Friday, June 28, 2019

This Election Is For Keeps

I can't stress enough that the October elections will be like none other in Canada's history. It's our last chance to steer Parliament away from its blind obsession with the economy and its pursuit of perpetual exponential growth and instead toward what the survival of our nation and our people demands.

If you vote Liberal or Conservative there'll be no change. We'll be back to business as usual, fiddling while Rome burns.

Sounds like utter hyperbole, doesn't it? If you think that, read this from Business Insider, "18 signs we're in the middle of a sixth mass extinction."

We are in a climate emergency, an existential emergency. We need leaders of Churchill's stature, the man who said, "Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required."

Andrew Scheer has no interest in doing what is required. As for his rival, the incumbent, he's the guy who bought the pipeline.

What if Putin Is Right? What Then?

Before flying off to Osaka, Russian badboy Vlad Putin took a moment to share his views on democracy and its troubled and tattered trappings.
Putin declared liberalism "obsolete" and said liberal democracy had "outlived its purpose."

The Russian leader also praised the rise of populism in Europe and America, saying ideas like multiculturalism were "no longer tenable".

"[Liberals] cannot simply dictate anything to anyone," said Mr Putin, who is on his fourth term as president.
But the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, was one of those who criticised his comments, saying: "Whoever claims that liberal democracy is obsolete also claims that freedoms are obsolete, that the rule of law is obsolete and that human rights are obsolete."
...Mr Putin criticised the approach of some Western governments, and specifically mentioned immigration, multiculturalism, and LGBT issues - so he seems to be focusing on social and political liberalism. 
He's not the only world leader who doesn't like the term either - Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban has specifically said he wants to create an "illiberal state" because he believes authoritarian systems, like those in China and Russia, work better than Western liberal democracies. 
So... is liberalism out of date? 
Liberalism had been seen as the "norm" in many countries until recently.

However, a lot of people do believe it could be in decline - as evidenced by support for Brexit in the UK, or support for populist leaders including Donald Trump in the US, or Matteo Salvini in Italy. 
"Clearly the kind of liberal order we had until 2008 is in trouble," Michael Cox, a professor of international relations at LSE, tells the BBC. 
He says that the financial downturn in 2008 was a "major turning point", and globalisation and the fact that "markets were allowed to determine everything" also brought about "larger questions of identity and culture, with people feeling that their country is no longer their own".
When Justin Trudeau came to power in 2015, I briefly hoped that he would focus on restoring Canada's flagging democracy. This blog, after all, is expressly dedicated to the "restoration of progressive democracy" in Canada. Trudeau seemed to grasp that the key to rehabilitating democracy was to put an end to first-past-the-post elections in which a minority of less than two in five voters, only some of them even vaguely interested in the issues, resulted in "false majority" governments that rule rather than 'govern with the informed consent of the public'. A false majority with an equally false mandate.

Of course, once installed in office, Mr. Trudeau saw that first-past-the-post might well deliver him a second false majority in 2019 and he promptly balked at electoral reform. That was then, this is now, and we find ourselves instead in a predicament where Trudeau's failure to honour his election reform promise may be just what Andrew Scheer needs to snatch a false majority in October with an equally false mandate.

In the era of neoliberalism, governments of liberal democracies have done a truly shitty job of protecting democracy and upholding liberal values that are too often sacrificed to the market place in the blind pursuit of perpetual exponential growth. The liberal democracy that is delivered is unpalatable to a populace that feels insecure, irrelevant. That is what propels people like Trump and Orban into high office.  These people are testament to liberal democracy subverted from within.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Isn't Politics the Real Problem?

The CBC had an 'experts panel' recently answering audience questions about climate change. One topic that was expressly off-limits was politics.

I listened for a while but it was all pretty mundane stuff, nothing remotely new.

The decision to prohibit discussion of the political dynamic undercut the intended purpose of the programme. I tuned out.

Has there ever been a threat of this magnitude so severely worsened by politics as climate change? From Donald Trump to Dandy Andy Scheer to the Coal Thugs of Poland and Hungary, the right wing has deliberately turned climate change into a political issue, a right versus left contest. Why the political arena? That's easy. It is the one place where ideology, an advanced belief- or faith-based construct, has the ability to thwart science, knowledge.

I think the right has largely succeeded. They've even cowed the centre-left into falling back on a bagful of half-measures, gestural stuff of limited or no effect.

The right has captured the narrative. 'Action on climate change will destroy the economy, put ordinary people out of work and worse.' The centre-left has done a lousy job at pushing back, in the process becoming deeply compromised. Look at the cognitive-dissonance riddled Liberals of the Trudeau government. When it suits him, he apes the excuses peddled by the right.

This widespread failure of politics is surely no less a threat to our future than global warming, sea level rise, droughts and floods, and severe storm events of all descriptions.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The 21st Century West - Growing Steadily Dumber.

Ever since we entered the millennium, IQ scores across the West have been dropping.

People are getting dumber. That's not a judgment; it's a global fact. In a host of leading nations, IQ scores have started to decline.  
Though there are legitimate questions about the relationship between IQ and intelligence, and broad recognition that success depends as much on other virtues like grit, IQ tests in use throughout the world today really do seem to capture something meaningful and durable. Decades of research have shown that individual IQ scores predict things such as educational achievement and longevity. More broadly, the average IQ score of a country is linked to economic growth and scientific innovation
So if IQ scores are really dropping, that could not only mean 15 more seasons of the Kardashians, but also the potential end of progress on all these other fronts, ultimately leading to fewer scientific breakthroughs, stagnant economies and a general dimming of our collective future.
...These raw scores have been rising on a variety of standard IQ tests for over half a century. That may sound odd if you think of IQ as largely hereditary. But current IQ tests are designed to measure core cognitive skills such as short-term memory, problem-solving speed and visual processing, and rising scores show that these cognitive capabilities can actually be sharpened by environmental factors such as higher-quality schools and more demanding workplaces.
For a while, rising IQ scores seemed like clear evidence of social progress, palpable proof that humanity was getting steadily smarter — and might even be able to boost brainpower indefinitely. Scholars called it the "Flynn effect," in homage to J.R. Flynn, the researcher who recognized its full sweep and import. 
These days, however, Flynn himself concedes that "the IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered." A range of studies using a variety of well-established IQ tests and metrics have found declining scores across Scandinavia, Britain, Germany, France and Australia.

