Monday, December 31, 2018

Pushback Over Steve Bannon's Ploy to Infiltrate the Catholic Church

Steve Bannon has hopes of turning a former Catholic monastery into a training camp for Europe's rightwing.

He was born into an Irish-American family and was raised a Roman Catholic. He attended Benedictine College Preparatory, a private, Catholic, military high school in Richmond, Virginia before moving on to Virginia Tech and then a commission in the US Navy. Steve Bannon remained a relative unknown until he was propelled into the limelight as he resurrected Donald Trump's faltering presidential campaign.

Bannon joined the Trump campaign in August, 2016. His tenure in Trump's White House ended a year later, in August, 2017, when he was shown the door.  For most of this year Bannon has been knocking around Europe's various rightwing populist parties.  Now he's trying to set up an academy to groom the next generation of rightwing populist leaders out of an old monastery in south of Rome., only one 83-year-old monk remains. A longtime chef-gardener still lives there, as well, along with several dozen feral cats. The other resident at Trisulti is the newcomer: a 43-year-old Briton who is one of Stephen K. Bannon’s closest associates in Europe and who hopes to transform the monastery into a “gladiator school for culture warriors.” 
One recent morning, Benjamin Harnwell, the Bannon acolyte, grabbed his ring of keys and moved from one building to the next, through hidden passageways and into frescoed rooms, where he said the next mission at this site was about to take form.

Soon, he said, the monastery would be filled with students who wanted to master the tools of populist politics. The halls with centuries-old oil paintings would serve as classrooms where students could learn “the facts” — the worldview espoused by Bannon, who, since being booted from the White House and Breitbart News, has turned to fomenting right-wing populism in Europe and beyond.
From The Times:
Steve Bannon thinks big, really big. So when he decided that he wanted to revive Europe’s Christian roots it was no surprise that he set up his base of operations in an 800-year-old monastery in the mountains of central Italy. 
The former Trump strategist has already launched the so-called Movement to unify Europe’s populist parties, but influencing the politics of the Continent is not enough — he is now determined to save its soul. 
Trisulti monastery, south of Rome, was picked as the place to do it — a 100-room complex founded in 1204 near an alleged apparition of the Virgin Mary, where professors selected by Mr Bannon will teach conservative Catholic values to as many as 300 students, starting next year.
But Bannon's plans to open a populist "gladiator school" are being met by protests.
Steve Bannon’s plan to teach Catholic values at a remote 800-year-old monastery in Italy has been criticised by protesters who claim he is dragging Europe back to the Middle Ages. 
About 300 people marched near the Trisulti monastery, south of Rome, at the weekend carrying a banner stating “Stop Bannon — Free Europe”. Mr Bannon, President Trump’s former strategist, plans to open a “gladiator school” in the 100-room complex as part of his drive to revitalise Europe’s Christian roots.

In September it was reported that Bannon was plotting with rightwingers in the church hierarchy to force Pope Francis to resign.

Happy New Year - Brave New World, 2019

It's here. You're being mind-fucked. And your government is doing absolutely nothing to protect you.

Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, closes out 2018 with what should be a troubling look at how academia abets the advertising/marketing sector in researching and producing powerful methods of brain-hacking.  This sounds eerily like how Cambridge Analytica operated to swing the 2016 election to Trump.

Humans, the supremely social mammals, are ethical and intellectual sponges. We unconsciously absorb, for good or ill, the influences that surround us. Indeed, the very notion that we might form our own minds is a received idea that would have been quite alien to most people five centuries ago. This is not to suggest we have no capacity for independent thought. But to exercise it, we must – consciously and with great effort – swim against the social current that sweeps us along, mostly without our knowledge.

Surely, though, even if we are broadly shaped by the social environment, we control the small decisions we make? Sometimes. Perhaps. But here, too, we are subject to constant influence, some of which we see, much of which we don’t. And there is one major industry that seeks to decide on our behalf. Its techniques get more sophisticated every year, drawing on the latest findings in neuroscience and psychology. It is called advertising. 
Every month, new books on the subject are published with titles like The Persuasion Code: How Neuromarketing Can Help You Persuade Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime. While many are doubtless overhyped, they describe a discipline that is rapidly closing in on our minds, making independent thought ever harder. More sophisticated advertising meshes with digital technologies designed to eliminate agency. 
Earlier this year, the child psychologist Richard Freed explained how new psychological research has been used to develop social media, computer games and phones with genuinely addictive qualities. He quoted a technologist who boasts, with apparent justification: “We have the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behaviour in ways that, unbeknownst to them, feel second-nature but are really by design.”
...Facebook, according to a leaked report, carried out research – shared with an advertiser – to determine when teenagers using its network feel insecure, worthless or stressed. These appear to be the optimum moments for hitting them with a micro-targeted promotion. Facebook denied that it offered “tools to target people based on their emotional state”.
We can expect commercial enterprises to attempt whatever lawful ruses they can pull off. It is up to society, represented by government, to stop them, through the kind of regulation that has so far been lacking. But what puzzles and disgusts me even more than this failure is the willingness of universities to host research that helps advertisers hack our minds. The Enlightenment ideal, which all universities claim to endorse, is that everyone should think for themselves. So why do they run departments in which researchers explore new means of blocking this capacity?
I ask because, while considering the frenzy of consumerism that rises beyond its usual planet-trashing levels at this time of year, I recently stumbled across a paper that astonished me. It was written by academics at public universities in the Netherlands and the US. Their purpose seemed to me starkly at odds with the public interest. They sought to identify “the different ways in which consumers resist advertising, and the tactics that can be used to counter or avoid such resistance”.

Among the “neutralising” techniques it highlighted were “disguising the persuasive intent of the message”; distracting our attention by using confusing phrases that make it harder to focus on the advertiser’s intentions; and “using cognitive depletion as a tactic for reducing consumers’ ability to contest messages”. This means hitting us with enough advertisements to exhaust our mental resources, breaking down our capacity to think.

... Advertising – with its destructive impacts on the living planet, our peace of mind and our free will – sits at the heart of our growth-based economy. This gives us all the more reason to challenge it. Among the places in which the challenge should begin are universities, and the academic societies that are supposed to set and uphold ethical standards. If they cannot swim against the currents of constructed desire and constructed thought, who can?

Saturday, December 29, 2018

"Nomophobia" - C'mon, Take a Guess.

We can all do to expand our vocabulary. It's a lifelong quest. So how about the Cambridge Dictionary's Word of the Year - "nomophobia."

Are you feeling a touch nomophobic? Is it a recurring problem? Is your nomophobia perhaps interfering with your sleep?

