that workers don’t unionize, or if they do that they join so-called “protection unions” designed to assure the interests of plant owners and keep wages low.

The article illustrates the plight of Mexican factory workers by looking at one of them.

By day, Sergio Martinez labors in a modern air-conditioned factory a few miles from the Texas border, a human cog in the global supply chain that helps build pickups and tractor-trailer cabs. He wears a smart uniform at work.
At night, he comes home to a dirt-floor shack with a bare light bulb and no indoor plumbing. Mosquitoes buzz incessantly. He and his family live like poor dirt farmers.

His salary of $7.50 a day is enough to provide for the family dinner table, the cost of bootleg water and electricity, and an occasional article of discarded clothing for his wife or two girls, but rarely anything else.

And even the foreign corporations don't hide the fact that they're getting rich picking the bones of impoverished Mexican labour.

Factory managers say that by keeping unions out and bringing workers in from southern Mexico, companies that operate here are able to keep wages low.

"These people come to work hard, to suffer. They are willing to work for very little,” said Roberto Rivero, a human resources manager at the Japanese-owned Takata plant here that employs 2,400 people to piece together automotive air bags.

This is the workers' Utopia free trade fetishists like Brian Mulroney promised as they ushered in the era of corporatist economics and corporatist politics.   It was all a tissue of lies.  It still is.


Taking Stock on the Rain Coast

It's grey and wet outdoors.   It's been grey and wet since, what, October?   Just kidding, we've had a few nice days.   Everybody's sure of it even though nobody can agree just when we got them or how many there were.   Must've been a few.   Must've been.

I just popped over to the Weather Network web site for the 14-day outlook.   That takes us into the first days of July.   Fourteen days, eleven of them supposed to be rainy.  Just three days with no rain, two of them supposed to be overcast, the other partly sunny. 

Their graph has this bar that marks the seasonal average high temperature.   At this time of the year that's supposed to be around 21C.    I've been studying that closely for weeks now waiting for that magical day when the forecast high will kiss, maybe even break through what's supposed to be the average high.  Not even close except for one day, maybe two.   Looks like I'll just have to keep waiting until later in July.

My brother is coming to visit from Ontario in early July.   I called him the other day after consulting the Weather Network's chart for his hometown.   I told him how remarkable it was that our forecast high temperatures very closely paralleled his region's daily lows and suggested he be sure to pack a sweater and a jacket for his visit.

We had a family and friends get together on Saturday and the conversation inevitably turned to our absentee summer and how, last year, summer weather didn't arrive until well into August.   The consensus seemed to be we were heading for a repeat of 2011.   It was pretty gloomy until we began talking about what's going on everywhere else in the world.   Rather abruptly the conversation shifted to everything we don't get.

We don't get megadroughts.   We don't get floods either.   We don't get cyclical floods and droughts.  We don't get extreme heat waves nor do we endure extreme cold snaps.   We don't get smog warnings either.   We don't need much heating in the winter and we don't need air conditioning in the summer.  None of my neighbours has central air or even one of those window air conditioners.    When, if, summer shows up, we'll just open our windows in late afternoon and let the nearby ocean work its magic.

Before the conversation moved on to sports or politics or cooking or whatever we had one of those moments where everyone agrees on something.    We all nodded in agreement that, for all of the dreariness, we really have it made. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

BC Court Strikes Down Ban on Assisted Suicide

It's about time.  A British Columbia Supreme Court judge has upheld a terminally ill woman's right to physician-assisted suicide.

Justice Lynn Smith held the ban to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.   The woman, who has late-stage ALS, was represented by veteran lawyer Joe Arvay.

"I describe the evidence and the legal arguments that have led me to conclude that the plaintiffs succeed in their challenge,” Smith wrote at the beginning of her 395-page ruling. “They succeed because the provisions unjustifiably infringe on the equality rights of Gloria Taylor and the rights of life, liberty and security of the person.”

One can merely guess how long it will take Harper to launch an appeal and force this woman through an agonizing, drawn out death.

