Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Browning of America

It can fairly be said that Donald Trump's "base" comprises that segment of the population that is terrified of losing their grip on the United States - fearful white folks. Vox explains how white America's days are numbered.

In 2008, Barack Obama held up change as a beacon, attaching to it another word, a word that channeled everything his young and diverse coalition saw in his rise and their newfound political power: hope. An America that would elect a black man president was an America in which a future was being written that would read thrillingly different from our past. 
In 2016, Donald Trump wielded that same sense of change as a threat; he was the revanchist voice of those who yearned to make America the way it was before, to make it great again. That was the impulse that connected the wall to keep Mexicans out, the ban to keep Muslims away, the birtherism meant to prove Obama couldn’t possibly be a legitimate president. An America that would elect Donald Trump president was an America in which a future was being written that could read thrillingly similar to our past. 
This is the core cleavage of our politics, and it reflects the fundamental reality of our era: America is changing, and fast. According to the Census Bureau, 2013 marked the first year that a majority of US infants under the age of 1 were nonwhite. 
...The government predicts that in 2030, immigration will overtake new births as the dominant driver of population growth. About 15 years after that, America will phase into majority-minority status — for the first time in the nation’s history, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the population. 
That cross will come in part because America’s black, Hispanic, Asian, and mixed-race populations are expected to grow — indeed, the Hispanic and Asian populations are expected to roughly double, and the mixed-race population to triple. Meanwhile, the non-Hispanic white population is, uniquely, expected to fall, dipping from 199 million in 2020 to 179 million in 2060. The Census Bureau minces no words here: “The only group projected to shrink is the non-Hispanic White population,” they report
This isn’t just a statement about the future; it’s a description of the present. The economist Jed Kolko notes that the most common age for white Americans is 58, for Asians it’s 29, for African Americans it’s 27, and for Hispanics it’s 11. A new report out of the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Applied Population Lab found that white births are now outnumbered by white deaths in 26 states, up from 17 in 2014 and four in 2004.
I understand the fear of change but, sadly, it has really brought out the "Cracker Factor" in many white Americans and that's nothing but disgusting. I only hope that Brown, Black and Yellow America will follow a different path, one of reconciliation rather than the pursuit of retribution no matter how deserved.

Unprecedented Crime. Is Trudeau Running Out of Time?

Will Justin Trudeau and our other petro-pols eventually be prosecuted for crimes against humanity? Are they writing their own ticket to the prisoners' dock? If you find that hard to imagine, even impossible, you may think just the opposite in another five to ten years.


Climate disruption is now upon us. New research published in Nature Communications finds that the most important agricultural region of China could become uninhabitable in just a matter of decades. The dreaded "web bulb 35" is becoming a reality.

Once the WBT reaches 35C, the air is so hot and humid that the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade die within six hours.
The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, found fatal WBTs of 35C would strike the north China plain repeatedly between 2070 and 2100, unless carbon emissions are cut. Shanghai, for example, would exceed the fatal threshold about five times and the “extreme danger” WBTs would occur hundreds of times. Even if significant carbon cuts are made, the “extreme danger” WBT would be exceeded many times.

Previous research by Eltahir and colleagues showed that the Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will also suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, particularly Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha and coastal cities in Iran. The fatal 35C WBT was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015, where 46C heat combined with 50% humidity. 
The scientists also analysed south Asia in 2017 and found it too is at risk of killer 35C WBT heatwaves in places. Even outside the extreme hotspots, three-quarters of the 1.7bn population – particularly those farming in the Ganges and Indus valleys – would be exposed to “extreme danger” levels of humid heat towards the end of the century.
So, why would Trudeau and those like him face a lifetime stay in the Greybar Hotel? That is addressed in a new book, "Unprecedented Crime," by two British Columbians, Dr. Peter Carter and Elizabeth Woodworth.

Here's a publisher's review:
In 2017, the heat waves, extreme wild fires, and flooding around the world confirmed beyond doubt that climate disruption is now a full-blown emergency. We have entered Churchill's "period of consequences", yet governments have simply watched the disasters magnify, while rushing ahead with new pipelines and annual trillions in fossil fuel subsidies. Governments simply cannot say they did not know. The events we are seeing today have been consistently forecast ever since the First Assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was signed by all governments back in 1990, which The Lancet has described as the best research project ever designed. Unprecedented Crime first lays out the culpability of governmental, political and religious bodies, corporations, and the media through their failure to report or act on the climate emergency. No emergency response has even been contemplated by wealthy high-emitting national governments. 
Extreme weather reporting never even hints at the need to address climate change. It then reports how independently of governments, scores of proven zero-carbon game changers have been coming online all over the world. These exciting technologies, described in the book, are now able to power both household electricity and energy-dense heavy industry. We already have the technical solutions to the CO2 problem. With these solutions we can act in time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to near-zero within 20 years. These willful crimes against life itself by negligent governments, oblivious media and an insouciant civil society are crimes that everyday citizens can nonetheless readily grasp - and then take to the streets and to the courts to protest on behalf of their children and grand-children. This thoroughly researched and highly-documented book will show them how.
MAHB, the Stanford-based Millennial Alliance for Humanity and the
Biosphere, offers another review of Unprecedented Crime:

Unprecedented Crime devotes the opening half of the book to deftly arguing that climate denial is not just immoral, that it is a willful act of global-scale violence, an unimaginably senseless and cruel act of climate battery against today’s vulnerable, and dispossessed, a fate which will surely only deepen and become dire for today’s youth and future generations. It is a ‘policy breakout’ book deserving to be prominently placed on multiple library shelves from public health to climate adaptation to corporate criminology.

...While the definition of evil may change over time, as most governing parties anywhere in the world refuse to prohibit extraction of the oil and gas on their doorstep or fossil fuel imports due to the climate trivialization work of deniers and hydrocarbon-trafficking lobbyists, the authors ‘name and shame’ the deniers (and aiding and abetting bankers, media, shareholders and politicians) as among the evilest, downright dirty, and irredeemable corporate villains in the history of humanity.

...Only a fool keeps on appealing to the better nature of a deaf thug, hence Carter and Woodsworth do not expect much more than the expected ongoing manufactured rage and lies of deniers, and the betrayal and treason of the political establishment.

...To that end, these climate crimefighting authors controversially support the creativity, gumption and grit of greater civil unrest and civil disobedience necessary to get reticent world leaders and their citizenry to urgently respond to the Paris Climate Accord 1.5 C guardrail dying of Trump’s toxic political malabsorption, and Canada’s Trudeau threatening genocidal relapse into genteel apartheid for non-consenting indigenous communities confronting the tarsands and new pipelines. Rest assured, history is not going to judge these leaders well
Again, the real crime and legacy of unutterable shame is corporate and elected deniers suggesting indigenous and settler water protectors in our slowly decolonizing world commit a crime opposing new fossil fuel expansion (or the authors do by exposing planetary corporate ecocide and calling for concerted resistance, instead of rightfully receiving a civil courage award for their book). 
Changing lifelong loyalties and habits is never easy, (especially if we’re still locked into a vexingly circular ‘glass half-full or half-empty of bitumen’ climate debate; as it turns out this shale bitumen barrel has no bottom) but is necessary if we want to have a habitable world for our gravely at-risk children and grandchildren.
Are these really crimes against humanity? Absolutely. Is there a politician in Canada who can wash his/her hands of them, say they didn't know? Of course not, that's rubbish. What possible defence is there to a politician who ignores the science, defies protests, and instead promotes the extraction, transmission and export of the world's filthiest, highest-carbon ersatz petroleum - as much as possible, as rapidly as possible - into a world already in the throes of climate disruption on a increasingly lethal and global scale?