By now you're probably heading for the Google or just going WTF? Okay, here goes:
"Nomophobia" is not a commonly-used word, and rarely appears in print: of the several hundred thousand articles published in Salon, it has appeared only once in print (in 2015); in the New York Times' history, it has appeared only four times. Nomophobia, according to Cambridge, is defined as the “fear or worry at the idea of being without your mobile phone or unable to use it.” 
As Cambridge explains, the fact that nomophobia was the chosen word indicates that readers are familiar with it, or at the very least, can relate to it. This speaks to how deeply embedded in our lives mobile devices have become. As anyone over 20 knows, it wasn’t that long ago humans were able to leave the house without a phone. 
“Your choice, nomophobia, tells us that people around the world probably experience this type of anxiety enough that you recognized it needed a name,” Cambridge stated in a blog post. “Like many modern coinages, nomophobia is what’s called a blend: a new word made up of syllables from two or more words, in this case ‘no mobile phone phobia.’" 
Surprisingly, psychologists weren’t the first to use the term. YouGov researchers first used it in 2008 in a report commissioned by the United Kingdom Post Office. The study found that 53 percent of mobile users felt anxious when they were unable to use their mobile devices. More than half of teen users who were surveyed cited that they never shut off their phones. One decade later, and it’s a “word of the year."

Few Know This Better than Rex Murphy

T-Rex's latest screed in the National Post, slams the idea that today's journalists are "guardians of the truth."  For proof, "Tailing Pond" Murphy offers what he calls "Trump journalism," the American media's unfair treatment of the US liar-in-chief, the Mango Mussolini himself, Donald J. Trump.

Journalism is frequently as wayward as the social media it ritually deplores, propelled by a lust-like drive to the parts of a story that accord with its prejudices and predispositions. It has long since replaced the attempt to be objective with a commitment to activism and advocacy. Much of contemporary journalism does not report on the game. It sees itself as part of the game — it seeks to massage opinion, reinforce favoured perspectives, take down its “enemies” and shield its heroes.
There is an old word, not seen much in modern writing, quite possibly in near full decay from lack of use. Which is a shame for it still remains possibly the only full semantic vehicle for certain phenomena. The word is incompossible, and its meaning (taken here from the Oxford English Dictionary) is: adj. – Unable to exist if something else exists. Two things are incompossible when the world of being has scope enough for one of them, but not enough for both.

To illustrate the meaning, I offer a few sentences: Environmentalism and journalism are incompossible. Hatred of and contempt for Donald Trump and honest reporting on him are incompossible. 
Place the adjective environmental to govern the noun journalism and the former swallows up, nullifies, extinguishes quite the latter. What we may call real journalists on the global warming file are, to use a familiar category, on the very sharp end of the endangered species list. The majority of environmental journalists are a choir in perfect harmony on a one-note score, the settled-science symphony of the IPCC and Al Gore.
Murphy's flaccid piece is, as I noted, a screed from a one-time journalist who has self-degraded into an ideological hack. Murphy's truth is largely shaped by knowledge he strenuously avoids as a vampire might the noonday sun.

A "Mosque Tax" - A New Proposal from Germany

At first it sounds outrageous - a tax on those attending Mosque services in Germany.

Outlandish, how dare they? Only it's not that simple.
Lawmakers from Germany's grand coalition government said on Wednesday that they were considering introducing a "mosque tax" for German Muslims, similar to the church taxes that German Christians pay. 
Thorsten Frei, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) told Die Weltdaily that a mosque tax was "an important step" that would allow "Islam in Germany to emancipate itself from foreign states." 
In Germany, church taxes are collected from practicing Catholics and Protestants in order to fund church activities. They are collected by the state and then transferred to religious authorities.
In the absence of a similar tax, mosques in Germany are reliant upon donations, raising concerns about possible financing by foreign organizations and governments, which has sometimes prompted questions about the promotion of fundamentalist ideologies. For example, there has been growing concern about the influence of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an arm of the Turkish government based in Germany.
Freeing German mosques of the influence attached to foreign money might help combat the spread of radical Sunni Islam, primarily Wahhabism and Salafism, fueled by Gulf State funding of religious schools, madrassahs, around the world.

Photo: the new Mosque in Cologne, Germany

Commemorating Thirty Years of Indifference, Neglect and Outright Mendacity

In today's New York Times, environmental activist and lecturer, Paul Bledsoe, offers up a year-by-year record of three decades of American indifference, neglect and blatant dishonesty on climate change.

It all began when a relatively unknown NASA scientist testified before Congress.
Thirty years ago, a NASA scientist, James Hansen, told lawmakers at a Senate hearing that “global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship with the greenhouse effect.” He added that there “is only 1 percent chance of accidental warming of this magnitude.” 
By that, he meant that humans were responsible. 
His testimony made headlines around the United States and the world. But in the time since, greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature average and cost of climate-related heat, wildfires, droughts, flooding and hurricanes have continued to rise.
You can read Bledsoe's year-by-year summary at the link above. It provides a sobering look at the nation that has played such a prominent role in fashioning the existential threat that now hovers over mankind and most other life on Earth.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Climate Change is Scary But It's Nothing Compared to Us.

Climate change may be poised to begin killing us off en masse in the coming decades but the real killer will be us or, more precisely, human nature.  An insightful article in The Globe and Mail contends that climate change is the very sort of threat our ancient brains are not capable of thwarting. It's not our fault, we're just not wired to respond to this sort of peril.
Climate change doesn’t dominate elections. It doesn’t dominate headlines, airtime and social media. It doesn’t dominate consumer choices. 
It doesn’t even dominate Google searches. For the past decade, “climate change” and “global warming” have been searched about as often as “terrorism.” People search far more often for “autism,” and more still for “flu.” Terrorism, autism and influenza are all serious hazards, but none of them has even an outside chance of ravaging the natural world and collapsing civilization. (It should be noted in passing – for the edification of the alien archeologists investigating the ruins on Earth – that every year for the past decade, “Kardashian” has been searched far more than any of the foregoing terms.)
Now, compare that to the reality we face: In the coming decades and centuries, climate change will be a major challenge in the best-case scenario and something truly terrifying in the worst case. What we do now will significantly determine whether the future unfolds closer to the former or the latter. In any scenario, the poorest and weakest will suffer most.

Most people know and accept all this. And those three sentences are reason enough to conclude that climate change is the greatest threat we face, save for nuclear war. But we sure don’t act like it. So why isn’t our collective concern remotely proportionate to the danger? 
The problem isn’t ignorance. Most people get the basic idea. And when yet another dire report is issued by scientists, people do pay attention – for a few minutes, at least, before their thoughts return to the latest political imbroglio, taxes, work, the hockey game and the thousands of other concerns that consistently beat climate change in the battle for our attention. 
It’s also not selfishness. The brunt of the storm may be suffered by future generations and poor people far away, but researchers do not find that the old shrug while the young quake. In fact, one U.S. newspaper found that "millennials have similar or less engagement on global warming than other generations.”
...The cause of this divide is evolution. Our species evolved in environments where subatomic weirdness was irrelevant to surviving and reproducing, so we never developed an intuitive grasp of it; while we may understand it, we cannot feel it. 
We struggle with climate change in much the same way and for much the same reason.
Like us, our Stone Age ancestors were constantly looking into the future and imagining alternative courses of action. They had to predict the weather, foresee how an ambushed deer would try to escape and plan to return to a rich berry patch at harvest time. And most important for survival, they had to decide what to worry about. Whether it was lions, food shortages or sub-zero temperatures, the future was packed with threats that had to be anticipated and managed. 
But note three features of this ancient forecasting and risk analysis.
Firstly, it didn’t look decades ahead, let alone centuries. Seasons would have been important frames of reference, but generally, the outer limit of prospection would have been one cycle of seasons – a year. Our ancestors’ forward-looking thoughts were overwhelmingly measured in days, hours, minutes and seconds. 
Secondly, it didn’t concern itself with problems far away. The only information available to our ancient ancestors came from personal experience, the experience of others in their little band of perhaps 40 or 50 and stories passed from one person to another. As forward-looking as our species was, ancient risk analysis was about survival in the here and now. Or at least the nearby and soon.

