Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why is Ralph Klein Greater Dead Than He Was Alive?

They're all lining up to heap praise upon old Ralph now that he's dead.   They sure didn't seem to be so reverential to him while he lived.

Yes, Ralph Klein did balance the provincial government's books.   Yes, Ralph Klein did pay off the provincial government's debts.  Yes those were both wonderful achievements.

So what happened?   Why is Alberta in such a mess today?   Are Ralph's fingerprints also on what went wrong?

Was it not under Ralph Klein that the Alberta government allowed itself to become dependent on fickle oil royalties to pad its operation budget?   Was it not Ralph Klein who scoffed at Peter Lougheed's warning against reckless expansion of the oil fields that could overheat the economy and evaporate its wealth?   It seems to me that Ralph did those things too and, in the process, put Alberta on the path to an unstable, boom and bust economy, a path followed by his successors.

Oh well, Alberta always was a place where they like their myths super-sized and very well polished.

Why Doesn't Warawa Go Out and Start, Oh I Don't Know, a Reform Party?

That's the ticket.   Disgruntled Conservative backbenchers should take a page out of the past and split.   They should form their own party, one that speaks to their concerns and aspirations.   They should create a new party, a populist party, an alliance of sorts, a party for genuine reform.   They could call it - the Reform Party.  Or maybe the Alliance Party.    Or the Canadian Reform Alliance Party or some sort of CRAP like that.

Chantal Hebert says the social conservatives in the Harper government are fed up.

Some Conservative MPs are apparently getting tired of barking only at the command of their master’s minions.

The issue is a sensitive one for the government. It has earned a well-deserved reputation for taking no prisoners in the House of Commons.

[Mark]Warawa’s challenge also comes right on the heels of a just-as-rare breach in cabinet solidarity.

Last week, small business minister Maxime Bernier broke ranks with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty over the appropriateness of leaning on the banks to keep mortgage rates up.

Bernier has always been a bit of a maverick but he is popular among the party’s libertarian wing and has a larger following than any Quebec minister.

The social conservative MPs who went to the barricades for the right to speak their minds this week have an even more influential soulmate in the senior ranks of the cabinet.

Last fall, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney voted against the prime minister on a motion calling for a parliamentary examination of fetal rights.

Maybe they could call it the Neo-Alliance Party or the No-Abortion Party.   We could call them the Nappers or perhaps the Nappies.

Obama's Too Modest Dream

Barack Obama has unveiled plans for a multi-billion dollar programme to repair and upgrade America's decaying highways, bridges and other critical infrastructure.

Among his proposals were renewed calls for a $10bn "infrastructure bank." He also mentioned new plans for $4bn in loans and grants for infrastructure projects and tax breaks for foreign pension funds to encourage investment.

The president addressed America's "ageing infrastructure badly in need of repair" during his state of the union speech in February. The "fix it first" policy called for investing $50bn in transportation infrastructure, subject to Congressional approval.

Those proposals drew immediate fire from Republican rivals. House speaker John Boehner said: "It's easy to go out there and be Santa Claus and talk about all these things you want to give away, but at some point, somebody's got to pay the bill."

It's rich for a leader from the party that gave America a six trillion dollar migraine for failed wars of convenience in Afghanistan and Iraq to bitch about a few score billion being spent on infrastructure maintenance.   Just what does the Giant Orange Man think is going to happen to America's essential infrastructure if repairs aren't funded?   Still I suppose Boehner figures there are enough Americans too stupid to connect the dots that he's willing to play the "Santa Claus" card.

Yet the numbers Obama is talking about are paltry for a country that carries a defence expenditure of some 700-billion dollars a year.  It's a reflection of how Obama has never gotten close to evening America's keel.

Why "Happy Easter"?

Why Happy Easter?   Because, before the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ got tacked onto it, Easter - or Ishtar or Eostre -  was a celebration, a lovely pagan festival.

...What is interesting to note here is that in the ancient world, wherever you had popular resurrected god myths, Christianity found lots of converts. So, eventually Christianity came to an accommodation with the pagan Spring festival. Although we see no celebration of Easter in the New Testament, early church fathers celebrated it, and today many churches are offering "sunrise services" at Easter – an obvious pagan solar celebration. The date of Easter is not fixed, but instead is governed by the phases of the moon – how pagan is that?

All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.

The Dark Face of European Anti-Semitism

I am a regular critic of Israel, particularly its policies and acts toward the Palestinians and its destabilizing nuclear arsenal.  One cannot speak of these things without inviting accusations of anti-semitism plainly intended to stifle critics.

Anti-semitism does, however, remain a real and ongoing challenge to us all and to our hopes for a better society.  Katrina Lantros Swett, writing in The Guardian, has a disturbing account of the rise of anti-semitism in Europe.

In Hungary, my parents' native country, the leader of its third largest party recently urged the government to create a list of Jews posing "a national security threat" – even as the government, including its parliament, condemned this statement. 

Even in western Europe, where some of America's strongest historic allies reside, antisemitism also remains. Since 2000, anti-Jewish graffiti increasingly has appeared in Paris and Berlin, Madrid and Amsterdam, London and Rome, and synagogues have been vandalized or set ablaze in France and Sweden.

In Malmo, Sweden, physical attacks have fueled a Jewish exodus. A generation ago, Malmo was home to 2,000 Jews; today there are fewer than 700. In France, "unprecedented violence" took place last year..

Compounding the problem are four factors. First, European officials remain reluctant to identify the ideological or religious motivations of the perpetrators. Second, surveys show that negative attitudes towards Jews among Europe's population remain widespread. Third, these surveys confirm that some of this bias reveals itself through certain criticisms of the state of Israel: while no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism.  

Yet, there are other reasons to care. When Jews face trouble, so often do other minorities. And as the second world war taught a whole generation of Americans, the same forces targeting Jews often oppose freedom for all. The fight against antisemitism is a key element in freedom's battle against tyranny. It is a fight to preserve civilization and further human progress. 

