Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Swift Kick In the Nuts for Kinder Morgan

The worm has turned - for now.  Pipeline giant, Kinder Morgan was in court today only to be sent packing.   The court refused an application to extend the company's injunction against protesters at the two drilling sites on Burnaby Mountain.  That means the company has to be off the mountain by December 1st.

Better yet, due to errors in the enforcement of the company's injunction, the judge threw out all civil contempt charges laid so far.

Among those who stood up to defy Kinder Morgan and be arrested was Grand Chief Stewart Philip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"If push comes to shove, " Phillip said, "I'd be arrested in solidarity."
He spoke about how the future of his 15 grandchildren are at stake.
"I will once again be arrested. This is not the first time," he said.
"It is a matter of principle."

Want to Stop Climate Change? Here's How.

Easy as pie.  Easy, peasy.  All we have to do is tweak a few laws.

New law.  Matters relating to climate change and including claims for consequential human suffering and loss shall no longer be protected by the laws of limited liability but shall extend to investors personally, either as lenders, shareholders or as corporate directors, jointly and severally.

Don't just pierce the corporate veil, shred it into tatters.  For this one, civilization-threatening crisis, you're on the hook, personally, for every last cent you have. The corporate fiction was intended to facilitate commerce, not to destroy mankind.  What was meant to serve us now exists to ruin us.  We made it, we can remake it.


Relax, they'll never do it.  The sort of reform I'm suggesting would probably shut down the fossil fuel industry quite abruptly when we're far from prepared to rely on alternative energy sources.  The important point is that Big Fossil is only able to inflict this potentially catastrophic damage because the individuals pulling the strings are personally immune from the consequences.

There are probably many coal and oil executives who go to work in the morning fully aware of the need to throttle back on fossil fuel consumption.  Yet, once they get to the office they're duty bound to do everything possible to make their companies profitable, to maximize shareholder return.  If they don't, then they can be sued, held personally liable to the company and its shareholders.

The irony is that the same body of laws that renders these corporate controlling minds personally immune from liability for making decisions that contribute to undermining the viability of our environment, attach personal liability to those same individuals for failing to make those same decisions.  That is why we vest government with the authority to regulate these situations, an essential power that government too often these days refuses to exercise.

Why Blockadia Matters

You may not be familiar with the notion of "Blockadia."  It's an umbrella term for the loosely connected 'web of campaigns standing up to the fossil fuel' industry.  The protesters getting arrested daily on Burnaby Mountain, standing in defiance of Kinder Morgan - that's an example of Blockadia.  It's an idea captured in the documentary, "Blockadia Rising: Voices of the Tar Sands Blockade."

It seems to be disproportionately a battle that pits old versus young.  It's old white men like Stephen Harper, Mitch McConnell, Leatherback Joe Oliver, in pursuit of the maximum extraction of fossil fuels against young people of all descriptions, the people who will have to live with the impacts the old bastards are bequeathing them.  From this generational divide it's easy for those old bastards who manipulate the levers of power to denounce as radicals and extremists those who seek nothing more than to defend the future world they'll have to inhabit from those so eager to ruin it.

If you harbour even some doubt that these protesters might actually be extremists and radicals you have a dangerously weak grasp of just what is happening.  You need to open your eyes.  You need to think and you need to see the world of the near future that our young people will have to experience.

For the sake of this journey let's begin with the recent report from the World Bank whose researchers have concluded that we have already passed into a state of irreversible climate change.  Given the greenhouse gases we've already put into the atmosphere, we're "locked in" to at least 1.5C of global warming.  At this point we usually nod off and yet this is the beginning point of our discussion. Let's focus on 1.5C and what it means.  As I wrote yesterday:

...bear in mind ...that what we're dealing with already - the droughts, flash flooding, the severe storm events, the Polar Vortex and such is the result of just 0.8 degrees Celsius warming we have already experienced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Just 0.8C, about half the 1.5C warming the World Bank research says we have already 'locked in.'  Just half. 

Something else even more important to bear in mind.  We are - today - November, 2014 - effectively at 1.5C.  The greenhouse gas emissions that will warm the planet by 1.5C are already at work in the atmosphere.  It will take years, decades before those highly persistent gases drive the planetary temperature to 1.5C but that's just a question of time.  That's a situation we have already created even if we only have to deal with 0.8C ourselves.  It's a gift that just keeps on giving for quite a while - decades, generations - to come.

