Saturday, February 16, 2019

Please, Explain This to Me

There's a bunch of sketchy hombres down in Texas. Their pedigree traces back to a notoriously corrupt energy giant, EnRon.  After EnRon imploded and the principals were sent for a long stretch in jail (except the lucky one who died first) some of the surviving alumni created a new energy company they named Kinder Morgan - after themselves.

Kinder Morgan bought a sclerotic pipeline that runs from Alberta to Burnaby, BC, that was called the Trans Mountain pipeline. They picked it up for a song - cheap, cheap, cheap.  Back then new pipelines were all the rage. Another company with a dodgy track record, EnBridge plotted to carve a new pipeline route, the Northern Gateway, to carry Athabasca bitumen from the Tar Sands to Kitimat on the northern BC coast. Kinder Morgan, meanwhile, imagined using its existing route to build a far bigger pipeline to carry that bitumen to "tidewater" on the southern BC coast.

The Conservative government of the day was all for both pipelines but failed to come through. Then the election timer went and the political parties scurried around to garner votes.

It began as a rag-to-riches story for the federal New Democrats. Some thought they might actually prevail for the first time ever to become the government of Canada. They were vying with the Conservatives for the brass ring.

In third place, struggling to climb out of the ditch that had been dug for them by a succession of weak and poor leadership, came the Liberals led by a youngster with a legendary name, "Trudeau." Third place. Not a great starting position.

Trudeau went to war. He knew what people wanted and he knew that promises, like talk, were cheap. He wanted seats in British Columbia, all that he could get and he knew what the people of urban British Columbia wanted. And so he began inspiring everybody with talk of "social licence," proclaiming that only affected communities could permit projects such as pipelines. He promised to rehabilitate the federal government's tattered relationship with First Nations. He solemnly promised to implement electoral reform, vowing that 2015 would be the last "first past the post" election the voting public would have to endure. He said all the things we wanted to hear about protecting our coast, real anti-pipeline stuff. He promised that his government would boldly fight climate change and would faithfully "follow the science."

He said all the things he knew we wanted to hear and British Columbians handed him a basketful of seats he needed to cement a majority win.

He lied. Social licence, he lied. First Nations consultation, he lied. Electoral reform, he lied. Safeguarding the environment of British Columbia, especially the pristine and vulnerable coast, he lied. Following the science, he lied.  Boldly fighting climate change, he lied.

He lied. It was all lies.

He pulled off a great upset win. He very nearly got the support of two out of five Canadian voters. Not quite two out of five. In the rancid electoral system he solemnly promised to tear asunder, you don't even need two out of five to form a majority government.

Now, given that the essence of a democracy is government with the consent of the electorate, informed consent, two out of five is not consent. You don't have the support of three out of five of those voters. That's not consent. That's not democracy. Fortunately this young guy with the legendary name who inspired us so was going to set that straight. Except that he lied. Instead he offered up a very sincere, "I'm so very sorry but, fuck you."

He did nix the Northern Gateway pipeline. Instead he set about conniving and dissembling to push through the expanded southern line, the new Trans Mountain pipeline to tidewater.

That social licence business where affected communities must be won over? That got swept aside as municipalities across British Columbia's lower mainland united in opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Trudeau government swept those municipalities aside.  When the people of those communities and our First Nations stood up to block this perfidy, the federal government rounded them up and threw them in jail. He lied. That social licence vow was utter nonsense to this newly minted prime minister.

This self-proclaimed climate change warrior almost overnight transformed into a bitumen baron, the prince of the Calgary Petroleum Club. He would be Big Carbon's boy and he is. Talk about a Trojan Horse.

During the election campaign, this youngster told us what we already knew, that the National Energy Board. the quasi-judicial body that approves Canada's high-carbon economy, was a stacked deck. It was rigged, dominated by shills plucked from the energy industry. What Big Fossil wanted, Big Fossil got.

Mr. Trudeau wasn't going to have any of that. No, he was going to clean house at the National Energy Board and he was going to see to it that all their "industry friendly" decisions were re-opened, reviewed, re-assessed. At least that's what he told us. He lied.

First Nations consultations. The youngster assured everyone that he was keeping that commitment. He was consulting Canada's First Nations, hearing them out, taking their views into account. They didn't see it that way and so the dispute progressed through the highest courts of the land. They didn't see it Trudeau's way either. He lied, again.

The government had to take a defensible position on the Trans Mountain expansion and so it ordered every federal department to provide their assessment and recommendations. But then, an envoy from the prime minister's office, corralled those mandarins in one room and told them, bluntly, their assessments had to support the Trans Mountain pipeline. They stacked the deck.

Vancouver's upstart online newspaper, the National Observer, interviewed senior officials about the prime minister's coercion.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity with National Observer, they say a high-ranking public servant instructed them, at least one month before the pipeline was approved, “to give cabinet a legally-sound basis to say ‘yes’” to Trans Mountain. These instructions came at a time when the government claimed it was still consulting in good faith with First Nations and had not yet come to a final decision on the pipeline.
Trudeau's then national resources minister, Jim Carr, insisted that his government had fulfilled its duty on First Nations consultation. Guess what? That was also a lie.
Sources from within different federal departments, however, provide a different perspective about how the Trans Mountain review happened. 
Their allegation is serious: that the process was rigged following lobbying by Kinder Morgan. 
According to the federal lobbying registry, the Texas company’s Canadian affiliate, Kinder Morgan Canada, reported lobbying federal officials in the government more than three dozen times in 2016 before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he was approving the Trans Mountain expansion project.
To doubters, Mr. Trudeau assured them that his government "had done the science." They could safely move bitumen across British Columbia's seismically-active territory, across its many rivers and lakes, and they could safely sail an armada of supertankers through our pristine southern coastal waters. That was a lie.

Trudeau's environment minister, Dame Cathy McKenna, quietly approved the use of a particularly hellish concoction, Corexit, for bitumen spills. Even the manufacturer's labels on the barrels warn it's not safe for use in open waters. Corexit doesn't disperse oil. It binds with it and sinks it, out of sight-out of mind. Only this time it wouldn't be sinking ordinary crude. It would be disappearing toxin-laden sludge, bitumen, sending it to the sea bed where all marine life begins, the anchor of the marine food chain.

Now we've got the prime minister feeding us lie upon lie. We've got his environment minister lying to us. We've got that jackass Carr lying to us. We've got the heads of critical federal government departments forced to lie. That's a helluva lot of nonstop lying. It must be exhausting.

But our prime minister insists he's "done the science." Fair enough, let's see it. No, that's too much to ask. Well, let's ask Environment Canada and let's ask the Royal Society of Canada and let's ask Alberta's legendary hydrologist, Dave Shindler. Even Mr. Trudeau's own Enviro-Can confirms what Shindler and the Royal Society say - no, the science has not been done. He lied, again, as usual.

Is it unfair to Mr. Trudeau and his government to suggest that this persistent litany of bald faced lies isn't accidental, that there must be something they don't want to get out? I think that's not just fair but obvious.

Meanwhile, down in Texas, the hombres were getting nervous. Maybe it was time to stop beating a dead horse and just give up on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Shut it down.

Faster than you can say, "first class, window seat," Trudeau had his finance minister, Morneau, winging his way to the Lone Star state with entreaties to Kinder Morgan. At first the government offered to guarantee the necessary funding  but that didn't work. And so they tried another approach - if you don't want it, why don't you sell it to us? We'll take it off your hands. Name your price. We'll write you a cheque.

