Monday, April 30, 2018

Think Of It As a Glacier the Size Of Britain.

Glaciers are typically an ice sheet sitting atop some hard surface, usually rock. With climate change they've been retreating, melting, turning that ice into runoff water that finds its way to the sea. Here's a great video illustrating the problem.

Climate change is having a similar effect at the south pole where they have a lot more ice, way more. When that goes it's essentially game over for port cities and seaside towns around the world.

West Antarctica hosts the Thwaites glacier which is about the size of Britain. Scientists now fear that glacier may be resting atop a giant rocky bump. They think it may be about to fall off that bump into the sea fairly abruptly, i.e. over the next decade or two.

British and American experts are launching the largest joint mission for more than 70 years to investigate how long the 113,000 square-mile Thwaites Glacier can last in its current form. 
A fleet of research ships, submarines and aircraft and more than 80 scientists will be dispatched to the remote west Antarctic region later this year following warnings the ice structure could collapse within decades.

Glaciologists predict the collapse of both Thwaites and the nearby Pine Island Glacier, two of the largest and fastest retreating on the continent, could cause sea levels to rise by over one metre. 
However, this could then trigger the collapse of the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet, meaning ocean rises of more than three metres.
Remember this is extra sea level rise atop the one to three metres already predicted by the end of this century.

Three metres, ten feet, that doesn't sound like that much of a problem does it? I suppose not unless you live on some Pacific atoll or the Maldives or any of the world's great port cities or Miami or the Florida Keys or much of the Caribbean or my own little town. Oh shit.

The Vancouver That Might Have Been. A Tribute to the Legend, Harry Rankin.

Most Vancouverites of a certain vintage remember 1986 as the year that begat the ruin of their once magnificent city.

It was the year of Expo 86, the World's Fair that transformed Vancouver thereafter for better and for worse but mainly, by a large margin, for worse.

The struggle for the future of Vancouver came down to the mayoralty race that pitted developer and future premier, Gordon Campbell, against socialist lawyer and activist, Harry Rankin. The Tyee has an article about a new film being released paying tribute to Rankin's life and times.

Harry Rankin was a Second World War veteran, criminal lawyer, Vancouver city councillor and socialist icon. He was described in a 2002 Globe and Mail obituary as “loud, profane, bombastic, ungracious and unforgettable.” If this larger-than-life legend and fighter for underdogs had succeeded in his campaign to become mayor of Vancouver in 1986, the city would have gone in a very different direction.
“I have a great capacity to be indignant about other people’s problems, and I have a great capacity, I suppose, to deal with other people’s problems,” says Rankin in the film. “And it seems to me that’s what I should be doing. I don’t know, what makes a dog bark? He’s built that way. What makes me defend? I’m built that way.”
Harry Rankin and Gordon Campbell presented very distinct and different views. 
Harry wanted protections for renters and he wanted affordable housing. He wanted social housing in the proposed development on the Expo lands and to make them accessible to all people, not just those who could afford it. 
Then there was the Gordon Campbell view, totally market-focused. In the film footage, Campbell said a lot about taking advantage of opportunity and of wanting to open B.C. and Vancouver up for business. It was a different paradigm than what Harry was working with. 
Campbell won, Rankin lost and so did Vancouver.

I first met Harry Rankin at the Vancouver courthouse. As a newly minted lawyer I was in the barristers' lounge getting my gear on (in those days it was fashionable to have starched shirts with separate wing collars secured with silver studs, front and back). Harry had grabbed a nearby locker and was also getting his clobber on. Out of the blue he engaged me in a really delightful, humour and profanity-laced conversation. In the years following when we ran into each other at the courthouse we usually stopped for a few minutes just to shoot the breeze. That was the entirety of our connection and I always felt happy for it.

Great. Remind Justin of How He Is So Unlike His Father.

Oh, oh, oh, feel the burn.

The Tyee has published a letter Jeanne Mikita received from prime minister Trudeau's office written 19 February, 1970. She thought so much of it she decided to send a copy to the current occupant of that name, Justin.

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

I discovered a letter from the Office of the Prime Minister of 1970 in an old cardboard “memory box” in our basement. 
I remember the circumstances of the original correspondence well. At 11 years old I was just starting to form indignant opinions about polluters and a passion for environmental causes. One fall evening, as our family returned home to Vancouver on Highway 99 alongside Howe Sound, the air was foggy and heavy with the pungent aroma of a pulp mill. My dad pointed out the source of the smog and smell, Woodfibre mill, across the water. As I launched into a tirade against industrial polluters, my dad squelched my commentary by chiding, “Why don’t you write to the prime minister?” So I did. 
Your father’s secretary, Henry Lawless (a great name), wrote me back, and included several excerpts from speeches that Prime Minister Trudeau had given on environmental issues and pollution. The language was a bit beyond my comprehension at the time, but I understood enough to gather that this was an important issue and that our government was on top of it. I was impressed, and considered becoming prime minister some day.
Reading Pierre Trudeau’s remarks today, I’m struck by his foresight on issues like protection of fragile Arctic landscapes, and the capability of humans to push our species and others into extinction. While speaking of the Arctic, he said, “We do not doubt for a moment that the rest of the world would find us at fault, and hold us liable, should we fail to ensure adequate protection of that environment from pollution or artificial deterioration.” His words can apply to any number of instances today where Canada faces derision for pursuing destructive pathways for short term economic gain.

Your father also speaks of the danger of appearing “to live by a double standard. We cannot at the same time that we are urging other countries to adhere to regimes designed for the orderly conduct of international activities, pursue policies inconsistent with that order simply because to do so in a given instance appears to be to our brief advantage.” Did he foresee the pipeline debate?
In these days of incivility in the House and press conferences with controlled messages, the eloquence of your father’s remarks is refreshing. I especially like his reference to environmental protection as “an act of sanity in an increasingly irresponsible world.”
...we need strong leaders, who (in the words of the PM in 1969) “will not barter a clean and wholesome environment for industrial or commercial growth and call it progress.” My 11-year-old self would never have believed that 50 years later our governments would be continuing to prop up the extraction and export of fossil fuels, rather than leaping to embrace the green future that awaited us.

Appended to Mikita's letter to just-in is a pdf of the 7 pages of excerpts from Trudeau's speeches and remarks. They're well worth reading, very helpful to put Trudeau Mk. 2 into context.

There's More Than a Little Trump in Trudeau

He must know he's seen as a bit of a shitbird out here which would explain why Justin Trudeau made sure to get his ass to Vancouver to announce that Amazon is expanding its tech hub, adding another 3,000 tech jobs to its B.C. operations.

"Hey guys, look at me, look at me. Amazon. 3,000 tech jobs. It had to be me. Forget about that pipeline. Pretend you don't see those supertankers wallowing right past your office. 3,000 jobs. Good news. Look at me, look at me. Anybody want a selfie? Look at me."

Trudeau did it up in true Trump style. He even had a gaggle of tech nerds arranged in bleachers as a backdrop for the announcement.

"Hey, look at me. Have you looked at me yet? Look, it's me. Hey, did you see these guys behind me? They're real nerds. I got nerds. Look at me."

Saturday, April 28, 2018

An Excellent Introduction to Neoliberalism. How Our Political Caste Came to Serve the Special Interest Over the Public Interest.

The first thing you need to know about neoliberalism is that it's made up. It's an economic ideology, one of a succession of belief-based theories that have come and gone on a 30 to 40-year cycle for the past two centuries. It is a belief-based construct, similar to other philosophies or faith-based religions. Neoliberalism has, for a number of very bad reasons, become deeply embedded and remarkably hard to shake off even though it failed and has triggered a variety of destructive social outcomes including inequality, the accumulation of economic and political power in the hands of a few and the weakening of liberal democracy. It isn't finished wreaking havoc on our society and our politicians do not even raise a finger to stop it.