Details vary from study to study and from place to place given the available data. IQ shortfalls in Norway and Denmark appear in longstanding tests of military conscripts, whereas information about France is based on a smaller sample and a different test. But the broad pattern has become clearer: Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, many of the most economically advanced nations began experiencing some kind of decline in IQ.

...Some environmental factor — or collection of factors — is causing a drop in the IQ scores of parents and their own children, and older kids and their younger siblings. One leading explanation is that the rise of lower-skill service jobs has made work less intellectually demanding, leaving IQs to atrophy as people flex their brains less.
There are also other possibilities, largely untested, such as global warming making food less nutritious or information-age devices sapping our ability to focus. Ultimately, it’d be nice to pin down the precise reason IQ scores are dropping before we’re too stupid to figure it out, especially as these scores really do seem connected to long-term productivity and economic success
And while we might be able to compensate with skills besides intelligence, like determination or passion, in a world where IQ scores continue to fall — and where the drop expands to places like the United States — there’s also a bleaker scenario: a global intelligence crisis that undermines humanity's problem-solving capacity and leaves us ill-equipped to tackle the complex challenges posed by AI, global warming and developments we have yet to imagine.

Canada's Climate Migration Begins

Canadians are on the move in search of safety. They're beginning to get away from the smoke and flames of wildfires that now sweep broad swathes of the West.

The 2019 fire season in Western Canada has begun, but this year some former residents of Alberta and B.C. won’t be there. 
They’ve lived through the last two years of devastating wildfires and have moved on, for good. Seeking safety for themselves and their families, they’ve picked up stakes, often taking an economic hit. 
“I sold my home and got out of it,” says Darlene Powell, 73, who has moved from Kelowna, B.C., to Carleton Place, Ont. “I just couldn’t handle how bad the air quality was. My breathing was getting worse and I ended up on a puffer to ease the tightness in my lungs.”
...With experts saying that anthropogenic climate change is creating the conditions for more fires, the past two summers have been the worst on record in B.C. in terms of acreage burned, according to BC Wildfire Service statistics. And parts of Alberta have seen the driest spring on record in 2019. 
Fort Mac

News reports focus on people forced to evacuate due to the immediate threat of fire, as was the case this year in the Alberta community of High Level, and of course the worst-case scenarios, when entire municipalities burn, as in Slave Lake and Fort McMurray. But much larger populations are affected by smoke, with long-term exposure taking a psychological as well as a physical toll.
...Bruce Blackwell of B.A. Blackwell and Associates, a forestry and environmental management services company in North Vancouver, has 30 years’ experience consulting with communities in the aftermath of wildfires. 
“After the 2003 fires, which affected Kelowna, I did some policy work for the city: Three people showed up,” he says. “Now I am getting calls from almost all sectors of society — business, government, settler and Indigenous populations. People are concerned about their assets.”
...“The fires we are seeing are so big the government doesn’t fight them. Instead, it focuses on getting people out of the way.”
But it can be next to impossible to escape the smoke, and impractical to evacuate large urban areas. For those people trapped in large cities, the spectre of living for weeks or even months in a smoke-filled environment can be too much. 

“For most of August last year, the air quality in Calgary was terrible,” Georgia Fisher [who has since relocated to Peterborough]. “My daughter had especially sensitive lungs due to being born three months premature, so taking her out was a really bad idea. Even running errands myself was pretty brutal. My chest hurt all month, and we had no idea how to keep the house safe — the smoke just seeped in.”

Even here on Vancouver Island we have days when the wildfires far inland get so intense that smoke drifts out over the Pacific. It was bad enough last year that I bought air purifiers to clean the air inside. What we had, however, is nothing compared to what afflicts others from central B.C. to Alberta and points east. Of course those are  areas where people are ardent supporters of pipelines and the imaginary bounty of bitumen.  They're all for it until it bites them in the ass.

And now we've got Jason, Moe and Curly chomping at the bit to get a massively expanded pipeline from the Tar Sands to 'tidewater' so that they can flood world markets with the filthiest, high carbon, high cost, low value ersatz oil on the planet.  This is their legacy:

Japan Surrenders to America - Again

This time there won't be any signing ceremony on the deck of an American battleship in Tokyo bay. This capitulation will be at the G20 in Osaka.
Japan has bowed to US pressure by watering down commitments to tackling climate change in its draft G20 communiqué, a sign of how Tokyo is seeking to curry favour with Washington amid tense trade talks and concerns over North Korea. 
The draft document omits the phrases “global warming” and “decarbonisation” and downplays the Paris climate accord compared with previous communiqués. Analysts say it is an effort to placate the position of the US, which has made clear its intention to withdraw from the 2015 climate pact. 
The US and Japan are locked in difficult negotiations over a potential trade deal, in which agriculture and car parts have been sticking points.  
This really demonstrates the irrelevance of the G20 in addressing the world’s largest crisis at this point in time,” Jennifer Morgan, head of Greenpeace International, said. “It is a complete lack of political leadership.” 
The G20 summit in Osaka, which starts on Friday, comes after global emissions hit a record high and as demonstrators are planning protests over Japans’ pro-coal policies.

US Medical Groups Declare Climate Health Emergency

I have two family members in Europe. One daughter has just relocated from Dublin to Amsterdam. She's found a centuries old place, the postcard spot along a city canal. My son-in-law works for Microsoft and is in Paris for a week-long company jamboree.

The timing couldn't be much worse as Europe enters what could be the hottest June heatwave on record.  The previous killer heatwave in 2003 claimed 70,000 lives.