So, we're effectively at 1.5C today.  But we're not done, are we?  No, we're going to continue to emit ever larger volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere for years to come, with or without international agreements.  In reality our kids and theirs aren't going to have to ride out the severe weather events that 1.5C will bring because, by continuing to add ever more greenhouse gases, our stubborn refusal to decarbonize,  they won't be lucky enough to have to deal with just 1.5C.  They're more likely looking at somewhere between 3C or, quite possibly, even 4C.  And that's the wheel of fortune we're spinning for them right now.

Here's something else to keep in mind.  It's not our great, great, great, great-grandchildren who might have to deal with very great threats. It's our own children - mine and yours - for whom this will be by far the most significant and dangerous influence in their lives.  That will be with them forever and they'll have to confront it at different levels, in numerous forms for the rest of their days.  For their children, however, your grandchildren or great-grandchildren, well they'll be born into it. It's all they'll ever know.  And that's the world we're building for them today, one for which they may well bitterly curse us.

Here's the deal.  We brought our children into this world.  We are responsible for the world we pass to them.  We have to understand that those young people being arrested on Burnaby Mountain are fighting for their right to exist in a livable world.  To reptilian bastards like Joe Oliver his right to flog the world's highest cost/highest carbon synthetic oil trumps their right to a secure life. They're fighting to prevent the already locked in 1.5C from becoming 2.5C or 4.0C and they know their very future depends on preventing that.  They're in a fight that they did not ask for, a struggle they never deserved to face.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Just Because It Says "Peer Reviewed" Doesn't Make It So.

It used to be that research that had been peer reviewed represented the gold standard in credibility.  Prestigious journals would accept papers, subject them to rigorous peer review, and then, if they were upheld, publish them.

Now, however, there's a new breed of journal where bogus research claiming to be peer reviewed can be published - for a fee.  They're called "predatory journals" and they'll publish, as peer reviewed, just about anything if the price is right.

Anything?  Wait for it.

Consider the International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology.  Sounds stuffy enough to be legit, eh?  Apparently - at least until David Mazieres of NYU in collaboration with UCLA's Eddie Kohler submitted a paper entitled "Get Me Off Your Fucking Mailing List" that consisted of ten pages repeating the phrase, again and again and again.  The GMOYFML mantra was supported by diagrams such as this:

So, what happened when Mazieres and Kohler submitted their paper to the IJACT?  The journal contacted the authors, informed them their paper had passed peer review and was ready for publication and then asked them to forward $150. Dave and Eddie decided to give that one a pass and so you'll never find their wonderfully researched paper in the IJACT.

India Doing Its Bit to Torch the Planet

Forget about China.  The greatest driver of runaway global warming may be India.  While the EU, the US and China are gearing up for major cuts in CO2 emissions, India is heading in the other direction and fast.

"India's development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future," India's power minister, Piyush Goyal, said at a recent conference in New Delhi in response to a question. "The West will have to recognise we have the needs of the poor."
Goyal has promised to double India's use of domestic coal from 513 million metric tons last year by 2019, and he is trying to sell coal-mining licenses as swiftly as possible after years of delay. The government has signaled that it may denationalise commercial coal mining to accelerate extraction.
"India is the biggest challenge in global climate negotiations, not China," said Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. 
...But India's coal rush could push the world past the brink of irreversible climate change, with India among the worst affected, scientists say.
Indian cities are already the world's most polluted, with Delhi's air almost three times more toxic than Beijing's by one crucial measure.
Irreversible climate change?  We're already long past that point.  That horse has left the barn - for good.  Even the World Bank gets it, warning this week that we're already "locked in" to 1.5C of warming, climate change and all the extreme weather disasters that will create.  Believe it or not, that's a pretty conservative assessment.  Bear in mind that the World Bank assessment isn't based on any future emissions.  They're working on the greenhouse gases we've already released to the atmosphere, not what we're going to be adding next year or by mid-century or even further in the future.  
In other words what India has in mind, Canada too for that matter, is simply going to add to that 1.5C projection.  And it's our dollar short/day late attitude that invests most western peoples that will at least double if not treble that forecast by 2100.

Another point to bear in mind is that what we're dealing with already - the droughts, flash flooding, the severe storm events, the Polar Vortex and such is the result of just 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming we have already experienced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.  Just 0.8C, about half of the 1.5C warming the World Bank research says we've already 'locked in.'  Just half.

Something even more important to bear in mind.  We are - today - November, 2014 - effectively at 1.5C.   In 2015 and 2020 and every year thereafter, we'll be adding to that 1.5C.  We'll be adding greenhouse gas emissions to take it from today's 1.5C to 2C, 3C or, quite possibly, even 4C.  It takes years, decades, even centuries for the heating of today's emissions to fully take hold.  That's what we bequeath to our grandkids - and that's monstrous of us.  In the history of our species I doubt there's been any generations that played such a diabolical stunt on the future generations they themselves brought into being.

