Friday, January 31, 2014

Prince Charles - Climate Change Skeptics are 'Headless Chickens'

Every voice helps.  The man who may yet be King has dismissed climate change denialists as a bunch of  'headless chickens."

The Prince of Wales has launched an attack on climate change sceptics, describing them as the "headless chicken brigade" and accusing "powerful groups of deniers" of engaging in intimidation.

"It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything - until, that is, it comes to climate science," the prince said in a speech on Thursday evening.

"All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.

The prince told the audience of sustainability experts, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policymakers: "As you may possibly have noticed from time to time, I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me.

"Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have."

I wonder if the prince has ever had an opportunity to meet Joe Oliver.

Quick, Buy a Lottery Ticket

From CBC News, amazing photos of the luckiest family in Italy.  A landslide in Ronchi de Tormeno dislodged a couple of monster boulders that rolled downhill.  One took out a barn but just missed the adjacent farmhouse. 

The second stopped just short of the farmhouse.

Dodging one bullet is something.  Dodging two, well that's something else entirely.  Hmm, I wonder if Pope Francis had anything to do with this.

And then there's these people.

Live or Die. That's the Choice.

This is pretty succinct - "Heed the warnings in extreme weather - or risk losing Earth."   The idea is that when Atlanta, Georgia is frozen to a standstill and yet, on the same day, it's 61F in northern Alaska, you can take that as a warning.

Anders Levermann, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says it's time for all of us, including our leaders, to wake up.   And it's not enough for us to try to figure out what we must do for society to survive to 2100.  We need to decide whether we want mankind to survive after that because the way we're thinking now, that's not likely.

On Thursday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change officially released its latest assessment of the scientific basis of anthropogenic climate change, providing the huge body of science that support the much debated summary for policymakers agreed by the 194 governments some weeks earlier.

For the first time, future climate was not merely projected for the 21st century. About 20 climate models from around the world were used to look beyond the year 2100. They show that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise as they have done in the past, the Earth will warm by more than 10C and it won't stop there.

Yet this is not going to happen. Not because the physical models are wrong. They are built on fundamental laws of nature that we rely on in our every-day life, laws that were established more than a hundred years ago and that have been tested in countless laboratory experiments. For more than a decade, different models project practically the same temperature ranges for the same greenhouse gas emissions. So those who want to make the world believe that climate models are bad in projecting the temperature of our planet are wrong.

Still, a warming of our planet by 10C, as predicted by some models, is not going to happen – simply because the underlying assumption of these projections is that there will be an industry around that can produce further emissions of that magnitude.

What he's saying, in effect, is a lot like the old line about how lung cancer cures smoking.  In fact, it's just like that line. Climate change will cure us of our ability to emit ever greater quantities of greenhouse gases.

If unabated, climate change will simply come upon us. Just because we cannot compute the track of a hurricane does not mean that we will not have to face it. Events like this year’s heavy winter in the US, or typhoon Haiyan which destroyed parts of the Philippines a few months ago, show that it is the unanticipated extremes and their impact on our fragile infrastructure that we will have to worry about.

Such individual events might remain just as unpredictable in the future as they have been in the past, and they will continue to impact the global flow of goods, energy and information which connects economies across the planet and makes it one world. If Google’s headquarters in California were shut down by, say the lack of cooling during a heat wave, this would affect large and small business everywhere. If a severe storm was to hit the harbour of Hong Kong, the effects would not just be local. It would spread along the supply chains around the globe.

The temperature difference between the last ice age and our current warm period, which carried humankind into civilisation over the past 10,000 years, is less than 5C. This is about the amount of warming that we will have caused by the end of the century if we continue as we have done in the past. Only we are doing it about one hundred times faster than nature did while trying to keep a highly efficient global economic network running.

...No one knows where the limits of our adaptive capacity are, but a path towards 10C of warming will likely challenge these limits. The wall we are speeding towards may be hidden in the fog, but not knowing where it is does not make it vanish. The warnings provided by weather impacts on our society are quite clear. We can either take them seriously and turn around or find out the hard way.

As If We Needed Another Reason to Boycott Nestle

You might remember Switzerland, the country that played banker to some really evil dudes in the 30s and 40s.  And banker to a whole bunch of lying, cheating but very wealthy scumbags for decades after we hanged their previous clients at the end of WWII.

Switzerland is known for its secretive, accommodating banks but it's also known for one corporate giant, the Nestle company.  And Nestle is increasingly known for the rightwing crap that spews out of the mouth of its chairman, Peter Brabeck.  He stirred up a shitstorm a couple of years ago when he declared that water should be treated as a foodstuff, a commodity, for companies like his own to flog to the highest bidder.

Now Brabeck is back in the news denying that man-made emissions are the cause of climate change.  Brabeck warns that we mustn't play God... well, perhaps except for him.

While scientists point to the near certainty that human activity is driving up temperatures, Brabeck argues that it is largely down to Earth's natural cycles, and warns against trying to play god by seeking to stop global warming. Instead, he believes society should focus on adaptation.

Sitting in the Swiss mountain ski resort of Davos after we have both listened to the Tanzanian president tell the heartbreaking story of how global warming is making life increasingly unbearable for his people, Brabeck told me that:

"Climate change is an intrinsic part of the development of the world. Since the world has existed we have had climate changes and we will have climate change as long as the world exists ... For me the issue is more about what can we do in order to adapt to climate change and perhaps to try to gain more time … Are we God to say the climate, as it is today, is the one we have to keep? That's the way it's going to be? We are not God. What we have to assure is that climate change happens within a timeframe that humankind can adapt to."

Let's see, the chairman of a company notorious for trying to corner water markets downplaying climate change which is fueling water insecurity.  Am I missing something obvious there?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

When Taking the Measure of Trudeau, Think Nigel Wright, Think Mike Duffy and All the Rest

Severing the bond between Canadian senators and their party apparatus and leadership is a long overdue reform and all the proof you'll ever need is to be found in the Wright-Duffy-Harper affair.