No matter how you feel about this, and most of us come down strongly on one side or the other, you really should consider your views in light of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide legislation, the state's Death With Dignity Act.   Oregon allows residents with advanced cases of terminal illness to apply to undergo a detailed process by which, after counselling and careful medical review, the person can obtain lethal medications for voluntary self-administration.   The state's experience has found that many who obtain prescriptions for these medications either never fill the prescriptions or never take the end of life drugs.   They merely die naturally free of the fear of having to endure unbearable pain.

You have to be diabolical to deny the terminally ill the right to die free of that grotesque fear.

The Liberals Don't Need Another Trudeau. They Need Another Pierre.

Many Liberals, displaying the stubborn arrogance that moved their party from Sussex Drive to Stornoway to Motel 6 in just three election cycles, are fawning all over Justin Trudeau as a party leadership frontrunner.

I'm sure he's a fine fellow, one of many fine fellows within the Liberal ranks, but I'm far from convinced he's cut from the same cloth as his father.   He strikes me as far more Margaret than Pierre.  And, if the Libs are to come back, the party needs another Pierre, not necessarily another Trudeau.   The Ottawa Citizen has it nailed.

"The most successful Liberal prime ministers in recent memory — Jean Chr├ętien and Pierre Trudeau — were always themselves, warts and all. They were men with visions for the country and they asked people to accept it, or not."

"...Whoever wins the race to be the next Liberal leader should take that victory as permission to go into the next election as himself or herself. The party has to stand for something; therefore, it has to be led by someone with a personality and a vision. It no longer has the luxury of occupying the mushiest possible middle and being whatever the person on the other end of the handshake wants it to be."

The Buffalo's Revenge

America's historic bread basket, the Great Plains, is just about finished.   Like the Canadian prairie, the Great Plains was a massive expanse of grassland inhabited by migratory creatures and native tribes that moved with them.

Then the white man showed up.  

First to go were the buffalo, next the Indians.   The buffalo were killed off.   The Indians that weren't killed off were herded onto reserves out of the way.   Settlers showed up and discovered that beneath their feet lay the giant Ogallala aquifer just waiting for those enterprising white folks to have at it.   And so they did.   And with that free, seemingly limitless water they transformed that barren grassland into first class farmland yielding bountiful harvests of wheat and corn and just about anything else they chose to grow.   America began to feed the world.

It was a shiny example of the "can do" spirit only, in reality, it was more like the "do can" spirit.  We "do" because we "can."   There's a big difference between the two.   That's becoming obvious today from the Dakotas to Texas.   The Ogallala is just about pumped out.   The settlers turned farmers took the waters because they could and nobody much worried that the day might arrive when they couldn't.

The July issue of Harper's magazine has Wil Hylton's piece, "Broken Heartland, The Looming Collapse of Agriculture on the Great Plains."  Here are a few excerpts:

"Sprawling beneath eight states and more than 100 million acres, the Ogallala Aquifer is the kind of hydrological behemoth that lends itself to rhapsody and hubris.   Ancient, epic, apparently endless, it is the largest subterranean water supply in the country, with an estimated capacity of a million-billion gallons, providing nearly a third of all American groundwater irrigation.  If the aquifer were somehow raised to the surface, it would cover a larger area than any freshwater lake on Earth - by a factor of five."

"It wasn't until the 1940s, when a variety of new technologies coalesced on the plains, that large-scale irrigation sprang up for the first time - but from there, the transformation was quick.   Within a decade thousands of wells were drilled, creating a spike in productivity as unprecedented as it was unsustainable.  Land that had been marginal became dependable; land that was dependable became bountiful...

"No one worried about the aquifer.  To farmers it seemed a bottomless reserve, generating the same outlandish volume no matter how many straws went in.   Soon there were hundreds of thousands of wells producing the same reliable flow, year after year, without any evident stress.

"Then, during the early 1990s, farmers throughout the Great Plains began to notice a decline in their wells.  Irrigation systems from the Dakotas to Texas dipped, and, in some places, have been abandoned entirely."

"...For complex reasons involving wind, weather and soil composition, the Ogallala does not recharge in the way one might expect.   In fact, of the eight states above the aquifer, only Nebraska, with its sandhill dunes, is permeable enough to contribute any serious replenishment."

