Friday, November 30, 2018

Conrad Black's Absolution of Donald Trump. He's a Lord. Who Are You to Argue?



Lord Conrad, the con, Black has taken to the pages of National Review to defend his soulmate, Donald Trump.  Black's point is that Hitler killed a lot more people, so did Stalin and Mao and Franco and all those juntas and murderous strong men from Latin America to Turkey, Pakistan and all sorts of backward nations. America was just fine with those guys, treating them as allies, so why should it raise the bar for its own president?

As for Khashoggi's murder in Istanbul, Black says "pshaw."

Khashoggi had recently become an American resident of convenience, but that did not make his fate at the hands of the government of his country any particular business of the United States. Life is cheap in the Middle East...
Life is cheap. Not for Conrad and Barbara but, hey, they're not untermensch from the Middle East. Then Black defended Trump on climate change:

The hardiest perennial of all was the lambasting by the anti-Trump media of the president’s dismissal of the latest National Climate Assessment, predicting the virtual incineration of the Earth in the balance of this century if we don’t abolish the use of fossil fuels. The same or similar people said almost the same thing in my own memory about over-population, insecticide use, nuclear after-effects, famine, pollution, a new ice age, global warming and climate change (i.e., weather). Helene Cooper of the New York Times advocated becoming “hysterical” as a logical response. Paul Krugman of the same newspaper accused Trump of “depravity” for not listening to Dr. Mann, author of the infamous fictitious “hockey stick” of skyrocketing world temperatures.
But this pompous Brit (he's not Canadian - by his own choice) saved his real bile for Trump's nemesis, Robert Mueller.
And the Mueller special-counsel rumbles toward its third year. So desperate have Mueller’s efforts and those of his rabidly Democratic staff members become that in trying to extort and suborn inculpatory perjury about the president, they are facing a revolt from the victims, led by Paul Manafort from his solitary confinement cell, but emulated now by Jerome Corsi. Rather than cooperate (i.e., lie) after being catechized by Mueller, to avoid facing the extremes of the American kangaroo courts, they are refusing Mueller, and effectively betting on the failure of Mueller to make good on his mission to take down or seriously discommode the president. Mueller is escalating the terror campaign against Manafort by inciting state prosecutions, insusceptible to the president’s power of pardon. The Democrats have been shouting from the housetops about protecting Mueller, but Trump has no interest in shutting him down. Mueller has nothing, and his terrors don’t impress its victims. What is inexplicable is the president’s delay in naming an attorney general. He must have been considering this question since it became clear that Jeff Sessions was a prosecutorial eunuch 18 months ago. The only reason that comes to mind for his waiting is because he wants to see if the Democrats are going to be stupid enough to try to impeach him, which would not only fail and backfire, it would be a gold-edged invitation to send the Clinton campaign and Obama Justice Department in droves to the grand jury, and on from there on the conveyer-belt of American criminal justice to the fate they deserve.
Maybe Conrad is growing a bit addled. That's certainly how he comes across. At least he knows he can shop his diatribe to National Review but that hardly comes as a surprise.

What confounds me is why this jerk is still in Canada. As a felon and a Brit, he obviously can't go back to the States but why do we allow a felonious Brit loudmouth to live in Canada? Do you think it's the Bridle Path address?

As for Black's fulsome and rather ridiculous defence of all things Trump, is Black angling for a pardon from his soulmate?


What If Trump's Right?



When former Trump lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty yesterday for lying to Congress, Donald Trump pounced on Cohen saying he was lying. The deal for a mega-tower in Moscow, says Trump, was on the up and up. There was nothing to hide.

Only, if Trump is right, what are we to make of Cohen's appearance before Congress where he testified that the Russia deal was dead and buried long and yet it was still in negotiations?

Was Trump unaware of what Cohen said about Trump under oath before Congress? What are the chances of that? And, if Trump knew that Cohen's statements were perjured, why did he remain mum about it until his former sidekick's surprise guilty plea yesterday? Was he content to leave perjured statements about his dealings on the record, perhaps hoping Cohen's lies would be forgotten with the passage of time?  If he knew that his paid help was committing a crime in his name, a crime against the Congress of the United States, why did he let it stand?

Given that it was a lie told to protect Trump and his bid for the presidency, is that enough for jeopardy to attach to Trump after the fact? I realize that's iffy, but...

Anti-Vaxxers Kill



They rely on scare tactics and conspiracy theories and they're making dangerous inroads, often from anecdotal accounts spread through social media. Now we're figuring out the cost in lives for their success.
Measles cases around the world surged 31% from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report jointly published by the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Measles outbreaks occurred in all regions, WHO said, because of gaps in vaccine coverage. There were an estimated 110,000 deaths due to measles in 2017. 
"Since 2016, measles incidence has increased globally and in five of the six WHO regions," the report says, although this was in part because more countries reported on the virus.
The Western Pacific Region, which includes countries such as Australia and Japan, was the only region to report a decrease in cases from 2016 to 2017. It's also the only region to achieve and sustain 95% or greater coverage of the first dose of the measles vaccine since 2006.

Measles, a viral illness, can be prevented through two doses of a vaccine, and measles vaccination prevented an estimated 21.1 million deaths from 2000 to 2017, according to the report.
This is one contagion we can't blame on knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, right wingers. It's largely the work of our own kind, the anti-science type identified years ago by Carl Sagan.

It's a conundrum. Do the anti-vaxxers have the right to reject vaccination for their children? If so, should they have the right to keep those kids out of our schools and public facilities and perhaps set up their own schools for their pre-teen carriers?


A Star in the East? A Business Reporter Speaks Out on Climate Change and How Little We're Really Doing to Fight It.


Don Pittis, the CBC's business reporter, usually focuses on things economic but today he is venturing into climate change and how miserably our federal and provincial governments are doing in coming to grips with the threat.
It is not unreasonable that the majority of Canadians and the 97 per cent of scientists who understand that climate change is real are feeling a certain amount of despair. 
Optimism following the 2015 Paris summit that the world could and would halt the growth of greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere and slow the devastating effects of rising seas, storms, drought and forest fires has turned to gloom. 
And perhaps most disheartening is the fact that despite a strong, growing economy in many parts of the world, including Canada and the United States, governments have failed to reverse the damage. So what happens when the economy goes into retreat? 
..."Climate change … is arguably the biggest threat humanity has ever faced," says Stewart Elgie, chair of the Smart Prosperity Institute, a think-tank based at the University of Ottawa, comparing it to the impact of nuclear war. "We are messing with the planet's life support system in a way that we haven't before." 
But despite large support for climate action, governments have been captured by selfish forces that seem bound to sacrifice the planet for short-term interests. Well-funded voices of opposition use social media to discredit sound science. 
In Canada the government of Ontario has tossed out carbon pricing, the favoured free market way of cutting carbon, on the grounds that it will slow economic growth. Yesterday they replaced it with costly taxpayer handouts to business that have been shown to be ineffective in parts of the world where they have been tried.

The governments of Alberta and Canada continue to use taxpayer billions to subsidize oilsands transportation when market forces have signalled we should stop.

Repeatedly, public funds are being spent to make climate change worse, instead of investing in alternatives that would make it better. And since Earth's climate is the ultimate shared resource, there sometimes seems no advantage in taking individual action, if others others just produce the carbon you have saved and more.
...Sarah Buchanan, a policy expert with Environmental Defence Canada, has had moments of despair. But she still hopes democracy and capitalism can solve the problem, in part because people will increasingly witness climate change in their lives.

