Friday, August 30, 2013

Russia's Stealth Fighters Debut at Moscow Air Show

By the time the F-35 ever finds its way into Canadian air force hangars it'll have this to contend with, Russia's T-50 stealth fighter.  The T-50 is much faster, more agile, far longer range and carries a much greater weaponload than the F-35.

Does This Sound Like War, Playground Rules?

Anyone skeptical about the wisdom of an American attack on Syria should consider the options sketched out by former Obama deputy assistant secretary of state, Suzanne Nossel.   Seriously, this sounds like war waged by playground rules.  It begins with a show of force, a cruise missile strike.

What happens afterwards, though, is anybody's guess.

"They don't want to do something that could look like an empty gesture," says Suzanne Nossel, who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state during Obama's first term.

"They'll wait for a reaction. Does Assad step it up with the rhetoric - 'you failed in Iraq, you failed in Vietnam'? Or does he take the beating?"

If the Assad regime decides to ratchet things up, Mr Obama has an array of options - none of them good.

"The range is, you do nothing - all the way up to large-scale air and ground campaigns to remove the Assad regime," says Mr [Kalev] Sepp, [senior lecturer at the US Naval Postgraduate School].

"You can send in special forces to train and organise the rebels. But it's impossible to do that clandestine. So then you have to have Americans on the ground - and they're being killed. Is that worth overthrowing the Assad regime for?"

So, if Assad just takes the beating like a good Arab, then maybe that's it.  If he gets uppity, Obama gonna open a can of whupass on him.  These people sound like a bunch of nine-year-olds ginning for a playground scuffle.

Canada Should Follow Britain's Lead

David Cameron wanted to bomb Syria so badly his teeth hurt.  There was just one problem, Britain's Iraq War fiasco.

Because of Iraq, David Cameron had promised to allow parliament a veto on going to war back in 2010. He had even committed himself to repealing the royal prerogative, the executive powers which enable him to bypass parliament, though he hasn't, yet.

As a result, parliament had the power to deny him authority, even in a relatively modest and constrained form, to strike against Assad. The jury's out on when that last happened: some say 1782 and the American war of independence.

David Cameron imagined he was driving a wooden spike through the heart of Tony Blair's legacy.  Little did he realize the spike was iron and was going straight through his own foot.

Perhaps Canada should, likewise, review the state of executive powers in our Parliament.  If we're going to stick with "first past the post" elections, we risk winding up with some near unlimited powers being wielded by people most of us don't like.  There's nothing democratic in that.
Update:  I'm reposting this because of a number of bizarre computer problems I've been having over the past few days/weeks/months.  I've been hacked more than once.   Some guy named Rios from Detroit, Mo. managed to take down both of my domains: and by persuading GoDaddy that I had transferred them to him.  GoDaddy, by the way, are a bag of tools when it comes to this sort of thing.  That Rios has done nothing with the domains strongly suggests his intent was simply to take them down.  Yesterday my Norton security software was compromised.  The password manager and identity vault were taken down.  Norton techs tried for much of yesterday afternoon to get them back, even deleting and reloading their company's software but they were defeated and finally quit.

Today I posted this item and later thought to go back and edit something.   The post was up on Progressive Bloggers and Canadian Progressive Voices but had vanished from Blogger itself and my blog directory.

Curiously enough, a comment Anyong made to this post, has now appeared on another item, a draft that has yet to be posted.

Grand Theft Data

Gwynne Dyer contends that America is hopeless - and helpless - when it comes down to securing the data it steals on an industrial scale.  In a country where 850,000 people have "top secret" security clearances and access to this mountain of data there are bound to be plenty of Edward Snowden's quietly digging for the mother lode.  Unlike Snowden, it's unlikely many of them are motivated by altruism.

What the NSA has built is a system that is too big to monitor properly, let alone fully control. The system’s official purposes are bad enough, but it cannot even know the full range of illegitimate private actions that it permits. And this is not a design flaw. It is inherent in the very size of the system and the number of people who have access to it. Which brings us back to NASDAQ, Apple, Goldman Sachs et. al.

If it can be done, it will be done. Algorithms will be written for automated trading at speeds measured in fractions of a microsecond, and the competition will have to follow suit. It will become possible to store immense amounts of data in a virtual “cloud”, and the cloud will take shape. It will become theoretically possible to listen in on every conversation in the world, and the surveillance systems to do it will be built.

This is a genuinely monstrous apparatus.  One of the things Snowden's leaks revealed is that the NSA's "black budget" is a staggering $52-billion annually.  That's far in excess of America's intelligence spending at the peak of the Cold War.    The CIA accounts for just under $15-billion but a lot of the remainder goes to intelligence contractors like those Snowden worked for when he mined his government's secrets.

Worse still, the more dependent the NSA becomes on contractors, the more vulnerable it becomes to espionage.  It simply provides windows of opportunity for foreign intelligence to either buy off contractors' employees or infiltrate their own agents first onto contractors' payrolls and then inside the NSA.

The NSA has become too big not to fail.

Not In Vlad Putin's Russia You Don't

Russian artist Konstantin Altunin has hightailed it to safety in France and none too soon.   Russian authorities have moved to seize Altunin's paintings, especially one depicting  Vlad Putin, in a woman's slip, brushing the hair of president Dmitry Medvedev, depicted in bra and panties.   Here the boys are in all their artistic glory:

Archbishop of Canterbury - Homophobes are "Wicked"

Britain's top prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, warns that Christians need to "repent" the mistreatment of gay people and, if they don't, they're "wicked."

The Most Rev Justin Welby told an audience of born-again Christians in London that the vast majority of people under 35 find the Church's beliefs on the issue "incomprehensible" and equate them to "racism and other forms of gross and atrocious injustice".

While standing by his decision to vote against same-sex marriage in the House of Lords, the Archbishop, who is an evangelical, made clear that he was reassessing his own thinking, saying he wanted to get his own mind "clear" on the issue.


Warning: This May Cause Your Lungs to Collapse. Donald Rumsfeld Accuses Obama of Rushing Into War.

Rummy's back!   Donald Rumsfeld, the architect of not one but two failed American foreign wars, is dissing Barack Obama over plans to possibly bomb targets in Syria.

"When you think about what’s really important in that region—it’s Iran’s nuclear program and the relationship between Iran and Syria, the Assad regime, with respect to terrorists that go around killing innocent men, women and children, including Americans."  Whatever that means.

even if Rumsfeld had a point, he'd be a really terrible messenger for it, given his role in Iraq, argues Steve Benen at Rachel Maddow's blog. "If Rumsfeld is out of the penalty box and welcome to appear in public again, at an absolute minimum, he should avoid claiming any degree of credibility on the use of force."

Ya think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Speaking of Crazies Bursting Into Flames

You may have caught the video of a U.S. embassy staffer in Malta going ballistic at a Maltese motorist with a tirade of threats and profanity.  Apparently whatever got to him is spreading quickly south of the border.

Consider this guy,  Ayo Kimathi, an employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.   Off-duty, Kimathi does his bit for American security by hosting an anti-gay, anti-white, race war web site. 

Hauled on the carpet, Kimathi, a.k.a. "The Irritated Genie", told his bosses the website is strictly entertainment and a vehicle for selling concert and lecture videos.

