Wednesday, February 28, 2018

As Budgets Go, Maybe "C" For Effort, "D" For Execution. And One "F"

Justin Trudeau knows how to tell Canadians what they want to hear. He's long on promises but falls terribly short when it comes to delivering.

The Financial Post has published a nicely measured take on the Trudeau government's 2018 budget. It gives Trudeau fairly high marks for touching on so many important problems but a far lower grade for what it calls "second- or third-best solutions."

Trudeau seems intent on spending a little money on a lot of things, rather than a lot of money on a few things that would make a difference.

Gender, surprisingly, is the best example.

Morneau’s budget does an excellent job of making the economic case for aggressive policies that would narrow the gap between the number of men and women in the labour force. There are now more Canadians eligible for retirement than there are children below the age of 15. We need more workers and demographic data suggests there are hundreds of thousands of women who have been frozen out of the paid workforce.

“That changes today,” Morneau said in his budget speech.

Morneau again balked at spending real money on lowering the cost of daycare, which research shows is the most effective way to get more women working. Morneau might have proposed a tax credit tied to daycare costs. Instead, all he did was remind us that last year’s budget proposed $7.5 billion over 11 years for “early learning and child care.” That’s not enough to make a significant difference.

There was, however, one glaring omission in Trudeau's spending plans: the greatest threat facing Canada and the Canadian people. Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, put it this way:

Despite increasingly urgent warnings from climate scientists that the window to achieve the Paris target is rapidly closing, the federal budget tabled today does nothing to accelerate climate action and nothing to prepare for the impact of catastrophic climate events. In fact, today’s announcement that the government’s carbon pricing scheme, promised for this year, will not be implemented “in whole or in part” until January 1 next year, means that the whole plan is being weakened,” state the party in a statement released on Tuesday.

“The Paris target of holding global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees C above Industrial Revolution levels is a fundamental goal that should involve a whole-of-government approach,” said Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May (MP, Saanich-Gulf Islands). “Yet Budget 2018 does not touch subsidies to fossil fuels in the oil patch and for fracked natural gas.

“I had hoped to see some of the climate measures that were introduced in the 2005 [Martin] budget. In that era, a minority Liberal government brought in Eco-Energy retrofits for homeowners, rebates for hybrids and EVs, an initiative to expand our east-west electricity grid, and many other programmes to move us towards climate goals.

There is no doubt that the current Liberals talk a much better line on climate than the Conservatives, but having adopted Stephen Harper’s inadequate target they are on track to miss it, even though that target is incompatible with the overwhelming priority of achieving the Paris goal of 1.5 degrees."

This is, after all, the government's ultimate responsibility, protecting the nation and preparing the country and our people to meet the challenges that are barreling down on us.  Most of the world is taking this seriously, especially over the past year indifference has melted. Except for TrumpLand and Trudeau's Liberals where "drill baby, drill" and "dig baby, dig" are still the orders of the day. And, on that score, this budget deserves a big "F."

Now Trump Supports - Wait For It - Gun Control

It's Wednesday and today Donald Trump wants a comprehensive gun control law for America. Or so he says, today, Wednesday. Tomorrow, who knows?

President Trump contradicted himself and members of his own party during a White House meeting on school safety Wednesday, pushing for a "beautiful" gun control bill that would run counter to several long-held Republican positions.

Trump's off-the-cuff remarks, characterized by an unwillingness to delve into specifics, come in the wake of a school shooting in Florida that left 17 people dead.

"We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done," Trump said as he opened the session, which was attended by 17 House and Senate lawmakers from both parties. "We want to stop the problems."

Trump hammered Republicans for being "afraid" of the National Rifle Association, even though the powerful gun lobby endorsed his presidential run and spent millions of dollars to get him elected.

"They do have great power, I agree with that," Trump said of the gun group. "They have great power over you people. They have less power over me."

Trump also surprised Sen. Dianne Feinstein, as he didn't rule out the idea of completely outlawing assault rifles such as the AR-15. "You're going to have to discuss that," Trump said to the assembled Republicans as Feinstein looked on with a wide grin.

But Trump has proven an inconsistent partner in gun control debates, offering sweeping proposals only to abandon them when they don't pick up steam in Congress.

Making Sense of the Trudeau Government Budget

Like most of us, I got the highlights of the federal government's 2018 budget from news reports. It's $50 million for this, $100 million of that, $5 billion for another deserving cause, that sort of thing. Money to address gender inequality. I can support that. In fact I can pretty much back every item of focus in this budget. But there's a snag.

It's sort of like figuring out human years versus dog years. $100 million over 10 years. That sounds like a lot of money, more than if you took it as $10 million for 10 consecutive years. And what, in terms of government spending, is $10 million? What does it buy and just how does that stack up against the stated objective? Is it enough, nearly enough, not remotely enough? Hells Bells, how would I know? It sounds like chump change compared to the nearly billion dollars wasted on the government's Phoenix pay system.

And we're going to keep running hefty deficits for the indefinite future. Chances are I won't be around to see another balanced budget. Don't smirk, you probably won't either.

Apparently there's no money for programmes to help decarbonize our economy which, given how loudly our political caste will herald climate change as the gravest threat facing the country, speaks volumes. A recent federal government report showed that the gap between our emissions cuts commitment and the projected result of the Trudeau government's policies has grown a whopping 50 per cent over just the past 18-months. Well, that's Justin for you, isn't it? Why throw tens of millions of treasury dollars at something you never really intended to do anyway?

The Walls Keep Tumblin' Down

Trump's communications director, Hope Hicks, is getting out of Dodge.

No back story as yet although she announced her resignation one day after stonewalling congressional investigators trying to question her about the workings of the Trump administration, especially the fabricated release about the Trump Tower meeting between prominent Russians and senior members of the Trump campaign. Sheer coincidence, I'm sure.

I Like Dick's

There've been some changes in the web page of Dick's Sporting Goods. A major American gun dealer, Dick's has over 600 locations in 47 states.

What's missing from the new web page are assault rifles. There's nary an AR-15 to be found. After the Parkland high school massacre, Dicks's has decided that America doesn't need any more "black guns." So, it has stopped selling these weapons entirely. You can still purchase hunting rifles and most of the inventory is single-shot, bolt-action rifles designed and built for target shooting and hunting, just not hunting humans.

Dick's has also raised the minimum age of firearm purchasers from 18 to 21.

I thought I'd check out the Canadian market for the AR-15.  Cabella's Canada offers a Smith & Wesson AR-15 for just $699 plus taxes and shipping. Another American-based sporting goods superstore entering the Canadian market, Bass Pro Shops, also seems to have AR-15 knock offs.

In Canada you have to have a "restricted" gun licence to buy these weapons and Canadian law limits them to a five-round capacity magazine. However most Canadians live awfully close to the US border and you can nip over the line to buy 30-round magazines cheap, cheap, cheap. It's an offence if you're caught with high-capacity magazines in Canada but, well, just saying.


Who knew? Just learned from that Dick's decision to stop selling AR-15s leaves just one major US retailer carrying the weapon for sale. That's Bass Pro Shops and the company's recently acquired subsidiary, Cabela's. There are, however, still plenty of places such as the ever-popular gun shows where just about anyone can snag themselves a "black rifle."