Our ethically vacuous prime minister, Stephen Harper, has perverted the Senate of Canada in endless ways.  He has stacked it with Conservatives, never once reaching across party lines in his appointments, an anti-democratic first for Canada.  Far from selecting senators based on their record of achievement and service, he picked really mediocre types obviously chosen for obedience.  As Harper's handmaidens achieved a majority in the Senate, their Master succeeded in transforming the institution into yet another of his personal partisan agencies.  Any doubt was erased from what we learned of the Wright-Duffy affair.

Harper's Trained Seals
Duffy was not appointed to serve the Senate.  He was given the seat, the salary, the pension and other benefits to serve as a fundraiser and campaigner for the party in the Commons.   Duffy is said to have had a photograph in his Senate office of himself and the prime minister, autographed by Harper "to my most valuable senator."    Three words that speak volumes.

RCMP investigators determined that Duffy was not in Prince Edward Island enough days to be deemed resident in that province.  Close but no cigar.  Duffy's camp contend he was unable to meet the residency test for PEI because the Conservative PMO had him on the road from coast to coast, constantly fundraising and campaigning.  Not fundraising for the Senate.  Not campaigning for the Senate.  No, he was fundraising and campaigning for his prime minister and his caucus in the Commons.

Duffy felt entitled to his housing allowance given the number of days he spent annually resident in Prince Edward Island plus the days he spent "on the road" for Harper's Conservative caucus.  That's why he dug in his heels when Harper ordered him to repay the housing stipend.  That's why Nigel Wright decided to give Duffy $90-thousand under the table. 

It was in both Harper's interests and Duffy's that the PMO interceded with the Conservative Senate leadership to get the audit report into Duffy laundered.  Orders went out from the PMO to the hopelessly compromised senior Conservative senators - LeBreton, Stewart-Olsen, Tkachuk and others.   The corruption was complete.

Recall how this all fell apart.  Harper was onside with it.  Duffy was onside with it.  Nigel Wright, Benjamin Perrin and other PMO functionaries were onside with it.  The Conservative Senate leadership were onside with it.  They were all onside with it - until an e-mail Duffy foolishly distributed to his friends detailing the arrangement fell into the wrong hands and was then leaked to CTV News.   Only then did it all fall apart.  Only then did Harper, Harper's PMO and the exposed Conservative Senate leadership turn on Mike Duffy and, when they did, they did it with a vengeance.

That demonstrates why young Trudeau is right.   Senators must not owe their duty to their party's leadership in the Commons.  They must serve the country and the Canadian people.   They can't do that and serve a master in the Commons.  One has to go.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tired of the Polar Vortex? Why Not Warm Up in Seward, Alaska?

The mercury hit 61F in Seward, Alaska on Monday.  That's Alaska, as in way, way up north, in January.  Meanwhile traffic has ground to a halt as 2 inches of snow blanket (really, "blanket"?) Atlanta, Georgia.  The Florida panhandle is looking at serious sub-freezing temperatures. 

Now, check this out.   This is the two-week outlook.

It's going to be toasty again in Florida and in the U.S. southwest and in - OMG! - northern Alaska.  Okay, one of these does not belong with the others.  Any guesses?  Oh my, what can the matter be?

Dinesh D'Souza Indicted

You might remember this little rightwing prick, Dinesh D'Souza, from his appearance on The Daily Show or Real Time with Bill Maher.  Or perhaps for his slanderous documentary 2016: Obama's America.  Or you might remember D'Souza as the president of the uber-Christian King's College who had to resign in disgrace when he got caught dicking a woman other than his then wife while on an out-of-towner to attend a rightwing conference Truth for a New Generation.  He claimed that they were already engaged and just waiting for his divorce to come through so they could be married.  Then, when the heat got too much, Dinesh simply dumped her.

Now the little jerk is in hot water again.  He's been indicted for violating the federal campaign finance laws by making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with those contributions.

According to The New York Times, "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said that D'Souza encouraged others to give $20,000 to a Senate candidate and reimbursed them for the donations. Election law prohibits such arrangements and caps donations at $5,000 per donor to any one candidate."

The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that "Federal authorities accuse D'Souza of donating more than is legal to the campaign of Wendy Long, who ran in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton but lost to now-Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Long, though, is not mentioned in an indictment obtained by THR."

The indictment says that "D'Souza donated $20,000 to Long's campaign by aggregating the money from various people and falsely reporting the source of the funds."

David Corn of   Mother Jones also reminds us of what an odious little asshole D'Souza has been for pretty much his entire adult life.

D'Souza's extremism traces back to his college days, when he was an editor of the Dartmouth Review, the leading conservative college publication of the early 1980s. (Wendy Long was a Dartmouth student and served as a trustee of the Review in the 1990s.) In that post, D'Souza became a hero to young conservatives across the nation (and the right-wing foundations looking to fund them). While he helmed the Review, it published a "lighthearted interview with a former Klan leader"—accompanied by a staged photo of a black person hanging from a tree—and an assault on affirmative action titled, "Dis Sho Ain't No Jive, Bro," which was written in Ebonics. ("Now we be comin' to Dartmut and be up over our 'fros in studies, but we still be not graduatin' Phi Beta Kappa.") The "Jive" article caused Jack Kemp, a conservative icon mindful of the right's problems with minority outreach, to resign from the Review's advisory board. Decades later, it's clear that D'Souza chose the path of the foul at an early point. 

...he bragged about the Review having made use of a list of Dartmouth alumni it had somehow procured—without the university's approval—for a mailing. (The university maintained the Review had misappropriated the list and committed a copyright violation.) He and his surrounding acolytes also gloated over an infamous Review article that had outed members of Dartmouth's Gay Student Association and published excerpts of letters written by the group's members. (As a result of this article, some members of the group had their sexual orientation disclosed to friends and family members.)

Nine years later, when D'Souza was being hailed upon the publication of his book, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus—the Washington Post called him "palpably smart," "sober-minded," and a "gentleman"—I wrote a short piece in The Nation and recalled that I had once witnessed him boasting about improperly purloining documents for the gay-naming article.
D'Souza cried foul, claiming that the Review had not used any underhanded means to gain access to information about the members of the Gay Student Association.