Kimathi's site is not in this vein of this imagined threat — on the contrary, War on the Horizon calls Obama a "a treasonous mulatto scum dweller," and lists him among the movement's enemies (also on the list? Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, and Condoleezza Rice, among others) Instead, the DHS employee advocates for:

  • The mass murder of white people. His site says, "warfare is eminent, and in order for Black people to survive the 21st century, we are going to have to kill a lot of whites – more than our christian hearts can possibly count."
  • A conspiracy theory arguing that white people are trying to "homosexualize" black men in order to make them more effeminate and therefore weaker. As part of this, Kimathi, praises a series of laws in some African countries that criminalize LGBT behavior and people. Kimathi also advocates for the supremacy of black men above black women — he offers tips on his site, for instance, "to help every Black woman in the world understand what she needs to do to keep a strong Black man happy."
  •  But ex-Homeland Security employee Kimathi doesn't hold a candle to ex-Gilberton PA. police chief Mark Kessler.   He got his 15-minutes of fame by posting YouTube videos of himself firing machine guns and pistols while abusing liberals and making veiled threats to Gilberton councillors who sacked his sorry ass.

In his first video, Gilbert launched into a blistering bout of vulgarity as he used municipal weapons and ammunition to pepper zombie targets that he named for a councillor he really doesn't like.  He followed that up with this apology.  Same warning.

Oh yeah.  "Chief" Kessler also sits on the county school board.

A Diplomatic Career Bursts Into Flames

A staffer at the U.S. embassy in Malta is winging his way back to the United States of America, after a video of this career-ending explosion hit YouTube and went viral.  (warning - coarse language, lots and lots of it)

You gotta figure that, if you're causing a scene in public these days, somebody is probably recording it and it'll wind up on YouTube before you can get back to your desk in the embassy.

Billionaire Hedge Fund Manager Invokes MLK In Call For Mass Civil Disobedience Over Climate Change

Tom Steyer thinks the percentage of Americans willing to resort to civil disobedience to force action on climate change is nearing a tipping point.

The billionaire hedge fund manager, a capitalist renegade, suggests his countrymen follow the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr.

"According to a fascinating poll that came out last week, 13 percent of Americans claim that they would commit some form of non-violent civil disobedience to get action on climate change.

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a Dream" speech. There has been much focus on Dr. King's speech – but it caused me to re-read another King work, his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

When you consider the impact climate change will have on our collective future, it is instructive to remember what Martin Luther King had to say about the power of non-violent civil disobedience in that letter in 1958.

The prophetic points of this message are numerous, but I will highlight two here that standout for their timeless wisdom.

The first was his outline of the preparation needed for mass, non-violent protest. He advocated a four-step process of analysis, negotiation, self-purification, and, finally, confrontation. The ordering here was crucial; only after the first three stages did he advocate the last.

Dr. King's second observation was that even after the deliberate execution of those careful steps, confrontation was always "untimely" for the so-called moderates, arriving too soon for their comfort.

Dr. King's key insight is not just that outright oppressors never give up their advantages willingly, but also that moderates never advocate any direct, non-violent, attack on the status quo because they are actually satisfied with it.

Because of self-interest, the dirty energy industry will always engage in fierce, intense opposition. But what about the moderates of our era? Are they still satisfied with the status quo? I think not. 

Returning, then, to the 13 percent who would personally engage in civil disobedience, how should we interpret this level of commitment?

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson thought that 15 percent of the general population was the number needed for accomplishing significant transformation. If he was correct, this may represent a tipping point. We may be on the precipice of major change. 

Let's hope we are."

I'm Pretty Sure Clicking On This Is One of Them

There's an ad that's appearing on news web sites seemingly everywhere.  It's this:

Just a warning.   Of those "5 Signs You'll Get Alzheimer's", going for the "Click Here" is the decisive one.  Seriously, click it and you're done.

The Apple Really Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree

When it comes to murderous brutality, North Korea's new despot, Kim Jong Un is proving himself a chip off the old blockhead.

Time Inc. reports that Kim just had an old girlfriend executed by firing squad.

Seoul’s Chosun Ilbo reports that the female singer Hyon Song Wol was arrested along with 11 other entertainers on August 17 for filming themselves having sex. They then sold the videos, some of which made it to China. The 12 people, who belonged to prominent performing troupes, were killed by firing squad on August 20 as their families looked on.

Hyon was best known for performing the song “A Girl in the Saddle of a Steed.” Kim met her a decade ago, but his father Kim Jong Il — then North Korea’s ruler — apparently did not approve of the relationship.

And, after topping his old flame, Kim kept to family tradition:

A Chinese source told Chosun Ilbo that families of the executed appear to have been sent to prison camps in accordance with the country’s practice of punishing relatives.

Depardieu Awarded Belgian Citizenship

There it is.  Belgium has a new passport holder, Gerard Depardieu.  Cue the Belgian jokes.

"Stay Tuned" - Indeed

"Can't talk  ...can't speak freely ...stay tuned."   All I'm getting out of Ottawa Tories is static.  It's as though they're locked down.   Nobody wants to talk Duffy or Wright much less Tkachuk, Stewart-Olsen or Harper himself.   The whole PMO/Senate scandal seems to have become taboo, off limits, out of bounds, perhaps even a bit dangerous.

No e-mails, no phone calls, no nothin'.

You and me, outsiders, can only watch from the sidelines and pick up whatever scripted scraps fall from political talking heads and the national media.

Right now I think you would have to dangle a case of fine Scotch in front of an alcoholic Conservative to get anyone to talk.

Stay tuned indeed.

Four Pictures Worth Many Thousand Words

A Vancouver group is targeting the public conscience with an ad campaign to show what has happened to the Palestinian homeland.

Unless you're a Zionist, it's a pretty disturbing but accurate depiction of how the Palestinians are being erased from their homeland.  The point is, it's not over yet.  The aquifer beneath Gaza has been "inadvertently" drained and the U.N. believes that enclave could be unlivable by 2020.  Presumably those Palestinians would have to be relocated to the fractured ghettos inland to the north.

The ads are running on Vancouver's transit system and they're expected to appear on Calgary and Toronto transit vehicles this Fall.  Jewish groups have denounced the images as "derogatory."  Turning logic straight on its head they claim this is a campaign to "wipe Israel off the map."

Stephen Schachter, the co-chair for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, argued that if advertisements targeted non-Jewish groups, the situation would be taken more seriously.

“I can think of all sorts of other kinds of advertising by other communities, whether it’s sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-other-ethnic or religious groups that would be” prohibited, he said.

Yeah, right Steve.  It says a great deal that none of those criticizing these ads take exception to their accuracy.   They can't, they're very accurate.   And they can't take exception to the text.  There is none.  They just don't want people to see the plain truth that these maps so clearly depict.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How Beijing Became Conservatives' Home Away From Home

Alberta premier Alison Redford is leading a delegation to China next month to "drum up business."

Comrade Redford will undoubtedly be warmly embraced by her kindred spirits in the Politburo just as eager to give her the business she's there to up drum.

Was a time when Conservatives would react reflexively at the mention of the Peoples Republic of...   denouncing it as totalitarian, brutal, despotic, evil.  I guess that was before those came to be seen as great qualities in a business partner.

Reford and Harper love China and not just because the bosses there want to buy lots of bitumen.   They love China because the Commies want to buy bitumen with no questions asked.  There won't be any Chinese protesting bitumen imports - at least not for long.   Contrast that with the hassles Alberta has faced over the Keystone XL pipeline.  In China, Enbridge could run a pipeline like Keystone straight down the Great Wall, end to end.

