A blast from the past. A German-Canadian huckster. A former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister. A dodgy prime minister. A European aircraft giant with a reputation for handing out easy money. Karl Heinz Schreiber, Elmer MacKay, Brian Mulroney and Airbus.
Schreiber went into a German jail cell. Elmer, late father of Peter, took his secrets to the grave. Brian went to a coffee shop to collect envelopes stuffed with cash. And Airbus - well it's still at it.
Airbus, Europe’s largest aerospace multinational, is to pay a record £3bn in penalties after admitting it had paid huge bribes on an “endemic” basis to land contracts in 20 countries.
Anti-corruption investigators hailed the result as the largest ever corporate fine for bribery in the world after judges declared that the corruption was “grave, pervasive and pernicious”.
The planemaker agreed to pay the penalties on Friday after reaching settlements with investigators in the UK, France and the US to end inquiries that started four years ago.
Like that horrible TV show where they're constantly trying to recover pirate treasure from Nova Scotia's Oak Island, the 'commission' Airbus admits it paid to cinch the Air Canada deal but never divulged to whom remains a deeply buried secret.
It was a semen stain on Monica Lewinsky's little blue dress that Ken Star used to skewer Bill Clinton. DNA don't lie.
Now Elle magazine columnist E. Jean Carrol, who alleges she was raped by Donald Trump, wants her own little dress tested against Trump's DNA.
The statute of limitations for the alleged rape by Trump has expired. Carroll is currently suing Trump for defamation after he denied her allegation, saying that he had never met her. Since that time at least one photo has been unearthed showing the two together with their spouses at a social event, talking and laughing years prior to the alleged rape.
Trump’s attempts to have the case dismissed were rebuffed earlier this month by a Manhattan Judge. Accordingly, the case is proceeding into the discovery phase.
The dress Carroll was wearing when Trump allegedly attacked her was never washed and hung in Carroll’s closet for years. In connection with her defamation suit, Carroll had the dress tested. A lab report found four DNA samples on the dress, at least one of them male. Carroll’s attorneys have now formally requested a sample of Trump’s DNA to determine whether it matches the sample on the dress.
The moment the dressing-room door is closed, he lunges at me, pushes me against the wall, hitting my head quite badly, and puts his mouth against my lips. I am so shocked I shove him back and start laughing again. He seizes both my arms and pushes me up against the wall a second time, and, as I become aware of how large he is, he holds me against the wall with his shoulder and jams his hand under my coat dress and pulls down my tights.
I am astonished by what I’m about to write: I keep laughing. The next moment, still wearing correct business attire, shirt, tie, suit jacket, overcoat, he opens the overcoat, unzips his pants, and, forcing his fingers around my private area, thrusts his penis halfway — or completely, I’m not certain — inside me. It turns into a colossal struggle. I am wearing a pair of sturdy black patent-leather four-inch Barneys high heels, which puts my height around six-one, and I try to stomp his foot. I try to push him off with my one free hand — for some reason, I keep holding my purse with the other — and I finally get a knee up high enough to push him out and off and I turn, open the door, and run out of the dressing room.
The whole episode lasts no more than three minutes. I do not believe he ejaculates. I don’t remember if any person or attendant is now in the lingerie department. I don’t remember if I run for the elevator or if I take the slow ride down on the escalator. As soon as I land on the main floor, I run through the store and out the door — I don’t recall which door — and find myself outside on Fifth Avenue.
And that was my last hideous man. The Donna Karan coatdress still hangs on the back of my closet door, unworn and unlaundered since that evening. And whether it’s my age, the fact that I haven’t met anyone fascinating enough over the past couple of decades to feel “the sap rising,” as Tom Wolfe put it, or if it’s the blot of the real-estate tycoon, I can’t say. But I have never had sex with anybody ever again.
Greece’s prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has welcomed a decision by France to dispatch war frigates to the eastern Mediterranean as a standoff with Turkey over regional energy reserves intensifies.
With tensions between Athens and Ankara causing growing international alarm, Mitsotakis described the vessels as “guarantors of peace”.
“The only way to end differences in the eastern Mediterranean is through international justice,” he told reporters after holding talks in Paris with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. “Greece and France are pursuing a new framework of strategic defence.”
Turkey, a charter member of the Axis of Authoritarianism, is doing what fascists do - seeking to extend its control and influence beyond its borders.
The Gallic-Greek alliance cements what officials in Athens are calling a renewed diplomatic push to counter Turkish belligerence in the Mediterranean.
Greece’s defence minister, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, recently went as far as to warn that armed forces were “examining all scenarios, even that of military engagement” in the face of heightened aggression from Ankara. Rejecting Turkish demands that Greece demilitarise 16 Aegean islands, he accused Turkey of displaying unusually provocative behaviour.
The demand, made by his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar, follows a dramatic surge in recent months in the number of violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets. “Greece does not provoke, does not violate the sovereign rights of others, but it doesn’t like to see its own rights violated,” said Panagiotopoulos.
“What we are seeing is a far more revisionist and aggressive Turkey aiming at change of borders be it on land or sea,” said the international relations professor Aristotle Tziampiris at the University of Piraeus. “That, and Erdoğan’s increasing authoritarianism, is the cause of such tensions and consternation with Greece,” he said. “To counter the aggression, Athens is resolved to strengthen partnerships and strategic alliances, be it with France, other EU allies or the US.”
Turkey has blamed France for instability in Libya after French President Emmanuel Macron accused his Turkish counterpart of failing "to keep his word" to put an end to meddling in the North African country.
The French leader claimed earlier on Wednesday at a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis that Turkish warships accompanying Syrian mercenaries arrived in Libya in recent days.
Macron said the action was a "clear violation" of what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised at the Berlin conference on January 19 where world leaders pledged to stay out of the Libyan conflict.
"These past few days we have seen Turkish warships accompanied by Syrian mercenaries arrive on Libyan soil. This is a serious and explicit infringement of what was agreed upon in Berlin," Macron said, referring to the international summit.
“As of 11:00 pm tonight (2300 GMT) the U.K. that Scotland voted to remain part of, a U.K. inside the E.U., the status quo that a majority voted for, will no longer exist. There will be a material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014,” she said, referring to the last referendum on Scottish independence.
Members of the devolved Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh this week voted to back her calls for a fresh vote, which she wants to be held as early as this year.
But U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected SNP requests to formally transfer powers from London to Edinburgh for the referendum – dubbed indyref2 – to be held.
"Leave a Light On"
Scottish newspapers on Friday marked Brexit with pro-European front pages, reflecting the majority vote north of the border with England to remain in the E.U. in the 2016 referendum.
