Monday, December 30, 2019

Warsaw and Moscow's Cat Fight

Russia and Poland are exchanging insults over - World War II.

Russia likes to see itself as a victim of the war. Poland, however, has been depicting what was then the Soviet Union as an unindicted co-conspirator in triggering the war.

At the heart of the spat is the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop "non-aggression" pact.
The agreement is rarely discussed in Russia, where the Soviet Union's role in ending the Second World War is a source of enormous patriotic pride. 
The pact was a written mutual guarantee of peace, as well as a commitment that neither would ally itself to an enemy party. The countries' two foreign ministers, after whom the pact is named, also agreed to carve up eastern Europe between one another.
Confident he had nothing to fear from Uncle Joe Stalin, Hitler sent his armies to invade Poland. Two weeks later the Soviets entered to claim their spoils, the eastern half of Poland.

A few months ago the European Union waded into the controversy.
October's EU resolution said the agreement had set out to divide Europe "between the two totalitarian regimes" of Hitler's Nazi Germany and Josef Stalin's communist Soviet Union. 
The governments of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania had released a statement in August saying the pact "doomed half of Europe to decades of misery."
This didn't sit well with Russia's current strongman, Vlad Putin, who said he's sitting on an archive full of Europe's dirty laundry that he's ready to air in retaliation.

Poland wasn't the only prize offered to Russia. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and other territories were also ceded to Moscow under a 'secret protocol.'

Then Hitler gave Stalin the treatment by invading the Rodina.

In the past, Putin had condemned the accord but also labeled it a "necessary evil" on the part of the Soviet Union, the only viable way to avoid imminent conflict with Germany. But since the European Parliament's September resolution identifying the pact as a key trigger for the conflict, he has toughened his tone considerably.
Putin told soldiers that Allied policies of appeasement before the war broke out, for instance tolerating Germany's annexation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, was also to blame for the conflict and for the communist Soviet Union's decision to seek a deal with fascist Germany. 
But he reserved particular criticism for Poland, alleging in particular that Poland's ambassador to Germany at the time was a Nazi sympathizer. 
"Essentially they colluded with Hitler. This is clear from documents, archival documents," Putin said at the defense ministry.
Now, to stir things up just a little more, the US ambassador to Poland has jumped into the fray. Vlad ain't gonna be happy.
Germany and the Soviet Union were both responsible for the outbreak of World War II, said the United States Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher. 
Her statements, made in a tweet on Monday, were responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that Poland was responsible for the start of the war. 
"Dear President Putin, Hitler and Stalin colluded to start WWII. That is a fact. Poland was a victim of this horrible conflict," Mosbacher wrote.
Mosbacher was appointed ambassador by Donald Trump.  A former FOX News contributor and entrepreneur, Mosbacher has been known for offending anyone.
Mosbacher courted controversy when she suggested that Poland was responsible for the re-emergence of anti-Semitism across the continent of Europe because of a law which criminalizes blaming Poland for the actions of Nazi Germany on its soil during the Holocaust.[41] 
Prior to being appointed, Polish President Andrzej Duda stated that if Mosbacher were to be appointed as the new U.S. ambassador to Poland, she will be accepted, despite having made “unnecessary and mistaken” comments about the country.

A "Cornerstone of Democracy"

Few things, it seems, better focus the mind than the prospect of a stretch in the Greybar Hotel.

'Beleaguered Bibi' Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, told the Likud party faithful that immunity from the sort of prosecution he faces is a "cornerstone of democracy." Amen, Bibi.
Seeking immunity from prosecution is not anti-democratic, but rather a “cornerstone of democracy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Likud party activists at an event on Sunday evening. 
Speaking to supporters at a Hanukkah menorah-lighting ceremony at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that, within two days, he would announce his decision as to whether or not he will seek immunity from the corruption charges against him.

“The only immunity I am seeking right now is immunity from idle propaganda,” he declared, attacking the rival party Blue and White for “talking crap all day with immunity, immunity, and more and more immunity.”
Netanyahu must announce whether he wants to seek immunity in the coming days, or automatically forfeit his right to do so. Though the premier is far from guaranteed to get a Knesset majority to support an immunity bid, merely asking for it will delay any potential trial by months.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in November announced his intention to indict the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and has accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.
Hmm, "attempted coup." That sounds familiar, no?

The Triumph of Heresy - Chris Hedges

Christianity in America has succumbed to heretics and it gave up without so much as a fight. That's Chris Hedges' take on the rise of radical Christianity in the United States.

He's right.

On Christmas Day the Guardian's editorial addressed the same theme - that, around the world, Christianity is in a struggle for its soul.
For liberally minded Christians, 2019 was the latest in a succession of anni horribili, during which a cultural appropriation of their religion did service for aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-environmentalism.
...The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again. But the theological roots of that liberal vision in a Pauline notion of universality – “all are one in Christ” – is rarely examined by progressives. In an era when Christian ethics are being so brazenly twisted to serve nativism and attacks on minorities, that could be a mistake.
Hedges puts it more bluntly:
The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters. It stood by as the core Gospel message—concern for the poor and the oppressed—was perverted into a magical world where God and Jesus showered believers with material wealth and power. The white race, especially in the United States, became God’s chosen agent. Imperialism and war became divine instruments for purging the world of infidels and barbarians, evil itself. Capitalism, because God blessed the righteous with wealth and power and condemned the immoral to poverty and suffering, became shorn of its inherent cruelty and exploitation. The iconography and symbols of American nationalism became intertwined with the iconography and symbols of the Christian faith. The mega-pastors, narcissists who rule despotic, cult-like fiefdoms, make millions of dollars by using this heretical belief system to prey on the mounting despair and desperation of their congregations, victims of neoliberalism and deindustrialization. These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America” I was deadly serious about the term “fascists.”
...Tens of millions of Americans live hermetically sealed inside the vast media and educational edifice controlled by Christian fascists. In this world, miracles are real, Satan, allied with secular humanists and Muslims, is seeking to destroy America, and Trump is God’s anointed vessel to build the Christian nation and cement into place a government that instills “biblical values.” These “biblical values” include banning abortion, protecting the traditional family, turning the Ten Commandments into secular law, crushing “infidels,” especially Muslims, indoctrinating children in schools with “biblical” teachings and thwarting sexual license, which includes any sexual relationship other than in a marriage between a man and a woman. Trump is routinely compared by evangelical leaders to the biblical king Cyrus, who rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and restored the Jews to the city.
The corruption of Christianity, especially in the West, is something that has intrigued me for the past two decades or more.  What is underway has been well documented. Kevin Phillips 2005 book, "American Theocracy" examines the rise of radical religion in the waning years of a succession of once dominant Christian nations. Former US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, has written "The New American Militarism" in which he reveals how what Eisenhower branded America's military-industrial complex has now metastasized into a military-industrial-neoconservative-Christian fundamentalist-corporate "for profit" warfighting complex. You can glean more details in Chris Hedges' "American Fascists" or Princeton historian Kevin Kruse's excellent new book, "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America invented Christian America."

