Saturday, February 29, 2020

Oregon Jury Refuses to Convict Climate Protesters

A group of Extinction Rebellion activists were put on trial for trespass. It was pretty open and shut, they did it. Except that they pleaded "justification" in their defence. It worked.

The defendants were not convicted of trespassing in the first degree—charges that resulted from their role in an April 28, 2019 action intended to halt Zenith Energy’s, a Texas corporation, (“Zenith’s”) essential role in the global facilitation and transport of fossil fuels, specifically, tar sands oil—one of the world’s most egregious source of carbon emissions and climate change. 
For the first time in U.S. history, to our knowledge, a jury was given the “choice of evils” climate necessity instruction and deliberated after a full jury trial. Jurors ended their deliberation with a hung jury after hearing testimony from expert witnesses and defendants. CLDC and its clients are grateful to the jury—fellow Multnomah County residents—who are imminently affected by Zenith’s environmental destruction and recognized that the climate defenders’ actions in defense of the public interest may have been justified under the law. 
“The jury’s inability to convict the activists reflects the prevailing community consciousness, which is unlikely to punish climate defenders for acts of nonviolent resistance,” [Civil Liberties Defense lawyer Lauren] Regan said.
Oregon has a "choice of evils" law under which a jury may refuse to convict where a defendant shows the conduct was necessary to avoid an imminent injury and that the need to avoid the injury was greater than the injury created by the defendant.

And Now, Just a Few Words, "In God We Trust"

In 1776, America's founding fathers proclaimed that the official motto of their freshly minted United States would be "E Pluribus Unum" or 'out of many, one.' Let's not clutter this up with awkward issues such as slavery or the 'white trash' syndrome. It was a noble thought. We're all in this together. We are as of one.

E Pluribus Unum lasted for 180 years, a good run in any country. Then, in 1956, it was retired to make way for "In God We Trust." Gotta get the Great Father in there - white, respectable, mom's apple pie sort of thing. It was all Dwight Eisenhower's idea. He wanted America yoked to religion although it didn't much matter to Dwight which religion that turned out to be. Eisenhower thought that embedding a little more religion in the public consciousness would make for a better, more loyal, less unruly populace.  Boom, the pews were full on Sunday morning as they had never been before. And the radical religion of the far right was inducted into the inner circle of power.

Post-war America has been no E Pluribus Unum country. That "all for one, one for all" business didn't fit capitalism on steroids. And in a society so deeply divided across so many fault lines - political, economic, ethnic and cultural -  that "unum" business is pure crap. Besides, In God We Trust is at once benign and yet so enduringly flexible. It has that Wehrmacht belt buckle "Gott Mit Uns" quality to it. God is with us, we are God's chosen. Hence, God delivers endless bounty in good times and in bad times there's the "Jesus, take the wheel" flip side.

Will America ever emerge from the current 'Jesus take the wheel' mode? Not as that nation is currently constituted and at some point we'll have to figure out how to live with that.

Full Dither Ahead

There are rarely political solutions to scientific perils.

That point is lost on our federal government that insists that action on climate change must be politically tailored to economic priorities.

The Liberals seemingly endorsed a motion to recognize that Canada - like every other country - is in the grip of a climate emergency. The government's sincerity was called into question when, less than 24 hours later, it greenlighted the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Our government struggles in its efforts to reconcile two blatantly irreconcilable priorities.  Fortunately it has mastered cognitive dissonance, elevating it to an art. It results in a government of pretence. It says it sees the red light just ahead but its response is to floor the gas pedal.

Deputy prime minister, Christia Freeland, erased any doubt that it will be "Full Dither Ahead" for the Liberal government.

For starters, the Liberals cling to the dodgy pledge to make Canada a "net zero" emitter by 2050. How likely is that when, under the current government, we're falling further and further behind meeting Stephen Harper's emissions cut targets?

A number they don't seem to like is 2030. The scientific consensus is that if we're to avert truly catastrophic climate change all nations will need to cut by half their emissions by 2030. That leaves just a further 20 years to deal with the hardest part, the final 50 per cent. If you can't manage the first half by 2030 you've essentially given up on decarbonizing your economy by 2050.

What is the government's plan to cut Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030? How do we reconcile that responsibility with building pipelines for high-carbon fossil fuels? I guess that's where cognitive dissonance comes to the rescue once again.

There's also the Great Canadian Pacifier, the vaunted carbon tax. Suck on that and be quiet.

There is one thing the government could do right now that could put Canada on the right path. It could cancel fossil fuel subsidies. No more subsidized electricity. Charge world prices for water consumed/contaminated. No more grants and deferrals. Start collecting the funds for environmental remediation, the old 'polluter pays' principle.

Why won't they do that? It's because the petro-economy is a Ponzi scheme, that buries costs as 'externalities' that are often then transformed into a future public burden. It's a racket and we're the marks.

The IMF contends that Canada, like most petro-states, hides the true costs of public support for the most profitable corporations on the planet. That's socialism for the rich. While Canadian governments admit to over $2 billion in annual subsidies, the IMF adds in all these hidden costs and freebies and comes up with $46 billion each and every year. I have never seen any government, federal or provincial, ever refute those IMF numbers, have you?

Why do our leaders perpetuate this farce? I think I know. I suspect it's because they know what happens if they stop. They know we're sitting atop a Carbon Bubble that's ready to burst and they don't want to be that guy. They don't want to take the blame. They're afraid to lead.

And so we'll dither along, assuring the public that we can have it both ways. It's an emergency but, ya know, not really. Not so much.

Which brings us to Churchill, a guy steeped in emergency, who said, "It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required."

