Monday, March 18, 2019

Trump Backers Sought to Bury Cambridge Analytica So Deep No One Would Uncover Its Secrets


Cambridge Analytica, the now defunct company believed to be instrumental in the Brexit Leave campaign and the election of Donald J. Trump to the White House, is now before a British court.

The company, once owned by ultra-right billionaire, Robert Mercer, and directed by noneother than Trump aide, Steve Bannon, and Mercer's somewhat odd daughter, Rebekah, was tossed into court-ordered administration (receivership) when undercover videos revealed its scurrilous dealings. It seems there was more to its liquidation than a piffling scandal. It was thrown into administration to bury its darkest secrets and prevent people from looking into its conduct.

The High Court in London heard on Monday that Cambridge Analytica was up to its old tricks from beyond the grave—by surreptitiously trying to halt investigations that could expose allegedly nefarious tactics before the company was shut down for good. 
The company filed for the British equivalent of chapter 11 bankruptcy last year after secret recordings of its boss, Alexander Nix, emerged in which he claimed that Trump’s data gurus had carried out illicit election campaigns all over the world. The company was also accused of using up to 87 million clandestinely harvested Facebook profiles to create a state of the art voter database that helped Trump win election in 2016.
A lawyer representing a New York professor, who believes his private data was misused by the notorious campaign operatives, claims Cambridge Analytica’s data secrets are being shielded from justice and exposure by administrators in the pay of a shadow company set up by a band of executives linked to the Trump campaign veterans
The High Court heard that administrators had deliberately misled a judge during a previous hearing by obfuscating their financial links to Emerdata, a company which was set up by Nix, Rebekah Mercer, and other senior figures who were previously involved with Cambridge Analytica.
In Britain, court-appointed administrators are supposed to work independently on behalf of all creditors to take over running of the company, similar to chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. But the legal team of David Carroll, an associate professor at Parsons School in New York who is fighting for access to the data compiled on him, claimed that the administrators of Cambridge Analytica has succumbed to undue influence. Emerdata appointed the administrator and subsequently committed to pay them up to $1 million in fees
The administrators, Vincent Green and Mark Newman of Crowe U.K. LLP, were accused of trying to liquidate the company before a full investigation into the company could be held.
“It is extremely unusual, in my submission, to have the fees of an administrator underwritten effectively by the people who may themselves be the principal focus of any subsequent investigation,” said Andreas Gledhill Q.C., the lawyer representing Carroll in court.
...“This needs to go to the official receiver and there needs to be a whole set of investigations—someone needs to crack the vault,” Ravi Naik, a lawyer for Carroll told The Daily Beast outside court. “Without this case being successful, there cannot be an investigation because the company will liquidate. This is the dying embers.” 
In documents submitted to the court, Gledhill claimed that Emerdata was due to pay the administrator up to £800,000 ($1 million) but had only handed over around £220,000 ($290,000) so far. 
“With their legal fees funded by Emerdata, the administrators have treated this as hostile litigation between themselves and Mr. Carroll, making their lack of independence abundantly clear,” Gledhill said.
...Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, daughters of billionaire Trump donor Robert Mercer, are listed as directors of Emerdata. As is former Cambridge Analytica chairman Julian Wheatland, who is named on the list of people close to President Trump being probed by the House Judiciary Committee, alongside Nix, who resigned as a director of Emerdata on the same day that he was called back for further questioning by a committee in Britain’s House of Commons. Nix remains a shareholder. 
The court is expected to rule on the removal of Emerdata's token receiver in a few days.

Having practiced extensively in the field of insolvency and receivership, it is hard to believe this conflict by a court-appointed administrator. He functions as an officer of the court by virtue of that appointment and ought to be held to the strictest standards of transparency and accountability. This, to me, is astonishing.

Beyond Free Market Capitalism, the Case For a Socialist Revival

"Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment
in time we created a lot of value for shareholders."


We've got tough decisions to make if we want to save human civilization. It will take massive change of an enormity that can easily beggar comprehension. What we must do is genuinely scary.

We must avert climate change. We must overcome socially-corrosive inequality. We must protect, rather than exploit, all life on Earth. How in hell are we supposed to do all that?

A good place to start might be to take stock of what we're doing wrong. Sometimes that will mean examining how we've been doing things for generations, even centuries.

Shortly after creating this blog more than a dozen years ago, I began wrestling with the array of challenges and threats that faced mankind. I formulated a list that included everything from climate change; desertification and deforestation; resource depletion and exhaustion; severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; flooding and droughts, severe and cyclical; the loss of biodiversity and species extinction; pest and disease migration; the water crisis and our broken hydrologic cycle; and a host of man-made issues from nuclear proliferation to terrorism, resource wars, refugee migration and much more.

I was sure they were all connected somehow. There must be common threads that ran through them. It took some years before I realized all of these issues were the end product of our modes of organization - 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics and political economics.

At the time we embraced these modes of organization they made sense, based on the world as we then understood it.  Growth was great. The rising tide indeed lifted all (or most) boats. Today was better than yesterday and tomorrow would be better than today. We were on what promised to be an endless roll.

Then came the 1970s. That was when we grew to the very finite limits of our planet's carrying capacity. Somewhere around 1973 when mankind's population first hit three billion.  After that, classical economics evolved from Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" (1776), growth-driven capitalism, and rapacious industrialism began to lose their utility. As (rotten) luck would have it, this was around the same period in which Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney spread the gospel of neoliberalism throughout the west, the age of globalization.

With this in mind, there's an interesting piece in today's Guardian, "Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?"

... the existing political establishment looks more and more like an impediment to change. The consequences of global warming have moved from the merely theoretical and predicted to observable reality over the past few years, but this has not been matched by an uptick in urgency. The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes
Today’s children, as they become more politically aware, will be much more radical than their parents, simply because there will be no other choice for them. This emergent radicalism is already taking people by surprise. The Green New Deal (GND), a term presently most associated with 29-year-old US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has provoked a wildly unhinged backlash from the “pro free market” wing, who argue that it’s a Trojan horse, nothing more than an attempt to piggyback Marxism onto the back of climate legislation.
...GND-style proposals marry sweeping environmental policy changes with broader socialist reforms because the level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below “absolutely catastrophic” is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo
Right now we can, with a massive investment of effort by 2030, just about keep the warming level below 1.5C. This is “bad, but manageable” territory. Failing to put that effort in sees the world crossing more severe temperature barriers that would lead to outcomes like ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability.
...Unfortunately for our children, the people they have to convince of all this are the people who have done very well out of this system, and are powerfully incentivised to deny that it is all that bad.
...US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s meeting with schoolchildren petitioning her to take action over the issue went viralbecause of the way she condescended to them for, basically, asking her to leave them a planet behind to live on. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she said, “I know what I’m doing.” The obvious response is, of course, that messing something up for 30 years is quite long enough, thanks. Long tenure without results is not the same thing as expertise. 
This is a tough and bitter pill to swallow for the political professionals whose feet are firmly under the table. It is increasingly obvious that all their tactics have done almost nothing except run down the clock, but still they insist that it’s the young who just don’t get it and that things aren’t that simple. They’re the living embodiment of the famous New Yorker cartoon, with a suited man sat in a post-apocalyptic landscape telling his young audience “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”
This is reality v the vested interests of the powerful. Any meaningful policy has to upset the established power base and the political donor class. Any policy that doesn’t upset these people will be useless. To pretend that we can compromise our way through this while we wait for a magical, technological bullet that will keep temperatures down without costing us anything is beyond wilful ignorance now. It is a question of basic morality
Many of today’s climate strikers won’t even be 30 by the time the 1.5C deadline comes around in 2030. They are asking us to consider a simple question: is their future worth more than preserving our reputations? What will our response to them be?

