Friday, July 31, 2015

I'm Writing Three Cheques

It's pretty obvious that Harper intends to use his party's fundraising advantage to skew the election in his favour.  I don't like it but, fair enough. He's not breaking any rules. Plenty of Canadian governments before his have done similar things.

That said, I don't like it. I've been thinking about it and realized I could sit and fume - and sit and fume a little more - or maybe I could do something about it, just a little bit.

So I've written three cheques for $200 in total.  There's a $50 cheque for the New Democrats and a $50-cheque for the Liberals. Then I'm sending a cheque for $100 to the Green Party, my party of choice.

What if we all did that?  Every non-Conservative. Every supporter of any opposition party. If you're a Liberal send a hundo to the LPC, and a Mackenzie King to the NDP and the Greens.  And, so you Dippers don't get confused, that would be a Borden to the NDP, and a Mackenzie King to each of the Libs and Greens.

Anyone else up for this or has our partisanship become so toxic that even opposition supporters can't help other opposition supporters and our country?

Exhibit "A", Your Honour

That's the annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem.  The man in black (sorry Johnny, no offence) is Yishai Schlissel. That thing in his upraised fist is a knife. Among those terrified people are six into whom Schlissel will plunge his knife before he's wrestled to the ground by the crowd and subsequently arrested by Israeli cops.

Here's the deal. This is the 2015 Gay Pride parade. Schlissel did something similar at the 2005 Gay Pride parade when he stabbed three marchers. He didn't put in an appearance at any of the marches during the intervening decade because he was in prison. Yishai only got out three weeks ago, just in time to do some knife shopping.

Schlissel has the same mental affliction common to many of those who believe in scriptural inerrancy. He takes the batshit crazy stuff in the holy book at face value, as gospel. Like every fundamentalist Jew, every fundamentalist Christian, every fundamentalist Muslim - this stuff is God's word, ever last syllable. Schlissel told the cops that he came to the Gay Pride parade "to kill in the name of God."

Now you might have thought that, with a wack job like Schlissel, Israeli authorities might have postponed his prison release at least until after the Gay Pride business was over for the year. You also might have thought the Israeli police would have kept him under surveillance. If you know the guy has a profound belief that he's obliged to kill gay people for his God, then why do you help him do it by letting him run free?

A Hunted Man

Will America extradite Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer to face trial in Zimbabwe on poaching charges for the senseless killing of beloved Cecil the lion?

He readily admits he did it.  He must have seen how his "guides" used a dead animal tied to their truck as bait to lure the magnificent male lion out of the nature preserve, presumably to some ideal clearing where he could poke it in the side with an arrow, leaving it wounded until his guides ran it down and killed it with a gunshot 40-hours later.

I wonder what Dr. Palmer and his companions talked about while they were on that truck watching Cecil follow behind them? I'm sure they had plenty of time to discuss the situation during the 40-hours it took to find and dispatch the wounded creature? I'd even bet they had a chat or two about the lion's tracking collar they tried to destroy as part of their getaway.

What about the obligatory, for Palmer, photo-op? He loves taking pictures with the creatures he slaughters.  And even after the tracking collar left no doubt that it was an illegal kill, they still proceeded to skin and behead the animal, taking their prizes with them.

No, this isn't a crime Dr. Palmer is going to be able to lay off on his guides. Not a chance. Any halfway decent prosecutor will have no problem getting a conviction and asking for the maximum prescribed punishment.

Still it is Zimbabwe, a nation not known for always playing by the rules. It's the whole Mugabe thing. Will the White House deliver Palmer into their hands for trial? Not so sure. Although there's a virtual mob in the United States that would happily see Dr. Palmer fed an arrow, skinned and then tossed to a pride of needy lions in retribution. One way or the other, Washington's decision is going to be enormously controversial.

There's Nothing "Technical" About Five Consecutive Months of Economic Contraction

After seven consecutive deficit budgets, Sideshow Steve Harper can go to the polls adding a recession to his economic achievements.

The Canadian economy has contracted for five consecutive months and even the Harper-friendly Globe & Mail reports that suggests we've slipped into a recession.  Really, ya think?

Don't sweat it. This sort of thing happens to minor petro-states all the time. Sure Steve could blame it all on OPEC's oil price war but that would mean blaming Riyadh, the House of Saud, and they just inked a $15-billion order for Canadian armoured, democracy-suppression/Shiite extermination vehicles so he won't want to ruffle their keffiyehs.

And, as for that balanced budget Furious Leader wanted to contrive before Canadians go to the polls, that's pretty much over.  Oh, I know, let's just dissolve Parliament in time to make that whole budget business go away.

Here's an idea. Let's make the election a referendum on Mulcair's secret plans to drag Canada back to the 19th century.  Hell we've only had two prime ministers with beards - Alexander Mackenzie and Mackenzie Bowell, a stone mason and a printer respectively.

Look how long Canada has struggled to remain prime ministerially beard-free. Why should we betray our ancestors' sacrifice and throw out a century of progress now?

The Madness of Mandarins

Yeah! Beijing has won the 2022 Winter Olympics.  Yeah. The Olympic committee awarded the games to a city of 22-million with a water supply capable of supporting 12-million.  Yeah.  By the time the games open (if they can find/make snow), Beijing should be transformed into a new supercity of 130-million renamed as Jing-Jin-Ji.

The Jing is for Beijing, the part shown in the center. The Jin is for the city of Tianjin which will be amalgamated.  The Ji is the popular name for the region of Habei.  It's a great name, really easy to remember.  You start with Jing and then just keep dropping off the last letter.  You'll notice from the map that it's larger than South Korea with its paltry population of a midge under 50-million.

This was all done, why?  So Beijing won't be eclipsed by the even more prosperous cities to the south, Shanghai and Nanjing.  If this all sounds a little crazy, the New York Times columnist and economist, Paul Krugman, writes that it's a madness that begins at the very top.

Politicians who preside over economic booms often develop delusions of competence. You can see this domestically: Jeb Bush imagines that he knows the secrets of economic growth because he happened to be governor when Florida was experiencing a giant housing bubble, and he had the good luck to leave office just before it burst. We’ve seen it in many countries: I still remember the omniscience and omnipotence ascribed to Japanese bureaucrats in the 1980s, before the long stagnation set in.

This is the context in which you need to understand the strange goings-on in China’s stock market. In and of itself, the price of Chinese equities shouldn’t matter all that much. But the authorities have chosen to put their credibility on the line by trying to control that market — and are in the process of demonstrating that, China’s remarkable success over the past 25 years notwithstanding, the nation’s rulers have no idea what they’re doing.

China’s leaders appear to be terrified — probably for political reasons — by the prospect of even a brief recession. So they’ve been pumping up demand by, in effect, force-feeding the system with credit, including fostering a stock market boom. Such measures can work for a while, and all might have been well if the big reforms were moving fast enough. But they aren’t, and the result is a bubble that wants to burst.

China’s response has been an all-out effort to prop up stock prices. Large shareholders have been blocked from selling; state-run institutions have been told to buy shares; many companies with falling prices have been allowed to suspend trading. These are things you might do for a couple of days to contain an obviously unjustified panic, but they’re being applied on a sustained basis to a market that is still far above its level not long ago.

