Wednesday, January 31, 2018

US Slips on "Best Democracies" Scale

The Economist Intelligence Unit calculates that less than five per cent of the world's population live in a true democracy.  Falling short of that list are the people of the United States of America.

The Economist Intelligence Unit released on Wednesday its 2017 Democracy Index, which ranks 167 countries on a 0 to 10 scale. Only countries with scores above 8 are categorised as "full" democracies.

The US was downgraded from a "full democracy" to a "flawed democracy" in the same study last year, which cited the "low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties."

The study has five criteria: Whether elections are free and fair ("electoral process and pluralism"), governments have checks and balances ("functioning of government"), and whether citizens are included in politics ("political participation"), support their government ("political culture"), and enjoy freedom of expression ("civil liberties").

Norway comes in at first with a score of 9.87 out of a possible 10. Iceland comes in 2nd followed by Sweden, New Zealand and Denmark. Canada comes in 6th  (tied with Ireland) with a score of 9.15. America is denied a podium finish, coming in, tied with Italy, at 21st with 7.98.

If you ask me, someone was very generous with the U.S. score.  Meanwhile, an article today in The Atlantic reminds us that America was never intended to be a democracy. It's a lengthy article I've attempted to excerpt below.

Across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans. If it did, the country would look radically different: Marijuana would be legal and campaign contributions more tightly regulated; paid parental leave would be the law of the land and public colleges free; the minimum wage would be higher and gun control much stricter; abortions would be more accessible in the early stages of pregnancy and illegal in the third trimester.

The subversion of the people’s preferences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern. Four broad theories have long sought to answer a fundamental question about our government: Who rules? One theory, the one we teach our children in civics classes, holds that the views of average people are decisive. Another theory suggests that mass-based interest groups such as the AARP have the power. A third theory predicts that business groups such as the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America and the National Beer Wholesalers Association carry the day. A fourth theory holds that policy reflects the views of the economic elite.

Gilens and Page tested those theories by tracking how well the preferences of various groups predicted the way that Congress and the executive branch would act on 1,779 policy issues over a span of two decades. The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all.

To some degree, of course, the unresponsiveness of America’s political system is by design. The United States was founded as a republic, not a democracy. As Alexander Hamilton and James Madison made clear in the Federalist Papers, the essence of this republic would consist—their emphasis—“IN THE TOTAL EXCLUSION OF THE PEOPLE, IN THEIR COLLECTIVE CAPACITY, from any share” in the government. Instead, popular views would be translated into public policy through the election of representatives “whose wisdom may,” in Madison’s words, “best discern the true interest of their country.” That this radically curtailed the degree to which the people could directly influence the government was no accident.

Only over the course of the 19th century did a set of entrepreneurial thinkers begin to dress an ideologically self-conscious republic up in the unaccustomed robes of a democracy. Throughout America, the old social hierarchies were being upended by rapid industrialization, mass immigration, westward expansion, and civil war. Egalitarian sentiment was rising. The idea that the people should rule came to seem appealing and even natural. The same institutions that had once been designed to exclude the people from government were now commended for facilitating government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

That basis is now crumbling, and the people have taken notice. In no small part that’s because the long era during which average Americans grew more wealthy has come to a sputtering stop. People who are asked how well they are doing economically frequently compare their own standard of living with that of their parents. Until recently, this comparison was heartening. At the age of 30, more than nine in 10 Americans born in 1940 were earning more than their parents had at the same stage of their lives. But according to eye-popping research led by the economist Raj Chetty and his co-authors, many Millennials do not share in this age-old American experience of improving fortunes. Among those Americans born in the early 1980s, only half earn more than their parents did at a similar age.

Americans have never loved their politicians or thought of Washington as a repository of moral virtue. But so long as the system worked for them—so long as they were wealthier than their parents had been and could expect that their kids would be better off than them—people trusted that politicians were ultimately on their side. Not anymore.


Donald Trump won the presidency for many reasons, including racial animus, concerns over immigration, and a widening divide between urban and rural areas. But public-opinion data suggest that a deep feeling of powerlessness among voters was also important. I analyzed 2016 data from the American National Election Studies. Those who voted for Trump in the Republican primaries, more than those who supported his competition, said that they “don’t have any say about what the government does,” that “public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” and that “most politicians care only about the interests of the rich and powerful.”

Trump has no real intention of devolving power back to the people. He’s filled his administration with members of the same elite he disparaged on the campaign trail. His biggest legislative success, the tax bill, has handed gifts to corporations and the donor class. A little more than a year after America rebelled against political elites by electing a self-proclaimed champion of the people, its government is more deeply in the pockets of lobbyists and billionaires than ever before.


Donald trump is the first president in the history of the United States to have served in no public capacity before entering to the White House. He belittles experts, seems to lack the most basic grasp of public policy, and loves to indulge the worst whims of his supporters. In all things, personal and political, Plato’s disdainful description of the “democratic man” fits the 45th president like a glove: Given to “false and braggart words and opinions,” he considers “insolence ‘good breeding,’ license ‘liberty,’ prodigality ‘magnificence,’ and shamelessness ‘manly spirit.’ ”

It is little wonder, then, that Plato’s haughty complaint about democracy—its primary ill, he claimed, consists in “assigning a kind of equality indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike”—has made a remarkable comeback. As early as 2003, the journalist Fareed Zakaria argued, “There can be such a thing as too much democracy.” In the years since, many scholars have built this case: The political scientist Larry Bartels painstakingly demonstrated just how irrational ordinary voters are; the political philosopher Jason Brennan turned the premise that irrational or partisan voters are terrible decision makers into a book titled Against Democracy; and Parag Khanna, an inveterate defender of globalization, argued for a technocracy in which many decisions are made by “committees of accountable experts.” Writing near the end of the 2016 primary season, when Trump’s ascent to the Republican nomination already looked unstoppable, Andrew Sullivan offered the most forceful distillation of this line of antidemocratic laments: “Democracies end when they are too democratic,” the headline of his essay announced. “And right now, America is a breeding ground for tyranny.”

Real change will also require an ambitious reform of campaign finance. Because of Citizens United, this is going to be extremely difficult. But the Supreme Court has had a change of heart in the past. As evidence that the current system threatens American democracy keeps piling up, the Court might finally recognize that stricter limits on campaign spending are desperately needed.

It is true that to recover its citizens’ loyalty, our democracy needs to curb the power of unelected elites who seek only to pad their influence and line their pockets. But it is also true that to protect its citizens’ lives and promote their prosperity, our democracy needs institutions that are, by their nature, deeply elitist. This, to my mind, is the great dilemma that the United States—and other democracies around the world—will have to resolve if they wish to survive in the coming decades.