...Much of what D'Souza did in college as a rising conservative star foreshadowed the career of ideological nastiness to come. But relishing the outing of gay students (and at that luncheon there was much relishing) and engaging in dirty tricks to obtain those names—well, that speaks not to ideology, but character. And it is but one reason, even if now dusty, why D'Souza warrants little sympathy for being accused of once again breaking the rules to serve his ideological aims.

Oh, This is Precious. WalMart Versus Costco.

There's a nifty and fun calculator over at Mother Jones that shows how many hours a week you would need to work to earn a living wage from either Costco or Walmart.

It's an American thing but still worth a test run or two.  Pick a state, one nearest your province, and then a city that sort of matches a city near you.  Then you plug in your family situation - one adult, two adults, one kid, five kids, whatever.  Then you hit the "calculate" button.

I chose Bellingham, Washington, one adult, one child.  It turns out I would have to work 41-hours per week at Costco to earn a secure but modest income sufficient to meet the needs of myself and my child.   WalMart, you ask?  Wait for it.  How about 99-hours to make that same secure but modest income.  99-hours, just a shade less than five, twenty hour days, or a somewhat more relaxed seven, fourteen hour days every week, month in, month out.

The simple fact is that we can make WalMart (and all the other corporate welfare queens like it) pay a living wage if we only just didn't shop there.  I try to do my bit.  In fact I haven't been to a shopping mall in months.  I boycott the fast foodies too.  They only get away with it because we condone it.  Enough.

Should We Be Celebrating History We Don't Understand?

Last week the National Post ran C.P. Champion's impassioned argument that the War of 1812 should be venerated as part of Canada's 150th anniversary celebrations in 2017.  Champion took full advantage of the opportunity to bash "progressives" for critiquing Harper's obsession with the war and for being unpatriotic louts in general.

The op-ed bothered me enough that I responded, rejecting Champion's assertion that progressives did not appreciate the significance of the War of 1812 to our country.  That's utter nonsense. 

What really bothered me, however, was that Harper's 200-year old triumphalism was based on a 6th-grade, utterly simplistic view of that very important war.  The War of 1812 was a very complex undertaking.  The United States wanted to go to war against Britain but realized their navy wasn't remotely up to the job of taking on the Royal Navy at sea.   Britain's colonies to the north were the default option.  That's it.

When the Americans declared war there was no consensus on actually conquering and annexing Canada regardless of what the declaration of war stated.   Most of the political classes saw us as a useful bargaining chip to be traded back to Britain in exchange for concessions in trade as well as the native lands on their then western frontier.

It was something of a sectarian war in that it was the doing of the Republicans and largely unwanted by the northern state Federalists.  The northern states, for example, continued to allow trade with the Canadas.  The British forces were sustained by foodstuffs bought from American suppliers.  This north-south rift opened a window into divisions that would, in part, erupt half a century later in the American Civil War.

Britain had well-developed plans to cede Upper Canada, Ontario, if need be while they finished off Napoleon but to defend Quebec at all costs. 

I agree with Champion that this war was fundamental to the history of Canada but I question the sincerity of those, like Harper and Mr. Champion, who take such a narrow and inadequate view of it.  I'm convinced that taking a grade-school approach to the War of 1812 yields nothing beyond childish triumphalism.

Oh Dear

U.S. state legislators, responding to the recent criticism over the execution by torture of an Ohio inmate who took 25-minutes to die from an untested cocktail of lethal drugs, think they have the solution.  They want to bring back the good old days.  Different jurisdictions are weighing different options from the electric chair to hanging, firing squads to the gas chamber.

Barbarians, they're utter barbarians.

C'Mon, This Is Not Funny. Well, Not That Funny.

Dateline:  Rasdorf, Central Germany.  Dairy Cows raise the roof.

BBC News reports that a cow shed roof was damaged and a cow was injured when concentrated bovine ass gas exploded.  The story reminds us that cattle emit 500-litres of prime methane gas per head per day.

Isn't there some way we should be collecting this stuff?  After all, it's not fossil fuel.

Well, Justin, Good On You

Justin Trudeau's decision to abolish the Liberal party's Senate caucus is a bold and democratic move.  The Senate is supposed to be independent, the best and the brightest, chosen on the basis of their accomplishments and service, to provide 'sober second thought' as a damper to a hyper-partisan and unruly Commons.

Stephen Harper has utterly perverted the Senate.  He's the first prime minister in Canadian history to appoint only loyal Conservatives to the upper chamber.  He now has it full of his dutiful sock puppets.  His manipulation of the Senate was revealed in how the PMO handled the Duffy-Wright affair.  In the process Harper, with the obedience of his Senate stooges, has transformed the Senate of Canada into just another partisan political agency of the prime minister's office.

I rarely have much good to say about Margaret's boy but I will give him full marks for this.  Who knows, he may surprise me again.

Update:  prowling for reaction among the usual suspects it became obvious that the more invested one is with the Liberal Party the greater the likelihood that you object to Trudeau's move.  Which leaves me convinced that the Liberal Party is best appreciated when you keep it at arm's length.

Warmer Seas, Smaller Fish?

Fish stocks in the North Sea are shrinking.  Over the past four decades some have shrunk in length by as much as 29%.

Researchers wondered if the shrinkage was the result of overfishing of select species but ruled that out because it seems to be common to many species.  Their conclusion - the culprit appears to be the warming of the North Sea over the past 38 years.   Records show a warming between 1C and 2C in those waters.

The availability of food and an increase in fishing could also be factors in the reduction in length but the "synchronised" fall in size across a range of species led the fisheries scientists at the University of Aberdeen to identify climate change, and particularly higher water temperatures, as a common theme.

Between 1970 and 2008 the length of haddock in the north part of the sea and whiting in the south decreased most at 29%.

The reduction did not apply to all species, with the length of cod remaining steady and sole decreasing by only 1% over the study period.