“Short changed: Isolated, worse off, weaker and divided,” said the Daily Record.
Pro-independence daily The National wrote: “Dear Europe. We didn’t vote for this. Remember to … Leave a light on for Scotland.”
There's a lot going on in Europe these days that escapes much notice on our side of the pond. We hear about the rise of "illiberal democracy," a term coined by its high priest, Hungary's Viktor Orban. The odious Orban is now setting his sights on restoring Hungary to its pre-WWI greatness. His strategy is to stage a "virtual reunification" of former Hungarian territory that is now part of Slovenia, Serbia and Romania.
A century since the Treaty of Trianon dramatically shrank the size of the Hungarian state and stranded millions of Hungarians beyond its borders, Orban is pouring money into ethnic Hungarian communities in neighbouring states, issuing passports and picking up voters and political leverage for the ruling Fidesz party.
The largesse, however, has come at a price for democracy, according to a BIRN investigation in Slovenia, Serbia and Romania, where Hungarian spending shot up from 40 million euros in 2015 to 330 million in 2018 and amounted to more than three quarters of a billion over the four-year period.
In these countries, local proxies beholden to Budapest now wield a worrying degree of influence over media, culture and development funds, imitating Orban’s own ‘illiberal democracy’.
The article contains links to reports on just what Orban is up to in these neighbouring states and it's a bit scary.
The photo above shows Trump welcoming Orban to the Axis of Authoritarianism.
Since the right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS) took control of the lower house of Poland’s parliament in 2015, the country’s democracy has been under attack. Judicial independence has been of particular concern.
The situation has already forced the European Union in 2017 to take up Article 7 deliberations that could ultimately suspend Poland’s voting rights within the European Council.
The ongoing saga between Brussels and Warsaw came to a head on earlier this month when the opposition-controlled Polish Senate rejected a controversial draft law aimed at punishing justices who question controversial judicial reforms.
Unfortunately, this victory was short-lived. The draft law returned to parliament, where lawmakers from the Law and Justice party hold the majority. Last week, the PiS-controlled lower chamber overturned the Senate’s vote, and approved the bill. Now that the legislation has passed in the lower house, it is up to PiS-aligned President Andrzej Duda, who is expected to sign the bill into law.
The photo above shows Trump inducting Duda into the Axis at the White House.
Out of 85 major cities around the world, Toronto is projected to experience the fourth largest climate shift by 2050 if nothing is done to curb global carbon emissions, according to a new study by Nestpick, based in Berlin. The apartment rental platform used research methodologies and reports from established climate change experts to compare the cities’ climates, average temperature, sea-level changes and water stress.
Toronto’s average temperature is expected to rise 3 C compared to that metric 1970 to 2000. As a result, the city’s climate will change from “continental” to “temperate,” meaning winters will be warmer and rainy, the research suggests.
Ottawa and Montreal ranked 15th and 16th in terms of how much their climates will shift, and both could see a temperature change of more than 3 C, the study said.
Calgary will see less change in its climate, with a 2.14 C temperature increase by 2050 and continued warm summers and cold winters.
The Brits, half of them anyway, are looking forward to midnight and Britain's official departure from the European Union. The Euros, on a different time zone, will mark the event at 11 p.m., London time.
Festivities? There are bound to be some. CBC was reporting this morning that in Scotland they're marking the day by flying the EU flag. They don't see much to celebrate in being forced to leave the European Union against their will. Hmm, that may have repercussions down the road.
The Irish border was a sticking point during negotiations for the withdrawal agreement. There were concerns a hard land border on the island of Ireland could lead to cumbersome lineups, political unrest or even a return to violence.
Instead British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's deal puts the border on the Irish Sea, essentially a border inside the U.K., where goods going between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be subject to checks.
It would give the EU control over what is making it into the Northern Island and possibly down to the Republic.
"What we are going to be concerned about is what rules and regulations will be put in place," said Seamus Leheny, policy manager for the Freight Transport Association. "Worst-case scenarios if the system isn't robust and efficient, you can have a backlog of goods."
The process will remain as it is now during the 11-month transition period but eventually there will likely be new checks and paperwork required at ports in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
A poll on Irish unity was not an “exotic red line” for Sinn Féin entering coalition government but “an absolute necessity” after Brexit, said the party’s president Mary Lou McDonald.
Speaking at a protest against Brexit on the Irish Border on the day the UK leaves the EU, the Sinn Féin leader said “preparations for constitutional change” on the island “needed to start.”
The party, in third place in the polls closely behind Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, has made a Border poll within five years a condition of entering a government after the February 8th election.
It's perfect tinder for the hot heads who might spark a return of The Troubles. BoJo some time ago hinted that he'd accept losing Northern Ireland if that was necessitated by Brexit.
Citizens of the Republic have a date with destiny next week when they go to the polls to choose a new government. The Guardian reports that recent polls show a surge in support for Sinn Fein among younger voters.
During the referendum campaign in 2016, Johnson puzzled many of his own supporters by claiming Brexit itself as, of all things, “the great project of European liberalism”. This may be like claiming puritanism as the great project of sexual liberation, but it does make a superficial kind of sense. The central idea of Brexit is indeed part of 18th- and 19th-century European culture: the nation state as the primary locus of political loyalty and as the collective manifestation of a unified “people”. Brexit has to present itself in these terms: a suppressed people rising up, as Jacob Rees-Mogg puts it, to set itself “free of the heavy yoke of the European Union”.
But here there is a great irony: Britain is not and never has been a nation state. For most of its history as a state, it has been at the heart not of a national polity, but of a vast multinational and polyglot empire. And the UK is itself a four-nation amalgam of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no single pre-EU UK “nation” to return to. There is no unified “people” to whom power is being returned. And this is the contradiction that the Brexit project cannot even acknowledge, let alone resolve.
Scotland and Northern Ireland rejected Brexit even more emphatically in the general election of 2019 than they had done in the referendum of 2016 and a clear majority of voters in the UK as a whole voted in 2019 for parties that promised a second referendum and an opportunity to stay in the EU. So while Johnson likes to talk of 31 January as “this pivotal moment in our national story”, there is neither a settled nation nor a shared story. Brexit is not Northern Ireland’s story. It is not Scotland’s story. It is not even London’s story. It is the national origin myth of the place that Anthony Barnett, co-founder of openDemocracy, calls “England without London”.