It seems no place is immune to these early-onset climate impacts. That's certainly true for the United States where the nation's leading medical organizations have joined forces to proclaim a climate health emergency across the land.
More than 70 health organizations signed a statement that, among other things, calls for a move away from fossil fuels. The groups cite storm and flood emergencies, chronic air pollution, the spread of diseases carried by insects, and especially heat-related illnesses
Europe is anticipating an intense heat wave starting this week, and parts of the U.S., where extreme heat has been the leading cause of weather-related deaths, have already experienced record-breaking heat this year.
...The American Medical Association and the American Heart Association joined dozens of other organizations in signing the U.S. Call to Action on Climate Health and Equity. Recognizing that climate change poses a greater threat to children, pregnant women and marginalized communities, the groups said that social justice needs to be a mainstay of climate policy. 
A main goal is to keep climate change on the political agenda, said Dr. Boris Lushniak, former U.S. deputy surgeon general and dean of the University of Maryland's School of Public Health. 
"It's really for this discourse to be taken seriously," Lushniak said. "Climate solutions are health solutions." 
He said climate change stands out as a public health crisis in his career, which has included responding to the anthrax scare, Hurricane Katrina and the spread of ebola. "I've seen a lot, but this scares me," Lushniak said.

That's Serious Money. Where Will We Find It?

A succession of neoliberal governments across the West have been wildly effective at advancing inequality, austerity and an era of 'everyday low taxes.' Before long that's going to bite us in the ass.

Climate change impacts are setting in and, before long, we're going to discover that they're massively expensive. Money, billions of dollars every year, will be needed. Money our governments just don't got.

A study undertaken by researchers from the University of British Columbia and Waterloo looks at the burden looming for Canadian municipalities.
Estimated to cost Canadian communities $5 billion a year by 2020, the price-tag of responding to climate change impacts could grow to $43 billion a year by 2050, and the new research suggests the response requires involvement from all levels of government, industry and the public. 
“Canada’s municipalities influence half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Critical physical and natural infrastructure are especially susceptible to changes in the climate,” said Mark Seasons, professor with the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo.
An American study finds that, by 2040, coastal communities will need $400 billion to defend against sea level rise. That's nearly half a trillion dollars to protect a limited number of communities from one threat. Other areas will need relief from severe storm events, from floods, from severe droughts.

We had better figure out and soon where that money will come from or even if there'll be money to meet those demands. Approaching these threats on an individual, piecemeal basis would be disastrous. Ignoring them, kicking them down the road, would be the ultimate act of dereliction.

The Westminster Quagmire or The Price to Be Paid for First-Past-The-Post

Today's Guardian editorial contends that the United Kingdom may not survive Brexit but neither might the Conservative party.  The editorial board singles out first-past-the-post for Britain's looming political quagmire.

The threat by a Conservative minister to bring down the government of the next party leader if he attempts to leave the European Union without a deal shows how the Brexit virus, having hijacked the Tory machine, could end up shutting it down. It would be wrong to regard such warnings as a bluff. When push comes to shove, such MPs are likely to be in no mood for compromise. This attitude will have been hardened if Boris Johnson becomes party leader despite his obvious flaws – especially since Brexit has radicalised Conservative members so much that they would rather break up the United Kingdom than not leave the EU. Depressingly the no-deal option is openly flirted with by both leadership candidates, shamelessly proffered to Tory members in exchange for their votes.

It is important to remember that even with the DUP’s support, a few Tory rebels can bring down a wayward government by leaving it. What also seems clear is that the new Conservative leader will not have a majority for either his central policy or for his government.

...The battle for the soul of the party, between rationalists and ideologues, could quickly become one that splits the Tories so badly that they end up out of power for decades. Even if the party stays together there is another existential threat: the electoral system. Having benefited from first past the post for decades, the Tories could become its victim. The reason is that under current arrangements once a party falls below a certain level of support, which is about 25%, the number of seats it wins collapses. With Mr Farage and Brexit rumbling on, the country could very well have four parties that can muster that share of the vote. Both Labour and the Tories risk voters defecting to the Brexit party and the Liberal Democrats. The result of any election could be chaos. It should be noted that British democracy has never been specifically associated with just one way of voting. First past the post in single-member constituencies was not the original system, nor one that many reformers had sought. It was a postwar creation that ought to be reconsidered in the light of the debacle of Brexit.

A Meteorologist Finds Art as France Swelters

It's a scorcher in Europe. France is expected to set a record for June with a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius.  The previous record of 41.5 C was set in 2003.

Meteorologist Reuben Hallali tweeted a heat map for June 27 next to the Edward Munch painting, The Scream.

Scientists say heatwaves can be particularly dangerous when they occur in early summer, before people have adjusted to seasonal norms. Europe’s 2003 heatwave resulted in the premature deaths of an estimated 70,000 people.

From the low to mid-30Cs on Tuesday in parts of Spain, France and Italy, most weather models predict temperatures will rise by Thursday to the low to mid-40Cs in south and central France and north-east Spain, and the upper 30Cs in much of the rest of continental Europe.

A Reminder of Just Who We're Really Screwing

The debate over pipelines, supertankers and bitumen is undercut by how we take it in the context of ourselves, our nation. That spares us from thinking of bitumen trafficking in the greater, global context. We go to some lengths not to see it in terms of those who will really pay the price for our profit.

A UN expert has warned of a possible "climate apartheid", where the rich pay to escape from hunger, "while the rest of the world is left to suffer"
Even if current targets are met, "millions will be impoverished", said Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty. 
He also criticised steps taken by UN bodies as "patently inadequate". 
"Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster," Mr Alston warned.
...the world's poor are likely to be hardest hit by rising temperatures - and the potential food shortages and conflict that could accompany such a change. 
Developing nations are expected to suffer at least 75% of the costs of climate change – despite the fact that the poorer half of the world's population generate just 10% of emissions
...Mr Alston cites examples of how the wealthy in Western nations already cope with extreme weather events. 
When Hurricane Sandy hit New York in 2012, most citizens were left without power, yet "the Goldman Sachs headquarters was protected by tens of thousands of its own sandbags and power from its generator." Similarly, "private white-glove firefighters have been dispatched to save the mansions" of the wealthy. 
This "over-reliance" on the private sector would likely lead to what he termed "climate apartheid" – where the rich "escape overheating, hunger, and conflict".
Just to add a bit of perspective. Canada is one of the ten biggest greenhouse gas emitters and we're in the top five per capita emitters. We are big players in this game no matter how hard our government tries to hide our carbon footprint. And, if the Justin Trudeau Memorial Pipeline ever comes into operation we will become the fourth largest exporter of coal, gas, oil and bitumen. Fourth largest. Up there with the real carbon big boys.