And don't, as Indian minister Goyal said, write this off to something potential that might happen many years in the future.  It's happening now.  I can see the traces plainly all around me and, unless you're purposefully looking the other way, you can too.

It's not going to be our great, great, great, great granchildren who might have to deal with very grave threats.  It's our own children - mine and yours - for whom this will be the most significant event in their lives, that will be with them forever and they'll have to confront it at some level for the rest of their lives.  For their children, your grandchildren or great-grandchildren, well they'll be born into it.  It's all they'll ever know.  And that's the world we're building for them today one for which they may well bitterly curse us.

What Harry Said. Erdogan, Harper - Soul Brothers

Former diplomat Harry Sterling looks at Turkey's thuggish leader Recep Erdogan and sees much that reminds him of our own prime ministerial punk, Stephen Harper.

While Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan obviously come from different backgrounds, both managed to not only polarize their populations and undermine national unity, but also have damaged their nations’ international standing in the process.
In Harper’s case, he not only has polarized the Canadian population by his divisive policies, he’s also alienated foreign nations, some of whom traditionally had positive views of Canada and its international policies.
Whereas previous Canadian governments were often viewed positively by other governments, especially Canada’s attempts to pursue well-thought-out and balanced policies, this changed dramatically under Harper.
...The prime minister’s confrontational performance on the world stage reached the point where other countries alienated by his often-negative role on global affairs reached the point where, for the first time, Canada’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council failed to obtain enough votes.
It was a direct rebuke of his government’s controversial international policies, including his unquestioning support for Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, major cutbacks in aid to African nations, plus obstruction of international co-operation on global climate change.
Interestingly, the recent failure of Turkey to become a temporary member of the UN Security Council also turned out to be a direct result of Erdogan’s highly personal and dubious policies both at home and abroad.
...Like Harper, Erdogan — recently elected president — has never suffered from lack of self-esteem. He, too, has difficulty accepting criticism or the idea that others might also have views worthy of respect.
Despite their diminished international standing, both leaders seemingly have managed to prove the widespread view that, in the final analysis, most political elections are ultimately determined by local considerations and not significantly affected by international issues.
Erdogan seemingly proved that by winning the presidency in April.
And despite his dubious foreign-policy image, Harper apparently expects his Conservatives to win again during Canada’s forthcoming election.

Well This is Certainly Awkward

A couple of months ago there were predictions of a mild winter for central and eastern Canada.  Update - that's off, not gonna happen.

If you live anywhere from eastern Saskatchewan to New Brunswick, it's going to be a cold winter and from southern Quebec to most of the Maritimes you'll be looking at above normal snow.

Me?  Well out here in paradise we'll see above normal winter temperatures, below normal winter precipitation.  And I was thinking about digging through the garden shed to get the snow shovel out, just in case.  Silly me.

Ghomeshi's Last Stand

Jian Ghomeshi is going to have his say - from the prisoner's dock.  He'll face four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking.  Unless he cuts some sort of bargain on a guilty plea, consent will be the make or break issue and the odds are pretty long for the former CBC radio star.

As for consent, well Ghomeshi is said to have consented to withdraw his $50-million lawsuit against the CBC. Apparently Jian finally figured out that, like himself, it wasn't going anywhere.

I'm just guessing here but do you think Justin wishes he could take this photo-op back?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Washington's Quagmire Mentality

When it comes to Iraq, or the rest of the Middle East for that matter, America is operating on a number of assumptions rooted in fantasy.  These false assumptions ensure that America will keep getting itself trapped in quagmire.

Andrew Bacevich, former US Army commander turned academic, knows a good deal about Iraq.  The Columbia professor commanded US troops in Operation Desert Storm and his son was lost to an IED during Operation Enduring Freedom.

