Friday, June 24, 2016

Scotland Reacts

Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has announced there'll be a second independence referendum in the wake of yesterday's Brexit vote.

Deep Breaths. The World Didn't End - Not Yet.

If there was ever a time to revive the iconic 1939 poster it might be now. Then, Britain faced Hitler, the Nazi horde and six sometimes terrifying years of world war. Now, Britain faces Brexit. That should lend a bit of perspective.

The simple fact is that today and for a while to come you'll find a lot more headless chickens running around than chicken heads. The unexpected always triggers panic and hyperbole among those taken by surprise.

As a general rule, the more vested one is in the status quo, the more traumatic the event. Those with least to lose can be less fearful, even welcoming of change. Societies rent by brutal austerity and soaring inequality can become societies primed for change sometimes bordering on upheaval. Out with the old, in with the new. Screw me? No, Screw You!!

Sure it's a spin of the wheel. Sure it's scary. The more cosseted the more fearful and angry. One Liberal pundit declared the Brexit vote a victory for the "economically illiterate, racists, nativists, anti-traders, separatists and isolationists" before proceeding to declare the sky fallen and British virginity deflowered. Oh well. I guess he missed the "Keep Calm" part.

Will the British vote herald the end of the European Union experiment? Possibly but not of itself, not entirely. The EU, as it is currently constituted, is rife with problems that present the precursor(s) of instability. It's like a sporting league that took on too many new franchises. It lost the old "natural" fit of the pre-expansion union. The centre weakened and populist movements, rightwing and left, rose across the union in poor states and strong.

Academics will have years of work ahead analyzing the vote, the fallout and the causes and blunders. All we have today is the usual "oh, crap" moment. This is the moment tradition cedes to Team Vanquished to moan and wail and spread recriminations and fear mongering and, true to form, that's exactly what they've done. It's so predictable.

Look, British army sappers are not deployed in the Chunnel setting demolition charges. I'm almost positive that the trains and the ferries and freighters that ply the cold waters above them are still carrying people and goods between the UK and Europe. Planes continue to fly.

Sure this is an upheaval event of some sort, duration and impact unknown and, for now, unknowable. It's great stuff for those into casting bones and reading entrails. The thing to remember is that Brexit is just part of an increasingly dysfunctional world that is entering upheaval or on the cusp.

Our old and once comfortable modes of organization - political, social, economic, even environmental, the lot - have been in decline for years and are reaching marginal utility.

Over a decade ago, John Ralston Saul quite convincingly proclaimed the collapse of globalism. He wrote that the neoliberal experiment had failed miserably yet we would remain in its hold until our leaders came to their senses and introduced the next great thing. In recent months even the very temple of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, admitted its failure. There are some who argue, plausibly, that the Brexit vote was an angry response to neoliberalism, one that may soon spread.

Is upheaval inevitable? Sure it is. I was reminded of this yesterday when I received the annual "heads up" email from the highly respected, scientific NGO, Global Footprint Network announcing Earth Overshoot Day 2016 will fall on August 8th. That means that humanity's voracious appetite for renewable resources is outpacing the Earth's capacity to replace them faster each year. From August 8 we will be in a state of Overshoot, meaning we will be consuming our planet's dwindling reserves of renewables - air, water, biomass. When I first learned of GFN six or seven years ago, Overshoot Day fell in mid to late October. Now it's the beginning of August. See where it's heading, how fast it's progressing? This is real Thelma and Louise stuff.

The 80s are over and they're not coming back. We're into a new era that will open with discontent, destabilization and upheaval - that we will ride out in some form if we're very lucky. This new reality isn't just a matter of politics and economics. It's also a function of physics, biology, botany, and climatology. Of course it's going to be different. How could it be remotely the same?

P.S. I'm taking a break for a while to do a couple of online courses and catch up on a mountain of overdue reading. I may stop by, from time to time, but it will be infrequent at best. Have a good summer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Who Is Guaranteed to Win the American Elections This November?

As Chris Hedges sees it, this election is in the bag. There's only one possible outcome. Corporatism wins, again, hands down.

During the presidential election cycle, liberals display their gutlessness. Liberal organizations, such as, become cloyingly subservient to the Democratic Party. Liberal media, epitomized by MSNBC, ruthlessly purge those who challenge the Democratic Party establishment. Liberal pundits, such as Paul Krugman, lambaste critics of the political theater, charging them with enabling the Republican nominee. Liberals chant, in a disregard for the facts, not to be like Ralph Nader, the “spoiler” who gave us George W. Bush.

The liberal class refuses to fight for the values it purports to care about. It is paralyzed and trapped by the induced panic manufactured by the systems of corporate propaganda. The only pressure within the political system comes from corporate power. With no counterweight, with no will on the part of the liberal class to defy the status quo, we slide deeper and deeper into corporate despotism. The repeated argument of the necessity of supporting the “least worse” makes things worse.

Change will not come quickly. It may take a decade or more. And it will never come by capitulating to the Democratic Party establishment. We will accept our place in the political wilderness and build alternative movements and parties to bring down corporate power or continue to watch our democracy atrophy into a police state and our ecosystem unravel.

Electoral Reform and Referenda

Most of us seem to support ending the First Past The Post electoral system. Our multi-party reality means that it is possible for one party to win a hefty majority of seats with what can be little more than the largest minority of votes. Governments elected by two out of five voters effectively rule over the three out of five that did not support them.

With a benevolent, open and democratically-minded government prepared to heed views other than its own the outcome can be, if not ideal, at least workable. Recent experience has shown us that will not always be the case and then the government can become tyrannical. We don't want a repeat of the Harperian era and the best way to achieve that is voting reform.

It would be great if there was one, perfect solution to FPTP. Flip the switch from A to B. Yet there are more than one option and varying permutations of each. The choices present a confusing array of strengths and drawbacks, the perception of which may be further clouded by political persuasion.

Should the choice be based on which party each system allegedly favours? Should the choice rest with a slate of core benefits offered by the competing systems? Should we modify not just our votes but the composition of the legislature itself to accommodate both elected and appointed law makers?

Then there's the debate over whether proposed voting system change should be put to a referendum. Should eligible voters get to choose how they will vote?

The referendum idea sounds great. What would be more democratically empowering than to allow voters to decide how they will vote? Yet it is an idea fraught with drawbacks.

A huge problem is the decision-making process itself. How do people tend to vote on referenda? Presumably the viability of the choice has some bearing on the state of mind of those casting votes. How well informed are they of the issues and the choices? How many options should be on the ballot? Do the voters really understand what they're voting for or what they're effectively rejecting? What other factors are influencing their votes? To what extent can the referendum outcome be skewed by collateral factors? What percentage of the eligible public will even turn out to vote? Should a minimum percentage threshold be required?

There's a major referendum in three days hence. British voters will go to the polls to decide whether their country should remain in the European Union. What is pertinent to our debate is not what is at stake or the possible outcome but how public opinion has shifted in the runup to the vote.  For quite a while the "Stay" camp held a comfortable lead. More recently the "Leave" side pulled ahead by several points. Now, with the balloting just days away, the polls show "Stay" edging out "Leave" by a thin margin.

Is this no-yes-no pattern endemic to referenda? Are voters fickle? Do they go from bold change to play it safe as voting day nears? Is the outcome of any referendum at least partly pre-determined?

