Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year, Everyone

Just in the nick of time I stumbled across what I'd been looking for, something to inspire and lift spirits for New Year Eve. It came in the form of a photo gallery posted to BBC by Obama's staff photographer, Pete Souza.

There are several great photographs but this one really resonated with me.

Check them out. Enjoy. Happy New Year.

How Ottawa Ruined Vancouver

The federal government utterly ruined Vancouver. That's the conclusion of three former British Columbia politicians who, together, represent the breadth of mainstream politics - a Liberal, a New Democrat, and a Social Credit (conservative), all three of whom served as Lower Mainland mayors, two of them eventually becoming premiers of British Columbia. They are, respectively, Art Phillips, Mike Harcourt and our very own Bill Vander Zalm.

The federal governments responsible go back to Pierre Trudeau's and continue to this day, including Pierre's lacklustre son, Justin.

Four decades ago, even when the gap between local wages and housing prices was not nearly as severe as it is today, economist Gordon Soules published an eye-opening book titled The Housing Crisis: Causes, Effects, Solutions.

In it, Art Phillips, Bill Vander Zalm and Mike Harcourt detail a fist-full of reasons that house prices were so high in Metro Vancouver, including lack of zoning density and inadequate social housing.

The politicians did not shy away from how high immigration rates and foreign capital were among the biggest contributors to the city’s rising prices — phenomenons re-confirmed this year by UBC geographers David Ley, Dan Hiebert and other scholars.

What follows is an historical perspective on how Metro Vancouver came to 2016, which has been arguably the most dramatic year in the city’s ongoing housing crunch. It also offers a look at the future.

Mike Harcourt:

Then-alderman Mike Harcourt, who would go on to become Vancouver mayor and NDP premier, listed several causes of high prices, but also focused on rapid in-migration.

“First, it is essential that we relate both the local and the national housing problems to our immigration laws. Are we in fact merely trying to create new housing, as well as new employment opportunities, just to keep pace with the yearly average of 200,000 immigrants that Canada is admitting every year?” Harcourt said.

“Perhaps we should seriously consider whether we can continue to admit so many immigrants. Further, maybe we should make it less desirable for people to migrate to Vancouver from other areas of Canada by making it more attractive for them to remain where they are.”

Art Phillips:

In the mid-1970s, then-Vancouver mayor Phillips, one of the city’s most progressive leaders, wrote in The Housing Crisis:

“I maintain that the primary approach to solving the housing problem in the Greater Vancouver area lies in the immediate reduction and future control of immigration.”

A decade before Expo ’86, when Canadian politicians began concerted wooing of East Asian investment and migrants, Phillips said, “We can and should control that proportion of our population pressure that is represented by the influx of foreigners.”

Bill Vander Zalm:

Despite declaring he was “not a socialist,” Vander Zalm said the “ideal” response to the housing crisis would be one in which “most land would be owned by the government and leased to the people.”

Known for his frankness, Vander Zalm later, as premier in the late-1980s, zeroed in on immigration, taxes and rising prices by instituting the property-transfer tax.

“Foreign investors, many speculatively, are driving up home prices beyond the reach of British Columbians. These people paid no tax and most have never paid a B.C. tax of any kind,” Vander Zalm said.

In the 1970s, when The Housing Crisis was published, “unaffordability” — which can be measured by the ratio of real-estate prices to local earnings — was about 3 to 1.

By 2016, it had expanded to 13 to one.

According to Demographia, Ottawa's immigration malfeasance has now transformed Vancouver into the third least affordable English-speaking city on the planet.

Closing the Barn Door:

What have governments done in the face of foreign capital and an estimated 400,000 millionaire immigrants and their family members moving to Metro Vancouver?

The B.C. government’s 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers was the first big surprise of 2016, proving popular.

The City of Vancouver, meanwhile, began imposing a tax in 2016 on empty houses, and most suburbs increased zoning density.


Back in 1976, Harcourt predicted that Metro’s housing crisis would be largely solved by the federal government reducing immigration levels “by the early ’80s.”

But the opposite happened. The last prime minister to lower immigration rates was Pierre Trudeau.

After Brian Mulroney was elected in 1984 — expanding free trade and creating more open borders — politicians began suggesting anyone who wanted to lower immigration levels was xenophobic.

Justin Trudeau says he has no intention of following his father’s lead. This year, he bumped up the country’s immigration rate to the highest it’s ever been, more than 300,000.

“Far be it for me to question a decision my father might have made in the late-1970s,” Trudeau told the Vancouver Sun and Province editorial board on Dec 20, “but we’re on a track to welcome more immigrants over time as our population ages.”

The prime minister recognized 45 per cent of the population of Metro Vancouver, and almost 50 per cent of Toronto, is foreign-born, adding that B.C.’s major urban centre is facing a more “extreme” housing crisis than the Ontario hub.

“We are going to continue to monitor and make sure that as a fundamental core principle people can afford places to live, whether it be in great cities like Vancouver or in smaller communities across the country,” Trudeau said.

Remember, this is coming from the same hustler who maintains that the path of a green economy for Canada is to export ever more bitumen to Asia. That's someone who'll say anything.

Looking Ahead:

Harcourt has many ideas about how Metro Vancouver could move ahead.

The former premier said governments need to respond to how “international capital, a lot of it Chinese,” is flooding into Metro Vancouver, Toronto and other gateway immigration cities.

“Foreign capital regards housing like bricks of gold. It’s considered a safe investment. But it’s massively inflating the markets at the higher end. It’s also impacting other parts of the market, because local people who are professionals and reasonably higher income can’t afford single-family ownership.”

Harcourt believes the B.C. government’s 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers, and the City of Vancouver’s one-per-cent tax on empty homes, “are bringing down the overheated market in terms of international demand.”

But Harcourt cautioned that Metro’s housing supply, as well as health and educational services, are being over-stretched because 90 per cent of immigrants to the province move to Metro municipalities, which have limited abilities to levy taxes.

My Thoughts:

It infuriates me that my children and my friends' kids will never be able to afford to live in the same neighbourhoods where they were born and raised, especially because that was ordained by my own federal government. This is Ottawa's doing.

Under Mulroney, Canadian residence and citizenship was fire-saled for a short-term investment of $300,000. What we learned in British Columbia was that the newcomers were moving here but that investment was mainly going to Ontario and Quebec. We got to pick up all the costs - municipal services, education, healthcare and such - while what meagre benefit did accrue went to other provinces that didn't bear those costs. At the same time we saw our housing market explode and there wasn't a goddamned thing we could do about it. That was Ottawa's doing.

Vancouver, today, is a complete mess. It's municipal utilities and roadways are grossly overburdened. I remember a day when I could drive from my first home, just off Arbutus, to my downtown office at Alberni and Butte in just over ten minutes on a good day. Now, I'm told, congestion is so bad you can spend half an hour just getting across the Burrard bridge. 

A friend had a helluva time getting a doctor. Her previous family physician finally closed shop at age 80. For years he had been doing whatever he could to recruit a new doctor to take over his practice, even offering thousands of dollars in cash as an incentive. No takers. This same friend has been waiting more than three years for knee surgery.

By contrast, I recently had to see a thoracic surgeon only not in Vancouver, in Nanaimo. It turns out she was a fresh faced young woman who had received her medical degree from UBC and her internship at Vancouver General. I didn't have to wait at all. When I asked her why she chose Nanaimo when she could have a thriving practice in Vancouver her response took me by surprise. She said she looked around, realized how hard she would have to work for so many years just to afford an ordinary house in Vancouver while she could easily  afford a new "view" home in Nanaimo and still have a life. She let on that the choice was not at all hard to make.