I am with Ms. Swett, right up to the point where she tries to stigmatize criticism of Israel as anti-semitism.    Some of it is but much of it isn't.   There is much legitimate criticism of Israel that, in fact, is based on demanding it accept the very standards to which every other state is held, standards it steadfastly refuses to accept.

"We Will Not Let Them Fail" - At Least Not Yet

British general Bob Bruce, commander of Task Force Helmand, says now's the perfect time to let Afghan army troops take over the job of battling the Taliban.   General Bob added, "We will not let them fail. When they really need us, we will intervene."

What went unsaid was the caveat, "this year anyway, next year we'll be out of this hellhole and they're on their own."

Brigadier Bob also said something that you weren't likely to hear from guys like Sideshow Steve Harper or Rick "Big Cod" Hillier.

"This is their problem. This is their insurgency. We know for a fact there is no military solution to the insurgency; there is no way the military is going to win a counter-insurgency [war] because it is essentially a political issue. It is a battle of offers: the offer the government makes to the people and the offer the insurgents make to the people." 

Fortunately for the, Canadians seem to have a weak recollection of the nonsense spewed from the mouths of the Conservative leadership and the top ranks of Canada's military when it served their purposes to hype this hopeless war.   Remember how they promised we were going to drive the Talibs out of Afghanistan, whip their asses, and make the country safe for democracy and human rights under the Karzai government?  I suppose they might have been sufficiently incompetent to actually believe that back then but chances are they knew better and were just lying through their teeth. 

Up From the Ground Came a Bubblin' Crude, Bitumen That Is

The latest grand winner in the Athabasca bitumen sweepstakes is the State of Arkansas and what a state it's in thanks to an Exxon Mobil pipeline failure that has released what the company is calling "over 10,000 barrels" of heavy crude.

The pipeline has been shut down and Exxon crews are working to "contain" the spill as in trying to keep it from reaching a nearby lake.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Tom Flanagan's Too Brief Exile

Consider Tom Flanagan rehabilitated.   All it took was a dead premier to get him back in the public eye.   That and the Globe & Mail.

On the occasion of the passing of Ralph Klein, the G&M is running a testimonial from Tom Flanagan:

All politicians say they went into public life “to make a difference.” Ralph Klein actually did make a difference. He showed Alberta – and Canada – how to deal with runaway deficits and public debt.

The Klein model was a steroidal version of short-term pain for long-term gain. Rather than just level off the growth in spending, he made deep actual reductions. He imposed a 5 per cent salary cut on all public servants in Alberta, including teachers, professors and nurses. By moving quickly, he got results. If you try to get rid of deficits over a long period of time, the unexpected will always happen. Tax revenues will decline, or interest rates will go up – maybe both of those, with lots of other contingencies, too.

Ralph Klein certainly has many friends this weekend, perhaps a good many more than he had while he drew breath.   All I can say about Ralph is that he seemed like a much nicer guy while he was still drinking.

Putting America's "Wars of Choice" in Perspective

America, land of the formerly free and home of the lamentably broke.

A recent Harvard study estimated the costs of America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at at least $4-trillion and likely closer to $6-trillion.

That's six trillion taxpayer dollars, a mountain of money that has been essentially borrowed which makes it an ever-growing mountain of debt.

In an era in which politicians find it advantageous to insulate the voting public from the true costs of their leaders' adventures, amounts like this are almost impossible to grasp.   It's understandable that America's pols prefer that the public not know that they're now on the hook, per household, to the tune of $75,000 for the two wars, the pair, the set.   A "brace" of wars?

Seventy-five grand, seventy-five large per household.   Now there's a figure you can almost wrestle with.

''There will be no peace dividend'', is the stark conclusion from the 22-page report from the Kennedy School of Government, ''and the legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be costs that persist for decades''.

"There's a sense that we are turning the corner but, unfortunately, the legacy of these wars, because of decision about the way we fought and funded these wars, means we will be paying the costs for a long time to come,'' Professor Bilmes said. ''We may be mentally turning the page but we are certainly not from a budgetary and financial perspective.''
''More than half of the 1.56 million troops who have been discharged to date have received medical treatment … and been granted benefits for the rest of their lives,'' the report said. It also said the real bills would not fall due for decades to come.

The second major hidden cost of the two conflicts would be servicing the debts incurred as a result of the ''unprecedented'' decision to pay for the wars entirely from debt while cutting taxes during wartime.

And that is the legacy the Republicans bequeathed to the United States.   It was Bush/Cheney who enacted not one, but two major tax cuts for the rich while waging two expensive, protracted and hopeless wars on borrowed money as their nation became increasingly mired in debt and deficits.   That was the true face of oligarchy revealed - only the American people couldn't see it staring straight into their faces.

And now, having done this to their own people, they're going to rape them again by cutting their medicaid, medicare, Social Security, even food stamps to pay for their largesse to the richest of the rich.   Isn't it time to storm the Bastille?

Property Sales Heat Up Post-Hurricane Sandy

A new generation of home buyers, lured by low, post-hurricane prices, are moving in to coastal neighbourhoods devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

They may be on the losing end of a false bargain.   Another storm, even less devastating than Sandy, could send real estate prices in these areas straight to the seabed.   And a recent study found that, while Americans are alive to the sea level rise and storm surge threat, they're not interested in sharing the bill for costly sea walls and other adaptation measures.

It reminds me of a fellow I knew who fell onto hard times after a hurricane battered the Texas coast back in the late 80s.  He had built his dream, retirement house right on the spectacular waterfront.  Lovely place too.  Before he could move in, however, the hurricane hit, demolishing the house and sweeping the sand and what little soil comprised the lot out into the Gulf.  He lost his house and the lot that went with it.

What? And They Took His Stereo Too?

Clark Aposhian heads his state's biggest gun lobby, the Utah Shooting Sports Council.

Aposhian is a true believer in the right to bear arms, including the AR-15 assault rifle.  He even believes in the right of a gunowner to leave an AR-15 unattended in his car overnight.