Isn't it time we began thinking about our energy policies by the harm they're causing. It took a while but we finally were shamed into shutting down our asbestos mines. Maybe, just maybe, we've still got a collective conscience. Maybe not.

Monday, June 24, 2019

It May Not Be Good Company but Justin Trudeau Has Plenty of It.

Justin Trudeau isn't the only leader talking out of both sides of his mouth on climate change. Many of his G20 colleagues are just as hypocritical as the Dauphin.
G20 nations have almost tripled the subsidies they give to coal-fired power plants in recent years, despite the urgent need to cut the carbon emissions driving the climate crisis. 
The bloc of major economies pledged a decade ago to phase out all fossil fuel subsidies. 
The figures, published in a report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and others, show that Japan is one of the biggest financial supporters of coal, despite the prime minister, Shinzo Abe, having said in September: “Climate change can be life-threatening to all generations … We must take more robust actions and reduce the use of fossil fuels.” The annual G20 meeting begins in Japan on Friday. 
China and India give the biggest subsidies to coal, with Japan third, followed by South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and the US. While the UK frequently runs its own electricity grid without any coal power at all, a parliamentary report in June criticised the billions of pounds used to help to build fossil fuel power plants overseas. 
Global emissions must fall by half in the next decade to avoid significantly worsening drought, floods, extreme heatwave and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. But emissions are still increasing, with coal-fired power the biggest single contributor to the rise in 2018.
It can seem that we've descended into a state of madness. Surely these supposed leaders know what they're doing. They know the consequences they're visiting upon the world and, especially the poor and the vulnerable who, in the case of China and India are often their own people. Are they deliberately steering us to the edge of the cliff? Are they out to trigger a massive human die-off?

I am at a loss to understand these leaders.

"A Tasteless Joke"

That's how Max Hastings, former boss to Boris Johnson, sees the future Tory prime minister.

Six years ago, the Cambridge historian Christopher Clark published a study of the outbreak of the first world war, titled The Sleepwalkers. Though Clark is a fine scholar, I was unconvinced by his title, which suggested that the great powers stumbled mindlessly to disaster. On the contrary, the maddest aspect of 1914 was that each belligerent government convinced itself that it was acting rationally. 
It would be fanciful to liken the ascent of Boris Johnson to the outbreak of global war, but similar forces are in play. There is room for debate about whether he is a scoundrel or mere rogue, but not much about his moral bankruptcy, rooted in a contempt for truth. Nonetheless, even before the Conservative national membership cheers him in as our prime minister – denied the option of Nigel Farage, whom some polls suggest they would prefer – Tory MPs have thronged to do just that.
...A few admirers assert that, in office, Johnson will reveal an accession of wisdom and responsibility that have hitherto eluded him, not least as foreign secretary. This seems unlikely, as the weekend’s stories emphasised. Dignity still matters in public office, and Johnson will never have it. Yet his graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to tell any audience, whatever he thinks most likely to please, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction an hour later.

...Johnson would not recognise truth, whether about his private or political life, if confronted by it in an identity parade.  ...Almost the only people who think Johnson a nice guy are those who do not know him.

...We can scarcely strip the emperor’s clothes from a man who has built a career, or at least a lurid love life, out of strutting without them. The weekend stories of his domestic affairs are only an aperitif for his future as Britain’s leader. I have a hunch that Johnson will come to regret securing the prize for which he has struggled so long, because the experience of the premiership will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it. 
If the Johnson family had stuck to showbusiness like the Osmonds, Marx Brothers or von Trapp family, the world would be a better place. Yet the Tories, in their terror, have elevated a cavorting charlatan to the steps of Downing Street, and they should expect to pay a full forfeit when voters get the message. If the price of Johnson proves to be Corbyn, blame will rest with the Conservative party, which is about to foist a tasteless joke upon the British people – who will not find it funny for long.

Coastal Dreaming, Coastal Reality

It's just a matter of time. As I go around my environs I spot places that will not be around much longer. These are usually waterfront homes that are periodically inundated by spring run-off or storm surges or king tides or any combination of the three. With each additional centimetre of sea level rise they become increasingly less viable.

There are already areas for which the municipality will no longer issue building permits, not even for a garden shed.  How do you sell that house? You don't, especially to anyone thinking about mortgage financing. You can't get insurance, you can't get a mortgage loan.

Reuters has a piece on the mental stress experienced  in American coastal towns as the residents confront surging climate threats.
As seas steadily swallow coastal land around the world, hundreds of experts gathered this week in New York for a first-of-its-kind global gathering on climate migration linked to land loss. 
At the top of the agenda was a tough question: How soon will people want to move on when their homes and communities are at huge risk but not yet gone? 
"Sometimes when talking to communities about retreat ... what they really, really want is for everything to be the way it was two decades ago," said A.R. Siders, an environmental fellow at the Harvard University Center for the Environment. 
"And one of the harshest realities about climate change is that the future will not look like the past ... It will never be as safe, it will never be as secure and you will never be able to build the way your grandparents did."
Loss and Grief
Dealing with worsening land losses can take a massive toll on communities who are preparing to uproot themselves as their homes vanish under their feet, said Robin Bronen, who heads the Alaska Institute for Justice. 
The group has been working with 15 remote coastal Alaskan communities facing imminent climate-related threats, she said at the gathering at Columbia University. 
"There's an enormous amount of grief from leaving these places," she said.
...The landmark National Climate Assessment published last year by federal authorities mentions that "climate-related events can have lasting mental health consequences in affected communities". 
But "we have not turned adaptation (to climate change) into a trauma-informed field", Moser said. 
And it is not just those who will be forced to relocate who will suffer mentally, Moser said. 
The new and growing category of professionals whose work involves planning for and dealing with worsening natural disasters as a result of climate change will face their own trauma, she said. 
About 80% of Americans who assist climate-vulnerable coastal and urban communities in dealing with growing threats say they have experienced burnout in their work, according to preliminary results of an ongoing survey by Moser and her colleagues.