There is no doubt that Brexit has worked in the way that nationalist movements try to – it has united people across great divides of social class and geography in the name of a transcendent identity. Many of those people, if not quite drunk on scrumpy and bawling Brexit shanties, will feel real joy on 31 January. But the problem is that this unity of national purpose functions within a nation that does not actually exist: non-metropolitan England and parts of English-speaking Wales. And it is purchased at the very high price of creating much deeper divisions between England-without-London and the rest of the British-Irish archipelago.
There is a particular paradox here when we think back on that great Brexit slogan: take back control. It is that the parts of the UK that have actually “taken back control” into their own local democratic institutions reject Brexit; while the parts that support Brexit have no such institutions. The Scottish parliament, the Welsh Senedd and the Northern Ireland assembly have all voted overwhelmingly in recent weeks to reject the withdrawal agreement. (Their votes will of course be ignored by the government in London.)
We're getting steamrollered by Trudeau and his Liberal thugs but the truth still gets out. From the Canadian Press. And a guy named Mike Pearson is blowing the whistle.
Work on a Trans Mountain pipeline crossing in a British Columbia stream has destroyed salmon habitat, raising concerns about the Crown corporation’s ability to build infrastructure through waterways if the expansion project proceeds, a scientist says.
Mike Pearson says the “amateur hour” work on the Stewart Creek crossing in Chilliwack will reduce food sources for coho and chum salmon and limit their ability to hide from predators. The fish are part of the diet of endangered southern resident killer whales.
“There was no consideration given whatsoever to the habitat, which is just not acceptable,” said Pearson, a biologist with 30 years’ experience.
Trans Mountain Corp. filed documents with the National Energy Board showing its plans to cover exposed pipe in the Fraser Valley creek. It wrote that it would place concrete mats in the channel, extending about eight metres upstream and nine metres downstream of the exposed line, and cover it with small stones.
Pearson said the work was completed in August to September of last year. He visited the site in December and took photos that he says show most of the stones have been swept away by currents, leaving the concrete blocks exposed.
“The work has degraded habitat in several ways,” he wrote in an assessment filed with the energy board by intervener Yarrow Ecovillage.
The smooth, hard concrete provides no hiding places for salmon, supports very few of the aquatic invertebrates they feed on, inhibits plant growth and prevents fish from burying their eggs, the document says.
Pearson believes it’s not an isolated incident. An assessment he did of a pipeline creek crossing on Sumas Mountain in 2015 for Pipe Up Network, an anti-pipeline group, concluded the site was physically unstable and reconstructed with materials inappropriate to restoring habitat.
A stream-keeper has also raised concerns about excavation at Trans Mountain’s terminal in Burnaby. John Preissl has filed several complaints with the energy board alleging the work has caused sediment to fall into two salmon-bearing creeks.
Only this morning I listened to a report on CBC radio about the feds launching a campaign against single-use plastics. The Liberals were starting by releasing scientific studies on the problem. That made me wonder why the Trudeau government still hasn't released the science about the pipeline and the risk of environmental catastrophe from a bitumen leak in BC coastal waters. Trudeau has been saying for years that his government has "done the science." Environment Canada, the Royal Society and other experts say no, the science hasn't been done. Nobody has answered the hard questions, especially not the Dauphin and his cabinet. If they're not lying and, despite all evidence to the contrary, they have done the science, it's safe to assume there's an important reason for making sure it never sees the light of day.
Projections from the administration, released in its annual energy outlook, find carbon emissions are likely to decrease through the 2020s before picking up again in the 2030s.
The trend line leaves U.S. carbon emissions almost exactly where they are right now.
“Total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions resume modest growth in the 2030s, driven largely by increases in energy demand in the transportation and industrial sectors; however, by 2050, they remain 4 percent lower than 2019 levels,” the report says.
Though a number of states have set goals to have their electric sector be carbon neutral by 2050 or sooner, the report suggests those efforts could be derailed by growing transportation emissions, which are currently the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)
The report is a blaring "Up Yours" to climate science types who have warned that our only hope of averting catastrophic climate change depends on slashing GHG emissions by half by 2030 and entirely by 2050. In essence, the United States is signing humanity's death warrant.
Are rural Albertans finally waking up to realize that the provincial energy industry's interests and the public interest are not one and the same? Is it dawning on them that Jason Kenney and his UCP have taken sides and it's not theirs?
[Kenney's] United Conservative Party won every single seat in communities smaller than Lethbridge when they swept to power last April. Kenney helped accomplish this by carefully crafting his public persona as a pickup-driving regular guy, battling the Ottawa elite on behalf of everyday Albertans.
But actions speak louder than words, and rural Albertans have good reason to question who exactly their pugnacious premier is really fighting for.
Last week Kenney told towns they may have to eat $173 million in unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies — an amount doubled since last year — because they can’t expect to get “money from a stone.”
What does it mean when the premier says companies who’ve made billions off Albertans’ resources have turned to stone?
You play ball with me and I'll stick the bat straight up your backside.
Consider the ballooning problem of abandoned wells, which grows worse every year. Oil companies are washing their hands of formerly profitable drill sites and leaving landowners and municipalities holding the bag. Almost 100,000 orphaned or inactive oil and gas wells require reclamation at an estimated cost of $30 billion.
The “world-class” Alberta Energy Regulator — funded by the very industry they are tasked with overseeing — have secured less than one per cent of this amount. Instead of getting on with this important cleanup work, many of the companies responsible for the growing mess are now choosing not to pay their local taxes — with the apparent blessing of the premier.
Cash-strapped local governments are frustrated by the lack of legal mechanisms to go after delinquent oil and gas companies, most of which are still in business. Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin told the Canadian Press, “My personal opinion is that this is a tax revolt. [Oil and gas companies] are using this as a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs.”
Unlike higher branches of government that can run rolling deficits, local governments in Alberta are required by law to balance the books, no matter what budgetary indignities are imposed by the province.
... It is not just municipalities being screwed by the Kenney government and the oil and gas sector, but local landowners as well. Farmers and ranchers with pump jacks and pipelines on their properties are increasingly complaining that companies are failing to honour the terms of lease agreements.
Daryl Bennett of the Action Surface Rights Association, representing about 200 landowners in southern Alberta recently told City News, “I get calls every day from landowners saying, ‘Hey, I got a notice. They’re cutting the compensation.’ There’s thousands of landowners in this situation.”
... Even when abandoned well sites are remediated, landowners have good reason to doubt whether this work will be done properly. An internal government report accessed by the Narwhal found less than three per cent of sites issued a reclamation certificate by the AER ever had a field inspection. Many of these former installations showed long-term degradation — one farmer described his recently reclaimed well site, “the spot where nothing grows.”
As the problem of abandoned wells and unpaid debts mounts in rural Alberta, the premier indicated he will continue to keep fighting — for the oil and gas industry.