We quite rightly revile those who have flooded our cities with killer drugs such as opioids and fentanyl. They put lives at risk for financial gain. They kill one unsuspecting user at a time. Our leaders, in our country's name and on our behalf, are setting up something infinitely worse and massively more lethal and, like the fentanyl dealer, they too are chasing political and economic advantage.

Is This the New World

We keep reading about our new aristocracy, the plutocrats with their grand houses and luxury. Our political caste, including our prime minister, hob nob with them. The less elegant Scheer merely awaits his chance to lick their boots.

Maybe there's a teaching moment in what's happening in St. Tropez, France.

The French Riviera town’s old lifeboat is out of action awaiting repairs while its volunteer crew accuse rich yacht captains of being too mean to stump up a few euros to pay for a replacement.

Resort Lifeboat officials said their ageing vessel, the Bailli de Suffren II, in service for more than 30 years, needed a spare part from Italy, and that it would not be putting to sea in the next two weeks.

The Société Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (National Sea Rescue Society, SNSM) at Saint-Tropez has ordered a new €1.4m lifeboat, which is now under construction in Britanny with a delivery date for next spring. But it needed another €200,000 to pay for it to be properly equipped with high-tech electronic devices and for its delivery, the society said.

The SNSM wrote this year to wealthy individuals and companies owning luxury yachts moored at Saint-Tropez, asking them to put their hands in their pockets. The town is a playground of the global super rich.

Pierre-Yves Barasc, president of the Saint-Tropez lifeboat station, said the appeal sank almost without trace. The owner of one modest boat sent a €10,000 donation but the tycoons and oligarchs failed to come up with a centime.

Barasc told the local edition of the news outlet Var-Martin: “They said it wasn’t their problem. That’s not true. On the bigger boats last year we saved an eight-month-old baby. We also saved three youngsters caught on rocks – not a word of thanks, even from their father. Nothing! It’s almost as if it’s their right. It’s great to shower the young ladies with a bottle of €50,000 Cristal champagne, but they could be a little more restrained and help us a little more. 
“We asked all the owners of important boats. No reply, except one promise never kept. A lone boat, far from being the biggest, gave €10,000. If 30 people had done the same we could have had our new lifeboat quicker.”

Monday, July 30, 2018

Trump at War Again on Working Class America - His Base.

This guy knows he's got the Gullibillies in the bag - or as Jacques Parizeau would say, the lobster pot.

After just adding a trillion and a half dollar deficit burden onto the shoulders of America's rank and file (their kids, mainly), Trump is mulling over another $100 billion handout to the rich by slashing the already marginal taxes on capital gains.
Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable “gain” to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000.
Trump figures he can do this by executive decree, bypassing Congress.

And therein lies Trump's genius. At a time of a booming economy, don't pay down debt. Cut taxes. Add debt knowing that, if you introduce more cuts to the taxes that the richest of the rich pay, all that extra debt will fall on the shoulders of those wage-earning idiots, the Gullibillies, who were stupid enough to vote for you. He's not only cutting their throats but they handed him the knife.

Handguns, Really? Why?

I own firearms, three of them. They're rifles - a lever action, a bolt action and a semi-automatic .22 for 'plinking'. Every now and then I take one or more of them out to the range for a little target shooting.

An encounter with a cougar up a logging road while on a photography trip drove home the point that I really don't want to go up against a powerful cat armed only with a Nikon.  For some reason I looked over my right shoulder and there was the cougar staring at me over his/her left shoulder. Both of us froze. I turned toward the cat, made myself very big and very loud, and to my intense relief, it chose to just go on its way.

I packed up my gear on my motorcycle and headed straight home. What went through my mind was that, at the moment of that encounter, I was no longer in control of how the rest of my day might turn out. The cat was calling the shots and I was pretty sure it wouldn't be an even fight.

You go up those roads and you're on your own. No cell service. Maybe your bike breaks down. Maybe you have a crash.  It could easily take you a full day to walk out. When the sun goes down you might be a real novelty for the bears, the wolves or, my friend, the cougar.

So I got this rifle, a .308 Browning that takes down in two pieces and a case that allows me to strap it to my motorcycle. As I told the RCMP officer who called me about my gun licence, I have no interest in killing anything. I just really, really don't want to be killed for want of an effective means of defending myself.

Rifles are one thing. Handguns are something else entirely. From what I've seen, most people really can't hit the side of a barn door with the damned things. They're not accurate beyond short ranges. Worse still, they seem to give their owners a dubious sense of power. I got me a Glock, so that makes me a certified Bad Ass. They're easily concealable. You can tuck them in your pants. That means the wrong sort of person can carry them undetected into places where they don't belong.

I don't have a problem with rifles (with the exception of assault rifles that also foster the Rambo mentality) but I see no justification for allowing people to possess handguns. I do recall a jurisdiction, Britain comes to mind, where shooters are permitted handguns but they have to be stored under lock and key at an approved shooting range. You go to the range, they hand you your handgun. You do your target shooting, clean your handgun, and return it to the range attendant who locks it up. If it's not returned, a call goes to the police. To me, that sounds fair.

I support a ban on handguns for those who have no demonstrated need for them. The sooner, the better. The Cons won't do it for fear it might offend their red-meat base. But the Cons aren't in power. Team Justin has the reins of power and they should take this opportunity to act.

Perhaps the horse has already left the barn.  A US court has ruled it is permissible to post plans for a 3D printed gun online. What can you do if anyone with a 3D printer can manufacture an untraceable, easily disposable, cheap and reliable, single use handgun?

When the World Unravels

We live in a global economy, a tightly woven matrix of production and consumption. 

A Dell computer, for example, may be an assembly of parts each produced in one of dozen countries. The supply chain is tight and incredibly brittle. If one part of the chain breaks, a critical nation succumbs to unrest, production can be curtailed until a new supplier is brought online. "Just in time" inventory management magnifies the vulnerabilities of the end producer.

Another example comes from Scotland where fish and shellfish, caught in local waters, are shipped to Asia for processing before being re-frozen and shipped back to the UK for sale to the retail market.

In May, Ford had to halt production of its best-selling F-150 truck when a critical "just in time" supplier, Meridian Magnesium Products, suffered a devastating fire.

Part of globalization has been to whittle down redundancy wherever possible to reduce costs to a minimum and thereby maximize profits. This adds the risk of potentially devastating vulnerability to disruption of supply chains.

The globalized economy also demands a high level of political and social stability across the nations involved in these supply chains. That now is beginning to unravel and one of the main culprits is climate change.

One of the principle triggers of the Arab Spring was food shortages. Grain production dropped sending food staple prices soaring. In Tunisia and Egypt this led to the overthrow of corrupt governments. Wealthier countries, such as Saudi Arabia, moved to nip unrest in the bud by implementing free staple foodstuffs for an extended period. In Syria, food shortages caused by drought, led to the bloody and protracted civil war pitting the Sunni majority against Assad and his Alawite following.

Now, according to The New Republic, a new generation of authoritarians are exploiting the impacts of climate change to seize power.

Take the Maldives, an atoll nation in the Indian Ocean. Rising seawater is projected to consume most, if not all, of the country this century. In 2008, the Maldives chose its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed. Almost immediately, he made climate change preparations central to his administration. He announced plans to move 360,000 Maldivian citizens to new homelands in Sri Lanka, India, or Australia, and he promised to make the Maldives the world’s first carbon-neutral country. Nasheed also demonstrated a flair for the dramatic, staging an underwater Cabinet meeting that turned him into a viral climate celebrity. “What we need to do is nothing short of decarbonizing the entire global economy,” he said. “If man can walk on the moon, we can unite to defeat our common carbon enemy.”