It can take years, even decades, but eventually we have to realize that, when it comes to Ottawa, Vancouver and, for that matter, British Columbia are expendable. Ottawa, on behalf of the "rest of Canada," is not to be trusted to act in our best interests.

This might explain why we're not buying Harper/Trudeau's bullshit stories about how safe they're going to make their pipelines and the armada of supertankers that will soon be plying our coastal waters. What's that line that Bush screwed up? Oh yeah, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me." Well we've been fooled, more than once, by Ottawa and we've paid dearly for it.

It's time to drive the Liberals and their Tory alter-egos out of British Columbia for good. And, if we can't do that, I and a lot of other British Columbians seem willing enough to consider just leaving this rotten federation.

Friday, December 30, 2016

George Soros: Democracy Is in Crisis Around the World

Billionaire George Soros isn't mincing his words: Democracy is now in crisis. Even the U.S., the world’s leading democracy, elected a con artist and would-be dictator as its president.’

The result of the U.S. presidential election means the country will spend more time dealing with internal conflicts, with minorities most at risk, than performing the traditional function of promoting democracy around the world, Soros warned.

Democracy will “prove resilient” in the U.S., but Trump “will have greater affinity with dictators,” who will be allowed to carry on without any interference as the new president will prefer “making deals [to] defending principles,” said Soros.

Soros repeated fears that the European Union, which has suffered blows from the U.K.’s Brexit vote and rejection of constitutional reforms by Italian voters this year, is increasingly vulnerable. And he reiterated a concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking a growing influence over Europe.

Meanwhile, veteran Republican senator, Lindsey Graham, says 99 of 100 US senators think Russia did hack the election to install Trump in the White House.

After he and fellow lawmakers including Sen. John McCain complete their current trip to the Baltic states, Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro and convene hearings on the matter, according to the South Carolina Republican, sanctions will be meted out that “hit [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his inner circle for interfering in our election.”

The Russians, Graham went on to say, are “doing it all over the world,” including, he said, in Estonia, where he and McCain sat for an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto. That Baltic state, which like neighboring Latvia borders Russia, is “hit all the time.”

The Bad Seed

I knew all along that no good would come from promiscuously allowing them into the E.U. and then NATO. 2016 has shown the price to be paid.

Like the rise of Soviet communism and both World Wars, the Western liberal order’s apparent collapse in 2016 could turn out to be yet another historic upheaval that began in Eastern Europe. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s brand of “illiberal democracy” was quickly adopted by Poland’s de facto ruler, Jarosław Kaczyński, and is now making inroads in the heart of the West—first with the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum, and then with Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s nascent democracy has already given way to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strongman rule, and the Philippines is now led by a populist authoritarian, Rodrigo Duterte. As we head into 2017, something is clearly rotten in the state of democracy.

...Illiberal democracy subverts the idea—held by European social democrats and American democrats since the Civil Rights era—that working-class and minority voters should forge a progressive alliance to counter conservatives. Intellectually, such a “stronger together” alliance makes sense; but it has three major flaws that Orbán and Kaczyński have exploited.

First, the economic interests of white (or native) working-class voters and those of minorities are often not aligned, because they are competing with one another for jobs and social benefits. This is especially true when slow growth turns the division of the economic pie into a zero-sum game. When funds are limited, should the Hungarian government spend money on educating Roma children, or on retraining displaced ethnic Hungarian workers?

Second, working-class voters often adhere to traditional conservative values. While a farmer in Eastern Poland or a factory worker in Michigan might be persuaded to support gay rights or women’s empowerment in exchange for economic redistribution, working-class voters have not supported such causes in large numbers.

Illiberal democracy is effective because it disentangles desired goods from unwanted add-ons, which is the essence of modern business innovation. Just as Airbnb allows us to find lodging without unnecessary hotel frills, illiberal democrats offer working-class voters economic help with no civil-rights strings attached.

Third, in many electorates, members of a social majority seem to value vilification of minorities as an intrinsic good, irrespective of wealth transfers. And as Yale University’s Amy Chua and others have shown, targeting minorities can be a highly effective tool for political mobilization.

...Like many successful products, illiberal democracy offers voters a fundamentally straightforward value proposition. Contrary to progressive agendas, the illiberal message is easy to understand, not only because it is often mendaciously simple, but also because its two target groups’ conservative cultural values inherently align.

Moreover, illiberal democracy can ignore issues that it considers as a non-essential, such as human rights and the rule of law: its only imperative is to satisfy its customers. More surprisingly, illiberal democrats also do not seem to be overly concerned about economic growth. Hungary had a relatively robust recovery after the 2008 recession, but its economy is now slowing; and in both Poland and post-Brexit UK, the high economic costs of illiberal democracy are already apparent. If Trump pursues his promised trade protectionism, he will likely push the entire world into recession.

...Those of us who have lived in Orbán and Kaczyński’s world understand that illiberal democracy is no temporary aberration. It has all the hallmarks of a carefully conceived, innovative political strategy that may prove to be sustainable. Indeed, in a few decades, we might look back and wonder how liberal democracy, with all its complexities and internal tensions, managed to hold on for so long—unless, that is, progressives treat 2016 as a wake-up call, and finally start to innovate, too.

Fareed Zakaria's Eulogy for Liberal Democracy In America

Fareed Zakaria takes to the pages of the Washington Post to lament the passing of liberal democracy - and liberty - in his adopted homeland, the United States.

Two decades ago, I wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs that described an unusual and worrying trend: the rise of illiberal democracy. Around the world, dictators were being deposed and elections were proliferating. But in many of the places where ballots were being counted, the rule of law, respect for minorities, freedom of the press and other such traditions were being ignored or abused. Today, I worry that we might be watching the rise of illiberal democracy in the United States — something that should concern anyone, Republican or Democrat, Donald Trump supporter or critic.

What we think of as democracy in the modern world is really the fusing of two different traditions. One is, of course, public participation in selecting leaders. But there is a much older tradition in Western politics that, since the Magna Carta in 1215, has centered on the rights of individuals — against arbitrary arrest, religious conversion, censorship of thought. These individual freedoms (of speech, belief, property ownership and dissent) were eventually protected, not just from the abuse of a tyrant but also from democratic majorities. The Bill of Rights, after all, is a list of things that majorities cannot do. 

In the West, these two traditions — liberty and law on the one hand, and popular participation on the other — became intertwined, creating what we call liberal democracy. It was noticeable when I wrote the essay, and even clearer now, that in a number of countries — including Hungary, Russia, Turkey, Iraq and the Philippines — the two strands have come apart. Democracy persists (in many cases), but liberty is under siege. In these countries, the rich and varied inner stuffing of liberal democracy is vanishing, leaving just the outer, democratic shell.

What stunned me as this process unfolded was that laws and rules did little to stop this descent. Many countries had adopted fine constitutions, put in place elaborate checks and balances, and followed best practices from the advanced world. But in the end, liberal democracy was eroded anyway. It turns out that what sustains democracy is not simply legal safeguards and rules, but norms and practices — democratic behavior. This culture of liberal democracy is waning in the United States today.

...we are now getting to see what American democracy looks like without any real buffers in the way of sheer populism and demagoguery. The parties have collapsed, Congress has caved, professional groups are largely toothless, the media have been rendered irrelevant. When I wrote a book about “illiberal democracy” in 2003, I noted that in polls, Americans showed greatest respect for the three most undemocratic institutions in the country: the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve and the armed forces. Today, the first two have lost much of their luster, and only the latter remains broadly admired.

What we are left with today is an open, meritocratic, competitive society in which everyone is an entrepreneur, from a congressman to an accountant, always hustling for personal advantage. But who and what remain to nourish and preserve the common good, civic life and liberal democracy?