Oh well, the bill for remediating those Tar Sands tailing ponds won't be in the mail for another decade or two, probably hot on the heels of some bursting of the carbon bubble. It's not clear whether all Canadians will be left holding the bag for that clean up but it's all but guaranteed we'll be on the hook for the write off costs of Mr. Trudeau's trans mountain pipeline.
Imagine two vehicles racing toward each other at a closing speed of just under 15 kilometres a second. Not an hour, not a minute - a second. Now imagine those vehicles passing each other by a distance of 30 metres, perhaps 15 metres, possibly less. One vehicle weighs 954 kilograms, the other 85 kilograms.
Now imagine the razor-sharp calculations are just a smidge out and they smash into each other at just under 53,000 kms. an hour.
It's the stuff of nightmares. Here's a video that will give you an idea of how vulnerable our civilization is to this sort of catastrophe.
It has a name, the 'Kessler Effect' or the Kessler Cascade.
It's not something that could go wrong but something that, unless we do something very expensive and inconvenient about it, will go wrong as a mathematical certainty. NASA scientist Don Kessler got to thinking about all the junk in low-Earth orbit zinging around at 15,000 miles an hour. He wondered what happens when, eventually, that junk begins to impact other orbiting stuff like satellites. Even a small piece of junk is all it takes for a big satellite to explode into thousands of new bits of orbiting shrapnel just waiting to turn other spacecraft into ever more clouds of orbiting shrapnel. Eventually there'll be nothing left functioning in space and that orbital band will become unusable for, well, generations.
You know that cellphone? Nah, ain't going to work. Neither will your computer or your cable TV. Ditto for your and everyone else's GPS and that includes the military and every airline. Your ATM? Forget about it. And the transportation and distribution networks that keep food on your local store shelves, they'll go down too. If we're lucky our authorities will be able to keep some of our utilities functioning at some level, at least for a while.
Our governments, or some of them, are really beginning to take this seriously now but that mainly takes the form of panic, not action. There is futuristic talk about deploying orbital janitors that will track down and capture space debris and fire it back to earth for it to burn up on re-entry. Talk, however, is cheap. Action is expensive and, for the moment, elusive.
Smart acrobats have figured out they can still dazzle the crowd and use safety nets - just in case. In fact, I enjoy the performance better knowing the guy leaping from one swing to another has a good chance of not killing himself if something goes wrong. The thing is, we're not as smart as those acrobats. We're doing all the high wire stuff today without nets. It's just that we've been trained never to look down.
It’s not just the target that’s wrong, but the very notion of setting targets in an emergency.
When firefighters arrive at a burning building, they don’t set themselves a target of rescuing three of the five inhabitants. They seek – aware that they may not succeed – to rescue everyone they can. Their aim is to maximise the number of lives they save. In the climate emergency, our aim should be to maximise both the reduction of emissions and the drawing down of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. There is no safe level of global heating: every increment kills.
Maximisation is implicit in the Paris agreement: it requires governments to pursue “the highest possible ambition”. In its land-use report, the CCC repeatedly admits that it could go further, but insists it doesn’t need to, because its policies will meet the target. The target has supplanted the ultimate objective, which is to respond appropriately to the climate emergency. This is a classic vindication of Goodhart’s law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
We are all familiar with the absurdities of target culture. ...We know how, in many workplaces, the target becomes the task. We know how targets encourage people to game the system, as hospital administrators do with their waiting lists, and cause Kafkaesque nightmares of overzealous officialdom, as David Boyle documents in his new book, Tickbox.
The appropriate response to the climate emergency is a legal duty to maximise climate action. The CCC’s board should be disbanded and replaced by people whose mandate is rigorously to explore every economic sector in search of the maximum possible cuts in greenhouse gases, and the maximum possible drawdown. We have arrived at the burning building. The only humane and reasonable aim is to rescue everyone inside.
George is right - in theory. All the flaws he shows in our emissions targets system are real and they're potentially lethal. At some point, however, we need to recognize that there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for meeting those modest targets anyway. Look at the record of our own federal government that, even now, is pondering the proposed Teck bitumen mine in the Tar Sands that would blow Canada right out of all those solemn promises.
What I like about Monbiot's suggestion is that it would steer us toward the real solution to the myriad existential threats to our survival. The simple fact is that the key to preventing civilization's collapse is for mankind to find ways to live in harmony with our very finite planet, Spaceship Earth, our one and only biosphere. There are far too many of us. We consume far more than the planet can provide. And we're fouling the atmosphere and acidifying our oceans. That's the face of our excess, our insistence on doing everything we possibly can without the slightest regard to whether we should.
Here's the thing. We could easily draw up a fairly accurate picture of what mankind would be like if we were to live sustainably on our planet. That would lead us to a vision of what James Lovelock called "sustainable retreat" - growing smaller, consuming less, producing less waste and contamination. Once we had that in front of our faces we might realize how far behind the curve we have fallen and how we need to focus on maximization. Nah, forget it.
I first heard the term "instant sunshine" on some NATO base in Europe in the mid-70s. It was a slang reference to the bevy of tactical nuclear weapons, bombs or missiles, even a few artillery shells, deployed to destroy or at least delay a horde of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tanks pouring into Western Europe via the Fulda Gap. These were small, sub-Hiroshima-grade mini-nukes to be dropped wherever the bad guys could be forced to concentrate.
Those tactical nuclear weapons weren't "war winners." Their man purpose was to pause an invasion for a day or two to allow the leaders in Moscow and Washington to cool off. They were buying time that, it was hoped, would prevent Armageddon, a massive exchange of strategic nuclear weapons, the Dr. Strangelove stuff.
Some critics saw them as "gateway bombs" that would forever break the taboo on nuclear warfare. They argued that, once you use the small nukes, you've lowered the threshold for an all out, civilization-ending nuclear exchange. Fortunately that hypothesis never got tested.
The Soviet Union is gone. The Warsaw Pact is gone. NATO keeps busy with "make work projects" in Afghanistan or bolstering the Baltic democracies against Putin. However of late there's been renewed interest in a new generation of mini-nukes.
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the group that just moved the Doomsday Clock to 100-seconds before midnight, warns that Trump is changing the paradigm on the use of tactical nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons are widely seen as bombs built never to be used. Historically, granular—even seemingly mundane—decisions about force structure, research efforts, or communicated strategy have confounded planners, sometimes causing the opposite of the intended effect.
Such is the risk carried by one strategy change that has earned top billing under the Trump administration: the deployment of a new “low-yield” nuclear weapon on US submarines.
