Thursday, May 30, 2013

Some Times the Words Just Aren't There

I think I'll take a break for a few days.  I spent too much time this morning trying to find a clever way to frame that first sentence but the words just weren't there.

Time to take a breather, to take stock.  The events of the past few weeks; the mountains of deception, duplicity, evasion and manipulation; the scandals from legislatures to Toronto City Hall, the Senate and the Prime Minister's Office, Elections Canada, the RCMP, one dodgy Harper associate after another - it's just too dispiriting to go at without a break.

Harper said we'd never recognize Canada when he's done with it but he never explained that was because he planned to cover it in his own filth.

Time to step away, take a break.

Back in a few.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Batshit Crazy Loses a Champion

We'll miss her when she's gone.   The Queen of Batshit Crazy has announced she won't seek re-election.

The Science of Climate Change Denialism

Denialism as a science?   It could be a social science, the science of manipulating public consciousness to produce a predictable effect, the divergence of public opinion from fact.

What is denialism but a carefully researched, very refined and focused form of propaganda?   The Pentagon's DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, has launched a study into the neuroscience underlying propaganda, how people fall prey to indoctrination and the physical changes they undergo.

Existing technology can carry out micro-facial feature analysis, and measure the dilation of blood vessels and eye pupils. MRI machines can determine which parts of your brain is lighting up when it responds to stories. Darpa wants to do even better.

In fact, it’s calling for devices that detect the influence of stories in unseen ways. “Efforts that rely solely on standoff/non-invasive/non-detectable sensors are highly encouraged,” the solicitation reads.

Forget lie detectors; invisible propaganda-detectors are the future.

In effect, propaganda messes with your mind - at least if you're susceptible to it.   And the denialism industry are past masters at the science of using propaganda to inculcate misconception.

An illustration of this emerged from a study released by Skeptical Science that found the scientific consensus supporting anthropogenic or man-made global warming at a solid 97% whereas public perception had just 45% believing that there was such a consensus.   How did 55% come to believe that the issue was still unresolved?

When the Skeptical Science study came out it was promptly engaged by the denialists employing the five techniques of denialism:

A 2009 paper published in the European Journal of Public Health by Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee discussed five characteristics common to scientific denialism:

1) Cherry picking;
2) Fake experts;
3) Misrepresentation and logical fallacies.
4) Impossible expectations of what research can deliver; and
5) Conspiracy theories;

These characteristics were present throughout the criticisms of our paper, and in fact we found examples of each of the five characteristics among them.

A detailed look at how each of these tactics was engaged is to be found in The Guardian.   These techniques, of themselves, probably aren't science, but the neuroscience that underlies them obviously is.

Those On the Run Rarely Help Their Pursuers

When you're being hunted down, chances are you're not going to help your pursuers.

Canada's chief electoral officer complains that Conservative Party workers have "failed to co-operate" with an investigation into the fraudulent robocalls scandal.   That has led Marc Mayrand to appear before a House of Commons committee to yet again ask for greater powers to compel witnesses to testify.

Conservatives failing to cooperate with an investigation into wrongdoing?  Sort of like senator Duffy being ordered not to cooperate with independent auditors appointed by the Senate to investigate his expenses?  And this is, after all, the government of "transparency and accountability," right?  And even after a Federal Court judge ruled these robocalls were clear electoral fraud, right?  Electoral fraud as in subversion of Canadian democracy, right?

And Mayrand pulled no punches in predicting that, unless tough measures are in place by the end of the year,  "My fear is that we see a re-occurrence of issues that we saw in the last general election, that further undermined electors' confidence and breeds disengagement and cynicism among electors."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Pig With Lipstick is Still a Pig, Not a Greyhound.

Stephen Harper is still intent on saddling the RCAF with the F-35 light attack bomber.   The so-called "reset button" that his government supposedly pushed to launch a full-blown fighter competition is being dismissed by some of Lockheed's competitors as a farce.

Here's the thing.   There won't be a valid competition without a fly-off that involves getting all the competitors up to Cold Lake to see how they each perform in various mission scenarios and against each other.   That's not about to happen - mainly because the F-35 probably wouldn't do terribly well.   That's mainly because it's not a fighter but a light attack bomber.  Just ask Paul Metz.

Metz was the lead test pilot for Northrop's YF-23 stealth fighter that lost to rival Lockheed's YF-22 Raptor in the American air force competition to become that country's air superiority fighter.   Fortunately for Metz, once the Northrop offering was knocked out of the running, Lockheed chose him to be its chief test pilot for the F-22.

Metz was interviewed - way back in 1998 kids (when you were still using fake ID to buy beer) - about what made the F-22 such a formidable fighter.   His explanation also reveals why the F-35 isn't much of a fighter.

"The decision to integrate the technologies of stealth, supercruise, super-maneuverability and sensor fusion was the result of significant advances in each of these areas in the 1970s and 80s. In particular, stealth technology had advanced to the point that high lift, high angle of attack aerodynamic shapes could co-exist with stealth requirements.

"Supercruise is vital to the entire concept of a stealthy fighter. Stealth alone does not make you 'invisible' , only very small. Speed confounds the enemy's problem by reducing the time allowed to detect, lock on, launch and have the missile or gun rounds reach your aircraft. Taken to its extreme, a fighter that could travel at the speed of light could probably survive on its speed alone. By the time you saw your speed-of-light fighter, it would be long gone. The F-22 has yet to conquer warp speeds but the high sustained supercruise speeds are a distinct advantage in evading the enemies weapons. 

"The F-22's thrust-vectoring can provide remarkable nose pointing agility should the fighter pilot choose to use it. What is not widely known is that thrust-vectoring plays a big role in high speed, supersonic maneuvering. All aircraft experience a loss of control effectiveness at supersonic speeds. To generate the same maneuver supersonically as subsonically, the controls must be deflected further. This, in turn, results in a big increase in supersonic trim drag and a subsequent loss in acceleration and turn performance. The F-22 offsets this trim drag, not with the horizontal tails, which is the classic approach, but with the thrust vectoring. With a negligible change in forward thrust, the F-22 continues to have relatively low drag at supersonic maneuvering speed.

" Stealth, supercruise and supermaneuverability are the components of the pilot's 'chariot'.  

