Friday, March 30, 2018

The Gospel of "Don't Believe Your Lyin' Ears."


The Vatican is racing to clear up the confusion after Pope Francis said that Hell doesn't exist. They've been screwin' with you these past two millennia. Just havin' you on.

The Holy See issued a terse statement saying a lengthy article published in La Repubblica on Wednesday by Eugenio Scalfari, 93, the newspaper’s founder, was “the fruit of his reconstruction” and not “a faithful transcription of the Holy Father’s words”.
While the Vatican conceded that Scalfari, an atheist who struck up a friendship with Francis in 2013, had held a private meeting with the pontiff before the Easter weekend, it said an interview had not been granted.
During the meeting Scalfari asked the pope where “bad souls” go, to which he was quoted as responding: “They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”

This Would Piss Off Trump's Gullibillies.



Trump already has his base, the Gullibillies, pissed off for signing the 2018 budget deal that buried them even deeper in debt. The silly bastards still haven't connected the idea that you can't give another mega-tax cut to the rich and powerful and toss in all those extra tens of billions into the Pentagon Pinata without racking up even bigger deficits. This is, after all, the same guy who promised to gut federal spending, tame the deficit.

Now there are reports that Trump may be moving to weasel back into the Trans Pacific Partnership, the TPP. Trump's first act as president was to withdraw the US from the TPP. The Gullibillies were so delirious with joy that they started burning books other than the Koran.

According to Foreign Policy, Trump's minions are beginning to float the idea about signing on to the TPP again but, this time, Washington might find that door closed.

Earlier this month, speaking in Chile, Mnuchin said Washington would “definitely” be open to rejoining the pact — once all the administration’s other trade deals were taken care of, and provided the trade accord could be rewritten to be more beneficial to the United States. (U.S. trade officials declined to say what those revised conditions might be.) 
And Larry ["Wrong Way"] Kudlow, a former television commentator who was named Trump’s top economic adviser, said this month that the United States could lead a “trade coalition of the willing” to counter China’s trade heft and abuses — almost the very definition of the TPP that Trump walked away from early in his presidency. 
But that ship seems to have sailed. The remaining 11 countries from the original TPP signed a slightly slimmed-down version of the accord earlier this month in Chile, suspending a score of controversial provisions that the United States had insisted upon. Member countries are already in the process of ratifying the deal, which could go into effect early next year.
“Is there a chance in hell anyone wants to reopen the thing to get the U.S. back in? Not under a Trump administration,” says Mike Callaghan, a former Australian Treasury official and economic advisor to the prime minister, now at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.

Oooh, Frosty. Mattis Meets the "Devil Incarnate"


This brief video clip might give you the impression that US Defence Secretary, James Mattis, is perhaps less than enthusiastic at greeting Trump's new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, on the steps of the Pentagon.



"At least it's nice weather. You gotta look on the bright side." Yes, general, duly noted.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

How About a Change From All the Crap: Trump, Russia, All the Garbage


There are still so many genuinely terrific people across the United States. That greasy stain of a president sometimes keeps us from noticing them.  Enough.

Batshit Crazy

That's Trump's problem. Between the ears - it's all guano. Well, to be accurate, cobwebs and guano.

Trump recently took a swipe at Trans Canada. The Mango Mussolini was deeply offended that Trans Canada never thanked him for clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline. He said they would someday pay for that slight.

Only, this is what really happened - when addled Donnie authorized Keystone XL.





I'll Bet You Didn't Know That...



They don't have a clue. Your federal government and our various provincial governments are in the same boat. None of them has assessed the risks we face from climate change or what we need to do to adapt to it.

This is kicking the can down the road and whistling past the graveyard at the very same time.

They don't want to know. If they knew they might have to tell us what's coming. If we knew what's coming we then might ask them what in hell they're doing about it. And if they had to tell us what they're doing about it - essentially squat - then we might scorn them or, worse, compel them to do something about it and there's no room in their plans for that sort of Herculean undertaking.

It's so much easier if we all gaze out over the stern and pretend that iceberg off the bow isn't there at all.

This isn't misfeasance any more. It's full blown malfeasance. It's not just doing something wrongfully, carelessly, perhaps negligently.  It's deliberate wrongdoing.

They don't want to deal with this on their watch. It's too big, too scary, too fraught with political risk.

Back in June, 2014, large parts of Calgary were underwater as The World Council on Disaster Management held its annual conference in Toronto, which itself had recently experienced a freak flood.  The message was that Canada's outdated and decaying essential infrastructure was vulnerable to natural disasters.

Dr. Saeed Mirza, emeritus professor at Montreal’s McGill University specializing in structural engineering, added that the monumental infrastructure costs accumulated over decades of negligence have left Canada particularly vulnerable to catastrophic events.

“The frequency and intensity of these events has been increasing at an escalating rate and what was a one-in-100-year event at one time may become the norm,” he said. 
“When we look at Calgary, we had a flood there in 2005 and they called it a one-in-100-year flood, while this one according to some descriptions in the news has been three times as bad.” 
Mirza estimated that Canada’s infrastructure requirements have reached a cost of about $1 trillion, while a recent survey by the McKinsey Global Institute earlier this year stated that worldwide infrastructure needs are about $57 trillion. 
“In terms of funding, the amounts of money are truly frightening and there’s no government in the world that can find the kind of money necessary to bring existing infrastructure up to par,” Gordon said. 
The lack of political will is one of the biggest obstacles to infrastructure funding, which is why Mirza proposed that Canada adopt a best practices solution to addressing our climbing infrastructure costs.
"No government in the world can find that kind of money." Okay, but what if we don't? What if we don't replace essential infrastructure,what then? Have you ever been to a Third World country?

What we do know is that the costs of not acting, the costs of waiting until that essential infrastructure fails, will be substantially greater. That's because there will be economic loss atop the costs of replacing the infrastructure. And then you'll see "trickle down" in action with the velocity and power of a sledgehammer in freefall.

The taxes our parents' and grandparents' generations invested in that infrastructure was integral to the prosperity that their descendants, us, enjoyed. Only we also liked the idea of "everyday low taxes" which meant we didn't want to pay for those same things when it came our turn. We didn't pay for routine maintenance. We didn't pay for replacement. We haven't built for the next generations as those before ours freely did for us.

Which allows me to segue into a book I'm about to read, John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Affluent Society." First published in 1958 I've picked up the 1984 4th edition. I got  hooked by this passage from The Times Literary Supplement.
Why worship work and productivity if many of the goods we produce are superfluous - advertising 'needs' created by high-pressure advertising? Why grudge expenditure on vital public works while ignoring waste and extravagance in the private sector of the economy. Classical economics was born in a harsh world of mass poverty, and it has left us with a set of preconceptions hard to adapt to the realities of our own richer age. And so, too often, 'the bland lead the bland.' Our unfamiliar problems need a new approach.
It sounds more relevant today than ever. The problems, perhaps novel in the post-war prosperity, are now commonplace and extensive.

If You're Into the Mueller Investigation...



Consider this a Public Service Announcement.

We don't get a lot of news in Canada about the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Most of what we do get is tepid, recycled stuff from the American media. It's thin gruel, marginally informative at best.

There is a website/blog that is incredibly informative about Mueller, his team and they prey they are pursuing. The author goes by the pseudonym, "emptywheel."

In her latest offering, said to have been typed while her husband still slept (they're supposed to be on vacation), emptywheel writes that on Monday we should get the first glimpse into what Mueller's team has on the "hack and leak" scandal.

She also offers an excellent look at the procedural thrust and parry underway between Manafort's counsel and Mueller's team. This shows how major litigation is fought both tactically and strategically. There is a discernible choreography that, once revealed, can be usefully predictive.