And that's how dumbass Aposhian woke up Thursday morning to find his personal arsenal shy one assault rifle, the one that had been left in his car.   In his defence, Aposhian noted the weapon was unloaded and stored in a secure box which, presumably, his visitors also took.  Yeah and the buggers also snagged his car stereo.  The nerve.

And, in case you're wondering, yes, that is Clark Aposhian with an AR-15-style assault rifle which he may or may not still possess.  We don't know how many cars he has to store them in.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Natural Gas Is the Answer, Until the Truth Leaks Out

BTU for BTU, natural gas is a lower-emission fossil fuel than oil and, especially, coal.

The snag comes when you realize that those figures cover natural gas that's actually burned and leaves out the quantity of natural gas leaked in the course of extraction, production and transmission.

Last week, investigators studying methane leakage levels in Manhattan reported  alarming preliminary findings. The gas industry and Con Edison estimate 2.2% leakage in its distribution systems, and at leakage above 3.2%, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, natural gas ceases to have any climate advantage over other fossil fuels. But the study found an average cumulative leakage of over 5% in natural gas production and delivery. At these levels, natural gas—93% of which is methane—has a far more potent greenhouse gas impact than burned coal or oil, the authors stated.

"The reports offer the most rigorous analysis of rate loss” to date, Al Appleton, former Commissioner of the NYC DEP, told Alternet, representing a "serious environmental reality.” The study was conducted by Gas Safety, Inc of Southborough, MA, for Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, an Upper Delaware Valley environmental organization that has been at the forefront of the anti-fracking activity in the Marcellus Shale.  

Gas Safety, Inc. recorded actual emissions data during a 160-mile road trip of Manhattan streets.The novel leak surveyor system included a cavity ring-down spectrometer  combined with a GPS system and computer control system. Installed in an automobile with an air sampling line mounted over the rear bumper, (with the inlet facing down approximately one foot above the pavement surface, and the GPS antenna on the roof), the instrument measures and records methane levels in the air above the pavement with an accuracy of a few parts per billion about 4 times per second. The onboard GPS system simultaneously records the location of the instrument as sampling occurs. The survey revealed many leaks, some intense, and few readings at expected methane levels.

According to Dr. Bryce Payne, one of the report’s authors, “The methane leakage in the system serving NYC through ConEd is likely already at a level where the methane leaked has as much, or more, climate impact as the remaining approximately 95% of the gas that is actually usefully burned by consumers in NYC.”  The report states that “the loss of even a few percent of gas during production, transport, distribution and utilization is critically important to management and planning of present and future national and international energy supply and utilization systems.” 

Well, When You See the World From That Perspective...

A poll by the Pew Research Center finds 48% of American Christians believe Jesus is almost here and will show up within the next 40-years.   Only 38 % rule it out or find that improbable.  The remaining 14% were caught up in rapture over the resurrection of the Hostess Twinkie and the Twinkies delicious companion treat, the Ding Dong.

Which invites the question of whether our fundamentalist prime minister, of the hard-core variety of Christian, likewise is betting the farm (and our kids' future) on a speedy return of Jesus?  If so that would go a long way to explaining his utter indifference to looming environmental perils.  Why worry, be happy.  Meanwhile, have one of these:

I Know It's Easter, But

Even if you're a Christian, you're also kind of an atheist.

A Warning for Post-Mulroney Canada

The Conservative heavens aligned and brought us the magic of Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney.   The Gang of Three then introduced us to the era of free trade, outsourcing and the wonders of the "knowledge economy."  In the new era we wouldn't toil with our hands any more but with our minds and endless riches would befall us.

Like all conjuring tricks it seemed to work well enough, for a while, but not forever.

America's manufacturing economy has been gutted, shelled out, lifted up and transported across the seas.   Easy money and low, low interest rates made it possible to extend the illusion of prosperity for decades as real wealth was transferred quietly out of the blue and white-collar middle class and to the richest of the rich.

New wealth did not come from foundries and shipyards and assembly plants but from computer entries and slips of paper passing back and forth.   New wealth was to be bubble wealth, grand illusions of immense prosperity.

Former Republican insider, Kevin Phillips, in his book American Theocracy explored how economic superpowers go through this process of crafting their own demise by outsourcing the manufacturing base that established their wealth and shifting, in its stead, to a knowledge economy, a FIRE (finance/insurance/real estate) economy, generating huge returns in the short and mid-term by using their wealth to grow their eventual successor's manufacturing economy.

In essence, the legacy of Thatcher/Reagan/Mulroney has been the utter selling out of their own nations in pursuit of a deeply flawed ideology.

Now Britain is discovering, quite painfully, that this ideology inevitably leads to a nation in decay.

Britain has been finding it difficult to recover from the financial crisis not just because of its austerity policy but also because of its eroding ability to engage in high-productivity activities. This problem is most tellingly manifested in the country's inability to generate a trade surplus despite the huge devaluation of sterling since 2008.

Compared with its height in 2007, the pound has been devalued about 30% against the dollar, 50% against the yen, and 20% against the struggling euro. Yet despite the huge incentive to export created by such devaluation, Britain is still running trade deficits because it has lost the productive capacity to respond.

Despite the devaluation, Britain's service exports have fallen – average annual service exports for 2008-11 were 8% lower than for 2005-07. This may be understandable, given the poor state of its financial sector – rocked by one scandal after another and hemmed in by a slow tightening of global financial regulation.

However, manufacturing exports, which were supposed to make up the shortfall created by the services sector, also fell by 8% after the devaluation. This is highly unusual. For example, back when South Korea had a devaluation of similar scale after its 1997 financial crisis (the won, its currency, was devalued by 35% against the dollar), the country's manufacturing exports were 15% higher (comparing the 1998-2001 average to 1995-97).

The only reason the British balance of payments situation has not been worse is the large increase in primary commodity exports – oil, minerals and food. These were on average 22% higher in 2008-11 than in 2005-07. In other words, since the crisis the British economy has been moving backwards in terms of its sophistication as a producer.