Thursday, February 27, 2020

A Court Rules Against a Government Over Climate Change

The UK government has committed itself to some impressive climate change targets and, to
 the country's High Court, that means there'll be no third runway for Heathrow Airport.
[The court][ ruled that ministers’ failure to take the UK’s climate change commitments into account rendered the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) – which effectively gave the green light to a third runway – unlawful. In order to be lawful, the ANPS would have to be rewritten to include a credible plan for squaring expansion with our commitment under the Paris Agreement to seek to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5C. The court was careful to clarify that it has no opinion on whether or not this is possible.
Gee, holding a government to its word, there's a novel idea.
Today’s judgment marks a turning point in the climate struggle. It looks like the beginning of the British state taking the implications of the climate emergency as seriously as its citizens have now begun to. For UK air travel, this means there is turbulence ahead. We can no longer muddle on with the pretence that ever-increasing demand for flights can be met while also reducing emissions down to zero. The uniquely generous tax breaks that have kept air travel artificially cheap must end, but if the climate movement wants to maintain the support of the wider public, we must do this in the fairest way possible. That means bringing in a frequent flyer levy, which would protect access to some air travel for all, regardless of income, while still keeping aviation emissions within safe limits for the climate. Whether Boris Johnson’s government has the stomach for this kind of medicine remains to be seen.
I suppose Boris could appeal the decision on the grounds that the Paris Climate promises were merely aspirational, greenwash, little more than eco-bullshit. Of course that would mean admitting that its promises are meaningless, not to be relied on, never to be believed. Sort of like Justin telling Canadians that achieving a green future for Canada depends on expanding the production of high-carbon, climate wrecking bitumen.

The National Dilemma or Trudeau's (Sophie's) Choice

An Angus Reid poll finds that Canadians are split, almost half and half, on the Wet'suet'en/Coastal Gaslink demonstrations and blockades. 47 per cent support 'patience and dialogue' while 53 per cent want the blockades brought down using 'whatever force is necessary.' It's Ipperwash by a nose.

I suppose it's a safe bet that the company's polling base was under-represented among First Nations populations and so this may be weighted toward the non-FN majority.

A lot (78%) are worried that the protests have damaged Canada's reputation as a place for investment. There you go.

On a party basis, Tory respondents are far more on the economy/law and order side (89%).  Justin's Liberals, however, give the edge to indigenous rights/environment by 55%. Only 24% of New Dems chose the economy/law and order option. I wonder what Horgan is going to make of that, especially if this turns ugly.

Team "Use of Force" or, as I call them, the Tories, support the force option by a bloodthirsty 89 per cent.  The Libs and New Dems favour the talking option by 60 and 79 per cent respectively.

Respondents were asked whether they thought the protesters were 'troublemakers' or 'committed people taking a stand on something they feel strongly about.' BC was evenly split. Alberta and Saskatchewan, however, were heavily on the troublemaker option. Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada give a solid nod to the protesters.

It looks like the media slant has scored a hit with the population. Canadians have bought into 'elected chiefs' as the proper voice of First Nations. And, by wildly huge numbers, they're ready to put the blame on Trudeau for the whole mess. Only Liberals support the prime minister and, even then, by a 50/41 per cent margin.

For the other players it's also dismal. Horgan is polling at 18 per cent. Kenney's numbers mirror Trudeau's - 50 yea to 40 nay. Ford comes in even lower than Horgan at a dreary 15 per cent. Legault's numbers are favourable but not by that much, 41 to 37 per cent.

No one is looking good on this. That, I expect, will make Horgan and Trudeau hesitant to use muscle lest something goes horribly wrong and they get their very own Ipperwash and hand the First Nations another Dudley George.

Added into their political calculus has to be the Coastal Gaslink venture and whether the gas line to Kitimat is any more economically valid than Teck's Frontier mine proposal.  Nobody in Asia is paying $9/million BTU for methane. They're barely paying half that. And with massive new gas fields reportedly being discovered in the Russian sector of the Arctic Ocean, Canada's break even price may be a distant memory. Is that worth fighting over?

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

ISIS, Corona Virus, Donald Trump - C'mon Take a Load Off

Just leave it all to Jimmy Kimmel.

BC Health Professionals Give Big Thumbs Down to Coastal Gaslink

A group of doctors, nurses and other health professionals from British Columbia are backing the Wet'suet'en and calling on premier Horgan to stop the fracking underway in the northeast.

We are alarmed and concerned by events unfolding in northern British Columbia. Once again we have watched as RCMP officers armed with automatic weapons and equipped with dogs, drones, helicopters, and sound cannon and with the overwatch of RCMP snipers dismantled three peaceful Wet’suwet’en checkpoints. 
These blockades arose from the incursion of a fracking natural gas pipeline backed by Dutch, Chinese, Korean, Malaysian and Japanese multinationals into traditional Wet’suwet’en territories, without permission from the Wet’suwet’en leadership and over their strenuous objection. 
The health risks from fracking are well known, including release of carcinogenic toxins such as benzene. Pregnant women in northeastern B.C. have serum benzene levels three times the normal level and studies have shown this has an association with increased childhood leukemia rates. U.S. studies have shown increases in congenital heart disease, chronic pulmonary disorders and small birth-weight babies in populations living in proximity to fracking operations. And as we all know, every pipeline leaks.
...The health risks presented by climate change should terrify everyone. 
The American Journal of Public Health has pointed out that Indigenous groups are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, “warming temperatures have the potential to affect infectious diseases associated with the preparation of traditional foods (e.g. gastroenteritis, food-borne botulism), zoonotic diseases (e.g giardiasis) and traditional plants or remedies.” In addition, “high-intensity rainfall events could be particularly problematic, with waterborne disease outbreaks (e.g. typhoid, bacillary dysentery, Escherichia coli and cryptosporidiosis)”, not to mention the direct and indirect effects of wildfire outbreaks we have already seen in B.C.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

I Found a Gold Mine - Verdict

Today I somehow stumbled across what is one of the best web sites I've ever visited, Verdict or to be precise. Verdict is a repository of legal analysis and commentary from some first-rate legal minds on the issues of the day, especially in the now deeply worrisome United States.