In 2012, the military deposed Nasheed, forcing him to flee the country at gunpoint after mass protests over economic stagnation and spikes in commodity prices. His eventual successor, Abdulla Yameen, has since suspended parts of the constitution, giving himself sweeping powers to arrest and detain opponents, including two of the country’s five Supreme Court justices and even his own half-brother. Meanwhile, Yameen has tossed out Nasheed’s climate adaptation plans and rejected renewable energy programs, proposing instead to build new islands and economic free zones attractive to a global elite.
If any lesson can be drawn from the power struggle in the Maldives, it is that people who feel threatened by an outside force, be it foreign invaders or rising tides, often seek reassurance. That reassurance may come in the form of a strongman leader, someone who tells them all will be well, the economy will soar, the sea walls hold. People must only surrender their elections, or their due process, until the crisis is resolved. This is perhaps the most overlooked threat of climate change: Major shifts in the global climate could give rise to a new generation of authoritarian rulers, not just in poorer countries or those with weak democratic institutions, but in wealthy industrialized nations, too.
... It’s not just developing nations that are at risk of opportunistic climate-fueled authoritarianism. Wealthy countries may possess the resources to insulate themselves from the near-term physical impacts of climate change—they can afford sea walls, emergency services, and air conditioning. But when conflicts over resources break out in the developing world, they are bound to generate crises that spill into wealthier countries.
...“Even the specter of refugee crises and population movements can impact attitudes toward authoritarianism,” said Jonathan Weiler, co-author of Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. These fears aren’t going away: According to a 2017 study published in The Lancet, extreme weather could displace up to a billion people around the world by the middle of the twenty-first century—an unprecedented human migration will undoubtedly influence the politics of wealthy countries, pushing them to the right.
The best way to counteract this phenomenon is naturally to halt, or at least slow, the effects of climate change. So far, the Paris agreement is the only tangible result of those efforts, and its fate is far from certain, with the United States threatening to withdraw. But this might change, if the problems caused by climate change—not just stronger hurricanes, droughts, and rising seas, but political rupture—keep washing up on the disappearing shorelines of wealthy governments.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Casino Capitalism is Back. Brace Yourself.

Who can forget the global crunch of 2007 when America's housing bubble burst?

It was the advent of Casino Capitalism, liars loans, collateralized debt instruments and credit default swaps. It brought America low and the contagion spread to European banks in turn. That was never going to be allowed to happen again. And yet it has.

The Business Times posits it as "The junk debt that tanked the economy? It's back in a big way."

Banks are writing high risk loans to heavily indebted borrowers and they're doing it for one reason - because when those loans are collateralized (blended) there's a thriving market waiting to buy them. Sound familiar?

This time the term is "collateralized loan obligations" which is a fancy way of saying "IOU."
LIKE most people, you probably assume that the level of lending done by banks at any moment is largely driven by how much demand there is from borrowers. But in the world of modern finance, that's only part of the story. For just as important is the level of demand from investors - pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds, sovereign wealth funds and insurance companies - to buy the loans that banks make. 
Indeed, there are times when there's so much demand for loans from investors and the profit from selling them is so lucrative that bankers are only too happy to go out and make bigger and riskier loans than they would if they were keeping them on their own books. 
That was the situation back in 2006 when investors were so keen to own "mortgage-backed securities" that Wall Street was begging lenders for more and more "product." You know how that turned out.

Now it is happening again, as investors and money managers scramble to buy floating-rate debt - debt offering interest payments that will increase as global interest rates rise, as they are expected to over the next few years. A big new source of floating-rate credit is the market for "leveraged loans" - loans to highly indebted businesses - that are packaged into securities known as "collateralised loan obligations," or CLOs. Because the market seems to have an insatiable appetite for CLOs, leveraged lending and CLO issuance through the first half of the year are already up 38 per cent over last year's near-record levels.
Bloomberg, meanwhile, focuses on what it calls the Titans of Junk whose ranks include Elon Musk and Michael Dell.

Masayoshi Son and Elon Musk leveraged their dreams to the hilt. Patrick Drahi stockpiled debt to build a global cable empire. Michael Dell loaded his computer company with risky loans to buy out activists threatening his control. And a group of Chinese developers borrowed big to expand in the nation’s booming property market.
Call them the titans of junk.
They’re the headliners in a decade-long, $11 trillion corporate borrowing frenzy, fueled by central banks that flooded the global financial system with ultra-cheap money. Investors have been lending to virtually anyone willing to pay a decent yield. But now the easy money is coming to an end. Policy makers, after driving interest rates to unprecedented lows, are hiking those rates for the first time in 10 years. For many companies, it will bring new financial pressures. And for some of them, those pressures could trigger disaster.
...While many are household names like Dell Technologies Inc. and Tesla Inc., others are privately held entities that avoid the scrutiny of the S&P 500 crowd—companies such as specialty-chemicals maker Avantor Inc. and IT firm BMC Software Inc. 
But chances are that anyone who socked away cash into a retirement account during the past five years has lent them money. Investors have parked trillions of dollars in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that buy junk bonds. Pension funds in Canada have started leveraged-finance lending operations. Insurance companies have helped bankroll leveraged buyouts. And, in an echo of the subprime mortgage bubble a decade ago, investors from Sydney to Seattle snapped up hundreds of billions of dollars in AAA rated securities known as collateralized loan obligations that are actually backed by the debt of junk-rated companies.
...there are few signs that the borrowing is slowing down. But there are plenty of signals that its only getting riskier. In the past 18 months, institutional investors have snapped up $1.6 trillion of leveraged loans in the U.S. alone, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That’s more than the three previous years combined. What’s more is that private-equity funds, which typically use junk debt to fund the bulk of their buyouts, are sitting on record amounts of money earmarked for such deals. In other words, more junk-debt titans are likely to emerge before it’s over.
The next Day of Reckoning.

Moody’s has already started to warn that investors could end up recovering substantially less in bankruptcies than they have historically. One of the reasons leveraged loans have attracted so many buyers is that they have always been viewed as the safest type of debt you can buy because they are the first in line to be repaid when a company goes bust. Problem is, as companies increasingly tap that market for their borrowings, those lenders are finding that there’s no one left behind them to cushion the blow. 
“The effect of that when it happens will be larger than people expect because it’s like a coiled spring,” said Dan Zwirn, chief executive officer at Arena Investors, which manages about $1 billion in investments including loans to small-to-mid-sized companies. When yield-chasing investors “finally feel that shock, whatever that shock is, they’ll be surprised about the actual underlying credit quality of what they own—and then realize that what they thought was liquid actually has no bid. Then we’ll see fire and brimstone.”

More from Business Times.
It is no coincidence that the decline in loan quality has occurred as there's been a shift in who is doing the lending. Back in 2013, 70 percent of the loans were made by major banks whose lending is closely scrutinised by government bank regulators. That figure is now down to 54 per cent, according to Bloomberg, as hedge funds, private-equity firms, insurance companies and non-regulated lenders have entered the market in a big way. This shift in market share away from banks mirrors what happened to mortgage lending in the run-up to the 2008 crash, when competition from unregulated lenders led banks to lower lending standards in an effort to maintain their market share. 
There's also been a shift in how the loans are being used. Some of the debt is being used, as it always has been, to finance expansion or refinance old debt. But more recently, a growing portion of leveraged lending has been used to buy back stock, pay special dividends to private-equity firms cashing out of their investments or to finance richly priced mergers and acquisitions, which are now running at a pace that exceeds the bubbles of 2000 and 2007. In other words, it has been used to reward investors rather than grow the business.