"People who do not see these immediate impacts right now are going to start seeing them very soon," says Buchanan. 
While she objects to increased government subsidies for fossil fuel production, she insists it is false to see a conflict between fighting climate change and supporting the economy. And while poll after poll show most Canadians realize something needs to be done, she thinks their voices have been overwhelmed by the financial clout of pro-carbon interests.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What the World of 2100 May Look Like



This is a year 2100 warming map. If all the nations in the world were as emissions profligate as the brown nations - Russia, China, Canada and a few others, the planet will be 5 degrees Celsius hotter. That's "game over" hot.  If we were all on the trajectory of the US, Australia, Brazil and a few others we would peak at somewhere between 4 to 4.5 C, again "game over" hot.

It doesn't matter how much of a crush you've got on Justin Trudeau or how much scorn you heap on his critics, most of his climate change rhetoric is just hot air. It infuriates the Tories and keeps the Liberal plebs happy but it's talk and empty promises.


Mueller's On a Roll. Federal Agents Raid Office of Trump's Tax Lawyer


He may be in Argentina but this will have Trump seething.



Federal agents have reportedly raided the Chicago City Hall office of a lawyer who previously did tax work for President Trump
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that federal agents removed everyone from the office of Chicago Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke on Thursday morning, covering the floor-to-ceiling windows with brown paper.

Source says feds showed up this am, asked everyone to leave and put brown paper on the doors. pic.twitter.com/4qJBwzoKF4— Fran Spielman (@fspielman) November 29, 2018 
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment when contacted by the Sun-Times. A man who answered the door of the office when a reporter knocked also declined to comment.
Oh, look. Computers and boxes of files.

Burke worked for Trump for more than a decade doing property tax work. 
Burke’s law firm of Klafter & Burke has worked with Trump’s companies repeatedly to reduce the property tax that Trump Tower and his other properties in Chicago have had to pay, according to the Sun-Times
Over his 12 years working for Trump, Burke was allegedly able to cut the property taxes on the downtown tower by more than $14 million. 
Burke stopped working for Trump this summer, citing “irreconcilable differences” in letters filed with the Illinois State Property Tax Appeal Board.

If Mueller is on a witch hunt, Ed Burke's files may show where to find Trump's broom.

Latest updates from Chicago Sun-TimesChicago Tribune coverage here.

Burke says there's nothing for the feds to find in his files. He crossed all the t's and dotted all the i's.  My take? I don't think the feds are out to find improprieties on Burke's part. I suspect Team Mueller's investigators have turned up issues that need information that's only in Burke's files. If they're looking into apparent money-laundering sales of Trump properties to sketchy east Europeans they need to get behind the numbered companies that were regularly used to find the identity of the principals. That sort of detail might well be in Burke's files.

When Trump Tear Gassed Women and Kids



I've experienced tear gas only once, in nuclear, biological and chemical warfare training. It's an experience I'd never want to repeat although what I got was probably a low-grade gas. 

Most people I know think of tear gas as something they see in clouds unleashed on protesters on TV. It looks benign enough, unpleasant to be sure but no big deal.

Scientific American reminds us that there's nothing benign about tear gas and there's no excuse, none, for American border personnel to use it against children. To those kids it was torture.

Before the tearing, the choking and the pouring mucus, tear gas burns. It causes searing pain in the eyes, skin, lungs and mouth—or anywhere it touches. “It can be overwhelming and incapacitating. You can be forced to shut your eyes and cannot open them,” says Sven-Eric Jordt, an anesthesiologist at Duke University. And then comes the coughing and the nausea and the vomiting. What causes these chemicals to have such devastating effects on the human body?
Jordt has studied tear gas for over a decade, but he doesn’t think tear gas is the best term for the weapon. First, he says as a technical point, they’re not gases; they’re powders that billow into the air as a fine mist. “I think of tear gas as a pain gas,” he says. “Because it directly activates pain-sensing receptors.” Weapons like sarin gas cause muscle paralysis that can lead to suffocation. These are designed to kill, while tear gas’ purpose is to repel crowds through maximum misery. Specifically, all tear gas agents activate one of two pain receptors, TRPA1 or TRPV1, and can be classified into two broad categories based on which of those receptors they activate. 
The first category, TRPA1-activating agents, includes the chemical called 2-chlorobenzalmalonitrile or CS gas. This is one of the agents used by U.S. law enforcement and, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson, is what CBP officers fired into crowds of men, women and children at the U.S. southern border on Sunday. “A lot of children fainted. My daughter also got hit. There were pregnant women there and a lot of older men, too,” a witness told the Washington Post on camera on Monday.
...Children are particularly at a high risk for injuries from these agents, Jordt says, because they are so small. “They are shorter, and there are increased concentrations are near the ground. They also have a smaller body surface and lungs so the potential for injury is higher,” he says.
It pains me to say this but I believe Americans, perhaps most, are becoming acclimated to brutality. Too many whites seem inured to brutality when it's visited on their black countrymen. Few get particularly upset when the victims include women and children from troubled lands who mass on their border.

There was a time when American strike fighters bombing Afghan weddings created a stir. That's over. Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. Sorry, boring.

Waterboarding also created a stir but there was a lot of pushback. Donald Trump says he's a fan of waterboarding claiming, contrary to the accumulated evidence, that "waterboarding absolutely works."

Add this to the mounting list of issues that might make you ask if it isn't time for Canada to begin distancing ourselves from America. Donald Trump isn't merely a pig with the sexual appetites of a goat, he's an animal.

Climate Change. America's Military versus Donald Trump.



Donald Trump can't stop bleating how much he loves America's military. Odd how he doesn't want to do anything about one of the greatest threats to US military readiness.

The Pulitzer prize-winning website, Inside Climate News, has launched a new series entitled, "Dangers Without Borders," that explores how climate change is degrading America's military capabilities.

According to a recent bipartisan expert report to Congress, the U.S. military has been so weakened in recent years that it now runs the risk of losing a war to China or Russia. 
One of the most tangible effects of climate change on the U.S. military can be seen after extreme weather batters its equipment and installations, calling into question whether military units can be deployed quickly and effectively if conflicts were to flare. 
In October, Hurricane Michael slammed Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Florida, inflicting what officials called "widespread catastrophic damage." The year prior, the Pentagon spent $1.3 billion to repair bases and equipment damaged by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. In 2014, flash floods ravaged the critical combat training grounds at Fort Irwin, California, requiring $65 million in repairs.

...Even as climate change starts to threaten military bases and infrastructure, it simultaneously worsens tensions abroad that could draw in American forces. National security officials have described global warming as a threat multiplier—the extra stress from a drought or typhoon that could push an already weak foreign land into chaos and send gusts of mass migration or terrorism through regions and even continents. 
In a 2015 report to Congress, the Pentagon pointed to the Syrian civil war as an example of how climate change can aggravate the fragility of a nation already riddled with tensions and poor governance. At the time of the Arab Spring in 2010, Syria was already under great stress. The authoritarian regime of Bashar al-Assad was unpopular, and an influx of more than one million Iraqi refugees strained basic services. 
At the same time, the worst drought in 500 years had shriveled large swaths of rural Syria, a country long plagued by water scarcity. Thousands of Syrians moved from farms into towns and cities. The migration contributed to the instability, which erupted into popular uprisings and, eventually, a cataclysmic civil war. Hundreds of thousands of people died and waves of refugees moved through the Middle East and into Europe and shook the political order as far as Germany. Today, more than 2,000 U.S. troops are fighting in Syria and northern Iraq, with the end of American involvement still unclear.
National security experts who understand how climate change moves a nation from bad to worse are asking, where is the next Syria? Will desertification in parts of Africa rob people of their farms and make some of them susceptible to the call of extremist groups? Will Pakistan's habitually beleaguered government be able to take care of its people if catastrophic flooding strikes, as it did in 2010, when American troops responded? And will the U.S. military, if called upon, be able to respond to international crises if climate change has hammered its ships, planes and training grounds?

