Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Is This How Trump Rigged the Election, Really?

It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

Algorhythms. That might have been enough to tip the November elections to the most unlikely presidential candidate, Donald Trump. The Leave camp is convinced that was the decisive factor in winning the Brexit referendum. It's powerful. It's scary. It may be insurmountable.

I did a post on Sunday, "The Big Chill," on an Observer article about how American computer whiz billionaire and Trump backer, Robert Mercer, was behind an outfit, Cambridge Analytica, that data mined Americans' Facebook accounts to target them for political messaging.

In today's Globe and Mail, a report on a Victoria, B.C. company, AggregateIQ that did something quite similar to help swing the Brexit vote for the Leave campaign.

The scope of AggregateIQ's role emerged last week when Britain's Electoral Commission released the final tally of spending by the Vote Leave and Remain sides during last June's referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union. According to the figures, Vote Leave paid AggregateIQ £2.7-million ($4.4-million), out of its total budget of £6.8-million (the spending limit for the official Vote Leave and Remain campaigns was £7-million each). AggregateIQ got another £675,000 from a Vote Leave backer to target young voters.

"Without a doubt, the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of AggregateIQ. We couldn't have done it without them," Vote Leave's campaign director Dominic Cummings said in a glowing endorsement posted on the company's website.

[AggregateIQ's Zack Massingham said the] main tools are online messaging through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. He prefers them to traditional media, such as broadcast or print, because the impact is easily measurable. "The tremendous opportunity you have with digital is that you are able to measure everything that much faster, even almost instantly. Print, it's just you fire it off into the ether and whoever ends up at your website ends up at your website. There's not attribution."

In this same context, today Scientific American asks, "Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?"

The digital revolution is in full swing. How will it change our world? The amount of data we produce doubles every year. In other words: in 2016 we produced as much data as in the entire history of humankind through 2015. Every minute we produce hundreds of thousands of Google searches and Facebook posts. These contain information that reveals how we think and feel. Soon, the things around us, possibly even our clothing, also will be connected with the Internet. It is estimated that in 10 years’ time there will be 150 billion networked measuring sensors, 20 times more than people on Earth. Then, the amount of data will double every 12 hours. Many companies are already trying to turn this Big Data into Big Money.

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.


Some software platforms are moving towards “persuasive computing.” In the future, using sophisticated manipulation technologies, these platforms will be able to steer us through entire courses of action, be it for the execution of complex work processes or to generate free content for Internet platforms, from which corporations earn billions. The trend goes from programming computers to programming people.

These technologies are also becoming increasingly popular in the world of politics. Under the label of “nudging,” and on massive scale, governments are trying to steer citizens towards healthier or more environmentally friendly behaviour by means of a "nudge"—a modern form of paternalism. The new, caring government is not only interested in what we do, but also wants to make sure that we do the things that it considers to be right. The magic phrase is "big nudging", which is the combination of big data with nudging. To many, this appears to be a sort of digital scepter that allows one to govern the masses efficiently, without having to involve citizens in democratic processes.


In a complex system, such as society, an improvement in one area almost inevitably leads to deterioration in another. Thus, large-scale interventions can sometimes prove to be massive mistakes.

Regardless of this, criminals, terrorists and extremists will try and manage to take control of the digital magic wand sooner or later—perhaps even without us noticing. Almost all companies and institutions have already been hacked, even the Pentagon, the White House, and the NSA.

A further problem arises when adequate transparency and democratic control are lacking: the erosion of the system from the inside. Search algorithms and recommendation systems can be influenced. Companies can bid on certain combinations of words to gain more favourable results. Governments are probably able to influence the outcomes too. During elections, they might nudge undecided voters towards supporting them—a manipulation that would be hard to detect. Therefore, whoever controls this technology can win elections—by nudging themselves to power.

Look, we've been warned. We have two fiascos, the Brexit referendum and the 2016 presidential election, as compelling evidence of widescale, mass electoral manipulation. It works. It will be used again. The popular will can be subverted, "nudged," for enough money. We, you and me, can be powerfully manipulated and the millions who couldn't care less will be.

The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.

We have to respond to this or succumb to it. Scientific American is right to question whether democracy can survive this.

Do we really want a future as digital North Koreans?

Monday, February 27, 2017

What Raif Said - Times Two

There's a surging discontent with Canada among many British Columbians. One of us, the iconic Rafe Mair, lays it out very well.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve resented that my province has been unfairly treated, a resentment that has increased steadily over the years. We have been badly cheated politically and economically, accompanied by an attitude of arrogance from central Canada, which runs everything, an attitude that I find irritating beyond toleration.

Start with the humiliating fact that BC has but 6 senators while New Brunswick has 10 and PEI 6. This, along with the federal government appointing our senators, who are supposed to hold that very government’s feet to the fire, is outrageous. This and the “First Past The Post” system ensures that all political power rests, unchallengeable, in Central Canada. To see how this is resented in BC, you need only look at the 1992 Charlottetown Accord, designed to make one province juridically superior, opposed, thank God, by your father, and rejected by 67.9% of British Columbians!


Under the constitution, provinces control their natural resources – except when it comes to fish. The Pacific salmon has been so mismanaged by Ottawa that one is tempted to suggest it’s deliberate. Going too far? How else can one explain the foreign fish farms, not just permitted in BC, but actively promoted by a DFO prepared to destroy the Pacific salmon by disease, sea lice, and, when they escape, crowding them off their spawning redds?

As a BC minister, I examined the history of federal involvement back to 1871 and the record is appalling. Ask First Nations, who are the past, present, and future victims of this gross mismanagement, how they see your stewardship!

With respect, prime minister, British Columbia and Canada no longer have the same set of values. A nation can survive and prosper with great diversity. It can have many languages, a plethora of different originating cultures, all races, colours, and creeds – yet so long as there is a common set of basic values, it can form a strong nation. That is the critical point. Once that is gone the nation no longer exists in fact, no matter what the Constitution says.

The basic values of British Columbians and Canada diverge on this central question: Which is more important – our way of life, surroundings, and the environment or the growth of industry, resource extraction, and moneymaking?

We in British Columbia have learned some hard lessons, most important of which is there isn’t always another valley full of trees to chop down. The forestry industry in British Columbia, thanks to the courage of many mostly young men and women over the last 60 years, now is in sight of self perpetuation. That has morphed into an overall attitude which takes into consideration those values in British Columbia we have always coveted but are under serious attack by the industry-at-all-costs movement in Canada, of which, by the Kinder Morgan approval, you are now leader. You, the Prime Minister, are our enemy!

It has perhaps come as a surprise to you as it has come as a very unpleasant surprise to much industry, especially the fossil fuel industry, that we so highly regard our environment, especially, though not exclusively, our mountains, lakes, rivers, trees, farmland, coastline and ocean. You don’t seem to realize that Burrard inlet, Howe Sound, the Salish Sea, the Gulf Islands, the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the west coast are sacred to Btitish Columbians. Other regions have their own sacred values and we support them in their fight to protect them, with particular regard at this moment for the Site C Dam proposal in the Peace River.