Fish are maturing earlier in the warmer waters and not continuing to grow, according to the researchers.

Water temperature is a major factor in fish populations and migration.   California sees warmer Pacific waters as playing a role in the decline of that state's salmon stocks.  Sardines, once bountiful in California coastal waters, also moved north even turning up in large numbers  in British Columbia.  With the migration of prey fish comes the migration of their predator species.

Brits Back Beavers

Britain has been hammered by prolonged and massive flooding in recent years.  One solution being advocated by UK's Mammal Society is to reintroduce the beaver to Britain's wetlands.

The cheapest and most effective way to control river flooding in Britain would be to bring back beavers to construct natural dams to hold back water, the UK Mammal Society has recommended to environment secretary, Owen Paterson.

The rodents, known as "master river engineers", nibble and fell trees to create large lodges which restrict river flow, store water, and reduce flash floods and erosion. The UK has been lashed with storms and flooding in the past two months, with the south-west particularly badly hit, and David Cameron saying on Wednesday that it is unacceptable that parts of Somerset are still underwater.

Marina Pacheco, the society's chief executive, said: "We urge the government to consider a bold and cost-effective wildlife solution: bring back the beaver and allow it to apply its benign engineering skills to our river systems. Our waterways are fed by man-made ditches and field drains that reduce the land's natural ability to hold water. Excessive flooding of towns, villages and farmland in the lowlands is the inevitable consequence of this unnaturally rapid transfer of water from the hills."

A word to the wise.  If you're going to reintroduce beavers to Britain, go for the European variety.  Last year I watched a nature documentary about "super beavers" that were savaging the Russian hinterland.  It turned out they were Canadian beavers that had been imported and escaped to the wild to become an invasive and unexpectedly destructive species.

Stranger Things Have Happened

Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize just a few months before he authorized a "surge" of 30,000 more U.S. soldiers to fight the Afghan War.  That seemed a matter of misplaced optimism on the part of the Nobel committee.

What will the United States do if its next Peace Prize winner turns out to be Edward Snowden, the fugitive whistle-blower who has done so much to unmask America's out of control surveillance apparatus?

Two Norwegian politicians have nominated Snowden for the 2014 Peace Prize commending him for contributing to "a more stable and peaceful world order."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

EPA Throws In The Towel In Florida

Halfway between Orlando and Tampa lies Lakeland, Florida, site of a radioactive dump left over from a local phosphate mine.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has wanted to get it cleaned up under the Superfund programme only to be blocked again and again by Florida politicians and industry representatives.  Finally the EPA just threw in the towel.

In a joint statement to Global Security Newswire, the Florida health and environment departments say they have no plans to examine the sites further, despite prior recommendations by federal officials that an aerial radiation survey of the area is needed. The state officials say they already have enough historical data pertaining to the sites, and that additional monitoring is not necessary.
The statement, provided to GSN by Florida environmental protection spokeswoman Mara Burger, suggests the EPA decision not to clean up the sites under its Superfund program indicated that the federal agency did not consider the Lakeland area "problematic" from a public health standpoint.
Internal documents released under the Freedom of Information Act in recent years show, however, that the federal agency's lack of action was the result of state and industry opposition, and that EPA officials did in fact believe the sites could pose a serious public health threat.
"It's probably the worst site EPA could clean up from a public health standpoint, when you consider the number of potential cancers and the size of the affected population," one source familiar with the Florida case told GSN. The source was not authorized to discuss the issue and asked not to be named in this article.

America's Private Sector Achilles' Heel

What if there are dozens of Edward Snowdens inside today's American security apparatus only they're working for America's enemies?

It's been said that the easiest way to get a mole inside the American intelligence establishment is by getting them hired by any of the dozens of private contractors to which the intelligence operation has been outsourced.  The backdoor to America's secrets is held open by the private sector.

Not only does the United States outsource a lot of its intelligence operations but it even outsources the vetting of the people employed by those intelligence contractors and the government itself  - with the predictable results.

The U.S. Justice Department, which itself has yet to be outsourced, is pursuing one of these security vetting contractors, US Investigative Services (USIS), for failing to properly vet hundreds of thousands of federal "clearance holders."

“Shelves are as clean as they could get. Flushed everything like a dead goldfish.”

That’s what a key supervisor in charge of reviewing federal security clearances told a superior in April 2010, in a message boasting about how he and his colleagues had approved numerous clearances and sent them on to the federal Office of Personnel Management without conducting required quality reviews.

Oh, lordy, lordy, say it ain't so.

Update:   USIS handled the vetting of Edward Snowden.

My Dad Never Told Me That

According to the new head of Japan's state broadcaster, during WWII, every country had "comfort women" - a nice Japanese term for kidnapped foreign women forced into sexual slavery to serve the troops.

I find much to admire in the Japanese and their culture but everytime something like this rolls across the lips of some prominent son of Nippon, it just resets the dial to "barbarian."   Every time one of them indignantly denies the reality of the Rape of Nanking, same thing, "barbarian."

NHK chairman Katsuto Momii told a news conference Saturday marking his appointment that "comfort women" existed in any country at war, not just Japan, and criticized South Korea for dredging up a compensation issue that had been settled by a bilateral peace treaty.

The military brothel system was "common in any country at war," Momii said Saturday. "The comfort women system is considered wrong under today's moral values. But the military comfort women system existed as a reality at that time."

At a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Momii's remarks as his personal views.

Rough Waters Ahead for Harper's Supertanker Armada?

 There's a glimmer of hope that, finally, somebody may torpedo Stephen Harper's fetish to run an armada of supertankers through British Columbia's coastal waters.  That "somebody" would be the Americans whose Alaskan and Washington State marine environments could be hard hit by a bitumen supertanker disaster.

While we await a report from the U.S. Coast Guard, a 153-page report from the  emergency response division of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is raising a lot of questions.

The study examined the different ways to transport Alberta's bitumen, a molasses-like crude oil, over U.S. land and water. Those included rail, the proposed Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline to Vancouver, the Keystone XL line to Texas from Alberta, and Northern Gateway.