Inside the Beltway, policymakers, politicians, and pundits take Iraq’s existence for granted.  Many can even locate it on a map.  They also take for granted the proposition that it is incumbent upon the United States to preserve that existence.  To paraphrase Chris Hedges, for a certain group of Americans, Iraq is the cause that gives life meaning. For the military-industrial complex, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Considered from this perspective, the “Iraqi government” actually governs, the “Iraqi army” is a nationally representative fighting force, and the “Iraqi people” genuinely see themselves as constituting a community with a shared past and an imaginable future.
Arguably, each of these propositions once contained a modicum of truth.  But when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and, as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell predicted, broke the place, any merit they previously possessed quickly dissipated.  Years of effort by American occupiers intent on creating a new Iraq out of the ruins of the old produced little of value and next to nothing that has lasted.  Yet even today, in Washington the conviction persists that trying harder might somehow turn things around.  Certainly, that conviction informs the renewed U.S. military intervention prompted by the rise of IS.
...otherwise intelligent people purporting to believe in things that don’t exist -- can be applied well beyond American assumptions about Iraq.  A similar inclination to fantasize permeates, and thereby warps, U.S. policies throughout much of the Greater Middle East.  Consider the following claims, each of which in Washington circles has attained quasi-canonical status.
* The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
* The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
* Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
* The interests of the United States and Israel align.
* Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.
For decades now, the first four of these assertions have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. The events of 9/11 added the fifth, without in any way prompting a reconsideration of the first four. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.
Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.  To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy -- or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the upcoming Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.
As for the stabilizing effect of US troops, Bacevich points out that this has seldom occurred.  To the contrary, it has often destabilized countries where American troops have been based.  
Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. The new book “Why We Lost” by retired Lieutenant General Daniel Bolger finally makes it permissible in official circles to declare those wars the failures that they have been.  Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive.  The IS militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?  
The Middle East is no longer strategically vital to the United States.  The energy dependence the US once had on the ME has been superceded by events. 
Access to Gulf oil remains critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States.  When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance.  Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil.  And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.
Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.
As for America's supposed Arab allies:
For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism -- and not without effect. The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19.  If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected?  The questions answer themselves.
Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.
Bacevich says it's long past time that the United States had a realistic assessment of its supposed ally, Israel:
For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.
It is, of course, entirely the prerogative -- and indeed the obligation -- of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens.  U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.
The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.
The quest to defeat terrorism is Quixotic at best:
Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us.  In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue. Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time.  The standard they seek is “tolerable.”
...aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.
Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.
What would be the scariest thing Washington could do to its Middle East client rulers?  Leave.  Tell them they're on their own, Israel included.  Just stop supporting them.  No troops, no cash, no weapons unless they serve America's interests.  Eventually America must tire of being bled out by enemies and supposed friends alike in the Middle East.
And if Washington is going to persist and continues to implement a foreign policy based on fantasies, why should Canada enroll in America's Foreign Legion?  With our belief-based government that persistently follows gut instinct instead of fact, appearance over substance, we're highly susceptible when America goes bonkers.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Okay you Liberal Bastards, What Now?

Trudeau the Lesser's Liberals did backflips to support Israel's brutal outrage against Gaza's civilian population this summer.  It was as though no one had ever heard the Israeli military's term, Dahiyeh.  Of course you didn't need any fancy terms to see that Israel was brutally - and quite illegally - targeting Gaza's Palestinian population completely in flagrant violation of human rights laws and the laws of war.  That much is obvious when the side with strike jets takes down the public's water and sewage plants and then moves on to hit schools and hospitals, even clearly designated UN refuge sites.  I was never so disgusted with the Liberal Party, not even under Ignatieff.

The Dippers worked off the same page until Mulcair woke up and realized he was bound to piss off some old school progressives in the NDP ranks.  Then he hemmed and hawed and - waffled.

Well now your boy - and he is your boy - Benny Netanyahu has let his other fascist shoe drop.  This time it's not Palestinians under Israeli occupation but Arab and Christian Israelis who are Netanyahu's target.  The Israeli prime minister and his cabinet by a 2-1 margin have passed a bill that defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Critics, including cabinet opponents, say the new law reserved "national rights" for Jews only and also delisted Arabic as Israel's second official language.

So Justin - and Tommy - now you're backing a country that's both fascist and racist.  Is there any principle you won't compromise in your bootlicking pursuit of votes?

Whether You Support Pipelines or Not, Here's Something We Can Surely Agree On.

No secret I'm opposed to both Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway.  A sizeable majority of British Columbians are of the same mind but a significant minority supports the pipeline initiatives.  In situations like this it can be helpful to seek out areas of agreement, common ground.

Here's an idea we should all be able to endorse.  If you insist on shipping Athabasca oil to Asia, why not ship oil?  That may sound facetious but it's not.

Bad as these pipelines are, they're made far worse by what Ottawa and Alberta want to push through them - dilbit.  Dilbit is bitumen mixed with a light oil condensate called a diluent.  Bitumen is just too sludgy to push through a pipeline.  It's full of acids, toxins, heavy metals and, of course, petroleum coke or "petcoke," a granular and very high carbon form of sulfur-rich coal.  To get it through a pipeline you have to dilute it with condensate.  Even then you have to heat the mixture and propel it with powerful pumps to get it moving through the pipeline.