All of this means that, without addressing the underlying decay in productive capabilities, Britain cannot fix its ailing economy. To deal with this problem, it urgently needs to develop a long-term productive strategy through a broad-based public consultation involving not just the government and private sector firms, but trade unions, educational institutions and research institutes.

The strategy should first carefully identify the industries, and the underlying technologies, that will be the future motor of the economy and then provide them with the necessary support. This could be in the form of subsidies for R&D, loan guarantees for small firms, or preferences in government procurement, and should be targeted at "strategic" industries, although they could also be in the form of policies that are apparently not industry-specific.

For example, infrastructural investment needs to be co-ordinated with the broader industrial strategy. Infrastructure is by definition location-specific, so depending on the industries you want to promote, you will have to build different types of it in different places. Similarly with education and skills. Without there being some national strategy, it is difficult for educators to know what kinds of engineers or technicians to produce, and for potential students to know what professions to study for.

Now, ask yourself what is Canada's industrial strategy?   What are we doing to align infrastructural investment to a broader industrial strategy?  Where lies the future motor of our economy?

If you haven't got a clue, well, neither does Stephen Harper and the same goes for the Liberals and the New Democrats.   That much was obvious as far back as 2009 when the Harper Cons, supported by Iggy and the Libs, passed the farcical stimulus budget, the Pinata Budget.  Remember?  That was the one where the government and opposition, instead of focusing stimulus spending in support of a broader industrial strategy, recklessly squandered it on giving you tax breaks to put a new deck on the family cottage, putting the cost on the tab for your kids to repay.

A study by the Pembina Institute concluded for the mountain of borrowed cash Harper & Iggy tossed haphazardly into the Canadian economy, they could have (and should have) generated 238,000 jobs.  Instead they achieved just 84,000.

Like Britain, like the United States, Canada too needs a healthy industrial economy.  We've become reliant on fossil fuel exports.  We've seen how that has wracked Alberta's economy through boom and bust cycles.   Why would we want to import that vulnerability and instability to the national economy?   Yet that seems to be all Harper can come up with.   He can see no further and he doesn't even try.  He is the embodiment of the One Trick Pony.

Forget this nonsense that's been drummed into our heads about the evils of duties and tariffs.  As former U.S. deputy treasury secretary, Paul Craig Roberts, has pointed out in The Failure of Free Market Capitalism and the Dissolution of the West,  

"The U.S. economy did not develop on the basis of free trade.  If the costs that free traders attribute to trade protection are real, the costs did not prevent America's economic rise.   Indeed much historical research concludes that trade protection was the reason for America's rises as an industrial and manufacturing power."

It's now becoming increasingly accepted in America and in Britain that the way forward from here may be the way back.   

Shroud of Turin, the Sequel, Coming to Your TV

In one of his final acts as Pope, Benny "the Rat" Ratzinger, signed off on another television documentary about the Shroud of Turin.  We haven't seen the Shroud for 40-years since Pope Paul XI allowed it to be shown on TV in 1973.

Previous research suggested it was actually a medieval mock-up, not the real deal, but now we'll have some other researchers disputing the earlier researchers and claiming that it does indeed date back to the time of Jesus.

Shell's Arctic Overture Gets Frosty Reception

Shell's Arctic Challenger drilling rig is supposed to be bound for the northern waters and the oil riches said to lie beneath the sea bed.   Instead it is tied up at a dock in the port of Bellingham, Washington, and it might be there for a while as U.S. prosecutors close in.

The Coast Guard has asked the Justice Department to investigate possible pollution violations by both the drilling rigs Shell used in its botched efforts to explore for oil last year in the Arctic Ocean waters off the northern coast of Alaska. 

In a case eerily reminiscent of the Deepwater Horizon fiasco, Shell is being accused of failing to properly oversee the actions of its contractors who operated the drilling rigs.

Shell screwed up in 2012,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar, whose agency released a review of Shell’s efforts 

Thursday, said the company won’t be allowed to drill again off the Arctic coast until it presents a plan showing that it can better handle conditions there.

The Interior Department’s report said Shell’s problems have raised serious questions about its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging conditions off Alaska. The report said Shell entered the drilling season “not fully prepared in terms of fabricating and testing certain critical systems and establishing the scope of its operational plans.”

“One of the recurring themes that we identified throughout the review was the failure on the part of Shell to oversee contractors that they relied on for critical components of their operations,” Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau, who led the probe for the Interior Department, said in a conference call with reporters. 

But, hey, what could go wrong?  It's only stormy and cold and remote and dark half the year and, at times, really icy and...

The Justice Department is probing 16 safety and environmental violations the Coast Guard found on the Noble Discoverer, one of two Arctic drilling rigs Shell is using. It’s owned and operated by Shell contractor Noble Corp.

The Coast Guard also is investigating the circumstances of the Dec. 31 grounding of Shell’s other Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk. It was being towed by Shell contractor Edison Chouest Offshore at the time.

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And How Did That Work Out For You?

It's settled now that Iraq's oil riches pretty much sealed Saddam Hussein's fate.   The Anglo-American conquest of Iraq was heavily an oil-driven decision.   And wasn't it nice of the Americans to avoid bombing Iraq's oil infrastructure and to make it the first of the few things they actually secured after they toppled Saddam?

And now, a decade later, Iraq is on the verge of becoming the world's second-largest oil producer.  Oh boy, all those years of war and suffering are finally paying off.    Sure, that is if you're China.

America, with its own homegrown energy bonanza, isn’t going after the petroleum that lies beneath Iraq’s sands nearly as aggressively as is China, a country hungry to fuel its rise as an economic power.

Iraq remains highly unstable in terms of security, infrastructure and politics. Chinese state-owned oil companies appear more willing to put up with that than Americans are.

“The Chinese have a higher tolerance for risk,” said Gal Luft, a co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, a Washington research center focused on energy.

