Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Tyee Nails It. The Tories Choose Sides.

The headline pretty much says it all:

"The Conservatives Pick a Side — And It’s Saudi Arabia
Party allies with a government that beheads criminals and oppresses women and Shia Muslims."
Stress, it’s said, reveals true character. If so, the stress of the Saudis’ quarrel with Canada has revealed the Conservative Party of Canada as a gang of sellouts, coming out solidly in support of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the Saudis’ idle quarrel with Canada.

As the uproar began last week, Tory MP Michelle Rempel, shadow minister for citizenship and immigration, tweeted a thread paying lip service to human rights issues like the imprisonment and flogging of Raif Badawai and jailing of his sister Samar and blasting the Liberals’ “inconsistent” approach to human rights advocacy. 
At the same time, shadow foreign affairs minister Erin O’Toole was tweeting: “My view is that a disconnect between our countries arose because of the use of Twitter as a substitute for proper diplomacy by the Trudeau government. Serious diplomacy requires effort. The Prime Minister and Minister should advocate face to face on issues and not by hashtag.” 
That was just the warmup. The Guardian ran a piece on Saturday with a photo of a solemn Justin Trudeau and a mournful headline: “We don’t have a single friend.” Those weren’t Trudeau’s words; they were a quote from Rachel Curran, who used to be Stephen Harper’s policy director. She went on to say: “…in the whole wide world.”

And to cap it all off, the Tories' former foreign minister, John Baird, demanded that Trudeau fly to Riyadh to get down on bended knee and beg the crown prince's forgiveness.
The Conservatives, if they were consistent, would have held a quiet face-to-face meeting with Trudeau and his cabinet to chew them out in private and then work out a united-front response to the Saudis. Instead, they’ve sided with the kind of government that beheads and crucifies criminals, and oppresses women and Shia Muslims.

As for meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, the Saudis are past masters. As The Economist recently observed, “Since 2011 they have helped quash a [pro-democracy] uprising in Bahrain, backed a coup in Egypt and detained Lebanon’s prime minister.” Not to mention blockading Qatar and turning Yemen’s civil war into a humanitarian catastrophe: over a million cholera cases, a shattered health care system, the risk of famine for millions, and just recently an air strike on a school bus that killed at least 40.
And let's not forget the Saudi and Gulf State proteges - the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Harem - and all the madrasas the Saudis fund throughout the Arab world that preach its own murderous theocracy - Wahhabism.

We know from then secretary of state Hillary Clinton's hacked diplomatic note that the Americans know the Saudis and their Gulf State princes, sheikhs and emirs shuffled the essential money needed to raise, equip and train ISIS.  If you want more, Google Bandar bin Sultan and Sir Richard Dearlove. Read more here, and here, and here.

Let's be clear on one thing. The Tories are using this manufactured crisis to attack Justin Trudeau but it's really Canada that's getting thrown under their bus and they're just fine with that.

I'm no fan of Trudeau or his government, anything but, and yet I know there is a line that no Canadian should cross as Tories past and present have done so freely. They have allied themselves foresquare with the Saudis and that means against Canada. The Conservatives are a goddamned disgrace.

It'll Be Over Before You Know It - Unless It Isn't. The Big Heat is Coming.

Climate change is a major cause in the severe weather events that have set in almost everywhere around the globe.

"A" major cause but there are others. ENSO, the el Nino Southern Oscillation, is another. Ocean currents, ditto. These things come in waves and, like ordinary waves, when they combine they can amplify or cancel each other.

A study released today by the journal, Nature.com, says we've got at least four more years of severe and excessive heating.  The title of the paper, "A novel probabilistic forecast system predicting anomalously warm 2018-2022 reinforcing the long-term global warming trend," is a bit of a plot spoiler.  Anomalously  warm 2018-2022.
The world is likely to see more extreme temperatures in the coming four years as natural warming reinforces manmade climate change, according to a new global forecasting system. 
Following a summer of heatwaves and forest fires in the northern hemisphere, the study in the journal Nature Communications suggests there will be little respite for the planet until at least 2022, and possibly not even then. 
Rising greenhouse gas emissions are steadily adding to the upward pressure on temperatures, but humans do not feel the change as a straight line because the effects are diminished or amplified by phases of natural variation.

From 1998 to 2010, global temperatures were in a “hiatus” as natural cooling (from ocean circulation and weather systems) offset anthropogenic global warming. But the planet has now entered almost the opposite phase, when natural trends are boosting man-made effects.
...Professor James Renwick of Victoria University of Wellington said the new forecasting system was clever, but its value will only be clear in the future. The broader trend, however, was clear. 
“If the warming trend caused by greenhouse gas emissions continues, years like 2018 will be the norm in the 2040s, and would be classed as cold by the end of the century,” he wrote.
When I read summaries of the reports that have come in over the past month, my mind goes to agriculture or, more specifically, food security. The problem isn't just the heatwaves but, of perhaps greater concern, our broken hydrologic cycle. We've lost a significant amount of surface moisture that has evaporated into water vapour, atmospheric moisture.

This warmer, wetter atmosphere fuels severe storm events of increasing frequency, duration and intensity. The recent flooding of Toronto or the inundation of Calgary in 2013 are one aspect. In many other areas it's the opposite problem - drought. This is Australia's mid-winter and yet that country is plagued with drought. Europe too, when it's not flooding. Western North America is drought-stricken resulting in record wildfires extending from Mexico to the Arctic. Sweden, yes Sweden, is on the receiving end of drought and wildfires extending well into the Arctic Circle.

Fortunately Russia is reported to be having a good year on wheat. Canada hopes to see only small declines. How will that hold up if we keep getting battered by successive record-hot summers? Well, our government should be telling us that only they're not. It's probably not the discussion you most want to have if you're planning to sell a plan to export ever more bitumen for the next 30 years.

Baird Roars from Riyadh

Former foreign affairs minister, John Baird, is in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where he took the opportunity to smear Justin Trudeau. Thanks, John.

John Baird appeared on Saudi state TV over the weekend to denounce the Trudeau government for its “gratuitous attack” on the Saudi regime. 
“For Canada to treat a friend and ally this way has been incredibly unhelpful,” Baird told the English-language arm of Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned equivalent of Al Jazeera.
Baird added that the best way to resolve the crisis would be for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fly to Riyadh to apologize in person to the Saudi royal family. 
“I think the Canadian government is only beginning to understand how offensive their conduct has been to the Saudi government,” he said. 
“This is giving Canada a bad reputation.” 
Baird now works at a series of consultancy roles, including a position on the advisory board for Barrick, a major mining firm with interests in Saudi Arabia. The company owns a 50-per-cent stake of Jabal Sayid, a copper mine that began production in 2016. 
When Baird was foreign affairs minister under then prime minister Stephen Harper, he was known as a frequent and sometimes aggressive supporter of human rights abroad.

Why is it when these Harper alumni open their mouths they always leave such a stain?