No Big Deal - Episode 3

This Arctic thawing business went largely overlooked for several years. In the middle of the pitch black Arctic winter, there would be a sharp spike in temperatures, often 30 degrees Celsius above normal, that would last a week to ten days and then pretty much be forgotten. It might earn a story in some news publications and no mention in others. Like most climate stories, including some really important accounts, it was straight down the Memory Hole in a week or two.

Not this year. This dark of night Arctic winter hasn't seen just a spike of a few days' duration. This year the Arctic has been an average of 20 degrees Celsius hotter.  An average. And, for the media, it seems to have sparked one of those "oh, shit" moments.

It's not just the stuff of The Guardian any more. They're sounding the alarm all over the place - CNN, Forbes, CBC, even the once skeptical British papers. They're realizing that we might just be in the grip of something here, something very real, something disruptive, something that might just become our next "new normal."

Just as it has taken years of mass murder atrocities in American schools to finally reach a critical mass that America's political caste can no longer ignore, maybe it will take some sort of deadly climate havoc to compel our political caste to get serious about climate change and realize that there's nothing good for Canada or the world in pimping bitumen.


There's an Interesting Idea, Let's Stop Killing Off Our Bees. Well Done, Europe.

Recent years have seen lots of warnings about the die-off of bees around the world. What was killing these great pollinators? What was in store for us if we lost the humble bumble bee?

The Euros think they know and so they're about to ban a family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids. The most popular insecticide in the world, imidacloprid, is a neonicotinoid.

The world’s most widely used insecticides pose a serious danger to both honeybees and wild bees, according to a major new assessment from the European Union’s scientific risk assessors.

The conclusion, based on analysis of more than 1,500 studies, makes it highly likely that the neonicotinoid pesticides will be banned from all fields across the EU when nations vote on the issue next month.

The report from the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), published on Wednesday, found that the risk to bees varied depending on the crop and exposure route, but that “for all the outdoor uses, there was at least one aspect of the assessment indicating a high risk.” Neonicotinoids, which are nerve agents, have been shown to cause a wide range of harm to bees, such as damaging memory and reducing queen numbers.


The Efsa assessment includes bumblebees and solitary bees for the first time. It also identified that high risk to bees comes not from neonicotinoid use on non-flowering crops such as wheat, but from wider contamination of the soil and water which leads to the pesticides appearing in wildflowers or succeeding crops. A recent study of honey samples revealed global contamination by neonicotinoids.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Are the Russians Coming For You in 2019?

The Globe reports that a NATO researcher is warning the Russians plan to do what they do best and meddle in Canada's 2019 federal election.

The allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as well as its attempts to disrupt votes in Germany, France, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, among other countries, makes Canada a natural target, Janis Sarts, the director of the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence said in an interview.

Russia is attracted to Canada because destabilizing it would "undermine the cohesion" of the broader NATO alliance. Moreover, it could serve to undermine Canadian policy in Europe, he said.

It would also allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to project strength inside his country by showing that "other countries are afraid of Russia," said Sarts, who testified last year at the U.S. Senate intelligence committee about Russian interference.

"The moment somebody can question the integrity of the elections and the election result, democracy is in trouble," Sarts said.

Don't fret. The Trudeau government has democratic institutions minister, Karina Gould, all over this.  She'll see to it that there'll be none of this Russian hanky panky during the 2019 vote. There, doesn't that put your mind at ease?

We'll Take Whatever We Want. The Rest, That's Jordan's Problem.

Make no mistake. Justin Trudeau and, through him, Canada are complicit in this.

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, 41, is second-in-command in the ardently Zionist, right-wing Jewish Home party, which draws the bulk of its support from the more than 400,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank.

She is an outspoken advocate of annexing parts of the West Bank territory that Palestinians hope to obtain for a future state. Just this week, a government committee she heads approved a bill that aims to extend the jurisdiction of Israel’s district courts over a portion of the West Bank she wants Israel to annex.

If this legislation becomes law, it would prevent Palestinians from petitioning Israel’s High Court over land disputes with the settlements, a development Palestinians fear will weaken their cause and strengthen Israel’s control of the land.

The report, from the Washington Post, is a little bizarre. The idea that Palestinians hope to "obtain" territory in the West Bank. They don't have to obtain it. It's theirs. It always has been. Israel is an occupying power, the only one that seems to imagine it is exempt from international law. But I digress.

Shaked makes no bones about her plans to remake Israel's top courts into a decidedly more complacent judiciary when it comes to Israeli land-grabs and possible expulsion of Palestinians.

As for the parts of the West Bank Israel doesn't steal, Shaked says its Palestinian occupants can bugger off and merge with Jordan.

Shaked says the time to strike is now while Donald Trump is in the White House. Canada, which wouldn't say shit it if had a mouthful when it comes to the Palestinians and their lands, is equally complicit in its support of Israel.

No Big Deal - Episode 2

Arctic warming has given scientists the willies. The freak phenomenon of above-freezing temperatures in the midst of the blacked-out Arctic winter began a few years ago with a brief warm spell or two. This winter, however, Arctic temperatures have averaged 20C above normal.

An alarming heatwave in the sunless winter Arctic is causing blizzards in Europe and forcing scientists to reconsider even their most pessimistic forecasts of climate change.

Although it could yet prove to be a freak event, the primary concern is that global warming is eroding the polar vortex, the powerful winds that once insulated the frozen north.

The north pole gets no sunlight until March, but an influx of warm air has pushed temperatures in Siberia up by as much as 35C above historical averages this month. Greenland has already experienced 61 hours above freezing in 2018 - more than three times as any previous year.

Seasoned observers have described what is happening as “crazy,” “weird,” and “simply shocking”.

“This is an anomaly among anomalies. It is far enough outside the historical range that it is worrying – it is a suggestion that there are further surprises in store as we continue to poke the angry beast that is our climate,” said Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. “The Arctic has always been regarded as a bellwether because of the vicious cycles that amplify human-caused warming in that particular region. And it is sending out a clear warning.”

Fortunately, we don't have to worry. Our prime minister is on top of this. What, he's busy with bitumen, pipelines and supertankers? We're screwed?

No Big Deal - Episode 1

I know, it's depressing. So I'll just cut to the chase. Environmental news, drive-by style.

New research shows the Amazon rainforest or at least half of it is in dire peril of being transformed into barren savannah.  Scientists have worked out that if the Amazon loses 20% of its forests, nature will do the rest. Right now it's at 17%, 3% to go.

Nope, no link. You can Google it yourself.

You Elect a Bigot, This Is What You Get.

Quelle Surprise!! Anti-semitism is flourishing in the United States of America.

Antisemitic incidents in the US surged 57% in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League said on Tuesday, the largest year-on-year increase since the Jewish civil rights group began collecting data in 1979.

Close to 2,000 cases of harassment, vandalism and physical assault were recorded, the highest number of antisemitic incidents since 1994, it said.

The rise comes amid a climate of rising incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in American society, according to ADL’s national director, Jonathan Greenblatt.

“A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community – from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, and children harassing children at school,” he said.

Rising numbers were in part attributed to the fact that more people were reporting incidents than ever before, the ADL said, adding that its staff independently verify the credibility of each claim.

