Monday, September 30, 2013

America is Out of Business

America's Taliban, a.k.a. Tea Party Republicans, have shut down the government of the United States.   Having campaigned against Obamacare in the last elections - and having lost - the Tea Party Repugs nevertheless continue to claim they're acting on behalf of the American people.

A Gallup poll shows that popular support for the Tea Party is nearly at an all time low of around 22%.  Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, said "the House has done its work."  If, by "work", he meant blackmailing the White House, they've certainly tried.

Congressional Republicans are expected to take a beating in public opinion for their stunt and it will be well earned.

The federal government officially shuts down at midnight, Tuesday.  The New York Times reports that 800,000 federal employees will be furloughed and another million will be asked to work without pay.

The Office of Management and Budget issued orders that “agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”

“They’ve lost their minds,” [Senate majority leader Harry] Reid said, before disposing of the House bill. “They keep trying to do the same thing over and over again.”

The House’s most ardent conservatives were resigned to seeing through their war on the health care law to its inevitable conclusion, a shutdown that could test voters’ patience with Republican brinkmanship.

Cracks in the party were opening into fissures of frustration.

“You have this group that keeps saying somehow if you’re not with them, you’re for Obamacare,” said Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California. “If you’re not with exactly their plan, exactly what they want to do, then you’re somehow for Obamacare, and it’s just getting a little old.”

“It’s moronic to shut down the government over this,” he continued. 

Some interesting tweets at the Brookings Institution web page.  Michael Fullilove asked, "What sort of superpower regularly goes to the brink of shutting down its government?"   Former Utah governor and not particularly successful candidate for the Republican presidential nominee, John Huntsman, tweeted, "Bernard Goldberg made total sense on @oreillyfactor tonight. There is a civil war brewing within the Republican Party."

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman warns the closure must not be taken lightly, even if the Republicans don't get it.

O.K., a temporary government shutdown — which became almost inevitable after Sunday’s House vote to provide government funding only on unacceptable conditions — wouldn’t be the end of the world. But a U.S. government default, which will happen unless Congress raises the debt ceiling soon, might cause financial catastrophe. Unfortunately, many Republicans either don’t understand this or don’t care.’s important to note that the Clinton-era shutdowns took place against the background of a booming economy. Today we have a weak economy, with falling government spending one main cause of that weakness. A shutdown would amount to a further economic hit, which could become a big deal if the shutdown went on for a long time.

...failure to raise the ceiling would mean missed payments on existing U.S. government debt. And that might have terrifying consequences.

...suppose it became clear that U.S. bonds weren’t safe, that America couldn’t be counted on to honor its debts after all. Suddenly, the whole system would be disrupted. Maybe, if we were lucky, financial institutions would quickly cobble together alternative arrangements. But it looks quite possible that default would create a huge financial crisis, dwarfing the crisis set off by the failure of Lehman Brothers five years ago.

No sane political system would run this kind of risk. But we don’t have a sane political system; we have a system in which a substantial number of Republicans believe that they can force President Obama to cancel health reform by threatening a government shutdown, a debt default, or both, and in which Republican leaders who know better are afraid to level with the party’s delusional wing. For they are delusional, about both the economics and the politics.

Is Montreal an Object Lesson for Canada?

Montreal's atrophied infrastructure should stand as an object lesson on political responsibility for our federal government and every provincial and municipal government from coast to coast to coast.

To comprehend the root causes behind the extensive rot plaguing Montreal’s infrastructure network — a circulatory system comprising 6,000 kilometres of roads and 9,000 kilometres of water mains and sewage pipes — it is useful to think of it as a car.

Spend minor amounts on oil changes and other preventive maintenance and your vehicle will age gracefully, says Gabriel Assaf, professor of civil engineering at Montreal’s École de technologie supérieure. Forgo those needs, and small problems will morph into hugely expensive ones.

“It’s the same thing with our infrastructure network,” Assaf said. “We’ve neglected it for many years and now we have to change the engine. ... Obviously it’s a huge deal, and obviously the elected officials don’t have any clue how to finance this. They are facing a huge problem based on a lack of responsibility.”

Montreal has serious problems with the city's road network, its sewers and water mains but it's standard fare for most jurisdictions where politicians have been reluctant to raise taxes needed for maintenance and repairs.   Everybody, including our federal government, wants to kick expensive problems down the road for future governments or other levels of government to handle.

Three years ago, then auditor general Sheila Fraser castigated the Harper regime for allowing government infrastructure to crumble.

These problems are made far worse by the onset of climate change impacts.   In June, as Calgary flooded, the World Council on Disaster Management held its annual convention in Toronto.

Dr. Saeed Mirza, emeritus professor at Montreal’s McGill University specializing in structural engineering, added that the monumental infrastructure costs accumulated over decades of negligence have left Canada particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events.

Professor Mirza estimated the cost of repairing and upgrading Canadian infrastructure as needed to withstand climate change impacts at one trillion dollars.   He emphasized that not spending that trillion dollars would cost far more in the long run.

Ultimately you can rule a country in five year stretches but that's not the same as governing.  It takes guts to govern a country, guts and a strong sense of responsibility.

A trillion dollars.  That's some serious stimulus spending only it's more than money spent.  It's money invested in infrastructure that will pay for itself, returning value to taxpayers well into the distant future.

If Our Premiers Only Had the Courage of Our First Nations

Murray Dobbins weighs in on our prime minister's obvious contempt for democracy.

Investment is always portrayed as a good thing, period. It creates jobs, increases tax revenues, grows the economy. But the conditions under which investment takes place can quickly cancel out many of those benefits. Just look at any Third World country and the other side of the coin: starvation wages, terrible working conditions, horrendous pollution, environmental destruction and political corruption.

Since signing the pattern agreement NAFTA, Canada has signed 24 of these deals, mostly with small countries. But perhaps the most egregious of them all is the one already signed, in complete secrecy, with China: The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA).

What we're poised to give China

FIPA has not been ratified yet but it threatens to give the enormous, often corrupt, always secretive state-owned corporations of China enormous power -- power to hoover up dozens of energy and resource companies and prairie farm land as well as challenge any new law that attempts to ensure the public interest is being met.