A lot of us see neoliberalism, manifested in the rise of market power and the spread of globalism, as a plague on society. It is a plague on democratic society. That purpose was forged almost a century ago in Austria as it emerged from the ashes of WWI.

With the end of the war, Austria became a democratic republic, and socialist candidates won repeated victories in its cosmopolitan capital, Vienna. From 1918 to 1934, “Red” Vienna became a model city for democratic socialism, with social housing and expanded schooling for children and adults, all protected by a militant labor movement. The city inspired one resident, Karl Polanyi, to a lifelong defense of social democracy. Red Vienna, he wrote, caused “a moral and intellectual rise in the condition of a highly developed industrial working class,” which “achieved a level never reached before by the masses of the people in any industrial society.”

...Ludwig von Mises, an economist in the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, wanted to restore free trade and the sanctity of property. The prewar version of the Austro-Hungarian empire became a point of reference for Mises and those who joined the study circle he organized: It had been a multi-ethnic empire that lowered barriers to trade while not insisting on cultural homogeneity. A relatively small, landlocked place like Austria, they reasoned, could never be economically self-sufficient in the industrial age. It had to be open to the world market, and to succeed there it would have to be competitive.

The labor movement, then, was a further obstacle to the realization of Mises’s project. The same forces that inspired Polanyi, Mises found oppressive. Labor unions marched in the streets, demanding higher-than-market wages and lower-than-market housing. The city kept budgets balanced with high and progressive taxes, and businesses fared about as well as elsewhere in Austria. But social housing undermined the position of landlords, and the bourgeoisie felt targeted by taxes on conspicuous consumption. For a time, there was even a dog tax that scaled upward with the breed and pedigree of the dog. Mises saw Red Vienna as a standoff between the power of labor and the power of capital. He was pleased when an anti-fascist uprising was violently suppressed in 1927—leaving dozens dead and more than a thousand injured—since it broke the power of the social democratic masses to mobilize. 
Democracy, for Mises, was not an absolute value to be respected at all times. It was a good system insofar as it made peaceful, gradual change possible. Democracy’s “function is to make peace,” he wrote, “to avoid violent revolutions.” When it failed in that task, Mises thought that enforcing order by other means was preferable to letting democracy destroy the economic foundations of prosperity, as he understood them. Although it is frequently said that neoliberals want a weak state, in which the market can be left to do most of the work, that is not quite correct. Against the enemies of the market—economic nationalism and democratic demands—the state has to play a role, mostly by creating a system of laws that protects property and by representing enough force to deter challenges
The neoliberals sought to “encase” markets, not to liberate them. Their project was not anarchy: It was a global system that sufficiently ordered the world so that capitalism would be safe from certain forms of political interference. Friedrich Hayek, who had worked under Mises, imagined an organization independent of any one country that would set the rules of the market. Hayek envisioned separate cultural and economic governments: The former would satisfy the demand for mass participation, while the latter would make sure that democratic enthusiasms did not interfere with the functioning of markets across the world. The neoliberal world, “is not a borderless market without states but a doubled world kept safe from mass demands for social justice and redistributive equality by the guardians of the economic constitution.” Neoliberalism places property, in other words, beyond the reach of democracy.
In the wake of the next world war, the leading neoliberals formed the Mont Pelerin Society.  The neoliberal world view became clear from their approach to the apartheid regime of South Africa and the rise of Pinochet in Chile.

Hayek himself called apartheid “both an injustice and an error.” The system interfered, after all, with the allocation of resources, by keeping black Africans from participating in free markets and preventing them from the most efficient application of their talents and labor. Yet granting black South Africans suffrage rights would inevitably lead to a reordering of property relations, since the black majority would favor reclaiming land that had been taken by white settlers. This was unacceptable in Hayek’s view. 
Within the Mont Pelerin Society, the problem of how to end colonialism without destroying property rights was much debated. The English economist William Hutt imagined that voting power in postapartheid South Africa could be made proportional to economic weight. Milton Friedman agreed that one man, one vote would be terrible for South Africa, and Hayek worried that putting sanctions on South Africa would upset the global order. They didn’t favor apartheid, but they were against almost anything that might bring it to an end. 
The story is a similar one in Chile. Hayek visited Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship twice and met with Pinochet once. During his second visit, Hayek told a Chilean newspaper that it was possible for a “dictator to govern in a liberal way,” and that he preferred a “liberal dictator to a democratic government lacking liberalism.” Given the widespread use of torture by Pinochet’s government, this has often been seen by critics of neoliberalism as a link between the intellectual architect of neoliberalism and authoritarian repression, while Hayek’s defenders have seen it as an aberration. In fact, it was simply consistent with the way that he saw the world: The socialism of Salvador Allende, whom Pinochet had overthrown, was democracy gone wrong. Restoring a market economy took priority over human rights and social justice. A dictatorship was not desirable, but he objected more to those who protested its abuses.
Neoliberalism in the 21st century.
The current rules all but ensure that governments act in the interests of capital, since, if businesses do not like a certain country’s policies (say, a proposal that corporations pay their fair share of taxes), they can disrupt the economy by abruptly withdrawing from that country. Preserving the rights of capital is the goal, even when that means sacrificing democratic demands. That is why our world is a more neoliberal one than it once was, and why it matters. However fractious and internally contradictory neoliberal thought may be, and however overused it can be as a term, it is describing something real. 
It is the nature of ideologies to see some things clearly and place other things out of view—to serve up a combination of useful concepts and to conceal self-interest. Sets of ideas that become influential can usually do a great deal of the latter. The point is surely not that neoliberalism is wrong about everything: It makes sense to seek to avoid hyperinflation, for example, and it is reasonable to note that price fluctuations in market economies provide information to consumers and business owners about how to behave—if apples become scarce, and their price goes up, consumers can substitute, say, cheaper oranges.
...But the things that neoliberalism has trouble seeing are, at the present, far more consequential: deep inequalities, accompanied by a sense of powerlessness, of being left behind by a global system that operates with no regard for the interests or voice of the majority.  ...The rise of the far right in the United States and Europe cannot be explained solely as a reaction against neoliberal globalization (not least because many of its supporters are thriving economically), but the financial crisis of 2008—caused by inadequate regulation—did give the far right its opportunity to grow. 
Furthermore, the primacy of capital in neoliberalism means that crises will be resolved on the backs of the poor, with cuts to the welfare state and public services, though it is not the poor who cause them. Even the International Monetary Fund, which demanded austerity as a response to debt crises in the 1980s, now acknowledges that some neoliberal ideas have been oversold, concluding that increased inequality hurts “the level and sustainability of growth.” Similarly, much of the economics profession has moved on from neoliberalism, recognizing that there are many ways to operate a healthy economy. Dani Rodrik* points out that rich countries have public sectors ranging in size from 33 percent to nearly 60 percent of gross domestic product. A large state sector is not the antithesis of personal liberty: Indeed, it can sustain it.
What neoliberalism misses or ignores is that a world of apparently neutral rules is still a world of power inequalities. When capital has more freedom than people, serious democratic deficits are guaranteed. Voters may prefer a strong welfare state, but they may get austerity instead. In many nations, including the United States, the power of money in politics gives concentrated wealth a sword to hold over democracy’s neck.
It's important to realize that neoliberalism, despite its grip on the developed nations, is merely an ideology. Like any of the thousands of religions man has devised over the millennia, neoliberalism is a faith-based construct. It is not etched in stone. It did not come down from the mountains inscribed on tablets.