Compounding the threats - the Trump factor.
The intertwined challenges of fragile global security, American military readiness and climate change take on heightened urgency in the Trump era. In a recent poll, nearly three-quarters of Americans said they believe the world has grown more dangerous during the Trump administration. Polls of Western European allies show a widespread lack of confidence in Trump, especially compared to Obama. Several countries critical to national security interests lack an American ambassador, including Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Mexico. 
At the same time, the White House denies mainstream climate science, halted work across federal agencies on climate change, and pulled the country out of the Paris climate accord as part of the broader collapse of American climate diplomacy. Trump rescinded an executive orderthat called in part for supplying the national intelligence community with the latest climate science, an Obama-era directive meant to help analysts better monitor the impact of warming on potential global hotspots. He also stripped mention of climate change as a threat to global security in his first National Security Strategy document issued in late 2017.
If America's adversaries and rivals want to find some means to degrade the US military, they couldn't have a better ally than Donald J. Trump.

Eating Ourselves to Extinction?



It's the combined effort of 130 national academies of science and three years in the making. The report from the Interacademy Partnership warns that humans are literally eating ourselves to death. Some get too much. Some don't get enough. Those who get too much tend to like the wrong stuff. Those who don't are often deprived of nutrients and vitamins.

From The Guardian:

The global food system is responsible for a third of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all emissions from transport, heating, lighting and air conditioning combined. The global warming this is causing is now damaging food production through extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.

...“The global food system is broken,” said Tim Benton, professor of population ecology, at the University of Leeds, who is a member of one of the expert editorial groups which produced the report. He said the cost of the damage to human health and the environment was much greater than the profits made by the farming industry.

“Whether you look at it from a human health, environmental or climate perspective, our food system is currently unsustainable and given the challenges that will come from a rising global population that is a really [serious] thing to say,” Benton said. 
Reducing meat and dairy consumption is the single biggest way individuals can lessen their impact on the planet, according to recent research. And tackling dangerous global warming is considered impossible without massive reductions in meat consumption. 
Research published in the journal Climate Policy shows that at the present rate, cattle and other livestock will be responsible for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and that to prevent this will require “substantial reductions, far beyond what are planned or realistic, from other sectors”.

Just like greenhouse gas emissions, food security opens a divide between the have and have not nations, between the developed world and the Third World, that raises no end of questions about equity - fairness, sharing and, for us, sacrifice.  Once again the people of the poorest and most vulnerable countries will see the affluent nations as the primary cause of their plight and what that portends.

I had an eye-opening experience during one of the online courses in global food security I took a couple of years ago. I had thought the course would explore food from a global perspective. Instead it turned out to be a primer in how British grocers keep fresh strawberries on their shelves year round. There was a detailed look into what they called "chasing the sun." Major British food giants established a network of prime farmland from the north to the southern hemisphere, shifting production seasonally from one to the other, ensuring an uninterrupted supply of strawberries to British consumers.

It was when I began noticing certain countries in the Third World where these food corporations operated that I realized most of them were in a state of chronic food insecurity. They were incapable of producing enough food at a price their people could afford. Some of these nations regularly experienced famine requiring foreign food aid. These food shortages trigger all manner of strife and instability within these countries. Yet, while all this is going on, these governments, many of them deeply corrupt, will cut sweetheart, under the table deals to convey large tracts of their best farmland to these foreign food giants - to grow strawberries and such for wealthy foreign consumers. In many cases, Third World countries never established functioning land registry systems and so it becomes too easy for corrupt officials to throw peasant farmers off lands their families have farmed as their own for centuries - for strawberries.

While North America is largely food secure, China and the Middle East play the same game of land banking in other nations. At one point, China made a play for some of the best grazing lands in Argentina. The national government blocked that attempt. China, unable to buy the land outright, then purchased majority control of existing ranching companies and defeated the will of the government.

The online course itself was a dud but it did lead me to issues peripheral to Britain's demand for fresh strawberries.  Around the world, but particularly in China and, to a lesser extent, India, there is an emerging affluent class, what the UN now calls the "consumer class."

One paper I stumbled across, written by three top Chinese economists, looked at the problems associated with a new, 300-million strong, upper middle class and their newfound consumption habits. The paper's conclusion was sobering. China had far more demand than available supply. Almost all Chinese have been lifted out of extreme poverty and expect ever more. China's new consumer class might aspire to Western standards of living but there's just not enough "stuff" on planet Earth to meet their demands. Yet these are China's key citizens - entrepreneurs, technology types, traders - and, without them, China's economic miracle collapses. These economists came to one conclusion - China, like India, would have to create islands of prosperity floating on seas of poverty. Doing that, they admitted, would likely require pretty brutal repression as their own societies divided.

The point of this essay I've tacked on to the Guardian story is that this new report only captures one dimension of this far more complicated and potentially dangerous food problem.  Again it comes down to who gets what. And, this time, the elbows will be very sharp.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Is Trump a Magnet for Scumbags?



The Miami Herald has an article on how Donald Trump's current labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, intervened to quash a child prostitution investigation into Trump pal (and Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew's buddy), Palm Beach multimillionaire, Jeffrey Epstein.
On a muggy October morning in 2007, Miami’s top federal prosecutor, Alexander Acosta, had a breakfast appointment with a former colleague, Washington, D.C., attorney Jay Lefkowitz.

It was an unusual meeting for the then-38-year-old prosecutor, a rising Republican star who had served in several White House posts before being named U.S. attorney in Miami by President George W. Bush.
Instead of meeting at the prosecutor’s Miami headquarters, the two men — both with professional roots in the prestigious Washington law firm of Kirkland & Ellis — convened at the Marriott in West Palm Beach, about 70 miles away. For Lefkowitz, 44, a U.S. special envoy to North Korea and corporate lawyer, the meeting was critical. 
His client, Palm Beach multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein, 54, was accused of assembling a large, cult-like network of underage girls — with the help of young female recruiters — to coerce into having sex acts behind the walls of his opulent waterfront mansion as often as three times a day, the Town of Palm Beach police found.
The eccentric hedge fund manager ...was also suspected of trafficking minor girls, often from overseas, for sex parties at his other homes in Manhattan, New Mexico and the Caribbean, FBI and court records show.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life
But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved
Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records
The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane
As part of the arrangement, Acosta agreed, despite a federal law to the contrary, that the deal would be kept from the victims. As a result, the non-prosecution agreement was sealed until after it was approved by the judge, thereby averting any chance that the girls — or anyone else — might show up in court and try to derail it.
Acosta's not talking, at least not to the Miami Herald.
But court records reveal details of the negotiations and the role that Acosta would play in arranging the deal, which scuttled the federal probe into a possible international sex trafficking operation. Among other things, Acosta allowed Epstein’s lawyers unusual freedoms in dictating the terms of the non-prosecution agreement. 
“The damage that happened in this case is unconscionable,” said Bradley Edwards, a former state prosecutor who represents some of Epstein’s victims. “How in the world, do you, the U.S. attorney, engage in a negotiation with a criminal defendant, basically allowing that criminal defendant to write up the agreement?”