It is stunningly one-sided. It is almost as if Harper is using the deal not for trade or investment at all, but to deliberately poison the legislative well so that future governments will be unable to act. 

The notion that this was deal was "negotiated" seems a euphemism -- it might just as well have been written by China without consultation. (Come to think of it, that pretty much describes the initial Free Trade Agreement with the US, too: "Okay Sam, we'll give you everything but that's our final offer.")

...Harper's elimination of environmental review on 99 per cent of the waterways of the country is an outrage that other political parties would be pressured to reverse if elected. FIPA, anticipating China's increased interest on energy, would make that reversal so expensive if challenged by China that it would be all but impossible to implement.

One faint hope of environmentalists after the passing of Bills C-38 and C-45 (withdrawing federal protection of lakes and waterways) was that pressure could be applied to provinces to step up and replace the law with provincial regulations. Provinces share constitutional authority over the environment with the federal government. But FIPA would allow Chinese corporations to sue all levels of government that pass legislation or regulations that reduce its expected profits. And of all the corporations in the world likely to use investor-state provisions, Chinese state-owned entities carrying out Chinese foreign policy would be at the front of the line.

And it's not just legislation that is threatened. China has been buying farm land all over the world including New Zealand and Africa (where heated controversy has resulted). Most recently, China purchased five per cent of Ukraine's farmland. They reportedly have their eye on Saskatchewan and there is little its government could do. The provinces don't have legislation dealing with foreign ownership of farmland and now that the treaty has been signed, it could be too late.

Except, it is quite plausible that FIPA is unconstitutional given that provinces have jurisdictions under the British North America Act that cannot be tampered with by Ottawa. The provinces are not party to the treaty, and yet their legislation could be challenged and overturned by a panel of three trade lawyers operating completely outside the political and legal institutions of the country -- and in complete secrecy. Efforts have been made to lobby the provinces to formally reject FIPA. But so far -- despite the posturing of premiers as mini-prime ministers for the past 20 years -- not one of them has had the sense or courage to protect their own jurisdictions. (State governments in the U.S., even one far to the right, have vigorously challenged World Trade Oragnization provisions that affect them and actually prevailed.)

South Korea Pulls Lockheed's Fat Out of The Fire, But What Does It Truly Say?

Some last-minute arm twisting persuaded the South Korea government to overturn the decision to buy modified Boeing F-15 Stealth Eagles in favour of Lockheed's overdue, overpriced and under-performing F-35.   But it's the backstory that's really fascinating.

One would have thought that Seoul would have proclaimed that the threat of the irrational North Koreans demanded nothing less than Lockheed's stealthy light attack bomber would do.  You might have expected that but the South Korean government chose to put the spotlight on another, more serious threat - Japan.

"The air force, which industry and government officials say has always wanted the F-35 for the requirement, especially after Japan chose the type in 2011, mounted a barely veiled campaign against the F-15 after its selection."

In the emerging, hyper-militarized frontier of Asia, Japan is drawing a good bit of nervous attention.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has reconstituted an Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security. That is a fancy title for a group that is going to tell him what he wants to be told
about ditching the section of Japan's constitution that prevents it from going to war. (He formed the panel in 2007 during his previous and disastrous year-long tenure as prime minister, and it deservedly lapsed in his all-too-brief absence.)

In spite of being specifically forbidden to possess war potential, Japan has a "self-defense force" of considerable strength. Its quarter of a million personnel in the air, ground and sea components operate much the same equipment as do the air forces, armies and navies of other countries. It has tanks and artillery and over 300 fighter aircraft as well as 350 maritime support aircraft, 40 major and well-armed surface combatant ships, and 16 submarines. Not bad for a military organization that is constitutionally forbidden to go to war. But it has no bombers or long-range attack missiles - yet. April  ...Abe was asked in parliament if he supported the statement in 1995 by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama to the effect that Japan apologized for invading all the countries that suffered its savagery in World War II. It was obviously a planted question, and Abe's answer had been prepared in advance.

He replied blandly that "The definition of what constitutes an 'invasion' has yet to be established in academia or in the international community," which assertion is as foolish as it is insulting to the memory of countless millions who suffered the brutality of Japanese invaders for so many years.

Abe continued, "Things that happened between nations will look different depending on which side you view them from."

...In the course of its war preparations in the 1930s, Japan formed Unit 731, a biological and chemical weapons research and development organization whose evil experiments killed thousands (we'll never know the exact number) of Chinese, Koreans and Russians, and who knows how many others.

And it is horribly coincidental, given what has been happening in Syria, that Prime Minister Abe arranged a photo opportunity in May that commemorated Unit 731. In a ghastly display of crass, callous and grinning arrogance, Abe gave the cameras a thumbs-up sign from the cockpit of a Japanese "Self-Defense Force" jet aircraft that prominently displayed the number "731".

This is the man who is currently leading Japan and who wants to have his country released from its constitutional prohibition against creating an offensive military force rather than one that is, quite rightly, focused most effectively on self-defense.

One reason for his determination to destroy the commitment to "forever renounce ... the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes" is because he wants to confront China militarily over Beijing's claims to islands in the region. If he succeeds in his aim, he will be able to equip his armed forces with advanced offensive weapons and go to war.

Maybe South Korea isn't being paranoid in wanting a stealth light attack bomber with Abe at the wheel in Tokyo.  

“Most young Canadians I talk to are going to spend most of their lives out of the country.”

Dear former Liberal comrades, there's your problem.

You're so profoundly skewed that you anointed a guy like Count Michael Ignatieff your leader.   A guy who travels in circles where 'most young Canadians' are going to spend 'most of their lives' out of the country.

Of course this is the same jackass who put Stephen Harper "on probation."  Remember that?   I'll bet you wish you didn't.

Most young Canadians I talk to are either trying to find a job or just hoping they can hang on to the job they've got.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Elon Musk Lifts Canada Into Space

Elon Musk's SpaceX has  successfully placed Canada's Cassiope research satellite into orbit.

