Monday, February 29, 2016

Hey, Junior. Pull Your Thumb Out. Read The Tyee.

There's no longer any excuse for the pro-Saudi Likudniks that make up Canada's government. If they can't figure out what leaders of integrity should do, why don't they just pick up a copy of The Tyee.

Here's a few stories they'll find there.

There's a handy item about a UN report that finds the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, threatens indigenous land rights.

Or perhaps the report about the recent European Union resolution about cutting off the flow of weaponry to the Saudis because, well, they're war criminals.

There's a link to a Bloomberg story that another oil crash is coming, one from which there may be no recovery. Something to mull over as you plot out the future of the Athabasca Tar Sands. You might want to get Big Fossil to pay out the rest of the money you'll need for site remediation. While you're at it you might consider charting a new course for the recovery of Canada's post-bitumen economy.

Sea levels are rising at the fastest rate in nearly three millennia and, guess what, that rate is rapidly accelerating. Since 1992 the annual rate has already doubled. You might want to think about how Canada should prepare for what's coming.

You could do every one a world of good by reading about how sketchy offshore money is being laundered through Vancouver's real estate market, ensuring that my kids will never be able to afford to live where they were born and raised. Countless millions in taxes evaded, all that social damage and you're still looking the other way.

There's plenty that needs doing and hardly enough time to do it.

The Pitfalls in Pricing Carbon

The federal government's favoured vehicle for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is the introduction of a carbon price or a carbon tax on fossil energy.

These calculations are usually based on some notion of the social cost of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, currently the main driver of global warming (but natural feedback loops are catching up frighteningly fast). We use integrated assessment models, IAMs, to work out such things as economic risk and social costs of GHG emissions.

However Nicholas Stern, Baron Stern of Brentford to you, has written a paper suggesting current IAMs grossly understate the actual risks and costs and therefore mislead policy makers.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in 2013 and 2014, provided a comprehensive overview of the literature on the costs of action and inaction. But the assessment understated the limitations of the research done so far. Essentially, it reported on a body of literature that had systematically and grossly underestimated the risks of unmanaged climate change. Furthermore, that literature had failed to capture the learning processes and economies of scale involved in radical structural and technical change, and the benefits of reducing fossil-fuel pollution, protecting biodiversity and forests, and so on.

The IPCC pointed out1 that estimates of losses resulting from a 2 °C increase in mean global temperature above pre-industrial levels ranged from 0.2% to 2% of global gross domestic product. It admitted that the global economic impacts are “difficult to estimate” and that attempts depend on a large number of “disputable” assumptions. Moreover, many estimates do not account for factors such as catastrophic changes and tipping points.

...Sadly, most IAMs struggle to incorporate the scale of the scientific risks, such as the thawing of permafrost, release of methane, and other potential tipping points. Furthermore, many of the largest potential impacts are omitted, such as widespread conflict as a result of large-scale human migration to escape the worst-affected areas.

...IAMs are also used to calculate the social cost of carbon (SCC). They attempt to model the incremental change in, or damage to, global economic output resulting from 1 tonne of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions or equivalent. These SCC estimates are used by policymakers in cost–benefit analyses of climate-change-mitigation policies.

Because the IAMs omit so many of the big risks, SCC estimates are often way too low. As a first step, the consequences being assessed should include the damages to human well-being and loss of life beyond simply reduced economic output. And the very large uncertainty, usually involving downward bias, in SCC estimates should always be made explicit.

As the IPCC acknowledged, published SCC estimates “lie between a few dollars and several hundreds of dollars”. These values often depend crucially on the 'discounting' used to translate future costs to current dollars. The high discount rates that predominate essentially assume that benefits to people in the future are much less important than benefits today.

...Most current models of climate-change impacts make two flawed assumptions: that people will be much wealthier in the future and that lives in the future are less important than lives now.

The former assumption ignores the great risks of severe damage and disruption to livelihoods from climate change. The latter assumption is 'discrimination by date of birth'. It is a value judgement that is rarely scrutinized, difficult to defend and in conflict with most moral codes.

Stern goes on to note that we also understate the benefits that society can realize from alternative energy technologies, usually because we have trouble visualizing the knock-on effects of scientific and technological breakthroughs.

Why does this matter? Easy. Our government wants to introduce a carbon price but it has to be a realistic carbon price, one that weighs all the factors from the downsides of continued fossil fuel use to the upside advantages of transitioning to alternative clean energy. Without that comprehensive approach we stand a very good chance of falling back on a token price that bears little resemblance to the cost/benefit equation and is more in line with a political number.

The Company We Keep

The Grantham Institute on Climate Change and the Environment has released a study on which G20 nations are most likely to meet their Paris climate summit pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They rank those nations into three tiers. Canada shares its (our) tier with Argentina, India, China, Indonesia and, gulp, Saudi Arabia.

The study found that in the European Union as a region, and in France, Germany, Italy and the UK nationally, as well as in South Korea, most credibility indicators appeared “largely supportive” for the implementation of the pledges.

Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the US, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Turkey have indicators that are at least “moderately supportive” in terms of credibility, but each displays a significant weakness in one or other indicator.

But Argentina, Canada, China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia showed a need for increasing credibility across most indicators.

Donald Trump's Hate Machine

Donald Trump's racist message resonates with a lot of American voters. Salon's Heather Digby Parton looks at some of the sketchy characters who are jumping aboard the Trump bandwagon.

If you look at the public figures who are first out of the gate to endorse Trump now that he looks to be so formidable that they cannot hope to stop him, you’ll see Chris Christie, known for his derision and bullying; former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, best known for her anti-immigration proposals demanding that people who “look illegal” offer up their papers; former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke; and Maine Governor Paul LePage, who was last heard complaining that drug dealers come up to Maine from New York to sell their drugs and “half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.” Now there’s Sessions too. Trump is, in other words lining up the country’s most famous bullies, xenophobes, and bigots to endorse him. (And that’s not even counting the avowed white supremacists who are doing robocalls on his behalf.)

The right is acting shocked — shocked! — that anyone would ever say there’s racism going on in their party, and they are all practically calling for the smelling salts at the mere suggestion that Donald Trump might be appealing to white people who hold racist views. This is to be expected. After all, even their protestations are a form of dogwhistle at this point: The pretense of horror at being called racist is a signal to fellow racists.

...Mr. Trump’s popularity with white, working-class voters who are more likely than other Republicans to believe that whites are a supreme race and who long for the Confederacy may make him unpopular among leaders in his party. But it’s worth noting that he isn’t persuading voters to hold these beliefs. The beliefs were there — and have been for some time.

Progressives naturally balk at the idea that hardworking people, suffering in a stagnating economy, might be driven by something something so dark as racism when the fact is that they have much more in common economically with people of color than this blowhard billionaire who’s selling some snake oil about “making deals” with foreign countries so America will be “great again.” But it’s a sad reality that this racial animosity lies at the heart of many of America’s pathologies, particularly its unwillingness to adopt social democratic policies going all the way back to the beginning.

...Maybe Trump will be the last gasp of this dynamic, and class solidarity will rise above racial resentment at long last. But for now, it does no good to ignore the fact that the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president has just been endorsed by some of the the nation’s most notorious racists and xenophobes and is routinely cheered by ecstatic crowds for his bigotry. America’s made a lot of progress but it’s not there yet.

Last night, John Oliver shredded Trump:

Sorry, Simon, But Progressivism Means More Than Not Being a Tory

Our friend, Montreal Simon, doesn't think much of progressives who are critical of the government rather than battling the remnants of the Conservatives.

And the only thing that does surprise me is that some progressives spend more time attacking other progressives, and our new government, than they do attacking the Cons.