The International Energy Agency expects China to become the main customer for Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Fatih Birol, the agency’s chief economist, recently declared “a new trade axis is being formed between Baghdad and Beijing.” Birol said that about 80 percent of Iraq’s future oil exports were expected to go to Asia, mainly to China.

Isn't America generous?  It spent trillions of dollars to make Iran the dominant power in the region and to allow China to stitch up Iraq's oil reserves (hint, Beijing is doing the same with Iran's oil).

All the King's Horses and All the King's Men....

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Updated - Why Stephen Harper Turned Canada's Back on Our Warming World

We're out.  The Harper government has pulled Canada out of the U.N. convention to fight drought in the world.

We're officially the only country to exit the drought agreement.  Every other nation remains a party to the convention.

We stand alone, supposedly because John Baird wasn't pleased with "the results" the group had achieved.   With a government as duplicitous and secretive as Harper's we can only guess at this government's true motives.  It certainly wasn't the trifling amount Canada was contributing to the effort.  For the period 2010 to 2013 Canada kicked in a whopping $283,000.

Canada signed the convention in 1994 and ratified it in 1995. Every UN nation – 194 countries and the European Union – is currently a party to it.

The UN body has a research committee dedicated to finding ways to stop the spread of droughts that lay waste to farmland across the planet, particularly Africa.

Scientists, governments and civil society organizations are headed to Bonn next month “to carry out the first ever comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of desertification, land degradation and drought,” says a notice from the United Nations Environment Program.

The convention is to tackle the growing problems of drought and desertification that are spreading worldwide.   But of course we wouldn't know anything about that here in Canada, would we?

Maybe to Harper it's just all part of that global warming extremism.  Haven't you heard?  The Earth has been cooling since 2000!  Ask any denialist.   Just don't ask people who actually observe, measure and record stuff - like facts.  They're run the numbers and found their predictions for the past 15-years have been spot on.   The broken line is what has been forecast and the red line is the actual results.   And, gee, that line is going up, just like they predicted.

Update -

Now we know exactly why Harper pulled the pin on the U.N. drought convention:

The government’s decision to pull Canada out of the convention came just one month before a major scientific gathering to be hosted by the Bonn-based secretariat of the UN convention.

The meeting would have forced Canada to confront scientific analysis on the effects of climate change, droughts and encroaching deserts. The Harper government has been vilified an as outlier on climate change policy in past international meetings.

“Anything that they’re involved in that can lead to more evidence that we’re a planet in crisis environmentally they don’t want to be part of,” said Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians and the author of a forthcoming book on global droughts.

“They simply do not want this information coming forward.”

Harper & Co. have made Canada a disgrace to the world community and they have disgraced all of us.   Their conniving secrecy and dishonesty reveals the depth of their loathing and contempt for our country and our people.  They are a collective abomination on our land.

Americans Want Climate Change Protection, Just Not the Bill

Stanford researchers have found Americans believe in climate change and acknowledge the risks but just don't want to pay for the measures that would be needed to deal with them.

The survey, commissioned by two departments at Stanford University, the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Center for Ocean Solutions, was the first to investigate public attitudes towards planning for a future of sea-level rise and extreme storms.

It found a sharp disconnect between Americans' acknowledgement of climate risks – which was high – and their willingness to pay for solutions.

"I think it's a real challenge for them," said Jon Krosnick, the Stanford professor who oversaw the survey. "I think there is a fundamental disconnect."

Those surveyed were especially wary of setting up a direct confrontation with natural forces, such as building sea walls or trucking in sand to eroding beaches. They did not see the point of paying people to leave areas at risk from extreme storms and rising seas.

The survey found high awareness of the risks of climate change – and broad acceptance of the need to plan for a hotter and more unpredictable climate. Some 82% of respondents believed in the existence of climate change. More than 70% believed climate change would lead to dangerous sea-level rise and more damaging storms. And a strong majority of those surveyed said it was important to act on climate change.

Some 80% believed the cost of coastal protections should be carried by those living in coastal communities.

Could climate change transform America into an "every man for himself" society?  Could it leave the country divided?   Or is this research simply another reflection of a greater disconnect that currently afflicts American society, leaving it weakened and divided at the time when it most needs cohesiveness?

The U.S. Legacy from Iraq and Afghanistan - Only a Nuclear Attack Could be Worse

The costs and political fallout from America's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are and will continue to be enormous, somewhere between 4 and 6-trillion dollars.   That could be almost as damaging to American security than if the U.S. suffered a nuclear attack.

Money, ultimately, is power. In context, it would take a nuclear strike on the United States to inflict the kind of economic damage that the wars have reaped. The only nations capable of inflicting such damage are disinclined toward doing so; and no non-state actor will plausibly obtain the capability to match such a threat. All of that damage is the result not of what bin Laden or Saddam Hussein or the insurgencies that began in their wake did to America, but because of how American strategiests chose to respond. As Radiohead once sang, you do it to yourself, and that’s why it really hurts. 

Linda J. Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School estimates that the wars bin Laden provoked the U.S. into launching over the past decade have cost “somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion.” She reaches that staggeringly high total by calculating not just what the U.S. spent on fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also what it will spend on veterans’ health care and benefits; equipment refurbishment; future commitments made to the Iraqi and Afghan governments the U.S. sponsors; and the repayment of the debt incurred by financing the wars through foreign borrowing. Notably, by Bilmes’ framework, the real costs of the wars will only manifest long after the troops have come home.

She’s also under-counting. The shadow wars in Yemen, Pakistan, east Africa and north-central Africa will not cost nearly as much as the Army-intensive wars of Iraq or Afghanistan. But they’ll still cost something, either through leased infrastructure to base aircraft and special-operations forces; political commitments to host governments; support to allied war efforts; and some personnel costs. All these wars have the same wellspring as Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. overreaction to terrorism.

“One of the most significant challenges to future US national security policy will not originate from any external threat,” Bilmes writes. “Rather it is simply coping with the legacy of the conflicts we have already fought in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

In the run-up to the invasion and conquest of Iraq, Rumsfeld's minions estimated (and budgeted) for a total cost of between $60- to 95-billion.