I don’t believe I draw too long a bow when I say that we understand that the French language and culture means means so much to Quebec yet you scoff at us in British Columbia because our natural blessings mean just as much to us. I cannot understand why you and other Canadians are unable to understand just how vehemently we are opposed to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and how far we are prepared to go to defend against it. We wouldn’t for a milli-second tolerate this desecration of what we hold dear by a BC Tar Sands, BC financiers and BC tanker companies – why the devil do you think we feel less resolved because it’s the Alberta Tar Sands, Bay Street and other foreign bankers or offshore tanker companies?


We say that our right to our environment outweighs any so-called right to move dangerous goods over and through our province. That, sir, is the essential difference in values that we possess and that you possess.

Mr. Trudeau, we love this province with all our hearts and souls and we’re not about to let you take it away from us.

While You Were Watching the Oscars

I didn't tune in to the Academy Awards last night because I "cut the cable" a couple of months back. I suppose I could have caught it online but I just wasn't that interested.

That's not to say I did without television. I fired up my trusty Roku box and scanned through a bunch of channels, most of which I have but have never watched. I finally settled on RT, Russia Today. I hadn't seen RT for months, possibly back before Trump won the election.

A good while back I caught a lot of flack for pointing out that RT, no matter how reasonable it might seem, was still an agent of the Russian government, Putin's media outlet. Apparently some didn't like to hear that.

I wasn't prepared for what I watched last night. RT has truly flipped the switch. It is decidedly pro-Trump and echoes his talking points about draining the swamp, fake news, the media as enemy of the American people.

It was pure Agitprop in the finest tradition of the communist propaganda of the Soviet era. The earlier, more or less reasonable RT was gone. This was in the mould of Tass or Pravda.

Then they launched into Europe, again with a clear right wing populist slant.

After an hour of this I tried to make sense of what I'd witnessed. What were they getting at? The only conclusion I could reach was that the Russians have taken off the mask because they want to foment and exploit chaos across the European Union and in the United States. Trump has become the surprise answer to their dreams even when adversarial.

Oh well, I hope you enjoyed the Oscars.

Update: It turns out the New York Times sees Russia's play the same way.

“They think he is unstable, that he can be manipulated, that he is authoritarian and a person without a team,” Alexei A. Venediktov, the editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, a liberal radio station, said of President Trump.

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, has long sought to crack the liberal Western order, both as a competitor and as a champion of an alternative, illiberal model. To that end, he did what he could to buttress the electoral chances of Mr. Trump, who seemed like a kindred spirit with his harsh denunciations of NATO and the European Union, his endorsement of the British withdrawal from the European Union and his repeated shrugs over Russia’s destabilizing Ukraine.

In this context, Mr. Trump’s election was an unexpected bonus, but the original giddiness has worn off and Moscow has returned to its tried and true formula of creating turmoil and exploiting the resulting opportunities.

“They are all telling each other that this is great, he created this turbulence inside, as we wanted, and now he is focused on his domestic problems and we have more freedom to manoeuvre,” Mr. Venediktov said. “Let them deal with their own problems. There, not in Ukraine. There, not in the Middle East. There, not in NATO. This is the state of mind right now.”

Sergei A. Markov, a leading analyst friendly to the Kremlin, made much the same point. “Right now the Kremlin is looking for ways that Russia can use the chaos in Washington to pursue its own interests,” said Mr. Markov, a member of the Civic Chamber, a Kremlin advisory group. “The main hope is that the U.S. will be preoccupied with itself and will stop pressuring Russia.”

It's Carnival Time in Germany

It's the Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) celebration in Catholic parts of Germany and, this year, Donald Trump is front and center.

And they even had a spot for Theresa May

Trump's War Budget - Sorry, Gullibillies, What Did You Expect?

There'll be more money in Donald Trump's first budget. More money for the military that is. 54 billion dollars more.

Given that the Orange Bloat remains dependent on Chyna picking up America's tab, he's looking to offset that spending with cuts in foreign aid and especially in social programmes. Sorry, Gullibillies, but what did you expect?

The full defense budget and spending levels for domestic agency operating budgets will be revealed in a partial submission to Congress next month, with proposals on taxes and other programs coming later.

The approximately 10% increase for the Pentagon would fulfil a campaign promise to build up the military. One official said there will be a concurrent reduction in foreign aid and that most domestic agencies will face cuts.

The White House followed the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, in saying Trump’s budget will not make significant changes to social security or Medicare.

As a candidate, Trump promised to leave major so-called “entitlements” untouched, a break with some Republican leaders who believe the costly programs need to be reformed.

By increasing defense and leaving Medicare and social security uncut, the Trump budget plan is sure to project sizable deficits. In the campaign, Trump also promised huge tax cuts, but top GOP leaders such as the House speaker, Paul Ryan, do not want this year’s tax reform drive to add to the budget deficit.

Congressional Democrats, recently forced by angry constituents to grow a pair, may seek to filibuster Trump's spending/cutting initiative and could - gasp - even shut down the government. 

U.N. Secretary-General Sounds Alarm on Right Wing Populism.

"We are increasingly seeing the perverse phenomenon of populism and extremism feeding off each other in a frenzy of growing racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance."

The U.N.'s new secretary general, Antonio Guterres, warns that disregard for human rights is spreading like a disease.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was speaking as he opened the Human Rights Council's main session, with this being the first meeting with Washington's seat occupied by an envoy from President Donald Trump's government.

The UN chief’s keynote address painted a world in "a time of urgency" with rapidly multiplying threats.

"Disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading, north, south, east and west," Guterres said in his first appearance at the council since taking over the UN's top job.

"The Human Rights Council must be part of the cure," he added

George W. Weighs In on Trump

Donald Trump's immediate Republican predecessor, George w. Bush, has slammed the Orange Bloat's policies on - just about everything.

Former United States President George W. Bush, in his first interview since the start of Donald Trump's administration, said he sees a need for an investigation into the Trump team's ties to Russia and voiced scepticism about his successor's approach to immigration and the media.

"We all need answers," Mr Bush said during an interview with NBC's Today program on Monday regarding the Trump campaign's involvement with Russia prior to the November election. He declined to say whether he thinks a special prosecutor should be named and said he trusted congressional committees to make that call. "You're talking to the wrong guy," he said, quipping that he's "never been a lawyer."

"I am for an immigration policy that's welcoming and that upholds the law," he said.

Asked if he agreed with Mr Trump's pronouncement that the news media is "the enemy of the people," Mr Bush was even more direct in his criticism of the new president.

"I consider the media to be indispensable to democracy. We need the media to hold people like me to account," he said. "Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it's important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power."

Mr Bush added that while in office he'd pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to accept a free press and that "it's kind of hard to tell others to have an independent free press when we're not willing to have one ourselves."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Big Chill

Facebook profiles – especially people’s “likes” – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. ...with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves.”

