Sunday, January 31, 2016

As the World Burns

When you're roaring toward the cliff edge does it really matter if it's a jackboot or a Gucci loafer smashing the gas pedal into the floorboards? That's kind of how I feel about the body politic in my country these days.

Maybe the Gucci loafer isn't the problem. Maybe the gas pedal is simply jammed. Perhaps it was hammered too many times by the jackboot and now it's stuck. Does it really matter? Do we have time to waste figuring out who is to blame and for how much of what ails us?

I read a truly dreadful interview with a couple of climate scientists in The Guardian recently. There really wasn't much new in it but it presented a stark reminder of how detached from reality our leaders have become on the greatest existential threat ever faced by mankind.

You might recall how, at the Paris climate summit in December, the nations of the world tabled their emissions reductions promises which, if all those promises are honoured (yeah, cross your fingers), they'll result in warming/heating of 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. The target has, for years, been 2C. We're promising, maybe, 3C - maybe more.

One highlight of the Paris summit was a tacit recognition that the old 2C target was simply wrong. If we're to have a reasonable (not great, reasonable) chance of avoiding the worst impacts, i.e. runaway global warming, by 2100, we must not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yippee, we agree! We've seen the light. 1.5C it is, maybe.

Except for one little snag.

As of now we're already at 1.5C (deferred). Without another tonne of atmospheric CO2, we've already 'baked in' warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. We don't have to lift another finger to get there. It's in the bag. And so, as we haggle over how many more gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions this country or that country should have, we're negotiating to blow straight through 1.5C,  way past it. All this talk, it's gibberish. Utterly disconnected from reality. Hogwash of the particularly lethal sort.

Professor Andy Ridgwell of Bristol University puts it this way:

We have 1.5°C already programmed in, so even if we bring emissions right, right down, immediately, now, we already have 1.5 degrees! So how we’re keeping to a 1.5-degree threshold isn’t clear.

So a fun thing we’re doing now with our very fast warming is the ocean surface warms up and the deep ocean is still cold, which is partly why we have this programmed-in warming that we haven’t seen yet. The deep ocean hasn’t yet noticed that the planet at the surface is rather warmer. If we just sit here at current CO2 levels and let the system equilibrate, it’s 1.5°C anyway. Which comes back to COP21 - what is this 1.5°C target? We’ve emitted the CO2 to reach 1.5°C already, so I don’t know what they’re thinking of!

I wonder if this awkward fact was on the table when our newly-minted federal environment minister met with her provincial counterparts last week. Did they have a "Holy Shit, we've really got to rein in these emissions if our grandkids are to have a snowball's chance" moment? Somehow I doubt it.

As we race toward the cliff edge we've got our eyes glued on the rearview mirror. No one wants to see what lies ahead. No point glancing at the speedometer either.

Maybe the gas pedal isn't stuck. Maybe we're just on cruise control. I expect it really doesn't matter unless we intend to do something about it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday Night Funnies

Mrs. and Mrs. Trump say -

Is Trudeau Being Fed a Load of Pipeline Bunk? Petro-Wolves in Sheep's Clothing.

Canada's new prime minister may be swallowing a diet carefully laced with nonsense about our nation's controversial pipelines. Economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, Robyn Allan, says Trudeau is being misled by the Harper-groomed National Energy Board.

“The Board has resorted to platitudes, false arguments, obfuscated claims and exaggerated statements and I think Mr. Carr should be very careful about the NEB,” Allan said in an interview.

Six pages of the NEB briefing material were dedicated to a four and a half page letter that Allan wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau following last fall’s federal election. In her letter, dated October 24, 2015, she warned Trudeau that the regulator was allegedly violating basic principles of natural justice and procedural fairness in its ongoing review of Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

She also wrote in that letter that the regulator decided to prevent Canadian participants who would be affected by the project from conducting oral cross-examination of testimony from the multinational Texas-based energy company.

Although the NEB still required Kinder Morgan to answer written questions from participants, Allan and other critics had previously noted that the regulator had never previously banned cross examination in other similar pipeline project reviews. She explained that this opened the door for companies to avoid direct answers to inconvenient questions.

IMF Not Finished Screwing with the Greek People

From the "You play ball with me and I'll stick the bat up your... " file. The International Monetary Fund, having brought Greek's Syrzia government to bended knee, has figured out there's more fun to be had before the Greek people are adequately punished, broken if you will.

...the International Monetary Fund, one of the lenders that forced Greece to adopt controversial new cuts over the summer in exchange for emergency loans, is rejecting the agreement and insisting instead that the burden of those cuts fall on ordinary Greeks.

The IMF has indicated it will resist the Greek government’s plans to achieve required pension savings partly through an increase in employer contributions, according to a source close to negotiations between the Greek government and official creditors. Instead, the source said, the IMF believes pension savings targets can only be reached through pension cuts of 15 percent, on average.

The IMF's intransigence is reportedly driven by the Fund’s European director, Poul Thomsen, who has long had a tense relationship with the Greek government. Thomsen is a close ally of Wolfgang Schaüble, Germany's hard-line minister of finance.

“That Thomsen is playing a not-so-constructive role is the least one can say,” the source told The WorldPost. “This position of the IMF is puzzling, and they clearly want to either leave the program or blow the whole thing up.”

Peter Doyle, a former senior manager at the IMF, who worked with Thomsen for many years before resigning from the Fund in protest over its management of the Greek debt crisis in 2012, believes that Thomsen “does not care” that there is no evidence his approach will work. Doyle notes that the pension cuts and labor market reforms already enacted have not prompted Greeks to remain working and thereby expand the economy.

“It is just an article of faith. It comes from his whole career in the Fund,” Doyle said. “His entire career has been spent working in Eastern Europe -- Romania, et cetera -- and most of the politicians there are genuinely corrupt. He gets to Greece and thinks it is just like Romania or other less developed European countries.”

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Samaritan's Remorse

There were plenty of warm, fuzzy feelings for western European nations as they threw open their doors to a horde of refugees fleeing the hell on Earth of modern Syria. It's now turning out that some of those nations weren't quite the Good Samaritans we imagined.

Sweden has announced it intends to expel upwards of 80,000 asylum-seekers from the 163,000 who arrived in 2015. Where do you dump 80,000 people who have no place to go?

In neighbouring Denmark the government passed legislation authorizing the state to confiscate the valuables of refugees entering the country.

The Greek migration minister, Yiannis Mouzalas, claims his Belgian colleagues urged him to simply push arriving migrants back into the sea.

Meanwhile Britain's future in the European Union hangs by a thread even as Hungary and Poland embrace far rightwing nationalist populism.

"The Good of the People Comes Before the Law." The Bullet We Dodged?

Thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada we never had to learn how far Stephen Harper would have been willing to go in indulging his authoritarian instincts had he not been held in check.

Harper came to power on two promises. He would deliver transparency and accountability. He immediately reneged on both. False flags don't come much clearer than that. He used omnibus legislation to deny accountability and iron fist secrecy to utterly thwart transparency. It was on the scale of diabolical.

During Harper's minority, when the Liberals stood flummoxed and the NDP were mainly focused on finishing off the Liberals rather than fighting Harper, and especially during Harper's majority, Canada's democracy was defended by the final steninel, the Supreme Court of Canada. It was the SCC that refused to allow an authoritarian prime minister to run roughshod over our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Oh how Harper and his minions railed at the arrogance and audacity of the Supreme Court justices who upheld the Charter, again and again and again. Peter MacKay even acknowledged that his coven introduced legislation that they knew offended the spirit and probably the letter of the law, always hoping to push the boundaries of constitutional efficacy.