Theresa May Mugged By Speaker Bercow



Having twice failed miserably to persuade MPs to endorse her agreement to withdraw Britain from the European Union, everyone expected Theresa May to bring the motion back at least once more, possibly even twice if need be. She hoped to win over dissenters until, finally, she would succeed.

Now, with the prospect of a "hard Brexit" just 11 days away, the Speaker of the House, John Bercow, has thrown a wrench in the government's gears. There will be no third, much less a fourth vote on May's motion.

Mr Bercow cited a convention dating back to 1604 that a defeated motion could not be brought back in the same form during the course of a parliamentary session. 
He said the second vote on the prime minister's deal last week was "in order" as it was substantially different to the first, but any further votes must pass the "test" he had set out to be allowed.
Bercow's ruling has sent the government scrambling for workarounds.
How can the government get another vote on Theresa May's deal?
Well, first of all, rules are there to be changed. 
If MPs suspend or change the "standing orders" of Parliament, they could get the Brexit deal back on the agenda. 
Secondly, the government could change the proposition on offer. 
The former Attorney General Dominic Grieve has suggested that something "substantially" different would be to ask Parliament to vote for the deal subject to a referendum. 
Or change the Parliament? 
If MPs can't discuss the same thing in the same session of Parliament, why not simply start a new one?
With the clock running down, May could really use an extension of Britain's article 50 deadline - if the membership of the EU agrees. 

Sure, They'll Rubbish our Kids' Future, But We'll All Have High-Speed Internet by 2030.



2030 is becoming a popular year. That's the year by which the world's scientists, speaking with one voice, tell us we must have slashed greenhouse gas emissions by half if we're to have a reasonable chance of averting catastrophic climate change.

To the Trudeau Liberals, 2030 has a much different significance. It's the year by which they're vowing that all Canadians will have access to high speed internet.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government will roll out a multi-year plan in the federal budget to give all Canadians access to high-speed internet by 2030, CBC News has learned. 
Finance Minister Bill Morneau will outline the specifics in the budget on Tuesday. But a government source said the plan will be paid for with new federal spending and will also rely on the private sector. 
A second government source told CBC News the broadband investments will focus on narrowing a growing urban-rural divide. The goal is to help people who don't live in major cities participate in the modern economy and worry less about having to leave home to find work.
The broadband plan will be a key component of a budget that will also focus on adult skills training, pharmacare, seniors and new measures to make home ownership more affordable for first-time buyers.

The second source said there would be targeted measures in the budget to make home-buying more affordable, with a specific focus on millenials. This has consistently been identified as a top issue for that generation of Canadians who are in their 20s and 30s.
Apparently the costly business of transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, the sort of thing you would need to get underway now to meet that last-chance, '50 by 2030' target was somehow overlooked. No it wasn't overlooked. It was consciously ignored.

This is a "bread and circuses" government that places their partisan political fortunes far ahead of the country and the future of our grandkids. What else would you expect from Cap'n "Job Churn" Morneau and Justin "Broken Promises" Trudeau?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Chris Wylie Resurfaces.


There's nothing we do quite so well as to "lose the plot." We lose our ability to understand or cope with things that are then flushed down the memory hole. We do that a lot on things that are challenging or frightening such as climate change. Someone releases a credible report that, over 30 years, we have caused the loss of half the planet's wild life. A few days later it's down the memory hole, forgotten and then erased.

It's the same story when it comes to technological threats. Remember Cambridge Analytica, Aggregate IQ, shady billionaire Robert Mercer, Steve Bannon, the election of Donald Trump, Brexit? It's all largely forgotten now, in some cases swept under the carpet, safely down the memory hole.

So it's timely, a year on from the Cambridge Analytica scandal that the journalist who broke the story, Carole Cadwalladr, got together with the boy wonder from Victoria, B.C., Chris Wylie to rehash what happened and how little it achieved.

Wylie is perplexed how the Tory government in Britain simply ignored the whole thing.
“I was asked by a journalist to sum up the story in a minute,” he says, “and I was like: ‘No’. It goes from Trump to Brexit to Russian espionage to military operations in Afghanistan to hacking the president of Nigeria. Where do you even begin?” 
He’s referring to the fact that Cambridge Analytica was part of a much bigger company, SCL, which had worked as a defence contractor for governments and militaries around the world, then branched into elections in developing countries, and, only in its final iteration, entered western politics. That’s one of the things, he says, that “frustrates me about how dominant the Facebook angle of the story was, when there’s so much fucked-up shit that Cambridge Analytica were doing in different parts of the world. But if you go to a developing country and do grossly unethical things, that’s not ‘newsworthy’.”
...If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny to Wylie that one of the biggest takeaways of the story – which was generating 34,000 news stories a day at its height and cost one of the biggest companies on Earth billions – is how it failed. The Brexit angle of the Cambridge Analytica Files, the explosive revelations of a second whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, fell inexplicably flat. Sanni revealed in the Observer how Vote Leave deliberately broke the law in the way it funnelled money to the data firm AggregateIQ, an associate company of Cambridge Analytica. It’s believed to be the biggest breach of electoral law in a century, but it was given minimal coverage by the BBC and all but ignored by Britain’s political class. The law-breaking was confirmed by the electoral commission in July, and it has now been referred to the police.

“The thing is that there was such a huge weight of evidence which has now all been proven,” says Wylie. “Vote Leave broke the law. I can say that out loud now. Vote Leave broke the law. But nothing happened. It’s insane to me that people get more upset by doping in the Olympics, when the consequence of this is an irreversible change to the constitutional settlement of the country.” 
Perhaps what the scandal has really revealed is a situation that is too embarrassing, too disastrous to acknowledge. We know that Facebook has been used to undermine elections all across the world, including our own. But we’re in this strange historical moment where we’ve realised it, but we don’t have the power, currently, to do anything about it.
It is to me, utterly mind-boggling, to hear Theresa May say she's only giving effect to the will of the British public in pursuing Brexit when she knows, everyone knows, the whole Leave campaign was corrupt. Yet in all the hours of debates over Brexit in Westminster I've followed I have not heard a single mention of it. It's as though none of it ever happened.

"The Control Freak Who Lost Control"


A "control freak who lost control." That is how the Observer's chief political correspondent sums up prime minister Theresa May who now finds herself neck deep in the quagmire known as Brexit.
The charge list against her is certainly a lengthy one. She triggered article 50 before her government had an agreed strategy for withdrawal and her senior team then wasted months squabbling with itself rather than advancing the negotiations with the EU. Ignoring advice to the contrary and without advance discussion with her cabinet, she made a prison for herself by laying down red lines that made the negotiations more difficult and set her up for a string of ignominious subsequent reversals. When she threw away her majority at an election she didn’t have to call, she carried on as if nothing had changed rather than trying to reach out to other parties to forge a broad consensus about a way forward. That made her the hostage of the Democratic Unionist party and the Brexit ultras on the right of her party. Mrs May has one quality that is of value in a political crisis. She has resilience. She lacks all the other ones, such as imagination, advocacy and agility.