British Columbians wrestled with electoral reform in 2005 and again in 2009. In the first referendum, a 57.69% majority voted to change to a Single Transferrable Vote system. Tantalizingly close, but no cigar. It was close enough, however, to lead to another FPTP/STV referendum in 2009. This time the STV camp was hammered, dropping to just 39.09% support. FPTP was upheld by 60%. Turnout was 55%. What a disappointment that was.

Ontario's 2007 voting reform referendum saw FPTP do even better, over 63%. It seems to have been more thoroughly analyzed. The voting public seemed poorly informed and the major newspapers opposed reform which must have had some influence on the outcome. The LeDuc report (post-mortem) went further: 

"The political advantage in referendum campaigns, particularly those dealing with unfamiliar issues, often seems to rest with the NO side. Those opposed to a proposal do not necessarily have to make a coherent case against it. Often, it is enough merely to raise doubts about it in the minds of voters, question the motives of its advocates, or play upon a natural fear of the unknown." 

Does this dynamic explain why Mulroney's referendum on the Charlottetown Accord (deservedly) failed and why the Brexit vote seems just days away from also going down to defeat?

There are a good many of us who argue that something as fundamental as voting reform should be a question for the citizenry to decide. Yet the evidence suggests that a fair referendum with a suitably informed electorate is almost impossible to achieve. It's a stacked deck.

Maybe the only way forward is to have Parliament implement some form of proportional representation or STV. Let the voters have two elections under the reformed system to get familiar with it and then have a referendum on whether to keep it or find something else.

Meanwhile, all eyes on Britain this week.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Oh, I Don't Know, I Suppose They Think Slavery Isn't Good Enough for Them.

Young Americans are giving up on capitalism. That's the angle of an article from Foreign Policy. The report paints a grim but familiar scenario.

Imagine that you’re twenty years old. You were born in 1996. You were five years old on 9/11. For as long as you can remember, the United States has been at war.

When you are twelve, in 2008, the global economy collapses. After years of bluster and bravado from President George W. Bush — who encouraged consumerism as a response to terror — it seems your country was weaker than you thought.

In America, the bottom falls out fast. 

The adults who take care of you struggle to take care of themselves. Perhaps your parent loses a job. Perhaps your family loses its home.

In 2009, politicians claim the recession is over, but your hardship is not. Wages are stagnant or falling. The costs of health care, child care, and tuition continue to rise exponentially. Full-time jobs turn into contract positions while benefits are slashed. Middle-class jobs are replaced with low-paying service work. The expectations of American life your parents had when you were born — that a “long boom” will bring about unparalleled prosperity — crumble away.

Baby boomers tell you there is a way out: a college education has always been the key to a good job. But that doesn’t seem to happen anymore. The college graduates you know are drowning in student debt, working for minimum wage, or toiling in unpaid internships. Prestigious jobs are increasingly clustered in cities where rent has tripled or quadrupled in a decade’s time. You cannot afford to move, and you cannot afford to stay. Outside these cities, newly abandoned malls join long abandoned factories. You inhabit a landscape of ruin. There is nothing left for you.

Every now and then, people revolt. When you are fifteen, Occupy Wall Street captivates the nation’s attention, drawing attention to corporate greed and lost opportunity. Within a year, the movement fades, and its members do things like set up “boutique activist consultancies.” When you are seventeen, the Fight for 15 workers movement manages to make higher minimum wage a mainstream proposition, but the solutions politicians pose are incremental. No one seems to grasp the urgency of the crisis. Even President Barack Obama, a liberal Democrat — the type of politician who’s supposed to understand poverty — declares that the economy has recovered.

America's young, the 18-29 year olds are turning against capitalism, at least the predatory capitalism that is the hallmark of neoliberalism.

According to an April 2016 Harvard University poll, support for capitalism is at a historic low. 51 percent of Americans in this age cohort [18-29] reject it, while 42 percent support it. 33 percent say they support socialism. The Harvard poll echoes a 2012 Pew survey, in which 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds had a positive view of capitalism, and 47 percent a negative one. While older generations had a slightly more positive take on capitalism — topping out at 52 percent for the oldest cohort, citizens over 65 — youth had a markedly different take on socialism. 49 percent viewed it positively, compared to just 13 percent of those 65 or older.

Does this mean that the youth of America are getting ready to hand over private property to the state and round up the kulaks? No. As many of those who reported on the Harvard survey noted, the terms “socialism” and “capitalism” were never defined. After meeting with survey takers, John Della Volpe, the director of the Harvard poll,told the Washington Post that respondents did not reject capitalism inherently as a concept. “The way in which capitalism is practiced today, in the minds of young people — that’s what they’re rejecting,” he said.

American youth seem to be rejecting modern predatory capitalism that preys on their generation. What they seek is some restoration of New Deal democracy, what I like to call progressive democracy. 

Things older generations took for granted — promotions, wages that grow over time, a 40-hour work week, unions, benefits, pensions, mutual loyalty between employers and employees — are increasingly rare.

As a consequence, these basic tenets of American work life, won by labor movements in the early half of the twentieth century, are now deemed “radical.” In this context, Bernie Sanders, whose policies echo those of New Deal Democrats, can be deemed a “socialist” leading a “revolution”. His platform seems revolutionary only because American work life has become so corrupt, and the pursuit of basic stability so insurmountable, that modest ambitions — a salary that covers your bills, the ability to own a home or go to college without enormous debt — are now fantasies or luxuries.You do not need a survey to ascertain the plight of American youth. You can look at their bank accounts, at the jobs they have, at the jobs their parents have lost, at the debt they hold, at the opportunities they covet but are denied. You do not need jargon or ideology to form a case against the status quo. The clearest indictment of the status quo is the status quo itself.

The crushing reality depicted in this article breathes life into Chris Hedges' contention that America is in a simmering, pre-revolutionary state. He argues that it's not a matter of if but when and then how bad will it be. Remember the Arab Spring uprisings were a result of several forces but youth disaffection was one of the most powerful. Sanders and Trump have shown that their country has a broad-based discontent that, when properly led, could be the kernel of open unrest that takes hold and spreads. 

Neoliberal capitalism with its hellspawn of globalism, inequality and oppression never was the "trickle down" cornucopia of prosperity and ease. It was, instead, a "trickle up" phenomenon where wealth was gradually sapped from the working classes, winding up in the laps of the 1%. It only took just 30 years for America to reach the point of economic feudalism.

Update: It's not just Americans who are being battered by today's predatory capitalism. Read this article, "I Go to Bed in Tears," from The Tyee.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Betrayal. The Debasement of the Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau.

You just can't get much lower than to betray Canada's wounded veterans. Yet now we have Justin giving us another unwanted glimpse of his true Harperian nature.

His government is doing something that will rightfully disgust most Canadians. It is going to court to revive the Harperian argument that Canada does not have a social contract or covenant to care for our war wounded.

My father lived with the benefit of that covenant from 1944 until his death seven years ago. He was horribly wounded in WWII while serving as an infantry lieutenant. Canada - at least my Canada as distinguished from this prime minister's - was on his side from the day he left the military hospital right to the day he died when we had to call to say the cleaning lady would no longer be needed.

The only way the relationship between the disabled vet and the nation can work is a covenant. Harper thought he could have somebody do some math and just write a cheque, sending the disabled vet on his way. That's not the way it works.