Finally, it had nothing to do with statistics, probability and the other tools of modern risk analysis. These didn’t exist. Its raw material was experience, and its analytical mechanisms were intuitive. Risks were not calculated. They were felt.
...Even today, much less has changed than we might imagine. We routinely encounter risks – even eating breakfast can kill – so we routinely decide which risks are worth worrying about. 
Overwhelmingly, these judgments are felt, not calculated – or at least far more felt than calculated. And what dominates our forward-looking thoughts is the here and now, or the nearby and soon. Replace the word “quarter” with “season” and the thoughts of the average MBA would sound at least a little familiar to a Stone Age hunter-gatherer. 
Of course, today, we also have science, statistics and computer modelling capable of churning out sophisticated risk analyses. Sometimes these confirm System One’s intuitions. Sometimes they suggest they are a little off. Occasionally, they say our feelings are seriously wrong.

The lessons of the decades-long struggle to defeat Big Tobacco offered lessons in human frailty, how at times feelings dominate even science.
When head and gut clash, it is not inevitable that gut has its way. After all, the evidence tying smoking to lung cancer did bend the trend lines in the 1950s and 1960s. But intuitive judgments are empowered by biology and evolution, so modifying a strongly felt conclusion is deeply unnatural, and rejecting it entirely can be a Herculean challenge. 
This is why people build homes on floodplains and volcano slopes. It’s why earthquake-insurance sales spike immediately after a major earthquake then slowly decline, exactly the opposite of the risk
And it’s why we aren’t remotely as concerned about climate change as we should be.
...Climate change is distant in every dimension. The worst of it lies decades in the future, to be suffered in far-off lands by foreigners very different from us, and the worst scenarios are highly uncertain. It would be hard to design a threat more likely to induce highly abstract thoughts. And shrugs. 
And there’s another big problem with climate change: It’s right there in the first word. 
What is climate? It’s not weather. Weather is rain, wind, snow, sunshine. We have a feel for weather. Our species has been intuiting it as long as we have existed.
But climate? It’s the probability of weather
...As the philosopher Ian Hacking showed, the modern idea of probability didn’t even exist until the mid-17th century, while the first mathematical examination of probability was only published in 1713. For a species that is about 200,000 years old, 1713 is the day before yesterday. And so, when we handle probability, we are often like cavemen with smart phones – confused by even the simplest functions.
...So why is our concern about climate change so small relative to the threat? The problem is not that we are ignorant or selfish. The problem is how we think. 
The decision-making system capable of understanding the danger is incapable of ringing our internal alarm bell. The system that can raise the alarm cannot grasp the threat because it was shaped by the world as it was millenniums ago, not the world we live in now. 
Our past endangers our future.
This theory, swimming in a pool of sometimes conflicting theories seeking to explain our climate change predicament(s), does seem plausible. It certainly reaches the threshold where 'what if it's right' eclipses 'what if it's wrong."  For if author Dan Gardner's analysis is right, it offers support for pursuing adaptation strategies in priority to mitigation efforts if only because human nature, left unaddressed, seems likely to undermine our collective will to decarbonize on time, emphasis on "on time."

As I wrote previously, global warming is indeed a global crisis of all humankind and, now, nature itself. Climate change, however, is a regional phenomenon varying in impacts according to a host of factors including latitude, proximity to oceans and currents, biological and botanical resources and the local population's ecological footprints.  It is those localized or regional forces that determine one region's climate change challenges and differentiate region from region.  Proof of that emerges when the conversation turns to geo-engineering, a basket of climate altering technologies that, while they may benefit a particular region are thought to gravely threaten other regions with unforeseen or ignored blowback impacts. Think of it as Paul robbing Peter to enrich Paul. Just another way to wreck any global consensus.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Lots of Words But Where Are the Deeds? Could Our Hands be Tied?

One thing conspicuously absent in the realm of climate change is meaningful action. Not gestural measures, there are plenty enough of those. Meaningful measures that reflect both the magnitude and the urgency of this global predicament.  Measures that will, at a minimum, slash global carbon emissions by half by 2030. And what about the hundreds of billions of dollars we'll need to replace, repair and rehabilitate our essential but decaying infrastructure and bolster our ability to adapt, to survive? When you see those on the table be sure to wake me.

Lately I've been wondering if our political-economic yoke, the neoliberal order that reigns supreme in the developed world, a.k.a. the Land of the Great Emitters, has emasculated our political structure, leaving it incapable of effectively responding to this truly existential threat. Have global trading governments tied their own hands? Is market fundamentalism today's mortmain, our "dead hand," whose bevy of corporate powers, rights and privileges have become inalienable? Does the private sector set the limits for action by a blatantly cowed political caste?  Is the neoliberal order all gas pedal and no brake, pedal to the metal in an insatiable quest for perpetual exponential growth? These things certainly appear that way to me.

Will this incestuous political corporatism be our undoing?  Does the survival of our nation and our society depend on getting out from under neoliberalism and reclaiming our full national sovereignty?

The global order is, of course, global with many common conventions, standards and regulations. This commonality is the basis of these multi-national pacts. Everyone agrees to abide by the same rules and to behave in the similar ways. Goods, services and, above all else, capital are not to be impeded by national whims and interests, not even needs.

Global warming is also global. It's a function of greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere, the ultimate global commons. Climate change, however, is not nearly as global. It's hardly global at all. Climate change is a matrix of impacts that vary widely, nation to nation, depending on localized factors such as ocean currents, latitude, biological and botanical resources and so on. We can all agree to collective objectives, such as emissions cuts, but each nation's adaptation challenges are unique because they have to be matched to local circumstances and needs.

We are told, again and again, that we are facing the greatest existential threat in the history of human civilization. We are urged to mobilize our resources that we may go onto something akin to the wartime footing we accepted in 1914 and again in 1939.  Individuals, communities and societies must adapt and be willing to make sacrifices for the greater good, both present and future, sacrifices that are essential to the ultimate objective of returning to peace.

I don't think this sort of mobilization would be countenanced by the neoliberal order, especially in its corporate dimension.

The price of rolling back globalism will be substantial. The cost of leaving it unchecked may be catastrophic. That is the corner into which we have painted ourselves.

Monday, December 24, 2018

It Wouldn't be Christmas Without the Lowly Oyster

 As a family ritual, passed down from generation to generation, the only thing anyone knows is that it goes back long before any of us remember. Our grandparents said it dated back many generations before theirs.  "It" is the humble Christmas Eve oyster stew dinner.

Oysters, freshly shucked, with their liquor. Some variation of whole milk/cream to your liking. A minced shallot.  Butter, lots of butter. A touch of cayenne. A little chopped parsley for serving. A little salt, not much, and plenty of white pepper (black won't do).  Serve that up with a thick slice of French bread and that's dinner.