Trump Looks the Other Way.
Although financial regulators have taken passing notice of the increased volume and declining quality of corporate credit, they haven't done much to discourage it - just the opposite, in fact. 
Earlier this year, after complaints from banks and dealmakers reached sympathetic ears in the Trump administration, the newly installed chairman of the Federal Reserve and the Comptroller of the Currency Office declared that previous "guidance" against lending to companies whose debt exceeded six times their annual cash flow should not be taken as a hard and fast rule. 
Whether intended or not, however, the market read the regulators' announcement not only as a green light to the banks to step up their leveraged lending but also as an indication that regulators would be more responsive to industry pressure than during the Obama years.

America's conservative/corporatist judges weigh in.
 The CLO market got an even bigger boost this year when an appeals court in Washington struck down a regulation issued under the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law that required all securitisers - the firms that bundle loans of any kind and sell pieces of the packages to investors - to retain 5 per cent of a deal. 
The regulation's rationale was that if the securitisers had "skin in the game," they wouldn't have an incentive to make or buy questionable loans and peddle them to unsuspecting investors. For Dodd-Frank's authors, this was a central feature of the architecture of financial reform.
...The appeals court opinion is a model of legal and etymological hairsplitting by activist, conservative judges who were clearly looking for a way to ignore the explicit intent of Congress, which was to make risk retention a feature of all loan-backed securities, no matter who made the original loan.
And so it goes. Take it from Hyman Minsky.

Or if you prefer your economics doom and gloom with a little humour there's a fine documentary, "Boom Bust Boom."

A Rose by Any Other Name - White Supremacist Edition

I saw this the other day. I didn't post it because I wasn't sure it was true.

So, I checked it out:

Sort of made my day. Hope you feel the same.

The Mind Reels

Collectively, as in the global civilization, are we losing our minds?

I'm not going to expound on this. No. Today I'll just present a number of articles (with links), the stuff that is becoming all too common these days.

An article in Foreign Policy discusses how Trump may have made Montenegro Vlad Putin's lever to break NATO. Worth a read.

On a much darker note, Victor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, foresees the European Union shifting to Christian illiberal democracy in 2019. From Reuters.

He said the Western political “elite” of the EU had failed to protect the bloc from Muslim immigration and it was time for them to go. “The European elite is visibly nervous,” Orban told hundreds of cheering supporters. 
“Their big goal to transform Europe, to ship it into a post-Christian era, and into an era when nations disappear - this process could be undermined in the European elections. And it is our elementary interest to stop this transformation.” 
“Christian democracy is not liberal...It is illiberal, if you like,” Orban said.
Pakistan's Daily Times reports that the nation's chief justice, Saqib Nisar, contends that there's an "international conspiracy" at work behind Pakistan's critical water shortage. He didn't name the conspirators but he's probably pointing at Pakistan's upstream rivals for increasingly scarce freshwater from the Himalayan headwaters, India and China. What do those three have in common? Oh yeah, right, nuclear weapons.

In Britain, representatives of the nation's farmers will be holding a summit with government officials in Whitehall to discuss the nation's severe and ongoing drought and the threat posed to Britain's food supply. From The Guardian. Hey, you didn't think these global heatwaves and drought weren't going to screw up the food supply, did you? Really, did you?

The Weather Network reports that drought is also hammering large parts of Europe and could contribute to global food shortages. Bummer.

Doesn't sound much better "down under" where Australia's ABC News reports that farmers are looking for drought relief assistance.

And if your personal front yard putting green is looking a bit straw-yellow lately, here's a handy article on how to "re-wild" your lawn. The birds and the bees will thank you even if your neighbours won't.

It's not all dusty dystopia. There are lots of places that are flooded out. Here's a report about inundation in BaltimoreBBC News reports that Northern Ireland turned all soggy after a month's worth of rain fell in just a few hours. Sign of the times, eh?  The Irish Times took a "glass half full" approach noting that, sure there was severe localized flooding in Belfast and elsewhere, but it brought the region's heatwave to an abrupt halt.

Then there's Japan, the poster-boy of climate change. Already reeling from killer flash floods followed immediately by a killer heatwave, Japan has now been hit by what promises to be a killer typhoon.  ChannelnewsAsia reports that the typhoon came ashore in a region already hammered by flooding and mudslides. Fortunately the Japanese people seem to have mastered the art of evacuation.

In Napa, officials are planning to reroute a stretch of highway 47 threatened by sea level rise.  Retreat from the sea, it's all the rage.

That's it. I'm done. I'll skip posting links about wildfires, global water shortages (hey's it's World Water Day), the destabilization of nation states and historical alliances, nuclear proliferation and the arms races spreading across the planet and into outer space, and a veritable host of other calamities.

What I have attempted to do is present a snapshot of what is unfolding across this planet on a daily basis. For us, this is all background noise. We think the premiership of Doug Ford is a crisis. That's the shiny thing that captures our attention.

What is inescapable is that the list of calamities is growing and worsening fairly quickly. Some of these challenges are or have the potential to become existential.  Yet their very number and enormity shows that we don't have the resources, much less the political or popular will, to deal with all of them. We have to decide what we will address and what we will have to postpone or simply ignore.

WTF are we going to do? What really matters most to us and to our kids' future? Or have we already thrown in the towel? That Doug Ford - bastard!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

You Do Not Know Anyone as Stupid as Donald Trump

Fran Lebowitz gave a fascinating interview to The Guardian. The headline, "You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump," is a real grabber.

Lebowitz recalled that most horrible election night of the century - for America and the rest of the world.
Echoing the reported opinion of former US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Lebowitz thinks the biggest danger of Trump is that he is a moron. “Everyone says he is crazy – which maybe he is – but the scarier thing about him is that he is stupid. You do not know anyone as stupid as Donald Trump. You just don’t.” 
Lebowitz is still shocked that Trump won. Part of the shock is that she was living so fully in a liberal New York bubble. “I had zero belief he would win. I have never been so wrong in my life. And being right is something I cherish. It’s really important to me to be right.” 
It’s one of three nights burned entirely into 67-year-old Lebowitz’s memory – on a par with the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. “I remember every single second of the whole day – voting, everything – the whole day.”
She voted and went to lunch, and on the way home she felt like New York was getting ready to welcome its first female president. She walked past a party being set up, hosted by Harvey Weinstein. They said, “See you tonight, Ms Lebowitz!” But she didn’t attend that party, opting instead for the party of the then Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter. 
“Everyone was in a great mood and there were these huge American flags draped everywhere. Everyone was drinking champagne.”
From time to time over the night, Lebowitz popped into the kitchen to look at the election map on TV and, with each visit, became increasingly nervous. The map was turning red. 
...Graydon had in his hands two martinis and a waiter said ‘You want another?’ and he said ‘Yes!’ He couldn’t even hold them. At a certain point [another] friend of mine said, ‘I’m going home, I can’t take this – I’m not tough enough. I’m going home to take drugs.’ This is a man my age, a very distinguished man.”

Lebowitz went home to SoHo through neighbourhoods usually busy with nightlife. “But there was no one in the streets – it was nothing. It was like grief inside those houses. It was horrible. I felt that strongly affected emotionally for at least a month. My level of rage, always high, is now in fever pitch all the time.”
Lebowitz believes naked racism is behind Trump’s election. “He allowed people to express their racism and bigotry in a way that they haven’t been able to in quite a while and they really love him for that. It’s a shocking thing to realise people love their hatred more than they care about their own actual lives. The hatred – what is that about? It’s a fear of your own weakness.”

Will 2018 Be the Year That Reality Sinks In?

It's in the news, daily. It's everywhere. Heatwaves sweeping the entire northern hemisphere. Wildfires even up inside the Arctic Circle. Floods and flash floods. Drought and flash droughts. People dying here. People dying there. Dozens, hundreds of dead here, there and there.  People displaced in hundreds of thousands.