And so the Trudeau government bought the Justin Trudeau Memorial pipeline, a.k.a. Trans Mountain.  Billions of dollars to buy a very old pipeline that Kinder Morgan had picked up for a song. Billions more to bury a new pipeline beside that old one. Now it appears the Kinder Morgan guys likely fleeced Morneau on the price.

It wasn't long before the scrutiny began and that seemed to goad the Trudeau government into announcing they were going to flip that pipeline to the private sector, suggesting the government might even see a profit from the sale. Only the private sector wouldn't touch it. Nobody wanted that damned pipeline. Wouldn't touch it with a ten foot length of bitumen pipe.

So, with one foot on the dock and the other in the boat that's drifting into open water, Justin's Canada made the leap and became a player in the bitumen industry.  Now all those First Nations and other protesters trying to block the Trans Mountain fiasco would be clashing with Ottawa, not some bunch of bandits from Texas. Ottawa was the new Kinder-Morgan but, in fairness, it was almost as good at duplicity, deceit and manipulation as the best of them.

Then there's the Sword of Damocles hanging over human civilization, climate change. Mr. Trudeau stepped boldly onto the floor of the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 to announce "Canada's back." We were even instrumental in building a consensus around the idea that the old 2 degrees Celsius goal wasn't enough. It wouldn't avert runaway global warming. We must have more ambitious carbon-cutting targets. We must not exceed 1.5 C of warming.

Three years later this government isn't even on course to meet Stephen Harper's laughable climate change targets. It's actually falling further and further behind. At the same time this government wants to flood world markets with the most toxic, highest-carbon ersatz petroleum of them all, bitumen. It's not taking any responsibility for those emissions either. That's on someone else. We're supplying the bargain-rate guns and the bullets but it's their finger on the trigger.

Here we are. Spring can't be far off and with it the resumption of pipeline construction. A pipeline laid on a foundation of lies.  And, with it, First Nations and other opponents of this monstrous pipeline will rally, be arrested and expeditiously slung into jail. It's become assembly line justice, no defences to be heard.

I realize I've gone on at considerable length about what transpired from 2015 to today but, as they say, the devil is in the details and there are so many details here that need to be remembered to make sense of what may happen when the ground thaws.

Liberals used to see themselves as the good guys and I think that was sort of true at one time. But they've come to let "good" be defined by what passes for a Conservative party these days. That's like saying, "vote for me, at least I'm not quite as bad as the other guy."  Goodness is surely something that rests on virtue. Where's the virtue in measuring yourself against Andrew Scheer and his provincial mini-me's, Kenney, Ford and Moe?

Many today are focused on this prime minister and ex-justice minister Jody. That might be a tale of corruption. It might not. Does it really matter? If you're looking for corruption look at that pipeline, look at this government's rank dishonesty, and then glance over your shoulder at a world about to burst into flames.

Please, explain this to me. Why, if this is so important to Canada, does it have to be cloaked in endless lies?

Friday, February 15, 2019

How Stupid Is Donald Trump?

Fresh from signing a national emergency declaration, the Mango Mussolini stepped behind a microphone in the Rose Garden and told reporters there's really no emergency. He just wanted to build the wall, his true fetish, a little faster.

At the 2:50 mark Trump says, "I could have built the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this but I'd rather do it much faster." Ergo: national emergency. What a chump.

There's a Reason They Called it MAD.

They were all the rage in my day. Tactical nuclear weapons, mini-nukes, or "those little bags of instant sunshine."

Somewhere around here I've got a then-"secret" field manual laying out how these weapons were to be used in the event of a massive Soviet invasion of western Europe.  All eyes were on the Fulda Gap, two corridors through which it was expected a flood of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks would pour into the central German plain and then on to the English Channel.  The idea was that those corridors provided convenient "choke points" where massed Soviet tanks and vehicles might be eliminated with tactical nukes delivered by NATO fighters including Canada's CF-104 Starfighters.

It was a dangerous gambit. There were so many unknowns. Would it encourage the Soviets to use similar weapons to annihilate NATO bases and our forces in the field?  Might an exchange of low-yield nukes escalate into a full-blown, civilization ending exchange of ICBM volleys?  The theory, as I understood it at the time, was a hope that using nukes to block a Soviet surprise attack would buy both sides two, maybe even three days to cool down and negotiate some way out of Armageddon.

With time the luster of tactical nuclear weapons faded.  Sure there were still arsenals of B-61 gravity bombs (above) scattered about. There still are. Most of the other stuff - the atomic cannon, the nuclear depth charge, that sort of thing has gone.

That sleeping giant is stirring again and, in a world already facing a variety of potentially existential threats, it does feel like "piling on."

Russia, meanwhile, is fielding new nuclear delivery systems of its own.  Among them are a robotic nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarine that could travel very deep, very fast, over very long-ranges, navigating its way into America's coastal ports and naval bases. There's also, according to Putin, a nuclear powered, nuclear armed cruise missile. There's a new nuclear submarine-launched Russian missile and Putin has just pledged to develop a new intermediate-range nuclear missile. How does that grab ya?

Fortunately we've got a very rational, very stable genius in the White House. Thank God and the United States of America for that.

Millennials' Empty Whinging

Climate change has sparked a lot of inter-generational controversy.  Millennials, in particular, are fond of blaming it all on the Boomer generation, disingenuously distancing themselves from the problem. In a word, that's rubbish.

You don't see millennials disproportionately going to jail to stop the Justin Trudeau Memorial Pipeline to tidewater.  That's mainly First Nations and life-long, law-abiding greyhairs defying the government to defend the environment and our grandchildren's future.

It's not millennials standing up to fight this. No, the fight has mainly skipped their generation. It's these kids who are fighting for the future.

They're inspiring George Monbiot to sing their praises.
My generation and the generations that went before have failed you. We failed to grasp the basic premise of intergenerational justice: that you cannot apply discount rates to human life. In other words, the life of someone who has not been born will be of no less value than the life of someone who already exists. We have lived as if your lives had no importance, as if any resource we encountered was ours and ours alone to use as we wished, regardless of the impact on future generations. In doing so, we created a cannibal economy: we ate your future to satisfy our greed. 
It is true that the people of my generation are not equally to blame. Broadly speaking, ours is a society of altruists governed by psychopaths. We have allowed a tiny number of phenomenally rich people, and the destructive politicians they fund, to trash our life-support systems. While some carry more blame than others, our failure to challenge the oligarchs who are sacking the Earth and to overthrow their illegitimate power, is a collective failure. Together, we have bequeathed you a world that – without drastic and decisive action – may soon become uninhabitable. 
Every day at home, we tell you that if you make a mess you should clear it up. We tell you that you should take responsibility for your own lives. But we have failed to apply these principles to ourselves. We walk away from the mess we have made, in the hope that you might clear it up.
Oh, I know, I know. Millennials are at that stage in life where they're building their careers, buying their homes, having their babies. Not much time left over for anything but whinging.  Wait a second. Did I say having babies? Yes they are, plenty of them. That's not an excuse for sitting this one out. That's all the more reason to take a stand, dig in, protect those precious little babies, carve out the best possible future for them that you can. It's no excuse that it might (if you do it right, probably will) land you in jail even if that means a criminal record and no more winter getaways in Florida, California, Vegas or Hawaii, no more cross-border shopping.