Pipeline opponents have plenty of reason to object to dilbit pipelines.  You're taking a product that is full of corrosives and forcing it through a pipeline under high pressure.  If you want to know what that pressurized corrosive does to a pipeline you might ask the authorities in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Yes, and that was an Enbridge pipeline.

British Columbians have ample reason for concern because a Kalamazoo-type spill here would likely happen in the mountainous wilderness where Enbridge intends to run Northern Gateway.  That would make it more difficult to detect and extremely difficult to get crews and equipment in to attempt clean up.  A spill into a fast-moving mountain stream would spread rapidly, confounding clean up efforts and endangering the ecology for great distances.  Enbridge repeatedly balked at cleaning up Kalamazoo.  How would the company respond to a far more difficult and enormously more costly clean up in British Columbia?

Another cause for concern is the prospect of a supertanker catastrophe. Navigating those northern coastal waters with their currents and tides is challenging on a good day and, up there, good days are not abundant.  When you're tasked with moving the volumes of dilbit Enbridge is planning for Northern Gateway, you have to keep tankers sailing in and out no matter the conditions and that is a formula for disaster.

Dilbit, because of all the sludge in it, sinks.  The condensate separates out and floats to the surface where it dissipates.  The bitumen component congeals and heads for the bottom which, in a lot of places up there, can be 600-feet down and neither the governments nor Enbridge has anything that can clean up a deepwater spill like that.

So, where is this elusive common ground?  I think both sides should be able to rule out the dilbit option/problem.  How can that be done?  Refine the product on site in Athabasca.  Do it there, at the source.  Then, once you have refined out all the garbage, all you'll be transporting is conventional crude oil.  The product you send to market won't be bitumen or diluted bitumen.  The acids, the abrasives, the toxins and heavy metals, the carcinogens and the petcoke will be removed and dealt with on site in Alberta where they belong.

That doesn't mean we'd be okay with it.  The 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophe, after all, was a conventional oil spill,the ship didn't even sink, and, a quarter century later, Prince William Sound still isn't cleaned up. However refined oil that floats is vastly preferable to hazmat oil that sinks and coats the bottom for generations, poisoning the entire marine habitat.

Another major factor is that transporting fully refined conventional crude oil significantly cuts the volume of product shipped.  The condensate isn't in there. The crud isn't in there.  All of that is removed and left behind in Alberta.  That refining process would allow a major reduction of up to 40% in the number of supertanker trips required to get the product to overseas markets.  The more tanker trips you have the more groundings or sinkings you'll have.  It's that simple.  Even pipeline supporters can understand that.

Bear in mind that the stuff Big Oil and its governmental minions want to ship, dilbit, still has to be refined somewhere.  That somewhere will be in Asia where they'll have to refine out not only the condensate but also all the crud, including the pet coke, out of the bitumen.  So what could be the objection to refining the goop in Athabasca?

What we're usually told is that it would be uneconomical to refine bitumen in Alberta.  Overseas markets, we're told, have unused refining capacity.  So what? We could not only address the hazmat issue but also create a lot of jobs and revenue by refining Athabasca bitumen on site.

I suspect the on-site refining option would be refused because it would add an unbearable burden to the sleight-of-hand trick used to portray the Tar Sands as a huge money maker.  It would also leave Alberta responsible for the energy requirements and emissions related to the refining process.

So you can see how, to a British Columbian, this smacks of a set up.  We have to accept the risk of a potentially catastrophic hazmat spill to bolster the bottom line of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.  They're externalizing the risks, offloading them on the province and people of British Columbia, and we're being told they're doing it as of right.

That they're dealing us cards from a stacked deck is obvious.  One by one, Harper has stripped us of our safeguards.  He moved the West Coast oil spill emergency centre to Quebec.  He shut down entire sections of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans responsible for monitoring our coastal marine habitat. He trashed fisheries regulations. He closed essential Coast Guard installations.  He gutted the navigation regulations to accommodate the supertanker armada.  He set up an utterly fraudulent environmental review process, plainly sculpted to deliver a scripted result.  He's engaged the state security apparatus to spy on environmentalists.  Now you tell me this federal government isn't already at war with us.

When taken in the context of this litany of skulduggery, the refusal to refine this bitumen on site in Alberta can be seen in a plain light for what it is - a deliberate choice to expose British Columbia to enormous risks by transporting hazmat - hazardous materials - through highly risky conditions while simultaneously stripping us of every means we ever had to respond to catastrophe.