Hedges attributes the rise of Christian fundamentalism to the failure of American liberals.
I studied ethics at Harvard Divinity School with James Luther Adams, who had been in Germany in 1935 and 1936. Adams witnessed the rise there of the so-called Christian Church, which was pro-Nazi. He warned us about the disturbing parallels between the German Christian Church and the Christian right. Adolf Hitler was in the eyes of the German Christian Church a volkmessiah and an instrument of God—a view similar to the one held today about Trump by many of his white evangelical supporters. Those demonized for Germany’s economic collapse, especially Jews and communists, were agents of Satan. Fascism, Adams told us, always cloaked itself in a nation’s most cherished symbols and rhetoric. Fascism would come to America not in the guise of stiff-armed, marching brownshirts and Nazi swastikas but in mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, the biblical sanctification of the state and the sacralization of American militarism. Adams was the first person I heard label the extremists of the Christian right as fascists. Liberals, he warned, as in Nazi Germany, were blind to the tragic dimension of history and radical evil. They would not react until it was too late. 
Trump’s legacy will be the empowerment of the Christian fascists. They are what comes next. For decades they have been organizing to take power. They have built infrastructures and organizations, including lobbying groups, schools and universities as well as media platforms, to prepare. They have seeded their cadre into the political system. We on the left, meanwhile, have seen our institutions and organizations destroyed or corrupted by corporate power.
Suddenly, Islamists don't seem so radical after all.
The Christian fascists propagate their magical thinking through a selective literalism in addressing the Bible. They hold up as sacrosanct biblical passages that buttress their ideology and ignore, or grossly misinterpret, the ones that do not. They live in a binary universe. They see themselves as eternal victims, oppressed by dark and sinister groups seeking their annihilation. They alone know the will of God. They alone can fulfill God’s will. They seek total cultural and political domination. The secular, reality-based world, one where Satan, miracles, destiny, angels and magic do not exist, destroyed their lives and communities. That world took away their jobs and their futures. It ripped apart the social bonds that once gave them purpose, dignity and hope. In their despair they often struggled with alcohol, drug and gambling addictions. They endured familial breakdown, divorce, evictions, unemployment and domestic and sexual violence. The only thing that saved them was their conversion, the realization that God had a plan for them and would protect them. These believers were pushed by a callous, heartless corporate society and rapacious oligarchy into the arms of charlatans. All who speak to them in the calm, rational language of fact and evidence are hated and ultimately feared, for they seek to force believers back into “the culture of death” that nearly destroyed them.
...We can blunt the rise of this Christian fascism only by reintegrating exploited and abused Americans into society, giving them jobs with stable, sustainable incomes, relieving their crushing personal debts, rebuilding their communities and transforming our failed democracy into one in which everyone has agency and a voice. We must impart to them hope, not only for themselves but for their children.
Hedges sees but one hope - America itself must be transformed by embracing social democracy. That seems unimaginable, at this stage much too late. What then awaits?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

America, the Berserk

Has America ditched the Enlightenment values that inspired its founding fathers to slide into an age of darkness?  Former NYT book editor, Michiko Kakutani, writes of the 2010s as the end of normal, America's "decade of distrust."

TWO OF THE MOST WIDELY QUOTED and shared poems in the closing years of this decade were William Butler Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”), and W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” (“Waves of anger and fear / Circulate over the bright / And darkened lands of the earth”). Yeats’s poem, written just after World War I, spoke of a time when “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Auden’s poem, written in the wake of Germany’s invasion of Poland, described a world lying “in stupor,” as democracy was threatened and “the enlightenment driven away.”

...With the rise of nationalist movements and a backlash against globalization on both sides of the Atlantic, the liberal post-World War II order — based on economic integration and international institutions — began to unravel, and since 2017, the United States has not only abdicated its role as a stabilizing leader on the global stage, but is also sowing unpredictability and chaos abroad.
...dystopian fables and horror-driven films and television series — including “Black Mirror” (2016), a rebooted “Twilight Zone” (2019), “Joker” (2019), “Get Out” (2017), “Watchmen” (2019), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (2017) and “Westworld” (2016) — spoke to the darkening mood in the second half of the decade, as drug overdose deaths in America rose to nearly half a million by the decade’s end, life expectancy fell in the United States and Britain, and many of us started to realize that our data (tracking everything we viewed, bought and searched for online) was being sold and commodified, and that algorithms were shaping our lives in untold ways. In what was likely the hottest decade on record, scientists warned that climate change was swiftly approaching a “point of no return”; we learned that glaciers were melting at record speed at the top of the world; and fires ravaged California and Australia and threatened the very future of the Amazon rainforest.
America Goes Berserk
Donald Trump remains a uniquely American phenomenon. Although the United States was founded on the Enlightenment values of reason, liberty and progress, there has long been another strain of thinking at work beneath the surface — what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk,” and the historian Richard Hofstadter famously described as “the paranoid style.” 
It’s an outlook characterized by a sense of “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” Hofstadter wrote in his 1964 essay, and focused on perceived threats to “a nation, a culture, a way of life.” Its language is apocalyptic (Mr. Trump’s “American carnage” is a perfect example); its point of view, extremist. It regards its opponents as evil and ubiquitous, while portraying itself, in Hofstadter’s words, as “manning the barricades of civilization.” 
The “paranoid style,” Hofstadter observed, tends to occur in “episodic waves.” The modern right wing, he wrote, feels dispossessed: “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it.” In their view, “the old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals,” and national independence has been “destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.”
The End of Critical Thinking
In his insightful forthcoming book, “Why We’re Polarized,” Ezra Klein observes that “our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities.” This is coming at a moment when the nation’s demographics are rapidly changing — census statistics project that America will become “minority white” in 2045 — and putting more emphasis than ever on questions of identity. Our political identities have become so crucial to us, Mr. Klein writes, that “we will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.” 
It’s a measure of just how partisan our politics has become that most Republicans now reflexively support Mr. Trump — despite broken promises, ballooning deficits, and tariffs that have hurt Americans, never mind the astonishing volume of lies he emits. Many Trump supporters inhabit a soundproofed echo chamber: A 2017 study, published in the Columbia Journalism Review, found that pro-Trump audiences got most of their information from an insulated media system, anchored around Breitbart News, that reinforced “the shared worldview of readers” and shielded “them from journalism that challenged it.” 
No surprise, then, that the president’s hard-core supporters stubbornly repeat the lies and conspiracy theories that cycle through his Twitter feed, connecting him with Russian trolls, white nationalists and random crackpots, or that Mr. Trump’s assertions and fictional narratives are amplified further by Republican politicians and the right-wing media noise machine.
...As the news cycle spun faster and faster, our brains struggled to cope with the flood of data and distraction that endlessly spilled from our phones. And in an era of data overload and short attention spans, it’s not the most reliable, trustworthy material that goes viral — it’s the loudest voices, the angriest, most outrageous posts that get clicked and shared. 
Without reliable information, citizens cannot make informed decisions about the issues of the day, and we cannot hold politicians to account. Without commonly agreed upon facts, we cannot have reasoned debates with other voters and instead become susceptible to the fear-mongering of demagogues. When politicians constantly lie, overwhelming and exhausting us while insinuating that everyone is dishonest and corrupt, the danger is that we grow so weary and cynical that we withdraw from civic engagement. And if we fail to engage in the political process — or reflexively support the individual from “our” party while reflexively dismissing the views of others — then we are abdicating common sense and our responsibility as citizens. 
In his wise and astonishingly prescient “Farewell Address,” from 1796, George Washington spoke of the dangers he saw the young new nation facing in the future. He warned against “the insidious wiles of foreign influence,” “the impostures of pretended patriotism,” and, most insistently, of “the baneful effects of the spirit of party” — imploring his fellow citizens not to let partisan or geographic differences plant seeds of mistrust among those who “ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”
Every portion of the country, he wrote, should remember: “You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.” Citizens, he urged, must indignantly frown “upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.”