Conservatives love the ChiComs because they have their people firmly under their jackboots.   The Tories must dream about how great that would be, if only...

The Tories were all for emulating the Americans when they were Top Dog.  Now the Americans are starting to slide and it's the Chinese on the way up.  So, what's not to like?

Just Think of the Optics - Think As a Muslim

Oh great, a bunch of white guys gearing up to bomb the hell out of a bunch of Muslims again.  Christians versus Muslims.  Europeans versus Arabs or Persians.   Foreigners from distant lands versus the Home Team.

Christ, does anybody ever think of the optics?   If the shoe was on the other foot, what would you think?   If the Arabs had all the guns and all the bombers and could rain mayhem down on us at will - and did, again and again - what would you think?   Do you think after two or three rounds of this you might figure they were out to get us?  And what if it was those same Arabs who had, for decades, been propping up brutal despots in our countries?

First Duffy, Then Wright, Now Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen. Is Harper Losing to a Tory Insurgency?

I wondered whether Harper would track down and silence the insurgents in the Tory ranks who began by leaking e-mails that sparked the Duffy-Wright scandal in May.  The word I got was that there was a dissident faction that was fed up with Stephen Harper's unique blend of greasy authoritarianism.

That Duffy e-mail was devastating because it was corroborated by undeniable facts.   When the senate scandal erupted, Duffy was brought in-house, inside the PMO, where the chief-of-staff no less put him in funds to the tune of 90-large to settle his tab with the Senate.   The money was given on condition that Duffy cease all cooperation with the Senate-appointed auditors, Deloittes.  That too happened.  As part of the deal Duffy was promised that the Senate audit report would "go easy on" him.  That likewise happened.  The two top Tories on the Senate audit committee laundered the draft report to pointedly go easy on Duffy and, of the four senators involved, only Duffy.

The Three Prophecies set out in Duffy's e-mail all came to pass.  Caught out, Tory senators Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen ducked for cover, claiming they chose to amend the draft report on Duffy because he had repaid the expenses wrongly claimed.  They did it, just the two of them.  Really?  Just straight out of the blue they laundered the Duffy report.  It has nothing to do, nothing whatever, with the promise Duffy had been given by the PMO.  Nope, sheer coincidence, real parallel universe stuff.

A critical part of Steve Harper's political life support system is the summer recess.  For him, it's like a trip to Lourdes.  When Parliament takes its summer break he's up to his eyeballs in scandal and nefarious deeds.  When Parliament returns in September, the public has forgotten all about it and Steve comes back rejuvenated and cleansed.

The Tory dissidents on Harper's heels might have had this in mind when they allowed the scandal to ferment for three months before leaking further e-mails to CTV's Bob Fife.

Those emails show that Duffy had initially refused to go along with the plan to repay the taxpayer-funded living allowance and other expenses using Wright’s money.
The embattled senator was then threatened with the loss of his seat in the upper chamber.
In the emails, Duffy claimed that Tkachuk, who until recently was the chair of the Senate internal economy committee, told him he didn’t meet the Senate’s residency requirements because he lived in Ottawa.

Tkachuk allegedly told Duffy that if he went along with Wright’s bailout offer, the Senate committee would throw out the residency issue and go easy on him in the audit of his expenses.
Harper’s former director of communications, Angelo Persichilli, was also putting pressure on Duffy amid the growing Senate spending scandal.

While Persichilli was awaiting his appointment as a citizenship judge in Toronto, he called Duffy to tell him that the Conservative Party would turn against him if he didn’t repay the money.
Persichilli insisted he acted alone and as a friend when he made that call.

Harper plans to prorogue Parliament, to extend the summer break into October at least.  No reasonable explanation has been given for that.  Makes a person wonder if Steve decided to lock down Parliament after getting word that more leaks were coming.

Syrian Smoking Gun Found - We're Told

Now who would be happier to see Syria's air force and army reduced to rubble by the West - free of charge no less - than its neighbour and longtime adversary, Israel?

And who in the Middle East has mastered pulling America's strings better than Israel?

So it's Israel's very good luck that its intelligence types just happened to intercept the "smoking gun" - calls between Syrian officials discussing the use of chemical weapons.

Denialism 2.0 - Even More Dangerous Than the Original

By and large, the pioneers of climate change denialism have moved on.   Those who used to lead the campaign claiming that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is a hoax, a conspiracy, a fraud or  fundamentally flawed, have retrenched.

In his final column for The Guardian, Leo Hickman warns these veteran denialists have morphed into something far more dangerous:

What we are now seeing more of, though, are climate policy sceptics. Yes, some of these are the same characters as before, but who have subtly, artful repositioned themselves over recent years. So rather than claiming that climate science is a hoax, a fraud or fundamentally flawed, they now say the proposed climate policies will have little, if any, impact on the planet's temperature gauge and are therefore a waste of time and money. They know that this is a more tenable (and electable?) position from which to argue their point. (In the UK, only two political parties – Ukip and the BNP - proudly state in their manifestos that they doubt, or reject, climate science; proof, if it were ever needed, that climate scepticism is predominantly built upon a foundation of ideology rather than science. Additionally, the work of James Painter at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford has also highlighted how cultural/media support for climate sceptics varies greatly from country to country.)

John Abraham made an astute point the other day when he said that it rarely gets noticed that climate sceptics have actually conceded a lot of ground over recent years when it comes to the science. Many have begun to adopt a so-called "lukewarmer" position, which means they now accept the basics of climate science but don't think it's worth investing heavily today to prevent or limit a problem that will increasingly hit home in the decades ahead.

...Nothing exposes our species' "future flaw" more than climate change – rarely, if ever, have the history books demonstrated a generation acting selflessly, or with sacrifice, for the sole benefit of generations to come. We are an extraordinary animal in so many ways, but one of our weaknesses is that we operate firmly in the present tense. We jump only when we are in imminent danger ourselves. If not, we prevaricate, delay or turn our heads away. Climate change requires us to fast overcome this flaw…

Hickman, who is moving on to WWF-UK, hits the nail on the head.  The denialists have come up with a better plan.  Instead of their failing campaign to undermine science they've realized it's far easier and more effective to exploit a flaw in human nature, our proven inability to accept sacrifice for the benefit of future generations.

"Why Doesn't Duff Just Resign?"

And Up Yours, Too, Mr. Prime Minister

Consider who's asking.  He's a former Harper deputy chief of staff who now sits comfortably installed as a Vice-President at Air Canada for government affairs in 2012.  Derek Vanstone says he'll take the word of Tkachuk over Duffy any day.

"It truly angers me to see Duffy trying to take honest people down with him," tweets Vanstone.   Really Derek?   They're honest because you say so?  You can't do any better than that?

It seems to me that all Duffy has ever called for is a full and open enquiry.  I'm pretty sure he didn't leak the initial e-mails to CTV that landed him in hot water and blew the lid off the backroom PMO deal to funnel money to him.  That would be the very same PMO Vanstone went through on his way to corporate bliss at Air Canada.

A little more on Vanstone here and here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Patshit Crazy Robertson Rides Again

Homophobe extraordinaire Pat Robertson explains how "the gays" have a ring they use to spread AIDS to the unwary.  Careful, you could be next.

Is Carolyn Stewart-Olsen a Duffy in the Shadows?

She's ostensibly a senator for New Brunswick but Carolyn Stewart-Olsen been a denizen of Ottawa since the mid-80s.