It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

A disturbing account of the big money people manufacturing Donald Trump's alternative reality. As Steve Bannon says, every day is a war. They are at war - with the truth. They know exactly what they're doing and they're willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to buy what they want.

This is perhaps the ultimate advancement in data mining, using a person's Facebook data to delve into their mind, reveal their psychological vulnerabilities and predisposition, and exploit that to - well, there's no other word for it - "brainwash" them.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The New Founding Fathers - Mk. 2

Americans love their Constitution and they revere their "founding fathers" which makes it all the more curious that some even devoutly, unquestionably, blindly support the ultimate charlatan who wants to relieve them of both.

Day by day they're working to unravel everything that has gone on before - the founding fathers, the Constitution, judicial independence, freedom of the press and the mechanism of checks and balances. They're doing an end run on everybody - the courts, Congress, the media - and insinuating themselves and their nihilistic ideology between the government and the voting public. They intend to be the new "founding fathers."

I guess that's what has disturbed me most for the past 20-years or so. As a people you've stopped challenging power, often regardless of the facts that you suspected or even knew to be untrue, if you thought there was also enough in it for you and the kin.

What can  I say? If revisiting my admitted respect and affection for the Roosevelts can revive my once fairly fond feelings for America, even if it had somewhat gone astray, what might Ken Burns Roosevelt series do to reconnect Americans - as a citizenry, a tribe? Isn't that what today's media and cultural propaganda works to achieve - a diminishment, a diminution of the public so they won't insist on facts, or evidence or proof, in the presence of enough fear, precarity. A sufficiently fanciful and pleasing narrative, sometimes remarkably divorced from fact or evidence, sprinkled with a generous serving of xenophobia, paranoia, fear and anger, will suffice for reality. That's fatally corrosive of any possible social cohesion.,

Okay, I'm done. Watch this series, at home or somewhere else. Leave your own political bias at the door. Ask yourself if you wouldn't have been happier back then than you are now.

BTW, as you have figured out, the text of this is an email I sent to a close friend (nearly 40 years) and his delightful wife. I fear they're willing to just give up, go along to get along or get left alone. I think Americans need something to rally around and I think two Roosevelts have blazed that trail.

Riding the Geezer Train to Nowhere

Sometimes You Have to Know When to Let Go.

If the Tories want to reclaim a respectable share of the youth vote before the Boomer generation dies off, they're barking up the wrong tree. That goes double for Kellie the Leech and O'Neill the Hustler.

Researchers brought a sobering message to the annual convention of the right-leaning Manning Centre Friday: most voters under 35 aren't connecting with the conservative movement, and if it wants to reach them, more than just messaging needs to change.

...findings presented Friday to attendees of the conference, organized by the right-leaning think tank named after and spearheaded by Reform Party founder Preston Manning, outlined the scope of the gap between the conservative movement and the bulk of this demographic, which currently makes up about a quarter of Canada's population and more than a third of its work force.

Social conservatism? Forget it, that's for baby boomers, explained Heather Scott-Marshall from Mission Research, taking the audience through the findings of a national political values study conducted last October.

While some candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party may think there's support to be gained by championing "Canadian values," that won't fly with this group, her research suggests.

"I think the message where we're declaring war on transgendered people and undocumented immigrants and religious minorities like Islamists is anathema to that group."
Conservatives often campaign on spending cutbacks and champion the virtues of small, unobtrusive institutions. But that's not where millennial heads are at.
"They still have an appetite for strong government," she said. "They believe that government has a role in stabilizing the economy, in their job and economic futures. They don't want to see government get so small that it's not able to intervene."
Scott-Marshall's research found trust in conservative political parties was low, with respondents reacting much better to the label "progressive" than the label "conservative."
Why? The conservative label makes them think of politics resistant to change, stuck in the past and favouring the rich, she said.
The news wasn't much better for the federal Conservatives when it came to current government policies: a majority of those surveyed favoured taxing the wealthy, legalizing marijuana and implementing a carbon tax.
Show up in the House of Commons and you'll hear Conservatives attacking the government for doing exactly those types of things

Ted Kouri, from the Edmonton-based marketing group Incite, said qualitative research his firm has done with interviews and group sessions in Alberta is consistent with Scott-Marshall's work.

Millennials are looking for positive, constructive messages, he advised, and they're turned off when criticism is offered without an alternative course of action.

Bill Maher's Hypocrisy On Paedophilia

Bill Maher thinks he did a great public service by inviting Milo Yiannopolous on his Real Time programme on HBO where the alt.right troll got into it for defending man/boy love he received as a youngster from "Father Mike." Gloating, Maher praised Bill Maher, saying that "Sunlight is the best disinfectant. You're welcome."

It turns out Maher has had a brush with this issue before and he came down on the same side as Milo.

Sure, Mary Kay Letourneau was a 35-year old teacher, like Father Mike in a position of authority and influence over the child she diddled, but, to Maher, it was not rape, it was love.

Coyne Pans the Manning Conference

Andrew Coyne sees Canada's Conservatives as heading down a dark road, one that may (hopefully) consign them to years in the political desert. He offers, as proof, this year's Manning Conference, now a love fest for right wing populism.

Consider what items might have been on the agenda. A forward-looking conference intended to help shape conservative responses to pressing national issues might have had sessions on how to address the sudden challenge to the international order, not to say the national interest, posed by Trump’s ascent.

It might have talked about how to preserve a world of open markets, and open societies, in the face of the populist-nationalist resurgence. It might have spent much time on the urgent problem of population aging, and the twin pressures — higher social costs, fewer workers to pay them — to which we will inevitably be exposed.

What, in fact, is on the agenda? There’s a session on Islamist extremism; another session on Islamist extremism; a session asking whether Trumpism can be exported to Canada, featuring a Trump campaign adviser; a session on how campus conservatives are being censored; another session on campus censorship; a session on the media; a session on the CBC (“Time to pull the plug?”).

It isn’t that these aren’t legitimate, even pressing issues in themselves — I’m hawkish on security myself, also hate political correctness, and have long called for the CBC to be defunded — or that the proposals under discussion are not valid.

But it cannot fail to be noticed that they are all pitched to a certain corner of the conservative tent, reflecting the particular obsessions of
the populist right
. Indeed, there’s also a session entitled “Down with the Elites? Understanding the rise in anti-establishment sentiment,”
featuring inter alia that voice of introspection and understanding, Doug Ford.

Ford is not the only conference speaker with a decidedly populist tilt. There’s a Brexit campaigner, a talk-radio host, the editor of the Toronto Sun, even a Rebel commentator or two, all capped by a session with the original bad-boy provocateur himself, Mark Steyn.

Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with inviting any or even all of them — I’m friends with some — nor could a conference on conservatism in 2017 fail to pay some heed to the populist insurgence. But the scale of it, the disproportionate emphasis, and the uncritical stance, is telling.