Monday, August 13, 2018

"The Master of Negation"

The title, "master of negation," could be a reference to only one person, the president of the United States of America, the terrible tempered Donald J. Trump.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump appealed to Republican primary voters who were less ideological than the avowed conservatives who flocked to Ted Cruz and other more doctrinaire candidates. He did so by presenting himself as a master of the art of negotiation. Yet his real talent, then as now, has proven to be his knack for negation, as Martin Gurri, author of The Revolt of the Public, has argued. According to Gurri, the politics of negation is a style perfected in online communities. By way of illustration, he writes, “if you asked an indignado or an Occupier or a Tea Partier what they stood against, you would get long, long lists of grievances. If you asked what they stood for, you’d get throat-clearing noises and generalities like ‘social justice’ or ‘the Constitution.’” The creation of a positive program of reform is almost beside the point. Revolt is its own reward. Even when Trump’s policy prescriptions are perfectly banal, he frames them in an exaggerated and pointedly polarizing manner, as if it were his goal to stoke outrage. And for now, a decent-sized slice of the electorate welcomes his politics of negation, or is more fearful of the new modes of negation that are arising in response to Trump than they are of him.
Trump is plainly obsessed with tearing down anything someone else has built. He would rather have rubble heaped in a vacant field than an edifice. It's why he goes after Merkel, the E.U., NAFTA, even Justin Trudeau.

Even Trump's spiritual blood brother, Recep Erdogan, got the treatment over some detained American pastor, the sort of person Trump does not give a crap about except as a handy pretext. Trump wanted to take Erdogan down (not that it's a bad thing) and so he used the excuse of some preacher to slap tariffs on Turkish exports in order to destabilize the local currency and undermine its economy. Voila, Trump the Indignado.
If the Democratic landslide does come this November, rest assured that Republicans will blame the president and his politics of negation for their fate. Know that this will be at best only half of the truth—the deeper fault lies with a congressional GOP that has utterly failed to rise to the challenge of binding America’s wounds.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

We Bite Our Tongues. Gwynne Dyer Dares to Say It.

Sometimes our inner-Cassandra gets the better part of us, I suppose. We may read the latest report, couple it with the veritable mountain of reports that proceeded it and upon which it usually builds, and then step well back from writing what it seems, to us, to mean.  Who wants to scream, "aaarh, you're all gonna die"? No one wants to say that. No one wants to think that.

Gwynne Dyer doesn't seem to have many reservations on that score. Writing about last week's paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says we have passed the point of no return. Here is Dyer's recent column, almost in its entirety:

The article has the usual low-key scientific title: Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. The authors never raise their voices, but they point out the likeliest of those trajectories – the one we will stay on even if all the promises in the 2015 Paris Accord on climate change are kept – runs right off a cliff. 
Hothouse Earth is not very hospitable to human life. Hundreds of millions or even a billion or two would probably survive, but the damage to agricultural systems would be so extreme that billions more would die. (The authors don’t say this, of course, but the people who have to think about these contingencies, like the military in the developed countries, know it very well.) What the authors are saying is that global warming driven directly by human emissions of greenhouse gases is only smaller part of the problem. The real threat is the unstoppable natural feedbacks, triggered by the warming that we have caused, that will take us up to the killing temperatures. 
They list 10 of them, the biggest being loss of Arctic sea-ice, melting of the permafrost zone, dieback in the boreal and the Amazon forests and changes driven by warming in the ocean circulation system. Just triggering one or two of these feedbacks could cause enough additional warming to set off others, like a row of toppling dominoes.

Yet the role of these feedbacks was not discussed in the scientific journals, not included in the predictions of future warming issued every four or five years by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and definitely not part of the public debate. Why not?
When you make a statement in science, you have to be able to prove it, generally with hard numbers and testable predictions. The hard numbers weren’t available.
So the climate scientists didn’t make grand assertions – but they did manage to get the threshold of two degrees Celsius higher global temperature adopted as the never-exceed target for the IPCC’s efforts to get the warming under control. (Nobody said publicly how they arrived at that number, but it was because the scientists thought that it was about where the feedbacks would start kicking in.) The scale and trigger-points of the feedbacks have finally been calculated, more or less, and the news is as bad as the scientists feared. We have passed the point where a return to the stable climate of the past 14,000 years is possible, and we are on course for Hothouse Earth. 
The best we can do is try to stabilize the warming at or just below plus two degrees, and that will not be possible without major human interventions in the climate system. It would require “deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, protection and enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, (and) possibly solar radiation management. . . .” 
...As Jim Lovelock, the creator of earth system science, wrote 39 years ago, we may “wake up one day to find that (we have) the permanent lifelong job of planetary maintenance engineer.” 
I haven’t bothered to ask Lovelock if we are there yet. Of course we are.
You may have read the latest controversy that also came out this week concerning the first parts of the world that will become uninhabitable - lethal to human life. The first region identified is China's densely populated agricultural belt. Temperatures there will first hit "wet bulb 35," a combination of heat and humidity so intense that the human body can't cool itself and bakes from the inside out. Even a young, healthy and fit person at rest in the shade would survive for six hours max.

Another area in line for wet bulb 35 is the Persian Gulf region - Iran, Iraq, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia - all the places where we've wasted treasure and lives for the best part of the last 20 years in a vain effort to achieve something or other.

Parts of the Caribbean and Central America are expected to become at least seasonally uninhabitable - if you can call the loss of your growing season a seasonal problem.

And, as for us, we're not going to escape unscathed. With any luck we'll be in the "least and last" impacted club but even that is going to be a tough ride. And I'm sure our government is going to get right on that, just as soon as they've got their armada of bitumen supertankers up and running. Right? Yeah, right.

Time to Call Trump's Bluff

Donald Trump has invited Theresa May to join him in restoring sanctions against Iran - or else. "Nice country ya got here, Terry. Would be a shame if something happened to it."
The United States ambassador to the UK has called on Britain to side with President Donald Trump on Iran or risk "serious trade consequences" for UK businesses. 
In a pointed intervention into an issue that has strained ties between the two allies, Woody Johnson said the UK should embrace Trump's hard-hitting sanctions on Iran, reimposed last week, and break with its European partners who are seeking to preserve the deal to curtail Iran's nuclear program. 
"America is turning up the pressure and we want the UK by our side. It is time to move on from the flawed 2015 deal," Johnson wrote in the UK's Sunday Telegraph, referring to the 2015 Obama-era pact agreed by the US, Iran, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia. Trump withdrew from the deal in May. 
"We are asking global Britain to use its considerable diplomatic power and influence and join us as we lead a concerted global effort towards a genuinely comprehensive agreement," Johnson added.
Shortly after the sanctions snapped back into place last week, Trump warned in a tweet that countries doing business with Iran would "NOT be doing business with the United States."
America's allies must sort this out. Will they defend their sovereignty and stand up to Trump or will they submit? If they should know anything about this malignant narcissist, if they fold this won't end with Iran. This is far more about Trump than Iran. He's going to keep pushing them, working to dominate them. Will they find the courage to tell him "enough"?

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Who Says We Don't Have Allies?

Okay, you can exclude the United States and the United Kingdom. They're what people used to call "fair weather friends." If you can't count on their support for something relatively inconsequential such as the Saudi crown prince's hissy fit against Canada you know they'll be nowhere to be found if something really serious befalls our nation.