In any event, if you want something significantly better than what's dished out by CNN or, heaven forbid, any Canadian media, check out emptywheel.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Assange Gagged.



The Ecuadorean embassy in London has severed Julian Assange's communications with the outside world. Oh, that's a pity.

Ecuador's government on Wednesday said it was cutting off WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange's communications outside the nation's London embassy, where he has been living for more than five years. 
Ecuadorian officials said the measure was taken in response to Assange's recent activity on social media, which was seen as a violation of a 2017 written agreement that prevents him from sending any messages that could interfere with the South American nation's relations with other countries. 
Assange took to Twitter on Monday to question Britain's accusation that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the English city of Salisbury. He also questioned the expulsion of Russian diplomats by Britain and other countries.
Isn't it odd how Assange is always ready to step up to the plate when the Kremlin needs a hand?

Rachel, There's a Price You Pay For Dickin' Around.


Is this what Canada's petro-slag heap, a.k.a. Alberta, has coming?

The Tyee's fossil fuel writer and author, Andrew Nikiforuk, offers a look at the ecological price being exacted on the population of west Texas.
New radar satellite imagery shows that intense oil and gas activity has destabilized the geology of a 10,000-sq.-kilometre area in west Texas causing the ground to heave and sink dramatically.

“If we do not mitigate the possible geohazards with continuous monitoring of surface deformation,” warned researchers, “we can expect one or more possible outcomes” including damage to roads, railroads and dams, groundwater pollution, more earthquake activity and “potential threat to residents in surrounding communities.”
Geophysicists at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, took a hard look at the Permian Basin where companies such as Calgary-based Encana are now furiously fracking for light oil. 
The Permian is one of the continent’s oldest oil fields, with more than 30 billion barrels of oil pulled out of the ground over the last 100 years.
... 
With the advent of hydraulic fracturing, west Texas has experienced “unprecedented increases” in seismic activity in the last five to six years, as have Alberta and B.C. 
The study, published in Nature, also reported that the ground was sinking by two to 10 centimetres around active, abandoned and orphaned wells. 
“This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s, and our findings associate that activity with ground movement,” explained Jin-Woo Kim, a research scientist at the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at SMU. 
Researchers also found that in some areas oil and gas activity had created sinkholes by introducing freshwater to salt formations which caused them to dissolve. 
Similar issues have plagued oilsands development near Fort McMurray where the melting of salt formations under bitumen deposits has created sinkholes and other geohazards and cracked the cap rock.
Follow the link. Read the article. I'm done.

This Might Be the Eye-Opener You So Badly Need.



Many of us approach online privacy with a "who would be interested in boring old me" attitude. That's the internet equivalent of whistling past the graveyard.

Check out data consultant Dylan Curran's expose on what Facebook and, especially, Google knows about you.

I’ll just do a short summary of what’s in the thousands of files I received under my Google Activity. 
First, every Google Ad I’ve ever viewed or clicked on, every app I’ve ever launched or used and when I did it, every website I’ve ever visited and what time I did it at, and every app I’ve ever installed or searched for.
They also have every image I’ve ever searched for and saved, every location I’ve ever searched for or clicked on, every news article I’ve ever searched for or read, and every single Google search I’ve made since 2009. And then finally, every YouTube video I’ve ever searched for or viewed, since 2008.
This information has millions of nefarious uses. You say you’re not a terrorist. Then how come you were googling Isis? Work at Google and you’re suspicious of your wife? Perfect, just look up her location and search history for the last 10 years. Manage to gain access to someone’s Google account? Perfect, you have a chronological diary of everything that person has done for the last 10 years. 
This is one of the craziest things about the modern age. We would never let the government or a corporation put cameras/microphones in our homes or location trackers on us. But we just went ahead and did it ourselves because – to hell with it! – I want to watch cute dog videos.
After you read Curran's plainly harrowing account, ask yourself why your government allows these companies, that pose such an obvious and enormous threat to the privacy of its citizens, to operate in our country. The Corporatist States of America are a write off, a lost cause, but surely Canada could, in conjunction with Europe, ban this sort of privacy intrusion and make Google and Facebook pay a hefty price for defying them. Collectively they have enough clout to bring the software giants to heel.  Not acting quickly and forcefully is a dereliction of their duty to us all.

Hey, Canada is in the Spotlight Again. In Case You Couldn't Guess It's About the Tar Sands.


The Guardian does like to periodically remind us that, when it comes to climate change, nice, decent, oh so polite Canadians are utter swine. And they've got a point.

Justin, he's all for the Tar Sands. Why, that's how Canada is going to have a green future. Why didn't he just tell us he's figured out how to turn lead into gold? That would be more plausible.

The latest in The Guardian is a report on how Justin's Bitumen Buddy, Donald Trump, has nurtured investment in "extreme" fossil fuels, a.k.a. Athabasca bitumen.

Bank holdings in “extreme” fossil fuels skyrocketed globally to $115bn during Donald Trump’s first year as US president, with holdings in tar sands oil more than doubling, a new report has found. 
A sharp flight from fossil fuels investments after the Paris agreement was reversed last year with a return to energy sources dubbed “extreme” because of their contribution to global emissions. This included an 11% hike in funding for carbon-heavy tar sands, as well as Arctic and ultra-deepwater oil and coal. 
US and Canadian banks led a race back into the unconventional energy sector following Trump’s promise to withdraw from Paris, with JPMorgan Chase increasing its coal funding by a factor of 21, and quadrupling its tar sands assets. 
Chase’s $5.6bn surge in tar sands holdings added to nearly $47bn of gains for the industry last year, according to the report by NGOs including BankTrack, the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network (RAN).
C'mon, you know that news is music to Justin and Rachel's black, black hearts. They've heard the warnings that increasing exploitation of this toxic sludge will be enough to guarantee runaway global warming but, hey, there's money to be made and somebody else does all the work.

When you cast your ballot next year and you reflect back on  how Justin's Liberals acquitted themselves in their term as a solid majority government, and you think of those troubling questions such as the Saudi Death Wagon deal or all the broken promises, especially electoral reform, and you're still undecided, throw a handful of bitumen sludge on the scale. It won't tell you how to vote but it will greatly help you figure out how not to vote.

The Slippery Slope of Privacy



Those implicated in the Cambridge Analytica/AggregateIQ scandal inevitably contend that their uninvited intrusions and targeted messaging may have been unethical but they dispute that their acts were illegal and close with the assertion that there is no proof that their skulduggery actually changed anything, that it manufactured any votes for the client or suppressed voting for the adversary.

It was, in their parlance, a giant "nothingburger".

Okay, so Robert Mercer, Steve Bannon, John Bolton, the Trump campaign and the cash-conscious Brexit Leave campaign thought it looked pretty and decided to take a flyer on it.

We still don't know what uber-rightwing US billionaire, Robert Mercer, paid for his 90 per cent interest in Cambridge Analytica but it would be useful to find out. At its core this targeted advertising/brainwashing technology is a function of algorithms who had to learn long division and did our calculations with slide rules is probably a bit out there. They're not to Robert Mercer. He was an algorithm wizard. It's how he amassed his billions. When it came to shelling out for control of Cambridge Analytica, Mercer was what you might call an informed buyer. He knew what it was, how it worked, what it could achieve and what it was worth - to a buyer, a guy just like him.

To Mercer it probably meant this technology could generate + or - this many thousand votes in this state and + or - this many thousand votes in that state and + or - this many tens, perhaps thousands of votes for Donald J. Trump overall.