The "Compost Bomb" Exploding Beneath Us

Think of the vast northern permafrost as compost only waiting a thaw to decompose. Well, it's thawing now and it's doing what compost does - releasing carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere at levels that could be devastating.

A new study (there's always a "new" study) in Nature ought to have our leaders' minds on something other than bitumen and pipelines.

The headline in The Independent is pretty blunt:  "Climate change escalating so fast it is 'beyond point of no return."

The author of the report, Dr. Thomas Crowther, wasn't pulling any punches.

“It’s fair to say we have passed the point of no return on global warming and we can’t reverse the effects, but certainly we can dampen them,” said the biodiversity expert.

“Climate change may be considerably more rapid than we thought it was.”

Remember that target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, recently changed to 1.5C? Well the most recent research suggests that 2C is now a certainty in the best case scenario. By 2100 we could be at 5 to 7 degrees  

“I think this is catastrophic for humanity,” said Dr Crowther.

“Uncertainty is nothing like a reason enough to suggest climate change isn’t happening. There’s a nice analogy; if you step in front of an oncoming bus, no doctor in the world can tell you how damaging the impact is going to be.

“But we do know the damage is going to be huge. This alone should be enough information to persuade us to avoid the bus.”

Art Does Imitate Trump

China is about to usher in the Year of the Rooster. That led one thoughtful Chinese sculptor to come up with this:

Who Will Decide Canada's Policy on Israel, Barack Obama or Donald Trump?

When US secretary of state, John Kerry, proclaimed that Israel had to choose - it could be a Jewish state or a democracy, just not both, Washington's abrupt epiphany must have caught Justin Trudeau and Steffie Dion with their short pants down.

If Washington can say the emperor has no clothes, where does that leave Ottawa?

Trudeau Mk.ll, like Harper, has broken with Canadian tradition in paying fealty to Benjamin Netanyahu. Put another way, Justin enjoys kissing Bibi's ass every bit as much as Stephen Harper in his day.

Oh, this is more than simply supporting the Tory motion to censure the BDS (boycott/divest/sanction) movement. As Alison at Creekside has diligently reported, the Trudeau government has continued the Harper policy of steadfastly supporting Netanyahu by voting against every pro-Palestine resolution in the UN General Assembly.

On every occasion, until now, Canada and the United States have carried Israel's water even as the rest of the world, as in the "rest of the world" - the entire EU, South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia - refuse to look the other way.

That changed when the US refused to veto a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Israel cease stealing Palestinian land, what little of it remains, for ever more Israeli settlements. With that, America pushed the "reset" button on US-Israeli relations. Kerry followed through with a speech branding the Netanyahu government as the "most right wing in Israel's history."

The Israelis were predictably outraged at being exposed for what they are and have been for decades. Netanyahu's education minister, Naftali Bennett, blurted out that, as of January 20th when Trump is inaugurated, the "two state solution" will be off the table which, of course, it has been all along. Bennett then repeated his call that Israel simply annex most of the Palestinian West Bank.

John Kerry was speaking the obvious truth when he said Israel's settler policy is creating a one-nation state, one in which Palestinians will see their homeland erased even as they remain captives to the Israelis. What's next, ethnic cleansing - driving the Palestinians off their lands, again, and herding them to Jordan?

The problem with this is, when you have 150 nations - make that 151 now - opposed to Israeli extremism, that leaves just the one - Justin Trudeau's Canada isolated, exposed.

Of course, Justin can wait until the 20th when the old order is restored by president Donald Trump but he's been put on notice. He can't pretend any more. He cannot continue to look the other way. Trudeau, like Harper before him, has made our government, our nation and us - you and me - complicit in this. Once again this prime minister has shown that all of his principles come with price tags and can be had for the right price.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Netanyahu, Putin and Trump - "Yesterday's Men"

Benjamin Netanyahu says he has "proof" that Obama was behind the UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories. If Bibi was surprised that the sky didn't fall down on Obama's head he gravely misjudged his position and what actually happened. Foreign Policy's David Rothkopf says Obama's last act in the Israel/Palestine dilemma may be his best.

The Israeli government’s settlement policy puts it on the wrong side of history, justice, demography, the law, its own interests — and therefore the interests of its friends and allies. ...The Obama administration’s abstention, which enabled that resolution to pass, should for the same reasons not be seen as a betrayal. Indeed, as a friend of Israel, the United States should have gone further and actively supported Resolution 2334, which passed with 14 votes in favor and just Washington abstaining. The settlements are hurting Israel, and true friends have the courage to tell each other what they need to hear, even when they don’t want to hear it.

Indeed, if the Obama team should be subjected to any criticism at all for its stance on the settlements, it is not, as the Israelis have subsequently hissed, that the administration may have helped orchestrate the vote — a position refuted by Kerry. Rather, it is that it did not take a stronger position on this issue sooner. We are almost at the end of President Barack Obama’s time in office.

The United States should not have tolerated Israel’s settlement policy for one single day. It should have fought against it, even as it was continuing to fund Israeli arms purchases at record levels and work for a peace deal without the notable cooperation of the Israelis (or, to be fair, the Palestinians).

...Bibi’s spluttering outrage on this deal is not only unproductive; it is revealing in the worst ways. He speaks of betrayal and seeks to shutter relations with friends who supported the vote — but he betrayed both Israel’s interests and its best values when he instructed his emissary not to vote for an inquiry into war crimes in Syria a week earlier, as a craven sop to Vladimir Putin. That he could curry favor with a serial violator of international law and norms like Putin, fail to seek justice in Syria, and thus exacerbate tensions throughout the region, which will only increase risks for Israel, is a sign that for Bibi everything is about political tactics, not strategy or principles. He has succeeded at being prime minister largely by doing things that were good for his base in the short term and bad for his country in the long term.

The settlements are the prime example. Supporting the colonization of land on which Israel has no legitimate claim may make the hard right in Israel happy and may, their defenders argue, give the country (dubious) advantages from a security perspective. But those settlements will not stem the tides that will ultimately subsume Netanyahu’s vision of Israel. The Palestinian population continues to grow so that very soon Israel faces the fateful choice of whether it wishes to be a democracy (in which the majority Palestinians living within the state’s claimed borders would have real rights they currently do not have) or a Jewish state (which would depend on the adoption of policies that permanently disenfranchise the majority population). Further, the security threats against Israel are increasingly missiles, drones, cyberwarfare, and other tools that settlements do little to protect against. While Bibi and his minions argue that the U.N. resolution will empower terrorists, nothing does that more effectively than building settlements or aligning with ruthless killers of Muslims like the Russians.

...Now, of course, Bibi and his loud-mouthed bully boy of an ambassador here in the United States, Ron Dermer, are feeling empowered by the recent election of Donald Trump (who attacked the Obama-Kerry position from his Twitter-based Oval Office waiting room). Quite apart from the obvious notion that you must be in deep trouble when a foreign-policy neophyte and shoot-from-the-lip buffoon becomes your champion, Netanyahu and Co. are making a big mistake. Trump and his world-class awful choice of an ambassador to Israel, a far-right fringe character named David Friedman, may offer some succor to Netanyahu for a while. They may even enlist the help of Putin, friend to Bibi and the Donald. But this will only alienate the rest of the world — and massive portions of the base within the United States upon which the Israelis will depend for their long-term support. Further, there is a hard reality that has seemingly been tough to grasp for Israeli hard-liners: The only alternative to a two-state solution is a one-state solution — which cannot be a Jewish state if it is to be secure, sustainable, or just.