The Rot in the Neoliberal Order

Chris Hedges looks at the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London that left 72 people dead and sees it as a metaphor for neoliberalism and social decay.  It is the era of 'everyday low taxes' and maximized profits no matter the cost to others, even their lives.

He writes of how, in the wake of the disaster, survivors, largely Muslim immigrants, mobilized. More telling, he writes of how the British government responded by putting counter-terrorism powers to work.
The British government’s Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 includes a program called Prevent. Public professionals are forced by law to report behavior patterns that the security services claim lead people, including children, to become terrorists. Public professionals, especially teachers, are instructed to watch for “absenteeism,” “crying,” “unhealthy use of the Internet,” “a desire for excitement and adventure,” “a desire for political or moral change,” “family or friends’ involvement in extremism” and “being at a transitional time of life.” 
“Prevent turns the public sector into an appendage of the war on terror,” Lowkey said. “Doctors, opticians, social workers, nurses, teachers, even those who work with children as young as 3 years old in nurseries, are legally obliged to report to Prevent signs of radicalization.” 
“Signs of radicalization are defined by Prevent as changing of a hairstyle, being withdrawn, not attending class, talking a lot in classes, not talking a lot in classes, getting tattoos, looking for a higher purpose, looking to achieve moral or social change within a society—all of those things are things that can render a person reportable to Prevent,” he said. “Prevent allows police to interrogate children without the presence of their parents.”
This seems much like the handiwork of Erich Honeker's dreaded Stasi that forced East Germans to spy on each other, children groomed to turn in their parents for imagined acts of disloyalty.

This from the land of Runnymede and Magna Carta.

Canada's Top General Declares a Climate Emergency

Canadian soldiers are stretched to the limit. They are the latest casualties of our climate emergency.

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, says he needs more soldiers.

The country's top military commander says Canada's Armed Forces are being pushed to the limit responding to an increasing number of climate-related events such as floods and fires. 
In 2016 the military responded to only one climate disaster, the wildfire in Fort McMurray. But that number jumped to six deployments in each of the following two years. 
Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, says he needs more men and women to handle these crises and his soldiers need more training to deal with fires and floods. 
Just this spring more soldiers were deployed to assist states of emergencies — during floods in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick as well as wildfires in Alberta — than were deployed overseas.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Michael Harris Has Questions for the "Prime Minister of Pipelines."

We loved Michael Harris when he used to rip into that hypocrite, Stephen Harper. Now he's going after the next Grand Dissembler, the Prime Minister of Pipelines and Climate Emergency.

Read the entire article but, in the meantime, here are Harris' eight hard questions for Justin Trudeau:

1. Since Canada is already on track to miss its emission targets set in Paris by 79 megatonnes (only Gambia and Morocco are on target), how do you justify greenlighting a project that will add 20 per cent to carbon emissions from the Alberta tar sands? 
2. You once said that only communities could issue the social license for mega projects like this. So what do you say to the Squamish Nation, and the cities of Vancouver and Burnaby who have not granted that social license? 
3. If expanding Trans Mountain is such an economic winner, why did Kinder Morgan happily unload this project on the Canadian people? Where were the rugged captains of private industry when this “jewel” went up for sale? 
4. You have said time after time that getting a pipeline to tidewater to ship this highest-cost, low-quality product to Asian markets was critical. Since Canadians now own Trans Mountain, can you reveal any contracts with Asian countries, including China, that back up that assertion? 
5. You have publicly committed to saving endangered resident orcas, now down to 74, in the Salish Sea off the B.C. coast. How does increasing the tanker traffic seven-fold in that area support that goal, especially given the National Energy Board’s own assessment that the project would have “significant adverse effects” on the whales? 
6. A foundational value you constantly espouse is evidence-based policy, as opposed to Stephen Harper’s practice of consulting his belly button. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world has just 11 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or the damage will be catastrophic and irreversible. How is expanding Trans Mountain, and continuing to develop more fossil fuels a policy based on science? 
7. In announcing the Trans Mountain decision, you said that you would not have made it if you thought it would put the B.C. coast at risk. Part of your optimism is based on alleged improvements to oil spill responses, which you now call “world-class.” Where was that world-class response in Newfoundland last year, when 250,000 litres of oil spilled from Husky Energy’s SeaRose Platform? None of the pollutant was recovered. 
8. The true stewards of the land, particularly in British Columbia, have been Indigenous Peoples. They have seen a little further down the planetary road than a business sector obsessed with profit. Do you think it is an accomplishment to try to lure them into your world of development and consumption beyond sustainable limits by offering to sell them Trans Mountain, lock, stock and barrel?
Well, at least Harris didn't come right out and call Trudeau a wanton, shameless liar. I suppose it wasn't really necessary.

Twice in my lifetime I have witnessed resources tragedies. Both dealt with important items of commerce — asbestos in Quebec and the northern cod in Newfoundland. 
In the case of asbestos, it was the foundation of an important industry. Quebec had the largest asbestos mine in the world and the industry was seen as untouchable. 

In the latter case, the northern cod was the legendary fishery that fed millions worldwide and was fished consecutively for 400 years by scores of nations. 
But asbestos-caused cancer, and northern cod inspired the cold-hearted greed of overfishing. When questions were raised about banning asbestos and closing the fishery, the forces of the status quo kicked in with a vengeance. 
Jobs would be lost if asbestos was banned, and whole communities and a way of life would collapse in outport Newfoundland if the cod fishery was closed. And so the politicians dithered, and people died of cancer until asbestos was finally banned and the northern cod were fished out. 
And now a resource that is choking the planet is being defended the way that asbestos and the cod fishery were. 
And like Stephen Harper before him, who defended asbestos, and Brian Mulroney who refused to close the fishery until there were no fish, Justin Trudeau is now buying and building pipelines. And that more or less guarantees more oil and gas development. 
You get the picture.
By the way, although it's behind a hard-as-concrete paywall, the Washington Post just weighed in on the Justin Trudeau Memorial Pipeline, calling his feeble attempts to justify it a "mantra of extinction."