Even though there is a massive Con conspiracy out there, which is funded by big money, it's at war with us. And those dummies don't even know it.

And the good news? At this blog we only attack the real enemies of the Canadian people and their values.

Apparently we're "dummies" too obtuse to attack only "the real enemies of the Canadian people." Never fear, however, for Simon assures us we'll do to the Conservatives in the next election what we achieved in the last and - "finally finish them off."

I have a lot of problems with this diatribe. Simon, like too many Liberals and even some New Dems, think that "progressive" is something defined as "not Conservative." He's wrong, dead wrong.

One of the most powerful advocates for progressivism was America's Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt and, before him, Abraham Lincoln. Anyone who considers themselves progressive should read Roosevelt's "square deal" speech delivered at Osawatomie, Kansas in 1910. The core principles of progressivism are powerfully stated there in most stirring fashion. I read that speech once a year to recalibrate my political compass. I think that's a good idea.

Canada has descended into a condition of neoliberalism. Our affliction is not as advanced as America's where it may well have become terminal but we're not doing much to treat it either. Neoliberalism usually leads to the rise of illiberal democracy. The public still gets to vote but the political apparatus has been hijacked by special interests, corporatism the usual culprit. That's something we dummies understand and it angers us deeply.

And what's this business about how we'll "finally finish them off." What in hell does that mean? Do we disenfranchise the 30% of Canadians who prefer the Conservatives? Do we disqualify their candidates, drop them off the ballot?

Sideshow Steve Harper quested to "finally finish off" the Liberals. He wanted a two-party state, Conservatives and New Democrats. Sounds like Simon wants the same only played by Liberals and New Democrats. That doesn't sound progressive to me or remotely democratic for that matter. It does, however, sound just a bit authoritarian.

"Enemies of the people." Those are loaded words, a term with some fairly dark historical overtones. Ugly words, repugnant.

I freely criticized the opposition parties while Harper reigned. It struck me that there was precious little I could do to change Harper but at least I could advocate for changes to make the opposition parties better, more fit to succeed old Beelzebub when that time came.

There are things Trudeau has done that I support and I have regularly said so in my posts. There are also things he's done, for example the Saudi war wagon deal or the government's support of the Tory BDS resolution, that are appalling. For these he richly deserves my criticism.

This is a democracy and no one has the right to attack another for legitimate criticism of bad government policy. Not even you, Simon.

Is Donald Trump Sounding the Death Knell of America's Elite?

Chris Hedges looks to the Republican presidential runoff and sees the graveyard of America's atrophied oligarchs.

Power elites, blinded by hubris, intoxicated by absolute power, unable to set limits on their exploitation of the underclass, propelled to expand empire beyond its capacity to sustain itself, addicted to hedonism, spectacle and wealth, surrounded by half-witted courtiers—Alan Greenspan, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks and others—who tell them what they want to hear, and enveloped by a false sense of security because of their ability to employ massive state violence, are the last to know their privileged world is imploding.

...The carnival of the presidential election is a public display of the deep morbidity and artifice that have gripped American society. Political discourse has been reduced by design to trite patriotic and religious clich├ęs, sentimentality, sanctimonious peons to the American character, a sacralization of militarism, and acerbic, adolescent taunts. Reality has been left behind.

Politicians are little more than brands. They sell skillfully manufactured personalities. These artificial personalities are used to humanize corporate oppression. They cannot—and do not intend to—end the futile and ceaseless wars, dismantle the security and surveillance state, halt the fossil fuel industry’s ecocide, curb the predatory class of bankers and international financers, lift Americans out of poverty or restore democracy.

...None of those elected to the White House, the Congress or statehouses have the power, and they know it, to challenge the corporate disemboweling of the country. The popular rage and frustration that have been rising against the established power elites during this election campaign will mount further as Americans, especially with a new president in the White House, realize that their voice and their vote are meaningless. The white nativists and bigots who flock to Donald Trump, along with those who sell out the most basic liberal tenants to support Hillary Clinton, are about to get taught a harsh lesson about the nature of our system of “inverted totalitarianism.” They are about to discover that we do have a class of “superpredators.” These superpredators are not poor people of color walking the streets of marginal communities. They inhabit the exclusive corporate enclaves of the privileged and the powerful.

Corporations control the three branches of government. Corporations write the laws. Corporations determine the media narrative and public debate. Corporations are turning public education into a system of indoctrination. Corporations profit from permanent war, mass incarceration, suppressed wages and poor health care. Corporations have organized a tax boycott. Corporations demand “austerity.” Corporate power is unassailable, and it rolls forward like a stream of lava.

The seeds of destruction of corporate power, however, are embedded within its own structure. The elites have no internal or external constraints. They will exploit, manipulate, lie and oppress until they create an ideological vacuum. No one but the most obtuse, including the courtiers who have severed themselves from reality, will sputter out the inanities of neoliberal ideology. And at that point the system will implode. The revolt may be right wing. It may have heavy overtones of fascism. It may cement into place a frightening police state. But that a revolt is coming is incontrovertible. The absurdity of the election proves it.

Would America's Defence and Intelligence Agencies Ignore President Trump?

Former CIA and NSA boss, retired general Michael Hayden, was Bill Maher's opening guest on Friday's show. Eventually the conversation got around to Donald Trump and what if he actually became the president of the United States. Hayden didn't pull many punches. Pick it up at the 6:00 mark:

It's Far From Ideal But It's Progress

A new report finds the average Brit now uses 10-tonnes of materials, organic and non, per year. That's a lot but it's down from 15-tonnes per capita per annum in 2001.

The figures look at the total amount of biomass (crops, wood and fish), coal, oil and gas, metal and non-metallic minerals (such as construction materials) used in the UK every year.

Some of the reduction is due to changes in technology.

Some of the biggest decreases have been in metal ore consumption, in part because the amount of metal required to manufacture modern domestic goods such as fridges and washing machines is far lower than in the past.

UK households have also abandoned buying many resource-intensive goods common in the recent past – such as metal-heavy video recorders and hi-fi systems, vinyl records, CDs and books – as they shift to digital consumption.

But the country’s environmental accounts can be interpreted in many ways. The switch to a service-based economy rather than a manufacturing one means Britain consumes far fewer materials and energy for every unit of economic output compared with economies such as Germany.

The ONS said: “Over the 2000 to 2013 period, resource productivity (the relationship between economic activity and material consumption) in the UK has positively increased, rising 59.4% from £1.87 per kg in 2000 to £2.98 per kg in 2013, reflecting the shift away from manufacturing towards financial and other service industries.”

Happy Sadie Hawkins Day

Word for the day - desuetude. As in "Sadie Hawkins Day has blessedly fallen into desuetude."

Sadie Hawkins Day was the brainchild of Al Capp, creator of Li'l Abner. On Leap Day, every four years, the women folk were allowed to hunt for a husband from the ranks of the area's eligible bachelors.  All the woman had to do was catch her man and drag him across some finish line before sundown and then he was obliged to marry her.

When I was a kid and a keen follower of Li'l Abner cartoons I actually thought Sadie Hawkins was a thing, that is until no females showed up to claim me and I imagined myself a bit of a catch.