Incidents were reported in all 50 US states for the first time since 2010, with higher numbers reported in areas with large Jewish populations.

Donald Trump’s administration has been accused of failing to condemn religious bigotry. Jewish groups scolded the president last year for not mentioning Jews or antisemitism in a statement about the Holocaust

Canada - the Last Refuge of the Polar Bear

Scientists working on how to save the polar bear from extinction are focusing on Norway Bay in the Canadian archipelago. It's believed to be the last place that will have enough sea ice to sustain a polar bear population. It is hoped that perhaps 5,000 of the animals can be saved.

[S]cientists now predict that the global population of polar bears could fall from 20,000 to 30,000 today to fewer than 5,000 by 2100 — and beyond that no one knows. Even if a small population of bears manage to hang on, they’re not out of the woods.


Luckily for the bears and the humans who love them, [University of Alberta biologist Andrew] Derocher and a cadre of fellow scientists are developing a complex set of strategies to save the animals. It’s an audacious plan, encompassing everything from providing extra food for the bears to turning female grizzly bearsinto surrogate moms for their white-coated cousins.

But it may be all that stands between the bears and oblivion.

Ultimately, the only polar bears to survive in the wild may be the ones living in the Norwegian bay region of the Canadian archipelago.

“This region is expected to be one of the last bastions of Arctic sea ice,” says Steven Amstrup, chief scientist at Polar Bears International, a conservation group in Bozeman, Montana. “With the right planning and strategies, we can help polar bears remain there as long as possible.”

For 5,000 bears to survive in this region (the minimum thought to be required to prevent inbreeding), scientists believe the animals may need help from humans. Derocher envisions helicopters zipping around the region, dropping bear chow. Without such deliveries, he says, hungry bears might wander south into human settlements — and risk being shot.

Airdrops of bear chow wouldn’t come cheap. Derocher estimates that delivering enough chow to sustain those 5,000 bears could cost the Canadian government $2 million a month. Given the hefty price tag, he proposes that the chow be used only during times when the bears are finding it especially difficult to catch and kill seals.

Monday, February 26, 2018

No, Trump Would Not Charge to the Rescue at Any School Shooting

The more outrageous the lie the more the Cheeto Benito will spin it.  His claim that he would have charged into the Parkdale, Florida high school massacre is obviously one of his more outlandish lies.

Trump wouldn't go anywhere there's blood. He made that clear to Howard Stern.

“I was at Mar-a-Lago and we had this incredible ball, the Red Cross Ball, in Palm Beach, Florida. And we had the Marines. And the Marines were there, and it was terrible because all these rich people, they’re there to support the Marines, but they’re really there to get their picture in the Palm Beach Post… so you have all these really rich people, and a man, about 80 years old—very wealthy man, a lot of people didn’t like him—he fell off the stage,” said Trump.

Trump proceeds to explain that it was a $100,000-per-table fundraiser filled with deep-pocketed billionaires, and that the Marines were—for whatever reason—given tables in the very back of the ballroom (“the worst table in the whole place”). Oh, and that he was more preoccupied with his ballroom’s pristine marble floor than the octogenarian bleeding out on it.

“So what happens is, this guy falls off right on his face, hits his head, and I thought he died. And you know what I did? I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s disgusting,’ and I turned away,” said Trump. “I couldn’t, you know, he was right in front of me and I turned away. I didn’t want to touch him… he’s bleeding all over the place, I felt terrible. You know, beautiful marble floor, didn’t look like it. It changed color. Became very red. And you have this poor guy, 80 years old, laying on the floor unconscious, and all the rich people are turning away. ‘Oh my God! This is terrible! This is disgusting!’ and you know, they’re turning away. Nobody wants to help the guy. His wife is screaming—she’s sitting right next to him, and she’s screaming.”

Thank God for the Marines. “What happens is, these 10 Marines from the back of the room… they come running forward, they grab him, they put the blood all over the place—it’s all over their uniforms—they’re taking it, they’re swiping [it], they ran him out, they created a stretcher. They call it a human stretcher, where they put their arms out with, like, five guys on each side,” shared Trump.

“I was saying, ‘Get that blood cleaned up! It’s disgusting!’ The next day, I forgot to call [the man] to say he’s OK,” said Trump, adding of the blood, “It’s just not my thing.”

Good Riddance. You Too, Harvey.

The House that Harvey Built, the Weinstein Company, is going under, filing for bankruptcy.

Maria Contreras-Sweet had been angling to buy the company, planning to transform it into a company led entirely by women while retaining the existing staff in their jobs. She thought they had a deal, a $500 million deal, but the Board thought it wasn't enough.

My guess? Watch for another group, possibly including some of TWC board members, to try to snatch up the business after it emerges from the Great Commercial Carwash.

Federal Government Report Says Canada Falling Ever Further Behind on GHG Emissions Target

Well, we've finally got our prime minister home so maybe he can get out of his Indian party costume, throw on his dad's buckskins and run that "bitumen = a green future for Canada" business by us once again. This time maybe with some logical explanation. Alchemists never do that, you know.

Maybe Justin can tell us why, on his watch, Canada keeps falling further behind on our already paltry emissions reduction targets. Son, you've got to fish or cut bait. The bullshit isn't working any more.

A recently released federal report suggests the gap is growing between Canada’s greenhouse gas reduction promises and what its policies are likely to achieve.

The news comes as the Liberal government continues to promise a new pipeline will be built to take bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to ports in British Columbia — a move critics say would push Canada’s emissions even higher.

In December, the government delivered a report to the United Nations outlining its progress on reaching targets agreed to in the Paris Accord to fight climate change. Canada has promised to reduce those emissions to the equivalent of 517 megatonnes of carbon dioxide.

In 2016, the federal government made a similar report to the UN acknowledging that both its current and planned policies would likely leave the country 44 megatonnes short of its target.

But in the recent report, Canada notes the gap between its commitments and the likely result of its policies has grown to 66 megatonnes — a 50 per cent increase in only 18 months.

Environment Canada was unable to immediately explain that expanding shortfall. Figures for greenhouse gas emissions in the report are only given up to 2015 and are reported to have been largely stable for several years previously.

Keith Stewart of Greenpeace said the increasing gap between promises and probable results is likely due to increasing energy production.

What? We can't ramp up bitumen production to run through all that new pipeline capacity and cut emissions? Oh, say it ain't so.

How Democracies Die. It Begins At the Ballot Box.

One thing we've learned about modern despots is that they almost always begin by winning elected office.

Hitler did. Mussolini did too. Ditto for Viktor Orban, Recep Erdogan, Hugo Chavez - and Donald Trump, among others.

Two Harvard political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, have written a book, "How Democracy Dies," that maps the road to authoritarian rule.

"Trump was easily identifiable as someone who is not committed to the democratic rules of the game," Levitsky told Newsweek on Thursday. “There is real cause for concern for the health of our democratic institutions.”

The four markers are:

Rejecting or showing weak commitment to democratic rules.
Denying the legitimacy of political opponents.
Encouraging or tolerating violence.
A readiness to stifle or limit civil liberties of opponents, including media.

"Those are things that democratic candidates in the U.S. simply do not have," Levitsky said. At least, until Trump.

The checklist is meant to be a litmus test for candidates—not incumbents—for good reason, Levitsky said.