According to her Wiki entry, Stewart-Olsen served as head nurse of ambulatory care at Ottawa's Grace Hospital in 1986 before moving on to work as nursing manager at Carleton Place hospital.  She hooked up with the Reform Party in 1993 when it became established in Ottawa.  She worked for Preston Manning and Deborah Grey before becoming Harper's press secretary in 2002 when he deposed Stockwell Day.  Harper brought Stewart-Olsen into his PMO in 2006.   Three years later he annointed her senator for New Brunswick, presumably with all the attention to residency detail he lavished on Mike Duffy and Pam Wallin.

Not that it's in any way conclusive but Wiki lists her residence as Ottawa, the place she worked and lived for so many years before sliding into the Senate.

It sounds like, with her Ottawa-centric background, someone should look into how Stewart-Olsen meets the requirements of residence for a senator for New Brunswick.

Will America Debut the F-22 Over Syria?

It's been in service for years and surely it's about time the U.S. introduced its F-22 Raptor, stealth fighter, into combat.  And where better than in the skies over Syria?

Operating out of an RAF base in Cyprus just a hundred miles distant from Syria, the F-22 would have no significant fuel problems.  It could dominate the airspace over Syria, protecting the strike force, taking out any Syrian fighters that rose against the attackers and proving itself invulnerable to Syrian air defences.

Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen Succumb to Denialism, Senate-Style

Senate scandal - it's not just for the rookies any more.  Veteran Tory senators, Dave Tkachuk and Carolyn Stewart Olsen, have issued statements denying they knew anything about the backroom deal between Harper chief of staff, Nigel Wright, and the beleaguered Cavendish Cottager, Mike Duffy, to cover Duffy's Senate tab.

Tkachuk and Stewart Olsen deny that PMO deal had anything to do with their laundering of the Senate
report into Duffy's expense problems - even if that might have been part of the deal between Duffy and Wright.

"It was all a coincidence, ya see - a pure coincidence.  Coulda happened to anybody, see.

CTV News reported that Tkachuk had a pact with Duffy whereby, if Duffy took Wright's handout and settled his Senate tab, the audit report would be less critical and questions about Duffy's residence problem would go away.   What is this, The Sopranos?

It's Time for a Showdown at Washington's OK Corral

Watch for radical Republicans (they're not all that way, honest) to shut down the U.S. government in October.   GOP House leader John Boehner may emerge looking like an idiot who couldn't control the nutjobs in his party's ranks and the Republicans may pay dearly for that.

As for Obama, he knows not to trust the Repugs and sees no reason to try - again.

...there's really nothing Obama wants from Republicans. They had their chance at a serious debt-reduction deal and turned it down, and Obama obviously has no desire to waste his time with that again. Besides, with the deficit already plummeting, he doesn't need a deal anymore and couldn't get congressional Democrats to support one even if he did.

So he can stand firm pretty easily because there's nothing much Republicans can offer him. The only leverage they have is a government shutdown, and that isn't much of a threat. Both Obama and John Boehner know perfectly well that a shutdown would hurt Republicans more than it would hurt Democrats.

But that's logic, and logic is selling at a deep discount these days. The fever swamp wants a debt ceiling default, and there's a pretty good chance they're going to force one through. Boehner just doesn't have the clout or the influence to stop his lemmings from racing over the cliff. At this point, the most germane question probably isn't whether Republicans are going to force a default, but how long they'll hold out after they've done it. Just how badly do global markets have to panic before they finally come to their senses?

Eight weeks to go and counting.  It'll be here before you know it.

Upcoming "Law & Order" Episode - Paula Deen Kills Trayvon Martin.

Oh dear.   The upcoming season of Law & Order is said to include an episode in which a "high profile, celebrity woman chef" thinks she is being pursued by a rapist, turns and shoots what then proves to be an innocent, black teenager.   Word of the episode has sent the rightwing media into a frenzy.

The chef is a fictionalized version of Paula Deen, the Savannah, Georgia-based cooking personality and author who was recently embroiled in a racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuit. The minor she fatally shoots is clearly inspired by Trayvon Martin.

 It's no secret that SVU has a liberal streak. The show built an episode around Rep. Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment, and not flatteringly so. Back in the sixth season, the assistant district attorney subpoenaed Donald Rumsfeld. The series is also consistently critical of gay-bashers. And in the forthcoming Paula Deen-Trayvon Martin episode, "There's a lot of stop and frisk elements to [the SVU story], as well," according to Leight.

...This is also not the first time that SVU has directly pissed off Fox News. In a 2009 episode titled "Anchor," a defense attorney explains why he's chosen to defend man who murdered the kids of undocumented immigrants. The lawyer puts most of the blame on conservative media figures, rather than the killer himself: "Limbaugh, Beck, O'Reilly, all of them. They're like a cancer spreading ignorance and hate. I mean, they have convinced folks that immigrants are the problem, not corporations that fail to pay a living wage or a broken health care system."

This did not sit well with Fox host Bill O'Reilly. "That is simply defamatory and outrageous, and Dick Wolf is a coward for putting it out there," he complained on The O'Reilly Factor. "Dick Wolf, the executive producer of Law & Order, is a despicable human being for distorting and exploiting this very complicated situation. I mean, enough is enough with these network pinheads who shove propaganda down our throats under the guise of entertainment."  (as opposed to the FOX crew who prefer to package their propaganda in the guise of news.)

Gordo in Exile

Most senators don't get mug shots and fingerprints until after they're appointed.

It looks like Gordo Campbell may be stuck in Trafalgar Square for a while.  The Georgia Strait reports that the current Senate scandals and High Commish Campbell's high-flying London lifestyle have all but ruled out his chances to fill British Columbia's Senate vacancy.

There's a vacancy for a sixth senator from B.C.

Under normal circumstances, former premier Gordon Campbell would be a strong contender, given his rapport with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

However, Campbell's surprisingly costly hospitality bills at the Canadian High Commission in London may have ruled him out for one of the tastiest patronage plums in the country.

Last year, CBC reported that in the first five months of 2012, Campbell billed taxpayers $67,026 on dinners, lunches, and cocktail receptions.

That was far above any other Canadian diplomatic mission.

Keep in mind that Campbell also stuck taxpayers for $600 for three tuxedo rentals. You would think that he could afford formal wear on his income.

This autumn, the last thing Harper will want to deal with are more questions in Parliament about senators' expenses.

If Campbell were to get a Senate seat, the NDP opposition would make hay of the London hospitality costs.

So B.C.'s last remaining Senate seat stays vacant—for now.

Syria - A Cautionary Message from Gwynne Dyer

Yeah, okay, we get it.  Chemical weapons were unleashed against civilians in Syria.  That seems, just as John Kerry claims, undeniable.  But, as Gwynne Dyer, warns we have to tread very carefully past that point.

After that, however, we run out of facts. The rebels claim that the Baathist regime was responsible, while the Syrian government says that the rebels did it themselves in the hope of triggering foreign military intervention.

Sending United Nations inspectors will not settle that argument: if nerve gas was actually used, it must have come from government stocks, but that doesn’t mean that the regime did it.

If you apply the old test of “who benefits?”, the rebels, who are currently losing ground, have a strong incentive to get the Assad regime blamed for using illegal weapons. If that gets the United States and other Western powers to impose a no-fly zone, or bomb the regime’s military bases, it helps the rebel cause. So maybe they acted to provide the necessary “evidence”: some of them are certainly ruthless enough.

It’s easier to imagine the regime using chemical weapons: it’s just as ruthless, and it actually owns them. But it is manifestly not to its advantage to do so.