For the record, it seems that Al Capp wasn't the first to link Leap Day and matrimony. And, according to the Beebs, the Leap Day proposal tradition is still alive and well in the UK.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Food for Thought

With the briefest of introductions and even less commentary I am posting a passage from James Galbraith's "The End of Normal." Read it and draw your own conclusions:

Government policies influence economic performance by affecting the structure of the economic system. A lower interest rate, by making large initial outlays financially feasible and projected cash flows from the distant future more valuable, tends to encourage investments with high initial fixed costs. Higher tax rates also tend to encourage increased fixed costs. Activities involving variable costs (labour) are generally heavily taxed, whereas those that depend more on onetime investments are taxed more lightly. In fact, machinery investment is generally heavily tax-subsidized. For once a building, a piece of machinery, or a dam is in place, the equipment remains in use, but the economic effort to produce it will not be taxed a second time. Labour, on the other hand, is taxed constantly, and the cumulative tax on employment adds up over time. Conversely, low taxes and high interest rates encourage an emphasis on variable costs.

...Technical progress is often achieved by moving to systems with higher fixed cost. Technology enables one to tap into resources that were previously not economical. For example, new horizontal drilling and fracturing technology enables natural gas companies to develop shale gas on a large scale. But at the same time, more advanced technologies are more resource intensive. ...When the rate of consumption of resources becomes higher than the rate of renewal or discovery, resources will become scarce. In a resource-scarce environment, social systems with higher technology require more resources to support the technology., As a result, net resources available for consumption - water, fuel, biofuel feedstocks with food uses, such as corn - may decline. This will lower living standards, and it will do so more sharply if a country hangs on to the technology it can now no longer afford.

If a firm or economy cannot generate a surplus, it will first consume any reserves that may be on hand. Next, scarcity can sometimes be relieved by borrowing from outsiders against future production - incurring a debt. In the case of scarcity or diversion, barring a favourable turn of events, contracts will be broken, and resources promised to outsiders will not be delivered. This is a historic cause of wars.

The final remedy for scarcity is to eat the seed corn, curtailing investment. Then present standards will be maintained for a time, but those in the future decline. It will become ever more clear to those living in the present that the future will be dreadful. Public authority must then choose between maintaining investment by force or allowing the present generation to use up the resources required to keep the future generations alive. There is no reason to believe that the democratic decision made by the living in the face of their present needs and desires will be the decision that would maximize the chance of long-term survival. The unpleasant conclusion is that it is possible for a society to choose economic collapse.

If you don't recognize what you've just read as well underway now, you're whistling past the graveyard. We need Ottawa to implement some drastic changes and sooner rather than later.

Resources Are On the Move. The Good News - They're Heading Our Way.

Natural resources, both animate and inanimate, are on the move. In both hemispheres they're heading out of the tropics, poleward. This is the indisputable proof that climate change is real and it's deadly serious.

I've written about this for years. Out here we've been witnessing the migration of marine life - fish, mammals, birds - into our local waters out of the south.

One of my favourite memories of Hawaii was sitting at a beachfront patio while watching humpbacks cavort just offshore. It was spectacular sipping a drink while watching those majestic creatures maneuver through yachts and sailboats bobbing at anchor.

A couple of weeks back I went for lunch at a local waterfront watering hole, the Shady Rest. My favourite server of many years came over to tell me that I should have come in a few days earlier when staff and guests alike were treated to the spectacle of a pod of humpbacks cavorting just off the beach. I thought, well who needs Lahaina?

What they were witnessing was nature on the march. Herrings and sardines from the California and Baja area are leaving, heading north. Where they go their entire food chain follows. Seals, sea lions, white-sided dolphins, transient orca pods, even humpback whales. Sea lions from as far away as California used to migrate through our waters for the annual herring run. Now they've taken up residence.

Newsweek has a report on research published in Nature Climate Change of the scope and pace of movement of natural resources out of the south.

As the planet warms, plants, trees, fish and other natural resources are on the move, shifting toward the poles, in the direction of higher elevations and deeper into the seas, states a paper published February 24 in the journal Nature Climate Change. This natural capital has economic value, especially in developing countries where it accounts for a large share of resources. The team of researchers led by Eli Fenichel, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, say that where the fish migrate, money will follow, but that it’s not as simple as this.

The findings suggest that it’s not enough for policymakers to look for biophysical changes, such as the increase of fish in one place and the decrease in another, to see how wealth is shifting in response to climate change, but that they should also take “inclusive wealth” into consideration. Inclusive wealth is an economic framework that accounts for the sum of traditional, human and natural capital, in an effort to measure a country’s ability to sustain human well-being. Wealth that is stable or which increases over time indicates overall sustainability. The framework can be applied to track the broader impacts of climate change on local and global sustainability: When natural capital shifts due to climate change—either toward the poles or toward the mountains—its value changes in response to new pricing that takes into account these social considerations in addition to the biophysical change alone.

The study models potential outcomes in two fictitious fishing communities—“Northport” and “Southport”—where climate change has caused a shift in fish populations. Southport’s fish stocks decline as the climate changes while Northport’s stock increases; it’s a scenario that reflects changes anticipated in areas such as the mid-Atlantic and the waters off New England.

The report notes that the winners, Northport, will be better off but not nearly as much as the losers, Southport, will be worse off. It's not a net sum game. It's a lot easier to lose an industry and livelihoods than it is to create or expand industry and livelihoods. There's a lot of inertia involved and worry that the windfall might be illusory, passing.

My Two Cents on Brad "Poindexter" Wall

So, Saskatchewan's misfortune premier, Brad Wall, is digging in his heels and saying he won't sign on to any carbon pricing scheme because the fossil fuel industry is in a slump and therefore the time isn't right.

Sorry Saskatchewanians, Saskatchewies, Saskatchewites, Saskatchonians, Saskatcheweenies - whatever - but your premier, diminutive in stature, is a total dick. (Sorry, didn't mean to mock. I had to look it up. According to the Canadian Press style book a person from Saskatchewan is properly called "a person from Sasktachewan." I suppose that explains why "persons from Saskatchewan" elect someone like Poindexter.)

For Brad the time isn't right. I guess that has something to do with the bitumen ring around his lips. That's his current excuse. He's got others, trust me, his kind always do.

What Poindexter doesn't get is that time is very important, not so much to his already doomed bitumen hopes, but to take our very best shot at cutting our greenhouse gas emissions. We're already running a day late and a dollar short but that's still too much for Wall.

The best we can hope for is a pretty compromised effort from Justin. When the going gets tough on doing the right thing he folds pretty quickly. The last thing Canadians need is Wall to sabotage even that.

Has Your Internet Privacy Been Breached? Find Out Here, Fast and Free.

There it was. I had been a victim of two internet breaches, sites that had been hacked and user data stolen. Data that has been compromised - passwords, email addresses, user names. The hacked sites that spilled my data - Adobe and Forbes.

Have you been pwned?   Follow the link, enter your email address and brace yourself.

Adios, Heinz. Don't Let the Door Hit You... Well, You Know

Ode to a company town. Leamington, Ontario. Former home of Heinz Canada until HJH began shutting down its Canadian operations. Finally it closed down completely, letting the remaining 740 employees go.

French's knew a good thing. They got into the tomato ketchup business. They're using all those tomatoes grown in the Leamington area. Best of all it's free of preservatives, free of artificial flavours and free of high fructose corn syrup.

It's ketchup - for Canadians.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I've not been reluctant to criticize the Trudeau government for its shortcomings, a few of which have been really troubling. That said, they have done some good things in some cases long overdue. Here's another one for the Trudeau plus column, the pardon of Everett Klippert, a Calgary man who was handed a life sentence for the crime of being gay.

Hoping to right a wrong from another era, the federal government will recommend a posthumous pardon to a Calgary man who was the only Canadian to be declared a dangerous sexual offender simply because he was gay.

“Everett Klippert’s case was instrumental in the government’s decision to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults,” said the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement.

The government will also review hundreds of cases of gay men convicted of acts such as “buggery” and other offences prior to the legalization of male homosexual acts in 1969. Lesbian acts were never illegal in Canada.