Illegal? Hard to say. It's certainly unethical and, in such matters, we often set limits, conditions in which the merely sordid passes into the realm of criminality. 

Should this stuff, cyber ratf@cking, be illegal. I vote yes. I expect most would. But we would have to find a government willing to enact a pretty major overhaul of our election laws to outlaw this sort of thing and impose adequate penalties for those who flout them.

That might begin by clearly stating that a citizen's vote is something not to be messed with. You can't get a voter liquored up by capture his vote. You can't put a wad of cash in his shirt pocket either. You shouldn't be permitted to target that voter online with sophisticated messages the purpose of which is to manipulate his or her free will. That sort of thing ought to be an indictable offence. It should earn the perpetrators a stretch in the Greybar Hotel. And the political parties and their campaigns if found culpable should also pay a hefty price. It's "the buck stops here" thing.

Unfortunately electoral problems aren't a great priority with the government of the day. This is, after all, the same Justin who told us to get stuffed when he reneged on his promise of electoral reform. Indeed there are indications that the Liberal campaign had some sort of dealings with these cyber ratf@ckers in 2015.

These days, when you're faced with an upset victory, be it Brexit, or Trump, or Trudeau, you have reasonable cause to question just what happened. Did Mulcair really lose his lead all by himself or were voters perhaps assisted in switching from the NDP to someone else? I don't know only now I really, really want to.

We are in an era of widespread decline in liberal democracy. In America, money is free speech. Elsewhere we don't state it so openly. Ours is a world in which the political power of the citizenry and their votes has become discounted, degraded.

It is not alarmist to say we are on a slippery slope. We've seen what this can lead to elsewhere - Hungary, Turkey, Poland, the populist uber-right in France, Britain, Germany and elsewhere; the rise of the corporatist state where legislators, regulators and even heads of state can be captured and harnessed into service not to the public interest but to narrow, private interests. And, as we have seen in America, Hungary, Poland and elsewhere, these things they will do right in front of your face.

Be aware that the only way to stop this slide is to take matters in our own hands - at the ballot box. No matter how loyal you may feel to a party, do not vote for any candidate representing any party that you cannot trust to enact electoral reform. And, yes, that means in 2019 refusing to vote for the Trudeau Liberals. They've had their chance. You don't have to vote Tory. Vote Green, vote NDP. We've survived worse.



Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Canada's Taxman Picks a Fight With Alexander Graham Bell?



A Canadian tax adjudicator thinks Alexander Graham Bell's claim to have invented the telephone is a load of hooey.

Descendants of Alexander Graham Bell have accused a Canadian tax adjudicator of bias after he questioned, during a dispute over a hefty property tax assessment, the legitimacy of Bell’s claim to have invented the telephone. 
Bell, who was born in Edinburgh but spent much of his life in Canada, is widely credited with patenting the first telephone in 1876. He later founded the telecommunications company AT&T. 
But that history has been challenged in a tax dispute over Bell’s sprawling estate of Beinn Bhreagh Hall in the province of Nova Scotia. 
According to provincial authorities, the property is worth C$885,000 – a figure Bell’s descendants say is almost twice what they think it’s worth. They argue that because the 125-year-old site is a heritage property, mandatory maintenance costs diminish its market value. 
The row deepened last year when tax adjudicator Raffi Balmanoukian issued a written decision in the case, saying: “I confess I am not a fan of [Bell’s] claim to fame.” 
Balmanoukian noted that an Italian American inventor filed a caveat – the precursor to a patent – for a similar device in 1871, five years before Bell. “If Antonio Meucci had renewed his patent office caveat for his ‘sound telegraph’ this appeal may not have been before me today,” he wrote.
This is not the first time Bell’s work has been the subject of dispute: in 2002, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution recognizing Meucci’s contributions to the development of the telephone. Canada’s parliament retaliated quickly, unanimously passing a motion affirming Bell as the inventor of the device. 
“This is not to say that for the appellant all is lost for all time,” wrote Balmanoukian in his original decision. “I indulge myself by saying, ‘Please hang up and try your call again.’”
Ooooh, Sassy!

Maybe Trump Isn't Totally Crazy After All. But, He Probably Is.



Even a broken watch is right twice a day.

Stymied by his inability to cajole Congress into funding his wall along the US/Mexico border, Donald Trump is approaching the problem from a new angle.

According to the Washington Post, Trump claims the US military with its record-setting funding should build the damned thing. Trump seems to be unaware that military spending is within the purview of Congress and they're in no mood to go along with his obsession.

This brought to mind Gwynne Dyer's book, "Climate Wars." Dyer, after discussing climate change with a number of Pentagon types, envisioned an eventual militarization of America's southern border along the lines of the Koreas' DMZ or demilitarized zone. He described it as an open, "free fire" killing ground to staunch waves of climate migration out of Central America. A border zone with walls, wire and robotic weapons designed to slaughter migrants without anyone having to actually pull a trigger. Out of sight/out of mind.

Another Watergate? Maybe.



Revelations about Cambridge Analytica, its principals (Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer, Rebekah Mercer and Alexander Nix), its clients or contacts (Corey Lewandowski, Ted Cruz, John Bolton, the Trump campaign), and the Cambridge subsidiary, Victoria's AggregateIQ are a virtual tsunami. This is an unfolding trans-Atlantic scandal, a work in progress.

Today it's AggregateIQ's turn under the spotlight. Gizmodo claims to have proof that the Victoria firm created Cambridge Analytica's software.

A little-known Canadian data firm ensnared by an international investigation into alleged wrongdoing during the Brexit campaign created an election software platform marketed by Cambridge Analytica, according to a batch of internal files obtained exclusively by Gizmodo.

Discovered by a security researcher last week, the files confirm that AggregateIQ, a British Columbia-based data firm, developed the technology Cambridge Analytica sold to clients for millions of dollars during the 2016 US presidential election. Hundreds if not thousands of pages of code, as well as detailed notes signed by AggregateIQ staff, wholly substantiate recent reports that Cambridge Analytica’s software platform was not its own creation.

What’s more, the files reveal that AggregateIQ—also known as “AIQ”—is the developer behind campaign apps created for Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott, as well as a Ukrainian steel magnate named Serhiy Taruta, head the country’s newly formed Osnova party.
A link to the Republican National Committee?
In an internal wiki, AIQ developers also discussed a project known as The Database of Truth, a system that “integrates, obtains, and normalizes data from disparate sources, including starting with the RNC Data Trust.” (RNC Data Trust is the Republican party’s primary voter file provider.) “The primary data source will be combined with state voter files, consumer data, third party data providers, historical WPA survey and projects and customer data.”
More on Brexit.
In 2016, Mercer reportedly offered up Cambridge Analytica’s services for free to Leave.EU, one of several group urging the UK to depart the European Union, according to The Guardian. Leave.EU was not, however, the official “Leave” group representing the Brexit campaign. Instead, a seperate group, known as Vote Leave, was formally chosen by election officials to lead the referendum.

Whereas Leave.EU relied on Cambridge to influence voters through its use of data analytics, Vote Leave turned to AIQ, eventually paying the firm roughly 40 percent of its £7 million campaign budget, according to The Guardian. Over time, however, Vote Leave amassed more cash than it was legally allowed to spend. While UK election laws permitted Vote Leave to gift its remaining funds to other campaigns, further coordination between them was expressly forbidden.
The treasurer of the BeLeave group, a recipient of some of Vote Leave's surplus funds, said BeLeave never received the funds that were, instead, laundered through the BeLeave books and disbursed without its knowledge or consent.