True, all true, and yet not the whole truth. Any account of this nightmare that holds Mrs May solely culpable is not a complete explanation for how we got here. In a dark corner of what remains of its political brain, the Tory party knows that it is collectively guilty of driving the country it professes to love into this shaming mess. With a few prescient exceptions, the Conservatives all backed David Cameron when he promised a referendum on the cynical basis that he might not have to deliver it and with the arrogant assumption that, if he did have to, he would easily win it. Leading Tories fronted a Leave campaign that peddled fantasy promises that could never be realised. Since Mrs May came up with a deal that tried to reconcile withdrawal with realities, she has been repeatedly sabotaged by the political arsonists in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s gang. Her party has had several opportunities to remove Mrs May and it has always passed up the chance. This is not because there is any shortage of Tories who ache with ambition for the job; it is because no one has really wanted to take on the job while the Brexit torture endures. It has suited them all to keep Mrs May at Number 10 as their human sponge.

What about May's plan to bring her twice-rejected EU withdrawal agreement back for a "third time lucky" vote?
Incredible as it may seem, if Mrs May is defeated again, but gets closer to the winning post than before, we can’t be sure that she won’t go for a fourth attempt. 
That could require the EU to agree to an emergency summit at which its leaders would be asked to give her time to try. Here we must register the ingloriously ironic consequence of all these Westminster games, especially those played by the ultras. Their astonishing achievement has been to make the EU more powerful in our national affairs than it has ever been. A delay to Brexit is entirely in the EU’s gift and requires, as I noted last week, the unanimous consent of every one of its members. Each state, large or small, can say no or demand something in return for a yes. It is a fairly safe assumption that the EU will grant a British request for an extension because its leaders don’t want a calamity crash-out Brexit. But the EU gets to dictate not only whether a supplicant Britain is granted a postponement but for how long and on what terms and conditions.


Who Is Calling the Hogs Out There?

Looks like a perfect pair.


I'm not sure this rises to the level of a genuine scandal. CBC seems to think otherwise. Mother Corp breathlessly reports that these two, Jason Kenney and Jeff Callaway cooperated in the UCP leadership contest to undermine the third guy, Brian Jean. So?

When I saw the photo I thought, oh those two been eatin' slops from the same trough. Is that what this "scandal" is really about?

I Guess Spring Has Sprung - Finally


I'm back with nature's alarm clock, the barking of sea lions gathered on the rocky beach down the block. I only wish they would show a bit of consideration and wait until sunrise. No such luck.

And one of the neighbours found an intruder. They heard noises in the night and checked the security camera the next morning. This had been in their driveway snooping around:


This isn't the first and I'm sure it won't be the last. It would be nice if we weren't taking so much of their habitat. At least we still try to relocate them if possible.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Kids Are Alright - Are You?



The kids, students waging a global climate strike, are alright. They know what's coming their way. They know the future we are bequeathing to them. It is what we have done, what we are still doing, that fills them with dread.

They're asking for your help. They need your help. Are you going to give them your help?

Praise for their courage means nothing of itself. Such sentiments are cheap and hollow, even hypocritical, if you continue to support governments and political parties bent on rapidly expanding the petro-economy. That encompasses Trudeau's Liberals, Scheer's Conservatives and, to an arguably lesser degree, Singh's New Democrats.

You can't play both sides, not on this one, not any longer. The perpetually optimistic Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, gives us just a dozen years to implement drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions - 50 per cent by 2030 - if we're to have any chance of averting runaway global warming and climate catastrophe. Those kids know that. Do you? They know what it means because that is their future.

Given the overwhelming scientific consensus and our understanding of what awaits you would imagine this would be our parties' overarching priority. Forget Andrew Scheer. Chuckles is a write-off.  What about Justin Trudeau? Do you think slashing greenhouse gases by half within twelve years is his priority? Do you imagine it's even on his radar. And, in the perilous state of the climate today, what does it mean when our prime minister continues to dole out billions of dollars every year in subsidies, grants, deferrals and other handouts to these fossil energy giants? Proportionally, Canada gives more handouts to the fossil energy industry than any country in the G7 - yes, including the United States.

Do you think Justin Trudeau would be driving through an expanded bitumen line to the wet coast if doing what those kids need done was even on his radar? His carbon cutting measures aren't even meeting Stephen Harper's laughable emissions targets. And, having chosen the "freedom from accountability" option by retaining first-past-the-post voting, neither of the major parties will have any incentive to change their petro-state policies.

There's no sitting this one out. You're either with those kids or you are against them and their right to a livable future.

Orban - Poster Boy of Neo-Fascism


The Irish Times has a chilling look at Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban's campaign to purge Europe of liberal democracy.

Orban has become the de facto leader of the European Union's nationalist and anti-immigrant faction but, it seems, he may be turning into more than even his far right colleagues can handle.
He has sought to introduce what he calls “illiberal democracy” to Hungary, but his policies targeting asylum seekers, NGOs and Budapest’s liberal Central European University (CEU) have alarmed the centre-right European People’s Party , which includes his Fidesz group and Fine Gael
His government’s tightening control over Hungary’s judicial system and media have also triggered EU action to counter perceived threats to democracy and the rule of law, and led to Fine Gael and 12 other EPP members asking for Fidesz [Hungary's hard right nationalist party] to be kicked out at a party meeting scheduled for next Wednesday. 
The last straw for several EPP parties was a government-funded poster campaign in Hungary that implies European Commission president and EPP elder statesman Jean-Claude Juncker is plotting with liberal Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros to bring vast numbers of Muslim migrants to Europe.
“Without Christian culture there will be no freedom in Europe ... and Europe will no longer belong to Europeans,” Mr Orban told a large crowd in Budapest as Hungary commemorated its 1848 revolution against Habsburg rule.
Orban warns that if Fidesz is turfed from the EPP, Hungary will seek a direct alliance with Poland and Italy.


They're Not Just Attacking Mosques, Synagogues and Black Churches - Their Real Target is Us, You and Me.

Author Ed Husain explains why the mosque massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand are part of a tag-team campaign targeting free, secular and tolerant societies. They're after you and we all need to understand what they're really up to.
We now face a new threat to our open societies. Yesterday's purely evil terrorist attack in which at least 49 innocent worshippers were killed at their mosques was the latest horror perpetrated by far-Right racists.

...The threat our societies face is so great because it is a twin danger: a deadly combination of far-Right fascism and Islamist extremism. They feed and need each other. This is not about any particular organisation, an al-Qaeda or an IS, or a Combat 18 or a Ku Klux Klan.