The Manning Conference may not have gone so far down the populist road as its U.S. counterpart, the American Conservative Union, whose own conference, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is coincidentally on this week (it was the ACU that first invited Milo, then disinvited him in the storm over his latest norm-busting pose, on the blessings of pedophilia) but it is clearly less interested in resisting the populist wave than riding it.

But conservatism and populism make uneasy partners at best, and it is unclear what will be left of the former if the latter continues to go

The Age of Angst

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, the height of the Cold War. That was the time when the MAD or Mutually Assured Destruction paradigm hadn't yet quite taken hold. It was the Dr. Strangelove era when planners thought a nuclear first strike - by us - might just work.

Where I lived we got the air raid sirens ever Saturday at noon. The batteries of Nike Ajax nuclear-tipped surface to air missiles would gracefully emerge from the ground on their gantries to face skyward.

We didn't even get the "duck & cover" training in our schools. I suppose they figured we were just too close to a "ground zero" target to have any chance of survival. My buddies and I, all of 10 or 11 years old, deliberated and most of us decided that there was no point heading for the basement. Might as well just stand out in the front yard and get vaporized.  And, with that, life went on.

Sure it got a little tense during the Cuban missile crisis but that was the sort of thing that brought home the reality of maybe getting nuked. Life went on. There was a river to swim in during the summers. Backyard rinks to skate on in the winters. Ball games and bicycles. In terms of mental health I think we were coping admirably.

That was then. "Then" is no more. All we had to deal with back then was the risk of sudden nuclear annihilation. Compared to today, that was kids' stuff. It really was.

As The Guardian's Simon Copland writes, anxiety has become our way of life today and it's reached epidemic levels.

It always hits me in the gut first. I often feel it first thing, my stomach twisted in a knot, my brain deciding it doesn’t want to deal with the day before I even wake up.

Sometimes my anxiety will fester around a particular thing – a cascade of worry about my work, health, social life, or often a simple decision I have to make. This worry becomes totally paralysing, with hours spent focusing on nothing else but this one issue. At other times the anxiety hits for no reason, a desperate feeling of dread that I cannot explain, nor wash away no matter how much I try.


Consult the growing medical discourse around anxiety and you will get an increasingly clear picture of what causes the disorder. Beyond Blue states that factors such as a genetic predisposition, personality traits, the existence of stressful events, physical health problems and substance abuse can all lead to an anxiety disorder. Other research has also found biological causes, with an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine in the brain likely being a trigger.

This research provides an essential picture of the nature of this growing epidemic– confirming anxiety as a core mental health issue and not just an “everyday event” that we all go through. For me it has created some comfort. I have a familial history of mental health problems, and at the times when I’m inexplicably paralysed with anxious thoughts it is often useful to tell myself that my neurotransmitters are simply firing a little funny that day. Yet it’s also clear that anxiety disorders are something much bigger than a simple biological condition.


As noted before, stressful life events – whether it is the loss of a job, the death of a family member, or the breakdown of a relationship – are one of the major causes of anxiety disorders. What’s changing is that these events are becoming a continuous existence for an entire generation. Increasing job insecurity, housing stress, economic and income instability, and a future of climate change, environmental destruction and conflict, have turned stress – and in turn anxiety – into a way of life.

Just as significant stressful events are shown to cause anxiety disorders, research suggests that this long-term stress has a similar impact. For example, research from the University of Michigan found in 2009 that stress from job insecurity is worse for your mental health than unemployment. Similar data has been found regarding housing, with research from the Swinburne-Monash Research Centrefinding a strong correlation between different forms of housing insecurity and mental health problems such as anxiety. Many researchers also believe that when it comes to climate change we are undergoing “a collective anxiety that is insidious, even if we haven’t managed to connect all the dots”.

Yet, as we face this epidemic we must also confront the social conditions behind it. Economic, income, and housing insecurity, alongside the plague of social isolation, is causing a generational mental health crisis, primarily situated in anxiety disorders. Finding long-term solutions therefore can only occur when we are willing to tackle these social causes.

George Monbiot sees the Era of Angst as an inevitable outcome of neoliberalism ushering in the fulfilment of social Darwinism.

A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.

If social rupture is not treated as seriously as broken limbs, it is because we cannot see it. But neuroscientists can. A series of fascinating papers suggest that social pain and physical pain are processed by the same neural circuits. This might explain why, in many languages, it is hard to describe the impact of breaking social bonds without the words we use to denote physical pain and injury. In both humans and other social mammals, social contact reduces physical pain. This is why we hug our children when they hurt themselves: affection is a powerful analgesic. Opioids relieve both physical agony and the distress of separation. Perhaps this explains the link between social isolation and drug addiction.

Experiments summarised in the journal Physiology & Behaviour last month suggest that, given a choice of physical pain or isolation, social mammals will choose the former. Capuchin monkeys starved of both food and contact for 22 hours will rejoin their companions before eating. Children who experience emotional neglect, according to some findings, suffer worse mental health consequences than children suffering both emotional neglect and physical abuse: hideous as it is, violence involves attention and contact. Self-harm is often used as an attempt to alleviate distress: another indication that physical pain is not as bad as emotional pain. As the prison system knows only too well, one of the most effective forms of torture is solitary confinement.

Anyone can see that something far more important than most of the issues we fret about has gone wrong. So why are we engaging in this world-eating, self-consuming frenzy of environmental destruction and social dislocation, if all it produces is unbearable pain? Should this question not burn the lips of everyone in public life?

This does not require a policy response. It requires something much bigger: the reappraisal of an entire worldview. Of all the fantasies human beings entertain, the idea that we can go it alone is the most absurd and perhaps the most dangerous. We stand together or we fall apart.

Friday, February 24, 2017

America's Deep State - More and Less Than Meets the Eye

There's a lot of talk about America's "deep state." This supposed hidden government is the stuff of many conspiracy theories. Donald Trump is obsessed with the idea, wants them exposed. Foreign Policy's Steven Cook says the leakers are a last resort response to a rogue government gone amok.

American bureaucrats are doing something similar to what the Egyptian and Turkish deep states have done — protect a system. That is as far as it goes, however. In the American case, the bureaucrats themselves don’t control, or want to control, the system they are trying to protect. People in the White House, the Pentagon, the State and Justice departments, Congress, and the intelligence community are leaking to the press because they have no choice in an administration where officials have unexplained links with Russia, an array of conflicts of interest, and have promoted soft forms of white nationalism and fascism that threaten basic ideals of American democracy. On top of all of this, those same officials have openly expressed disdain for the professional bureaucracy. This is more than the mundane leaking of everyday Washington but only because the stakes are so high.

Nothing in any of what has transpired in the United States since Trump’s inauguration indicates the existence of an American deep state. The idea has emerged because, like Egyptians and Turks who live in societies where government is opaque, Americans, who are bereft of good explanations for the often bewildering turn of events in a highly polarized and charged political environment, have sought an easy interpretation: conspiracy.