Unlike its competition, the F-35 is not supercruise capable.   It is capable of supersonic flight in afterburner but at the penalty of massive fuel consumption which greatly limits its range.  That's a big deficiency for the interceptor mission. The F-35 also does not have thrust vectoring.  It already has a weight problem that has caused designers to remove vital safety equipment.  It is single-engine which leaves it vulnerable to ground fire, especially from shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles.  This vulnerability coupled with fuel and weapon limitations leaves it a poor choice for the sort of ground support missions we flew in Libya and our allies provided in Afghanistan.

In other words, it's lame in the air defence role, in the air superiority role, and in the ground support role, all three main missions of a genuine fighter aircraft.   That leaves it with one mission - light attack bomber. 

Which is why we won't be seeing the F-35 put through a fly-off competition.  The lipstick might come off. 

A War Without Name Is A War Without Meaning - Bacevich

Retired U.S. Army colonel turned professor, Andrew Bacevich, says, when it comes to warfare, "a rose by any other name" just doesn't cut it.  Bacevich tries on several names for the war of the past decade, looking for a proper fit.  Here are his options - The Long War; The War Against Al-Qaeda; The War For/Against/About Israel; The War For the Greater Middle East; the War Against Islam; and, perhaps by default, The Eternal War

Names bestow meaning.  When it comes to war, a name attached to a date can shape our understanding of what the conflict was all about.  To specify when a war began and when it ended is to privilege certain explanations of its significance while discrediting others. Let me provide a few illustrations.

With rare exceptions, Americans today characterize the horrendous fraternal bloodletting of 1861-1865 as the Civil War.  Yet not many decades ago, diehard supporters of the Lost Cause insisted on referring to that conflict as the War Between the States or the War for Southern Independence (or even the War of Northern Aggression).  The South may have gone down in defeat, but the purposes for which Southerners had fought -- preserving a distinctive way of life and the principle of states’ rights -- had been worthy, even noble.  So at least they professed to believe, with their preferred names for the war reflecting that belief.

 So, yes, it matters what we choose to call the military enterprise we’ve been waging not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in any number of other countries scattered hither and yon across the Islamic world.  Although the Obama administration appears no more interested than the Bush administration in saying when that enterprise will actually end, the date we choose as its starting point also matters.

Although Washington seems in no hurry to name its nameless war -- and will no doubt settle on something self-serving or anodyne if it ever finally addresses the issue -- perhaps we should jump-start the process.  Let’s consider some possible options, names that might actually explain what’s going on.

The Long War: Coined not long after 9/11 by senior officers in the Pentagon, this formulation never gained traction with either civilian officials or the general public.  Yet the Long War deserves consideration, even though -- or perhaps because -- it has lost its luster with the passage of time.

For Long War combatants, the object of the exercise has become to persist.  As for winning, it’s not in the cards. The Long War just might conclude by the end of 2014 if President Obama keeps his pledge to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan and if he avoids getting sucked into Syria’s civil war.  So the troops may hope.

The War Against Al-Qaeda: It began in August 1996 when Osama bin Laden issued a "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” i.e., Saudi Arabia.  In February 1998, a second bin Laden manifesto announced that killing Americans, military and civilian alike, had become “an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

...By the end of President Obama’s first term, U.S. intelligence agencies were reporting that a combined CIA/military campaign had largely destroyed bin Laden’s organization.  Bin Laden himself, of course, was dead. 

Could the United States have declared victory in its unnamed war at this point?  Perhaps, but it gave little thought to doing so.  Instead, the national security apparatus had already trained its sights on various al-Qaeda “franchises” and wannabes, militant groups claiming the bin Laden brand and waging their own version of jihad.  These offshoots emerged in the Maghreb, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, and -- wouldn’t you know it -- post-Saddam Iraq, among other places.  The question as to whether they actually posed a danger to the United States got, at best, passing attention -- the label “al-Qaeda” eliciting the same sort of Pavlovian response that the word “communist” once did.

Americans should not expect this war to end anytime soon.  Indeed, the Pentagon’s impresario of special operations recently speculated -- by no means unhappily -- that it would continue globally for “at least 10 to 20 years.”   Freely translated, his statement undoubtedly means: “No one really knows, but we’re planning to keep at it for one helluva long time.”

The War For/Against/About Israel: It began in 1948.  For many Jews, the founding of the state of Israel signified an ancient hope fulfilled.  For many Christians, conscious of the sin of anti-Semitism that had culminated in the Holocaust, it offered a way to ease guilty consciences, albeit mostly at others’ expense.  For many Muslims, especially Arabs, and most acutely Arabs who had been living in Palestine, the founding of the Jewish state represented a grave injustice.  It was yet another unwelcome intrusion engineered by the West -- colonialism by another name.

The War for the Greater Middle East: I confess that this is the name I would choose for Washington’s unnamed war and is, in fact, the title of a course I teach.  (A tempting alternative is the Second Hundred Years War, the "first" having begun in 1337 and ended in 1453.)

This war is about to hit the century mark, its opening chapter coinciding with the onset of World War I.  Not long after the fighting on the Western Front in Europe had settled into a stalemate, the British government, looking for ways to gain the upper hand, set out to dismantle the Ottoman Empire whose rulers had foolishly thrown in their lot with the German Reich against the Allies.

By the time the war ended with Germany and the Turks on the losing side, Great Britain had already begun to draw up new boundaries, invent states, and install rulers to suit its predilections, while also issuing mutually contradictory promises to groups inhabiting these new precincts of its empire.  Toward what end?  Simply put, the British were intent on calling the shots from Egypt to India, whether by governing through intermediaries or ruling directly.  The result was a new Middle East and a total mess.

What does the United States hope to achieve in its inherited and unending War for the Greater Middle East?  To pacify the region?  To remake it in our image?  To drain its stocks of petroleum?  Or just keeping the lid on?  However you define the war’s aims, things have not gone well, which once again suggests that, in some form, it will continue for some time to come.  If there’s any good news here, it’s the prospect of having ever more material for my seminar, which may soon expand into a two-semester course.

The War Against Islam: This war began nearly 1,000 years ago and continued for centuries, a storied collision between Christendom and the Muslim ummah.  For a couple of hundred years, periodic eruptions of large-scale violence occurred until the conflict finally petered out with the last crusade sometime in the fourteenth century.