These groups are only tactics for a much larger strategy. Behind these organisations is a narrative, a world view, a vision of the future and a deadly commitment to pursuing their ideologies. With their global movements, they radicalise each other. And we won't defeat either of them without understanding this. 
First, they both seek revenge for crimes against "our people". The lead bomber for the July 7 2005 terrorist attacks, Mohamed Siddique Khan, proclaimed in a Yorkshire accent, addressing Brits at the height of the Iraq war, that "until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight". Osama bin Laden claimed to avenge Palestine. The killer in New Zealand gave explicit reasons for his attack: "To take revenge for the thousands of European lives lost to terror attacks throughout European lands." And this revenge is not devoid of a wider strategy. 
Second, through their revenge based on racial and religious identities, they reinforce supremacism and separatism for a much greater purpose. IS released a 10-page document in 2015, which praised the September 11 terrorist attacks and the surge in terrorism in France that year, and said that "the time had come for another event to bring division to the world and destroy the grey zone".
The "grey zone" is pluralism of peoples and peace. Similarly, the terrorist in New Zealand was direct in his reason for violence: "To agitate the political enemies of my people into action, to cause them to overextend their own hand and experience the eventual and inevitable backlash as a result." They both seek to end the harmony of humanity. 
Third, they both abuse history by connecting their present crimes to an imagined past. Islamist extremists seek a religiously pure caliphate: white supremacists call for a racially pure continent. They both recall the crusades. "What would Pope Urban II do?" asked the mosque murderer. The killer had got blessings from the "Knights Templars", he claimed. But they ignore today's realities: Pope Francis visited the UAE last month, held an open-air mass for the first time in history in Arabia, and signed a treaty of peace and co-existence with Islam's Sunni leaders.
Fourth, they both hate the modern West. Al-Qaeda railed against capitalism and targeted the World Trade Centre in 1993 before succeeding in its evil in 2001. Islamist extremists from Syed Qutb onwards have attacked our individual freedoms. The Ariana Grande concert attack in Manchester in 2017 was an attack on the liberty of the individual to choose his or her own form of entertainment.

The killer in New Zealand explained his aim to "eventually destroy the current nihilistic, hedonistic, individualistic insanity that has taken control of Western thought".

Our twin enemies are not madmen. They are driven by a purpose bigger than themselves and ideas that we must not underestimate. They have support bases online and in an underworld that may not be readily apparent to our eyes. But for the security of our families, our countries and our civilisations, we must renew our pledge to the prosperity and freedoms that underpin modern civilisation.

How About a Zero Tolerance Policy?


It's dead easy to make a case against high-carbon, toxin-laden bitumen, the stuff that Justin Trudeau, despite the science, wants to flood into world markets.

Natural gas, that's a tougher problem. It's colourless, odourless and, hence, out of mind for most of us.

There's a myth that natural gas is a clean fossil fuel. The story goes that gas produces a fraction of the emissions created by oil or coal. In fact, like most lies, there's a bed of truth in that claim. The volume of gas that does get consumed generates lower emissions than its equivalent in oil or coal. The lie is in the volume of gas that is lost to the atmosphere in the course of extraction, storage and transmission.

Natural gas, after all, is methane, a greenhouse gas far more destructive than CO2 from oil or coal. Studies have found that a lot of natural gas producers extract is in fact lost, so much that, per unit of end-user energy, it is actually dirtier than coal.

British Columbia's former Liberal premier, Christy Clark, vowed that BC would have a "world class," i.e. 'no leak' gas industry. What Christy Clark said, however, usually had only the flimsiest connection to truth.

Now the gas producers are promising a $40 billion LNG expansion for northern British Columbia.  Northern British Columbia - vast, remote, sparsely populated, seismically active - what could possibly go wrong? This clip shows what happens when natural gas pipelines spring a leak.



If the natural gas cabal - such legendary Canadian stalwarts as Shell, Petronas, PetroChina, KOGAS and Mitsubishi, doing business as LNG Canada - are to be given the expansion go ahead, we need Ottawa to do what it never does. We need Ottawa to hold these foreign energy giants accountable for all the gas. Not just all the gas they eventually load aboard tankers but all the gas they release from the ground.

We need a zero tolerance policy that will impose truly punitive penalties for gas leakage and that will reward whistleblowers. There are environmentalists who already scout natural gas fracking sites with infra-red video cameras that capture the heat differential evidencing gas plumes from faulty equipment and slipshod operations.

LNG sites, from extraction to shipping terminal should be monitored with tamper-proof detection equipment that can detect leaks as they happen so that producers can be held accountable and compelled to repair the damage as quickly as possible.

Going ahead with "Ottawa Rules" is no longer acceptable. Who are you going to trust, Justin Trudeau? Really? Hey, get Christy on the line. Let her know her political career isn't over after all.

"The Age of Stupid" Revisited

It was a decade ago that "The Age of Stupid" was released. Now for something completely stupid - us, a decade later.

The "Normalization of Bigotry"


Australia, home of the Christchurch mosque mass murderer, Brenton Tarrant, has a bigotry problem, in particular a recent normalization of bigotry. This emerged yesterday when Australian senator, Fraser Anning, blamed New Zealand Muslims for the attacks on their mosques.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has called Friday’s massacre a “violent, extremist, right-wing terrorist attack” and also condemned comments from Queensland senator Fraser Anning, saying that “blaming the murderous attacks by a violent, right-wing, extremist terrorist in New Zealand on immigration are disgusting”. 
“Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian parliament,” Morrison said. 

[Labor Party spokesman] Tony Burke also criticised Anning’s comments but said: “the normalisation of bigotry is something that is not only confined to him.” 
He said the use of hate speech was connected to violence and extremism and should be taken more seriously. 
There’s been an attempt in Australia by many people to normalise hate speech,” Burke said. “We get told, ‘Oh, it’s just freedom of speech’.” 
He said that view had been pushed by “some [television] networks” and said the normalisation of hate speech was “not the whole story of what’s happened, but there is no doubt it is part of it”. 
The Australian man charged with murder over the Christchurch attack was not on a terrorist watchlist, and Burke said it was possible that “up until now, many people would not have viewed this form of extremism as being as dangerous to people as every other form of extremism”. 
“Anyone who had that doubt, that doubt finished yesterday,” he said.
Australia also banned white nationalist mouthpiece, Milo Yiannopoulos, from entering the country. Yiannopoulos had scheduled a speaking tour of Australia only to get tripped up by also depicting Islam as a barbaric, alien religious culture.
The alt-right provocateur and former Breitbart journalist said on Facebook that attacks such as the one in Christchurch happened “because the establishment panders to and mollycoddles extremist leftism and barbaric, alien religious cultures.”
It's time that Canadian Conservatives also dealt with their own dirty laundry that was on display recently when both Andrew Scheer and Tory senator Dave Tkachuk embraced white nationalists on Parliament Hill. Today's Tories are far too close to these degenerates.


Brexit Yoga


A bit of levity

Friday, March 15, 2019

How Fox News Fans Saw the Christchurch Massacre



Taken from the comments section at Fox News:


- Nice to hear good news for a change

- As a white man, I won't lose any sleep over this tonight!

- Lets stick to the facts, Most islamic states have condemned the west. Iran has called for death to America. Sweden, France, Britain now have Islamic areas where natural citizens are not allowed to go. They do no assimilate into our countries. Crime has gone way up. In Britain reporters cannot report on their crimes and have been placed in prison without a trial.