Neoliberalism is belief-based. Before his death, even America's leading neoliberal, Milton Friedman, admitted that neoliberalism was a failed experiment. It was an ideology, one that ascended to a cult-like status as it conquered the political arena. Friedman was telling the truth, it was deeply flawed and it has failed. Our political caste, however, are maintaining the status quo, keeping neoliberalism on life support despite the deep social injuries it inflicts. It's as though they can't imagine what follows and are waiting for the next ideological messiah to arrive. That day may never come.

In my view the antithesis of neoliberalism is progressivism, the belief in popular democracy espoused by Abraham Lincoln and the Roosevelts, Theodore and Franklin. It is progressivism that places labour ahead of capital. It is progressivism that holds capital and capitalism must advance the wellbeing of the state and its people. It is progressivism that does not shy away from wealth redistribution as championed by Theodore Roosevelt who said:
One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. 
At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.
I've looked around but I still can find nothing remotely as promising as a return to progressivism to heal the wounds inflicted on our society, our nation, by the neoliberals.

*It was Harvard economist Dani Rodrick who warned of what he called "the inescapable trilemma of the world economy":
democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three but never have all three simultaneously and in full
"...Historically, the rise of capitalism and the pressure for an ever-broader suffrage went together. This is why the richest countries are liberal democracies with, more or less, capitalist economies. Widely shared increases in real incomes played a vital part in legitimising capitalism and stabilising democracy. Today, however, capitalism is finding it far more difficult to generate such improvements in prosperity. On the contrary, the evidence is of growing inequality and slowing productivity growth. This poisonous brew makes democracy intolerant and capitalism illegitimate. 
"...Consider the disappointing recent performance of global capitalism, not least the shock of the financial crisis and its devastating effect on trust in the elites in charge of our political and economic arrangements. Given all this, confidence in an enduring marriage between liberal democracy and global capitalism seems unwarranted. 
"So what might take its place? One possibility would be the rise of a global plutocracy and so in effect the end of national democracies. As in the Roman empire, the forms of republics might endure but the reality would be gone. (Was it not Trudeau who declared Canada a "post national" country?)
"An opposite alternative would be the rise of illiberal democracies or outright plebiscitary dictatorships, in which the elected ruler exercises control over both the state and capitalists. This is happening in Russia and Turkey. Controlled national capitalism would then replace global capitalism. Something rather like that happened in the 1930s. It is not hard to identify western politicians who would love to go in exactly this direction. 
"...Meanwhile, those of us who wish to preserve both liberal democracy and global capitalism must confront serious questions. One is whether it makes sense to promote further international agreements that tightly constrain national regulatory discretion in the interests of existing corporations. My view increasingly echoes that of Prof Lawrence Summers of Harvard, who has argued that “international agreements [should] be judged not by how much is harmonised or by how many barriers are torn down but whether citizens are empowered”. Trade brings gains but cannot be pursued at all costs."
More recently, professor Rodrik, discussed populism. He distinguished negative from positive populism. Negative nationalism, the variety favoured by authoritarian and illiberal states, is a blend of paranoia and xenophobia. It posits the "other" as a threat. Positive nationalism is internal and focuses on what is right and good within one's nation and what can be done to make it better. Negative nationalism perceives the nation as awash in threats and perils. Positive nationalism works to improve.
If our economic rules empower corporations and financial interests excessively, then the correct response is to rewrite those rules — at home as well as abroad. If trade agreements serve mainly to reshuffle income to capital and corporations, the answer is to rebalance them to make them friendlier to labor and society at large. If governments feel themselves powerless to institute the tax policies and regulations needed to address the dislocations caused by economic and technological shocks, the solution is not just to seek more national autonomy but also to deploy it toward such reforms. 
A populism of this kind can seem like a frontal attack on the economic sacred cows of the day — just as earlier waves of American populism were. But it is an honest populism that stands a chance of achieving its stated objectives, without harming fundamental democratic norms of tolerance and equal citizenship.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Democracy's Achilles Heel

Some timely thoughts in Foreign Policy about why democracy is in retreat, especially in the United States. The author, Dambisa Moyo, is a political economist and tackles the failures of modern democracy as an economic restraint which seems a bit curious given that the United States is now nearing the point of effective full employment. A lot of his supporting arguments do, however, hold water even if his conclusion is questionable and they should be of concern to us all.
Only 19 percent of Americans today say they can trust their government to do what is right. Meanwhile, citizens in developing countries see authoritarian leaders as more trustworthy than democratic politicians. Increasingly, it seems that people across the globe are skeptical of the ability of democratic governments to act effectively — including as good custodians of the economy. Indeed, the liberal democratic system is unwittingly undermining the economic growth that is necessary for its continued survival. 
At the root of the problem is a predilection for short-​termism that has become embedded in the political and business culture of modern democracies. By design, Western politicians have relatively short political horizons; they are often in office for terms of less than five years. So they find their duties regularly interrupted by elections that distract from the job of addressing long-​term policy challenges. As a result, politicians are naturally and rationally drawn to focus their efforts on seducing their electorates with short-​term sweeteners — including economic policies designed to quickly produce favorable monthly inflation, unemployment, and GDP numbers. 
Voters generally favor policies that enhance their own well-​being with little consideration for that of future generations or for long-​term outcomes. Politicians are rewarded for pandering to voters’ immediate demands and desires, to the detriment of growth over the long term.Voters generally favor policies that enhance their own well-​being with little consideration for that of future generations or for long-​term outcomes. Politicians are rewarded for pandering to voters’ immediate demands and desires, to the detriment of growth over the long term.
Politicians are rewarded for pandering to voters’ immediate demands and desires, to the detriment of growth over the long term. 
Because democratic systems encourage such short-​termism, it will be difficult to solve many of the seemingly intractable structural problems slowing global growth without an overhaul of democracy.
One of the most fundamental obstacles to effective governance is the short electoral cycle embedded in many democratic systems. Frequent elections taint policymaking, as politicians, driven by the rational desire to win elections, opt for quick fixes that have a tendency to undermine long-term growth. Meanwhile, they neglect to address more entrenched, longer-​term economic challenges, such as worsening education standards, the imminent pension crisis, and deteriorating physical infrastructure, that don’t promise immediate political rewards.
Moyo sees America's infrastructure crisis as a manifestation of dsyfunctional democracy.
America’s failing infrastructure encapsulates the problem of both public and private myopia. A 2017 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the country a grade of D+ for overall infrastructure, citing 2,170 high-​hazard dams, 56,007 structurally deficient bridges (9.1 percent of the nation’s total), and $1 trillion in needed upgrades to drinking water systems over the next 25 years. 
At a minimum, the ASCE suggests that a $2 trillion investment is needed by 2020 to address the significant backlog of overdue maintenance and the pressing need for modernization. The effects of increased infrastructure investment on the prospects of low-​skilled labor could be substantial. Investing in infrastructure would have all sorts of other benefits, but the prevailing democratic political system discourages the sort of long-​term thinking necessary to do so. 
...Today, when it comes to infrastructure, China and India present a useful study in contrasts. Both countries needed roads to increase productivity. China built them, but India’s infrastructure programs got bogged down in red tape and political wrangling born of political fissures in its democratic system. Because vested interests in India have a stranglehold on policymaking and implementation, India’s democratic processes stifled decisions that could have helped drive economic growth. In the 2016-2017 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, India was ranked 68th of 138 countries for overall infrastructure, well behind China, which was ranked 42nd. 
...A second major obstacle to effective democratic governance is interest group lobbying, a feature in many liberal democracies that tends to interfere with the proper allocation of assets. In 2016, more than $3.15 billion was spent lobbying the U.S. Congress, roughly double the amount spent in 2000. Across sectors, lobbying by special interest groups has a discernible impact on public policy decisions in ways that negatively affect trade, infrastructure, and ultimately economic growth.
Curiously, Moyo refers to the environmentalist community lobbying Congress but makes not the slightest mention of how America's fossil fuelers won that battle a long, long time ago.
...Political cycles too often keep politicians beholden to the individuals and corporate interests that help fund their campaigns and to the vagaries of public opinion polling. And because democratic politics rests on political contributions, it widens the inequality between rich and poor. It is the use of wealth to influence political outcomes that helps inequality take root. Until democracies push back on the use of wealth to influence elections and policies, initiatives to address inequality will be blunted.
Some of Moyo's prescriptions are "fantastic" in the fullest sense of the word. He advocates for provisions that allow one government to bind future governments to its policies and treaty obligations. How does that apply to a bought and paid for government that has succumbed to legislative, executive, regulatory and even judicial "capture"? Can you imagine how the Koch brothers, the Coors clan and Sheldon Adelson would love to see their wishes chiseled into granite for all time?