Beautiful B.C. oysters from Fanny Bay, a half hour drive north of my place.  As fresh as you can get them without sitting on the beach yourself with a shucking knife.

My brother lives in Simcoe, Ontario. His oysters aren't quite as fresh as mine but they are from Fanny Bay. He too will be tucking into this once a year delight. And, in contemplation of doing the same myself in a matter of hours, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Robert Reich - Trump is Toast.

It's not Trump's loyal-unto-death base that's the problem for the Mango Mussolini.  It's America's "bought and paid for" Congressional Republicans. They may fear Trump's base but not as much as they fear the money guys who write all those lovely cheques. That's how Robert Reich is hearing it:
This morning I phoned my friend, the former Republican member of Congress.

ME: So, what are you hearing? 
HE: Trump is in deep sh*t.

ME: Tell me more.

HE: When it looked like he was backing down on the wall, Rush and the crazies on Fox went ballistic. So he has to do the shutdown to keep the base happy. They’re his insurance policy. They stand between him and impeachment.

ME: Impeachment? No chance. Senate Republicans would never go along.

HE (laughing): Don’t be so sure. Corporate and Wall Street are up in arms. Trade war was bad enough. Now, you’ve got Mattis resigning in protest. Trump pulling out of Syria, giving Putin a huge win. This dumbass shutdown. The stock market in free-fall. The economy heading for recession.

ME: But the base loves him.

HE: Yeah, but the base doesn’t pay the bills.

ME: You mean …

HE: Follow the money, friend.

ME: The GOP’s backers have had enough?

HE: They wanted Pence all along.

ME: So …

HE: So they’ll wait until Mueller’s report, which will skewer Trump. Pelosi will wait, too. Then after the Mueller bombshell, she’ll get 20, 30, maybe even 40 Republicans to join in an impeachment resolution.

ME: And then?

HE: Senate Republicans hope that’ll be enough – that Trump will pull a Nixon.

ME: So you think he’ll resign?

HE (laughing): No chance. He’s fu*king out of his mind. He’ll rile up his base into a fever. Rallies around the country. Tweet storms. Hannity. Oh, it’s gonna be ugly. He’ll convince himself he’ll survive.

ME: And then?

HE: That’s when Senate Republicans pull the trigger.

ME: Really? Two-thirds of the Senate?

HE: Do the math. 47 Dems will be on board, so you need 19 Republicans. I can name almost that many who are already there. Won’t be hard to find the votes.

ME: But it will take months. And the country will be put through a ringer.

HE: I know. That’s the worst part.

ME: I mean, we could have civil war.

HE: Hell, no. That’s what he wants, but no chance. His approvals will be in the cellar. America will be glad to get rid of him.

ME: I hope you’re right.

HE: He’s a dangerous menace. He’ll be gone. And then he’ll be indicted, and Pence will pardon him. But the state investigations may put him in the clinker. Good riddance.
Meanwhile The New York Times' Peter Barker and Maggie Haberman write that Trump is holed up in the White House feeling abandoned by everyone.

For two years, Mr. Trump has waged war against his own government, convinced that people around him are fools. Angry that they resist his wishes, uninterested in the details of their briefings, he becomes especially agitated when they tell him he does not have the power to do what he wants, which makes him suspicious that they are secretly undermining him.

Now, the president who once declared that “I alone can fix” the system increasingly stands alone in a system that seems as broken as ever. The swirl of recent days — a government shutdown, spiraling scandals, tumbling stock markets, abrupt troop withdrawals and the resignation of his alienated defense secretary — has left the impression of a presidency at risk of spinning out of control.

At the midpoint of his term, Mr. Trump has grown more sure of his own judgment and more cut off from anyone else’s than at any point since taking office. He spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely. As he sheds advisers at a head-spinning rate, he reaches out to old associates, complaining that few of the people around him were there at the beginning.

Mr. Trump is said by advisers to be consumed by the multiplying investigations that have taken down his personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security adviser and family foundation. He rails against enemies, who often were once friends, nursing a deep sense of betrayal and grievance as they turn on him. 
...The portrait that emerges from interviews with about 30 current and former administration officials, personal friends, political allies, lawmakers and congressional aides suggests a president who revels in sharp swings in direction, feels free to disregard historic allies and presides over near constant turmoil within his own team as he follows his own instincts. 
...Always impulsive, the president increasingly believes he does not need advisers, according to people close to him. He is on his third chief of staff, third national security adviser, sixth communications director, second secretary of state, second attorney general and soon his second defense secretary. Turnover at the top has reached 65 percent, according to the Brookings Institution.
...More recently, the president has told associates he feels “totally and completely abandoned,” as one put it, complaining that no one is on his side and that many around him have ulterior motives. That extends even to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was credited for helping push through the criminal justice bill, praise that Mr. Trump took note of. 
Longtime associates said Mr. Trump’s relationship with his children has grown more removed and that he feels he does not have a friend in the White House. He disagrees with Mr. Kushner and Ivanka Trump much of the time, but cannot bring himself to tell them no, leaving that instead to Mr. Kelly, according to former aides. That made Mr. Kelly the heavy, they said, and therefore the target of their ire until he was finally forced out.
... By all accounts, Mr. Trump’s consumption of cable television has actually increased in recent months as his first scheduled meetings of the day have slid back from the 9 or 9:30 a.m. set by Reince Priebus, his first chief of staff, to roughly 11 many mornings. During “executive time,” Mr. Trump watches television in the residence for hours, reacting to what he sees on Fox News. While in the West Wing, he leaves it on during most meetings in the dining room off the Oval Office, one ear attuned to what is being said.
If you've stuck it out this far, I would like to give you a little Christmas gift. Here's Kim Jong Il as Donald J. Trump:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Obama Admits Neoliberalism Wrecked Liberal Democracy

Former President Barack Obama has blown the whistle on neoliberal capitalism and admits it fostered the rise of the far-right and fueled crippling levels of inequality.

Battling the Gloom

It wasn't a terrible surprise to read the morning's severe wind warning from Environment Canada. A look outside had stolen the government's thunder. Yeah, it's windy again just as it has been for days.  Then a cellphone call from Nanaimo where friends had their power restored late yesterday afternoon around the same time as ours came back on. They're out again. I guess it's time to bring in another couple of loads of firewood.

Maybe we need a more robust electrical grid out here, something more capable of coping with these heavy winds. Money, money, money I suppose.

I felt badly with the previous post, the one about natural feedback loops and how they can cascade much like dominoes. That's pretty grim stuff for the holiday season. Perhaps it would be best to leave climate change untouched for the next few days.