What they were up to, Harper's Holy Grail, was to weaken liberal democracy, the essence of which is a framework of constitutional laws that limits government power and affords a legal means to curb its excesses. What they strived for was illiberal democracy.

What might have been, who knows? However it's hard not to look at the plague of nationalist populism spreading through Europe without getting a few chills. Liberal democracy is not doing well in parts of post-Soviet Europe. Fascism embedded within illiberal democracy is on the rise. First it was Hungary. Now it's Poland.

After eight years in office, the liberal Civic Platform (PO) was cut down to size and banished to opposition. while Poland’s left did not even make it into the new parliament. All this despite the fact that while in the period 2008-2014 Poland’s accumulated growth was 28 per cent, the EU’s growth at that time was 2.5 per cent annually.

Sound Familiar?

Instead, more than 50 per cent of those who voted (about half of the electorate), opted for change. Just 38 per cent handed a victory to Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s national conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) and, for the first time since the transition to democracy in 1989, a single party could form a government in Poland.

However, after Kaczynski absented himself from a campaign that pushed moderate slogans and reasonable faces, it is clear that that PiS and its leader misled the electorate.

Within weeks, this new government has attacked the very basis of the liberal democratic order and its institutional check-and-balances: the constitutional tribunal.

Fearing that Poland’s highest court might declare some new legislation unconstitutional, the PiS has introduced laws that render the tribunal powerless. It has allowed for political appointees to head the civil service at all levels and made the public media directly dependent on government. Independent prosecutors will soon be subjugated to the minister of justice and the whole justice system will be overhauled.

There is much more of this to come. And it will come quickly. Jaroslaw Kaczynski holds no government position but, as leader of the PiS, he enjoys the undivided loyalty of his followers and of the new president, Andrzej Duda, who obediently follows the PiS party line.

As Poland’s real leader, Kaczynski has declared that he wants to follow the example of Hungary’s Victor Orbán and his model of “illiberal democracy” with the primacy of political will over the law. During a recent parliamentary debate, a statement that “the good of the people comes before the law” was met with a standing ovation by the PiS majority. Several bishops have declared that “natural law” and morality comes before the constitution.

The Poles have become a deeply divided society, a bellweather of wedge politics so instrumental to illiberal democracy. No one knows what lies ahead but there's a growing fear of violence and the eventual isolation of the Polish state, quarantined by its fellow EU states wrestling with their own demons of nationalist populism.

Really, We're Supposed to Lament the Passing of PostMedia? We'll be Worse Off For It?

A moderately well known political pundit, sometime newspaper columnist and blogger recently lamented the approaching demise of the PostMedia group of newspapers.

I don't begrudge him his lament. Papers of that quality are, after all, the genre that occasionally fed him as he so regularly reminds us. Did you know that, in an age long past, he actually worked for a prime minister too? Yeah, that one, the prime minister who handed Stephen Harper the throne thanks to that sponsorship scandal. Oh well, bygones, bygones.

What I found a good bit disingenuous about his kid glove treatment of PostMedia was his scolding of those who can't quite bring themselves to tear up at the prospect. We don't appreciate, he claims, how the loss of a newspaper is an assault on our democratic liberties which, logic would suggest, means the collapse of the whole rotten lot must surely consign us to the bilges of tyranny. We are unworthy of his like.

There's a problem with this fellow's argument. It's not true. History tells us as much. It's not the presence or absence of newspapers, many in number or few, that matters nearly so much as how they're owned and controlled.

In the 30s, Germans never lacked for newspapers. Those newspapers didn't stop a certain movement's rise to power. A good many of them abetted that and, afterward, there was no shortage of ink carrying the Fuhrer's message either even to the end. There are many similar examples from other places at other times of this very same phenomenon.

Of course today it's more than newspapers. It's TV and radio also and the internet. SUN TV is blessedly gone but let's take its American idol, FOX News. Does anyone imagine that American democracy would be dealt a body blow if the management, cast and crew of FOX instantly disappeared from the face of the Earth, Raptured up if you will? Would America be left with a more poorly informed electorate less capable of exercising their democratic franchise? I'm just not feeling it.

There's even less room for bad journalism these days. The advertising bucks, they ceaselessly remind us, are spread too thin what with people seeking real information from other sources, electronically. Boo-hoo. Sorry, I'm still not tearing up, not even a little. Maybe it's the duct or something.

The thing is I go online to get what I can't get from PostMedia. I go to get reliable information. PostMedia, which massively dominates the print media in my part of the country, long ago figured out that they could replace information with something else. Messaging became their stock in trade. Let's call it information with one of the legs shortened. You get the idea.

Do I fear the passing of PostMedia? Not in the slightest. Yes there will be jobs lost, dislocations but that happens in every failing industry.  I will admit that I would be delighted to see some of their more phobic ranters where they belong in a new life, sitting in their rockers on the front porch yelling at the Future to get the fuck off their lawns.

I like to cook, especially for others. It doesn't happen often but, every once in a long while, I'll discover something went very wrong. Maybe the cream was off, something like that. When that happens I don't try to fix it, mask the rancid ingredient. I just throw it out and start again. That might be a useful approach when it comes time to dispose of PostMedia.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Less Than Meets the Eye. The National Observer Deflates Kevin O'Leary

ISIS O'Leery???

There are some things you can pretty much assume with a blowhard. One is that, beneath the pomposity and bluster, there's a different story - call it "reality."

It's a Record! 2016 the Hottest Year Ever.

I know, I know. It's only January. We just declared 2015 the hottest year in recorded history. It sounds a little premature to proclaim 2016 the new record holder with eleven months yet to go. The thing is the scientific community is pretty certain 2016 will break the old records and by a significant margin.

But don't erase record hot 2015 from memory just yet. In just another decade or so, 2015 will represent the new "normal." To put this in perspective, here's what 2015 looked like to NASA's Goddard Institute. White is normal temperature, blue is below normal. The rest, well you can draw your own conclusions.

Over 90% of the energy trapped by the increased greenhouse effect goes into warming he oceans. A recent paper led by Peter Gleckler at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimated that the oceans have been building up heat at a rate equivalent to 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second since 1998. That’s over 2.3 billion atomic bomb detonations worth of heat building up in the oceans over the past 17 years.

During that time, the oceans accumulated as much heat as they did during the previous 130 years, with 2015 reaching record levels.

In fact, research by Kevin Trenberth and colleagues suggests even this is an underestimate, and that from 1992 to 2005 the oceans built up heat at a rate of 6 atomic bomb detonations per second. Trenberth believes many other studies have underestimated the rate at which the southern hemisphere oceans are warming.

"Previous estimates of ocean heat content change have been too conservative in the changes in the southern hemisphere. The absence of data does not mean absence of warming. Several estimates then use zero change in those regions. By better assessing what changes are likely in the no-data regions, based upon the regions where there are data, the ocean heat content changes increase."

Encouragingly, on average, climate models are nailing the increase in ocean heat content quite accurately.

Back to the Drawing Boards. Sea Level Rise Will Be Twice What We've Been Told to Expect.

What's a mere 1.5 mm per year? That depends.

Researchers from the University of Bonn have found that we have underestimated sea level rise due to ocean warming by about half.

“To date, we have underestimated how much the heat-related expansion of the water mass in the oceans contributes to a global rise in sea level,” said co-author Jurgen Kusche, a professor at the University of Bonn.

The overall sea level rise rate is about 2.74mm per year, combining both thermal expansion and melting ice.

Sea level rise was also found to vary substantially from place to place, with the rate around the Philippines “five times the global rate.”