All this and word that we're just getting started. Basic physics shows us this is going to get worse. So, do we finally get it? Have we figured out that the climate change deniers/footdraggers are actually dangerous, potentially harmful to us and our kids and life on Earth? Are we nearing the point where we're going to see their antics as crimes against humanity? That's what they are.

Every supertanker of dilbit that sails under Vancouver's Lions Gate Bridge is going to make this summer's inferno worse, more deadly in years to come. It's the very stuff of death and suffering - not so much here of course but across the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the world. Our Liberals and Conservatives can ignore it but they can't change that and they're not even going to try. To them, once that armada of supertankers reaches the open sea it's someone else's problem and, in the worst possible way, it really is - someone else's problem.

Remember in the Harper era how Canada was lambasted as a climate pariah? Canada was an international pariah. Yet Trudeau has done more for the Tar Sands and global bitumen trafficking than Harper ever dreamed of doing. I'm sorry Grits but that's a fact, a goddamned fact. This is on you. And it's arguably a crime against humanity.

Trudeau's candle is burning from both ends. The days of the petro-state are numbered and we will be vilified for our choices, our decision to exploit a truly horrible carbon resource for profit leaving the real price - death, suffering and dislocation -  to be paid by others.

Maybe we'll come to our senses. Maybe not. With bitumen stalwarts such as Notley, Kenney, Moe, Scheer and, yes, Justin Trudeau and this Liberal government, the Tar Sands won't go without a fight. Canada will be a greater climate pariah than ever even as the world burns. Woe, Canada.

Or maybe 2018 will be the year that reality sinks in. Maybe this is the year we'll tell Trudeau and his Liberals, Scheer and his Tories, that this deadly nonsense must stop. It's over. The world is on fire. We can't throw matches onto the fire. There's no longer a place for the filthiest, highest-carbon ersatz oil.

We're better than this.

If You're Still Struggling to Make Sense of the Changes In Your World You Can See Happening, This Might Help.

So we're battling the federal and British Columbia governments over the scandalous fish farm industry. And we're battling the federal government over their own bitumen pipeline and all that means. And we're already in the grips of fundamental climatic change along the coast - ocean acidification, species migration out of heating conditions to the south into our cooler waters and, of course, sea level rise.

Maybe you live in a place where so many major facets of your day to day existence are shifting beneath your feet. Maybe you live in a place where they're not so obvious - unless you really look.

This video gives a helpful perspective of what's really happening.  Climate change activists are often dismissed as "alarmists." Not this guy.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Even the Russians Say Trump Sounds Like a Russian Pawn

Earth Overshoot Day, 2018, in New York City

The hibiscus and the hummingbird are on display in Times Square to mark August 1, Earth Overshoot Day, 2018.

It's good to see that the world is finally coming to grips with the reality of overshoot and how our rapacious over-consumption of Earth's finite resources is intertwined with climate change and overpopulation to present the greatest challenge humankind has ever confronted.

A Real Eye-Opener. Man's Rapacious Destruction of Our Oceans.

Think of it this way. When the world's oceans die, we die. Life on Earth depends on the viability of our oceans.

This graphic depicts what little wilderness remains of the world's oceans, the parts denoted in blue.

A new paper published in the journal, Current Biology, finds that just 13 per cent of the world's oceans qualify for the wilderness designation. And just 5 per cent of that 13 per cent lies within marine sanctuary zones.
As human activities increasingly threaten biodiversity [1, 2], areas devoid of intense human impacts are vital refugia [3]. These wilderness areas contain high genetic diversity, unique functional traits, and endemic species [4, 5, 6, 7]; maintain high levels of ecological and evolutionary connectivity [8, 9, 10]; and may be well placed to resist and recover from the impacts of climate change [11, 12, 13]. On land, rapid declines in wilderness [3] have led to urgent calls for its protection [3, 14]. In contrast, little is known about the extent and protection of marine wilderness [4, 5]. Here we systematically map marine wilderness globally by identifying areas that have both very little impact (lowest 10%) from 15 anthropogenic stressors and also a very low combined cumulative impact from these stressors. We discover that ∼13% of the ocean meets this definition of global wilderness, with most being located in the high seas. Recognizing that human influence differs across ocean regions, we repeat the analysis within each of the 16 ocean realms [15]. Realm-specific wilderness extent varies considerably, with >16 million km2 (8.6%) in the Warm Indo-Pacific, down to <2 4.1="" 4.9="" africa.="" aimed="" also="" and="" area="" as="" at="" be="" biodiverse="" biodiversity="" br="" conserving="" continue="" coral="" ecological="" ecosystems="" ensuring="" estate="" evolutionary="" global="" holds="" in="" incorporated="" into="" is="" km2="" large-scale="" little="" marine="" now="" of="" only="" proactive="" processes="" protected="" realm-specific="" reefs.="" retention="" should="" show="" southern="" strategies="" such="" temperate="" that="" the="" very="" we="" which="" wilderness="">
Those vast white expanses? That's where anthropogenic, i.e. man-made, impacts dominate.  From The Guardian:

Huge fishing fleets, global shipping and pollution running off the land are combining with climate change to degrade the oceans, the researchers found. Furthermore, just 5% of the remaining ocean wilderness is within existing marine protection areas. 
“We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains,” says Kendall Jones, at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society, who led the new research. “The ocean is immense, covering over 70% of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.” 
Jones said the last remnants of wilderness show how vibrant ocean life was before human activity came to dominate the planet. “They act as time machines,” he said. “They are home to unparalleled levels of marine biodiversity and some of the last places on Earth you find large populations of apex predators like sharks.”

...Scientists warned in January that the oceans are suffocating, with huge dead zones quadrupling since 1950, and in February, new maps revealed half of world’s oceans are now industrially fished. “Oceans are under threat now as never before in human history,” said Sir David Attenborough at the conclusion of the BBC series Blue Planet 2 in December. 
The new research, published in the journal Current Biology, classified areas of ocean as wilderness if they were in the lowest 10% of human impacts, either from one source, such as bottom trawling, or a combination of them all.

As most are on the high seas, very few are protected. “This means the vast majority of marine wilderness could be lost at any time, as improvements in technology allow us to fish deeper and ship farther than ever before,” Jones said.

Caught Between a Tide and a Cool Place

It sounds like we left coasters are real wimps. At least when it comes to heatwaves we're treated differently than other Canadians. Environment Canada has introduced a new scale for heat warnings based, in part, on where you live.

Those of us in Lotus Land, coastal British Columbians, get the heat danger warning at 29 degrees Celsius. Other parts of the country don't get that warning until the forecast temperature is much higher.
What was once a single threshold for nearly everywhere across the country now differs from region to region, about 20 in all, with criteria that considers duration, nighttime lows and local health impacts. 
The new system has been rolled out slowly, but its purpose is urgent: to warn people as early as possible that heat can kill and is on its way.
...Even before the change from Environment Canada, B.C.'s Lower Mainland had its own threshold for heat warnings, designed after a deadly heat wave in 2009
Over seven days that summer, the normally balmy South Coast had temperatures that reached 40 C in areas and stayed higher for longer than authorities thought possible there. 
That week, 110 more people died than would be seen in an average summer week in the region, according to a 2012 study by the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
110 in one week. That's something.

When I moved to the coast from Ottawa about forty years ago I loved the gentle climate. Mild summers. Mild winters. Wet, to be sure, but that seemed a fair price to pay.

It was about three years after moving west that I went to visit my family in southern Ontario at the height of summer. As I walked down the steps from that DC-9, I was struck by the blast of heat. For a second I thought I must be walking through the exhaust of the idling jet engine. No, the engine was the other way. I was just getting a blast of Ontario summer. Damn near melted. I made sure not to get too far from A/C for too long while I was there. I just about kissed the ground when I landed back in Vancouver.