Almost a quarter of the reservoir is now down to less than 30-feet of water remaining.   By 2030 most if not all of the rest will be in the same state.   With crop irrigation draining the reservoir between five to eight feet a year, the math is ugly.

"...Although many cities on the plains have grown, rural communities across Kansas, Nebraska, Montana and Texas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas have shrunk each decade since the Great Depression.  In Kansas alone, more than 6,000 towns have vanished altogether.   Nearly a million square miles of the American heartland currently meet the definition of 'frontier' used by the Census Bureau more than a century ago."

What lies in store for America's breadbasket?  Vast tracts are being turned into windfarms.   Once bountiful farmland is being returned to grassland for grazing.  Experimental crops are being developed, perennial varieties of wheat and sorghum that will be self-seeding but without the high yield of conventional crops.   Bison are making a comeback.   Beyond that, no one seems to know.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Lot of You Have Been Waiting to See This

It's a screen capture from a beheading scene during the first season of Game of Thrones.   Go ahead, take a close look.   Who does that look like?   Whose head is that on a stake?

Full marks if you guessed George w. hisself.   According to, the production company just ordered heads from their prosthetic supplier and George accidently wound up perched atop a stake.  Yeah, sure.

From "Citizens United" to Corporate Electoral Blackmail

Hey, it's just corporations exercising their newfound political voices.   According to Politico, U.S. defence contractors are planning to throw a wrench into November's presidential and congressional elections by issuing hundreds of thousands of layoff notices just before voting day.   The message is brutal and blunt - re-elect Obama and kiss your lovely paycheque goodbye.

“If it really did happen, if hundreds of thousands of layoff notices went out right before the election, it could hurt incumbents – mainly, the president,” said Todd Harrison, a defense expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

“You could do a layoff notice that just informs people they might be laid off, and you could do that very broadly,” Harrison added. “Do companies make the notices go to all of their employees, half of their employees or just the 10 percent of their employees who are likely to be affected?”

But, like most extortion, the problem can be avoided - for a price.   In this case that would be rescinding the defence cuts well prior to the election.

And, if you didn't believe that America has been transformed to junk democracy in favour of corporatism, this should clear your head.

Is China Grooming Africa for Half a Billion Surplus Chinese?

The theory, published in Asia Times, is that Chinese authorities have figured out their homeland can support a population of 700-million, max.   With current numbers at 1.2-billion, China has to jettison hundreds of millions of people.

"While a cottage industry of "China-in-Africa" experts has emerged over the past five years, on balance their explanations of why a magnetic like pull exists between the two continents is unsatisfactory. Certainly no one denies an array of state-to-state economic and geopolitical incentives recognized by both sides. After all, the simplified resources-for-infrastructure win-win is rather obvious.

"Yet and still neither of those benefits - Africa's gain of badly needed dams, roads, pipelines and bridges and China's receipt of desperately needed oil and minerals - is as compelling as the widely rumored and highly plausible determination that China's mainland can only sustain 700 million persons. Therefore at least 300 million to 500 million of its current 1.2 billion population must go elsewhere. The "elsewhere" is Africa... "

It's difficult to imagine how, short of an outright military takeover, China could compel African states to become a repository for surplus Chinese.    Then again the idea that China may not be able to sustain a permanent population in excess of 700-million is more than plausible and does beg the question of now the Too Many Peoples' Republic can resolve what could pose a mortal, internal threat to the state.

Rounding the Square Pegs

Rounding square pegs.   That, in a nutshell, is the message being delivered by the Royal Society and 104 other national science academies, to delegates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit if mankind is to get through the 21st century.

Rounding square pegs means two things - reducing overpopulation and over-consumption.   Overpopulation is primarily the obligation of the emerging and developing nations, particularly China, India and the burgeoning African states.   Over-consumption falls mainly to the developed nations, the voracious consumers of the lion's share of just about everything.

We know what curbing overpopulation means.   Overpopulated countries must trim their numbers, preferably by curbing reproductive rates.   Over-consumption, now that's far trickier.   What it means is rich folks buying less, consuming less, using less, wasting less and redistributing some of what they've come to expect as theirs to the have-nots.