“Once they’re in office, it’s too late,” he said. “The point is the best way to stop an authoritarian is to prevent them from getting into office in the first place. Once they get elected to office, it gets much more difficult to stop them.”

In modern times, countries don’t typically collapse into authoritarian rule all at once. Countries like Venezuela and Turkey voted for rulers like Hugo Chavez and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, respectively. They then devolved, with the consent of their constituency, into authoritarianism.

The slow march toward dictatorship was also the case in Russia, the Philippines, Nicaragua, Ukraine and other countries around the world.

“This is how democracies now die,” the authors wrote. “Democratic backsliding today begins at the ballot box.”

We've been warned. This is real. It's happening again and again in every corner of the world, even in the United States. Liberal democracy is under attack. One way to safeguard against it is electoral reform, the very thing Justin Trudeau solemnly promised until he somehow changed his mind.


Trump's fondness for other authoritarians, including thugs such as Rodrigo Duterte, is well known.  Now he wants to join the club by advocating for the death penalty for drug dealers.

Okay. Well, He's the General. I Suppose He Knows What He's Talking About.

David L. Goldfein predicts it will only be a few years before the United States finds itself "fighting from space." The four star general and Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force is campaigning for American military superiority in space.

“[It’s] time for us as a service, regardless of specialty badge, to embrace space superiority with the same passion and sense of ownership as we apply to air superiority today,” he said.

These are some of the strongest words yet from the Air Force chief of staff to get the Pentagon thinking about space—and to recognize the U.S. Air Force as the service branch best suited for the job. “I believe we’re going to be fighting from space in a matter of years,” he said. “And we are the service that must lead joint war fighting in this new contested domain. This is what the nation demands.”

Part of Goldfein's anxiety is rooted in inter-service rivalries. There have been proposals for an independent "space command" that challenge the US Air Force expectations that it will run the space effort. And the US Navy also seems to want a piece of the action.

Keep banging on that drum fellas. It never gets old, does it.

No, Not This Guy. Not Bolton. Even Trump Isn't That Crazy, Is He?

What sick bastard came up with the idea that uber-hawk John Bolton may be in line to replace General H.R. McMaster as Trump's next National Security Adviser?

Yet, there it is, on the pages of Foreign Policy. The general, they claim, is about to be sent packing back to the United States Army.

Bolton, however, isn’t talking. Even in private conversations late in the week, he offered non-answers when asked about the position. Bolton would have seemed an unlikely choice a few months ago; in August, he wrote the equivalent of an open letter to President Trump on scrapping the Iran plan, after being frozen out of the Oval Office. Yet, as usual, in the Trump White House, anything could happen.

If Bolton takes over, it would likely usher in a more hawkish approach at the White House, including toward North Korea. Bolton “supports preventive war through a massive strike, if sanctions fail,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reports. “During an appearance last week at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security, he said the United States would have to simultaneously destroy all known North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile sites, submarine bases, and artillery, mortar and missile installments along the North’s border with South Korea.”

Bolton could be to World War III what Gavril Princip was to World War 1

We've Still Got Ten Months to Get Through

Here we are, two months into the year.

There are plenty of signs that 2018 will be a tumultuous year. I can't imagine Canada not remaining a civil society into 2019. That seems one of the safest bets for this year.

The future of America isn't so clear. The country is being torn apart into two mutually hostile and distrusting camps. It has a president who nurtures his Gullibillies, inflaming their passions and appealing to every base instinct within them. Reconciliation does not seem in the cards. There may be some low grade civil war only without the musket balls and grape shot.

The Americans have their mid-term elections this year. And some sketchy groups, foreign and domestic, are gearing up to manipulate the outcome. Anything to undermine the last and tattered vestiges of American democracy and sow chaos.

America's rise from a frontier country to an agrarian state to an industrial and economic giant with the world's largest, most broadly based and robust middle class was the stuff of dreams. Those dreams are gone. Americans have stopped believing and they're angry for it.

Berkley prof and former Clinton advisor, Robert Reich, looks at how the American belief in the "common good" has dissolved and the Herculean task that lies ahead to restore it.

Climate change will continue to worsen. The existing levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases ensure continual heating and, until we come up with some means and the will (i.e. taxes) to implement some effective programme to suck that greenhouse gas out of the sky, continual heating is locked in. Of course we also need to reverse the excessive acidification of our oceans. We do have our work cut out for us don't we? Fortunately we have finally come to our senses and decided to shut down the fossil fuel industry, right? What, no? Oh dear.

As I pointed out last week, no matter what part of the world you're in, you're living with some climate anomaly. You're already living in an altered climate that differs from one region to the next. Here on the Pacific coast we're living in an altered climate - spring arrives sooner, the forest fire season is longer, species, especially marine life, are migrating into our waters. It's a marked departure from even what it was 20 years ago. Canadians in central Canada have their own climate anomaly. Maritimers have theirs too. Look at the Arctic where, in the pitch black of the Arctic winter they're getting temperatures 20 even 30 degrees Celsius above normal, temperatures above the freezing mark. Think that's not an anomaly? Remember, these are just the early onset impacts.

As a rule, Canadians don't follow global military developments very closely. It's not a big thing with our media. We hear a bit about North Korea and Syria, that sort of thing, with a spattering of stories of Afghan atrocities.  Military affairs is one area where ignorance is bliss.   I don't think Canada is on anybody's primary target list. We're not really "first strike" material. Not to say we wouldn't get swept up in some larger conflagration. We surely would, eventually.

Around the world nations are gearing up for war. Rearmament is all the rage at the moment. Submarines are the "must have" accessory in the Asia Pacific region. Nuclear weapons and operational theory are hot in South Asia - Pakistan and India.Tensions are again building up along the Chinese-Indian frontier. Both sides are deploying more forces to the border. China now frets about the "Quad." It's a fairly informal cooperative relationship by Australia, the U.S., India and Japan. It's not a mutual defence pact like NATO but those nations are collaborating on how best to confine China and who will have which areas of responsibility. Even the Swedes are looking at doubling their military budget by 2030-2035 and announced, months ago, plans were announced to dust off the country's 65,000 Cold War bomb shelters and build perhaps half again as many new shelters to handle population growth in recent decades.  The Swedes don't have much confidence in this NATO build up in the Balkans on Russia's borders. Can't imagine why.

Then there's China and the United States. This is where it gets real personal. There's a transition underway. It's not so much that American power and influence are in decline, although they are. It's that Chinese power and influence are growing and spreading rapidly through Asia, Africa, the Middle East, even Monroe Doctrine territory, South America.

The world has seen half a dozen or so of these superpower transitions. A minority of them have been peaceful. Two out of three have not. When the United States displaced Britain it was peaceful but, then again, we were all allies, all part of the Anglosphere, all liberal democracies. The Brits were good losers, even grateful to have someone else do the heavy lifting.

I'm not seeing signs of a similar goodwill building between Washington and Beijing. I read a remarkable essay in the proceedings of the US Naval Institute wherein an active duty officer was verklempt at the very idea that America could be overtaken by China "without a fight."  From what I've read about China's officer corps, they're also itching to settle some old scores. They've got this thing called their "century of humiliation" that's a burr under their saddle. Great time for America to have a chip on its shoulder.