Cassiope rode into space atop a modified Falcon rocket.

Sunday's launch was also the first time the rocket had flown with a payload fairing.

This 13m-tall clamshell covering is necessary to protect satellites from the aerodynamic forces encountered during an ascent.

Sunday's outing was the first SpaceX mission to use Vandenberg. Until now, all Falcon launches have gone out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The MDA Corporation, which built the Cassiope satellite, reported that the small research platform was performing as expected after being ejected by the Falcon's second stage. Cassiope, a project of the Canadian Space Agency, will study the Sun's interaction with Earth's upper atmosphere.

Arms Race Update - China Goes Zubr, NATO Gets Wet?

It's the largest military assault hovercraft in existence and China is expected to soon field four of them.  It's also considered China's "go-to" option for an amphibious landing on Japan's Senkaku islands.

Capable of rapidly deploying a company of assault troops along with either three main battle tanks or up to ten light armoured vehicles it's a pretty capable bit of hardware.  

China is getting two of the ships from the Ukraine and building the other two in its own shipyards which means it's not limited to four by any means.

Meanwhile, now that the U.S. seems to be getting its NATO ducks in a row on the F-35, it's starting to clamor for them to do more to support America's military "pivot" into Asia.   The United States wants more NATO naval power to safeguard the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf regions  while American naval forces focus on the Pacific.

“Absent a crisis or a threat that manifests itself largely as a naval threat, Europe is unlikely to return to large, balanced fleets,” the report says. “With US armed forces increasingly focused on the Asia-Pacific region, there are growing concerns as to whether the navies of America’s continental allies are up to meeting the challenges arising from the general unrest on Europe’s eastern and southern maritime flanks.”

Despite NATO taking its name from the ocean that ties Canada and the U.S. to their European allies, for most of NATO’s history the alliance focused primarily on land power, the report notes.

“However, with continental Europe at peace, the drawdown in Afghanistan, the rise of general unrest in North Africa and the Levant, and the American intent to pivot toward Asia, questions are increasingly arising about the capabilities of NATO’s European navies to project power and sustain operations around their eastern and southern maritime flanks,” the report says.

“These questions have grown even more urgent in the wake of those same navies’ uneven performance in the 2011 military campaign against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya,” the report says. 

“Examining the major navies of America’s European allies reveals a general desire, with the exception of Germany, to maintain a broad spectrum of naval capabilities, including carriers, submarines and surface combatants. But given the significant reduction in each country’s overall defense budget, procuring new, sophisticated naval platforms has come at the cost of rapidly shrinking fleet sizes, leaving some to wonder whether what is driving the decision to sustain a broad but thin naval fleet capability is as much national pride as it is alliance strategy.”


Dr. Strangebet is Benched

Little Bundles of Instant Sunshine

He's a full admiral in the U.S. Navy and the second-in-command of America's nuclear strike arsenal and now he's been implicated in a casino gambling scandal.

It began with the discovery of "a significant monetary amount" in counterfeit chips at the Horseshoe Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Somehow, as yet unexplained, Admiral Tim Giardina was implicated.  He's now the subject of a Naval Criminal Investigation Service probe.

Admiral Tim's boss, U.S. Air Force general Bob Kehler figured it might be a good idea to relieve the admiral from his duties for a while.

"Retail Therapy" - It's Real. Now Let's Go To The Mall.

You probably already knew this at some level.

Materialistic people experience more stress from traumatic events and are more likely to spend compulsively as a result, a new study suggests.

“When the going gets tough, the materialistic go shopping,” says Ayalla Ruvio, assistant professor of marketing in Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business. “And this compulsive and impulsive spending is likely to produce even greater stress and lower well-being. Essentially, materialism appears to make bad events even worse.”

So there, all your problems are solved.  Or not.

America Urges Philippines to Combat Inequality

Yeah, I know, I know.  Me too.  Then again, the Philippines is a good long way away from Main Street, U.S.A.

American officials are urging the Phillipines to see to fair distribution of the country's new found wealth.

Despite having Asia’s second highest growth in gross domestic product (GDP) last year, the Philippines still has a lot of catching up to make the growth felt and enjoyed by the rest of the country’s population.

“We all know that the Philippines has now outpaced all the countries in the region in terms of economic growth,” said Gloria Steele, mission director of the United States Agency for International Development in the Philippines.
Steele, however, said the bigger challenge is how the 42 percent of Filipinos who earn just US$2 a day can benefit from the economic growth.

But she also said the government must institute measures that will “reduce the cost of doing business in the Philippines.”
She also added that the Philippine government has “to address issues of lack of transparency and lack of integrity both in the government and private sector.”

So, let's see - Wage inequality, check; lack of transparency, check; lack of integrity, check.   Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it?   And, please, do something about the cost of doing business.  Maybe you can just cut wages.

America Has Already Lost the Battle for Gun Control.

It's just $750, less than the price of a good hunting rifle.   For that you can get a brand new, never fired, AR-15 shown as manufactured in Tacoma, Washington.   Private sale.

This was the first item I found on visiting the website of   And I was just perusing the listings for Washington state.   Handguns?  Buckets of them starting at just $200.   Most in the $350 to $500 range.   Take your pick.

Private sales.   No paper work.  No questions asked.  Money for guns.   Guns for money.

In Texas, there's even an ad from a lawyer offering for a paltry $250 to sell you something called a "NFA Gun Trust" which is explained thusly:


What this Trust does: It allows you to obtain an NFA item easily and without CLEO approval, fingerprints, etc. Also, my Trust is designed to keep your Schedule A confidential unless required by the BATF by using an Assignment of Property.

As a Texas lawyer, I cannot stress how critical it is that your NFA Trust is legal, proper, and air-tight. I created this NFA Trust so that you will have all the documents you will need. Did you know that if a person is NOT listed as a Trustee and handles/uses your NFA item, you could be charged with a serious Felony crime? I include easy to fill out Assignment and Affidavit of Trustee. Simply have your friend or family member fill one out and they can use the NFA item instantly! No waiting, no need to file with the Court. Then, they can resign as Trustee if you prefer to not keep them listed on your trust at ANY TIME!