Klippert's first run-in with the law happened in 1960 when he drew a 3 year prison term for 18 acts of consensual, gay sex. After getting out he headed to a small town in the north. There he was arrested by the RCMP on four further counts of gross indecency and drew another three year sentence. Not content, the Crown pursued and won a dangerous offender designation that effectively handed Klippert a life sentence.

Two years later the Supreme Court of Canada tossed out the dangerous offender finding. The controversy moved the then prime minister, that Trudeau, to decriminalize homosexual acts between consenting adults. That was when PET proclaimed, "there's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."

In typical redneck fashion, Calgary's then top cop, Ken McKiver, bellowed, "Now that homosexuality is legal everyone in Canada is going to become gay or lesbian."

Of course this is another nice gesture by Trudeau, an easy and now safe way to score points. That said it's a welcome gesture.

Adolf Had Friends Too

Just Another Populist - Then

No, I'm not comparing Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler. Not full-blown Adolf Hitler anyway. Early-onset Adolf, pre-Mein Kampf Adolf, well possibly.
Hitler had buddies. Guys like Mussolini, Franco and, for a while, even Uncle Joe. Across Europe and even in the United States there were organizations that openly advocated for der Fuhrer.

Authoritarians like authoritarians. They admire each other, giggle at how much each other gets away with. It's one of the best ways to spot an authoritarian with real growth potential - other authoritarians who endorse that person.

It's all in the news today that New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has endorsed Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination. That's not to say that Christie has despotic tendencies. He's probably more of an opportunistic bozo who now is left with nothing much to do but kick at the embers of his once grand political aspirations.

That said, Trump has other admirers who should give Americans real pause. One of them is former Ku Klux Klan chief, David Duke, who came out with zingers such as "He's made it OK to talk about these incredible concerns of European Americans today," and, "Voting against Donald Trump at this point is really treason to your heritage."

Then there's French right wingnut, Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Donald Trump received a vote of confidence on Saturday from Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former leader of France’s Front National who in the past has said the Nazi occupation was not “particularly inhumane” and suggested Ebola could solve Europe’s “immigration problem”.

“If I were American, I would vote Donald Trump,”Le Pen tweeted on Saturday about the Republican frontrunner for president. “But may God protect him!”

And, of course, Trump's endorsement of Vlad Putin shows that, when it comes to fellow authoritarians, the Donald understands the importance of the occasional reach-around.

Update: Two former presidents of Mexico have voiced their own comparisons between Hitler and Trump only they're not talking early-onset Adolf.

What's that Racing Our Way? Oh, It's the Ground.

This isn't really funny, but it is sort of:

It's funny because it's a joke. How funny would it be if it wasn't a joke? I'm guessing not so much.

I posted this clip because, to me, it's a metaphor for what's going on at the highest levels of our political caste. We're along for the ride, pretty much helpless in the passenger seat, and they're passed out at the stick. This kid was only faking unconsciousness. Our leaders aren't faking.

Go back and watch the clip again only this time imagine the young pilot isn't faking. He really is passed out and there's not one damn thing you can do about it.

Have a nice day.

Exxon Mobile to Shareholders: "Stick Your Head Between Your Legs and..."

"And Kiss Your Ass Goodbye."

According to, Exxon Mobile is pushing back against shareholder demands for action on climate change.

The planet’s largest publicly traded oil and gas companychallenged a resolution about climate change regulations from its own shareholders on Friday, arguing that it’s a practical improbability that the emissions-restricting goals set forth by the recent climate accord in Paris will actually be achieved. Therefore, Exxon Mobil says, it shouldn’t have to address the impact that the regulations would have on its business.

“It’s a little bit like a toddler putting their fingers in their ears and saying, ‘If I can’t hear you then what you’re saying isn’t true,'” Shanna Cleveland, manager of the Carbon Asset Risk Initiative, told InsideClimate.

The resolution, originally brought by the New York State Comptroller and four other Exxon Mobil shareholders earlier this week, had asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to force the company to address how its business would be impacted by climate mitigation efforts. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, whose office manages a state pension fund that has a large stake in the oil and gas giant, told Reuters that investors “need to know how Exxon Mobil’s bottom line will be impacted by the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and what the company plans to do about it.”

Reading this I couldn't help thinking about the warning given at Paris by world leading climate scientists, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of Germany's Potsdam Institute. He said mankind's only hope of avoiding runaway global warming is the "induced implosion" of the fossil fuel industry. Coal, oil, gas - the industry has to be put down by the governments of the world. They've got several ways to do it and they'll probably have to resort to most of them. The point is, we have to understand - all of us have to understand - that these companies would see the world rendered uninhabitable for our grandchildren before they'll consider doing anything to prevent it. We're in a struggle that pits humanity against the energy giants and it's a struggle for our survival.

C'Mon, Justin. I Dare Ya.

You say you're a good guy. That's all we've heard since you toppled Sideshow Steve. You did a few good, albeit really easy, things. You took the gags off government scientists. The long form census is back. Funding is to be restored for the CBC. One by one, you're scrubbing away the greasy stains of our decade of despair under Harper.

There's an obvious Harper stain you've said you'll erase, one that you can effect effortlessly at any time. You can sign Canada on to the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, the ATT. All of our European buddies, the original NATO gang, have signed on. Even the United States is a signatory nation.

Canada is the odd man out. That's sort of like being the sketchy guy who is not allowed within a hundred yards of an elementary school. So, Justin, let's pick up that prime ministerial pen and restore Canada's good name and virtue. Ink the goddamned thing. It won't hurt. What's that, it might?

Oh, I get it. The last thing you want now is more light shining on your support for the delivery of $15 billion worth of Canadian-built war wagons to those apparent war criminals, the Saudis. That's the sort of grease stain you can live with, the sort we'll just have to live with under your reign.

If Your Business is Wholesale Death, Business Has Never Been Better.

IRIN, the news service of the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, reports that arms sales are "astronomical." Some very sketchy folks are shelling out tens of billions of dollars to get the latest killing technology - by the boatload. Among the usual suspects is one near and dear to the heart of Canada's federal government, the House of Saud.

The UN Arms Trade Treaty monitor has a dandy review of how industrial nations are pouring weaponry into Saudi Arabia in apparent contravention of their treaty obligations. In particular they're being faulted for looking the other way as Saudi Arabia uses their high-tech death machines against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen. Oopsie, who was to know?

Canada's significant contribution is noted but Canada, unlike the European Union states and even the USA, has not signed the treaty. Harper, it seems, didn't find the terms to his liking. Junior has pledged to bring Canada aboard the arms trade control deal but - apparently - just not yet, not while we're delivering $15 billion worth of war wagons to the Saudis. The optics would be terrible.

Canada's back? We sure are, honey. Now, you got money, what would you like?

Friday, February 26, 2016

About That Maidan Massacre

It was the turning point in the Ukrainian revolution when government security forces opened fire on helpless, peaceful Ukrainian protesters demanding the ouster of the corrupt, albeit democratically elected, government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

In Canada it led to the government and the opposition parties denouncing Yanukovych and siding with the rebels. Black and white. There were rumours the gunfire didn't start with the government forces, that it was a set-up by the independence movement, but that never got much traction.

Until now that is.

Ivan Bubenchik was calm and collected, his demeanor was open, and he spoke confidently of his actions on February 20, 2014, like he had known exactly what he was doing. After all, he was on the good side of the Euromaidan revolution, which was raging in Ukraine at the time, and which eventually swept a corrupt president out of power.

In telling Bubenchik’s story, we were breaking a taboo — it was the police, the popular narrative goes, that were the murderers. The protesters were heroes. But Bubenchik’s words were chilling. “To create a word of mouth effect, you have to shoot two or three [police] commanders,” he said to the camera. “I only picked two.