The European Union, however, has done what London and Washington did not.
The European Union has asked Saudi Arabia to shed light on the arrests and charges facing women human rights activists, saying that the detainees should be granted due process to defend themselves.
Saudi Arabia has in recent months detained several women's rights activists, some of whom had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system. 
"The EU has been engaging constructively with the Saudi authorities seeking clarification on the circumstances surrounding the arrests of women human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia, notably with regard to the specific accusations brought against them," spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. 
"We have been emphasising the relevance of the role of human rights defenders and civil society groups in the process of reform which the Kingdom is pursuing as well as the importance of respecting the rules of due process for all those arrested," she said. 
Earlier on Saturday, Mogherini spoke to Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on the phone, with both sides agreeing to intensify their cooperation in human rights as well as other areas.
Knowing which nations can be counted on and which cannot is going to be increasingly vital in the near future. Things like this Saudi tiff can be a real litmus test of affinity.

AI, Artificial Intelligence, Comes in More Than One Flavour

Vlad Putin put the significance of artificial intelligence this way:
“Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.
Putin isn't alone. There are plenty of others who see artificial intelligence the same way, as a vehicle for global dominance, a means to shape the world as they would have it.

By some accounts, China may have a strategic lead in the development of artificial intelligence. That should worry us a great deal.  An article in the Asia-Pacific based, The Diplomat, says China's AI work poses yet another threat to liberal democracy.
...in terms of market share within the industry, the leaders in the field include the United States, with around 40 percent of the global market by some accounts, with countries like China, Israel, Germany, Canada and Russia fast catching up. 
But market share is just one indicator of capabilities in this realm. Arguably the more important criteria to understand the lead in the domain is possibly the data that one is able to gather. On that count, it is estimated that China is possibly well ahead of the United States, perhaps aided by the fact that privacy laws in many countries, especially democracies, can dampen data access, thus hampering the prospects of AI, as noted by Microsoft President Brad Smith recently. 
...Chinese government wants to overtake the United States and be the global leader in the field by 2030. China has been making massive investments to create a huge pool of AI experts – in one indicator, it was reported that during the period 2011-2015, China had published more than 41,000 papers on AI, almost double the number of that of the United States. China is also ahead of the United States in patent applications for AI, with Chinese tech giants including Alibaba and Baidu making massive investments in AI.
The fear is that China, not the West, could come to shape and define the future of artificial intelligence systems globally and not as we might want it.

The National Review adds another stark assessment of Chinese AI.
Chinese artificial-intelligence startup CloudWalk Technology signed a deal in March with the Zimbabwean government, providing the authoritarian regime an advanced facial-recognition system that it can use to identify, track, and monitor citizens. In exchange, CloudWalk gains access to the facial data of the demographically distinct country, which provides the company much-needed data for improving its recognition algorithms. 
Arrangements such as this are common under China’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) strategy, whereby Chinese private and state-controlled companies take advantage of the weak legal systems and low privacy standards of developing nations as part of the country’s effort to become a world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030.

But the vision of artificial intelligence that China is creating is a thoroughly illiberal one. Constant surveillance of citizens is powering initiatives such as the Social Credit System, which will rate citizens on their social and economic performance, increasing the power of the state to enforce its cultural vision. If liberal governments fail to develop artificial-intelligence strategies that can sufficiently compete with those of China, dire consequences will follow for global democracy.
...But the vision of artificial intelligence that China is creating is a thoroughly illiberal one. Constant surveillance of citizens is powering initiatives such as the Social Credit System, which will rate citizens on their social and economic performance, increasing the power of the state to enforce its cultural vision. If liberal governments fail to develop artificial-intelligence strategies that can sufficiently compete with those of China, dire consequences will follow for global democracy. 
Western governments have been rolling out comprehensive AI strategies over the last year, but none fully take into account the geopolitics of AI. The Pentagon is expected to announce its own strategy in the coming weeks and make AI a top priority for the U.S. intelligence community. The U.S. has fallen behind China in a technological race to dominate international applications of AI. Against the illiberal Chinese approach, this new strategy should articulate a global, democratic vision for the technology’s future. 
A similar ideological war over technology played out during the Cold War. Concurrently with the American development of ARPANET, the infrastructure that eventually enabled the modern Internet, the Soviet Union developed its All-State Automated System. The lead computer scientist of this competing vision of the Internet was Viktor Glushko, who viewed his invention as a means of resolving the economic-calculation problem, which prevented the efficient allocation of resources from the Politburo and halted the march toward full-throated Communism. Glushko believed that the Russian version of the Internet could resolve their issues with central planning by connecting all people and producing massive amounts of data, leading to indefinite Soviet rule. 
The project ultimately failed due to bureaucratic infighting among the Soviet high command, and the West’s free vision of the Internet prevailed. It would be a mistake, however, to believe that a free vision of artificial intelligence will inevitably come to dominate as well.
... AI is an optimization technology, meaning it carries out defined tasks as efficiently as possible. If the goals it is given are set by consumer interests, it has the potential to be one of the most profoundly beneficial technologies ever invented, transforming fields as diverse as transportation, healthcare, education, and energy. If its goals are set, however, by illiberal regimes, it can be used to usher in an era of repression, surveillance, and control.
When Western countries set domestic regulations for technology, this geopolitical consideration should be a priority. Recent developments in the European Union — such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which limits the ability of companies to use consumer data for research, and repeated antitrust suits against Google — have pushed investment away from a place where liberal values can play a role in development. That investment instead flows to places where illiberal values dominate. The future of free societies may depend on articulating a vision of AI that reflects liberal values.

Canada's Wake-Up Call

Maybe we should be grateful to Saudi crown prince Thuggo bin Salman and his Wahhabist hissy fit in reaction to a Canadian call for an end to that regime's utter contempt for human rights.

Look on the bright side. Instead of Saudi Arabia it could have been a nation that mattered. So, why should we be grateful for bin Salman's rabid reaction against Canada? One reason - it showed us glaringly who our friends are.

As of now I think Canada should see both the United States and the United Kingdom differently. The Saudis human rights record is atrocious. Our government's criticism of the Saudis was just. Yet the US and the UK chose not to defend us but to sidestep the Saudi affront entirely.

As The Guardian put it:
Canada’s lonely stance was swiftly noticed north of the border. “We do not have a single friend in the whole entire world,” Rachel Curran, a policy director under former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, lamented on Twitter. 
The United Kingdom was similarly muted in its response, noted Bob Rae, a former leader of the federal Liberal party. “The Brits and the Trumpians run for cover and say ‘we’re friends with both the Saudis and the Canadians,’” Rae wrote on Twitter. “Thanks for the support for human rights, guys, and we’ll remember this one for sure.”
Now it would take a Harperite to claim that "we don't have a single friend in the whole entire world." It would be just as easy to argue that Canada isn't burdened by many friends in the ranks of our Conservatives when it comes to this incident.

Curran apparently hasn't heard that we're not the first country to stand up to the Saudi thugs. Sweden criticized the Saudis and got the fetid backlash. That led the Swedes to ban any further arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Germany, likewise ran afoul of the hot-tempered sons of Saud and ultimately prohibited any arms sales to any nation (i.e. Saudi Arabia) involved in the war in Yemen.

The Swedes and the Germans had a very principled response to Saudi arm-twisting. They followed through and cut off the supply of arms to the barbarous state.