If you find such offerings of interest, check out Neil Buchanan's analysis of America's descent into "legalistic lawlessness" under Trump or the rise of the world's most powerful Banana Republic. A few teasers:
Trump has now, in his characteristically blustering way, said: “I’m actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country.” He has decided that he can do anything, especially because he wrongly thinks that Article II of the Constitution gives him absolute power. As my Verdict colleague (and Dean of the University of Illinois’s law school) Vikram Amar wrote earlier this week, that is in a trivial sense an accurate statement of the bare bones meaning of the Constitution, but that open-ended power has generally been constrained by norms and, ultimately, by the threat of impeachment, conviction, and removal from office.
One can see, then, why the image of the banana republic occurred to so many people in recent weeks. This is starting to look like a country in which a corrupt dictator holds power by abusing the legal system in an arbitrary way, punishing his enemies and shielding even the guiltiest of his friends. It is rule by impulse and caprice, throwing off the veneer of any regular order, due process, or legal constraint.

Trump himself clearly prefers the banana republic model, and it is difficult to imagine him agreeing to any constraints on his behavior. Even so, it is possible to be lawless while still pretending to live under the rule of law. Even while Trump is still around, but especially after he is gone (for whatever reason), I suspect that Republicans will start to build a legal system that has the earmarks of constitutional democracy but that in fact accomplishes the same arbitrary and unjust ends as the banana republic approach.
Indeed, many of the most monstrous examples of state-sponsored injustice were built around the pretense of legalistic order. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did not simply allow arbitrary actions by state actors—or not only that. Both regimes held legal proceedings (darkly satirized in novels such as Kafka’s The Trial) that made it appear that those were not banana republics. 
It is, indeed, generally a priority for lawless regimes to dress up their actions in the garb of blind justice. The Nazis took great pains to document everything that they did and to organize their records, showing an affinity for law-and-order thinking without the bother of justice.
The Dark Age of Legal Lawlessness Descends on America
Even holding open a Supreme Court seat, as well as hundreds of lower court judgeships—naked power grabs that even the best efforts at sophistry could not legitimize—serves the ultimate purpose of making the system look legally legitimate. When five Supreme Court justices said that Trump can bar people from entering the country without the courts even being permitted to consider the plain evidence of his bigoted intent, Republicans had achieved their goal without having to simply shut down the courts, as banana republics do. 
But why am I calling this legalistic lawlessness, rather than simply a legal regime that I happen to think is regrettable on policy or normative grounds? The answer is that the regime that Republicans are in the midst of creating will not constrain anything that they want to do. That is, it will not be John Adams’s immortal vision of “a government of laws, not of men,” because the supposed limitations that the rule of law provides can be stripped away through doctrines such as standing, justiciability, and so on, along with new statutes that simply enshrine injustice into the law.
As we enter our impending post-constitutional era, of course, there will be fewer and fewer judges even willing to consider ruling against the Republicans’ wishes, simply because the courts are being packed with Trump loyalists. Those remaining judges who wish to render independent legal judgments, meanwhile, will discover that the laws that they are sworn to uphold have been changed in ways that force the judges to do what Trump’s supporters want them to do, all with the gloss of legality.
Another excellent contributor is Cornell law professor, Joseph Margulies. His latest essay addresses how neoliberalism has transformed the United States into a "nation in freefall." Read it and ask whether we're not on the same path.

Democracy Afoot - Scottish Parliament Reaches Out to Nordic Council

It's no secret that Brexit has driven a wedge between Scotland and England. It was the English, after all, who hatched Brexit and rammed it through against the wishes of the Scottish people.

Bridling at, once again, being under the thumb of England, the Scottish parliament has been working to strengthen ties to the Nordic states.
“Historically, there have always been close ties between the Nordic countries, Scotland and the rest of Britain. The Nordic Council will do everything in its power to ensure that this close co-operation continues. Despite Brexit, we want Scotland to know that she will always have friends in the Nordic countries,” said the President of the Nordic Council, Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir.

Climate Breakdown - the Condo Impact

Climate change is hammering condo owners in British Columbia.

Over the last year some condo owners have watched their insurance premiums soar by 400 per cent. Some condos have become uninsurable. Insurers are refusing coverage.
“The government's really going to have to step in and do something,” said Chris Stepchuk, Managing Broker and Co-Owner of Fort Park Property Management & Real Estate. 
Stepchuk manages properties across the Lower Mainland. 
"We've got a few buildings that just right now can't seem to get insurance. They've been dumped essentially and are in a real bind,” said Stepchuk.  
“They have to have insurance for their mortgages, the strata property act says they have to have insurance, they won't be able to sell or buy or really do anything without insurance,” explained Stepchuk. 
Experts say climate change is partly to blame for the spike. Recent natural disasters have led to massive payouts. 
That financial risk has, in some cases, made being in the insurance industry unappealing and unprofitable.
It was around this time last year that Munich Re, one of the world's largest re-insurers, warned that climate change could make insurance unaffordable for most homeowners.  The company's chief climatologist, Ernst Rauch, told The Guardian:
“If the risk from wildfires, flooding, storms, or hail is increasing, then the only sustainable option we have is to adjust our risk prices accordingly. In the long run it might become a social issue,” he said after Munich Re published a report into climate change’s impact on wildfires. “Affordability is so critical [because] some people on low and average incomes in some regions will no longer be able to buy insurance.”
Most people entering the housing market require mortgage financing. Mortgage lenders want the protection of property insurance. No insurance, no mortgage loan. No mortgage loan, no home buyer. Remove enough prospective buyers from the market and property values fall, in some places precipitously. That sends owners streaming to their elected representatives, demanding relief.

