Friday, October 31, 2014

What's Your Little Jihadi Doing for Halloween?

Apparently WalMart has that covered.  $39.95 gets little Johnny a full Pashtun costume complete with beard.  IED not included.

Just the sight of your Islamic ass is guaranteed to "shock your friends" out of their wits.  So, whether you're out to make a "political statement" or just scoring candy nothing comes close to Pashtun Papa.

If It's Cold War You Want, It's Cold War You'll Get

Wasn't one enough?  Really?

For almost a half century we, the West, and the Russians/Soviets poured mountains of money down the drain preparing for a war none of us would have survived had it come to that.

Underground missile batteries, fleets of nuclear missile submarines, strategic (nuclear) bombers, nuclear-capable strike fighters, mobile battlefield (tactical) nuclear missiles, massive tank armies ready to mix it up in the Fulda Gap on short notice.  An ocean of gasoline just looking for a match.

How many trillions of dollars were squandered on this global, nuclear make-work project?  What might we have accomplished with that vast fortune?

Make no mistake, that money was squandered.  Pissed away.  It didn't have to be that way.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, we could have taken a well-earned reward from the investment of all that money and all those lives.  We could have turned sacrifice into peace.

Lasting peace. It was ours for the taking. We could have implemented peaceful approaches to East Europe and Russia. That didn't happen. Instead we treated Russia as a vanquished foe.  As the Warsaw Pact dissolved, we eagerly snapped up its member states, brought them into the NATO fold, and marched triumphantly to Russia's very borders.

We said we were going to be peaceful, at least that's what we told Moscow.  But they've heard that from the West before and, instead, what they got was war. Napoleon, Hitler - real object lessons.

We said we wanted peace.  George H.W. Bush promised Gorbachev that NATO would not expand beyond the borders of a unified Germany.  They believed it. We lied. That sort of thing left scars and primed Russia for strongman rule.

We let Russia know we wouldn't hesitate to attack.  We even positioned anti-missile batteries on their borders with the unconvincing cover story that they were to protect Europe from an Iranian attack.  And all this stealth technology? It's aimed at two countries, China and Russia. It's intended to take down their sophisticated air defence networks to pave the way for their aerial subjugation. The Americans have even done full-scale dress rehearsals that revealed our willingness to strike without notice, pre-emptively if you like.  We've shown the Russians - and the Chinese - they need their own stealth squadrons.

Today the Cold War that never really ended, not really, is returning to business as usual.  Putin has commissioned the deployment of new, long-range ballistic missiles; a new strategic bomber; new warheads and new submarines.  As Vice reports the undersea arms race is really heating up.

Last week what was believed to be a Russian sub had the Swedes chasing their tails in the Stockholm archipelago.   This week it's Latvia's turn.  They've got the wind up after spotting what appears to be a Russian sub tender in their waters.

It's a good thing we've got six CF-18 jets defending the airspace over the Baltic nations, again on Russia's doorstep, because Moscow is giving them plenty of warplanes to keep them hopping.  Let's just hope those RCAF Hornets never have to go head to head with Russia's Su-35s.

When the White House discovered in recent weeks that its unclassified computer systems had been breached, intelligence officials examined the digital evidence and focused on a prime suspect: Russia, which they believe is using its highly sophisticated cyber capabilities to test American defenses. But its tracks were well covered, and officials say they may never know for sure.

They have no doubt, however, about what happened this week on the edges of NATO territory in Europe. More than two dozen Russian aircraft, including four Tu-95 strategic bombers, flew through the Baltic and Black Seas, along the coast of Norway and all the way to Portugal, staying over international waters but prompting NATO forces to send up intercepting aircraft.

Taken together, they represent the old and the updated techniques of Cold War signal-sending. In the Soviet era, both sides probed each other’s defenses, hoping to learn something from the reaction those tests of will created. In 2014, cyber is the new weapon, one that can be used with less restraint, and because its creators believe they cannot be traced and can create a bit of havoc without prompting a response.

From Bush to Clinton to Bush and, now, Obama, we've kept the embers of Cold War burning and now, quite predictably, we're back in business.  All that danger, all that money, all those lives - and it was all for nothing.  I know, maybe we can tell ourselves all this is "noble."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Seriously, From Here on In, This Might Be as Good as It Gets. But, on the Other Hand. It's Something Else.

My all-time band, from the very first time I heard "Satisfaction" to today and, almost certainly, forever.  The Rolling Stones with former,  albeit briefly, band member, Mick Taylor.  Oh yeah, and Bernard Fowler.

Got a nice ling cod and a 12-lb salmon today.  I'm blessed.

Climate Change Fatigue or Eco-Depression?

I received an e-mail recently from a woman who said she was weaning herself off environmental activism. She was burned out.  The fight had just taken too heavy a toll on her so she was hanging up her spurs.

It made me revisit a couple of conversations I've had with climate scientists. When, as strangers, you first meet they're lively and full of encouraging remarks about how "we can still win this."  Eventually, when you get to the point of small talk over a couple of beers the tune suddenly changes to "we're so screwed."

Now, Madeline Thomas of Grist, writes of an emerging disorder, "climate depression."

Two years ago, Camille Parmesan, a professor at Plymouth University and the University of Texas at Austin, became so “professionally depressed” that she questioned abandoning her research in climate change entirely.
Parmesan has a pretty serious stake in the field. In 2007, she shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore for her work as a lead author of the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In 2009, The Atlantic named her one of 27 “Brave Thinkers” for her work on the impacts of climate change on species around the globe. Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg were also on the list.

Despite the accolades, she was fed up. “I felt like here was this huge signal I was finding and no one was paying attention to it,” Parmesan says. “I was really thinking, ‘Why am I doing this?’” She ultimately packed up her life here in the States and moved to her husband’s native United Kingdom.