- Aw, why does the world seemed outraged when it comes back onto the religion of peace? I am not outraged. In fact, tomorrow I intend to cook up a pound of bacon and soak the soles of an old pair of tennis shoes in the grease. When I get to that muslim cemetery, I will put them on and go for a walk. I might even let the grease cool, then shred it, and discretely scatter the flakes so others will walk it into the graveyard and "take it home." See, I am not outraged. LOL!
- These mosques where specifically targeted because of their support for previously carried out muslim terror attacks in Europe.

- Perhaps he saw what those people have done to every single other country they have infiltrated?

- People around the Western World Should PRAISE ALLAH" for the New Zealand shooter and what he had accomplished

Meanwhile, CNN ponders why these right wing extremists so often target houses of worship.
A Sikh temple in Wisconsin. An Islamic center in Quebec. Mother Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. 
On Friday, two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were added to the sad litany of sanctuaries desecrated by unholy violence. 
In each case, the houses of worships were attacked by white supremacists, according to law enforcement officials. 
In each case, a religious community has been left grieving, pondering its future and feeling unsettled in sites that were supposed to be sanctuaries.
...Hate crimes in the United States alone rose 17% in 2017, the latest year for which data is available, according to the FBI. That includes not only attacks on religious individuals but also on their holy sites. In 2017, nine mosques reportedly were attacked each month on average. 
It seems almost sacrilegious to call houses of worship "soft targets." They are designed to be open and welcoming to strangers, congregations of common people, unarmed and unafraid before each other and before their God.
For many religions, that's not just a policy; it's an article of faith. That's why the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh kept its doors open despite fearing the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States and throughout the world. 
Hours before that shooting in October, the suspect posted online that HIAS, a Jewish refugee resettlement agency, "likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered." 
As that comment suggests, these attacks on sacred sites are about more than religion. They are about defining and eliminating the "other" -- not only the people who pray to different gods, but also those who live and speak and dress differently than the white, Christian mainstream.
 

Front Page of Polish Paper - 'How to Spot a Jew'



The right wing is alive and in charge in Poland today as that country joins Hungary and Italy in descending into illiberal democracy. It therefore should come as no great surprise that the latest edition of the Polish weekly, Only Poland, has on its front page an article entitled "How to Spot a Jew."
Listed were markers such as "Names, anthropological features, expressions, appearances, character traits, methods of operation" and "disinformation activities."

The list of supposedly Jewish traits was accompanied on the front page by a headline reading "Attack on Poland at a conference in Paris," a reference to a Holocaust conference held in Paris last month. 
The article ran with a photo of Jan Gross, the Polish and Jewish Princeton scholar who wrote Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, the seminal text on a massacre of the Jewish people of Jedwabne by their non-Jewish neighbours during the Nazi occupation in Poland.
...Andrzej Grzegrzolka, director of the information centre of the Polish Parliament, or Sejm, initially said that since the paper was being sold in kiosks, the responsibility for regulating sales did not fall on the information centre. 
He later relented and said the information centre would request that Only Poland be removed from the set of periodicals delivered to the Parliament.

It Is Revealed in Glimpses But This Is the Unmistakable Face of Today's Right Wing



Whether it's Donald Trump's absolution of white nationalists or Andrew Scheer and Dave Tkachuk embracing them on the lawns of the Parliament buildings, the abject evil of the right wing is unmistakable.

Here's the latest. An Australian senator, Fraser Anning, has responded to the Christchurch massacres by blaming the carnage on the victims, Muslims.

Following the attack, which left 49 people dead at two mosques in Christchurch, Fraser Anning tweeted: “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” 
In a statement shared by an Australian journalist on Twitter, the Queensland  senator also wrote: “As always, leftwing politicians and the media will rush to claim that the causes of today’s shootings lie with gun laws or those who hold nationalist views, but this is all cliched nonsense. 
“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
Why do we let these people live among us?

Don't Eat That Stuff, Charlie. That's Horseshit!


Several years ago I stumbled upon a US FDA report on imported shrimp (prawns). It listed, month by month, the number of shrimp imports from Asia that were discovered to be laced with very powerful veterinary antibiotics that were definitely not safe for human consumption. My curiosity piqued, I set out to learn more.

I'm rather partial to our local spot prawns, especially when you can buy them right off the boat. They're a pretty good size but they don't compare with the much larger imported tiger prawns.

The tiger prawns are farmed. They tend to be raised in rice paddies or mango forests along riverways. The farmers and their families often live on site in bamboo houses on stilts. That didn't look quite right so I followed it up and, sure enough, the water beneath them where the tiger prawns were being raised was also their sewer system. Sure do grow big prawns.  Ever since then I've steered absolutely clear of these imports that regularly appear on restaurant menus.

A report today from CBC reveals that shrimp (prawns) containing antibiotic resistant bacteria are now showing up in Canadian grocery stores.

To test for the potential of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Marketplace bought 51 frozen shrimp products from major grocery stores in Calgary, Toronto, Saskatoon and Montreal, and sent them to a special lab at the University of Saskatchewan for analysis. 
Nine of the products — or 17 per cent — were found to be carrying bacteria, such as E. coli and staph aureus, that showed resistance to at least one antibiotic. 
All but one of the bacteria were resistant to multiple drugs, meaning they have the potential to cause hard-to-treat infections — so called superbugs that antibiotics may not be able to kill. 
In an email, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told Marketplace the results were "of concern" as the resistance genes found "can move between bacteria."
What to do, what to do? At the moment there is an ample supply of wild prawns fished from the Sea of Cortez or off Argentina. They're decent. If you're near the east coast you can get Atlantic Canadian Northern Shrimp. Here on the wet coast you can choose between spot prawns and side-stripe. Just know what you're buying and where it's from.

A Call for Scientists to Rally Behind the Youth Climate Strike



Scientific American magazine is urging scientists everywhere to come out in support of the youth climate strike.

We, the March for Science, an international community of scientists, science advocates, teachers, and parents, emphatically support the Global Youth Climate Strike.

We commit to doing whatever we can to lift up the voices of young people and encourage their leadership. Their generation will be greatly impacted by the effects of climate change. It is critical that their voices are heard.

They are striking because our world leaders have yet to acknowledge, prioritize, or properly address the climate crisis. They are striking because marginalized communities across the world—especially communities of color, disabled communities, and low-income communities— are already disproportionately impacted by climate change. They are striking because their futures are at stake.

Their actions are backed by the best available science which shows that we need to rapidly decarbonize our economy and deeply transform society in order to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. They are treating the issue of climate change with the urgency that science and justice demand.

We ourselves, as a movement of science advocates, have taken to the streets in our millions over the last two years to fight for our communities and our planet. We offer everyone else who does the same our unreserved support and solidarity.

To adults—particularly political leaders—who are criticizing students for skipping school, please stand down. Our generations have failed to act. It is time to get behind the courageous actions of our young people.

Our youth have done their homework on climate change—it’s about time that our leaders behave like they have done theirs.
I'm pretty sure that Tory supporters will dismiss this out of hand as nonsense. I do, however, hope it makes some of you Liberals, especially the Justin Trudeau fan club, wince. The government, your government, is on the wrong side of this existential threat. By supporting the Liberal government, you've also chosen to put yourself on the wrong side of this. Don't compound that by being hypocritical enough to praise these kids at the same time. You're not on their side.