A veteran usually takes some time to recover, to get back on his feet (if he still has them).  Then he might do pretty well for a while, ten or twenty years. Maybe, maybe not. He may be just fine one day and collapse in a pool of blood at death's doorstep the next. And then as he gets old those wounds return. The normal aging process and decline can  quickly turn tougher, more dangerous.

The VA people used to be proactive. They didn't wait for you to ask. They checked, found out how you were doing and what you needed, figured out what they could do to help. If, as in my dad's case, the veteran winds up caring for his elderly spouse, that can be a real bugger. When that happened the VA people stepped in to shoulder part of the load.

It's the government that makes the call to send these people into harm's way. When they make that decision, knowing that some will die and some will be maimed, the country takes on a solemn responsibility to those soldiers and to their families. These people can be ordered into situations where their death is probable, at times even certain. We don't put civilians in that situation. There's a difference. It's in that fundamental difference that the covenant arises. It is beyond shameful for a government to deny it.

I Know. I'm Sorry. Still, It Has To Be Said.

I'm posting this because it illustrates the predicament we've got ourselves in and what might be entailed to get ourselves out of it. I know you don't want to read this but it's important, vitally important and so I feel obliged to post it anyway. I almost feel like I should be apologizing for this.

The planet is reeling from loss of biodiversity. This is a problem that reaches from lowly microbes to the largest lifeforms on Earth. Species are falling extinct at rates wildly above normal and far beyond sustainable. Surveys of non-human life of all sorts, marine and terrestrial, have found that life on Earth has declined by half since the 1970s. Our stocks of terrestrial life and down by half. Our stocks of marine life are down by half. In case you're wondering, they're still in decline also.

Along comes E.O. Wilson, a world class biologist, who has a way to fix all this. He wants us to set half the world aside for all other forms of life. Humans get half. Nature gets half. That goes for our oceans too.

The reason why half is the answer, according to Wilson, is located deep in the science of ecology.

“The principal cause of extinction is habitat loss. With a decrease of habitat, the sustainable number of species in it drops by (roughly) the fourth root of the habitable area,” Wilson wrote via email, referencing the species-area curve equation that describes how many species are capable of surviving long-term in a particular area.

By preserving half of the planet, we would theoretically protect 80% of the world’s species from extinction, according to the species-area curve. If protection efforts, however, focus on the most biodiverse areas (think tropical forests and coral reefs), we could potentially protect more than 80% of species without going beyond the half-Earth goal. In contrast, if we only protect 10% of the Earth, we are set to lose around half of the planet’s species over time. This is the track we are currently on.

Nice idea but there are snags. The biggest snag is that humanity, as we're constituted today, can't live with just half of Earth. The reason that our stocks of marine and terrestrial life have plummeted by half over the past four decades is because of us. We're taking so much of everything that there's not enough for everything else and so their numbers have to plummet.

In an essay for Aeon, Robert Fletcher and Bram B├╝scher, both social scientists with Wageningen University in the Netherlands, dub Wilson’s idea “truly bizarre.”

“For all his zeal, (misplaced) righteousness and passion, his vision is disturbing and dangerous,” they write. “It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways. How such a global programme of conservation Lebensraum would be accomplished is left to the reader’s imagination.”

Did you get that? Wilson's solution would be truly dystopian beginning with a massive cull of humanity. Some calculations have concluded that Earth's human carrying capacity is just under 3 billion. Half an Earth then might need us to get down to 1.5 billion. We're nearing 7.5 billion now so that would be a cull of most of humanity and as much as 80%. Or we could go full-bore Blade Runner and cram billions more into chronic urban density.

The point, however, is that the way we're living now will not continue. This graphic from 2014 produced by the Global Footprint Network illustrates our ecological dilemma.

In 2014 we had reached the point where we, mankind, were consuming the equivalent of 1.5 times our planet's capacity for renewable resource replenishment. We needed one and a half planet Earths to support our consumption. Today that has reached the 1.7 point. By 2050 we'll hit 3.0 - except we won't. 

In the course of hunting down that graphic I came across this post from October, 2014 about a gathering of Nobel laureates who met annually to evaluate the state of our planet. They called for "revolutionary change" saying there was no other path.

The state of affairs is “catastrophic”, Peter Doherty, 1996 co-winner of the Nobel prize for medicine, said in a blunt appraisal.

From global warming, deforestation and soil and water degradation to ocean acidification, chemical pollution and environmentally-triggered diseases, the list of planetary ailments is long and growing, Doherty said.

...The worsening crisis means consumers, businesses and policymakers must consider the impact on the planet of every decision they make, he said.

Underpinning their concern are new figures highlighting that humanity is living absurdly beyond its means.

...“The peril seems imminent,” said US-Australian astrophysicist Brian Schmidt, co-holder of the 2011 Nobel physics prize for demonstrating an acceleration in the expansion of the universe.

We are poised to do more damage to the Earth in the next 35 years than we have done in the last 1,000.”

It's well known that people, even progressives, tune out to reports dealing with the environment or climate change. The "head in the sand" approach guarantees one result and only one.

Making Sure Connie Can't Give Them the Slip, Except He Might Have Already

Is he still Lord Black of Crossharbour? Doesn't really matter. The Canada Revenue Agency has slapped a lien on Conrad Black's Toronto mansion to secure the $31-million he apparently owes in Canadian and U.S. taxes.

Documents filed in Federal Court proceedings related to the liens reveal that Mr. Black, who gave up his Canadian citizenship to sit in the British House of Lords, has little money left in his Canadian bank accounts and has made no attempt to renew a temporary residence permit that expires in September.

The documents say that Mr. Black, who has sold all his property in the United States and Britain, has refused to provide a bank letter of credit to secure his income tax debt on the sale of his Toronto mansion at 26 Park Lane Circle.

“It is open to Black, and would be relatively easy to move his funds, including liquidated equity from Park Lane, offshore and relocate abroad at any time, thereby jeopardizing the collection of his tax,” the revenue agency said.

Mr. Black owes $12.3-million in taxes to the Canadian government and $19.3-million to the U.S. tax department, according to the documents. As of March 11, 2016, he had balances of $38,900 and $6,834 U.S. in his Canadian bank accounts, despite large lump-sum payments made to him over the previous two years.

...The documents also show an unusual arrangement in the sale of Mr. Black’s mansion, which is now on hold. The undisclosed price was $14-million, which was $5-million less than an appraisal commissioned by Canada Revenue Agency.

Revenue investigator Jon-Paul Rebellato said in the court documents that the unnamed buyer agreed to lease the mansion back to Mr. Black at an annual rent of $155,000. The sale included a verbal agreement with the purchaser to give Mr. Black 50 per cent of the proceeds of any future sale of the property.

Mortgages on the 23,000-square-foot house, nestled on 6.6 acres, amount to $13-million.

Something, as you might have guessed, is not right here. Connie's tapped? No money in the bank. A 14-million dollar property subject to a 13-million dollar mortgage? The guy owes 31-million in outstanding taxes. AND HE'S NOT BANKRUPT? His creditors, the Canadian and U.S. governments haven't petitioned Black into bankruptcy so they can go after his worldwide assets, find out where everything (if there is anything) is hidden?

Something is not adding up.

Movin' On Up

Canada has moved up. We are now the second biggest supplier of arms to the Middle East.

The most authoritive defence industry publisher, Janes, also puts Canada 6th overall in global arms trading.