The US eastern seaboard is an example of what comes next. As private insurers leave the market, the government steps in. Today in hurricane prone regions that falls to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Measures Agency.

When FEMA began writing homeowner policies it tried to set premiums close to historic levels. Then FEMA found itself in the same jam that drove private insurers out. It was paying catastrophic loss claims on the same property, over and over and over. There were anecdotal examples of some people recovering the value of their home five times. Some homes never were fully repaired before the next devastating storm hit.

FEMA thought it should be on a self-financing or break even basis. Then those homeowners discovered that would mean a huge increase in their insurance premiums. Cue the indignant howling. It didn't help that the fury was disproportionately coming from red states. Republicans, fearing a backlash at the polls, scrapped the pay-as-you-go idea and the problem is still unresolved last I checked.

I'll bet plenty of those outraged homeowners don't even accept the reality of climate change. Like Trump's base they probably figure it's all a hoax. I read an interview with a southern real estate agent. She had inherited the family ante-bellum mansion on one of the Carolina barrier islands. Her insurance bill was going up $1,500 a month. She wanted to unload the place but feared she would get little for it because that insurance premium was money that otherwise would have gone into mortgage financing. She set to howling.

That's the thing with the modern carbon economy. It might be dandy for the fossil fuel industry and its political minions but somebody has to pay.  And neither Jason Kenney nor Justin Trudeau will be coming to the rescue. Their money has another purpose - fossil fuel subsidies.

What's going on today in Vancouver condos is just another climate change impact, one that's as real and hard as concrete. And no $30 per ton carbon tax will make the slightest difference.

Is the Trans-Atlantic Bromance Over?

Are Donald Trump and Boris Johnson going through a tiff or is the bromance over before the honeymoon really got underway?

Business Insider reports that things are going downhill rapidly for BoJo and the Mango Mussolini.
Donald Trump's previously close relationship with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks close to collapse, with the president reportedly accusing him "betrayal" after a furious phone call between the two leaders. 
Trump's behaviour during the call was described by officials as "apoplectic," with the president reportedly slamming the phone down to end the call. 
Johnson has now cancelled his plans for a visit to the White House next month.
The prime minister had been one of Trump's few close international allies, with the president labelling Johnson "fantastic," a "good man" and "Britain Trump." 
However, relations broke down following a series of high-profile threats from Trump and a series of pointed interventions against Trump by Johnson and senior members of his government.
Johnson has broken with Trump, criticizing Trump for "failing to lead" and accusing the Great American Bloat with "letting the air out of the tires of the world economy." Donnie does not like to be disrespected, y'all.

And now, a bit of classic BoJo from just five years ago.

What Were You Expecting If Not a Bit of Chaos?

We're now in the Decade of Decision. We have the 20s to slash our greenhouse gas emissions by half if we're to have a reasonable chance of averting irreversible climate breakdown. No guarantees, a reasonable chance.

If, by the time the next decade rolls around, we're pretty much in the same place we're at today, we have thrown in the towel.

While the right in Canada, Conservative and a good segment of the Liberals, gnash their teeth over the loss of Teck's Frontier bitumen mine project, we're all being affected by the 'early-onset' impacts of climate change. The Tyee's Nikiforuk captured our moment this way:
Climate change has now appeared at everyone’s doorstop in different guises; rising seas, longer king tides, melting ice caps, brutal fires, dying trees, failed crops, migrating peoples, rising food prices, monstrous storms, drying aquifers and absent politicians.
As I said, this is early-onset stuff. What we may see over the next ten years could eclipse what is happening today. As these events unfold I'll bet Teck won't be foremost in anyone's mind.

The Carbon Bubble is going to burst. I have that on the authority of Mark Carney, among others. He's not pulling any punches, telling the corporate poobahs that tying their fortunes to fossil fuel investments will be a quick path to bankruptcy.

And so, as conditions harden and turn more dangerous, we will scramble to find alternatives to fossil fuels. That can be hard or it can be bloody hard. It will be especially difficult for petro-states such as Canada.

The fossil fuel industry isn't going anywhere, not without a fight, and they have their political handmaidens mobilized to bring the power of government to their side. That's why yesterday, Christiana Figueres, the former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, warned that our politicians will fail us on climate breakdown without grassroots civil disobedience.
electoral politics have failed to meet the challenge, largely because of systemic roadblocks including corporate lobbying and partisan opposition
In other words, don't count on the grandiose promises of those we elect to high office when it comes to climate change. Saving your grandkids is not their priority.  That's not the path they have us on. Figueres knows it. She wants you to finally realize it.

Figueres challenges you to decide. What's it going to be? Do you defend a dying economy or fight for the future? Don't rely on electoral promises. They're meaningless or worse.

And, if we choose the future over this sclerotic economy, that's going to mean a degree of chaos.  It's going to mean disruption, non-violent civil disobedience that targets the economy our survival requires we get out from underneath.