What's With Grewal?



Justin Trudeau is having trouble with an errant MP, a Grewal fellow who represents the riding of Brampton East. Raj Grewal has stepped down, sort of, somehow, citing personal issues that seem to focus on some gambling problem.

I don't know much about Raj Grewal but who can forget Stephen Harper's very own Grewal, Gurmant, who represented the riding of Surrey Central and then Newton-North Delta. Keeping it all in the family, Gurmant's wife represented the adjoining riding of Fleetwood-North Kells from 2004 until 2015.

Grewal arrived in Canada in 1991 and less than six years later was elected to Parliament as a Reform Party MP. He then progressed through the Canadian Alliance and finally the Conservative Party.

Grewal's rise was meteoric. Then opposition leader Stephen Harper praised him as the "Iron Man of Canadian Parliament." Gurmant Grewal's fall was just as meteoric when he produced tapes that he claimed proved Ujjal Dosanjh  and Chief of Staff Tim Murphy sought to bribe him to join the Liberals and help defeat an attempted confidence vote.

That "scandal" all blew up in the Tories' faces when Grewal's tape was found to be heavily edited. Mr. Grewal declined, probably for very good reason, to produce the originals.

Harper's Grewal did not run for re-election in 2006. He tried to stage a comeback in 2015 but was barred by the Conservatives from seeking the nomination. His son, Liv Grewal, won the Tory nomination in the Mission riding but was forced to withdraw by his party. Nina Grewal got bounced in 2015, losing to Liberal, Ken Hardie.  All in all, 2015 was not an auspicious year for Team Grewal.

Unless there's a lot more to the Raj Grewal issue, the Tories would do well to recall the days when they had real Grewal problems.

The Browning of the Arctic



The Arctic has become increasingly less white as the Arctic sea ice melts, the tundra warms and the Greenland ice sheet retreats ever faster. In fact the Arctic is turning brown and that's not a good thing. It signals an ecosystem unable to adapt to climate change. From Smithsonian.com:

A new study published in Global Change Biology suggests the worrying shift in color could significantly hinder the region’s ability to adapt to climate change.

“Extreme climatic events can significantly reduce the ability of Arctic ecosystems to take up carbon,” lead researcher Rachael Treharne, an Arctic ecologist at England’s University of Sheffield, writes in The Conversation. “[This has] implications for whether the Arctic will help combat climate change, or accelerate it.” 
To gauge the effects of Arctic browning, Treharne and her colleagues visited the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway. There, they observed two extreme weather events. The first was a frost drought—a seemingly contradictory process that occurs when high winter temperatures melt an insulating layer of snow, leaving plants exposed to the Arctic’s harsh winds until they lose water and are unable to replace it with liquid from the impenetrable frozen soil. The second was extreme winter warming, which is a “False Spring” of sorts that tricks plants into prematurely shedding their cold tolerance
According to Georgiou, frost drought led to the death (and browning) of dominant evergreen vegetation, while extreme winter warming sparked a severe stress response signaled by the emergence of dark red pigments in the plants’ shoots and leaves. Compared to healthy green heathland, vegetation affected by these two conditions absorbed significantly less carbon dioxide across the entire growing season, reducing their ability to combat climate change.
Alexander Askew of Physics World further explains that many climate models tend to assume an arbitrary level of greening across the Arctic—a fact that leads to potentially erroneous predictions of Arctic ecosystems absorbing more carbon and slowing rather than speeding up climate change. 
The scale of browning seen in recent years “suggests the reality may be more complex,” Treharne notes in a statement, “calling into question our understanding of the role the Arctic plays in global climate, and whether we should expect Arctic ecosystems to slow or accelerate future climate change.” 
Ultimately, the team’s findings point toward the need to treat extreme Arctic weather events as bellwethers of global climate change. If dramatic measures are taken soon, Arctic warming could slow by as much as 7°C. Such steps, according to The Conversation, are “critical to minimizing the impacts of climate change both in Arctic ecosystems and worldwide.”

There's More Than Liberal Democracy in Peril from Right-Wing Populism. They're Also Out to Derail Action on Climate Change.


Paul Krugman had it right when he denounced climate change denialists as "depraved." And the depraved, also known as right-wing populists, will be out in force at next week's COP24 climate summit.

Germany faces its own threat in the form of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

The environmental affairs spokesman for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), Karsten Hilse, is someone who rarely raises his voice or breaks into the sneers of party heads Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland — to say nothing of the climate-change-denier-in-chief, US President Donald Trump.

But Hilse's message is just as radical. The 53-year-old father of three says that the mainstream political parties and media have created nothing less than an irrational environmentalist religion, forcing ordinary people to do penance for imaginary sins in changing the planet's environment.

Hilse's goals are to have Germany leave the Paris Agreement, overturn the country's ambitious German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) and, above all, to get people to stop asking what can be done about man-made climate change in favor of questioning whether it's a gigantic hoax put forth by politicians and journalists.

...Since the dramatic decline of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the AfD have been vying to establish themselves as Germany's second political force. In recent regional elections and national opinion polls, the environmentalists have moved past the far-right populists, and not surprisingly the AfD has markedly stepped up its direct attacks on the Greens. In the future, these two parties could represent the main poles on the left and right of Angela Merkel's weakening CDU/CSU in the middle.



Right wing populist Poland is hosting this year's climate summit, COP24, in Katowice, smack dab in the heart of Poland's revered coal country.  Among European countries, the Green 14 - Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom - back faster and deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Whether Italy's new right wing populist government will stay that course isn't clear although Italy, like all European Mediterranean nations, is squarely in the climate change crosshairs.

We Have All the Watches But They Have All the Time



It's the Achilles' Heel of counter-insurgency warfare, i.e. the quagmire that is modern-era Afghanistan.  To win, all the insurgents need do is remain a viable military and political force when the counter-insurgents finally give up and leave.  With the relentless bombings, ambushes and attacks, the Taliban are flexing muscle, showing that they definitely remain a viable force. And leaving Afghanistan is on Donald Trump's mind. That's why Di-Di-Mau Donnie is pushing to get the Taliban to the bargaining table.

President Donald Trump's envoy to Afghanistan is reaching out to many top Taliban figures as he tries to launch peace negotiations to end the war before Trump can simply pull the plugand order U.S. troops home, say foreign diplomats.  
U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has moved at a rapid pace and ventured beyond the official Taliban office in Qatar to meet other members of the insurgency, two foreign diplomats and three former U.S. officials told NBC News.
His outreach included a meeting in the United Arab Emirates with a militant claiming to be an associate of Mullah Yaqub, son of late Taliban leader Mullah Omar and now one of two deputies to the current Taliban leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, two foreign diplomats said.  
Khalilzad is "testing all channels," said one Western diplomat, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
The problem is when the insurgents sense their enemy is on the verge of splitting, abandoning the field, what possible incentive do the insurgents have to throw in the towel? Like the North Vietnamese they may make nice until the Americans are gone and then finish off their hapless, corrupt and weakened adversaries.