It's Called "Blowback"

Our confused, incoherent, even knee-jerk response to ISIS appears to be backfiring on us, at least in Syria.  There, it's reported, US air strikes are driving anti-Assad groups - outfits we've supported like the Free Syrian Army - into the arms of ISIS

US air strikes in Syria are encouraging anti-regime fighters to forge alliances with or even defect to Islamic State (Isis), according to a series of interviews conducted by the Guardian.

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamic military groups are joining forces with Isis, which has gained control of swaths of Syria and Iraq and has beheaded six western hostages in the past few months.

Some brigades have transferred their allegiance, while others are forming tactical alliances or truces. Support among civilians also appears to be growing in some areas as a result of resentment over US-led military action.

Isis now is like a magnet that attracts large numbers of Muslims,” said Abu Talha, who defected from the FSA a few months ago and is now in negotiations with other fighters from groups such as the al-Nusra Front to follow suit.

Assam Murad, a fighter from a 600-strong dissident FSA brigade near Homs said: “There’s no way we would fight Isis after the US military campaign against them.”

Some Syrian resistance fighters find the American policies more than hypocritical:

Omar Waleed, an FSA fighter in Hama, north of Damascus, said: “I’m really scared that eventually most of the people will join Isis out of their disappointment with the US administration. Just have a look on social media websites, and you can see lots of people and leaders are turning to the side of Isis.

We did not get any weapons from the US to fight the regime for the last three years. Only now US weapons arrived for fighting Isis.”

Once again, All the King's Horses and All the King's Men, aren't really getting the job done.  We've become accustomed to this "just add water and stir" sort of warfare where we send six warplanes here and six warplanes there without much regard for what they can accomplish or how.  Consider it warfare by gesture.

Oh well, ISIS or FSA, they're all Arabs.  I suppose we were bound to get around to bombing them sooner or later anyway. 

Deniers Pretend to be Skeptics. They're Not.

A lot of climate change deniers present themselves as skeptics.  There's a huge difference that is often overlooked.

A denialist is someone who says, "No, the Earth is flat and that's all there is to it."  A skeptic, however, is someone who has done a bit of homework.  A skeptic goes through the process of testing a hypothesis against the evidence.

Earlier this year, physicist David Robert Grimes, offered this in The Guardian:

The nay-sayers insist loudly that they're "climate sceptics", but this is a calculated misnomer – scientific scepticism is the method of investigating whether a particular hypothesis is supported by the evidence. Climate sceptics, by contrast, persist in ignoring empirical evidence that renders their position untenable. This isn't scepticism, it's unadulterated denialism, the very antithesis of critical thought.
Were climate change denialism confined solely to the foaming comment threads of the internet it would be bad enough, but this is not the case – publications such as the Daily Mail, Wall Street Journal and other Murdoch publications give editorial support to this view. Worse still, a depressingly large number of denialists hold office around the world. Australia's Tony Abbot decreed climate change to be "a load of crap", and a sizable chunk of the US Republican Party declare it a fiction. Even in the UK, spending on climate change countermeasures has halved under the environment secretary Owen Paterson, who doubts the reality of anthropogenic climate change, despite the fact the vast majority of scientists say unequivocally that the smoking gun is in our hands.
We've developed an unhealthy tolerance for the denialists, even when they hold high office.  We really don't have time any more for indulging their nonsense.  We have to start treating them as what they are, a malignancy that imperils our future.
On The Daily Show and elsewhere we're treated to montages of the leadership of the new Republican Congress spewing the same talking points: 1. "I'm not a scientist," and, 2. "I'm not sure" or "I don't know" or some other dodge.  No one ever seems to ask a follow up like "Yes, we know you're not a scientist but there are thousands of scientists working for the government you can consult so why don't you know? It's your job to find out.  You're duty bound to know." 
We have to shed our tolerance of denialists in high office.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Polar Vortex be Damned. 2014 Could Be the Hottest Year Ever.

Take it from NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.  2014 is shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

According to the NOAA, five of the past six months have been recorded warm for their respective months; July was the fourth warmest.
The October global land temperature was the fifth highest on record at 1.05 degrees Celsius above the 20th century average of 9.3 degrees Celsius.
Warmer-than-average temperatures were evident over most of the global land surfaces, except for large parts of central Asia.
NOAA said record warmth was notable across a large area of southern South America, the US western coastal regions, Far East Russia, parts of southern and southeastern Asia, much of southern and western Australia, and parts of southern Europe.

How to Militarize the South China Sea

China is seeking to bolster its military presence in the South China Sea and where better but in the vicinity of the hotly contested Spratley Islands.

The prestigious British military journal, Janes, believes China is upping the ante in the region by constructing an island to accommodate a joint air and naval base at the Fiery Cross reef.