Ah, Jeebus.

CNN is reporting that the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico and, of course, CNN have been denied access to the White House briefing room. From The Hill:

Among the outlets not permitted to cover the gaggle were news organizations that President Trump has singled out for criticism, including CNN.

The New York Times, The Hill, Politico, BuzzFeed, the Daily Mail, BBC, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News were among the other news organizations not permitted to attend.

Several right-leaning outlets were allowed into Spicer’s office, including Breitbart, the Washington Times and One America News Network.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Trudeau Gave Us Hope."

The rest of Canada doesn't "get" British Columbia. I understand that. We're those odd people past the mountains, just beyond Alberta where Canada, in so many ways, ends.

Eastern prime ministers have been coming out here for ages but primarily for photo ops against majestic mountain\ocean backdrops and to sell us "rest of Canada" bullshit.

We pretty much had our fill of it with Stephen "Oil Patch" Harper but then along came this young guy with a legendary name and he brought a bag full of empty promises.

I'll let Michael Harris pick it up from here with his latest, "He's a liar: why the Left Coast may be writing off Justin Trudeau."

He starts with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip:

I am in the downtown Vancouver boardroom of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs and the gentle voice is saying some very tough things.

“My wife and I were scheduled to march in the Chinese New Year’s parade in Vancouver, until we found out that Trudeau was going to be there,” he says. “No way was I going to meet him unless I was on one side of the barrier, and he was on the other.”

“Trudeau made serious and solid commitments. He said no relationship was more important to him than the nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations. He was so convincing that our people went out to vote for him in unprecedented numbers,” Grand Chief Phillip says.

It sounded a lot better than the previous decade under PM Stephen Harper, a time of slashed funding and open insults.

“We were virtually at war with the Harper government for ten years,” Phillip says. “Harper inflicted great hardship on our people, openly attacking our communities and leadership. I woke up to that ongoing battle every single day.

“Trudeau gave us hope.”


All that changed when the Trudeau government gave the green light to British Columbia’s massive hydro development on the Peace River, the Site C Dam.

“It was late Friday afternoon when Ottawa made the announcement. This did surprise us. This was the acid test, that they would provide these approvals. Treaty Eight people had travelled to Ottawa and laid out the facts. We told them that this would have adverse affects on native people and the environment.

“The truth is, Trudeau lied to us. He is very close to violating the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I describe him now as a serial liar.”

His point-blank verbal blast at Trudeau is echoed by an iconic figure in Canadian public life and letters — author, scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki.

“I’m going to be much more outspoken in the coming election cycle. Trudeau is a liar,” Suzuki says. “For me, that’s the charge. He’s an out-and-out liar. I don’t think he deserves a second chance.”

Like Grand Chief Phillip, Suzuki didn’t always see it that way. In fact, he voted strategically for Trudeau in order get rid of the only politician he says he has ever “hated” — Stephen Harper. At first, it seemed like a sound strategy.

“Justin came in and it was such a huge relief after Harper. As a father of four girls, I loved his initial actions — gender equity, then Paris, and of course a big, big commitment to First Nations.

“What the hell is going on now? Site C, Kinder Morgan, he even snuck in the southern line! My daughter and both her two kids were arrested protesting this stuff. His grade today? F. He has lost all credibility with me.”

To me,  Justin Trudeau represents the very best British Columbians can expect from our federal government. They need us. They need our taxes. They need our harbours. They need our coast. What do we get back? You heard it from Chief Phillip and David Suzuki - we are repaid in lies, in broken promises.

Against our clear will, Ottawa, Alberta, the rest of Canada, force us to submit, against our will, to more bitumen trafficking, an armada of supertankers plying our coastal waters, an oil spill hazard that you have no idea how to clean up.

Look, this is our coast. It's our history, our heritage, our legacy and you want to put it at mortal risk so that you can blindly ramp up the extraction and export of the world's highest cost/highest carbon ersatz petroleum, in quantities sufficient to subvert the Copenhagen and Paris climate agreements.

Read my previous post, "Stranger Things Have Happened." If America's Pacific coast states peeled away from the U.S.A., there's a good chance we'd be there - in a heartbeat.

I think we've had it.

Stranger Things Have Happened.

Could Donald Trump be the straw that broke the Union's back?  Could he cause the "left coast" of America (perhaps Canada too) to secede?

Across the Pacific Northwest there's been a movement to create a new country, Cascadia, out of a union of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The idea has been around quite a while going back to Thomas Jefferson who, in 1813, wrote of "a great, free and independent empire on that side of our continent."

While the idea isn't widely discussed among British Columbians, a poll in 2005 found that support for secession in B.C. approached 40 per cent. After being pushed around by the federal and Alberta governments on bitumen pipelines and an armada of supertankers, I expect that number would be a good deal higher today.

What unites these jurisdictions? Just about everything. We're all a bit left of centre. We share common industries - fishing, forestry, mining, and a lot of high tech. We're also rich in clean alternative energy resources including wind, tidal, hydro-electric and thermal-electricity. And, best of all, we also seem genuinely fond of each other, more so perhaps than our fondness for other parts of our respective countries.

Bit by bit it seems that Trump is driving a wedge between the Left Coast and the rest of America. Bear in mind that most of what Trump has up his sleeve hasn't even started yet.

However secession may not spring from Cascadia. It could be sparked by California moving to take its leave.

Drawing inspiration from breakaway groups in Europe, organizations like the “Yes California” movement and the California National Party want to peaceably, legally transform the West Coast of the United States into a “pragmatic progressive” paradise. From one angle, California nationalism, and this particular expression of it, makes perfect sense. Despite marked divides between its northern and southern halves, the Golden State has always nourished its own identity. That stamp was apparent even when Californians played a leading role in fueling all-American patriotism, from the early days of the space program to the closing days of the Ronald Reagan administration.

But now California’s cultural and political leanings have begun to shift away from most of the rest of the country. At a time when only five states in the union boast both Democratic governors and majorities in the state legislature, California is the last place in America where the political left rules unimpeded over a society and an economy large enough to prosper as a nation.

From climate law to immigration law (or the lack thereof), California’s elected Democrats see themselves rightly as the strongest center of opposition to American conservatives and to Trump alike, and the one with the deepest popular legitimacy.

California secessionists also understand that there are fewer practical hurdles, compared with other parts of the country, to parting ways with the USA. A smaller or more parochial corner of America would never contemplate secession, if only because the achievement of such willful idiosyncrasy would come at the cost of isolation and obscurity.

For California, however — approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world — independence wouldn’t necessarily bring economic hardship. Perennial worries about entertainment and tech flight to states dangling incentives might spike in the early days of a new California Republic. But citizens won’t blink at the inevitable higher subsidies lawmakers and a Democratic governor will be quick to offer those anchor industries. And the other pillars of California’s economy — tourism and agriculture — can’t be relocated by skittish investors.