It's hard to imagine how this all gets sorted out. Just as WWI began with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Serajevo a scuffle between China and India on their frontier could light the fuze for a greater war that would drag in the U.S., Russia, even NATO. And, with the possible exception of Israel, all the members of the nuclear club would be at the party.

Back in 2014 the leading German financial paper, Handelsblatt, warned that the peoples of the West were being "mentally mobilized" for war.  We were then and have been ever since. Now we've got Russia rearming - new and improved missiles, warheads and submarines. The United States wants to field a new generation of easier to use, lower-yield nukes. China, seeing what's going on in the States and Russia, is working on a modernized and much larger nuclear arsenal of its own.

We haven't paid them much heed but the experts in war studies have been giving plenty of warnings that the next major-power war is likely to be inadvertent, unintended, even unwanted. Just like WWI. In a world of MAD or mutually-assured destruction only a mad man would deliberately launch a global nuclear war. It's far more likely to begin with a horrible mistake or a miscalculation.

Might this happen in 2018? No one can tell. However, like climate change, it is part of our new, daily reality.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What Happened When a Conservative Republican Spoke Out at CPAC

Mona Charen is a lifelong Republican and has been well before she worked for Ronald Reagan. After the Gipper, she declined to work for George H.W. Bush finding him not conservative enough for her liking.

Charen writes in The New York Times that it was with a bit of dread that she accepted an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, with its new, Trumpian bent. She went, anyway, determined to speak truth to the radical rightwing horde and she got exactly what she had expected.

Brace Yourselves. This Might Just Ruin Your Day. On the Other Hand...

Remember we all said he would never get elected? We all were convinced that Hillary Clinton would become the first woman president of the United States. And then, like a kick in the gut, the election went to the most improbable candidate in American presidential history, Donald J. Trump.

Trump has been widely criticized in the media for his response to the Parkdale, Florida school massacre. The Trump response was to arm teachers,  up to 20% of the staff in each school. Strictly concealed carry. That earned Trump no end of ridicule and derision.

Apparently a good many Americans didn't see it that way. Trump's proposal to turn US schools into the OK Corral seems to have earned him a rebound in public support.

A poll by Rasmussen Reports has Trump's approval rating hitting 50%. Barack Obama's approval rating at this point in his presidency was only 45%.

There's the link. Read it for yourself. I can't bear to repeat it.

But wait! CNN has released a poll that finds Trump's support hasn't soared but, instead, has tanked.  The CNN poll finds Trump's approval at an all-time low at 35%.

Trump's approval rating in a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS stands at 35%, down five points over the last month to match his lowest level yet.

The slide follows a January bump in approval for the President, a finding that appeared connected to a bullish stock market and strong reviews for the economy. His new rating matches a December poll, which marked his lowest approval rating in CNN polling since taking office in January 2017.

OMG, It's Trump With a Badge

The sheriff of Broward County, Florida, sounds like a Trump wannabe.

Sheriff Scott Israel was quick off the mark to heap scorn and derision on the school's rent-a-cop, Scot Peterson, who remained outside the Parkdale high school while the shooter killed 17 and wounded more than 20 others in a fusilade of gunfire inside.

Then word got out that the first cops who did storm the school, officers from the Coral Springs department first passed three of Sheriff Israel's deputies who were also hunkered down outside the school. Bad went to worse when it came out that Israel's department had also received repeated warnings about the shooter but failed to even initiate a report.

Interviewed on CNN, Sheriff Israel said he would not resign and even gave himself a pat on the back suitable for Donald Trump himself.  "I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercise my due diligence. I've given amazing leadership to this agency."

It almost looked comical to see sheriff Israel with four generals' stars on his shirt collar like some latter day George Patton advancing and retreating at the same time; absolving himself of responsibility while simultaneously gilding himself with praise.

Where do they find these assholes?

Oh, nevermind. Anon (probably Cap) has provided this lovely link to the SunSentinal web site that offers an eye-opening look at sheriff Israel. He's even connected to longtime Trump advisor Roger Stone.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

It Wasn't a Lack of Firepower That Caused the Parkland School Massacre

In the wake of the shooting deaths of 17 people, students and teachers, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, officials, including the Mango Mussolini, were quick to blame the school's uniformed and armed resource officer, Scot Peterson, for choosing not to enter the building and take out the gunman.

Even the Broward County sheriff, Scott Israel, piled on. Israel said he was devastated that Peterson hadn't stormed into the school and taken out the shooter.


It turns out that Peterson wasn't alone with his gun safely outside the school. There were also three Broward County deputies who also chose to stay outside. Four guns that remained holstered. One school security guy and three, real live, honest to gosh, police officers.

If only they had a tank, maybe then....

The Invasion of the Body Snatchers Meets Donald J. Trump

The Guardian's take on this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is that it vaguely resembled The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Donald Trump has created a Born Again GOP, made in his own divine image.

Do you remember I started running and people would say, ‘Are you sure he’s a conservative?’” an exultant US president asked the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday.

“I think now we’ve proved that I’m a conservative, right?”

Or perhaps more accurately, the conservatives gathered in the cavernous ballroom proved they are all Trumpians now. There were “Make America Great Again” caps, raucous chants of “Lock her up!” and “Build that wall!” and loud boos for the demons of the left. Old-school Republicans were thin on the ground, usurped by a crowd that included young and sometimes rowdy students.

CPAC 2017 was effectively a coronation, though still with a strong hint of danger and uncertainty in the air. The white supremacist Richard Spencer turned up outside the main auditorium and had to be ejected. Another white supremacist – in some eyes at least – Steve Bannon spoke from the stage.

The spotlight was dominated a succession of administration members answering toothless questions. Speakers included Eric Trump (“The media of this country does not understand the tone of this country”); rightwing populists Marion MarĂ©chal-Le Pen (“I want America first for the American people, I want Britain first for the British people and I want France first for the French people”); and Nigel Farage (“I thought Trump’d be good but I’ve got to tell you, he’s exceeded all expectations”).

There was also the former White House adviser and conspiracy theorist Sebastian Gorka, who roamed the corridors basking in attention when not shoving a reporter.

On Thursday, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, sought to reject post-Parkland demands for gun control with a speech couched in Trumpian language that savaged elites, the media, anti-fascist protesters, Hollywood, George Soros and the FBI.

It seems that America has succumbed to a new, radical rightwing GOP. The extremist fringe has in its grip the now unified Republican government and, through its hold on the executive, congressional and judicial branches, has America's throat in its claws. Can it be any wonder that so many veteran Republican legislators are choosing to take their leave?

How do you think this ends?

Speaking of Julian Assange

If there's one thing that Donald Trump fears, it's evidence emerging of very real collusion between Russia and his election campaign.

That evidence, or at least one important element of it, is currently holed up in the Ecuadorean embassy in London. It has a name - Julian Assange.

When the facts began to emerge, WikiLeaks die-hard fans, most of them from the political left, indignantly defended Assange against claims he was bent and working for Donald Trump. I caught hell on this blog from the Assange faithful who refused to believe that wee Julian was anything more than a moving target for political persecution.