Sure, It May Look Bleak, But Just Imagine...

I suppose most science fiction writers are, or tend to be, futurists of a sort. One goes hand in hand with the other to some degree.

One of these is Canadian born writer, Cory Doctorow. I'm not familiar with his work, probably never will be, but his Globe op-ed on what awaits us in the coming decade is definitely worth a read. Here are a few paragraphs that I hope will pique your interest.

If you need proof that science-fiction writers are trapped by our consensus on the future and struggle to steer it, consider this: It’s not that hard to imagine surviving a just climate transition. Our leaders are willing to accept the market orthodoxy that businesses can expand production infinitely on a finite world by realizing new efficiencies in material and energy usage. Is that so different from the proposition that, as the crisis looms, we can find the material, energy and labour needed for seawalls, clinics, relocations and new energy production and storage facilities?

...The looming climate emergency is proving the axiom that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the human race than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” Our species – which has mobilized millions of bodies for war, gold rushes, Beanie Babies and Beatlemania – seems to have given up hope of any chance of mobilizing a comparable effort to avert its own extinction. 
How is this possible? How is it that we can contemplate the great achievements of our ancestors and insist that we ourselves could never hope to match them? Are we trapped in a science-fiction tale of the brutish remnants of a fallen civilization, living amidst its slowly disintegrating machines, unable to repair or replace them? 
I don’t think so. But I feel the same sense of inevitability as you do, the sense that although we can see that the bridge is out ahead, that although we know where the steering wheel and brakes are, that, for some reason, we cannot yank the wheel nor hit the brakes. That, as in a nightmare, we are doomed to sit in mute horror as we careen to our doom.
Doctorow's opinion piece convinced me of one thing. We'll never have a future if we can't imagine a future. He tosses out a series of ideas on how we might still change course if only we want it enough. I won't comment on that here except to say his ideas are worth a read. Imagine.

News From the Front - Red Square Edition

Moscow, the capital where winters have put paid to invaders from Napoleon to Hitler, is trucking in artificial snow this year.
Moscow has been so warm this December that the government has resorted to sending trucks filled with artificial snow to decorate a new year display in the city centre. 
Videos of the delivery for a snowboarding hill went viral on social media as observers noted the irony of bringing snow to a city that spends millions each year on its removal. 
“This is all the snow there is in Moscow. It’s being guarded in Red Square,” one Instagram user wrote, accompanied with a photograph from near the Kremlin.
The balmy December weather has interrupted hibernation at Moscow zoo and caused crocuses, lilacs and magnolias at Moscow State University’s apothecary garden to flower early. Zoo officials said that they had put five jerboas, a type of hopping rodent with long hind legs, into specially refrigerated enclosures to encourage them to hibernate. 
The most visible impact, however, has been the lack of snow, which usually begins blanketing Russia in October or November. Light flurries have fallen in Moscow and its parks are dusted white, but most of the snow in the city centre has melted.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When Christianity Embraces the Dark Side

When Vladimir Putin sought to put Russia in his authoritarian grip he had an ally, the Russian Orthodox Church. Liberated from the era of Soviet oppression, the Russian church wasted no time in signing on with the Putin regime. It was creepy but, well it was Russia, and they do things differently in the Rodina. The Russian church was just an outlier, surely.

What happened in Russia has now surfaced in other Christian churches in other nations - Christianity making common cause with authoritarian thugs. Christianity embracing the dark side.

Many of us remember the memorable line by Sinclair Lewis predicting that, when fascism comes to America, it will be "wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

In its Christmas Day editorial, the Guardian explores how, in many nations, Christianity is in a struggle for its soul.
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” These words, written by Saint Paul 2,000 years ago, are central to the Christian faith. They speak of a vocation for the universal and point to an ethic of social justice and solidarity. The Christian tradition’s account of the humble circumstances of the birth of Jesus, represented in the nativity scene, is in the same spirit, identifying Christ with the marginal, the maligned and the poor.

It has therefore, for many Christians, been depressing to witness the faith of their churches being used to justify the abandonment of such principles in Europe, Donald Trump’s America and beyond. For liberally minded Christians, 2019 was the latest in a succession of anni horribili, during which a cultural appropriation of their religion did service for aggressive nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia and anti-environmentalism.

...The battle to defend the rights and human dignity of all, irrespective of gender, race or sexuality, is having to be fought all over again. But the theological roots of that liberal vision in a Pauline notion of universality – “all are one in Christ” – is rarely examined by progressives. In an era when Christian ethics are being so brazenly twisted to serve nativism and attacks on minorities, that could be a mistake. Happily, there are signs that this may change in 2020. Some of the Democrat candidates in next year’s US presidential race are wearing their faith on their sleeve to an unusual extent.

The popularity of Donald Trump among American evangelical Christians is well known. In 2016, 81% of evangelicals and a large majority of US Catholics put Mr Trump’s flawed personal morals to one side, voting for a candidate who would fight their corner in culture wars over same-sex marriage and abortion, as well as on migration. The Pew Research Centre survey this year found that only 25% of evangelicals believe that the US has a responsibility to accept refugees. President Trump’s Catholic former adviser, Steve Bannon, has been a prominent promoter of the supposedly “Judaeo-Christian” values that inform Trumpian nationalism.
...For both secular liberals and Christians, there are lessons to be drawn from what might be seen as a prophetic alliance between Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg on the most urgent issue facing the world: the climate emergency. When Time magazine made Ms Thunberg its person of the year, the Vatican was quick to celebrate her as “a witness to what the church teaches on the care of the environment and the care of the person”. 
The pope has identified the protection of the Amazon rainforest, where this year the greatest levels of deforestation for a decade were recorded, as an environmental priority. But the culture wars being fought in the public square – which have seen Ms Thunberg become a target – are also being played out within the Christian churches. A three-week Rome synod on the Amazon in October was overshadowed by conservative criticism of the Pope’s decision to invite native peoples and welcome their religious symbols. Liberal democracies rightly prize the separation of church and state which emerged following the Enlightenment. But as the reactionary right denigrates ideas of human dignity and equality that can be traced back to the first formulations of early Christianity, liberals of goodwill need to unite across the religious/secular divide in 2020.
There is a civil war underway within Christianity. It's a war for the soul of the faith and right now the dark side is winning.