In those days, many people had deemed religion something worth fighting for, a proposition to which the more sophisticated present-day inhabitants of Christendom no longer subscribe.  Yet could that religious war have resumed in our own day?  Professor Samuel Huntington thought so, although he styled the conflict a “clash of civilizations.”  Some militant radical Islamists agree with Professor Huntington, citing as evidence the unwelcome meddling of “infidels,” mostly wearing American uniforms, in various parts of the Muslim world.  Some militant evangelical Christians endorse this proposition, even if they take a more favorable view of U.S. troops occupying and drones targeting Muslim countries.

Still, remember back in 2001 when, in an unscripted moment, President Bush described the war barely begun as a “crusade”?  That was just a slip of the tongue, right?  If not, we just might end up calling this one the Eternal War.

Why Not Buy the Chinese Version Just Like Wal-Mart Does?

A confidential Pentagon report leaked to the Washington Post accuses hackers of stealing the designs of many of America's most advanced weapons systems.

Experts warn that the electronic intrusions gave China access to advanced technology that could accelerate the development of its weapons systems and weaken the U.S. military advantage in a future conflict.
Some of the weapons form the backbone of the Pentagon’s regional missile defense for Asia, Europe and the Persian Gulf. The designs included those for the advanced Patriot missile system, known as PAC-3; an Army system for shooting down ballistic missiles, known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD; and the Navy’s Aegis ballistic-missile defense system.

Also identified in the report are vital combat aircraft and ships, including the F/A-18 fighter jet, the V-22 Osprey, the Black Hawk helicopter and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship, which is designed to patrol waters close to shore.

Also on the list is the most expensive weapons system ever built — the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is on track to cost about $1.4 trillion. The 2007 hack of that project was reported previously.

The confidential list of compromised weapons system designs and technologies represents the clearest look at what the Chinese are suspected of targeting. When the list was read to independent defense experts, they said they were shocked by the extent of the cyber-espionage and the potential for compromising U.S. defenses.

“That’s staggering,” said Mark Stokes, executive director of the Project 2049 Institute, a think tank that focuses on Asia security issues. “These are all very critical weapons systems, critical to our national security. When I hear this in totality, it’s breathtaking.”

The experts said the cybertheft creates three major problems. First, access to advanced U.S. designs gives China an immediate operational edge that could be exploited in a conflict. Second, it accelerates China’s acquisition of advanced military technology and saves billions in development costs. And third, the U.S. designs can be used to benefit China’s own defense industry. There are long-standing suspicions that China’s theft of designs for the F-35 fighter allowed Beijing to develop its version much faster.

So here's the deal, at least for Canada.  The justification for the F-35's sky high price tag is the airplane's, top secret, ultra high-tech electronic wizardry and limited stealth.   Take that key advantage away and you're left with a pretty mediocre warplane with marginal performance in all the traditional areas that make a fighter great - speed, climb rate, roll and turn rate, range and payload.  Because all three versions of the F-35 are based on the bloated, short take off and vertical landing design for the U.S. Marines, it's a single-engine aircraft that is incapable of supercruise.

The cost of this "way beyond state of the art" technology is supposed to be spread among the select group of nations allowed to buy the F-35 except that China, the country the F-35 is intended to target, helped itself to club privileges when no one was looking.   And they aren't kicking in a dime toward the shared costs either.

Worse yet, the Chinese knock-off doesn't have the single-engine limitation of the F-35.   And it could be operational at around the same time as the F-35 comes into service.   And it's bound to be a lot cheaper.  And did I mention theirs has twin engines?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Harper Pal Busted in Panama

Arthur Porter has been nabbed by authorities in Panama.  The Montreal hospital administrator has been on the run for some time.   Three years ago Porter was appointed by Stephen Harper to serve as chairman of SIRC, the watchdog panel overseeing CSIS, Canada's spy agency.

Porter was subsequently accused to taking kickbacks from SNC-Lavelin Group (is that all they do?) on a 1.3-billion dollar hospital construction and maintenance contract.

Porter and his wife split for the Bahamas where he claimed to be too sick with stage four cancer to return to Canada to face the music.   Apparently Dr. Porter's condition didn't prevent him from travelling elsewhere.

Here's Arthur and Steve in better times:

Ford Scandal on Crack

Gawker has published an account that supposedly links the controversial video said to show Toronto mayor Rob Ford with drug dealers smoking crack with the murder of an individual who may have been killed over it.

Gawker claims a Ford City Hall staffer passed along to detectives the street and unit number where the video was said to be kept.  Really?  Someone in City Hall knew where the video that Rob Ford now says doesn't exist previously existed?

Today Rob Ford's press secretary and deputy press secretary abruptly resigned.  The just up and quit.   Hmm, I wonder what that's about?

Ford went on the air yesterday to contend that the controversial video "doesn't exist."  He didn't explain quite how he knew that.

By the way,  Gawker also tracked down a photo from NatPo that appears to show Rob Ford wearing the same sweatshirt.

Another Harper/Enbridge Lie Sent Straight to the Bottom

It seems there's nothing that Enbridge and its government underlings won't do or say to mislead the public into believing that shipping bitumen via tankers through B.C.'s treacherous coastal waters is actually safe.

One of their favourite lies is to claim that the product they'll be shipping, diluted bitumen or dilbit, actually floats.   They want the public misled into believing the stuff floats and, therefore, can be recovered by oil spill scavenger vessels, booms, etc.


Some diluted bitumen products will sink in fresh and brackish marine waters in less than 26 hours following a tanker spill or accident at a marine terminal.

That's the conclusion of new report by Jeff Short, a highly respected U.S. environmental chemist who worked with for National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for decades.

Short directed much of the groundbreaking research on the impact of the Exxon Valdez spill on aquatic life. His research found that oil's toxic properties lasted as long as two decades in marine waters.

One Enbridge expert, Alan Maki, even claimed that bitumen was buoyant: "It is an immutable fact of physics that they will float. They simply cannot sink in water."

Other testimony including a report by SLRoss Environmental Research, a Calgary engineering firm, claimed that bitumen would most likely stay on top of the ocean too.