Hong Kong media have reported that China intends to establish a military air base at Fiery Cross reef, something that will no doubt be a burr under the Pentagon's saddle.

Does Your Bank Back the Bomb?

We're all familiar with the ongoing campaign to urge institutions such as universities and churches to divest their shareholdings in fossil fuel companies.

Well, if we believe that these institutions should be walking away from fossil fuels, how do we feel about their investments in the nuclear weapons industry?

A Dutch organization, Don't Bank on the Bomb, has compiled a list of what it calls nuclear weapons producers and the entities that invest in them.

When you look at the list of producers you'll find a lot of companies you would not be surprised to find on any mutual fund's books.  Familiar names like Raytheon, BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed, Bechtel, Airbus, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, Rolls Royce and ThyssenKrupp.  These companies may not produce actual nuclear warheads but they do manufacture missiles, rockets, cruise missiles, and submarines that get those devices onto their assigned targets.

The organization also lists institutions that invest in these companies on a country by country basis.  Here's Canada's.  The only Canadian lender listed as developing a nuclear weapons policy is the Royal Bank.

Investment opportunities seem plentiful, especially after US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, announced a 30-year, trillion dollar programme to refurbish America's nuclear arsenal.  There's going to be a lot of money splashed around and a great deal of profit to be skimmed off some decidedly apocalyptic hardware.

Now that our leaders seem hell bent on getting us firmly stuck into Cold War II we should try to get a handle on this nuclear arms business and the role we all may inadvertently have in it.

Update -

While this is an obscure issue in Canada, it is generating controversy in Australia where the country's sovereign wealth fund, Future Fund, is investing millions in these nuclear weapons producers.

Then consider this item from Forbes that seems to be hyping America's nuclear rearmament by suggesting that Russia could defeat the US in a nuclear war.  It paints Russia as having the upper hand and a willingness to resort to tactical nuclear weapons in the belief the Americans have become too decadent, too weak to respond in kind.  This brings to mind an editorial that appeared in the leading German financial paper, Handelsblatt, in August that warned civilian populations in the West are undergoing "a kind of mental mobilization: war fever."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Harper's no Conservative. Not remotely. He's Something Well Past Anything Conservative.

The father of true conservatism is, has always been, Edmund Burke. What I find most interesting about Burke and his conservatism was the underlying grasp of decency.

The sad reality is that traditional conservatism has been replaced, the new Right. People like Harper and Tony Abbott are of the "new Right."  You can let Edmund Burke demonstrate why.

America's Back in Business in Afghanistan

The end of America's combat mission in Afghanistan has, well, ended.  The New York Times reports that Obama has signed a no longer secret order re-instating his military's combat role in support of the Afghan government.

The order authorizes American troops to conduct missions against the Taliban and other groups.  It also authorizes strike fighter, bomber and drone missions in support of Afghan government forces.

In recent weeks some foreign policy experts have suggested that the Islamic State movement could spread to Afghanistan and possibly Pakistan via the Baluch insurgency.

Top British Tories Slam Tony Abbott. Carol Goar Gnaws on Harper.

Who better to give Australian prime minister Tony Abbott a real hiding but a number of prominent Tories.  Real Tories, not what passes for conservative under the Harper regime.  Real Tories, as in the Brits.

The attitude of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the global challenges of climate change is "eccentric", "baffling" and "flat earther", according to a group of senior British Conservatives.

The group, including Prime Minister David Cameron's Minister for Energy and a former Thatcher Minister and chairman of the Conservative Party, says Mr Abbot's position on climate change represents a betrayal of the fundamental ideals of Conservatism and those of his political heroine, Margaret Thatcher.

In a series of wide-ranging, separate interviews on UK climate change policy with The Age, they warn that Australia is taking enormous risks investing in coal and will come under increasing market and political pressure to play its part in the global battle against climate change. 

They could as easily be speaking of our own "flat earther" prime minister and all the other flat earthers who populate both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons.

A  former chairman of the British Conservative Party, Lord Deben said Mr Abbott has betrayed the fundamental tenets of conservatism itself.

 "I have no doubt that people like David Cameron will be saying to Tony Abbott 'look conservatives are supposed to conserve, they are supposed to hand on to the next generation something better than they received themselves'."

Tim Yeo, chairman of the UK's parliamentary select committee on energy and climate change and a former environment minister under John Major, likened those who question the existence and the science of climate change as "the flat earthers of the 16th century".

"Some of us are very perplexed. I was last in Australia at the beginning of last year, before the election and had conversations with people on both sides of the political divide. I was amazed at some of the views.

 "If I was Australian, I'd be concerned if my country's economic future and prosperity became dependent on continued coal export."  