President Bashar al-Assad’s troops are winning the war without them, and the last thing he needs is foreign military intervention. Using chemical weapons could lead to just such an outcome, and it would be exceptionally stupid for the regime to do so.

On the other hand, armies and regimes have done exceptionally stupid things in the past, particularly when they are isolated and under great pressure. The emerging consensus among Western governments, at any rate, is that Assad was responsible. So what to do about it?

U.S. military intervention is unlikely to lead to the outcome American foreign policy really desires: the preservation of Syria’s existing secular state, with a change of leadership at the top.

If Assad is overthrown, he’ll probably pull the whole edifice down with him. If the rebels win, it’s almost certainly the Islamist radicals who will take over. So if a military intervention is practically bound to end in tears, then why not just skip it?

Because chemical weapons are classed as “weapons of mass destruction”, and there is an international treaty banning their use. If you let Assad get away with this, goes the argument, he will have breached an important international taboo on the use of WMD. Well, not really.

Biological weapons (“germ warfare”) are truly horrifying weapons of mass destruction, banned by treaty, and nobody has ever used them. Nuclear weapons can kill by the billions; they have never been banned, but they haven’t been used in war for 68 years now. Poison gas, however, is not really a weapon of mass destruction at all.

Napalm, fuel-air explosives, and cluster bombs are just as nasty as poison gas, and perfectly legal. The historic ban on poison gas is a valuable deterrent, but it has survived some previous breaches, and preventing this one is not worth a war. Especially if it is, from the point of view of the potential interveners, an unwinnable war.

I think Dyer is probably right.  For the U.S., Britain and France, this has become a matter of self-image.  We're supposed to be the policemen of the world, the guys who step up to the plate when bad stuff happens.  We would look like wimps if we didn't bomb somebody and, besides, we don't like Assad much anyway and we're not sure who to bomb or not bomb on the rebel side.   So, if bombs it must be to maintain our machismo, Assad it must be. 

India Bursts Her First Bubble

To the extent we paid attention to India's economic miracle at all, it was mainly to see its ascendancy as unstoppable.  What we read were tales of new moguls and an emerging, high tech, sophisticated middle class.   Unfortunately that's pretty much the vision that Indians also held and it was as much an illusion for them as it was for us except they're now on the receiving end of a bursting bubble.

The rupee has slid to its lowest ever rate and the country is teetering on a currency crisis.  The Guardian's Jayati Ghosh says it was a building crisis in plain view that no one wanted to see coming.

The Indian economy has been in trouble for quite a while already, and only wilful blindness could have led to ignorance on this. Output growth has been decelerating for several years, and private investment has fallen for 10 consecutive quarters. Industrial production has declined over the past year. But consumer price inflation is still in double digits, providing all the essential elements of stagflation (rising prices with slowing income growth).

This situation is the result of internal and external imbalances that have been building up for years. The Indian economic boom was based on a debt-driven consumption and investment spree that mainly relied on short-term capital inflows. This generated asset booms in areas such as construction and real estate, rather than in traded goods. And it created a sense of financial euphoria that led to massive over-extension of credit to both companies and households, to compound the problem.

Sadly, this boom was also "wasted" in that it did not lead to significant improvements in the lives of the majority, as public expenditure on basic infrastructure, as well as nutrition, health, sanitation and education did not rise adequately.

We should know by now that such a debt-driven bubble is an unsustainable process that must end in tears, but those who pointed this out were derided as killjoys with no understanding of India's potential.

The typical story, which was elaborated half a century ago by Charles Kindleberger, goes something like this: a country is "discovered" by international investors and therefore receives substantial capital inflows. These contribute to a domestic boom, and also push up the real exchange rate. This reduces the incentives for exporters and producers of import substitutes, so investors look for avenues in the non-tradable sectors, such as construction and real estate. So the boom is marked by rising asset values, of real estate and of stocks. The counterpart of all this is a rising current account deficit, which no one pays much attention to as long as the money keeps flowing in and the economy keeps growing.

But all bubbles must eventually burst. All it takes is some change in perception for the entire process to unravel, and then it can unravel very quickly. ...Once the "revulsion" in markets sets in, the very features that were celebrated during the boom are excoriated – by both investors and the public – as examples of crony capitalism, inefficiency and such like. The resulting financial crisis hits those who did not really benefit so much from the boom, by affecting employment and the incomes of workers.

Ghosh suggests that India is merely arriving at a crisis experienced widely elsewhere in recent years - Mexico, Southeast Asia, Russia, Argentina, the United States, Europe and elsewhere and is likely to spread to new powerhouses like Indonesia and Brazil soon.  A world driven by bubbles.  That sounds like a formula for stability, doesn't it?

Anthony Weiner Caught in Public 3-Way

No, he wasn't sexting at the wheel either but I thought the title would get plenty of attention.  It was just a 3-car fender bender on Manhattan's Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.  Weiner was a backseat passenger.  Nobody hurt. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Suadis Offer Russia Control of Global Oil Markets

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting a blockbuster, back room deal being offered by the Saudis to the Russians that could hand Moscow control of global oil markets.

Saudi Arabia has secretly offered Russia a sweeping deal to control the global oil market and safeguard Russia’s gas contracts, if the Kremlin backs away from the Assad regime in Syria.

The revelations come amid high tension in the Middle East, with US, British, and French warships poised for missile strikes against Syria, and Iran threatening to retaliate. The strategic jitters pushed Brent crude prices to a five-month high of $US112 a barrel.

‘‘We are only one incident away from a serious oil spike. The market is a lot tighter than people think,’’ said Chris Skrebowski, editor of Petroleum Review.

Leaked transcripts of a behind closed doors meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan shed an extraordinary light on the hard-nosed Realpolitik of the two sides.
The talks appear to offer an alliance between the OPEC cartel and Russia, which together produce more than 40 million barrels a day of oil, 45 per cent of global output. Such a move would alter the strategic landscape.

The details of the talks were leaked to the Russian press. A more detailed version has since appeared in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, which has Hizbollah links and is hostile to the Saudis.
As-Safir said Prince Bandar pledged to safeguard Russia’s naval base in Syria if the Assad regime is toppled, but he also hinted at Chechen terrorist attacks on Russia’s Winter Olympics in Sochi if there is no accord.

‘‘I can give you a guarantee to protect the Winter Olympics next year. The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the Games are controlled by us,’’ he allegedly said.

President Putin has long been pushing for a global gas cartel, issuing the ‘‘Moscow Declaration’’ last month to ‘‘defend suppliers and resist unfair pressure’’.
The Putin-Bandar meeting took place three weeks ago. Mr Putin was unmoved by the Saudi offer.

‘‘We believe that the Syrian regime is the best speaker on behalf of the Syrian people, and not those liver eaters,’’ he said, referring to footage showing a Jihadist rebel eating the heart and liver of a Syrian soldier.

Prince Bandar said that there can be ‘‘no escape from the military option’’ if Russia declines the olive branch. Events are unfolding exactly as he foretold.

This story is utterly bizarre.  It reeks of the bogus Kuwaiti babies turfed from their incubators story that was used to bolster support for Bush Sr's Desert Storm.

Importing Democracy to Canada, a Timely Notion.

A Toronto lawyer is trying to raise funds to bring a copy of Magna Carta and the companion Carta de Foresta or Charter of the Forest to Canada.

The four original charters dating to 1215 never leave England but a copy from 1225 might be allowed to make a four city tour of Canada.