Andrew Nikiforuk has taken a break from his focus on fossil energy to travel to Ontario where he interviewed botanist, Diana Beresford-Kroger.
“The big thing that has become very apparent to me is that climate change is not just a question of science,” says Beresford-Kroeger. Her face turns pensive. 
"It is question of society, too. Maybe the society question is a bigger one than the science. Maybe if you change the society’s thinking and the culture in its thinking, then maybe we will solve it.”
...You know, she tells me, when people have too much, they will abuse what they own. “It is the striving and saving for something that is important. Then you get your goal and you have it. If your choices are too great, you can’t make up your mind what you are going to do. You get overwhelmed by the choices. 
“I’ve seen too much money, and it creates a disrespect for other people. It is a divider. It also creates a disdain for manual work. You think if you are doing manual work you are a savage somehow, but actually you are not. Manual work is just as important as intellectual work, because our humanity and community require a biodiversity of work.
Beresford-Kroeger doesn’t think we can fight climate change without making greed and endless consumption as unfashionable as an obviously pregnant woman with a cigarette in her mouth
“Everyone says, ‘My God, what are you doing to the child inside you?’ People should think the same of wealth: ‘My God, what is your greed doing to the community around you?’” 
The 75-year old echoes centenarian James Lovelock's injunction that the way forward must be a path to "sustainable retreat." We are like a neglected garden. We are overgrown with weeds and they're choking out everything else.
Lastly, we need to change our behaviours and learn to live much more poorly than we do. We must waste less and rediscover the joys of serving others. 
“For instance, don’t buy crap. Buy things that last. Maybe the chair and table in your kitchen should last hundreds of years and maybe your children and great grandchildren should value it.” 
She pauses for a moment. The tea is finished. She sips some whiskey.
“There is a whole world outside of the Church of the Holy Dollar. A time of change is a time of great excitement.” 
But it takes saoirse. What is that, I ask. Saoirse, she explains, is a Celtic word that means freedom of a special kind. Freedom to embrace that world.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Horgan's LNG Fantasy

We hear a lot about Asian markets eager to buy Canadian LNG.

That's a lie.

To extract, transmit, liquefy and ship Canadian methane to Asia requires a price of about $9 per million BTU to see any profit.


LNG prices in Asia recently fell below $4/MMBtu, down 40 percent from a year earlier. Prices in NW Europe (TTF) are down by nearly 50 percent, and Europe has record-high inventories for this time of year.

Mild weather in Asia, Europe and the U.S. have led to seasonally weak demand, with China in particular proving to be a disappointment to exporters. But a wave of new terminals coming online in the last year has also led to a huge increase in supply, dragging down prices. 
That means that major markets will exit the winter season with plenty of inventory, which will likely prevent a price rebound. TTF prices (LNG in NW Europe) for summer delivery are trading at around $3.50/MMBtu. Some analysts think LNG prices could fall below $3 by the summer.
In other words, if mild temperatures persist, and the glut grows worse, U.S. LNG exporters not under contract may be priced out. The caveat is that some of the LNG trade occurs under rigid contracts.

But even as some companies have shipments secured under contract, Goldman said that U.S. exporters would likely be the most affected by another decline in prices. “[W]e do not expect other LNG producers to balance the market by curtailing supply. This is consistent with our estimate that US liquefaction facilities face the highest variable cost among LNG exporters given that US gas needs to be bought from the grid as opposed to just getting lifted from the ground,” the bank said.
There's a reason Chevron is failing about trying to find a buyer for its Kitimat LNG plant project. There's a reason Chevron already had to write down the value of that project a full $2 billion. Nobody wants the stuff at anything near the price we need to turn a buck on it.

Then, as I discovered by checking the Barents Observer, the Chinese already have platforms on the Arctic Ocean drilling for methane. They have already discovered two massive gas fields off the Russian coast and they have a partnership deal with Russia's Gazprom to get that energy.

What in hell are we doing?

A Call to Civil Disobedience

When Christiana Figueres calls for civil disobedience, it's about time we listened.  Figueres served as executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016. She knows the mess we're in and the urgency of the moment.
It’s time to participate in non-violent political movements wherever possible,” Christiana Figueres writes in “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis,” which will be released tomorrow by Knopf.

She co-authored the book with her strategic advisor, Tom Rivett-Carnac. The two also support voting:

“Large numbers of people must vote on climate change as their number one priority,” they write. “As we are in the midst of the most dire emergency, we must urgently demand that those who seek high office offer solutions commensurate with the scale of the problem.”

But they note that electoral politics have failed to meet the challenge, largely because of systemic roadblocks including corporate lobbying and partisan opposition.
They endorse Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. They evoke legendary activists who effected change on the scale required by the climate crisis, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela. 
Civil disobedience is not only a moral choice, it is also the most powerful way of shaping world politics,” they write, citing scientific resources on the impact of civil disobedience.
Historically, systemic political shifts have required civil disobedience on a significant scale. Few have occurred without it.”

Wild Rose Denialism

Jason Kenney has sure got his dainties in a bunch over the decision by Teck Resources to back away from the Frontier bitumen mega-mine.

To hear Kenney tell it, it's all Justin Trudeau's fault. Even though Teck backtracked less than a week before Ottawa was to announce its decision on the Frontier mine proposal, that week must have been more than Teck's nerves could bear - at least if you believe Kenney.

So this is all Ottawa's doing. Justin Trudeau is to blame.

Conspicuously absent from Team Kenney's explanation are all the recent telltales that bitumen is fast becoming a stranded asset as far as the financial sector is concerned. BlackRock, which manages a $7-trillion fund ruled out high-carbon investments. It named names - coal and bitumen. Then JP Morgan announced it wouldn't be lending to companies that had even a small investment in the Tar Sands. Big insurers such as America's, the Hartford, followed suit.