"Most oilsands products are transported to market via existing and proposed pipelines; however, a sharp increase in the use of rail and marine transport can be expected while new pipelines are constructed to match the increased production of oilsands products," the report says.
It was written by six experts at the University of Washington and supervised by Prof. Robert Pavia of the university's School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

"While there are many arguments about the level of risk, no one believes the risk is zero," Pavia told The Canadian Press, adding that he was speaking personally. "In my mind it's not a question of whether a spill will occur, but how well-prepared we are for a spill once it does occur."

"Little research is currently available regarding the behaviour of oilsands products spilled into water, and how they weather in the environment," the report says.

"Most tests have been conducted in the laboratory, so predicting the actual behaviour of oilsands products for a range of spills is difficult." The risks associated with carrying oilsands products over water "are not well-defined."

"Current capabilities to detect and recover oil when it sinks or is suspended in the water column are poor."

In case you can't guess, Enbridge has already dismissed the NOAA report as all wet.  The pipeline operator wishes to assure Canadians and, especially, British Columbians that we can trust them as have so many other states and municipalities - to their peril.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Robert Reich Asks - Where's the Revolution?

Former Clinton labour secretary and UC Berkley prof and film maker Robert Reich ponders why in hell middle class Americans haven't taken to the streets with pitchforks and torches.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

...No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.

In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped  10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.

When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than  20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than  75 percent agreed.

It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.

Reich believes these factors are merely delaying demands for action but also worsening the prospects that, eventually, the result will be chaos and revolution.

Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.

At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.

Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.


If You're Gonna Be a Cowboy, Lay Off the Marlboros

For some odd reason, Marlboro cigarettes seem to be lethal to cowboys.

Marlboro Man Wayne McLaren succumbed to lung cancer in 1992

Marlboro Man David McLean was felled by emphysema in 1995


And now Marlboro Man Eric Lawson has fallen from his saddle at 74 due to COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Lawson became a smoker at just 14 years old, according to his wife Susan. Later in life, he appeared in an anti-smoking ad and discussed the negative health effects on smoking on “Entertainment Tonight.” But he was never able to quit. “He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him. He knew, yet he still couldn’t stop,” Susan Lawson  told the Associated Press.

The Next Step in the Indo-Chinese Arms Race - India Fears It's Losing.

With the emergence of economic superpowerdom comes a perceived need to bolster one's military capabilities.  When you've got two, nuclear-armed, resource hungry, environmentally stressed and massively overpopulated, mutually suspicious, emerging economic superpowers that share a disputed and heavily militarized border that really ups the ante.  (Christ, I just read that last sentence again.   OMG!)  That's a loose but accurate description of India and China.

Both countries are in the midst of massive rearmament campaigns.  China, given its greater industrial base, larger wealth and technological superiority, is pulling ahead.   India remains more heavily dependent on foreign suppliers for weaponry that invariably comes with strings attached and its weight in red tape.

The United States is trying to use India as a proxy to help contain China and to undermine the security of China's access to Middle East oil.  China counters by bolstering its alliance with India's nemesis, Pakistan, and pursuing overland access to Iranian and Iraqi oil through Pakistan.  India, meanwhile, is trying to leapfrog Pakistan by siding with Afghanistan.

In a nutshell, the whole South Asia/East Asia scenario is a mess of awkward, fluid and dangerous forces in play.  Now some Indians are coming to see themselves as hopelessly and very dangerously behind in their nation's unacknowledged arms race with China.  Once that mentality sets in, the next step is paranoia about an imminent attack.

...a recent statement by General Bikram Singh, Chief of Army Staff, that India would not allow a repeat of 1962 (the Sino-Indian war)sounds reassuring at least in consequential terms. As the defensor pacis of India's military interests, Singh would know better. However, such assurances notwithstanding, Indians still fear a war that the country would likely lose.

The "relative peace" notwithstanding, several factors could draw China and India into a conflict, either in tandem or in isolation. First, the two countries are yet to resolve their border differences. Protracted talks have been complicated with new demands by China and have belittled the political parameters decided in 2005 to move towards a final resolution. As China's political, economic

and military power scale new heights, it might resort to another limited war to force a one-sided resolution upon India. 

...while the political, diplomatic and economic engagements, supplemented with military confidence building measures, have enabled India maintain "relative peace" on China front; India is losing the race in military capacity building vis-a-vis China. 

 ...both countries are undergoing a transition process towards becoming great powers. The absence of an agreed border, supplemented by the game for power and influence elsewhere, could encourage China to talk through its guns to India.

In designing a defense policy against China, India has yet to experiment certain initiatives. First, India is yet to start its own game of military modernization with a focus on "muscle" rather than "men". In the entire discourse on military modernization, India is the only major power that is yet to trim its flesh and reinvest the money on technology and armory. A lesson can be learnt from China, which trimmed its military from 4.9 million to 2.2 million personnel and emerged as a military superpower.

Second, shortage of defense budget should not come in way of a strong defense against China. There is plenty of scope for revenue generation and revenue saving within the armed forces that can be explored. In doing so, lessons can be learnt from the US and the UK, among others, that have adopted new policy measures to generate money.

Third, India is not the only country pitted against a strong neighbor with possibilities of war. Smaller powers across the world have invented and adopted new ways and means to resist the geopolitical temptations of stronger neighbors and at times even tease them. The sub-continental examples of Pakistan and Sri Lanka (balancing) and Nepal and Bhutan (bandwagoning) are only some representative examples.

If India could convince China for an early border resolution, it will blow away the major cause that could propel a Chinese attack.

India's search for pride, dignity and honor against an unpredictable China can come only if there is an objective confidence in dealing with China. Assurances from top military and political leadership, like General Singh's statement, do reduce the pangs of psychological humiliation about the 1962 war. However, such statements also need to be supplemented with demonstrable evidences of better military preparedness against China.

China, Is This Really Too Much to Ask?

I don't know if this is going to sound racist.  Truth is, I really don't care.