"I had some real reservations about the conclusions of SLRoss report which wrote off the possibility of bitumen sinking," explained 63-year Short to The Tyee.

The SLRoss study based its findings on a limited laboratory experiment that Enbridge filed as evidence at the last minute with the NEB.

Short explained that if the SLRoss study had repeated their limited laboratory experiment at slightly lower water (and more realistic) temperatures at higher wind speeds, their study would have lead to different conclusions than those presented to the Joint Review Panel. 

"They actually got to the point where the bitumen did sink but didn't acknowledge that fact clearly. They should have done a range of tests at different temperatures and wind speeds," Short told The Tyee.  

Bitumen is both heavier, thicker and denser than light crude because it is a naturally weathered hydrocarbon that has been heavily degraded by bacteria over millions of years. It also contains a variety of heavy metals (nickel and vanadium) as well as sulfur and nitrogen.

The low-grade crude must be diluted with imported condensate, a gasoline-like product, in order to move through a pipeline.

But the density of bitumen prior to dilution will determine how fast the substance will sink in fresh or salty water. "Yet we only have limited data on a few bitumen products."

In the event of spill on ocean water the condensate would flash evaporate into the air, producing toxic fumes full of carcinogens such as BTEX.

The remaining bitumen would float in highly saline water for a while until it mixed with sediment or plankton that could weigh it down. Such processes would eventually give the substance a density greater than water. Most bitumen varieties are very close to the density of water or "on the edge," explained Short. 

Two other issues that bear on Short's study is that the north coast is a place of fierce storms, high winds and heavy seas that greatly increase the risks of a tanker sinking and that, although Enbridge has put in place a small fleet of oil spill recovery vessels, those ships and the booms they use can only be deployed in calm seas.

Ready for This? Black P.R.

It's all the rage among China's powerful political class, Black PR.

With the ongoing crackdown on political corruption in the People's Republic, dodgy Chinese pols are becoming worried about what's available about them online.   And, in an internet savvy country like China, there's always a solution - for a price.

"...crooked Chinese politicians are paying to vanish from sight, with all negative stories about them scrubbed from the internet.

"'It does not matter how big or sensitive the story is, we can make it disappear,' promised a manager at Yage Times, China's largest and most notorious "black" public relations firm.

"Dozens of Chinese officials have been put under investigation in recent months, and Communist Party members at every level are worried. In particular, they fear the internet, where stories about corrupt officials often go viral, putting pressure on the Communist Party to launch a high-profile investigation.

"In almost 42 per cent of this year's corruption cases, the public has provided a tip-off, often on the web, according to Zhang Shaolong, an official at the party's discipline unit.
"As a result, the market for "black PR" is booming. A quick search showed at least 30 companies have sprung up to offer government officials, shady businessmen and scandal-hit celebrities the chance to wipe their slates clean."


Sunday, May 26, 2013

There's Only One Way for the Ford Bros. to Fight Back

With everything that has come at them from the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail, bare denials won't begin to clear the cloud that hangs over the heads of Toronto mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford.

They'll have to look to a court of law to clear their names.   They will have to sue the newspapers.   Fortunately both are reasonably well off guys so retaining legal counsel shouldn't be a problem and, if they win, they'll get costs and damages a'plenty.

That nutty pair may think that denial will work but the time for that has long passed.  So, boys, lawyer up, issue the writs and have at it - or not.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Scandals of Steve Harper - An Album

One of the first things Stephen Harper did upon becoming prime minister was to redecorate the foyer of the House of Commons, replacing portraits of former Canadian prime ministers with photos of himself.

Maybe it's time to refresh that gallery.   Here are a few shots to update Steve's portfolio:

Harper with Tom Flanagan

Harper with fugitive Nathan Jacobsen

Harper with fugitive Arthur Porter

Harper with Bev Oda

Harper with Jaffer

Harper with Duffy

Harper with Nigel Wright
Harper Brazeau
Bruce Carson with Harper Stand-In, Ian Brodie
Harper with Maxime Bernier (absent Julie Couillard)

Harper Mulroney

Harper with Rob Ford

And Another
And Another

Trying to Help Ford Recover His Stash

And now, a bit of humour from FreeRadioRevolution:

The Future is Staring Us in the Face. We Must Stop Looking Away.

As a civilization we're having enormous difficulty coming to grips with climate change in its full dimension and all of its aspects.  Part of that is because, while it truly is a global problem, its impacts are not globally uniform and the impetus to deal with it even less so.

The scope of the problem poses its own problems.   Science tells us that even best efforts solutions won't really fix the problem for centuries.  At three to four generations per century times three to four centuries, you get the idea.   What reality is there in the notion of your family sixteen generations hence?   Where is the return in making sacrifices today for benefits that won't be reaped for a century or two by people unknowable, unforeseeable?

It isn't easy for us to make the world better for civilization two or three centuries from now.   It is, however, very easy to make the world a much worse, tougher and more dangerous place for them.

Much of the argument (no, there is no legitimate debate) over climate change is fundamentally flawed on both sides.  That's because the argument is staged in a vacuum.  It's a nice little intellectual exercise that is detached from reality.

Global warming is just part, albeit one of the major parts, of a matrix of problems that confront civilization.   If we are going to achieve tangible improvements in global warming, they will come from our approach to the entire matrix of our challenges.   Fortunately (for both of us) I can rattle off a pretty comprehensive, albeit not exhaustive, list of these troubles. 

1. Climate change and the associated impacts of severe weather events of increasing frequency and intensity; sustained and cyclical flooding and droughts and disruption of precipitation patterns vital to agriculture; polar ice loss and sea level rise resulting in coastal retreat, increased storm surge damage and sea water inundation of coastal freshwater resources;  heat waves again of increasing frequency and intensity; the loss of biodiversity and species migration, including pests and disease.

2. Consumption challenges associated with increasing populations and per capita ecological footprints leading to overpopulation and population migration; desertification (the exhaustion of arable farmland and its transformation into desert); deforestation; the depletion of non-renewable resources; the exhaustion of renewable resources, especially the freshwater crisis and collapse of global fisheries; plus air, soil and water contamination of all sorts.

3. Security challenges of expanding dimensions including food insecurity, water insecurity, and inequality destabilizing nations and regions; the rise of failed states; religious fundamentalism and terrorism; regional arms races especially in south and east Asia; and nuclear proliferation.