...From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged. For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties.
For scientists like Parmesan on the front lines of trying to save the planet, the stakes can be that much higher. The ability to process and understand dense climatic data doesn’t necessarily translate to coping with that data’s emotional ramifications. Turns out scientists are people, too...

“I don’t know of a single scientist that’s not having an emotional reaction to what is being lost,” Parmesan is quoted saying in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2012 report, “The Psychological Effects of Global Warming on the United States: And Why the U.S. Mental Health Care System is Not Adequately Prepared.” “It’s gotten to be so depressing that I’m not sure I’m going to go back to this particular site again,” she says, referring to an ocean reef she has studied since 2002, “because I just know I’m going to see more and more of it dead, and bleached, and covered with brown algae.”

Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. — and co-author of the National Wildlife Federation’s report — calls this emotional reaction “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term she coined to describe the mental anguish that results from preparing for the worst, before it actually happens...

What’s even more deflating for a climate scientist is when sounding the alarm on climatic catastrophes seems to fall on deaf ears. “How would that make you feel? You take this information to someone and they say they don’t believe you, as if it’s a question of beliefs,” says Jeffrey Kiehl, senior scientist for climate change research at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. “I’m not talking about religion here, I’m talking about facts. It’s equivalent to a doctor doing extremely detailed observations on someone and concluding that someone needed to have an operation, and the person looks at the doctor and says, ‘I don’t believe you.’ How would a doctor feel in that moment, not think, but feel in that moment?”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

That'll Be the Day When Pigs Swim

Everyone knows, deep down, that pigs can't fly but we may discover that pork floats just fine even in Canada's Arctic waters.

Stephen Harper would have us believe that he's all about the Arctic.  He can't get enough of the place.  Visits every summer.  He's especially fond of watching the local Rangers fire their WWII-vintage Lee Enfield rifles at imaginary Speznatz storm troopers, a powerful demonstration of Canadian sovereignty.

Steve will also tell us of the perils of Vlad Putin's bomber patrols and those Russkie's schemes to grab the oil, gas and mineral-rich Arctic seabed right out of our fingers.  After all, that's why Sideshow Steve promised that Canada would deploy eight, or at least six, Arctic patrol ships.  Real Made-in-Canada warships courtesy of Nova Scotia's Irving Shipyards.

Yes, that Irving.  The same bunch that run most of the media plus the oil refineries, lumber mills and just about everything else that, to mega-millionaires, is worth owning in the Maritimes.

From the get go the Arctic patrol vessel programme has, in standard Harper style, been short on details and long on doublespeak.  In May of last year there was a kerfuffle about then defence minister Peter MacKay's "hole in the ocean" when it was announced that the federal government would pay Irving $288-million just to design - not actually build - the patrol vessels.

What made the Harper government's largesse especially jaw dropping was that Canada was basically going to build ships (see above) along the lines of a Norwegian design which the feds had already purchased from the Norse for just $5-million.  It got worse from there when it emerged that Norway had built the original, Svalbard (see below), for under $100-million all in, design included.  It got even worse when it was learned that Denmark bought two similar patrol vessels in 2007 at $105-million for the pair.

Norwegian "Svalbard" - Look familiar?

When CBC went after MacKay/Ambrose brain trust for explanations, Rona Ambrose went full Michelle Bachmann and said speak to her officials who, in turn, couldn't explain it.  ...Ambrose got completely spinney, babbling on about the new, Conservative way of designing ships.

"We are implementing what's called a design and then build strategy," the minister told CBC News.

Not surprisingly, Ambrose was unable to cite any other country that fails to design first and build later.  At that point reporters were interrupted by government media handlers who cut off further questions.

Flash forward a year and a half.  The numbers still don't add up.  If anything, they're worse.  The budget for those Arctic patrol vessels is now $3.1-billion. That's right, with a "B".  And, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Jean-Denis Frechette, we won't be getting the promised 8-patrol vessels for that money.  We won't even be getting six.

Frechette said that's only enough money to pay for four Arctic patrol ships - and even then, there's only a 50 per cent chance the vessels get built on that budget.

The PBO went on to warn that, if the project is delayed for more than a year, we might be lucky to get three patrol ships for that.  In other words, about a billion apiece for the same ships everyone else can build for under $100-million per copy.  That's ten times more, on the nose, than everyone else is paying for similar patrol ships.

This iteration of a government naturally disputes Frechette's conclusions, arguing he got the data all wrong.  Frechette responded that any inaccuracies were the result of Harper & Company, true to form as we've seen so many times before, refusing to give the PBO information needed to do their work.

Now it turns out that, two days before Harper Enterprises inked the deal with Irving Shipyards, it received a consultants' report questioning Irving's numbers.

The report, by International Marine Consultants of Vancouver (IMC), ...commissioned by the Department of Public Works ...says the number of man-hours quoted by Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax was 'very high and considerably more than we would have expected for a shipbuilding program for vessels of the size and complexity of the [Arctic offshore patrol ships].' 


To put the Arctic offshore patrol vessel fiasco into perspective, it might be helpful to compare costs with those being incurred by the US Navy for its state-of-the-art,  armed to the teeth, littoral combat ships.  While designed for different roles and, hence, not fully comparable, the USN is getting the LCS for under $470-million apiece and it's a genuine warship.

And now, a video depiction of the Harper government's amphibious defence spending policy:

The Reluctant Revolution

For most of my life, the first sixty years of it anyway, I could not imagine the idea of Canada in revolt.  That has changed over the past three or four years.

I've always had a fairly simple concept of revolution - an uprising against oppression, a quest for a new order that cannot be had any other way.  This was the narrative common to the American, French and Russian revolutions along with others.