You freely blame an older generation for something they didn't understand, not in time, but your kids, that's a different story entirely. You did that with your eyes wide open. Now act like it.

Brexit - the Madness Ensues

What do Theresa May and Jaques Parizeau have in common? They both see/saw the electorate as lobsters in a pot.

Parizeau made the clumsy remark in the 2006 Quebec sovereignty referendum that, thanks largely to Jean Chretien's neglect, Parizeau very nearly won.

Parizeau's "lobster" reference was about "leave" voters who might be won over by assurances of follow-on negotiations with Ottawa, a second chance, etc. that conveyed the idea that the vote wouldn't be a trip over the cliff if the PQ won. Instead, he confided to his associates, those gullible voters, once the referendum succeeded would be like lobsters in a boiling pot. The PQ would have the unilateral right to secede from confederation regardless. If the gullibillies were duped, so what?

Theresa May is taking a somewhat similar approach to Brexit. Sure the Leave campaign might have rigged the vote - Cambridge Analytica, dodgy campaign finance irregularities, laughably empty assurances pulled straight out of Nigel Farage's ass - but, so what? Who cares if the razor-thin vote for Leave was manipulated? Who cares if no one had to give voters the truth about Brexit? Who cares about the shift in public opinion? Who cares if the Irish problem was not foreseen and remains unresolved? What matter if, less than two months before Britains' date with the headsman, nobody still knew what Brexit will look like? The lobsters are in the pot, that's an end of it.

The Tories are divided into camps. The opposition Labour party is divided into camps. There is no consensus in the House of Commons. Theresa May has been repeatedly rebuffed in Parliament. The country is divided, more in favour of Remain than Leave. Preparations for the chaos of a hard Brexit are virtually non-existent save for a plan to mobilize the army and, if necessary, get the Royals out of Buck House to safety.

There'll be no snap election. No second referendum. The lobsters have spoken, even if they now wish they hadn't.

If you want to experience the power of misinformation and misdirection, listen to James O'Brien's call in talk show on LBC radio.  I wrote about him the other day, even posted a clip of O'Brien shredding Nigel Farage, lie by lie. Go to YouTube and there you'll find plenty of episodes of O'Brien talking with hopelessly confused Brexiters who still believe it'll all be milk and honey. You might find that a bit shocking that, even now, many Brits are still hopelessly confused.

I have my own thoughts on what this means for modern democracy, not just in Britain but elsewhere too. They're somewhat disjointed and not fully fleshed out so I'll keep them to myself for now. I think I'll wait until the end of next month to see how May's Brexit unfolds.

He's Done It

Donald Trump has kept his threat. He has declared a "national emergency" for the US Mexico border. He will use it to siphon funds from the American military or disaster preparedness agencies to build his fetish wall. Trump's main argument? He claims, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that America is just now facing an "invasion" of illegals from the south infiltrating across the border.

With this declaration Trump erases any doubt that he respects or even understands the US Constitution and its vaunted checks and balances.

Let the lawyering ensue.

Weaponizing Words

 The fabrication industry is alive and, sadly, well. What we used to equate with cellar operations on Red Square now fuels Fox News, talk radio, even America's venerated Oval Office.

If there was a word to describe the modern fabrication industry it might be "inartful." Trump's tweets, for example, are only convincing to those who need no convincing, the cult of believers and they're a truly dim lot. It is indeed inartful, a clumsy mishmash of brazen lies, baseless rumours and illogic. No one is going to win any Pulitzer prizes for it and yet, to a degree, it works.

Misinformation is powerful and it is dangerous. So dangerous that an artificial intelligence research institute, OpenAI, has decided not to let its latest genie out of the bottle for fear it would be weaponized and used against the American people.

From MIT Technology Review:
"Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally fired a missile in the air. 
"Russia said it had 'identified the missile’s trajectory and will take necessary measures to ensure the security of the Russian population and the country’s strategic nuclear forces.' The White House said it was 'extremely concerned by the Russian violation' of a treaty banning intermediate-range ballistic missiles. 
"The US and Russia have had an uneasy relationship since 2014, when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine."
That story is, in fact, not only fake, but a troubling example of just how good AI is getting at fooling us.

That’s because it wasn’t written by a person; it was auto-generated by an algorithm fed the words “Russia has declared war on the United States after Donald Trump accidentally …” 
The program made the rest of the story up on its own. And it can make up realistic-seeming news reports on any topic you give it. The program was developed by OpenAI, a research institute based in San Francisco. 
The researchers set out to develop a general-purpose language algorithm, trained on a vast amount of text from the web, that would be capable of translating text, answering questions, and performing other useful tasks. But they soon grew concerned about the potential for abuse. “We started testing it, and quickly discovered it’s possible to generate malicious-esque content quite easily,” says Jack Clark, policy director at OpenAI. 
Clark says the program hints at how AI might be used to automate the generation of convincing fake news, social-media posts, or other text content. Such a tool could spew out climate-denying news reports or scandalous exposés during an election. Fake news is already a problem, but if it were automated, it might be harder to tune out. Perhaps it could be optimized for particular demographics—or even individuals.
...OpenAI does fundamental AI research but also plays an active role in highlighting the potential risks of artificial intelligence. The organization was involved with a 2018 report on the risks of AI, including opportunities for misinformation (see “These are the ‘Black Mirror’ Scenarios that are leading some experts to call for secrecy on AI”).

Orwell, Huxley? Maybe it's time to move them out of the "fiction" section.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

It's On. Trump to Declare National Emergency.

It came straight from the mouth of the Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. That reptilian old bastard announced that Trump will sign the bipartisan funding bill, preventing another shutdown, and he will, at the same time, issue a national emergency declaration to appropriate funds for his border wall.


That clears the way for the Democrats. If Trump can use the national emergency power for a blatant pretence, the Democrats will have no problem when it's their turn to declare destructive climate change a national emergency. That could be a game changer.

Happy Valentine's Day

Okay, I'm a curmudgeon.

Face it Liberals, the Fix is In.

The best argument I have heard in defence of SNC-Lavalin and how this government jury-rigged the criminal code is that it's too big to fail. The people of Quebec, we're told, love Lavalin. It makes them proud. It makes them happy.

Sure it has a rich history of corruption from a decade of bribing Gaddafi's people to that Montreal hospital scandal (Arthur Porter) and the Jacques-Cartier bridge fiasco but so what? And let's not forget that other problem - getting disbarred from bidding on World Bank projects.

In September 2013, SNC-Lavalin and its affiliates composed 115 of the 117 Canadian companies that were part of 250 total companies blacklisted from bidding on the World Bank's global projects. James David Fielder, the bank's manager, stated, “As it stands today, the World Bank debarment list includes a high number of Canadian companies, the majority of which are affiliates to SNC-Lavalin Inc.” The companies were debarred due to an investigation relating to the Padma Bridge project in Bangladesh, where World Bank investigators worked with RCMP officers to make a collective action against corruption.
Let's dwell a moment on this Deferred Prosecution Agreement business that was enacted at Lavalin's request and without any debate by Mr. Trudeau's government.

The entire rationale for it is that, without DPA, Lavalin would be barred from government contracts for a decade. That, in turn, would be the death knell for Lavalin and put thousands of Quebecers out of work.

Let's say that all that's true. Without the DPA, Lavalin goes down. It needs those government contracts and it is too big to fail.