This is the matrix, three tiers of challenges, inter-related to varying degrees and all of them civilizationally based.   We pollute too much, we consume too much, we fight too much.  This is fueled by the way we, as a species, are ordered - locally, nationally, globally.

We need to get off this carnival ride even as it is increasing in speed.   There are solutions but they tend to elicit the self-fulfilling prophetic "over my dead body" responses.  If you insist.

The argument is well made by Tim Flannery in "Here on Earth" and others that mankind is at a epochal juncture at which, over the coming generation or two, we will choose a wonderful future for our species and the planet or the potential ruin of our civilization.

We can either decide to constitute our civilization to meet the circumstances that confront us, that we cannot change, or we cling to the modes of organization that have brought us to this point and may lead to our destruction.

As an aside, one of the theories of why, in this vast universe with potentially billions of habitable, earth-like planets, we have not received any visitors holds that civilizations inevitably evolve into instruments of self-destruction.  It's an interesting theory and one that should not be lightly dismissed because, even though it is theoretical, it offers guidance into how we might ensure our own intelligent life doesn't self-extinguish.

If you make the focus, the priority of your policy and planning, the development and continuation of the best-possible civilization and subordinate everything else to that then we can handily resolve each and every one of those three-tier challenges listed above.  Every one of them.  If, however, we elect immediate self-interest as the paramount consideration, then we will, at best, approach these challenges in a haphazard or piecemeal manner in which case we probably will fail to solve any of them.

Friday, May 24, 2013

It's Time to Rein In the Prime Minister's Office

If Stephen Harper wants to operate a quasi-criminal enterprise on the public dime then he has to take full responsibility for it.

The Prime Minister's Office is his and his alone.  He decides who works there and he decides what they do or don't do.  It is funded from the public purse but is accountable to no one save the prime minister.

The Harper PMO is not only unaccountable, it's opaque.  What goes on in there goes on behind closed doors.   There is no transparency whatsoever at least until something leaks out or erupts.  In other words, it's perfectly designed for corruption.  It is the ideal vehicle for someone like Stephen Harper to have done what he cannot risk being caught doing himself.

In the wake of the latest scandal there was utter shock in the media about the resignation of Harper chief of staff, Nigel Wright.  The universal take on Wright was that he was the ultimate straight arrow, a great guy.   That might have been true, at least before Wright became entangled with the Harper PMO but then everything changed.

Put it down to the culture of corruption that inevitably emanates from the Grand Corrupter himself, the prime minister.  Stephen Harper is the poster boy of sociopathy.  He is a ruthless and amoral character who refuses to accept restraint or responsibility.  He showed us he was bent at the outset when he removed portraits of the prime ministers of Canada from the foyer of the House of Commons and replaced them with photographs of himself, the narcissistic hallmark of a sociopath.  In his daily life he shows a cold, detached demeanour and an utter lack of conscience.  His two most frequently observed character traits are mean-spiritedness and vindictiveness.  Stephen Harper does not play well with others nor does he play by the rules which is why an organization like the PMO will inevitably devolve into a criminal enterprise.

The current scandal is a three-part affair.   The minor scandal deals with the Cavendish Cottager.  The intermediate scandal lies in the Senate itself and the Conservative senators who control it and have allowed it to be corrupted.   The major scandal lies in the Prime Minister's Office through which Stephen Harper has pulled the strings in all three scandals.   Follow those strings back and you're sure to find them in Harper's very own hand, or at least you might but for his cut-out, his font of plausible deniability,  his PMO.

Mike Duffy was Stephen Harper's pick to serve as a senator for Prince Edward Island.   The statutes were clear enough.   Duffy obviously wasn't "resident" in Prince Edward Island as stipulated but rules, for Stephen Harper, are inconveniences to be circumvented or bent when necessary.  In this way a clear, statutory requirement was treated as an irrelevant formality.

Duffy was a loyal and energetic servant of his Master.  He was a fundraising machine.  In his many appearances across the country, when Duffy spoke he usually did it with the venom of the man he served.  He really dished out the ridicule.  Harper must have loved it.  Of Harper's many Senate appointments, Duffy was the highest-profile by far.

Then arose a controversy about certain senators and their expenses, particularly extra housing allowances claimed by senators who seemed to be resident in Ottawa, Duffy foremost among them.  The rules, bent by Harper at the outset, were now to be examined, tested.   This promised to be not only bad news for Duffy but a huge embarrassment for the prime minister.  A little string pulling would be in order.

When the Senate appointed independent auditor, Deloitte, to review the suspect senators, their claims and status, the PMO brought Duffy in-house.  As Duffy's unfortunate e-mails of the time indicate, he was given a 3-part deal.  He would be given the cash to clear his Senate tab, to reimburse the expenses he had improperly claimed.  He was ordered to stay silent and not cooperate with the auditors.  "They," as in Stephen Harper, would intervene with the Senate committee and see to it that their report on Duffy "went easy" on  him.

Three pieces, sublimely corrupt - an under the table payment, subversion of an audit process and manipulation of a Senate committee.  Now tell me that was Nigel Wright's doing.

It all worked.   Duffy dutifully handed the Senate someone else's cash.  Duffy spurned the requests of the independent auditors for information and documents.  The Senate committee, or at least the Tories in charge of it, laundered the report, removing in particular the damning finding that Duffy was not nor ever had been since childhood resident in Prince Edward Island.

And it all worked, right up until one or more dissidents, believed to be from the Senate, began feeding information and documents to a CTV parliamentary reporter.

The leaks seemed staged in such a way as to elicit denials or admissions that tied the principal actors to their stories.  Layer by layer leaks were fed to the CTV reporter as the cement hardened around the feet of Duffy and Nigel Wright.  The final straw was the leak to the CBC of the original Senate report on Duffy that, read in the context of the official version, revealed how the Tories who controlled the committee had been compromised, corrupted.  The story of just how that happened is still to come out and may be the most telling of all.

When Stephen Harper addressed the Conservative Parliamentary caucus on Tuesday morning, he displayed all the aplomb that might be expected of a sociopath in his circumstances.  He took no responsibility whatsoever.  He portrayed himself as the victim and blamed the whole mess on everyone else, right up to and including the top staff in his own PMO.