That was then and, as they say, this is now. There's plenty of evidence that Russians hacked Hillary's and the DNC's computers, made off with thousands of emails, and bulk fed them to Assange inside the Ecuadorean embassy. There has been evidence that Assange communicated with the Trump campaign, even had at least one visit from Trump confidante, Roger Stone, numerous visits from Trump proxy, Nigel Farange, and even released Hillary's emails when they might best suit the Trump campaign.

For Assange, the bubble burst with the disclosure of his own correspondence in November, 2017. Ever since then he's been radioactive to the Trump administration. Trump, who repeatedly praised WikiLeaks in the runup to the election never mentions the name any more.

Here are a few gems from the past. From The Guardian, WikiLeaks asked Team Trump to twist Australia's arm to have him appointed his country's ambassador to the United States.  From The Intercept, Julian Assange's hatred of Hillary Clinton was no secret. His advice to Donald Trump was.  CNN reported that Trump's data mining service, Robert Mercer's Cambridge Analytica, communicated with Assange. Steve Bannon, who became Trump's campaign manager, was on the board of Cambridge Analytica when it contacted Assange. This stuff goes on and on and on.

Since the Russia investigation took off, Assange has become persona non grata to Team Trump. Even Don. Jr. has stopped replying to Assange's emails. Ecuador has become increasingly desperate to offload their inconvenient guest going to the point of granting Assange Ecuadorean citizenship and trying to get the Brits to give him diplomatic recognition. Fat chance.

This must be an awkward time for Julian Assange. In addition to his earlier legal woes, the Swedish and British stuff, he knows he's got Mueller's investigators on his tail. That must worry Donald Trump every bit as much.

Friday, February 23, 2018

I've About Had It With Amerika

Wayne La Pierre, Dana the Douche Loesch, the NRA and seemingly unstoppable plague of school mass killings, America's malignant gun culture, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, FOX & Friends, Hannity, Limbaugh and Alex Jones, Sarah Palin, every goddamned Tea Partier and all the mangy nags they rode in on, Paul Ryan and the reptilian Mitch McConnell, their "bought and paid for" Congress and corporatist Supreme Court, the Koch brothers, the Coors and the rest of the Billionaire's Slime Club, ExxonMobile and Monsanto, Judge Roy Moore and his wannabes, the greasy pocket-lining, kid-diddling televangelists with the sexual appetites of goats, the White Supremacists, Nazis and the Klan, NAFTA,  and the Pentagon with its wars without end - on and on and on - I have had it to the tits with all of them, the lot.

There's no easy or effective way, no "safe distance" to watch the garbage unravel. There's so much of it that it operates with the same pathology as a highly contagious disease. There's an inescapable smell of decay to it. America is rotting out from the inside.

There are many sane, kind and, yes, wonderful Americans, better than half I suspect. Yet they're losing their America to those who want to transform it into Amerika.

Ask yourself this: how does this end?

Donald Trump's Cheat Sheet Exposed.

How is a very stable genius supposed to cope with meeting the survivors of a school shooting and their parents? How do you handle it when there are cameras rolling and you really don't give a shit about anyone but yourself and your next round of golf? It's easy if your staff hand you a five point crib sheet.

It looks like they forgot #6 - don't let the cameras get a shot of this.

Avalanche! Rick Gates to Plead Guilty.

There were some who thought Omerta might just save the Trump gang. For a while it looked as though Paul Manafort's understudy, Rick Gates, would tough it out and refuse to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's dealings with sketchy Russians.

Mueller turned up the heat this week with additional charges against Manafort and Gates, mainly for money-laundering. It worked. Gates cracked.

NBC News reports that former Trump campaign aide Gates has thrown himself on Mueller's mercy and will plead guilty. Which is decidedly bad news for Paul Manafort and probably very bad news for the Mango Mussolini to boot.

Mueller is ramping up the pressure on former Trump campaign manager, Manafort, who, at age 68, is facing what might well be a life-sentence behind bars.


As expected, Gates has pleaded guilty to two charges. No word on the disposition of the other charges he faces.

Standing Rock is Everywhere

Around the world, indigenous peoples are occupying the front lines in the battle to defend the planet's environment. Chief Avrol Looking Horse, spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota people, writes in today's Guardian that Standing Rock is everywhere.

Our Elders foretold of a Black Snake and how the Water of Life — “Mni Woc’oni,” which is our first medicine — would be affected if we did not stop this oncoming disaster. Mni Woc’oni is part of our creation story, and the same story that exists in many creation stories around Mother Earth.

When we say “Mni Woc’oni” — Water of Life — people all over the world are now beginning to understand that it is a living spirit: it can heal when you pray with it and die if you do not respect it. We wanted the world to know there have been warnings in our prophecies and, as we see it, those warnings are now taking place. It was said water would be like gold. It was said that our spirit of water would begin to leave us.

We are at the crossroads.

What happened at Standing Rock has awakened many of my own people, and people across the world.

It was at Standing Rock that so many came together to share their stories and knowledge of what was happening in their territory, sharing ideas on how to move toward sustainable living in our relationship to land, water, and food.

In the protection of Mni Woc’oni, it is more than oil pipelines threatening the well-being and future of our water. Near the native territory of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, concentrated animal feeding operations or “CAFOs” are draining and degrading the land and water. As a result, the air is toxic, swamps have dried up, and aquifers, to which the people are supposed to have water rights, are being drained. Residents have mortgaged their homes to fight these threats in court and lost. In other places — in mining spills across South America and Africa and at Fukushima — man has gone too far.

Water is a source of life, not a resource.

Pierre's buckskin jacket won't help Justin this time.

The Guardian Meets Charles Dickens

When it comes to my daily scour of the news it always starts with a quick scan of the CBC website and then on to the serious stuff, beginning with The Guardian. While there are those who take jabs at it as the "nanny paper" I find it the best mainstream paper for a progressive take on the day's events.

The Guardian offers what you don't find in most papers. It has a dedicated environment section and recently it has introduced a section on the worsening problem of inequality.

There's an item, albeit from last month, detailing how our governments' obsession with short term growth has produced historically high levels of inequality and, in particular, greater generational disparity. Put simply, our political caste is (probably inadvertently) pursuing economic policies that are failing to protect future generations - our kids and our grandchildren. Quelle surprise!

the WEF report warns that both rich and poor countries are failing to protect future generations – highlighting high levels of public debt and economic drivers that depend on a high rate of carbon dioxide emissions as two key factors.

Even in countries with the strongest economic growth in terms of GDP, such as the US, the report found evidence of “inclusion” (where increased wealth and opportunity is being shared more widely) to be lacking.

It's true. For the sake of short-term prosperity we are offloading on our young generation the butcher's bill of climate change impacts most of us can't really imagine while ensuring they'll be burdened with the tax load of servicing our deficits and therefore less than ideally positioned to deal with those impacts. And the blame for that rests as much with Obama as it does with Trump and with Trudeau as much as it does with Harper. Of the Ten Commandments of Neoliberalism, that might just be Number One.

Then there's a global comparison of inequality by country. It's broken into five tiers. Tier One, the most equal societies, is the preserve of certain European countries, the Ukraine on top - who knew?, plus, of course, the Scandinavians. Canada, along with most of Western Europe, Australia, India and the Asia Pacific nations occupy Tier Two. Tier Three is dominated by the United States, China and Russia along with a smattering of countries in South America and Africa. The U.S. seems to be the only representative of the Western World in Tier Three.  Tier Four, where it must be really ugly seems limited to Brazil and a couple of African states. America isn't there - yet.