This can be a complex process and I am here to help. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. I specialize in Estate Planning and Probate Law and I am a serious gun-enthusiast! Let me put my knowledge and talents to work for you. That includes drafting the entire Trust with your specifics, answering your questions, and customizing each document to your needs.

Did you know you can also put regular firearms and items into this Trust? By getting an NFA Trust, you can obtain Title II weapons/items along with properly establishing good Estate Planning for all your firearms.

Did you get that?   This guy is offering you a way that you and yours (provided you're American) can buy, possess and use heavy duty weapons like assault rifles with no waiting periods, background checks, no fingerprinting or other inconveniences.

I recently read about a guy who operates a small tool shop where he makes custom receivers for the AR-15 that will transform it from a single-shot, semi-automatic to a "let 'er rip" fully automatic combat blaster.  He sends it to you with instructions.  You then have to put it in a drill press, drill it in the couple of spaces indicated, and you're good to go.   And it's all perfectly legal - or so he claims.

For some, the dream of gun control may still exist but that's about all it is, a dream.

Monbiot Reminds Us the IPCC Report Is Very, Very Conservative.

One of the brilliant successes of the Right has been to cast the IPCC as a gang of Lefty alarmists.   At that point they skip over how the IPCC has routinely understated both the speed and extent of climate change onset.

The IPCC releases a consensus report.  It's not even a majority report.  In a consensus report everyone has to agree.  That's why the reports are always watered down - to achieve a consensus.   At the end of the day we all have to settle for vanilla.   Here's an example.   While the IPCC ponders our chances for breaking the 2C safety target by 2100, our own Environment Canada foresees we'll get there by 2050.  See the difference?

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, explains further:

Reaching agreement among hundreds of authors and reviewers ensures that only the statements which are hardest to dispute are allowed to pass. Even when the scientists have agreed, the report must be tempered in another forge, as politicians question anything they find disagreeable: the new report received 1,855 comments from 32 governments, and the arguments raged through the night before launch.

In other words, it's perhaps the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history.

Even then, says Monbiot, we get utterly lost in the message of the IPCC reports.

What the report describes, in its dry, meticulous language, is the collapse of the benign climate in which humans evolved and have prospered, and the loss of the conditions upon which many other lifeforms depend. Climate change and global warming are inadequate terms for what it reveals. The story it tells is of climate breakdown.

This is a catastrophe we are capable of foreseeing but incapable of imagining. It's a catastrophe we are singularly ill-equipped to prevent.

And, no matter what they say publicly, our political leadership is wed to a fossil fuel economy.

...all governments collaborate in the disaster they publicly bemoan. They sagely agree with the need to do something to avert the catastrophe the panel foresees, while promoting the industries that cause it.

It doesn't matter how many windmills or solar panels or nuclear plants you build if you are not simultaneously retiring fossil fuel production.

But, far from doing so, governments everywhere are still seeking to squeeze every drop out of their own reserves, while trying to secure access to other people's. As more accessible reservoirs are emptied, energy companies exploit the remotest parts of the planet, bribing and bullying governments to allow them to break open unexploited places: from the deep ocean to the melting Arctic.

Update:   Found this over at Christine's blog, 350 or bust.  Too good to pass up.

Arms Race Update - Turkey Buys Air Defence System from China

Turkey, NATO's sole member from the Muslim world, has ordered a new, air defence system - from China.

A government committee chaired by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister, decided this week to proceed with buying the long-range anti-aircraft and ballistic missile system from the state-owned China Precision Machinery Import-Export Corporation, rejecting rivals bids from western groups. This was despite concerns that the new technology might not work with other Nato systems.
Turkish officials said the decision was made on technical and price grounds, an argument echoed by several analysts who say Ankara is keen to get hold of new technology that the US is reluctant to share. Nevertheless, the move comes amid increasing strains with some of Turkey’s allies.

Turkey is on something of a technological rampage.  It's looking to break into the big leagues of military technology by developing a stealth fighter, a satellite launch vehicle, early warning satellites, a long-range missile and even a small aircraft carrier.

The missile system is believed to be a Chinese copy of the Russian S-300.
The HongQi-9/FD-2000 reportedly combines elements "borrowed" from Russia's S-300 and America's MIM-104 Patriot.


Who's Afraid of a Peaceful Iran? Why, Israel, Of Course.

The recent chit-chat between Barack Obama and Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, has really ruffled the feathers of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benny cannot afford to lose his number one supervillain at this point and he doesn't mean to.   That's why he'll be meeting with Obama on Monday to "tell the truth in the face of the sweet talk".

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Ten Per Cent

Environment Canada, in the wake of the latest IPCC report, says the horse has already left the barn.

Reached by telephone in Sweden where he contributed to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, senior Environment Canada scientist Greg Flato said that even in the best-case scenarios for limiting growth of heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, his federal department’s computer models show average global warming of about two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2050.

“Our (Environment Canada) model, in isolation, produces results that are in roughly the two-degree warming range in the mid-century,” he said, describing Environment Canada’s computer modelling centre as a world-class facility. “But if you look at all the models together, which is the important thing to do, there is a range and that range is important.”

One key finding of the IPCC report is that, if we're to have a slightly better than even chance of staying within 2C we can burn no more than ten per cent of existing known fossil fuel reserves.   The IPCC has run the numbers and concludes that 90% of known fossil fuel reserves will have to be left in the ground.  From AlterNet:

For the first time, the world’s leading climate scientists officially called for an absolute upper limit on greenhouse gas emissions to limit warming. To have a 66 percent chance of limiting warming to 2°C, the world can’t emit more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon dioxide, total. Or 800 gigatons when accounting for methane emissions and land use changes. For context, by 2011, humans had already emitted 531 gigatons of CO2. Known fossil fuel reserves represent  2,795 gigatons, meaning burning more than 10 percent of them pushes the world over 2° of warming. 