Revolutionary thought is making something of a comeback today.  Prominent thinkers from John Raulston Saul to Chris Hedges, Henry Giroux, Gar Alperovitz, Naomi Klein and others see nothing for the great majority of us and even less for our children unless we find some means to get out from under an increasingly oppressive, nihilistic, neoliberal status quo.  It took a lot of reading and mulling over but the inherent realism of their views prevailed.

Even the late Robert F. Kennedy foresaw the inevitability of revolution when he said, "A revolution is coming - a revolution that will be peaceful if we are wise enough; compassionate if we care enough; successful if we are fortunate enough - but a revolution that is coming whether we will it or not. We can affect its character; we cannot alter its inevitability."

Kennedy was not advocating revolution.  He was not championing a cause, some new order.  His was a reluctant revolution, an inevitability that could, if shaped by wisdom and compassion, be successful.  He didn't dwell on the alternative that awaited if the inevitability was ignored.

David DeGraw, author of "The Economics of Revolution" recognizes that we are beginning to make real progress in evolving new economic systems, new communities and new media but concludes that it's all too little, too late.

I am forced to confront the fact that I do not see how emerging solutions will reach a critical mass and create the needed change before the affects of inequality, poverty and the overall deterioration of society will lead to widespread chaos and violence. As much as I wish this wasn’t the case, as much as I want to just disengage from the status quo and focus on the implementation of local solutions, we cannot ignore the urgent need for significant systemic change on a mass scale now.
The longer mainstream society stays on the present course, the worse things will get and the harder it will be to overcome the growing crisis. No matter how much we are inclined to ignore it, we will not be able to escape this reality: under present economic and government policy, more and more people will fall deeper into debt and extreme poverty.
DeGraw goes on to cite the now well known but dismal statistics of life in today's blue and white collar, working-class America.  Only enough full-time jobs for half of America's workforce and half of those full-time jobs paying less than $35,000 a year.

Mainstream propaganda has temporarily obscured the fact that we are sitting on a ticking economic time bomb. Statistical fraud by the government on poverty, cost of living and unemployment cannot cover up the fact that the overwhelming majority of the population is on a fast track to impoverishment.
The government’s policies and actions in dealing with the growing epidemic of poverty are the very definition of tyranny. It couldn’t be more blatant. Just when the economy has reached a point where there are not enough jobs that generate an adequate income to sustain the cost of living for the majority of the population, the government is cutting billions of dollars from assistance programs and pouring billions of dollars into the military and prison industry.
An out of control private military complex is fueling violent conflicts abroad. A perpetual state of never-ending war is exhausting public wealth, with trillions of dollars diverted from social programs into the pockets of war profiteers. Here at home, the police force is being militarized and the private prison industry is growing at a shocking 1600% rate. We already have the largest prison population in the world. The current per capita rate is worse than the darkest days of the Soviet Gulags. On top of that, many cities are now criminalizing poverty. As ominous as it may sound, a tyrannical assembly line of incarceration is now in place.
Studies in the US have shown that more than 7 in 10 Americans are convinced their country is heading in the wrong direction. In a viable, functioning democracy the views of that powerful a majority would be heeded by elected representatives if only for their personal advancement.  Yet, no matter who they elect, the public will and the public interest are discounted and routinely subordinated to private interests.

A majority of Canadians also know our nation is heading in the wrong direction. A solid majority want effective action taken on climate change.  Most of us want Canada to reclaim its pre-Harper stature on the world state.  Few of us believe our children will achieve the same standard of living that we enjoyed.  We want inequality addressed and the decline of our middle class truly reversed.  Many of us think with trepidation on what awaits our grandchildren.  Yet, despite our desires and concerns, our neoliberal political caste chooses the private interest over the public interest again and again.

It is this insinuation of private interest to sever the connection between the electorate and their intended representatives that is now referred to as "political capture."  Yes you may still vote but that doesn't much matter to the outcome in a truly illiberal democracy.  And so a large segment of the public stops believing, becomes disaffected, no longer looks to democracy for solutions to what ails their society.

Few have the courage to say that any political apparatus that no longer acts in the public interest is, in the context of democracy, illegitimate, a sham - a usurper. Fewer still are willing to risk the consequences of denouncing the surveillance state and calling for something better.

Yet the miserable path we are embarked upon is not of our choosing, certainly not of our making.  And, as we continue along this darkened, potholed pavement we begin to grasp Kennedy's words when he warned that revolution is coming whether we will it or not.  We can affect its character but cannot alter its inevitability.

Monday, October 27, 2014

In Case You Missed It, Toronto

John Oliver last night delivered what might just be the best endorsement mayoralty candidate Doug Ford received throughout the campaign

It's All We Know

I wonder if the ancient Mesopotamians, or the Mayans or the Easter Islanders had their "it's all we know" moment before their civilizations faltered?

The Mesopotamians, for example, are widely taken to have created modern society in the "cradle of civilization" - the fertile delta where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet the Persian Gulf.  There it was possible to develop intensive agriculture aided by irrigation from those two mighty rivers.  That was accompanied by population growth, the networking of settlements that became cities and a civilization.

What the Mesos didn't understand, at first, was that some of the river water they were using for irrigation was brackish - contaminated by the mixture of saltwater from the Gulf.  It doesn't have to be particularly salty because the salt remains in the soil as the water evaporates and, given enough time, even trace amounts of salt build up until, in fairly short order, the farmland becomes sterile.  Crops fail, society fails.  At some point the Mesos must have figured it out which would probably be their "it's all we know" moment - just before their civilization collapsed.

The Mayans went through a similar process.  So, too, the Easter Islanders.

Our civilization is far more complex than anything that has preceded us.  We have a more or less interlinked, global civilization.  We have a global economy and, while we're not all on the same page, those behind are racing to catch up.

We have a global civilization anchored in models - economic, social, geo-political that have been developed over generations, in some cases centuries.