...Bibi, Trump, and Putin are part of a dying breed, the last politicians of the 20th century. They seek to preserve realities that are founded in the post-World War II and Cold War realities in which their views were shaped. But the world has moved on from them, and future generations of leaders will see a radically different picture — one in which Israel not only has no better claim on its land than the Palestinians but one in which the memories of the Palestine Liberation Organization and much of Palestinian terrorism lie in the foggy past; in which Palestinians without a nation outnumber Israelis; in which Palestinians lack rights because Israelis deny them those rights; in which Russia is a failing state with a faltering economy; in which Russia is seen as a supporter of oppressors and not of the people (always a lousy long-term strategy); in which China and other powers are much more important; and one in which new technologies will empower new leaders in new ways, creating new threats and shifting the regional balance of power in the Middle East and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Trump will seek to bully a world he does not understand, one in which America’s leverage on trade has been diminished and in which his chosen tactics for doing so long ago proved to be ineffective and damaging to U.S. interests.

"It Can Either be Jewish or Democratic. It Cannot be Both."

Blunt words for Israel from U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry. In part, Kerry was speaking truth to power. In part he was merely stating the obvious. That his words were as blunt as they will be unwelcome to Netanyahu's radical right wing apartheid government (yeah, the one Trudeau wholeheartedly supports) was apparent from the scathing response from Bibi and Company.

If the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both, and it won’t ever really be at peace,” Kerry said in a speech that ran more than an hour, a comprehensive airing of grievances that have built up in the Obama administration over eight years but were rarely, until this month, discussed publicly.

Breaking sharply from longstanding U.S. policy that foreign powers shouldn’t impose a solution, Kerry unveiled a six-part outline of what a future peace deal could look like. The outline tracked closely with principles long assumed to be part of an eventual deal, and Kerry insisted he was merely describing what’s emerged as points of general agreement.

Pushing back on Israel’s fury at the U.S. abstention in the United Nations vote, Kerry questioned Netanyahu’s commitment to Palestinian statehood, which has formed the basis for all serious peace talks for years. Though Netanyahu says he believes in the two-state solution, Kerry said, the government he leads is “the most right-wing in Israel’s history.”

The settler agenda is defining the future of Israel. And their stated purpose is clear: They believe in one state,” Kerry said.
Kerry's right, Trudeau is dead wrong. Netanyahu has infected Israel with the most radical rightwing government in his nation's history. Kerry's right, Trudeau is dead wrong - Netanyahu is absorbing the Palestinian territory into Israel, creating one state in which the Palestinians shall have no rights.

Yet for Trudeau this is fine. If you don't believe it, go back and look at every resolution on Palestine that has come up before the UN General Assembly since Trudeau came to power. The voting story is as stark as it is inexcusable. Every time the Palestinians come up it's 150 nations, including all of Europe, South America, Africa and Asia, versus Israel, Canada, the United States and the bought and paid for Pacific island states of Nauru, Vanuatu, Palau and the Marshall Islands. In other words it's the radical right Israeli apartheid state and its two North American benefactors, the U.S. and Canada. And that, for a Liberal, should be a goddamned disgrace. Like Harper before him, Trudeau has made Canada and Canadians complicit in this, right up to our eyeballs.

Going, Going, Gone.

He's Not Crazy, Judge, He's Just Religious.

Where is the line between religious devotion and insanity? Believe it or not, that's before the courts now in a death penalty case.

In his book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, journalist Jon Krakauer chronicled the case of Utah v. Lafferty, which addressed the 1984 killings of a woman and a child by two Mormon fundamentalists, Ron and Dan Lafferty. Over the last several decades, the question of Ron Lafferty’s mental health has played a key role in the case, as both sides have battled over his competency to stand trial.

The defense has argued that Ron is mentally ill and therefore should not be put to death. In interviews, Ron has claimed to be a prophet, endorsed hearing the voice of Christ, and expressed fears about “an evil homosexual spirit trying to invade his body through his anus.” Psychiatric experts have testified that Ron appeared to suffer from a psychotic illness, such as schizoaffective disorder.

The prosecution has sought to uphold his competency to stand trial, relating his bizarre ideas to religious practices worldwide. In the words of Dr. Noel Gardner, a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, “the majority of people in our country believe in God. Most people in our country say they pray to God. It’s a common experience. And while the labels that Mr. Lafferty uses are certainly unusual, the thought forms themselves are really very common…to all of us.”

A local news column from 2013 summed up the complexities of this ongoing case—“Where is the line between faith and delusion? Between malice and mental illness?”

The Tyee - "How Trudeau is Screwing Over the Generation That Got Him Elected"

Well now there's an eye-catching headline.

Geoff Dembicki, sometime correspondent for Vice, Foreign Policy and The New York Times, writes that Trudeau is screwing over Canada's young people.

Let’s get something straight. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, as well as his recent support for Keystone XL, isn’t just a rebuke to Canada’s environmental movement, dozens of First Nations and the Metro Vancouver voters who elected 15 Liberal MPs.

Trudeau has effectively said “screw you” to the generation of millennials who brought him to office. “I feel betrayed,” one young activist explained. For the rest of his time in office we won’t let him forget it.

Don’t misunderstand our anger. This isn’t just some idealistic outburst. If you’re in your 30s or younger you have a much different relationship to climate change than our leaders. Unlike them, you could be alive to see the sea level rise that swallows every coastal city on the planet. “I’m really scared,” 19-year-old UBC student Kate Hodgson told the Georgia Straight.

Dembicki writes that Canada's young people aren't buying Trudeau's bullshit claims that Canada's green future is paved with bitumen exports.

The problem with this argument is that it ignores scientific reality. The acceleration of oilsands that Trudeau is enabling would make it hard — if not impossible — to keep global temperature rise below the relatively safe threshold of two degrees, a study in Nature warns. McGill student Sophie Birks, who was arrested protesting Kinder Morgan this fall, puts it succinctly: “Climate leaders don’t build pipelines.”

Trudeau ignores those words at his political peril. Without the support of young people, he wouldn’t be prime minister. During the 2015 federal election, youth turnout surged. It was up 18 per cent from 2011 among voters 18 to 24. Nearly half voted for Trudeau. “[This] is believed to be a major factor behind the resounding Liberal Party victory,” the Harvard International Review concluded.

Trudeau has indeed turned his back on Canada's younger generation and on their future as he has on the people of British Columbia generally. He'll pay for it in the next election when we can hope to have a Liberal-free zone along coastal British Columbia. Make that Liberal and Tory-free. If Trudeau and his Liberals stumble into a bottomless pit, it's one they dug for themselves.

Will Trump Be a Lightning Rod for Terrorist Attacks on America?

If there's another Osama bin Laden out there, and there probably is, Donald Trump is manna from Heaven.

The Great Orange Bloat is every terrorist's dream. He's impulsive and reactionary. We're talking about a guy who can't resist late night Twitter barrages over something as insignificant as a parody sketch on SNL. His narcissism is well known. It may be his major personality trait. It could also be his - and America's - Achilles' Heel.

A core principle of terrorist tactics is provocation. bin Laden knew that he could not seriously damage the United States with the 9/11 attacks but that was never his objective. He wanted to panic the American people and provoke their leadership into an infidel attack on the Muslim world, one where they would get sucked in, quagmire.

Bush and his neocon courtiers - Dick Cheney and literally everyone Cheney got appointed including Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Libby, Perle and others - immediately mobilized for war. 15 years later American forces are still in Afghanistan, still fighting in Iraq, and they've picked up conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya along the way. Mission Accomplished indeed. They've also demonstrated, again and again, that America's vaunted military - All the King's Horses and All the King's Men - is generally ineffective against guerilla/insurgent movements and rarely delivers what its masters might consider meaningful victories.