It doesn't get much plainer than that.   Ten per cent.  It's a number that draws lines.  It's a point of demarcation.  If you believe we have an obligation to at least try to prevent warming from exceeding 2C you're in one camp.   If you don't, you're in the other camp. 

It's hard to find anyone on record stating they don't care if we blow straight through 2C.   Steve Harper won't say that and neither will Joe Oliver.   This is one of those situations where actions speak louder than words.   If you believe in peddling the world's filthiest, highest-carbon fossil fuels then you are very much in that other camp.   Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver, Justin Trudeau, Tom Mulcair - they're all in that "other camp."   You might not like to hear this but if you're supporting any of their parties you're putting yourself in their camp too.

The world is suddenly awash in fossil fuels.   We have enough, relatively clean or low-carbon fossil fuels that there is no justification for burning high-carbon fossil fuels such as coal or bitumen.   In fact, to a sane world, those assets are now worthless - utterly without value.

Can you imagine Steve or Justin or Tommy standing up for future generations and our civilization itself and saying, "Well, that's it then.  We have to shut it down."   Can you imagine that?  No, I can't either.   They'll blabber away about the decades-old promise of carbon sequestration and do their tribal geo-engineering dance until we lapse into some semi-vegetative state.

That's not to say the future is rosy for high-carbon fossil fuels, nothing of the sort.   No, they will be felled as surely as a stand of mighty Douglas Fir but not through political intervention but market forces.   When the investment community walks away from high-carbon fossil fuels, it will be the death knell of coal and bitumen.   Think Harper doesn't know that?  Why do you think he's in such a goddamned rush to get rivers of bitumen flowing to any conceivable market he can find?   Harper's desperation is palpable.  He knows that the clock is running out on bitumen.   He can feel the 10% squeeze.   Athabasca has gone bust before.   That's the Sword of Damocles that always hovers over the highest cost, highest carbon petroleum.

Chomsky Drones On

Noam Chomsky has got a drone in his bonnet.  He sees the evolution of drone technology as the instrument by which we lose not merely our privacy but the very foundations of our liberty.

Chomsky contends that Obama has become addicted to remote control assassination, drone warfare, to the point where he's unraveling Magna Carta itself:

And questions did come up about what happened to due process, which is supposedly the foundation of American law—it actually goes back to Magna Carta, 800 years ago—what about that? And the justice department responded. Attorney General Holder said that they are receiving due process because it’s “discussed in the executive branch.” King John in the 13th century, who was compelled to sign Magna Carta, would have loved that answer. But that’s where we’re moving. The foundations of civil law are simply being torn to shreds. This is not the only case, but it’s the most striking one.

Most of us probably don't pay much heed to the relentless march of drone technology.   Through Aviation Week and similar publications I do try to learn what I can and have found that even the stuff that's publicly available is very disturbing.

Got three hundred bucks?  You can go down to a store like Future Shop and buy your own wi-fi micro drone that you can control with your iPhone or an Android tablet.   It even comes with an onboard HD camera.   And, yes, it hovers.

The U.S. military is far beyond toy drones.  They're developing micro aerial vehicles that can be solar powered or can recharge by alighting on a power line.   They can operate as a swarm, infiltrate buildings, carry a variety of sensors and communications systems, and some can even kill.   Just last month it was reported that the U.S. military is exploring the use of swarms of long-range nano drones to attack China.

Today, military technology, especially the inexpensive stuff, makes its way into civilian hands pretty quickly.   Security agencies, even law enforcement, will deploy stuff engineered and manufactured for use against enemy states.  SWAT teams today are apt to resemble Navy SEALs more than cops.

Chomsky says that today's society is remarkably complacent to the drone development and what that portends, even for themselves.

And the reactions are pretty interesting. It tells you a lot about the mentality of the country. So one column, I think it was Joe Klein, a bit of a liberal columnist for one of the journals, was asked about a case in which four little girls were killed by a drone strike. And his answer was something like, “Well,  better that their little girls should be killed than ours.” So in other words, maybe this stopped something that would ultimately harm us.

There is a reservation in the United Nations Charter that allows the use of force without Security Council authorization,  a narrow exception in Article 51. But it specifically refers to “imminent attack” that’s either underway or imminent so clearly that there is no time for reflection. It’s a doctrine that goes back to Daniel Webster,  the Caroline Doctrine, which specifies these conditions. That’s been torn to shreds. Not just the drone attacks, but for a long time.

And so slowly the foundations of liberty are ripped to shreds, torn apart. Actually Scott Shane, one of the authors of the Times story, did write an article responding to the various criticisms that appeared. His ending was quite appropriate, I thought. He said something like, “Look, it’s better than Dresden.” Isn’t it? Yeah. It’s better than Dresden. So that’s the bar: we don’t want to just totally destroy everything. We’ll just kill them because maybe someday they will harm us. Maybe. Meanwhile, well of course, what are we doing to them?

...You know, I have to say, I never expected much of Obama, to tell you the truth, but the one thing that surprised me is his relentless assaults on civil liberties. I just don’t understand them.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Week God's Had

From The Tweet of God:

America, you were settled by the extermination of one race and the enslavement of another.  But please, lecture us more about freedom.

Hot flashes.  Increased irritability.  Dryness.  Congratulations, humanity, you've given the Earth menopause.

It's the total lack of self-awareness that separates the professional asshole from the amateur.

If, while arguing, you are able to cite a verse in a chapter of an old book that seems to support your position, then you win.

For the last time, mankind, I don't need your help killing people.

Don't let anyone tell you what you can't accomplish.  That's what self-doubt is for.

Pope Francis is either the world's coolest Pope or the world's most conservative hippie.

Mass shootings are a small price to pay for the freedom to carry out mass shootings.

If reality clashes with your belief, then the problem clearly is reality.

Almost nobody gets what they deserve, and almost everybody should be grateful for that.

If you think life has a point, you're missing the point.

"Working in mysterious ways" is functionally indistinguishable from "fucking up."

You Know Who Dean Del Mastro Makes Me Think Of? Helena Guergis, That's Who.

Helena Guergis, Dean Del Mastro.  A Tale of Two Tories.