Two Simple Questions That Might Just Give You Fits

Two seemingly simple questions.   What is information?  What is its relation to reality?   Give them a shot.  You could win ten grand.  I'm not competing but questions like this do almost demand answers.

Surely information is, in essence, a conveyance.  It is the transmission of something - a thought, an idea, an image - to one or more sensory receptors.   Touch can be a conveyance of information.   So too can smell or taste.  We receive information from sound as well as from images.

In its classical iteration, information had an essentially tutorial connotation.  It was a form of instruction, a transmission of knowledge.  

Information, to be conveyed, must be arranged in forms common to the conveyor and the recipient.   It requires some measure of shared experience or knowledge such as a language or common grasp of mathematical or physical states.   Deprived of linguistic commonality we can be quickly reduced, despite all our shared knowledge and experience, to a game of Charades, a trial and error guessing game.

In today's society information is often streamed.  There are so many communications options that we choose to receive information in forms that suit our narrow interests or purposes or beliefs.   We look for conformal information, information that reinforces what we prefer to learn and believe.  In the process, we severely narrow our outlook and exclude information not on the basis of its relevance but out of preference.

As Tim Flannery notes in his recent book, Here on Earth, we in the developed world are evolving into a society of high-functioning simpletons where we become very good at just one or two things and dependent on others to provide all the other goods and services we require just to live from day to day.   As individuals, most of us are quite incapable of feeding ourselves or of defending ourselves, our families and our property, or repairing our shelter and vehicles, just about anything.

We take in immense volumes of information, most of it purely vocational and with limited social context.   This managed information stream leaves us highly capable in a narrow context and even more highly dependent and vulnerable in the broader context of human life.   Flannery unfavourably contrasts us with the New Guinea tribesman who must, at any moment, be able to protect his family and tribe against venomous and predatory wildlife, build and repair his own home, tend to his own injuries, hunt his food and gather root vegetables, defend his tribe against rivals and regulate his family and community.   That is the sort of "whole of brain" existence we have long abandoned in joining our human ant colony.

Information in modern society has become commodified as never before, an inevitable incident of a powerfully concentrated, corporate mass media cartel.   Information, in the sense of news, is generally something in the public domain, facts that cannot be owned and denied others.   This poses a challenge the cartel has sought to overcome.

When the earthquake hits, everyone is free to write about it.  A particular story can be copyrighted but not the event itself.  The corporate media have found ways around this.   News itself may be public domain and, hence, not particularly marketable, but news spun and transformed into messaging adds an advertorial or public relations quality to it that is truly marketable.   In this way corporate media and unprincipled regulators become mutually corrupting, each extracting a valuable benefit from the other with the price to be paid by a third party, the public at whom the messaging is aimed.

Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, wryly observed that people who do not read newspapers are uninformed while those who do read newspapers are misinformed.   That is the devilish quality of information - the malevolent purposes to which it so readily lends itself.

Now to the second question, how does information relate to reality?

Reality is much harder to define for the very act of defining it transforms reality into a different state, one that bears the imprint of all one's knowledge, all one's ignorance, all of one's experience and biases, fears, preferences and prejudices.

No two people can ever see reality quite the same way.   We can get very close or, as we see far too regularly today, we can look at reality and see it much differently from one to another.

The first and most vexing aspect of reality is that we don't understand it and the more we try the more elusive reality can become.

One might assume that reality, in its purest and most identifiable form, inhabits the world of mathematics and physical science.  That would be a false assumption.

Here's a question.   Can reality exist without time?  If so, we're in trouble.  I once listened to an interview with a U.S. Navy Commander who was in charge of the American's atomic clock at the Naval Observatory.   This guy was basically the timekeeper for the world.   Yet he freely volunteered that neither he nor anyone else could prove that time existed or, if it does, just what it is.  In the span of fifteen, perhaps twenty seconds, this fellow quite convincingly made his point.  Scientific American, I believe, devoted almost an entire edition to this question a year or two ago.

Reality opens both scientific and philosophical challenges to its existence.

René Descartes decided to work out what he was sure he knew. Legend has it that he climbed into a large stove to do so in warmth and solitude. He emerged declaring that the only thing he knew was that there was something that was doubting everything.

The logical conclusion of Descartes’s doubt is solipsism, the conviction that one’s own consciousness is all there is. It’s an idea that is difficult to refute.

Perhaps reality is simply knowledge, what Plato described as "justified true belief."   That would certainly be a working definition that avoids the philosophical tar pits from which, once falling in, you can never hope to emerge.  It's also the only definition that accommodates exploration of the relationship between reality and information.

In the construct of reality being the result of justified true belief then information, of specific varieties, is essential.   Those who take existence "on faith" (like our Conservative government and its fundamentalist ruler) dispense with the need for justified true belief.  To them reality is what they choose to believe it is, not what can be justifiably shown to be true.  Their world greatly discounts science and fact.    When you amputate truth from reality, you're left with the mutilated corpse of fantasy, blind hope and wishful, magical thinking.

Information then, in its purest form, purged as much as possible of bias, prejudice, fears and ignorance, must be the cornerstone of any functioning reality.   Whether reality actually exists no one can say but we have to accept that it does because the alternative would be unimaginably horrific.

But for information to play its fullest role in maintaining the health of a functional reality, it's up to us to insist that the information we accept is subject to the most grueling scrutiny and capable of the highest proof we can achieve.   With each passing year that means filtering out and discarding more of the suspect information that continues to grow and fill our consciousness.   We have to become more vigilant and more disciplined in vetting the information we accept in our lives, the facts we permit to inform our reality.

Certainly as never before in my lifetime today we must strive to safeguard genuine information from the onslaught of contrivance and manipulation.   Societies do not become detached from reality by accident.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jim Carrey's "Cold Dead Hand"

China Grabs Ecuadorean Amazon for Oil

A team of Ecuadorean politicians is in Beijing.   They bring gifts - more than three million hectares of pristine Amazon rainforest that is to be auctioned off to Chinese oil companies.