Will Canada show the courage and conviction of Sweden and Germany? Don't count on it. Talk can be honourable but it is also cheap. Apparently we're going to continue to buy Saudi oil (rather than refining our abundant bitumen resource on site in Alberta) and we're going to continue to supply armoured death wagons to the Saudis even though, despite Saudi promises, they wind up used against unarmed civilians for democracy suppression.

How do we still supply lethal weaponry to Saudi Arabia? We know they use cluster bombs against the Houthi civilian population in Yemen. They seem to have a fondness for going after the women in the town squares on market day. And just this week they took out a bus full of school-age children. They've got a thing for their own Shiite population, even beheading one of their main clerics. In a nutshell, they're fucking animals.

But, as for the US and Britain, Bob Rae is right. They've betrayed us. We need to keep that in mind when Theresa May royally screws up Brexit and comes begging for new trade deals with the Commonwealth - a "let bygones be bygones" pitch. We should consider forging much closer ties with a post-Brexit Europe.  Countries such as Sweden and Germany now seem a more natural fit for Canada.

Stone Ghosts - Keeping Alive America's Legacy of Brutality and Hatred

It's been a year since alt.right/white supremacists clashed with protesters in Charlotesville and put an end to the myth of a post-racial America. NBC marks the outrage with a documentary, "Stone Ghosts."

Friday, August 10, 2018

The Case for Planned Parenthood Was Never More Convincing

Just sayin'

A Scathing Takedown of Justin Trudeau's Squabble With the House of Saud

How one American, the Washington Post's J.J. McCullough, sees incoherence in our prime minister's foreign policy and the role it played in Canada's current tiff with the Saudis.

The worsening spat between the governments of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been mostly analyzed from the Saudi angle: a case study of the kingdom’s eggshell sensitivities and bossy expectations of deference. Yet the story also reveals much about Trudeau’s own inadequacies as a statesman, and the thoroughly confused nature of his foreign-policy priorities.
...Saudi Arabia has long faced an uphill PR battle in Canada. On the left, it is routinely portrayed as the quintessential example of a repulsive “ally” exposing the moral hypocrisy of the Ottawa elite; a vicious dictatorship given billions in arms to satiate Canada’s addiction to fossil fuels. On the right, the kingdom serves a standard shorthand for Sharia tyranny, whose oil imports are an embarrassing reminder of Canada’s under-utilized natural resources. This confluence of ideological interests has, thus far, helped ensure Trudeau’s Saudi crisis is more politically salvageable than earlier diplomatic snares. As the prime minister doubles down on support of the offending tweet, a broad right-left coalition happily takes Saudi bad faith for granted, as when a Saudi group posted a picture on social media of an Air Canada jet flying over Toronto and ranted about the kingdom “threatening to 9/11 Canada.” 
Yet from a higher vantage point, one sees a familiar story: A Canadian prime minister whose ability to identify friends and enemies is out of sync with the moment of history he inhabits. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy whose detention of activists is antithetical to Canadian democracy. But this can just as easily be said of Cuba and China, whose regimes Trudeau has showered with cartoonish affection. The distinction is that, while the ruler of Saudi Arabia is a young reformist exerting targeted effort to scale back some of his government’s hideousness, including Wahhabi fundamentalism, Trudeau happily seeks opportunities in dictatorships far less self-conscious. 
It’s entirely possible the crown prince will not be successful in his efforts. However, if Canada’s goal, is a foreign policy oriented to endorse the spread of global liberalism, it is not at all obvious how a prolonged fight with Riyadh is more principled than tighter trade ties to Beijing or an embassy in Tehran. 
Analogies to the ISIS war or the Modi summit seem apt. A country like Canada cannot affect much of consequence on the international stage. But if the goal is future relevance, the Trudeau administration should, at least, possess awareness of where its incompetence is best directed.
The Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow, Steven Cook, sees the squabble much differently. To Mr. Cook, this is all about the mortal weakness of the effective head of state, crown prince Mohammad bin Salman.

There are various theories to explain the Saudi reaction to Canada’s tweet. Some analysts have suggested that the episode is another example of Saudi Arabia’s reckless foreign policy under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Others see it as another warning to Saudis that the only reforms in the kingdom are those that the crown prince has articulated, and they are at their peril should Saudis demand more. Both explanations are plausible—and either way, Mohammed bin Salman comes out looking every bit the impetuous, petty, immature, tyrant that his critics say he is.

Arab leaders have some good reasons for responding poorly to activists and nongovernmental organizations that international supporters of these individuals and groups tend to overlook. But rounding up people who peacefully express a different vision of society from the Saudi leadership is weak. Not just weak in a vague moral sense, but as a basic description of the government’s political standing. General rule: If a leader is arresting people who disagree with them, it is a sign that this leader is well aware of a significant gap between the stories the government is telling its citizens about how good life is under its benevolent leaders and how people are actually experiencing it. The Saudi women in jail right now had to be arrested, because if they weren’t silenced, there would be an ever-increasing risk that they would expose the emptiness of the government’s sunny narrative about the future. Coercion of this sort is a demonstration of brute force and political weakness.
For all the Saudi government’s declarations about the “new Saudi Arabia” and how the country is moving forward thanks to the crown prince’s reform program, it rings hollow against the background of jailed peaceful dissenters. The Saudis will argue that all the Western reporting and analysis is wrong—the people arrested were in communication with foreign countries and thus trying to undermine the Saudi state. It is a claim that is both tiresome—because it comes from the script every foreign ministry reads anytime their governments want to repress activists—and revealing. There is no foreign conspiracy, of course. It is the dodge of a nervous Saudi leadership, fearful that its people will discover its inability to deliver on its promises.
...Still, whatever beating the Saudis are taking over the war of words with Canada, it is entirely of Riyadh’s own making and well deserved. One is hard-pressed to truly understand what officials at the Royal Court are thinking, beyond taking a cue from the Trump administration and declaring, “We are Saudi Arabia, bitches.” The Saudis really can’t have it every which way: posturing as “reformers,” tossing activists in jail, and then taking umbrage when people dare criticize them for not actually reforming.

The crown prince decided to pick a fight with the wrong country. Not because Canada is powerful and the Saudis are dependent upon them, but rather because Ottawa has taken a stand on the straightforward principle that peaceful dissent is not a crime. In their overreaction, the Saudis have decided to flaunt their own foolishness and feebleness. Instead of railing against Ottawa, Riyadh should apologize for its rash behavior. That’s what the Canadians would do.

Look on The Bright Side

No matter where you live in Canada - north/south, east/west - you've experienced climate change impacts this summer, just like most people in the rest of the world.

We've had our share of severe weather events - heatwaves, drought, wildfires,  and, for some, flash flooding. It's our new normal and we're becoming adept at "creeping normalcy," the ability to forget what the climate was like in the 60s, 70s, or 80s. Once you get the past out of your mind, what's happening today can seem much less alarming, even a bit mundane. Only it is alarming and there's nothing remotely mundane about it.

This week saw a report published in the journal of the US National Academy of Sciences that, however briefly, upped the ante. The paper introduced us to a new image of our planet, "Hothouse Earth." The researchers concluded that, even if we somehow were to meet our political target of confining man-made global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, natural processes may kick in causing much greater greenhouse gas emissions and heating.