What is underway has been well documented. Kevin Phillips 2005 book, "American Theocracy" examines the rise of radical religion in the waning years of a succession of once dominant Christian nations. Former US Army commander turned academic, Andrew Bacevich, has written "The New American Militarism" in which he reveals how what Eisenhower branded America's military-industrial complex has now metastasized into a military-industrial-neoconservative- Christian fundamentalist-corporate "for profit" warfighting complex. You can glean more details in Chris Hedges' "American Fascists" or Princeton historian Kevin Kruse's excellent new book, "One Nation Under God: How Corporate America invented Christian America."

Radical Christianity, like other forms of fundamentalism, is the grease that enables the slide from secular democracy into illiberal, authoritarian rule. It is not going away without a fight and until we perceive the threat it poses and defend the separation of church and state, it will surely win.  If we want to fend off the emergence of a state religion wedded to the political state we must never forget that there can be no freedom of religion without freedom from religion.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Merry Christmas, Dougie

An early Christmas present for Ontario premier, Doug Ford. Some persons, thought to be environmental activists, decided to give the premier something that he already has in ample abundance - a load of manure.
Extinction Rebellion said in a press release the manure was a response to Ontario’s Auditor General “effectively declaring the Conservative provincial government climate action promise is a load of crap.”
The deposit was deposited outside the Depositor-in-Chief's riding office.

Three French Executives Convicted of Hounding Employees to Death.

The deaths of 35 people, all by their own hand, should never be uplifting but the conviction of the culprits who drove them to it is.
Three former executives of a French telecommunications giant have been found guilty of creating a corporate culture so toxic that 35 of their employees were driven to suicide in the mid-2000s. The charge in the historic case: "harcelement moral institutionnel" or "institutional moral harassment". 
The ruling from a Paris criminal court caps a months-long trial and years-long saga that has spurred protests and highlighted issues of labour relations and workplace conditions in a country with a sometimes contentious relationship to capitalism.
CFE-CGC Orange, a trade union that represents the company's workers, has been tracking employee suicides since 2007, and its leaders said they welcomed Friday's decision.

The spate of suicides, which happened more than a decade ago, came as the company underwent a massive restructuring. Then France's national telephone company, France Telecom embarked on an aggressive plan to cut 22,000 workers and shift another 10,000 into new jobs − all between 2006 and 2008. Most of the employees, because they were civil servants, could not be fired. 
So, prosecutors said, the company's executives tried to make workers' lives so miserable they would leave voluntarily. Lombard, speaking to senior managers in 2007, reportedly vowed, "I'll get them out one way or another, through the window or through the door."

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Tory Convention Postponed to November, Next Decade

They must've scraped the barrel and didn't like what they dredged up.

Former Conservative leader, Andrew 'Chuckles' Scheer, is going to have to stew in ignominy until November, 2020, by which time the Tories hope they can find someone, anyone, to become their next leader.

Trump Backers Unleash New Weapon - Weaponized AI

There are powerful people willing to wreck what little democracy remains in America, anything to get Donald Trump re-elected in 2020.
Facebook and Twitter on Friday disabled a global network of hundreds of fake accounts that pushed pro-Trump messages and covered its tracks using inauthentic photos generated with the aid of artificial intelligence.

The use of AI to trick social media companies, deceive unsuspecting users and essentially create people who do not exist marked a major, troubling new development, according to disinformation researchers, who expressed fresh alarm that such tactics could have implications for the 2020 presidential election. 
The tech giants' takedown targeted the BL, a US-based media company that Facebook linked to Epoch Media Group. The organisation has criticised the Chinese government, and it has ties to the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement.
The researchers with whom Facebook shared data about the BL and Epoch Media Group described the operation in a report as "a large-scale artificial amplification factory."
More malicious actors now seek to manipulate conversation online using new, sophisticated techniques just four years after Russian agents weaponised Facebook, Google and Twitter to undermine the 2016 presidential race.
These tactics play straight into the hand of the Trump campaign. That's mainly because Trump supporters are, well, stupid. They're gullible and are guided more by base instincts than some trace of intellect and critical thought. You can feed them this shit all day long and they'll still be asking for more.

All This 'Carbon Neutral by 2050' Business. That's Nonsense.

The record speaks for itself. The current federal government, like its predecessors, can't be trusted to keep its promises. It doesn't keep its immediate promises and, as for something that's supposedly going to be done by 2050, that's a giggle at best.

Let's focus on something in the on the horizon, Canada's targets for emissions cuts by 2030. Ten years out. That's reasonable. So where do we stand as our government enters its fifth year in office?  Brace yourself.
Canada is on track to substantially miss its 2030 targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, new government data show. 
The numbers, released Friday, show how significant the work ahead is for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Mr. Wilkinson to find a way for Canada to “exceed” its 2030 emissions targets in his mandate letter. The latest numbers show most of the progress made in government policies over the past year was cancelled out by other factors that raised emissions projections.
I'm pretty sure that news didn't take many Canadians by surprise. Harper was a knuckle-dragger on emissions and, since taking office in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals have been falling further behind with each passing year.

Maybe it's time to haul this sorry business before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Dutch went to their high court and they won.
The court ruled that the government had explicit duties to protect its citizens’ human rights in the face of climate change and must reduce emissions by at least 25% compared with 1990 levels by the end of 2020. 
The non-profit Urgenda Foundation, which brought the case, welcomed the “groundbreaking” judgment. The original judgment in 2015 was seen as a landmark in the then nascent field of climate litigation, and inspired similar cases across the world, from Pakistan to New Zealand.
According to the supreme court, individual nations have direct obligations under articles 2 and 8 of the European convention on human rights, covering the right to life and the right to private and family life.
I suppose Ottawa could argue that, unlike Europe, it doesn't have obligations covering the right to life even if it has promised proclaimed a climate emergency in the land.

Friday, December 20, 2019

News From the Front. Making Sense of a Decade of Climate Change Like No Other.

Look outside your window. The world you see today is not the world you experienced in 2010. It's a different world than any you've experienced, vastly different than the world of your parents and grandparents.

One of the most dangerous aspects of climate change is human nature and, especially, "creeping normalcy." That is when we see the world outside our window as "normal" as though it's how it has always been. Once it is normalized it is no longer aberrant, different, abnormal, alarming.  It's what we do, how we cope.

We're on a roller coaster. We squeal with delight as the cars plunge down the tracks but then we recover at bottom dead center and reset for the next peak.

As we close out the current decade and move into the 2020s it's useful to take stock of where we are and how we got here. The 2010s were, hands down, the hottest decade in human experience. Way hotter.