If Lavalin did crater, would those contracts go unfilled? No, of course not. We have other engineering companies. One, perhaps many of them, would get those contracts. They would employ people to do the work. The work would get done.

Here's the thing. If the government is going to such lengths to sweep the stables for one pony, it's that one pony that's destined for greatness. Amending the criminal law of the land for one firm would be pointless unless that favoured firm goes on to "win" those contracts. If you can rewrite the criminal law to make that happen do you think the government won't have its thumb on the scale when it comes time to tender. It's a time-honoured game to write tenders to suit the preferred bidder.

You're not going to those lengths to give the company a legal leg-up and then give those contracts to some other firm that can't offer a similar political payoff. You're not going to take this heat only to hand those supposedly "life and death"  contracts to some other contender.

There's an election in eight months and the guy who just fixed the law needs those Quebec seats now more than ever. Quid pro quo. Lavalin wins, the Liberals win. The fix is in.

The Green New Deal Isn't Radical. What We've Done to The Earth Is.

America's Green New Deal initiative is running into pushback from those who denounce it as "radical."  We've come to understand radical to mean something reckless, scary even dangerous. It actually can mean something progressive, restorative or profound.

The GND couples progressivism to reverse inequality with environmental action to tame climate change. In the OECD, the league of developed nations, the US is the undisputed champ when it comes to inequality. On climate change, the Trump nation is doubling down on fossil energy of all descriptions virtually anywhere resources are to be found by whatever means is most profitable. (Sounds a bit like Canada, eh?)

GND only looks revolutionary because of the horrible conditions that exist across the United States.

A few days ago I posted a quote from former law professor turned environmental activist, Gus Speth, who observes that our ability to tackle climate change isn't a function of our scientific prowess:

"The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that."

He's right. Right now it does come down to selfishness, greed and apathy and we too are in the grip of those things up here north of the 49th.

It's pure selfishness, greed and apathy that will keep Canada from meeting the call for all nations to slash greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030. Our government is in court right now in a pissing contest with a gaggle of recalcitrant provinces over a minuscule carbon tax. These are governments that would douse themselves in gasoline and light a match before they would entertain the idea of 50 by 2030. Ain't gonna happen, not a hope, not even if our last chance to avert runaway global warming depends on it and it does.

We're also going to need something radical to counter the triumph of selfishness, greed and apathy in Canada. We are selfish. We don't give a tinker's dam for the rest of the world, especially those people in countries most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. We are greedy. We want every goddamned barrel possible of climate busting bitumen in the holds of tankers flooding world markets overseas. And we, you and me, the people of Canada are disgracefully apathetic about what these governments are doing in our name.

Science has done its part. Now it has run into a wall. That wall is us. We need a Green New Deal, a radical plan, to tear down that wall.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

When It Comes to Talk Radio, This Guy Is a Rock Star.

If you can access LBC, "Leading Britain's Conversation" radio, you can catch this guy, James O'Brien. I've not heard anything remotely like this in Canada. Here, O'Brien, with the rapier logic of a good barrister, takes on Nigel Farage

How do you get LBC in Canada? There may be other ways but I access it via my Amazon Echo device - "Alexa, play LBC radio."

O'Brien's show is 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). You should be able to figure out what that is in your time zone.

For the entire LBC lineup, you can even find Farage's show if you like, it's all to be had at LBC's web site.

CBC's Legendary Correspondent, Joe Schlesinger, Has Died.

Many Canadians, perhaps not the young, will recall former CBC correspondent Joe Schelsinger's career. He reported from every corner of the world. But what about his retirement? He explained it all to Rick Mercer.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

BC First Nations Take Trudeau to the Wood Shed

That's what we need. Something else to sour the relationship between British Columbia's First Nations and the sitting government in Ottawa.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs is rallying to defend Jody Wilson-Raybould against what it claims are racist and sexist attacks by individuals inside Trudeau's inner circle.
The B.C. group — headed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip — urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "to take responsibility for your behaviour and that of your government," and called into question his commitment to the Crown-Indigenous relationship. 
"If you do not condemn these harmful statements and apologize ... you not only reaffirm a colonial belief system that Indigenous women are inferior and disposable, but the hypocrisy of your professed feminism and 'most important relationship' with Indigenous people will be laid bare for all Canadians to see," the group's release concludes.

Hey, Trudeau Didn't Start this Political Meddling With Justice.

Justin Trudeau is responsible for sneaking that corporate diversion authority in a 500-page omnibus bill. That was underhanded. That doesn't make him some monster, an outrageous abuser of Canadian values. Let's go back one administration to the days of Shifty Steve Harper.

Zero for thirty three. That was the outcome of Stephen Harper's political persecution of former Tory senator Michael Dennis Duffy.  33 charges, talk about the "kitchen sink."

The RCMP was so badly knotted that it had to invent the "immaculate bribe" in which there was just one party, Duffy.

Early on in the Duffy fiasco I discussed the case with a mutual friend who was involved with the defence. I put in my two cents worth - this wasn't a case of bribery by Duffy but a case of extortion by Nigel Wright, Harper with the collaboration of the Tory leadership in the Senate and prominent individuals within the Conservative Party.

The key was right there staring everyone in the face. It was the Duffy email, leaked to CTV's Bob Fife that brought the skulduggery into the public eye.

The Duffy email, which he sent to his supposed confidantes, outlined the deal that Harper and Wright had orchestrated for him. It was dated, we knew when it was sent, and that was critical to the case. Pretty much everything that happened after the leak was disputed but not that email nor what ensued in the weeks after it was sent but before it reached Fife.  Those events were all locked in. There was no way to make those facts disappear.

Duffy's email set out terms and conditions of the deal, all of which came to pass. He was to shut up, stop talking to the press. He was to stop cooperating with the Deloitte auditors investigating various Senators and their expenses. He would be given the money and would use it to pay off his Senate tab. And the PMO would see to it that the Senate report went "easy on" Old Duff. All of that duly transpired.

This all unraveled due to one thing and just one thing - Duffy's incredibly stupid email. Everything described by Duffy as "the deal" came to pass and, without that leaked email, the public would never have been the wiser. Duffy stopped cooperating with the auditors. He was given the money. He paid off his Senate tab. The Tory leadership in the Senate laundered the auditor's report on the Cavendish Cottager. Problem solved.

Then that email got into Bob Fife's hands and with that Harper, Wright and the Senate hangers-on scrambled to create a narrative that absolved them of anything untoward and heaped all the blame on Duffy.

They knew Duffy had two huge vulnerabilities - a wonky heart and an empty purse. How better to bury him than with a massive criminal indictment that would easily exceed his entire net worth? And, with the assistance of the RCMP and a cooperative Crown Counsel, that's exactly what they set out to do.

The whole "immaculate bribe" business, a bribe that had only one party, was as clumsy as it was obvious. Without pursuing Duffy and Duffy alone, Nigel Wright would be implicated. Wright, meanwhile, was telling anyone who would listen that, if he went down, he'd be taking others with him. Others, perhaps like Stephen Harper? A conspiracy? Sure.

When Justice Vaillancourt acquitted Duffy of every charge that had been used to try to bury him he specifically mentioned that there was plenty of evidence adduced at trial of serious crimes only he didn't have the real criminals before him in the prisoner's dock.  He didn't name names. He didn't have to.

So today's Harper-loving Tories can hardly be heard to be outraged at political meddling in the judicial process, not when not that many years back their revered leader put on a master class in judicial meddling.