The whole Guergis scandal is a bit fuzzy this far on but, as I recall, she was unceremoniously dumped from the Tory caucus against her will, on the mere suspicion of scandal, and once out was kept out even after it was obvious there was no wrongdoing on her part save for her choice of a spouse.   She was exiled, right from the git go and for good.

The only thing surprising about what happened to Dean Del Mastro was how long it took for him to be charged and why he was allowed to stay on in the meantime.   The case was clear and it even came with a smoking gun - Del Mastro's own cheque.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?   Why did Harper not give Del Mastro 'The Full Guergis' treatment back when this scandal broke?  Why did he keep Del Mastro in a position of prominence in the Tory caucus when that cheque speaks for itself and speaks so loudly?


Leaving no doubt; clear; unambiguous.   The latest IPCC report concludes that mankind's influence in driving climate change is beyond doubt, clear and unambiguous.   Anthropogenic global warming is here, it's here to stay and, unless we want a better future enough to change our ways, it's going to get a hell of a lot worse in our grandkids' future, our kids' future and even in our own.

For, you see, it's already having major impacts.   Those floods in Calgary, the floods in Toronto, the floods in Colorado, the floods in Europe and across Asia?   Welcome to the new normal.   The droughts in central and southern U.S., southern Europe, Russia, Africa and the Middle East?   Welcome to the new normal.

High Arctic Oil Rig
What did we expect?  We've already warmed the Arctic twice as much as anywhere else.   Did we think that wasn't going to matter?  We heated the Arctic ocean and the atmosphere above it.   A warmer atmosphere has more energy and it holds more water vapour.   You probably learned that in high school.

Polar Jet
And now that we've got this warmer, wetter and more energized atmosphere in the Arctic, we've unleashed a very powerful Polar Jet Stream that changes the way precipitation moves through the northern hemisphere.   Instead of the gently undulating ribbon of air currents that move steadily west to east - the sort that gave us such agricultural bounty - we now have these Rossby Waves that look like an oscilloscope cranked up, that go way up north and plunge way down south, and tend to stall as they move west to east.  They can plunge Venice into a deep freeze, turning the canals solid, or bring mid-90 degree temperatures to an Alaska village in early June.  That's serious stuff.   They can also park right over places like Calgary or Colorado where they dropped a year's worth of rain in a matter of days.   Meanwhile states near Colorado remain in the grip of drought.   Go figure.

There are a lot of places in Canada, heavily populated centres, where people can write it off and say, "well it's getting a little bit warmer, so what?"   Those are places where the impacts of climate change are more subtle or even obscured by the urban habitat.  Yet there are far more but much less populated places in our country where climate change is already much more obvious, the impacts inescapable.

One of the big giveaways is species migration.  In our hemisphere plants and animals have already begun the trek north.   Marine life is coming into the north Pacific that was formerly seen only to the south.   Imagine pelicans in Victoria.  Or Humboldt squid in their hundreds washing ashore on the beaches of Tofino.

Mosquito-borne Dengue fever is beginning to enter the United States.  Some of our old pests are finding global warming to their liking.  The Lodgepole or Mountain Pine beetle population no longer has to endure the massive winter kill-off, enabling it to multiply and destroy vast swathes of our forests and they've now crossed the Rockies into Alberta.

So, we're seeing all these things already and we're only just getting started with this global warming business.  It's been said countless times before but I'll say it again - even if we stopped our greenhouse gas emissions today, existing atmospheric carbon levels will ensure we continue to warm for at least a century.   So you can count on it being worse for your kids and your grandchildren.

One thing the IPCC hasn't touched on in much depth is mankind's resilience to climate change.   How much can we take - as individuals, as communities, as nations?   That's a really tough one to answer because every individual is different.   There's great disparities in our wealth, our resources and our circumstances that come into play in answering these questions.

England's New Normal

Climate change is going to be tough on everyone but it's going to be a real bitch on poor people.   Here's one example - flooding.  Canadians can't get flood insurance.  If water comes in through your doors or your windows, you're on your own - at least until the government arrives to bail you out.   In the U.S., where flooding is a chronic problem, the federal government operates an insurance programme but they just had to jack up premiums.  One lady used to pay $1,700 and will soon have to pay $15,000 a year.  That, she predicts, will drop the resale value of her house by half.  That's a pretty big hit, especially if you're not rich, if that's your main or sole asset.   That's an enormous hit if you're already struggling with a hefty mortgage.

Let's put it this way, a lot of people around the world are currently occupying very devalued homes even if they don't realize it.   Maybe the Bitumen Barons of Athabasca will help out.  Nah, forget it, they're mainly foreign companies.   Maybe Ottawa will use its bitumen bounty to extend flood relief into the future.   No, that money, if it exists at all, is long gone already.   Ditto for Alberta.

But we are really, really well off.   Canada, when it comes to these things, is rich.   It's the poor countries and the poor societies that populate them that are going to take it in the neck.

...average land and sea temperatures are expected to continue rising throughout this century, possibly reaching 4C above present levels – enough to devastate crops and make life in many cities unbearably hot.

As temperatures climb and oceans warm, tropical and subtropical regions will face sharp changes in annual rainfall...

East Africa can expect to experience increased short rains, while west Africa should expect heavier monsoons. Burma, Bangladesh and India can expect stronger cyclones; elsewhere in southern Asia, heavier summer rains are anticipated. Indonesia may receive less rainfall between July and October, but the coastal regions around the south China Sea and Gulf of Thailand can expect increased rainfall extremes when cyclones hit land.

Okay, sucks to be them eh?  But it also sucks to be Australian where the people have just elected the denialist government of Tony Abbott. 

Tony Abbott's Australia

Australia is expected to experience a 6C average temperature rise on its hottest days and lose many reptile, bird and mammal species as well as the renowned wetlands of Kakadu by the end of the century..

IPCC figures show that Australia will experience an average overall increase of 2C by 2065, with that figure slightly lower at the coast. Beyond that, the temperature is expected to rise another 3C-4C by 2100.  