Is it really too much to demand that China implement health and agricultural regulatory reform requiring farmers to keep their swine separate from their poultry and keep both separate from the farmers and their families?

Pigs here, chickens there, humans over there, all of them kept a suitable distance apart.

Every year we get new strains of flu - from China.  Avian flu, swine flu, Hong Kong flu.  H1N1, H5N1, H-number-letter-number whatever.   Every year the World Health Organization issues its warnings and urges Chinese farmers not to let their chickens and pigs live in the house.  They do anyway.  The virus passes from the pigs to the farmers or from the chickens to the farmers and the farmers take their pigs and chickens and flu to market in the cities where it gets into the general population and, before long, on some jetliner overseas.

Is it really too much to ask our newfound energy partner, the Peoples' Republic, to put an end to this nonsense?  And how about this?  Shouldn't they be taking some of that vast wealth they keep sucking out of our economies and sending some  of it back to cover our medical expenses, income loss and economic dislocation caused by the constant export of their goddamned flu virus?

Maybe if China had to pay compensation for the deaths, suffering  and economic dislocation caused by their refusal to tackle conditions that lead to the spread of influenza, they might act on it.  We've been warned.  It's only a matter of time before there's going to be a real killer strain.

Your Smart Phone Apps May Be Ratting You Out

Lots of people have smartphones and those that do usually load at least some of the thousands of free or cheap apps that can run on them.   Did you ever think that those fun apps might just be ratting you out to government spy agencies?

According to a breaking story just released by The New York Times, that is what's happening.

When a smartphone user opens Angry Birds, the popular game application, and starts slinging birds at chortling green pigs, spy agencies have plotted how to lurk in the background to snatch data revealing the player’s location, age, sex and other personal information, according to secret British intelligence documents.
In their globe-spanning surveillance for terrorism suspects and other targets, the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have been trying to exploit a basic byproduct of modern telecommunications: With each new generation of mobile phone technology, ever greater amounts of personal data pour onto networks where spies can pick it up.
According to dozens of previously undisclosed classified documents, among the most valuable of those unintended intelligence tools are so-called leaky apps that spew everything from users’ smartphone identification codes to where they have been that day.

The N.S.A. and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters were working together on how to collect and store data from dozens of smartphone apps by 2007, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor. Since then, the agencies have traded recipes for grabbing location and planning data when a target uses Google Maps, and for vacuuming up address books, buddy lists, phone logs and the geographic data embedded in photos when someone sends a post to the mobile versions of Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Twitter and other services.
And who do we have to thank for this revelation?  You guessed it, Edward Snowden.  Thanks for the heads up, Ed.  And, Ed, unless those bastards give you complete and ironclad amnesty, don't even think about going back.

For You Foreign Policy Wonks

Obama is about to deliver his State of the Union address.  The folks at the Brookings Institute have prepared a very interesting assembly of memos for their president, "Big Bets and Black Swans." 

Here's their video introduction:

Rampage of the Right

It's ongoing in Canada.  It's happening in Australia.  It's well underway in Britain.  In the Conservative ruled Anglosphere, governments are busy dismantling environmental protections.

The focus, at the moment, is on Britain where Conservative prime minister David Cameron is about to shred 80,000 pages of environmental protections and building codes.

Among the regulations to be watered down will be protections for hedgerows and rules about how businesses dispose of waste, despite Cameron's claims to lead the greenest government ever.

Addressing the Federation of Small Businesses conference, Cameron will argue that the new rules will make it "vastly cheaper" for businesses to comply with their environmental obligations.

The government also plans to scrap many building standards relating to things such as the size of windows and demands for renewable energy sources, saving builders about £500 for each new home.

"We have trawled through thousands of pieces of regulation, from the serious to the ridiculous, and we will be scrapping or amending over 3,000 regulations – saving business well over £850m every single year. That's half a million pounds which will be saved for businesses every single day of the year," Cameron will claim.

Even Labour's shadow business secretary, Chuka Umunna, lets slip that, today, government puts the public interest in service to the corporate sector.

"We need government to be a better servant – and customer – of our small businesses and to make sure that entrepreneurs' voices are heard at the top table."

It's believed Cameron's deregulation will clear the way for a wave of shoddily constructed, mini-homes.

The average British home has shrunk by 40% in the last 80 years to only 76 sq m – compared with 115 sq m in the Netherlands and 137 sq m in Denmark. Even famously compact Japanese homes average at 92 sq m. National minimum space standards, common elsewhere in Europe, are what is needed – not carte blanche for developers to make homes even smaller than a London Tube carriage.

Cameron's logic goes that reducing regulations will somehow “free up” benevolent house-builders to bring forth the long-awaited bounty of new homes, the provision of which has fallen to the lowest level since the 1920s. But red tape is not what is holding them back. Research has shown that house-builders are sitting on hundreds of thousands of plots of land that already have planning permission, a game of “land banking” that forces values into the stratosphere. In turn, these artificially inflated land prices lead to more units built on each site, meaning smaller homes with non-existent gardens and squeezing out any hope of design quality.

Who knows?  Maybe the Brits are nostalgic for a return to industrial revolution slum housing.  Besides, it's so convenient when you live next door to the foundry.

The Cameron government claims the bonfire of building and environmental regulations is the result of overwhelming public demand for regulatory streamliningThe Guardian's Damian Carrington says that's bollocks.

Unconvinced this is all utterly benign? Blame yourself, because according to business minister Mark Prisk, it was you who wanted all these changes: "The comments made on the website, by people who deal with these regulations every day, are what has driven this whole process, and I'm pleased that so many people have taken this chance to have their say."

Except that my analysis shows that 97% of the thousands of public responses on the RTC website demanded stronger protection or no change in the rules on air pollution, wildlife and landscape management. Futhermore, a robust opinion poll from YouGov/Greenpeace shows that when asked what you think about the current safeguards that protect Britain's wildlife and countryside, only 4% said they were too strong, with ten times more saying they were too weak, and 37% said they were about right.