Bubenchik said he was trying to scare the police away — they had started to dominate the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev’s central Independence Square, where the anti-government protesters had been camped for months. His tactic worked perfectly. His first sniper shot killed an officer, his second wounded another. The rest of the riot police scattered and ran up the hill away from the square.

...Later on that same day, four police officers died from gunshot wounds. But the death toll among the protesters was much higher — a total of 48 were brutally murdered. This was the single highest daily death toll not just during the revolution, but since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.

Two years later, there are 22 policemen being tried for these crimes. Five are currently in detention, others are still wanted. But Bubenchik, who says he also killed, is free. He had talked openly about his deed before. But the story had never been picked up by the media, and there had never been a full-scale investigation. The State Security Service either did not believe his story, or chose to ignore his confession — in Ukraine, it’s not politically correct to judge the victors.

We don't hear much about the newly independent Ukraine these days. That might have something to do with how the country, despite the protesters aspirations, has succumbed to yet another gang of corrupt oligarchs, the bunch we notionally support. We never, ever mention the role America played in fueling the unrest and exploiting the protesters to get their pro-Russia president out of power. There's a lot in this sordid business that's best left unspoken.

Thanks, China. Any Chance You Could Stop Messing Us Up?

If you're looking for Chinese exports, you won't find all of it lining Wal-Mart shelves. It's even present in our rainwater in the form of potentially dangerous levels of mercury.

Several years after scientists thought they had put the problem to rest, they have once again discovered increasing concentrations of mercury, this time in rainwater. “It’s a surprising result,” says David Gay from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, who is a co-author on the new study. “Everybody expected [mercury levels] to continue going down. But our analysis shows that may not necessarily be the case.”

The results, recently published in Science of the Total Environment, is surprising because long-term trends had shown a decrease in mercury emissions whereas data collected between 2007 and 2013 indicate an unsettling upturn from the Rocky Mountains to the Midwest. The trend, however, is not due to regional activity. The authors speculate that because the U.S. has controlled its emissions since the 1970s, the toxic element was initially released via coal-burning power plants in Asia, drifted through the upper atmosphere for months, hit turbulence over the Rocky Mountains and was then pulled from the air in the form of rain.

“As a general rule, we are very concerned about mercury because it can be present at very dilute levels in the environment, parts per trillion, but in the food chain—in a food that we eat and that other animals eat—it can reach levels that are toxic,” says Peter Weiss-Penzias from the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the study. Mercury magnifies as it travels up the food chain from minnows to fish to large mammals, including human beings. Pregnant women, for example, are often discouraged from eating fish because the element poses extreme risks to the developing fetus, particularly the central nervous system and brain.

It is possible that the calculated rise of 2 percent per year will result in a large accumulation in the ecosystem over the coming years, Weiss-Penzias says. “And once an ecosystem is contaminated with mercury, it can take decades for it to become uncontaminated.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

With Alberta Reeling, No One in Power Wants to Hear This

We know that the survival of life on Earth depends on mankind's ability to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. We know that there's an urgent need for dramatic cutbacks. There's a 'collective wisdom' thing associated with this crisis.

We've been working from a 'carbon budget.' This is a calculation of how much greenhouse gas is already in the atmosphere and how much additional greenhouse gas we can emit if we're to stay within the supposed 2 degree Celsius warming target.

Right now there's nothing we can do about existing emissions and so the focus is on curbing new emissions. And that's where we've hit a major snag.

Joeri Rogelj, research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, and European and Canadian colleagues propose in Nature Climate Change that all previous estimates of the quantities of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere before the thermometer rises to potentially catastrophic levels are too generous.

Instead of a range of permissible emissions estimates that ranged up to 2,390 bn tons from 2015 onwards, the very most humans could release would be 1,240 bn tons.

So, we had our new emissions pegged at 2,400 billion tons of greenhouse gas but the new research shows we have to cut that allowance by half, down to just over 1,200 billion tons.

In effect, that halves the levels of diesel and petrol available for petrol tanks, coal for power stations, and natural gas for central heating and cooking available to humankind before the global average temperature – already 1C higher than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution – reaches the notional 2C mark long agreed internationally as being the point of no return for the planet.

To meet the old safety target we calculated that some 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves would have to be left in the ground, unburned. The remaining 2400 billion tons of emissions, our future quota, represented that 20% of proven fossil fuel reserves we could use to get us through the transition to alternative, clean energy.

If we're down to just 1,200 billion tons of future emissions that means we can only use 10% of proven fossil fuel reserves, not 20%. In other words, 90% of proven fossil fuel reserves must be abandoned, left in the ground. That multiplies the importance of shutting down the extraction of the highest cost and highest carbon fossil fuels and, yes, that means bitumen.

Here's the thing. These latest numbers are still based on that outdated 2C target for limiting warming. That's a political number that has lost its scientific validity. We now know that to avoid triggering natural feedback loops, runaway global warming, 1.5C is the limit and even that only gives us a reasonable chance.

And so it's crunch time. Brad Wall and even Rachel Notley are going to have to stand down. Justin is going to have to stand up and he'd better be wearing the long pants for this one. He's going to have to shut down the Tar Sands or wear the consequences for all of his cowardice.

Oh, Oh, Oh - Oh Dear.

Just stumbled across this quiz. Here are 10 quotes. Which of these statements were made by Hillary Clinton and which came from Donald Trump?

1. “Now that we’ve said these people are no longer deadbeats—they’re actually out there being productive—how do we keep them there?”

2. “I’ve advocated tying the welfare payment to certain behavior about being a good parent. You couldn’t get your welfare check if your child wasn’t immunized. You couldn’t get your welfare check if you didn’t participate in a parenting program. You couldn’t get your check if you didn’t show up for student-teacher conferences.”

3. “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran… In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

4. “Every nation has to either be with us, or against us. Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price.”

5. “We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.”

6. “I’m supporting an effort to increase the end strength of the Army, increase the size of the military… It is expensive, but I don’t think we have any alternatives.”

7. “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants… People have to stop employing illegal immigrants.”

8. “Our people are our greatest asset. We must take care of our own. We must have universal healthcare.”

9. “Health emergencies can’t wait for us to have some theoretical debate about some better idea that will never, ever come to pass.”

10. “We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders.”

"Idiocracy" It Began as Satire, Now It's a Documentary

Idiocracy has been a long-cherished sci-fi satire in cult circles, telling the tale of two people who wake up from a cryogenic sleep to find that the country has become a wasteland of anti-intellectualism.

Now, ten years later, the co-writer of the cult comedy classic, Etan Cohen, thinks that the movie is satire no longer, marveling that his movie has gone from fiction to non-fiction. On Twitter today, Cohen used his movie to perfectly sum up our current political climate.

Speaking with The Hill, he quipped that “I thought the worst thing that would come was everyone wearing Crocs.” Cohen’s jokes come from a place of disenchanted exhaustion. Many voters are sharing in this exhaustion during an election season where a reality show host who gloated recently “I love the poorly educated!” is a frontrunner for President of the United States of America.

“People will email and post stuff on my Twitter that’s like, ‘Hey, you predicted it right!’ So that’s always nice. But it’s not always nice because you want the world to become a better place,” Mike Judge, the other co-writer and director of the film, told The Verge in 2014. “Yep, we’re doomed. Might as well make jokes about it.”


Here's an interesting review of Idiocracy and it's reawakened relevance from The Daily Beast.