Yeah, that's right.   This is the great "socialist plot" to redistribute wealth from those who believe they've "earned" it to those who they believe haven't.

Good luck with that.

Now Will You Stop Killing Whales, You Bastards?

The Japanese supposedly go whaling for "scientific research" purposes.   Hard to tell what they're looking for.    Maybe they're exploring new ways to kill whales or the process by which they die when you explode stuff inside them.   But they were probably killing them for the same purpose they slaughter dolphins - for meat to throw on grocery store shelves at home.

Well it turns out the Japanese are losing their appetite for whale meat.   Of last year's 1,211 tonnes harvested, 908 went unsold despite 13-auctions.

The Institute of Cetacean Research blamed low demand on the complicated auction procedure and reluctance among food suppliers to attract criticism from anti-whaling groups such as Sea Shepherd.

"We could not achieve the results we had anticipated," an institute official told Kyodo.

Maybe it's time the Japanese just packed it in.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

IMF Chief - Inequality, the Environmnent, Social Upheaval are Linked

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warns we can either accept a realistic approach to sustainable growth or face declining incomes, environmental calamity and social upheaval.

"...she said the rich should restrain their demands for higher incomes while there are still 200 million people worldwide looking for a job and poverty is on the rise.

"In fact, tensions are on the rise again, and financial stability risks have once more moved front and centre. Great uncertainty hangs over global prospects.
Too many regions today are still stuck in a trap of low growth and high unemployment," she said.

Ahead of the summit, she said taxes on petrol and other carbon fuels could raise billions of dollars for green investment projects. "Right now, less than 10% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are covered by formal pricing programmes. Only a handful of cities charge for the use of gridlocked roads. Farmers in rich countries are undercharged – if charged at all – for increasingly scarce water resources."

She added: "Many countries continue to subsidise polluting energy systems. These subsidies are costly for the budget and costly for the planet. Countries should reduce them. But in doing so, they must protect vulnerable groups by tightly focusing subsidies on products used by poorer people, and by strengthening social safety nets."

If this sounds like so much pinko pap, recall that Legarde was a decidedly right-wing former French finance minister.   What she is doing is merely pointing out the obvious witches' brew of calamities coming our way if our leadership persists in looking the other way - that is to say, governing just like Stephen Harper.   Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, realistically taxing greenhouse gas emissions, pricing water resources, the three things most feared by the Tar Sanders and their political minions.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

China's Toxic Farmland Time Bomb

China has a bagful of environmental challenges.    You name it, they got it.   Polluted waterways, contaminated air, greenhouse gas emissions that confound attempts to measure them - the lot.  When it comes to China's land situation, we commonly focus on desertification - the exhaustion and degradation of arable farmland and its transformation into sterile desert.   Now the focus is shifting - to land pollution.

Nowhere is the global push to restore degraded land likely to be more important, complex and expensive than in China, where vast swaths of the soil are contaminated by arsenic and heavy metals from mines and factories.

Scientists told the Guardian that this is likely to prove a bigger long-term problem than air and water pollution, with potentially dire consequences for food production and human health.

Zhou Jianmin, director of the China Soil Association, estimated that one-tenth of China's farmland was affected. "The country, the government and the public should realise how serious the soil pollution is," he said. "More areas are being affected, the degree of contamination is intensifying and the range of toxins is increasing."

Other estimates of soil pollution range as high as 40%, but an official risk assessment is unlikely to be made public for several years.

...Unlike in Europe where persistent organic pollutants are the main concern, Chen Tongbin of the Chinese Academy of Sciences said China's worst soil contamination is from arsenic, which is released during the mining of copper, gold and other minerals. Roughly 70% of the world's arsenic is found in China – and it is increasingly coming to the surface with horrendous consequences.

"When pollution spills cause massive die-offs of fish, the media usually blames cadmium, but that's wrong. Arsenic is responsible. This is the most dangerous chemical," he said. The country's 280,000 mines are most responsible, according to Chen.

But the land – and food chain – are also threatened by lead and heavy metals from factories and overuse of pesticides and fertilisers by farmers. The risks are only slowly becoming well known. The Economic Information Daily reported this week that pollution ruins almost 12bn kilograms of food production each year, causing economic losses of 20 billion yuan.