Moyo tries to revive the notion of campaign finance reform. Those who buy government aren't allow that to happen. Sure they shell out billions of dollars in electoral graft but they know the returns make it enormously worthwhile to maintain transactional government. Besides, that's not a flaw of democracy. It's the very antithesis of liberal democracy. If that's what Moyo wants to achieve to restore democracy to the US, he should be campaigning for the overthrow of America's governments, federal and state.

The author then endorses paying politicians more, something akin to an executive salary, replete with bonuses. Sure that might cause them to eschew those white envelopes swollen with campaign cash.

One idea that does seem to have merit is to extend terms of office to correspond with economic cycles.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, there were 11 business cycles between 1945 and 2009. Each cycle — that is, a period of economic expansion followed by one of contraction — lasted an average of 69 months, or almost six years each. 
If politicians’ terms in office lasted roughly the same amount of time, policymakers would have an incentive to implement policies that would deliver growth over five to seven years and beyond, rather than one to three years. They would likely be thinking far enough ahead to know that an economic contraction was inevitably in the offing; they would work to soften its blow rather than, say, take advantage of flush times by enacting a big tax cut.
A controversial idea is the establishment of criteria to determine eligibility to run for office.
Such screening of candidates would exclude those who are narrowly political in their outlook because they lack real-​world experience. Democracies should set minimum standards for public officeholders, requiring candidates to have work experience outside the political realm — not only in business but in a range of “real world” jobs.
A 2012 study by the British House of Commons Library sheds further light on the rising trend of professional politicians who have little to no real-​world experience. The study finds that since 1983, the number of career politicians in Parliament — insiders who worked in politics in advance of their election — more than quadrupled from 20 to 90 between 1983 and 2010. Over the same period, the number of parliamentary representatives with a background in manual labor has dropped from more than 70 in 1983 to around 25 in 2010. The British system is now designed to favor those who serve as advisors or aides to politicians. 
But this professional political class has relatively little real-​world experience to inform economic decision-making. Its members are arguably more susceptible than most to catering to the whims of the voter at the expense of addressing longer-​term economic challenges. It’s simply what they have been trained to do. People with real-​world experience, on the other hand, are more likely to understand the sorts of policies that are needed in a modern economy than those conditioned on a diet of polls and political tactics.
Do you think he's met Stephen Harper?

Moyo's final reform is mandatory voting.
Finally, we must recognize that voters are ultimately responsible for the politicians they elect and the economic decisions those politicians make. And that’s why voting must be mandatory. In November 2014, only 36 percent of eligible voters in the United States cast a vote in the midterm elections — the lowest turnout in more than 70 years. In 2016, just 58 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot for president.
Americans could learn from other countries’ electoral systems. Many of the countries whose turnout rates are highest — including Australia, Singapore, Belgium, and Liechtenstein — enforce compulsory voting laws. 
Most often, compulsory voting is enforced through fines on those who don’t vote. Often, the penalty amounts to little more than a symbolic slap on the wrist. But even the threat of a small fine clearly has an impact, as rates of voter participation in these countries suggest. In Belgium, nonvoters are disenfranchised for 10 years after failing to vote in at least four elections within 15 years, and it is difficult to get a job within the public sector if you are a nonvoter. In Singapore, nonvoters must reapply to be included on the voting register, explaining why they did not cast a vote.

The smaller the electorate, the likelier that policies will favor the few — in most cases wealthier citizens who vote regularly. By creating the broadest possible electoral base, mandatory voting maximizes the quality of democracy, making it more efficient and enhancing economic policy outcomes. 
That said, countries where voting is mandatory but the population is not well informed can fall prey to populist policies that are inimical to longer-​term economic growth and success. It is therefore imperative to educate the population on the tradeoffs between short-​term gains and their costs to future growth. Voters must be nudged toward the right long-​term policy choices, rather than being swayed by personalities and short-​term fixes.
What makes this recommendation inadequate is that Moyo is speaking in terms of two-party governance. Therefore he omits the problem of "first past the post" false majorities which, by their very nature, are undemocratic. Moyo is not to be faulted for his proposal but those in multi-party states have to look a good deal past his reach.

As I touched on at the outset, Moyo is a political economist who sees democracy in the context of its ability to deliver perpetual, exponential growth. He plainly doesn't see that in the United States and, indeed, globally, the economy has grown vastly beyond the finite limits of the environment to the point where we're eating our seed corn. While some of his proposals have obvious merit for democratic restoration, his ultimate premise seems a bit fanciful for a world in which the economy now exceeds the planet's ecological carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7.

What Do The Tyee, the National Observer, DeSmogBlog and Elizabeth May Have in Common?

That's pretty easy. They're all British Columbian and, collectively, they have laid bare the scam that the Trudeau government is perpetrating on this province so that it can force through the Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline.

We all know the election campaign promises Trudeau used to hoodwink British Columbians into voting Liberal. The business about social licence, First Nations consultation, no pipelines without consent - lies, lies and lies. Boy, were we had by that earnest sounding little prig.

So Junior canceled Northern Gateway but went ahead and approved Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline across southern BC and straight through the Lower Mainland's munipalities, terminating at Burrard Inlet from which an armada of wallowing supertankers would transit the Vancouver waterfront through coal harbour and on into the sometimes treacherous and heavily trafficked Georgia Strait.

Justin knew it looked bad and smelled worse so he apologized and said it was a grand compromise between Ottawa and the Notley government. Only this wasn't between Ottawa and Edmonton.  It was British Columbia's coast and the right to put it at serious risk of irreparable environmental calamity that was the bargain, the prize for the deal between Ottawa and Edmonton. B.C. would damn well do as it was told.

Trudeau knew he couldn't rely on the rigged approvals of the industry-controlled National Energy Board. He had denounced the NEB as corrupt during his election campaign. So he announced his government would conduct a remedial assessment of the merits and safety of the Trans Mountain pipeline before deciding if it could go through.

A lot of us suspected that Trudeau was running a scam that, just like Harper, the fix would be in, but it took the National Observer to lay bare this prime minister's perfidy.

The fix was in. Trudeau's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was pre-ordained. The federal government's departments responsible for conducting the review were told what to write. They were told that their findings had to support the Kinder Morgan pipeline. 