What We Saw This Week in Westminster


It looks like utter chaos in Theresa May's House of Commons. The Conservatives are fractured, Labour is fractured, whipped votes aren't. The Scots want something, the Northern Irish want something else, the Welsh are playing it cool for the moment, at least compared to everyone else. Some are calling for snap elections. Others want another referendum. A small camp wants a hard Brexit, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. Another group wants to settle for the withdrawal agreement May negotiated with the EU. That includes the "backstop" for the Irish border that infuriates the hard Brexit camp.

What the world is witnessing, with a lot of puzzlement, is a nation governed by representative democracy having to deal with the result of direct democracy. It doesn't help that the Brexit referendum was botched. Leave voters were seduced by empty promises that bordered on outright lies, coupled with financing irregularities and, of course, the manipulative prowess of Cambridge Analytica.

After two years of wrangling, there isn't a person today who can accurately define Brexit. What is it? Who knows? Having recently spent hours listening to Brit talk radio (LBC London) or the Guardian live stream coverage of the House of Commons, it's obvious that there is no central factual framework to this. One will eventually emerge, possibly by default. There may be no real managed outcome and that will be a cloud over Parliament for years to come.

The referendum was direct democracy. Brits were asked to choose Leave or Remain and the Leave camp won by a small margin. Team Farage might have spun Leave supporters with sugar plum dreams but they had no accountability once the votes were counted.  Like Jacques Parizeau their only challenge was to get enough "lobsters in the pot."

The referendum outcome then fell to Parliament, representive democracy, to enact in some form or another. That's where the real slogging began. MPs had to represent their constituents and the nation. And doing that meant dealing with other affected parties that had no vote, no say, including the entire European Union, especially the Irish Republic. There were fears of a resumption of "the Troubles" between north and south. It wasn't easy getting the UK into the EU and it wasn't going to be easy to get out either.

What lies ahead in the next few weeks? Nobody knows. Theresa May will keep trying to grind down MPs until she gets enough support for her withdrawal agreement. Third time lucky? Then she needs the support of all 27 other members of the EU for a postponement of the March 29 trigger date.

A lot of mistakes have been made since David Cameron called for the referendum. The United Kingdom, if it can even remain united, will be paying for those mistakes for years to come.

Goin' Tactical



If there's one thing no society needs it's "black guns." There is a whole family of these things out there, "tactical" semi-automatic assault rifles that can be yours for just a few hundred dollars.

Those patterned directly on the Colt M-16 require a "restricted" gun licence but there are plenty of others, just as sinister and Rambo-manly, that you can get with an ordinary, non-restricted licence.  Follow the link above, take a look.

I use the word "sinister" deliberately. That's what sells these guns, the idea that you too can join the warrior class. They're short, really easy to conceal. They're black. They've got Picatinny rails, ready to mount your scope, laser sight, red-dot sight or accessory flashlight in case you get a hankering to start blasting away in the darkness. Like the kid in the photo above with his accessorized Bushmaster.

And, if you don't have a couple of grand to plonk down, don't worry. You can get a Chinese SKS, with folding bayonet, on sale right now for $199.

People who buy these black guns often claim they're for hunting. Yeah, right. Take a look at this baby, priced at a modest $599. It's a knock-off of the German, WWII MP-40.



That's a shoot-from-the-hip blaster. You won't be heading out to take a deer with that. It just screams "Wehrmacht" all day long.  It's very inaccuracy makes it more dangerous, not less.

I'm not an anti-gun zealot. I have rifles, real hunting rifles, that I periodically take to the range for an hour of target shooting. They're not for "self-defence." It takes me more than 20 minutes just to get everything unlocked, assuming I can locate the keys and figure out what key works on which lock.

I think there's a place for rifles, some rifles. There's a place for handguns - cops, armoured car crews, competition shooters - but that's about it.

We need to ratchet down access to a lot of these firearms. If you want a tactical rifle, join the army. If you want a handgun, demonstrate that you have a legitimate need for one.

It's time the federal government cracked down on black rifles and automatic pistols - but don't hold your breath.

UPDATE:

New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, vows to reform her country's lax gun laws.
“Our gun laws will change,” she said. “There have been attempts to change our laws in 2005, 2012 and after an inquiry in 2017, now is the time for change.” 
She said five guns were used by the primary perpetrator of the attack, including two semi-automatic weapons and two shotguns. The shooter was in possession of a gun licence obtained in November 2017.
Australia banned semi-automatic rifles. Britain has strict gun control. Now, New Zealand is going to follow. That leaves Canada the last bastion of assault rifle access.


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Parliament Votes to Postpone Brexit to June 30.

It wasn't even close - 412 to 202. With that, Theresa May gets to return to Brussels for EU consent to postpone the Brexit date.

Hard to know what awaits as the EU needs a unanimous vote to consent to the postponement.  Some of those EU councillors are already fed up with the antics underway in the British House of Commons.

May will need to come with something more than, "sorry, we can't get our act together." Some of the EU representatives want to hear something concrete, a plan for what May intends to achieve between now and the end of June. European Council president, Donald Tusk, says the Brits will need to present "a credible justification for a possible extention."

CBC's Neil Macdonald Deflates Scheer, Charlie Angus and Trudeau's Attackers


It's all "Bullshit Theater." CBC columnist, Neil Macdonald, revives John Turner's term for politics in the public forum in dissecting the antics of Andrew Scheer and the NDP's Charlie Angus over what has now become known as LavScam.

In Scheer's estimation, the prime minister is "disgraced," up to "something sinister," running a coverup, and corrupt in the manner of a Third World despot. Trudeau, Scheer tells us, pressures, harasses, subverts the law and gags elected MPs. And he should be investigated for what are clearly crimes, something Scheer has written to the RCMP demanding
Now, Trudeau might not be a particularly inspiring, or even articulate fellow. His gurgly moralizing is aggravating. But a sinister, disgraced, subversive, corrupt criminal? Because he tried to get his justice minister to change her decision about a prosecution, to persuade her to use a new law the Conservatives supported, then eventually accepted her decision, and then moved her to Veterans Affairs, an assignment she herself, truth-teller that she is, said at the time was not a demotion?
...With Scheer heading the opposition, we are supposed to forget that the government his party formed under Stephen Harper happily imposed its will on Canada's judiciary, using minimum-sentencing legislation to interfere with judicial discretion. 
Or that Harper's Conservatives, having denounced Belinda Stronach for crossing the floor to join the Liberal government in 2005 (a betrayal of her constituents, we were told) happily received Liberal David Emerson, who crossed to join Harper's government in 2006, and then booted Conservative MP Garth Turner from the caucus after he protested (speaking truth to power, really) that Emerson should seek a new mandate from his constituents, the way the party had argued Stronach should have. 
To be clear, Trudeau's mob is no different. They went from screeching that the Mike Duffy affair was proof of utterly corrupt government, and declaring that the Canadian people demand transparency and answers from Harper, to running an administration at least as opaque and secretive, once in power.
...If Scheer ever does achieve power, it's a safe bet he'll exercise the same sort of top down control every other prime minister does. Does anyone believe he won't? That he wouldn't, perhaps, order Tory MPs on the Justice committee to abruptly adjourn rather than take more political damage? I humbly suggest he would.