Notley's Desperation


There's not much Rachel Notley won't do, it seems, to try to fend off her near inevitable loss in next year's Alberta elections. The misery of the Athabasca Bitumen Pits has become Notley's obsession and she is indeed desperate.

Notley, who still parrots the nonsense about a lack of pipeline capacity undermining her province's bitumen bounty, now wants to encourage producers to cut production to raise the going price for Alberta heavy oil. That's "less = more" but "more = even more" or Alberta economics 101.

Notley's latest brain fart? A Bitumen Black Friday. A zero royalties holiday to encourage production cuts.
Alberta is weighing incentives and credits – including the prospect of a royalty holiday – to get producers to reduce output against a proposal from parts of the industry to impose across-the-board production cuts, said a person familiar with the deliberations. The Globe and Mail granted anonymity to the person because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the private discussions. 
Alberta’s heavy crude prices have dropped faster and farther than falling U.S. and global oil prices in recent weeks, squeezing profits of some of the sector’s biggest players and forcing others to curtail production.
...Major producers such as Cenovus Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. have urged the government to step in to address what they insist is a market failure. 
But big rivals such as Imperial Oil Ltd., Suncor Energy Inc. and Husky Energy Inc. oppose intervention because their refining operations benefit from cheap crude. They have warned that such a move could provoke a backlash from the United States. 
This fall, the price gap between Alberta’s heavy oil and the U.S. benchmark oil price topped a record US$50 a barrel. Prices have improved somewhat, but the discount is still double levels typically seen by the industry, sapping revenue ahead of what is normally the busy winter drilling season. Oil sands barrels for future delivery fetched about US$17.81 in Tuesday trading, according to Calgary oil broker Net Energy Exchange.
The Globe and Mail, so predictably blames the bitumen blunder on "acute pipeline constraints." Not a mention of the glut of cheap, vastly cleaner gas and oil in the United States. Of course not.

Trump's Mole Inside the Mueller Investigation?



It seems as though former Trump campaign manager and shady international operator, Paul Manafort, has chosen to bet on getting a presidential pardon after all.

While Manafort was supposedly spilling his guts to Mueller's investigators are part of his plea bargain, his counsel was reporting back on Manafort's interviews to Rudy Giuliani. Obstruction of justice, anybody?

A lawyer for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort repeatedly briefed the White House on meetings with special counsel Robert Mueller even after his client had flipped, The New York Times reported Tuesday. 
Kevin Downing gave the Trump camp a rundown on the line of questioning pursued by prosecutors, the newspaper reported, citing Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two other sources. 
Giuliani acknowledged that the information could potentially give Trump’s team valuable insight into a case against him, and noted that the prosecutors had been particularly interested in whether the president had advance knowledge of the infamous Trump Tower meeting between his son and several Russians.

Manafort could be angling for a presidential pardon in return for passing information to Trump’s lawyers, legal experts told The Times.
Why is this information coming out today? Because Mueller has finally decided to release it. Mueller wants it out in public that Trump's own lawyers were meddling in the investigation even after Manafort was a cooperating witness under a plea bargain.

Harry Leslie Smith RIP



He called both England and Canada home and he was an outspoken progressive voice on both sides of the Atlantic. Harry Leslie Smith has died, age 95.

From his home in Belleville, Ontario, Harry let it be known he was no fan of Stephen Harper - or Harper's successor.

In a March 2015 interview with The Tyee about Harper, Smith characterized the former prime minister as having “one consideration, and that is to let the rich get richer and the poor fend for themselves.” 
At the time he was concerned about child poverty in larger cities, tax loopholes for the wealthy and government service cutbacks under the Tories. 
Harper was arrogant and refused to admit when he was wrong, Smith said, but the problems that persisted under his government continue because Trudeau “doesn’t have any thoughts of his own” on how to improve the country.
...The broken promises on electoral reform and commitments to Indigenous people and attempts to appease U.S. President Donald Trump are some of the complaints Smith has about the Liberal government.
In a Guardian interview in 2017, Harry Smith said the stench of looming war was in the air.
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia eviscerates Yemen with the same ferocity as Mussolini did to Ethiopia when I was child in 1935. The hypocrisy of Britain’s government and elite class ensures that innocent blood still flows in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Theresa May’s government insists that peace can only be achieved through the proliferation of weapons of war in conflict zones. Venezuela teeters towards anarchy and foreign intervention while in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte – protected by his alliance with Britain and the US – murders the vulnerable for the crime of trying to escape their poverty through drug addiction. 
Because I am old, now 94, I recognise these omens of doom. Chilling signs are everywhere, perhaps the biggest being that the US allows itself to be led by Donald Trump, a man deficient in honour, wisdom and just simple human kindness. It is as foolish for Americans to believe that their generals will save them from Trump as it was for liberal Germans to believe the military would protect the nation from Hitler’s excesses.
In November, 2013, Smith penned an op-ed in The Guardian that explained why the WWII vet had decided to no longer wear the poppy.
...I will lament their passing in private because my despair is for those who live in this present world. I will no longer allow my obligation as a veteran to remember those who died in the great wars to be co-opted by current or former politicians to justify our folly in Iraq, our morally dubious war on terror and our elimination of one's right to privacy.
...Today, we have allowed monolithic corporate institutions to set our national agenda. We have allowed vitriol to replace earnest debate and we have somehow deluded ourselves into thinking that wealth is wisdom. But by far the worst error we have made as a people is to think ourselves as taxpayers first and citizens second. 
Next year, I won't wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilised state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn't be left to die on the battleground of modern life.
In death as in his life, Harry Smith reminds us of what it means to be a progressive. A progressive is not, as many Liberals like to imagine, being something less than a Conservative.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Melania's Blood Red Christmas


Over at Washington Post they're taking the piss out of Melania Trump for her decision to line the White House corridors this year with blood red Christmas trees.  Here are a few Twitter images making the rounds.




Krugman: Climate Denial is Depraved



NYT columnist and Nobel laureate economist, Paul Krugman, isn't pulling any punches. Climate change denialism among congressional Republicans and Trump's White House is depraved.

Wait, isn’t depravity too strong a term? Aren’t people allowed to disagree with conventional wisdom, even if that wisdom is supported by overwhelming scientific consensus? 
Yes, they are — as long as their arguments are made in good faith. But there are almost no good-faith climate-change deniers. And denying science for profit, political advantage or ego satisfaction is not O.K.; when failure to act on the science may have terrible consequences, denial is, as I said, depraved.