Right before their internal meeting, federal officials met with Tsleil-Waututh representatives and told them that the government still hadn’t made a final decision on the project. But in the second meeting for government staffers only, public servants who were in the room said O’Gorman’s instructions were explicit. 
We have to give cabinet a legally-sound basis for saying yes,” O’Gorman said, according to people at the meeting.
Trudeau didn't hesitate to betray British Columbia yet again. It was an act of corruption totally befitting his predecessor, Shifty Steve Harper. Trudeau and Harper are very much cut from the same cloth and that may be unpleasant to Liberals but it's the truth.

It's more than passing curious that these revelations have all come out through British Columbia's excellent news outlets - The Tyee, the National Observer, DeSmogBlog - but there's been not a peep of this in the national, mainstream media - Postmedia, the Globe, TorStar, CBC, CTV, Global. It sort of reinforces the feeling that, in this fight, it's British Columbians versus this degraded nation.

It's one thing to be ashamed of a prime minister. In deeply divided societies it is almost inevitable that one group will be at odds with the national leader. It is something entirely different, something far worse, inexcusable when a prime minister gives the people extremely good cause to be ashamed of their country. No prime minister has any business doing that. Yet Harper did it and we roundly rebuked him for it. Trudeau was supposed to erase that stain and, for a brief while, it seemed he would. The stain is back. It's not treason but it is treachery.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Tell Us Something We Don't Know

The federal government isn't properly handling the risks that fish farms pose to wild salmon.

Trudeau's environmentalist-cred just took another shot thanks to Canada's environment commissioner.
In a series of new audits released Tuesday, environment commissioner Julie Gelfand takes a closer look at Canada’s management of the $1-billion salmon farming industry, which she warns is lacking when it comes to assessing the risk that diseases among farmed fish pose to wild salmon. 
The department has no requirement to monitor the health of wild salmon or the status of the ocean floor beneath penned salmon farms, said Gelfand, and the department is also providing better funding for research related to fish farms than it is for research to help monitor their impact. 
“The department is at risk of being seen to promote aquaculture over the protection of wild salmon,” Gelfand said after the reports were tabled in Parliament. 
"At risk"? No, no, no. The "at risk" moment passed by a long time ago. This government, just like its template, the Harper government, was seen as promoting aquaculture over the wild salmon years ago.
The research gaps are extensive enough that there’s no way to determine the impact of fish farms on wild fish, she said. Those gaps include a lack of knowledge about the risk of disease, as well as the impact of the drugs used to treat those diseases. Canada also lacks an impact threshold to determine when to shut down or limit fish farming, she added.

Canada also lacks standards for the nets used to contain farmed salmon in the ocean — a particular problem in the Atlantic, where heavy storms often batter salmon farms and destroy nets. 
In 2015, 40,000 salmon escaped from farms in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Better standards are in place in British Columbia, where fewer escapes have occurred, the report says. 
In response to Gelfand’s report, Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the government is “committed to ensuring all of her recommendations are acted upon and acted upon quickly.”
LeBlanc is playing possum. If he needed Gelfand's audit to realize the gravity and enormity of the farm fish problem he should explain what the hell he's been doing for the past two years. His supposed epiphany is utter bullshit.

Elizabeth May's Perfectly Reasonable Compromise

What if we could sort out the Athabasca Tar Sands in a way that would eliminate most of the hazards of that Carbon Bomb, increase employment and wealth in Canada, and at least improve our grandchildren's odds of a viable future?  All of those things can be achieved, just not in the way Alberta and Ottawa and a bunch of sketchy Enron alumni in Texas insist it must be done.

DeSmogBlog has an op-ed by Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, in which she outlines how we can have those benefits. It begins by heeding the insights of the last great premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed.

Trudeau and Notley aren't interested in an approach that would so benefit Alberta, Canada and our younger generations. It was suggested by BC premier Jon Horgan when the three recently got together for a fly-by conference in Ottawa.

It's a simple idea, one that dawns on a good many people when they're first introduced to the perils and problems of exploiting Athabasca bitumen. A few years ago, during the reign of our lord, Harper, I laid it all out to a dear and longstanding friend, a lifelong Ottawa Tory. He listened attentively, asked a few questions for clarification, and then said something to the effect of, "That's ridiculous. Why don't they just refine the stuff right there in Alberta?"

Why not indeed?

Here's the thing. Whether you raise this idea with Trudeau or Notley or any previous prime minister or Alberta premier as far back as Ralph Klein the reaction is the same. They turn into zombies. They say no but never explain why not. They might mutter something about excess refining capacity in Asia just waiting for an armada of dilbit laden supertankers only that doesn't appear to be true at all. (lying and dilbit always seem to go hand in hand)

Once Alberta's Athabasca bounty is transformed into fully refined petroleum products - oil, gasoline, petrochemical products - most of the pipeline problem disappears. Better yet, Canada gets to supply the Canadian market with Canadian finished oil products.  And our grandkids' future will be a bit brighter.

Are You Kidding? Pimp Bitumen but Douse the Centennial Flame to Fight Carbon Emissions?

There aren't many lengths Trudeau won't go to when it comes to pimping bitumen. He'll lie and lie and lie, he'll freely break his promises, he'll even pressure public servants into spinning tall tales - anything to maximize the extraction, transport and export of a toxic, high carbon ersatz petroleum sludge.

But wait. This government is serious about fighting Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. It's so serious it is considering putting out the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill and replacing it with, well, maybe a lovely LED simulated flame. They're all the rage, you know.

The flame is fueled by natural gas ferried across the country from western Canada, a region of the country where environmental groups and indigenous activists are currently protesting against pipeline expansions and carbon emissions from tar sands
In September 2017, the government attempted to decrease the emissions of the flame by striking a “net zero” deal with Bullfrog Power, which provides gas to the flame. The energy company offsets the emissions from the flame by pumping biogas – a cleaner alternative – into its existing pipeline infrastructure in order reducing emission in a separate location. Bullfrog Power declined to comment on the extent of emissions offset by the deal which currently costs the government US$15,000 a year 
The proposed change would not be the first time the monument – a circular fountain with plaques commemorating the dates each province and territory became part of Canada – has undergone a significant makeover.

Last year, the government spent $650,000 to add an additionally territory, Nunavut, to the monument. The flame has been extinguished on a number of occasions, often the result of poor weather. In 2008, the former prime minister Jean Chr├ętien ordered the flame extinguished and covered in order to avoid damage during the G8 protests in Ottawa.
But if the plan to scrap the flame proceeds, the move would largely be symbolic: Canada emitted 722 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015, making it one of the highest per capita carbon emitting nations in the world, largely a result of its resource-intensive economy, size and climate.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Trudeau's Stacked Deck

Did the Trudeau government rig the approval of Kinder-Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline?

Vancouver-based, National Observer, has an 8-part report that the Trudeau government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline was rigged, a pre-ordained set up, with public servants ordered to submit findings that supported the pipeline. Quelle surprise!

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr assured National Observer in an April 19 interview that the government had fulfilled its duty to First Nations through a “considerably broadened and deepened consultation” designed to address mistakes made by the previous Harper government in its reviews and oversight of major energy projects. 
...Sources from within different federal departments, however, provide a different perspective about how the Trans Mountain review happened.
Their allegation is serious: that the process was rigged following lobbying by Kinder Morgan. 
Following these industry discussions, the government decided to shorten the timeline on an expanded review of the pipeline, promised by Trudeau’s Liberals during the 2015 election campaign.