Like the Mesopotamians, it really never occurred to us that the same things that made us great could lay us low.  Abundant, cheap fossil energy is the prime example albeit it's just one.  Our slavish embrace of perpetual, exponential growth is another.  Even parasites can multiply until their numbers overwhelm the host at which point it's over for the host and the parasites as well.

Our models - economic, industrial, social and political - have transformed us into a plague of parasites on the Earth.  When we consume the Earth's resources at 1.5-times their natural replenishment rate, a rate that grows steadily with each passing year, we're on a one-way road and it's all downhill.  It's what we do.  It's all we know.

Fear.  There's plenty of that going around.  It's one of the most powerful motivators there is. Most of us respond to it instinctively and those who feed so much of it to us know it.  Foreign terrorists know it. They don't have to attack us in our homes.  They don't have to have the means to do it.  It's enough for them to say it knowing we'll respond just as they would have us do.

There's a group of domestic terrorists who do the very same thing.  They inculcate fear in us to achieve desired responses.  These terrorists come from our political caste and from the ranks of the rich and powerful.  Stephen Harper loves terrorizing old white people, his base.  He scares the shit out of them, plays to their basest instincts, and watches as they respond, turning out en masse to vote for him.

These domestic terrorists use fear to crush any hope of challenging the status quo.  If you want to thwart any effective effort to respond to climate change, tell the public that it will destroy the economy, their economy.  Feed them a dark vision of being without a job, the house in foreclosure, a tow truck driving away with the family car.  Problem solved.  And these domestic terrorists know what their foreign counterparts know - just saying it works.

In today's New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen offers up some reflections on modern fear:

What has happened? Why this shadow over the dinner table and such strange fears? It seems we have the remorse of Pandora. The empowering, all-opening, all-devouring technological spirit we have let slip from the box has turned into a monster, giving the killers-for-a-caliphate new powers to recruit, the dictators new means to repress, the spies new means to listen in, the fear mongers new means to spread alarm, the rich new means to get richer at the expense of the middle class, the marketers new means to numb, the tax evaders new means to evade, viruses new means to spread, devices new means to obsess, the rising powers new means to block the war-weary risen, and anxiety new means to inhabit the psyche.
Hyper-connection equals isolation after all. What a strange trick, almost funny. The crisis, Antonio Gramsci noted in the long-ago 20th century, “consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.” Many people I talk to, and not only over dinner, have never previously felt so uneasy about the state of the world. There is something in the air, fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna with Twitter.
Hope, of course, was the one spirit left behind in Pandora’s Box. One of the things in the air of late was a Google executive dropping to earth from the stratosphere, a fall of 135,890 feet, plummeting at speeds of up to 822 miles per hour, and all smiles after his 25-mile tumble. Technology is also liberation. It just doesn’t feel that way right now. The search is on for someone to dispel foreboding and embody, again, the hope of the world.

When you're chronically insecure, surrounded on all sides by fears, some real and some implanted, "it's all we know" becomes the default option.  When you are made to believe that the path ahead is a minefield it can take a lot of courage to challenge the lie.

It was a decade ago that our modern existence was given a new name - "precariat."  It's a term that applies to most of us.  Wiki defines it as, "a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare... "

Back in the day, then Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan credited "growing worker insecurity" for a lot of the success of the American economy during the Clinton years.  To the plutocracy, worker insecurity is a powerful advantage.  It's a very good thing indeed.

Have America's precariat taken to the streets in revolt?  No, they've just taken extra part-time jobs.  You can't revolt when you've got 20-minutes to get from job A across town to job B.  You do it because it's all you know.

Which brings us to Naomi Klein's new book, "This Changes Everything."  Klein makes very cogent and compelling arguments for transitioning from neoliberal, free market capitalism to a new economy based on equity, effective tax policy and, yes, asset redistribution.  The author contends that climate change renders such a transformation imperative, inevitable.

The best feature of Klein's transformative vision is that it can be accomplished in an orderly and peaceful fashion, avoiding the chaotic and often violent change of revolution and counter-revolution.

Yet privilege and advantage, even if completely unearned, are almost never surrendered voluntarily.  They're almost always defended by whatever means deemed necessary. When you have a society, conditioned by insecurity to accept quasi-servitude in a neoliberal order, a state of corporate feudalism, the forces of privilege and advantage have the whip hand.  If unrest begins to smolder, it's a simple matter of dousing it with another bucket of fear.

It can't go on forever.  It can't go on much longer.  Neoliberalism is the economic equivalent of a three pack a day habit.  It has been instrumental, indispensable in the creation of our current crises of climate change, overpopulation and over-consumption.

What Naomi Klein is advocating is really a "best case" scenario but we have been sufficiently conditioned that we will not see it that way.  We won't give up the very institutions that are propelling us to collapse.  It's all we know.

Irreversible Harm - As in No Going Back, Forget About It.

Okay, brace yourself.  A soon to be released UN report warns that climate change may have "serious, pervasive and irreversible" effects on societies and nature unless governments act quickly to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Sound familiar?  It should.  Another week, another dire warning.  More apocalyptic forecasts.  A quick yawn and then - flush - straight down the memory hole.

"The report will be a guide for us," Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, who will host a U.N. meeting of environment ministers in Lima in late 2014 to lay the groundwork for the Paris summit, told Reuters.
He said the synthesis report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drawing on three mammoth scientific reports published since September 2013, would show the need for urgent and ambitious action in coming years.

Many governments want the 32-page draft to be more clearly and punchily written in warnings of more powerful storms, heat waves, floods and rising seas. The United States said some tables "may be impenetrable to the policymaker or public".