The best recent book I’ve read on all this is “The Madhouse Effect” by Michael E. Mann, a leading climate scientist, with cartoons by Tom Toles. As Mann explains, climate denial actually follows in the footsteps of earlier science denial, beginning with the long campaign by tobacco companies to confuse the public about the dangers of smoking. 
The shocking truth is that by the 1950s, these companies already knew that smoking caused lung cancer; but they spent large sums propping up the appearance that there was a real controversy about this link. In other words, they were aware that their product was killing people, but they tried to keep the public from understanding this fact so they could keep earning profits. That qualifies as depravity, doesn’t it?
In many ways, climate denialism resembles cancer denialism. Businesses with a financial interest in confusing the public — in this case, fossil-fuel companies — are prime movers. As far as I can tell, every one of the handful of well-known scientists who have expressed climate skepticism has received large sums of money from these companies or from dark money conduits like DonorsTrust — the same conduit, as it happens, that supported Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, before he joined the Trump administration.
But climate denial has sunk deeper political roots than cancer denial ever did. In practice, you can’t be a modern Republican in good standing unless you deny the reality of global warming, assert that it has natural causes or insist that nothing can be done about it without destroying the economy. You also have to either accept or acquiesce in wild claims that the overwhelming evidence for climate change is a hoax, that it has been fabricated by a vast global conspiracy of scientists
Why would anyone go along with such things? Money is still the main answer: Almost all prominent climate deniers are on the fossil-fuel take. However, ideology is also a factor: If you take environmental issues seriously, you are led to the need for government regulation of some kind, so rigid free-market ideologues don’t want to believe that environmental concerns are real (although apparently forcing consumers to subsidize coal is fine). 
Finally, I have the impression that there’s an element of tough-guy posturing involved — real men don’t use renewable energy, or something. 
And these motives matter. If important players opposed climate action out of good-faith disagreement with the science, that would be a shame but not a sin, calling for better efforts at persuasion. As it is, however, climate denial is rooted in greed, opportunism, and ego. And opposing action for those reasons is a sin. 
Indeed, it’s depravity, on a scale that makes cancer denial seem trivial. Smoking kills people, and tobacco companies that tried to confuse the public about that reality were being evil. But climate change isn’t just killing people; it may well kill civilization. Trying to confuse the public about that is evil on a whole different level. Don’t some of these people have children? 
And let’s be clear: While Donald Trump is a prime example of the depravity of climate denial, this is an issue on which his whole party went over to the dark side years ago. Republicans don’t just have bad ideas; at this point, they are, necessarily, bad people.

Collusion, Anyone? Manafort and Assange. Stone and Corsi and Credico in the Mix.



Trump's then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has disclosed that he personally met with Julian Assange in Equador's embassy in London.  In fact, Manafort's meetings were conducted in 2013, 2015 and in the spring of 2016.
It is unclear why Manafort would have wanted to see Assange and what was discussed. But the last apparent meeting is likely to come under scrutiny and could interest Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

A well-placed source has told the Guardian that Manafort went to see Assange around March 2016. Months later WikiLeaks released a stash of Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence officers.

...Manafort’s first visit to the embassy took place a year after Assange sought asylum inside, two sources said. 
A separate internal document written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency and seen by the Guardian lists “Paul Manaford [sic]” as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions “Russians”. 
According to the sources, Manafort returned to the embassy in 2015. He paid another visit in spring 2016, turning up alone, around the time Trump named him as his convention manager. The visit is tentatively dated to March. 
Manafort’s 2016 visit to Assange lasted about 40 minutes, one source said, adding that the American was casually dressed when he exited the embassy, wearing sandy-coloured chinos, a cardigan and a light-coloured shirt. 
Visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports. Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.
For more on this and the other bizarre events of the last 24 hours, check out Vox.

UPDATE:

NBC news reports that the Mueller team has an incriminating email on the pre-election Wikileaks email dump. The email is contained in a "Statement of the Offense" issued by the prosecution to Roger Stone crony, Jerome Corsi and his counsel. It's a short read and very much worth your effort.

The Mueller interviews began on Sept. 6 when Corsi told investigators that an associate, identified by Corsi as Stone, asked him in the summer of 2016 to get in touch with an organization, identified by Corsi as WikiLeaks, about unreleased materials relevant to the presidential campaign, the draft court papers say.

"Get to (Assange) [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending (WikiLeaks) emails," read the email to Corsi dated July 25, 2016, according to the draft court documents. 
Corsi said he declined the request and made clear to Stone that an attempt to contact WikiLeaks could put them in investigators' crosshairs, according to the draft court documents. 
But Mueller's team said that was a lie. 
Instead of turning down the request, Corsi in fact passed it along to a person in London, according to the draft court documents. Corsi said that person was conservative author Ted Malloch.

Eight days later, Corsi sent the email to Stone saying that WikiLeaks possessed information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign and planned to release it in October.
... On Oct. 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released the first of two batches of emails that Russian hackers stole from Podesta, altering the trajectory of the presidential race. 
Mueller's team says in the court papers that Corsi scrubbed his computer between Jan. 13, 2017, and March 1, 2017, deleting all email correspondence that predated Oct. 11, 2016, including the messages from Stone about WikiLeaks and Corsi's email to Malloch.

Corsi remained in contact with Stone in 2017 when the former Trump adviser's connections to WikiLeaks came under investigation by the FBI and congressional committees, according to the draft court papers.
On Nov. 30, 2017, Stone emailed Corsi asking him to write about a person whom Stone had told congressional investigators was his "source" or "intermediary" to WikiLeaks, according to the draft court papers. 
Corsi and Stone have identified that person as Randy Credico, a radio host and one-time friend of Stone. 
"Are you sure you want to make something out of this now?" Corsi responded, according to the draft court papers. "Why not wait to see what (Credico) does? You may be defending yourself too much — raising new questions that will fuel new inquiries. This may be a time to say less, not more."

Stone responded by telling Corsi that Credico will "take the 5th — but let's hold a day," the draft court document says.

Global Carbon Emissions Rise Again



After four consecutive years of modest declines, carbon emissions are again on the increase. The UN warned that global emissions needed to peak by 2020 and then begin a sharp decline. It now reports that we won't reach the peak until at least 2030.
The emissions gap report says that economic growth is responsible for a rise in 2017 while national efforts to cut carbon have faltered.
...For the last nine years, UN Environment have produced an assessment of the latest scientific studies on current and future emissions of greenhouse gases. 
It highlights the difference between the level of greenhouse gas emissions that the world can sustain to keep temperatures within safe limits, with the levels that are likely based on the promises and actions taken by countries. 
This year's report records the largest gap yet between where we are and where we need to be.
Recently the UN warned that to have a reasonable chance of keeping global warming within safe levels, the world needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, a truly Herculean challenge. However the latest emissions figures mean that we now have to cut global emissions by 55 per cent, an extra 10 per cent, by 2030.
"There is still a tremendous gap between words and deeds, between the targets agreed by governments worldwide to stabilise our climate and the measures to achieve these goals," said Dr Gunnar Luderer, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and one of the authors of the study. 
The scientists say that to tackle the gap, nations must raise their ambition five fold to meet the 1.5C goal. 
Right now, the world is heading for a temperature rise of 3.2C by the end of this century the report says.
...The study says that countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada [Stephen Harper's targets], the EU (including the UK), South Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and the US, are falling short of achieving their nationally determined contributions for 2030.
Carbon Taxes.
The report also suggests that government tax plans could be hugely important in tackling emissions. 
It says that carbon taxes or carbon trading systems cover only 15% of the global carbon output, which could rise to 20% if China implements its planned market. But the report says that half of the emissions from fossil fuels are not taxed at all and only 10% are priced at a level consistent with keeping warming to 2C.
Subsidies.
"When governments embrace fiscal policy measures to subsidise low-emission alternatives and tax fossil fuels, they can stimulate the right investments in the energy sector and significantly reduce carbon emissions," said Jian Liu, UN Environment's chief scientist. 
"If all fossil fuel subsidies were phased out, global carbon emissions could be reduced by up to 10% by 2030. Setting the right carbon price is also essential. At $70 per tonne of CO2, emission reductions of up to 40% are possible in some countries."
70 dollars (USD) per tonne seems to be the magic number then. That's a far cry from 20 dollars (CDN) a ton that so many of our premiers seem to think an economy-wrecking burden.