Deadly heat waves, wildfires and widespread flooding punctuated a decade of climate extremes that, by many scientific accounts, show global warming kicking into overdrive. 
As the year drew to a close, scientists were confidently saying 2019 was Earth's second-warmest recorded year on record, capping the warmest decade. Eight of the 10 warmest years since measurements began occurred this decade, and the other two were only a few years earlier.
What a decade it's been and not just for heat. Droughts, floods, wildfires from the tropics extending far inside the Arctic Circle, retreat of the glaciers, vanishing Arctic sea ice, and more that are all part of this climate witches' brew.
Again and again, scientists completed near real-time attribution studies showing how global warming is making extremes—including wildfires—more likely. 
Even more worrisome, scientists warned late in the year that many of these extremes are linked and intensify each other, pushing the global climate system ever-closer to tipping points that could lead to the breakdown of ecological systems—already seen in coral reefs and some forests—and potentially trigger runaway warming.
"Every decade or half-decade we go into a new realm of temperature. When you look at the decadal averages, it becomes pretty obvious that the climate of the 20th Century is gone. We're in a new neighborhood," said Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch at NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information. 
"When I look at the patterns, the thing that always comes back to me is, we share one atmosphere, one climate system with people we will never meet. When we poke it here in our part of the world it can have mammoth consequences elsewhere," he said.
In Canada we're careful not to dwell on how our petro-economy "can have mammoth consequences elsewhere ...with people we will never meet." Our cherished Canadian values, how we see ourselves, aren't up to the risk of introspection.

No matter how conditions worsen, we'll always have creeping normalcy to soothe our frayed nerves.

Well, This Sounds Reconciliatory. RCMP Prepared to Fire On First Nations Defending Their Lands.

RCMP were prepared to use lethal force to clear away Wet'suwet'en protesters determined to block access to their land.
Canadian police were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia, according to documents seen by the Guardian. 
Notes from a strategy session for a militarized raid on ancestral lands of the Wet’suwet’en nation show that commanders of Canada’s national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), argued that “lethal overwatch is req’d” – a term for deploying snipers.
No, you sick bastard. Lethal overwatch is required in Fallujah where military forces are already engaged in heavy, door-to-door combat with al Qaeda insurgents. The historic lands of the Wet'suwet'en in northern BC are not Fallujah.

The RCMP commanders also instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want” ahead of the operation to remove a roadblock which had been erected by Wet’suwet’en people to control access to their territories and stop construction of the proposed 670km (416-mile) Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL). 
In a separate document, an RCMP officer states that arrests would be necessary for “sterilizing the site”
Wet’suwet’en people and their supporters set up the Gidimt’en checkpoint in December 2018 to block construction of the pipeline through this region of mountains and pine forests 750 miles north of Vancouver. 
On 7 January, RCMP officers – dressed in military-green fatigues and armed with assault riflesdescended on the checkpoint, dismantling the gate and arresting 14 people.
Then again, part of our 'cherished Canadian values' is the art of 'sterilizing'  First Nations lands. Think Ipperwash on steroids.
The Stasi RCMP were prepared to arrest children and grandparents: “No exception, everyone will be arrested in the injunction area,” a document reads. Another makes reference to possible child apprehension by social services – a troubling disclosure given the violent history of residential schooling in Canada and the disproportionate number of Indigenous children currently in the child welfare system. 
“The police are here to support the invasion of Indigenous territories,” said Tlingit land defender Anne Spice. “It is what they’ve always done. Now, they watch us when we travel to pick berries. They ‘patrol’ the roads where we hunt. They harass us and profile us under the guise of ‘public safety’.”

Since the January raid, an RCMP detachment known as the Community Industry Safety Office has maintained a large presence in an effort to forestall any resistance to pipeline construction.

What kind of Canada is this where we send sniper teams to a peaceful protest while cops, dressed in combat fatigues and wielding assault rifles, move on the protesters? On their own traditional lands. Dissent met with assault rifles and sniper teams. Cops kitted out in combat gear told to use "as much violence as you want." What message does that send them? What are the rest of us to make of that?

Let's be blunt. This is the federal government's pipeline Stasi. This is the Liberal government's doing. This falls at the feet of the prime minister, Justin Trudeau.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

He's Right. There Are Other, More Dangerous Things We Have to Deal With

So, prime minister Justin Trudeau comes out and says that the reported discontent in Alberta and Saskatchewan is not a threat to national unity.  I think Justin just grew a pair.

Now, what about the truly grave threat facing Canada? You can't play both sides, not for long.

Could America's Evangelicals Break With Trump? Cracks Emerge.

Its roots go right back to its founder, Billy Graham. The magazine, Christianity Today, is calling for Donald Trump's impeachment and removal from office and it isn't pulling any punches.
The editor-in-chief, Mark Galli, wrote: “The facts in this instance are unambiguous: the president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. 
“That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral,” he wrote. 
“We believe the impeachment hearings have made it absolutely clear, in a way the Mueller investigation did not, that President Trump has abused his authority for personal gain and betrayed his constitutional oath,” Galli continued. “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. This damages the institution of the presidency, damages the reputation of our country, and damages both the spirit and the future of our people.”
“He has hired and fired a number of people who are now convicted criminals,” Galli wrote. “He himself has admitted to immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud. His Twitter feed alone – with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders – is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.”
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: remember who you are and whom you serve,” Galli wrote. “Consider how your justification of Mr Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?”

h/t Trail Blazer

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

What a Way To Close Out a Decade

It's widely reported that the United States, Japan and Australia subverted the recent Madrid climate summit, deftly blocking any meaningful action to fight climate change.

Australia, isn't that ironic. The Land Down Under is enduring its 2nd consecutive day of record heat and summer is just getting started. The local met office warns that worse temperatures lie ahead. Meanwhile Australia is being swept by brush fires of near Bibilical proportions. At least they're making big money flooding China and India with thermal coal.

Leaving schadenfreude aside, we're less than two weeks away from closing out what has been the hottest decade in the history of human civilization.
Deadly heat waves, wildfires and widespread flooding in 2019 punctuated a decade of climate extremes that, by many scientific accounts, show global warming kicking into overdrive. 
As the year drew to a close, scientists were confidently saying 2019 was Earth's second-warmest recorded year on record, capping the warmest decade. Eight of the 10 warmest years since measurements began occurred this decade, and the other two were only a few years earlier. 
Arctic sea ice melted faster and took longer to form again in the fall. Big swaths of ocean remained record-warm nearly all year, in some regions spawning horrifically damaging tropical storms that surprised experts with their rapid intensification. Densely populated parts of Europe shattered temperature records amid heat waves blamed for hundreds of deaths, and a huge section of the U.S. breadbasket region was swamped for months by floodwater.
And wildfires burned around the globe, starting unusually early in unexpected places like the UK. They blazed across country-size tracts of Siberia, fueled by record heat, flared up in the Arctic and devastated parts of California. Again and again, scientists completed near real-time attribution studies showing how global warming is making extremes—including wildfires—more likely.
Okay, enough. Out of respect for the festive season there's no point getting into what's coming - tipping points, climate departure, and so on - in the coming decade.  Prepare to be surprised which, given our levels of education and free access to more information than ever, is a surprise unto itself.