This Government's Apology Fetish Is Getting Old.

Justin Trudeau apologizes - a lot. He may be the most apologetic prime minister in Canadian history. His dad, or as I like to call him the "real Trudeau," wasn't into apologies for historical wrongs.

Next stop for Justin's apologia train are Canada's Italian community. In today's Globe and Mail, Patrick Luciani says "no thanks."

Today, political apologies are another way of always having to say you’re sorry. In 1990, then-prime minister Brian Mulroney gave a full apology to Canadians of Italian descent for the internment of Italians during the Second World War. That apology was repeated in 2005 when then-prime minister Paul Martin planned to pass a bill and $2.5-million to educate Canadians about the federal government’s wartime measures against Italians. That bill was never passed with the election of Stephen Harper in 2006. Now Justin Trudeau wants to make it a hat trick with another apology similar to the one given to Japanese and Ukrainian Canadians.
Mr. Trudeau’s motives are so apparent to be almost risible. His Liberal Party of Canada has always counted on the loyalty of Italian Canadians; now the Prime Minister needs to lock down their support in October’s coming election. 
But apologizing to our community – I count myself a member, being a first-generation Italian-Canadian – is wrong for two reasons. 
The first is that Canada was not wrong or malicious in its intention to protect the country in a time of war. To have done otherwise would have shown an extraordinary dereliction of duty to Canada and its people.
...Second, politically-motivated apologies only infantilize a people with the status of victimization. Our modern political culture is perpetually searching for victims and programs to compensate them with pandering sympathy and false reconciliation. Too often we look to the state to correct the ills of the past by acknowledging that the sins of our ancestors have to be made right so that we can “move on” or find some undefined “closure” for the suffering of past generations. 
That kind of apology isn’t worth having; it distorts history and weakens the bonds between past immigrants and their country. Our generation is not responsible for what our Canadian ancestors did or didn’t do. Judging the past with the eyes of the present will never let us truly understand our history. Asking Canadians today to apologize for the judgments of their grandparents, and yes, we are talking predominately about Anglo-Saxons, is an insult to their children and those immigrants who willingly came to this country for a better life.
...Do Italian-Canadians really want to join the line of those demanding an apology after everything this country has given them? Do we Italian-Canadians just want a psychic handout to salve our wounded pride? And how can we as Italian-Canadians ask for an apology when 5,000 Canadian men and boys are buried in cemeteries throughout Italy who died to rid “our” ancestral home of fascism and Nazism.

Is the Government Two-Faced on Climate Change? You Betcha!

It's all there in the first recital to the federal Emergencies Act,
WHEREAS the safety and security of the individual, the protection of the values of the body politic and the preservation of the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the state are fundamental obligations of government,
"Fundamental obligations" indeed.

Now we have an emergency, a climate emergency. We're not the first to declare a state of climate emergency.  Scotland and Wales led the way on that.  In short order Westminster followed suit.  Canada's Parliament, with the telling exception of Scheer's Tories, joined in.

Canada is in a state of climate emergency and it is steadily worsening. Who knows what this could do our country. It could well wreck our economy just as it threatens to wreck the global economy. It could fracture our sometimes tumultuous Confederation. Our understanding of "haves and have-nots" could be in for a shake-up.

I remember when the former premier of Alberta, Peter Lougheed, wrote a lengthy and impassioned op-ed in the Globe and Mail imploring Canada, but especially British Columbia, not to go for the easy-wealth from selling our fresh water bounty. Alberta and Saskatchewan, he wrote, might eventually need that water for their survival as prosperous provinces.  Lougheed foresaw the prospect of mega-drought sweeping the prairies.

For the good of the country we blocked the easy money from supertankers laden with beautiful Canadian freshwater.  For the good of the country.

Alberta doesn't see fossil fuels the same way Peter Lougheed saw that other natural resource, water, that his province might someday so desperately need. Isn't that curious? Oil and water, it seems, don't mix at least not politically.

I was pleased when we rejected the bulk sale of Canadian water. There would be no supertankers plying our coastal fjords loading up on glacial runoff. Only now, if Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney get their way, we'll be welcoming supertankers to ply our coast heavily laden with climate-wrecking bitumen.

Justin said it himself. Nobody would find billions of barrels of oil in the ground and just leave it there. By nobody, he really meant Justin Trudeau and his merry band of petro-pimps.

But now we're in a state of national emergency, a climate emergency. Can't argue that. Sea level rise is an emergency when you've got the world's longest coastline. The rapidly warming Arctic is already displacing some northern settlements and more will surely succumb. The tundra is drying out, catching fires we can't reach much less extinguish, spreading black carbon across the north including the Greenland ice cap. Then there's the permafrost that is thawing, releasing its trove of once safely sequestered CO2 and methane into the atmosphere. Inland, across the south, there are plenty of severe weather events - extreme heat, extreme cold, drought and floods and that's just getting started. We're still dependent on a vast network of infrastructure - power grids, rail beds, highways, bridges, overpasses, ports - all built for another, gentler climate, a climate now giving way to a harsher, more demanding climate for which that infrastructure was never intended to endure.

So, we've got a national emergency alright and we're only seeing the early-onset stuff, to use a rather unfortunate phrase - the tip of the iceberg.

And, once you've been plunged into a national emergency, the government's own law imposes on it a "fundamental obligation" of protection.  They're duty bound to protect us as individuals, as a people. They're obliged to preserve our sovereignty, our security and our territorial integrity. For some reason there's no mention of protecting the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers or the petro-state that props it up. There's nothing in there that says you protect and preserve but not if it inconveniences the economy or the big and powerful.

Poor Justin, he's so conflicted. He wants to rapidly expand the petro-state. He so wants to flood world markets with high carbon, high cost, low value bitumen, a real climate wrecker.

Chuckles, well he's not conflicted. I can almost believe Trudeau has some qualms, a shred of social conscience. Not much, just a glimmer. Scheer? None of that, not a drop. That's why he won't even acknowledge this climate emergency. He's not into fundamental obligations to protect and preserve.