What do Chinese authorities think they’re doing?

...the Chinese government, having encouraged citizens to buy stocks, now feels that it must defend stock prices to preserve its reputation. And what it’s ending up doing, of course, is shredding that reputation at record speed.

Indeed, every time you think the authorities have done everything possible to destroy their credibility, they top themselves. Lately state-run media have been assigning blame for the stock plunge to, you guessed it, a foreign conspiracy against China, which is even less plausible than you may think: China has long maintained controls that effectively shut foreigners out of its stock market, and it’s hard to sell off assets you were never allowed to own in the first place.

So what have we just learned? China’s incredible growth wasn’t a mirage, and its economy remains a productive powerhouse. The problems of transition to lower growth are obviously major, but we’ve known that for a while. The big news here isn’t about the Chinese economy; it’s about China’s leaders. Forget everything you’ve heard about their brilliance and foresightedness. Judging by their current flailing, they have no clue what they’re doing.

So, to recap, while China's leaders are walking a stock market slack rope with the grenade in one hand and the pin in their teeth, they're going to amalgamate Beijing into a supercity of 130-million and host a winter olympics even as their nation descends into a desperate water crisis while sea level rise begins to imperil their coastal mega-cities.  What could possibly go wrong?  Oh yeah, everything. Stay tuned. 

Wait a second. I know what the Chinese need in this hour of desperation.  Donald Trump.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

C'mon, Admit It. You Know You're Going to Watch. It's Just Too Good to Pass Up.

"It" being the first debate for the front-runners, all ten of them, vying for the Republican presidential nomination. It'll be the usual collection of rightwing wack jobs plus the biggest, wackiest of them all, Donald Trump.

With reaction like this, the Repug debate is bound to be a ratings monster.

"If the Republican Party is at a crossroads, consider Donald Trump the NoDoz-popping long-haul trucker behind the wheel of a semi loaded with nitroglycerin."

"Imagine a NASCAR driver mentally preparing for a race knowing one of the drivers will be drunk. That's what prepping for this debate is like."

It's a formula for disaster for every other candidate who'll share that stage.

Though some candidates may rely on gravitas to draw a stark comparison with Trump's showy, shallow political positions, others may stoop to Trump's level in a bid for the limelight. Think of it like a child misbehaving to get attention, only the child is hoping to be rewarded with nuclear launch codes at the end of their tantrum.

Candidates like Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul and Rick Perry — nationally-recognized politicians who would be real contenders in any other election cycle — are asphyxiating from a lack of political oxygen. Trump's stratospheric, bordering-on-intergalactic name recognition has already won him a guaranteed spot at the center of the Cleveland debate, an element of chaos that no debate prep can possibly account for. Will he be combative or humorous? Self-absorbed or primed for battle? Ronald Reagan or P.T. Barnum?

Regardless of how other candidates attempt to engage, Trump will drag down the legitimacy of every candidate within reach, baiting serious politicians into unwinnable arguments. As the saying goes, never get into a mud-wrestling match with a pig; you both get filthy, but the pig likes it.

Cecil's Revenge. Ripping the Lid Off Walter Palmer.

In his dental clinic ads, Doctor Walter Palmer looks like this happy, wholesome, All-American guy.  According to the ad, "A great smile says it all." Not quite, Walter, not quite.

Among bow and arrow trophy hunters, Walter was already pretty well known. Now, after having illegally slaughtered a prize male lion in Zimbabwe (and causing the death of an estimated 25 of Cecil's male cubs), Walter's even better known.

We know about all the magnificent creatures Walter has slaughtered for no good end including a white rhino, an earlier male lion kill, on and on - or as Jimmy Kimmel puts it "about half of Noah's ark."

We know when he's got the bloodlust running, Walter doesn't always play by the rules.  He's got a felony conviction for illegally killing a bear and lying about it.

Now it seems Walter's prey possibly included a clinic receptionist.

According to documents, Palmer's receptionist, who was also his patient, accused the dentist of "unwelcome sexual harassment by [Palmer] including, but not limited to, verbal comments and physical conduct involving her breast, buttocks and genitalia." The abuse reportedly took place between 1999 and 2005. The claim also states the accuser's belief that she was fired "in retaliation for reporting the conduct."

The case was settled out of court, with Palmer's insurance company ultimately paying the woman and her attorney $127,000 in fees. Palmer was also ordered to undergo sexual harassment training and provide a letter of recommendation.

Who knows what remains to be unveiled about the doings of Dr. Walter Palmer. Oh, Walter. Keep smiling. Those teeth are magnificent even if that smile doesn't quite "say it all."

Big, Bigger, ...Burst

With a population a nudging 1.4-billion, China is the world's most populous nation. Overall it has the 80th highest population density, about 142 people per sq. km.  Neighbouring India, in 33rd place overall, comes in at a very conservative figure of 368 people per sq. km.  Canada, by comparison, stands in 230th place with a population density of 3.4 per sq. km.

It's now reported that India's population is growing fast enough that it will overtake China in total numbers in just six years, 2022.

But numbers alone don't give an accurate picture. Like most places, people in India and China are living longer - more consumption years per capita - and enough of them are living better, some of them far better, than ever before - which means a larger per capita environmental footprint.  More energy, more resources, more production, more consumption, more waste and pollution.

A huge problem looms from the manner in which all this growth, human and economic, is being managed or mismanaged.  China, with 20% of the world's population but just 7% of the world's water is running out of the one thing we cannot live very long without - water.

Efforts to boost supply have provided temporary relief for major cities, but the central government is scrambling to preserve what water is left. Expanded conservation work, higher water prices, and new industrial regulations are on the table.

“The demand is growing but the supply is shrinking,” says Zhang Yan, program coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global environmental organization in Beijing. “There is just less and less water.”

The problem is made all the worse by the significant percentage of China's surface water - rivers and lakes - already too contaminated to be fit for human consumption. Yet water shortages aren't standing in the way of Chinese plans to transform Beijing into a "super city" of 130-million people.  That's about four times the entire population of Canada living in one metropolitan area. (If you follow the link, there's a great video revealing what life is already like for ordinary Chinese living in that area).

It's not just Asia plagued by water woes from burgeoning populations and lack of infrastructure.  Take Rio de Janiero, the proud host of next year's Summer Olympics.  Be glad you didn't make it to compete in any of the aquatic events.

Athletes in next year's Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio's international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

"What you have there is basically raw sewage," said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests.

"It's all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it's going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here," he said, referring to the U.S.

...Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

...Training earlier this month in Guanabara Bay, Austrian sailor David Hussl said he and his teammates take precautions, washing their faces immediately with bottled water when they get splashed by waves and showering the minute they return to shore. And yet Hussl said he's fallen ill several times.

"I've had high temperatures and problems with my stomach," he said. "It's always one day completely in bed and then usually not sailing for two or three days."

It's believed some teams are training in Rio in order that their athletes, through repeated infection, can build up some degree of immunity in time for the games. What is this, the World Cup?