Curiously, he didn't seem to single out Duffy.  Why not?  After all he was spreading the blame pretty thick on everyone and anyone else he could think of.  Presumably because Duffy can't be scapegoated lest people ask too many questions about his "special handling" throughout this affair.   Duffy also probably knows too much, the sort of stuff that could dissolve Harper's plausible deniability of his role in all three scandals.   For this is Harper's doing, front to back, start to finish, and it reveals him to be utterly corrupt, head to toe.

Harper isn't going to bring in fresh blood to the PMO, not at this point when so much is at stake.  He can't trust new people.  That's why he fell back on his principal secretary, Novak, his young but fiercely loyal confidante.

It is right that Harper doesn't have to account or report on the activities of the Prime Minister's Office.   The PMO can't function without plenty of privacy.  It is a partisan agency and every prime minister needs that to do the job.   But a PMO  that has no accountability is a PMO, just like Harper's, that is ripe for corruption.  That's why prime minister Harper must be held personally responsible for everything that comes out of his PMO, good and bad alike.  He doesn't get to play victim and point fingers.  The skullduggery that goes on inside his personal enclave is his, in full.

Harper lost any benefit of the doubt after the Bruce Carson scandal.  From that point on he had a special obligation to stay on top of his PMO and ensure nothing like that happened again.  Even if you're willing to accept his absurd claim that he knew nothing of  the Wright-Duffy dealings, it doesn't matter.  That's on Harper, squarely on him.

As Stephen Harper said of then prime minister Jean Chretien: "He is the leader and a leader is responsible for the actions of the people he leads.  If he had a right or honourable bone in his body, he'd admit that and resign immediately."

Well put, Steve.  

Of 9-Billion, More than Half will Endure Water Shortage

It's not a big problem, yet, in Canada and most of us wouldn't know there's a problem at all.   But much of our world, including the United States, is already experiencing serious freshwater challenges.

Global warming plays a huge role in the worsening freshwater crisis.  A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour and that triggers a variety of consequences from providing additional energy to fuel severe storm events to disruptions of the very precipitation patterns that enabled the creation and growth of our civilization.  In the future places that already have enough or too much rainfall will get more and places that don't have enough will get less.

We're familiar with the projection that mankind's population will swell to over nine billion within this century.  A new report forecasts that a majority of those nine billion will live with permanent water shortages.

Welcome to the Athropocene:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Not Just a Symbolic Victory, Judge Slams Thug Conservatives for Robo-Calls.

Maude Barlow puts the robo-call decision in perspective.

Just hours ago the long-awaited Federal Court ruling on election fraud was released...

In a clear and bold statement, Judge Richard Mosley wrote: "I find that electoral fraud occurred during the 41st General Election."

While his ruling stopped short of annulling election results, this is a powerful victory for Kay Burkhart, Ken Ferance, Yvonne Kafka, Bill Kerr, Sandra McEwing, Tom Parlee, Jeff Reid and Peggy Walsh Craig – the eight brave Canadian voters who launched their legal challenges and the thousands of us who continue to stand behind them.

The judge raised grave concerns that the fraudulent calls "struck at the integrity of the electoral process by attempting to dissuade voters from casting ballots for their preferred candidates. This form of 'voter suppression,' was, until the 41st General Election, largely unknown in this country."

From the outset, the eight applicants argued that the fraudulent robocalls were widespread, targeted and centrally organized – which is precisely what Judge Mosley found. "I am satisfied that it has been established that misleading calls about the locations of polling stations were made to electors in ridings across the country, including the subject ridings, and that the purpose of those calls was to suppress the votes of electors who had indicated their voting preference in response to earlier voter identification calls," and that "the most likely source of the information used to make the misleading calls was the CIMS database maintained and controlled by the CPC [Conservative Party of Canada], accessed for that purpose by a person or persons currently unknown to this Court."

Of course the CPC will try to paint this as a victory, but they have nothing to celebrate. That is unless an attempt to steal the election using their database, to which only senior Conservative Party members have access, is a cause for rejoicing. This is a serious indictment of the CPC.

Judge Mosley himself praised the eight applicants for their virtue, while chastising the Conservative MPs. "It has seemed to me that the applicants sought to achieve and hold the high ground of promoting the integrity of the electoral process while the respondent MPs engaged in trench warfare in an effort to prevent this case from coming to a hearing on the merits."

And Mosley even made special note of their shameful obstructionist tactics, stating, "Despite the obvious public interest in getting to the bottom of the allegations, the CPC made little effort to assist with the investigation at the outset despite early requests. I note that counsel for the CPC was informed while the election was taking place that the calls about polling station changes were improper. While it was begrudgingly conceded during oral argument that what occurred was "absolutely outrageous", the record indicates that the stance taken by the respondent MPs from the outset was to block these proceedings by any means."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

IMF Calls on Cameron Tories to Change Course

Britain's Conservative Cameron government are the High Priests of bone-crushing austerity.   David Cameron and his gaggle of privileged Saville Row suiters are not interested in sparing the lash when it comes to Britain's weak and vulnerable.   Meanwhile, Steve Harper looks on with fawning admiration at everything he wishes he could be.

Yet Cameron has now run afoul of that bastion of radical socialism, the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF is crying "enough already" and pleading with Cameron to reverse course if only to boost the British economy.

It said the £10bn-worth of spending cuts and taxes planned for the coming year would be a "drag on growth" and urged the government to do more to stimulate the economy.

The fund's deputy managing director David Lipton said Britain should bring forward investment on infrastructure and defer some near-term spending cuts to kickstart the economy.

"In a range of policy areas, the government should be more supportive of growth. What is important now is not to make a mistake today and presume that all will be well with the economy some years from now. I think it's important to get started on infrastructure projects that will support the economy." He said that would allow the government to push back some of the cuts and bring forward more supportive measures.

The UK could suffer higher unemployment and lose economic capacity permanently if it ignores the fund's advice, he warned.

Did Somebody Mention Bruce Carson?

Oh yes, I did.  I mentioned Bruce Carson simply to reinforce the point that the beating heart of corruption within the Harper government is, in fact, the Prime Minister's Office, the PMO.