Jody Resigns, Lawyers Up

This won't calm Trudeau's waters. ex-Justice Minister Jody has resigned from cabinet.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Wilson-Raybould announced she submitted her resignation as Minister of Veterans Affairs and said she has retained legal counsel to determine what she can and cannot talk about within the confines of solicitor-client privilege over the SNC-Lavalin affair. 
Her decision comes after a bombshell report by the Globe and Mail last week alleged senior officials with the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her to intervene and urge prosecutors to cut a deal to save SNC-Lavalin from going to trial over corruption and fraud charges.

She refused, the report said, and was subsequently demoted from the position of attorney general to Minister of Veterans Affairs.

A Political Thumb On the Scales of Justice

In today's Toronto Star veteran columnist, Tom Walkom, writes that it's now lawful for Canadian politicians to influence judicial proceedings.

Trudeau slipped that authority into a 500-page omnibus bill trusting that no one would notice and no one did - until now. The resulting SNC-Lavalin dust-up has brought out the usual Trudeau apologists to defend the measure as a necessary reality in the modern economy. I disagree.

What we're seeing is not an accommodation of commercial reality but another ceding of power from the public to the corporate sector.

The absolutely ruinous (for most) era of globalization, ushered in by Reagan, Thatcher and Mulroney, weakened the relationship between the voting public and those they elect to high office. That was inevitable in the surrender of certain incidents of state sovereignty to the private sector through a litany of free trade agreements. With that some measure of governmental power was shared between the elected officials and the corporate sector. And, with that, these private interests were able to insinuate themselves between the public and their elected representatives.

America, with its now thoroughly "bought and paid for" Congress, is the poster boy for this sort of thing. A damning study out of Princeton in 2014 by two professors, Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern), documented how, when the public interest conflicted with private interests, the private interest routinely prevailed in America's Congress and state houses. It was of a scale that the authors concluded that the United States was no longer a democracy, having transitioned into a plutocracy.

Today, American corporations can do just about anything. Pay ten or twenty million and they get to walk. It's no surprise that the Brits followed suit. And it really should be no surprise that Justin did the same even if it was sneaky.

It's the commercially expedient thing to do. It appeases those in the boardrooms of our towering skyscrapers, a group this government is ever eager to please. Does that make it right? Of course not.

When you've already gifted so much sovereign power to the corporate sector, this is a humbling capitulation to the "too big to fail" enterprises. It is government, on behalf of the public, taking the knee. It is government putting its political thumb on the scales of justice if only for the well heeled - for the sake of the "national interest" of course.

We won't abuse the corporate "get out of jail almost free" card. Absolutely not. We're not the Americans or those scheming Brits. We do things the Canadian way in keeping with our much superior Canadian values, eh? Yeah, right.

What's that metaphor I'm looking for? Something to do with tents and some camel's nose. Don't worry, it'll come back to me.

While I'm waiting for that camel thing, I'll leave you with these words of warning from Theodore Roosevelt in 1910: the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit. We must drive the special interests out of politics. That is one of our tasks to-day. Every special interest is entitled to justice — full, fair, and complete — and, now, mind you, if there were any attempt by mob-violence to plunder and work harm to the special interest, whatever it may be, that I most dislike, and the wealthy man, whomsoever he may be, for whom I have the greatest contempt, I would fight for him, and you would if you were worth your salt. He should have justice. For every special interest is entitled to justice, but not one is entitled to a vote in Congress, to a voice on the bench, or to representation in any public office. The Constitution guarantees protection to property, and we must make that promise good. But it does not give the right of suffrage to any corporation.

...There can be no effective control of corporations while their political activity remains. To put an end to it will be neither a short nor an easy task, but it can be done.

Think You Don't Live On a Spaceship?

If humankind ever does establish a settlement on another planet the colonists will have to grow food. When they do it will look something similar to this:

But this farm isn't on Mars or some even more distant planet. It's a repurposed bomb shelter 33 metres beneath Clapham High Street in London.

Civilization has become so bloated that we now need to farm beneath our cities, on the rooftops of our downtown buildings. At the moment it's a novelty but with the rapid and ongoing degradation of the world's arable farmland this could become a necessity and, when it does, we may just get a sense of what life might be like if we colonized another planet after having exhausted this one.

Will Climate Collapse the Economy? Sure It Will.

Climate change is many things. Among them, it's a great disrupter. We are by now too familiar with scenes of torrential floods, withering droughts, crippling Polar Vortex winter storms that snarl traffic, delay flights even keep coastal ferries tied up at their docks.  We're starting to get familiar with the human toll of climate change - the dislocation, migrations, deaths. Now we're being warned to prepare for another climate change impact - the economy.

The gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new report that calls for urgent and radical reform to protect political and social systems. 
The study says the combination of global warming, soil infertility, pollinator loss, chemical leaching and ocean acidification is creating a “new domain of risk”, which is hugely underestimated by policymakers even though it may pose the greatest threat in human history. 
“A new, highly complex and destabilised ‘domain of risk’ is emerging – which includes the risk of the collapse of key social and economic systems, at local and potentially even global levels,” warns the paper from the Institute for Public Policy Research. “This new risk domain affects virtually all areas of policy and politics, and it is doubtful that societies around the world are adequately prepared to manage this risk.”
...The authors examine how the deterioration of natural infrastructure, such as a stable climate and fertile land, have a knock-on effect on health, wealth, inequality and migration, which in turn heightens the possibility of political tension and conflict. 
The paper stresses the human impacts go beyond climate change and are occurring at speeds unprecedented in recorded history.
Well that will be a kick in the nuts to the political caste, including our own, who have put expanding the economy - perpetual, exponential growth, a.k.a. malignancy - above all else including preparing a viable future for young Canadians and generations to follow.

Climate change may undermine neoliberalism but not before the dereliction of our political leaders exacts a human toll, likely a lasting human toll.

Climate change is exacting a toll here on the wet coast. Who would have imagined three snow days in a row, conditions severe enough to make it unsafe for our ferries to ply our inland waters? Then again who would have imagined this influx of newcomers out of the south - humpback whales, transient orca, superpods of white sided dolphins, into our waters?

Evidence on the deterioration of natural systems is presented with a series of grim global statistics: since 2005, the number of floods has increased by a factor of 15, extreme temperature events by a factor of 20, and wildfires sevenfold; topsoil is now being lost 10 to 40 times faster than it is being replenished by natural processes; the 20 warmest years since records began in 1850 have been in the past 22 years; vertebrate populations have fallen by an average of 60% since the 1970s, and insect numbers – vital for pollination – have declined even faster in some countries.
Humanity is interconnected with every other lifeform on our planet. If they die off, so do we. You would never know that from the cavalier attitude of our leaders, the very people we entrust with the future of our grandkids. To them we hand the power to deal with these threats but they're far more concerned with building pipelines and flooding world markets with climate destroying bitumen than the safety and welfare of the public, especially our younger generations.

From our prime minister on down, from the Liberal Party to the Conservative Party, even to the NDP, we're beset with their "not just yet" attitude that ignores these looming threats, no longer on the distant horizon but much closer, in the belief they can still make hay while the sun shines.

This report, like the hundreds that preceded it over the past decade, will be down the Memory Hole within a few days.  I've been warned and you've been warned and they've been warned and there's not much more a report like this or all the others can do against the nihilistic wall of neoliberalism.