Rainfall patterns are set to change, with annual precipitation, humidity and cloud cover predicted to decrease over most of Australia. But for north Australia and many agricultural areas, rainfall is predicted to get heavier. Soil moisture will decrease, mostly in the south of the country.

In Australia, an increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves is expected to lead to more heat-related deaths, while warmer temperatures, changing rainfall and an influx of pests will "negatively impact" many temperate crops, such as fruit and nuts.

Yet we magnify our risks if we consider AGW climate change in isolation.   It's a huge, multi-faceted problem that poses a host of challenges yet it is compounded and in turn magnifies a variety of other pressing problems that we're also going to have to confront with our sapped strength.  We have to factor in challenges such as deforestation and desertification (the exhaustion of farmland and its transformation into sterile desert); resource depletion and exhaustion, particularly global groundwater reserves and global fisheries; overpopulation and population migration; and a host of gathering security problems including food insecurity, inequality, resource wars, terrorism and nuclear proliferation.   That list is by no means exhaustive nor does it play much role in the IPCC warnings.   Yet if we're to avoid becoming a civilization of Easter Islanders, we have no choice but to deal with global warming and all of these associated problems.

Here's the thing.   If we can't rally to act effectively on climate change our chances of being able to confront all these other challenges on our own terms are slim to nil.  That, too, is unequivocal.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In Florida, Zimmerman Walks While Black Woman Who Fires Harmless Warning Shot Gets 20-Years.

Marissa Alexander has been reprieved from having to serve a 20-year stretch in a Florida penitentiary for having fired a warning shot during an argument with her abusive husband.   Under Florida law, any use of a handgun in the commission of an offence nets a mandatory 20-year sentence.

A Florida appeals court said the trial judge erred in instructing the jury that Ms. Alexander had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the shot was fired in self-defence.   The standard, under Florida's 'stand your ground' law requires merely that the defendant raise some reasonable doubt.   When you think about it, that's a pretty low standard on which to escape liability for killing someone.

Del Mastro to Face Justice

 It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.  Dean Del Mastro charged with four offences under the Canada Election Act including concealing a $21,000 "contribution."

In June, Del Mastro expressed his frustration at the length of time Elections Canada was taking with its investigation into his expenses, saying he felt “violated and betrayed” by the federal agency. The charges come nearly 16 months after Elections Canada opened its investigation.

The investigation focused on the $21,000 payment he made to a polling company from his personal account, which did not appear on his official campaign return and which would have put him over the campaign spending limit.

Until the investigation began, Del Mastro served as the Conservative government’s main attack dog in question period on a range of issues, including the ongoing robocalls scandal.

IceFog - The New Gang of Asian Hackers

Using classic guerrilla tactics, they hit hard and fast and then, just as quickly, they're gone.   They get into a computer system, quickly spot what they want, grab it and then get out, cleaning up as they leave to make it harder to detect they were ever there.  They've been given the name, "IceFog."

This new crew, dubbed Icefog by Kaspersky Lab, is small and nimble, and it appears to know exactly what it wants to steal from its victims. Unlike some other advanced hacker outfits that linger on victims' networks for months or years after gaining access, the Icefog crew doesn't stick around waiting to get caught.

"They will infiltrate an organization. They know exactly what they are looking for, pull it out, and as soon as they complete their assignment they move on -- they actually clean things up and move on," said Kurt Baumgartner, a security researcher with Kaspersky, during a speech in Washington today. 

The crew steals "sensitive documents and company plans, e-mail account credentials, and passwords to access various resources inside and outside the victim's network," reads Kaspersky's press release. "They look for specific filenames, which are quickly identified, and transferred to" Icefog.

Most alarming are the crew's attacks against smaller parts suppliers to major defense contractors. Icefog's hackers could break into the poorly defended network of a defense subcontractor and plant destructive malware inside its products before they are placed in a weapon such as a fighter jet.

This "creates a lot of problems because not only is there potential for economic espionage ... there's the chance for low-scale sabotage with destructive attacks that bring a whole new set of challenges," said Baumgartner. 

"Our adversaries are very active in trying to introduce material into the supply chain in ways that threaten our security from the standpoint of their abilities to collect [intelligence] and disrupt" U.S. military operations, said [David] Shedd, [deputy director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency].  

Stealing secrets is one thing.   It's long been known that the Chinese have hacked design information and millions of lines of code from  F-35 programme contractors.  It's believed a lot of this stolen data went straight into the design of China's own new stealth fighters.

Implanting undetected malware could be the greater threat.   Most military hardware today is heavily software-dependent.   Infecting it with 'sleeper' malware that can prevent its proper operation when needed is every bit as effective as destroying it with firepower.  It's also super cost-effective.  It's believed the Chinese are working on ways to transmit malware code into the F-35 while it's airborne.  Why bother shooting it down if you can seize control of it and force it to crash?

Asian Tiger Prawns Now In Gulf of Mexico

No one knows just how they got there or who is responsible but massive Asian tiger prawns have reached the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and they're spreading along the U.S. south coast.

What Won't We Think of Next?

Devices, like the one pictured above, are catching on in our water-scarce world.  It's a combination, sink-toilet.  Waste water from the sink is used for toilet flushing.  Makes perfect sense.  There's even a fashionable sink-urinal on the market.

As protracted drought becomes a reality in many parts of the world, attention is inevitably drawn to waste water recycling.

As water supplies fall, many regions are using urban wastewater, a very valuable resource if it is treated properly, says the study “Global, regional, and country level need for data on wastewater generation, treatment, and use”, published Sep. 5 in the journal Agricultural Water Management.

This is the first study to look at how wastewater is used in 181 countries. One of the key findings is that only 55 countries have good data. Synthesising what data there are, researchers found that high-income countries treat 70 percent of their wastewater while middle-income countries treat 28 to 38 percent. Just eight percent of wastewater generated in low-income countries undergoes any kind of treatment.

“Water-scarce regions can’t grow enough food to feed their own people,” said co-author Manzoor Qadir of United Nations University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH).
“From the earliest of times, most wastewater has truly been wasted. However, it is a vast resource if we reclaim it properly, which includes the separation of municipal from industrial wastewater,” said UNU-INWEH Director Zafar Adeel.