Just a question. If we're doing such a landslide business selling armaments to foreigners, why is our military in such bad shape?

Canada has also vaulted to sixth overall among all arms-exporting countries, based on rankings released by Jane’s this week. This means only five countries are currently selling more weapons and military equipment.

IHS Jane’s analyst Ben Moores said he suspects Canada has never ranked so highly among all arms-exporting countries and that it certainly hasn’t held that position in the past 15 years.

The Trudeau government, asked whether it took pride in Canada’s expanded role as a weapons seller and would feature this achievement in trade promotion materials, referred the questions to a department of Global Affairs bureaucrat. The civil servant instead said Ottawa hopes to toughen screening of weapons sold to foreigners.

“The government of Canada remains firmly committed to introducing more transparency and rigour in export controls,” spokeswoman Rachna Mishra said.

Yeah, right.

Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, a disarmament group in Waterloo, Ont., that is an agency of the Canadian Council of Churches and tracks arms shipments, said Canadians should be worried that their country is now the second-largest arms exporter to “the most volatile region in the world” today.

“This ranking comes days after Canada addressed the UN Security Council and highlighted the importance of protecting civilians in conflict zones … it is civilians who are often most at risk as a result of arms dealings, in particular to regions engulfed in conflict and notorious for their poor human rights records,” Mr. Jaramillo said.

Wait a minute, did I just hear that right? Canada put in an appearance at the UN Security Council to deliver a lecture on the "importance of protecting civilians in conflict zones?" Yet we'll sell Death Wagons to the Saudis who are relentlessly slaughtering Houthi civilians in Yemen. Yeah, this "we'll do better next time, promise" stuff is bullshit.

The United States of Assholery

How did America give birth to this sub-culture of total assholes? Case in point, Tennessee representative Andy Holt.

Just days before the Orlando massacre, Holt announced a fundraiser would be held at his family farm.  He was laying on quite a spread, a roasted hog, a petting zoo, live music and hay rides for the kids. And there was even a door prize, an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle.

In the wake of the Orlando slaughter, representative Holt realized the situation had changed. And so he decided he'd give away not one AR-15, but two.

"That's right…. I'm now giving away TWO AR-15s!" he wrote on Facebook on Monday. "I'm sick and tired of the media and liberal politicians attacking our right to keep and bear arms. I'll do everything I can to ensure the 2nd Amendment is protected and people are equipped to exercise their innate right to self-defense [sic]."

It's not that some lowlife like representative Holt did something like this that's troubling. It's the utter predictability, no - absolute certainty, that a tragedy like the Orlando shootings would generate this type of response, that is the most disturbing part of modern American culture. That is a civilization in decline.


What Do Bill Maher and Donald Trump Have in Common?

According to Foreign Policy's Judy Ioffe, comedian Maher and comedian Trump share the same warped Islamophobia.

Speaking after “appreciating the congrats” on the Orlando shootings, Donald Trump again insisted that what mowed people down at Pulse was not an assault rifle but radical Islam, because in Trump Tower, it cannot be both. Trump’s world is binary. It is zero-sum: Either guns kill people or radical Islam kills people. In that world, only one religion can be bad, and so Christianity is good and Islam is bad. Christianity is peaceful and Islam violent. Christianity is tolerant and Islam intolerant. Both are inherently one thing or the other, immutable blueprints etched in stone for the behavior of their respective adherents.

This is a worldview that is shared by people who are Trump supporters and not Trump supporters. In the secular vernacular, we might call this view “Manichean,” that is, a binary between light and darkness, good and evil.

...I am tired of hearing, from Bill Maher and from Donald Trump, that Islam is inherently violent. I am even more tired of hearing that Christianity is inherently peaceful. I have witnessed this debate play out many times over, including at one dinner party when Laura Ingraham turned to the other guests and took a poll: Raise your hands if you think Islam is a death cult. Most of the (politically conservative) guests raised their hands and then took pains to explain to me how, unlike Islam, Christianity is inherently a religion of love.

...Conservatives roll their eyes when you mention the Crusades — oh, that old thing? — and I’m sure they will when they see the reference to the Manicheans, but they both matter, especially if you’re trying to argue that religions have inherent characteristics.

The Crusades are still a sore subject in the Muslim world, but it’s easy to forget the havoc they wreaked on the Jews of Europe. Time after time, as Crusaders slogged southeast on their umpteenth trip to the Holy Land, they slaughtered the Jews in their path. They herded them into synagogues and set the buildings alight. The Crusaders killed so many Jews in the name of their Christian faith that it was the most stunning demographic blow to European Jewry until the Holocaust. Which, just a friendly reminder, happened in Christian, civilized Europe only 70-some years ago.

And if you don’t believe me about the brutal repression of Manichean Christians, you can read about it here in the Catholic Encyclopedia (a publication that “chronicles what Catholic artists, educators, poets, scientists and men of action have achieved in their several provinces”). The Christian Church was ruthless with people whose faith was in any way a deviation from the canon, torturing and burning heretics at the stake. After Martin Luther pinned his theses to a church door, unintentionally spawning a new wing of Christianity, it led to hundreds of years of on-and-off religious warfare between Christians, spilling each other’s blood in the fervent belief that their vision of Christ was the truest. And it’s not ancient history: Violence between Protestants and Catholics continued in Christian Ireland until the very end of the 20th century.

...There are so many historical examples I could mention — Christians killing Jews because they blamed them for the plague; the fact that the word “ghetto” comes from the enclosures in which Jews were forced to live in medieval Venice; the pogroms in which the Russian Orthodox Church encouraged their flocks to kill the non-believing Jews. If that’s too far back in time for you, consider July 1988, the thousandth anniversary of the baptism of Russia: Rumors flew in Moscow that there would be a pogrom to celebrate the day Christianity came to Russia, and that the police were handing out addresses of Jews to the public. (That’s when my family decided to flee Holy Rus.)

Ioffe got a barrage of anti-Semitism from The Donald's Trumpeteers in the wake of an expose on Melania Trump in GQ. Really, really vile stuff. As for the gays:

Watching Trump and the Christian right go after Islam for being homophobic is, frankly, jaw-dropping. If any community in this country has shown itself to be anti-gay, it is conservative Christians and their decades of peddling hatred for gay people, comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, claiming AIDS is divine punishment, pushing “cures” for homosexuality, and blocking laws that prevent gays not just from marrying but from being discriminated against. A Christian pastor, who has enjoyed the company of Bobby Jindal, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz, recentlysaid that, according to the Bible, homosexuals “deserve the death penalty.” Now the very same people who, just last month, were comparing trans people to predators who would use the wrong bathroom to hunt for child victims are suddenly lining up to defend gays from radical Islam.
...Friday will mark the one-year anniversary of Dylann Roof killing nine people in the middle of a Bible study in Charleston, S.C. Before his rampage, he wrote a manifesto declaring his allegiance to the white supremacist cause and pointing to the Council of Conservative Citizens, which claims to adhere to “Christian beliefs and values,” as a major source of information and inspiration. By some accounts, Roof came from a church-going family and attended Christian summer camp. Did Roof kill his fellow Christians because he was deranged or because Christianity is violent?”

...No religion is inherently violent. No religion is inherently peaceful. Religion, any religion, is a matter of interpretation, and it is often in that interpretation that we see either beauty or ugliness — or, more often, if we are mature enough to think nuanced thoughts, something in between.