Much to my delight, I came across an opinion piece by The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland, an uplifting, "take heart" op-ed:

Like I say, there’s no shortage of bad news. The truth is, in the post-crash era of Trump, Brexit and rising populist ultranationalism, the supply of ill tidings is both plentiful and serious. But it’s Christmas, with its promise of a few days’ pause. Now, as it did more than a century ago, Christmas offers the possibility of a truce. That’s welcome in itself, but it also gives us a chance to think how we might manage the bleakness around us, once hostilities resume in the new year. Put simply, we need some strategies to cope with an increasingly harsh world. What might they be? 
My first two suggestions are escape and escapism. By escape, I mean limiting your exposure to the toxicity. Odd for a journalist to say this, perhaps, but unless you’re professionally required to consume news around the clock, don’t do it. It’s not good for you. That doesn’t mean switching off; it means reducing your dose. Perhaps decide on a few specific times when you’ll check in: a morning bulletin on the radio; a train ride with, I don’t know, the Guardian; a half-hour session in the evening. And keep it at that.
..So much for escape. Escapism is different, but no less essential. Ignore your inner puritanical voice, telling you that every moment not spent demonstrating against austerity is a self-indulgent waste, and allow yourself the odd moment of refuge. It can be tending the allotment or going to the football. I was a relatively late convert to the beautiful game, but after nearly a decade of going to see Arsenal, I’ve never needed it as much as I do now. 
I feel the same way about the countryside. Just a few hours trudging up a hillside in the Lake District or walking a long stretch of spectacular Norfolk beach can suddenly make the technical details of the customs union recede into the distance. The timelessness of those places is reassuring: it says, this too will pass. 
And if human beings are driving you to distraction, animals might offer comfort. My extended family has acquired several dogs in the last year or so, and they too both demand and provide at least some detachment from the woes of the world. I have even, I confess, hit the “like” button on the odd animal video in recent months, grateful for the few seconds of balm they supply.
Still, we can’t give up on our fellow human beings – and we don’t need to. It can help, when next driven to spitting rage by the callousness, cruelty or incompetence of those who rule us, to be reminded of what humans are also capable of. It could be a sublime achievement in art, music, literature or sport – whether that’s a Jimmy Anderson inswinger to uproot off-stump, or Andy Nyman’s Tevye in a new production of Fiddler on the Roof.

Or it could be a scientific advance that makes the jaw drop. Around the time Theresa May was unveiling her political agreement with the EU, Nasa landed its InSight probe on an exact spot on Mars following a journey of 300m miles and seven months, instantly broadcasting pictures of the red planet that you could see on a computer the size of your hand, also known as a phone. In June, doctors announced that they had rid a woman of advanced breast cancer, using immune cells from her own body to wipe out the tumours. A month later, in Thailand, divers rescued 12 boys from a network of flooded caves and cramped tunnels, carrying and pulling them to safety against impossible odds. Our species is capable of extraordinary things.

...So yes, there is much darkness all around. Sometimes it can feel like we’re swallowed up by it. But there are also countless points of light. This Christmas, I will watch the old film yet again and remind myself that it’s a wonderful life – and yes, despite everything, it’s still a wonderful world.

Climate Dominoes

When world leaders periodically muster up enough courage to take on the issue of climate change, they do it with great timidity. They approach it in the context of political numbers only loosely connected to science and then chase those doubtful targets with even more hapless measures that rarely venture beyond gestural tokens of good intent. To put it bluntly, it's hogwash.

Proof positive is blatant in everything they omit which is pretty much everything except man-made greenhouse gas emissions. That's not to say that man-made climate change isn't a huge problem, it definitely is. Forty years ago that might have been enough but not today.

We have brought a new player to the party. Let's call her "nature." This once placidly sleeping giant has been awakened. It brings an array of issues we call "natural feedback loops." Some of them are well known, things such as the loss of Arctic sea ice, the retreat of glaciers and ice caps around the world, the worsening acidification of our oceans, the melting and release of once safely frozen methane from the tundra, Arctic lakes and seabeds.

These feedback loops, we're warned, could massively eclipse the worst that mankind has managed to inflict. They could tip the planet into runaway global warming.

Hard as we've made it for our leaders to tackle man-made climate change, they haven't a clue what to do about these natural impacts, the feedback loops, sometimes called "tipping points." There's your problem. Our political caste is focusing on the grease fire in the kitchen, to the extent they're focusing on climate change at all, but they're ignoring the flames consuming the rest of the house, the tipping points.

Now we learn that these feedback loops may have a "domino effect."
Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecological tipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another. 
The authors said their paper, published in the journal Science, highlights how overstressed and overlapping natural systems are combining to throw up a growing number of unwelcome surprises.
...The study collated existing research on ecosystem transitions that can irreversibly tip to another state, such as coral reefs bleaching and being overrun by algae, forests becoming savannahs and ice sheets melting into oceans. It then cross-referenced the 30 types of shift to examine the impacts they might have on one another and human society. 
Only 19% were entirely isolated. Another 36% shared a common cause, but were not likely to interact. The remaining 45% had the potential to create either a one-way domino effect or mutually reinforcing feedbacks.
Among the latter pairings were Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests. When the former melt, there is less ice to reflect the sun’s heat so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, which melts more ice. Although geographically distant, each amplifies the other.
...The deforestation of the Amazon is responsible for multiple “cascading effects” – weakening rain systems, forests becoming savannah, and reduced water supplies for cities like São Paulo and crops in the foothills of the Andes. This, in turn, increases the pressure for more land clearance. 
Until recently, the study of tipping points was controversial, but it is increasingly accepted as an explanation for climate changes that are happening with more speed and ferocity than earlier computer models predicted. The loss of coral reefs and Arctic sea ice may already be past the point of no return. There are signs the Antarctic is heading the same way faster than thought.
Co-author Garry Peterson said the tipping of the west Antarctic ice shelf was not on the radar of many scientists 10 years ago, but now there was overwhelming evidence of the risks – including losses of chunks of ice the size of New York – and some studies now suggest the tipping point may have already been passed by the southern ice sheet, which may now be releasing carbon into the atmosphere. 
“We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern,” said Peterson. “We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”

Can a climate cascade be stopped or reined in? We'll never know if we don't try but we'll never try unless we acknowledge what's happening and muster the resolve to come to grips with these threats. If we insist on playing the neoliberal game that has blinded us to our predicament for more than 40 years, we're probably done.  Neoliberals place economic growth above all else, perhaps even ahead of the survival of human civilization. Is your country's leader a neoliberal? Mine is.

Friday, December 21, 2018

T'was the Eve Before Blackness

There'll be no white Christmas for Vancouver Island. In fact, unless these high winds stop and allow the ferries to run normally again, for some it won't be much of a Christmas at all.

A post from a fellow blogger who recently moved to the island focused on the rain. Some of us call it the "rain festival" because it seems to run from October or November until April or May each year.  We get a lot of rain, much of it coming in the form of squalls off the Pacific. They can bring pretty high winds, the sort that cancel ferry sailings.

The wettest place in North America is Henderson Lake, an inlet between Port Alberni at the head of the Alberni Inlet and Ucluelet, a fishing port on the west coast. There's a fish hatchery on the lake that operates as a weather station, keeping track of, what else, rain.

On average, Henderson Lake logs just over 270 inches of precip annually. In 1997 it set a record of 366 inches of rainfall for the year. For a little perspective, Toronto averages 31 inches per annum; Calgary, 16.5 inches of precipitation; Montreal, 39 inches of mixed precip; and even soggy Halifax, neck and neck with Vancouver, just 55 inches.

We've been getting hammered by squalls. Apparently el Nino has triggered another "pineapple express" with warm, extremely wet currents out of the southwest. These translate into a ripple effect of powerful storms that sweep through creating havoc with ferry sailings and toppling trees that leave thousands without power.