It’s easy to let your imagination run away with itself. But one thing does seem clear: California secession wouldn’t be a one-way ticket to the one-party progressive utopia some frustrated Democrats seem to dream it could be. On the other hand, in an ever-more-hopelessly polarized America, it could encourage a nationwide embrace of those two quintessentially West Coast ideals — wishful thinking and conscious uncoupling. California Über Alles indeed?

Trump has become a burr under the Left Coast's saddle. He recently vowed to retaliate against US municipalities that chose to become "sanctuary cities" threatening to withhold federal funds. That has caused cities in California as well as Oregon and Washington to defy the Giant Orange Bloat. Imagine Trump penalizing California, the state that literally pours tax dollars into Washington's treasury. What could possibly go wrong?

Today, Trump's press secretary, Spicer, warned that Trump intends to use federal criminal powers to crack down on recreational marijuana use even in states such as (coincidentally of course) Washington, Oregon and California that have legalized weed. Already Washington's governor, Jay Inslee, and the state attorney general have vowed to resist any efforts by Trump to "undermine the will of the voters in Washington state."

A lot of British Columbians have about had their fill of being pushed around by the rest of Canada and it seems that West Coast America is coming to the same point with Washington.

It's still a very long shot but there's no sign that the discontent will do anything but worsen with Trump's rampages and Trudeau's indifference. Stranger things have happened.

BTW - for a humourous discussion of an American secession check out Chuck Thompson's "Better Off Without' Em."

BTW - if you doubt me take on how fed up we are with Trudeau and the "Rest of Canada." Michael Harris has a few thoughts.

Rasputin Speaks

To Steve Bannon, Trump, on the campaign trail proved to be the greatest public speaker since William Jennings Bryan. To anyone who sat through some of Trump's campaign speeches, that should tell you a very great deal about Bannon's sensibilities. Anyway, here he is in the flesh at the CPAC conference.

The Tyranny of the Minority

America didn't get where it is today overnight. It took the better part of 60-years. Writing in Harper's, Rebecca Solnit traces how the "Tyranny of the Minority" came to be.

The dismantling started in the 1960s, when the two main parties reversed positions on civil rights. Lyndon Johnson led the Democrats toward stronger alliances with people of color and with women. The Republicans, meanwhile, won the South with the Southern Strategy, that euphemistically named program to gain the support of white Southerners by stoking their racial fears. Justification for the approach had been offered years earlier by William F. Buckley Jr. “The White community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically,” Buckley wrote in 1957. “For the time being, it is the advanced race.” On the basis of that “advanced” status, Buckley decided, a decision to wrest control from the majority “may be, though undemocratic, enlightened.” At its most ideological, the withdrawal from the democratic experiment has served white supremacy; at its least, it has been a scramble for power by any means necessary. Even as the civil-rights movement and the Voting Rights Act sought to undo Jim Crow, a new, stealthier Jim Crow arose in its place.

Writing in The New Republic, the journalist Jeet Heer explains that Buckley’s fledgling conservative movement recognized that by persuading disgruntled whites across the country to vote according to their racial and ideological rather than economic interests, it could gain “reliable foot soldiers” in its larger project of undermining the left. In wooing white voters, Republicans rejected — indeed, ejected — non-white constituencies, who found their only and imperfect home with the Democrats. And where Democrats have been wavering and inconsistent in their desire to expand democratic participation, Republicans have been firmly committed to limiting it: rather than attempting to win the votes of people of color, they attempt to prevent people of color from voting.

They have not been particularly secretive about their goals. Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire who was an early supporter of Donald Trump, has deplored the effects of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, because women tend to vote in favor of social programs. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and adviser, once “mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners,” according to the New York Times. His interlocutor noted that such a move would exclude a lot of African Americans. “Maybe that’s not such a bad thing,” Bannon replied. Trump, meanwhile, has openly gloated over the number of black people who didn’t vote in 2016.

Republicans’ furious and nasty war against full participation has taken many forms: gerrymandering, limiting early voting, reducing the number of polling places, restricting third-party voter registration, and otherwise disenfranchising significant portions of the electorate. Subtler yet no less effective have been their efforts to attack democracy at the root. They have advanced policies to weaken the electorate economically, to undermine a free and fair news media, and to withhold the education and informed discussion that would equip citizens for active engagement. In 1987, for example, Republican appointees eliminated the rule that required radio and TV stations to air a range of political views. The move helped make possible the rise of right-wing talk radio and of Fox News, which for twenty years has effectively served the Republican Party as a powerful propaganda arm.


Some Republicans have argued for a more inclusive approach, but they are not leading the way. The party isn’t changing its strategy in order to win a majority; it is intensifying its efforts to suppress that majority. It has committed itself to minority rule. As the non-white population swells, Republican scenarios for holding power will look more and more like those of apartheid-era South Africa — or even the antebellum South. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, is infamous for his efforts in the 1980s to persecute black voting-rights activists and intimidate hundreds of black voters. In the next decade, either the Party of Lincoln will force us to backtrack for decades, perhaps a century, or we will overcome its obstructionism and walk forward. If anything redeems this nation, it’s the idealism that has for centuries moved abolitionists, suffragists, Freedom Riders, and their like to stand up for the country’s principles — to risk, sometimes, their lives. Hundreds of activist groups have formed in the wake of the election, beginning projects to register voters, renew voting-rights campaigns, and organize local power to influence national policy. The NAACP’s Barber calls this era the Third Reconstruction.

A Wetter Wet Coast

Floods we get. Drought, we're not so sure.

A new study published in Geophysical Research Letters finds that the entire west coast of North America is in for a lot more rain - and flooding - caused by atmospheric rivers of the sort that's been hammering California.

It's a matter of physics.  Warmer temperatures increase evaporation. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapour. A warmer, wetter atmosphere is more energized, powerful, and leads to the creation of atmospheric rivers.

From Climate Central:

Days on which atmospheric rivers reach the West Coast each year could increase by a third this century, if greenhouse gas pollution continues to rise sharply, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory researchers concluded after running model simulations.

Currently, the West Coast is likely to receive rain or snow from atmospheric rivers between 25 and 40 days each year, the analysis concluded. By century’s end, that’s expected to rise to between 35 and 55 days annually.

Meanwhile, the number of days each year on which the atmospheric rivers bring “extreme” amounts of rain and snow to the region could increase by more than a quarter.

The good news is that there's not a lot of level land along the coast. Unfortunately the exceptions include estuaries such as the Fraser Valley, including the densely populated Lower Mainland. Already susceptible to sea level rise and storm surge, heavy mountain runoff overwhelming the banks of the Fraser present another major flooding risk.

Does this mean that west coast droughts are solved? Not so much. Today we're seeing a new phenomenon sometimes called "flash droughts" or "hot droughts." These are destructive, seasonal droughts marked by an interruption of precipitation coupled with intense heat waves, conditions that can impair crop growth.