We explore the risk that self-reinforcing feedbacks could push the Earth System toward a planetary threshold that, if crossed, could prevent stabilization of the climate at intermediate temperature rises and cause continued warming on a “Hothouse Earth” pathway even as human emissions are reduced. Crossing the threshold would lead to a much higher global average temperature than any interglacial in the past 1.2 million years and to sea levels significantly higher than at any time in the Holocene. We examine the evidence that such a threshold might exist and where it might be. If the threshold is crossed, the resulting trajectory would likely cause serious disruptions to ecosystems, society, and economies. Collective human action is required to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System—biosphere, climate, and societies—and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.

The good news is in the second part of the introduction. If we want to, we can still stabilize the climate "in a habitable interglacial-like state." The operative word, of course, is "habitable."

The hitch (there's always a hitch) is in the prescription. That begins with "collective human action." We need revolutionary change on a scale never experienced in human history. A collective that takes control of the "entire Earth System" including the biosphere, the climate and human civilization itself. That extends to "behavioral changes," "new governance arrangements, and transformed social values."

Governance of the Westphalian model has to end. It has, after all, contributed to the very predicament in which we find ourselves today. It means an end to unrestrained free market capitalism that has already exceeded the Earth's resource carrying capacity by a factor of 1.7. Transformed social values seems to mean equity, the equitable distribution of burdens and benefits. Something akin, I suppose, to "steady state" theory.

To give you an idea of what this means, we would have to shrink the global economy by more than a third. That would bring the economy back within the finite limits of the planet's ecology.  The "have" economies would have to yield some of their access to the Earth's finite resources to the "have not" nations. That would be part of the grand bargain for the overpopulated countries sharply curbing their numbers to a figure the world can actually support, now estimated at around two billion. Simultaneously we would all have to decarbonize, rapidly ending the fossil fuel era by what Hans Joachim Schellnhuber termed an "induced implosion."

Can we do this? Yes we can. The more critical question is would we do this? It does not seem, to me at least, to be within the bounds of human nature to embrace this degree of change. We may be the most sentient of Earth's creatures but understanding the risks and the solution is much easier than finding the universal altruism to support such change.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It's Enough to Make Your Head Spin.

We think of ourselves as a somewhat sedentary bunch. There are some who might jog 5 or 10 kms. a day, that sort of thing but we generally don't propel ourselves very far.

Or so you might think.  A couple of years ago I set out to calculate how fast we're really moving, even couch potatoes.

Without even getting off the couch, the rotation of our planet has you going pretty fast. At the equator it's just over a thousand miles an hour. Every hour, every day.

Our Earth also orbits the sun. Our orbital speed is about 67,000 miles per hour.

Our solar system is on a huge orbit around the Milky Way taking some 230 million years to complete one circuit. That adds 448,000 miles per hour to your travel speed.

The real kicker, however, is the speed our galaxy, the Milky Way, is travelling across the universe. That bumps up our speed by 1.3 million miles per hour.

I hope you don't get motion sickness but, added all up, you're moving at 1,816,000 miles per hour or just over 30,000 miles every minute or a tad over 500 miles per second.

So, don't hesitate. You're entitled to that beer. You earned it. The good news is that the liquor store is going just as fast as you are, relatively speaking.

It's Not the Same But It Sure Does Rhyme.

Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler. He does, however, walk with a remarkably similar gait.  E.J. Dionne reviews Benjamin Hett's "The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfaqll of the Weimar Republic."

The parallel Hett focuses on isn't a comparison of Trump to Hitler so much as the eerie similarities between German conservatives in the 1930s and the Republican establishment in the era of Trump.

It is both eerie and enlightening how much of Hett's account rings true in our time. Consider this declaration from Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's chief propagandist: "Certainly we want to build a wall, a protective wall." There is this dolorous observation from the socialist Ernst Toller: "The people are tired of reason, tired of thought and reflection. They ask, what has reason done for us in the last few years, what good have insights and knowledge done us."  
...And conservatives everywhere should ponder the choices made by the German establishment, including big business, the military, culturally traditional Protestants and big land owners. They all helped bring Hitler to power because they hated the left — including the moderate Social Democrats, the backbone of the Weimar Republic — more than they loved republican government and political freedom.
Hett writes that members of "the conservative establishment ... could have stopped Hitler in his tracks. Instead, they chose to use him, although the Nazi-conservative alliance was always an awkward one." He notes at another point: "Democracy was not working for them precisely because their interests could not attract the support of a majority, even a large plurality, of voters." 
The politicians and power brokers who helped Hitler become Chancellor believed they could deploy him to destroy the left but also keep him under control. They achieved the first but not the second. The consequences were catastrophic, to those slaughtered in Hitler's genocide and to Germany as a whole. German conservatives had no desire to see their country pulverized by war and shrunken in size afterward. But their choices in the 1930s brought about exactly this outcome. 
There is a reluctance to draw lessons from the Nazi experience because personal comparisons between contemporary politicians and Hitler are always a mistake. Hitler's crimes are in a category of horror all their own. 
But this should not stop us from heeding the warnings of a political era that led to the collapse of freedom in Germany. Seeing it "as the result of a large protest movement colliding with complex patterns of elite self-interest, in a culture increasingly prone to aggressive mythmaking and irrationality ... strips away the exotic and foreign look of swastika banners and goose-stepping Stormtroopers." 
Hett adds: "Suddenly, the whole thing looks close and familiar."
It does, and our task is to prevent this "whole thing" from ever happening again.
If you think this is all bluster and hand-wringing, consider this. A survey of Republican voters find that 43 per cent believe Trump should be able to shut down news outlets.

A new Ipsos poll has found that nearly half (48 per cent) of self-identified Republicans agree "the news media is the enemy of the American people". Meanwhile, some believe Mr Trump should be allowed to take action against certain publications, with 43 per cent of Republicans saying "the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behaviour". 
...Mr Trump repeatedly undermines the press due to its coverage of the federal government’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, as well as its reporting on scandals impacting his White House administration.

"Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news," Mr Trump said during a convention for military veterans in July. "It’s all working out. And just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening."
Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Fuhrer.

Saudi Jets Wipe Out School Bus Carrying Yemeni Kids

Another Saudi atrocity against Houthi civilians in Yemen, this time a busload of kids.
Dozens of civilians, mostly children, have been killed and others wounded in an airstrike by the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition in Yemen that hit a bus in the rebel-held north of the country. 
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), one of the few humanitarian institutions helping civilians on the ground in the war-torn country, said a hospital it supported had received dozens of casualties after the strike at a market in Dahyan, in Sa’ada governorate. 
“Under international humanitarian law, civilians must be protected during conflict,” the organisation tweeted. Johannes Bruwer, the head of delegation for the ICRC in Yemen, tweeted: “Scores killed, even more injured, most under the age of 10.”
The Saudis claim they attacked a legitimate military target. Of course this is coming from the same gang of bloodthirsty cut throats which has a history of dropping American-made cluster bombs on Houthi markets.

Oh well, we chose to deal with these bastards which just proves when you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas.

How the Boys from Texas Suckered an Easy Mark

The Trudeau government was easy pickings for Enron protege, Kinder Morgan, when the company was desperate to unload the TransMountain pipeline and expansion project.