He goes on to quote University of Ottawa political scientist, David Moscrop, who said, "If you were to put Justin Trudeau, Andrew Scheer, and Jagmeet Singh beside Bob Stanfield, Pierre Trudeau and … Ed Broadbent, I know what team I'd pay attention to."
Only technique has changed, he says. Now, whenever the opposition (or the governing party) has a fit of outrage, they do two things: 
"They immediately send out a fundraising request expressing the outrage and asking for five dollars, and they create a data-mining site." 
Example: LetHerSpeak.Ca, the website set up by the Conservatives (although you have to go right to the end of the page, and examine the shaded fine print, to find out who's behind it, which is sort of a tacit acknowledgement of opposition credibility). 
The nominal purpose of the site is to help The Canadian People demand that Trudeau un-gag Wilson-Raybould, because, you know, she really hasn't had a chance to speak much. Coincidentally, the site gives voters a chance to disclose their names, email addresses and postal codes. If they haven't read the shaded fine print at the bottom, and don't know they're supplying data to Conservative election campaign managers, well, they should buy reading glasses. 
"It's the new frontier of bullshit," says Moscrop. 
And we journalists are all just theatre critics.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What Does This Say to You About that Bitumen Business?



There's not a politician in Alberta who gives a tinker's dam about this. Neither does your favourite prime minister or the Tory seeking to unseat him.

A new report out of the UN warns the Arctic is screwed and so are we and you owe it all to these fossil fuelers and the politicians doing their bidding.

Dramatic temperature increases in the globe’s northernmost region, which is typically covered by permafrost, is unavoidable, according to the report released at the United Nations Environment Assembly. 
Even if countries were to meet the original goals of the Paris climate agreement, it would do nothing to stop Arctic winter temperatures from increasing 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and 5 to 9 degrees Celsius by 2080, according to the report. 
The resulting sea level rises worldwide would be devastating. 
The report also warned that the rapid thawing of permafrost in the region could likely accelerate the effects of climate change, which could completely negate any long-term international pacts and goals to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius compared to 1986-2005 levels.
Here's what you need to understand. These dire findings are a baseline. That's what is in store if we meet the goals set at the 2015 Paris climate summit. These catastrophic impacts are now a "best possible" outcome.

What that means is that we can still make this catastrophe vastly worse. We can do that by remaining a petro-state, by expanding pipeline capacity, by flooding world markets with dirt-cheap, high-carbon, climate-killing bitumen. We'll be f#@king our kids and their future but, hey, that's their lookout, eh?
Last fall the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report that warned of irreversible damage to the globe if temperature increases were not limited to 2 degrees of warming. The report found that the U.S. had 12 years to act to remediate the effects of global warming. 
Wednesday’s report indicates the timeline could be even shorter.
That's not much time, especially when your greaseball prime minister has new pipelines to build.
...even if all countries were to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement — which the U.S. has vowed to pull out of — permafrost in the Arctic is still anticipated to shrink by 45 percent from today’s levels. 
The thawing will create an avalanche effect. As permafrost melts, it’s expected to release trapped carbon and methane into the atmosphere, resulting in more thawing — an effect known as “positive feedback.”
And so it's fair to say that the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his government and the opposition are death-dealing monsters. It'll be slow-motion carnage over a few decades, a century or two, but the dislocation, the destabilizing impacts of climate catastrophe, the deaths will be preordained by these leaders and their cohorts in other petro-states.

The science is clear. The warnings are stark. We know today what is going to happen and we know what will happen is catastrophic. That is what we are choosing to cause to people here and people all around the world.

You might also want to check out today's UN Global Environment Outlook, a 28 page summary for policy-makers. If you support the mainstream political parties you should at least have the courage to read this report and think very hard on what you're backing.


UK Parliament Rejects "No Deal" Brexit, Extension Next


The chaos in Westminster continues. By a four vote margin, 312 to 308, Parliament has rejected a "no deal" Brexit.

The vote revealed the deep fracture in Theresa May's Conservative caucus. Some pundits contend this is the end of the political trail for Theresa May. She's also in trouble when she heads to Brussels next week where some members of the European parliament are already speaking out against any request from the British government for a section 50 postponement. Their position is, if May's Parliament doesn't know what it wants, why should the EU cater to them?

Nigel Farage and his Leave camp are already calling May and the rest "traitors."  Farage is certainly inciting his mob, even on his LBC radio show this morning from his studio in Strasbourg.

It is chaos and that's going to continue, perhaps even worsen, in the weeks and months ahead.

Going, Going... Gone



An Australian study of species at risk finds about 1,200 of the 5,457 species of birds, mammals and amphibians examined face almost certain extinction.

The new research, published in PLOS Biology, maps “hotspots” where species are most affected by threats such as agriculture, urbanisation, night lighting, roads, rail, waterways and population density, and “coolspots” that provide refuge from these threats.

The team looked only at threats that were known to affect a species within its habitat range and found that for the majority of wildlife studied, intrusions were “extensive” across most habitat, “severely limiting the area within which species can survive”. 
They said most concerning was their finding that 1,237 species – nearly a quarter of the animals assessed – were affected by threats across more than 90% of their distribution.
The countries most affected are in southeast Asia.

The same study group mapped the remaining wilderness areas. It looks like this:


Green and blue, that's it.

Quarantined - At Sea.


The USS Fort McHenry is literally all at sea thanks to an apparent outbreak of a virus similar to mumps.

The McHenry has been effectively quarantined at sea for the past two months. 

Piling on Manafort. New York State's Turn at Bat.


Paul Manafort has been on something of a roll. He got just 47 months imprisonment for his first batch of convictions. Today the judge bumped that up to a total of 7.5 years, all in. That's not bad for a guy who was facing 30 plus years on all charges. And there's the real prospect of a pardon from Trump on his way out of the White House.

Now, more charges. New York state prosecutors have hit Manafort with new charges, 16 felonies, for fraudulently falsifying business records to secure loans. Those are state charges. If Manafort is convicted he'll be beyond the reach of any presidential pardon.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Brexit Deal Defeated


Theresa May's Brexit deal has gone down in flames, 242 yeas, 391 nays.

The prime minister announced there'll be a vote tomorrow on a "hard Brexit" - to leave at the end of the month with no agreement. May said it will be a free vote. That would probably isolate the hard Brexit camp. Most MPs seem to find leaving the EU without some deal intolerable.

If that vote is successful it's expected to lead to a follow-on motion to postpone leaving, an extension of Article 50.

May is now raising alternatives - to rescind Article 50 (no Brexit), hold another referendum or try to negotiate another deal with the European Union.

Corbyn seems to want a negotiated customs union or a snap election.

The Scottish National Party has brought a motion that would see Scotland empowered to become an "independent member of the EU."

Speaker Bercow is at his best. MPs seem deflated, worried.

Our Rubbished World

Two stories today, both of them grim.


