Friday, June 30, 2017

We Didn't Just Get a Fresh Premier Yesterday. We Got So Much More.

There's word of a giant, shredded paper sale in Victoria this Canada Day weekend. Barges full of the remains of 16-years of Liberal corruption suitable for repurposing as pulp and paper products are apparently rafting on The Gorge.

We have a new government albeit one with a tenuous hold on power. Still, as this summary from DeSmog Blog reveals, they've got an important and long overdue agenda of reform.

What's on tap? A major and honest review of the Site C dam project already rubber stamped by Trudeau and his hilariously hypocritical justice minister, Jody.

Then there's what promises to be a determined effort to derail the Kinder Morgan pipeline, likewise rubber stamped by Trudeau despite his empty promises that there would be no pipeline without First Nations approval, "social licence" and an honest environmental assessment in lieu of the patently rigged process of the industry-owned National Energy Board.

Ramped up carbon taxes that were stalled under Christy Clark's petro-politics.

A reconstituted environmental review process for British Columbia.

The formal adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The shift to a new economy with new rules and standards. The Greens have pushed for an end to GDP economics and the adoption of GPI or Genuine Progress Indicator metrics.

Rounding it out is reform - electoral reform and campaign finance reform. Horgan has pledged to support both initiatives and he knows he'll have a damned short mandate if he betrays the Greens on these matters.

If the new government follows through on these initiatives it could create a template for progressive reform in every other province, perhaps eventually the federal government too. There's too much at stake in British Columbia and the rest of Canada to let this fail. Let's hope.

Yes, the President of the United States of America is a Degenerate. Well, Duh.

Sure, he's a creep. This is the guy who boasted of his immunity to grab random women "by the pussy." He talked about the lengths he would go to try to nail a married woman who had caught his eye. He laughingly spoke of perving out young pageant contestants in the changing rooms of his beauty contests.

Donald Trump is an utter deviant, a pervert and, quite possibly, a serial sex offender. He ought to be on an offenders list, not in the White House. Doesn't matter and he knows it.

It doesn't help that he's lazy and stupid. Again he knows that, to his base and a good many Americans  not technically his devotees, it doesn't matter. He has the attention span of a fruit fly. Doesn't matter. He lacks self-discipline, patience and restraint. Doesn't matter. He's impulsive, vindictive, mean-spirited, egomaniacal well past the point of being emotionally and intellectually unhinged. He's mentally disturbed. Doesn't matter.

His family knows he's a degenerate. Doesn't matter. His Congressional caucus, House and Senate Republicans, know he's a total loose cannon. Doesn't matter.

As one week follows another he proves that the bar we thought could get no lower actually can. Trump's debasement of his presidency and the United States of America is seemingly bottomless.

This degenerate, as far as we know, still has access to the nuclear launch codes. To Congressional Republicans it seems even that doesn't matter.

If Trump was the pilot of a B-1 bomber full of B-61 nuclear bombs, he'd be quietly overpowered, dragged away, locked up. Trump would never be that pilot because those people have to undergo extensive psychological testing and analysis. He wouldn't make it to lunch on Day One of the screening process. Yet he's able to order those sane pilots and the missile silo crews and the submarine commanders to launch a nuclear mass extinction event because the mortal threat this deranged man baby presents to America and the world just doesn't matter.

Maybe in some corner office in Deep State America some group is planning to dispose of this threat to the security of the United States. Maybe they've already implemented measures to ensure the nuclear codes never fall into the hands of their lunatic in chief. Maybe.

Today in Climate Change News

Good news! No, sorry, I'm just messing with you.

From the "Howling at the Moon" file, three reports.

From The Guardian, Damien Carrington writes that the extreme heat that hit Europe in June, and claimed lives in Portugal, was clearly linked to climate change.

Much of western Europe sweltered earlier in June, and the severe heat in England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland was also made significantly more likely by global warming. Such temperatures will become the norm by 2050, the scientists warned, unless action is taken to rapidly cut carbon emissions.

Scientists combined temperature records and the latest observations with a series of sophisticated computer models to calculate how much the global rise in greenhouse gases has raised the odds of the soaring temperatures.

They found the heatwave that struck Portugal and Spain was 10 times more likely to have occurred due to global warming. In Portugal, 64 people died in huge forest fires, while in Spain 1,500 people were forced to evacuate by forest blazes.

Time magazine, meanwhile, warns of a study that shows climate change could trigger another recession, this time a permanent economic collapse.

Climate change will wreak havoc on the U.S. economy, leading to as much as a 3% decline in national GDP by the end of the 21st century if left unaddressed — and losses will be far higher in some of the country's poorest areas, according to a new study.

Researchers behind the study, published in the journal Science, evaluated a number of factors that will contribute to economic decline as average global temperatures continue to rise, including increased energy costs, coastal damage, mortality rates and damage to agriculture. The study authors did not assess some other factors that carry economic costs, like damage to biodiversity, because such losses can be difficult to quantify.

Trump's "low information" voters are in the crosshairs:

The southern U.S. and mid-Atlantic region will face the worst losses, while some places in the North may actually benefit from higher temperatures, according to the study. In the places where climate change hits hardest — think the entire South from Texas to Florida — the economic losses could be nothing short of devastating. In many locations, GDP decline could total more than 10%, and in the worst-hit county, Florida's Union County, losses could near 28%.

Predicting the exact consequences of such a climate-fueled recession is impossible, but researchers say the geographic disparities would contribute to political instability and could drive mass migration, with effects felt across the country. "If we continue to emit, you go into this recession and you get stuck in it forever," says study author Solomon Hsiang, an associate professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. "Conflict and political instability — those kinds of things we don’t see today, but could be baked into the future."

"Baked into the future." There's a certain irony to that phrase, isn't there?

The Guardian's take on the same study shows how climate change will drive inequality in the States.

By 2100, the economic loss from warming temperatures will be on a par with the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, with states in the south and lower mid-west to be most severely affected, according to new research. Overall, each 1C of temperature rise is forecast to cost the US economy 1.2% in lost GDP, on average.

“Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said Soloman Hsiang of the University of California, Berkeley, one of the authors of the study.

“If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

In other words Trump's Gullibillies are in for a pounding. But the Sword of Damocles really hangs over their children and grandchildren and by the time they're driven into permanent penury and serfdom, Trump will be well into his perpetual dirt nap.

Remember, these studies are very narrowly focused. They're based on specific aspects of climate change but omit others that are harder to quantify and predict. In other words, these are "best case scenarios." They don't factor in global consequences such as mass migrations and wars and they leave out the companion scourges of overpopulation and excess consumption of resources, "overshoot." More on that here, here, here and, for 2017, here.


"A Nation of Serfs"

I thought I might be succumbing to hyperbole the first time I used the term "neo feudal" to describe the path American society seemed to be on. Feudalism for the 21st Century - modern, high-tech, corporatist servitude cleansed of both economic and political power. It seemed too dark to be real especially in the "land of the free and the home of the brave." Except that it's becoming evident, in so many ways, that Americans are no longer free or meaningfully brave. Certainly neither free nor brave enough to defend their democracy or fight back against those who pry their nation and its government from their hands.