Magna Carta is considered to have set the west on the road to democracy by providing that "no one is above the law," a body blow to the divine right of kings.  Carta Foresta which was enacted a few years later set out a bill of rights for freemen that, again, restricted the control of the monarch.   Some parts of Carta Foresta remained in force in Britain into the 1970s.

Bringing these treasures to Canada would be invaluable to the country and our Parliament where the current monarch seems to have forgotten the bit about "no one is above the law."   There does seem to be some concern that sudden, simultaneous exposure to both Charters could cause Harper to spontaneously combust.

Warplanes Massing in Cyprus

Jet fighters and military transport aircraft have been reported massing at RAF Akrotiri, a British military airbase on Cyprus just a hundred miles distant from Syria.

There's still no clear indication of what targets western warplanes would seek to hit or what they would hope to achieve.  In other words this is already shaping up to be another one of those wars where we have no idea going in what victory would look like or how to get out either.

Why Does John Kerry Make Me Think of This Guy?

Obama's secretary of state John Kerry says there exists "undeniable" evidence of a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria.  Of course he's not actually saying it was the Assad government behind the attack.   There are plenty of Bad Actors afoot in Syria who might have been willing to do some pretty horrific things to drag the West in against Assad.    So, when it comes to establishing casus belli, undeniable isn't quite the same as conclusive.

And then there's this guy who also came forward with proof positive of weapons of mass destruction.   Oh yeah, he was a secretary of state too.   Don't they say the damnedest things?  What was this guy's name?  Slam Dunk, was that it?

The Big Cod Says, "Keep Verizon Out."

Safely retired ex-general Rick Hillier has a new gig as chairman of Telus Atlantic Canada Community Board.   In that capacity he wrote an op-ed urging the government not to let foreigners in to play in Canada's miserable cellular market.

As I read Hillier's bit of tripe I kept thinking that this was from the guy who talked Paul Martin into approving Canada's combat mission to Kandahar and who assured the Canadian people that his miniscule, 2,500-soldier force would only have to contend with a "few dozen ...scumbags."

I knew all I would ever need to know about Hillier's credibility with his Kandahar assessment.

Mac Harb Resigns

Liberal senator Mac Harb has resigned effective immediately and repaid a total of $231,000 for disputed housing allowances he received plus interest.

Harb said there are plenty of senators in the same boat that he was in.

Why Does the American South Embrace Climate Change Denialism?

Even as climate change whipsaws the American south, states such as Florida and Texas remain hotbeds of global warming denialism.

The outgoing governor of Texas, who is expected to seek the GOP nomination in 2016, Rick Perry maintains that climate change is "a theory that has not been proven."  Of course this is the same jackass who claimed that, with enough prayer, Jeebus would deliver the Lone Star State from its ongoing megadrought.   Now there's a theory that has not been proven.

From the Environmental Defense Fund:

NOAA’s comprehensive [State of the Climate report] stands as a rebuke to what we hear from many Texas lawmakers. Four major independent datasets agree that, globally, 2012 was among the ten warmest years on record (ranking either 8 or 9 depending on the dataset used). It was also the warmest year in American history. All that heat plunged the country into a billion-dollar drought, with 61.8% of the contiguous U.S. in drought conditions by July. While Texas fared better than the central U.S. in 2012, the all-time record-breaking summer of 2011 is still fresh in the memory of most Texans. The extreme temperatures and associated drought contributed to the most destructive wildfires in Texas history. The La NiƱa-related heat wave that prompted 2011’s extremes was made 20 times more likely by climate change.

...But even as mainstream American society searches for the best ways to cope with a changing climate, our leaders in Texas still have their heads in the sand. In fact, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) has removed mention of climate change from state-commissioned reports, calling it “unsettled science, in our opinion.”

And Florida, next only to Louisiana in vulnerability to sea level rise and severe tropical storm impacts, climate change denialism is alive and well.  GOP pretty boy, Mark Rubio, continues to insist that the whole notion of anthropogenic climate change remains mired in "reasonable debate."

Why PRISM Matters

The Guardian has done an excellent and vital job digesting the U.S. National Security Agency PRISM data leaked by Edward Snowden.  A good deal of it had come out, in part, in dribs and drabs but it was the British newspaper that put it all together in chilling context.

It's partly a warning about our governments spying on us and why.  It's also a warning of  what they might have in mind for us in the future.   They foresee unrest and potential upheaval in the future from climate change impacts.  Theirs is a world in which today's environmental activists are viewed as tomorrow's potential terrorists and they're gearing up for domestic military responses.

Read this summary.  Read it from top to bottom, the whole thing.  Then consider it in light of recent controversy over domestic spying on Canadians by Communications Security Establishment Canada or CSEC.

CSEC denies it is spying on Canadians.  That's bullshit.  The Americans, under the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, do the heavy lifting and share it with Canada's security agencies.  And we know that CSIS, in conjunction with the Calgary and Edmonton police and the RCMP, is running an active intelligence operation targeting environmentalists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project.   This is, after all, HarperLand

It's infuriating to realize that these same governments that drag their heels on doing anything meaningful about climate change nonetheless see it as a major threat warranting preparations for military intervention against their own populations.

Too Dumb to Live

Sean, the IT guy, is no more.   The 26-year old Australian was at a birthday party at the Mary River Wilderness Retreat when he thought he'd swim across the croc-infested river.  The crocs thought otherwise.  Sean 0, Crocs 1. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

L'il Miss Piggy's Tar Sands Adventure

Oilsands Quest, Inc. was very, very good to senator Pam Wallin.  Her spot as a director of the Calgary-based energy company earned her $648,000 in cash and stock options, according to The Globe & Mail

SenPam resigned from the OilQuest board when it fell into receivership but that didn't keep her from being named as a defendant in a lawsuit that claimed the company defrauded investors with bogus claims of great bitumen wealth in Saskatchewan.

Earlier this month the now defunct company settled the suit for $10.2 million.   According to counsel, it's the directors' and officers' insurers that covered the settlement.

Here piggy, piggy.

A Coast Undefended

British Columbia's environment ministry knows that the west coast is unprepared for even a small oil spill.

Bureaucrats in BC`s environment ministry have warned that the province lacks the ability to respond to even a moderate oil spill -- let alone a big one.

They also say the requirements Transport Canada places on industry to deal with oil spills are perceived as woefully insufficient.

The warnings are in briefing notes written for BC environment minister Mary Polak in June and obtained by The Canadian Press.
The notes say Environment Canada`s move last year to close its spill response offices in Vancouver and other cities and consolidate operations in Quebec will make it much harder to contain spills.
Proposed pipeline projects have increased the fear of possible spills -- both on land and water.

From moving the west coast emergency oil spill centre to Quebec, to the wholesale firing of habitat and fisheries scientists at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to the closure of most west coast Coast Guard stations, to gutting transportation, environmental and fisheries regulations, Harper is waging a quiet war on coastal British Columbia.   May he reap the whirlwind.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Is Harper Suppressing Climate Change Information?

Canadians are supposed to receive an annual accounting of our federal government's efforts and progress on fighting climate change.  It's overdue and Environment Canada won't say why or when it will be released.

“Environment Canada is currently preparing the 2013 Canada’s Emissions Trends report,” said spokesman Joshua Kirkey, in an email sent on Friday. “Therefore, they are best positioned to comment on this report.”

The last report, released on Aug 8, 2012, revealed that Canada’s climate performance was improving slightly with annual greenhouse gas emissions projected to be 19 per cent above a target agreed to by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in international negotiations.