Vote Leave inexplicably donated £625,000 to a young fashion design student named Darren Grimes, the founder of a small, unofficial Brexit campaign called BeLeave. According to a BuzzFeed investigation, Grimes immediately gave a “substantial amount” of the cash he received from Vote Leave to AIQ. Vote Leave also donated £100,000 to another Leave campaign called Veterans for Britain, which, according to The Guardian, then paid AIQ precisely that amount.

A review of the AIQ files by UpGuard’s Chris Vickery revealed several mentions of Vote Leave and at least one mention of Veterans for Britain, apparently related to website development. 
In an interview on Monday, Shahmir Sanni, a former volunteer for Vote Leave campaign, told The Globe and Mail that he had “first-hand knowledge about the alleged wrongdoing in the Brexit campaign.” Sanni, who was 22 when he worked for Vote Leave, said he was “encouraged to spin out” another campaign, but that he had “no control” over the £625,000 that was immediately spent on AIQ’s services. 
British authorities are pursuing leads to establish whether BeLeave and Veterans for Britain were merely a conduit through which Vote Leave sought to direct additional funds to AIQ. While the UK Electoral Commission took no action in early 2017, in November it claimed that “new information” had “come to light,” giving the commission “reasonable grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed.”
Ya think?

UPDATE:

The Toronto Star reports that three former Cambridge employees contend that the company, owned by US billionaire Robert Mercer, flagrantly violated US election laws by sending at least 20 non-Americans to work on the 2014 mid-term elections.

Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group were overwhelmingly staffed by non-U.S. citizens — mainly Canadians, Britons and other Europeans — at least 20 of whom fanned out across the United States in 2014 to work on congressional and legislative campaigns, the three former Cambridge workers said. 
Many of those employees and contractors were involved in helping to decide what voters to target with political messages and what messages to deliver to them, the former workers said. Their tasks ran the gamut of campaign work, including “managing media relations” as well as fundraising, planning events, and providing “communications strategy” and “talking points, speeches (and) debate prep,” according to a document touting the firm’s 2014 work. 
Its dirty little secret was that there was no one American involved in it, that it was a de facto foreign agent, working on an American election,” Wylie said. 
Two other former Cambridge Analytica workers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear that they may have violated U.S. law in their campaign work, said concerns about the legality of Cambridge Analytica’s work in the United States were a regular subject of employee conversations at the company, especially after the 2014 vote
The two former workers, who, like Wylie, were interviewed in London, said employees worried the company was giving its foreign employees potentially inaccurate immigration documents to provide upon entering the United States, showing that they were not there to work when they had arrived for the purpose of advising campaigns. 
We knew that everything was not above board, but we weren’t too concerned about it,” said one of the former Cambridge Analytica workers, who spent several months in the United States working on Republican campaigns. “It was the Wild West. That’s certainly how they carried on in 2014.”
That sounds like a nightmare for a certain rightwing radical nutjob billionaire.

Wylie Outs the Wizards from Victoria, AggregateIQ.



The laws behind the Brexit referendum set strict spending limits for parties wishing to participate in it. The Leave campaign had four distinct supporting groups: Leave, BeLeave (a youth movement), Veterans for Britain, and the Irish gang, the political party that props up Theresa May's Tory government, the DUP.

Each of those four had a spending cap. However the law stipulated that if any of those groups co-ordinated, those parties would be bound by a single spending allotment.

Chris Wylie claims that the evidence admits of one conclusion, all four organizations co-ordinated, using AggregateIQ as a vessel to launder money.

All four groups had employed the services of Aggregate IQ (AIQ), a Canadian company that Wylie said was “set up and worked within the auspices of Cambridge Analytica [and] inherited the company culture of total disregard for the law”. But at the point they employed the services of AIQ, he said, it had effectively no public presence.

All of these companies somehow, for some reason, all decided to use Aggregate IQ as their primary service provider, when Aggregate IQ did not have any public presence, no media, no website. The only way that you could find them on the internet is if you went to [Cambridge Analytica minority owner] SCL’s website and called up SCL Canada. So, first question that I have is why. Why is it that all of a sudden this company, that has never worked on anything but Cambridge Analytica projects, that had no public presence, somehow became the primary service provider to all of these supposedly independent and different campaign groups,” he told the MPs. 
“When you look at the cumulation of evidence I think it would be completely unreasonable to come to any other conclusion: this must be co-ordination, this must be a common purpose plan.”
“I went and actually spoke with Aggregate, who were very, very pleased with themselves with how that project went – understandably, they won – and said, can you show me what it was you were doing, how can you untease it, what did you do,” Wylie said. “They conceded to me – and this is a verbatim quote, and I stand by it, I remember Jeff Sylvester [the chief operating officer of Aggregate IQ] telling me this: it was, quote, ‘totally illegal’.
“AggregateIQ was just used as a proxy money-laundering vehicle,” Wylie told the hearing. “What [Vote Leave mastermind] Dom Cummings did is he just went round and found places he could launder money through to give it to AIQ so they could overspend. And that is my genuinely held belief.

“For me it makes me so angry, because a lot of people supported leave because they believe in the application of British law and British sovereignty. And to irrevocably alter the constitutional settlement of this country on fraud is a mutilation of the constitutional settlement of this country. You cannot call yourself a leaver, you cannot call yourself someone who believes in British law, and win by breaking British law in order to achieve that goal.”


Oh dear.

The Little Guy With the Funky Hair Lowers the Lumber on Cambridge Analytica, AggregateIQ, the Upset "Leave" Win on Brexit and the Upset Win of President Donnie Trump.



Christopher Wylie, the former research director for Cambridge Analytica turned whistleblower, is giving evidence today before a British Parliamentary committee.

In the case of Brexit, Wylie says it was not only misuse of data but also money laundering to give the Leave campaign a big financial advantage over the Stay campaign. Wylie's claims go to the very integrity and validity of the referendum vote to pull Britain out of the EU. At least one of the key parties to the alleged skulduggery is a senior aide to the prime minister, Theresa May.  Oopsie.

Misuse of data and “cheating” by Cambridge Analytica and other companies associated with the firm may have altered the outcome of both the U.S. presidential election and the U.K.’s Brexit referendum, a company whistleblower told British lawmakers. 
Chris Wylie, the former director of research at Cambridge Analytica, which has been accused of illegally collecting online data of up to 50 million Facebook users, said that his work allowed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to garner unprecedented insight into voters’ habits ahead of the 2016 vote. 
He added that a Canadian business with ties to Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, also provided analysis for the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum. This research, Wylie said, likely breached the U.K.’s strict campaign financing laws and may have helped to sway the final Brexit outcome. 
“If we allow cheating in our democratic process … What about next time? What about the time after that? This is a breach of the law. This is cheating,” he told British politicians Tuesday. “This is not some council race, or a by-election. This is an irreversible change to the constitutional settlement of this country.”
Over four hours of testimony, Wylie gave insight into how Cambridge Analytica was able to build complex data analysis tools to target potential voters during multiple U.S. campaigns. That included ties to Aggregate IQ, or AIQ, a Canadian company which helped to develop the underlying algorithm that was used by Cambridge Analytica to target Facebook users. Both companies deny such a connection.
Wylie posed a very pointed question about the Victoria startup, AggregateIQ and the campaign it waged on behalf of the Leave campaign.