However, Parliament has spoken. We are in the throes of a climate emergency. It was the government's own motion albeit somewhat disingenuous by the fact it is non-binding on the very government that brought it.  A climate emergency birthed in weasel words. Yet it is still a good foundation on which to take the measure of this government and those that will follow it.

Where is the protection? Where is the preservation? A carbon tax is a laughable response to a very real climate emergency that imperils the nation and our people.  The emergency is real. This government's response is not.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

How F#@ked Up Is America?

Leave Trump out of this. The face of the Republican Party today is Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, the most unprincipled, underhanded and shameless deviant in Congress.

The House is now grappling with the question of whether the descendants of black slaves should receive compensations for America's 'original sin.' No matter what the House concludes, it'll be a non-starter if it ever comes to the Senate.

What does the Alabama-born, Mitch, currently the senior senator for Kentucky, think about the slavery debate? He argues that America paid for the 'sin of slavery' by electing Obama.

"We tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, elected an African American president. I don't think we should be trying to figure out how to compensate for it."
He's referring, of course, to the Civil War his part of the country fought to keep people like Obama in chains. He's talking about civil rights legislation his part of the country had to accept at the point of a bayonet. He's referring to the same Obama that McConnell and the rest of the Republican low-lifes worked so tirelessly to obstruct.

It was half-jokingly said that, if Obama wanted the support of Congressional Republicans it would have to be for the repeal of the 13th Amendment. Half-jokingly.

McConnell, like Trump, knows the truth of what Lyndon Johnson said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

McConnell knows that's true. He banks on it every day. It is now the credo of the Republican Party.

Britain's Next Prime Minister, As Those Who Know Boris Johnson See Him

It seems almost inevitable that Boris Johnson will succeed Theresa May to become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom.

So who is this controversial character, the former Lord Mayor of London? The Guardian offers insights of those who have known him best.

“Boris, well, he’s the life and soul of the party but he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the evening.”
Cabinet minister Amber Rudd, speaking during a 2016 debate before the Brexit referendum
“It is a common mistake to suppose Johnson a nice man. In reality he often behaves unpleasantly.”
Max Hastings, Johnson’s editor at the Daily Telegraph, in a 2018 column for the Times

“[He is] much diminished in terms of integrity, in terms of political courage and in terms of credibility… I used to think he would be fantastic at Number 10 but those days look a long time ago.”
2018 BBC interview with Guto Harri, director of communications for Johnson’s mayoral administration, 2008-2012
“I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Michael Gove, launching the leadership bid that derailed Johnson’s attempt to become prime minister in 2016
“[Johnson is] a man who waits to see the way the crowd is running and then dashes in front and says, ‘Follow me’.”
Michael Heseltine, Good Morning Britain interview in 2018
“The Johnsonian creed [is] that it is, in his own words, acceptable, sometimes desirable to lie. Certainly that approach has been advantageous to him. But it must come at a price.”
Sonia Purnell, Johnson’s biographer and one-time deputy in the Telegraph’s Brussels bureau, writing after he withdrew from the leadership race in 2016
“He’s lied his way through life, he’s lied his way through politics, he’s a huckster with a degree of charm to which I am immune. As well as being mendacious he’s incompetent.”
Conservative former minister Chris Patten in May interview with Bloomberg
“I’m afraid he’s shown, especially during his period as foreign secretary, that he doesn’t have the necessary skills and capacity [to be leader].”
Conservative MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve in May interview with LBC
“He’s an enormous character but not a team player… And he doesn’t know if he’s a journalist or a politician, but he does know it’s all about him. The more he repeats what everyone can see is not credible, the more his own credibility disappears.”
Former foreign office colleague Sir Alan Duncan, 2018 interview with the Times
“The worst foreign secretary we’ve ever had... Disinterested and out of his depth he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance.”
John McKendrick, attorney general of Anguilla, bidding farewell to Johnson as foreign secretary with criticism of his response to the British Overseas Territory’s devastation during Hurricane Irma in 2017
“I think he honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”
Johnson’s Eton housemaster, Martin Hammond, in 1982 school report

He Promised to "Follow the Science"

With an election just four months away, prepare to be barraged with promises from those vying for your vote.

These days, it seems, they'll tell you just about anything they figure you want to hear. They've got a limitless supply of smoke and, given the chance, they'll blow it straight up your backside.

How else can you judge what they'll do in the future other than what they've done in the past?

From the get go, Stephen Harper's shtick was "transparency and accountability" and he delivered neither. His was the most secretive and unaccountable government in peacetime Canada. He gagged government scientists and even cut off public access to the public service. This time around the Tories have chosen a clone only without the ability of Harper - Andrew "Chuckles" Scheer. A damp squib at best. A Christo-fascist at worst.

Fortunately there's Justin, a man of his word. Only he's not a man of his word. He's proven that.  The Liberals won a solid majority in 2015 and, from that perch, Justin broke one solemn campaign promise after another, proof positive that he's a manipulative dissembler. He is not to be trusted.

I want to focus on just one of these broken promises, his vow that his Liberal government would "follow the science." Has he? No. Not even close.

When it comes to the greatest threat to ever confront humanity Justin has flatly ignored the science.

The world has been put on notice. Slash greenhouse gas emissions NOW. If we are to have a reasonable chance - a chance - of averting climate catastrophe, we must slash greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and eliminate the remaining half by 2050.

2030, just eleven years away. A truly Herculean chore and we'll need every day of what remains to meet that challenge. There is no time to dally, no months to waste. It is, as Churchill said of the Nazi threat, "Sometimes it is not enough to do our best; we must do what is required."

And if we don't do "what is required," what then? There will be consequences for our selfish disregard of the science, irreversible consequences, life-or-death consequences.  A lot of people, mainly little brown people, will die by famine or wars or upheaval of all sorts and we will be instrumental in putting them to death.