The essential first step - turning the American people against each other - has already been accomplished. American society has never been as divided, certainly not since the Civil War. The rage and fury in this venom-filled sack of flesh jarringly illustrates the situation.

It's the face of a nation whose people have been very carefully, very meticulously conditioned - groomed, if you will - into a state of collective idiocy. A nation of "low information voters" for whom there's no less value in lies than in truth.

The term "neofeudalism" has been popping up in progressive sites with some frequency lately. There's really nothing "neo" about it. The Left and the Right have been accusing each other of feudalistic leanings as far back as John Kenneth Galbraith's book, "The Affluent Society" which was scathingly denounced in the journal of the Mises Institute. Interesting that it was the same Galbraith who opined that Americans would always reject socialism except socialism for the rich.

Yet we have seen, since the trauma of 9/11, the emerging face of a true neofeudal order. From Wiki:

Neofeudalism entails an order defined by commercial interests and administered in large areas, according to Bruce Baker, who argues that this does not fully describe the extent of cooperation between state and non-state policing.[10] The significance of the comparison to feudalism, for Randy Lippert and Daniel O'Connor, is that corporations have power similar to states' governance powers.[11]

The widening of the wealth gap, as poor and marginalized people are excluded from the state's provision of security, can result in neofeudalism, argues Marina Caparini, who says this has already happened in South Africa.[12] Neofeudalism is made possible by the commodification of policing, and signifies the end of shared citizenship, says Ian Loader.[13] A primary characteristic of neofeudalism is that individuals' public lives are increasingly governed by business corporations, as Martha K. Huggins finds.[1] Seattle-based technology billionaire Nick Hanauer has stated that "our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society".[14]

John Braithwaite notes that neofeudalism brings a different approach to governance, since business corporations in particular have this specialized need for loss reduction.[15]

Galbraith's economist son, James Kenneth Galbraith, is reluctant to use the term "neofeudalism" preferring to label it "the Predator State" which I have reviewed here, here and here. Galbraith's book is a timely warning of what is likely to befall us in the difficult years ahead unless we're vigilant and refuse to accept what shall be doled out.

Now there's a chilling warning for America's young people at,
"How the Student Loan Industry, Trump and Neoliberals Are Creating a Nation of Serfs"

[T]he untold story of student loan debt in the United States is that it is being used as a form of economic terrorism designed to not only redistribute wealth from everyday Americans to the elite, but also to undermine and degrade American democracy as a whole.

Up until her confirmation as secretary of education, Betsy DeVos had financial ties to a large student loan servicer in contract negotiations with the Department of Education. PRWatch reported in January that one of the firms DeVos divested from — LMF WF Portfolio — helped finance a $147 million loan to a student debt collection agency called Performant, which had more than 346 complaints brought against it with the Better Business Bureau. The student loan industry is said to be worth $1.3 trillion in total debt owed, according to Forbes.

 In a lecture delivered at Carleton University in Ottawa 2011, famed MIT professor and linguist Noam Chomsky argued that the American student debt system fosters fear and insecurity among people who, burdened by financial stress, anxious for their jobs or stuck in low-paying jobs, are afraid to question or challenge the system.

“When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford the time to think,” Chomsky said.

One indebted borrower, Denise, whose fiancee, Kevin, spoke to Common Dreams on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, is living proof of the dilemma Chomsky presented.

“I’ve wanted to marry Denise for years now,” Kevin said. “But after seeing what she’s been put through with these student loan companies, I honestly don’t want to risk having a bunch of crooks stealing my paycheck or my tax refund.”

I've seen first hand examples of the crushing force of America's student loan debacle.  My Chicago-born son in law signed up for a student loan in his first year of university. Then, when he realized it was a high-interest vehicle for indentured servitude, he quickly withdrew from school. He discovered if he put his studies on hold for two years he would be eligible for lower, albeit still usurious, student loans. After coming to Canada and finding a very successful position in computer graphics he's still scrimping to pay off those loans. He knows that, had he gone with the first option, he'd have been financially trapped for the rest of his life just like a couple of his friends.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes - but no, no, no, no, no.

Credit where credit's due. The Trudeau government intends a sweeping reform of Harper's worst environmental laws. It's been a long time coming but better late than never.

The proposals — packaged in a colourful 24-page document sprinkled with photographs of nature, graphics and other images — moves the federal government one step closer to delivering on a key Liberal campaign promise to restore public trust in federal oversight of industry.

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna said the government sought to promote reconciliation with Indigenous people, to improve environmental protection and to encourage economic development with its suite of proposals.

"That's why our government will deliver environmental assessment and regulatory processes that regain public trust, protect the environment, support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and ensure good projects go ahead that get resources to market sustainably," McKenna told National Observer in an emailed statement. "At the end of the day, we want to get good projects built to create jobs and support communities across our country, while protecting the environment for our children."

I like the mention of regaining public trust. That's not going to be easy. We've been hustled by these guys already, too many times. This is another "trust me" moment and it's not easy to give these characters the benefit of the doubt.

The discussion paper, available here in pdf, is full of photos and charts and constant promises of "we can do better." Of course they can but "better" is an awfully low bar in the circumstances. They should have done better already. Trudeau long ago admitted the national energy board was ginned-up and not to be trusted. Yet, when it came to bitumen pipelines, he reneged on his promise of new environmental assessments and simply rubber stamped the NEB recommendations. Now that those horses, all of them, have left the barn, Trudeau wants to promise to close the barn door.

Admitting you've got a problem is the first step and the pledge to regain public trust is an admission that this government has broken its solemn promises to the Canadian people, especially our First Nations. Regaining that trust won't be easy but, as far as I'm concerned, Trudeau is always welcome to try.


But wait a minute. How about funding for the far northern Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory? Even Harper found money to keep it going.

Dalhousie University's James Drummond is the principal investigator at the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, approximately 1,100 kilometres from the North Pole.

The facility is one of only a handful of research labs in the High Arctic. "It is rather like being on another planet, without having to go through the space travel bit," Drummond said.

The laboratory, which has been operating continuously since 2005, cannot continue to function without a $1-million annual grant from the Climate Change and Atmospheric Research (CCAR) program, Drummond said.

The CCAR program is a five-year initiative that was launched as part of the federal government's 2011 budget. The funding was not renewed in Budget 2017.

Atmospheric scientists at the PEARL facility study the ozone, pollution in the atmosphere and climate change as it relates to the Arctic, and beyond. "The Arctic is changing at a much faster rate than the rest of the planet," Drummond said, and that's having an impact on global weather patterns.

Investment in this kind of science is essential "if we want to be ahead of the curve in understanding climate change," he said.

We need to be able to anticipate what will happen, Drummond said, instead of just reacting to what has already happened.

Trump - If You Can't Reform Health Care, Just Get Rid of It Entirely.