“I think it’s incredibly reasonable to say that AIQ played a very significant role in Leave winning,” he told British lawmakers. “My question is where did they get the data? How do you create a massive operation in a country where AIQ had not worked before?” 
Wylie also gave insight into how Cambridge Analytica was created in late 2013. The unit was set up by Robert Mercer, a U.S. billionaire; Steve Bannon, a former campaign manager for Trump’s 2016 campaign; and Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, who was suspended following the most recent allegations. 
To give it an air of academic credibility, according to Wylie, the founders wanted to play up potential research ties with Cambridge University. Aleksandr Kogan, a American-Russian professor at the university, created a smartphone app that provided Cambridge Analytica with reams of digital information on roughly 50 million Facebook users. These data transfers, according to Facebook, broke the social network’s terms and conditions. 
“Whenever Steve Bannon would come into town, we would set up this fake office to present a more academic side of the company,” Wylie told the MPs. “Steven Bannon said we should call it Cambridge Analytica because of its close association with the university.”
Chris Wylie may be making noise but there's been nothing but deathly silence from Steve Bannon, Corey Lewandowski, Mercer and the tweetmeister himself, Donald Trump, the Mango Mussolini.

If, as has been claimed and not just by Wylie but others from CA and the Brexit Leave camp, the Brexit referendum was gamed, Theresa May has a problem. Can she simply ignore it and claims she still has a popular mandate to negotiate Britain's exit from the EU? Remember it was just under 52% to leave, just over 48% to stay, and, after the vote, there was plenty of buyer's remorse among those who voted Leave assuming it was bound to be defeated.

UPDATE:

While I have only watched snippets of Wylie's testimony, he made a point that particularly impressed me about the Brexit vote tampering. He said the Leave campaign flagrantly cheated. Wylie pointed out that if an Olympic athlete was caught doping, he would be stripped of his medal for cheating. There would be no debate over how much the banned substance aided his performance. No one would be heard to argue he would have won without it. He cheated, the medal is gone. Likewise, get caught cheating on a university exam and it's an automatic
 "F".  It doesn't matter how you did on the rest of the questions. You cheated, you got caught, you fail. Wylie argued, convincingly, that there is no distinction to be drawn from being caught gaming a referendum than being caught doping or cheating on an exam. Cheating is cheating.

Oddly Enough, It Works. How to Cure the "Gig Economy."



He's possibly one of the greatest American public intellectuals you've never heard of: Gar Alperovitz. The social economist/historian is the author of "What Then Must We Do?" a title he lifted from Tolstoy.

What Then serves as an answer to our federal government's capitulation to a future of "job churn" for our descendants, the road to the precariat life of living from job to job, cheque to cheque, and trying to survive the gaps in between. The focus is on democratizing the economy in a non-confiscatory way by shifting the means of production from the ledgers of the rentier class into the hands of the working class.

Alperovitz demonstrates that some businesses fail because the owners treat it as a cash cow and neglect the challenges of management. When the business falters they may shut it down, take the write offs, and put the employees out onto the street.

In his book, the author provides examples of this very situation, companies about to fold, where the work force, aided and supported by the community - local businesses, banks, churches who also have a vested interest in keeping those jobs in the neighbourhood - buy the company from its indifferent owners and, working together, bring it back to profitability.  As owners, the employees not only ensure their job security, decent wages and benefits, but they also earn a return on their investment that can eclipse whatever they could get from a small savings account. As owners, the employees often demonstrate far better management of the business than the former, absentee owners. And remarkably, Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have provided tax measures to facilitate this very process.

For those who find the Leap Manifesto too vague, Alperovitz has an alternative, a brochure entitled, "What Then Can I Do." If you still can't shake off the allure of Plutocracy and imagine yourself one day in its rarefied ranks, or you buy into the "job churn" crap as inevitable, this is probably not for you. However...

In today's Guardian there's an encouraging item about another response to the gig economy. It's the story of a British courier firm, DPD, that has offered its drivers the option of becoming "proper" employees, workers with benefits.

No more contracts for what looks remarkably like conventional work minus all the conventional benefits, unless that’s what drivers want. And no more insisting that people who wear your uniform, drive your liveried vans, and show up every day to help deliver your £100m annual profits don’t really work for you as such. What DPD has done allows us to test the gig economy’s own defence of its model, which is that some people genuinely do want to work this casually; that given a choice they’d prefer not to be tied down, to keep it as a side hustle or a halfway house between work and retirement rather than a proper job. Well, now they have that choice, let’s see what people make of it.

The catch – for there’s always a catch – is that those choosing the “worker” deal will be paid a lower rate per delivery than those on freelance conditions. But at least it’s clear to everyone what rights they’re signing away for the money, which was always the deal with genuine self-employment. And crucially, this case isn’t quite the outlier it seems. It’s part of a wave of small, hard-fought wins racked up by unions, activists and a broader swath of civil society over gig economy employers, which have shown that a race to the bottom is not inevitable; that companies make choices every day, and can be nudged into making better ones.

What does seem to be working ...is a pincer movement orchestrated by unions and activists, involving pressure from both the bottom up (the GMB led a driver walkout at DPD just before Christmas over threatened changes to conditions), and the top down, whether by taking test cases through the courts or lobbying the respectable high street names now tarnished by association with the couriers they employ. Do Marks & Spencer or John Lewis really want to be dragged into these scandals, to look complicit in such misery? If not, why don’t they use their clout as contractors to do something about it? The newly formed union the IWGB has used similar tactics to get several cycle courier companies to pay the London living wage.
These are all baby steps, easily reversed, taken by companies whose workers have had ample reason not to trust them. Nobody’s pretending everything is rosy. But small points of light in the darkness still matter, as they can be seen from a long way off. Even tiny victories can help to convince gig economy workers that they don’t have to sit back and take it, that the risk of being victimised if they organise should now at least be weighed up against the risk of being exploited if they don’t, that they aren’t as powerless as they think.

Now That You Mention It...



Earlier this month the European Court of Justice issued a ruling that ISDS or Investor-State Dispute provisions in a trade deal between the Netherlands and Slovakia were contrary to European law. It seems that the ECJ found the secret court system invalid. The ruling is expected to call into question other free trade pacts with Europe, possibly including CETA, Canada's trade pact with the E.U.

The EU court decision hasn't created much of a stir in Canada although it's unclear why.

The only party that seems to have addressed it is the Green Party.
“This decision could call into question the legality of ISDS clauses in other EU trade deals, including the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA),” said Green Party international trade critic Paul Manly. “In CETA, the Investment Court System is similarly structured to allow corporations to sue governments if legislation interferes with a corporation’s ability to maximize profits. The ECJ will soon rule on whether the Investment Court System is in fact consistent with EU laws. 
“The Green Party has long argued against trade dispute settlement mechanisms that allow foreign corporations to override domestic laws designed to protect the environment and community well-being. They are inherently anti-democratic and should be removed from all trade agreements and ISDS measures to which Canada has committed. That means NAFTA’s chapter 11 and the ISDS mechanism in the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) must be scrapped as well. Canadian sovereignty is at stake,” concluded Mr. Manly.
What a radical idea that it may offend a nation's laws for its government to bind itself to legal proceedings in secret courts that may impact the citizenry by infringing on labour, environmental or other protections. Hmm, I wonder why we didn't think of that? I wonder why our political caste thought it okay to surrender these essential incidents of national sovereignty without our knowledge or consent?


Monday, March 26, 2018

Is That How Trudeau Won?



Is that what Chris Wylie did for the Trudeau Liberals? Did he tell the guys who paid him $100,000 what voters most wanted, what would sell?

As Michael Harris recently wrote, "Candidates no longer tell citizens what they think; they find out what voters are thinking and then reflect it back to them. It is an exercise in self-interested mind-reading."