We don’t need to abolish all technocratic institutions or merely save the ones that exist. We need to build a new set of political institutions that are both more responsive to the views and interests of ordinary people, and better able to solve the immense problems that our society will face in the decades to come.

Well, Ain't That Grand? Arms Race Update.

For several years the United States and Russia have been in a nuclear arms race, each side racing to develop new warheads and ever better delivery systems.

Now the world's largest economy, China, has joined the race.

China must strengthen its nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capabilities to keep pace with the developing nuclear strategies of the United States and Russia, the official paper of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration may be pursuing the development of new nuclear weaponry and could explicitly leave open the possibility of nuclear retaliation for major non-nuclear attacks, according to a draft of a pending Nuclear Posture Review leaked by the Huffington Post.

This "unprecedented" move by the United States, combined with continuous quality improvements of nuclear arsenals in both the U.S. and Russia, means that both countries place greater importance on deterrence and real combat usability, the commentary in the PLA Daily said.

"In the roiling unpredictability of today's world, to upgrade the capability of our country's deterrence strategy, to support our great power position... we must strengthen the reliability and trustworthiness of our nuclear deterrence and nuclear counterstrike capabilities," it said.

Meanwhile, its engagement in the Syrian/ISIS conflict enabled Russia to gain experience with 215 new weapons systems.  Nothing like a little live fire to let you discover what works and what needs fixing.

“The rout of the well-equipped terrorist groups in Syria demonstrated the power of our Army and Navy, and the course of the operation demonstrated the tradition of reliability and effectiveness of Russian weapons,” Putin said in aspeech.

Putin noted that Russian forces used some 215 new types of advanced weapons systems in Syria. Moreover, the Kremlin demonstrated its new long-range precision guided conventional strike capability under operational conditions in Syria–less a necessity in fighting insurgents in the Middle East than a shot across NATO’s bow.

“The first experience of the combat use of long-range air- and sea-based systems proved to be positive,” Putin said. “These were primarily the Kalibr missile and the X-101 missiles that are less known to the public. Strategic aircraft were also used in combat conditions for the first time.”

$2,000,000,000,000.00 - Now There's a Figure That Grabs Your Attention.

Two trillion dollars. I'm guessing that, even for you, that's a lot of money.

It's the estimated liability of Alberta's five largest energy producers according to the Parkland Institute, a think tank at the University of Alberta.

"The Big Five need to start publicly disclosing their emissions modelling for the sake of transparency and accountability," reads the report, released Wednesday by the Parkland Institute, an Alberta public policy research network based at the University of Alberta.

It says Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Suncor Energy, Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy have not fully disclosed how much carbon pollution they expect to create out of their own assets. This pollution now has a hefty price tag since governments around the world have committed under the 2015 Paris Agreement to slash greenhouse gases in order to prevent dangerous changes to the climate.

“Governments can’t properly regulate corporations when they don’t have all the facts at hand,” the report’s co-author, Ian Hussey, said in an interview.

“Those are disclosures that we’re not seeing yet, but we believe these companies are already making these calculations.”

The report says the carbon liabilities — that is, the social cost of the carbon pollution that will come from developing their fossil fuel reserves — of the “big five” firms, based on a conservative estimate of $50 per tonne, is $320 billion, outweighing the whole of Alberta’s GDP, which it pegs at $309 billion.

In a scenario where polluters were paying $200 per tonne of carbon emissions, that liability would add up to $1.99 trillion based on their proven and probable reserves of oil and gas, according to the study.

Once again we're left to grapple with spotty accounting from the Oil Patch where environmental costs are frequently treated as "externalities" that are kept off the books, allowing the economic case for the Tar Sands to appear viable.

The oil wars that pit Victoria against Edmonton and Ottawa are heating up. The crud that Alberta and the feds insist on pumping/leaking across British Columbia and our coast is just that, crud. It's full of heavy metals, acids, carcinogens and other toxins that are incredibly persistent and damaging. The Americans gave us a free demonstration of that from the Enbridge spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Yet Rachel and Justin and all their subordinate sphincters think pumping that same lethal crud across British Columbia's mountainous and seismically active territory is just dandy. 

And when - not 'if' but when - one of those tankers runs up on the rocks and pours a planetary gutload of that crud into our coastal waters, the Trudeau government has approved the use of Corexit as an oil spill "dispersent."  Corexit doesn't disperse anything. It buries the evidence, sending it to the seabed, out of sight/out of mind, where, in the case of a product as noxious and persistent as Tar Sands dilbit, it can contaminate the marine ecology for decades, generations. The Americans have given us another demonstration of that. Corexit was used with disastrous consequences in the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, which, decades later is still not cleaned up, and to bury the evidence from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks, Justin, for adding insult to injury or, perhaps, disaster to injury.

The BC government's latest, unpatriotic impertinence has been to restrict the amount of dilbit that can be transported across our province until "the behaviour of spilled bitumen can be better understood."

Now you would have thought, with so much at stake, that the feds and their counterparts in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the big energy producers would have long ago tested how dilbit behaves when spilled into both fresh and salt water. Oh wait, the freshwater testing has already been done in Kalamazoo. That's not good. But there's still the critical saltwater testing. We haven't seen anything on that although when the government resorts to approving Corexit that's an indication that they have probably run their tests and don't want to talk about it. Besides they - the feds, Alberta and the Tar Sanders - would much prefer to offload that risk on the people of coastal British Columbia. 

Rachel managed to drop a shitload of righteous indignation on British Columbia for its audacity.

“Having run out of tools in the toolbox, the Government of British Columbia is now grasping at straws,” said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in a statement. “The B.C. government has every right to consult on whatever it pleases with its citizens. It does not have the right to rewrite our Constitution and assume powers for itself that it does not have. If it did, our Confederation would be meaningless. Therefore, the action announced today by the B.C. government can only be seen for what it is: political game-playing.”

Of course there's one thing Notley, like her Conservative predecessors, does not want to discuss - why they think it's okay to ship that crud in the first place. Why not refine it on site? Why not keep those heavy metals, acids, carcinogens and myriad toxins right where they found them, in Athabasca?  At least minimize the environmental risks to British Columbia. Build a refinery or three, hire a bunch of Canadians to work the plants and ship full refined synthetic crude oil. There's a plan.

It's a plan but it costs money. And the Tar Sands can only pretend to be economically viable if actual costs are minimized, buried, or offloaded on someone else, free of charge. 

So, Rachel, up yours. All the way up.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

"Push Back" Isn't For Pushovers.