Closer to home, city officials in Toledo, Ohio are bracing for a return of the toxic algae bloom that cut off the city's Lake Erie water supply last summer.

Toledo has detected the first signs in Lake Erie of the dangerous toxin that resulted in a water crisis last year that left 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan without safe tap water for two days.

Toledo Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson and city officials announced late Monday that the intake mechanisms that draw Toledo's drinking water from Lake Erie detected a toxin that can cause liver and kidney damage, The Blade reported (

The mayor says the city's drinking water remains safe but she has updated the status of the water to a "Watch" category. The next stage, "Caution," means a toxin has been detected in tap water but the level isn't great enough to require an advisory.

A severe toxic algae outbreak on the lake's western end — where the toxin was recently detected — was forecast after heavy rains in June washed huge amounts of algae-feeding phosphorus into the lake.

Unfortunately whether it's oceanic "dead zones", blue-green algae contamination of lakes and rivers, untreated sewage discharge or industrial pollution, it's become a world wide problem to which no country is immune and it's a problem which no country seems to be solving.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

If Your Guy Gets to Run Canada, Do You Really Think It'll Be Much Better?

As the world witnesses the steady progress of "early onset" climate change impacts we're coming to realize what it means, that there is no going back. It's a one-way road to nowhere good.  Maybe, through some miracle far beyond anything ever experienced by man, someday we'll get really creative and find a way to slow it down, perhaps even stop it from getting any worse but rolling it back, to say the 60s, isn't going to happen.

There are a lot of potholes awaiting us just up ahead.  If we want to we can avoid some of them but that's going to take a whole lot more "want" than we're showing so far.  We're going to have to want it enough to change course, give up some things, switch to better things.  It begins when we stop chasing ourselves ever closer to the edge of that cliff.

The first step could be the hardest.  We have to decarbonize our economy and we have to decarbonize our society.  That means achieving independence from fossil fuels or almost all fossil fuels and certainly the highest-carbon fuels.  It means transitioning to alternative, clean energy options that are both renewable and astonishingly abundant, there pretty much for the taking. It doesn't have to be done overnight. That's impossible. But it has to be started by reducing fossil fuel consumption and replacing it with renewables and, on that score, we're already far behind where we should be. We have much catching up to do. We need action on a Marshall Plan scale.

The reason our governments (and opposition parties) are dragging their heels on this is because it's economically dislocative, at least initially.  When the Three Stooges of Parliament Hill look to the tar-fields of Alberta and Saskatchewan they don't see a ticking time bomb for the environment. They see enormous wealth of the worst, low-hanging fruit variety. It's all sitting there, waiting to be dug or boiled out of the ground, and there are companies that will do all that heavy lifting and hand them a cheque on their way out.  Free Money, Free Money, Free Money. That's too much to refuse for those Petro-Pimps; Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

They're all willing to promise a sop to the eco-minded.  It usually comes in some vague notion of carbon tax that will assuredly be low enough not to impede the extractive giants of Athabasca. They don't want to ruffle the feathers of the goose that laid their golden egg. They would rather steer us straight toward that giant, goddamned pothole that's directly ahead, the very worst of the lot.

Chances are you want one of those three at the wheel as we head down this one-way road straight toward that ginormous pothole. I'm sorry but I don't understand that. I think you've got to be out of your mind. Oh sure this one will give you a few extra bucks for daycare and that one will promise you a hike in minimum wages (most of which they can't deliver in any case). And, sure enough, they're not going to be Stephen Harper either. But what does that really mean, why does that matter if they're just going to keep us on the same course toward that godawful pothole?

Would you think of it differently if, instead of bitumen, it was something else equally lethal but less publicly acceptable?  What if we were sitting on a mountain of street-grade heroin? No, let's make it highly radioactive opium - laced with asbestos. And, in our name, they want to flog it overseas. They would never do that, would they? Of course they would. Governments do it all the time. We venerate Queen Victoria in this country, especially in my home province, and she presided over the biggest international drug trafficking racket in history.

As I write this I realize the futility of my words. You're still going to vote for Mulcair or for Trudeau and one of those Petro-Pimps is going to be behind the wheel when the last vote is counted.  And that will stand as your declaration that, as a people, we don't want that last best chance bad enough. We'll worry about that pothole - wait, it's turned into a sinkhole - when we plummet into it. As for our grandkids, well screw'em.


This from today's HuffPo  (many thanks, Lorne)

Obscured by complicated international negotiations, convoluted domestic policy and years of fossil fuel-funded contrarians confusing the conversation, climate change can be confusing. Recently, thanks in large part to some pretty basic math, there is finally some much needed clarity coming to the conversation. It goes like this; there is only so much space in the atmosphere for more emissions, so if we want to have a shot at keeping this planet liveable we need to not release a lot of potential emissions. This means leaving most fossil fuels underground.

Here in Canada that means leaving most of tar sands reserves underground. It's a simple truth that scientists, First Nations, academics and thousand of people understand, but one that politicians in this country refuse to acknowledge. Instead, it seems like politicians either think Canada isn't paying attention or that we're all really dumb.

...Energy East is the culprit again in exposing the confusing, spineless climate policies Stephen Harper's primary challengers, Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair. Both leaders have bumbled the pipeline file by offering support in one province then rescinding it in another. While they have both critiqued the National Energy Board review process for refusing to consider the climate impacts of projects it reviews, neither have offered a clear plan to change that process. They both have convoluted platforms that include carbon pricing mechanisms that will be inevitably ineffective and seem to be hoping that we don't realize that neither of them have a plan to deal with the fact that the climate math means the tar sands can't get any bigger.

Whether it's deck chairs on the Titanic, Nero fiddling while Rome burns or the boiling of frogs, there is no shortage of played out tropes to describe political inaction on climate change, but in Canada things are getting ridiculous. At this point it feels like the whole of Canada's political class has picked up instruments and is conducting an orchestral performance on a sinking ocean liner while the most egregious among them block women and children from boarding life boats and explaining that there is no proven link between iceberg strikes and sinking ships. Something needs to change.

We can't shut off the fossil fuel economy overnight, but the science clearly says that we need a real plan to leave fossil fuels like tar sands underground. Politicians need to stop treating this country like idiots and recognize that most people want an economy that's not dependent on the boom and bust of the oil cycle. Once we accept that, a new universe of solutions is available to us, but it all starts with ending this political fiasco.

CBC Reports Election Call by Sunday

Are Canadians in for an 11-week election campaign? That seems to be what's in store according to CBC News.

The election is generally considered to be set for Oct. 19, 2015, under the Conservatives' fixed election law, although there is wiggle room. But Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Bloomberg News Wednesday that he considers that date to be set in stone.

Dropping the writ more than 11 weeks before voting day will make it the longest campaign in modern history. The previous longest campaign was a 74-day one in 1926.

Harper's interview with Boomberg raised some eyebrows for the prime minister's assertion that he doesn't "speculate" on what he will do in the future. That came in response to Bloomberg's question about the election timing — a decision which rests entirely with the prime minister.

"I don't speculate, and I particularly don't speculate on my own actions.... Obviously, there is an important decision coming up for Canadians [on] Oct. 19," Harper said.