Look at the promises Justin Trudeau made on the campaign trail only to renege on them in short order after he won. He was proclaiming what we most wanted in order to get our votes but he had no intention of delivering what he so earnestly promised. Electoral reform, an end to hazmat pipelines, proper consultation with First Nations, real action on climate change and more. Then, after Trudeau won a solid majority and was in a perfect position to deliver on his commitments, a road littered with broken promises and unconvincing excuses and apologies. 

As Harris observes, there's "a direct line between data and distrust" that leads to "a crisis of public confidence in democracy itself."

Is CETA Toast? The European Court of Justice Strikes Down ISDS.


When it comes to free trade, our politicians have never balked at surrendering state sovereignty to the corporate sector through ISDS or Investor/State Dispute Resolution clauses.

The rules have already been successfully used by businesses to sue countries countless times. Notable cases include French corporation Veolia suing the Egyptian government for raising the minimum wage, and US tobacco giant Philip Morris suing Australia after its government brought in plain cigarette packaging. 
As these ISDS tribunals exist outside normal court system, including Europe’s judicial system, the European Court of Justice ruled that they are incompatible with EU law. 
ISDS is best known as being part of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a planned EU-US agreement that sparked protests on both sides of the Atlantic. The rule is also found in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a similarly controversial deal between the EU and Canada, which has not been fully implemented yet because of disagreements over ISDS. 
The ruling means TTIP is now “dead in the water”, campaigners say, and it’s also hoped to “spell the end of CETA as we know it”. 
“ISDS not only violates EU law, it is also dangerous for democracy, taxpayer money and much needed policies, for example, to combat climate change. Now is the time to stamp out the excessive corporate privileges once and for all,” Pia Eberhardt, CEO of Corporate Europe Observatory, told Big Issue North. 

When They Say "Job Churn" They Really Mean "Serfdom"



Whether it's electoral reform, bitumen pipelines, or even job security, the Trudeau government has an infuriating "well, that's just the way it is" attitude. Okay, we're sorry but that's the way it is.

Morneau wasn't joking when he dropped it on Canadians that they had to accept a future of "job churn" - hopping from one short-term job to the next and hoping not to miss too many paycheques along the potholed path.

Contract work. Short-term. No benefits, nothing. And then, on to the next - if you're lucky. Feel the churn.

There'll be two classes of Canadians: the job churners and those spared that economic indignity, people like Morneau and his prime minister.

Chris Hedges calls it what it is, "serfdom."

Corporate capitalism is establishing a neofeudal serfdom in numerous occupations, a condition in which there are no labor laws, no minimum wage, no benefits, no job security and no regulations. Desperate and impoverished workers, forced to endure 16-hour days, are viciously pitted against each other. Uber drivers make about $13.25 an hour. In cities like Detroit this falls to $8.77. Travis Kalanick, the former CEO of Uber and one of the founders, has a net worth of $4.8 billion. Logan Green, the CEO of Lyft, has a net worth of $300 million.
The corporate elites, which have seized control of ruling institutions including the government and destroyed labor unions, are re-establishing the inhumane labor conditions that characterized the 19th and early 20th centuries. When workers at General Motors carried out a 44-day sit-down strike in 1936, many were living in shacks that lacked heating and indoor plumbing; they could be laid off for weeks without compensation, had no medical or retirement benefits and often were fired without explanation. When they turned 40 their employment could be terminated. The average wage was about $900 a year at a time when the government determined that a family of four needed a minimum of $1,600 to live above the poverty line.
I began an essay the other day with the unusually long title, "First They Captured Legislators. Then They Captured Regulators. Before Long They Captured Presidents and Prime Ministers. Now They're Capturing Our Elections, Our Votes, Our Democracy."

I was inspired by an article in The New Yorker about shady billionaire, Robert Mercer, the guy who floated Cambridge Analytica. He exemplifies what I had been reading for years about corporatism, namely that corporatism doesn't seek to influence government. It wants to own government.

Mercer [is] emblematic of a major shift in American politics that has occurred since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling, and several subsequent ones, removed virtually all limits on how much money corporations and nonprofit groups can spend on federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political-action committees. Since then, power has tilted away from the two main political parties and toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.
Private money has long played a big role in American elections. When there were limits on how much a single donor could give, however, it was much harder for an individual to have a decisive impact. Now, Potter said, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He continued, “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”
It began by delaminating the bond between voters and those they elected to power. Corporatism insinuates itself into the gap, creating an often unbridgeable chasm between legislators and the voting public. It goes from legislative capture to regulatory capture where regulated industries are able to stack the regulatory boards with their handpicked representatives, a gross corruption that we have seen even in Canada. The little guy essentially gets dealt out.

This is where progressivism should come into play. Progressivism envisions government in service to the populace. It is government that restrains corporatism rather than falling in league with it. It is governance that constantly balances the competing interests of labour and capital in a manner that recognizes, of the two, labour to be the most important, just as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed. It recognizes that workers who have neither job security nor adequate incomes cannot provide the nation, their communities, even their families with the full benefit of their service. They cannot be the citizens the nation needs them to be.

It's a matter of priorities and principles not to be found in our political leadership today. Hedges, of course, advocates revolution. I'm finding it more difficult with each passing year to dispute that.

Yes, Yes, We Know. But What Are We Going to Do About It?


So we're ruining the world's farmland. Great. Now what are we going to do about it?

First of all, it's a global problem. In some places it's worse than others, much worse. Yet even good farmland is becoming degraded.

I was introduced to this several years ago when I did a couple of online courses on global food security. Some of the assigned readings were surprisingly interested and I went beyond the designated chapters to discover troubling information about soils degradation mainly due to the use of agricultural chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides) and intensive, industrial agriculture - the Green Revolution.  In many places soil was being worked to exhaustion, transforming arable farmland into desert.

Then, in 2014, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released what should have been an alarming wakeup call. Their report warned that mankind had 60 harvests remaining. Here is some helpful (I hope) background information.

50%, that's the number bandied about. The International Energy Agency says humans will need some 50% more energy by 2050. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and several other august bodies figure we'll need 50% more agricultural production to feed the global herd by 2050.
2050, might as well be 2550, I'll be long dead by then, You might too. That 2050 stuff doesn't tend to go to the top of our priority list. But what about 2018? Surely that's a little more relevant.

Today we've been given an update on the current state of global soils degradation

Land degradation is undermining the wellbeing of two-fifths of humanity, raising the risks of migration and conflict, according to the most comprehensive global assessment of the problem to date. 
The UN-backed report underscores the urgent need for consumers, companies and governments to rein in excessive consumption – particularly of beef – and for farmers to draw back from conversions of forests and wetlands, according to the authors. 
With more than 3.2 billion people affected, this is already one of the world’s biggest environmental problems and it will worsen without rapid remedial action, according to Robert Scholes, co-chair of the assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “As the land base decreases and populations rise, this problem will get greater and harder to solve,” he said. 
The IPBES study, launched in MedellĂ­n on Monday after approval by 129 national governments and three years of work by more than 100 scientists, aims to provide a global knowledge base about a threat that is less well-known than climate change and biodiversity loss, but closely connected to both and already having a major economic and social impact. 
The growing sense of alarm was apparent last year when scientists warned fertile soil was being lost at the rate of 24bn tonnes a year, largely due to unsustainable agricultural practices.

3.2 B-illion already impacted - here, now, as we live and breathe - and this is just the early onset stuff. We're losing 24 B-illion tonnes of fertile soil every year. To put that in perspective, it takes nature, depending on the local ecology, from 500 to 1,000 years to produce 3 cms., just over an inch, of topsoil. In other words, nature will not be getting us out of this fix.
Drawing on more than 3,000 scientific, government, indigenous and local knowledge sources, the authors estimate [early onset] land degradation costs more than 10% of annual global GDP in lost ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and agricultural productivity. They say it can raise the risks of flooding, landslides and diseases such as Ebola and the Marburg virus.