CIA director, Mike Pompeo, says Russia will almost certainly meddle in America's 2018 mid-term Congressional elections.

“I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that but I’m confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election [and] that we will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won’t be great,” Pompeo said.

Much has been made of how Russia manipulated American voters in 2016 through social media - Facebook, YouTube, etc. In the result some social media sites have taken steps to deter a similar attack. 

Two huge mistakes. We have centuries of history of countries that prepared to fight the last war and so were unprepared to fight the next war. America is preparing, to the extent it is preparing at all, to resist a repeat of the 2016 Russian meddling.

Mistake two - leaving the drawbridge down and unattended. Social media was merely a means to exploit America's critical vulnerability, the collapse of democratic knowledge.

In America, more than in most other Western countries, there is a basic failure of democratic knowledge. In a well-functioning democracy, citizens agree broadly on facts and have some trust in the democratic system, allowing democracy to harness different perspectives and put them to good use. In America, in contrast, distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.

Over the last two decades, the common knowledge of American democracy has been undermined. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned could happen, the structures of shared knowledge are being weakened by democratic politics itself. Politicians — especially on the right — have cast doubt on sources of authority such as science and government, telling their supporters that they shouldn’t trust experts. Finally, the public itself, on its own initiative, has become less trusting of traditional institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church as they have revealed their feet of clay.

As a result, those who were disengaged from politics have become more so, while those who are engaged have become ever more partisan. The result is that most people don’t care about politics, and those who do are likely to have radically different understandings of the challenges faced by America.

Disaffection can be healthy up to a point. Many traditional institutions have failed badly and do not deserve people’s trust. ...Yet when people with different perspectives stop sharing a common basis of knowledge, democracy is liable to pull itself apart. Parties become enemies rather than competitors. When people stop trusting any institutions, they are likely instead to start thinking that the democratic process is rigged, and to pin their hopes instead on cranks and conspiracy mongers.

How can you stop the Russians from doing what Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh and their class of reprobates do every day? They've grown fat and rich preying on the ignorance, the fears and the basest instincts of their followers, their human fois gras. Undermining basic democratic knowledge, the glue of democracy, is their stock in trade.

Mike Pompeo's CIA isn't addressing this vulnerability. Congress isn't. Trump certainly isn't. The Mango Mussolini relies on the same tactics the Russians use to keep his base in line.

It wasn't Macron who defeated Russian meddling in France nor Merkel in Germany. It was the French people and the German people and their hold on democratic knowledge. The American public, or a significant part of it, has become enfeebled. They've been conditioned, groomed, into a state of near imbecility. There was nothing accidental about it. Those responsible knew exactly what they were doing and what could be had from it.

Will Bezos, Buffett, and Morgan Conquer American Health Care?

Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan plan to tag team America's healthcare insurance industry.

Three corporate giants are teaming up to combat what billionaire Warren Buffett calls a “hungry tapeworm” feasting on the U.S. economy: health care. Inc., Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. said they plan to collaborate on a way to offer health-care services to their U.S. employees more transparently and at a lower cost. The three companies plan to set up a new independent company “that is free from profit-making incentives and constraints,” according to a short statement on Tuesday.

The move sent shares of health-care stocks falling in early trading. Express Scripts Holding Co. and CVS Health Corp., which manage pharmacy benefits, slumped 6.7 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively. Health insurers Cigna Corp. and Anthem Inc. also dropped.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Paul Ryan Kisses Koch Ass

Republican House speaker, Paul Ryan, doesn't get it. They should be thanking him, not the other way around.  Oh, wait a second. He gets his reward.

Ryan offered up a brief video thanking America's billionaires network for making tax reform for billionaires a reality.

"Your network has been instrumental for allowing us to reach so many milestones that have long been talked about, but until this year, have not been achieved," Ryan said in a three-minute video message aired to hundreds of Republican mega-donors attending a three-day meeting in California.

"And because of your help, we have been able to take the ball and run with it," he said.

Ryan, the House Speaker, rattled off policy priorities for 2018 that align with the influential Koch network's goals, including deregulation and an overhaul of the criminal-justice system.

Nat Gas Killed Coal. Now It's Time to Kill Off Nat Gas.

Natural gas remains widely seen as a helpful "bridge fuel" during the transition from high carbon fossil fuels to alternative, clean energy. That myth is based on end use comparisons. Natural gas power plants emit much less greenhouse gas than coal-fired power plants, ergo nat gas is cleaner.

Here's the thing. That's a lie, one repeated endlessly by the natural gas frackers/producers.

When you load a train car with coal, the coal pretty much stays there until it reaches its destination. Natural gas, by contrast, is always trying to escape and it's awfully good at getting away on us. And, once it gets away, it flees to the atmosphere to take up its new job as atmospheric methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas.  From The Guardian.

As Joe Romm has detailed for Climate Progress, research indicates that shifting to natural gas squanders most of those gains. For example, a 2014 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that when natural gas production is abundant, it crowds out both coal and renewables, resulting in little if any climate benefit. Part of the problem is significant methane leakage from natural gas drilling.

...abundant gas consistently results in both less coal and renewable energy use […] the quantity of methane leaked may ultimately determine whether the overall effect is to slightly reduce or actually increase cumulative emissions […] only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future emissions from US electricity generation … We conclude that increased natural gas use for electricity will not substantially reduce US GHG emissions, and by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies, may actually exacerbate the climate change problem in the long term.

Similarly, another 2014 study found that based on the latest estimates of methane leakage rates from natural gas drilling, replacing coal with natural gas provides little in the way of climate benefits. Though it’s been touted as a ‘bridge fuel’ to span the gap between coal and renewables, this research suggests natural gas isn’t significantly better than coal in terms of global warming effects, and thus may not be suitable for that purpose. The ‘bridge’ doesn’t appear to achieve its goal of steadily cutting our greenhouse gas emissions.

We extract a lot of natural gas and a lot of it is lost getting it out of the ground and getting it to markets. And then there's domestic natural gas, the stuff you may use for home heating, fake fireplaces, stoves and ovens, etc. That gas has to get to your home through a network of buried pipes. That's a real problem in older municipalities, such as Boston. The gas lines are old and they leak - a lot.

This image shows natural gas leaking in certain sampled parts of Boston. Vehicle-mounted sensors were taken down Boston streets recording gas leaks coming out of the roads, from sidewalks and from buildings. Those are leaks that are continuous, round the clock. Now you could rip up all the roads and all the sidewalks and all the basements and lawns and, that way, you could replace all those leaking gas lines, but, hey, you might have to raise taxes and the 1% need that money, don't they?