Bush/Cheney and the neocon cabal set out to reshape the Middle East. That was the stated purpose of their conquest of Iraq. Once they had Saddam Hussein dangling from the end of the hangman's rope they expected every other upstart Muslim nation would get the message and eagerly embrace the American model of secular, constitutional democracy. Easy, peasy - in and out, Mission Accomplished and all those wonderful oil fields secured for the West for eternity.

What they didn't bargain for was how, once stuck in these quagmires of their own making, their wars of choice would reshape America as much as the Middle East itself. Think Patriot Act, the department of Homeland Security, America's now massive national security apparatus, the rescission of posse comitatus and  habeas corpus, the adoption of new policies in which armed force or the threat of armed force would displace diplomacy as the principal instrument of foreign policy and the emergence of the permanent warfare state with the advent of commercial "for profit" warfighting and so much more. And the costs? They're all covered with borrowed money.

The estimates range from $2.4 trillion (Congressional budget office) for Iraq and Afghanistan only to double that, $4.79 trillion, once you add in homeland security, stationery, photocopying etc.  And, remember, there's still no end in sight. A study by Brown University estimated that the interest cost of that borrowing could reach $7.9 trillion by 2053.

Obama initially sought to rein in this costly adventurism. He failed. Trump, by contrast, has no such hesitation. He's planning to double down on Bush/Cheney while expanding America's military budget and its costly nuclear arsenal. This is Trump, the man who asked a campaign advisor, "what's the use of having all these nuclear weapons if we don't use them?" Great, just great.

So Trump will inherit an already militarily mutilated America, one accustomed to spilling borrowed treasure on wasted costs. It's also a terminally divided America, one in which two major factions have emerged that are becoming increasingly irreconcilable. This, too, plays directly into the hands of terrorists.

Terrorism is about, well, terror. Burning a few soldiers or civilians alive doesn't accomplish much but it does scare the hell out of those who wonder if they'll be next. That insecurity works to deepen existing divisions between the populace and their government. People who can be made to distrust their government's ability and willingness to defend them can be as much of a problem for government as the insanely disproportionate costs terrorists exact. An insecure populace begins to look elsewhere for someone who can protect them, who will keep them secure in their beds at night.

Another objective of terrorism is to goad government and its forces to over-react, to repress the civilian population or large segments of it, driving them into the enemy camp. When the populace and its government turn adversarial, resistance movements can easily pop up. The classic example of this is the French and American wars in Viet Nam where insecurity combined with the repression of a corrupt government drove ordinary citizens into the arms of Viet Cong recruiters.

Trump seems a good bet to emulate all of these destructive practices and I'll bet that America's enemies, be they al Qaeda, ISIS or other groups that may come into being, will see the opportunity and the likely payback of more attacks on the American homeland. Perhaps next time they'll use chemical or biological or even nuclear agents ("dirty bombs"). It won't take much to turn a population, a majority of which is already leery of their incoming president, against their government.

And then there's the other shoe - Trump's provocative support for Israel. When it comes to the Palestinian problem there'll be no balance from Trump's White House. Trump's nominee for ambassador to Israel is a hard-line Likudnik. Even today Trump has come out to urge Netanyahu to hold out against John Kerry's coercion. The Trump relief column is just three weeks away. The Crusaders are coming to the rescue.

For all these reasons it strikes me as just a matter of time before America experiences a major terrorist attack on "the homeland." The knock-on effects, at home and abroad, among America's enemies and its allies alike, could be as unforeseeable as they are nightmarish.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

30 C Above Normal

24 December, 2016

I mean, this is crazy. Seriously. Here and now.

The Arctic continues to run a fever.

On Thursday, the temperature there was almost 30 C warmer than average, and it continued into Friday morning. Ocean buoys recorded temperatures near the North Pole of 0 C or warmer. That's right: It's warmer in the Arctic than it is in Thunder Bay, Ont.

This isn't an isolated event. Arctic temperatures have been unusually warm for the past few months, though perhaps not quite as dramatically different as we're seeing now.

In November, the region was 20 C warmer than average.

"The temperatures there of the atmosphere are on … any given day, like 20 C warmer than they should be for this time of year," Jennifer Francis, a marine and coastal sciences research professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey, told CBC News at the time.

"The ocean temperatures there are also warmer than they should be. I'm really, really worried, and I think everyone should be."

How Bad Was 2016?

It was sooooo bad that The Tyee had to serialize their year-ender, The Year in Bummers, into four parts.

Part One is here.

2017 - The Year of The Great Unraveling?

If nothing else, we're getting much closer. With Trump just three weeks away from the presidency it's a safe bet that 2017 will be tumultuous. Whether it will be the year of humanity's "tipping point" remains to be seen.

For more than a decade, great intellectuals, including Canada's John Ralston Saul and Thomas Homer Dixon, have prophesied the demise of the neoliberal order and its economic panzer division, globalism. If you haven't read them there's no time like the present to get caught up with Ralston Saul's, "The End of Globalism," and Homer-Dixon's "The Upside of Down."

In more recent years others, such as economist Nouriel Roubini, have been proclaiming that neoliberal capitalism is in a death spiral. Then came Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century." "The book's central thesis is that when the rate of return on capital (r) is greater than the rate of economic growth (g) over the long term, the result is concentration of wealth, and this unequal distribution of wealth causes social and economic instability."

The social and economic instability inflicted by neoliberal inequality was documented by two British epidemiologists, Wilkinson and Pickett, in their book "The Spirit Level." The lesson is that rampant inequality of the type spawned by neoliberalism creates widespread and deep-seated social dysfunction from which everyone, rich and poor alike, suffers.

The neoliberal era, ushered in by Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney, was utter madness from the start.  Like any new ideology, this entirely faith-based model, took years to implement, especially its economic spearhead, globalism. Like most religions (except for your own of course) it was based on a garbled web of half-truths and outright lies which is why it needed such high-level political muscle to take hold.

I hope you have a NetFlix account. If you don't, find someone who does. Then watch former Python Terry Jones' excellent documentary, "Boom Bust Boom." It dissects the mental illness known as neoclassical economics that manifests in the pathology known as free market fundamentalism that in its late or advanced phase leads to globalism, inequality, austerity and other ills. As you watch the video you'll understand how a Born Again like Stephen Harper could so unquestioningly embrace neoclassical economics which left him absolutely incapable of seeing the crash of 2007-2008 coming. To him, and the many like him, the Great Recession was an impossibility. The most important thing is that you may see that our current leader, while not a highly-trained economist like the guy he replaced, is nonetheless still in its thrall.

In a nutshell, we're still in the neoliberal death spiral but now the cold, hard ground draws ever nearer. How can you tell? That much is obvious when the Titans of Davos along with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank suddenly hit the panic button. They know it has failed and, like wildfire, it's drawing near to their gated community. They know it will take us all down if our leaders don't change course.

Only our leaders aren't about to change course. We've become accustomed to accepting leaders of astonishingly small intellectual stature. We accept people who are guided by faith even when it conflicts with evidence and knowledge - people like Harper or George w. Bush, the Neoconservative cabal, America's "bought and paid for" Congress and even our own political parties. This is a category of people who are simply bereft of vision; people who can't see the "EXIT" sign much less find the way forward. They cannot see the iceberg emerging from the fog and so, to them, it doesn't exist.

In Trump we'll have a "leader of the Free World" who is a devout adherent to the neoliberal firmament. If there was the slightest doubt that is conclusively erased by his chosen cabinet nominees.

Since 2013, Chris Hedges has proclaimed America to be in the unshakeable grip of a "pre-revolutionary state."