No that couldn't possibly be it. It was Trudeau's doing.

It couldn't have anything to do with the foreign energy giants who have left Athabasca in droves or the quarter trillion dollar outstanding tab for site remediation.

No, pretty sure that wasn't it. It had to be Trudeau.

It definitely couldn't be explained by the chronic decline in world oil prices that, alone, made the Frontier mine economically unviable or the 900 million write down Teck just endured on its Fort Hills mine investment.

Maybe, but no, no, no. It was Trudeau.

It can't be any of these other, logical factors because, if it was, that puts the blame squarely at the feet of the succession of Alberta governments post Peter Lougheed who have acted recklessly and squandered the wealth they did manage to garner out of the Tar Sands. 

No, let's blame it all on Trudeau and then speak no more of these things. That's not to say that Jason's followers won't buy his feeble excuses but, if they do, they might be dumber than Donald Trump's base and that's really, really dumb.

Jason Wins One - For Now. Alberta Court Rejects Ottawa's Carbon Tax.

The Alberta Court of Appeal has upheld Jason Kenney's claim that the federal carbon tax is unconstitutional. It was a 4-1 decision. One judge called Ottawa's carbon tax "a constitutional Trojan horse."
The court rejected federal arguments that reducing greenhouse gases met the legal test of being a national concern. 
“Almost every aspect of the provinces’ development and management of their natural resources … would be subject to federal regulation.” 
It noted health care, minimum wages and justice are all national concerns but are administered by the provinces. 
The court ruled that, for something to be a national concern within federal jurisdiction, it would have to be beyond the scope of provincial powers. 
Monday’s decision is the first to side with a province against the federal government.
Courts in both Saskatchewan and Ontario upheld the federal levy last year.
The Alberta judgment notwithstanding, the issue will be settled this spring when Saskatchewan's appeal is heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Newspaper Brags How Liberal City Has Become

The Seattle Times seems pretty happy at how liberal their namesake city is becoming.  Seattle, by the way, has always been pretty liberal. It's an easy place to visit. It's just that it's a little more liberal now.
You might have thought there’s no way the Seattle area could get any more liberal than it already is. But according to new data, it appears that’s precisely what’s happened. 
Twice a year, market-research firm Nielsen surveys hundreds of thousands of adults across the country about their political-party affiliation. The two surveys released in 2019 for the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metropolitan division (King and Snohomish counties) show identification with the Democratic Party is at its highest point in the past 10 years. 
In both recent surveys, 52% of adults in our area (a projected 1.25 million people) said that they are Democrats or that they lean Democratic. And keep in mind, that’s the percentage of the entire population age 18 and up, not just registered voters.
Republicans, or folks who lean Republican, number about 570,000 in our two-county area. That’s a little less than a quarter of the adult population. There are also 225,000 independents who don’t lean either blue or red, making up about 9% of the total. An additional 335,000 people in our area have a different political affiliation, or no affiliation at all. Most of these are folks not registered to vote, either by choice or because they are ineligible.
A few years back I was in Port Townsend, Washington, which puts Seattle to shame any day. I was in a pub. A couple at the next table started talking to me. They had just retired and moved to Port Townsend from someplace in the midwest. They wasted no time telling me they were ardent Republicans, very right wing. Apparently they had no idea that Port Townsend was so fiercely liberal until after they had bought and moved in.

Can AI Discover a Vaccine for the Caronavirus?

It was wonderful news last week when MIT researchers announced they had used artificial intelligence to discover a powerful new antibiotic at a time when antibiotic-resistant diseases are proliferating.

When it comes to viral diseases, antibiotics are ineffective.  Vaccines are the weapon of choice against viral infections.

So, if the MIT wonks can use AI to unlock new antibiotics, can artificial intelligence also discover new vaccines?

It turns out the answer is yes. A team of Australian researchers did just that last summer.
For the first time ever, a human drug has been created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI). This news comes from a team at Flinders University in Australia, who claims to have created an enhanced influenza vaccine using an AI program known Search Algorithm for Ligands (SAM). Though computers have been used to make drugs before, this was the first time it was done independently by an AI system. 
The researchers described this drug as a flu vaccine with an added compound that better stimulates the human immune system. This addition causes more antibodies to be formed against the flu virus than with the traditional vaccination, increasing the vaccine’s efficacy.
Nikolai Petrovsky, of Flinders University, led the experiment. Like the MIT researchers, he described a process in which AI was unleashed to search for all possible compounds that could create an effective vaccine.
“We had to teach the AI program on a set of compounds that are known to activate the human immune system, and a set of compounds that don’t work,” he explained. “The job of the AI was then to work out for itself what distinguished a drug that worked from one that doesn’t. We then developed another program, called the synthetic chemist which generated trillions of different chemical compounds that we then fed to SAM so that it could sift through all of these to find candidates that it thought might be good human immune drugs.” Petrovsky also serves as the Research Director at Vaxine, an Australian biotechnology company.
Maybe it's time to give AI a shot at finding a response to the latest virus... and every one after that.

Judging by an article that appeared today in The Atlantic, there's a bit of urgency to this.
The disease (known as COVID-19) seems to have a fatality rate of less than 2 percent—exponentially lower than most outbreaks that make global news. The virus has raised alarm not despite that low fatality rate, but because of it.