Ah, there's that other rightwing ploy - when pressed, just make shit up because you only have to convince those who are already happy to eat whatever you dish up for them.

Yep, That's the Face of Fascism All Right.

To Benito Mussolini, Il Duce, fascism was the merger of political and corporate power.

Now brace yourself for this, Canada.  There's probably nothing that says fascism more than the seamless integration of a state intelligence apparatus with the corporate sector.

Edward Snowden's latest bombshell came in an interview with a German public broadcaster during which he claimed that America's vaunted National Security Agency undertakes industrial espionage.

Snowden's claim the NSA is engaged in industrial espionage follows a New York Times report earlier this month that the NSA put software in almost 100,000 computers around the world, allowing it to carry out surveillance on those devices and could provide a digital highway for cyberattacks. 

The NSA planted most of the software after gaining access to computer networks, but has also used a secret technology that allows it entry even to computers not connected to the internet, the newspaper said, citing US officials, computer experts and documents leaked by Snowden.

Snowden, unfortunately, didn't offer up details of how the NSA interfaces with America's corporate sector.   Last October it was revealed that CSEC, Communications Security Establishment Canada, offers concierge service to Canada's energy giants even if they're not Canadian.   They get together twice a year for the feds to pass domestic spying information to Big Fossil.  Their last soiree was hosted by Enbridge.

Krugman Dissects America's Rich

Paul Krugman concludes that the richest of the rich think differently than the rest of us, see themselves differently than the rest of us see them and inhabit an alternate reality exclusive to themselves.  In other words, they function very much like any 16th century European aristocracy.  Oh yeah, and they're deeply paranoid.

Extreme inequality, it turns out, creates a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality — and simultaneously gives these people great power.

The example many are buzzing about right now is the billionaire investor Tom Perkins, a founding member of the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Perkins lamented public criticism of the “one percent” — and compared such criticism to Nazi attacks on the Jews, suggesting that we are on the road to another Kristallnacht.

And there are a number of other plutocrats who manage to keep Hitler out of their remarks but who nonetheless hold, and loudly express, political and economic views that combine paranoia and megalomania in equal measure.

...look at how many of those making these accusations also made the ludicrously self-centered claim that their hurt feelings (as opposed to things like household debt and premature fiscal austerity) were the main thing holding the economy back.

I also suspect that today’s Masters of the Universe are insecure about the nature of their success. We’re not talking captains of industry here, men who make stuff. We are, instead, talking about wheeler-dealers, men who push money around and get rich by skimming some off the top as it sloshes by. They may boast that they are job creators, the people who make the economy work, but are they really adding value? Many of us doubt it — and so, I suspect, do some of the wealthy themselves, a form of self-doubt that causes them to lash out even more furiously at their critics.
Anyway, we’ve been here before. It’s impossible to read screeds like those of Mr. Perkins or Mr. Schwarzman without thinking of F.D.R.’s famous 1936 Madison Square Garden speech, in which he spoke of the hatred he faced from the forces of “organized money,” and declared, “I welcome their hatred.
President Obama has not, unfortunately, done nearly as much as F.D.R. to earn the hatred of the undeserving rich. But he has done more than many progressives give him credit for — and like F.D.R., both he and progressives in general should welcome that hatred, because it’s a sign that they’re doing something right.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Submarine Soup

For some reason, Canada, with the world's largest coastline bordering three of the most important oceans on Earth, is fielding a fleet of four, 28-year old submarines purchased second-hand from Britain's Royal Navy.  When or even if we'll ever have four operational submarines remains to be seen.  There's some suggestion our subs may have a role to play in Asian waters in support of America's "pivot" to Asia.

If one of the Royal Canadian Navy's undersea craft ever does make it all the way across the Pacific to Asia, it will be sailing into a rich, submarine soup.   From India to China, the region is awash in submarines and more are on the way.

For example, North Korea operates 60 to 70 subs, most of them older Soviet boats.  South Korea has 15, the best from its Hyundai boat yards.  Vietnam is about to take delivery of its second, high-tech conventional sub from Russia with three more on order. 

China operates a mix of nuclear missile subs (5), nuclear attack subs (6) and conventional submarines (50+) with new designs on the way.   India is developing its own nuclear missile submarine and has 14-conventional subs with more on the way.  Japan operates 16 attack submarines and is looking for new boats.

The Philippines doesn't have any subs but is shopping for at least three.  Pakistan has 5-French designed subs and is looking to build its own nuclear-powered submarine.  Indonesia has 7 boats including three on order from South Korean shipyards.   The city state of Singapore has four Swedish subs with three new German boats on order.  Malaysia operates two French, Scorpion-class subs.  Myanmar is said to be ordering two Kilo-class subs from Russia.  That leaves Thailand which currently has no subs.

Let's not forget Australia which also  considers those waters to be part of its area of operations.  Australia operates 6 Collins-class subs and, like so many others, is looking for new boats.

Leaving aside the Russians and Americans, that's over 200-submarines, most of them far more modern and capable than the Royal Navy castoffs Canada operates when it can actually get them to sea.  The idea of sending an old Canadian sub across the Pacific to patrol the waters from the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea would seem preposterous.

This is not to say the Royal Canadian Navy doesn't need a submarine force.  It does, and with the Arctic Ocean turning ice-free we need boats that can operate in the far north.  The Brit boats might be useful for training but that's about it.  Time we too began looking for something a little less shopworn.

The Republican Hamster Wheel - Arizona GOP Censures John McCain's "Liberal" Record

Better Times?

Apparently being all for bombing just about any place, anywhere, any time for damned near any reason isn't enough to earn Republican street cred these days.   Arizona's GOP has censured senator John McCain for his "liberal" record.

Former three-term Republican senator John Kyl came to McCain's defence.

“I’ve gone to dozens of these meetings and every now and then some wacky resolution gets passed,” Kyl told the newspaper on Saturday. “But most people realize it does not represent the majority of the vast numbers of Republicans.”

McCain doesn't face the voters again until 2016 by which point he'll be 80.  Yet the allure of another term in Washington is obvious.  It ain't Arizona.