Government insiders say the instructions given a few months later — to find a way to approve the expansion — were explicit. Public servants were never asked to prepare for the possibility that the government might reject the pipeline, they explain, or restart the federal review using a new and improved process that Trudeau himself had promised.
...National Observer has reviewed internal correspondence involving at least two federal government departments that confirm public servants were directed to find a way to approve Kinder Morgan’s pipeline. 
Other internal documents, released through access to information legislation, show that some public servants pushed back and warned the government that the process was “moving fast,” comparing it to the mistakes that led to the failure of another west coast pipeline, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, National Observer reported on April 13.
...Based on this requirement, the courts have the power to reverse the government’s approval of Trans Mountain and force it to restart its efforts to consult affected First Nations. It’s a process that could drag on for months or years, leading Kinder Morgan to cancel its project. The company has already threatened to abandon the pipeline after May 31 due to ongoing uncertainty about opposition it faces from the B.C. government. 
But it’s not known whether the courts would consider any new evidence on appeal.
Harper's Team Now Doing Justin's Heavy Lifting.
...By late October 2016 — one month before the project’s approval — a high-ranking public servant, then-associate deputy minister Erin O’Gorman of the Major Projects Management Office (MPMO), convened more than a dozen public servants from multiple departments to a special meeting to discuss the last steps in the project review. The MPMO is an interdepartmental office set up by the former Harper government in 2007 to speed up the federal review of major projects and make them more efficient.

“I also think she just wants to rally the interdepartmental team a bit as we draw down the clock on the existing timeline for decisions,” wrote a Crown consultations lead in an Oct. 26, 2016 email to colleagues regarding O’Gorman’s invitation. 
Right before their internal meeting, federal officials met with Tsleil-Waututh representatives and told them that the government still hadn’t made a final decision on the project. But in the second meeting for government staffers only, public servants who were in the room said O’Gorman’s instructions were explicit. 
“We have to give cabinet a legally-sound basis for saying yes,” O’Gorman said, according to people at the meeting.
...National Observer identified and contacted public servants at each federal organization represented at the meeting based on copies of an email invitation released through access to information legislation.
Apart from the ones who confirmed O’Gorman’s instructions, some said they didn’t attend the whole meeting and weren’t able to confirm what O’Gorman said, while others referred questions to the media relations offices at their departments. 
None of the six federal organizations contacted by National Observer denied that O’Gorman had instructed the public servants to find a way to approve the project. The public servants who confirmed O’Gorman’s comments also noted that they were never asked to provide advice to support a possible rejection of the pipeline. They said they were only asked to work toward getting the project approved.

I've taken a few hours to let the reality of these reports sink in. I'm appalled that no one in Trudeau's government is even attempting to deny Ms. O'Gorman's role in directing senior public servants to covertly put their thumb on the scale to skew the opinions that Trudeau & Company needed to support their prejudgment in favour of the pipeline.

These public servants are just that, servants of the country. Governments come and go but they soldier on in service to Canada. They are in service to British Columbians as much as they are to the people of any other province. To rig that consultation process is an act of corruption. To tell those public servants to find a way to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline and only that is to deny British Columbia the even hand of its federal government.

We know that Trudeau is a liar, a chronic liar. We know that he'll say whatever he thinks people need to hear to win their votes. We know that he'll make promises he simply cannot be counted on to keep. We know that his word is worthless. This is not a man of integrity and, without integrity, what sort of a prime minister do we have? It's a prime minister who now looks remarkably like the one he displaced and didn't we richly despise that one? Even his resource minister, Jim Carr, is becoming indistinguishable from Harper stooge, Joe Oliver.

Whether these revelations are enough at this late stage for a court to upend Trudeau's corrupt review process and send them back to square one, they're certainly enough to reject this government's legitimacy on the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Trudeau might need a lot more razor wire before this is over.

British Columbia's Newest Arrivals

Seeing is believing. If you want to realize that climate change is real, that it's happening now, it can help to live on a coast. That's where you'll find the most mobile of climate migrants, marine life - fish, marine mammals, and marine birds.

As equatorial and tropical waters heat up, marine species are migrating poleward.  Some are species that we've always had in small numbers, their ranks suddenly swollen with the arrival of newcomers.  Others, such as the humpback whales, are species that had been lost due to earlier predation. It's good to see them back in significant numbers.

Many of these species migrate in pursuit of their prey fish, mainly herring and sardines, which are also moving poleward into cooler waters.

The latest newcomers are bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales found swimming together in what seems to be a mixed pod off the west coast of Vancouver Island.

"To see the two species traveling together and interacting was quite special and rare," researcher Luke Halpin says in a statement. 
"It is known that common bottlenose dolphins and false killer whales seek each other out and interact, but the purpose of the interactions is unclear.” 
“Since 2014 I have documented several warm-water species: common bottlenose dolphins, a swordfish and a loggerhead turtle in British Columbian waters," Halpin says. 
"With marine waters increasingly warming up we can expect to see more typically warm-water species in the northeastern Pacific.”

Monday, April 23, 2018

Really, Have We Stooped to This?

I went looking for background information on Alek Minassian, the suspect in the Toronto van massacre. That led me to a site, They had the basic details and then added the standard sympathies comment from the prime minister:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed his sympathies for those involved. “Our hearts go out to everyone affected,” Trudeau said in Ottawa. “We are going to have more to learn and more to say in the coming hours.”
JBN accompanied that quote with this photograph:

Really? Do we do that in this country now? That's obscene.

Given that his name ends in "ian" I'm thinking the suspect is of Armenian descent. They're predominantly Christian.

If You're Wondering Why Modern Prime Ministers are So Mediocre, Look No Further.

Do you ever get that feeling that today's prime ministers are lacklustre, petit fonctionnaires, technocrats all but totally bereft of vision? Well, you're right. They are.

They usually come with a university degree or two. They might have written a book or three. Perhaps they even lectured in some Ivy League school. Yet as leaders they're strictly middle management calibre questing for the head seat at the boardroom conference table.

The great leaders who built Canada were not the Dions, the Ignatieffs or the Justin Trudeaus. They were not the Stephen Harpers or Andrew Scheers either. This current crop are/were not leaders of vision, the sort who can improve the country, build and strengthen the work in progress we call Canada.

Contrast these third-rate administrators with leaders such as Pierre Trudeau or Mike Pearson and you'll quickly see how ill prepared to assume the premiership of Canada the latter day wannabes were when they arrived in politics.

Here is an excerpt from the biography of Lester B. Pearson lifted from the web site of the Nobel Prize organization.

Born in Toronto of Irish stock on both sides of his family, he received a balanced education in politics, learning the conservative position from his father, a Methodist minister, and the liberal from his mother.
Pearson entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1913 at the age of sixteen. Too young to enlist as a private when Canada declared war in 1914, he volunteered to serve with a hospital unit sponsored by the University. After two years in England, Egypt, and Greece, he was commissioned and transferred eventually to the Royal Flying Corps, but, sustaining some injuries from two accidents, one of them a plane crash, he was invalided home. He served as a training instructor for the rest of the war, meanwhile continuing his studies at the University. 
He received his degree in 1919 and then worked for two years for Armour and Company, a meat processing firm; years later he said, with the wit for which he is renowned, that the Russians were claiming he had once worked for an armament manufacturer. 
Returning to academic life, Pearson won a two-year fellowship and enrolled at Oxford University. There he excelled not only in his chosen field of history where he received the bachelor and master degrees, but also in athletics where he won his blues in lacrosse and ice hockey
In 1924 Pearson joined the staff of the History Department of the University of Toronto, leaving it and academic life in 1928 to accept a position as first secretary in the Canadian Department of External Affairs. In this post until 1935, Pearson received an education in domestic economic affairs while «on loan»; in 1931 as secretary to a commission on wheat futures and during 1934-1935 as secretary of a commission investigating commodity prices; the same post provided him with an apprenticeship in international diplomacy when he participated in the Hague Conference on Codification of International Law(1930), the London Naval Conference (1930), the Geneva World Disarmament Conference (1933-1934), another London Naval Conference (1935), and in sessions of the League of Nations (1935).