At first the Liberal government tried to induce KM with guarantees and other incentives but the wily Texans knew a mark when they saw it and said no. Finally the government folded and agreed to pay $4.5 billion for the 65-year old pipeline.

The Trudeau government made financial overtures to Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan more than a month before the pipeline operator issued an ultimatum that drove Ottawa to offer billions to take over the troubled Trans Mountain project, according to a new document released by the company this week. 
These previously secret overtures began even though the government had made it clear, during its early negotiations with the Texas multinational, that it didn't want to buy the pipeline and oil tanker expansion project, says the document, a proxy for shareholders that was filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday. 
But a timeline included in the proxy shows how the company systematically rejected the government's negotiating position, driving Ottawa to eventually agree at the end of May to buy the rights to the Trans Mountain expansion project and an existing 65-year old pipeline system for $4.5 billion. 
...Kinder Morgan originally estimated that the project, formally approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in November 2016, would cost $4.1 billion. In recent months, this estimate has risen to $7.4 billion, until the new documents this week estimated that the cost could be as high as $9.3 billion until construction is expected to be completed in 2021. 
This total would not include the $4.5 billion offer from the federal government to buy the project, which would mean that taxpayers are now on the hook for spending up to $13.8 billion, with no other investors attempting to take on the risky project.

Economist Robyn Allan estimates the pipeline construction could wind up costing $20-billion.

"The Government of Canada made the decision to make sure this project is built only after completing a detailed analysis, and with the full understanding of the project's economics and future benefits to Canadians," said Morneau's spokesman Pierre-Olivier Herbert, in an email to National Observer. "This is a project with significant commercial value, and represents a sound investment opportunity for Canadians."
[On July 18] the prime minister appointed Amarjeet Sohi as the new natural resources minister, giving him instructions to oversee the completion of the Trans Mountain project. Caron, a long-time environmentalist, will continuing to serve as the new natural resource minister's chief of staff. 
Herbert initially declined to answer further questions about the proxy, referring National Observer to contact Kinder Morgan's Canadian subsidiary, Trans Mountain. The company said in an email that it was unable to provide further information beyond what was in the proxy statement. 
Mackenzie Radan, a spokesman for Sohi, said that the decision on the Trans Mountain expansion was based on facts, evidence and what's in the national interest. 
"Our government made the right decision when we approved this federally-regulated project and we stand by that decision," Radan said.
This position has been contradicted by several public servants who did the research prior to the government's decision, alleging that they were instructed to find a way to approve the project, before the government had concluded its consultations with affected First Nations.
The National Observer report makes plain that the fix was in on the pipeline at least as far back as the rigging of the approval process and that Trudeau misled Canadians on the government's dealings with Kinder Morgan.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

What's Next For the UK, Rationing?

The British government is planning to stockpile food and medicine to prevent chaos in the event of a no-deal Brexit that disrupts essential supply chains.
About one-third of the food consumed in Britain, plus a large share of the medications consumed there, is imported from the European Union. Indeed, Britain imports more than it exports in every food category except beverages, and that surplus is due to Scotch whisky exports. In 2016, the United Kingdom imported fruit and vegetables worth £10.3 billion ($13.3 billion), only exporting fruit and vegetables worth £1.1 billion ($1.42 billion).
An article in Foreign Policy says the threat of economic dislocation from fractured supply chains isn't limited to Britain. We should all take a careful look at our own nation's vulnerability.
The global distribution system is extraordinarily efficient, thanks not least to the world’s oceans. As the British journalist Rose George documents in her book Ninety Percent of Everything, some 100,000 enormous freight ships transport 90 percent of the world’s trade. Trucks, railways, and distribution centers take over once the goods reach dry land. All of this is extraordinarily cheap. It costs a retailer less to send a shoe to Europe from a factory in Southeast Asia than it does to transport it from a local European warehouse to a shoe store in the same country.

...The system works so well that between 2010 and 2015, 52 percent of U.K.-based suppliers reduced their stock levels, while just 22 percent increased their stock. That, too, helps keep consumer prices low by saving on warehousing costs. At Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer, an orange, whether it’s from Argentina, Chile, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Turkey, or Uruguay, sets the consumer back a mere 30 pence (39 cents). 
But if someone damaged the supply chains, all of this falls apart fast. That’s why a prosperous country like the U.K. is stockpiling food. In case of a no-deal Brexit—the most likely outcome, according to International Trade Minister Liam Fox—Britain’s access to the EU open market, and thus speedy imports and exports, will be suspended. That will cause long delays at entry points such as the Port of Dover. (According to British media, the Army has been put on standby to distribute food.) 
Fortunately, the U.K. has time to plan for a no-deal Brexit meltdown—but an adversary won’t provide any such advance warning.
Indeed, while there’s much talk about potential Russian military aggression against NATO member states or their partners, President Vladimir Putin could achieve a vastly more devastating result, at minimum expense, by disrupting the supply chains. Cyberattacks—whether perpetrated by a government or proxies—could wreak havoc in companies’ logistics systems, which organize the travel route of every product. Or, an adversary could sabotage harbor operations. For that matter, workers at harbors or distribution centers could simply go on strike. E-commerce is just as exposed as brick-and-mortar chains to supply chain disruptions.
...Disruptions to global supply chains are, in fact, more devastating than a traditional military attack. “We assume that we’ll always have daily deliveries, and consumers have come to rely on it,” Marsden, the Cardiff University professor, noted. “But we only need to look at truck-driver strikes to understand the effects of disruptions to supply chains. The 2000 lorry-driver strike put the fear of God in the [U.K. Ministry of Defense].” Brazilians suffered a similar fate earlier this year, when a trucker strike caused food and fuel shortages. When President Michel Temer responded by sending in the Army, commanders discovered that they, too, were short on fuel. An adversary could bring a country to its knees without dispatching a single soldier.

In Sweden, a country increasingly concerned about a Russian military attack, the government recently published a brochure called “If Crisis or War Comes”; among other things, it advises residents to stock up on food and other necessities, as the government would not be able to distribute food to the population. Other countries should do the same. 
And exactly because an attack on global supply chains (not to mention natural disasters or animal or plant disease) is more likely than a military attack, this is not a paranoid scenario. On the contrary, we have been lucky that our fragile supply chains have not yet been hit. Navies, including Britain’s Royal Navy, protect global shipping traffic, but supply chains can be sabotaged by cyberattacks or attacks on harbors or distribution centers. By teaming up, governments and the private sector could better protect these lifelines.

Losing Earth

It's a long read. It's a tough read. Losing Earth focuses on the 10-year period from 1979 to 1989 when politicians almost reached a consensus to arrest global warming.  Losing Earth, by Nathaniel Rich, is the first time The New York Times Magazine dedicated an entire issue to to just one article.  We came tantalizingly close and we failed.

Rich puts the blame on humanity, exonerating the fossil fuel giants and the Republicans, for thwarting meaningful action and, for this, he has been widely criticized. Finger pointing, however, takes back seat to the realization that we had a window of opportunity and came tantalizingly close to taking it.

A few teasers:
It was understood that action would have to come immediately. At the start of the 1980s, scientists within the federal government predicted that conclusive evidence of warming would appear on the global temperature record by the end of the decade, at which point it would be too late to avoid disaster. More than 30 percent of the human population lacked access to electricity. Billions of people would not need to attain the “American way of life” in order to drastically increase global carbon emissions; a light bulb in every village would do it.