Wastewater is valuable because it has very high level of nutrients, including potash, nitrogen and phosphorus, eliminating the need and cost of fertilisers. However, untreated wastewater can transmit diseases such as cholera. Chile experienced cholera outbreaks and banned the use of untreated wastewater in 1992.

Regions that face the threat of successive drought and flood cycles, including parts of Canada, will need to find ways of collecting and storing floodwaters.  Climate change is bringing major shifts in precipitation patterns.   Farmers may get inundated when they don't need it and no rainfall when they do.


Even Norway Gets the Dutch Disease

We sometimes think of Norway as the country where fossil fuel riches are handled responsibly, not like the Alberta and Canadian governments that just piss it all away.  Yes, Norway has amassed an impressive sovereign wealth fund from its Statoil royalties but, beyond that, it has many of the same problems that confront Canada.  Like us, Norway is at serious risk from the Carbon Bubble.   The big difference is they've kept their money and so have resources to deal with it.   From OurWorld2.0:

According to the OECD, the Norwegian economy is projected to expand robustly in 2013 and 2014, mainly due to investments in the petroleum industry as “[n]on-oil exports will remain weak. Strong demand for labour keeps unemployment low and wage growth high”. 
Unfortunately for oil-exporting economies like Norway and Saudi Arabia, oil-importing nations such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Germany are systematically working to reduce their oil dependency and demand. Meanwhile oil imports by others like France, Italy and Spain are declining as a result of the recession. Even China is trying to control the pace at which the demand for oil imports grows .

Taking a longer-term view, since oil, gas and coal are non-renewable resources, they will eventually come to an end. The most readily accessible and cheap sources go first. Then more expensive and unconventional sources (like tar sands, shale oil and gas) are next in line. Costs, especially external ones, increase for marginal sources, while profit margins decrease. Oil becomes more expensive, while the alternatives become cheaper. The oil sector is therefore a sunset industry, while renewable energy is a sunrise industry.

...It is risky to stand on only one big economic leg while Norwegian companies that could step in are on their way out of the country to places where labour costs are lower. Average hourly salary rates in the main trading partner countries in the EU were US$30 in 2012, while the Norwegian hourly rate was US$61 according to Eurostat. Outsourcing of jobs is inevitable with differences like that, while immigrant labour enters. Hotel and restaurant workers in Norway are now Swedish, construction workers are from Poland and Latvia and taxi drivers are from Pakistan. When the oil adventure ends, most of these workers will leave.

This situation is asymptomatic Dutch disease. But since the economy is doing just fine, what can even the bravest politicians do in circumstances when the patient appears to be well? They have to be really forward-looking and that is not easy in the short-term world of politics. A more responsible policy would be to recognize the vulnerabilities of the contemporary Norwegian economy and reduce the risks, sooner rather than later.

...Since Norwegian politicians seem unable to set limits on the oil industry, oil companies do it themselves. Statoil is responsible for their bottom line, not for what is best for Norway. Avoiding two degrees warming now requires a tremendous global effort.

 ...Statoil might in theory accept that two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves should be left underground in order to avoid future climate disasters. They also argue that Norwegian oil production is more environmentally friendly than that of other countries. The production technology is top-notch, with well under 10 kg of CO2 emissions per barrel of oil extracted. But if the environmental argument is essential, Saudi Arabia extracts oil at slightly over 6 kg CO2 per barrel. If Statoil wants to be perceived as more environmentally friendly, they should at least get away from unconventional oil sources such as tar sands in Canada, with up to 100 kg of extra fossil CO2 per barrel of oil extracted emitted into the atmosphere.

However, all that said and done, deep inside we know that extraction of oil is not the main issue. The fuel consumption is. Regardless of origin, every barrel of oil burned means 400 extra kilograms of fossil CO2 is added to the atmosphere. Currently, the world burns nearly 90 million barrels of oil every day. 

Accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere has already reached 400 ppm as of May 2013. If you include the other greenhouse gases we are up to 475 ppm. If we add the extra five percent increase of water vapor in the air that man-made global warming so far has caused, we are fast approaching 500 ppm. Without action, a warming of over three degrees could already be embedded in the system.

In this context, it is clearly irresponsible to continue to let the Norwegian oil pension fund invest in carbon-intensive activities. Norwegians instead must use the fund as a tool for a responsible climate policy, and invest in green technology.

Over the next decade we can expect major shifts as some of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries probably will halve their oil imports, renewable energies become cheaper than fossil fuels, and new technologies are introduced like smart grids, improved battery storage, and electric vehicles with longer range. Norway, with its oil dependent economy, risks being left behind. At the same time, we will begin to see clearer signs of climate change and associated social and economic impacts including growing refugee flows.

There are some changes that Norway could make to ensure it is better placed to respond to these challenges and to start reducing the 250,000 vulnerable oil-based jobs in the economy. First, diversify the economy — renewable energy, eco-friendly processing, fisheries, tourism, nanotechnology, robotics, green architecture, self-sufficiency, and information and communication technologies are some of the natural priority areas for Norway. Second, use today’s wealth to make this new economy a reality — stop state guarantees, tax cuts, special arrangements and other incentives for increased oil exploration and production, and redirect those funds to other industrial sectors. Third, elected politicians need to step forward and govern the Norwegian economy and take the reins away from Statoil.

The Norwegian economy and Norwegian society should have more to stand on than a single crumbling petroleum leg.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Conspicuous Consumption at Its Finest

When you really need to say, "I've got mine and you and your planet can go straight to Hell," nothing beats a mega-yacht just like any of these currently on display to prospective buyers in Monaco.

Vancouver islanders will soon be able to bask in the beauty of these behemoths.   Victoria has approved development of a marina for just such vessels in the inner harbour.   True wealth demands nothing less.

The Victoria International Marina will boast 29-slips for yachts from 65' to 150'.   Leasing rates per slip range from $9,500 to $11,000 per lineal foot on a 40-year lease.