We had such an event yesterday around 10 a.m. A complete blackout. For some reason most of the homes in my area are all electric. Electric lights, electric baseboard heat, electric appliances - fridge, stove, water heater, etc. When the power goes out you're akin to a squatter.

This can be difficult enough for younger people. It is an order of difficulty worse for most of my neighbours, retirees, and especially the widows.  Fortunately we're carefully groomed on emergency preparedness - the "Big One" to be specific. That's the category 9+ mega-quake that we're warned to expect somewhere between the next 50 minutes to 50 years. We're encouraged to be moderate preppers - generous stocks of fresh water, dried and tinned foods, first aid kits and such. Oh yeah, and plenty of batteries, scads of the things.

I'm a bit more fortunate than most. I have two gas appliances - a stove and a hot water heater. Both function in the blackout. I also have a high-efficiency wood stove/fireplace that generates a terrific amount of heat out of a minuscule supply of firewood.

Timing, as they say, is everything. Yesterday was the second shortest day of the year. With heavy storm clouds overhead it was pitch black by 4:30. Total darkness.  When you illuminate your watch to discover that it's only 6:15, not something closer to midnight, the heart sinks. Today, of course, is the shortest day but we were favoured with clear skies although darkness still closed in by 4:50.

Then the miracle happened. The lights came back on. My house, toasty from a slow but steady supply of firewood during the day, was no longer plunged into darkness.  My phone service was restored. My fridge and freezer got straight to work reversing the effects of the past 36 hours.

The restoration of power was indeed an early Christmas gift. At the same time the outage confirmed how prepared we were for this increasingly common event and where we needed to up our game.

I can't credibly blame the past two days on climate change but climate change will be delivering more severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration.  With each one you learn to adapt just a little bit better, to rely less on things that can quickly turn unreliable.

On this, the shortest day of the year, it will be a long night. We will not endure it in total darkness.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Vlad Says: US Out of Syria, UK Out of EU.

All Vlad Putin wants for Christmas, the Americans to pull their forces out of Syria and Britain to go ahead and quit the European Union. Apparently he'll take care of those pesky Ukrainians himself.

Oh yeah, and rap music. Vlad hates the rap:
“Why do we need that?” the Russian president asked. “It’s the degradation of the nation – do we want that? It was fashionable at one point to promote suicide, does that mean we should all go hang ourselves? Count me out.”
Vlad took time out of his year-ender to tutor the Brits on the fundamentals of democracy.
“The referendum was held,” the Russian president said from Moscow during his annual press conference, which is broadcast on national television. “What can she do? She has to fulfil the will of the people expressed in the referendum.” 
Britons may see some irony in a lesson on democracy from a fourth-term president who has co-opted or crushed any substantial opposition in his home country. In a statement, the former foreign secretary David Miliband, who has backed a second referendum, said it was “an insult to the United Kingdom that he should be lecturing us on our democratic process”. 
Russia is seen as a possible beneficiary of the UK’s exit from the EU, and a prominent financial backer of the leave campaign, Arron Banks, met Russian embassy officials repeatedly during the run-up to the referendum in June 2016.
Putin found Trump's decision to pull US forces out of Syria pleasing if not somewhat unconvincing.
Putin also backed Donald Trump’s sudden announcement of a troop withdrawal from Syria, calling it the “right decision”, but added that Russia had not yet seen evidence of a drawdown. 
“The United States has already been in Afghanistan for 17 years, and almost every year they say they’re withdrawing their troops,” he said.
Merry Christmas, Vlad.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Alan Greenspan - "Run for Cover"

Former fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, the guy who could do no wrong until he could do no right, is adding his voice to the choir of investment types who see a bad moon rising for the American economy.
Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned on Tuesday that the U.S. could be headed into "stagflation" and that it was unlikely the current market would go higher. 
“It would be very surprising to see it sort of stabilize here, and then take off again,” Greenspan said in an interview with CNN. Markets could still go up, but “at the end of that run, run for cover.”

Trump, who hasn't missed a chance to credit himself with America's skyrocketing markets is already positioning himself to be able to blame fed chief Jerome Powell for the looming collapse.
In the CNN interview, Greenspan said the U.S. could be headed into “stagflation,” an economy characterized by high inflation and high unemployment such as was seen in the 1970s. 
“How long it lasts or how big it gets, it’s too soon to tell,” said Greenspan.

Be Careful What You Ask For, Alberta

There's plenty of grumbling out of the oil patch these days, angry muttering about western separation.  They're fed up with waiting for a pipeline to tidewater, something they pin on Justin Trudeau even though he's advanced the idea unlike his Tory predecessor, Steve 'Beelzebub' Harper, who did essentially squat.

The problem these would-be separatists have is that an independent Saskberta or Albersask would have even less clout with the real West, British Columbia, than those provinces have right now.  No Ottawa, no federal cudgel to menace B.C.  No Ottawa, no Canada to pick up the quarter-trillion dollar tab for Athabasca remediation when the Bitumen Barons pack up and steal away in the night.

Judge Giving Flynn a Rough Ride at Sentencing Hearing. Flynn Counsel Gets Adjournment.

The judge presiding over the sentencing of former Trump national security advisor, Mike Flynn,  wasted no time revealing his contempt for the retired three-star general.

A federal judge blasted former national security adviser Michael Flynn during his sentencing hearing on Tuesday, saying he couldn't hide his "disgust" with the retired Army lieutenant general. 
"Arguably, you sold your country out" by working as an unregistered foreign agent, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told Flynn in court Tuesday.

In answer to a question from the judge, prosecutors said they did not consider charging Flynn with treason. The sentencing hearing is ongoing as of noon on Tuesday.
...Sullivan highlighted the sentencing memo from Flynn's attorneys, which suggested that FBI agents may have acted improperly in their interview of Flynn and entrapped him into lying. But in court, Flynn said he would not challenge his guilty plea nor the circumstances under which he was interviewed. 
“I was aware” that lying to the FBI was a crime, Flynn told Sullivan, adding that he accepts responsibility for his false statements. 
"This is a very serious offense," Sullivan said. "A high ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the federal bureau of investigation while in the White House."

Sensing their client was unlikely to get a slap on the wrist, Flynn's counsel sought an adjournment so that, as the judge suggested, Flynn could dish up even more "cooperation" to the Mueller investigation.

As Flynn and his counsel prepared to exit the courtroom, Judge Sullivan wished them "happy holidays."

Monday, December 17, 2018

Is the Monroe Doctrine Dead?

For almost two centuries, America has considered the Americas, especially Central and South America, off-limits to foreign meddling. At first the concern was ambitious European states.  The US pledged not to meddle in European affairs in exchange for the Euros reciprocating in the Americas. This resulted in the spread of American hegemony from its border with Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. The Latins would still have plenty of meddling, just not from Europe. We know how that turned out.

Now the Monroe Doctrine is imperiled, not by any European state, but by China. While America snoozed, disinterested, China has been pursuing a little hegemony of its own - in Asia Pacific, South Asia and the Middle East, Africa and even South America. It's said that the two largest banks in South America today are both Chinese.