The analysis was based partly on an annual inventory report of greenhouse gas emissions submitted by Canada to the United Nations that uses some data collected by Statistics Canada.
The federal statistical agency also announced earlier this month it was delaying the release of a major report on income, housing and shelter costs after uncovering a mistake in its calculations.

Statistics Canada declined to say whether it had any discussions with or direct exchanges of information with Environment Canada about the emissions report.  

Last year’s emissions trends report confirmed that western Canada’s oilsands industry was the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada and that its climate change footprint would be greater than those of all provinces except for Ontario in 2020. With mounting pressure from the Obama administration for Canada to demonstrate it is doing its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in the context of a proposed major pipeline project under review, Environment Canada has said it is still working on developing those regulations in partnership with industry and the Alberta government.

Banking on Neptune

Researchers hope they'll be able to give Victoria and Vancouver a 30- to 50-second warning in advance of the megaquake when it occurs off Vancouver Island.

That doesn't sound like much but it might be enough to shut down gas lines and activate emergency systems that will be needed to cope with the quake and aftershocks.

The Neptune monitoring network deployed off the western coast of Vancouver Island comprises a number of seabed nodules or monitoring stations.

It's hoped these sensitive instrument clusters will detect and report the primary wave of the mega-thrust earthquake, essentially outracing the seismic wave to afford some usable warning.

The type of quake that hit Japan is similar to the one that could occur off the coast of Vancouver Island, said Kate Moran, president of the University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada.

“It is well known that we will have one of those earthquakes some time in the future, and the answer could be sooner than later.”
Moran said the same things that researchers found in Japan and Chile could also happen here, with a megaquake transmitting stress to fault systems hundreds of kilometres away beneath Victoria or Vancouver.

She said one of the advantages in B.C. is that the NEPTUNE fibre-optic cable observatory network has sensors placed near where mega-thrust earthquakes occur in the ocean.
Moran said a team of government and university researchers is working on a five-year project to modify the sensors to detect the first wave of energy seconds before shaking begins.

“We want to detect that primary wave, and we’ll be able to then send a 30- to 50-second warning to major centres like Victoria and Vancouver,” she said. “And with that information, we’ll be able to shut down elevators and potentially shut off gas lines — things that could save lives and save money.”

Today's Times Colonist editorial says we have to move past our antiquated thinking on earthquake response.

Vancouver Island must pay close attention to a new study that suggests some of our assumptions about quakes are dangerously wrong.

All our attention has been focused on surviving the initial shock of a quake, but the aftershocks can last for years and affect cities hundreds of kilometres away, U.S. and Japanese seismologists say in the journal Science.
The report means we might have to rethink our disaster planning. Buildings are being designed and upgraded to withstand heavy quakes, but our infrastructure doesn’t take into account repeated aftershocks.

Two years after the magnitude-nine quake that hit Japan, aftershocks in Tokyo are still three times more frequent than they were before the quake; in the immediate aftermath, they were 10 times more frequent. And Tokyo is 400 kilometres from the epicentre.

It is common for aftershocks to be only one magnitude smaller than the initial quake, and some aftershocks can even be larger than the first one.

Planning for earthquake recovery has long assumed that a major quake reduces the risk of more earthquakes because it relieves stress building up between the tectonic plates. The new research suggests that’s not true.

By the way, if you've wondered what the deep Pacific seabed looks like, Neptune Canada offers a variety of live video feeds.  The cameras are dark most of the day to avoid interference with the habitat but the lights come on at scheduled times each day that are listed on the site.  The reef cam revealing British Columbia's incredibly rich, cold Pacific waters and ecosystem is usually on during daylight hours.

The Geopolitical Anchor Around the World's Neck.

For all our wealth and sophistication, our nations still interact in ways remarkably akin to those that drove great power politics in centuries past. In OurWorld2.0, Manu Mathai warns that, unless we change and soon, the political models to which we are so tightly lashed may take us down.

...great (and aspiring) power politics is also a driver of environmental degradation. The possession of power in international relations, whether “hard”, “soft” or “smart”, is sustained in great measure by the size of a country’s GDP. And despite claims of dematerialization, GDP remains correlated to an economy’s “ecological footprint”. The tendency of countries to unceasingly pursue the accumulation of power and prestige in geopolitics is also a driver of environmental degradation.

The ongoing economic, military and diplomatic rise of China is an intended outcome of the country’s development process that is manufactured and sustained at tremendous ecological cost, to help, among other things, reclaim that country’s perceived place on the world’s stage and to assuage insults recorded in a deep national narrative of victimization during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While pointing fingers at China as an ecological predator hogging the world’s resources and polluting its air and water, it is important to remember that the country is only following in the footsteps of established powers.

Further, it is not apparent that the older powers (the United Kingdom, France and US in the West and Japan and Russia in the East) have yet matured enough to construct norms of international relations in more cooperative and less competitive terms. And neither has a newly powerful China demonstrated such willingness in its relationships, in particular and somewhat ironically, with non-perpetrators of said historical insults.

On the contrary, deeply insecure of holding onto power and privilege in a dog-eat-dog formulation of international relations, the rich world insists on growing its already gigantic economies and ecological footprints. Thus, for instance, at climate change negotiations, many developed countries balk at environmentally progressive commitments to protect their economic “competitiveness”, while big developing countries excessively assert their “development space” as an excuse to avoid potentially growth-limiting environmental commitments. A realist perspective readily rationalizes this state of affairs. But is such realism realistic on a shared and finite planet?

Despite proclamations of the virtues of efficiency and slogans of “green economy” or “green growth”, these strategies are temporary respites that can buy us time, or worse, failing brakes on a runaway train. While advocates of such strategies assert that they will “ensure that those [ecological] limits are not crossed”, the fact is that ecological limits have already been breached. A number of ecosystem attributes — the climate system and biological diversity being two easy to identify cases — already function at levels of degradation beyond anything observed in the history of the human species, and longer.

Certainly, in the case of the wealthy world, economic growth is a convenient excuse for not pursuing fairer domestic allocations of the wealth and opportunity that already exist. On the contrary, the relationship between a country’s GDP and its power in international relations is far less nuanced. The crude reality is that more wealth equals more power, and vice-versa.

In all its magnanimity and pettiness, humanity’s behaviour now registers as ecological fact. And those facts, as we know now, don’t look so good. We have “guided missiles and misguided men”, Martin Luther King lamented decades ago. Indeed, it is one thing for kings who command cavalries to behave as ecologically blind, petty realists, but it is an entirely different matter when a global civilization commanding Promethean powers behaves the same. Our politics and geopolitics have to grow up to engage this new reality.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why Forcillo's Five-Second Pause Matters

From the outset it's been apparent to me that Sammy Yatim's death resulted from two, distinct shooting events.

The first was the initial, 3-round salvo that took two seconds.

After that there was a pause of nearly 5-seconds.

Only after that pause did Forcillo resume firing the remaining six rounds in his sidearm.  He fired 4-rounds, paused, the eighth round, paused, and then the final, ninth round.

That the pause is of critical significance is explained by Toronto defence counsel, Reid Rusonik, in the Toronto Star:

...there may also be grounds in the second volley of shots fired by the officer to have charged first degree murder. Regardless of his reason for firing the first volley, there was opportunity according to the law for the requisite planning and deliberation to kill to have taken place in the pause before the second volley. Shooting at someone a number of times — then pausing and shooting at them a number of other times — can be seen as some evidence of deciding and preparing to kill.