The UBonn research has put a few noses out of joint but it's understood the conclusions will be corroborated by new research soon to be released by NCAR, the US National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Actual sea level rise varies substantially from area to area as this graphic of US SLR illustrates. 

As shown, here on the Pacific coast, sea levels haven't risen as they have elsewhere. It turns out that the winds took our warming and drove it to the ocean depths, part of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation. 

That won't last long. The Pacific is now releasing that stored heat to the surface and it'll be coming our way. Sort of like catch-up.

What we're only now discovering is that governments can squander massive amounts of money engineering to meet the wrong threat. If the decision makers choose to go with the original IPCC estimates of one meter of sea level rise by 2100 but ignore subsequent science concluding it will actually be two to three times that, then you've bet the farm on the wrong horse. Adios farm.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Oh Dear, This Will Not Go Down Well.

In Houston, a grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood has come down with two indictments.

Only they're not against Planned Parenthood.

Indicted are two anti-abortion activists the grand jury concluded had committed the felony of tampering with government records and a misdemeanour related to purchasing human organs.

As for Planned Parenthood, the grand jury cleared them of any wrongdoing.

The Tyee Asks, "Will Trudeau Stop the Madness?"

The madness is the collapse of Canada's syphilitic, corporate newspaper cabal. It's a nasty, diseased thing wobbling along in its death throes.

Writing in The Tyee, Marc Edge says if we're looking for a villain, we need look no further than Canada's Competition Bureau.

...don't blame Postmedia Network. It's just doing what comes naturally to a bottom-line corporation that is mostly owned by U.S. hedge funds that are bleeding it (and Canadian journalism) dry with high-interest loans, which they also largely hold. Postmedia is just trying to do what it thinks it can get away with to fatten the bottom line and feed its rapacious owners.

If you want to point fingers, look no farther than the federal Competition Bureau, the regulatory body that keeps letting them get away with it. The bureau, according to its website, is ''an independent law enforcement agency'' that is supposed to ensure that ''Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.''

It is knee-deep in complicity when it comes to the sorry state of Canada's news media, in particular for ''foolishly'' rubber-stamping Postmedia's $316-million purchase of 175 Sun Media newspapers last year without even the need for hearings. This was effectively the takeover of the country's second-largest newspaper chain by its largest (seller Quebecor retained three French-language tabloids), yet it was adjudicated in secret by the Competition Bureau. Not only that, but after it announced that its economic analysis absurdly concluded that the two newspapers Postmedia now owns in Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa didn't compete anyway, the bureau refused my request for a copy of this taxpayer-funded research.

...When the Vancouver Sun and theDaily Province formed a partnership in 1957, the Competition Bureau's predecessor, the Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, held hearings in both Ottawa and Vancouver.

As I document in my 2001 book Pacific Press: The Unauthorized Story of Vancouver's Newspaper Monopoly, the RTPC declared the merger an illegal combination between competitors. The Sun and Province argued that if they weren't allowed to go into business together, under the peculiar economics of the industry there would eventually be only one newspaper left in Vancouver. That ignored the fact there were then three, but Pacific Press bought the morning Herald from Thomson Newspapers and quickly folded it. Oh, all right then, responded the RTPC, go ahead and merge, but make sure you keep separate newsrooms forever and ever.

...A Special Senate Committee on Mass Media held hearings and published three thick volumes a decade later. ''There are only five cities in the country where genuine competition between newspapers exists,'' it noted in fruitlessly recommending a Press Ownership Review Board to slow consolidation.

A decade after that, when dailies folded in Ottawa and Winnipeg on the same day, the first Prime Minister Trudeau quickly convened a Royal Commission on Newspapers to investigate. It held hearings across the country and published a report that was accompanied by no fewer than eight book-length research studies. ''Newspaper competition, of the kind that used to be, is virtually dead in Canada,'' its report noted. ''This ought not to have been allowed to happen.'' It recommended limiting newspaper ownership to five dailies per chain, but a proposed Canada Newspaper Act was never tabled in Parliament as the government changed from Liberal to Progressive Conservative.

A 2006 Senate report on Canadian news media was sharply critical of the Competition Bureau, which succeeded the RTPC in the mid-1980s, for failing to prevent our stratospheric level of press ownership concentration. It accused the Competition Bureau of nothing short of ''neglect'' for failing to halt press consolidation. ''One challenge is the complete absence of a review mechanism to consider the public interest in news media mergers,'' it noted. ''The result has been extremely high levels of news media concentration in particular cities or regions.''

It recommended a new section for the Competition Act to deal with news media mergers and prevent corporate dominance in any market. As the Competition Bureau was unlikely to have the expertise to deal with such mergers, it recommended an expert panel conduct the review. Election of an ardently deregulationist Harper government that year, however, doomed the recommendations.

Edge clearly favours forced divestiture - the janitorial approach to PostMedia - rather than the funereal approach that we have today.

Fossil Fuelers on Borrowed Time?

Fossil fuels come in a range of flavours - gas, coal, oil, bitumen - but their days are numbered.

Supposedly one of the cleanest, natural gas, is the subject of a new industry report that renewables pose a mortal threat to the viability of LNG projects.

The sheer volume of shale gas in North America has blinded many of its key promoters to an important dynamic: "Namely the fast progress of renewable energy technologies capable of providing an alternative to one or more of the major sources of demand for LNG, electricity production and in the future perhaps heating," the report found.

The report was prepared by the Brattle Group, an independent firm that "answers complex economic, regulatory, and financial questions for corporations, law firms, and governments around the world."

...To date, not one of the LNG export projects proposed in Canada has gone to the construction phase, "which provides further evidence of the uncertain need for North American LNG," the report says.

It warns that investors should not regard the LNG glut as a temporary matter, because the declining cost of wind and solar energy combined with their rapid adoption in many jurisdictions such as Germany and China could significantly dampen global demand for methane as well.

BC premier Christy Clark will probably shrug off this warning as she has others before it. To her, maintaining the illusion of a bountiful LNG industry has a political value that eclipses reality.

The B.C. government once based its controversial advocacy for LNG on rising Asian gas prices, which at one point exceeded $15/MMBtu several years ago. But they have now collapsed to roughly $6 to $7/MMBtu.

LNG projects can't be profitable without prices being around $11 because of the high cost of extracting and fracking shales in northeast B.C., analysts say.

The report has to be unsettling news for all high-carbon, high-cost fossil fuels including Athabasca bitumen.

"We're a Bunch of Racists"

 At the Sundance film festival, Danny DeVito, Don Cheadle and Sam Neill addressed the controversy over the sublime whiteness of the Academy Awards. Softspoken DeVito put it on the line.

Trump's Pipeline Deal

What Could Will Possibly Go Wrong?

Maybe "deal" is too generous a term. Let's call it Donald Trump's pipedream.

Contenders for the Republican presidential nomination all favour the Keystone XL pipeline project now on hold thanks to president Obama. Trump, naturally, has gotten aboard only with a few extra stipulations.

“I want 25 per cent of the deal for the United States. They’re going to make a fortune,” he declared in Muscatine, Iowa on Sunday. On Saturday, he said he would ask for “25 per cent of the profits forever.”

Trump, campaigning as an economic nationalist, said he wants the pipeline approved. But he said TransCanada should not be allowed to send Canadian oil through American land—“through farmland and through cities and wherever the hell they’re going” — without paying a hefty price.

“When they do this pipeline, it’s going to be a very profitable thing and it’s really Canada oil coming down — so it’s not — I like Canada, I want these people to be happy, but I want the developers of the pipeline to give the United States a big, big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights, like I do in business. That’s what I do,” he said.