There's an idea. We could work out the probable greenhouse gas emissions associated with every barrel of bitumen we export - the bitumen, the diluent, and, yes, the really wicked pet-coke we toss in for free. Then we levy a $70 dollar (USD)  per tonne emissions export tax, less the amount of carbon taxes that will be levied in the nation of destination. Maybe we could use that money to get a partner to come in and start building electric cars in Canada. Why we might even build the plant in Oshawa. I've got the perfect site in mind.



That's What You Get For Loving Me



While thinking about General Motors' announcement that it will be closing the company's Oshawa assembly plant next December, I couldn't help but wonder just how secure the remainder of Canada's manufacturing base may be.

The Oshawa closure seems worse because of the billions of dollars in bail out loans and subsidies Ottawa and Ontario lavished on GM when it was in hard times. The company could have announced that it was going to revamp Oshawa to build new electric vehicles but, sadly, that will also be "America First."

Ever since Mulroney launched Canada onto the path of neoliberal globalism, "protectionism" has had a pejorative quality. It was old thinking, anti-trade talk, backward thinking. Well, today a little protection might be nice.

We've watched as Boeing literally beat the "C-series" jetliner out of Bombardier and straight into the lap of Airbus. Now we have the Oshawa debacle. What next?

As our manufacturing base continues to decline, Ottawa seems powerless to make things right. We've got a giant and increasingly protectionist country beside us, thumbing its nose at us, and, beyond that, it's "race to the bottom" globalism. Where's the magic of neoliberalism now?

Ontario's industrial weakness can only heighten the perceived value of our petro-resources. It's a bad bet but Ottawa has left itself little choice but to double-down on what's seen as a stranded-asset-in-waiting, high-carbon bitumen. I suppose we could re-open the mine at Asbestos, Que.

With the federal government condemning Canada's labour force to a future of "job churn," are well-paid, steady manufacturing jobs soon to become a distant memory?

How do we make this new trade deal, NAFTA II, the USMCA, work for us? That came to mind while reading a CBC article on the demise of Oshawa.
The new North American trade agreement — the one that was supposed to be key to the future of Canada's automotive sector — didn't even make it to its signing ceremony before General Motors announced it soon will stop assembling cars in Oshawa, Ont. 
"The car industry now has stability and room to grow and thrive," Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland wrote in an op-ed published just last month, describing what she called the "well-balanced outcome" of Canada's trade negotiations with Washington.
Are we really as powerless as we seem? What is our industrial policy? Do you know? "Job churn" just can't be an industrial policy. That's capitulation, pure capitulation. Can't we do better than that?

Why can't Canada have a robust, thriving aerospace industry? Little Sweden, with a population just shy of 10-million does. Volvo manufactures jet engines. SAAB designs and builds and, wait for it, sells fighter jets. In partnership with Boeing, a SAAB trainer design was chosen by the US military. That's 350-jets right there.

It's not like Canada lacks resources. It's not like we don't have a highly-educated work force. We do, on both scores. We could be energy independent if we were ever bright enough to refine the stuff we already have in-house. It looks like we've got it all. Yet something's missing as we need to sort out what that is.

There's a real discount factor when your manufacturing base, such as it may be, is heavily "branch plant" oriented. What we should have learned is that when times get tough or political expedience gets involved, the big guys have the sharpest elbows.

Canada is closing in on 40-million people. Perhaps it's time to explore what we can do with that market. This isn't about turning Canada into another 'hermit kingdom' but evaluating our options in terms of our domestic economy, industrial policy and global trade in an environment when we don't leave all of the important decisions to the vagaries of market forces.

Monday, November 26, 2018

We've Got a Neoliberalism Problem and It Will Control Us If We Don't Tame It.



When Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney coaxed us to board the neoliberal train, very few of us realized it would carry us to authoritarianism, inequality and perhaps even fascism. Yet as years turned into decades we sat by and watched progressive liberal democracy wither, our national sovereignty wane and our once robust and broadbased middle class gradually displaced by the ascendancy of the precariat and the reality of job churn as the state turned toward corporatism and turned its back on the public interest.

Chris Hedges writes of how neoliberalism revived class power in America.
Neoliberalism as economic theory was always an absurdity. It had as much validity as past ruling ideologies such as the divine right of kings and fascism’s belief in the √úbermensch. None of its vaunted promises were even remotely possible. Concentrating wealth in the hands of a global oligarchic elite—eight families now hold as much wealth as 50 percent of the world’s population—while demolishing government controls and regulations always creates massive income inequality and monopoly power, fuels political extremism and destroys democracy. You do not need to slog through the 577 pages of Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” to figure this out. But economic rationality was never the point. The point was the restoration of class power.
...“It’s important to recognize the class origins of this project, which occurred in the 1970s when the capitalist class was in a great deal of difficulty, workers were well organized and were beginning to push back,” said David Harvey, the author of “A Brief History of Neoliberalism,” when we spoke in New York. “Like any ruling class, they needed ruling ideas. So, the ruling ideas were that freedom of the market, privatization, entrepreneurialism of the self, individual liberty and all the rest of it should be the ruling ideas of a new social order, and that was the order that got implemented in the 1980s and 1990s.” 
“As a political project, it was very savvy,” he said. “It got a great deal of popular consent because it was talking about individual liberty and freedom, freedom of choice. When they talked about freedom, it was freedom of the market. The neoliberal project said to the ’68 generation, ‘OK, you want liberty and freedom? That’s what the student movement was about. We’re going to give it to you, but it’s going to be freedom of the market. The other thing you’re after is social justice—forget it. So, we’ll give you individual liberty, but you forget the social justice. Don’t organize.’ The attempt was to dismantle those institutions, which were those collective institutions of the working class, particularly the unions and bit by bit those political parties that stood for some sort of concern for the well-being of the masses.”
...Neoliberalism generates little wealth. Rather, it redistributes it upward into the hands of the ruling elites. Harvey calls this “accumulation by dispossession.” 
“The main argument of accumulation by dispossession rests on the idea that when people run out of the capacity to make things or provide services, they set up a system that extracts wealth from other people,” Harvey said. “That extraction then becomes the center of their activities. One of the ways in which that extraction can occur is by creating new commodity markets where there were none before. For instance, when I was younger, higher education in Europe was essentially a public good. Increasingly [this and other services] have become a private activity. Health service. Many of these areas which you would consider not to be commodities in the ordinary sense become commodities. Housing for the lower-income population was often seen as a social obligation. Now everything has to go through the market. You impose a market logic on areas that shouldn’t be open to market.”
...Under neoliberalism, the process of “accumulation by dispossession” is accompanied by financialization. 
“Deregulation allowed the financial system to become one of the main centers of redistributive activity through speculation, predation, fraud, and thievery,” Harvey writes in his book, perhaps the best and most concise account of the history of neoliberalism. “Stock promotions, ponzi schemes, structured asset destruction through inflation, asset stripping through mergers and acquisitions, the promotion of levels of debt incumbency that reduce whole populations even in the advanced capitalist countries to debt peonage. To say nothing of corporate fraud, dispossession of assets, the raiding of pension funds, their decimation by stock, and corporate collapses by credit and stock manipulations, all of these became central features of the capitalist financial system.” 
Neoliberalism, wielding tremendous financial power, is able to manufacture economic crises to depress the value of assets and then seize them.
...Neoliberalism transforms freedom for the many into freedom for the few. Its logical result is neofascism. Neofascism abolishes civil liberties in the name of national security and brands whole groups as traitors and enemies of the people. It is the militarized instrument used by the ruling elites to maintain control, divide and tear apart the society and further accelerate pillage and social inequality. The ruling ideology, no longer credible, is replaced with the jackboot.