It recalls that old phrase from the late 50s - 'Better Dead, Than Red.' That's a bit like the mentality of Donald Trump when it comes to health care. Apparently his old man frustrations are getting too much for the geezer. Maybe his prostate is acting up again. His solution - if you can't amend it, just get rid of it. Repeal it. The whole damned thing. For everybody. Everybody out of the pool. Then Congressional Republicans can start from scratch, write brand new legislation and have that back into effect in, well, no time. Because they do that so well, they're so efficient.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

It Is Finished

After 16-uninterrupted years of rule by possibly the most corrupt provincial government since Grant Devine's, British Columbians are rid of the BC Liberal government.

The Lt. Gov., perhaps fearful of angry mobs taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches, has taken the safe route and invited NDP leader, John Horgan, to form the province's next government. Many feared she might instead call another election, giving Christy Clark one last desperate chance to claw her way back to power.

One bunch of Liberals has been sent packing. Next up is the Liberal gang in Ottawa.  With his numbers ebbing in the latest polls, the Dauphin is going to have to do some tough calculations. Are there more Liberal seats to be lost in British Columbia than his party can ever dream of capturing in Alberta? Well, duh.

This is not a great situation for two-faced prime minister who pocketed a handy number of seats on the Left Coast on the strength of promises he tossed aside like so much garbage once he gained power. Out here we've got scores to settle with Trudeau the Lesser and many of us would see him pay dearly for his perfidy.

But enough of Christy Clark and Justin Trudeau and their ilk. This is a great day to be a Green or First Nations or even a New Dem.


It turns out Christy did try to get the Lt. Gov. to call another election. Her argument was, in essence, the veiled threat that a Horgan government would be unstable, too weak to govern, and her Liberals would see to just that. In other words, right from the get go these despicable Liberals intend to do everything they can to subvert government in British Columbia. What a pack of utter reprobates.

"The Clenched Fist of Truth"

Where freedom is safe, the National Rifle Association.

It's too bad they couldn't lay the Horst Wessel tune behind this screed. She's a bag of seething venom.

Our Fateful Final Hour

It's expected that within the hour the British Columbia government of Christy Clark will lose a confidence vote. Clark has shown, as if anyone needs more proof, that she has zero integrity with her throne speech lifted largely from the platforms of the opposition New Democrats and Green party. She promised to do everything that her own party has steadfastly ridiculed right up until the last votes were counted.

Now she's vowing to take her churlishness to another level. Maybe another election is what we need to toss out these swine for good.


Well it's over. Clark's government went down on a 44-42 vote. Now let's see what chicanery she has in store for the people of British Columbia.

Celebrating Idiocracy

It's so obvious, so inescapable, you can almost smell it. "It" is America's transformation into true idiocracy.  The Globe's Lawrence Martin writes that, in today's America, "the less you know, the cooler you are."

There’s another book out about how dumb America is getting. In The Death of Expertise, Tom Nichols takes things a step further than other analysts of the decaying American mind. He goes so far as to say “ignorance has become hip.”

Yep, in the most powerful country on Earth, the less you know, the cooler you are.

“The United States is now a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance,” alleges Dr. Nichols, a professor at Rhode Island’s Naval War College. Expertise is being replaced “with the insistence that every opinion on any matter is as good as any other.”

The epidemic of misinformation is without precedent, the author maintains, and no one has a clue of what to do about it. Donald Trump is capitalizing and will continue to do so until respect for erudition, if ever, is restored.

Newspapers keep publishing lists of the President’s latest lies. In a speech Mr. Trump gave at an ego-stoking mass rally in Iowa last week, The New York Times found a dozen. Nobody cared. It was consistent with his batting average. Lies aren’t news any more. Fiction is to be expected. Fiction wins.

Sure enough, after months of being pilloried as a liar, Mr. Trump triumphed in his first big electoral test. The Democrats threw a ton of resources into a battle for a congressional seat in Georgia last week. As in the presidential election, there were expectations they would win. They lost.

Low-information voters were again on Mr. Trump’s side. “I love the poorly educated,” he said last year. Small wonder. They’re ill-equipped to challenge him. His ignorance is bliss.

I think we've been watching this ferment, at least as far back as the attacks of 9/11. Something snapped in the minds of many, if not most, Americans. It's as though they sustained the purely intellectual equivalent of a massive stroke. They're now easily led by outright propaganda agencies such as FOX News which renders them puppets in the hands of America's new oligarchs. At some point we're going to have to realize that our southern cousins are driving drunk and they like it that way.

Why Does Trump Surround Himself with Shady Characters?

Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, Felix Sater and Bayrock Associates, a gaggle of Russian oligarchs linked to Putin, and, more recently, both of Trump's lead lawyers; evangelical Jay Sekulow and his other mouthpiece, Marc Kasowitz - all under some shadow if not active investigation.

I can recall US administrations going back to Kennedy's but never one remotely as shady, right out of the box, as this one. And there's never been an administration with so many deep ties to a country America considers a hostile power, in Trump's case - Russia. has an excellent piece exploring the known links between Trump and Moscow.

Three Years. Are You Listening, Justin? Three Years.

Three years. That's unless you're listening to the pessimists and then we're already well and truly screwed.

Three years. That's how long former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres says we have to take serious action if we're to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

You wouldn't know it from anything you'll hear in our provincial legislatures or in our Parliament, certainly not from the Tories or the NDP or Justin's Liberal government, but we're getting perilously close to the wire or cliff edge or whatever your preferred metaphor.

Avoiding dangerous levels of climate change is still just about possible, but will require unprecedented effort and coordination from governments, businesses, citizens and scientists in the next three years, a group of prominent experts has warned.

The authors, including former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, argue that the next three years will be crucial. They calculate that if emissions can be brought permanently lower by 2020 then the temperature thresholds leading to runaway irreversible climate change will not be breached.

Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, added: “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020.”

Scientists have been warning that time is fast running out to stave off the worst effects of warming, and some milestones may have slipped out of reach. In the Paris agreement, governments pledged an “aspirational” goal of holding warming to no more than 1.5C, a level which it is hoped will spare most of the world’s lowest-lying islands from inundation. But a growing body of research has suggested this is fast becoming impossible.

Paris’s less stringent, but firmer, goal of preventing warming from exceeding 2C above pre-industrial levels is also in doubt.

Recall it was Schellnhuber who injected a bit of sobriety in the giddiness of the Paris climate summit in 2015 when he warned that the only possibility of not triggering natural feedbacks or runaway global warming demanded the "induced implosion" of the global fossil energy industry. He was saying that we have to shut this business down and fast. Apparently our then newly minted prime minister may not have stayed for that part of the Paris summit because he obviously didn't get that message. He's gone on to facilitate the rapid expansion of bitumen extraction and export complete with new pipelines, armadas of supertankers and even Corexit to bury the evidence when catastrophe occurs.

Our political caste, the current prime minister and his government included, demonstrate a rejection of these warnings. Decarbonizing our economy and our society isn't a matter of flipping a switch. Even if we committed to it today it would take years of planning, preparation and implementation. It's a truly Herculean task and we're nowhere near even beginning. The longer we pretend we're still in the 80s the further behind we get, the greater our challenge will be if we finally decide to act. The longer we wait the less likely it will become that we will change as we come to see that change as an insurmountable burden instead of an opportunity.