Saudi Prince Snubbed?

In the wake of Hillary Clinton's remarks linking Saudi Arabia to Islamist terrorism, a possible new rebuke to Riyadh, this time from the White House.

It was billed by Riyadh’s state media as a trip for Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince to meet with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials. But now that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in Washington, it’s still unclear if the president or any White House officials will meet with him, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“No confirmation at this time for any WH meetings,” White House spokesperson Dew Tiantawach told Foreign Policy.

“Very unusual for the Saudis to come out saying he is meeting with Obama and White House not confirming it,” said David Ottaway, a Saudi expert at the Wilson Center in Washington. “They certainly knew he was coming.”

Prince Salman is also the Saudi defence minister which taints him with the atrocities (war crimes) his military is inflicting on Houthi civilians in Yemen. As I understand it, he's also next in line to the Saudi throne.

Does Europe Offer a Glimpse Into Our Future? Is the Old Political Dynamic Passing Away?

The mass support shown for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump has been a measure of the powerful disaffection among the American public. Both are/were anti-establishment figures who spoke to public discontent with their mainstream political parties.

Something similar seems to be underway in Europe. An article from The Guardian suggests a broad-based discontent, from the far left to the far right and everything in between has "mainstream parties in full retreat."

The concerns of many may be broadly the same: immigration, integration, jobs, incomes, the EU, political and business elites. The euro crisis, followed by Europe’s migrant crisis and the Paris and Brussels terror attacks have fuelled their rise.

But their ideological roots are very different: from anti-establishment to neo-fascist, nationalist to anti-austerity, authoritarian to populist, libertarian to Catholic ultra-conservative.

Germany’s AfD is not Hungary’s Fidesz. The Finns and the Danish People’s party loathe France’s Front National, and the Netherlands’ PVV is nothing like Poland’s Law and Justice, which bears no resemblance to Austria’s Freedom party. It may be misleading to bracket them all together in the same category.

What is undeniably happening, however, is that the continent’s traditional mainstream parties are in full retreat. Across Europe, the centre-left social democrats and centre-right Christian democrats who have dominated national politics for 60 years are in decline.

Following a collapse in support for its two centrist parties last December, Spain has been unable to form a government and will hold fresh elections next month. The three mainstream parties in the Netherlands are set to win 40% of the vote between them in elections next year – roughly what any one of them might have got previously.

Even in Germany, it seems highly likely that support for liberal and green parties and, above all, the populist, anti-immigrant AfD, could soon bring to an end an era of two-party political stability that has endured since the end of the second world war.

Is the old political apparatus also failing us in Canada? To me it does seem so, quite clearly. From globalization and the surrender of state sovereignty to inequality and the rise of corporatism to the environment and climate change our governments no longer seem to be acting in the public interest. It's as though representative democracy has atrophied under the governance of our mainstream parties. We are no longer led. Today we are ruled, administered by visionless technocrats who fiddle with this and meddle with that to no coherent end. Perhaps it is just a symptom of some greater malady looming. Who can tell?

Are We Spoiling For a Fight?

Yesterday it was CSIS egging the Canadian government on with dire warnings that Vlad Putin was mobilizing Russian forces and war could be imminent.

Today comes word that the US Navy's Third Fleet, its eastern Pacific/home waters navy, is sailing for China's marine backyard, the East and South China Seas.

The Third Fleet, based in San Diego, California, traditionally has confined its operations to the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean's international dateline.

Japan's Nikkei Asian Review quoted the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, as saying on Tuesday that the move came in the "context of uncertainty and angst in the region," an apparent reference to China's behavior.

Swift argued that the Navy should utilize the "total combined power" of the 140,000 sailors, over 200 ships and 1,200 aircraft that make up the Pacific Fleet.

The Seventh Fleet consists of an aircraft carrier strike group, 80 other vessels and 140 aircraft. The Third Fleet has more than 100 vessels, including four aircraft carriers.

Pacific Fleet commander, 4-star admiral Scott Swift left no doubt about this mission.

"This is real. The commitment of the 3rd Fleet [operating] forward is real," Swift said, pointing out that the deployment engages the entire Pacific command's 140,000-sailors, 200 ships and 1,200 aircraft.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Does CSIS Want Canada On a War Footing?

According to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Vlad Putin is going for his guns and it could mean war is on our horizon.

Fine time to tell us now that our army's kit is clapped out from Afghanistan, our navy is rusting into scale incapable of sallying forth to defend any of our three coastlines, and our air force is having to make do with a paltry number of "long in the tooth" warplanes and little else.

The Trudeau government is considering a request to commit hundreds of troops to eastern Europe and take part command of a new NATO force being assembled to deter Russian aggression.

Canada's participation in the Baltic operation was discussed Tuesday by the military alliance's defence ministers, including Canada's Harjit Sajjan, at a meeting in Brussels.

This comes just days after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service quietly released an open-sourced global security analysis warning, among other things, that the hard-line policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin are becoming more deeply entrenched and that Moscow is retooling its military for a fight.

Yes, Russia is rearming. No question about that. It's the "spoiling for a fight" part that has to be questioned. There's a huge difference between worrying about this giant military alliance that has been marched right up to your borders and wanting to pick a fight that you will almost certainly lose and might not even survive at all.

Using stark language, the report warned decision-makers not to treat Putin's rearmament drive lightly.

"Russia is not modernizing its military primarily to extend its capacity to pursue hybrid warfare," the 104 page report said, referring to the Kremlin's use of irregular tactics to take over Crimea. "It is modernizing conventional military capability on a large scale; the state is mobilizing for war."

I think CSIS overstated its position if it indeed claimed that Putin is mobilizing for war. In a military context, mobilization is a very loaded term. It speaks to a heightened state of military readiness, a massing of forces, an immediacy of action. In the American system it would be the equivalent of Defcon 3, perhaps even Defcon 2. There's no indication that the Russians are doing anything of the sort. They're rearming. So are we.

One thing for sure. If either side does provoke a shooting war it won't resemble anything we've known since the Korean War, perhaps even WWII.

Global Weirding - B.C. - and An Addition to the Family.

It's snowing on Vancouver's north shore mountains. Snow is accumulating on Grouse, Cypress and Mt. Seymour.

And British Columbians can welcome a new arrival to our coastal dolphin community. Short-beaked common dolphins have moved into the Salish Sea. Usually not seen north of California these dolphins seem to be migrating out of hotter southern waters or they're travelling in pursuit of their traditional bait fish.

Other resident dolphin species include the orca, Pacific white sided dolphin, Dall's porpoise, harbour porpoise, Northern Right Whale dolphin,  Risso's dolphin and striped dolphin.

Lockheed's Weird Narrative

For me, the miner's canary was a PostMedia Matthew Fisher column claiming that opting for the Boeing Super Hornet instead of Lockheed's F-35 would leave the Canadian north defenceless. I let it slide. It was Matthew Fisher after all and I had him pegged years ago. Then I began hearing the same story from a friend who said he'd read it in the Washington Post.

The story goes like this. Within a few years the Russians will be deploying their new stealth fighter, the T-50, and of course there will be swarms of them and Putin will station them on Russia's Arctic frontier.

The second part of the scenario involves Russia launching a stealth sneak attack (along the lines of the American's "Operation Chimichanga" strategy) using these T-50 jets to launch a cruise missile attack against Canada and the U.S.