The first leaders' debate will fall in the first week of the campaign. The debate hosted by Maclean's magazine was already set for Thursday, Aug. 6, but hadn't been intended to fall during the campaign.

Enough Said

Jimmy Kimmel on the slaughter of Cecil the lion. He nails it.

How America ReStructured the Balance of Power in the Middle East. Hint - Neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia Came Out on Top

It was a strategic defeat when Washington failed to impose a "secular" government on Iraq and, instead, had to back off and watch a government representative of Iraq's long marginalized and brutally suppressed majority, the Shia, ascend to power with its public support. If Bush/Cheney didn't capitulate they were in for two endless unconventional wars - one with the Sunni army who were sent packing off home with the toppling of Saddam's government, the other with the Shiite militias. And so Nouri al Maliki came to power to run roughshod over a country that has never demonstrated itself capable of functioning as a state except at gunpoint.

Here's the thing. The Iraqis have never said they want to be Iraqi. They weren't Iraqis until Britain and France shook hands and drew some lines carving up what, until the end of WWI, had been Ottoman Empire territory. Voila, instant Iraq! It's probably fair to say the Iraqi people were simply living, breathing spoils of war. Without any voice in the matter they, Kurd/Sunni/Shiite were much akin to captives.

When Saddam was toppled, the Americans never consulted Iraq's ethnic constituencies to discover what they wanted. Judging by what has happened ever since that might have been a priceless lost opportunity.

The Kurds were upfront. They wanted an autonomous Kurdish state from Kirkuk to the Turkish border. They even had a constitution for such an independent state drawn up with the help of US foreign service staffer, Peter Galbraith, son on John Kenneth..

It's quite likely that Iraq's Sunni population would have been content with their own state nestled between the Kurds to the north and the Shia to the south and abutting Syria. That would have given them control of the as yet not well explored oilfields in the central area.

The Shia would have their own theocratic enclave in the south including Baghdad and the oilfields that generate most of Iraq's current wealth. They would have also had the backing of neighbouring Iran to guarantee they would never again succumb to Sunni domination.

I'm drawn back to Galbraith's observations in his 2008 book, "How Iraq Ends"

For the most part, Iraq's leaders are not personally stubborn or uncooperative. They find it impossible to reach agreement on the benchmarks because their constituents don't agree on any common vision for Iraq. The Shi'ites voted twice in 2005 for parties that seek to define Iraq as a Shi'ite state. By their boycotts and votes, the Sunni Arabs have almost unanimously rejected the Shi'ite vision of Iraq's future, including the new constitution. The Kurds envisage an Iraq that does not include them. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, 99% of them voted for Kurdish nationalist parties, and in the January 2005 referendum, 98% voted for an independent Kurdistan.

America's war in Iraq is lost. Of course, neither President Bush nor the war's intellectual architects are prepared to admit this. Nonetheless, the specter of defeat shapes their thinking in telling ways.

The case for the war is no longer defined by the benefits of winning - a stable Iraq, democracy on the march in the Middle East, the collapse of the evil Iranian and Syrian regimes - but by the consequences of defeat. As Bush put it, "The consequences of failure in Iraq would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America."

...Iraq after a US defeat will look very much like Iraq today - a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states with a civil war being fought within its Arab part. Defeat is defined by America's failure to accomplish its objective of a self-sustaining, democratic and unified Iraq. And that failure has already taken place, along with the increase of Iranian power in the region.

The Americans will never deign to admit it but their defeat in Iraq has led to a curious rapprochement between Washington and Tehran as the once low-grade civil war between Shiite and Sunni Iraqis metastasized into today's war with ISIS.

Despite the best efforts of the United States, Iran is now the co-dominant power in the Middle East. And rising. (Washington remains the other half of that "co.")

Another quick plunge into largely forgotten history: the U.S. stumbled into the post-9/11 era with two invasions that neatly eliminated Iran's key enemies on its eastern and western borders - Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. (The former is, of course, gone for good; the latter is doing better these days, though unlikely to threaten Iran for some time.) As those wars bled on without the promised victories, America's military weariness sapped the desire in the Bush administration for military strikes against Iran. Jump almost a decade ahead and Washington now quietly supports at least some of that country's military efforts in Iraq against the insurgent Islamic State. The Obama administration is seemingly at least half-resigned to looking the other way while Tehran ensures that it will have a puppet regime in Baghdad. In its serially failing strategies in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria, Washington has all but begged the Iranians to assume a leading role in those places. They have.

And that only scratches the surface of the new Iranian ascendancy in the region. Despite the damage done by U.S.-led economic sanctions, Iran's real strength lies at home. It is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran's leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

For all the bluster of America's Republicans, the nuclear deal with Iran could remove the last hurdle to the country's emergence as the powerhouse of the Middle East.

While diplomacy brought the United States and Iran to this point, cash is what will expand and sustain the relationship.

Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, is ready to start selling on world markets as soon as sanctions lift. Its young people reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. The lifting of sanctions will allow Iranian businesses access to global capital and outside businesses access to starved Iranian commercial markets.

Since November 2014, the Chinese, for example, have already doubled their investment in Iran. European companies, including Shell and Peugeot, are now holding talks with Iranian officials. Apple is contacting Iranian distributors. Germany sent a trade delegation to Tehran. Ads for European cars and luxury goods are starting to reappear in the Iranian capital. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth of foreign technology and expertise will need to be acquired if the country is to update its frayed oil and natural gas infrastructure. Many of its airliners are decades old and need replacement. Airlines in Dubai are fast adding new Iran routes to meet growing demand. The money will flow. After that, it will be very hard for the war hawks in Washington, Tel Aviv, or Riyadh to put the toothpaste back in the tube, which is why you hear such screaming and grinding of teeth now.

..No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo - hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh - just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

The July accord acknowledges the real-world power map of the Middle East. It does not make Iran and the United States friends. It does, however, open the door for the two biggest regional players to talk to each other and develop the kinds of financial and trade ties that will make conflict more impractical. After more than three decades of U.S.-Iranian hostility in the world's most volatile region, that is no small accomplishment.

And, so, America's defeat in Iraq was not a total loss for it became, quite unintentionally, the ice-breaker between Washington and Tehran.  As for Iraq, it will eventually have to sort itself out - probably through partition.  With Iran acting as defender of the Shiite south and America as guarantor of Kurdish independence, a new Sunni state expanding westward into Syria seems inevitable.

The Balance of Power  (TruthOut).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We "Conquered" What? When?

I was taken aback when I saw next month's cover of Scientific American.  The lead story apparently explores how we (mankind) conquered the planet.

When I read it I immediately thought, wait a minute, nature hasn't yielded - not yet, not really.  In fact, it's about to kick our collective ass from pillar to post.

Maybe "how we infested the planet" would have been better or "how we infected the planet," something along those lines. Surely there's a huge difference between conquering and simply running amok.

Nature hasn't been conquered. It is only just beginning to respond to our depredations in ways utterly lethal to us and the other lifeforms with which we share the planet.  Nature has been known to do this in the ancient past.  It evicts the current tenants, pauses for a few hundred thousand years to let the place tidy itself up, and then welcomes new occupants to its bounty.