A year or two after that it was back to Ontario for Christmas with the family. When I lived in Ottawa I had picked up this RCMP winter parka that had served me well in the worst of an Ottawa winter. Naturally I brought that along, figuring I had it made. Wrong again. As I walked from the aircraft to the Ottawa terminal I discovered what had protected me in the past wasn't protecting me now.

After the summer experience followed by the winter experience I realized I was no longer acclimated to Ontario weather. I couldn't bear the heat. I couldn't stand the cold. Apparently that's not perception. It's real.

Now, with the exceptions of Quebec and Nunavut, heat warnings are issued when the high temperatures are expected to last two days — rather than an hour — and the threshold varies not just by province but zones within a province. 
In Ontario, which piloted the new system in 2015, three different thresholds apply; Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have two zones; and there's just one for Newfoundland and Labrador. 
B.C., with its mountains and sea, has four — ranging from 28 C on the North Coast to 35 C in the Fraser Valley and Southern Interior. 
That's partly based on the highest five per cent of temperatures a region is likely to see, said MacDonald. 
But it's also based on health data — because if you're not used to heat, it truly is more dangerous, said Kathleen McLean, an environmental health scientist with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, which worked with Environment Canada on the new criteria in B.C. 
"People definitely become physiologically adapted to the temperatures in the place that they live in," said McLean.
We're currently under a heat advisory with temperatures expected to reach the high 20s, perhaps even 30 C this weekend, before dropping back down to the low 20s. I don't have air conditioning and I still sleep under a down duvet at night.

I'm about a block from the sea, close enough that it gets comfortably cool overnight. I use blinds to shutter the house during the heat of afternoon. Once the sun is down and the evening cooling begins the blinds are up, those huge casement windows swing wide open and the ceiling fans team up with the breezes to flush the accumulated heat out of the house overnight.

I'm lucky. My house is situated atop a rocky escarpment that juts out into the sea.  Cooling from three sides and there's usually an evening breeze coming from one of those directions. Yet there's no guarantee this is going to last. The climate is changing rather quickly. Extreme weather events, including heatwaves, are increasing in frequency, intensity and duration.

If we're having these problems try to imagine living in Central America and other countries in that latitude where, if the theory of Climate Departure pans out, may become unlivable if only seasonally at first. The projected start of climate departure is just two to five years away so we won't have long to wait before we see what effects it has on the populace of these countries.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

So You Think Yourself a Progressive.

From what I've seen, there are many Canadians who consider themselves progressives by virtue of being somewhat to the left of the Conservatives. It's almost a default laurel. You earn the merit badge not for what you are but for what you are not.

This opening paragraph from an article in The New Republic nails it.

What is the opposite of sex? This is a question that admits of no answer, a kind of Zen koan that brings the reflecting mind to a standstill. So, what if we apply the question to “progressivism,” so-called: Is there an opposite to that? Answer: not if the question refers to the vague, amorphous, undefined progressivism of today. There can be no antonym for a term that is lexically meaningless.
Is the modern Liberal Party progressive? No, it's not. It does not embrace any code of progressive principles. Its progressive instincts, fleeting as they are, are at best gestural. Progressivism is just that - a code of principles. Many of them are embodied in Teddy Roosevelt's Square Deal speech of 1910.  Roosevelt didn't formulate these principles. They far predated him. Yet laid out in this address is a template for progressive governance. Read it and then ask yourself if you wouldn't prefer to have a progressive government today.

[House Speaker]  Paul Ryan ...told Glenn Beck in 2010 that a major goal of his was to “indict the entire vision of progressivism.” He labeled progressivism a “cancer” and identified it as “the intellectual source for the big government problems that are plaguing us today.” The first progressives, he argued, detached “people from the Constitution and founding principles to pave the way for the centralized bureaucratic welfare state,” which in turn fostered “a culture of dependency on the government, not on oneself.” 
Ryan further claimed, “This stuff came from these German intellectuals to Madison, University of Wisconsin.” There is some truth to that, but if Ryan knew more about his native state, he would realize that the true culprits were Scandinavian immigrants who flooded into the upper Midwest in the latter part of the nineteenth century. These immigrants brought egalitarian values, derivative of Lutheran Protestantism, that inspired them to organize agricultural cooperatives and to support, in disproportionate numbers, the nascent trade union movement. A communitarian ethos also led them to view favorably the concept of the welfare state, which the Swedes called folkhemmet, or “the people’s home,” implying, contra Paul Ryan, not a dependency on the state per se, nor on the self alone, but rather on each other, as in a family.
Another key source of the Wisconsin Progressive ethos was John Bascom, the president of the University of Wisconsin from 1874 to 1887. Bascom was mentor to Robert (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette, the Progressive Republican who would serve Wisconsin as both a governor and a U.S. senator. Bascom, Kaufman explains, “saw society as a living thing, a type of organism. To maintain its health, the state needed to foster social, moral, and economic harmony. If the rich grew too rich, if workers became impoverished, if women were subjugated, society fell out of balance, and the whole of it suffered.” Though resistant to socialist ideology, he was even more opposed to laissez-faire economics and advocated strong government action to redress such imbalances. Perhaps the most important idea La Follette took from Bascom was the absolute necessity of curbing excessive corporate wealth and power for the sake of societal equilibrium.
There is another vital point here. While this may seem, in the current condition, counter-intuitive, progressivism is not the exclusive preserve of any political party provided they are committed to democracy. That is not the case when government succumbs to special interests and corporate influence. Ryan & Company are stalwart defenders of self-sufficiency for the people but they dish out plenty of largesse to the corporate sector. That largesse comes in a host of forms including subsidies, grants, deferrals and deregulation. 

As John Kenneth Galbraith warned the only socialism that would be tolerated in America is socialism for the rich. That has been the pattern of the neoliberal era - socializing losses while privatizing gains, redistributing wealth from the many into the pockets of the few. In a functioning democracy that should not be tolerated but America ceased being a democracy years ago.

This is a contagion that, while well-established in the United States, could easily spread, particularly if you happen to be the next door neighbour.

Recent polls show that American Democrats and independents want a sea change, a shift to the left, an aspiration steadfastly rejected by the Democrat establishment. America may be developing an appetite for a progressive restoration.

As for Canada and the governing Liberals, it is time the Liberals abandoned their Conservative-Lite perch and veered sharply left into a position where they could begin to address the major challenges of the day. When will the Liberal rank and file demand a progressive restoration?

He Was Warned. Now Trump May Be Hoist On His Own Petard.

In Trump's case, his petard might wind up to be Twitter, his everyday early morning workout. Trump takes to Twitter to energize his base, the Gullibillies. He routinely uses tweets to disseminate lies and smear opponents. Favourite targets have been former FBI director, James Comey; the FBI, the CIA, the Mueller investigation, Rosenstein, just about anybody or any thing with which he has an axe to grind.

From the get go Trump's aides have struggled in vain to get him to give up Twitter. The Mango Mussolini, true to form, has simply ignored their advice. Now the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators are poring over Trump's tweets.

As defense attorney Ken White writes on Twitter, Mueller and his team aren’t trying to make Trump’s tweets a crime, per se — rather, they might use them to piece together a mosaic, combined with other evidence, to determine the true motivations behind the president’s actions. 
“A thing that is not a crime can be EVIDENCE of a crime,” writes White. “This is particularly true when it comes to a potential defendant’s mental state — what they knew and when they knew it, what they intended, and so forth.” 
...White explains that Trump’s tweets attacking the Mueller probe, along with his attacks on key figures in the investigation such as former FBI Director James Comey, could really come back to burn the president when used as evidence against him. 
“In the case of the President of the United States, it’s perfectly plausible that his tweets could be evidence of (1) what he knew and when, and (2) what he intended when he did other things off of Twitter,” he writes. “It doesn’t mean the tweets themselves are a crime.”
Mueller's team should have ample evidence of conduct that looks like obstruction of justice or other crimes. By itself that stuff, referred to as the "actus reus," ordinarily won't ground a conviction. There has to be a second element, a guilty intent, the "mens rea," to transform a bad act into a crime.