Those leaks are a typical fossil fuel externality. They're written off against revenues, in effect the producers get a hefty deduction for their losses. No one is assessed for the damage those leaks cause the environment, the atmosphere, living creatures on the planet. Meanwhile the industry drums in our heads that their gas is cleaner than coal. 

Fortunately, as set out in the Guardian article, breakthroughs in solar power and battery storage technology and costs, are now low enough to undermine natural gas, even at its subsidized prices. Keep your fingers crossed for the natural gas lobby has many friends in high office.

The Stable Genius May Reverse Course on Climate Change. Yeah, Right.

Donald Trump is a "stable genius." He must be, he said so. That's what he told another bloated ego, Piers Morgan, during a recent interview in Davos, Switzerland.

Trump also let drop that America might return to the Paris climate change agreement. Why? Because he's got a thing for French president, Emmanuel Macron.

Does Trump believe in climate change? No, hell no. Does he believe that it's time to switch to alternative energy instead of fossil fuels. Ditto, hell no. Does he want to slash American greenhouse gas emissions? Couldn't care less. But then there's Emmanuel, swoon.

Only a true genius, and a very, very stable one at that, could square that circle.

Are the Republicans Becoming a Criminal Organization?

Donald Trump's ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations. One is underway in the Senate, another in the House of Representatives. The one that matters, however, is the criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of crack prosecutors.

It's to be expected that Congressional Republicans, after loud proclamations of their sincerity and determination to "get to the bottom" of Trump et al and their Red pals would quietly change course and see that as little light as possible ever comes of their investigations. Fair enough, I suppose, that's politics. They don't want to bring any heat on Donald Trump. The Great Orange Bloat bites back and there are those mid-term primaries looming.

But what about Mueller's ongoing investigations that have already led to several criminal indictments and appear to be closing in on Trump himself?

One of Trump's vulnerabilities is on possible obstruction of justice. There's a load of stuff there starting with the firing of former FBI director, James Comey. Then it came out last week that Trump ordered the firing of Mueller last summer but his White House counsel refused the order, threatening to resign instead. Then, on the weekend, Bill Clinton's former impeachment nemesis, Ken Starr, opined that Trump could be charged with obstruction simply for lying about having ordered Mueller fired. That sounds like a bit of a stretch but, hey, Starr did run one of these impeachment things, right? And, never forget, that, when Congress moved to impeach Richard Nixon, the charge was obstruction of justice. Something about disappearing Oval Office tapes as I recall.

But what about those Congressional Republicans and their mid-term migraine, a.k.a. the Mango Mussolini himself? Lately, and especially over the past two weeks, they've gone beyond their own hapless investigations to begin meddling in Robert Mueller's bailiwick. They've been attacking the integrity of the FBI, claiming its out to lynch their president. They've been impugning Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican, for including investigator/prosecutors with known or imagined Democrat leanings.

Now, Foreign Policy, reports that Trump and Congressional collaborators, took part in an effort to discredit three top FBI officials who might have corroborated James Comey's claim that he was fired because he refused to back off on the Trump/Russia investigation:

Trump — as well as his aides, surrogates, and some Republican members of Congress — has engaged in an unprecedented campaign to discredit specific senior bureau officials and the FBI as an institution.

The FBI officials Trump has targeted are Andrew McCabe, the current deputy FBI director and who was briefly acting FBI director after Comey’s firing; Jim Rybicki, Comey’s chief of staff and senior counselor; and James Baker, formerly the FBI’s general counsel. Those same three officials were first identified as possible corroborating witnesses for Comey in a June 7 article in Vox. Comey confirmed in congressional testimony the following day that he confided in the three men.

In the past, presidents have attacked special counsels and prosecutors who have investigated them, calling them partisan and unfair. But no previous president has attacked a long-standing American institution such as the FBI — or specific FBI agents and law enforcement officials.

Mueller has asked senior members of the administration questions in recent months indicating that prosecutors might consider Trump’s actions also to be an effort to intimidate government officials — in this case FBI officials — from testifying against him.

The New York Times reported late Thursday that Trump also ordered the firing of Mueller last June. Trump reportedly changed his mind after White House counsel Donald McGahn threatened to resign and two of the president’s highest-ranking aides told him that it would have devastating effects on his presidency.


Obstruction of justice cases depend largely on whether a prosecutor can demonstrate the intent or motivation of the person he or she charges. It’s not enough to prove that the person under investigation attempted to impede an ongoing criminal investigation — a prosecutor must demonstrate some corrupt purpose in doing so.

That Trump may have been motivated to attack specific FBI officials because they were potential witnesses against him could demonstrate potential intent that would bolster an obstruction of justice case. 

It's difficult to imagine someone as hard-nosed and experienced as Mueller shrugging this off whether the intimidation came from Trump, his attorney-general or faithful stooges in the House and Senate. This might be a fine teaching moment to remind congressmen not to meddle with criminal investigations.


NBC News reports that a favourite Trump target, FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe, has stepped down.  Trump may come to regret getting what he wished for.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Dutch Intelligence Hacked the Russians Who Hacked the DNC

There have been rumblings from time to time about Dutch and German intelligence services knowing something, perhaps a lot, about Russian efforts to meddle in America's 2016 presidential election. It seems there's substance to those rumours.

According to a report in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, the General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD)—the Netherlands' domestic intelligence service—had hacked into the network of a building at a Russian university in Moscow some time in the summer of 2014. The building housed a group running a hacking campaign now known as "Cozy Bear," one of the "threat groups" that would later target the Democratic National Committee.

AIVD's intrusion into the network gave them access to computers used by the group behind Cozy Bear and to the closed-circuit television cameras that watched over them, allowing them to literally witness everything that took place in the building near Red Square, according to the report. Access to the video cameras in a hallway outside the space where the Russian hacking team worked allowed the AIVD to get images of every person who entered the room and match them against known Russian intelligence agents and officials.

Based on the images, analysts at AIVD later determined that the group working in the room was operated by Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). An information and technology sharing arrangement with the National Security Agency and other US intelligence agencies resulted in the determination that Cozy Bear’s efforts were at least in part being driven by the Russian Federation’s leadership—including Russian President Vladimir Putin.

AIVD’s penetration into the Cozy Bear network lasted for more than a year. The information gathered during the surveillance, Modderkolk’s sources suggested, was key to the US intelligence agencies’ attribution of the DNC breach to Russia. And the leaks that have followed, as well as the Trump administration’s recalcitrance in accepting the attribution, have made the Dutch intelligence community a “lot more cautious when it comes to sharing intelligence,” Modderkolk wrote.