Air pollution, a quiet killer. PM 2.5, small particulate matter that people inhale and then becomes embedded in lung tissue. We've all seen the deep hazy photos of Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai and London (we haven't forgotten you, Toronto).

A new report warns that air pollution deaths are double previous estimates. 800,000 deaths a year. No, not worldwide. That's for Europe alone. The culprit? Fossil fuels, of course. The very stuff we're hell bent on pimping to world markets.

Here's another way to look at it. Toxic air in Europe now kills more people than smoking. Wow, that's something, eh?
The scientists used new data to estimate that nearly 800,000 people die prematurely each year in Europe because of dirty air, and that each life is cut short by an average of more than two years. The health damage caused by air pollution in Europe is higher than the global average. Its dense population and poor air results in exposure that is among the highest in the world. 
The new research, published in the European Heart Journal, indicates that while air pollution hits the lungs first, its impact via the bloodstream on heart disease and strokes is responsible for twice as many deaths as respiratory diseases.
So, let's cut the crap. Fossil fuels kill. They kill a lot of people and those they don't kill can also endure serious disease and disability. Now, what does that say about the really high-carbon crap - bitumen? I'll bet that you can figure that out. If we get the Justin Trudeau Memorial Pipeline and we start launching an armada of bitumen laden supertankers to Asia, we're killing people.

Compton Bay, Isle of Wight

Next up, plastics. We've all seen the seas of plastic debris forming in our major oceans. Plastic, it does more than just kill fish.
Dangerous sewage pathogens have been found “hitch-hiking” on plastic litter washed up on some of Scotland’s finest bathing beaches, raising concerns from scientists the phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for human health worldwide. 
The findings, by the University of Stirling, have confirmed environmentalists’ fears that ubiquitous, persistent and tiny plastic beads, or “nurdles”, found on beaches and in rivers and seas around the world, act as rafts for harmful bacteria, transporting them from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoff to bathing waters and shellfish beds.\ 
The findings raise the potential for “cholera in India to be transported and washed up on a shore in the USA”, according to Dr Richard Quilliam, the study’s principal investigator.\ 
“The danger is that pathogens could be transported over large distances and survive for much longer than normal,” Quilliam said.
Plastic, the gift that just keeps on giving. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Orchids of Asia" - Trump's Latest Scandal?



Heather Digby Parton writes of a new sex scandal that could embroil Donald Trump in a "new wave of sleaze and corruption."
It has seemed odd from the very beginning that New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a billionaire several times over, would patronize a massage parlor called the Orchids of Asia for a little quickie on his way to the AFC championship game. After all, men like Kraft can easily hire high end escorts and they often have mistresses on the side. Why go to a cheap strip mall? 
But Kraft wasn't the only vastly wealthy john who got caught in the sting that has put him in the headlines. Private equity mogul John Childs and former Citigroup president John Havens were also arrested. There is obviously more to this sordid story of Chinese sex trafficking to come out in the days to come. With the recent re-evaluation of the extremely disturbing Jeffrey Epstein case from the previous decade, it seems that an illegal sex trade has been thriving in the ultra-rich enclaves of South Florida.

A woman named Cindy Yang founded the "day spa" where all these wealthy powerful men went to release their ... stress. Although Yang no longer owns the specific business where Kraft was videotaped receiving oral sex, it was known for offering the same "services" in her time. Her family still operates several similar enterprises that are also under suspicion for sex trafficking and prostitution. And wouldn't you know it, Yang is a big-time Republican who now owns a company that sells access to another wealthy and powerful man with a big presence in South Florida: the president of the United States.
The Miami Herald first reported that Yang had attended a Super Bowl gathering at Mar-a-Lago, and produced a selfie of Yang and President Trump posing together at the party. The Herald also published pictures of other events showing Yang and Trump's adult sons, along with a trio of Florida Republicans -- Sen. Rick Scott, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- as well as onetime vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel. 
According to the Herald, Yang had shown no interest in politics prior to 2016 -- she never even voted -- but "has now become a fixture at Republican political events up and down the East Coast." These gatherings all charge big donations to attend, although much of the money collected at Mar-a-Lago affairs goes straight into Trump family coffers to pay for the event. It's a tidy form of double dipping -- and, at least in general terms, not illegal.
Yang and her family have been generous to Trump and the GOP, giving more than $42,000 to the Super PAC Trump Victory and more than $16,000 to the Trump 2020 campaign in 2017 alone. As David Corn, Dan Friedman and Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones reported last Saturday, that's just the cost of doing business for Yang's company, which was started a year into Trump's presidency. Yang and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC, which they describe as an international consulting firm, in 2017. Displaying pictures of Mar-a-Lago, it openly markets access to Trump to Chinese business representatives. 
For obvious reasons, national security experts were alarmed by this report. This startling combination of sex trafficking, prostitution and politicians presents a perfect opportunity for espionage and blackmail.

Can Theresa May Herd Westminster's Cats. It's Her Last Best Chance.



Theresa May has reached a "joint, legally binding agreement" with the European Union intended to quell dissent over Brexit in the House of Commons.

The focus is on the Northern Ireland "backstop." The commitment seems to provide that the backstop, if invoked by the EU, cannot be permanent. Here's a helpful explanation of the "backstop" from BBC:

The backstop is a position of last resort, to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal.
...But, after Brexit, all that could change - the two parts of Ireland could be in different customs and regulatory regimes, which could mean products being checked at the border. 
The UK government does not want this to happen. The EU has also said it does not want any hardening of the border. 
However, the UK's current red lines, which include leaving the customs union and the single market, make that very difficult.
The backstop is that safety net - an arrangement that will apply to the Irish border after Brexit, if a wider deal or technological solution cannot keep it as frictionless as it is today. 
An agreement on the backstop is important because the EU won't agree to a transitional period and substantive trade talks until it is in place.

The UK and the EU said a backstop is needed - they both signed up to it in December 2017. 
They also agreed on what it needs to achieve - maintaining cross-border cooperation, supporting the all-island economy and protecting the Good Friday peace agreement. 
But beyond that there have been major differences between the two sides.
May calls it an "improved Brexit deal" but it's unclear that it will be enough to appease British MPs to support the Brexit withdrawal deal.

EU president Jean-Claude Juncker stressed that this is it, there'll be no third deal. He said the clarification agreement is intended to protect the people on "both sides of the channel" and to protect the peace in the "island of Ireland." He did not differentiate the Irish Republic from Northern Ireland.

The new understanding, Junker noted, is first subject to a positive vote in the UK House of Commons after which it will require ratification by the EU member states.

Watching the press conference it was apparent that the British prime minister was very defensive, perhaps contemplating the fight she expects tomorrow when the Commons votes on the Brexit withdrawal deal.

The British attorney general will be preparing a memorandum on the new agreement before the vote tomorrow. Ms. May, when asked what that memo would say, stressed that her A.G. is independent. Why didn't we think of that?


Update: I've been listening to excellent call-in radio channel, LBC London radio. Plenty of experts weighing in on the latest Junkers/May deal but the only thing that they're agreed on is that no one knows what any of this means for "the backstop."

A Politico reporter noted that Jean-Claude Juncker had no new authority from the EU council. He was working from the instructions he received last year so it's unlikely there's much substantive in today's deal.