Oh, by the way, Winter Solstice arrives Saturday.

It's Time We Faced Reality. FPTP is Failing Us.

Boris Johnson is the prime minister of the United Kingdom and Brits are just realizing their democracy has been pistol-whipped by a thoroughly dysfunctional electoral system - First Past The Post.  FPTP, a powerful way to defeat the will of the public at every turn.

Guardian columnist, George Monbiot, writes that politics has entered a new paradigm, one that renders FPTP toxic to democracy.

You can blame Jeremy Corbyn for Boris Johnson, and Hillary Clinton for Donald Trump. You can blame the Indian challengers for Narendra Modi, the Brazilian opposition for Jair Bolsonaro, and left and centre parties in Australia, the Philippines, Hungary, Poland and Turkey for similar electoral disasters. Or you could recognise that what we are witnessing is a global phenomenon.

Something has changed: not just in the UK and the US, but in many parts of the world. A new politics, funded by oligarchs, built on sophisticated cheating and provocative lies, using dark ads and conspiracy theories on social media, has perfected the art of persuading the poor to vote for the interests of the very rich. We must understand what we are facing, and the new strategies required to resist it.
Monbiot argues that we can no longer trust top-down government to serve the public will.
At the moment, the political model for almost all parties is to drive change from the top down. They write a manifesto, that they hope to turn into government policy, which may then be subject to a narrow and feeble consultation, which then leads to legislation, which then leads to change. I believe the best antidote to demagoguery is the opposite process: radical trust. To the greatest extent possible, parties and governments should trust communities to identify their own needs and make their own decisions.
...Mainstream politics, controlled by party machines, has sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of human society into a simple, linear model that can be controlled from the centre. The political and economic systems it creates are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in dynamism; susceptible to collapse, as many northern towns can testify, while unable to regenerate themselves. They become vulnerable to the toxic, invasive forces of ethno-nationalism and supremacism. 
Monbiot's answer - radical devolution.
But in some parts of the world, towns and cities have begun to rewild politics. Councils have catalysed mass participation, then – to the greatest extent possible – stepped back and allowed it to evolve. Classic examples include participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil, the Decide Madrid system in Spain, and the Better Reykjavik programme in Iceland. Local people have reoccupied the political space that had been captured by party machines and top-down government. They have worked out together what their communities need and how to make it happen, refusing to let politicians frame the questions or determine the answers. The results have been extraordinary: a massive re-engagement in politics, particularly among marginalised groups, and dramatic improvements in local life. Participatory politics does not require the blessing of central government, just a confident and far-sighted local authority. 
Is this a formula for a particular party to regain power? No. It’s much bigger than that. It’s a formula for taking back control, making our communities more resilient and the machinations of any government in Westminster less relevant. This radical devolution is the best defence against capture by any political force.
Jenny Jones goes directly for the jugular of First Past the Post.
Of the top 39 countries on the OECD list, only Canada and the US share our love affair with FPTP. The US has awful extremes of rich and poor, while Canada does manage to come ahead of us in 19th place. Yet Canada has never had a majority socialist government. Meanwhile, progressive governments in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Iceland, Finland and Sweden have almost never been the result of a single socialist party’s majority, but are made up of leftwing coalitions – and they do OK. 
As we’ve seen, the argument that FPTP delivers strong and stable government is nonsense. I know from my own experience on the London assembly, elected via a system of PR, that a more consensual and positive politics is possible. We fought each other in elections and then worked together between them. 
PR doesn’t guarantee that things will get better, but it enables us to generate a consensus about the direction of travel, whether that is ending austerity, stopping the NHS being privatised or ending domestic violence. As Friends of the Earth has pointed out, the electorate favoured parties who take the climate emergency seriously – yet we have ended up with a government that doesn’t. This is a failure of FPTP.
A refrain that harkens back to the summer of 2015.
I hope that the Labour leadership will not only start discussing PR, but also debating how best to work with other parties to beat the Conservatives next time. Although I find compromise with other parties very hard, I didn’t enjoy the constant battle of wills on social media about tactical voting between people who were all keen to see the Tories gone from government. The Greens, Liberal Democrats and Plaid did show that it is possible to work cooperatively, but while Labour was invited to talk, it wouldn’t engage.
There are many Liberals, individuals who consider themselves progressives, who defend FPTP. When you dig through it the grounds they cite are pretty specious. When you wind up with a majority government elected by just shy of two out of five voters on the strength of a platform of solemn promises that get trashed, in undue haste and on implausible excuses, shortly after it glides into power - that's not democracy, it's autocracy. To legitimize that is obscene.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

News from the Front

On the oceanic front.

The world's oceans are absorbing nearly a third of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. That's a good thing. Without that we would all be in a horrible mess. It's also a bad thing. Some of that CO2 turns into H2CO3, carbonic acid. That messes up the pH. The oceans become more acidic and that spells trouble for a variety of marine life, particularly shellfish.

A study just published in Nature Geoscience finds that the waters of the Pacific northwest are acidifying at twice the average rate.

On the methane front.

For those who still think that fracking is worthwhile, there's a different picture emerging thanks to a new satellite designed to monitor methane leaks around the world. It's sensors detected a methane leak at a fracking site in Ohio last year that was greater than the methane released by some entire countries.
The findings by a Dutch-American team of scientists, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mark a step forward in using space technology to detect leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from oil and gas sites worldwide. 
The scientists said the new findings reinforced the view that methane releases like these, which are difficult to predict, could be far more widespread than previously thought. 
The blowout, in February 2018 at a natural gas well run by an Exxon Mobil subsidiary in Belmont County, Ohio, released more methane than the entire oil and gas industries of many nations do in a year, the research team found. The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well.
Meanwhile, on the coal front, Bloomberg reports that expansion of coal power plants in China and India ensures that coal will stay in first place for electricity generation.
The steady outlook for coal comes in spite of waning demand in industrialized nations. Europe has set a goal of zeroing out carbon pollution by the middle of the century, which would mean drastic reductions for coal. In the U.S., competition from natural gas has cut into demand for coal, despite President Donald Trump’s vows to revive the industry. 
The story is different in Asia, which will more than make up for reductions elsewhere. India, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, will see coal generation increase by 4.6% a year through 2024 to help power its growing economy. In Southeast Asia coal demand will grow more than 5% annually. China, which accounts for almost half the world’s consumption, will also have modest growth with usage peaking in 2022.

The Real Bastion of White Supremacy in America

The anchor of white privilege is America is the US Senate and there's little to nothing that will change that anytime soon.

Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, is trying to raise alarm bells about the issue. In a new memo, co-founder Colin McAuliffe writes that “the Senate is an irredeemable institution” that’s biased 3 percentage points in the GOP’s favor and systematically underweights the interests of nonwhite Americans. 
Of course, the fact that the Senate gives extra weight to the interests of people who live in low-population states is not news. That’s an undemocratic, inegalitarian principle that was deliberately baked into the Senate from its inception. What’s new is that changes in American life have made its disproportionality more consequential. 
A key issue is race. As the US has gotten more diverse, that diversity has spread throughout the country unevenly. It’s not impossible for a state to be both small and diverse (Hawaii) or even small and heavily urbanized (Rhode Island), but lower-population states tend to be whiter, more rural, and less educated than average. The result is a system of “racism by proxy” that overweights the interests and opinions of white voters over those of black, Hispanic, and Asian voters.
The growing polarization of the white vote along the lines of population density and educational attainment has also supercharged the once-modest partisan skew of the Senate, making even the most popular changes to health care or minimum-wage policy an extremely heavy lift.
...For most of America’s history, meanwhile, nonwhite participation in the political process was suppressed so dramatically that the racial skew of the Senate was a non-issue. In the contemporary US, that’s not the case — America’s large and growing nonwhite minority enjoys, in theory, equal citizenship rights. But today’s Senate overrepresents white voters and significantly underrepresents nonwhite ones.
...The disproportionality of the Senate has long mattered in American politics. But it didn’t matter in a particularly partisan way until recently. Overrepresentation of rural voters manifested itself mostly in bipartisan support for things like farm subsidies, the Universal Service Fee that’s charged on phone bills, the Essential Air Service, and other relatively small-bore ways in which the federal government caters to rural interests. 
But the drift of white, working-class voters into the Republican camp has increased the scale of the tilt.
...Part of what makes the current situation difficult to cope with, however, is that it’s one thing for elected officials to shy away from commitments that are clearly unpopular (like same-sex marriage in 2006). It’s another thing entirely to avoid positions that actually are popular but just don’t play well on a skewed electoral terrain. Nevertheless, the fact remains that rural whites’ generally conservative views — especially on topics related to immigration and gun control — are given exaggerated power in the electoral process.

Why, Helllooo Ladies.

Gender equality is coming, eventually. It should be here around 2120-ish. All you have to do is hang on for just one more century.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) published its Global Gender Gap Report on Tuesday, with the Nordic countries topping the list as usual. Germany came in 10th place, doing very well in the category of political empowerment, fairly well in economic participation, but behind in educational attainment and health.
"None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children," the researchers concluded. "Gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years."
Top performers
  1. Iceland — For the 11th year in a row
  2. Norway
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Nicaragua 
  6. New Zealand
  7. Ireland
  8. Spain
  9. Rwanda
  10. Germany
Canada ranks 19th of the 153 countries surveyed, down from 14th in 2006.

Why Trump Cried "Uncle"

Did Donald Trump capitulate to end the trade war he started with China? Paul Krugman dissects Trump's "deal".

First and foremost, Trump wanted to slash the U.S. trade deficit. Economists more or less unanimously consider this the wrong objective, but in Trump’s mind countries win when they sell more than they buy, and nobody is going to convince him otherwise. 
So it’s remarkable to note that the trade deficit has risen, not fallen, on Trump’s watch, from $544 billion in 2016 to $691 billion in the 12 months ending in October. 
And what Trump wanted in particular was to close the trade deficit in manufactured goods; despite giving lip service to “great Patriot Farmers,” it’s clear that he actually has contempt for agricultural exports. Last summer, complaining about the U.S. trade relationship with Japan, he sneered: “We send them wheat. Wheat. That’s not a good deal.” 
So now we appear to have a trade deal with China whose main substantive element is … a promise to buy more U.S. farm goods.
Trump’s team also wanted to put the brakes on China’s drive to establish itself as the world’s economic superpower. “China is basically trying to steal the future,” declared Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser, a year ago. But the new deal, while it includes some promises to protect intellectual property, leaves the core of China’s industrial strategy — what’s been called the “vast web of subsidies that has fueled the global rise of many Chinese companies” — untouched. 
So why did Trump wimp out on trade? 
At a broad level, the answer is that he was suffering from delusions of grandeur. America was never going to succeed in bullying a huge, proud nation whose economy is already, by some measures, larger than ours — especially while simultaneously alienating other advanced economies that might have joined us in pressuring China to change some of its economic policies. 
At a more granular level, none of the pieces of Trump trade strategy have worked as promised.
The Chinese didn't drop their export prices, meaning those tariffs came out of the pockets of importers and end consumers. Worse, the Chinese retaliated against a critical part of Trump's base - farmers. A guy who is already worried about keeping his base onside to 2020 can't afford pissed off farmers.

Krugman assumes that the American people, having acquired a taste for horse shit, will believe Trump's spin claiming that he forced the Chinese to their knees no matter what their lyin' eyes tell them. Worse, Krugman says this folly, like most Trump policy, has left the US weakened.
On one side, our allies have learned not to trust us. We have, after all, become the kind of country that suddenly slaps tariffs on Canada — Canada! — on obviously spurious claims that we’re protecting national security
On the other side, our rivals have learned not to fear us. Like the North Koreans, who flattered Trump but kept on building nukes, the Chinese have taken Trump’s measure. They now know that he talks loudly but carries a small stick, and backs down when confronted in ways that might hurt him politically. 
These things matter. Having a leader who is neither trusted by our erstwhile friends nor feared by our foreign rivals reduces our global influence in ways we’re just starting to see. Trump’s trade war didn’t achieve any of its goals, but it did succeed in making America weak again.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Australia Could Break Heat Record this Week

They have striven to become Asia Pacific's King of Coal. Now they're poised to reap the whirlwind.

With the land down under beset by massive brushfires and no end in sight, Australians are expected to set another climate change all-time-best this week, 50 Five-Ohmygawd + degrees Celsius.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that an unprecedented heatwave in Western Australia could make its way east and bring searing temperatures across southern Australia over the next week or so.
BOM meteorologist Diana Eadie said there had been extraordinary temperatures across WA in the last few days and this would continue over the weekend.
The high temperatures will shift eastwards and will intensify towards the end of the week.
“We’re likely to see a broad part of the country experiencing temperatures in excess of 45 degrees from Wednesday onwards,” Ms Eadie said.
“We’ll see exceptional heat and there is the potential that we could see some records broken.”
It’s possible the record for Australia’s hottest day could fall.
The South Australian outback town of Oodnadatta, located about 873 kilometres north of Adelaide and about five hours drive from opal mining town Coober Pedy, currently holds the record for the highest ever recorded temperature of 50.7C, which was set in January 1960.
The record for the highest average temperature for Australia as a whole may also be exceeded. The current record stands at 40.3 degrees and this was set in January 2013.

We Say All the Right Things But We're Not Fooling Anyone. Canada at COP25

Canada was showered with kudos at the Madrid climate summit for pledging to become carbon neutral by 2050. We said what the delegates wanted to hear which was a damn sight better than what they got from the United States or China.