But what about Central America? Well, since you ask, there's news. Mexico, tired of being roughed up by Trump, is openly tossing around the idea of a Chinese option for dealing with Central America's endless troubles.
Instead [of constant bickering with Trump over migrants], they want to change the focus of the conversation to developing the economy of Central America, creating jobs there so people do not have to stream north in the first place. 
And how does López Obrador's new government hope to convince Trump that he should care about investing in Central America?
Enter China, or at least the perceived threat to the United States posed by its growing engagement in the region.

While it is unclear whether Chinese interests would include supporting a plan to curb migration out of Central America, in recent years the country has increased its presence there, funding infrastructure projects, tightening ties with governments and even convincing a handful of Central American nations to switch their diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to China — a sticking point with the United States. 
By privately raising the prospect of China assisting in the new regional development plan, Mexico is trying to leverage the region's changing reality in its favour, given that it cannot take cooperation with the United States for granted.= 
"For a long time there has been this competition within Latin America for influence, where China is willing to invest billions in infrastructure and energy that the United States simply isn't," said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Centre. 
The approach is also a reflection of the distinct personalities of López Obrador and Trump: Both are mavericks — albeit on opposite sides of the political spectrum — and both are willing to break with long-established conventions. 
"Partly because of Trump and partly because of Andrés Manuel, there is an opening there," Wood said.

Unlike his predecessor, López Obrador is willing to chart an independent course in his response to the Trump administration — partly because of Trump's hard line on migration and partly out of a conviction that the only way to tackle the issue is to go after its root causes.
... "If nothing else, it is a good bargaining chip," said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, of the idea that China could increase its investment in the region. "Both sides are laying down their frameworks and their points of view as to how they should they proceed." 
The idea that China could increase its influence in Mexico emerged even before López Obrador came into office. 
"I heard from senior Mexican officials during the transition that if the United States is not going to treat Mexico with respect, don't be surprised if you see a Chinese submarine in a Mexican port," said Juan Gonzalez, who was an adviser to Vice President Joe Biden on Central America. 
"I think it was hyperbolic," he said of the outgoing officials' warning before adding, "I think Mexico sees increased political risk coming from the political process in the United States and they are diversifying their interests."
It is an inevitable aspect of dominant power transitions that the rising power displaces the reigning power abroad, something the United States is now realizing.

Beginning in 2007 Washington realized that it was in danger of losing hegemony over Africa.  To this end the Pentagon set up a new command, AfriCom.

A week after Chinese President Hu Jintao began a high-profile, eight-country African tour, during which he signed more than 50 cooperation agreements and pledged to double China’s assistance to Africa by 2009, Bush announced the creation of AFRICOM.

The Chinese moves have Bush's neo-con faithful doing it in their pants. The neo-con Heritage Foundation issued this warning: “The United States must be alert to the potential long-term disruption of American access to important raw materials and energy sources as these resources are ‘locked up’ by Chinese firms.”

The US projects that African petroleum could make up 25% of America's oil imports by 2015. That is unless China gets that oil that it too desperately wants locked up before then.

Now, as for AFRICOM, US officials have said it "..isn’t about chasing terrorists around Africa”; “AFRICOM isn’t going to be used to protect natural resources”. Strangely enough, they haven't actually said what AFRICOM is about. Go figure.
In 2008, the United Nations said the supposed humanitarian focus of AfriCom was nonsense.
The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs, in a move destined to set the Pentagon and White House wolves howling, has come right out and said that AfriCom's focus is military, not humanitarian: 
In a key briefing to Congress on 13 March, General William “Kip” Ward, head of the US Command for Africa, AFRICOM, devoted only 15 seconds of his four-and-a-half minute opening remarks to a possible humanitarian role.

Focusing instead on military training, security and counter-terrorism, his remarks came in sharp contrast to a year ago when officials announced that the command would concentrate on humanitarian assistance, alarming many aid agencies, which were concerned that US military involvement in humanitarian aid would undermine their neutrality. 
The UN is concerned about AfriCom stepping on the toes of humanitarian NGOs operating in Africa. Many African leaders, however, are more worried about AfriCom stepping on their necks.
Now, with its fracked oil and gas bounty, the United States military presence is limited to a forlorn base in a container port in Djibouti situated immediately alongside a similar military base, this one Chinese. The Washington Post recently asked whether China could bump US forces out of that solitary toehold.

The good news is that Trump has sparked an overdue debate about America's place in the world.
To be sure, discussions about the waning of the United States as the world’s sole superpowerpredate Trump. But two years of his tumultuous presidency have intensified Washingtonian angst about the future of American power and how America should seek to lead a more fractured planet — or whether it should try at all. 
It’s historical fact that great nations and empires all have a beginning and an end,” said James Jones, a retired U.S. general, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama and outgoing chairman of the Atlantic Council, speaking Friday in Washington at a forum hosted by his think tank. “There’s a naive belief in our country that there’s some sort of destiny, that the primacy of the United States is ensured for some reason forever. I don’t think that’s the case.” 
To that end, the Atlantic Council, an organization deeply invested in the furtherance of American leadership, is planning on floating a new set of principles to safeguard the “rules-based order” — the euphemism often used to explain the status quo authored by the United States more than half a century ago. It wants to “revitalize” and “defend” this order, not just from the rising authoritarian might of China, but in the face of Trump’s own nationalist and protectionist agenda and those of his ilk. 
At the forum, speakers warned of the White House’s disregard for “values-based” foreign policy — seen both in Trump’s cynical accommodation of figures such as the Saudi crown prince as well as his demagoguery over migrants and refugees coming to the United States. Washington, they feared, was seeing its credibility evaporate among allies. 
...That the United States is almost inexorably lurching into a great-power confrontation with China ought to be a concern, suggested Emma Ashford and Trevor Thrall of the libertarian Cato Institute. “The growing consensus on China is troubling. Having identified China as America’s biggest strategic challenge, neither party has identified a clear goal,” Ashford and Thrall wrote. “Nor have they articulated how a new approach to China would provide a foundation for a broader vision of American foreign policy . . . The risk of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy on China — through confrontation without purpose — is real.” 
Analysts liken the febrile moment to an earlier era of 19th century politics, when Europe’s industrializing, imperial powers entered into alliances that ultimately convulsed the world into conflict. 
“What we are seeing today resembles the mid-nineteenth century in important ways: the post — World War II, post — Cold War order cannot be restored, but the world is not yet on the edge of a systemic crisis,” wrote Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. 
A century ago, that crisis arrived. This time, the current crop of American politicians — Trump included — can still stave off calamity. 
“Now is the time to make sure one never materializes, be it from a breakdown in U.S.-Chinese relations, a clash with Russia, a conflagration in the Middle East, or the cumulative effects of climate change,” Haass continued. “The good news is that it is far from inevitable that the world will eventually arrive at a catastrophe; the bad news is that it is far from certain that it will not.

The End of an Era

It's a controversy that dates back to the day when Brian Mulroney was prime minister and a soon to be prime minister, Kim Campbell, Mulroney's defence minister.  At the time, Campbell wanted to replace Canada's then aging Sea King anti-submarine helicopters with a costly European design, the EH-101. When Campbell's brief premiership was ended by Jean Chretien, the Liberals canceled the helicopter contract, leaving the Sea King fleet to soldier on long after their intended retirement date.