And the band played on.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chris Hedges - America Is a Tinderbox

Have we already lost? Chris Hedges claims we've become hostages to our fears, unable any longer to grasp reality.

Saving Print Journalism - a Humble Proposal

I want print journalism in Canada to survive. I want it to flourish. I want papers like the Victoria Times Colonist popping up in cities across the country.  The Tyee's Shannon Rupp, a devotee of the Winnipeg Free Press has a few interesting ideas on how we can save and rehabilitate print journalism while there's still time. She begins by citing Andrew Coyne:

“This is not a case of market failure, but industry failure,” Coyne writes, dismissing the publishers who cast themselves as victims of the Internet. “Nothing whatever prevents readers from buying what we are selling. There is only our own proven incompetence at providing a product worth paying for.”

Ms. Rupp doesn't claim to have all the answers but she tosses out four ideas for your consideration. Hint: They're not Paul Godfrey-friendly.

1. Adopt the Canada Council model of peer review. Arts grants are awarded based on juries of artists agreeing which work is worth funding. Newspaper subsidies should be awarded by juries of journalists.

2. Exclude publicly traded newspapers from applying for subsidies. Executives in those companies are legally obligated to put the interests of the investors first. The fact that newspapers are arguing they can’t do good journalism without government largesse tells us that there is no business case to be made for civic reporting. So if they want to continue as publicly traded entities, and give their managers million-dollar paydays, let them figure out how to be profitable on their own.

3. To be eligible for subsidies, management compensation has to be tied to workers’ salaries. So perhaps the first thing this new Canada Council for Journalism should do is work out an executive compensation formula. The senior executives can make no more than, say, five times what the lowest paid employee makes.

4. Require outlets receiving subsidies to adhere to a Code of Ethics and have a board-of-review to hear complaints. If they want to fund reporters with conflicts-of-interest, or unlabelled advertorial, or columnists who plagiarize, that’s their business. But citizens who rejected those newspapers in the marketplace, because of their dodgy ethical standards, shouldn’t have to subsidize them via taxes.

Alberta's Urban Time Bombs - Reaping the Whirlwind

There are some 1,500 abandoned oil and gas wells in urban areas of Alberta. One in ten is leaking methane at dangerous levels. The Tyee's energy scribe, Andrew Nikiforuk, got his hands on a unpublished study by - who else - Alberta's industry-compliant energy regulator.

The 33-page study found that 36 of the abandoned wells were leaking methane. Nine of those wells were leaking at a level that Alberta Health says poses a risk of neurological damage to nearby residents.

Six of them were leaking methane at more than 10,000 parts per million (ppm), a level deemed “life threatening” by Alberta Health.

According to a 2015 Alberta Health document titled “Methane from Leaking Abandoned Wells: Health and Safety Concerns” also obtained by The Tyee, leaks of 1,000 ppm could result in neurological effects. Leaks above 10,000 ppm pose explosion risks and should prompt “emergency evacuation,” the Alberta Health report said. 

The Alberta government has not released the health and safety methane document. When The Tyee asked for a copy two months ago, ministry press secretary Laura Ehrkamp said officials couldn’t find it.

The methane leakage study was prompted by new regulations in 2014 that directed industry to locate and test abandoned wells that may pose a risk to communities.

It found that six wells that exceeded the emergency evacuation threshold of 10,000 ppm were outside buildings. Three other hazardous wells had “methane leakage inside buildings.”

In addition the report noted another 53 abandoned wells out of the 1,500 that had been identified as “higher risk” because of sour gas or acid content. “Licensees were directed to locate and test these wells,” the report says. There was no information on the results.

Although leaking methane from wells often travels with well-known public health hazards such as benzene, toluene, xylene and hydrogen sulfide (a potent neurotoxin), the AER study only measured methane.

Alberta's NDP premier, Rachel Notley, and her government can't even protect her own citizens and she wonders why coastal British Columbians give her short shrift whenever she bleats "trust us." We have no reason to trust her or her province's energy industry or, for that matter, our feckless prime minister. Wherever this industry goes it leaves bad debts to be made good from the public purse, bankruptcies of convenience and environmental nightmares. And then Notley has the audacity to tell coastal British Columbians that it's not our coast. Shove it Rachel, shove it all the way.

A Great Liar Who Lies Without Inhibitions

[He] "was a great liar, a very talented actor who lied without inhibitions;

a man capable of self-suggestion, from which he would build his willpower

- the most dangerous combination you could imagine."

Does that sound like anyone you know? Maybe someone now occupying the Oval Office? A great liar, who lies without inhibitions and is capable of self-suggestion that is the foundation of his incredible willpower?

In fact it's a quote from a famous German documentary filmmaker, Hermann Polking.

"All his relatives considered him to be a no-hoper who shied away from all hard work," said boyhood friend August Kubizek of Adolf Hitler. "He was the darling of his mother and adored her the same," commented Hitler's Jewish family doctor. "If Adolf wanted something, he got it - mostly at the expense of others," noted sister Paula Wolf.

These telling impressions of a young Adolf Hitler are among countless quotes from contemporaries of the dictator that make up the much-anticipated documentary, "Wer war Hitler" (Who Was Hitler). The seven-and-a-half-hour TV series premiered this week at the Munich Film Festival.

Using no narrator or talking heads, and sparse additional information, writer and director Hermann Pölking retraces the life of Hitler - from his birth in 1889 in upper Austria to his suicide in Berlin 1945 - entirely from statements made by companions, enemies, victims and observers.

Pölking catalogued 120 archives in 14 countries and reviewed 850 hours of footage in an effort to create a unique, up-close portrayal of the evolution of the 20th century's most infamous historical figure. The hundreds of quotes were recorded by 125 speakers.

At over seven hours, the film is extremely long and demanding - which is why a shortened three-hour cinema version is planned. But the endurance required is rewarded through a fascinating montage of rarely-seen archival film material.

How Desperate is Trump to Cover His Tracks? Would He Resort to War for a Smokescreen?

Here's the theory. The Russia investigation begins to close in on Donald Trump. Congressional Republicans seeking to save their own skins abandon their president. A desperate, authoritarian president throws his own nation to the wolves of war.

Waterloo prof and author of "The Upside of Down," Thomas Homer-Dixon paints a chilling scenario:

"...commentators have generally concluded that the Mueller inquiry is safe. But two factors will destabilize the current equilibrium over time. The first will be Mr. Trump’s rising motivation to stop Mr. Mueller’s inquiry as it progresses. Pursuing the Russian connection, the special counsel will probably ask the Internal Revenue Service to hand over Mr. Trump’s tax returns. Many astute observers think the reason the President hasn’t released his returns is that they contain proof of compromising financial links with Russia. If that’s indeed the case, Mr. Trump will do everything he can to prevent their release.

"The second factor will be Mr. Trump’s manipulation of the broader political environment in which Congress and the presidency operate. As Jack Goldstone, an expert on state failure, and I argued before the 2016 election, Mr. Trump can generate “a new political and social reality – an ‘emergency’ in the U.S. and around the world – that justifies … attacks on democratic institutions.”