"...what you have in a pre-revolutionary society, which I think we're in, is a kind of invisible revolution, whereby the state, the ideology of the state, in this case capitalism, the fiction of American democracy, larger and larger numbers of people--and I think we are also seeing this across the political spectrum--wake up and understand the hollowness of the language that's used to describe their own economic, political, and social reality.

"...what happens in moments of breakdown is that people not only turn against an ineffectual liberal elite that is not able--that in essence--that has presided over political and economic paralysis, or certainly political paralysis, but they also jettison the values that elite purports to defend. And that's what's dangerous. And we're certainly barreling towards that kind of a crisis. I worry that we are not only weakened but unprepared."

Since Hedges wrote those words we have seen nationalist populism sweep across Europe - Hungary, Poland, Turkey, even Britain and France - and now the United States of America. It's easy to argue this is the outcome of visionless leadership unable to chart a new course to relieve the neoliberal strains on their societies which then succumb to opportunists eager and ready to exploit discontent.

Earlier this year Hedges wrote of how the western world is becoming "Mexicanized."

Constitutions are rewritten by judicial fiat in a mockery of democracy. Laws and regulations that impede corporate exploitation are abolished. Corporations orchestrate legally sanctioned tax boycotts. Free-trade deals destroy small farmers and businesses along with labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders. The press is transformed into an echo chamber for the corporate elites. Wages stagnate or decline. Unemployment and underemployment soar. Social services are curtailed or abolished in the name of austerity. The political system becomes a charade. Dissent is criminalized. The ecocide by the fossil fuel industry accelerates. State enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations. The educational system mutates into vocational training. Culture and the arts are replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. Infrastructures crumble.

...The corporate looting is impervious to regulation or reform. It will continue until there is nothing left to exploit or is halted by popular revolt. It is creating frustrated and enraged populations that are being seduced in the United States, Europe and elsewhere by demagogues and protofascists. “Fascism, like socialism,” the economist Karl Polanyi wrote, “was rooted in a market society that refused to function.” Left unchecked, the present system will usher in a dystopia ruled by criminal power structures, including Wall Street, and inflict tremendous suffering and poverty on societies rent apart by global warming as well as internecine and nihilistic violence. Mexico is not an anomaly. Mexico is the future.

While the roots of revolt date back to the Reagan era, Donald Trump and his cabinet cadre have a better than average chance of being the final catalyst of upheaval. 2017 may in the not distant future be recognized as The Year of the Great Unraveling. Hold onto your hat.

Friday, December 23, 2016

You Would Cry Too If It Happened to You...

It's Donny's party and he'll pout if he wants to...

Trump says he doesn't want celebrities at his inauguration, just "the people."

Well, isn't that a happy coincidence given the horde of A-List talent not clamoring to attend the event.

Trump's people can't be blamed. They've tried and how they've tried. At first they claimed to have Elton John lined up. And then they worked their way through a list of entertainers only to come up empty.

Trump doesn't need celebrities. They'll taste his exquisite retribution soon enough. Donald Trump always gets his revenge.

Can Scott Baio carry a tune? Then you get Stephen Baldwin on tambourine. Now that's entertainment.

With sincere apologies to the late Lesley Gore:

Better yet, he might be able to get Jimmy Buffett to perform an anthemic tribute to the new presidency:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Prince Charles Gets It, Warns of the Return of the Ghosts of 30s Populism

Echoes of the past, the 1930s to be more specific. Around the world nations are plunging into the pit of populism and the heir to Britain's throne won't bite his tongue.

Prince Charles has warned rising populism across the world has "deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s."

Speaking in a four-minute radio segment recorded for the BBC's Thought for the Day, the first in line to the throne said it was "beyond all belief" that humanity had not learnt the lessons of the holocaust.

"We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith," he said.

"All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s," he said.

"I was born in 1948 – just after the end of World War II in which my parents' generation had fought, and died, in a battle against intolerance, monstrous extremism and an inhumane attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe. That, nearly 70 years later, we should still be seeing such evil persecution is, to me, beyond all belief. We owe it to those who suffered and died so horribly not to repeat the horrors of the past."

Capitalism's Obituary

In The Tyee, Crawford Killian reviews the writings of Wolfgang Streek, director emeritus of the Max Plank Institute, who sees a decidedly dystopian future in the wake of an impending collapse of capitalism.

“The end of capitalism,” he writes in the introduction, “can then be imagined as a death from a thousand cuts... No effective opposition being left, and no practicable successor model waiting in the wings of history, capitalism’s accumulation of defects, alongside its accumulation of capital, may be seen... as an entirely endogenous dynamic of self-destruction.”

According to Streeck, salvation doesn’t lie in going back to Marx, or social democracy, or any other system, because there is no salvation at all. “What comes after capitalism in its final crisis, now under way, is, I suggest, not socialism or some other defined social order, but a lasting interregnum — no new world system equilibrium... but a prolonged period of social entropy or disorder.”

If we need a historical parallel, the interregnum between the fall of Rome and the rise of feudalism might serve. The slave economy of Rome ended in a chaos of warlords, walled towns and fortress-estates, and enclaves ruled by migrant barbarians. That went on for centuries, with warlords calling themselves “Caesar” and pretending the Empire hadn’t fallen.

Streeck sees the interregnum emerging from five developments, each aggravating the others: “stagnation, oligarchic redistribution, the plundering of the public domain, corruption, and global anarchy.”


In one essay, Streeck shows how the economic crisis of the 1970s led to the political crisis of today. Postwar Europe and America rebuilt the world by “Fordism” — mass production of durable goods at an affordable price, with few or no options. But Fordism eventually glutted the market with all-too-durable goods. In the 1960s, I wore the hand-me-down nylon socks my father had bought in the 1940s. In 1972 my wife and I bought a washer and dryer that still run reliably in 2016, without repairs.

That couldn’t last, especially as the baby boom tapered off. Capitalism’s solution was to offer customized, short-lived products that didn’t just meet your needs, but met your wants as well. That meant avocado-coloured refrigerators in the 1970s and granite kitchen countertops today, but nothing that really made life easier. It just let consumers express their changing personal tastes and status.


Marx thought communism would see the withering-away of the state. Instead, capitalism has reduced the state until its chief functions are protecting the rich and policing the poor. But in the process, capitalism has killed off its rescuers. Who’s going to save the banks in the next collapse? Who’s going to bail out the masters of the financial universe when artificial intelligence takes their jobs? And who’s going to police the poor when taxpayers can’t pay for the cops and the rich are hiring cops for their own gated communities?

Wolfgang Streeck sees neither a single cause of capitalism’s collapse nor any obvious successor regime. The European Union may break up. Climate change may drown south Florida, including Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago. Refugees will keep coming north; they will eventually overwhelm the fences and guards and create new enclaves in Europe and the U.S.A. and Canada. New pandemics will sweep unchallenged around the world.

No coherent political communities will be there to respond to such disasters. Such communities may arise centuries from now, but if Streeck is right, capitalism has ensured that we and our children will never live in them.

My take? I don't think capitalism is as one-dimensional as Streeck suggests. A recent article by Sandra Waddock that I posted as "A Primer for a Prime Minister" discusses not the destruction of capitalism but the abandonment of the sort of capitalism we have endured under neoliberalism.

Waddock argues for a change in economic regimes, a "system change." She and her colleagues envision capitalism not dominating democracy but harnessed in service to democracy and the public interest. I'm convinced her proposal to rehabilitate the democratic narrative, subordinating capitalism's worst excesses, is as possible as Streeck's dismal outlook.

There are other people of other visions, such as professor Richard Wolff, who also imagine a post-neoliberal society.

And, so, there you have it. Merry Christmas.