Monday, February 11, 2019

"LavScam" - Gee, That Sounds Like "AdScam"

I don't know who coined the term "LavScam" to describe the SNC-Lavalin controversy but it does bring back memories of a real Liberal scandal during the government of a fellow named Chretien that set back the Liberal Party a full decade and, even now, lingers in the minds of many Canadians.

That first one, that was a doozie. No "alleged" wrongdoing. That was real meat & potatoes larceny to the tune of millions and millions of dollars purloined from the public purse.  Liberal people were convicted. Liberal people went to jail.

Ordinary people, the Great Unwashed, have long memories and the Sponsorship Scandal, AdScam is still the standard cudgel for those who assume if something is Liberal it must be corrupt.

What is that line about letting he who is without sin cast the first stone?

As I've said before, I don't have a dog in this fight. I carry no brief for Justin Trudeau or ex-Justice Minister Jody.  You may think she's terrific. To me she was instrumental in flouting the clear, per curiam decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on assisted dying in the Carter case, denying the Charter rights of desperately ill Canadians for political convenience. I've had no respect for her or Justin since then.  For my money they can both go hang.

Liberal faithful slam Jody. The even further rightwing party, Scheer's jackals, slam Justin. I don't care. I scraped the Liberal off my boots back when Ignatieff held court. To me, this looks like more of the same old, same old - and that's boring.

Ethics Commissioner to Investigate

For those who are following this SNC-Lavalin dustup, the Ethics Commissioner has launched an investigation into allegations that the PMO interfered in the prosecution.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

He's Got a Point

Law professor and environmental activist, Gus Speth, hit the nail on the head when he observed that science cannot solve climate change that threatens life on Earth.
“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Which leads me to an essay from Greater Good Magazine, "Why the world needs an empathy revolution." It may be a long overdue antidote to the selfishness, greed and apathy that Speth warns may bring us low on the climate front.

A Big, Fat Nothingburger

I don't know who did what in the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has ensnared Justin Trudeau. The question seems to be did the prime minister twist the arm of then Justice Minister Jody to take Lavalin off the hook and then retaliate against her for defying him by banishing her to the veterans affairs portfolio.

Some Liberals, taking a page out of the playbook of Congressional Republicans in the first two years of the Trump era, are dismissing the whole thing as a sort of nothingburger. Nothing to see here. Cabinet ministers serve at the prime minister's pleasure. No evidence of meddling, at least not yet. Yada, yada, yada.

Others, including the odd Liberal pundit, already have Justin Trudeau charged, tried and convicted of all manner of corruption and backroom skulduggery.

Who is right? I don't know but I don't much care either.  I have no dog in that fight. What I have is a sense of the problem.

It looks bad and it smells even worse. No matter how you cast the bones and read the entrails, it brings to the surface the ugly reality that, in Canada, there is one law for the big and well-connected and another law for the rest of us schmucks and the law they have for us isn't nearly as nice as the law reserved for "them."

Most of us don't like the idea of judicial outcomes being manipulated behind closed doors in the prime minister's office. Whether it's KPMG's Isle of Man tax scam or Lavalin, nobody ever seems to go to jail. No, the Greybar Hotel is for the plebs. After a while the government starts to look like some 17th century Cardinal flogging indulgences.

What we need here is transparency and accountability, that magical elixir that prime ministers have been promising us for, well, forever.  We need red lines that even a prime minister dare not cross.

Obama tells the story of when he first took office. He summoned his A.G. and all the district federal prosecutors from around America to the White House.  He told the gathering that they did not work for him, the president. No, they owed their duty and their loyalty to the American public, not some political boss.

We could use a dose of that independence in our own administration of justice.  If the prime minister wants to transfer a minister from agriculture to industry and trade, that's fine. If he wants to so blatantly demote his Attorney General, that's a different matter. He needs to be seen to be firing his Attorney General for legitimate reasons. Whim and prerogative aren't enough. He owes the public an explanation that assures them that the fix isn't in.

And for Christ's sake, Justin, stop with the weasel words. When you give a strained, technical explanation about how you didn't "direct" her to do something untoward that's not convincing. That's no assurance at all. It sounds bad and it smells even worse.

We know that Justin isn't always straight with us. The way he so freely jettisoned so many of his campaign promises taught us a bit about his credibility. Then there was that business about groping a young journalist in Creston "back in the day." He really flubbed that one. The KPMG business? Well that's not even on anyone's horizon today but it hasn't entirely gone away either. These things have a cumulative effect and it works to erode public confidence in what the prime minister says when he gets in a tight spot.

This, I think, would be a perfect opportunity for a clear restatement of the role of the Attorney-General and her/his place within the federal government. Justice must be done but it also must be seen to be done.

This prime minister has a lot of catching up to do.


If you haven't read it already, do check out Andrew Coyne's take on the Trudeau-Lavalin scandal. He makes a number of compelling arguments that show this is anything but a nothing burger.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Welcome to the People's Pipeline. Would You Like a Two Billion Dollar Subsidy With That?

It's bad enough that the Trudeau government overpaid for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline just when the boys from Texas were about to throw in the towel. It's bad enough that it will take decades of transmitting climate killing, high-carbon bitumen to world markets to cover the cost of that new and improved pipeline.  Now the Liberals want to promote their pipeline with a two billion dollar promotional subsidy to the Bitumen Barons.
Trans Mountain is on track to deliver Canadian oil producers a $2-billion taxpayer-funded toll subsidy for capacity on its existing pipeline and has asked the federal pipeline regulator, the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission. 
If the NEB approves the toll application Trans Mountain has filed with it, it will shift the burden for the roughly $3 billion Ottawa paid to buy the regulated assets onto Canadians, rather than into tolls charged to shippers where the recovery of these costs belongs.
You tell me. Is JT working for the fossil fuel industry or the Canadian people?

Hey, That Line's Already Taken

I thought there was something familiar when I read that Trump's nominee for Interior Secretary has pledged to balance energy and the environment. That's what Justin Trudeau pledged, to balance the economy and the environment.

This time it's coming from Dave Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist, who as the former No. 2 guy at Interior helped re-open millions of acres of public lands to drillers and miners.

Odd that he should sound so like our own prime minister.

The SNC-Lavalin/Wilson-Raybould/Trudeau Fracas - Who Cares?

Apparently Liberals care, or at least some of them care. The Conservatives, always looking for something, anything to distract the voting public from Chuckles the Scheer, care - a lot. Jagmeet cares, hoping this will weaken his Liberal opponent in the upcoming by-election.

Folks who care are taking sides. Do they believe what they read into ex-Justice minister Jody's unconvincing remarks about whether the prime minister strong-armed her to cut a sweetheart deal with SNC-Lavalin or do they believe Trudeau when he denies that he "directed" Wilson-Raybould to take Lavalin off the hook.

Sometime Liberal pundit, Kinsella, has his money on Jody. Others slag Jody which seems to be a prerequisite to backing Trudeau. Will Liberal bloodletting ensue?

For once I really don't care. Que sera, sera. In the Tyee, columnist Crawford Kilian has already written Trudeau's political obituary. Sounds a bit premature to me but, hey, a guy has deadlines to meet. Kilian goes so far as to say the Libs only remaining hope is to elect Wilson-Raybould leader to take the party into the next general election. As if.

My take? That's clear. I'm already on record that this year's vote has to go Green because the future of our young people is in danger and there's no way this gang of Liberal, Conservative and New Dem petro-pols is going to come to their rescue.