"The most likely emergency of this kind is a war, because U.S. presidents have the most room for independent action on the international stage. Also, the start of a war almost always produces a “rally round the flag” effect and a big boost in presidential poll numbers. According to Gallup, George W. Bush saw a 13-per-cent surge in approval at the start of the Iraq invasion in 2003. In the opening days of a new war, a similar surge in Mr. Trump’s poll numbers could encourage congressional Republicans to back the President, should he move to fire Mr. Mueller simultaneously.

"The United States is closer to a war – perhaps more than one – than any time since 2003. Events could easily go awry with North Korea over its nuclear buildup, Iran over its support for insurgents in Yemen and elsewhere or Russia over an incident in Syrian airspace. And Mr. Trump doesn’t have to go to war intentionally to reap the domestic political gains I’ve described. He could stumble into war through his breathtaking foreign-policy ineptitude and then opportunistically exploit the crisis to fire the special counsel.

"After observing Mr. Trump’s first five months in office, no one should now doubt that – if not for the U.S. political system’s checks and balances – the President would accrue to himself dictatorial powers. ‎He’s contemptuous of the rule of law, constraints on executive power, the investigative role of a free press and judicial review. So far, however, those checks and balances have stymied his authoritarian impulses. And to many people’s surprise (but not mine), the President’s sheer administrative and political incompetence has deprived him of opportunities to consolidate and expand his power.

"But in foreign policy, the reverse relationship could easily hold: Incompetence could create crisis and crisis could enable authoritarianism. If so, Mr. Trump still has one very powerful card up his sleeve."

A Man After My Own Heart

"A man walks into a pub..." - the opening line of countless jokes. Only this time it was 53-year old Simon Smith of Reading, England and he'd just been hit by a speeding, out of control, double decker bus.

After dusting himself off, Smith walked in to one of his locals, The Purple Turtle.

Stuart McNaught, the bar manager, said Mr Smith was taken to hospital but had emerged from the accident with just bruises.

Mr McNaught said: "We've known Simon for about 20 years. He went to hospital, he's OK, he's a bit frail today, he's not feeling the best.

"He went to hospital, the paramedics who called the ambulance took him.

"He's bruised and shocked I think. It's absolutely crazy."

The Sheer Numbers Are Devastating

I try to recycle every scrap of plastic that I can. I've kept vaguely current on the state of plastics in our oceans and along our coasts. Still I was shocked to read the latest report in The Guardian about the true magnitude of the problem and its projected growth rate.

A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change.

More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300bn a decade ago. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3bn, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.

Most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up.

Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean.

What the fish eat, we eat.

Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year. Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety “given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”.

Not surprisingly, the Big Drinks companies are responding to this crisis along similar lines to how Big Fossil approaches efforts to tax carbon - that is to say, poorly.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Is Trump's Evangelical Lawyer Just Another Dirtbag?

Why does Donald Trump surround himself with so many real dirtbags?

Trump's latest legal mouthpiece, Jay Sekulow, is a perfect example. The Guardian has published an expose on Sekulow that suggests the Sekulow family grew fat and rich out of his Christian nonprofit.

More than 15,000 Americans were losing their jobs each day in June 2009, as the US struggled to climb out of a painful recession following its worst financial crisis in decades.

But Jay Sekulow, who is now an attorney to Donald Trump, had a private jet to finance. His law firm was expecting a $3m payday. And six-figure contracts for members of his family needed to be taken care of.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show Sekulow that month approved plans to push poor and jobless people to donate money to his Christian nonprofit, which since 2000 has steered more than $60m to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.

Even if the Sekulow clan didn't break any laws it's a pretty sordid story.

HuffPo Calls "Bullshit" on Trudeau on Electoral Reform Promise

The title of the piece speaks volumes: "Trudeau Blames Opposition For Not Reading His Mind on Electoral Reform. The prime minister could have been honest with Canadians."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looked reporters in the eyes Tuesday morning and told them he had "no path" to keep his campaign promise on electoral reform because none of the other parties wanted his preferred option: a ranked ballot.

Trudeau, however, never campaigned on bringing in a ranked ballot. (That's a system also known as a preferential ballot or an alternative vote, in which voters rank their first, second and third choices, and votes from the last-place candidate get redistributed until someone emerges with 50 per cent of the vote. The Conservative Party of Canada recently used a modified version of a ranked ballot to elect its new leader.)

Except, there was a path. Trudeau could have told the truth.

The prime minister could have been honest with MPs and with Canadians and said during the campaign that he wanted a preferential ballot. He could have saved taxpayers millions of dollars — in committee travel costs, ministers' travel costs and for a $2-million "" survey — for public consultations that he didn't intend to pay attention to.

Instead, he chose to make a political ploy of letting Canadians — many of them NDP and Green party voters — believe he was open to a proportional voting system that would give their parties a stronger voice in the House of Commons.

"The promise was clear," May said. "It did not say there is only one system we will consider after the election," May said.

"Ranked ballot does not make every vote count," she contended. "Quite the contrary, it distorts it even more.

"I don't want to use the words cynical because it could be naive, it could have been ill-considered, it could have been thoughtless, it could have been hasty, it could have been many things other than cynical, but the reality is, it did not tell Canadians the truth about what the prime minister was willing to bring in."

Now I know it offends the LPT, or Liberal Purity Test, to criticize fair Justin for his pattern of shameless breaking of solemn promises but, bugger that, I'm no Liberal. Those decades are of the past.

And don't pretend that this is an affront to a progressive government. There's damn little that's progressive in Justin Trudeau's government. Progressive is more than an empty word. It has meaning. It is founded on some pretty basic principles and, while this government may pay lip service to those principles, it does precious little of substance to honour them.

What If... Britain Had Won America's Revolutionary War?

Did America really "win" the Revolutionary War in 1776? Just what exactly did it win?

That question is pondered by Neal Pollack, the self-described "Greatest Living American Writer since the dawn of American letters" in today's Salon. His essay is entitled, "We could have been Canada."

When I was a child, the notion of a civic society, born from a social compact written by men wearing wigs, girded our intellects and our loins. But now our loins have begun to soften somewhat. Perhaps that’s because of the gig economy, or incipient fascism, or both. Plus we can always blame millennials, and we’d be right. In the meantime, a slow awareness has dawned slowly. We’ve begun to realize that another reality might be better. Fortunately, other realities are opening up every day.

Most profoundly the scenario where the British won the Revolutionary War and America never ceased to be a colony. In Canada, for instance, students are taught from an early age that England is the mother country that feeds us with her delicious cheese. So let’s imagine a similar scenario: In 1770, instead of getting all bratty and slicing people up with bayonets, American colonists had instead just said, “Fine, tax us whatever, just please don’t fund any more Ricky Gervais projects.” Today, we’d all be drinking top-notch tea and singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” after watching Liverpool matches. And we’d definitely be up for a couple of weeks in Spain. We would have National Health Insurance, refer to French fries as “chips,” and there’d be an old queen with a Netflix show where she’s depicted as a super-sexy young chick married to Dr. Who.