The third part argues that the best defence against a Russian stealth warplane is a Canadian stealth warplane. Ergo we're screwed if we're stuck with Boeing's Super Hornet. Our only hope of salvation rests on being able to deploy Lockheed's F-35s.

To begin with, this is multi-level bullshit. About a week ago I did a bit of research into Russian progress with development of its long-range cruise missile technology. The consensus seems to hold that Russia's latest air launched cruise missiles can achieve 30-foot accuracy over a range of up to 6,300 miles.

Now here's the thing. Russia's long-range cruise missiles, the type they would need to reach the really important targets in Canada and the northern U.S. are those red things shown underneath the wings of a Russian bear bomber in the picture above. They're essentially small airplanes with wings and engines and fins.

No one is going to be slinging those things under the wings of any T-50 stealth fighter. First of all they're too big to fit inside. They're probably too big to mount under the wings either.  And then there's the problem that, if you did find a way to put a couple under the T-50 wings there goes your supposed stealth advantage.

That's not to say the Super Hornet could defend against a determined, Operation Chimichanga scale cruise missile attack either. We'll never have enough fighters to maintain an ironclad defence across our vast Arctic. The Russians could pick their spots, launch their cruise missiles and turn away, probably just as we would be launching our interceptors.

Is Lockheed that desperate to keep Canada in line on the F-35? Do they fear we'll lead a stampede of other international customers? Hard to know what's going on but it is getting bizarre.

When the Fossil Fuelers Are Done, Ordinary Albertans Are Screwed.

Such is life in a petro-state. Alberta has about 150,000 abandoned or dormant wells, many of them on farmland. The farmers didn't want them but they couldn't stop them going in either. What they didn't understand is how they'd get screwed by the fossil fuelers on the other end, when the well ran dry.

In many cases the well is owned by a shell company, a subsidiary of a big energy producer. When it's making money the cash flows through the subsidiary to the parent. When the good times end, the parent lets the subsidiary fall into bankruptcy and walks away leaving the farmer holding the bag.

Bad as the situation is for the Alberta farmer, Ecojustice lawyer, Barry Robinson, says a far bigger calamity could be in store from the Tar Sands.

As of 2015, the provincial government held $1.6 billion in reclamation bonds to clean up the oilsands — that's against $21 billion in estimated clean-up costs. Alberta's auditor general raised concerns last summer that the province wasn't holding enough on deposit.

It's a very real possibility that, in the not too distant future, the Tar Sands could become a stranded asset, abandoned by investors, bankers and the energy giants. Someone is going to have to pony up nearly $20-billion for clean up and reclamation. This giant tailing ponds won't clean up themselves. Who do you think will be writing the cheque?

Mental Health Break

Turning How We See the Economy On Its Head

It's not the way we do things. It contradicts our economic thought. Yet the way we've done things, our economic modelling has been instrumental in helping create the environmental calamity we're in today.

An article in The Guardian argues that it's the economy that needs to be integrated into the environment, not the other way round. It's an elaborate argument that deserves to be read in its entirety - which is also my way of saying it defies my ability to paraphrase it in nice, simple terms.

The point is that we have to recognize that the economy, the sum of our economic activity, has to be limited by the size of the environment, by what nature can provide, what it can bear, our environment's carrying capacity.

That sounds logical doesn't it? Sure only we've not done that. And we're running into walls in our headlong race of eco-excess. We have fouled the atmosphere, created threats such as global warming. We've drained our aquifers that we relentlessly exploited to support the levels of agricultural production needed that we could grow in numbers to 7+ billion. We've collapsed one fishery after another worldwide as our industrial fleets fish down the food chain. We've contaminated our freshwater and coastal waters with agricultural runoff leading to massive toxic algae blooms and oceanic dead zones. We are drawing down on natural resources at 1.7 times our planet's carrying capacity.

So, if our economic binging is beginning to backfire on us it only makes sense to accept that our economic activity must be governed by the environment. The economy must be a subset of the environment if we are to live in harmony with our one and only biosphere, Spaceship Earth.

Sounds great but how in hell do you do that? When, as a global civilization, we're living so far beyond our means, how do we mend our ways? Pretty obviously some will have to make do with less, perhaps a lot less. And chances are if it was put to a vote the have-nots would carry the day in deciding that the haves, us/we, should be doing the giving up part.

We in the West consume far more, on a per capita basis, than the rest of the world. Yet other countries have allowed their populations to explode without regard for how that impacts the environment. In other words we're all sinners. We may need to be taking a smaller piece of the pie but it's only fair that they have a lot fewer mouths at the table.

It's hard to imagine a more intractable problem. When has mankind ever been confronted with a dilemma of this magnitude? What is our track record of voluntary sacrifice on such an enormous scale?

And there, kids, you have the Easter Island paradox. You see the problem and the inevitable outcome. You know what you have to do. But hell's bells, you'll not have any of it. That tree over there? The last one? Yeah, let's get her down.

Oh Dear. Trump's Dirty Laundry - To Russia with Love.

This could be very awkward.  Hackers, allegedly from the Russian government, are said to have broken into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and filched the database on opposition candidate, Donald Trump.

The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.

The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some GOP political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available.

“It’s the job of every foreign intelligence service to collect intelligence against their adversaries,” said Shawn Henry, president of CrowdStrike, the cyber firm called in to handle the DNC breach and a former head of the FBI’s cyber division. He noted that it is extremely difficult for a civilian organization to protect itself from a skilled and determined state such as Russia.

“We’re perceived as an adversary of Russia,” he said. “Their job when they wake up every day is to gather intelligence against the policies, practices and strategies of the U.S. government. There are a variety of ways. [Hacking] is one of the more valuable because it gives you a treasure trove of information.”

Canadians Are Parting Company With Their Federal Government

The Trudeau government's clumsy, ham-fisted approach to the assisted dying bill seems to be driving a wedge between the government and the public.

A recent poll showed that the public don't want Trudeau's narrowed bill. A strong majority want a Carter-compliant law including one that will give them, should their time come, the right to advanced directives on end of life issues.

Read the comments on any assisted death story. The responses are as powerful as they are uniform - the public is enraged that this government would put itself above the law. Justice minister Jody doesn't seem to have convinced anyone, perhaps except the prime minister himself.

What's also emerging is a renewed fondness for the Senate. Canadians seem to like the idea of the Senate doing what they imagined its job was - to provide sober second thought when the government goes too far or not far enough.

Hillary Links Our Saudi Allies with Global Terrorism. Wowser.

Yes, she said it. Hillary Clinton said our Arab allies, the Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis, are looking the other way while their princes, sheikhs and emirs write the cheques that fund Islamist terrorism. For the record, those princes, sheikhs and emirs, they are the state effectively.

"It is long past time for the Saudis, Qataris and Kuwaitis and others to stop their citizens from funding extremist organisations," she declared in the aftermath of the Orlando attack.

"And they should stop supporting radical schools and mosques around the world that have set too many young people on a path towards extremism."

...for Clinton to even link Saudi Arabia to extremism at all marks what has become a revolutionary realignment in US diplomacy in the Middle East.

For Obama to have questioned the Saudi funding of fundamentalist Wahhabi religious schools in far-off countries such as Indonesia is one thing, given he is near the end of his presidency.

Coming from Clinton, potentially about to begin hers, the criticism will sting.