Cleaning up China's contaminated farmland is going to be no simple matter because most of the toxins and heavy metals arrive in airborne form.

For Liberals, the Way Forward is the Way Back

If the Liberals are ever coming back, and that's a lot more iffy than many of them want to admit, it will be under a leader determined to reverse the party's corrosive slide to the right.   That would mean a leader willing to take up the cause of malignant inequality - of wealth, of income, of opportunity - and climate change in all its aspects.

Harper's Cons have gone hard right with the NDP in trail to the centre.  If the Libs insist on remaining centre-right they will, and rightly should, be consigned to political irrelevance to await some distant reincarnation.

Why should the Libs veer left right now?   Because that's where Canada needs to shift to face the conditions that will confront us, and the rest of the world, as this century unfolds beginning within just a decade or two.   And to meet those challenges we'll need a healthy, cohesive society of the very sort that Harper is now working hard to undermine.   And an essential (as in sine qua non essential)  key to rehabilitating our society lies in reversing inequality.

One of those annoying economists who just keep getting it right, Nobel laureate Joe Stiglitz, has made the case for fighting inequality in his new book, "The Price of Inequality."

"...we have a world in which there are huge unmet needs—investments to bring the poor out of poverty, to promote development in less developed countries in Africa and other continents around the world, to retrofit the global economy to face the challenges of global warming. At the same time, we have vast underutilized resources—workers and machines that are idle or are not producing up to their potential. Unemployment—the inability of the market to generate jobs for so many citizens—is the worst failure of the market, the greatest source of inefficiency, and a major cause of inequality.

As of March 2012, some 24 million Americans who would have liked a full-time job couldn’t get one.

In the United States, we are throwing millions out of their homes. We have empty homes and homeless people.

...This book is about why our economic system is failing for most Americans, why inequality is growing to the extent it is, and what the consequences are. The underlying thesis is that we are paying a high price for our inequality—an economic system that is less stable and less efficient, with less growth, and a democracy that has been put into peril. But even more is at stake: as our economic system is seen to fail for most citizens, and as our political system seems to be captured by moneyed interests, confidence in our democracy and in our market economy will erode along with our global influence. As the reality sinks in that we are no longer a country of opportunity and that even our long-vaunted rule of law and system of justice have been compromised, even our sense of national identity may be put into jeopardy.

...Markets, by themselves, even when they are stable, often lead to high levels of inequality, outcomes that are widely viewed as unfair. Recent research in economics and psychology has shown the importance that individuals attach to fairness. More than anything else, a sense that the economic and political systems were unfair is what motivates the protests around the world. In Tunisia and Egypt and other parts of the Middle East, it wasn’t merely that jobs were hard to come by but that those jobs that were available went to those with connections.

In the United States and Europe, things seemed more fair, but only superficially so. Those who graduated from the best schools with the best grades had a better chance at the good jobs. But the system was stacked because wealthy parents sent their children to the best kindergartens, grade schools, and high schools, and those students had a far better chance of getting into the elite universities.

...One aspect of fairness that is deeply ingrained in American values is opportunity. America has always thought of itself as a land of equal opportunity. Horatio Alger stories, of individuals who made it from the bottom to the top, are part of American folklore. But, increasingly, the American dream that saw the country as a land of opportunity began to seem just that: a dream, a myth reinforced by anecdotes and stories, but not supported by the data. The chances of an American citizen making his way from the bottom to the top are less than those of citizens in other advanced industrial countries.

There is a corresponding myth—rags to riches in three generations—suggesting that those at the top have to work hard to stay there; if they don’t, they (or their descendants) quickly move down. But this too is largely a myth, for the children of those at the top will, more likely than not, remain there.

...For years there was a deal between the top and the rest of our society that went something like this: we will provide you jobs and prosperity, and you will let us walk away with the bonuses. You all get a share, even if we get a bigger share. But now that tacit agreement between the rich and the rest, which was always fragile, has come apart. Those in the 1 percent are walking off with the riches, but in doing so they have provided nothing but anxiety and insecurity to the 99 percent. The majority of Americans have simply not been benefiting from the country’s growth.