Of Course He Doesn't Believe It


The White House picked their moment, Friday afternoon of the Thanksgiving Day weekend, to release their own government's Fourth National Climate Assessment.

The Trump White House wanted the report buried, forgotten, - lost in turkey, cranberries, gravy and mashed potatoes. The report, congressionally mandated and produced by 13 major federal agencies, makes a dark farce of Donald Trump's economic and environmental policies.

So what has the legendary non-reader made of the 1,600 page report? When asked about the dire warnings of major economic losses climate change will inflict on America, Trump replied, "I don't believe it."

Who needs science and facts and evidence when you've got the opinion of a stable genius?

Alberta's Bitumen Pits are a Racket and We've All Been Sucked In. A Made-by-Conservatives Fiasco.



You've probably seen how the mob will takeover a small but profitable business, bleed it dry and then split, leaving the empty, ruined hulk a dead loss for out-of-pocket creditors. That's not far off the mark when it comes to the Athabasca bitumen pits.

The Tar Sands, properly managed, could have been a terrific asset for the Wild Rose province. If only they had listened to Peter Lougheed. Only the mob (foreign energy giants) moved in, co-opted Alberta's political caste (Conservative and New Democrat), negotiated laughable royalty deals that put the province on a ponzi scheme economy, and, at the same time pocketed billions in tax breaks, deferrals and subsidies. Now, with the prospect of bitumen becoming an early "stranded asset," Alberta faces the possibility of getting stiffed for upwards of $260 billion in unfunded Athabasca remediation costs. If that hazmat site is cleaned up at all you can expect most of the cost to be picked up by Ottawa. Alberta, you might have heard, is once again predictably broke.

In today's Tyee, Canada's top petro-scribe, Andrew Nikiforuk, writes that freewheeling Alberta is very much the author of its own misfortune.

The Alberta government has known for more than a decade that its oilsands policies were setting the stage for today’s price crisis.

Which makes it hard to take the current government seriously when it tries to blame everyone from environmentalists to other provinces for what is a self-inflicted economic problem.
In 2007, a government report warned that prices for oilsands bitumen could eventually fall so low that the government’s royalty revenues — critical for its budget — would be at risk. 
The province should encourage companies to add value to the bitumen by upgrading and refining it into gasoline or diesel to avoid the coming price plunge, the report said.
Albertans came blame Trudeau all they want. That is what profoundly stupid people deeply manipulated by their dishonest local politicians will do.
With North American pipelines largely full, U.S. oil production surging and U.S. refineries working at full capacity, Alberta has wounded itself with bad policy choices, say experts. 
The Alberta government and oil industry is in crisis mode because the gap between the price paid for Western Canadian Select — a blend of heavy oil and diluent — and benchmark West Texas Intermediate oils has widened to $40 US a barrel. 
Some energy companies have called on the government to impose production cuts to increase prices.\ 
The business case for slowing bitumen production was made by the great Fort McMurray fire of 2015. 
The fire resulted in a loss of 1.5 million barrels of heavy oil production over several months. As a result, the price of Western Canadian Select rose from $26.93 to $42.52 per barrel.

Bitumen is not oil.
Oilsands crude typically sells at a $15 to $25 discount to light oil such as West Texas Intermediate. It costs more to move through pipelines, as it has to be diluted with a high-cost, gasoline-like product known as condensate. According to a recent government report, it can cost oilsands producers $14 to dilute and move one barrel of bitumen and condensate through a pipeline. 
And transforming the sulfur-rich heavy oil into other products is more expensive because its poor quality requires a complex refinery, such as those clustered in the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast. 
But the growing discount has cost Alberta’s provincial treasury dearly because royalties are based on oil prices.

What's good for the goose is not good for Edmonton's gander.
Canada exports about 3.3 million barrels of oil a day. About half of that is diluted bitumen, or heavy oil. 
And the current dramatic price discount has divided oilsands producers into winners and losers. 
The winners invested in upgraders and refineries, while the losers are producing more bitumen than their refinery capacity can handle or the market needs. 
During Alberta’s so-called bitumen crisis, the three top oilsands producers — Suncor, Husky and Imperial Oil — are posting record profits.
...The Alberta government knew this was coming
A technical paper on bitumen pricing for Alberta Energy’s 2007 royalty review warned the province about the perils of increasing production without increasing value-added production. 
“Bitumen prices, when compared to light crude oil prices, are typified by large dramatic price drops and recoveries,” it noted. Between 1998 and 2005, “bitumen prices were 63 per cent more volatile than West Texas Intermediate prices,” it said.
A Screw-up with Ralph Klein, Stephen Harper, Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney's fingerprints all over it.
The analysis added that “for bitumen to attract a good price, it needs refineries with sufficient heavy-oil conversion capacity.” 
The province’s push to develop the oilsands quickly increased the risk, the report said. “Price volatility for bitumen, especially the extreme low prices that have been witnessed several times over the past several years, is the most obvious risk.” 
And the report noted that increasing bitumen production posed “a revenue risk for the resource owner” — the people of Alberta. When the differential widens, Alberta makes less money on its already low royalty bitumen rates. 
Companies can compensate for the price risk by buying or investing in U.S. refineries; securing long-term pipeline contracts; investing in storage or using contracts to protect them from price swings. 
Many oilsands producers, including Suncor, Imperial and Husky, have lessened their vulnerability to bitumen’s volatility by doing all of these things.
Shrewd energy companies make out like bandits when prices crater. It means they're off the hook for royalties and get bargain-basement bitumen feedstock for their refineries to turn into finished petroleum products.

Peter Lougheed said "go slow." For Klein and every other Alberta premier ever since it's been "balls to the wall." These brilliant Conservative types have been played for suckers.

Imagine, rock-bottom bitumen is transported from Athabasca to refineries in the States where it is turned into marketable oil and gasoline that is then sold back to Canada at a hefty profit. Good for the energy producers and the American economy. A fiscal disaster for Alberta and Canada.
In 2007 Pedro Van Meurs, a royalty expert now based in Panama, warned the government that its royalty for bitumen was way too low in a paper titled “Preliminary Fiscal Evaluation of Alberta Oil Sand Terms.”

Van Meurs noted that upgrading considerably enhances the value of bitumen and would generate more revenue for the province.
But that did not appear to be the policy the government was pursuing, warned Van Meurs in his report to the government. 
Low royalties “raise the issue whether it is in the interest of Alberta to continue to stimulate through the fiscal system such very high-cost production ventures,” wrote Van Meurs, a chief of petroleum developments for the Canadian government in the 1970s. 
Charging higher royalties would not only slow down production and avoid cost overruns in the oilsands but also encourage “upgrading projects with higher value-added opportunities,” he wrote. 
But Alberta succumbed to sustained oil patch lobbying in 2007 and ignored Van Meurs’ advice.
Sorry, Alberta, but you shot yourself in the foot. You got greedy and were conned into inflicting harm on your own people and Canada also.

As for Trudeau, what does his TransMountain pipeline do but perpetuate this fiasco? What is the point of a pipeline that can only undermine the market price of the bitumen it delivers to foreign refineries?