If all this sounds vaguely familiar, it should.  This warning of irreversible climate change is merely the latest.  There have been several earlier and very similar warnings including this one, three years ago, from the International Energy Agency giving mankind five years to scrap our fossil fuel infrastructure or else our last chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change would be "lost forever."  It was a very blunt and time specific warning.  We didn't heed the message in 2011 and the current warning has an equal chance of getting through.
From my perspective, I think we should define the end of the Holocene and the arrival of the Anthropocene, the onset of anthropogenic or man-made climate, as beginning in the 1970s with the triumph of neoliberalism.

Everything seems anchored in the early 70s as mankind's population neared the 4-billion mark.  It was at that point that we entered "overshoot" - ecological deficit - where we began consuming natural resources faster than the Earth can replenish them.  Today we're exceeding the Earth's resource carrying capacity by a factor of 1.5 which means we're becoming increasingly dependent on far more resources than our planet can provide.  The operative word is "dependent."  It's kind of like emptying your bank account and becoming "dependent" on your credit card to buy a third of your essential needs.  How long do you think that can go on?

It was in the early 70s when our population really began to explode.  It took until around 1814 for our population to reach one billion.  Then, from around 3.5-billion in the early 70s, we doubled that to well over 7-billion in the past forty years.  Not only have we added another 3.5-billion mouths to feed but we've also increased our per capita resource consumption and we're still at it.  We could reach 9-billion by 2050 and upwards of 11-billion by 2100 except that the Earth's ecological carrying capacity remains at about 3.5-billion.

As we learned recently from research conducted by the WWF, the Global Footprint Network, and the Zoological Society of London, over the past forty years, since the mid-70s, we have lost half the wild life on Earth.  Between our voracious consumption and the resulting waste we're leaving in the water, the soil and the atmosphere, nature simply can't hang on.  We've got nature on the run.  Plants and animals are trying to migrate away from the equator toward the poles.  Some are successful, some aren't.  Our success in overpopulation, over-consumption and degrading our one and only biosphere is driving the collapse of biodiversity.  Another good reason to fix the advent of the Anthropocene in the early 70s.  One half down, one half to go.

Yes, we must heed these warnings.  We do need to decarbonize our societies and our economies and very soon.  We have already squandered invaluable time and opportunity to do this on our own terms.  Now we have to work with what we've left ourselves and that isn't much.

Yet, even if we seal off every coal mine and close down all of our high-carbon fossil fuels, such as bitumen, we still need to confront our population and consumption threats and the dependencies that they impose on us.  All three - climate change, overpopulation and over-consumption - are directly and powerfully linked and our prospects of addressing even one of them are gravely diminished if we neglect the others in our solutions.  It's really that clear cut.

Perhaps our wobbly focus on climate change to the exclusion of its companion crises happens because we imagine we can simply switch from fossil energy to low-carbon alternative or clean energies without having to reform ourselves, our institutions and our economic, political and social models.  We may imagine such a solution but it simply won't work.  More's the pity.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry On, Canada

Harvard prof Stephen Walt says Canada's MPs are delusional if they think doubling down on counterterrorism will make the country one bit safer.  In a Foreign Policy op-ed, "Keep Calm and Carry On, Stephen Harper", Dr. Walt sums up our situation succinctly: "the blowback powerful states experience needs to be understood as part of the price they pay for an active, interventionist foreign policy."

This basic reality also undercuts the illusion that the United States and its allies could run an ambitious but cost-free foreign policy: that it could use military force to shape the internal politics of various foreign countries without suffering any real harm. After 9/11, Americans were told they were attacked because terrorists "hate our freedoms," as if the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East had nothing whatsoever to do with al Qaeda's motivations.

Given the related assumption that foreign intervention will be welcomed by the entire local population of whichever country we happen to be bombing, we still tend to be shocked when some local elements rebel or when sympathizers elsewhere rally to our opponents' banner and try to enact some form of revenge. We shouldn't be surprised at all: No state can attack or occupy another country without pissing off a lot of people, even if the disaffected remain a minority. And a few of those people will try to hit us back here at home. Most who try will fail, either because they are incompetent or unlucky, or because our law enforcement and intelligence agencies work pretty well. But as the Ottawa attack reminds us, a handful of our opponents will occasionally succeed. 

...Even when the loss of life or damage is small -- thankfully -- each new terrorist incident tends to magnify public concern and is used to justify increasingly stringent counterterrorism measures.

...Whenever there is some kind of terrorist incident (including failed plots), politicians seem compelled to enact more extensive surveillance regimes and promise more assertive efforts to go after the bad guys, in order to show that they can't be cowed. But unlike security measures enacted during conventional wars, which are normally lifted once the war is over, the various measures imposed since 9/11 remain firmly in place, even after years go by without another incident. Over time, these measures keep ratcheting up, because every now and then another incident will occur and whoever is then in power will feel they have to "do something," too. It also reinforces the rhetoric of terrorismthat increasingly dominates our public discourse and makes it harder to develop a coherent set of strategic priorities.