Pearson moved forward rapidly. From 1935 to 1941 he served in the office of the High Commissioner for Canada in London; in May, 1941, he was appointed assistant undersecretary of state for External Affairs at Ottawa; in June, 1942, named minister-counselor at the Canadian Legation in Washington; in July, 1944, promoted to the rank of minister plenipotentiary and in January, 1945, to the rank of ambassador. During his Washington stay, Pearson participated in the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) in 1943 and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 1943-1945; in the Dumbarton Oaks Conference on preliminary discussion for an organization of united nations (1944); and in the San Francisco Conference on the establishment of the UN (1945). 
Pearson took over the post of undersecretary of state for External Affairs in the fall of 1946, but gave it up two years later for the possibility of action in a larger arena. In that year, Louis S. St. Laurent, the secretary of state, became prime minister of a Liberal government, replacing his retiring leader, Mackenzie King. Pearson, having conducted a successful campaign for a seat in the Commons to represent the Algoma East riding of Ontario, was given the External Affairs portfolio, holding it for nine years until the advent of John Diefenbaker's Conservative government. 
Pearson drafted the speech in which Prime Minister St. Laurent proposed the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), signed the enabling treaty in 1949, headed the Canadian delegation to NATO until 1957, and functioned as chairman of the NATO Council in 1951-1952. Pearson also headed the Canadian delegation to the UN from 1946 to 1956, being elected to the presidency of the Seventh Session of the General Assembly in 1952-1953. As chairman of the General Assembly's Special Committee on Palestine, he laid the groundwork for the creation of the state of Israel in 1947. In the Suez crisis of 1956, when the United Kingdom, France, and Israel invaded Egyptian territory, Pearson proposed and sponsored the resolution which created a United Nations Emergency Force to police that area, thus permitting the invading nations to withdraw with a minimum loss of face. 
When the Liberals were defeated in the elections of 1957, Pearson relinquished his cabinet post but, accepting that of leader of the Opposition, began to rebuild the party. Six years later, when the Conservative government lost the confidence of the electorate, especially on the issues raised by the Cuban confrontations between the United States and Russia, and when Pearson, after a careful review of his philosophical position on national defence, announced his willingness to accept nuclear warheads from the United States, the Liberal Party was voted enough strength to establish a government with Pearson as prime minister
In control for five years, Pearson pursued a bipartisan foreign policy based on a philosophy of internationalism. In domestic policy he implemented programs long discussed but never adopted; among them, in the field of social legislation: provisions for old age pensions, medical care, and a generalized «war on poverty»; in education: governmental assistance for higher education and technical and vocational education; in governmental operations: redistribution of electoral districts and reformation of legislative procedures. The most acrimonious debate of his half-decade in office centered on legislation to create a new flag for Canada. This legislation became the battlefield of the Conservatives, who wanted some portion of the design to recognize the traditions of the past, versus the Liberals, who wanted to eliminate historical symbols. The Liberals won and the new flag was raised on February 15, 1965.
Missing from this biography is another of Pearson's great accomplishments, recruiting his own successor. Pearson brought Jean Marchand, Gerard Pelletier and Pierre Trudeau into the Liberal ranks in Ottawa. Giving us another legendary prime minister was Mike Pearson's parting gift to Canada.

Ask yourself this. Have you seen anybody of that stature, a genuine visionary who set out to build a better Canada, since Pierre Trudeau?

It's not that people of such stature no longer exist. Louise Arbour is a prime example. It's that they're no longer drawn to politics. Politics is now the exclusive preserve of the mediocre, second even third rate individuals who leave nothing in their wake and are soon deservedly forgotten. Canada merits far better. We may pay dearly for want of them. Leaders of great stature will be sorely needed for the looming challenges Canada will face in the coming decades.

The Rebound of the Fuel of Extinction

Fossil fuels are staging a strong comeback. CBC business reporter, Don Pittis, writes that "investors need to know what comes next."  But, he writes, this may be the fossil fuelers last hurrah - maybe.

According to Kirsten Zikfeld, a climate scientist at Simon Fraser university, the days of fossil energy are still numbered.
She says the increasing number of events such as last year's costly and devastating Hurricane Harvey in Berman's home town, Houston, have convinced well informed people around the world that something needs to be done. And she says there is evidence the world remains on an inevitable path to a low-carbon economy. 
"What we see very clearly is actually a decoupling between economic activity as measured by GDP and carbon emissions," says Zickfeld. "Our economies are growing but they need much less carbon in order to actually do that."
While countries such as China and India continue to increase coal consumption, she insists they are strongly motivated to either invent or adopt lower-carbon methods developed elsewhere, especially as the cost of that technology falls. 
Hot countries suffer more from more deadly heat waves, and the large and growing middle class in Asia's biggest cities is insisting their governments cut the medical and social costs of air pollution. 
She is convinced all those factors mean companies and economies hoping to profit from long-term growth in oil consumption will be disappointed. 
"As long as the rest of the world moves toward decarbonizing the energy sector and other sectors, these countries and these provinces that bet on use of oil increasing will have a very hard time," says Zickfeld. 
"I think at some point the economics is not going to work out for them."

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Is Conservative Catholicism Antithetical to Liberal Democracy?

Pope Francis is a neat guy, at least to most of us heathens. He's a welcome breath of fresh air after his rigid, hard line predecessors.

Catholicism has some pretty deep roots in Washington. Six of the nine justices of the US Supreme Court are Roman Catholics. Go figure. Now American Conservatives are cheering Catholic intellectual, Patrick J. Deneen's attack on pluralism in his new book, "Why Liberalism Failed."

Since the election of Trump, writers of all stripes have been lining up to pen liberalism’s epitaph. 
On the left, the pernicious effects of neo-liberal economics has been denounced, while on the right, liberalism’s cosmopolitanism, which has no apparent regard for nation, religion or family, has been decried.
The left’s answer has been to demand more social democracy to combat galloping inequality, while the right has called for the return to traditional values, anchored in the “community”. 
American conservatives, especially among the country’s powerful Catholic minority (which includes six of the nine supreme court justices), have found a new champion for their cause in the Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen. His latest book, Why Liberalism Failed, has been critically acclaimed throughout the conservative press, with the prominent Harvard legal scholar Adrian Vermeule, himself a recent convert to Catholicism, declaring it a “triumph”. 
Rising inequality, the degradation of the environment, decreasing living standards, increasing loneliness, the destructive polarisation of our political world – Deneen blames liberalism for all the ills currently afflicting society. Surprisingly, he does not attribute these ills to the failures of liberalism, but to its success.
...Instead of individualism, Deneen says the future lies with radically decentralised, local communities where the true meaning of culture might be found again. By culture, he means “a set of generational customs, practices, and rituals that are grounded in local and particular settings”

...The call for such a return is anti-democratic, and doubly so. First, Deneen believes political decisions should not emanate from within the community itself – the democratic ideal of self-government – but from an outside source, namely God (and a Catholic God at that). 
Second, Deneen believes the Catholic community has a privileged access to the truth that the rest of the political community – which has already made up its mind on gay marriage and premarital sex – does not. From this perspective, the national community is wrong, and democracy is mistaken.
Curious about this fellow, Deneen, I tracked down a web site where his writings are featured, The Imaginative Conservative. Here you may find Deneen's essays with titles such as "Is Academic Freedom Inherently Good?" or "Equality, Tyranny and Despotism in Democracy: or Remembering Alexis de Tocqueville," or my favourite, "The Case for 'Serfdom,' Rightly Understood."