Hmm, a "big chunk of the profits or even ownership rights" - I'll bet that has Christy Clark's ears buzzing and probably a couple of Quebec mayors to boot.

Poor Enbridge, poor Kinder Morgan. 

Oh yeah, Trump added that he's not all the crazy about taking Canadian dilbit but he went out of his way to add that he really, really likes us. "I love Canada, by the way." Wait a minute, does that mean we're not getting our wall?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Tina Fey Nails It - Palin & Trump

TV Sucks. Why Do We Have to Pay So Much For It?

If I had my way it'd be "give me 232, 240, 241, 270 and 279" or something sounding remarkably like that. I want my television feed cut to about five channels. Just give me The Knowledge Network, PBS, The Weather Network, Velocity (hey, I'm into cars and racing) and HBO.

I don't get news from The Box. The funny thing is, neither do you - not really. You might think you're watching the news and some of it might even look like news but the resemblance is passing at best.

Mark Twain wrote that those who don't read newspapers are uninformed while those that do read newspapers are misinformed. Good thing Mr. Clemens never had to endure the likes of Mansbridge or Murphy.

Television news is like a horse with blinders. All you see is what the driver wants you to see and that lies straight ahead. Nothing happening on the sides gets in. To a horse pulling a carriage through city streets back in the day the world must have seemed a very curious place.

Oh sure, it's easy to say that TV news is crap. People have been doing that since TV news made its way into our livingrooms. In fact, TV news has always been a mix of good and crap.  A little crap but mainly good. A bit more crap, a bit less good. But now there's just way too much crap for what good remains. You're not sure about that? Here's how to tell.

Stop watching CBC, CTV, Global and the rest. Don't settle for the daily delivery. Go shopping. Go online. You'll find there's a massive marketplace of suppliers of quality news - real information - just waiting for your visit and most of it is free. There are hundreds upon hundreds of choices. There are even 50 English-language online news sites from the Middle East. When was the last time you read Black's former paper, The Jerusalem Post?

There are some obvious mainstays: The Guardian, The Washington Post, LA Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, Deutsche Welle, the Times of India, Asia Times Online, the Straits Times, Bangkok Post, Japan Times, Haaretz. There are plenty of Canadian sites - The Star, Hamilton Spectator, Calgary Herald, Victoria's Times Colonist, The Globe, CBC, CTV, Global and dozens more.  Take your pick. Then there are a few excellent online sources such as The Tyee, Vancouver Observer and the National Observer plus other subscription services such as iPolitics.

Looking for quality opinion  with a progressive slant? I've got a short list of 22-sites.  I'm interested in ecology and the environment and that short list runs to about 35-sites including the major governmental agencies in North America and Europe as well as the UN.

Once or twice a month I make a pass through my think tank links. I usually begin with Chatham House and then Carnegie, Brookings.... about a dozen in all.

Here's something you might not dwell on too often - the rest of the world rarely sees their news the way we depict it. They tend to see what happens in their corner of the world quite differently because it's happening where they live and it impacts them differently than it will ever impact us thousands of miles distant. Our news outlets take their events and, if they do decide it as deserving as the story of the rescued kitten in the drainpipe, they process it through their filters before dishing it up on our TV screens. Is that really what you want to pay for?

But this is awfully time consuming. Not so much. It is at first. It takes some time to sift the wheat from the chaff but eventually you get pecking lists and a routine, a mix of both passive and active news gathering. After a while it's a much streamlined process.

How often do you sit down to the evening news show, listen to their teaser headlines, decide there's an item you really want to see and then find it buried until the end of the show beneath a mountain of news sludge? Eventually they get to it and you find all they really have is just a longer headline that leaves all your questions unanswered?

For months I've been hovering - one phone call away - from 'cutting the cable.' Right now I've got it pared down to the basic package plus three specialty channels I do watch. However it's dawned on me that I don't watch the basic cable package anyway so, for me, it's a  30 dollar a month "cover charge" to be able to get the three channels I do watch and pay for separately.

We're about a month away from a new regime that's supposed to offer consumers more choice and a better deal. We'll see about that. I've decided to at least hang on to give it a try but if it turns out to be just a variant of the current deal then it's probably time to finally cut that cable.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Quick End to the Pipeline Debate

I got a chilling reminder yesterday that the federal Liberals are probably still Conservative-Lite when the Liberal Loudmouth came out in support of the Alberta Wildrose Party's Brian Jean's attack on Quebec politicians' opposition to the Energy East pipeline passing through la Belle Province.

Liberal/Wildrose - sure, what's the difference? Maybe not all that much anymore.

LL, as usual light on facts and oh so long on opinion, endorsed Wildrose Jean's tweet in which he wrote “You can’t dump raw sewage, accept foreign tankers, benefit from equalization and then reject our pipelines.”

It was a caustic, abrasive, even toxic remark which, by sheer coincidence, also describes what that Energy East pipeline is intended to convey across Eastern Canada, diluted bitumen, i.e. "dilbit."

Dilbit is all levels of nastiness. It's chock full of abrasive particles, corrosive acids, heavy metals and carcinogens. It's not oil. There's synthetic oil in there but it's travelling with some very bad company and a lot of it.

Did I mention "petcoke"? This is another bit of nastiness and one that the traffickers of this crap don't want anybody to mention. It's sold under the table a lot like the dealer who hangs around the schoolyard.  Petcoke is granular coal but it's super high in carbon and most places won't let it be used for energy generation because it gives off so much greenhouse gas.

There's only one outfit I know that openly sells petcoke. Ready? Brace yourselves. It's Koch Carbon. Yeah - that Koch, as in The Brothers. Eventually the stuff finds its way onto a barge to Asia where, out of sight/out of mind, it's sold and burned.

So, with all this stuff making dilbit so dangerous. Did I mention Kalamazoo?  So, with all this stuff making dilbit so dangerous, isn't there a safer, cleaner even better way to achieve the same objective of getting this stuff to market?

Sure there is.

The better way is simple. Refine the bitumen in Alberta. No, not upgrading, refining. It's going to be refined at its destination anyway so let's turn that sludge into real, synthetic crude right on site, in Alberta. Let's strip away all the sludge - the abrasive sands. Let's get out the acids, heavy metals and carcinogens. And, for sure, let's get that petroleum coke out and return it safely to the deep underground where it too can do no harm.

Then when Big Oil and Alberta have done the responsible thing, when they've eliminated the most dangerous, environmentally catastrophic aspects of what they're so eager to ship, then there should be more room to talk.

A couple of years ago I discussed this at length with my veteran Tory friend. I inventoried all the problems associated with bitumen and shipping it as dilbit and, the minute I finished, he chimed in with "Why don't they just refine it right there? That's a new industry, jobs, revenue."

Yes, indeedy. Processing bitumen into synthetic, relatively safe, crude oil would be a new industry for Alberta, more jobs, more revenue (word I'm getting is that they're running below capacity in these things at the moment). It would also make transporting the synthetic crude far less costly and dangerous than moving dilbit and, refined, it would fetch a much better price.

So, how do you explain the inexplicable? That's a sad story that can only be told by admitting a few awkward facts that really shift the narrative.

One is that margins are so meagre on bitumen that extreme measures such as transporting it in its most dangerous form are necessary to protect the bottom line. Yes that subjects every jurisdiction it crosses to significant environmental risks and costs but, in the lingua franca of conventional economics, those are "off the books", externalities. That's something you've offloaded on someone else. Suckahs!!!

The second reason is that somebody would have to build the refineries capable of processing several hundreds of thousands of barrels of bitumen per day that the industry wants to get to market. Right now Big Oil is becoming gun shy of the Tar Sands. They know the very real prospect that Athabasca bitumen could become a 'stranded asset.' Running this lethal crap through a pipeline is one thing. Cleaning it up first - that's too much of a gamble.