There's a piece on the Death of the American Dream. It revolves around a report showing America's poor are 20 times less convinced that hard work will bring them prosperity than their counterparts in Latin America. Ouch.


Thursday, February 22, 2018

Climate Lemmings. You Either Are or You're Not.

I think very few among us have any realistic idea of how far down the climate change road we've already gone. That includes our political leadership. No question about that.

It's hard to keep track of what's going on even a couple of thousand miles away much less in more distant corners of the world. It takes work and an investment of time that could be put to other uses to stay on top of what's happening. TV news isn't going to keep you up to date even when they do have dramatic pictures.

Pretty much all of us are living in some form of climate change anomaly. We've got ours out on the Pacific coast. Follow that coastline a couple of thousand miles south and they've got a somewhat different anomaly. My relatives in eastern Canada are dealing with their own climate anomaly. Ditto for every other continent and regions within those continents.

Temperature fluctuations are one area of climate anomaly. We've just had another mid-winter, dark of night, temperature anomaly in the high Arctic where it's been some 25 degrees Celsius hotter than normal - above freezing. Eastern Canada has had some bitter winter conditions. It spread into the American eastern seaboard too.

It's chaotic, schizophrenic in a way. Washington, D.C. was freezing. Trump was mocking climate scientists, praying for a little global warming for the capitol. His prayers were answered. Wednesday saw the earliest 80 degree (F) day in the history of the US capitol. Here's a temperature map for yesterday from the US Weather Service.

"What we have is a large-scale pattern that wouldn't be too uncommon in the spring," said meteorologist Patrick Burke of the National Weather Service. "But it's a little bit unusual to see it set up this way in February—and set up with such persistence."

Central Park hit 76°F. Boston had back-to-back 70°F days. Towns in Virginia and Vermont were pushing 80°F, with some Vermont towns warning residents that rapid snowmelt from the heat could cause a new round of flooding. In Pittsburgh, a high of 78°F beat a record set in 1891 by a whopping 10 degrees.

Some call this emerging pattern of severe fluctuations in formerly stable seasonal conditions "global weirding."  I think that's an unduly benign term, one that can lull us into the lemming-like state that seems to have taken hold of us.

The Potsdam scientists warned us this week that every five years of our ongoing failure to dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions will translate into an extra 20 cms., 8 inches, of sea level rise by 2100 ("best case" scenario). These clear warnings cut no ice in Washington or Ottawa or any provincial capitol for that matter. 

You don't have a cadre of climate scientists at your beck and call. The same can't be said for our prime minister and premiers. They've got experts at their fingertips if only they chose to receive what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear or simply not near at all.

There is a trickle down effect. The lemming-like indifference among our top political leadership sets the tone for the general public. They can't build up our awareness of the impacts of climate change, our remaining options for mitigation and adaptation, and the urgency of taking action without exposing their own failures and so they're not even trying. And, by their self-serving indifference, they leave many of us more vulnerable to denialist arguments.

It recently emerged that we're just five years away from hitting what our government has proclaimed the "never exceed" point of global warming - 1.5 degrees Celsius.  Our government, however, acts as thought we've got twenty, perhaps 30 years (the lifetime of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline) before we have to worry about this.  The US Energy Department, meanwhile, projects there'll be no reduction in America's carbon footprint before at least 2050. They're expecting an emissions increase. Sounds like a safe bet. And ExxonMobil has assured its shareholders that the company is confident it will sell every last barrel of oil in its existing proven reserves and whatever new reserves it can discover in the future. This seems to be confirmed by the International Energy Agency's outlook to 2040 that shows robust growth in oil sales to 2025 and continued, albeit slower growth, in oil markets to 2040.

In other words, the petro-party is far from over and it's not going to stop for the foreseeable future.  Good luck.

Monbiot, Again - This Time on the Scourge of Wealth Accumulation

It's not a plot. The hyper-rich haven't masterminded some scheme to suck the wealth and power out of the rest of us. Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, says it's an entirely natural process, one that has dire implications if left unchecked.

Wealth and power concentrate not because those we confront are wicked (though there are one or two). Their escalation, in the absence of a political movement to restrain it, is an intrinsic feature of complex human societies. It occurred even in the world’s first cities, in southern Mesopotamia.

A useful way of looking at this problem is the concept of patrimonial capital, popularised by Thomas Piketty*. Piketty showed that when the return on capital increases faster than the growth of economic output, inequality spirals, social mobility stalls and the enterprise economy is replaced by a rentier economy.

In other words, once you have money and property, you can use it to accumulate more money and property, taking an ever greater share of society’s wealth, through the harvesting of economic rent. By economic rent I mean charging people over the odds to use a non-reproducible resource over which you exercise exclusive control. Think, for example, of the ridiculous price we pay in the UK for train tickets, because the train companies have us over a barrel.

By this means, through no enterprise of their own, the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. This process has no natural limits. Eventually, as we’ve seen in the past, the very rich can capture almost the entire production of society.

At this point, the debt, destitution and unemployment that results can cause economic collapse
: the Great Depression is a good example.

This predicament is not a perversity of the system. It is an innate characteristic. It is bound to work this way, unless there is a political movement capable of breaking the vicious circle of wealth accumulation.

But the problem doesn’t end there. The economic power of the owners of wealth translates into political power. The richer a tiny segment of society becomes, the better it is able to capture politics and undermine democracy. Eventually, we get a government of the elite, by the elite, for the elite. Does that sound at all familiar?

On Reformation:

The right will never break the power of patrimonial wealth, because the right exists to defend it. But the left, when it remembers what it’s for, exists to confront it.

During the 1940s, when the left was arguably at the peak of its power in mainstream politics, the top rate of income tax in the US rose to 94%, and in the UK to 98%. Economists today look back on these rates and describe them as irrational. They argue that the Laffer Curve suggests that governments raise no further revenue above a rate of about 70%. But this is to miss the point. The point of these taxes was not just to raise revenue, but to break the power of patrimonial capital, and the vicious circle of wealth accumulation and inequality.

They did so to great effect, which is why this nation came to enjoy, for the first time in our history, decent housing for working people, a National Health Service, high employment and shared wellbeing and a robust social safety net to ensure that no one fell into the condition suffered by people in the Old Nicol.

But after Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan came to power, top rates of tax were slashed, trade unions were suppressed, regulations, including rent controls, were torn down, and patrimonial wealth began to rise again. The vicious circle began to turn once more. Unfortunately, 13 years of Labour government did little to address this, because Tony Blair and Gordon Brown failed to understand the power of patrimonial capital, or the need to contain it.

Monbiot's remarks are, of course, directed to his homeland, Britain.  Yet this accumulation of patrimonial wealth is also alive and well on our side of the Atlantic. Just as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown failed to understand it, so too does today's Canadian government.

Another Reminder of Why Athabasca Bitumen Must Be Left In The Ground

It's February. In the Arctic it's pitch black. The darkness lasts until early March.