Recent research has suggested that higher temperatures linked to global warming exacerbated the intensity of California’s ongoing drought, by drying out the state. It’s far less clear what effect climate change had on the likelihood that such a drought would occur.

“The role of anthropogenic influences on the lack of precipitation is still an open question,” said Kevin Anchukaitis, a paleoclimatologist and earth systems geographer at the University of Arizona. “Different research groups have come to different conclusions.”

Rising temperatures are expected to accelerate evaporation and lead to drier conditions across the West — producing what scientists call hot droughts.

Anchukaitis said atmospheric rivers don’t necessarily affect the conditions that produce hot droughts.

But the “severity and duration” of droughts, Anchukaitis said, “will depend on a complex interplay between temperature increases, uncertain long-term precipitation trends and the punctuated role of drought-busting atmospheric rivers.”

Climate Change Displacing Canada's Bison

It's a clear cut problem. Since 1986 lakes in Canada's north have doubled in area. That additional water has encroached on natural habitats including the Mackenzie bison preserve. This is being blamed for the migration of wood bison out of the Mackenzie preserve.

Lakes in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary off the northwest shore of Great Slave Lake are now bigger than any time in at least the last 200 years, said Josh Thienpont, a University of Ottawa scientist and a lead author on the paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature.

“The whole landscape does appear to be getting wetter,” he said.

Thienpont and his colleagues grew intrigued with the 10,000-square-kilometre sanctuary after people from Fort Providence, N.W.T., pointed out things were changing.

“Some of the local community had noticed that it was more difficult to travel on the landscape because it was wetter,” Thienpont said.

Thienpont and his colleagues examined satellite imagery of the area between 1986 and 2011. They found the proportion of the land covered by water had almost doubled, from 5.7 per cent of the total area to as high as 11 per cent.

What’s happening in the sanctuary is unusual. Many northern areas are responding the climate change by getting drier, with lakes draining away as permafrost melts beneath them.

The sanctuary is a reminder that climate change impacts vary, said Thienpont.

“It shows that the same stressor can have varying impacts in different landscapes. It shows the responses of ecosystems are complex and the consequences of climate warming can impact every component of an ecosystem – not just the terrestrial, but also the animals living in an area.”

There Is No Escaping Donald Trump But We Have to Try

Well that's not quite true. If you've got some floating fishing cabin in a sheltered remote cove somewhere up the coast you might be able to escape the constant presence of the Great Orange Bloat. For the rest of us, it's game over.

An op-ed from the New York Times reveals the futility of hoping for Trump-free serenity. Farhad Manjoo tried it for a week. What he discovered is unsettling.

I spent last week ignoring President Donald Trump. Although I am ordinarily a politics junkie, I didn't read, watch or listen to a single story about anything having to do with America's 45th president.

It wasn't my aim to stick my head in the sand. I did not quit the news. Instead, I spent as much time as I normally do online (all my waking hours), but shifted most of my energy to looking for Trump-free zones.

My point: I wanted to see what I could learn about the modern news media by looking at how thoroughly Trump had subsumed it. In one way, my experiment failed: I could find almost no Trump-free part of the press.

But as the week wore on, I discovered several truths about our digital media ecosystem. Coverage of Trump may eclipse that of any single human being ever. The reasons have as much to do with him as the way social media amplifies every big story until it swallows the world. And as important as covering the president may be, I began to wonder if we were overdosing on Trump news, to the exclusion of everything else.
The new president doesn't simply dominate national and political news. During my week of attempted Trump abstinence, I noticed something deeper: He has taken up semipermanent residence on every outlet of any kind, political or not. He is no longer just the message. In many cases, he has become the medium, the ether through which all other stories flow.

It wasn't just news. Trump's presence looms over much more. There he is off in the wings of The Bachelor and even The Big Bang Theory, whose creator, Chuck Lorre, has taken to inserting anti-Trump messages in the closing credits. Want to watch an awards show? Say the Grammys or the Golden Globes? Trump Trump Trump. How about sports? Yeah, no. The president's policies are an animating force in the NBA. He was the subtext of the Super Bowl: both the game and the commercials, and maybe even the halftime show.

Where else could I go? Snapchat and Instagram were relatively safe, but the president still popped up. Even Amazon.com suggested I consider Trump toilet paper for my wife's Valentine's Day present. (I bought her jewellery.)

On most days, Trump is 90 per cent of the news on my Twitter and Facebook feeds, and probably yours, too. But he's not 90 per cent of what's important in the world. During my break from Trump news, I found rich coverage veins that aren't getting social play. ISIS is retreating across Iraq and Syria. Brazil seems on the verge of chaos. A large ice shelf in Antarctica is close to full break. Scientists may have discovered a new continent submerged under the ocean near Australia.

Unlike old-school media, today's media works according to social feedback loops. Every story that shows any signs of life on Facebook or Twitter is copied endlessly by every outlet, becoming unavoidable.

Every new story prompts outrage, which puts the stories higher in your feed, which prompts more coverage, which encourages more talk, and on and on. We saw this effect before Trump came on the scene - it's why you know about Cecil the lion and Harambe the gorilla - but he has accelerated the trend. He is the Harambe of politics, the undisputed king of all media.

In previous media eras, the news was able to find a sensible balance even when huge events were preoccupying the world. Newspapers from World War I and World War II were filled with stories far afield from the war. Today's newspapers are also full of non-Trump articles, but many of us aren't reading newspapers anymore. We're reading Facebook and watching cable, and there, Trump is all anyone talks about, to the exclusion of almost all else.

There's no easy way out of this fix. But as big as Trump is, he's not everything - and it'd be nice to find a way for the media ecosystem to recognise that.

Remember, This Didn't Start in Washington

Modern radical right populism predates Donald Trump by a good few years. Turkey, Poland, Hungary all came first and rightwing populism has been alive and well in France, the Netherlands and Britain among others long before Trump entered the Republican nomination race.

You could say this contagion is in its infancy in America although there's no way of knowing how rapidly that could change. For example, it's changing fairly quickly in Turkey and now Poland.

The defence ministry in Warsaw announced that 90 per cent of Poland's top military brass have been removed, replaced. A purge of the general staff, however, is not the creepiest part.

...one year ago, ...Poland’s minister of defense, Antoni Macierewicz, was quoted as saying he wanted to grow Poland’s army from 100,000 to 150,000. He called it “the minimum which is necessary to respond to military threats.”

Macierewicz did add 50,000 troops. But they did not join the military, per se. Rather, they were considered a separate entity — volunteer troops to trained and ready in three years and equipped with Polish-made materials; who focus not on operational maneuvers, but on local tasks; and who are not in the military structure, but are answerable to the Ministry of Defense

It sounds a bit like a pretty hefty Praetorian Guard or, as Saddam called his, the Republican Guard. Okay, it's a bit like the SS, the Shutzstaffel of infamy.  A large contingent of troops that answer to political masters, not the military brass. And the move to politicize Poland's military has extended to weapons production and acquisition.