On Monday morning a group of Ecuadorean politicians pitched bidding contracts to representatives of Chinese oil companies at a Hilton hotel in central Beijing, on the fourth leg of a roadshow to publicise the bidding process. Previous meetings in Ecuador's capital, Quito, and in Houston and Paris were each confronted with protests by indigenous groups.

Attending the roadshow were black-suited representatives from oil companies including China Petrochemical and China National Offshore Oil. "Ecuador is willing to establish a relationship of mutual benefit – a win-win relationship," said Ecuador's ambassador to China in opening remarks.

According to the California-based NGO Amazon Watch, seven indigenous groups who inhabit the land claim that they have not consented to oil projects, which would devastate the area's environment and threaten their traditional way of life.

Peru offers a look at what the future holds for Ecuador's indigenous peoples of the Amazon when Big Oil comes to the rainforest.

Peru has declared an environmental state of emergency in a remote part of its northern Amazon rainforest, home for decades to one of the country's biggest oil fields, currently operated by the Argentinian company Pluspetrol.

Peru's environment ministry has given Pluspetrol 90 days to clean up the affected areas and reduce the risk of contamination to the local population.

In declaring the state of emergency, Peru's environment ministry said tests in February and March found high levels of barium, lead, chrome and petroleum-related compounds at different points in the Pastaza valley.

Pluspetrol, the biggest oil and natural gas producer in Peru, has operated the oil fields since 2001. It took over from [California based] Occidental Petroleum, which began drilling in 1971, and, according to the government, had not cleaned up contamination either.

The Occidental Petroleum issue is highlighted because it might be a good indicator of what we're going to face when Big Oil vacates Athabasca.

Will Climate Change Drive Britain Back Into Recession?

Britain's Tory government is hoping desperately to avoid a "triple dip" recession on its watch.   The Cameron government eked out a 0.1% growth for the three months ending March 1st, about as slender a margin as they come.

Recently, however, the British Isles have been plunged into a deep freeze that researchers are now attributing to atmospheric changes triggered by the loss of Arctic sea ice.   Now it seems the cold snap could plunge Britain into yet another recession, the "triple dip."

...amid reports of empty shopping malls, closed schools and factory shutdowns, analysts said the weather increased the chance that the fall in activity in the final three months of 2012 would be followed by another quarter of falling gross domestic product in early 2013 – thus satisfying the official definition of a recession.

Economists said the cold snap would affect takings at pubs and restaurants, while parents would have had to take time off work to look after their children when the schools were closed. Manufacturing firms were likely to be affected by disrupted supply chains.

The outlook for Britain is anything but promising.  The U.K. deep freeze is expected to continue until the end of April.   April, Britain, freezing, really?  It's difficult to grasp the enormity of climate change in the U.K.   For centuries it's been a damp, soggy, mild sort of place save for the northlands.   Over the past two years it has gone from mega-drought to mega-floods to sustained freezing conditions across the length of the country.   Britain is not built nor is it organized for these conditions.  British agriculture, for example, is facing a crisis worse than the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak of 2001.

Farming faces a perfect storm. Appalling weather – 2012 was the second wettest year on record in England – has coincided with disease in livestock, including bovine TB and Schmallenberg in sheep, which causes birth defects. On top of this there are commercial pressures, with retailers driving prices down because of the state of the economy, combined with the cost of animal feed needed to replace poor quality silage due to the weather, shooting up by 40%.

As a result, farmers are seeing incomes slashed. According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), some livestock farmers have seen incomes cut by more than 50% to only £14,000 a year, while dairy farmers have seen decreases of more than 40%

Britain should be a wake-up call for Canada and for all our parties, Conservative, Liberal and NDP.  If ever there was a time to reinstate the "Precautionary Principle" this surely must be it.

A triple dip recession would be the first recorded in Britain.  Wait a second, was the Black Death just a single dip recession?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Welcome to Vancouver Island's Bubbly Gulch.

Deep beneath the ocean surface, in Bubbly Gulch off Vancouver Island, a crab doing an inadvertent backflip has given scientists new information about the world’s largest source of untapped fossil energy.

The crab was taking a Jacuzzi-style bath in bubbles of methane gas percolating from the ocean floor in Barkley Canyon when its muddy face was caught by cameras on Wally the Crawler, NEPTUNE Canada’s undersea robot.

The methane bubbles — which are lighter than water — stuck under the crab’s shell, upsetting its balance and fascinating NEPTUNE scientists looking at the changing rates of bubbles and whether a warming ocean is affecting the ice-encased gas hydrates.

“This is cutting edge. There’s no other place in the world where they are monitoring hydrates like we do,” said Kate Moran, president of Oceans Network Canada, which manages the University of Victoria-led NEPTUNE underwater laboratory.
Gas hydrates, structures formed from a mixture of water and gas, have long interested scientists and energy companies, but they are stable only at high pressure or low temperature.

“If you are quick enough and put a match to it, it burns in your hand,” said NEPTUNE gas hydrates researcher Martin Scherwath.

A Warming Ocean and Albion Freezes

The British Isles have been plunged into a sudden deep freeze and researchers are blaming a rapidly warming Arctic Ocean.   The Arctic, which has seen a loss of 80% of its sea ice volume in the past 30-years, is having powerful impacts over an increasingly large area of the northern hemisphere.

According to Jennifer Francis [research professor with the Rutgers Institute of Coastal and Marine Science] and a growing body of other researchers, the Arctic ice loss adds heat to the ocean and atmosphere which shifts the position of the jet stream – the high-altitude river of air that steers storm systems and governs most weather in northern hemisphere.

"This is what is affecting the jet stream and leading to the extreme weather we are seeing in mid-latitudes," she said. "It allows the cold air from the Arctic to plunge much further south. The pattern can be slow to change because the [southern] wave of the jet stream is getting bigger. It's now at a near record position, so whatever weather you have now is going to stick around," she said.