February in the Arctic is normally cold, very cold. Only it's not, not this year. It's 25 degrees Celsius above normal. It's been above freezing.

On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute.

"How weird is that?" tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley. "Well it's Arctic winter. The sun set in October and won't be seen again until March. Perpetual night, but still above freezing."


This next batch of abnormally warm air is forecast to shoot the gap between Greenland and northern Europe through the Greenland and Barents seas. Similar circumstances occurred in December 2016, when the temperature at the North Pole last flirted with the melting point in the dark, dead of winter. Similarly large jumps in temperature were documented in November 2016 and December 2015.

An analysis from Climate Central said these extreme winter warming events in the Arctic, once rare, could become commonplace if the planet continues warming. A study in the journal Nature published in 2016 found the decline of sea ice in the Arctic "is making it easier for weather systems to transport this heat polewards."

Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent on record this past January, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I have sailed boats through [the Arctic Sea] but never this time of year," tweeted David Thoreson, an Arctic photographer. "It's amazing to watch this unfold."

The record-setting temperatures and lack of ice is exactly what scientists have projected over the Arctic for years and it's fundamentally changing the landscape.

A study was just released predicting that for every 5 years we delay in slashing carbon emissions, we can expect an additional 20 cm. of sea level rise by the end of the century. That's a 'best case' scenario. It could be much more.

We've also been put on notice that, if we were to fully exploit Tar Sands bitumen, it's the end of our hopes for limiting global warming to a survivable level. There are people in Canada, powerful people, for whom this doesn't matter or at least not remotely enough to rein in this sector of our economy. They cling to the same morality that looked the other way while asbestos, banned for use in Canada, was exported for use in the Third World. When it comes to trade, that's when we see the shallowness of our vaunted Canadian values.

It Ain't Over Until Fat Donald Cries "Uncle"

Donald Trump is so desperate to get free of his very own Russia scandal that he's reading things into documents that simply aren't there.

Ed Luce, writing in the Financial Times says that Trump will never escape Russia.

Donald Trump may no longer be interested in Russia, but Russia is interested in him. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has now indicted 19 people — including 13 Russians and five Americans who worked on Mr Trump’s campaign. That was just the start. When Mr Mueller gets round to Moscow’s election hacking, more Russians and Americans will surely be added. The Watergate investigation took two years to play out from burglary to presidential resignation. Nine months into the job, Mr Mueller looks to be on a similar timetable....

 [T]he biggest Russian shoe is yet to drop. Last week’s indictments focused on the St Petersburg-based internet troll farm. They said nothing about the email hacking of the Democratic party’s headquarters and senior members of Mrs Clinton’s campaign. Unlike the fake news operation, which was headed by a friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, the hacking was almost certainly pulled off by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s two main intelligence agencies. They funnelled their material through WikiLeaks, the site run by the fugitive Julian Assange. 

Roger Stone, Mr Trump’s first campaign manager, had a knack for guessing when WikiLeaks would dump its next cache. Mr Trump would then forecast it from the hustings. He cited WikiLeaks 164 times in the last four weeks of the general election. The timing of the leaks was always helpful. The largest dump took place 32 minutes after the release of the notorious Access Hollywood tapes. Who is to say that smoke bomb did not alter the US election? Nobody can prove Russia’s impact either way, of course. With each move by Mr Mueller, Mr Trump will only become more obsessed with disproving it. 

The stand-off between Mr Mueller and the US president is a geopolitical gift to Mr Putin. Mr Trump is unable to take the tough line on Moscow his advisers are urging. Six months after Congress passed new Russia sanctions, Mr Trump has yet to implement them. The gulf between Mr Trump’s instincts and the advice he receives is widening. His administration formally defines Russia as an adversary. That would have been Mrs Clinton’s stance were she in power. Mr Trump disagrees with it. America’s allies have no idea whom to believe — the president, or the people who work for him. They say different things.

Mr Putin is also reaping ideological dividends. Russia’s aim is to “sow discord” in US democracy, according to Mr Mueller. Mr Putin could open a new bank with the proceeds. Last week Dan Coats, Mr Trump’s director of national intelligence, told Congress he was sure Moscow would interfere in the upcoming US midterm elections. Yet Mr Trump will not even refer to the threat. His administration is doing very little to boost the resilience of America’s election process. We should put Mr Coats down as another dispensable pawn. 

But the largest breakdown is with America’s law enforcement agencies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation says Russia tried to sabotage US democracy. Mr Trump insists that claim is a hoax. He even blamed last week’s Florida school massacre on the FBI probe. The agency had spent “too much time on Russia collusion” to act on tip offs about the school shooter, he said. That takes some mind-bending. Are they “laughing their asses off” in Moscow, as Mr Trump tweeted last weekend? They ought to be. America’s president is a gift that keeps on giving.

So just what is going on between the American president and Russia? Those who might know aren't talking, not yet. All most of us know is that something doesn't make sense. Refusing to implement Congressionally mandated sanctions makes no sense. Refusing to move to defend the United States against another hacked election, the 2018 mid-terms, doesn't make any sense. As the New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, recently wrote, Trump is hiding something.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Monbiot - The Town that Discovered a New Medicine for What Ails Its People.

The Guardian's George Monbiot has a look at how the town of Frome, Somerset, managed to slash its emergency room admissions by tackling loneliness and isolation.

This week the results from a trial in the Somerset town of Frome are published informally, in the magazine Resurgence & Ecologist. (A scientific paper has been submitted to a medical journal and is awaiting peer review). We should be cautious about embracing data before it is published in the academic press, and must always avoid treating correlation as causation. But this shouldn’t stop us feeling a shiver of excitement about the implications, if the figures turn out to be robust and the experiment can be replicated.

 What this provisional data appears to show is that when isolated people who have health problems are supported by community groups and volunteers, the number of emergency admissions to hospital falls spectacularly. While across the whole of Somerset emergency hospital admissions rose by 29% during the three years of the study, in Frome they fell by 17%. Julian Abel, a consultant physician in palliative care and lead author of the draft paper, remarks: “No other interventions on record have reduced emergency admissions across a population.”

The point was to break a familiar cycle of misery: illness reduces people’s ability to socialise, which leads in turn to isolation and loneliness, which then exacerbates illness.

This cycle is explained by some fascinating science, summarised in a recent paper in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. Chemicals called cytokines, which function as messengers in the immune system and cause inflammation, also change our behaviour, encouraging us to withdraw from general social contact. This, the paper argues, is because sickness, during the more dangerous times in which our ancestral species evolved, made us vulnerable to attack. Inflammation is now believed to contribute to depression. People who are depressed tend to have higher cytokine levels.

But, while separating us from society as a whole, inflammation also causes us to huddle closer to those we love. Which is fine – unless, like far too many people in this age of loneliness, you have no such person. One study suggests that the number of Americans who say they have no confidant has nearly tripled in two decades. In turn, the paper continues, people without strong social connections, or who suffer from social stress (such as rejection and broken relationships), are more prone to inflammation. In the evolutionary past, social isolation exposed us to a higher risk of predation and sickness. So the immune system appears to have evolved to listen to the social environment, ramping up inflammation when we become isolated, in the hope of protecting us against wounding and disease. In other words, isolation causes inflammation, and inflammation can cause further isolation and depression.