If our species had lasted at least a few million years, in harmony with nature, we might be entitled to some sort of bragging rights.  But we haven't and, to all appearances, we never shall.  In fact our dominance has been astonishingly brief on any planetary time scale, the flaring of a match.

Imagine If the NDP Were Running in this Election?

When NDP Meant Something More than "Opportunism"

For me, the "old days" of the New Democratic Party were slightly post-Douglas, back when the party was led by firebrands such as David Lewis and Ed Broadbent.  I didn't support the NDP back then.  I was firmly in the camp of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  However I respected that NDP with something nearing reverence for their enlightened, uncompromising principle.  They were indeed the "Conscience of Parliament."

I had some eye-opening (for me) conversations with Lewis while we endured the endless droning of the party's Convair 440 criss-crossing the country.  The PCs and the Libs had 600 mph jets.  We had an old ex-Scandinavian Airlines - hand-me-down to Great Shakes Airways of Sarnia, Ontario, prop job that guaranteed the flock of journos aboard less than half the local appearances to cover and twice as much time to drink. For that sort of assignment, it was as good as it gets.

At one point Lewis turned to me and said, "I think you're slightly left... slightly left of Attila the Hun."  He said it yet I knew that he knew that I had actually absorbed some of his views. I wasn't remotely as leery of him when I stepped off that twin-engine beater as I had been when I first boarded weeks earlier.

It was a time when, just to survive in politics, the NDP had to be tightly anchored to some powerful social message; what they stood for and all the "red lines" they would never cross for compromise.  The rest would shift along the political spectrum, elbow wrestling for advantage, but you always knew the NDP were rock solid.  If something was wrong, it was wrong.  Damn near Calvinist. For Red Liberals you knew you couldn't quite support them but you knew, deep inside, that you might not shun them always.  You knew there might be that day, when the Right grew so powerful and ominous that you might need the NDP defending a bastion on the Left.

All that starch, that "sand," is now gone.  Everything the true believers once condemned in the Liberals is now their own.  There's no fierceness any more, save perhaps in Mulcair's dead, serial killer eyes or his angry beard.  And that's not the fierceness we saw in Douglas, Lewis or Broadbent, the almost monastic dedication that left none, no matter their political alignment, in the slightest doubt of their sincerity and determination.

It's a bitch for me.  Just when we need the NDP of Douglas, Lewis and Broadbent on the ramparts to repel the assault from the Right, their spirit which crossed generations has been ditched for blatant opportunism.  The party no longer defends principle, it answers market interests not significantly distinguishable from the Libs and the Tories.

As a Green a lot of commenters rail on me for some Beau Geste romantic support of my party.  "Throw in with us," they write, "for we alone can defeat Harper."  What they should but won't say is, "Don't hold out lest our own people realize they're being hustled."

And you are being hustled.  The shameful part of it is that you refuse to open your eyes lest you see it. I can't fault the Libs or New Dems for taking their lawful prey.  It really is, ultimately, all on us.  We don't have much or any choice that will have the slightest effect on the Conservatives.  We do, however, have a powerful voice and real choice about change within our own parties and yet we've demanded next to nothing from them.

We know why droves of blue and white-collar Canadians become disaffected, leave politics and fail to vote for their interest at the polls.  The parties used to blame these no-show voters as parasites on democracy, free-loaders. They refuse, to this very day, to acknowledge that the disaffection surfaces from their own disinclination to respond to the intense concerns of those people, i.e. young parents suddenly fear-stricken by how little this regime and that parties that would succeed it, will do to safeguard their kids and their grandkids, some of whom might not be conceived until around 2080.

There's a reason why Harper, despite all his abuses of power and his affronts to Canadian democracy, remains competitive and, according to some, likely to prevail in the upcoming election.  In fact there are two reasons.  I call them Mulcair and Trudeau.

What Now? What If the US Senate Scuttles the Iran Nuclear Deal?

All 54 Republicans in the US Senate will vote against ratification of the Iran nuclear pact negotiated between Tehran and the P6 nations.  They'll need 13 Democrats to vote with them and the deal is effectively stillborn.  Democratic senator Chuck Schumer could deliver the Republicans the votes they need.

Israeli prime minister Netanyahu has shamelessly lobbied Congress to reject the deal, arguing it leaves Israel in peril.  No surprise there. But what if Netanyahu gets his way and his US minions sabotage the deal?  James Traub from the Center for International Cooperation says failure at this point could wreck relations between Israel and the Democrats for a generation to come.

Netanyahu threw down the gauntlet with the Obama administration a long time ago; perhaps he thinks he has nothing left to lose. But that’s almost certainly not true. If 13 Democrats heed the Israeli siren song and the nuclear deal collapses, only a fantasist can believe that Iran will come back for a new and harsher deal or that the United Nations and the European Union will hang tough on sanctions. Instead, Iranian centrifuges will start spinning once again, while Pakistani scientists carrying nuclear blueprints will make clandestine visits to Saudi Arabia. Netanyahu will then take the game one step further by calling for airstrikes against Iranian facilities. If he succeeds — which I doubt — Americans will never forgive Israel for its role in a catastrophic decision.

Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that he is perfectly prepared to pay that price. Can Chuck Schumer say the same? I would suggest that his higher obligation would be to protect Israel from its own worst instincts.

Traub believes the relationship between Israel and the Democrats wouldn't survive a veto override.

...if Congress overrides Obama’s veto — thus destroying the signal foreign-policy achievement of his tenure, humiliating the president before the world, and triggering a race for nuclear weapons capacity in Iran and across the Middle East — ...Democrats will blame Netanyahu and Israel. And it won’t just be the American left, which already regards Israel as an occupying power. The fraying relationship between Israel and the Democratic Party will come apart altogether. Pro-Israel Democrats like Hillary Clinton will have to begin calculating how high a price they’re prepared to pay for their continued support.
Consider the geopolitical math. Until recently, critics of the proposed nuclear deal could claim that “our allies in the region” believed that it threatened their security. But last week, the Saudi foreign minister blessed the deal, if rather halfheartedly. The president of the United Arab Emirates and the emir of Kuwait sent congratulatory notes to Iran, though that still falls short of an endorsement. “Our allies” will not continue to lobby against the deal; only Israel will.

A Terrible Barrier, Too Lightly Crossed

It's a debate that has gone on for a decade and more, largely unnoticed by the public.  It's the ethical debate about robotic killing on the battlefield and just about anywhere else.  Killing by automatons with the human element - conscience, afterthought, humanitarian instinct and intuition - removed from the equation.

Now three of the top names in science and technology - Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak and a thousand others - are warning of the outbreak of an artificial intelligence arms race, one that could become unstoppable.

In an open letter published Monday, the group calls for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons.

"If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the end point of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow," the letter says.

It also warns of a potential black market, which could put AI weaponry in the hands of terrorists, dictators and warlords.

We have been conditioned to accept high-tech, supposedly "bloodless" war delivered via precision guided munitions since George H.W. Bush regaled the West with "shock and awe" warfare during Operation Desert Storm, the one-sided campaign to drive Saddam Hussein's forces out of Kuwait.  Saddam's forces never had a chance. There was no one for them to hit back at. 