If you don’t know Idiocracy, well, there’s a good reason for that. Judge’s dystopian satire was nearly snuffed in the cradle by its own studio, 20th Century Fox. It was never screened for critics; its release was postponed; and it received virtually zero publicity. “Why did Fox,” wondered Dan Mitchell of The New York Times, “after sitting on the movie for two years before releasing it Sept. 1, decide not to market the film, opting instead to open it quietly in only 130 theaters and then quickly send it to video? Judging by the online reaction, there are at least two possible reasons.”

Both of those reasons bolster the film’s own argument. The first is that it was a little too painfully accurate in its depiction of a future destroyed by the fecundity of the profoundly dumb. The other is that it blisteringly lampoons the marketing strategies of businesses with ties to the all-powerful News Corp. In Idiocracy’s 2505, Fuddrucker’s is memorably called ButtFuckers, Starbuck’s has become a handjob parlor, practically everything is sponsored by Carl’s Jr. (its slogan: “Fuck you! I’m eating!”), and both water fountains and center-pivot crop irrigation systems pump out a green, electrolyte-enhanced sports drink called Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator.

...The film opens with an explanation of mankind’s downfall: high-IQ people postpone reproduction too long, while idiots—like a trailer park denizen named Clevon, who spreads his genetic material as widely as Genghis Khan—breed like Tribbles. Five hundred years of this have brought us a future in which trash mounts sky high, health care is administered like burgers at a fast-food chain, and intelligence has all but vanished from the species.

...Where Idiocracy laughs at our culture, though, it dares to ask: Are we stupid because business and marketing made us that way? Or did business and marketing take advantage of a trend that was set in motion by other circumstances? When we stroll with the film’s heroes through a Costco the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer, its interior like the cargo deck of a modern container ship, we are forced to wonder whether our own hunger for cheap and abundant crap—“goods” is a misnomer—made this abomination possible.

In the person of President Camacho we find a pointed criticism not only of personality cult but also, per an offhand remark, the kind of nepotism that thrives in corrupt societies. The sloth-like Secretary of Education is, we discover, “kind of stupid, but he’s President Camacho’s stepbrother.”

He's Back. Heeere's Tony..!

Tony Blair has advice for the next American president - be prepared to bomb jihadis wherever they pop up around the world. Seriously, George w. Bush's in-house butt sniffer, co-author of the Iraq fiasco that launched the West into PermaWar in the Middle East and South Asia, war without end, says it's time to double down.

"You're going to have a new president coming to the US, new leadership," Blair said. "How do we give those who are in office a practical policy handbook, guidebook, for how to deal with this? Because I know, if I was in office today, that's what I'd want."

"There are places in North Africa, there are places in Central Asia, places in the far East that suddenly get a surge of jihadist problems," Blair said. "There isn't a huge amount of analysis on what is the right way to put together a force capability that can move quickly to snuff out this jihadist threat wherever it might originate."

Blair sees kinetic military action as a legitimate approach to CVE, but he doesn't think the world should wait for those with radical ideologies to engage in physical violence before intervening.

Let's Hope the Fish Died Happy

Tourists visiting Seattle usually head to the Pike Place market to catch the fishmongers putting on a show of salmon tossing.

It's all a bit of harmless fun but the fish themselves may not be. Tests have found that Seattle-area salmon are real druggies.

The everyday chemicals that humans ingest to relieve pain, fight depression and diabetes, or treat infection are winding up in the tissue of fish in Washington's Puget Sound.

A study in the journal Environmental Pollution detected unusually high levels of drugs like Advil, Benadryl, Prozac, and even birth control pills, in the tissue of salmon.

The culprit, according to the study, is human waste.

"About 45 of the 150 chemicals we examined were found in the fish," said James Meador, the lead author of the study and an aquatic toxicologist working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "Some of them were at high concentrations. That's the kind of information that raises eyebrows.

"Over 4,000 pharmaceuticals are currently in use or in development in the United States. Many of them are finding their way into rivers, streams, and lakes, raising concerns about how exposure could impact wildlife, or even humans who consume fish."

There are new technologies that can strip this sort of chemical contamination in the process of treating waste water but they're expensive.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

That Same Old Song

I haven't been posting much lately. I'm still scouring the same diverse sources for information every day - mainly international news services, progressive web sites, tech and science agencies and think tanks. There's a massive amount of information to be had, a lot of it devoid of political content or slant.

I've also been exploring the scourge of neoliberalism, free market fundamentalism, globalism/globalization and free trade. Oh boy did we ever miss the ball on that stuff and, barring some radical change soon, we'll be paying for our gullibility for decades to come. It's not until you discover the shackles on your ankles that you even notice the guy holding the key.

Going "to hell in a handbasket." If there was ever a phrase to stand the test of time, that's it. Our world appears to be coming apart at the seams - politically, globally, socially, economically and, of course, environmentally. It reminds me of onion skin paper, the really thin stuff. Every week there's another layer of onion skin added to the pile. Hardly enough to notice but only for a while. Like anything else, it adds up.

Boy, are we screw-ups. Look at Afghanistan. Sure it's beset by the Taliban and, more recently, ISIS fighters but they're not the immediate threat to that country. What may take Afghanistan down is the government that we bequeathed the Afghans when we drove the Talibs and al Qaeda into the hills of Tora Bora.

I can recall the accounts of the brave US Senate staffer who testified that there's never been a successful Muslim country that didn't first overcome the dual challenges of tribalism and warlordism. So what did we do with that sage advice? As soon as the warlords raised a stink we folded and allowed them into government. And we threw ourselves into raising a functioning Afghan National Army as though any army can remain viable without a functioning government.

Oh well, we've swept Afghanistan under the carpet and now we're going to fix Iraq and Syria - as if. Ordinarily a nation and its people go through some process of catharsis when they lose a war. That's a healthy thing. We don't do that any more. We just migrate to the next fiasco. I find that more than strange.

Neoliberalism. Boy, did we ever get hoodwinked. Seriously, we've been had going back to the days of Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney who sold us on the promise of free market fundamentalism, a power sharing construct between commerce and government.

We were sold a bill of goods. They told us what they expected to happen. That didn't happen. They never had any honest belief that it would. Instead of that they had faith and, on their empty faith, they sold us an ideology, a religion with promises of a future to rival the afterlife that serves as the hook for other religions.

If you don't believe we've been had, read John Ralston Saul's 2005 book, "The Collapse of Globalism." A decade ago Ralston Saul proclaimed globalism a dead, failed religion and today he says we're floundering, waiting for the next great thing. In chapter 5, "A Short History of Economics Becoming Religion" he writes:

There was little hint until the mid-nineteenth century that economics might be transformed into the source of civilizational truth. Only when God was said to have died did various leaders, professions and sectors risk pushing themselves forward as successors.

And they did and they have and it worked. I don't consider myself a stupid man, easily tricked, and yet I fell for it. Accepting the truth of globalism/neoliberalism/free market fundamentalism was almost as effortless as the consensus of public opinion was powerful. The Masters of the Universe had unlocked all the secrets and we could leave all to them while we focused on our own lives and careers. We were had.

James K. Galbraith eviscerates globalism in "The Predator State, How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too." The Conservatives who launched free market fundamentalism ran their experiment for more than two decades only to discover it consistently failed to produce the promised outcomes.

The silver lining to the failed religion of globalism was that, while it might be enormously destructive to society as a whole, particularly the blue and white collar working classes, it was immensely advantageous to a very small segment of society who happened to carry enormous clout with those holding the levers of power. What ensued was the "political capture" of government, especially the Congress of the United States of America, who effected the transformation of the Republic into Galbraith's "Predator State."