The Best Christmas Sermon You Might Get This Year

It comes from Bishop Markus Droge of the Berlin Evangelical Church in his comments about this week's Christmas market atrocity. From an interview in Deutsche Welle:

People are rattled, frightened and - understandably, I think - angry that something like this has happened. They are wondering what kind of people would plan such a violent attack that results in death and destruction and breeds fear during a peaceful time of year and at a peaceful Christmas market. I think everyone in Berlin is shocked, and we are unified as a city in our mourning - with the victims' families, with the injured - and we haven't really processed it all yet.

...The most important task will be preventing those responsible for the attack to be proven right in retrospect, and that the seed they sowed begins to grow. They want to sow hate and discord, and incense people and religions against one another. The main task will be to prevent that and to make clear to people to not prove the attackers right by continuing on this path, but instead, that we must stick together, respect and exalt humanity and not lose sight of our compassion. Only then can we overcome the attackers and ensure that they do not succeed in their goal.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Look, Justin, It's Called "Civil Disobedience" For a Reason

Miss Justin says we children can protest the Kinder Morgan pipeline as much as we like so long as we stay in that little area - way over there and don't make too much noise.

Sorry, Justin. That's not the way civil disobedience works. The essence of civil disobedience is, well the name sort of gives it away - disobedience, you numbskull.

That means non-violent, sure. Non-violent on our side but, as these things usually turn out, there'll be violence enough from your side.

And don't be giving us your schoolroom lecture you pompous prick. You don't have the moral high ground here. You may be waving the stick but you're holding it by the shit end.

And, please, don't give us that lofty "rule of law" bullshit. We saw how you responded when the Supreme Court of Canada laid down the law in the Carter decision and you decided that you were above the law of the land.

We know you're full of crap because you change the rules as you go along. We remember when you said there'd be no pipelines without "social licence" adding that could only come from the affected communities. Those communities - First Nations and municipalities - have spoken and they're not giving you that essential social licence. They've said "no" and they've said it loud and clear. So now you change the rules. No, I don't think so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Showdown At the "DT Corral"?

Should've seen this coming. BBC News reports that fears of a Trump presidency has some American liberals going for their guns.

Gun ownership has traditionally been associated with the right wing in America but the election of Donald Trump has prompted some left-wingers to join gun clubs - and even start preparing for the collapse of society.

"I really didn't expect to be thinking about purchasing a gun. It was something that my father did and I rolled my eyes at him."

...Many expected the election of Donald Trump, whose candidacy was backed by the National Rifle Association, to bring an end to the panic buying. Shares in gun manufacturers dropped by as much as 18% following his victory.

But instead FBI background checks for gun transactions soared to a new record for a single day - 185,713 - during the Black Friday sales on 25 November, according to gun control news site The Trace.

Some of this has been put down to gun retailers selling off stock at reduced prices, but there have also been reports of more "non-traditional" buyers, such as African Americans and other minorities, turning up at gun shops and shooting ranges.

Lara Smith, national spokesperson for the Liberal Gun Club, says her organisation has seen a "huge" rise in enquiries since November's election and a 10% increase in paid members.

Some of the new members are reluctant first-time gun owners, says Smith, concerned that isolated acts of aggression against minorities could escalate into something more violent and that a Trump administration will dismantle key constitutional rights, leading to a "more fascist rule than the US has ever had".

Dear, oh dear.

No, Justin. By The Time You Catch Up With Reality It'll Be Game Over.

I don't have much confidence we're going to get this right, not in time certainly. But that doesn't mean we have to accept what's on offer - giving up without a fight.

I'm referring to the "climate emergency" now underway in our backyard and the utter indifference of our government to it. That begins with this fellow we call our prime minister - Trudeau the Lesser, the Dauphin, Junior, Slick - who won't even mention it when he speaks of climate change. Not a word.

Trudeau views climate change as a political problem, not an urgent scientific challenge. Any doubt about that is erased conclusively by his political approach, one completely detached from scientific reality.

With "dark winter" heatwaves convulsing the Arctic for the second year in a row spreading severe weather events, summer and winter, across the northern hemisphere, Trudeau announced the litmus test for his climate change policy.

In a year-end, roundtable interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau said Canadian voters in 2019 can assess his signature policy's success or failure by looking at the country's greenhouse gas emissions trajectory.

"If we've been seen to be able to bend the curve in the next few years and start to show a trend line that is going to reach and surpass that target — as I expect it to — people will know, in terms of emissions reduction, that we're on the right track."

2019 - "on the right track" - is this joker insensate? Is he so focused on his electoral fortunes that he's deaf to what's going on - right now - and what that portends for the country in the not distant future?

To Trudeau, "on the right track" works because it neatly avoids having to acknowledge reality, evidence based science. If he was to confront what awaits our children and grand children we might have a metric by which to accurately measure his gross negligence. Like so many inconvenient realities this government, when confronted, falls back on weasel words and wiggle room lowering the bar of responsible government again and again.

He wants to "bend the curve." All the solutions will unfold in the fullness of time. 2019 - "greenhouse gas trajectories" - weasel words and wiggle room. The trajectory that matters - to us, our children and grandkids - is the trajectory that climate change is taking, the ballistic arc he's ignoring. That's the "incoming" trajectory. That's the one we need to worry about. That's the trajectory we need to deal with.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Culture of War

As the Electoral College convenes today to annoint Donald J. Trump the next president of the United States, Henry Giroux serves up another timely warning - this time about the powerful synergy of fascism, racism and America's war culture.

With Donald Trump’s election as president of the United States, the scourge of authoritarianism has returned not only in the toxic language of hate, humiliation and bigotry, but also in the emergence of a culture of war and violence that looms over society like a plague.

War has been redefined in the age of global capitalism: it has expanded its boundaries and now shapes all aspects of society. As Ulrich Beck observes, “the distinctions between war and peace, military and police, war and crime, internal and external security” have collapsed. As violence and politics merge to produce an accelerating and lethal mix of bloodshed, pain, suffering, grief and death, American culture has been transformed into a culture of war.

War culture reaches far beyond the machineries that enable the United States to ring the world with its military bases, produce vast stockpiles of weapons, deploy thousands of troops all over the globe and retain the shameful title of “the world’s preeminent exporter of arms, with more than 50 percent of the global weaponry market controlled by the United States,” as reported by Denver Nicks.

...As a militarized culture is dragged into the center of political life, fear feeds a discourse of bigotry, insecurity and mistrust, adding more and more individuals and groups to the register of repression, disposability and social death. 
Trump’s recent appointments of neoliberal elites, such as Steven Mnuchin, a long-time hedge fund manager and investment banker, to be his treasury secretary and Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, to head the Commerce Department make clear that he intends to allow the managers of big banks, hedge funds and other major financial institutions to run the economy. This is an upgraded version of neoliberalism which, as Cornel West points out, serves to “reinforce corporate interests, big bank interest, and to keep track of those of who are cast as peoples of color, women, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Mexicans, and so forth…. So, this is one of the most frightening moments in the history of this very fragile empire and fragile republic.”

Army commander turned academic, Andrew J. Bacevich, in "The New American Militarism" wrote of the emergency of the United States as the world's new permanent warfare state in which the threat and use of military force had supplanted diplomacy as the preferred instrument of foreign policy. Giroux touches on this theme:

As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri emphasize in their book Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, the veneration of war in the United States has now reached a dangerous endpoint and has become the foundation of politics itself. This is especially true as Americans entered into one of the most appalling and threatening periods of the 21st century. They write:

'War has passed from the final element of the sequences of power—lethal force as a last resort—to the first and primary element, the foundation of politics itself…. In order for war to occupy this fundamental social and political role, war must be able to accomplish a constituent or regulative function: war must become both a procedural activity and an ordering, regulative activity that creates and maintains social hierarchies, a form of biopower aimed at the promotion and regulation of social life.'