But, move beyond the Ottawa greenwash, and Canada is seen for what we are - today and what we will be tomorrow - a climate pariah, a menace to the future of humanity. Out of the 61 'biggest' countries in the world, Canada ranks 55th on a scale that ranks greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, energy use and climate policy. We're better than the US, China, Taiwan, Korea and Australia, but not by much. It appears they're not impressed by Jason Kenney's/Teck Resources proposed mega-mine in the Tar Pits or Justin Trudeau's new expanded bitumen pipeline either. If you want the interactive map, click on the link above.

Liberalism's Swan Song? Not Yet But Soon.

Liberalism is not some immutable natural law. It's an ideology, one of many. It didn't come about by accident. It is a creature of circumstance. It has served us fairly well but times change and so do circumstances. Put bluntly, the changes that are setting in may render liberalism outdated, irrelevant. The changes setting in may usher liberalism out the door.

We know that liberal democracy is in decline in places where we once confidently thought it most secure - Britain and the United States - and even more places where it was always a rocky proposition - Hungary, Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, and so on.

Today it seems we choose our leaders according to their ability to push our buttons (paranoia, xenophobia, racism) or whether they can tell us what we want to hear with no commensurate intention of ever following through. Most of us know they're lying but we just shrug our shoulders, hold our noses, and vote for the swine anyway.

Boris Johnson and Donald Trump got elected on a bed of lies but who's to say the next bunch won't be even worse? What is the structural breaking point of liberal democracy? Stay tuned.

But what about liberalism?  As is my practice, I'll rely on the definition from Wiki:
Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed and equality before the law. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights (including civil rights and human rights), capitalism (free markets), democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.
It's pretty much Age of Enlightenment stuff. It offered an alternative to hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy and the divine right of kings.

Israeli historian, Yuval Harari, claims liberalism was kick-started when Europe's monarchs sent armies to crush the French Revolution. The French responded with two measures - drafting everybody - men, women, children, the elderly - into service and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. The Revolution held and the individual was transformed into the Citizen.  Harari contends that liberalism took hold and flourished for the next two centuries because it was thought that the individual as citizen perceived a vested interest in the state and therefore became a better soldier in time of war and a more productive worker in time of peace. It all dovetailed nicely with the Industrial Revolution and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, what has changed? The professor argues that the Second Industrial Revolution, the age of artificial intelligence and algorithms, is causing the mass citizenry to lose both military and economic value.
Aside from their unpredictability and their susceptibility to fear, hunger and fatigue, flesh-and-blood soldiers think and move on an increasingly irrelevant timescale. From the days of Nebuchadnezzar to those of Saddam Hussein, despite myriad technological improvements, war was waged on an organic timetable. Discussions lasted for hours, battles took days, and wars dragged on for years. Cyber-wars, however, may last just a few minutes. When a lieutenant on shift at cyber-command notices something odd is going on, she picks up the phone to call her superior, who immediately alerts the White House. Alas, by the time the president reaches for the red handset, the war has already been lost. Within seconds a sufficiently sophisticated cyber strike might shut down the US power grid, wreck US flight control centres, cause numerous industrial accidents in nuclear plants and chemical installations, disrupt the police, army and intelligence communication networks - and wipe out financial records so that trillions of dollars simply vanish without a trace and nobody knows who owns what. The only thing curbing public hysteria is that, with the Internet, television and radio down, people will not be aware of the full magnitude of the disaster.

On a smaller scale, suppose two drones fight each other in the air. One drone cannot open fire without first receiving the go-ahead from a human operator. The other is fully autonomous. Which drone do you think will prevail?

...In the economic sphere too, the ability to hold a hammer or press a button is becoming less valuable than before, which endangers the critical alliance between liberalism and capitalism. In the 20th century, liberals explained that we don't have to choose between ethics and economics. Protecting human rights and liberties was both a moral imperative and a key to economic growth.

...In the 21st century liberalism will have a much harder time selling itself. As the masses lose their economic importance, will the moral argument alone be enough to protect human rights and liberties? Will elites and governments go on valuing every human being even when it pays no economic dividends? ...However we are on the brink of a momentous revolution. Humans are in danger of losing their economic value, because intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
Harari argues that, whereas intelligence and consciousness once were considered two sides of the same coin, that symbiosis is now being challenged.
We should remind ourselves of the fate of horses during the Industrial Revolution. An ordinary farm horse can smell, love, recognise faces, jump over fences and do a thousand other things far better than a Model T Ford or a million-dollar Lamborghini. But cars nevertheless replaced horses in the handful of tasks that the system really needed.
The author believes that algorithms render most of humanity redundant, obsolete, unnecessary.
Even doctors are fair game for the algorithms. The first and foremost task of most doctors is to diagnose diseases correctly and then suggest the best available treatment. If I arrive at the clinic complaining of fever and diarrhoea, I might be suffering from food poisoning. Then again, the same symptoms might result from a stomach virus, cholera, dysentery, malaria, cancer or some unknown new disease. My physician has only a few minutes to make a correct diagnosis, because that is all the time my health insurance pays for. This allows for no more than a few questions and perhaps a quick medical examination. The doctor then cross-references this meagre information with my medical history, and with the vast world of human maladies. Alas, not even the most diligent doctor can remember all my previous ailments and check-ups. Similarly, no doctor can be familiar with every illness and drug, or read every new article published in every medical journal. To top it all, the doctor is sometimes tired or hungry or perhaps even sick, which affects her judgment. No wonder that doctors sometimes err in their diagnoses or recommend a less-than-optimal treatment.
Harari admits there are a lot of hurdles that still stand in the way of robotic AI displacing human doctors but he notes that these technical problems, however difficult, need only be solved once.

The training of a human doctor is a complicated and expensive process that lasts years. When the process is complete, after a decade of so of studies and internships, all you get is one doctor. If you want two doctors you have to repeat the entire process from scratch. In contrast, if and when you solve the technical problems hampering [AI medicine], you will get not one, but an infinite number of doctors, available 24/7 in every corner of the world. So even if it costs $100 billion to make it work, in the long run it would be much cheaper than training human doctors.

Harari writes of the "useless class," the massive populations that in the coming century, if not sooner, may become superfluous.  In the context of neoliberal economics and its perpetual exponential growth model, the very idea of a useless class seems heretical. They are the essential consumer class and, without ever more of them, endless growth becomes impossible. In the context of a more grounded reality than neoliberalism permits, I think Harari, not the neoliberals, is right.

The very limited and all too finite capacity of our biosphere, Earth, doesn't need eight billion humans or ten or twelve or even three billion. Eventually humanity, if it is to survive, will have no choice but to find means to live in harmony with our environment. That means growing smaller - much, much smaller. The significance of the individual and all the human rights and freedoms that have propelled our growth to such malignant proportions will be degraded.

The author has a theory of a new human. An elite, genetically-modified super human sufficiently advanced to be compatible with a world run by robotics and artificial intelligence. An elite that has no need for democracy or liberalism or, for that matter, the bulk of humanity. I won't get into that, not now. "Homo Deus" read the book. You're bound to find a good many of Harari's arguments very persuasive.