Low-yield, high risk. The Trump administration first announced its plans for a new low-yield nuclear warhead in its February 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a public report meant to communicate and clarify various American nuclear weapons policies. The Nuclear Posture Review presented the lower-strength warhead as necessary for the “preservation of credible deterrence against regional aggression.” In other words, the United States was seeking a new, intermediate option for an imagined scenario in which Russia, after starting a conventional war in Europe, might be tempted to use smaller nuclear weapons first in order to win the conflict. In such a scenario, US thinking goes, the threat of US retaliation with full-strength bombs would not be believable and would not be enough to deter Russia from pursuing such a course in the first place. The way to deter a limited nuclear strike by Russia was for the United States to have a readily available option for retaliating with a limited, proportional strike of its own.
The Atomic Scientists argue this is a bad idea for a bunch of reasons. For starters, there are few tactical targets that can't be easily taken out with conventional weapons. When you do launch a missile with a nuclear warhead it can be difficult, in some cases impossible, for the other side to discern whether it's a mini-nuke or a strategic nuclear attack and they've only got a few minutes to decide what nuke is coming and how to respond.
Perhaps the most worrisome issue is Trump's stated willingness to use tactical nukes for a first-strike attack on countries such as Iran that pose no immediate threat to the United States.
Critics worry that military planners will be tempted to use the low-yield warhead not for deterrence, but for a first strike. Such concerns were initially dismissed out of hand, but recent news coverage gives them more credibility.
Reporting by Newsweek in January 2020 revealed that in 2016 the United States held a wargame featuring the Air Force’s B61 nuclear bomb—another weapon with a low-yield option—in an imagined battlefield situation against Iran. Despite signing a landmark nonproliferation agreement with Iran the previous year, the Obama administration saw fit to train its command and control systems for a nuclear attack against a non-nuclear state. Officers speaking on the record to Newsweek about the exercise even identified the W76-2 as an imagined first-strike option for such a scenario, suggesting that its deployment is “explicitly intended to make the threat of such an attack more credible.”
What we learned in the Cold War and ever since is that nuclear weapons are a "confidence game." You need your adversary to be confident that you won't launch a surprise attack. You want your adversary to trust you. This has already prevented more than one global nuclear exchange when a computer went wrong or there was confusion in missile detection systems. There's a great premium for everyone in maintaining a reasonably high threshold on the use of nuclear weapons. Likewise there's a real danger when you lower your nuclear threshold and undermine your adversary's confidence level. And, who is more likely to undermine that confidence, than America's own lunatic-in-chief, Donald J. Trump?
The burning of jet fuel is increasing by an additional 44 million litres every day — an additional 16,000 million extra litres each year. That's like burning 1,000 tanker trucks more than the day before. And then 1,000 more than that the next day … ad nauseum.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) credits the "spectacular expansion" of jet fuel burning, along with increasing plastic production, for fuelling the vigorous rise in global oil demand.
At current rates, the aviation industry will soon be dumping a billion tonnes of CO2 per year into our atmosphere. That exceeds the combined emissions of 135 nations … for everything.
...the industry isn't planning to stop at a billion tonnes. They are spending trillions of dollars to buy more jetliners, expand airports and build the fossil fuel infrastructure that will push their climate pollution to ever more dizzying heights.
On top of that, the best climate science indicates that burning jet fuel in the upper atmosphere creates additional warming from other greenhouse gases and contrail cloudiness. While less well quantified, the full climate impact is estimated to be between 1.5 times CO2 at the low end, and five times CO2 at the high end.
Aviation's soaring climate pollution carries another large, though little appreciated, climate risk: the industry produces very little value from each tonne of CO2 it emits. The economists' term is "high carbon intensity," while a more colloquial term is dirty dollars.
The aviation industry says: "If aviation were a country, it would rank 20th in size by GDP (similar to Switzerland)." What they don't mention, but the chart shows clearly, is that the industry dumps 15 times more climate pollution than Switzerland to get there.
However you slice it, there is growing risk — to industry, investors and humanity — from driving such a breakneck expansion of a "three-times-dirtier-than-China" industry into the teeth of the gathering climate storm.
The author contends the only viable solution is the "peak flight" option by which the number of flights/passenger miles would be frozen at today's levels. Then new technologies should be enough to gradually reduce overall GHG emissions. The downside is that we would land into an allocation quandry - rationing. Who gets to fly, who stays grounded? Do we all get one flight per year, two flights per year, perhaps one flight every two years? If we're to avert calamity the friendly skies may become somewhat less welcoming.
Don't worry, it'll never happen. Why not? Because it would be a forum for equitable allocation. Climate change and equitable considerations are not welcome at places like Davos or on Capitol Hill. That could open a hornet's nest of claims pertaining to carbon budgets, etc. The plebs might want their fair/fare share of the action and we cannot be having that, can we?
In recent remarks Donald Trump has hinted he wants control of Syria's oil. Coming from a guy who has repeatedly lamented that the US didn't just take Iraq's oil a move on Syria's oil can't be taken lightly.
In the latest confrontation, a Russian column was stopped by US soldiers in ten armoured vehicles. The Russian military responded by trying to send a helicopter. It was intercepted and forced to land by two American helicopters.
US Defense Secretary, Mark Esper, has confirmed that the US force is deployed to prevent either Assad's government or its Russian allies from taking control of the oil fields.
The sprawling US embassy compound in Baghdad's Green Zone has been hit before. What makes today's attack different is that one of the three rockets hit the embassy cafeteria at dinner time.
Three rockets slammed into the US embassy in Iraq's capital on Sunday in the first direct hit reported after months of close calls, as thousands kept up anti-government sit-ins across the country.
The attack marked a dangerous escalation in the spree of rocket attacks in recent months that have targeted the embassy or Iraqi military bases where American troops are deployed.
None of the attacks has been claimed but Washington has repeatedly blamed Iran-backed military factions in Iraq.
On Sunday, one rocket hit an embassy cafeteria at dinner time while two others landed nearby, a security source said.
The return of Muqtada.
Shia cleric, Muqtada-al-Sadr, has been rallying thousands of supporters to demand a complete ouster of American troops from Iraq. He has also supported anti-government protests that have resulted in the deaths of some 600 protesters at government hands since October. In 2004 his Mahdi army (now rebranded the "Peace Companies") played hell with American occupation forces in Baghdad and Najaf. He was, for a time, wanted by American authorities for murder.
Today, even some of Sadr's former adversaries, American and Iraqi, see the firebrand as Iraq's last best chance for restoring peace.
Will Trump strike back?