To counter this, the authors call for coordination among ministries to encourage sustainable production and for the elimination of agricultural subsidies that promote land degradation. They urge consumers to reduce waste and be more thoughtful about what they eat. Vegetables have a much lower impact on land than beef. Farmers are encouraged to raise productivity rather than clear more land. Companies and governments are advised to accelerate efforts to rehabilitate land. There have been several successful projects on China’s Loess plateau, in the Sahel and in South Africa. 
The economic case for land restoration is strong, according to the report, which says benefits (such as jobs and business spending) are 10 times higher than costs, and up to three times higher than price of inaction. But in most regions, remedial work is overdue. National governments are not living up to a global commitment to neutral land degradation by 2030.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

Democracy Under Attack. Are You Ready to Fight Back?


Once again we need to look at what's happening in the United States and decide whether we will allow it to happen here.

There's now clear evidence that a hostile power, Russia, made some considerable strides in manipulating the 2066 presidential election. Russia was out to sow chaos and, if possible, undermine the Hillary Clinton campaign while giving Donald Trump a leg up to the White House.

And, yes, there is evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in this effort.

While that was underway, American democracy was also under attack from within. What had once been the remit of dirty tricksters, the Atwaters and the Roger Stones, went high tech and on a massive scale. Enter Cambridge Analytica, hatched in Britain; funded by a shady American billionaire, Robert Mercer; and directed by Mercer's clone, his daughter, Rebekah, and rightwing extremist, Steve Bannon.

In a nutshell, Cambridge worked to manipulate American voters. They used what were essentially brainwashing techniques through social media and relentless, targeted advertising aimed at confusing and discouraging Clinton supporters while inflaming by playing on the fears of undecided voters and Trump supporters. To evangelists they presented Hillary as the servant of Satan. To bigots they labeled Clinton as an open door for illegal migrants. They branded her a criminal and fueled the "lock her up" mantra.

The Guardian addresses the basic problem as a mortal threat to democracy itself.
British electoral law is based on two principles. First, that elections should achieve a level playing field in terms of resource; parties and candidates face national and local spending limits. Second, that elections should be conducted under conditions of openness and transparency: candidates have to be transparent about the material they are using to communicate with voters, and it is illegal to make false claims in that material.

The ability to spend large sums on micro-targeted advertising based on revealing data harvested from voters’ social media profile removes much of that transparency. If the material in question goes unseen by the vast majority of voters, it becomes harder to track exactly what a party is putting out, so easier to put out false claims, and for spending to go undeclared, particularly when the money is channelled through little-known intermediaries. Social media platforms are overtaking the national and local press as the channels through which politicians communicate with voters, but they perform that function without the same level of scrutiny, regardless of their own ideological or business interests. Anomalies abound. Broadcast advertising is banned; yet advertising on YouTube – where videos can garner more viewers than primetime television – is unlimited so long as it is within spending limits.

But this goes beyond the regulation of democratic processes, to the very nature of democracy itself. Public deliberation and debate are the lifeblood of a healthy, functioning democracy: this manifests itself in parties that run campaigns with broad appeal; in wide-ranging, public platforms that provide a basis on which voters can hold governments to account.
The trend towards micro-targeting risks moving us further away from the democracy of the public forum, towards a fractured, individualised democracy in which “swing voters” are targeted based on narrow issues, using false claims or under-the-radar dog-whistling that are not subjected to public scrutiny. Meanwhile, voters seen as already decided, or insignificant to the result, go ignored. 
In the United States, false claims about another candidate are the bread and butter of election campaigning. Trump lied his way through the campaign and he hasn't stopped ever since.

Britain has electoral laws intended to stop liars like the Cheeto Benito in his tracks. The Canada Elections Act has one similar prohibition:
91 No person shall, with the intention of affecting the results of an election, knowingly make or publish any false statement of fact in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate or prospective candidate.
Yet today when electoral skulduggery crosses borders, even continents, effortlessly and readily lends itself to cyber-crime, we need something far better than the feeble enactment we have on our books.

What if Trump thought it in America's interests to do to Canadian voters in 2019 what Russia did to American voters in 2016? It's not like America has an impressive record when it comes to staying "hands off" in other countries' elections.

The Guardian (Observer) concludes:
asking questions about transparency and fairness is driven not by a partisan wish to overturn a referendum result, but the desire for a critical debate about whether our electoral laws, and ultimately our democracy, remain fit for purpose. Left or right; remain or leave: this debate concerns democrats from all political traditions.
With our own general election a year away, isn't it time we assessed our own electoral laws and our own democracy to ensure they remain fit for purpose?

Are We Witnessing the Resurrection of "The Project"?



In 2006, I succumbed to a moment of hubris and announced the death of neo-conservatism, broken on the wheel of ruinous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The horrific experiment that erupted from the Project for the New American Century had seemingly, blessedly derailed. There was hope that sanity and prudence might return to America as it had in the wake of the Viet Nam war disaster.

The Project (PNAC) promoted a vision of a world under America's thumb. It advocated the use of American military force, pre-emptively if necessary, to thwart any nation or group of nations that might rise to challenge American dominance economically or militarily. Their America would ride roughshod over the world, friend and adversary alike, through the threat and use of military force.

If you're not familiar with PNAC, here's a pretty good documentary:



PNAC was a gathering place for the bellicose right, a rogues' gallery of extremists, including Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Frank Gaffney, Scooter Libby, Norman Podorhetz, Elliot Cohen, Elliot Abrahams, and Richard Perle.
Oh yeah, and John Bolton, Trump's new national security advisor.

In recent months Trump has been busy purging moderates from his White House team. Gary Cohn, gone, replaced by "Wrong Way" Kudlow. H.R. McMaster, gone, replaced by John Bolton. Rex Tillerson, gone, replaced by "uber-hawk" Mike Pompeo. Pompeo replaced at the CIA by Gina Haspel, a.k.a. Ilse She-Wolf of the SS, "a CIA loyalist who ran a torture site for George W. Bush and authorized the destruction of videotapes documenting what the CIA was doing."

Harvard prof, Stephen Walt, doesn't think the Bolton appointment is going to advance Trump's agenda.

Instead, whether Trump knows it or not, putting Bolton, Pompeo, and Haspel in key positions looks more like a return to “Cheneyism,” by which I mean a foreign policy that inflates threats, dismisses serious diplomacy, thinks allies are mostly a burden, is contemptuous of institutions, believes that the United States is so powerful that it can just issue ultimatums and expect others to cave, and believes that a lot of thorny foreign-policy problems can be solved by just blowing something up...
 I’m not trying to “normalize” this appointment or suggest that it shouldn’t concern you. Rather, I’m suggesting that if you are worried about Bolton, you should ask yourself the following question: What sort of political system allows someone with his views to serve in high office, where he helps talk the country into a disastrous war, never expresses a moment’s regret for his errors, continues to advocate for more of the same for the next decade, and then gets a second chance to make the same mistakes again?
So by all means worry. But the real problem isn’t Bolton — it’s a system that permits people like him to screw up and move up again and again.
Trump's picks are hard line neo-cons, each a fitting tribute to the Project for a New American Century. The Rampaging Right Rides Again. This is not the crew you should want whispering into the president's ear, especially this president's ear, in a time of superpower transition. This is the crew you absolutely don't want in the White House.

Our Least Recognized Existential Threat - Over Consumption



We tend to hear a lot about climate change and a fair bit about overpopulation but we hear less about our rapacious and, for the moment, growing over consumption of our planet's resources. This handy little graph (that I use so often) illustrates the problem.