Bush Sr.'s quick victory influenced his diminished-capacity son's subsequent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq which achieved quick military victories followed by quagmire and ultimate defeat.  Foreign Policy's Thomas Ricks let an American general sum up the Pentagon's folly:

Lt. Gen. James Dubik, U.S. Army (retired) writes in the December issue of ARMY magazine that, “America is too focused on winning battles. This is a tactical focus. No one wants to lose battles, but winning them while losing the war is far more odious.”

The fact is that the American military, which truly has "all the king's horses and all the king's men" persistently fails to deliver meaningful results which leads to low intensity wars without any conclusive end that wind up abandoned when the folks at home get fed up and demand their soldiers be brought back.

It's the human factor that ends these wars. People don't want their kids on endless deployment for no apparent good end.  The attraction of substituting automatons for live soldiers is obvious.  You don't have to pay them, or feed them. They don't get pensions or life long medical care. Best of all, when they do kill somebody, chances are no one will ever be held accountable for it because the public probably will never be the wiser.

This being the 21st century, we'll probably never have that fundamental debate. Even truly serious issues these days almost never get any traction and, in the span of a week, whoosh - they're down the memory hole.

Hawking, Musk and Wozniak et al are right, though.  An autonomous weapons arms race is inevitable.  The US Navy is already field testing an autonomous submarine intended to prowl the seas in search of foreign subs and surface warships.  All they're doing is militarizing autonomous underwater vehicle technology that has been in use in the civilian (scientifiec) sector for decades. The USN is expected to go into operational testing of underwater drones before the end of this year.

The vehicles - terrestrial, airborne, submarine - already exist. All that remains is to integrate onboard control systems allowing them to identify, track, target and attack humans - a piece of cake.

Climate Change You'll Be Able to Wade In.

There's a term for it, "compound flooding." It describes the perfect storm of flood events when sea level rise is compounded by severe storm events bringing storm surges and heavy rains and it's expected to increase in frequency and severity along the eastern seaboard of North America.

A research paper published in the journal, Nature Climate Change, finds New York City, Boston, Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco are vulnerable to repeated inundation.

“Call it a triple threat,” said Steven Meyers, a scientist at the University of South Florida and one of the authors. “What this shows is that there is an increasing risk of compound flooding, from storm surge and rainfall at the same time.”

About 40% of the US population lives in coastal cities – where flooding in the wake of storms is already proving increasingly costly in built-up areas, swamping subway lines and electricity stations.

But the Nature study was among the first to explore the combined risks under climate change of sea-level rise, heavy rainfall and storm surges over broad stretches of the US coast.

Think of it as climate change you can believe wade in.  Most of you reading this post can expect to live long enough to see sea level rise hammer North America's major coastal cities.  While the report is limited to the United States, there are plenty of problem spots for Canada also.  Vancouver and neighbouring Richmond are in the crosshairs.  Victoria's beautiful waterfront is similarly exposed.  Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal are all vulnerable in low-lying areas.

Here's what the greater Vancouver area would look like with 4 metres of sea level rise.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

China's "Century of Humiliation" And Why It Matters.

I'm regularly astonished at the reaction I receive when I mention the militant nationalism flourishing within China's military establishment, stoked by the perceived need to avenge what they call China's "century of humiliation."

Few in the West have the slightest idea of how Britain and her allies suppressed the Chinese and laid low their once powerful nation (along with India).

Eduardo Galeano, who died a few months ago, wrote this very eloquent summation of what China endured at the hands of the West that helps explain the bellicosity of China's military leadership today.  We ignore this at our peril.  The West's (i.e. Washington's) ongoing attempts to contain China and prevent it from establishing a sphere of influence in its own backyard are dangerously provocative in a time of shifting balances of power.

Opium was outlawed in China.

British merchants smuggled it in from India. Their diligent efforts led to a surge in the number of Chinese dependent on the mother of heroin and morphine, who charmed them with false happiness and ruined their lives.

The smugglers were fed up with the hindrances they faced at the hands of Chinese authorities. Developing the market required free trade, and free trade demanded war.

William Jardine, a generous sort, was the most powerful of the drug traffickers and vice president of the Medical Missionary Society, which offered treatment to the victims of the opium he sold.

In London, Jardine hired a few influential writers and journalists, including best-selling author Samuel Warren, to create a favorable environment for war. These communications professionals ran the cause of freedom high up the flagpole. Freedom of expression at the service of free trade: pamphlets and articles rained down upon British public opinion, exalting the sacrifice of the honest citizens who challenged Chinese despotism, risking jail, torture, and death in that kingdom of cruelty.

The proper climate established, the storm was unleashed. The Opium War lasted, with a few interruptions, from 1839 to 1860.

The sale of people had been the juiciest enterprise in the British Empire. But happiness, as everyone knows, does not last. After three prosperous centuries, the Crown had to pull out of the slave trade, and selling drugs came to be the most lucrative source of imperial glory.

Queen Victoria was obliged to break down China’s closed doors. On board the ships of the Royal Navy, Christ’s missionaries joined the warriors of free trade. Behind them came the merchant fleet, boats that once carried black Africans, now filled with poison.

In the first stage of the Opium War, the British Empire took over the island of Hong Kong. The colorful governor, Sir John Bowring, declared:

“Free trade is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is free trade.”

Outside its borders the Chinese traded little and were not in the habit of waging war.

Merchants and warriors were looked down upon. “Barbarians” was what they called the English and the few Europeans they met.

And so it was foretold. China had to fall, defeated by the deadliest fleet of warships in the world, and by mortars that perforated a dozen enemy soldiers in formation with a single shell.

In 1860, after razing ports and cities, the British, accompanied by the French, entered Beijing, sacked the Summer Palace, and told their colonial troops recruited in India and Senegal they could help themselves to the leftovers.

The palace, center of the Manchu Dynasty’s power, was in reality many palaces, more than 200 residences and pagodas set among lakes and gardens, not unlike paradise. The victors stole everything, absolutely everything: furniture and drapes, jade sculptures, silk dresses, pearl necklaces, gold clocks, diamond bracelets... All that survived was the library, plus a telescope and a rifle that the king of England had given China 70 years before.

Then they burned the looted buildings. Flames reddened the earth and sky for many days and nights, and all that had been became nothing.

Lord Elgin, who ordered the burning of the imperial palace, arrived in Beijing on a litter carried by eight scarlet-liveried porters and escorted by 400 horsemen. This Lord Elgin, son of the Lord Elgin who sold the sculptures of the Parthenon to the British Museum, donated to that same museum the entire palace library, which had been saved from the looting and fire for that very reason. And soon in another palace, Buckingham, Queen Victoria was presented with the gold and jade scepter of the vanquished king, as well as the first Pekinese in Europe. The little dog was also part of the booty. They named it “Lootie.”

China was obliged to pay an immense sum in reparations to its executioners, since incorporating it into the community of civilized nations had turned out to be so expensive. Quickly, China became the principal market for opium and the largest customer for Lancashire cloth.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Chinese workshops produced one-third of all the world’s manufactures. At the end of the nineteenth century, they produced 6%.