What Do You Give the Man Who Has Everything? Something That Truly Exemplifies Him.

When the White House tried to hit up the Guggenheim Museum for a loan of Van Gogh's Landscape with Snow, the museum had to turn him down but didn't want Trump disappointed. They came up with another treasure from their collection that might really appeal to the Cheeto Benito. And, it's named America.

The White House had asked the Guggenheim, based in New York, to borrow Landscape With Snow, Van Gogh’s 1888 work depicting a man and a dog walking through a field.

But the Guggenheim’s chief curator, Nancy Spector, turned down the request, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. Instead she said the White House could loan an 18-carat toilet – an installation by artist Maurizio Cattelan.

The fully functioning toilet, titled America, was installed in the Guggenheim in September 2016. It was available for public use, and tens of thousands of people obliged. But with the exhibition over, Spector saw that the toilet could now potentially serve the president.

Spector wrote that America was available, “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House”.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What Does a '[C-Note' Have To Do With Trump? More Than You Might Imagine.

There it is, the US hundred dollar bill, the Franklin, the largest bill currently in circulation. It features the visage of America's highly revered Ben Franklin. One of America's legendary 'founding fathers,' Franklin was a true polymatha leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, humorist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.

What could a man so massively accomplished as Franklin have to do with Donald Trump? That dawned on me in reading a report in Britain's Financial Times about a debauched, black-tie fundraising event, the President's Club charity dinner.  Silly, but rich, old farts in tuxedos and a bevy of sexy young 'hostesses' in short black dresses. What could possibly come from that?

Only this year among those hostesses were two reporters from the Financial Times.

It is for men only. A black tie evening, Thursday’s event was attended by 360 figures from British business, politics and finance and the entertainment included 130 specially hired hostesses. 

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned. 

The event has been a mainstay of London’s social calendar for 33 years, yet the activities have remained largely unreported — unusual, perhaps, for a fundraiser of its scale.

Over the course of six hours, many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and repeated requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester. 

Many of the hostesses were subjected to groping, lewd comments and requests to join diners in bedrooms elsewhere in the Dorchester.  Hostesses reported men repeatedly putting hands up their skirts; one said an attendee had exposed his penis to her during the evening.

But the auction offers a hint of the evening’s seedier side. Lots included a night at Soho’s Windmill strip club and a course of plastic surgery with the invitation to: “Add spice to your wife.”

At their initial interviews, women were warned that the men in attendance might be “annoying” or try to get the hostesses “pissed”. One hostess was advised to lie to her boyfriend about the fact it was a male-only event. “Tell him it’s a charity dinner,” she was told. 

“It’s a Marmite job. Some girls love it, and for other girls it’s the worst job of their life and they will never do it again . . . You just have to put up with the annoying men and if you can do that it’s fine,” 

Ms Dandridge told the hostess. Two days before the event, Ms Dandridge told prospective hostesses by email that their phones would be “safely locked away” for the evening and that boyfriends and girlfriends were not welcome at the venue.

Te uniform requirements also became more detailed: all hostesses should bring “BLACK sexy shoes”, black underwear, and do their hair and make-up as they would to go to a “smart sexy place”. Dresses and belts would be supplied on the day.

If you're interested in particulars of the debauchery just follow the link above to the Financial Times report.  On reading it there was no escaping the fact that one person who would unquestionably be comfortable, right at home, at such an event is the Mango Mussolini, Donald J. Trump, president of the United States of America. That is just his sort of club.

One report referred to the attendees as "rakes." That brought to mind another prominent American, Benjamin Franklin, and his history as a member of another secretive British association, the Hellfire ClubFranklin had serious trouble controlling his libido. Sound familiar?

It would do great injustice to Franklin to make him out as a colonial Trump. His accomplishments alone, especially as an inventor and a scientist, utterly eclipse Trump's ill-gotten fortune.  Franklin never became president and, had he been around back then, Trump would not have either. Americans weren't quite as addled as they are today.

However, below the belt, they were of a kind, rakes. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I Doubt She'll Be Missed

Tory MP Kellie Leitch is hanging up her spurs and, presumably, her whips and chains also.

CBC News reports Leitch will not seek re-election in 2019. A loud wailing and gnashing of teeth was heard across the riding of Simcoe-Grey.

She certainly was great comedy fodder for 22 Minutes:

It's Back to the Good Old Days of War Fighting

It's the White Hats versus the Black Hats again, the good old days before the Berlin Wall came down.

It's the United States and its subordinates (i.e.  Canada, plus Europe, Japan and perhaps South Korea) in the White Hats versus Russia and China, the Black Hats.

The "PWS" or Permanent Warfare State has had nearly 20 years of the asymmetrical warfare, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism business, at a cost to the treasury of many trillions of dollars and bugger all to show for it. Oh, ISIS is gone, really? You believe that? Why, because the Orange Bloat told you so? And, like, it was all America's doing?

You see all the King's horses and all the King's men have pretty much failed to deliver any significant, permanent victories. Those little bastards never fought fair. They didn't stand up and let us mow them down with our infantry brigades, our tanks and armoured vehicles, our artillery, our attack helicopters and strike fighters, our drones and heavy bombers, even salvos of submarine launched cruise missiles.  So now it's time to move on.

US defense secretary, James Mattis, has rolled out his government's new National Defense Strategy.

Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security. 

China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.

China and Russia now move to the top of the enemies heap, followed by North Korea and Iran. This is the grand pivot away from insurgencies and terrorism toward peer-on-peer conflict, the good old "drang und sturm" warfare.

Here's a little something that should get your panties in a bunch. In this new/old era of warfare we're embarking upon, one of the major contested playgrounds will be our own backyard, the Arctic.  Like it or not, Putin has poured in a load of personnel and resources into re-militarizing the Arctic. And Russia is not alone. China also wants in and claims it has a legitimate right to maintain a permanent and powerful military presence in the Arctic. China has even argued that standard Law of the Sea rules over seabed resources do not apply in the Arctic suggesting they figure to take whatever they can extract. Just sayin'.

Do we really want Trump's Pentagon to take the lead in defending Canada's Arctic territorial sovereignty? This is the guy who still maintains that the US should have taken Iraq's oil in tribute for toppling Saddam Hussein. It's bad enough having to worry about Russia's military build up and China's adventurism without having the avaricious Orange Sphincter looking over our shoulder, breathing down our necks.

One more thing. Secretary Mattis' defense strategy describes China as a "strategic competitor." That brings to mind an opinion piece published several months ago in Proceedings, the journal of the United States Naval Institute. The author, a USN officer, lamented that the United States might be overtaken by China "without a fight." 