Meanwhile, TorStar's Carol Goar observes that Stephen Harper is also fast running out of places to hide.

Harper still has a few allies. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott shares his view that it would be economic folly on impose “a job-killing carbon tax” on energy producers. He can make common cause with the remaining climate change holdouts: Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran and Egypt.
But he has become increasingly isolated and Canada’s relations with its allies and trading partners are showing the strain. French President Fran├žois Hollande made a vain plea to Harper to act on climate change during his visit to Ottawa last month. The 120 heads of state who attended September’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York noted his absence. His aggressive lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline alienated Obama.
On his latest foreign trip, the prime minister paid lip service to the environment. When the U.S. and China announced their game-changing deal to slash greenhouse gas emissions, he grudgingly welcomed the breakthrough. “For some time we have been saying we favour an international agreement that would include all the major emitters,” he said. But he made no move to cut or cap Canada’s fossil fuel emissions. 
...Skeptics discount these vague promises. Harper will procrastinate, shift the focus, then move into election mode. His deft political footwork at last weekend’s G20 summit in Brisbane suggests they’re right. He succeeded in eclipsing Canada’s poor environmental record by boldly confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin over his incursions into Ukraine.  
...Harper is a master strategist. He knows how to get around obstacles, divide his opponents and silence his critics. He has navigated his way through trickier junctures than this.
But the moment Canadians decide they don’t want to be on the wrong side of the climate change issue, his last bulwark will buckle.

Vice Asks, "Who's Afraid of the Surveillance State?"

Those who hold their freedom cheaply must surely lose it.

Since the turn of this century, many Western countries have become true surveillance states.  Governments, allied with the commercial sector, are relentless on keeping tabs on us, monitoring and analyzing our activities and views, flagging us even for our dissent.  Add foreign state and non-state, criminal hackers to that and it can be really hard to find a place where your privacy is inviolate.

With the complicit silence of the opposition, the Canadian government has established at least one secret police agency - the network of government police, intelligence and surveillance agencies charged with the duty to aid and abet the pipeline industry.  Don't think there aren't others.

I was brought up to understand that we have not one right or freedom that had not been paid for, often more than once, in blood.  There is not one right or freedom that will not be taken from us if we fail to exercise or defend it.  There is not one right or freedom that doesn't have an enormous value to those persons or entities that would deprive us of it.  And, once lost, you can expect to have to fight to recover it - yet again.

So why do we tolerate the Surveillance State?  An report from Vice suggests that today's operatives have achieved such technological prowess that we don't even realize when they're standing behind us.

Fictional surveillance states are thrilling and almost never subtle. Dictators are ubiquitously projected on vast public monitors, "thought criminals" are dragged away screaming from city squares, automaton armies visibly stand watch, and protagonists are tortured according to their deepest fears. Dystopian narratives of totalized surveillance bring its horror to the fore.
Our very real surveillance state contains no fewer dark elements. There is torture, targeting of dissidents, and armed enforcement aplenty. But the supposedly compelling story — that we are inescapably watched by a powerful corporate-government nexus — is, as a lived reality, kinda boring.
 ...for all the initial furor [of the Edward Snowden revelations], the rest of us have accepted disclosures of the NSA's unbounded data hoarding as an everyday matter of fact. Outside of a dedicated cadre of appalled privacy advocates, activists, and journalists, life has seemingly carried on as normal. Faced with a very real surveillance state, most of us have not cast ourselves as protagonists, or even minor characters, in the story of a struggle against it.
...I agree entirely with Greenwald that "the last place one should look to impose limits on the powers of the US government is… the US government." He rightly points out that significant reform will not come through legislative efforts, but through widespread shifts in our individual online behavior and the use of tools that make the work of spies more difficult, ideally to the point where they're simply not worth the effort. 
"Governments don't walk around trying to figure out how to limit their own power," Greenwald writes, "and that's particularly true of empires."
...Of course, the surveillance state does not reside entirely in intelligence office parks. It lives in the online networks and cell phone towers through which our every communication passes, it has purchase in the back doors written into the code of our email services, it lurks in our unencrypted messages. It is everywhere and nearly everywhere unseen — and therein lies the threat of insidious and totalized systems of governmental control.
The importance of privacy cannot be overstated. Subjects who know that they are the targets of state observation are controlled and managed by this knowledge; dissent and creativity are foreclosed by the effect of being observed. Yet this is a creeping control and one that latches, perversely, onto the very freedoms ostensibly provided by contemporary networked communications.
In a democracy, government is supposed to fear the public.  Or maybe that was just a time now long past.