And if all this sounds like a load of hooey, remember this: when Congress moved to impeach Richard Nixon it was for obstruction of justice related to the Watergate break-in and cover-up. Adios, Tricky Dicky. Enjoy that last helicopter ride on Marine One. Fortunately there's room for another presidential sayonara.

If We Can't Learn to Live With Our Planet, We Can't Continue to Live On It.

We have some serious problems to address. How we respond to those problems will determine how human civilization goes forward or even collapses. So, what's it going to be?

It's finally sinking in that we are confronted by three main existential threats - climate change (and the freshwater crisis), over-consumption and overpopulation. Mankind has massively outgrown our planet and, in the process, has put not only the human species but most other life forms, terrestrial and aquatic, in real jeopardy.

While our odds worsen and the challenges continue to grow year by year, at this point we have one possible remedy - a rapid and engineered decline, what James Lovelock once labeled "sustainable retreat."

Our species has outgrown our planet and we're fresh out of planets. We've got one, just the one. All we've got is Spaceship Earth and we're exhausting its resources, exceeding its ecological carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7. And that excess is growing every year.

We're squeezing out other species - taking their habitat, their food, contaminating their world. Over the past 40 years we have lost more than half of all terrestrial and marine life. We don't leave enough for them to maintain their populations. Just one species, our own, is now putting almost every other species to rout.

We pretend not to notice. Hey, the supermarket shelves are still stocked with food at affordable prices. Yet we have already substantially degraded our global ecosystem.

It is estimated that mankind last lived in harmony with nature in the mid-70s when our population reached three billion. That's when we maxed out the Earth's carrying capacity. In the 40 years since we've swollen our numbers to 7.5 billion, expected to reach 9 billion in another two decades. Meanwhile the Earth's human carrying capacity has declined. It's estimated we're now at two billion. Of course we can ignore it and keep growing our numbers and our global GDP but we've been warned that will trigger collapse and we'll end out this century with a population well under one billion, perhaps just a few hundred million tucked away in the very coolest parts of the planet.

Nine billion down to a few hundred million - that's a lot of people who will have to die and over the span of less than a single human lifetime.

You would think that, armed with all this science and aware of what's already happening around the world, especially severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration, that we would be racing to act. You would be wrong. We're racing all right but we're heading ever faster toward that oncoming train in the distance.

So, what do you think? Most who read these posts are either centrist or mildly leftist politically. Centrists support the Trudeau Liberal government that pursues perpetual exponential economic growth including the extraction, transmission and export of life-extinguishing high-carbon bitumen. Leftists support the New Democrats who don't seem to be significantly different than the Liberals or the Conservatives on the growth economy business.

I want to know what you think of your preferred political party and its policies on the economy, on the environment. What do you think of their plans, if any, to prepare our country and our people for what is expected to arrive in just the next couple of decades?

Are you among the group who believes "they'll think of something"? Why do you think that? Is it because anything other than a theological-grade belief in salvation is unbearable?

I know this issue makes some people not just anxious but angry.  However the simple fact that you're still reading this suggests you're not one of those.

So, what do you think?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Our Unshakable Habits.

A report in The Guardian yesterday reminds us that the world enters overshoot this year on August 1.  As the article points out that means that next year we'll be in overshoot in July.

The head of the Global Footprint Network explains "overshoot."
 “Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet,” he said. “We are borrowing the Earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time. But as nations, companies, or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart.”
I have been following the Global Footprint Network and their overshoot reports for a good many years. I have written a load of posts/essays on the subject over those years. It took me several years to see the writing on the wall - that we are confronted with a matrix of existential threats that can all be traced back to one problem, mankind's inability to live in harmony with our biosphere. The impacts fall within three categories - climate change, over-consumption and overpopulation. It was true in August, 2011 when I wrote the following post and it's even truer now. 

We're confronted by a bucketful of challenges today, some existential, the rest mere crises. But it seems we're surrounded by them. We've got the big one, global warming, the civilization ender. And then we've got all the associated environmental scourges - deforestation, desertification, species extinction and migration, pest and disease migration, the fisheries collapse, the freshwater crisis (the second biggie) and the food crisis, air/soil/water contamination, and that other biggie, overpopulation. Then we've got the non-environmental crises - the debt crisis, terrorism and other global security threats, nuclear proliferation and various regional arms races and the realignment of major powers and their spheres of influence.

...China and India are arriving at the party only to find we've wolverined the cabin. We gorged ourselves on everything we could possibly eat and then pissed on the rest. It's hard to blame them for being a bit angry. If we think we've got problems what lies in store for China and India is far worse. 
Today there doesn't seem to be even one country with a leader capable of dealing with this cornucopia of challenges, all needing answers. Not one grasps that the solutions to these problems are inter-related. There are common threads that run through them all and it is in these that any solutions to be had will be found. These threads are all tied to one core reality - that we're trying to live beyond the limits of a very finite biosphere. Solving these troubles is going to require answers first and foremost configured to address that reality. 
We're going to pay a horrible price if we don't see three forces at play in our crises - overpopulation, over-consumption and over-contamination. There are too many of us, we eat too much and we don't clean up after ourselves. Each of those prevents us from living in balance with our one and only source of life, our biosphere. It's the only one we've got. There aren't any others. If we can't live in balance with it, the biosphere will become uninhabitable and it's nearing the brink of that right now. 
These are the realities we have to accept if we're to have any hope of getting out of this mess more or less intact. These realities have to be accepted as the guiding considerations on which solutions are to be devised. All things that cannot be made to conform to these guiding considerations prevent us from finding balance within our biosphere and must, therefore, be abandoned and replaced. We must do this because we have no other choice to save our civilization.

What that means, in part, is an end to the 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics that steered us straight into our perilous predicament. Those were all shaped in times of much different circumstances when mankind hadn't yet overpopulated the biosphere, when our consumption was still within our planet's means and when our contamination was not yet existential. It was a time when economic growth was the great elixir, a solution to our every social ill. Those days are gone and they're not coming back. 
Although the wealthiest parts of the planet have not truly sensed it yet, we're running out of stuff. We have exceeded our biosphere's carrying capacity. The evidence of this is tangible. It is unquestionable in our collapsed global fisheries. It is visible from space in vast tracts of deforestation and desertification, the disappearance of polar ice and the retreat of glaciers on every continent. 
The Global Footprint Network evaluates "nature's supply in the form of biocapacity, the amount of resources the planet generates, and compares that to human demand: the amount it takes to produce all the living resources we consume and absorb our carbon dioxide emissions." In 1976 mankind began exceeding our planet's biocapacity, falling into biocapacity deficit, eating our seedcorn. At the dawn of this century, World Overshoot Day fell in early October, leaving us with a three month overconsumption of natural resources. Last year that had advanced to August 21. This year it will be earlier still. It's a global conjuring act. We're fouling our atmosphere, emptying our oceans, felling our forests and overworking once productive farmland, turning it into useless desert in our furious efforts to satisfy unsustainable consumption - and every year it gets that much worse than the year before. Any guesses as to how this must end if we don't change course? 
Overshoot itself demonstrates the fallacy of the self-regulating free market. Unregulated free market capitalism pays no heed to excess. It operates to maximize production and consumption and profits through constant growth. It ignores the vital distinction between needs and wants. It feeds off over-consumption, overpopulation and fuels over-contamination. Free market capitalism offends every guiding consideration we need to accept to get out of this predicament.