...the current government “almost turned upside down what is being procured,” [defence analyst Marek] Swierczynski said in an interview with Foreign Policy. It postponed and reduced, for example, the purchase of search and rescue helicopters for the Navy (and will now likely not meet NATO and the EU’s search and rescue requirements), and will instead focus on the purchase of small drones.

This is in part because of the extensive social programs promised by the Law and Justice party, which probably cannot be enacted if the government is also spending 8 to 10 billion zloty annually on new military equipment. Moreover, the military equipment being bought can be made in Poland — specifically, in eastern and central Poland, home to the Polish defense industry, and also to many Law and Justice voters.

It’s “very much like Donald Trump, actually,” Swierczynski explained — Law and Justice is making Poland great again, one small Polish drone at a time. But they are doing so for political reasons, and not, necessarily, because that is will best serve the army or, by extension, the safety and security of Poland.

Macierewicz and the Defense Ministry spent the past year making changes to the army without consulting its most senior personnel. The chief of defense was not consulted when the ministry replaced his deputies. People are appointed to positions without the necessary ranking required. The NATO-Corps deputy commander is supposed to be a two-star general, but a colonel was given the post instead. The Washington military attache — also at least a one-star position — has been empty since April.

But Macierewicz has the mentality that professionalism is not of the utmost importance. His belief is that “You can gain professionalism in due time,” Swierczynski said. “First, you have to be loyal.”

That’s what was seen in 2016. Whether the Polish military will be better served by loyalty than it was by professionalism in the age of a potential alliance between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be seen in the year, and years, to come.

It's worth remembering what else has transpired in Poland since the Law & Justice party took over. It echoes today in Washington.

First came an attack on Poland's judiciary, notably the troublesome Constitutional Court. But wait, there's more. How about press freedom? Sound familiar? In December, Polish pro-democracy protesters swarmed the legislature for three days.

Protests in the Polish capital Warsaw against government plans to restrict journalists' access to parliament have continued for a third day.

Protesters gathered outside parliament, where opposition MPs have been holding a sit-in since Friday.

Press freedom and judicial independence are also being suppressed in Hungary where strongman, Viktor Orban, has vowed to pursue illiberal democracy.

Then there's Turkey where, under Erdogan, press freedom and judicial independence seem closer to South Vietnam under Diem.

The thing is, much as critics like to cast Trump's senior advisor, Steve Bannon, as some latter day Machiavelli of the Dark Side, he is actually following the playbook written elsewhere. We have the benefit of plenty of recent history to see how this can play out. We can see how the radical right goes about dismembering the democratic state, particularly by attacking judicial independence and press freedom, both of which are well underway in America today.

And, in case you're breathing a smug sigh of relief that we're in Canada, not the United States, you might want to read the National Observer's interview with Chris Hedges. Here's a bit of the Q & A:

What are your thoughts on Canada’s role in this and how Canada could be affected?

Canada’s always a few years behind. Trudeau functions much like Obama. That kind of liberal veneer, while pushing through corporate interests and power at the expense of the citizenry. He’s done nothing to disrupt the surveillance apparatus.

Wouldn't you rather have Trudeau than Trump?

Eventually you end up with a Trump. These are liberal democracies that cease to function. The institutions that address the most basic rights and grievances of the citizens don’t work. They serve corporate power.

Feel better now? I hope not.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

You Can't Blame It All on Trump & Company.

Foreign Policy editor, David Rothkopf, explores America's "shallow government" and the role ordinary Americans, Trump supporters, play in empowering it.

The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)

The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.The commander in chief of the shallow state, for example, does not have much use for reading. Or briefings. Or experts. He is famously driven instead by impulse, instinct, and ideology. He and the team around him care very little for facts. (The Washington Post has been tracking his performance, and so far the president has not let a day go by without a major lie.) Indeed, as we have seen, Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond.

We have seen shallow leaders before. Abraham Lincoln decried the Know-Nothing party and its adherents, who were a notable movement on the U.S. political landscape in the middle of the 19th century. Recent leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were not seen as leading intellectual lights. But the Trump phenomenon is more extreme. The president of the United States with all the resources available to him wouldn’t offer up major distortions of the truth every day for more than a month absent a deep disinterest in learning or a recognition that lies may be more supportive of his positions than the truth (and that his followers are perfectly happy accepting lies). Or both. In my view, it is both. Further, Trump’s team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance. It plays not to newspapers — which it seeks to discredit — but to social media, animated by the belief that the actions of a government can not just be explained in 140 characters but can consist largely of tweets and photo ops and packaged images. When things require real work behind the scenes but are hard to translate to tweets or chat TV, they just don’t seem to be prioritized (like nominating people for the almost 600 open Senate-confirmable positions) or get done (like anything hard with regard to legislation).

It is convenient to blame Trump and write this off as a flaw in his character and that of his acolytes and enablers. But, honestly, you don’t get a reality TV show president with no experience and no interest in big ideas or even in boning up on basic knowledge (like the nature of the nuclear triad — after all, it has only three legs) without a public that is comfortable with that … or actively seeks it. Think about the fact that two out of the last four Republican presidents came from show biz (and a third gained a chunk of his experience as a baseball executive). There is no doubt that the rise of the cage-match mentality of cable news has undercut civility in American political discourse, but it has also made politics into something like a TV show. You switch from the Kardashians to Trump on The Apprentice to Trump the candidate in your head, and it is all one. Increasingly shows are about finding formulas that produce a visceral reaction rather than stimulate thoughts or challenge the viewer. That’s not to say that not much is wonderful in the world of media today … but attention spans are shrinking. Social media contributes to this. But the way we consume even serious journalism does, too. Much of it is reviewed in quick snippets on a mobile device. The average visit to a news website is a couple of minutes, the average time spent with a story shorter still. We skim. We cherry-pick.

Life is once again imitating art. Actually, it’s worse than that.
No Now this president has decided that if he is shallow and his followers are shallow, he shall do what he can to make our society shallower. Perhaps that’s his most ambitious goal given the level to which we have sunk. But he is doing so nonetheless, now offering up a budget that would eliminate those small pockets within the U.S. government that promote depth or real knowledge. Scientific and economic data that undercuts his theories is being suppressed. Dissent, even from within his own ranks, is being met with firings.

...That is why, while it is easy to simply be angry or to laugh at a president who doesn’t read or to be distracted by half-baked conspiracy theories like the deep state, we must recognize that the shallow state is much more pernicious. This administration has come to power because America has allowed public discourse, the quality of education we give our kids, and the standards we set for ourselves to decline. Trump seeks to institutionalize that decline. He is at war with that which has made our society great. He seeks to eviscerate the elements of our government and discredit those within our society who are champions of the depth on which any civilization depends.
And we cannot switch the channel. We cannot tweet this out of existence. We cannot unfollow him. We must fight, or we will lose that which is best about ourselves and our country.