Legislation floated on the promise of a "trickle down" effect masked what was actually a trickle up effect which, through a network of trade and tax provisions, facilitated the impoverishment of the many to the narrow but massive enrichment of the select few, the group Galbraith came to define as the "Looter Class."

Despite all its failed promises, the Church of the Free Market remains almost as powerful as ever. The public can be conditioned to accept almost anything these days and their elected representatives are, quite inexcusably, hardly any better. Time and again we've sat by as our legislators yielded vital aspects of national sovereignty on nothing more than the sculpted lie that it's always in our best interests.   Success (for some) builds upon success and now it's the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That's the shackle being clamped around your ankles. Look around you and see who's holding the key.

It's No Use Getting it Right Fifteen Years After You Got It Wrong.

Retired Canadian general, David Fraser, has written a mea culpa op-ed on Canada's war in Afghanistan that could have been - no, should have been - entitled "We Fucked Up."

The West made a mistake deposing the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11 and should have simply trained its guns on al-Qaeda, says the Canadian commander who led NATO into southern Afghanistan a decade ago.

Retired major-general Dave Fraser commanded both the Canadian task force and the military alliance’s expanded mission to extend the authority of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai beyond the capital of Kabul in 2006.

At the time, it was just over 4 1/2 years into the Afghan war and three years into the larger, bloodier struggle in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

“We thought, naively, that regime change was the solution to the problem,” Fraser told The Canadian Press in an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of the Canadian combat deployment into Kandahar.

No one, back then, seemed to appreciate how profound the power vacuum was and that the West had “created for ourselves a 30- or 40-year problem” in not only Afghanistan, he said, but throughout the Middle East.

The Globe, as usual, takes more than a few liberties with history and facts. To say that no one appreciated "how profound the power vacuum was" is an outright lie. You would have to be mentally defective not to grasp that a country that went through a bloody civil war, followed by the bloody Soviet occupation, followed by a post-Soviet bloody civil war that was still ongoing when we first showed up was one giant,  power vacuum shit sandwich and going in meant we were there to take a big bite.

Anyone who paid the slightest attention to the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan and the 25-year history that led up to that mess had no illusions about how profound the power vacuum was. The often violent ethnic rivalries of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Turkmen, Baloch and others had rent the country like a gang fight among feral cats. Add to that a thick layer of brutal warlordism and a criminal class just waiting to stage a comeback when we sent the Talibs packing and the warning signs were as obvious as flares dangling in the night sky.

I cannot forget the stupid smirk on the face of general Rick "the Big Cod" Hillier when he emerged from a meeting with then prime minister Paul Martin having convinced the government to approve the Kandahar combat gig. Hillier reared up on his hind legs to announce to the assembly of gullible reporters that Canada was going to Kandahar to "kill scumbags" who he numbered in "a few dozen." When I watched that video my heart sank.

Hillier's naivete was confirmed when he put together a minuscule garrison force of just 2,500 personnel to tame Kandahar province, the heartland of the Taliban. 2,500 personnel out of which he could muster on any given day about a thousand combat soldiers for a major push effort. Counterinsurgency doctrine called for a combat force of 15-20,000 for a territory with the size and population of Kandahar. Even then, as Hillier's "few dozen" Taliban morphed into a few thousand, we never reinforced our numbers. They stayed static which consigned us to being a garrison force that would sally out in daylight as bait for insurgent IEDs.

General Fraser commanded Canadian and coalition forces in Operation Medusa in 2006, which should be called the Second Battle of Panjwaii. We cleared the Taliban out of the area the first time but, insurgents being insurgents, when we headed back to the garrison they came back.  So we got an even bigger bunch together and went out to put paid to the Talibs for all time. And so, we claimed, we did. Only not really.

I suppose we should be grateful for Dave Fraser's belated candour but there are too many questions that are going unasked and unanswered. Somebody needs to account for the staggering failures of leadership at the top military and political levels. Why did they not see what was facing them or, more accurately, the combat soldiers we were sending in harm's way? Why did they have it so wrong at the outset? Why did they stand mute when it did become obvious that this was a boneheaded fiasco? 

Are today's generals one bit better than Hillier and Fraser? Have we become so addicted to outsourcing our foreign and defence policy to Washington that we've brought upon ourselves institutional mediocrity? Is this why we're reduced to endless "whack a mole" campaigns that achieve nothing?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Diversity Versus Conformity

Two pianos. One is modified so that every key plays just one note, middle C. Beethoven's Midnight Sonata.

Without diversity there is no music. There is no beauty. Resist the forces of conformity.

Parting Company with Decency and Human Rights for Political Expedience

The CBC's Neil Macdonald writes of the contortions the Liberals are going through to be seen as not agreeing with the Tories even as they support the Tory condemnation of the BDS movement.

BDS is the "boycott, divest and sanction" movement that opposes Israel's subjugation of the Palestinian people. Leading BDS are the United Church of Canada and the Quakers.

When it comes to Israel the Liberals wouldn't say "shit" if they had a mouthful - and they do. Stephane Dion,  master of weasel words after his performance supporting the sale of $15-billion worth of war wagons to the Middle East's real supporter of terrorism, Saudi Arabia, casts the BDS leaders as well-intentioned buffoons.

So, the Trudeau government intends to join with the Conservatives next week and condemn the United Church of Canada and the Quakers, along with every other organization and individual participating to any degree in a boycott of Israeli goods and services.

Blanket government condemnation is not a very sunny thing to do, and the Liberals, quivering with outrage, are making it clear they really don't want to do it.

But they are going ahead because, apparently, they're being bullied, the poor daisies.

It's just not fair, the things you can be forced to do when you have a parliamentary majority.

There is no doubt, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion declared in the House of Commons Thursday, that most of the organizations and individuals supporting the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement are doing so in good faith, believing it will somehow force an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its control over Gaza, and maybe some sort of peace deal.

...In speeches supporting their motion, one Conservative MP after another conflated BDS with "the new anti-Semitism," "attacks on national origin," growing hatred of Jews everywhere, desecration of Jewish cemeteries, intimidation of Jewish university students, hatred of peace, and just plain old hatred.

Dion, trying hard to walk in Liberal sunshine, protested that no, some BDS supporters are respectable people, some in fact are Jewish themselves, and should not be ostracized. We must all speak to one another respectfully, he protested.

It's spineless, pandering crap like this that reminds me how great it can feel to have ditched the Liberal Party of Canada.

Next Time Someone Tells You Global Warming is a Hoax

You might want to send them over to NASA so they can have a look at what's really going on.

The chart above shows temperature anomalies for the month of January. This compares current monthly temperatures to the average for that month from 1951 to 1980. What it shows is that across most of the Arctic and parts of Canada and Russia, temperatures were 4 degrees Celsius above the historic average.

New data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that January of 2016 was, for the globe, a truly extraordinary month. Coming off the hottest year ever recorded (2015), January saw the greatest departure from average of any month on record, according to data provided by NASA.

But as you can see in the NASA figure above, the record breaking heat wasn’t uniformly distributed — it was particularly pronounced at the top of the world, showing temperature anomalies above 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1951 to 1980 average in this region.

Can you say "tipping points"? all fits a by-now familiar picture of an Arctic warming up considerably faster than the mid-latitudes, with consequences that could extend far outside of the polar region, says Rafe Pomerance, a former deputy assistant secretary of state who sits on the National Academy of Sciences’ Polar Research Board.

Impacts of Arctic warming are usually considered in isolation, and that’s a mistake, he says. “It’s unraveling, every piece of it is unraveling, they’re all in lockstep together,” Pomerance says. “What tends to happen is, everybody nationally reports on the latest piece of news, which is about one system. You hear about the sea ice absent the temperature trend. So you really have to think of it as a whole.”