This Fenian bastard imagines an end to liberalism and its replacement with a form of controlled existence, neo-feudalism, to be so much better because, well, everybody knows his place.
Serfdom, to be accurate, is an arrangement whereby you owe specific duties to a specific person, a lord—and in turn, that lord owes you specific duties as well.

...This was the argument of Bertrand de Jouvenel, who observed in his neglected masterpiece On Power that the rise of the centralized modern State was spurred when monarchs, seeking to break the power of local lords, promised liberation to the people in return for their direct fealty, and thus began a long and familiar tradition of expanding State power in the very name of liberation of individuals from mediating ties. His argument was refined and made with distinct power in the modern context by Robert Nisbet in the earliest years of American conservatism, in his 1953 book Quest for Community, in which he argued that the totalized State was not simply the imposition of despotic force upon a recalcitrant people—it was never that—but was desired by populations whose “longing for community” had been transferred from a range of identities and memberships below the level of the State, to the State itself. 
We begin to see this with ever-growing clarity in our own times—a new, kinder and gentler total State. It promises its citizenry liberty at every turn, and that liberty involves ever-greater freedom from the partial institutions of civil society, or ones remade in accordance with the aims of the State. The states as sovereign political units have been almost wholly eviscerated, and are now largely administrative units for the federal government. Satisfied with that victory, we now see extraordinary efforts to “break” two institutions that have always been most resistant to the total State: churches and family. We see an unprecedented efforts by the Federal government to abridge religious liberty by conscripting religious institutions like Little Sisters of the Poor (and my institution, Notre Dame) to be agents conscripted into providing abortifacients, sterilization, and contraception—in the name of individual liberty. We can expect determined and even ferocious efforts to bend Churches to accept gay marriage as a norm, even to the point of forcing them entirely out of the civil realm. And we see increasing efforts of the government to “liberate” children from their families—represented perhaps most chillingly by the MSNBC clip showing Melissa Harris-Perry explaining how the greatest obstacle to State education has been the pervasive notion that kids “belong” to families rather than belonging “collectively to all of us.”
Having read this garbage I was reminded of Sinclair Lewis' warning to America: "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

It's bad enough that the US has a president with strong authoritarian leanings. It's much, much worse that someone like Deneen should be a "new champion" of American conservatism.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Zakaria - America's "Deep State" Exists and Americans Should Be Grateful

America's "deep state" exists and Fareed Zakaria says Americans need look no further than people like Robert Mueller and James Comey to find it.
One of the oft-repeated criticisms of America is that it has too many lawyers. Maybe, but one of the country’s great strengths is its legal culture. As I’ve written before, Alexis de Tocqueville worried that without a class of patriotic and selfless aristocrats, the United States could fall prey to demagogues and populists. But he took comfort in the fact that, as he put it, American aristocracy can be found “at the bar or on the bench.” Tocqueville saw that lawyers, with their sense of civic duty, created a “form of public accountability that would help preserve the blessings of democracy without allowing its untrammeled vices.”

Comey’s memoir reveals that America does indeed have a deep state. It is one of law and lawyers. And we should be deeply grateful for it.
Before anyone jumps on Comey for the Clinton email fiasco, that's not what Zakaria is referring to. His focus is on Comey, as deputy Attorney General during the Bush era.
Many of the battles the Trump administration is having with the so-called deep state are reruns of battles from the Bush years. As Comey recounts in detail, after 9/11 the Bush administration put in place a surveillance program called “Stellar Wind” that Justice Department lawyers decided, on review, was illegal. Comey, who in March 2004 was deputy attorney general (and filling in for his boss, John D. Ashcroft, who was ill), refused to renew the program. 
White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales decided to head to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure him to sign the reauthorization documents, over Comey’s objections. On learning of this, Comey raced to the hospital and asked then-FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to join him for moral support. It turned out Ashcroft didn’t need any prodding; he turned Card and Gonzales away. Mueller, who arrived a few minutes afterward, said to the bedridden attorney general, who was technically his boss, “In every man’s life there comes a time when the good Lord tests him. You passed your test tonight.” Comey writes that he felt like crying. “The law had held.” 
Round Two happened over torture. The Bush administration wanted to claim that its “enhanced interrogation techniques” were lawful. Comey believed they were not, as did the chief counsel at the Justice Department, Jack Goldsmith. So Comey pushed back as much as he could.

In all of these cases, the pressure from the White House was intense, including a stunning exchange that Comey recounts between himself and Bush. “I say what the law is for the executive branch,” Bush explained to his sub-Cabinet appointee. Comey responded, “You do, sir. But only I can say what the Justice Department can certify as lawful. And we can’t here. We have done our best, but as Martin Luther said, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other.’ ”
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the true Deep State. It is the Rule of Law and the men and women who practice and uphold it.
Comey and Mueller were subordinates who owed their jobs to Bush, but also that they were Republicans. Yet the two of them have consistently put their obligations to the law and the country above personal loyalty and partisan politics. 
This behavior may be a product of personal character, but it is also formed by legal training. The story is really not just about Mueller and Comey but about the lawyers in various parts of the government who believe that it is crucial for the country that the government operate within the law — even if the president wishes otherwise. Recall that when Trump wanted to fire Mueller last June, White House counsel Donald McGahn reportedly threatened to resign in protest.
Not all lawyers, by any means, are of that calibre but the best are. The rule of law frustrates and infuriates a good many politicians, Trump especially. Stephen Harper regularly lashed out when the rule of law, particularly Pierre Trudeau's Charter of Rights and Freedoms restrained his authoritarian excesses. Justin Trudeau was frustrated when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the Carter case that assisted dying is a right protected by the Charter.  All healthy liberal democracies have this same Deep State, the evolutionary successor to Runnymede. We should be grateful for that.

Missing Monbiot

George Monbiot rose to fame and acclaim as The Guardian's fearless enviro-scribe, eventually expanding into a broader societal punditry. This scribe would eagerly await Monbiot's next offering to see what condition or peril he would next illuminate. He always dished up plenty of food for thought.

He's been gone long enough that his absence is a bit grating. Prostate cancer. He's chosen the surgical remedy over radiation, a game of chance one way or the other. Odds aren't terrible but they're not great either.

The last entry on Monbiot's web page was a month ago. In it he did say that he would be out of action for several weeks. Nothing to do but wait and see and wish him all the best luck.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Yes, Justin, But What's in the "National Interest" of Our Children and Grandchildren?

Justin Trudeau's highly selective, incredibly narrow, utterly myopic and grossly self-serving definition of Canada's "national interest" is disturbing.

Canada didn't begin with us and it won't end with us either (if we're lucky). When Justin proclaims his bitumen pipeline is in the "national interest" he's not speaking for the nation, the Canada past and the Canada future. The interest he's parroting has very little to do with the nation, Canada. It has everything to do with a small circle of political fiefdoms and the powerful interests they serve.

The video in the previous post is from Alaska but it reflects today's Canada just as much. Watch it. The video demonstrates that "national interest" is not the bastardized span of an electoral cycle. It is a matter of generations. It's a matter of posterity. The national interest is a term devoid of meaning if it does not include the Canada we will bequeath to our children, our grandchildren, and their families in turn.

That's the national interest that this idiot's father understood, that Pierre Trudeau served so well when he implemented for us and for our children and grandchildren and generations beyond, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The constitutional bulwark that has already safeguarded our liberal democracy against the excesses of Harper and, at least once, the same democratic failure in Trudeau.