A third reason, and I'm speculating here, is that selling the petcoke to Asia is an essential part of their bottom line.  The mere mention of petcoke to these Fossil Fuelers is like tossing a vampire out into the noonday sun. Three or four seconds and you can see the smoke coming off them.

The fourth reason is carbon emissions. Yes, Alberta has announced a genuinely ambitious carbon pricing initiative. It should. It is, hands down, the province with the biggest carbon emissions and that's poised to go nowhere but up, up, up. The added energy used in refining means even more greenhouse gas emissions leaving Alberta looking worse, worse, worse. Best to outsource those inevitable emissions overseas.

The saddest thing is that these issues never surface in the pipeline debates. You won't hear them from Trudeau or Mulcair. You won't hear them from Notley. You sure as hell won't hear them from Mona. Why won't we have this "refine in Alberta" option discussed? Because it ends the debate and everyone knows it.

The decent, responsible option is off the table. It will not be opened for discussion. What else can be expected when the Tar Sanders have them all - Liberal, New Democrat, Conservative - all lined up like so many trained seals slapping their flippers on command.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Another Record In the Bag.

Don't get too excited. It won't last.

NASA ran its numbers. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, ran its numbers. They showed the same thing - 2015 was the warmest year on record or, as I like to call it, WYoR.

Enjoy it while you can, 2015. Pretty much everybody agrees, 2016 is going to knock you off that perch.

Actually, since the 14 of the 15 WYoRs have occurred since the turn of the century just being the latest WToR somehow has lost a bit of that luster.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Beware Really, Really Smart Old Men

If you're not into dystopia you would do well to steer clear of the likes of James Lovelock, Martin Rees and, now, Steven Hawking. They're all looking to our future and you might not like to hear what they see.

James Lovelock, the 95-year old English scientist who, in the 1970s, formulated the Gaia Theory, at first the subject of ridicule but now pretty widely accepted, thinks mankind will indeed hit 9-billion in number but will be down to under one billion by the end of the century.

Then there's Britain's Astronomer Royal, venerable head of the Royal Society, lord (Baron) Martin Rees, author of "Our Final Hour" in which, back in his optimistic days, he gives mankind no better than a 50/50 chance of surviving this century due to either bio-terror or bio-error. After all, who knows what's going on in those corporate laboratories now that so much science has been privatized?

Now, keeping company with Lovelock and Rees, is the also brilliant, Stephen Hawking. He believes mankind's best and only chance rests with getting off Earth, finding new planets to colonize, before something as inevitable as an asteroid snuffs out life on terra firma.

Colonizing space isn't going to happen soon. Hawking figures it could happen within a few centuries, probably closer to a millennium.  The trick, he sees, lies in our ability as a species to run the gauntlet of existential threats that we've created for ourselves. Right at the top of his threat list is artificial intelligence wiping out human life on Earth.

“The real risk with AI isn't malice but competence,” Professor Hawking said. “A super intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren't aligned with ours, we're in trouble.

Hawking said that eventually robots might become cleverer than their creators. Our own intelligence is no limit on that of the things we create, he said: “we evolved to be smarter than our ape-like ancestors, and Einstein was smarter than his parents”.

If they become that clever, then we may face an “intelligence explosion”, as machines develop the ability to engineer themselves to be far more intelligent. That might eventually result in “machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails”, Hawking said.

On our side of the Atlantic, these AI concerns are widely shared in the computer science community and by Bill Gates and Elon Musk. The latter has compared development of true artificial intelligence as "summoning the demon."

A Declaration of War - On the Future

Just when you thought you had heard all the arguments against oil/gas/bitumen pipelines, Bill McKibben comes up with another that's usually overlooked. What does it mean when outfits like Enbridge or Kinder Morgan spend billions developing a pipeline? It means they mean to be using it for an awful long time, well past the time limit for us to have abandoned fossil fuels.

Here’s the basic math: if you build a pipeline in 2016, the investment will be amortized for 40 years or more. It is designed to last -- to carry coal slurry or gas or oil -- well into the second half of the twenty-first century. It is, in other words, designed to do the very thing scientists insist we simply can’t keep doing, and do it long past the point when physics swears we must stop.

These projects are the result of several kinds of momentum. Because fossil fuel companies have made huge sums of money for so long, they have the political clout to keep politicians saying yes. Just a week after the Paris accords were signed, for instance, the well-paid American employees of those companies, otherwise known as senators and representatives, overturned a 40-year-old ban on U.S. oil exports, a gift that an ExxonMobil spokesman had asked for in the most explicit terms only a few weeks earlier.

...The money, however, is only part of it. There’s also a sense in which the whole process is simply on autopilot. For many decades the economic health of the nation and access to fossil fuels were more or less synonymous. So it’s no wonder that the laws, statutes, and regulations favor business-as-usual.

...This zombie-like process is guaranteed to go on for years, even decades, as at every turn the fossil fuel industry fights the new laws and regulations that would be necessary, were agreements like the Paris accord to have any real teeth. The only way to short-circuit this process is to fight like hell, raising the political and economic price of new infrastructure to the point where politicians begin to balk. That’s what happened with Keystone -- when enough voices were raised, the powers-that-be finally decided it wasn’t worth it. And it’s happening elsewhere, too. Other Canadian tar sands pipelines have also been blocked. Coal ports planned for the West Coast haven’t been built. That Australian coal mine may have official approval, but almost every big bank in the world has balked at providing it the billions it would require.

There’s much more of this fight coming -- led, as usual, by indigenous groups, by farmers and ranchers, by people living on the front lines of both climate change and extractive industry. Increasingly they’re being joined by climate scientists, faith communities, and students in last-ditch efforts to lock in fossil fuels. This will undoubtedly be a key battleground for the climate justice movement. In May, for instance, a vast coalition across six continents will engage in mass civil disobedience to “keep it in the ground.”

And in a few places you can see more than just the opposition; you can see the next steps unfolding. Last fall, for instance, Portland, Oregon -- the scene of a memorable “kayaktivist” blockade to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs bottled up in port -- passed a remarkable resolution. No new fossil fuel infrastructure would be built in the city, its council and mayor declared. The law will almost certainly block a huge proposed propane export terminal, but far more important, it opens much wider the door to the future. If you can’t do fossil fuel, after all, you have to do something else -- sun, wind, conservation. This has to be our response to the living-dead future that the fossil fuel industry and its allied politicians imagine for our beleaguered world: no new fossil fuel infrastructure. None. The climate math is just too obvious.

This business of driving stakes through the heart of one project after another is exhausting. So many petitions, so many demonstrations, so many meetings. But at least for now, there’s really no other way to kill a zombie.

McKibben is right. They, the fossil fuelers - extractors, refiners, distributors - intend to run roughshod over every effort to stave off the very worst climate change outcomes. They're in a fight, one that is governed by any rules that serve their interests and no others. They're in a fight against us and against the future. They intend to be at this for generations and they will - unless they're stopped and we can't depend on Justin or Tom and certainly not Rona to do that.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Living In the Age of Unexpected Consequences

Some scary thoughts from the chairman of the World Economic Forum, Davos. Klaus Schwab says we've entered a time of great uncertainty for rich and poor alike and could be headed for a "substantial social breakdown."

In Schwab's dystopian world, mass migrations will multiply in number and size.

“Look how many countries in Africa, for example, depend on the income from oil exports,” Schwab said in an interview ahead of the WEF’s 46th annual meeting, in the Swiss resort of Davos. “Now imagine 1 billion inhabitants, imagine they all move north.”