We understood what failure would mean for global temperatures, coastlines, agricultural yield, immigration patterns, the world economy. But we have not allowed ourselves to comprehend what failure might mean for us. How will it change the way we see ourselves, how we remember the past, how we imagine the future? Why did we do this to ourselves? These questions will be the subject of climate change’s second chapter — call it The Reckoning. There can be no understanding of our current and future predicament without understanding why we failed to solve this problem when we had the chance.

Everyone knew — and we all still know. We know that the transformations of our planet, which will come gradually and suddenly, will reconfigure the political world order. We know that if we don’t act to reduce emissions, we risk the collapse of civilization. We also know that, without a gargantuan intervention, whatever happens will be worse for our children, worse yet for their children and even worse still for their children’s children, whose lives, our actions have demonstrated, mean nothing to us. 
Could it have been any other way? In the late 1970s, a small group of philosophers, economists and political scientists began to debate, largely among themselves, whether a human solution to this human problem was even possible. They did not trouble themselves about the details of warming, taking the worst-case scenario as a given. They asked instead whether humankind, when presented with this particular existential crisis, was willing to prevent it. We worry about the future. But how much, exactly? 
The answer, as any economist could tell you, is very little. Economics, the science of assigning value to human behavior, prices the future at a discount; the farther out you project, the cheaper the consequences. This makes the climate problem the perfect economic disaster. The Yale economist William D. Nordhaus, a member of Jimmy Carter’s Council of Economic Advisers, argued in the 1970s that the most appropriate remedy was a global carbon tax. But that required an international agreement, which Nordhaus didn’t think was likely. Michael Glantz, a political scientist who was at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at the time, argued in 1979 that democratic societies are constitutionally incapable of dealing with the climate problem. The competition for resources means that no single crisis can ever command the public interest for long, yet climate change requires sustained, disciplined efforts over decades. And the German physicist-philosopher Klaus Meyer-Abich argued that any global agreement would inevitably favor the most minimal action. Adaptation, Meyer-Abich concluded, “seems to be the most rational political option.” It is the option that we have pursued, consciously or not, ever since. 
These theories share a common principle: that human beings, whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations.

If human beings really were able to take the long view — to consider seriously the fate of civilization decades or centuries after our deaths — we would be forced to grapple with the transience of all we know and love in the great sweep of time. So we have trained ourselves, whether culturally or evolutionarily, to obsess over the present, worry about the medium term and cast the long term out of our minds, as we might spit out a poison.

Losing Earth is definitely worth a read if only to remember what was and what might have been.
 all a penalty imposed on future generations. 

Buck a Beer? What is Doug Ford Smoking?

A brewer defrocks Ford's beer boondoggle and asks an interesting question - what's this really all about?

Buck a beer! Hey, here’s an issue I am totally qualified to write and complain about.
Mr Smith,
I am a former brewery owner (sold earlier this year) and a constituent of yours in Prince Edward County.

It’s important for me to write to express how appalled I am at your buck a beer announcement this morning. I watched you stand next to Doug Ford as he lied about Liberal red tape and how they are responsible for increasing the pricing of beer as a result of increasing the price floor of beer. This is incorrect and disingenuous. No brewer in this province currently retails beer at the existing price floor so it obviously was not an impediment to lower pricing. No brewer was asking you to lower the price floor because they wanted to sell their beer for less. It’s a non-issue that you have fabricated.
Barley Days, for instance, currently sells its cheapest beer for $2.50 — a price that is fair given the costs that go into making beer. They are not selling it for the current price floor although they most certainly could. Even the famous Laker beer that used to be $1 a beer is retailing for $1.60 — above the current price floor.
What I am most qualified to talk about is the cost of beer and the cost of running a small business brewing beer. It is simply not possible for a business the size of Barley Days to sell beer at $1 without losing significant amounts of money on each can. Here are the direct costs at their scale to make the most basic beer possible:
25 cents packaging (can)
24 cents provincial beer tax
18 cents labour
12 cents HST
11 cents malt
3 cents hops
3 cents water
3 cents federal excise tax
2 cents yeast
2 cents water treatment + cleaning chemicals
Total: $1.03 for a 355ml can. This doesn’t include any profit margin for the brewery. It doesn’t include any non-direct operational costs like rent, administrative salaries, utilities to make the beer and keep the lights on, debt servicing because a brewery is extremely capital intensive, etc. It doesn’t include any retail margin for LCBO.
So when you see a brewery like Barley Days pricing at $2.50 a can, it is because that’s actually what it costs a business like this to make even passable product and pay their employees. I have to wonder if there is some sort of back room deal with friends at Johnvince Foods, who own Barley Days, to convince them to sell their product below cost.
When I ran my brewery we never made beer anywhere close to this cheap because of all the corners that need to be cut were unacceptable to us. It was difficult for us to make beer anywhere less than $2 per short can in costs alone.
At the Molson scale, their costs in taxes alone (provincial beer, HST, federal excise) are $0.60 per short can. Even at their scale it is next to impossible to sell that beer for $0.40 in ingredient, operational, labour costs and profit margin.
So this is why I am disgusted by your “challenge” to breweries across this province who employ thousands of Ontarians to suck it up and eat the cost to provide below-cost $1 beer to consumers. How insulting this is to the breweries across this province who employ so many people in a rapidly growing industry. Will your government be challenging other industries to lower the price of their products to consumers? Will you be "challenging" Galen Weston to lower the price of bread?
Mr Smith, I believe the “incentives” you are offering to brewers through the LCBO in exchange for them to sell product below cost is anti-competitive and illegal under the Competition Act and Liquor Control Act. It distorts the market and will only serve to devalue the product of brewers who price fairly in an open market and do not choose to participate in your challenge because it does not make business sense.
You are also “challenging” brewers to eat their margins at a time when their costs are going up significantly as a result of steel and aluminium tariffs which will impact the costs of equipment and aluminium cans. You couldn’t be more tone deaf on this subject.
If you were serious about lowering the price of beer you would be immediately announcing lower provincial beer taxes across the board. But you are not serious. This is a distraction from issues that actually matter to your constituents.
Finally, I watched you smirking as your boss dismissed concerns about the mental health impacts of buck a beer, which is especially rich considering his own brother’s descent into addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine, and his role in enabling that behaviour, not to mention Doug Ford’s past as a drug dealer.
I watched you smirk and cowardly run away as your constituents protested this proposal and wished to voice their disapproval. Shame on you.
Eric Portelance
[EDIT] Most of the comments are now asking why beer is cheaper in Quebec or the U.S. etc. I’ve addressed this many times in the comments but it keeps coming up. The reason is our beer taxes are higher in Ontario. The government has not proposed lowering them.

"Power, Money and Political Will"

"Solving climate change is about power, money, and political will."

That's how Simon Lewis, professor of global change science at University College London, imagines we might sort out climate change before it morphs into runaway climate change. It's just a matter of marshaling scads of power, money and political will.
...we face the same three choices in response to climate change as we did before this scorching summer: reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), make changes to reduce the adverse impacts of the new conditions we create (adaptation), or suffer the consequences of what we fail to mitigate or adapt to. It is useful to come back to these three options, and settle on the formula that serious mitigation and wise adaptation means little suffering.