Peering Through Inequality to Discern the Spark of Revolution

To Canadians, revolution is something that other people do.   We really have no history of great, national revolt.  That can blind us to the fact of how commonplace revolution has been in the history of so many other nations - the United States, Mexico, much of Central and South America, Britain, Europe to be sure, Asia (south, east and central), Eurasia, the Middle East and the bloody civil wars that have claimed millions of lives in Africa.  In fact, revolution seems to be the norm rather than the exception.

Tom Morrow writing for the Irish Independent sees the inequality spreading throughout the modern world as the kindling for revolutions soon to come.

You don't need to be a Nobel prize-winning economist to know that something is wrong when the the number of people attending a small wedding can own more than 3.5 billion other people. But perhaps you do have to be a Nobel prize-winning economist to find a solution.

What was interesting in Davos was the decision to place rising inequality at the centre of the debate and begin thinking about a solution. It was also interesting to hear open acknowledgments by so many participants, from IMF boss Christine Lagarde downwards, that inequality on this scale is plain dangerous and could spark revolution.

Jennifer Blanke, the World Economic Forum's chief economist, warned that "disgruntlement can lead to the dissolution of the fabric of society" and warned that revolutions begin when young people conclude that the risks and costs of destroying the society are preferable to letting things continue as they are.

We live in peaceful times, bar the odd riot in Croydon or Stockholm, but the rich know that this will not continue indefinitely. Too much inequality can spark revolts like the French and Russian revolutions which sweep everything away.

Both these revolutions followed long periods of relative decline which saw the merchant classes squeezed and an oligarchy grow rich from commercial developments such as the slave trade.

In 2005, a perceptive report by Ajay Kapur, a Citigroup global strategist, predicted the growth of what he called plutonomy. A plutonomy exists when the wealthy own and consume so much of a society that everyone else is irrelevant both politically and economically.

Kapur showed little concern about the rise of plutonomy but as this trend accelerates there are reasons to be worried. Great technological changes or political upheavals always offer opportunities for the clever and industrious to make vast fortunes. It is what inevitably happens next that creates real danger.

The great disparities enable the wealthy to use their economic power to make sure rules favour the rich, often to the detriment of everyone else.

The consequences include the erosion of democracy and vanishing opportunities for everybody else.

...Plutarch wrote 2,000 years ago that "an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."

Perhaps that is the lesson of Davos for Ireland: that we need to begin tracking that imbalance seriously and then asking ourselves what we are going to do about it before the fraying social fabric leads to extreme political responses of the kind that we are likely to see elsewhere on the Continent in the European elections this May.

Chris Hedges is just one American voice warning that the U.S. is deeply mired in a pre-revolutionary state.   Finally even Congressional Democrats and a gaggle of their Republican counterparts are becoming decidedly nervous at what is simmering beneath their feet.  The U.S. military is positioning units to deliver civil assistance in the event of unrest - unleashing troops against the American people.

Congress, in service to the nation's  plutocrats, has dismembered America's once robust, vibrant and broad-based middle class, the key to their prosperity and stability.  Like the Harper government today, the American Congress has turned on its people ever since the Reagan Era,  sowing ruin, anger and resentment across the land.

Although it may sound off-topic, I expect climate change impacts will become a 'force multiplier' of the social unrest building in many countries, including the U.S.  If revolt does break out in the United States, don't think we'll be immune to it.

Britain's Buggered-Up Banks

When I moved to London in the 60s, I brought a hefty stack of American Express traveller's cheques (yes, kids, we did that back when ships were made of oak and men were made of iron).  Once I got my flat and furnishings and my bike I thought I should open a bank account where I could just deposit the rest of those traveller's cheques.  It just made sense.

Off to the bank I went (Barclay's if I recall).  Up to the counter where I presented my cheques and said I wanted to open an account.  The clerk looked at me and said, "might I see your references?"  I looked at the clerk in bewilderment and said something like, "no, no, no, you don't understand.  I'm not looking for a loan.  I just want to open an account so I can deposit these traveller's cheques and my pay when I start working."  We began to dance.  He kept demanding references.  I kept asking why.  He said, basically, "because, that's why."  I asked him would he, if I endorsed those traveller's cheques, cash them without references.  Of course.  Then, if he was happy enough to take those cheques and hand me their face value in cash, why in hell wouldn't he let me leave that cash in an account right there in his damned bank?  Of course, no references.

I had sort of assumed that British bankers would have managed to get their bowlered heads out of their pinstripe asses by now but apparently, no,  I'm wrong again.  This time it's the global giant, HSBC.   Now the problem isn't getting money into your account.  It's trying to get even modest sums out.

Stephen Cotton went to his local HSBC branch this month to withdraw £7,000 from his instant access savings account to pay back a loan from his mother.

A year before, he had withdrawn a larger sum in cash from HSBC without a problem.

But this time it was different, as he told Money Box: "When we presented them with the withdrawal slip, they declined to give us the money because we could not provide them with a satisfactory explanation for what the money was for. They wanted a letter from the person involved."

Mr Cotton says the staff refused to tell him how much he could have: "So I wrote out a few slips. I said, 'Can I have £5,000?' They said no. I said, 'Can I have £4,000?' They said no. And then I wrote one out for £3,000 and they said, 'OK, we'll give you that.' "

He wrote to complain to HSBC about the new rules and also that he had not been informed of any change.

The bank said it did not have to tell him. "As this was not a change to the Terms and Conditions of your bank account, we had no need to pre-notify customers of the change," HSBC wrote.

Next time, Steve, best you bring a note from Mum.

Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton, is alarmed by the new HSBC policy: "All these regulations which have been imposed on banks allow enormous interpretation. It basically infantilises the customer. In a sense your money becomes pocket money and the bank becomes your parent."

But Eric Leenders, head of retail at the British Bankers Association, said banks were sensible to ask questions of their customers: "I can understand it's frustrating for customers. But if you are making the occasional large cash withdrawal, the bank wants to make sure it's the right way to make the payment."

Pompous gits.