The implication was that America has some solemn duty to militarily contest the ascendancy of rivals, economic or political.  The growth of Chinsa's economic and geopolitical prowess was, in effect, a casus belli. This is in keeping with the manifesto of the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (from which Bush's key administration posts were filled) as later embodied in the Bush Doctrine.

The growing chorus of bellicosity sent me in search of the historical record of a dominant power confronted with an ascendant equal or, worse, a successor. There have been a number of instances of this, not a lot but several.  I wanted to know how many of these transitions occurred peacefully. Apparently about a third, which is probably a remarkable figure, did not lead to war. The other two thirds were marked by armed conflict.

Given all the circumstances in play today - the rivalries, the arms races, the thinly-veiled bellicosity, the decline in American power and prestige, the rise of the Chinese economic and Russian military rivals, the new contested 'front lines' in the Arctic, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, the loss of American purpose and rationality, and now the realignment of American military posture to peer-on-peer warfare, I think there's reason to worry and not that far into the future either.

So It's On. The Trans Pacific Partnership, Sans Trumpland, Is a Done Deal.

The ceremonies are scheduled for March but we're told the TPP is now a done deal even without the United States. The nagging question is just what's in it.

Canada, we're told, held out for certain environmental and labour concessions that, we're told, will cure the worst excesses of most earlier free trade deals. So we're told. Then again this government has told us plenty of things that haven't turned out to be quite true.

I'm of two minds on this deal. I would like to see more trade with Europe and Asia to reduce our dependency on an increasingly unreliable and pugnacious America. On the other hand these deals inevitably impact our national sovereignty, some more than others, and it rarely seems that we get good value for what we give up. Oh, it's plenty good for a select group but not necessarily for the nation and the Canadian public at large.

Meanwhile, our sometimes not-to-be-trusted prime minister, is in Davos, Switzerland, banging on the free trade drum.

According to The Guardian, Trudeau said that businesses and governments are failing to help their workers and citizens in "today's rapidly changing world." I'm not sure whether the "job churn" government thinks that's a bad thing or a good thing. There is so much Trudeau could do to rectify this disgraceful state of affairs if he was so inclined but I've not seen much sign of it, have you?

Frum Paints Trump as America's "Untreated Gum Disease"

Even for the Mango Mussolini it's an unflattering depiction. Trump as a festering gum disease that, left untreated, will turn lethal. That however is how David Frum, one time speech writer for Bush 43, sees Trump in his new book, "Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic."

Frum appeared this morning on CBC's "The Current" with host Anna Maria Tremonti.

Frum writes that "the thing to fear from the Trump presidency is not the bold overthrow of the Constitution, but the stealthy paralysis of governance. Not the defiance of law, but an accumulating subversion of norms. Not the deployment of state power to intimidate dissidents, but the incitement of private violence to radicalize supporters."

"Trump is not strategic but he is brilliantly intuitive. He knows and he follows the course of least resistance. When Donald Trump was first elected a lot of alarmist people would compare what happened to Germany in the 1930s. And when I started this I was trying to explain: this is wrong. You don't take the most extreme case of democratic breakdown in the entire history of the world, with the most horrible consequences afterwards and say 'Right. It's going to be like that.' That's the outlier. There are a lot of stops on the trainline of bad before you get to Hitler station."

Frum says this slow undermining of democracy gives people in the government the sense that they still have time to stick up for American principles. He thinks otherwise.
"When the crisis comes, a lot of Republicans in the Senate say, 'look if Donald Trump tries to arrest anybody, I'll be there to stop it,'" says Frum. "We need you a long time before then. We need you to work on those gums and to notice things are just festering. Don't wait for the dramatic hour to be a hero. If it does come to that it will be too late."

"As the Republican Party weakens within America, Donald Trump gets stronger within the Republican Party."

"Trumpocracy is Donald Trump as a system of power," says Frum. "The whole system of the United States was supposedly designed to keep people like Donald Trump away from power and if they somehow slipped into power, control them while there. That system is failing. Trumpocracy is the mode of government that's grown up in the failure of the American system."

Frum also posits McConnell, Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans as a party of Quislings, Trump enablers, willing to succumb to Trump even at the cost of their party and their nation.

Tsu, Tsu, Tsunami - WHAT?

Damn you, Tsunami. Could you not have ruffled my feathers at a more convenient time? I was so comfortably asleep.

The kids called shortly after 2 a.m. Big earthquake off Alaska. Estimates range 7.9 to 8.2. Entire B.C. coast under tsunami warning. Tofino, apparently, being evacuated.

I rolled over, got my Amazon Echo news brief from CBC and, sure enough, a tsunami alert. Maybe it wasn't such a great idea to cut the cable.

Plenty of reports on the internet - CBC, etc. Evacuation warnings. When I opened Blogger even it has a red warning bar.  Jeebus, what's with that?

We're pretty smug about these things on this side of the island. Tsunamis are for the west coast - Tofino, Uclulet, Port Alberni, supposedly. Unfortunately this map on CBC's web site isn't especially comforting.

With any luck it'll turn out to be much ado about nothing. We've had tsunami warnings before but not like this. Besides, my house sits atop a 40-foot high escarpment. And I'm at least a block back from the water. That should do it, right?

It's wait and see.  I'll stay in touch.


Well that was a fine night's sleep utterly ruined. Tsunami watch cancelled. I figured if Haida Gwaii wasn't reporting anything by now we were home free. Seems that's the case.

Back to bed.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What's That Line About "Those Who Live By the Sword"?

What Donald Trump has always most feared is having his dark past exposed. Stuff like the rumoured money laundering - dirty Russian money funneled into swanky Manhattan real estate, Atlantic City casinos, golf courses, etc. He doesn't want people, especially Robert Mueller, looking into that.

Trump would also like his amorous adventures kept well out of the limelight, especially for his devout evangelical flock. The thing is he's got a load of problems on that front too. It doesn't help when you've got the sexual appetites of a goat.

There was the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Then there were Trump's ribald performances on the Howard Stern show where he boasted about perving on the young contestants in the changing room at his beauty pageants and all the women, single and married, that he bedded.

Now Don's Dick may have got him in deep kimchi.  Recently there has been much controversy over an alleged affair the Cheeto Benito had with porn star, Stormy Daniels, that is said to have started just a couple of months after Melania gave birth to son Barron. That story has been around for a while. Daniels spoke of it in several interviews back in 2011, way before Trump took the presidential plunge. The new angle, however, are reports that Trump's lawyer gave Daniels $130,000 to keep her mouth shut just prior to the election. It would have been fine except that word leaked out.