...If markets had actually delivered on the promises of improving the standards of living of most citizens, then all of the sins of corporations, all the seeming social injustices, the insults to our environment, the exploitation of the poor, might have been forgiven. But to the young indignados and protestorsmost important of all, the degradation of values to the point where everything is acceptable and no one is accountable.

...Americans, Europeans and people in other democracies around the world take great pride in their democratic institutions. But the protesters have called into question whether there is a real democracy. Real democracy is more than the right to vote once every two or four years. The choices have to be meaningful. The politicians have to listen to the voices of the citizens. But increasingly, and especially in the United States, it seems that the political system is more akin to “one dollar one vote” than to “one person one vote.” Rather than correcting the market’s failures, the political system was reinforcing them.

Politicians give speeches about what is happening to our values and our society, but then they appoint to high office the CEOs and other corporate officials who were at the helm in the financial sector as the system was failing so badly. We shouldn’t have expected the architects of the system that has not been working to rebuild the system to make it work, and especially work for most citizens—and they didn’t.

The failures in politics and economics are related, and they reinforce each other. A political system that amplifies the voice of the wealthy provides ample opportunity for laws and regulations—and the administration of them—to be designed in ways that not only fail to protect the ordinary citizens against the wealthy but also further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the rest of society.

...Given a political system that is so sensitive to moneyed interests, growing economic inequality leads to a growing imbalance of political power, a vicious nexus between politics and economics. And the two together shape, and are shaped by, societal forces—social mores and institutions—that help reinforce this growing inequality.

 ...It is often argued on the right that we could have more equality, but only at the steep price of slower growth and lower GDP. The reality (as I will show) is just the opposite: we have a system that has been working overtime to move money from the bottom and middle to the top, but the system is so inefficient that the gains to the top are far less than the losses to the middle and bottom. We are, in fact, paying a high price for our growing and outsize inequality: not only slower growth and lower GDP but even more instability

And this is not to say anything about the other prices we are paying: a weakened democracy, a diminished sense of fairness and justice, and even, as I have suggested, a questioning of our sense of identity."

The Liberal Party's shift to the centre-right was an act of contempt toward the Canadian people.   To me this was made plain when Ignatieff convened his "thinkers' conference" at which CEOs and management consultants dominated the speakers' list.  Iggy left the Liberals sitting atop an elitist perch from which they'll have to openly, visibly step down if they're ever to reconnect with the voting public.   The old sops don't work any more.  Daycare and funding for the arts won't meet the looming challenges of the 21st century.

Why Did Lincoln Insist on Keeping These Morons in the Union?

North Carolina recently caused snickers when its state assembly legislated against sea level rise.  Their ordinance stipulated that future sea level rise must be calculated on historic results, not on today's accelerated rates.

Now it's Virginia's turn.

Earlier this year the state of Virginia paid $50,000 for a study on the potential effects of climate change and sea level rise on the state's coastline.
Only one problem: The report's authors weren't allowed to use terms like "climate change" and "sea level rise" because state lawmakers feared a backlash from the state's Republicans and Tea Partiers.

[Lawmakers] discovered that they could not use the phrases "sea level rise" or "climate change" in requesting the study, in part because of objections from Republican colleagues and also for fear of stirring up conservative activists, some of whom believe such terms are liberal code words.

On its website, for example, the Virginia tea party described the proposed "sea level rise" study this way: "More wasted tax dollars for more ridiculous studies designed to separate us from our money and control all land and water use."

So, what did the report authors have to substitute for "sea level rise"?   Try, "recurrent flooding."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pentagon Post-Mortem on Iraq & Afghan Wars - We F__ked Up

Afghan Army Soldiers

One way of knowing for sure that America has lost a war is when the Pentagon begins navel-gazing.  That's exactly what the US military is doing now - an autopsy of its dismal performance in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Where did America go wrong and when?   In both wars that was Day One.   American forces went into Iraq and Afghanistan prepared for one outcome, failure.