If Prime Minister Harper wanted to show real leadership and do his fellow citizens a real favor, therefore, he would have begun by simultaneously mourning the dead soldier's sacrifice and by putting that loss in perspective. It is perfectly OK to say that Canada "won't be intimidated," but he should have gone on to explain why. The real reason is that the actual threat Canada faces is far too small to intimidate a wealthy, powerful, and cohesive country. The occasional isolated gunman (or even a whole flock of them) isn't a truly mortal threat to the overwhelming majority of Canadians.
If Harper cares to be more than just an opportunistic politician, he might ask himself if following America's lead in the Middle East was such a smart idea. The six F-18 aircraft that Canada has assigned to the war on the Islamic State (IS) aren't going to tip the balance in that fight; the challenge we face isn't a shortage of tactical aircraft.
Canada's contribution is a purely symbolic gesture of alliance solidarity rather than a meaningful military contribution, and it is far from obvious that bombing IS militants is the right approach to defeating them anyway. No matter how awful we think this movement is, killing more Muslims just plays into the extremists' narrative about Western violence and oppression. It may actually strengthen their political appeal. If you want to defeat extremism over the longer term, you need to defeat and discredit their ideas. Needless to say, F-18s are not designed for that particular job.
If Prime Minister Harper is genuinely interested in helping make Canada more secure, a bit of reflection on the efficacy of Canada's response is in order. The issue isn't about whether our leaders are being "intimidated"; it is simply about the efficacy of their reflexive response. A responsible leader ought to consider whether intervening in the turbulent and far-reaching convulsions now roiling the Arab and Islamic world is going to improve that situation -- and make his or her fellow citizens safer. Or is military intervention likely to make those convulsions worse and increase the very slight risk that his or her country now faces?
Unfortunately, sensible considerations such as these tend to get lost in the patriotic bluster that typically follows violent and dramatic events, and the overly muscular responses that we're already seeing in Ottawa make it more likely they will happen again.

A Divided World that Pits Fact Against Fantasy

It's the battle line between conservatives and everyone else.  It's incredibly divisive and it is powerfully corrosive of social cohesion.  It's a high-stakes war to control the national narrative between those who embrace fact and those who prefer fiction.

Pew Research set out to find what’s behind what it considers the increasing political polarization of the United States; why the country is moving away from political moderation and becoming more and more divided between liberals and conservatives. Its first report on the phenomenon, which examines where people are hearing news and opinion in both regular and social media, shows that this is happening for very different reasons among people moving to the right than for people moving to the left.
Or that’s the charitable way to put it. The less charitable way is to say Pew discovered that conservatives are consuming a right-wing media full of lies and misinformation, whereas liberals are more interested in media that puts facts before ideology. It’s very much not a “both sides do it” situation. Conservatives are becoming more conservative because of propaganda, whereas liberals are becoming more liberal while staying very much checked into reality.
...Enter right-wing media, which has a nifty trick of convincing audiences it’s the other guys who are the liars, all while actually being much less trustworthy in reality. From conservative screaming about the “media elite” to Fox News’s old slogan “Fair and Balanced,” conservative media is rife with the message that everyone is out to get you, conservative viewer, and only in the warm blanket of right-wing propaganda will you be safe.
...Pew researchers gave respondents a list of 36 popular media sources and asked how much they trusted each one. Some were liberal, like The Daily Show or ThinkProgress. Some were conservative, like Rush Limbaugh or Fox News. Most of them are fairly straightforward news organizations with no overt political agenda, like NPR, various network news, CNN, and the New York Times.
The findings were astounding. Out of the 36 news sources, consistent liberals trusted 28, a mix of liberal and mainstream news sources. Mostly, liberal respondents generally agreed, holding out a little more skepticism for overtly ideological sources like Daily Kos or ThinkProgress, but not actually distrusting them, either. The only news sources liberals didn’t trust, generally, are overtly right-wing ones, such as Fox News, the Blaze, Breitbart, or Rush Limbaugh’s show.
Conservatives, on the other hand, saw betrayers and liars around every corner. Consistent conservatives distrusted a whopping 24 out of 36 outlets and mostly conservative respondents distrusted 15 and were skeptical of quite a few more. The hostility wasn’t just to well-known liberal sources like MSNBC. Strong conservatives hated all the network news, CNN, NPR, and the major national outlets, except the Wall Street Journal.  Respondents who are mostly conservative fared better, but were still hostile to the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as skeptical of mainstream organizations like CBS and NBC News.
The fact that conservatives are this paranoid should be alarming enough, but it becomes even more frightening when you consider who conservatives do trust in the media. Consistent conservatives only trusted 8 media sources–compared to the 28 liberals trusted–and of the eight, only one has anything approaching respectable reporting or reliable information. And that one, the Wall Street Journal, has good straight reporting but has an op-ed page that is a train wreck of right-wing distortions and misinformation. Most conservative people were a little more open-minded, trusting USA Today and ABC News, but still were supportive of openly distorting sources like Fox News or the Drudge Report.
Once a media source is liberated from fact-based reality, it defaults from news to a more proprietary and lucrative product - messaging.  This is the stock in trade of today's corporate media in Canada and elsewhere.  It is a plague on democracy, societal ebola, for nothing benefits the corporate state more than a divided, and hence weakened, public.  
We have to dismantle the corporate media cartel.  This begins by recognizing that concentration of ownership and excessive media cross-ownership are antithetical to healthy democracy.  The only solution is forced divestiture in order to return the mass media to the broadest possible ownership and the broadest possible range of opinion from across the political spectrum.  We're coming into very dangerous times that demand a well-informed public capable of making very tough decisions.

Another Glimmer of Hope, This Time From the European Union.

Whilst I, by looking on praise of them,
see riot and dishonour
stain the brow of my own country.

Sincere apologies to William Shakespeare and Kings Henry IV and V.

Just days after learning that coal consumption seems to be declining in China, the European Union has announced agreement on emissions reductions that will put Harperland to ever more shame.

The agreement calls for emissions cuts of 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 but also targets increases of 27% in both renewable energy and energy efficiency by that same date.

It's good news if it actually happens.  The Poles, for example, love their coal. While it has to be taken as good news, nobody can tell if it'll be even remotely good enough. Yet that doesn't really matter.  The EU is taking the lead and that challenges every other nation to respond in kind.  Canada won't, we know that. Ours is a parliament packed with petro-pols on both sides of the aisle.  It will take a collapse of world oil prices and divestment of high-carbon fossil fuel investments before Canada ever does the right thing.

An Unlikely War Pits the Pentagon Against the GOP

Over the past decade, America's military has raised the climate change threat level until today it stands at a screaming, howlin' red.  The Pentagon's position inflicts a certain degree of cognitive dissonance on those worshipers of military muscle, the Republican Party.