Coronaviruses are similar to influenza viruses in that they are both single strands of RNA. Four coronaviruses commonly infect humans, causing colds. These are believed to have evolved in humans to maximize their own spread—which means sickening, but not killing, people. By contrast, the two prior novel coronavirus outbreaks—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome, named for where the first outbreak occurred)—were picked up from animals, as was H5N1. These diseases were highly fatal to humans. If there were mild or asymptomatic cases, they were extremely few. Had there been more of them, the disease would have spread widely. Ultimately, SARS and MERS each killed fewer than 1,000 people.
COVID-19 is already reported to have killed more than twice that number. With its potent mix of characteristics, this virus is unlike most that capture popular attention: It is deadly, but not too deadly. It makes people sick, but not in predictable, uniquely identifiable ways. Last week, 14 Americans tested positive on a cruise ship in Japan despite feeling finethe new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all.
Is COVID-19 already unstoppable?
The Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch is exacting in his diction, even for an epidemiologist. Twice in our conversation he started to say something, then paused and said, “Actually, let me start again.” So it’s striking when one of the points he wanted to get exactly right was this: “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable.”

Containment is the first step in responding to any outbreak. In the case of COVID-19, the possibility (however implausible) of preventing a pandemic seemed to play out in a matter of days. Starting in January, China began cordoning off progressively larger areas, radiating outward from Wuhan City and eventually encapsulating some 100 million people. People were barred from leaving home, and lectured by drones if they were caught outside. Nonetheless, the virus has now been found in 24 countries.
...Testing people who are already extremely sick is an imperfect strategy if people can spread the virus without even feeling bad enough to stay home from work.

Lipsitch predicts that, within the coming year, some 40 to 70 percent of people around the world will be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. But, he clarifies emphatically, this does not mean that all will have severe illnesses. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic,” he said. As with influenza, which is often life threatening to people with chronic health conditions and of older age, most cases pass without medical care. (Overall, around 14 percent of people with influenza have no symptoms.)

And Now a Word from the World Health Organization, Unicef, the Lancet and a World of Kids

It's time we admitted we've got them squarely in our crosshairs. They know it. So do we.

The Dizzying Death Spiral of All Things Bitumen

No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there

There'll be no new mega-mine in the Athabasca Tar Sands. Teck Resources will not be proceeding with the Frontier mine project that was supposed to produce 260,000 barrels of bitumen per day.

Getting an extra quarter million barrels of dilbit per day moving to markets would have demanded a big uptick in pipeline capacity. Something very much like the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion, TMX or, as I like to call it, Trudeau's Folly. The expansion was intended to increase capacity from the current 300,000 barrels per day to a massive 800,000 barrels per day.

TMX hasn't been working out for the prime minister lately. First came news from the Parliamentary Budget Office that the Trudeau government paid way over market value when it bought the old pipeline from Kinder-Morgan. Then came news that the feds costs projections for the expansion were way off mark - about $4 billion too low. Popular support for Trudeau's Folly began to sag. Now this.

Then came rumblings that the financial markets were losing their appetite for high-carbon, low-value fossil fuels such as bitumen. Big players such as BlackRock and JP Morgan washed their hands of Tar Sands projects.

Then Teck bowed out of the overly-ambitious Frontier mine venture. It didn't seem that Teck attracted many suitors for the investment.

Boom, boom, boom, boom, bust - it's beginning to sound like an artillery barrage. This is no time for schadenfreude. High-carbon, low-value fossil fuel has been foolishly allowed to become a major component of the Canadian economy. We ignored endless warnings from people such as Mark Carney that we were playing with fire, that this was a Carbon Bubble. So who is going to wear that? Every Alberta premier since Peter Lougheed? The federal Conservatives and Liberals?

So, what's Plan B? What do we do in a post-bitumen Canada? Where are the great leaders of vision? What, we don't have any?

Let's not forget the 260 billion pound gorilla in the room - the cost of site remediation across Alberta from thousands of orphaned wells in the south to the massive tailing ponds of Athabasca. That is a more than two hundred and sixty billion dollar time bomb. That's a whisker under $7,500 for every man, woman and child in Canada. How much of that do you want to pay?

It will be interesting to see what Trudeau does with Canada's pipeline now. The government already tried to flog it once. No takers. It's a far worse deal now. Costs are way up. Athabasca's tar pits are on their way down. Would you buy a pipeline from this prime minister?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Teck Resources Walks on Frontier Mine

Even the oil patch is crying "uncle" on the Athabasca Tar Sands.

Teck Resources has pulled its application to develop a mammoth open pit bitumen mine, the Frontier mine project. The company's press release cited climate change for walking away from the Tar Sands.
“The growing debate around this issue has placed Frontier and our company squarely at the nexus of much broader issues that need to be resolved,” said company president and CEO Don Lindsay in a letter to federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson, posted online Sunday night. 
“In that context, it is now evident that there is no constructive path forward for the project.”
So the mine is off, what does that mean? For starters it means we won't be needing 260,000 barrels a day of pipeline capacity. Among other things that may undermine Trudeau's Folly, the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion.