Indeed, impacts of Arctic warming include the melting of major Arctic glaciers and Greenland (containing the potential for up to 7 meters of sea level rise if it were to melt entirely), the thawing of carbon rich permafrost (which could add to the burden of atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions) and signs of worsening wildfires across the boreal forests of Alaska, to name a few.

Is Enbridge Preparing to Cut and Run from Athabasca?

When it comes to the Athabasca Tar Sands, dilbit and Enbridge have always seemed inseparable. The biggest pipeline company had bold plans to transport diluted bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, B.C. and, from there, onward to Asia. The initiative even had a bold name, the Northern Gateway.

That was then, this is now. The company now seems to have delivered a resounding vote of no-confidence in the Tar Sands with an announcement that it wants to rebalance its business to be less dependent on the Tar Sands after 2019.

“The reality is the FIDs (final investment decisions) on new incremental (oilsands) projects are obviously going to be tougher in this environment,” said Al Monaco, Enbridge’s president and chief executive officer.

Monaco made the comments after the Calgary-based company ended the year with stronger profits than it was expecting. Enbridge said it believes it has enough projects to carry it through the next three or four years, but noted that most of its earnings depend on its liquid pipelines.

Monaco said some large oil companies might still invest in new oilsands projects in the coming years. But Enbridge believes that many producers are turning toward more flexible and less expensive projects.

Monaco also said that he believed it would be an excellent time for investing in wind and solar projects in Alberta, particularly after the provincial government announced a new climate change plan that proposes an economy-wide tax on carbon pollution, while encouraging more renewable forms of energy.

Mr. Monaco suggested Enbridge is still pursuing First Nations' support for the Northern Gateway project even though most observers think that is dead in the water.

Irreconcilable Differences?

What to do, what to do?

Our formal ally is a total dick and it's about to go medieval on the bunch we really like, our informal ally. The dick is Turkey. The guys we like are the Kurds of Syria and Iraq.

Turkey's president, Recep Erdogan, is mightily pissed that the Syrian Kurds are positively sweeping through the north of that war-besotted land, bringing them closer by the day to control of Syrian territory at Turkey's borders.

Erdogan has a problem, several of them, most anchored in Turkish suppression of its own Kurdish minority that is now threatening to embroil Turkey in a full-blown civil war. Turkey claims its Kurds are aided and abetted by the Kurds of Syria and Iraq both of which Turkish jets have been bombing.

Turkey's NATO allies have been asking Erdogan to back off but he seems to be intent on doubling down and launching a ground war into northern Syria.

The main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), was set up as a franchise of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting the Turkish state on and off since 1984, first for independence and now for Kurdish self-rule inside Turkey. Salih Muslim, the co-chair of the Democratic Union Party, which serves as the political wing of the YPG, swiftly denied any connection to the Ankara blast. The YPG has never attacked Turkey before and would surely desist from any actions that put its alliance with the United States at risk.

...Turkey is adamant that the PKK and the YPG are “terrorists.” Washington half agrees. The PKK is on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. But the YPG is not, a fact that has paved the way for its deepening partnership in Syria, as Washington has provided the group with air support and weapons.

It remains unclear what sort of retaliatory action Turkey will take. What is certain is that Washington’s delicate balancing act between its Turkish and Kurdish allies is looking more precarious than ever.

Since Feb. 13, Turkish tanks have been shelling SDF positions near the Syrian town of Azaz, which is a vital resupply line for rebel forces in Aleppo who are allied with Ankara and doubles as a rear base against the Kurds. Turkey has vowed to prevent it from falling into their hands. Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan made Turkey’s intentions clear, saying that it wants to create a “secure” strip of territory roughly 6 miles deep on the Syrian side of the border, including Azaz. Thousands of Turkish troops have been massing in the area for weeks, prompting Russia to warnthat Turkey was planning an invasion of Syria.

...These steps have placed Turkey on the brink of a conflict with its regional antagonists. The Kurds say they will fight back against any Turkish aggression. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose own forces are inching their way toward Turkey’s border, says he will do the same. And few doubt that Russia, which is itching to avenge last year’s downing by Turkish pilots of its Sukhoi SU-24 jet, would deliver the biggest whacking of all.

Meanwhile, the SDF is skirting Azaz, punching a corridor further south — well out of Turkey’s range — and recruiting rebel groups along the way. Turkey’s demands that Washington stop aiding Kurdish “terrorists” has so far fallen on deaf ears. Rather, Washington has been calling on Turkey to stop attacking the Syrian Kurds.

Ankara may seem powerless in Syria, but it still has cards to play. It can, and already has begun to, reinforce its rebel proxies against the Kurds. More ominously, it could yet again ease restrictions on the flow of foreign jihadis into Syria.

...Syria’s Kurds have continued to thrive. Today they enjoy the rare distinction of being the sole group that simultaneously enjoys U.S. and Russian support. The YPG’s links with Washington were initially forged when U.S. planes intervened to rescue the Kurdish town of Kobani from the Islamic State in 2014. Since last year, the Kurds have teamed up with a gaggle of opposition Arab, Turkmen, and non-Muslim brigades to form the SDF, mostly as a kind of fig leaf that allows Washington to justify its support for them.

The payoff for both sides has been huge. The SDF has driven the Islamic State out of a broad stretch of territory along the Turkish border, while helping to pressure the jihadis in their self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa. The Kurds boast they now control an area “three times the size of Lebanon.”

...Turkey wanted to organize a non-Kurdish rebel force to uproot the Islamic State from that area west of the Euphrates. But the force never materialized — and Russia’s intervention on behalf of Assad’s crumbling army has also bolstered the Kurds. Helping the SDF boot out anti-Assad rebels from the areas they covet has the added benefit, for Moscow, of poking Turkey in the eye.

But Syria’s Kurds want more. They are angling for diplomatic recognition. Russia has stepped up to the plate, hinting that it will back the Kurds’ plans for autonomy. It also insists that the Kurds must take part in the now-stalled Geneva talks. The United States also backed the Kurds’ participation in peace talks, but backed off when Ankara threatened to stay away from the talks if the Kurds were allowed to join.

The Kurds are skillfully playing the Russians and Americans off of each other to extract as much influence as possible. Kurdish threats to defect squarely to the Russian camp propelled Brett McGurk, President Barack Obama’s special envoy for the anti-Islamic State coalition, to speed up a long-mulled visit to Kobani. On Feb. 1, a beaming McGurk was photographed receiving a plaque from a YPG commander who used to be, as Turkey shrieked, a member of the PKK. Washington appears to be quietly encouraging the Kurds to grab more territory, even at the expense of moderate rebels it has aided and trained, to ensure that Assad’s Russian-backed forces don’t get there first.

All of this is adding to Turkish fury, and Turkey’s Kurds say they are paying the price. The pain that Turkey would like to inflict on their Syrian brethren, their argument runs, is being meted out on them instead.

The longer the conflict continues, the more alienated — and radicalized — Turkey’s Kurds will become. For many, the borders separating them from their Syrian cousins have ceased to exist. Kurdish youths who honed their urban warfare skills against the Islamic State in Syria are now using them against security forces in Turkey. Others continue to take up arms with the YPG in Kobani. Meanwhile, Turkish nationalist sentiment has been further inflamed by the Ankara bombing. Erdogan’s polarizing politics have already divided the country. The specter of intercommunal violence looms.

The challenge now seems to be for Washington to bash Turkish and Kurdish heads together until they reach some accommodation but it's clear that American clout in that region is faltering. 

All the more reason for Canada to sit this one out. Even more reason for NATO to tell Erdogan that it won't get involved if a Turkish invasion of Syria leads to a military conflict with Russia.