With the US no longer as dependent on Saudi oil for its energy needs, and the malignant role of Saudi money in extremism now open slather, expect the pressure on one of the world's most repressive regimes to grow.

Boil it all down and what have you got? For starters, we're selling armoured war wagons to a major state sponsor of Sunni radicalism and Islamist terrorism. That our Saudi allies are also committing atrocious war crimes against the Houthi civilian population of Yemen, that's just icing on the cake.

Justin had better hope those freighters are loaded and out to sea before the U.S. government releases those 28-pages of the 9/11 Commission report. Oh dear.

Athletes Don't Hide It. Why Should Congressmen?

You know how corporate sponsors sometimes get their logos on athlete's jerseys or helmets? Wouldn't it be a good idea if America's "bought and paid for" Congress followed suit?

If you're working for Koch Industries or Exxon Mobile or Monsanto, why not have that sponsor's logo on your suit jacket? Truth in advertising. Get it out there.

What brings this up is a resolution the GOP-controlled House of Representatives passed last week condemning the very idea of an American carbon tax.

ExxonMobil officially supports a carbon tax, but the company did not comment on the House Resolution prior to the vote. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, which is a key lobbying group of the oil industry, including ExxonMobil, publicly supported the anti-carbon tax resolution, as did Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) suspects that the Resolution itself originated from the oil industry:

And it’s not just a matter of lobbying by Big Oil and the Koch operation on how Republicans ought to vote; given their control over the Republican Party, it is very likely that the vote itself was brought up at their behest.

Since 2009, ExxonMobil has contributed at least $1.7 million to members of Congress who voted in favor of the resolution, according to an analysis by

There are some indications that GOP leadership pressured House Republicans to vote for the Resolution. They certainly succeeded: of the 8 Republicans who are members of the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, whose purpose is to craft optimal climate change policies, 7 voted for the Resolution. Only Rep. David Jolly (R-FL) withstood the pressure, voting “Present.”

Pop Goes the Methane

Remember those mystery craters discovered in the Russian north? They're still occurring and Arctic warming is the obvious suspect. As the Arctic warms it's taking the "perma" out of permafrost which is releasing massive amounts of once safely sequestered (frozen) methane.

Scientists have found that released methane is having all sorts of impacts in the polar region. Among them, it's contributing to the vanishing Arctic sea ice. As methane gas plumes bubble to the surface they can break up or prevent the formation of sea ice. On freshwater lakes boat owners have long used bubblers to prevent damaging ice from forming along the hulls of their yachts in winter. This is the same idea only it's a natural phenomenon and the bubbles are the powerful greenhouse gas, methane.

Then there are frozen methane blobs on the ocean floor called "clathrates." As the sea water warms they can melt releasing their methane to the surface. The bad news is that there is a lot of frozen methane on the seabed. The worse news is that scientists have found they played a significant role in major extinction events. The good news is that many scientists believe our clathrates are still too deep to thaw anytime soon. Many scientists as in "not all."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Trudeau Needs a Justice Minister Who Understands the Law of Canada

When justice minister Jody runs afoul of the legal mind of Joe Arvay. That's one thing. Regrettable, sure, but hey, it's Jody. When she refutes the wisdom of the top constitutional expert in Canada, Peter Hogg, Jody has one deep-seated, serious problem - herself.

The issue, of course, is the Carter decision of the Supreme Court of Canada and how much leeway justice minister Jody has to defy the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to whittle away the constitutional protections of severely afflicted Canadians.

Jody has sent a background paper to Canada's senators arguing that Trudeau's bill C-14 is "Charter proof." Jody is cleaving to the sophistry that the restrictions in C-14 are necessary if we're to avoid a stampede of people out to off themselves. Following the SCC decision, she maintains, would encourage suicide.

Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, a plaintiff in the Carter case, said it doesn’t matter “how many new purposes they put in the bill or how many bells and whistles and safeguards they impose,” the legislation is unconstitutional because it maintains an absolute prohibition on assisted dying for all those who are not close to death.

Canada’s leading constitutional authority, Peter Hogg, last week noted that the top court specifically directed the government to enact legislation “consistent with the constitutional parameters” set out in the Carter decision. Excluding all those who are not terminally ill from the right to assisted dying is not consistent with Carter and will thus be inevitably struck down, he told a Senate committee.

We already have a highest court of the land and it's not Jody much as she might think otherwise.

Here's an idea. Why not just pass C-14 on condition that Jody agree to resign, not her portfolio but her seat in Parliament never to seek office again, if when Canadian judges throw it out as unconstitutional?

Scripture Ain't Gospel - Live With It.

Biblical inerrancy is bullshit. The Bible, especially the Old Testament, is not the literal word of God. That's bullshit. It's the word of countless old geezers passed down from one to the other, embellished a bit here and there to suit whims and biases and fancies of the day with plenty of space left over for even more bullshit.

And people who believe the word from God is that gays should be put to death, well they have shit for brains. They probably also have prehensile tails. We developed an institution for them. It's called the zoo.

Lewis Black has a great sketch on the Old Testament and how it screws up Christians. Embedding is disabled but you can access it here.

How much mayhem have those damned books and the people who devour them inflicted in the name of their gods over the centuries? Those fundamentalists who come in equal parts of piety and murderous brutality. And they've been dining on a diet of straight bullshit.

It's time to rein this in. We need a law defining terrorist organizations to include any religion that justifies the killing of a person for any lawful practice relating to ethnicity, gender, political or sexual orientation. Preach any of that shit and - bang! - your precious tax privileges are gone, rescinded, over. You go on the terrorist organization list, you get regular visits from the anti-terrorism folks and your leadership, they go on the "no fly" list.

Global Weirding - U.K.

The Brits will have to put away their beach wear for a while. After the recent heat wave and predictions this will be the hottest summer in more than a century they're now being told to brace for Arctic temperatures this week.

Not sure how that works. Even the Arctic isn't experiencing Arctic temperatures lately.

After the "Arctic whisper" passes the Brits have been told to brace for heavy rains and flash flooding.

And that folks is what you call Global Weirding. Our new "normal."

Orlando and the Plague of Fundamentalism

I got a call from my brother yesterday morning. He's gay. Naturally the Orlando massacre came up in our conversation. The discussion got around to religious fundamentalism, people of that rabid religiosity that infests the world today - Muslim, Christian, Judaic, Hindu, hell even Buddhist. There you will find the murderous malignancy of intolerance.

I wondered how many good Christian folks went to church yesterday seeing God's hand at work in Orlando.

Fundamentalism is rooted in scriptural inerrancy. Every word, no matter how malicious, is the word of God. If God says homos are to be put to death, well it's right there in writing. Has to be true. How warped does a mind have to be to believe that shit?

Imagine a world free from fundamentalism of any stripe. Imagine.

Justin, Meet Edmund

When I think of Israel's headlong plunge into fascism and our government's indifference (or worse) to it, I can't help but think of Edmund Burke's classic warning:

All that is needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Only never let it be said that this prime minister is guilty of the sin of doing nothing. No, he and our government have joined the effort to censure those who campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel for its half-century long oppression of the Palestinians and the theft of the Palestinian homeland.

Jeez, remember how we got our knickers in a bunch over the supposed remarks by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that called for Israel to be wiped off the map? Oh my lord, there were going to be sanctions. Israel demanded the US attack Iran. What a mess. (BTW, read this account from the Washington Post that clarifies what was actually said and what was meant - it's not what you've been led to believe)

Anyway, we got up on our hind legs in righteous indignation. We were not going to sit by and tolerate these threats (or supposed threats). Iran was going to be taught a lesson.