Then China was invaded by Japan. Conquest was not difficult. The country was drugged and humiliated and ruined.

The history of British exploitation and subjugation of India is scarcely better.  At the time of their conquest, China and India were the first and second largest economies in the world.  Britain showed a friendlier face to India and brought the country into its empire.  China received none of that solicitous engagement.  The "humiliation" was very much alive right up until the British finally returned Hong Kong.

I think we're entering perilous waters if we ignore this history or dismiss it, demanding that China let bygones be bygones.  That's the sort of thing you can do or say to small countries with some impunity.  It's a different thing altogether when the country with the scars and profound grievances is the emerging superpower.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Whereupon, Whipped, I Return to Sears, My Tail Tucked Between My Legs.

About seven years ago I invested in a good, mid-grade gas range.  In addition to the usual burner dials or knobs, it came with a digital control panel where you would find the clock, timer, self-clean control, convection control and all the standard oven settings (bake, broil, etc.) and probe cooking.

It was still under warranty when the digital control panel failed but the vendor sent out a repair guy and he installed the replacement part in the course of which he told me how damned expensive it was and, worse yet, that it was the most vulnerable, failure-prone component of them all.  I've been leery of that stove ever since.

Things began failing.  The oven light system went down.  The thermal glass pane on the inside of the oven door cracked.  They were inconvenient but no huge deal.  Then the dreaded control panel failed yet again.

If you're not familiar with them, there are appliance parts stores where you can buy spares.  All you need is the manufacturer and the model number.  Plug that info into the search window,  call it up and you can expect to find a schematic, an "exploded view," showing all the parts and their numbers.  You can check out the prices, fill out your order and, usually quite quickly, the needed parts will be delivered to your door.


Not so fast.  I decided I'd look into replacing the control panel and, while I was at it, the other spare parts that I need.  The damned thing is only seven years old, why throw it out?  Then I found out why.

Of all the parts listed in those schematic diagrams they're all no longer available except for that cursed control panel and it's over $500 plus tax plus shipping plus installation and there's only just two of them left.  I even called the manufacturer only to be told that they haven't had parts for that model for a number of years and I should contact the spare parts suppliers.

So, here's the deal.  My dilemma is whether I spring for the replacement control panel which with taxes, shipping and installation will probably set me back upwards of $800 after which I'll be left with a mainly functioning gas range but knowing that if that panel also fails I'll have to buy a new range or do I just bite the bullet, write the damned thing off, and replace it now?

That's the dilemma but it's not my pet peeve.  What really gets under my skin is that there's no requirement on the manufacturer to ensure a ready supply of spares for at least ten years.  Letting them off the hook is tantamount to inviting them to engineer premature obsolescence in their products.  Why should they make something that's good for ten or fifteen years if they can flog products that most buyers will have to replace starting after just five years?

This brings to mind a study by Germany's Federal Environment Agency last March that found that the rate of premature failure of white goods (appliances) had increased significantly but found no smoking gun pointing to "built-in obsolescence."  Guess what?  I know what the Germans overlooked.  A failure of the manufacturers to maintain an appropriate inventory of spare parts for a reasonable period.  There's your "planned obsolescence" staring you right in the face.

I would dearly like to keep my gas range for another 10-years.  Once you get past 60 you appreciate things like that.  But I can't.  So I'm stuck having to buy another appliance and, quite possibly, another after that if I'm again unlucky. And for what? Because we let these manufacturers off the hook.

About that "One Child" Rule?

China seems poised to breed itself out of a looming demographic problem.  The most populous nation on Earth may scrap its old "one child" rule in favour of a "two child" limit for new families.

Thirty-five years after enacting draconian birth control rules blamed for millions of forced abortions and the creation of a demographic “time bomb”, China could be on the verge of introducing a two-child policy.

The new regulation, under which all Chinese couples would be allowed to have two children, could be implemented “as soon as the end of the year if everything goes well,” a government source was quoted as saying by the China Business News.

Liang Zhongtang, a demographer from the Shanghai Academy of Social Science, said the one-child policy “should have been abolished long ago”.

“The core issue is not about one-child or two-children. It’s about reproductive freedom. It’s about basic human rights. In the past, the government failed to grasp the essence of the issue.”

If there's one thing the world needs right now, it's a baby boom in China.  Yeah, right.

While All Eyes Were on Athens

Media accounts have given the impression that Greece is the locus of the malaise endangering European unity and the E.U.  However fiscal woes extend the breadth of the EU Mediterranean, through the Strait of Gibralter and over to the Irish Sea - Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece.  Indeed, many say German chancellor Angela Merkel's belligerence toward Athens was fueled by what it could mean to those other nations if she budged on Greece.

In perpetually restive Italy, even the grand city of Rome has succumbed to "degrado."

The grass in some public parks sways knee high. Disgruntled subway workers have slowed service to a crawl. Fire has rendered the city's largest airport crammed and chaotic. The arrests of public officials pile up, revealing mob infiltration of the city government.

It all adds up to what Romans call "degrado" - the degradation of services, buildings and their standard of living - and the general sense that their ancient city is falling apart. Even more than usual.

Italy's Forconi (pitchforks) movement in December, 2013, saw masses of Italians of all political persuasions rise up in opposition to their government's austerity policies.  The protesters blocked streets and auto routes, stopped trains, battled with police and almost brought Italy to a standstill.

Meanwhile Spanish voters will be going to the polls sometime before December 20th.  The election date is expected to fall in late November.  Spain has it's own Syriza called Podemos that some believe/hope will emerge at least holding the balance of power in a multi-party parliament not given to coalition governments.

It would be nice to think that at least the Greek problem is settled but it's far from over.  No one has any real idea of where Greece will be headed over the next year or two.  Will Greece remain in NATO?  Might Putin offer a better deal?  No one's sure but no one seems to be ruling anything out either.

Harper is No Conservative. In His Black Soul, He's a Mangy Junkyard Dog Posing as a Conservative.

Richard Benyon, a Tory MP and former environment minister under David Cameron, writes that Tony Abbott is no Conservative.  By Mr. Benyon's standards, neither is Steve Harper.

Mr. Benyon wrote an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, in which he called out the Australian prime minister for rescinding the country's carbon tax, pulling government support for renewable energy and increasing his nation's exposure to climate risks.

Abbott's dismissal of climate science and his belief that Australia must choose between economic growth and tackling climate change speak to a distorted vision of what it means to be a conservative.

True conservative values include distaste for over-regulation and enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism. But they also include a respect for sound science and economics, a belief in protecting the natural world and a responsibility to do the best for the biggest possible number of one's citizens.

The first leader of any major nation to call for a United Nations treaty on climate change was Margaret Thatcher – Britain's greatest postwar Prime Minister and a standard bearer for the political right.

As a scientist she saw the threat posed by climate change. But she also believed in a vision of economic growth that went beyond the immediate interests of major corporations: "We must have continued economic growth in order to generate the wealth required to pay for the protection of the environment. But it must be growth which does not plunder the planet today and leave our children to deal with the consequences tomorrow."