The Pentagon says there's a shit storm looming.  The GOP responds, ignore it. The Republicans control the House of Representatives where, in May, they amended "the annual National Defense Authorization Act forbidding the Defense Department from spending money on any climate-related initiatives, including planning programs."

The Republican congressmen contended they merely wanted to maximize America's military might by preventing funds from being diverted to a "politically motivated agenda."  

Pentagon planners have sounded alarms about their climate concerns for at least a decade. In 2004, Fortune reported the existence of a secret document that warned climate change could push powers such as China, India, and Pakistan into nuclear war over fresh water supplies. Until now the military has been relatively quiet about its climate concerns, partly “because the Department of Defense gets its money from Congress, and we know where the House is on this issue,” says David Titley, a retired rear admiral and member of CNA’s military advisory board. Hagel’s personal involvement in releasing the 2014 road map suggests the Pentagon has decided it can’t wait any longer.

Not all Republicans are as wedded to climate-change denial as their public statements suggest, according to retired military officials and Republican Hill staff. “If you talk with them privately, without any media around, the vast majority of congressional Republicans know perfectly well that climate change is real,” Titley says. “But they won’t say so publicly because they don’t want to end up like Bob Inglis.”
Inglis, a Republican, represented South Carolina’s 4th congressional district for six terms, amassing a perfect voting record in the eyes of the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups. In 2010, a Tea Party challenger ousted him after seizing on what Inglis has half-jokingly referred to in the press as his “heresy”: insisting that climate change is real. He’s now executive director of the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a nonprofit based at George Mason University that advocates a free-market approach to addressing climate change. “A lot of people on Capitol Hill are down in their foxholes” on the climate issue, Inglis says. “They’re afraid of getting their heads blown off if they head up the hill.”
Hagel's cadre of retired general and admirals are moving to outflank the GOP recalcitrants, travelling around America to take the message of the danger their country faces from climate change directly to the public and officials at state and local levels.

Will the Opposition Capitulate to Harper's Police State?

Steve Harper is taking a page, maybe a chapter, out of Dick Cheney's neocon playbook to exploit a couple of relatively minor incidents to plunge Canada into a deeper form of surveillance state.

A report in Foreign Policy magazine warns that Canada - the Canadian public, you and me - could be headed for NSA-style surveillance sooner than anyone imagined.

When Harper proclaimed that Canadians would not be intimidated by this week's killings he was lying through his teeth.  He's counting on Canadians being fearful and intimidated enough to let him shred our rights and freedoms in the name of national security.

The measures that Harper wants enacted aren't strictly targeting terrorists, domestic and foreign.  They're multi-purpose powers that could as easily be used by the unscrupulous against opponents and dissenters.

You need to ask yourself whether you want these powers vested in Stephen Harper.  You've only had 8+ years to observe how deceitful, manipulative, how secretive this lowlife can be and is.  You know that he rejects all notions of accountability and transparency, the bait he used to lure voters into trusting him to govern.  This is a man less principled than any we've had in Sussex Drive.  He even considers himself and his government above the law, a law unto himself.

"This may be just the start of souped-up spy legislation, not the finish," said Colin Freeze, a reporter with the Globe and Mail who has written extensively about Canada's shadowy signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada, which is the counterpart to the American NSA.

...But in light of the shooting, as well as another attack this week in which a suspected Islamic radical drove his car into two Canadian soldiers, killing one, the proposals look to fall on more receptive ears in parliament. The members who may soon be voting on expanding the powers were among those hiding in their offices as the gunman ran through the halls of Canada's lawmaking body.

As the Globe's reporter, Freeze, puts it, this may be just the start of Harper's designs.  He'd like nothing better than to roll Canada back to the days of 9/11 and reinstate the panic-fueled measures, including secret trials, that we succumbed to back then.  The tragic killings of this week may be Harper's Reichstag Fire.

Unless our opposition MPs drag themselves out from under their desks, unlock their office doors and stand up for Canada on this one, you have very little to hope for from Ottawa.  If they roll over now chances are they'll roll over the next time Harper comes knocking, demanding new powers.

It's time that progressive Canadians listen to Elizabeth May.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Russell Brand Calls Out Stephen Harper

h/t reader Ron Wilton

It's What Fascists Do. Harper Comes Gunning for Our Rights and Freedoms.

Just as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were exploited to transform the United States into a place ruled by fear and suspicion, the ultimate surveillance state where even indefinite and secret detention without trial would be permitted, so too will yesterday's shooting in Ottawa provide Stephen Harper the pretext to whittle down the rights and freedoms of Canadians in the name of fighting terrorism.

This would be disturbing even if it wasn't the handiwork of an utterly fascist bastard like Harper.  Coming from him, however, there's no excuse for naivete.

"Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper pledged more surveillance and detention powers for security forces in Canada on Thursday after a gunman killed a soldier and rampaged through parliament before being shot dead.

"Addressing the House of Commons just metres away from where the gunman, a reported convert to Islam, was shot dead on Wednesday, Harper said lawmakers would expedite new powers to counter the threat of radicals." 

In Harperland, dissent is extremism and all those opposed to this government's unprincipled and disastrous policies are radicals.

Like the Bush/Cheney thugs, Harper wants to act before anyone gets too close a look at the screw-ups that contributed to the attacks on our soldiers.  There'll be no discussion about existing powers of surveillance and detention much less whether, properly exercised, these existing laws might have prevented these deaths.

That's the answer to gross negligence, including leaving a young corporal with an unloaded weapon to stand Target Duty at the war memorial; just say the laws aren't good enough and exploit those deaths to gain more powers in your quest to transform Canada into an increasingly illiberal democracy.