American authorities claim no casualties were sustained from the direct missile strike on their embassy cafeteria at dinner time but the Americans have a track record of saying whatever suits them.
“Anything that’s replicable, anything that’s repeatable, some machine is going to do better,” the 44th president of the United States told the audience.
Obama said young people need to think about things that have not been done before, and skills that include interacting with other human beings. Creativity, analytical thinking and team building are the types of skills that will continue to be vital in a future full of job automation, he said. ... Young people need to emulate Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg who “speaks to a generation that’s going to deal with this mess,” Obama said.
Obama had some praise for Canada, saying Canadians are “reasonable” people and, while there may be some political divisions here, at least it’s a country where “facts still matter.”
I recently came across an article predicting that critical thinking was/is on its way out. Reality is becoming blurred. The news media has long switched from disseminating information to peddling messaging, opinion, with a chosen slant. We're about to embark on a new world that will feature things such as "augmented" or "blended reality" in which the reality you experience and perceive will be supplemented by additional streams of information to create a partially manufactured perception in which the line between the two can become increasingly difficult to discern.
It was suggested that, as our connection with reality is manipulated we will gradually shift into a world in which we choose to follow feelings rather than knowledge. This may be what we're seeing in play in the United States today, even in the American Congress where some are struggling to defend the Constitution from erosion into irrelevance.
Change is upon us and it is going to intensify with every passing decade. Which is why I offer you the latest out of Davos from historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari in which he discusses survival strategies for the 21st century.
For years Andrew Bacevich has lamented how his country allowed military force or the threat of military force to displace diplomacy as its principal instrument of foreign policy. It's no wonder then that he should embrace Martin Indyk's proposals for a reformation of Washington's approach to the Middle East.
Indyk has had a storied career in American diplomatic circles. He also twice served as US ambassador to Israel. Now he wants a sea change in America's approach to the Middle East. Bacevich clearly approves:
In an extraordinary op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal (of all places), [Indyk] asserts that “few vital interests of the US continue to be at stake in the Middle East.” Policies centered on ensuring the free flow of Persian Gulf oil and the survival of Israel have become superfluous. “The US economy no longer relies on imported petroleum,” he correctly notes. “Fracking has turned the US into a net oil and natural-gas exporter.” As a consequence, Persian Gulf oil “is no longer a vital interest — that is, one worth fighting for. Difficult as it might be to get our heads around the idea, China and India need to be protecting the sea lanes between the Gulf and their ports, not the US Navy.”
As for the Jewish State, Martin notes, again correctly, that today Israel has the capacity “to defend itself by itself.” Notwithstanding the blustering threats regularly issued by Tehran, “it is today’s nuclear-armed Israel that has the means to crush Iran, not the other way around.”
Furthermore, Martin has had his fill of the peace process. “A two-state solution to the Palestinian problem is a vital Israeli interest, not a vital American one,” he writes, insisting that “it’s time to end the farce of putting forward American peace plans only to have one or both sides reject them.”
Martin does identify one vital U.S. interest in the Middle East: averting a nuclear arms race. Yet “we should be wary of those who would rush to battle stations,” he cautions. “Curbing Iran’s nuclear aspirations and ambitions for regional dominance will require assiduous American diplomacy, not war.”
That last sentence captures the essence of Martin’s overall conclusion: he proposes not disengaging from the Middle East but demilitarizing U.S. policy. “After the sacrifice of so many American lives, the waste of so much energy and money in quixotic efforts that ended up doing more harm than good,” he writes, “it is time for the US to find a way to escape the costly, demoralising cycle of crusades and retreats.”
... Martin deserves our congratulations. We must hope that his heresy catches fire and spreads throughout the Blob. In the meantime, if he’s in need of office space, the Quincy Institute stands ready to help.
Welcome to the ranks of the truth tellers, comrade.
The Big Lie is that Canadian natural gas will wean Asia off thermal coal energy and thereby slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Representatives of the British Columbia, Alberta and federal governments are making the global rounds these days to sell the notion that liquefied natural gas exports can help the climate crisis.
The pitch goes like this: According to LNG Canada, the big Shell project now under construction in northern B.C., could replace 20 to 40 coal-fired plants in countries like China and India with Canadian methane, and reduce their emissions by 60 to 90 million tonnes.
And so, while the blockaders of northern B.C.’s LNG Canada pipeline await police eviction while claiming to stand up for Indigenous sovereignty and climate protection, backers of the project lay claim to their own moral high ground. Such claims are problematic, if not false. The best evidence to date reveals two quite inconvenient truths.
One, B.C.’s LNG is not cleaner than coal, due to leakage rates in our fracked shale fields of three per cent.
Two, there is no guarantee that China will use Canadian gas to actually displace coal power production, given that coal-fired plants already operate as efficiently as methane-fueled ones.
The extraction (fracking) industry lies. The transmission (pipeline, storage, liquefaction, shipping) industry lies. The provincial authorities lie. Their federal counterparts also lie.
There was an item in the papers about how our federal government will be providing handouts to farmers who need extra fuel to dry out their sodden grain harvests. That's what can fairly be called climate change relief.
I wonder if Ottawa will be issuing grants to those of us who now need air purifiers to keep our homes safe from damaging wildfire smoke, another climate change impact?
To say that the federal government's climate change and energy policies are schizophrenic is a massive understatement. A recent article in The Narwhal, for example, pegs our governments' overall subsidies to the climate wrecking fossil fuel industry at $1,650 per year for every man, woman and child in Canada. Per year, every year.
Speaking about climate wrecking, there's a new report from Yale 360 about how man-made climate change is terraforming the Arctic. It warns that some 2.5 million square miles of permafrost could disappear by the end of this century. That's 647 million hectares or 6.47 million square kilometres. That's a lot, especially when you take into account the volume of once safely-sequestered methane that will be released as that permafrost melts.
...if the Arctic continues to warm as quickly as climatologists are predicting, an estimated 2.5 million square miles of permafrost — 40 percent of the world’s total — could disappear by the end of the century, with enormous consequences. The most alarming is expected to be the release of huge stores of greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide that have remained locked in the permafrost for ages. Pathogens will also be released.
But less well appreciated are the sweeping landscape changes that will alter tundra ecosystems, making it increasingly difficult for subsistence indigenous people, such as the Inuit, and Arctic animals to find food. The disintegration of subterranean ice that glues together the peat, clay, rocks, sand, and other inorganic minerals is now triggering landslides and slumping at alarming rates, resulting in stream flows changing, lakes suddenly draining, seashores collapsing, and water chemistry being altered in ways that could be deleterious to both humans and wildlife.