As I was sitting in my study just before noon, the house began to shake a little from the unmistakable sound of rotor blades.  There, overhead and really quite low, passed a tight formation of four Sea Kings with a fifth well behind in trail. They headed north and then, several minutes later, passed by again this time heading south.

It turns out this was the farewell fly-past of these venerable CH-124 Sea Kings. They certainly have done yeoman's service with the Canadian navy since 1963. After today it's thought they'll be scrapped for parts.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Once the Politicians Stop Patting Themselves on the Back

To hear Canada's environment minister, Catherine Mckenna, tell it, the Katowice climate summit was a great success.

It wasn't. It was the opposite of success. It was a failure. And, unless the global leadership comes to grips with that very quickly it may turn out to be a critical failure.

Johan Rockstrom, director designate at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “My biggest concern is that the UN talks failed to align ambitions with science. We continue to follow a path that will take us to a very dangerous 3-4C warmer world within this century. Extreme weather events hit people across the planet already, at only 1C of warming.”

Nicholas Stern, the former World Bank chief economist and author of a seminal review of the economics of climate change, said: “It is clear that the progress we are making is inadequate, given the scale and urgency of the risks we face. The latest figures show carbon dioxide emissions are still rising. A much more attractive, clean and efficient path for economic development and poverty reduction is in our hands.”
A rulebook. That's what our politicians achieved at Katowice, a rulebook.
The two-week-long UN talks in Poland ended with clarity over the “rulebook” that will govern how the Paris agreement of 2015 is put into action, but the crucial question of how to lift governments’ targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was left unanswered.
Since [the 2015 Paris climate summit], the warnings have grown clearer and scientists have eliminated the possibility that the global warming observed in recent decades has been due to natural forces. It is a manmade problem arising from the use of fossil fuels, which has poured the heat-trapping gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

On current national emissions-cutting targets, the world would reach more than 3C of warming, scientists say. Two months ago the world’s leading body of climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, found that even 1.5C of warming would cause sea level rises, coral reef die-off, extinction of species and droughts, floods, storms and heatwaves that would threaten the world’s stability. 
Levels of warming greater than that would devastate parts of the globe, wiping out agricultural productivity, melting the Arctic ice cap and rendering many areas uninhabitable.
What's most infuriating is that politicians like Mckenna act as though time is not a problem, much less a critical problem. They're wrong, it is. Best case scenario: we have until 2030 to cut global carbon emissions by half if we're to have a chance of avoiding runaway global warming.

Cutting carbon emissions by half in less than a dozen years won't be easy. It will be very, very, extremely hard to achieve. It will require a major restructuring of national economies. Sacrifices will be necessary and they won't be borne equally.  Some will have to give much more ground than others.  Sorry, Alberta. New clean-energy infrastructure will have to be designed, constructed and put in place in a breathtakingly brief interval. A dozen years is nothing.

In the meantime we also have to address numerous other environmental problems just to keep the foundation intact so we can try to tackle climate change. These are Rockstrom's "nine planetary boundaries" we must not cross.

As for Mckenna:
"Today demonstrates that multilateralism works to tackle a clear global problem—climate change. Three years ago almost to the day, some 200 countries came together to land an ambitious Paris Agreement. Over the last few weeks, the world gathered once again in Katowice, Poland, for the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) where our team worked hard throughout the negotiations to find common ground between developed and developing countries.

"I am pleased countries around the world came together to agree to rules for transparently reporting how all countries are fulfilling their commitments to reduce emissions and tackle climate change. To increase our ambition for climate action, we need clear and transparent rules."
I hope that gives you hope and confidence.

A "Target Rich Environment"

There's a discernible sea change underway in America's right wing media. When it comes to reliably pro-Republican opinion, the National Review ranks in the first tier. Which is why it was notable that NR published two anti-Trump articles.

Andrew McCarthy dismembered the recent Republican meme that Trump national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was set up by the FBI and should never have been charged with lying to investigators.

It is an article of faith among ardent Trump supporters not merely that Flynn should not have been investigated, but that he is innocent of the false-statements charge to which he pled guilty.

This has become impossible to buy — and not just because, to believe Flynn told the agents the truth, you must believe that (a) he lied to the court when he pled guilty and (b) he is still lying to the court in his sentencing memo, in which he claims that sharp FBI practices hoodwinked him into lying.
...You can say the government was putting enormous pressure on him, but it is hard to believe a man like Flynn would plead guilty to lying unless he had lied. Note, moreover, that to argue that he did not lie to the agents necessarily means he lied to the judge when he pled guilty, and is continuing to lie to the judge in his sentencing memo (where, again, he admits lying but says he was pressured into doing so).
...Flynn was a longtime intelligence pro who led the Defense Intelligence Agency. Could he get one or two things wrong? Maybe . . . but multiple inaccuracies about important communications with a rival foreign power? It is hard to believe that someone of Flynn’s high-level intelligence background could do that innocently.
Of greater importance to the Trump administration and Republicans generally is an essay by David French, "Republicans, Don't Fool Yourselves - Donald Trump is In Serious Trouble."

In response to the emerging evidence that Donald Trump directed and participated in the commission of federal crimes, all too many Republicans are wrongly comforting themselves with political deflection and strained legal argument. The political deflection is clear, though a bit bizarre. The recent wave of news about Trump’s porn payoffs is somehow evidence that investigators and critics are “shifting focus” from the Russia investigation to alleged campaign-finance violations.

It’s almost as if the campaign-finance news is taken as some sort of evidence that Mueller’s core investigation is faltering, so the media and investigators have to find something to use to attack Trump. 
But the campaign-finance investigation has little to do with Mueller. It’s run by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and — besides — what do we want federal prosecutors to do when they discover evidence of unrelated crimes when engaged in a different investigation? Let bygones be bygones? Or refer that evidence to the proper jurisdiction — as Robert Mueller’s office did — for further investigation and potential prosecution? 
The current wave of news reports is largely driven by court filings, and those court filings don’t represent a shift in law-enforcement focus on Trump but rather an arena of additional inquiry. The sad reality is that the Trump operation was a target-rich environment for any diligent investigator.
The article points out that the lies Flynn gave the FBI weren't novel. In fact he was only repeating the same lies he had told three times earlier to others. All he gave the FBI were well-worn falsehoods.

NBC News offers further grim tidings to the Republican faithful in the form of a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll that finds 62 per cent of Americans polled believe Trump is not telling the truth in the Russia probe.
The dam has not burst on Donald Trump,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, whose firm conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “But this survey suggests all the structural cracks [that exist] in the dam.” 
The NBC/WSJ poll — conducted Dec. 9-12 — comes after new developments in the Russia probe and other investigations involving the president, including evidence and allegations that: 
Trump and his team were offered “synergy” with the Russian government. 
Trump directed an illegal campaign-finance scheme to make payments covering up two alleged affairs in the last days of the 2016 campaign. 
Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort continued to communicate with Trump administration officials well after his indictment. 
Former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was sentenced to prisonfor three years.
Respondents also expressed a preference for congressional Democrats to take the reins in shaping American policy.
A month after the results from the 2018 midterm elections, 48 percent of Americans say they want Democrats in Congress to take the lead role in setting policy for the country, versus 21 percent who want congressional Republicans to take the lead and 19 percent who want Trump in charge.