That dotted black line is nature. It's nature's ecological carrying capacity. That's as much as nature can provide.

That red line, that's us. It reflects our pattern of consumption. Where the red line first crosses the dotted black line represents our maximum sustainable consumption level. When we go past it - and we've been doing that since the early70s - we begin to degrade Earth's carrying capacity. It ends in civilizational collapse which, hard as it is to say, is where we're heading.

Echoing that cheerful news is a new report on biodiversity out of the UN.

Human destruction of nature is rapidly eroding the world’s capacity to provide food, water and security to billions of people, according to the most comprehensive biodiversity study in more than a decade.

Among the standout findings are that exploitable fisheries in the world’s most populous region – the Asia-Pacific – are on course to decline to zero by 2048; that freshwater availability in the Americas has halved since the 1950s and that 42% of land species in Europe have declined in the past decade.
Just like those other scientists we love to ignore, the climate change types with their endless warnings that we're hopelessly screwed if we don't rapidly wean ourselves off fossil fuels (haven't they heard how much bitumen we've got?), the over consumption wizards say the time to address their existential threat arrived a long time ago. Like their climate science colleagues they note that government is aware of the problem, understands what's at stake, but simply will not act.

“The time for action was yesterday or the day before,” said Robert Watson, the chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which compiled the research. “Governments recognise we have a problem. Now we need action, but unfortunately the action we have now is not at the level we need.” 
“We must act to halt and reverse the unsustainable use of nature or risk not only the future we want but even the lives we currently lead,” he added.
They know the culprit. That's you (and, yes, they mentioned you by name).
The rate of decline is moreover accelerating. In the Americas – which has about 40% of the world’s remaining biodiversity – the regional population is gobbling up resources at twice the rate of the global average. Despite having 13% of the people on the planet, it is using a quarter of the resources, said Jake Rice, a co-chair of the Americas assessment. 
Since the start of colonisation by Europeans 500 years ago, he said 30% of biodiversity has been lost in the region. This will rise to 40% in the next 10 years unless policies and behaviours are transformed. 
It will take fundamental change in how we live as individuals, communities and corporations,” he said. “We keep making choices to borrow from the future to live well today. We need a different way of thinking about economics with a higher accountability of the costs in the future to the benefits we take today,” Rice said. 
“It’s because of us,” added Mark Rounsevell, co-chair of the European assessment. “We are responsible for all of the declines of biodiversity. We need to decouple economic growth from degradation of nature. We need to measure wealth beyond economic indicators. GDP only goes so far.
Unfortunately, Jack Rice has it all wrong. We don't "borrow" from the future as he alleges. Borrowing means taking with an intention to return. We don't borrow from our children and grandchildren. What we're doing is outright, willful theft.

Rounsevell has a better take. We absolutely must "decouple economic growth from degradation of nature." We do need different ways to measure and pursue progress. GDP, which Justin Trudeau, like his predecessors, still worships, is or soon will lead to catastrophe. Why he's no more enlightened on that than Harper continues to mystify me.

There  is still plenty of room for growth. There's lots of room for growth that will benefit us, growth that will improve our quality of life. It's just not growth in production, consumption and waste. We can and should cut GDP. One great way is to make consumer goods that last, products that are repairable and upgradeable throughout their extended lifespan. That comes down to a matter of choice. We can also grow - infinite growth - in knowledge. We don't have to descend into Idiocracy. We can choose enlightenment, the road to ever greater quality and enjoyment of life. We can find the means to live within the finite limits of our environment, our ecology, because living outside it as we have been these past four decades will end us.

It's a pretty obvious choice, isn't it?


Okay, Don, And Where is Clarence Darrow?


To hear the Mango Mussolini tell it, Donald Trump is up to his cellulite in top legal talent just waiting to sink their fangs into failing Robert Mueller and his team of crack second rate prosecutors. It's all he can do to hold Team Trump back.


So, senior counsel John Dowd is gone, resigned, so what? He's always got "Joey Short Pants" diGenova on loan from FOX News, right? Wrong? He's got a case of the conflicts? Oh, dear.

Besides, Trump still has his remaining lawyer, Jay Sekulow, at his side who sounds like Trump's kind of grifter.

“Don’t believe the Fake News narrative that it is hard to find a lawyer who wants to take this on,” the president cautioned. “Fame & fortune will NEVER be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted.” 
He added: “Problem is that a new ... lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country – and I am very happy with my existing team.”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

AggregateIQ and Brexit, the Canadian Connection Partly Explained. Alleged Campaign Expense Violations.


Just what everyone needs. Three or four new names to add to the snowballing cast of characters in the AggregateIQ/Brexit/Cambridge Analytica/Trump campaign scandal. Not only is the volume of names hard to keep track of, you can't tell just yet anyway who may be important and who is just another face.

British electoral law prohibits co-ordination between different campaign organisations, which must all comply with spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, they must have a shared cap on spending. Vote Leave strongly denies any such co-ordination.
Sanni says that after the commission opened an investigation last March, Victoria Woodcock, the operations director for Vote Leave, deleted herself, campaign director Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave’s digital director, Henry de Zoete, from dozens of files on the drive Vote Leave shared with BeLeave to hide the fact of co-ordination. On a blog post on Friday, Cummings said this was “factually wrong and libellous”. Vote Leave say staff acted “ethically, responsibly and legally in deleting any data”. It is not known whether she was acting under instruction.

Most of the £625,000 donation went to a Canadian data company called AggregateIQ, which has links to Cambridge Analytica, the firm that used harvested Facebook data to build a political targeting system in the US. Christopher Wylie, the former CA employee turned whistleblower, said that at the time of the referendum, the Canadian firm was operating “almost as an internal department of Cambridge Analytica”.

AIQ would eventually soak up about a third of all Vote Leave’s official spending, receiving £2.7m from the group in addition to the money that came via BeLeave. The firm also received £100,000 from Veterans for Britain and £32,750 from the DUP. After the referendum, Cummings stated on AIQ’s website: “Without a doubt, the Vote Leave campaign owes a great deal of its success to the work of Aggregate IQ. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The gist of the story is that the Leave campaign used a youth group, BeLeave, to circumvent spending limit laws.

Shahmir Sanni’s central claim concerns a donation of £625,000 that Vote Leave ostensibly made to an independent referendum campaign organisation called BeLeave. He claims the money, channelled to a digital services firm linked to the controversial Cambridge Analytica firm, violated election rules because it was not a genuine donation.
The money was registered by BeLeave with election authorities as a donation from Vote Leave to an independent youth operation. Sanni says BeLeave shared offices with Vote Leave – fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – which in practice offered advice and assistance to the group and helped them to decide where their cash would be spent.
British electoral law prohibits co-ordination between different campaign organisations, which must all comply with spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, they must have a shared cap on spending. Vote Leave strongly denies any such co-ordination.
Sanni says that after the commission opened an investigation last March, Victoria Woodcock, the operations director for Vote Leave, deleted herself, campaign director Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave’s digital director, Henry de Zoete, from dozens of files on the drive Vote Leave shared with BeLeave to hide the fact of co-ordination. On a blog post on Friday, Cummings said this was “factually wrong and libellous”. Vote Leave say staff acted “ethically, responsibly and legally in deleting any data”. It is not known whether she was acting under instruction.
If Leave was using BeLeave as a proxy, a straw man for the purpose of circumventing campaign spending laws, that could undermine the legitimacy of the Brexit vote to leave the EU.

I expect some day this will all make sense to somebody.