I think, at this point, we all agree that it would be better to be England than America, as long as we get to keep California and the nicer parts of Colorado. America, thanks to its fake historians, has historically imagined itself a nation of homesteading rebels. But come with me through the portal, and you will see that the entire time you were really just a British pussycat grown fat on clotted cream and sunshine.

That is what it will take for this once-great nation to shake off the lugubrious weight of autocracy. We cannot depend on institutions that have been institutionalized, cannot depend on leaders who don’t lead, and, in the end, we cannot depend on Depends themselves, because everything and everyone leaks. Like many of my fellow writers, I long to rejoin the British Empire, or at least to get a book deal that argues the case. For, as Winston Churchill once wrote in “The Endless Sentence,” his history of England, “When, in fact, great nations gather under history’s storm, harrumph harrumph harrumph.” Or, as the British King Arthur put it in “The Legend of the Sword,” the recent documentary film, “Cheerio mate. Jolly good. Off you go to the loo!”

Of that we can be certain.

Sorry, Neal, too late for do-overs now or weepy pleas of contrition. We'll hear no buyer's remorse from the cheap seats. Besides, our side won the War of 1812, the war that ensured we didn't have to become you and, of that, we can indeed be certain - and grateful.

"Comrade Christy" Has BC's Conserva-Liberals' Heads Spinning

In an act of abject debasement, British Columbia premier, Crispy Clark, has thrown her entire, Liberal (in name only) Party under a very large bus. Her "hail Mary" throne speech incorporated so much of the opposition parties platforms that the Liberal Party faithful were stunned by Clark's panicked leap to the Left.

So it’s no wonder that conservatives like ex-BC Liberal finance minister Kevin Falcon were too shocked to even respond to the throne speech.

“I’m still trying to deal with the magnitude of the shifts,” Falcon said Friday.

Others were deeply concerned last week that the party’s fragile coalition will split completely as it bizarrely takes positions left of the NDP and Greens.

Retired energy minister Bill Bennett admitted, “I think there’s likely to be some real angst today on the part of business and fiscal conservatives.”

And former mines minister Blair Lekstrom said he was surprised and questioned if the throne speech promises were affordable.

“I’m not sure that’s the case,” said Lekstrom, adding he expected public cynicism.

Cynicism is an understatement.

The only thing missing is Christy with a big moustache, glasses and a cigar. It was, after all, Groucho Marx who is credited with the line, "These are my principles. If you don't like them ...well, I have others."

Define "Peace" In the Age of Forever Wars.

What is "war"? Hard to tell anymore. Even harder to define these days is "peace." As for "victory" well, good luck.

Our common understanding of these terms is anchored in the era of the Westphalian nation state. That was a paradigm of defined national borders and sovereign nations that exercised a monopoly on violence usually through standing military forces. War was considered the use of military force by one nation against another to achieve the defeat of one of the combattants and compel its submission to the will of the other. War was also seen as intended to restore peace albeit on terms favourable to the victor. War was an interval between periods of peace. Today the top minds in military studies may call that "old war."

The post-war era saw the spread of "new war."  The nation state's monopoly on violence weakened as new players entered the realm of conflict. State actors began to share the stage with a host of quasi-state forces and non-state actors ranging from regional militias formed on tribal or ethnic lines, usually under the control of warlords, to rebel forces, insurgents, guerillas and even criminal organizations, large and small, and run of the mill bandits. The weaker the nation state the more opportunity that weakness affords to these quasi- and non-state actors.

This multiplicity of warring parties injects chaos into the conflict. Afghanistan, for example, has long suffered under the dual scourge of tribalism and warlordism. The country is made up of a diverse ethnicity - Pashtun, Baloch, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani, Arab and a few others. Tribalism in spades. And, over the years, those ethnic divides have led to warlordism and banditry.

In the wake of 9/11, America and her allies poured forces into Afghanistan to cleanse the place of al Qaeda forces, to drive out their notional hosts, the Pashtun Taliban, and to implant Western democracy and human rights for a people thought to crave such things even if they didn't know it. We arrived with Old War, Westphalian-style military forces, assuming their unrivalled military prowess would assure a quick victory.

Nobody, it seems, was interested in listening as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee expert testified that democracy had never taken hold in a country like Afghanistan unless warlordism and tribalism were first overcome. In one of the most self-defeating blunders of the modern era we actually abandoned our initial opposition to Afghan's warlords and instead allowed them to achieve high office within the new national government. And we wonder why our side is still fighting there today, a decade and a half later, with no end in sight.

Our adventure in Afghanistan begat the American adventure in Iraq that begat the rise of ISIS and its spread into the nascent civil war in neighbouring Syria that dragged in other regional players including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf State foreign legion; Iraq and its patron, Iran; plus America and its foreign legion; and, of course, Russia. Oh yeah, I forgot, Israel. Add to that the various Kurds (Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish) plus the bad guys ISIS and al Nusra plus the original home team players - Syria and its Sunni Syrian rebel opponents and you've got a battlefield bouillabaisse. How many agendas are at play there? Who's after what? Who is waging a military war and who is also waging a political war? How, if ever, does this possibly end? When? By comparison, Afghanistan looks like child's play.

Lawrence Freedman is the venerable professor of war studies at King's College, London. In a recent essay in Foreign Policy, Dr. Freedman looks at whether America can ever achieve "peace with honour" in Afghanistan and concludes that won't happen unless America's definition of "peace" is watered down.

"Over the next few weeks, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is due to provide President Donald Trump with a new strategy for Afghanistan. This will be the latest in a long series, produced on a regular basis since 2001, all with the core objective of preventing the country reverting to a sanctuary for terrorism. Mattis cannot be accused of ramping up expectations for the new approach he is seeking to develop. He describes the current situation as a stalemate, but with the balance having swung to the Taliban. Reversing this, he argues, will require more troops to help develop Afghan capabilities. When asked what it would mean to win, he says violence must be brought down to a level where it could be managed by the Afghan government without it posing a mortal threat.

"There are several obstacles to even this modest definition of victory. First, it envisions an Afghan government able to competently deal with groups such as al Qaeda without outside assistance; it envisions, in other words, a government very different than the one Afghanistan has had for some time. Another obstacle is posed by the supporters of the former Taliban government, who are well embedded in Afghanistan and have sympathetic backers in Pakistan. Regardless of the strategy Mattis settles on, the war offers little prospect for a stable end-state in which the Afghan government will be able to think about issues other than security, or U.S. forces can withdraw without having to rush back to repair the damage as the Taliban surge once more.

"But Afghanistan is not unique in this regard. The situation in Iraq is similar, as are the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Ukraine, and any number of other international conflicts. We have entered an era of wars that wax and wane in intensity, and at best become manageable, rather than end with ceremonies to conclude hostilities. The challenge posed to traditional notions of war by these endless conflicts has been the subject of much debate. What is long overdue is reflection on the challenge posed to our definition of peace."