And so, like everyone else, I too will take advantage of this tawdry Liberal fracas to invite every Liberal who is finally fed up with this nonsense to think seriously about giving the LPC a pass this year.

Monbiot Sees Disaster Capitalists Gathering in the Wings of Brexit.

There's money to be made out of chaos. That's the whole point of disaster capitalism and those who play that game see vast potential in the UK plummeting into a "no deal" Brexit.

Guardian enviro-scribe, George Monbiot, sees Britain's well-to-do doing even weller if they can steer Britain into a "hard Brexit."
It will be the poor who get hurt, first and worst. The rich leavers demanding the hardest of possible Brexits, with their offshore accounts, homes abroad and lavish pensions, will be all right. I remember the eerie silence of the City of London. While the bosses of companies producing goods and tangible services write anxious letters to the papers, the financial sector has stayed largely shtum. Shorting sterling is just the first of its possible gains.

...A no-deal Brexit might offer the regulatory vacuum the Brextremists fantasise about. The public protections people have fought so hard for, that we obtained only through British membership of the EU – preventing water companies from pouring raw sewage into our rivers, power stations from spraying acid rain across the land, chemical companies from contaminating our food – are suddenly at risk.

...Last week the Guardian reported panic within government about the likely pile-up of waste that Britain sends to the EU, in the event of no deal. The combination of a rubbish crisis, administrative chaos and mass distraction could be horrible: expect widespread fly-tipping and pollution. So much for the extremists’ euphemism for no deal: “clean Brexit”. 
The government’s commitment to upholding environmental standards relies to a remarkable extent on one man: the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who has so far doggedly resisted the demands of his fellow leavers. Had any one of his grisly predecessors been in post – Owen Paterson, Liz Truss, Andrea Leadsom – we wouldn’t have even the theoretical protections Gove has commissioned. Boris Johnson has suggested that leaving the EU will allow us to dismantle green standards for electrical goods and environmental impact assessments. Iain Duncan Smith has pressed for the removal after Brexit of the carbon floor price, which has more or less stopped coal-burning in the UK.
With Liam Fox in charge of trade policy, and the US demanding the destruction of food and environmental standards as the price of the trade deal he desperately seeks, nothing is safe. A joint trade review by the British and Indian governments contemplates reducing standards on pesticide residues in food, and hormone-disrupting chemicals in the plastics used in toys. This must be heartening for Jacob Rees-Mogg (known in some circles as Re-smog), who has proposed that we might accept “emission standards from India”, one of the most polluted nations on Earth. “We could say, if it’s good enough in India, it’s good enough for here.” 
There is no guarantee that Gove, the unlikely champion of public protection, will stay in his post after Brexit. If we crash out of Europe, the dark money that helped to buy Brexit will strive to use this opportunity to tear down our regulations: this, after all, was the point of the exercise. The tantalising prospect for the world’s pollutocrats is that the UK might become a giant export-processing zone, exempt from the laws that govern other rich nations. It’s a huge potential prize, which could begin to reconfigure the global relationship between capital and governments. They will fight as hard and dirty to achieve it as they did to win the vote.
Is Monbiot right? Will a hard Brexit be an ecological disaster for Britain? No one can know until this nightmare is over and the predators have had their chance with the prey.

If You Want to Understand Brexit, Think Ireland and the Rise of England.

It will take an hour of your time but, when you're done, Fintan O'Toole will help you understand why Brexit has so bedeviled Theresa May, the British House of Commons and the EU. It all comes down to one thing - Ireland.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

What is the Green New Deal?

It's been all over the news lately, partially digested, often spiced up with a double dose of spin, but what is the Green New Deal?

Here it is, in its entirety. It's only 14 pages, not a tough read.

Does it sound radical? Sure it does - to a world in which the survival of human civilization is being treated as a dangerously radical notion.

Check it out.

In Praise of Canada - and Justin Trudeau

This must seem odd coming from me but it would be unfair of me not to mention Nicholas Kristof's op-ed in today's New York Times, "Thank God for Canada."

The veteran NYT columnist even calls Canada today's "moral leader of the free world." I guess, coming from Trumpland, Canada looks amazing.

Arms Race Update

Nukes are all the rage these days. The US and Russia just trashed the IRBM or intermediate range ballistic missile treaty inked by Reagan and Gorbachev back in the good old days.

But wait, there's more. A Russian diplomat warns that the New Start treaty signed by Obama and then Russian president Medvedev is also in peril.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov charged that the U.S. refusal to negotiate an extension to the New Start treaty signals Washington's intention to let it expire in 2021. He warned that time is running out to save the pact, which was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. 
Ryabkov said that the U.S. has shown "no readiness or desire" to engage in substantive talks on extending the pact, which limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers.
...Ryabkov expressed particular worry about U.S. plans to produce new, low-yield nuclear weapons, warning that it could dramatically lower the threshold for their use. 
"It's very alarming," he said, adding that the plans could revive old Cold War era concepts. 
"It throws us many decades back to the ideology of nuclear battlefield weapons," he said. "There are just a couple of steps left ... before the revival of nuclear artillery, nuclear mortars, nuclear mines, nuclear grenades and other things like that. It appears to reflect the eagerness of those who have grown up in the age of computer games to easily push the button."
In what might be a first, Russia, the United States and France yesterday launched nuclear capable missiles within hours of each other.

But wait, there's more.  Not to be left out, China is making nuke news of its own.  The South China Morning Post reports that, after 55 years, China is mulling over its "no first use" policy on nuclear weapons.
China might come under pressure to reconsider its long-standing “no first use” nuclear policy as it engages in a maritime arms race with the United States, analysts have warned.

According to Zhao Tong, a fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Programme, based at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, the US and its allies are stepping up their anti-submarine warfare in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

In a report late last year, Zhao said this was increasing mistrust between the two countries and raising the possibility that Beijing might rethink the “no first use” nuclear weapons policy, which has been in place since the first Chinese nuclear test in 1964. 
In a separate report, the Washington-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission said Beijing was looking at expanding its nuclear delivery systems, setting off debate in China over whether its nuclear arms should be used only as a deterrent and not as a “first strike”. 
The United States and China are both capable of delivering nuclear weapons through three systems: land-launched nuclear missiles, nuclear missile-armed submarines and strategic aircraft with nuclear bombs and missiles.
But wait, there's more. Satellite images have come out in the press lately of a ballistic missile factory in the desert near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis, it seems, want a missile capability similar to Iran's. That's the almost good news. The bad news is who is apparently giving the Saudis a hand - Pakistan and China.
US defence experts told CNBC that the development indicates a growing desire by Riyadh, Washington’s longtime ally, to take offensive measures without the approval of its main weapons sponsor. 
“There’s an arms race underway,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and Arab affairs expert at the American Enterprise Institute. “Whiplash policy changes in Washington have had their impact on Riyadh: Saudi authorities are no longer going to be constrained by White House whispers. The Saudis are demonstrating that they can take matters into their own hands.” 