Now a political watchdog group, Common Cause, has filed a complaint demanding that the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission investigate.

These complaints focused on the Wall Street Journal's report earlier this month that Trump's longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, negotiated a secret $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star, not long before the presidential election in 2016. The Washington Post has not independently verified that settlement, which is said to have been finalized as Trump was facing numerous accusations of sexual misconduct from women during the final weeks of the campaign.

This settlement should have been considered a campaign expense “because the funds were paid for the purpose of influencing the 2016 presidential general election,” Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the group, said in a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.

The pair of complaints filed by Common Cause said that the source of the $130,000 payment remains unknown, but they added that regardless of where it originated — even “if Donald J. Trump provided the funds” — the money was aimed at affecting the election and then never reported.

It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Let Me Tell You Just What You Really Are

The truth (science) can often be far stranger than fiction (religion).  Here's a fine example. 

Religion likes to tell you that we were just plopped here by some divine being, end of story. Don't question, just take it on faith. You weren't and then you were.

Science tells us that we are the end result, for now at least, of billions of years of cosmic events and processes.

Many of us are familiar with the Periodic Table. I like Wiki's description:

The periodic table is a tabular arrangement of the chemical elements, ordered by their atomic number, electron configuration, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows periodic trends, such as elements with similar behaviour in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the left, and non-metals on the right.

Most of us know that everything, including your own body, is composed of these elements in combination. But where did those elements come from? How did they get here? What are the real origins of life?

Every atom in your body traces back to one or more cosmic processes: the Big Bang, cosmic ray fission, merging neutron stars, exploding massive stars, dying low mass stars and exploding white dwarfs.  

Above is the periodic table colour coded to represent which violent process or processes were responsible for each element that now form every atom in your body.

This Is a Disease, One That Kills

This is the world that the leaders of the West have created:

42 people hold as much wealth as the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorer half of the world’s population, compared with 61 people last year and 380 in 2009.

The wealth of billionaires had risen by 13% a year on average in the decade from 2006 to 2015, with the increase of $762bn (£550bn) in 2017 enough to end extreme poverty seven times over. It said nine out of 10 of the world’s 2,043 dollar billionaires were men.

Booming global stock markets have been the main reason for the increase in wealth of those holding financial assets during 2017. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, saw his wealth rise by $6bn (£4.3bn) in the first 10 days of 2017 as a result of a bull market on Wall Street, making him the world’s richest man.

Oxfam said billionaires had been created at a record rate of one every two days over the past 12 months, at a time when the bottom 50% of the world’s population had seen no increase in wealth. It added that 82% of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the most wealthy 1%.

The charity said it was “unacceptable and unsustainable” for a tiny minority to accumulate so much wealth while hundreds of millions of people struggled on poverty pay. It called on world leaders to turn rhetoric about inequality into policies to tackle tax evasion and boost the pay of workers.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB chief executive, said: “The concentration of extreme wealth at the top is not a sign of a thriving economy, but a symptom of a system that is failing the millions of hardworking people on poverty wages who make our clothes and grow our food.”

Goldring said it was time to rethink a global economy in which there was excessive corporate influence on policymaking, erosion of workers’ rights and a relentless drive to minimise costs in order to maximise returns to investors.

Mark Littlewood, director general at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “Oxfam is promoting a race to the bottom. Richer people are already highly taxed people – reducing their wealth beyond a certain point won’t lead to redistribution, it will destroy it to the benefit of no one. Higher minimum wages would also likely lead to disappearing jobs, harming the very people Oxfam intend to help.”

Two diametrically opposed views, Goldring's and Littlewood's. Which do you imagine has Justin Trudeau's ear?

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Royal Bank of Scotland - Poster Boy of Neoliberalism

The collapse of privatization behemoth, Carillion, could become the straw that broke the neoliberal camel's back. Carillion has shown that the transfer of risk from the public sector to the private sector is a farce for, when PPP or public-private participation projects fail, the private partner often goes down leaving the risk and loss with the public partner, the government and, through it, the public.

Now it's the Royal Bank of Scotland in the spotlight. RBS made itself a big player in the subprime mortgage fiasco and got caught in the collapse. It's what happened afterward that has critics up in arms.

Up to its neck in sub-prime mortgage lending in the US, it was a major figure in the 2007 financial crash, during which its toxic balance sheet was found to be larger than the GDP of the entire UK.

Then, after RBS had been bailed out with taxpayers' money, it continued to give capitalism a bad rep, ruthlessly exploiting the small businesses who were suffering from the post-crash recession it had helped create. This was confirmed last week in a revealing internal RBS memo from 2009 which urged managers to let struggling small businesses “hang themselves” so that the bank could pick up their assets at rock bottom. The now notorious RBS Global Restructuring Group was condemned in the Commons last week for “the largest theft anywhere”, and for ruining thousands of viable companies.

The current RBS chairman, Sir Howard Davies, says that the Public Finance Initiative was a “fraud on the people” and he should know because Royal Bank was one of the biggest names in PFI in the noughties. A National Audit Office report last week confirmed what readers of the Sunday Herald have long known, that the PFI contracts for building and running schools and hospitals are around 40 per cent more expensive than orthodox public procurement. This means around about £200bn in public funds is being diverted to pay for the houses, cars, private schools and investment portfolios of managers and shareholders of the various PFI schemes.

No-one should be surprised at this. It is how business has learned to behave in the era of what some have called “turbo-capitalism” – the unregulated, low-tax, bandit capitalism of the last 35 years. A succession of scandals – the Panama Papers, the Paradise Papers, PPI, endowment mortgages, private pensions – has fatally undermined capitalism’s moral claim to be the fairest and most efficient economic system. But the very visibility of these fraudulent activities now constitutes a real and present danger to the future of the capitalist system as we know it.

Take the privatisation mega-corp, Carillion, which was also heavily involved in PFI and has been one of the leading agents in the “outsourcing” of public services. It has now gone bust putting at risk the welfare of some 40,000 dependent businesses and their employees. Effectively an arm of the state, Carillion represented the most blatant form of toxic collusion between Government and the private sector. The managers of Carillion, who paid themselves inflated salaries and bonuses even when the company was effectively bust, were just doing what comes naturally. Money is its own justification. Most have salted away their fortunes, and moved on – but the public, who paid the price, have not.