Ten years of war have given the U.S. military more than its share of frustrations. According to an internal Pentagon study, two of them were as fundamental as they were related: Troops had terrible intelligence about Iraq and Afghanistan, and they told their own stories just as badly.

Those are some preliminary conclusions from an ongoing Pentagon study into the lessons of a decade of combat, authorized by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the multi-tour Iraq veteran and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The study doesn’t single out any sensor or spy platform for criticism. Instead, it finds that U.S. troops didn’t understand the basic realities of society, culture and power structures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and couldn’t explain what they were doing to skeptical populations.

“In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” the report reads, “a failure to recognize, acknowledge and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions and goals.”

The report considers that less a strategy failure than an intelligence failure, and it doesn’t point fingers at anyone outside of the military. But the military’s intelligence structure, once in Iraq and Afghanistan, was entirely focused on discovering and locating its enemies, which left it blind to the experiences of the local population, which nourished them.

“A focus on traditional adversary information” limited the U.S. and its allies’ “effectiveness in countering asymmetric threats such as insurgencies and mitigating terrorist and criminal influences,” the study finds.

In Afghanistan, the Americans and our own forces went in prepared to fight a military war, the type we were trained and equipped to fight.   Ours was a war of heavy firepower and numerical superiority.   We always had the Taliban outnumbered and we alone had the jet strike fighters, the attack helicopters, the artillery and tanks, the drones, all the good stuff.   We had the intensely trained professional soldiers.   They relied on sparse numbers of farm boys equipped with Korean-war vintage assault rifles, light machine guns and RPGs.

We arrogantly expected the Talibs to fight our war, to stand up in the field and allow our firepower to mow them down.   They didn't like that idea, not when they knew they could win.   They chose to fight their war, knowing that so long as we didn't defeat them on their terms they would win and we would pack up and leave in failure.

We truly "didn't understand the basic realities of society, culture and power structures," in Afghanistan.   We ignored the proven fact that the sort of government and society we sought to establish in Afghanistan has never been achieved without first overcoming tribalism and warlordism.

Yes, the Americans screwed up.   What else is new?   But Canada's political and military leadership were no better.   We could have and should have stuck with our original commitment under the Martin government, a fixed term mission.   No military or political goals beyond holding Kandahar for a few years until it was turned back over to the Americans.

Stephen Harper and his uniformed minions screwed Canada's soldiers by reframing the mission into a war to defeat the Taliban and save Afghan society for democracy.   Neither objective was ever within our grasp or means.   We simply kept extending the duration of our hopeless mission without ever upping the ante in forces to meet our expanded objectives.

Harper cynically milked the war for all the political capital he could squeeze from the dead and maimed bodies of Canadian soldiers.   The general staff of professional ticket punchers did scarcely any better by their troops.    Their repeated and stupid proclamations of having the Talibs on the run stand as testament to their incompetence.   They didn't even understand they were wasting Canadian lives fighting the wrong war, the one that didn't matter.

Will Canada have its own post-mortem on our first failed foreign war?   Probably not any time soon.  That will have to wait until the incompetents who so richly deserve condemnation are flushed out of our political and military leadership and into the safety of retirement.

Is This a Game Changer for America in South Asia?

The latest American air strike blunder in Afghanistan could mark a major shift in US military operations in south Asia.   The bombing, against a home the military believed was housing a Taliban militant, wound up killing 18-civilians, mainly women, children and elderly Afghans.

Western commanders had agreed to no airstrikes without prior Afghan approval yet in the most recent case they went ahead unilaterally.

Now Karzai says there'll be a new policy - no airstrikes on residential targets, period.

This new edict, if it's actually accepted by western forces, gives the Talibs a significant tactical advantage and increases the strain on Afghan security forces.   But the greatest repercussion may lie across the border, in Pakistan.

How will the Americans justify already unauthorized drone strikes on residential targets within Pakistan when those same type of targets are "off limits" in Afghanistan itself?  Obama is already acting in defiance of Islamabad by waging drone war in Pakistan.  Karzai's gambit will presumably ramp up the pressure on Pakistan's civilian and military leadership to stand up to Washington as never before.  And, with China and Russia now openly courting Pakistan, this could open an opportunity for them to push American back in that region.