If there's one thing Trudeau's Liberals and Scheer's Conservatives have in common, it's their absolute rejection of cutting greenhouse gas emissions on any scale remotely approaching what's required. Ain't gonna do it. Nope. In fact we're gonna flood world markets with one of the very filthiest, climate wrecking fossil fuels of them all - high carbon, high cost, low value bitumen. That'll speed things up, for sure.  Only, because that ersatz oil and the rich volume of petcoke, Athabasca's dirty little secret, it delivers as a free bonus, won't be burned here, we'll pretend that it's not our fault. "No officer, I only gave the kid that loaded gun. Not my fault what he did with it."

It's a dirty trade, as indefensible as slavery only vastly more murderous, perhaps even civilization ending. That's Canada of the 21st century, our "cherished Canadian values." That's Canada, whether Liberal or Conservative.

When it comes to track records, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau or the Harper Tories now notionally led by Scheer and his gang of rednecks, neither deserves your vote. You only vote for one of them in order to keep the other one of them out. And, when you vote to keep that other party out, you're choosing your poison. You're not voting  for a party, you're voting against a party which means you damn well deserve what you get regardless of who wins.  You'll be voting for a deeply sullied Canada.

Time is not on our side. We haven't got another four years to squander.


By the way, if you think the Tories or the Liberals will keep you safe from the ravages of our rapidly worsening climate, think again. This interactive piece from CBC News takes a look at your fellow Canadians who are already in harm's way. Don't worry, your turn isn't that far off.

When 2023 rolls around will you be deeply regretting your vote in 2019?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

A Gentle Predator But It Still Has Fangs

China loves islands. It loves them so much it has manufactured its own from mere atolls to dominate the South China Sea, roiling the neighbours and drawing American navy task forces to challenge for right of free passage.

Now China has a new island in its sights. In the Caribbean. It's Antigua.

Plans to construct a sprawling “Chinese colony” complete with factories, homes and holiday resorts across a pristine marine reserve in Antigua have ignited a storm of controversy on the Caribbean island. 
Known locally as the Yida project after its main investor, Yida Zhang, the scheme includes plans for a manufacturing hub which promises several hundred jobs and increased exports.
A land grab that will transform the island paradise.
What sets the Yida project apart – in addition to its sheer size, which spans more than 2,000 acres – is that Chinese investors have been given a license to establish their own special economic zone for the new community’s residents and businesses who will benefit from tax waivers. 
Under an agreement signed in 2015, developers are entitled to set up a seafood harvesting company within the zone and net 90% of the profits. The zone is also free of all taxes levied elsewhere in the country, including income tax, sales tax and import and export duties. Anyone investing more than $400,000 will be eligible for Antiguan citizenship.
...Lead architect Rick Solberg recently told local radio: “It’s really a town. We’re creating a resident population, as well as jobs and a resort destination.”

Investors bought the land for $68m from the liquidators for the disgraced Texas financier Allen Stanford, once Antigua’s biggest employer, now serving a 110-year prison sentence in the US for running a global Ponzi scheme. 
The deal with main shareholder Yida Zhang was struck in 2014 shortly after the prime minister, Gaston Browne, took office, declaring his intention to transform the twin island nation of 100,000 people into an “economic powerhouse”. 
The development encroaches on coastal land and several tiny unspoilt islands that fall within Antigua’s largest marine reserve, protected by law since 2005. Its mangroves have long been a haven for migrating birds and a draw for tourists who flock to experience the untouched beauty. 
The area is also a nesting ground for critically endangered sea turtles, the threatened West Indian whistling duck and the Antiguan racer, once dubbed the world’s rarest snake, brought back from the brink of extinction by efforts from local environmentalists. 
“We have spent 25 years working there, rehabilitating habitats for various wildlife,” said Arica Hill, executive director of Antigua’s Environmental Awareness Group. “[Now we’re] seeing 25 years of work go downhill. It’s literally devastating. 
“If it can happen in a marine protected area, where else can it happen?”
Some have predicted that China's island fetish may eventually materialize in the form of man-made islands in the Arctic Ocean from which China may advance claims on the supposedly resource-rich sea bed.

The Same Old Song? No, Not Really.

We're barraged with reports about the loss of Arctic sea ice, the threat to the Antarctic ice pack, the melting of the Greenland ice cap, the retreat of glaciers around the world. We get it. This time, however, it's the Himalayas and that's in a league of its own.

Himalayan glacier melting has doubled since 2,000. So what? The "what" is really "which." Which nations are dependent on the Himalayan headwaters for their very survival. There are three - China, India and Pakistan. Three countries that desperately vie for access to those waters. Three countries that maintain nuclear arsenals and eye each other with grave suspicion.

The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century, with more than a quarter of all ice lost over the last four decades, scientists have revealed. The accelerating losses indicate a “devastating” future for the region, upon which a billion people depend for regular water.

The analysis shows that 8bn tonnes of ice are being lost every year and not replaced by snow, with the lower level glaciers shrinking in height by 5 meters annually. The study shows that only global heating caused by human activities can explain the heavy melting. In previous work, local weather and the impact of air pollution had complicated the picture. 
Joshua Maurer, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth observatory, who led the new research, said: “This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting since 1975, and why.” The research is published in the journal Science Advances.
...A landmark report published in February found that at least a third of the ice in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya ranges was already doomed to melt by the end of the century, even if drastic action to cut emissions was taken immediately. Without action, two-thirds would go. 
Either way, serious consequences will be felt by those who rely on the great rivers that flow from the peaks into India, Pakistan, China and other nations. “It’s the climate crisis you haven’t heard of,” said Philippus Wester, at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, who led the February study and said the new work was very convincing. “Increasingly uncertain and irregular water supplies will impact the 1 billion people living downstream from the Himalaya mountains in south Asia.”
...[Columbia prof. Joerg] Schaefer said: “For the wellbeing of the people there, our results are of course the worst possible. But it is what it is, and now we have to prepare for that scenario. We have to worry a lot, because so many people are affected. 
To stop the temperature rises, we have to cool the planet,” he said. “We have to not only slow down greenhouse gas emissions, we have to reverse them. That is the challenge for the next 20 years.”
The prescription, rapidly cooling the planet, means geo-engineering. That would entail a massive, man-made intervention to alter the climate over the Himalayas, something that many scientists predict would inflict catastrophe on other regions of Earth. Some in the Western military contend that likely would mean war, possibly world war.