...That fits into what Schwab, the founder of the WEF, calls the time of “unexpected consequences” we now live in. In the modern era, it’s harder for policy makers to know the impact of their actions, which has led to “erosion of trust in decision makers.”

“First, we have to look at the root causes of this,” Schwab said. “The normal citizen today is overwhelmed by the complexity and rapidity of what’s happening, not only in the political world but also the technological field.”

...Schwab warns that technological innovation may result in the loss of 20 million jobs in the coming years. Those job cuts risk “hollowing out the middle class,” Schwab said, “a pillar of our democracies.”

No, Klaus, sorry but you're wrong. The middle class is the pillar of our democracies, the sine qua non. Without it democracies won't flourish, the very change we see today, and when democracies are no longer robust they degrade into illiberal democracy en route to becoming something else altogether, something feudal in nature, oligarchy.

An Anonymous commenter provided a link to a 1990 documentary entitled "The March." It depicts the sort of mass migration Schwab refers to.  25-years later, it's all the more believable.

Here's the thing. Europe does not have the ecological resources to support its own population much less a massive migration of newcomers. Save for the Scandinavian countries, EU states are all running substantial ecological deficits largely satisfied, for now, by imported foodstuffs.

Here are a few examples, chosen randomly - Germany, Poland and Italy.




Britain is worse off yet. The point is they simply don't have the biocapacity to support their existing populations much less a massive influx of migrants. Europe is an already dangerously overloaded lifeboat. It really has few choices, none of them good.

Oh, Mona - Hush Child. You're Overheating.

The Tory hairpiece masquerading as interim leader, Mona Ambrose, says  the Liberals are ill-equipped to deal with the Conservative's parting gift to Canada, a 'rapidly deteriorating' economy.

Mona might not remember how her party, while in government, did everything in its power to transform Canada into a petro-state which largely accounts for our 'rapidly deteriorating' economy now that world oil prices are in the crapper.

Let's see. The new government came to power inheriting a fiscal mess, the result of Stephen Harper's failed economic potty-training. For most of his Decade of Darkness, Harper ran consecutive deficits, adding some $150-billion to the national debt. He left the country in a deficit compounded by a recession topped off by a devastated petro-economy.

Mona obviously forgot that when her former government came to power it inherited just the opposite of what it left behind on getting the boot. The Liberals had balanced the budget, paid down a big hunk of our national debt and ensured that the federal treasury was nicely stocked for a rainy day. Harper wasted no time dismantling all that to ensure that Canada was laid low when a rapidly deteriorating economy arrived in 2008.

Ambrose said the Liberal government should take a page from the playbook of former prime minister Stephen Harper, who during the 2008 financial crisis, released a federal budget early to put anxious Canadians at ease.

"We need a plan, we really need a plan on the economy," the Edmonton area MP said. "A budget is still apparently months away. It could be the end of March, and it's really important right now in our economy that we do have a plan, that we have some strong signals from the government," Ambrose said.

Mona, please, some of us still recall Shifty's "Pinata budget" of 2009 that delivered almost nothing by way of effective stimulus. And, yes, you had to prorogue Parliament to come up with even that.

She really is Canada's answer to Michelle Bachmann.

If You Don't Like It, You Have to Stand Up to It.

A compelling argument. Opposing something bad sometimes means standing right in its path.

Gwynne Dyer's Outlook for the Next "Thirty Years War" - Muslim Style

It kinda makes you wonder why we're getting drawn into this. Five centuries after Europe endured the catastrophic Thirty Years War a similar calamity may be building in the Middle East. Only this time it won't be Catholic and Protestant
Christians butchering each other but Sunni and Shiite Muslims going at it.

Gwynne Dyer describes how the future of Islam could - perhaps - play out.

The Muslim world now, like “Christendom” in the 16th century, is made up of many independent countries. And the current phase of the Muslim wars of religion is being fought between Shias and Sunnis in Iraq, Syria and Yemen, just as the first phase of the Christian wars of religion was fought out mainly between Catholics and Protestants in individual countries.

From the start of the conflict in Europe, however, each European state tried to help its co-believers in neighbouring countries, and alliances were increasingly shaped by religious considerations.

In the second phase, these alliances dragged most of Europe into the catastrophic Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), fought mostly in the middle of Europe but involving armies from as far apart as Sweden and Spain.

The main battleground, Germany, lost between one-third and one-half of its population. Nobody won, of course, and in the very long run everybody just lost interest in the question. But it was a very great waste of lives, time and money.

The Muslim world is already caught up in the first phase of a comparable process, but it is not condemned to go the whole distance. 

...U.S. President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 unleashed the sectarian demon in the region. The “Arab Spring” of 2011 frightened the region’s dictatorships and absolute monarchies into increased repression and greater reliance on appeals to sectarian loyalty. Then King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died a year ago, and the kingdom spun out completely.

...The new Saudi king, Salman, is 80 years old and infirm, so in practice most decisions are made by his nephew, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef (aged 56), or his son, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (aged 30). There is intense competition between the two men for the succession to the throne, and the decisions coming out of Riyadh have been much bolder than ever before.

The past nine months have seen a major Saudi Arabian military intervention against the Shia side in the Yemeni civil war, the creation of a Saudi-led alliance of almost all the Sunni-majority Arab states, and now the execution of a Shia leader in Saudi Arabia that was clearly calculated to cause a diplomatic breach with Iran.

It’s dynastic politics, in other words, not some inevitable geopolitical juggernaut. But it was similar dynastic politics half a millennium ago that triggered the worst phase of the Christian wars of religion.

It's hard to see how what the Infidels are doing is going to ease rather than worsen the religious tensions in the Muslim world. If our ongoing Crusade is against terrorism then we're allied with the wrong Muslims. However, as Dyer observes, most of the big players - that would include the American legion - have already lost the big picture.

Who Says the Age of Monarchy is Dead?

It's not dead. It's just under new management.

Today's monarchs, about 62 in total, own more wealth than half of the world's population. That's 62 versus 3.6 billion. That's 62 monstrously rich motherfuckers.

An Economy for the 1%, a report by anti-poverty NGO Oxfam, said although the number of people living in extreme poverty halved between 1990 and 2010, the average annual income of the poorest 10 percent has risen by less than $3 a year in the past quarter of a century.

An even starker figure was the charity's finding that just 62 people — 53 of them men — own as much wealth as half the world's population. This figure has fallen from 388 five years ago.

The wealth of the poorest half of the world's population — more than 3.6 billion people — has fallen by a trillion dollars (41 percent) since 2010. Meanwhile the value of the richest 62 people has increased by more than half a trillion dollars to $1.76 trillion.

"Far from trickling down, income and wealth are instead being sucked upwards at an alarming rate," the report said.

It's not just the great unwashed who are being fleeced. The middle class are also falling prey to vampire economics, the vast unearned transfer of wealth out of the working classes and into the bank vaults of the ultra wealthy.

And the best part. All that will stop the day your government stops making it happen. What, your government is responsible for most of this? Yeah, that's right. If you don't get it, talk to Joe Stiglitz and if you can't reach Joe, read his books.

Is There Some Rule That the U.S. Must F_ck Up Everything?

Sure there is. It's Rule 836(b) - You play ball with me, and I'll stick the bat right up your A$$. That's the rule.

After months of multinational negotiations, a deal was struck whereby Iran would hand over its "in progress" nuclear weapons programme and materials. That deal was reached by the P5+1. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, the UK and the US - plus Germany.

They struck a deal for the removal of punishing sanctions against Iran. The Iranians met the P5+1's conditions, deal done, sanctions off. There was not much America could do about that.