With a man as patently unscrupulous as our prime minister, these new laws are aimed to reinforce the surveillance state that Canada has become under his rule and he'll use those powers as freely against ordinary, law-abiding Canadians who resist his wishes as he will against anyone else.

It's time the leaders of our opposition parties stood up for Canada.  Demand an inquiry into what went wrong and how these deaths happened.  Challenge the government in the Commons about leaving that corporal on Target Duty at the war memorial just after another soldier had been targeted and killed outside the base at St. Jean, Quebec.  Demand safeguards to ensure that these supposed new powers won't be abused by this government that routinely abuses power even in defiance of the rule of law.  Harper is counting on his ability and track record of cowing the opposition and it's an impressive record to be sure.

This, From Elizabeth May, On the Week's Murderous Events

Green party leader Elizabeth May wrote a helpful e-mail to party members while she and her staff were still in lockdown yesterday.  Here is the conclusion of her missive:

...while it is too early to jump to conclusions, I intend to hold fast to the following: we must ensure that this appalling act of violence is not used to justify a disproportionate response. We must not resort to hyperbolic rhetoric. We need to determine if these actions are coordinated to any larger group or are the actions of one or two deranged individuals. If it is the latter we must develop tools and a systematic approach to dissuade our youth from being attracted to violent extremist groups of any kind. We need to protect our rights and liberties in a democracy.

We do know that through history these kinds of events open the door to a loss of democracy. Naomi Klein details the elements of seizing the opportunity created by tragedy or tumult in Shock Doctrine. The title of her new and important book on climate, This Changes Everything, is correct – the threat of the climate crisis changes everything. The shootings on Parliament Hill do not change everything. It is up to all of us to ensure that, to the extent we encounter demands for change, we keep in the forefront of our minds that once we surrender any rights it is very difficult to restore them. Let’s demand answers, sensible policies and proportionate responses.

Why Does Stephen Harper Hate Renewable Energy?

Born into an oil company family, Stephen Harper's rise to petro-politics has been uninterrupted from his days in the Calgary mailroom of Imperial Oil all the way to his arrival at Sussex Drive.

Harper doesn't like to talk about climate change and he's even less disposed to doing anything about it.  That's hardly surprising given that he's Canada's top fossil fueler.

We know that Harper is a bitumen booster but how many of us realize that he's deeply, ideologically predisposed against renewable energy?  It's something Naomi Klein explores in her new book, "This Changes Everything."

Klein contends that clean, renewable energy and the private sector simply don't mix.  The focus of fossil fuels is profit, first and foremost.  The focus of renewables is clean energy.  Renewable energy can be competitive with fossil energy for the consumer but it's more of a break-even proposition for the producer.  Break-even is not the desired outcome for the private sector but it's just fine for the public sector.

Renewable energy, therefore, threatens the neoliberal mantra of 'the private sector does everything best'.  Renewables, in effect, transfer a sizeable segment of the economy out of the private sector and back into the public sector.  This directly clashes with Harper's free market prime directive.  It offends his worldview.  He'll have no part in revealing just how much the public sector can do far better than the private sector.  He seeks to dismember government, not to make it work for the people.

And so the world will be held hostage to the fossil fuel fetish of people like Stephen Harper and his Aussie boy toy, Tony Abbott.  Unfortunately both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons are awash in fossil fuelers.  Still it's a good and ample reason to finally purge neoliberalism from the ranks of the Liberals and New Democrats.

A Glimmer of Hope

It's not much and it's not nearly enough but there's a rare glimmer of hope in the report that China's coal consumption has fallen for the first time this century.

It's not much, somewhere between 1-2% is all, but it sure beats the 5-10% annual increases that preceded it.

“The significance is that if the coal consumption growth we have seen in China in the last 10 years went on, we would lose any hope of bringing climate change under control,” said Lauri Myllyvirta at Greenpeace East Asia. “The turnaround now gives a window of opportunity.”

Such a turnaround would potentially have a large impact on the biggest coal exporting countries such as Indonesia and Australia, which have profited from China’s demand for the fuel.
Myllyvirta said the greatest significance of the current drop in coal use was that economic growth had continued at 7.4% at the same time, although that is a lower rate than in recent years. “The Chinese economy is divorcing coal,” he said. By contrast, the tripling of the Chinese economy since 2002 was accompanied by a doubling of coal use.

The People of Canada Will Not Be Intimidated by Terrorists. Only the Government Gets to Do That.

Sideshow Steve Harper, his hairdo blessedly intact following yesterday's shooting in Ottawa, has vowed that the Canadian people will not be intimidated by the killings of two Canadian soldiers this week.

They will, however, continue to be intimidated by the CRA Tax Stasi and by the Canadian Petroleum Security and Control Agency.

Mr. Harper stressed that, while he's not pointing fingers, yesterday's events were a clear warning of the dangers posed to Canadians by First Nations and environmentalists lurking in muted opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline. Harper vowed that Canada would redouble its efforts to identify, monitor and track these terrorists in waiting.  He added that, while he doesn't have concrete proof, he's pretty sure these eco-terrorists are in fact radical Muslims.

Later in the afternoon Mr. Harper's hairdresser spoke with reporters.  She revealed a chilling account of how, at the outbreak of shooting, the prime minister's security detail had to whisk him to safety without the requisite 15-minutes needed to erect the "dome of invincibility" that protects Mr. Harper from flyaway split ends. Ms. Denise "Dolly" LaFramboise, estranged daughter of 60s Ottawa legend, Const. Zotique LaFramboise, said she only spoke out because the Canadian people might otherwise have no idea what a close call it was for the prime ministerial hairdo and the selfless courage Mr. Harper exhibited in putting his hairdo at risk in this moment of national crisis.  That it was accomplished without gunplay, maintained Ms. LaFramboise, is a tribute to the prime minister's incredible bravery.