Of course the supposed threat was laughable. Iran has no nuclear weapons although they were interested in perhaps building a few. That seems to have been part of the Sunni v. Shiite tensions. Israel, by contrast, has dozens of nukes and the ability to deliver them, pretty much at will. Hard to imagine the Ayatollahs wanted to see Iran turned to glass.

So the Iranian threat was empty rhetoric at worst. Ahmadinejad (no longer in power) was no Avigdor Lieberman, currently the second most powerful man in the Israeli government.  That rabid rightwinger did threaten another country, Egypt, with genocide. He proposed destroying Egypt's Aswan dam and sweeping the Egyptians into the sea. He's now the defence minister which also gives him responsibility for keeping Israel's boot on the Palestinian's neck. Bet you he hates that job.

Then there's Netanyahu's agriculture minister, Uri Ariel, who thinks it would be agriculturally wise to for Israel to now annex Area C of the Palestinian West Bank. Area C may not sound like much but it's 60 per cent of the West Bank.

The proposal triggered a storm of protest (none from Ottawa, of course) when word got out that Ariel was calling for the expulsion of 300,000 Palestinians. Nothing of the sort, he says.

On Thursday, a spokesperson for Ariel clarified that the minister was misquoted on the issue of Palestinians in Area C: Rather than saying that he wants to remove a few thousand Arabs from Area C, he said that only a few thousand Arabs live there, and their numbers are not high enough to prevent an Israeli annexation of the area.

We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C. These are areas where there are no Arabs at all, except a few thousand who don’t constitute a significant numerical factor,” Ariel said.

Ariel also said the Israeli right is unconcerned over recent peace overtures by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since they will eventually come to nothing. Nonetheless, Ariel, who opposes Palestinian statehood, carped that by invoking a desire for a two-state solution, Netanyahu is fueling the notion held by many Israelis that the creation of a Palestinian state is inevitable.

Gee, that sounds like ethnic cleansing. Good men nothing.

Of course those numerically irrelevant Palestinians have it easy compared to their brethren in the prison camp known as Gaza. They've got an epidemic of skin problems caused by drinking their own contaminated water. Here's an updated account on the state of suffering of these besieged Palestinians.

The 1.8 million Gazans are the victims of the Israeli strategy of Dahiyeh, the calculated destruction, in flagrant violation of the laws of war and human rights, of essential civilian infrastructure - water, sewer and electrical utilities, hospitals, schools and such. The Israelis perfected the technique in the Beirut suburb from which it gets its name and they practiced it on Gaza three times. (It's also the template our other ally, the Saudis, are using against the Houthi civilians in Yemen).

Good men nothing.

The Trudeau government would rather censure the B/D/S movement than do anything about the evolution of this fascist state of Israel. Our government is onside with this. We just can't pretend any more. We can't look the other way forever. Netanyahu promised in the elections in March last year that there'll never be a Palestinian state while he's prime minister.  There's one thing, maybe the only thing, on which Netanyahu's words have to be taken at face value.

What we're witnessing is incremental ethnic cleansing. When Gaza becomes completely uninhabitable the population will either have to die or be relocated, perhaps to Jordan. As Israel continues to swallow up the West Bank there'll be no viable homeland there for Palestinians either.

With governments such as that we have now and the one we just sent packing, we, all of us, are complicit in this. 

I was mistaken about Edmund Burke. He was talking about evil triumphing when "good" men do nothing. We're running short of good men these days.

False Hope and the Great Illusion - Life in the Ghetto of Neoliberalism's Predator State

Chris Hedges figures we're fattened lambs being prepped for slaughter by the agents of corporatism, those we ourselves put in office.  He writes, of course, of America. Canadians, naturally, don't have a care in the world on this stuff. Don't we?

The aims of the corporate state are, given the looming collapse of the ecosystem, as deadly, maybe more so, as the acts of mass genocide carried out by the Nazis and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The reach and effectiveness of corporate propaganda dwarfs even the huge effort undertaken by Adolf Hitler and Stalin. The layers of deception are sophisticated and effective. News is state propaganda. Elaborate spectacles and forms of entertainment, all of which ignore reality or pretend the fiction of liberty and progress is real, distract the masses.

Education is indoctrination. Ersatz intellectuals, along with technocrats and specialists, who are obedient to neoliberal and imperial state doctrine, use their academic credentials and erudition to deceive the public.

The promises made by the corporate state and its political leaders—we will restore your jobs, we will protect your privacy and civil liberties, we will rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, we will save the environment, we will prevent you from being exploited by banks and predatory corporations, we will make you safe, we will provide a future for your children—are the opposite of reality.

The loss of privacy, the constant monitoring of the citizenry, the use of militarized police to carry out indiscriminate acts of lethal violence—a daily reality in marginal communities—and the relentless drive to plunge as much as two-thirds of the country into poverty to enrich a tiny corporate elite, along with the psychosis of permanent war, presage a dystopia that will be as severe as the totalitarian systems that sent tens of millions to their deaths during the reigns of fascism and communism.

Thank Freya that's only America. But, wait, is it really? Sure our cousins to the south are going through a rough patch. Having to choose between Drumpf and Hillary isn't pleasant. Talk about an election where everybody is holding their noses to vote. Who will it be - Bad or Worse?

Besides, it's America. They're flamboyant, always doing everything to extremes. It's easier to see the rot that way. You've got to dig around a little more to see it in Canada. It's still there but it's understated, seemingly gentler, less offensive.

Some of the stuff he chronicles is found here. Manufactured news spun and flavoured and dished up by our corporate media cartel. We've sure got that. Monitoring of the citizenry - I haven't heard Justin say he's dismantling the pipeline secret police his predecessor set up. Have you? CSIS is still in the domestic surveillance business, right? If you haven't heard anything to the contrary, it is.

Inequality - of wealth, income and opportunity - that's still going on. That's a self-perpetuating problem if left unattended. Neoliberalism? Yes, it's alive and well in the True North. 

Then there's the kicker, what Hedges calls "the looming collapse of the ecosystem." It's happening even if you didn't notice it on your commute to work this morning. This CO2 chart from NASA tells you everything you never wanted to know. Since 1950 we have been in a man-made environment unlike anything known for the last 400,000 years.  All my life and, I'll bet, all yours too has been in that unprecedented territory.

False hope and great illusion - is that all that's keeping us going? Is that what's propping up the state? Given the way our civilization is responding to this looming ecological collapse what else could there be? It's a house of cards.

Hedges argues that our only hope now is to take our fate into our own hands. New political movements, civil disobedience and more.

It is time to step outside of the establishment. This means organizing groups, including political parties, that are independent of the corporate political machines that control the Republicans and Democrats.

It means carrying out acts of sustained civil disobedience. It means disruption.

Many who work within ruling class structures understand the corruption and dishonesty of corporate power. We must appeal to their conscience. We must disseminate the truth.

We have little time left. Climate change, even if we halt all carbon emissions today, will still bring rising temperatures, havoc, instability and systems collapse to much of the planet.

Let us hope we never have to make the stark choice, as most of the [Warsaw] ghetto fighters did, about how we will die. If we fail to act, however, this choice will one day define our future, as it defined theirs.