“We’re seeing slumping along shorelines that can drain most of the water in a lake in just days and even hours,” says Marsh, a former Canadian government scientist who is now a professor of hydrology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. “It’s not surprising when you consider that as much as 80 percent of the ground here consists of frozen water. When that ice melts, the frozen ground literally falls apart.” As a result, says Marsh, indigenous communities, the resource industry, and the government need to better understand how a warming climate is impacting water resources and permafrost ecosystems.”
It is estimated that the Arctic permafrost holds 1,400 gigatons of CO2. Scientists figure if we're to have a slightly better than average chance at holding global warming to 1.5 degrees C, the carbon budget/atmospheric loading remaining is somewhere around 120 gigatons of CO2. Given recent increases in man-made CO2 emissions and projections by OPEC and the International Energy Agency that we'll be using ever more fossil fuel at least into 2040, man-made emissions are poised to blow straight through that 120 gigaton 'budget' even without what we can expect from the disappearing permafrost.
I know, I know, all these posts seem so gloomy, apocalyptic almost and they might turn out to be apocalyptic if we don't change course. Will we? Not until we make our politicians understand their jobs depend on doing the right thing, not the easy thing, now.
Residents of Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans are most at risk from PFAS or perflouroaylkyl substances in their drinking water. And they're called "forever chemicals" because they simply don't go away. And they're associated with cancers, liver damage, lower birth weight and a variety of other maladies - but who's counting?
The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.
“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report.
The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks.
Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington DC, only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700ft (215m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.
Naturally, Diabolical Donald Trump's administration is fighting this one bloody fang and claw.
In 2018 a draft report from an office of the US Department of Health and Human Services said the risk level for exposure to the chemicals should be up to 10 times lower than the 70 PPT threshold the EPA recommends. The White House and the EPA had tried to stop the report from being published.
Remember, kids, a fucked-up America is a Trump America.
As for Canada, we've got the same problem, albeit perhaps not as severe as the American experience. The linked article discusses PFAS in Canada and how little we've done about them. The only province to regulate them so far is British Columbia.
I know you don't want to hear this. I know you would rather bury your head in the sand. But you need to know that kind of thinking is about the very best way to seal your (our) fate.
In today's National Observer, retired professor (anthropology), Dennis Bartels, and Natasha Bartels (his daughter?), are calling for the federal government to mobilize the nation to ready Canada for the onslaught of climate change. (Dr. Bartels is no newcomer to this cause. A bit of searching turned up a paper that he wrote on this same subject in 2001.)
There have been numerous calls from scientists, news media and public figures to change our ways on a massive scale. These calls have not, however, provided a large-scale blueprint for sustained and organized change. This desperately needed blueprint for massive, effective and rapid social and economic transformation can be found in Canadian socio-economic mobilization for the Second World War. ... The Second World War mobilization included wage and price controls, food rationing and establishment of Crown (government-owned) corporations to produce war materials and supplies the private sector was unable or unwilling to provide. Taxation of the wealthy and private businesses was dramatically increased to support the war effort during the Second World War. Amounts in excess of government-imposed profit levels were taxed away.
The components of Second World War mobilization which should be updated and adapted to meet the climate crisis are:
1. Planned resource management and development, created in partnership with Indigenous communities, aimed at reducing carbon emissions and repairing environmental damage. 2. Taxation of wealth to fund the restructuring of the economy. 3. Reorienting education and training toward development of green industry and technology. 4. Creation of new Crown corporations to meet industrial production needs and protect access to necessaries of life. 5. Building co-operative international relations to reduce carbon emissions and protect shared environmental resources.
Well, isn't that quite a 'wish list.' The Bartels go on to add another recommendation, naming the enemy.
During Second World War mobilization in Canada, Hitler’s Germany was the enemy of Canada and the other Allied countries. In the climate crisis, fossil-fuel corporations and related industries are the enemies of all countries because they have created the crisis we now face. It is clear they intend to continue their practices that now threaten the existence of human life on our shared planet.
Fossil-fuel companies are now claiming we are all responsible for the climate crisis because most of us use fossil fuels. This is a diversionary tactic by fossil-fuel companies to distract the general public from the basic fact that it is these companies who are to blame for what we now face. It has now been revealed that major oil companies such as Exxon knew for decades combustion of fossil fuels causes global warming. Instead of changing their industries, they funded climate-science denial on a massive scale.
Every person currently alive was born into a fossil-fuel economy and infrastructure. We did not give our consent to be part of this destructive system, and numerous attempts by both scientists and ordinary people to change it have been aggressively suppressed and undermined by the economic giants of the fossil-fuel industry.
It has become an informal protocol that the White House gets to appoint the president of the World Bank while the EU gets to nominate the leadership of the International Monetary Fund. Think of it as another dubious artifact of the post-war world order.
One of the first things the most diabolical president in American history implemented was the appointment of David Malpass to head the World Bank. Ever since, Malpass has focused on taking the "world" out of the World Bank.
Hopes of using Davos to forge a new international consensus to tackle poverty and the climate crisis have been thwarted by the decision of the World Bank president, David Malpass, to boycott the event.
To the surprise of the other multilateral institutions, Malpass turned down his invitation to attend despite being in Europe this week for the UK government’s Africa investment summit in London.
One source said Malpass’s decision not to attend the World Economic Forum reflected the Bank’s go-it-alone approach under his presidency. “He has effectively declared UDI [unilateral declaration of independence],” the source said. “We saw it at last year’s G7 summit in France. President [Emmanuel] Macron wanted a collective statement from the international organisations but Malpass vetoed it. He wouldn’t have the word multilateralism in the statement.”
So who is this joker, Malpass? Wikipedia has a rich rundown on this character. Among the highlights are his six year stint as chief economist at Bear Stearns that appears to have ended with the firm's collapse. He's got a bit of the "Wrong-Way Corrigan" in him.
Malpass has been noted for his forecasts before the financial crisis of 2007–2008 and in the time period following the Great Recession. In 2007, before the housing market collapse, Malpass wrote for the Wall Street Journal that "Housing and debt markets are not that big a part of the U.S. economy, or of job creation...the housing- and debt-market corrections will probably add to the length of the U.S. economic expansion." He also called for the raising of interest rates in 2011 at a time when others believed this would be harmful to the economy. Bruce Bartlett cited Malpass's 2008 forecast of economic growth and his 2012 forecast of recession as specific examples of partisan bias in economic forecasts.
By all appearances the World Bank is now transformed into an in-house organ of the Trump White House. And we know what Trump thinks about the calamities now setting in around the world.