When growth becomes impossible, then traditional growth-based economics must yield to allocation-based policy where needs prevail over wants. People are willing to tolerate inequality and excess when growth is available to "lift all boats" but expect much more frugal and egalitarian outcomes when supply is allocation-based, that is to say rationed. 
If we do not accept the principle of needs over wants we have no hope of regulating consumption back within our planet's renewable biological capacity. And if we reject that choice then someone, a great many someones will have to die. We either all eat small, measured portions from the same pie or the privileged get the pie and the remainder get none and die in any one of several resulting ways. It really is as simple as that. We have used clever conjuring acts, like the Green Revolution, to create the illusion of sufficiency but, in the process, used unsustainable quantities of groundwater for irrigation and ruinous amounts of fertilizer that exhaust the soil. Today in India, for example, the soil has become so degraded that crops now require twice as much fertilizer as was needed two decades ago. Pretending that the next grand solution is just around the corner is nihilistic denial. 
We in the West, the earth's unrivaled consumers, will have to sacrifice most. In part that would mean living within our means as defined by our national borders. The GFN calculations show the United States currently consuming double its natural biocapacity. By eliminating needless waste and rolling back excess, the American people could still live sustainably in a genuinely comfortable standard of living. 
While we in the West indulge in the sin of gluttony, much of the emerging nations and the Third World need to atone for their destructive overpopulation. Asia, south and east, comprise nearly half the world's population and their numbers are burgeoning with Africa now in pursuit. We're already at 7-billion in 2011 and that number is predicted to reach 9 to 10-billion by mid-century and possibly up to 15-billion by 2100. Those are civilization-destroying figures. In a finite world, numbers matter and numerical inequality through profligate procreation is as cardinal a sin as the gluttony of the West. These nations likewise need to live within the natural biocapacity of their national borders. Their biocapacity must set the limit of their population, consumption and waste. 
For assets that do not fall within our national boundaries, essential assets such as the atmosphere and the oceans we have to treat them as "commons." No one owns them and, hence, everyone has an equal right to them. The atmosphere's remaining CO2 carrying capacity has to be apportioned out on a per capita basis. We in the industrialized West have no more right to the atmosphere than any other region, nation or individual. The same holds true for our oceans. We in the West have no natural right to claim the lion's share of our planet's fisheries. Unless we accept the principle of equality, these essential assets will be utterly ruined. 
Does this mean that capitalism is dead? No, of course not. It means, however, that capitalism's more predatory instincts will have to be curbed and it will have to be brought into support of our guiding considerations. That may sound radical but there's nothing truly radical in necessity. 
Can we do this? Yes, of course. We can because we must. Plan B is too horrible to comprehend. Will we do it? Not until we recognize the absolutely essential need for it, accept the guiding considerations and use them to shape our future, and then persuade, cajole and coerce our species to implement a new order, one that answers to needs, not wants. We have a great deal to do and a very limited amount of time in which to do it.

Can You Feel It? I Know You Can - If You're Lucky.

Will 2018 go into the books as the year the world realized that we've entered a new climate epoch?  Mega-summer, it's been building for a while but it's here now and with a vengeance. It does lend credence to research by University of Hawaii climatologists in 2013 predicting that Earth will begin to experience "climate departure" starting around 2023.

In March of this year a paper published in Nature, Climate Change echoed the Hawaii research, looking at "anthropogenic climate change" in western North America and the Great Lakes region in the contest of ToE, time of emergence.
ACC dominates heat-wave occurrence over the western United States and Great Lakes regions, with ToE that occurred as early as the 2020s and 2030s, respectively.
Of course this is a global challenge/threat, especially, for now, across the northern hemisphere.

Japan, after enduring torrential rains and flash floods is now reeling from a killer heatwave that has claimed more than 64 lives and sent more than 20,000 to hospital. The same heatwave is hammering Korea.

Britain is now coming to grips with triple-digit heatwaves. Meanwhile in northern Sweden and elsewhere, wildfires are breaking out inside the Arctic Circle where temperatures have reached more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A wildfire in Greece overnight claimed 74 lives and forced more than 700 to escape into the sea.  The American southwest is reeling from record heat events and there's no end in sight, at least not in the short term. Across western America crews are trying to prevent a massive die-off of herds of wild horses suffering from the heat and drought.

This is the new summer. Best you get used to it.

Gullibillies Take Another One Up the Butt from DJ Trump

It's difficult to guess how incredibly stupid Trump supporters, his base, must be but we're beginning to see some metrics.

Take the Republican tax cuts that DJT loves to brag about. Those cuts did a lot for a few just not for the many, including the Gullibillies.  Bloomberg reports that wages that were supposed to go up have instead gone down.  One chart demonstrates how Trump and his unitary Republican government have dismantled the progress implemented by the Obama administration.

It takes a while for companies to make investment decisions, more time for those decisions to be implemented and even more time for the resulting changes in labor demand to bid up workers’ wages. It therefore takes months or even years before the full impact of the tax bill will be known.

But it’s also important to evaluate policies like Trump’s tax reform as quickly as possible. Not only is this critical for deciding whether to change course, but as more time goes on, the effects of a policy can become harder to assess. Two years from now, plenty of other things will have had time to affect the economy, including Trump’s trade war and natural economic forces. And now that the tax cut has been in effect for a half-year, the results are starting to trickle in.

First, the tax reform hasn’t yet resulted in appreciably higher wages for American workers. Real average hourly compensation actually fell in the first quarter after the tax reform was passed.
But perhaps two quarters is too early to expect results in this area. A better gauge might be business investment — if the tax reform is spurring businesses to increase capital expenditure, as it was supposed to do, then wage increases will probably follow in due course. 
Some have expressed dismay that stock buybacks seem to have taken precedence over boosting capital investment. Since the tax cuts passed, companies have been using buybacks to return record amounts of cash to shareholders — more than $700 billion in the first two quarters. That naturally raises the possibility that companies don’t have good projects to invest in. If companies pass their tax windfall on to shareholders, those investors can choose to react by increasing consumption — meaning more of society’s resources go to the wealthy. They can also choose to invest the money in other companies with better growth prospects — but if those companies are also reacting by returning the money to their shareholders, rather than making capital expenditures, not much is getting accomplished. 
So is any of the tax-cut windfall being used to finance the capital expenditure that the economy needs? Private nonresidential fixed investment did increase as a share of the economy in the first two quarters since the reform was passed.
...Huge, immediate gains for wealthy shareholders combined with tepid increases in business investment and decreases in real wages don’t paint a flattering picture of the tax cut’s impact so far. There is, however, a possibility that the tax cut has acted as a Keynesian fiscal stimulus, helping to push down unemployment. 
But that’s not exactly the long-term structural improvement that the bill’s supporters advertised. And as a recent research note from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco points out, fiscal stimulus in good economic times is less effective than in recessions. And growth hasn’t really sped up either — real per capita gross domestic product growth was only 1.34 percent in the first quarter, below 2017’s pace, and considerably less than in 2014 and 2015.
Has the mantra of "Everyday Low Taxes" had its day?
There’s still the possibility that Trump’s tax reform will bear fruit in the long term. But early results are pointing to another possibility — that tax cuts have run their course as an economic policy.

In the postwar period, with top marginal income tax rates at more than 90 percent, it made sense to cut taxes as a way of improving the economy’s long-term health. A series of big tax cuts, under presidents Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan, might have boosted economic activity in their day. But the later tax cuts by George W. Bush were followed by years of underwhelming growth, implying that income taxes were no longer doing much damage to economic efficiency. 
Corporate taxes were really the last hope for the tax-cutting strategy. But if even that doesn’t provide more than a small momentary fiscal stimulus, then we’ve reached the end of that approach’s usefulness