"[W]arfare has become less of a separate, marked-off activity, demarcated in time and space, and instead a messy condition, marked by violence, found within and between states. It can involve examples of force that are intense but localized or else widespread and sporadic. Borders have become permeable, so that neighbors move in and out while denying that they are engaged in anything so blatant as aggression. The absence of large-scale hostilities at any particular moment in any particular region does not mean that peace has broken out because they are often on the edge of war. A true peace needs to be for the long-term, with disputes resolved and relations getting closer — not a pause to allow for restocking and some recuperation before the struggle continues."

"Over long periods countries, such as Afghanistan or Iraq, can experience many different sorts of violence without ever enjoying a lengthy period of tranquility that might deserve to be known as peace. The literature now refers to “war prevention” and “war termination” without requiring any references to the “peace” being left or to which it is hoped to return."

"...when we do get around to discussing peace it is largely in positive terms. Peace must be “just and lasting.” A coming peace is rarely described in terms that acknowledge the challenges facing war-torn societies as they attempt to recover and reform. The promise, once the “evil-doers” are defeated, is of freedom and democracy flourishing, bringing with them prosperity and social harmony. Even when intervening in societies whose future we cannot (and should not) control the West is reluctant to say that we have done little more than calm things down and made things less bad than they might have been. It is difficult to justify the lives lost and the expenses incurred in the most discretionary intervention by proclaiming a so-so result. Indeed, the temptation is to cover the promised outcome with the full rhetorical sugar-coating. Looking back at the claims made about what could be achieved in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ambition is extraordinary: terrorism defeated, a fearful ideology discredited, whole regions turned toward the path of democracy and away from dictatorship, an end to the drug trade, and so on."

"We talk about peace as a utopian condition, as a set of desiderata for a better world to keep us motivated when times are tough, or when inquiring into the requirements of postwar reconstruction. But the nature of the peace we seek needs to be integrated as a matter of course into any military strategy, and in contemporary conditions requires a renewed commitment to realism. There is no point in describing an attractive future if there is no obvious way to reach it. Military planners should remember that the conduct of a war, as well as the cause for which it is fought, shapes any eventual peace. Opportunities need to be taken to consider what might seriously be achieved through the use of force, nonviolent alternatives that might achieve comparable objectives, and also what can be done with a war that others have started but we wish to see finished.

Si vis pacem, para bellum. “If you want peace, prepare for war,” goes the Roman adage. But if you prepare for war then at least think about the peace you want."

It's hard to refute Dr. Freedman's insights and logic. It's harder to imagine our political caste embracing his wisdom.

It's easy to fault the United States for its martial ineptitude that has led to the creation of "forever" wars the live embers of which can spread from one region to another as if borne on the winds. But what of Canada living in the shadow of this "permanent warfare state"? Shall we ever be at peace with the world again or have we been sucked into this modern Maelstrom to be pulled down to the depths?

For years I've been arguing that Canada needs to be far more cautious when it comes to any situation that places Canadian lives at risk or promises to take the lives of foreign nationals, especially civilians. What possible justification can there be for engaging in wars that we commence lacking the means or the will to win?

I so clearly remember our then leader, Harper, rearing up on his hind legs to proclaim that Canada was in Afghanistan to win. We would not cut and run. No we were staying until the Taliban were driven out for good and Afghanistan was a true democracy with Western-style human rights. What a farce.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Python Politics

Theresa May, Brexit, Python - Perfect.

The Perils of Judicial Partisanship

The U.S. Supreme Court has greenlighted Donald Trump's 90-day Muslim travel ban.

The U.S.S.C. hasn't heard arguments yet. No, arguments won't be heard until sometime in the fall, sometime after the 90-day ban is over.

Does that sound vaguely corrupt to you? It should. Then again this is the same court that ignored the greatest "legal fiction" of them all to declare that corporations were persons complete with political rights.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

An Open Book or How to Aid and Abet Your Enemy

Most of us, I suspect, realize that Trump is doing neither himself nor his country any favours with his impulsive and often imprudent tweets. We may realize it but there's nothing like an expert's take on the presidential predilections. These insights come courtesy of Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst and "targeting officer."

Every time President Donald Trump tweets, journalists and Twitter followers attempt to analyse what he means. Intelligence agencies around the world do, too: They're trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States may have. And he's giving them a lot to work with.
Trump's Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency. Usually, intelligence officers' efforts to collect information on world leaders are methodical, painstaking and often covert. CIA operatives have risked their lives to learn about foreign leaders so the United States could devise strategies to counter our adversaries. With Trump, though, secret operations are not necessary to understand what's on his mind: The president's unfiltered thoughts are available night and day, broadcast to his 32.7 million Twitter followers immediately and without much obvious mediation by diplomats, strategists or handlers.At the CIA, I tracked and analysed terrorists and other US enemies, including North Korea. But we never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now - to get a real-time glimpse of a major world leader's preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind. If we had, it would have given us significant advantages in our dealings with them.

While Trump was new to national politics when he started his presidential campaign in 2015, he wasn't new to Twitter. A review of his old tweets would reveal how well flattery can work to get his attention and admiration.

What Trump doesn't say can be very revealing, too. For instance, the lapse of time between when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off the coast of Japan (12.30pm on June 16, in Washington) and when the president tweeted about the incident (10.08am the next day) was nearly 23 hours. The tragedy marked the US Navy's most significant loss of life aboard a vessel since terrorists bombed the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The president's frequent contradiction of his own aides also provides useful intelligence for foreign analysts. Last month, Trump tweeted that it was "not possible" for administration officials to be perfectly accurate in describing what his White House is doing. Why not? Is the White House not coordinating messaging? Has Trump defined his own course of action, regardless of what his Cabinet or staff has been told? Policy and public diplomacy typically require interagency coordination, but Trump forces the US government to react to his whims instead - which makes his Twitter feed that much more important to analyse and understand.

Analysts can glean information about Trump's sleep patterns from the time of day or night when he tweets, showing which topics keep him up, his stress level and his state of mind. Twitter also often reveals what Trump is watching on TV and when, as well as what websites he turns to for news and analysis. Knowing this can be useful for foreign governments when they are planning media events or deciding where to try to seek coverage of their version of world events.

Analysts would also be likely to use technology to perform content analysis on the president's tweets in the aggregate. Intelligence agencies can employ a more robust version than the open-source projects that news organisations have used, because they can marry Trump's tweets with information they collect through intercepts and other means. Software could look for patterns in speech or word categories representing confidence related to policy, whether Trump is considering opposing points of view and if he harbors uncertainty toward any subject. Computers can perform metadata analysis to build timelines and compare Trump's Twitter feed with his known public schedule, creating a database of when and where he tweets and what else he's doing at the time. Anything that provides a digital footprint adds context to the analysis.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

You Can't Lead the Pack If You Don't Know Where You're Going

If an enemy of the United States wanted to throw the West into chaos it could not have chosen a better man for president than Donald Trump, a leader whose deepest thoughts are composed of 140 characters or less.