The Doomsday Clock no longer marks our future in minutes. They're working in seconds now. And, as the venerable Union of Atomic Scientists now sees it, we're 100 seconds away from, well...
The risk of civil collapse from nuclear weapons and the climate crisis is at a record high, according to US scientists and former officials, calling the current environment “profoundly unstable”.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced its symbolic “doomsday clock” has moved forward to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest to catastrophe that the scientists have judged the world to be at any point since its creation in 1947, at the outset of the cold war.
“The world needs to wake up. Our planet faces two simultaneous existential threats,” said Mary Robinson, chair of an independent group of global leaders called The Elders, and the former president of Ireland and former UN high commissioner of human rights.
Robinson said that countries that don’t aim to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions heating the planet and instead exploit fossil fuels are issuing “a death sentence for humanity”.
She said while public pressure presents a “sliver of hope” for the climate, there is no such pressure on leaders to avert nuclear threats.
Robert Rosner, chair of the Bulletin’s science and security board, said society has normalized a very dangerous world, and that “information warfare” is undermining “the public’s ability to sort out what’s true and what’s patently false”.
As Alberta struggles to clean up thousands of oil and gas wells left behind by bankrupt companies, the province's auditor general is set to investigate how the problem became so big and why the industry regulator's efforts to collect security deposits came up so short, CBC News has learned.
Often referred to as orphan wells, there are currently 3,406 such wells scattered around the province, usually on the properties of rural landowners, where they lie untended.
There are another 94,000 inactive wells in the province, with the worry that many of these may become orphaned as their owners struggle — and taxpayers could be left with the bill.
The auditor general's office will look at whether the province is doing enough to prevent wells from becoming orphaned in the first place, and whether it is prepared for more to be added to the list due to ongoing pressure on Alberta's energy economy.
Alberta is the most fiscally reckless province in Canada. A land of "everday low taxes" and even lower fossil fuel royalties. A province that consigns its people to a perpetual boom and bust economy where the government is never short of whipping boys to blame for its own breathtaking incompetence.
These wells are great, at the outset, when they're big producers but eventually they fizzle. That's when their owners, knowing the provincial governments will turn a blind eye, quietly transfer the wells and all their environmental liabilities into shell companies, Potemkin businesses that have no assets and soon go bankrupt - stiffing the taxpayers for the clean up.
Just wait until those Athabasca tailing ponds get dumped in the taxpayers' laps. That's when they'll have to turn to a nationwide bailout. Do start putting aside your loonies now.
Since the election of DJ Trump to the presidency most of us have seen the American people in a different light. The US is no longer the land of Ozzie & Harriet, of Ward and June, Wally and Beaver Cleaver. It was as though the "wholesome goodness" had evaporated, displaced by Trump's "base" with its seemingly unlimited capacity to tolerate his increasingly cruel buffoonery.
NYT columnist, Thomas Edsall, writes that even his country's seasoned political analysts are surprised by the transformation of American society. The glue that once held the country together may be failing.
The election of Trump and his first three years in office have revealed a nation deeply ambivalent about immigration, race, equality, fairness — even about the ground rules of democracy itself.
What if the belief systems used to justify anti-immigrant policies and to justify race prejudice, for that matter — hostility to outsiders, insularity, high sensitivity to external threat — are as deeply ingrained in the American body politic as belief systems sympathetic to immigration and to racial equality — openness, receptivity to new experiences, trust?
Karen Stenner, a political psychologist and behavioral economist best known for “predicting the rise of Trump-like figures under the kinds of conditions we now confront,” responded to my emailed inquiries by noting the conflicting pressures at play:
"I don’t think I would agree that Trumpian conservative stands on immigration, race and homelessness are a more “natural” or “default” position. Communities with a good balance of people who seek out diversity, complexity, novelty, new and exciting experiences etc., and those who are disgusted by and averse to such things, avoid them, and tell others to do likewise, tend to thrive and prosper in human evolution."
Finding the right balance, Stenner said, “is vital to both societal cohesion and human flourishing.” But, she warned, “we may have tipped the balance too far in favor of unconstrained diversity and complexity,” pushing the boundary beyond “many people’s capacity to tolerate it.”
Abraham Lincoln, falling back on scripture, warned that "a house divided against itself (over slavery) could not stand." Today America has succumbed to a degree of tribalism that, to me, at times seems to resemble a Lord of the Flies animus.
Many have observed that the American Left appears hapless, unable to push back against the radical right ascendancy. Edsall offers an explanation:
They found that in troubled times, when competition for limited goods intensifies, liberals move to the right:
"It is much easier to get a liberal to behave like a conservative than it is to get a conservative to behave like a liberal. Liberals act like conservatives when resources are scarce, cognitive load is high, and aid serves secondary rather than primary needs. Conservatives only act like liberals when they are asked to consider helping a person with internally controllable causes of need who has convincingly reformed."
Skitka and her colleagues conducted a series of tests comparing the answers of two groups to ideologically revealing questions. The first faced time pressure or were forced to answer with distracting background noises, in environments “taxing, limiting or otherwise disengaging effortful, deliberative thought.” The second group was asked the same questions with plenty of time to think and without noise or other distractions.
In each case, those tested under favorable circumstances provided more liberal answers than those tested under more hostile conditions. The adverse conditions forced those participants to perform what the authors called “low-effort thinking,” and the results showed that “low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism.”
Then they added alcohol to the mix:
In one of their four experiments, the authors went to an unidentified bar in New England and persuaded 85 drinkers to take the test and have their alcohol levels measured. The results:
"Bar patrons reported more conservative attitudes as their level of alcohol intoxication increased. Because alcohol limits cognitive capacity and disrupts controlled responding, while leaving automatic thinking largely intact, these data are consistent with our claim that low-effort thinking promotes political conservatism."
...Why does all this matter? What difference does it make if liberals and Democrats are more ambivalent than conservatives and Republicans?
For one thing, it means that in elections that are increasingly negative, ambivalent partisans — Democrats in this case — will be more vulnerable to attacks designed to generate conflict, to weaken enthusiasm and to increase the likelihood of nonvoting. President Trump and the proponents of the Republican Party he dominates are certain to do all they can to capitalize on this vulnerability.
Most importantly, Democratic ambivalence, in a year when high turnout is mandatory, reflects the larger problem facing a political party that is now focused on its shared animosity to Trump. That animosity may or may not be enough to propel its presidential candidate to victory, but the inherent tension between different sectors of the center-left coalition over ideological, economic and social issues — not to mention glaring levels of intraparty income inequality — calls into question exactly what common ground holds the Democratic coalition together. How common is it?