What America could do was slap on new, unilateral sanctions for, I don't know - oh yeah, missile technology. Let's use that. Missiles - that'll do it.

Those Americans, they're such pranksters.

State Department officials kind of hoped Obama wouldn't mention the new sanctions until after Iran released three Americans it was holding but he didn't and the Iranians still released the Americans.

Now, let's unpack all that. Sanctions on Iran for human rights violations but not the Saudis or the Gulf States, check. Sanctions on Iran for being a 'state sponsor of terrorism' but not the Saudis or the Gulf States, check. Sanctions on Iran for supporting some nasty groups in Syria, the government, but not the Saudis or the Gulf States for supporting al Nusra and ISIS, check.

I'm sure America would love to hammer Iran with sanctions for the embassy bombings, the attack on the USS Cole, the 9/11 attacks, supporting murderous Sunni Islamist terrorists, the attacks on Madrid, London and Paris only Iran had nothing to do with any of that. That skulduggery is entirely the work of the Saudis and Gulf State princes, emirs and sheikhs. Well, anyway, America must have hammered them with sanctions, right? No? None?

Not for nothing do the people of the world, in survey upon survey, finger the United States as the greatest threat to world peace.

If only Obama's missile sanctions meant something but they don't. They only target a couple of companies and a handful of individuals and they'll have no practical effect on Iran except, perhaps, to steer it into the arms of America's rivals. This gimmick will help Obama counter Republican critics in Congress, perhaps smooth tensions a bit with the Saudis, but it's window dressing - except to the rest of the world where it matters.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Why My Kids Have No Chance of Living Where They Were Born and Raised.

My daughter and son-in-law both work at good jobs in Vancouver. They live in a rented condo that's smaller than the cabin of some sailboats I've been on. That's Vancouver living today.

The house I bought 30-years ago for about $160,000 now goes for about 2.5-million or higher just for the land alone. The kids know they'll never be able to live where my daughter once nestled in her crib. Not a chance.

Those charming 40's bungalows are a thing of the past. Monster houses, McMansions, now spread from lot line to lot line. The lawns and gardens we used to carefully tend are gone. The place looks overrun, hideous.

Despite these massive, multi-million dollar houses, my old neighbourhood has become the poorest in Vancouver - at least based on reported income. Nobody there, it seems, makes any money. That's not to say there's any poverty, far from it. It's just that the money that might be taxed is offshore.

What infuriates so many older people is how many of these multi-million dollar residences - homes and high rise - stand empty. What's going on? Well, it's called "money laundering" and neither Ottawa nor Victoria wants to know.

It's a contagion that has also swept the tony cities of the United States. an economic context, there is more to this new American urbanization wave than the return of the middle class, young upwardly mobile professionals and immigrants.

In fact, they increasingly find themselves priced out of America’s largest cities.

Instead, as has happened in London before, such cities are becoming playgrounds for the super-rich — and not only native ones. Foreigners are buying up high-end real estate in U.S. cities – and developers cater ever more directly to foreign buyers and investors.

Multimillion-dollar properties are often bought for cash and transactions are executed through anonymous offshore shell companies. Even among known owners, there are plenty of crooks and shady characters. Meanwhile, no one has any idea how those who prefer to remain hidden made their money.

No one cares, either. As long as the money is not related to Islamic terrorism, the U.S. government turns a blind eye to its provenance.

But, like all easy money, this massive international money laundering operation comes with considerable risks attached.

Two years ago, New York magazine published an exposé of the nation’s largest city, calling multimillion-dollar digs “stash pads” – after apartments that drug pushers rent to hold their merchandise.

A year ago, a series of articles appeared in the New York Times, detailing how hard it is to identify who exactly the super-rich buying New York City apartments are.

The few that the Times dug out made a nice rogue’s gallery, with misdeeds ranging from corruption and malfeasance to tax evasion and suspected links to organized crime.

New York City remains the most outrageous example of America’s foray into money laundering. The southern end of Central Park has been turned into a veritable theme park for the global “one percent,” with apartments going for as much as $100 million.

...As to the damage which these keptocrats and criminals cause their native countries – be that China, Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Nigeria or any number of others – it is not America’s concern.

Savor the irony: The U.S. Treasury goes hard after Americans doing shady things with their money abroad, but it welcomes other countries’ nationals doing the same thing in the United States itself!

As Calvin Coolidge observed nearly 100 years ago, “The chief business of the American people is business.” It still rings true, but the nature of America’s business is constantly changing.

In Coolidge’s time, the United States was a manufacturing giant and it remained so until the 1970s. It gradually turned to services and information technologies by the end of the 20th century.

But now, with the emergence of a sizeable international class of “one-percenters” and increased flows of untraceable funds through the global financial system, America is emerging as a safe haven for the world’s super-rich and their money – honest and ill-gotten alike.

...In the old days, Washington acted not only as an international policeman, but an international financial regulator and rules enforcer.

American officials understood that widespread corruption and thievery destabilizes the global community. Not so anymore.

As a result, the world is full of criminal gangs reaching across international borders and making alliances on different continents.

These gangs are able to move massive amounts of money. They also enjoy protection from kleptocratic regimes.

While the United States is fighting the old war against funding for Islamic terrorists, a new massive threat is quietly emerging under its nose.

And then there are domestic repercussions. Regional real estate bubbles are being inflated in many markets across the United States, even as home prices on average remain stable – and some regions are still depressed. New York is a prime candidate for a spectacular implosion.

...It is only a matter of time before disaster strikes overbuilt American urban centers, hitting developers and their lenders and burying ordinary people straining to pay their mortgages in overpriced markets.

Is This What the War Wagon Deal Is Really About?

Could the House of Saud be in danger of sharing the fate that befell Iran's former monarch, Shah Pahlavi? Do they sense a revolt coming their way? Are the Saudi royals arming themselves to the teeth to crush their own people? Is that why they ordered such a massive number of armoured fighting vehicles from Canada? As part of the deal have the bought our silence?

At The Globalist web site these very questions are being raised in the context of dealings between the Washington and Riyadh:

In 1979, when the Shah’s regime finally fell in Iran, official Washington was very perplexed. The U.S. government, with all its departments, including the intelligence apparatus, had steadfastly stood by its client.

The shock when it all came crashing down was palpable. So was the regional upheaval, with consequences visible to this day.

Why the surprise? Why the preceding ignorance? Because official Washington was far too invested in the continued presence of the Shah. He was the linchpin of U.S. strategy for the region.

Under those circumstances, the mere thought of him no longer being in power was too painful to bear. much as official Washington had bought into the Shah and his regime four decades ago, to the point of casting a blind eye, so it is now with the Saudis.

Whatever the telltale signs of the Saudi royals’ decrepitude, it is stunning to see how few in Washington worry about that.

Does This Sound Familiar?

...the old Washington rule of doing business – better to deal with the devil we know than the one we don’t – applies.

In addition, since we live in times when the policymaking process is more monetized than it has been ever before, the Saudis are very skilled investors in buying a lot of silence in the American capital.

...What also helps the silencing of any proper American discussion of scenarios for Saudi Arabia’s future is that the country is somehow – and quite perversely – seen as Israel’s best partner in the region.

If Globalist editor Stephen Richter is correct, and I can think of nothing that contradicts his assumptions, then Canada's war wagon deal is perfectly explained and in that explanation we get a disturbing glimpse of the extent to which Canada's foreign policy, Conservative and Liberal, has been "monetized."

The whole deal is murky - by design. Dion made utterly unconvincing claims that Canada had the assurances of the Saudis, the monarchy, that our wheeled death wagons would never be used against the Saudi people. What other purpose would the Saudis have for so many of these armoured fighting vehicles?