Despite this basic advice being decades old, we are heading for some mitigation, very little adaptation, and a lot of suffering. Why is this happening? This is because while the diagnosis of climate change being a problem is a scientific issue, the response to it is not. Leaving fossil fuels in the ground is, for example, a question of regulation, while investing in renewable energy is a policy choice, and modernising our housing stock to make it energy efficient is about overcoming the lobbying power of the building industry.
...The world, after 30 years of warnings, has barely got to grips with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. They need to rapidly decline to zero, but after decades of increases, are, at best, flatlining, with investments in extracting new fossil fuels continuing, including last month’s scandalous announcement that fracking will be allowed in the UK. Temperatures have increased just 1C above preindustrial levels, and we are on course for another 2C or 3C on top of that. Could civilisation weather this level of warming? 
The honest answer is nobody knows. Dystopia is easy to envisage: for example, Europe is not coping well with even modest numbers of migrants, and future flows look likely to increase substantially as migration itself is an adaptation to rapid climate change. How will the cooler, richer parts of the world react to tens of millions of people escaping the hotter, poorer parts? Throw into the mix long-term stagnating incomes for most people across the west and climate-induced crop failures causing massive food price spikes and we have a recipe for widespread unrest that could overload political institutions.
Professor Lewis is right, of course. We could do it. We can do it. We can sort out, at least somewhat, all of the perils arising out of mankind's refusal to live within the very finite ecological limits of planet Earth.

Our species can resolve our overpopulation problem, get our numbers back down to something in the range of two billion. The thorny question is how. There are a few ways we can do that, some significantly less palatable than others.

We can massively curb our rapacious over-consumption of the Earth's resources which we're currently exceeding by a factor of 1.7. That would mean cutting our consumption by - face it, a lot. And the burden of those cuts would have to fall on the major consumers - the developed nations, us. The "have nots" need a good deal more so the "haves" would have to give up half, perhaps more, of their resource consumption.  Besides, if we found a way to shrink our overall numbers by two-thirds, some of that sacrifice would be eased.

That leaves climate change. We can do that. We can leave fossil resources such as coal and bitumen in the ground. We can electrify most of our economies and can even produce transport fuels from the surface carbon cycle, displacing fossil energy. We can do these things. Only we still see fossil carbon as wealth. It is said there are proven reserves valued at $27 trillion already subscribed on the stock markets and bourses of our world. Blowing that up is a prospect that sends shivers up the spines of what passes for political leadership today.

Professor Lewis nails it when he says that the answer lies in "cooperative internationalism."
...without cooperative internationalism serious carbon dioxide mitigation will not happen, meaning the underling drivers of the problems will exacerbate, leading to a lock-in of a deteriorating, isolationist, fascist future.
The problem is that the nations of the world are not on the same page. We don't experience this three-headed monster the same way which means that each nation brings an agenda shaped by its own situation. And, given that the solutions to this existential triad are based in equitable approaches, a levening, the most advantaged and powerful nations see these ideas as global Marxism - the old "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" business. That's a tough sell in this age of corporate democracy.  There may be a few apple carts to tip before we get there.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

J. Trudeau Memorial Pipeline Cost Soars Another Two Billion

The sketchy Texas outfit, Kinder Morgan, has come clean on the estimated costs of the new TransMountain pipeline.

Kinder Morgan Canada says expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline could cost the federal government as much as $1.9 billion beyond the company's original construction estimate and take 12 months longer to finish. 
The figures are included in documents the company filed Tuesday with the United States Security and Exchange Commission related to its plan to sell the pipeline to the Canadian government for $4.5 billion. 
The sale price does not include how much more Canadians will pay to finish twinning the pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia. Finance Minister Bill Morneau won't say how much Ottawa expects to spend on construction because he fears that would affect negotiations with construction contractors which are now underway.
...The most expensive scenario pegs construction costs at $9.3 billion, taking until December 2021 to complete -- a full year after the current timetable of December 2020. 
The government was quick to point out the figure is not an official cost forecast. An official in Morneau's department, speaking on background because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the numbers do not specifically reflect the government's expectation of what the final project cost will be. 
However Robyn Allan, an independent economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, said Kinder Morgan wouldn't evaluate the fairness of the sale based on numbers that have no bearing on reality. 
Allan, who said she has expertise on a number of multibillion infrastructure projects, believes in the end $9.3 billion will seem like a steal compared to the final price tag. 
"This is the least it's going to cost," said Allan. 
She said the biggest frustration is the lack of information coming from the federal government about the planned sale.
All of this for the sake of an agreement with Alberta on carbon pricing that the incoming Wild Rose premier, Jason Kenney, has no intention of honouring.  Well done, Team Trudeau. You've been had. No, we've been screwed.

Is Anybody Listening?

The Achilles Heel of Canada's and other governments' climate change plans is that they're working with political numbers, a failure that guarantees gestural responses at best.

Trudeau can read. He can hear. He was a school marm after all. He knows the deal is that we have to start making significant reductions in carbon emissions every year, without fail.

Trudeau, like Harper before him, is looking to provincial and municipal governments to do the heavy lifting while his contribution is largely lofty rhetoric - hot air. And Trudeau's idea of slashing carbon emissions is to ship diluted bitumen offshore where the emissions associated with the world's filthiest, highest carbon ersatz petroleum can be buried on some other country's books.

They keep talking, promising a better day to come, and the emissions keep rising. Oh, somebody will fix it, some day, surely.

We're not going to fix anything with political numbers and gestural responses. Even the targets these elected charlatans say they hope to meet, maybe, are not going to prevent civilization-destroying runaway global warming. A new report, from the best minds in the field, finds that their 2 degree Celsius target will still trigger several "tipping points." In other words our leaders are waking Mother Nature and natural feedback loops that will eclipse man-made or anthropogenic carbon emissions.
The world is at risk of entering "hothouse" conditions with average temperatures 4-5 C higher even if emissions reduction targets under a global climate deal are met, scientists say in a new study.

The report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comes amid a heatwave that has pushed temperatures above 40 C in Europe this summer, causing drought and strengthening wildfires, including blazes in Greece in July that killed 91 people. It is suspected that the Greek blazes resulted from arson.
...Scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the University of Copenhagen, Australian National University and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said it is likely that if a critical threshold is crossed, several tipping points would lead to abrupt change.
Such processes include permafrost thaw; the loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor; weaker land and ocean carbon sinks; the loss of Arctic summer sea ice and the reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets. 
"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another," said Johan Rockström​, co-author of the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. 
"It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if 'Hothouse Earth' becomes the reality," he said.
In my view, the offshoring of diluted bitumen is a crime against humanity. The Petro-Pimps of Parliament Hill, from the prime minister to the backbenchers and on both sides of the aisle are complicit.

Global heating and climate change are already killing people. We're losing scores from heatwaves but the real carnage is among the most vulnerable people of the poorest nations. They're already taking it in the neck.

There's no going back. Our government, in collaboration with the Fossil Fuelers, is making the future worse, not better. They're writing off our grandkids' future for a short-term windfall that, history shows repeatedly, they simply piss away.