Some entrepreneurs are arguably wealth creators. For the two centuries following the Industrial Revolution, capitalism was the most innovative and productive economic system in human history, as Karl Marx observed. Even today, capitalists like Elon Musk of Tesla or the late Steve Jobs of Apple, bring great products to market, though in both cases they were heavily underpinned by direct and indirect public investment. But the people manipulating Libor rates in the City, setting up hedge funds, selling sub-prime mortgages, running PFI schemes etc are simply parasites. Britain's managerial class today is about as entrepreneurial as Homer Simpson. They're mostly dull-witted accountants who've sat on their bottoms for 20 years.

In the 19th century, plutocrats could protect their wealth behind laws largely drawn up for the benefit of the wealthy. The poor had no lawyers. But today the poor have the vote, and lawyers, and there is no way this kind of structural inequality can survive in the 21st century, short of the extinction of popular democracy. Eventually, people will vote for change: for a society in which wealth is spread more equitably, and in which public services are run in the interest of the people who pay for them.

And soon it will be Canada's turn. With Morneau at his side, Trudeau plans an enormous, badly needed and overdue infrastructure mega-programme and, just like the Brits, he wants to put it on the "never, never" - public-private participation. It's the perfect alternative to having to tax the rich and dormant, accumulated wealth.

We've seen what happened when the Brits privatized Brit Rail, the Post Office, and all manner of once "public" utilities. We've seen that visionless governments are suckers for predatory privatization and neoliberal fraud. We've seen how prime minister "cash for access" has dealt with KPMG and the Isle of Man scofflaws, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers scandals. We've heard his message of globalism consigning our kids and theirs to a lifetime of "job churn."

Trudeau is a master of the homespun image but like so much about him it's all carefully crafted bullshit.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

It was a dark time in America's past. Forces of division threatened to tear the nation apart. It compelled Abraham Lincoln to borrow the biblical phrase, "a house divided against itself cannot stand."

In June, 1858, Lincoln won the Illinois Republican nomination for the US Senate. After taking the nomination he delivered these remarks.

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

"I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.

"I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.

"It will become all one thing or all the other.

"Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South."

It wasn't long before the Illinois abolitionist won the presidency. November 6, 1860. By April of the next year, barely five months after the election, America plunged into civil war, the bloodiest war in American history. A war that pitted brother against brother, father against son. A war that is still being played out in the dark hearts and minds of some Americans.

It's widely accepted now that America's presidential election in 2017 was hacked. There was Russian meddling. There was also sophisticated meddling by affluent interests, Robert Mercer et al. 

The Russians sought to sow chaos. The defeat of Hillary and the election of the Orange Bloat were a bonus. Mercer and Company, however, finagled for a Republican win.  Both succeeded. America lost.

A recent article in Foreign Policy looked at Russian hacking of America's presidential election and why it succeeded so well in the US but largely faltered when employed to skew the German, French and other elections. The conclusion was that America has a unique vulnerability - alternate realities.

Russia’s relative success in the United States is not thanks to the unique strategic insight of Putin. It is because Russian operatives have chanced upon real weaknesses in U.S. democracy, and American elites are unintentionally giving them a helping hand. While France and Germany have their own social divisions, they do not face the specific problems that America faces.

The "Failure of Democratic Knowledge."

In America, more than in most other Western countries, there is a basic failure of democratic knowledge. In a well-functioning democracy, citizens agree broadly on facts and have some trust in the democratic system, allowing democracy to harness different perspectives and put them to good use. In America, in contrast, distrust and profound disagreements over facts have led to a kind of crisis of democratic knowledge that leaves democracy open to outside manipulation.

Over the last two decades, the common knowledge of American democracy has been undermined. As Alexis de Tocqueville warned could happen, the structures of shared knowledge are being weakened by democratic politics itself. Politicians — especially on the right — have cast doubt on sources of authority such as science and government, telling their supporters that they shouldn’t trust experts. Finally, the public itself, on its own initiative, has become less trusting of traditional institutions such as the Roman Catholic Church as they have revealed their feet of clay.

Democracy is liable to pull itself apart.

Yet when people with different perspectives stop sharing a common basis of knowledge, democracy is liable to pull itself apart. Parties become enemies rather than competitors. When people stop trusting any institutions, they are likely instead to start thinking that the democratic process is rigged, and to pin their hopes instead on cranks and conspiracy mongers.

We may be witnessing just that today, a democracy pulling itself apart, a failure of democratic knowledge, a house very much divided against itself.

America has descended into warring camps, each embracing its own reality. Each cleaves to a different narrative of America, past and present. Tribes, one anchored in knowledge, the other finding its facts in belief.  Red America, which now controls the White House, both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, is susceptible, seemingly even indifferent, to outside and hostile influences. It sees Russia as an ally, the FBI as an enemy.

How does this possibly end?

This brings to my mind Chuck Thompson's book, "Better Off Without 'Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession." Washington Monthly describes it, "As if Keven Phillips 'American Theocracy' was being narrated by Matt Taibbi."

Thompson uses satire to make the case that both sides, the Union North and the Confederate South, would be both better off and far happier if they simply went their own ways. Using research and interviews he amassed during two years traveling the south, Thompson shows how culturally, socially and politically the two sides remain apart and could mutually benefit from some sort of, dare I use the term, sovereignty association.

The chasms that have riven America, cultural, social and political, may have grown too wide to bridge.

Something has to give.

Dammit. Tom Petty Died of Accidental Drug Overdose.

The medical examiner's report lists the manner of death as "accidental."

"We knew before the report was shared with us that he was prescribed various pain medications for a multitude of issues including fentanyl patches and we feel confident that this was, as the coroner found, an unfortunate accident," Petty's wife, Dana and daughter, Adria, said in a Facebook post.

Dana and Adria Petty said that the veteran musician was suffering from emphysema, knee problems and most significantly a fractured hip that he was treating with medication so that he could continue touring.

"On the day he died he was informed his hip had graduated to a full on break and it is our feeling that the pain was simply unbearable and was the cause for his over use of medication," Dana and Adria Petty said.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thanks KBR, Thanks Halliburton, and Special Thanks to You, Blackwater.

The American conquest of Afghanistan and Iraq ushered in the return of for-profit warfighting, now called "contractors" rather than their traditional name, mercenaries.

Now other nations are jumping in to the game, especially Russia.  Within a month the Russian Duma is expected to pass legislation legalizing PMCs, Private Military Companies, "authorised to conduct combat operations abroad in support of Russian policy objectives."

A number of Russian PMCs are believed to already be engaged in conflicts from Ukraine to Syria.

Thanks, America, for bringing back the age of the freebooter.

Did the NRA funnel Russian Money To the Trump Campaign?

If this didn't come from McClatchy Newspapers I probably would have given it a pass because it just sounds too fantastic - Trump, the National Rifle Association, and shady Russian money.

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin (shown above with Putin), the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.