Really, When You Spent a Decade Fighting Harper Did You Imagine When You Finally Won You Would Wind Up Here?

I don't know. Maybe you just wanted a fresh coat of paint. Not me, I've got too much skin in this game. Fact is, you threaten my Canada as much as he ever did, maybe more.

Gloves are off.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Ghost of Liberals Past Stalks Justin. Lloyd Axworthy Tries to Salvage Liberal Integrity Before It's Too Late.

As Liberals go, there aren't many of the stature of Lloyd Axworthy, a stalwart of the era of Jean Chretien and a genuine progressive. Now Axworthy is calling out Justin Trudeau over the rancid Saudi arms deal and it's a welcome breath of fresh air.

A prominent former Liberal foreign minister is calling on Justin Trudeau’s government to review a controversial $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, saying he doesn’t think Canada should be deepening relations with a Mideast country notorious for human rights abuses.

Lloyd Axworthy, who served as foreign minister between 1996 and 2000 under prime minister Jean Chrétien, remains influential in Liberal circles.

He said he was surprised that Mr. Trudeau is being advised in briefing books to strengthen economic ties with Saudi Arabia because it would be good for business and Riyadh is an influential regional power.

Mr. Axworthy said a recommendation to “cozy up” to Saudi Arabia is “about the last piece of advice I would give,” particularly due to what he sees as Saudi Arabia’s worsening record. The country is notorious for its treatment of women, dissidents and prisoners. This month, Riyadh conducted a mass execution that included a prominent Muslim cleric.

“I think the Saudis have really in the last couple of years, really become a problem country,” he said. “The degree of oppression against women and dissidents in Saudi Arabia is becoming almost epidemic.”
The Trudeau Liberals are refusing to cancel a contract to provide hundreds, if not thousands, of weaponized amoured combat vehicles to the Saudi Arabian National Guard on the grounds that it would injure Canada’s reputation to renege on what they characterize as a done deal.

“I am a Liberal and I am supporter of Mr. Trudeau … and I am just surprised to see this unilateral declaration of, ‘We have no interest in examining or checking this thing out – or looking at it again,’” he said.

He said Canada has to consider the cost of lending support to the oppressive Saudi leadership.

Everybody says it’s for jobs but I think if you start counting up the price you pay in terms of instability and repression and forceful maintenance of order, you may be paying a high price.

Mr. Axworthy, who has spoken out in defence of Trudeau policies, such as the mass intake of Syrian refugees, said the Liberal government’s unwillingness to carefully examine the armoured vehicle transaction is unexpected.

“Trudeau has stated so many times that the key to Canadian foreign policy is respect for others and to adhere to basic standards and rights,” he said.

“To me this whole thing is an anomaly. Frankly, I don’t get it – the way in which the Saudi thing has been handled.”

One of the things the government has to maintain is its commitment to what I would call probity – doing things right.

He also advised the Trudeau government to rethink the state of Canada’s ties with Saudi Arabia. “It’s time we really had an examination of this relationship. Because until countries start doing that ... until that starts happening, they [the Saudis] are going to behave with impunity.”

Make no mistake, that's an intensely murderous impunity to boot. Not for nothing did the UN General Secretary call out Riyadh for war crimes for blasting Yemeni civilians with cluster bombs.  Tally it all up from Saudi support for Islamist terrorism - al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS, to its oppression of its own women and dissidents, to its brutal repression of Shia populations in neighbouring states all the way to pretty blatant war crimes and what Liberal with the merest shred of conscience would advocate strengthening economic ties with those animals?

At times Harper made me deeply ashamed of my country. I never expected the same from Justin Trudeau.

I Don't Want My Grandkids To Wind Up Stuck With Our Wars

Both my kids are of "military age" not that either would be seen learning how to slow march across a parade square. Still they are of an age in which many of the same vintage took the Queen's shilling and went off to war in the Muslim world whether it was fighting on the ground in Afghanistan and, more recently, Iraq or bombing Libya, Iraq or Syria.

Every generation, it seems, has its wars. My dad's had WWII and Korea. Mine had the Vietnam war although Canada itself wisely gave that one a pass. My kids were largely able to escape the worst of the Cold War but they have got these smaller but equally ugly wars that pit the West against Islam that blends the worst elements of a military, 'shoot'em up' war with an odd form of Cold War in Muslim countries we aren't actually bombing.

Here's the thing. My children were in diapers when we started this business with Desert Storm, George H.W. Bush's adventures in the sandbox of Mesopotamia in 1990 and it's been pretty much uninterrupted to this day. Even Clinton kept the fires stoked with his brutal sanctions on Saddam that left the tyrant relatively unaffected but inflicted misery and death on tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqis, many of them children.

Two terms of Clintonitis passed to be followed by the Bush Jr. era and, with that, the big burner was turned on again. First Afghanistan and then Iraq. If Bush/Cheney hadn't botched up those wars of convenience so badly who knows, maybe they would have extended their rampage to Iran.

During the span from Bush 1 to Clinton and then Bush 2 there was a quiet transformation as America moved into a new form of warfare, "Permawar," war without end, permitting no meaningful victory or defeat. Each side gets just enough out of it to keep it going perhaps forever or until some external catastrophe - financial collapse or climate change - brings it to a halt.

Most of us recall Eisenhower's warning about the emergence of a military-industrial complex in America. Not many realize how that has morphed over the past two decades into what Andrew Bacevich refers to as today's military-neoconservative-Christian fundamentalist-industrial-commercial warfighting complex. This, folks, is a cabal tailor-made for war without end.

All of which makes me wonder if my grandchildren, should they come along, will inherit the wars of my generation's making and, perhaps, even pass those wars along to their kids? Have we unwittingly enslaved ourselves to a new, ultimately pointless, 'hundred years war'?

Last week (or year or decade, you choose) we were fighting an inconclusive multi-year war in Afghanistan that only ended when we withdrew from the field of combat leaving our adversaries still standing. Hint: that means we lost. It also means they won.

Then ISIS popped up and threatened the survival of the Baghdad government before spreading, almost effortlessly, into Syria. Now we're fighting an inconclusive war in Iraq and Syria. Sure there are signs that ISIS and all the other Islamist groups such as al Nusra and al Qaeda may not be able to hold out forever but that overlooks that, ultimately, they're playing for time. They're already outsourcing their war to the western reaches of North Africa, up through the Caucuses of southern Russia, the southern provinces of China and, more recently, into the Philippines and now Indonesia.

What's the answer? I know, let's only do the thing that's actually worked. What is that? Damned if I know. I haven't seen anything that's worked yet. Frankly, with the amount of money that's being made through the establishment and expansion of the Age of Permawar, I'm not sure anyone's really looking for solutions - not yet, anyway.

Isolationism? It certainly has its advantages but it's also got some major pitfalls. I think we should be cautious before going that route.

I do have an idea, one that might work. Let's take an honest look at all these fiascos, how we got into them, and where we went wrong. Let's admit that one hard truth we try to ignore that, today, it's not enough to have All the King's Horses and All the King's Men, not when you're fighting over Humpty Dumpty.

My idea - let's not get into wars that we lack the means and will to win. No point spending a decade playing whack-a-mole with your own troops' and other peoples' lives. If the cost of winning is more carnage and slaughter than we're prepared to get on our hands, let's be honest enough to accept that. No one wins all the wars, not even us. We've proven that much. Don't keep putting the rent money down on the blind nag with the lame hoof.

If winning a war means committing to a struggle that extends from one generation to the next, make sure it's for that rare something that's really worthwhile.