A recent paper by the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also found that enhanced warming of the Arctic influenced weather across the northern hemisphere.

"With more solar energy going into the Arctic Ocean because of lost ice, there is reason to expect more extreme weather events, such as heavy snowfall, heat waves, and flooding in North America and Europe," said the researchers.

The Met Office's chief scientist has previously said the melting Arctic ice is in part responsible for the UK's recent colder winters.

...the UK's government's outgoing chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington warned that the world could expect more extremes of weather.

"The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are going to have more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms." He said that said there was a "need for urgency" in tackling climate change.

"These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale," he warned. Last year saw record heat, rainfall, drought and floods in the northern hemisphere.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

If We Only Had a Free Press in Canada

Imagine if Canada had journalists like BBC's Eddie Mair here seen grilling London mayor Boris Johnson.   Imagine if someone in Canada had the courage to sit down with Sideshow Steve Harper and take him through his own lies and manipulations.  It would be hard to get through that in a half hour but it would be delightful.

Waging Class War is One Thing, Winning It Before the Other Side Knows About It is Everything

Bad news for working class America, white and blue collar - the class war they never really understood had been waged against them for the past three decades is over and they lost.

A team of researchers from the U.S. government and Brookings Institute pored over 350,000 tax returns from 1987 to 2009. The exercise led them to conclude that income inequality is not merely vast but, far worse, permanent.

"For total house-hold income, the large increase in inequality over our sample period was predominantly,though not entirely, permanent. For this broader income category, both the permanent and the transitory parts of the cross-sectional variance increased, but the permanent variance contributed the bulk of the increase in total." 

America's massive transfer of unearned wealth (the very thing those Tea Partiers are sure some socialist bastard is planning to spring on them the moment they drop their guard) has already happened while they were looking in the other direction, away from the sneak thieves.   The wealth they fear losing is already lost.   The future they fear will be denied is already foreclosed.   They have been manipulated, duped, bamboozled well enough and long enough not only to fix their fate but to seal it permanently and for generations to come.

That ugly flushing sound you hear is American democracy swirling down the drain, making way for the ascendant corporatist oligarchy, a term one of this blog's readers pointed out is now called "inverted totalitarianism."   You should follow the link and read the Wiki entry and then go on to the source material for, as America goes, too often does Canada follow.   Inverted totalitarianism is one of those systems that is rigid, authoritarian, and of course politically, economically and socially suppressive, the very thing that used to creep us out about the Nazis and Commies.  Welcome to the Precariat.   You're a member in good standing and they're already calling us "dangerous."

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Socialism for Small Business?

John Kenneth Galbraith is remembered for declaring that the only form of socialism that would be acceptable in America was socialism for the rich.

Now Britain's Labour Party, looking for ways to drum up support before sweeping aside the Conservatives in the next elections, is promising state intervention to protect small business against the abuses and excesses of big business.

[Labour Party] shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna raised the prospect of automatic sanctions for big companies that fail to pay their suppliers on time.

Umunna said the UK's late-payment culture was "outrageous" and warned that a future Labour government would consider banning firms from public contracts under a tough new sanctions regime.

The shadow business secretary outlined action against late payment in a series of measures announced to the annual conference of the Federation of Small Businesses.

"Too many small businesses are effectively bankrolling bigger businesses that refuse to pay them on time. This is outrageous," Umunna said.

"In government we legislated so that late payments can incur interest, and we established the prompt payment code. But I know how hard it can be to challenge your own customers.

"So, the next Labour government will expose those who pay late and we will seek to put in place a regime that will automatically trigger action against late payers, perhaps by preventing them winning public contracts and through reporting requirements on payment performance in their company accounts."

The Waning Days of the First Republic

It's not difficult to conclude we are witnessing the rise of pre-revolutionary America.   From the ravages of globalization and the offshoring of the nation's manufacturing base which once nurtured America's middle class to still rapidly growing inequality that is the worst, by far, in the developed world and marked by poverty levels now encroaching on segments of the population that were once securely middle class to the decline of American democracy and the rise in its stead of authoritarian oligarchy and corporatism, the country has become a pressure cooker with no functioning safety valve.

Consider this observation from David Cay Johnston, researcher and author of books such as Perfectly Legal, Free Lunch and The Fine Print:

From 1966 – when Lyndon Johnson was president -- to 2011, 45 years later, the bottom 90 percent of Americans’ average income, as reported on tax returns, went up by a stunning $59 -- almost no change at all. If you measure that $59 increase for the vast majority of Americans as one inch, then on the same scale, the incomes of those in the top ten percent went up by 168 feet. The top one percent, 888 feet. The plutocrats -- the Mitt Romney crowd, the top one percent of the top one percent? Their incomes rose by almost five miles relative to that one inch.

We are falling behind left and right. We have a Congress that just cut money for scientific research. We’ve got people who are idiots. I mean that word very clearly, “idiots”, like Sarah Palin going around saying, “Why are we paying for fruit fly research?” Anybody who understands science knows that massive advancements in human knowledge – knowledge that has saved lives -- have come from studying fruit flies. If you’re an idiot like Sarah Palin, if you’re Donald Trump, if you’re Senator Cruz from Texas, then you don’t get it.

We really have to get a society that’s based on science and knowledge (sound familiar?), that has an economic system that’s based on competitive markets with protections for consumers. While the rest of the world’s going to run right by us, we’re falling behind!

America doesn't have all that many options remaining to its people. They can stage Tea Party rallies while essentially doing nothing to forestall their decline.  They can harness their grievances and discontent to drive a new progressive era to restore their democracy and reclaim their civil, political, human and economic rights.  Or, as Chris Hedges writes, they can endure revolution and run the risk of all the uncertain and usually awful ordeals that follow in the wake of revolt.

Perhaps within a decade or two we will see the end of the first American Republic and the birth of the Second Republic.