The U.S. likes to imagine that it remains the uncontested leader of the free world. The nations of the free world, however, have discovered there's no one manning Washington's wheel house and with the shoals nearing that's creating a certain amount of worry.

On trade, climate, foreign aid, and more, America’s allies wonder what U.S. policy is — and who, if anyone, can take America’s place.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified last week before Congress, seeking to defend the wisdom of slashing his own budget by more than one-third while sketching his vision of American diplomacy in the years ahead.

But unlike in years past, U.S. allies aren’t poring over Tillerson’s testimony for meaningful signals of what U.S. policy is or will be; diplomats from around the world are learning that what Tillerson says is not necessarily a reliable guide to U.S. policy. The problem is that nothing much else is, either.


“Even if we do get meetings” with the Department of State, a European source told Foreign Policy, “most of the time what happens is that they speak in personal capacity — they don’t have capacity to speak for the administration.”

The same is true for the National Security Council at the White House, “including on very sensitive issues.” People say, “I cannot speak for the president, because I’m not sure what his position on this is.”

That lack of clarity isn’t limited to nitty-gritty points of policy. More than five months into the Trump administration, many allies and even rivals are still trying to figure out how the United States now sees its role in the world. Trump came into office blaring an “America First” message, and despite repeated soothing noises from some administration officials, has, especially in non-military matters, redoubled his rhetoric ever since.


More than five months into the Trump administration, many allies and even rivals are still trying to figure out how the United States now sees its role in the world. Trump came into office blaring an “America First” message, and despite repeated soothing noises from some administration officials, has, especially in non-military matters, redoubled his rhetoric ever since.

Or, as Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland put it in a speech earlier this month, the United States “has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership.”

After a tumultuous first meeting between NATO and Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated late last month that Germany could no longer fully rely on others.


Washington’s reluctance to keep carrying Freeland’s “mantle” of global leadership creates a quandary for everyone, because nobody else is willing or able to take its place. And history shows that the global system, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

China has been hankering for a place in the sun all century — but, like Augustine, doesn’t want it quite yet, and Beijing’s values aren’t the same as those long preached by Washington or Brussels.

Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is happy to shoulder a bigger role in regional defense and security — but that could put the government on a collision course with China, and even with the people of Japan, who are still, broadly speaking, pacifistic. And as seen in the scramble after the U.S. withdrawal from TPP, Tokyo is hard-pressed to drive Asian economic integration on its own.

Europe has been roused from its groggy decades — more because of the threat from a resurgent Russia than from Trump’s admonitions to spend more on defense — but hasn’t sought to play more than second fiddle for almost a century. (“We don’t see ourselves acting as new superpower or pretending to be one,” said the European diplomat.)

The chaos of Trump's incoherent administration extends beyond trade and diplomacy. It's the sort of thing that's been known to spark wars. Take, for example, Washington's ramshackle policy in the Middle East.

The present political dynamics in the Middle East are unsettled and kaleidoscopic. But in the interests of brevity, ...the basic configurations of power in the region since the 2011 Arab Spring can be simplified in terms of five loose groupings.

First, a grouping of Sunni monarchies (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Bahrain); Arab secular nationalists (Egypt since President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi took over in 2013, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia); and Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s faction in eastern Libya.

Second, a grouping of Turkey; Qatar; and Muslim Brotherhood affiliates such as Hamas in Gaza, Egypt under President Morsi before 2013, and the internationally-recognized Libyan government based in the western part of that country.

Third, a grouping of Iran and its Shiite allies, including Iraq (at least among key factions of the Baghdad government), the Assad regime in Syria, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Fourth, the collection of various Sunni jihadi networks, including the Islamic State, various al Qaeda affiliates, and any number of smaller factions.

Fifth, there is Israel, which does not fit into any of the above, but is most closely aligned with members of the first grouping.

Syria, which had all the makings of a perfectly suitable proxy war, has now drawn direct and at times hostile intervention from major powers, America and Russia, regional players such as Turkey, Israel and Iran, plus the Gulf States and the NATO and friends chorus line. The "my enemy's enemy" rule does not apply here.

Now Fareed Zakaria predicts the U.S. is about to embark on another decade of permawar.

Play It Again, Sam

America's pointless, indecisive and interminable wars in the Middle East deserve to be called the "forever war." These are "military wars" being waged for the apparent objective of nothing more than merely not losing. Winning is not in the cards. With the West's massive technological superiority we can just keep on bombing and shelling those we don't like until the money runs out or the people at home take to the streets and that's simply not going to happen.

As for the other war, the "political war," well we seem to be losing that one. In this David and Goliath struggle, David, our opponent, wins just by showing up day after day for as long as it takes before we leave.

Speaking of that, when is America and its vast Foreign Legion (NATO) planning to move on to something productive? Don't get your hopes up. According to Fareed Zakaria, the U.S. is "stumbling into another decade of war."

Put simply, the United States is stumbling into another decade of war in the greater Middle East. And this next decade of conflict might prove to be even more destabilizing than the last one.

Trump came into office with a refreshing skepticism about U.S. policy toward the region. “Everybody that’s touched the Middle East, they’ve gotten bogged down. . . . We’re bogged down,” he said during the campaign. But Trump also sees himself as a tough guy. At his rallies, he repeatedly vowed to “bomb the s--- out of” the Islamic State. Now that he is in the White House and has surrounded himself with an array of generals, his macho instinct seems to have triumphed. The administration has ramped up its military operations across the greater Middle East, in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia — more troops, more bombings, more missions. But what is the underlying strategy?

The United States has been in Afghanistan for 16 years. It has had several surges in troop numbers and has spent almost a trillion dollars on that country. Last year, U.S. aid to Afghanistan was equivalent to about 40 percent of that nation’s gross domestic product. And yet, Mattis acknowledges that the United States is “not winning.” What will an additional 4,000 troops now achieve that 130,000 troops could not?

In Yemen, the United States is more actively engaged in a conflict that does little to advance the fight against radical Islamist terrorism. With the latest arms sale, Washington is further fueling Saudi Arabia’s proxy war against Iran — a war that has led the kingdom into a de facto alliance with al-Qaeda in Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, seems likely to persist in this conflict, even though it has gone much worse than expected and has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe. A child in Yemen is dying of preventable causes every 10 minutes, according to UNICEF, and the poorest country in the Arab world has been turned into a wasteland in which terrorist groups will compete for decades to come.

In almost every situation that U.S. forces are involved in, the solutions are more political than military. This has become especially true in places such as Syria and Afghanistan, where many regional powers with major interests have staked out positions and spread their influence. Military force without a strategy or deeply engaged political and diplomatic process is destined to fail, perhaps even to produce unintended consequences — witness the past decade and a half.

During the campaign, Trump seemed to be genuinely reflective about America’s role in the Middle East. “This is not usually me talking, okay, ’cause I’m very proactive,” he once saidon the subject. “But I would sit back and [say], ‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ ” Yes. After 16 years of continuous warfare, hundreds of thousands dead, trillions of dollars spent and greater regional instability, somebody in Washington needs to ask — before the next bombing or deployment: What is going on?