...Neoliberal society has ceded any vestige of democratic ideals to a social formation saturated with fear, suspicion and violence. The line has become blurred between real acts of violence and mythical appeals to violence as cleansing and restorative, as is evident in Trump’s emotional appeal to his audiences’ rage and fear. Dystopian violence is now legitimated at the highest level of politics, both in its use as a spectacle and as a policy of terror initiated most specifically in the murderous rampage of drone warfare. Politics is now an extension of the culture of war, and violence is a generative force in the production of everyday life.

The normalization of violence in US society is not only about how it is lived and endured, but also about how it becomes the connective tissue for holding different modes of governance, policies, ideologies and practices together. All of these come to resemble military activities. And it is precisely such activities that serve to legitimate the war on terror, the use of mass surveillance, the weaponizing of knowledge and the merging of a war culture and warfare state.

...While we may be entering a period of counterrevolutionary change, it must be remembered that such historical moments are sometimes as hopeful as they are dangerous. Hope at the moment resides in struggling to reclaim the radical imagination and bringing together an array of single-issue movements, while working to build an expansive, broad-based social movement for both symbolic and structural change. Central to such a task is the need to build alternative public spaces that offer fresh educational opportunities to create a new language for political struggle along with new modes of solidarity. At stake here is the need for progressives to make education central to politics itself in order to disrupt the force of a predatory public pedagogy. We must disrupt the “common sense” that is produced in mainstream cultural apparatuses and that serves as glue for the rise of right-wing populism. This is not merely a call for a third political party. Any vision for this movement must reject the false notion that capitalism and democracy are synonymous. Democratic socialism is once again moving a generation of young people. We need to accelerate this movement for a radical democracy before it is too late.

Hedges on Fake News - Why Don't We Just Stop Swallowing?

For years I've been calling for a democratic restoration in Canada. We're still a democracy but we dare not take that for granted, not when liberal democracy is on the run in so many other countries, including the United States.

The path to democratic restoration in my argument begins with the dismantling of the corporate media cartel. Let's revisit the Davey and Kent Commission reports and again realize how media concentration endangers democracy.

Corporate media distributes not information but messaging, information corrupted with spin. There's a kernel of truth to it, just enough to carry the weight of a thick layer of opinion and, when that opinion emerges from a handful of boardrooms, it becomes predictably slanted.

The Fourth Estate is supposed to represent the public interest but, once captured and consolidated by corporate interests, that changes. The media go from being the watchdog of government and become, instead, the lap dog of government. There's a powerful quid pro quo to this. For example, consider how Stephen Harper exempted PostMedia from the law governing foreign ownership and how PostMedia repaid the favour in various ways but especially in the full front page splash endorsing Harper featured in every PostMedia paper as Canadians went to the polls last October.

Before that there was the example of the prospect of a coalition government forged by Dion and Layton. Harper called it unconstitutional, a constitutional coup d'etat, even though that was precisely how his then pal, John Howard, became prime minister in Australia. Our corporate media cartel knew and ought to have known that Harper was lying through his teeth but they instead perpetuated Harper's tall tale in their pages.

There's a mutual corruption that takes place between government and a corporatized mass media. It's pretty pronounced in the States but we've seen enough of it up here too.

Here's Hedges' take:

The media landscape in America is dominated by “fake news.” It has been for decades. This fake news does not emanate from the Kremlin. It is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry that is skillfully designed and managed by public relations agencies, publicists and communications departments on behalf of individuals, government and corporations to manipulate public opinion. ...The public is so awash in these lies, delivered 24 hours a day through electronic devices and print, that viewers and readers can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction.

Donald Trump and the racist-conspiracy theorists, generals and billionaires around him inherited and exploited this condition, just as they have inherited and will exploit the destruction of civil liberties and collapse of democratic institutions. Trump did not create this political, moral and intellectual vacuum. It created him. It created a world where fact is interchangeable with opinion, where celebrities have huge megaphones simply because they are celebrities, where information must be entertaining and where we can all believe what we want to believe regardless of truth. A demagogue like Trump is what you get when you turn culture and the press into burlesque.

Journalists long ago gave up trying to describe an objective world or give a voice to ordinary men and women. They became conditioned to cater to corporate demands...

The corporations that own media outlets, unlike the old newspaper empires, view news as simply another revenue stream. Revenue streams compete inside a corporation. When the news division does not make what is seen as enough profit, the ax comes down. Content is irrelevant...

...Only about 15 percent of any newspaper is devoted to news. If you were to remove from that 15 percent the content provided by the public relations industry inside and outside government, news falls to single digits.

Reality is consciously deformed to easily digestible sound bites and narratives. Those involved in public relations, political campaigns and government stay relentlessly on message. They do not deviate from the simple sound bite or cliché they are instructed to repeat. It is a species of continuous baby talk. And it dominates the news and talk shows on the airwaves.

...Trump is adept at communicating through image, sound bites and spectacle. Fake news, which already dominates print and television reporting, will define the media under his administration. Those who call out the mendacity of fake news will be vilified and banished. The corporate state created this monstrous propaganda machine and bequeathed it to Trump. He will use it.
The Fourth Estate used to serve as the eyes and ears of the public. They spoke truth to power and deservedly held themselves out as the vox populi. Today the corporate media cartel serves to blind and deafen the public and the tongue in which they communicate is that of the powerful.

Krugman - It's All Bread and Circuses From Here On In

This may sound controversial but, really, it shouldn't. The NYT's Paul Krugman looks ahead to the ascendancy of Trump & Company and is drawn to images of the Fall of Rome.

Republican institutions don’t protect against tyranny when powerful people start defying political norms. And tyranny, when it comes, can flourish even while maintaining a republican facade.

On the first point: Roman politics involved fierce competition among ambitious men. But for centuries that competition was constrained by some seemingly unbreakable rules. Here’s what Adrian Goldsworthy’s “In the Name of Rome” says: “However important it was for an individual to win fame and add to his and his family’s reputation, this should always be subordinated to the good of the Republic … no disappointed Roman politician sought the aid of a foreign power.”

America used to be like that, with prominent senators declaring that we must stop “partisan politics at the water’s edge.” But now we have a president-elect who openly asked Russia to help smear his opponent, and all indications are that the bulk of his party was and is just fine with that. (A new poll shows that Republican approval of Vladimir Putin has surged even though — or, more likely, precisely because — it has become clear that Russian intervention played an important role in the U.S. election.) Winning domestic political struggles is all that matters, the good of the republic be damned.

And what happens to the republic as a result? Famously, on paper the transformation of Rome from republic to empire never happened. Officially, imperial Rome was still ruled by a Senate that just happened to defer to the emperor, whose title originally just meant “commander,” on everything that mattered. We may not go down exactly the same route — although are we even sure of that? — but the process of destroying democratic substance while preserving forms is already underway.

So what’s driving this story? I don’t think it’s truly ideological. Supposedly free-market politicians are already discovering that crony capitalism is fine as long as it involves the right cronies. It does have to do with class warfare — redistribution from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy is a consistent theme of all modern Republican policies. But what directly drives the attack on democracy, I’d argue, is simple careerism on the part of people who are apparatchiks within a system insulated from outside pressures by gerrymandered districts, unshakable partisan loyalty, and lots and lots of plutocratic financial support.

One thing all of this makes clear is that the sickness of American politics didn’t begin with Donald Trump, any more than the sickness of the Roman Republic began with Caesar. The erosion of democratic foundations has been underway for decades, and there’s no guarantee that we will ever be able to recover.