The denizens of the PMO aren't all outstanding, accomplished A-List types like Nigel Wright.  Harper's PMO has been a comfy way station for real scoundrels such as convicted fraudster and disgraced, disbarred lawyer Bruce Carson, who used his position inside to pursue his nefarious ways.

Remember what Bruce Harper had to say about Stephen Carson? (wait, did I get that mixed up?  no, they're sort of interchangeable)   Harper said he didn't know.  He didn't know.  Of course not Steve, how's a busy prime minister to know about the lengthy rap sheet of a top political fixer adviser?

Harper's personal Bastion of Corruption, his PMO, seems to attract scoundrels, drawn like moths to a candle, and it even seems to corrupt those who didn't arrive that way.  What is Steve, a latter day Loki?

I, for one, am glad that Steve has taken his leave and split to South America.  In the last week or so I've churned out over 20-posts on this parliamentary mess and as many lengthy e-mails to friends from the distant past.  It's wearying, it truly is.  Time for a breather until Beelzebub returns.

Will Duffy resign before Steve gets back?  That remains to be seen.   Will the dissidents who have been choreographing this scandal from the outset fire another salvo?  It's said they have more revelations.  Who knows?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Man of No Integrity and Limitless Hypocrisy

Stephen Harper's performance before the Conservative parliamentary caucus this morning spoke volumes for the integrity and sense of raw power and privilege of what passes for a prime minister in Canada today.

Harper played victim and complained about how he was very upset at the conduct of certain Parliamentarians (i.e. Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau) and how he'd been let down by his own Prime Minister's Office.

Having, like Pilate, washed his hands of the affair, Harper demanded  the Senate reform itself forthwith, clean up its act, put an end to these transgressions.

But what exactly had the Senate actually done that was particularly egregious?  Nothing.   A few of its members may have fudged their expense accounts and claims but it was the actions of the Senate that brought that out.  It was the Senate that called in outside auditors.  It was the Senate that ordered an investigation.

And, once the Senate had taken these steps to cleanse its own house, what did Stephen Joseph Harper's very own PMO do?  Why top officials in the PMO brought Mike Duffy's problems in-house.  The bribed Duffy with cash to reimburse the Senate accounts.  Harper's office did that, not the Senate.  Then they moved to thwart the Senate's investigation, ordering Duffy to say nothing to the independent auditors and spurn their requests for cooperation.  Harper's office did that, not the Senate.  And then they moved to strongarm the Senate audit committee to launder the report into Senator Duffy's difficulties.  Harper's office saw to that, not the Senate.

In fact, almost all of the real corruption in this scandal emanated from Harper and his closest aides (or just his aides if you believe in the Easter Bunny and the claims that Harper had no knowledge of any of this).   That's where the corruption is, within Stephen Harper and his hand-picked team.   So it's a little rich when the Great Corrupter points fingers at the Senate and demands they reform.

This greasy bait and switch is an integral party of Harper's determination to regain control of this scandal.  He's determined to roll this scandal back from the PMO and into Duffy's lap because he knows if he doesn't turn this around, the scandal is heading straight for him.

Curious there was not the slightest mention today of reforming the Prime Minister's Office.  That says it all for what is truly at play here.

If the Opposition Fumbles This Ball They're Not Fit to Govern

Nix "Duffygate," trash "Senategate," this is "HarperGate" and that's what the opposition needs to hammer away at.

Heritage minister James Moore is said to be en route to Prince Edward Island to demand Duffy's resignation.   That has to be part and parcel of rolling this scandal back out of the PMO and straight into the lap of a safely-resigned former senator where the opposition will be left to pick on a carcass.

Harper signalled that would be the approach in his remarks this morning.  Oh he was so deeply upset that these bad people had betwayed him.   Bad people, bad people.  So many disappointments.  Poor prime minister.   So sad.  No room for the likes of Duffy, not in Steve's government.   Bad Duffy, bad.  Poor Steve.

That is, however, the narrative Steve has chosen to fall back on, the story he plans to sell through the summer.  He has to get the focus turned around, back on Duffy, and keep it from heading toward Sussex Drive.   Stephen Harper has to regain control of this scandal.

If the opposition falls for it, Stephen Harper wins and they lose, big time.  If they focus on Duffy instead of what happened inside the PMO and why, they lose.   They need to hammer away on the cheque and the letter of understanding.   They need to keep the spotlight on Wright, on Perrin and directly on Steve Harper.  They need to make the Canadian public realize the stink isn't coming from Friendly Lane but from right inside the PMO.

When you're in opposition to a guy like Harper you won't be getting many opportunities like this one.   They cannot afford to waste it.

Who Is That Winging His Way to Cavendish, PEI?

Harper's Consigliere?
 Word has it that Harper minister and loyalist, James Moore, has been dispatched to P.E.I. to demand that the Cavendish Cottager resign his senate seat.

Will Duffy call the cops on another intruder?

Does Harper's envoy come bearing parting gifts?   Oh to be a fly on the wall.

UPDATED: A Trip Down Memory Lane - Remember When This Scandal Was All About Mike Duffy?

This began with a scandal about Mike Duffy and a cottage on Friendly Lane in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.  Suddenly that seems like so long ago, an eon.

Duffy, Duffy who?

Now the scandal has shot straight up the food chain, ricocheting around the Senate and on into the PMO.  And the path is littered with the bodies - Duffy, Pam Wallin, Nigel Wright and now, seemingly, Benjamin Perrin, Harper legal counsel.   Now the scandal has kept on going, right into Mr. Harper's private office, right to his very throne.

Thanks to some dissident, insurgent if you will, probably from the ranks of Harper's own Parliamentary caucus, we have learned a lot over just the past week.   We have learned about a curious cash payment, secret deals, a laundered Senate report, and improbable, hopelessly feeble denials by a prime minister and his chief of staff reeling from the revelations that were never supposed to be.

We know a lot but how much really?   This whole Duffy deal was a potentially high risk business by people who are expert at understanding risk.   They knew what it would mean for them if their transactions ever surfaced in public.

There were no end of ways to get Duffy a paltry, for them, $90,000.  Why a personal cheque from Harper's chief of staff?  Why drag Harper's Special Counsel in on this?  Obviously there was a need to bring this "in-house", to keep it under wraps and that meant under the direct control of the prime minister and his top advisers.