Unless the evidence is clear the young man on that streetcar was not rendered harmless by the first volley, it should be for a jury to decide if the second volley wasn’t specifically intended to kill him

Legal history is replete with examples of people wounding someone without an intention to kill but then deciding to go further. A jury may well acquit of first degree murder, but that would make a second degree murder compromise finding of guilt more likely.

Justin's Splif Slip

Time will tell but it was probably a bone-headed thing to do.  Why did Justin Trudeau volunteer that he had smoked pot recently?  Did he think it would make him look cool?   Was he hoping to attract the youth vote?

I don't think it's going to work.  A good many of us won't be bothered that he apparently smoked a bit of pot as much as we will be put off by him seeming to boast about it, to place himself in a spotlight of controversy.

"I not only own the company, I'm a customer."  Okay for the Hair Club for Men, not so good when you're vying to become prime minister.

This certainly wasn't the biggest gaffe in Canadian political history, not even close.  It was, however, a display of risky judgment by a young guy who needs to build public confidence in him.

It's Only a Matter of Time

When reports come out about computer hacking they tend to be either espionage or a "denial of service" campaign by activists/radicals to take down some corporate miscreant.

So far no one has been causing our chemical plants to explode or taking down our electrical grid, not yet anyway.  Perhaps hackers know they would be hunted down like dogs or hostile nations know it would be an act of war triggering uncontrollable consequences.  But that doesn't mean it can't be done.  A recent article in the I.T. section of the Brisbane Times warns that "Hacking is Way Too Easy."

Hacking power plants and chemical factories is easy. I learnt just how easy during a five-day workshop at Idaho National Labs last month.

Every month the US Department of Homeland Security trains the nation's asset owners – the people who run so-called Industrial Control Systems at your local wastewater plant, at the electrical power station down the road, or at the refinery in the state next door – to hack and attack their own systems.

The systems, called ICS in the trade, control stuff that moves around, from sewage to trains to oil. They're also alarmingly simply to break into. 

ICS-CERT's monthly training sessions in Idaho Falls put 42 operators at a time into an offensive mindset. For the first three days in last June's workshop, we learnt basic hacking techniques: how to spot vulnerabilities, how to use exploits to breach a network, scan it, sniff traffic, analyse it, penetrate deeper into the bowels of the control network, and ultimately to bring down a mock chemical plant's operations. There was something ironic about Department of Homeland Security staff teaching us how to use Wireshark, an open-source packet analyser; Metasploit, a tool for executing exploit code; man-in-the-middle attacks; buffer overflow; and SQL-injection – all common hacking techniques – and then adding, only half-jokingly: ''Don't try this on your hotel's Wi-Fi!''

If it's so easy, why has nobody crashed America's critical infrastructure yet? And why isn't the Defence Department doing more to protect the grid?

The questions only loomed large on the fourth day of the training – a 10-hour exercise. We split into two groups, a large blue team and a small red team. The blue team's task was to defend a fake chemical company, with a life-sized control network complete with large tanks and pumps that would run production batches, a real human-machine interface, a so-called ''demilitarized zone'', even simulated paperwork and a mock management with executives that didn't understand what was really happening on the factory floor – just like in real life. The red team's task was to breach the network and wreak havoc on the production process. By 5pm they got us: toxic chemicals spilled on the floor, panic spread in the control room. Good thing for us this was only an exercise, and the gushing liquid was just water.

Attacking such systems has become easier. Vulnerabilities are easier to spot. The search engine Shodan, dubbed the ''Google for hackers'', has made it easy to find turbines, breweries and large airconditioning systems that shouldn't be connected to the internet but  are. One project at the Freie Universitt Berlin has enriched the Shodan data and put them on a map. The rationale of this ''war map'', as project leader Volker Roth called it tongue-in-cheek, is visualising the threat landscape with coloured dots: yellow for building management systems, orange for monitoring systems and so on. The US eastern seaboard looks like a target on a paintball range after a busy shooting session.

So far attackers have lacked either the necessary skill, intelligence or malicious intention to use that map as a shooting range. That may be changing. Mounting sophisticated ICS attacks is more difficult than meets the eye but many countries as well as hackers are honing their skills. Some are also busy gathering intelligence; earlier this year, for example, the US Army Corps of Engineers' National Inventory of Dams was breached, possibly from China. And any political crisis may change an attacker's intention and rationale to strike by cyber attack.

The article is written by Thomas Rid who is pursuing war studies at King's College, London.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Putting Athabasca Back in Bitumen.

We - Canada, Alberta, the Oil Patch - are the sine qua non of the emissions that result from the production, transportation, refining, distribution and consumption of Athabasca bitumen.

Just because we find someone else to burn the crud doesn't matter.  We made it available for them to burn.  We marketed the stuff to those who burn it.  We transported it thousands of miles to their markets so they could burn it.  That's all on us, not them.

It doesn't matter that they burn the stuff thousands of miles distant.  The emissions still go into our atmosphere, the world's atmosphere, mankind's shared atmosphere.   Someone else may burn the stuff but the climate change impacts are felt the same way they would be if we set fire to it here.

Surely this is a distinction without a difference, right?  It doesn't really matter that the emissions go on some other country's books instead of Alberta's, does it?  Actually, I think it might.

Look at the process we go through to get that bitumen coursing through pipelines and into the bellies of supertankers to Asia.   It begins with tankers full of condensate, light oil diluent, that has to be imported and then sent via pipeline to Athabasca.  Somebody had to refine that stuff and transport it to those tankers so they could bring it across the sea that it could then be pumped through a pipeline to Athabasca.

Then we use the condensate to mix with the partly processed bitumen so that, with enough heat and pressure, the diluted bitumen or dilbit is capable of being pushed through pipelines to distant refineries or tankers.

Eventually somebody, somewhere else refines the dilbit.   They extract all the particulates including the high sulfur, granular coking coal, called petcoke, that's quietly sold for power generation.  What's left is synthetic crude products that can then be sold to end-users.

So, why does any of this matter?  Ask Steve Harper or Alison Redford.  Ask them why bitumen isn't refined into finished, synthetic crude products on site in Alberta?  Ask them why we don't dispense with having to import condensate from abroad and pump it to Athabasca with all the emissions from refining and transporting that stuff only to put it in another pipeline and pump it straight back out again?   Why do we need supertankers to bring condensate to Canada and far more supertankers plying our coasts to carry their mixed load of condensate, bitumen, petcoke and particulates thousands of miles away.  Shipping relatively clean and benign, fully-refined synthetic crude would require far fewer tankers and greatly reduce the risk of catastrophe to the British Columbia coast.  It would also keep those refining revenues and jobs in Alberta.  So why not?

The standard answer is there is surplus refining capacity elsewhere but I think that's a sop.  I just don't believe that's it.  I think Alberta and Ottawa don't want the emissions and other environmental impacts of refining bitumen on site in Athabasca on Alberta's and Canada's books.  They want it "out of sight, out of mind."   And, besides, as dilbit, Alberta gets to export its petcoke unnoticed.  It would have a hell of a time flogging that stuff openly if the bitumen was refined in Athabasca.

It's time Christy Clark and the other premiers called Harper and Redford on this.  Why should other provinces be Kalamazooed by ruptured dilbit pipelines when it's completely unnecessary.  It's time Harper and Redford got the message - clean up your crud and then we'll talk.