Missile expert Jeffrey Lewis also stressed that heavy investment in missiles often correlates with an interest in nuclear weapons, adding, “I would be a little worried that we’re underestimating the Saudis’ ambitions here.” 
Moreover, Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and expert on Persian Gulf affairs, said that the timing of the Saudi missile factory construction “underscores a willingness to ignore Washington’s interests and policies” from the beginning of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power.
Pakistan conducted its first nuclear bomb test in 1998.  India now believes Pakistan has amassed upwards of 140 nuclear warheads.  At one point, early in its nuclear history, Pakistan's Ali Bhutto referred to his country's device as the "Islamic Bomb." That was interpreted as imbuing the weapon with a pan-Muslim (Sunni, that is) connotation. And, in fairness, the father of Pakistan's bomb, Abdul Khan, who stole most of the secret technology while working in Europe, was involved in helping Qaddafi's Libya with its own nuke programme.

Well, I could go on but I think that's enough nuke news for one day.

Hmm, Five for Five. Is There a Message Here?

The five hottest years on record have been the last five years on record. Five for five. What's that mean to you?

NASA scientists confirmed in a report Wednesday that 2018 was one of the hottest years on record, continuing what the New York Times called "an unmistakable warming trend." 
Last year was the fourth-warmest on record since scientists began recording such data 140 years ago, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). This finding makes the last five years the five hottest years ever, scientists said, slapping down any question that the planet is growing warmer. 
"2018 is yet again an extremely warm year on top of a long-term global warming trend," said GISS director Gavin Schmidt in a statement. 
"The five warmest years have, in fact, been the last five years," he told the Times. "We're no longer talking about a situation where global warming is something in the future. It's here. It's now."
And what about the next five years, our next climate five-pack? Surely there's a cooling break here somewhere. No, sorry. The next five years are supposed to be hotter, record breaking hotter.
NASA and NOAA climate scientists said even though 2018 was a tad cooler than the three previous years that’s mostly due to random weather variations. 
“Never mind the little wiggles from year to year. The trend is going relentlessly up, and it will continue to do so,” Potsdam Institute climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf said in an email. “Those who live in denial of this fact are in denial of physics.”
Using computer simulations, the British weather office forecast s that the next five years will average somewhere between 58.51 and 59.49 degrees (14.73 to 15.27 Celsius). That would be warmer than the last four years.

But, but, but... we've got billions of barrels of bitumen in the ground and "no country would just leave them there." Five for five. You wanna go ten for ten?

He's done some good things but, when it comes to climate change and Canada's environment, the prime minister is an eco-poseur. Today's column from Michael Harris looks at Justin Trudeau's unconvincing treatment of our Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Does the Prime Minister really care about the environment, as he always claims? Or is he just “genuinely insincere,” as Ottawa Life Magazine recently put it? Not an unimportant query, with this fall’s general election just eight months away.
By the way, a bit of introspection. I will try to stop going on about "your new normal" when writing about climate change. There is no new normal, only your new normal for now - until there's more change, and then that will become your new normal for a while. It's all very fleeting, you see.

Five for five.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Breaking the Backs of America's Farmers, One Bankruptcy at a Time

When Trump launched his trade wars he didn't pay much attention to those Americans likely to become his collateral damage. Among those were America's farmers.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump's trade antics were the straw that broke the farmers' back, triggering a wave of bankruptcies across America's farm belt.
Bankruptcies in three regions covering major farm states last year rose to the highest level in at least 10 years. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, had double the bankruptcies in 2018 compared with 2008. In the Eighth Circuit, which includes states from North Dakota to Arkansas, bankruptcies swelled 96%. The 10th Circuit, which covers Kansas and other states, last year had 59% more bankruptcies than a decade earlier. 
States in those circuits accounted for nearly half of all sales of U.S. farm products in 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. 
The rise in farm bankruptcies represents a reckoning for rural America, which has suffered a multiyear slump in prices for corn, soybeans and other farm commodities touched off by a world-wide glut, made worse by growing competition from agriculture powerhouses such as Russia and Brazil.
Trade disputes under the Trump administration with major buyers of U.S. farm goods, such as China and Mexico, have further roiled agricultural markets and pressured farmers’ incomes. Prices for soybeans and hogs plummeted after those countries retaliated against U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs by imposing duties on U.S. products like oilseeds and pork, slashing shipments to big buyers. 
Low milk prices are driving dairy farmers out of business in a market that’s also struggling with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. cheese from Mexico and China. Tariffs on U.S. pork have helped contribute to a record buildup in U.S. meat supplies, leading to lower prices for beef and chicken.
...Agricultural lenders, bankruptcy attorneys and farm advisers warn further bankruptcies are in the offing as more farmers shed assets and get deeper in debt, and banks deny the funds needed to plant a crop this spring.
...Conversations with distressed farmers have become more frequent for Frank Friar, a retired agricultural lender who mans phones at the Wisconsin Farm Center. The organization advises dairy farmers and crop producers on financing options, bankruptcy and when to leave the farm behind. Last year, it received more than 2,300 calls, the most since 2010, and the center has hired more staff in the past two years. 
About a dozen times a year, Mr. Friar and his colleagues talk with a farmer who seems to be contemplating suicide, he said. The center’s staff often calls family members or neighbors who can check on the farmers, and sometimes Mr. Friar drives out to farms himself. “The uncertainty, will they survive on the home farm, is [causing] more people to think negatively,” Mr. Friar said.

Most of these farmers are from Heartland states that Trump took in a landslide in 2016. I'm pretty sure they weren't expecting this is how he would make America great again.

Photo: Trump speaks at American Farm Bureau convention in January, 2018

That 1.5 Degree Celsius Target? Gone by 2023.

Who can forget those halcyon days in late 2015 when Justin Trudeau and Cathy McKenna swept into the Paris climate summit, helping to set the goal of holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius? If the nations could just cut emissions enough we might be able to hold warming to a somewhat livable 1.5 C.

Then they packed their bags, flew back home and decided, "screw that." Talk is cheap but pipelines aren't and, besides, who could say no to all that revenue from flooding world markets with high-carbon bitumen.  Not Team Justin, that's for sure.

So, instead of cutting emissions they grew. They grew in 2018 and they'll grow even faster this year. And lordy, lordy, lordy, guess what? The British Met Office  says we'll blow through that 1.5 C "do not exceed" target by 2023.

It's not Armageddon. It should be a temporary thing, an event. But still.
Since 2014, the world has experienced the four hottest years since records began in 1850, but these highs are likely to be exceeded soon. From now until 2023, the Met has 90% confidence that mean annual temperatures will range between 1.03C and 1.57C above pre-industrial levels.

The recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on warming of 1.5C, highlighted the calamitous difference even a fraction of a degree above could make to coral reefs, Arctic ecosystems and hundreds of millions of lives. Starting now, the report said emissions would have to be cut by 45% by 2030 to have any chance of holding to that level. 
“Breaching 1.5C of global warming does indeed mean that we failed to limit warming to that ‘safe’ level, but not that our understanding of a safe level of climate change has suddenly changed and climate change should go unchecked,” said Rogelj, who was was a coordinating lead author on the UN report. “Every tenth of a degree matters. So if 1.5C of global warming would be exceeded for whatever reason, this would be a call for steeper emissions reductions.”
2023 is the year by which Camilo Mora's climate science team from the University of Hawaii predicts will mark the beginning of "climate departure."
“The coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past,” said Camilo Mora, the lead scientist on a paper published in the journal Nature. 
Unprecedented climates will arrive even sooner in the tropics, Dr. Mora’s group predicts, putting increasing stress on human societies there, on the coral reefs that supply millions of people with fish, and on the world’s greatest forests. 
“Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced,” Dr. Mora said in an interview. “What we’re saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm.”