Why the added inducement of rigging the Senate audit report, the promise that the report would "go easy on" the Cavendish Cottager?   That's a real "deal sweetener."  It's a promise to corrupt the workings of a committee of the Senate of Canada.   And now we know that is precisely what happened.

Duffy isn't and never was worth this risk.   No, very important people don't take these risks to bail out some lowly senator.  It's a pretty safe bet that they weren't doing this to protect Michael Dennis Duffy of Prince Edward Island.   This was about protecting Stephen Joseph Harper.  From what?  We don't know, not yet.  Maybe never.

But I would bet the farm that Mike Duffy knows and that Stephen Harper and his closest aides know what Mike Duffy knows and that's why they deemed it critical to bring the Duffy expense scandal in-house and ensure the Senate audit report gave Duffy a soft landing.

Harper knows from experience that we're a dull and generally unquestioning lot with a collective attention span often not much greater than that of lesser primates.   And he knows that he's almost made it to summer, the season of scandal salvation.  He's betting he can hold his breath longer than we can and he knows from past experience that's not a bad bet.

Update - Well, there it is, the summer narrative.   Stephen Harper is sticking with "I didn't know".  Nope, he's outright indignant and has told his caucus that he's "very upset" with the conduct of people in the prime minister's office and some parliamentarians.  And now, kids, sorry but I have to run.  I have a plane to catch to Rio.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Harper Can't Talk His Way Out of This One - And He Won't, Not This Time

In February, when the Wright-Duffy cheque scheme was hatched, two of Harper's closest aides were Nigel Wright, Chief of Staff, and Benjamin Perrin, Special Counsel and personal legal advisor to the prime minister.

At First, Two

Lawyer Nigel Wright, holder of two law degrees, one from Harvard, somehow decides to cut Duffy a $90,000 cheque on a "spur of the moment" brain fart and completely overlooks the Rules of the Senate, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Criminal Code, all of which the deal seems to violate.

And Then There Were Three
Lawyer Wright then goes to lawyer Perrin, Mr. Harper's personal lawyer, to have Perrin draft the letter of understanding setting out the terms of the payment.   Lawyer Perrin who is also a seconded professor from the UBC law faculty, likewise misses entirely the Rules of the Senate, the Parliament of Canada Act and the Criminal Code implications of the deal he's facilitating.

The kicker, however, is lawyer Perrin's lawyer-client relationship with his most important client ever, Stephen Joseph Harper.  He's the legal handmaiden of the prime minister but he's going to go ahead and make this dodgy deal happen without breathing a word to that client?  He's going to purposely go out of his way to conceal this from his client, the prime minister?  He's going to breach the most fundamental professional responsibility he has to Stephen J. Harper?


Here's the skinny.  Without Harper's full knowledge and consent (or direction), lawyer Wright would never have engaged lawyer Perrin and without Harper's full knowledge and approval, lawyer Perrin would never have touched this dodgy business.  Harper didn't know?  No, that has collapsed under its own weight at this point.   And that means, if there was really any doubt, the web now has Stephen Harper snagged.

To recap.  Two of Harper's most intimate aides and advisors were in on this, had ethical and legal responsibilities to the prime minister and yet supposedly went behind Harper's back and concealed this from him.  Sorry kids, that cements it.  Wright's in, Perrin's in and beyond any reasonable doubt, Stephen Harper is in - right up to his neck.

Now I'm even more comfortable with the Senate insurgency theory.  Whoever is driving this acted knowing that Stephen Harper was already trapped.  They had the smoking gun, they had a drawer full of them.  They knew about the cheque.  They knew about Wright.  They knew about the laundered Senate report.  And they knew that it wasn't just Wright but Wright and Perrin.   And because of the cheque, the chief of staff, the laundered report and Stephen Harper's personal lawyer - because of that combination of those details - they knew Stephen Harper was utterly trapped.   Since this began they've been pushing on an open door.

It's no wonder the Conservatives have fallen as silent as a funeral parlour at midnight.

Nigel Wright's Spur of the Moment Problem

Nigel Wright continues to be Stephen Harper's moat and drawbridge in the Duffy affair.

Steve says he knew nothing about the $90,000 gift via a personal cheque from Wright to the Cavendish Cottager and Wright backs him up.   Even though Wright has resigned and his story about Harper being in the dark is, well, more than implausible, Wright's word still carries some weight.

Maybe not so much after all.   Wright has some major credibility problems with the dodgy story he's spun so far.   In particular, Wright's story of how he came to write the cheque is full of holes.  According to Harper's former Chief of Staff, it was an impulse gesture, a "spur of the moment" thing.   No, sorry Nigel, it was anything but spur of the moment.

There was actually a fairly elaborate process, involving lawyers on both sides negotiating terms and conditions, that pretty much shatters Nigel's "spur of the moment" claim and, with it, the remainder of his integrity and Harper's.

Nigel didn't just slip Duffy a cheque.   He had Stephen Harper's former special counsel and legal advisor, Benjamin Perrin, draft the "letter of understanding" that set out the terms of the deal between Wright and Duffy.

Harper and Special Counsel Perrin
 Perrin, currently an associate professor at UBC's law faculty, isn't answering speaking to reporters.   Quelle surprise!  Imagine the questions he might be asked.   For example, he might be asked what he thought of the deal in reference to Section 17(1) of the Senate Conflict of Interest Code, or Section 16(1) of the Parliament of Canada Act, or Section 121(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada?

And, given that he's not a mere lawyer but a law professor and the prime minister's former special counsel and legal advisor, just what in hell was he doing facilitating a deal that seems to run afoul of all three enactments even to the point of possibly being criminal?

Benny, what were you thinking?  By the way, exactly who was your client(s)?  Did you tell your client that this was a dodgy deal that could land him/them in big trouble if word leaked out?  And don't you know that lawyers aren't supposed to be doing this sort of thing and can even be made to answer for it?

Or was it a "spur of the moment" thing, Benny?

And so the web grows ever wider, ensnaring ever more characters.  Now we've got Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff and Stephen Harper's Special Counsel in on the Duffy cash scandal.  Who's next?  Who knows?  But don't worry, the prime minister knew absolutely nothing about any of this.