Benyon may have written that Abbott "distorted" what it means to be a conservative but I'm betting in the first draft he used "perverted."  For that's what our own Sideshow Steve has done.  He's perverted conservatism in Canada, raised his hind leg and pissed all over anything Edmund Burke would have recognized as conservative.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It's Going to Be an Interesting Winter

1997 saw a record El Nino.  It bore more energy than a million "Hiroshima" atom bombs.

By the time it had run its course eight months later, the giant El Niño of 1997-98 had deranged weather patterns around the world, killed an estimated 2,100 people, and caused at least 33 billion [U.S.] dollars in property damage.

Brace yourselves.  We're just months away from another El Nino and it's shaping up to be considerably more severe than what we got eighteen years ago.  

As for Canada, here's the 1997 recap from Envirocan:

It was one of the balmiest starts to winter in the west on record, bringing an unthinkable green or brown Christmas to Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Edmonton. On the negative side, El Nino wrecked havoc with the construction of ice bridges and winter roads in the North, and generally caused grief for people who depend on seasonably cold and snowy weather. The warm "chinook-like" winds were also blamed for tinder dry grasslands that fuelled voracious wildfires in southern Alberta.

What truly made the weather remarkably unseasonable was that a year ago much of the Prairies had more than 100 cm of snow on the ground, and nighttime temperatures were between -20 and -30°C. In 1997, El Nino seemed to be turning the world upside down with knee-deep snowfall in Guadalajara (the first time in 116 years), and the fact that it was warmer on the Canadian Prairies than in Mexico City. El Nino mildness didn't make it all across Canada. Atlantic Canada suffered through one of its coldest and snowiest starts to winter on record.

Even though El Nino is something that occurs in the eastern Pacific, its impacts are felt worldwide and they vary from continent to continent and, within continents, from region to region.

For those needing a more scientific explanation, Chris Farley has you covered:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Best Campaign Ad - Ever?

C 'mon, sure he's Republican but you'd give him your vote, wouldn't you?

It Does Smell Fishy.

I'm not very active on Facebook but I was surprised when, a week ago,  I got a notice, purportedly from two of my Facebook "friends", that was a campaign pitch for the Tories. The message said they were backing prime minister Harper and hoped I would too.

It turns out that neither one of these guys is supporting the Tories nor had they any idea of how their names (including profile pix) got onto the message I received.

Is this a new form of voter manipulation? Are the Tories hacking into Facebook accounts for info to send campaign messages?  Anybody else had this experience?

Time to Hit the "Reset" Button

With all this dreary crap about climate change, inequality, and corrupt, neoliberal government, watch people completely dissolve at the arrival of a new puppy.

Huffington Post Dumps Trump

Republicans, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, may recognize Donald Trump as a candidate for their party's presidential nomination but Huffington Post thinks that's just crazy.

After watching and listening to Donald Trump since he announced his candidacy for president, we have decided we won't report on Trump's campaign as part of The Huffington Post's political coverage. Instead, we will cover his campaign as part of our Entertainment section. Our reason is simple: Trump's campaign is a sideshow. We won't take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you'll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's Blogger Leprosy

Write a post about Greece or Harper, the NDP or the F-35, just about anything and readers will post comments.  Sometimes just a couple, sometimes a lot.

But there's one topic that seems to always turn readers mute - climate change. That logging thingee shows that plenty read it but nobody wants to get into a discussion or a debate or even just tell me to shove off.  It's like they read it, jump into some hole and pull the lid tightly down.

As the science keeps pouring in it's obvious that this is the most important issue to us as a country, a people or as family members and individuals.  It just could be what takes down our global civilization.  In fact there's quite a good chance of that, a real probability.

What perplexes me most is that this is Canada!  We still have options, mainly adaptation strategies, that have long been foreclosed in most other nations. If we chose not to act those options will slip through our fingers too. Is that what we want not just for us but also for our kids?

Most of the people who read this self-identify as progressives and are politically engaged even as they jostle to champion parties and leaders for whom this is nowhere near the top of their political agenda.

I'm not saying we can turn this off or roll it back. Those illusions left me a long time ago. That said there are things that can be done to bolster our society, to improve our vital social cohesion, to reinforce our essential infrastructure to meet these changing and demanding conditions if we can overcome the inertia, this miasma that now blocks any effective action.

It's going to take energy to overcome that inertia and to build that energy we need engagement and discussion, debate and, if possible, consensus on what we all must demand from our political caste.  Yet even that modest beginning seems to elude us.  I can't understand why.

Missed It Completely. The 2015 State of the States Report.

The United States of America's Ecological Deficit Day arrived this year with little fanare on July 14th.

That is the date on which it is estimated that the Americans have consumed an entire year's worth of their nation's renewable resources.  Six and a half months to use up twelve months worth of renewables.  That means five and a half months of running on empty, draining the steadily dwindling reserves (i.e. groundwater) and importing goods, mainly foodstuffs, from abroad.  It also means a build up of various forms of pollution normally cleansed by nature.

You can read the State of the States Report here.  It's a well-illustrated, easy to comprehend study of how the US and individual states are doing and where they're heading.  It's full of little gems such as how it would take eight Californias to support California residents' ecological footprint.

Hottest Year Ever? Apparently So.

I know, you folks in the east had a miserable, seemingly endless winter but for the rest of the world it was pretty toasty.  In fact 2015 is shaping up to be the hottest year in recorded history and by a good margin at that.

Brace yourself.  The science types say there's a good chance that 2016 will be hotter yet.  From Think Progress:

NASA reported Wednesday that this was the hottest June on record (tied with 1998). And it’s now all but certain 2015 will be the hottest year on record, probably by a wide margin — as what increasingly appears to be one of the strongest El Niños in 50 years boosts the underlying global warming trend.

The gap between 2015 and all other years... is likely to grow because the El Niño that NOAA announced a few months ago has been growing stronger — and it is projected to grow even stronger and last the entire year. The rising ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, which are characteristic of an El Niño, just keep rising.

“Confidence continues to grow that this El Niño will be one of the stronger El Niños over the past 50 years,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson said Thursday.

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) junkies should be following the Twitter feed of the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate & Society, where you will learn “Last week’s NINO3.4 temps were ~+1.5. If that level holds for the month of July, the #ElNino will be considered a strong event” and “#ElNino forecast is off the charts! Both dynam & stats models calling for stronger event than last month.”

There is a greater than 85 percent chance that the current El Niño lasts through May. As AccuWeather’s Anderson explains, “El Niño typically reaches its peak during the December through February period.”

If this pattern plays out, then 2016 would likely top whatever temperature record 2015 sets — again, possibly by a wide margin. After all, the blowout temperature year in the 1997/1998 super El Niño was 1998.

If you look at the NASA temperature chart closely, you may notice that they have updated a lot of their temperatures going back for decades. NASA explains what they did here — essentially they started using better sea surface temperature data from NOAA. As a result of this update to higher quality and “substantially more complete input data,” the ongoing human-caused global warming has become even clearer to see.

Bottom Line: The warming trend that made 2014 the hottest calendar year on record is continuing. As some climate scientists have said, it’s increasingly likely we’re witnessing the start of the long-awaited jump in global temperatures.