Needless to say, the announcement didn't sit well with the Alberta tyro, Jason Kenney, who wasted no time blaming Trudeau as he ran through the halls of the legislature crying "wexit, wexit, wexit."
Supporters of the pipeline pointed to the thousands of jobs it was expected to create. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has pushed for its approval, positioning it as an issue of national unity amid increasing discussion about Western alienation. 
In a press release, Kenney blamed Teck’s decision to pull the application on the Liberal government’s “lack” of “courage” in defending the “interests of Canadians in the face of a militant minority” ⁠— a statement that contrasts with Teck’s public explanation.
Teck CEO Don Lindsay doesn't seem to share Kenney's outrage.
Lindsay said investors and customers are now demanding government policies that reconcile the need for urgent climate action with resource development, something that "does not yet exist" in Canada, the letter said. 
Lindsay’s letter said Teck supports stricter climate policy, including a carbon tax and a cap on oilsands emissions, two measures Kenney has pushed back against. (Alberta’s previous government passed an emissions cap on the oilsands, it hasn’t yet been implemented.) 
"The promise of Canada’s potential will not be realized until governments can reach agreement around how climate policy considerations will be addressed in the context of future responsible energy sector development," the letter said. 
"Without clarity on this critical question, the situation that has faced Frontier will be faced by future projects and it will be very difficult to attract future investment, either domestic or foreign."

In Praise of Protest

One thing the Wet'suet'en protests have done is to make people take a side. That can be quite instructive as people, perhaps uncomfortable with their choice, go to some lengths to explain themselves, to justify their stance to others they must feel could judge them harshly.

There is a lot of frustration and anger that surfaces among us. Many of us, it seems, have lost sight of the often curative role protest plays in democratic society. David Moscrop offers some helpful insights on why we need protest, including this one.
As acts of protest and civil disobedience in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en land defenders cascade throughout Canada, the nation’s fainting couches are straining under the weight of so many concerned citizens and commentators who see these actions as unconscionable and dangerous threats to the rule of law. Responses critical of the resistance express worry about disruption: to the market, to order, to the smooth and privileged and unencumbered day-to-day lives we expect to live. Protest is meant to disrupt
Protest is meant to bring a reality that lurks beyond the sight lines of most people crashing down in front of them. The Wet’suwet’en protests are doing just that. The Wet’suwet’en protests are working. And three cheers for that. 
Liberal democracy asks next to nothing of those governed by its light touch. Citizens are asked to pay their taxes. They do so, more or less, griping as they remit them, unless they can weasel out as corporations routinely do. Citizens are asked to present themselves for jury duty, if summoned. But most people will never have to do so. Citizens are asked to take a little time to cast a ballot every few years. Two-thirds or so do that. Beyond these boundaries, individuals are free to give back as much or as little as they please to their community and they are left alone to ignore the imperatives of self-government.
When resistance to the current order arises, citizens are put to the test. We are forced to reveal where our allegiances lie. What are we willing to support, or do, in the pursuit of rightness and justice? In the case of the Wet’suwet’en resistance to the Coastal Gaslink project, those who are blockading road and rail, preventing politicians from entering the B.C. legislature and other buildings, and those supporting them on air and online are calling public attention to the tensions, disjunctures, contradictions and injustices of a colonial system of governance. That system has been thrust upon Indigenous peoples; so too has the violence of a market and political orthodoxy that says energy projects will only go through with consent, while implicitly assuming and expecting that consent—even through unceded land, so much of which covers B.C.—from hereditary chiefs. It’s a put-up job.
...In 1963, Americans were asked what they thought of Martin Luther King’s march on Washington. Sixty percent of them “had an unfavourable view of the march, stating that they felt it would cause violence and would not accomplish anything.” In Canada, the public has long had mixed feelings about—and, at times, thuggish and violent counter-reaction to—acts of resistance: the Red River Rebellion; the Winnipeg general strike; the Oka Crisis; Idle No More; even last summer’s climate marches. Looking back, opinions can and do shift, just as acts of resistance can—and do—lead to change. Meanwhile, history judges us.
... Justice and law are not the same thing. That which is legal is not necessarily just. And illegal actions can be done in the name of justice. Sometimes, change must happen through people throwing themselves against and beyond the boundaries of the law, pushing those limits beyond what is legal towards what they believe is just. That process will be discomfiting and disruptive. So be it. 
Democracy itself wouldn’t exist without those who put themselves on the line for what they believed to be just and necessary—even against the constraints of elite orthodoxy and the common popular imagination. Today, once more, we need those who ask us to be and do better. Whether Canadians support them in the moment is beside the point; someday, others will. In the meantime, the avenue of change for those who walk with the Wet’suwet’en must pass through the roads and rails and anger of those unconvinced by the struggle for justice. But eventually, one way or another, they will get to where they’re headed.
So, if you're one of these weak-kneed Liberals angered at what they see as a rebuke of their darling prime minister, tough. If you believe protest is fine as long as it doesn't inconvenience anyone, tough again.

Just Sayin, Justin

Conservatives and their Liberal alter-egos like to point out that more than half of the Canadian public don't approve of the Wet'suwet'en resistance.

A recent poll, however, suggests about 39 per cent of Canadians do support the Wet'suwet'en. That means more Canadians support the Wet'suwet'en than the percentage who voted to keep Justin in office. That's more support than even the Tories, who took more votes than the Libs, got in the last election.

The winner? The Wet'suwet'en, by a nose.

Neoliberalism's Sharp Elbows

In 2004, American intellectual, Henry Giroux, wrote "The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy."

The following review from Amazon seems to capture the gist of Giroux' warning:
This book argues that neoliberalism is not simply an economic theory but also a set of values, ideologies, and practices that works more like a cultural field that is not only refiguring political and economic power, but eliminating the very categories of the social and political as essential elements of democratic life. Neoliberalism has become the most dangerous ideology of our time. Collapsing the link between corporate power and the state, neoliberalism is putting into place the conditions for a new kind of authoritarianism in which large sections of the population are increasingly denied the symbolic and economic capital necessary for engaged citizenship. Moreover, as corporate power gains a stranglehold on the media, the educational conditions necessary for a democracy are undermined as politics is reduced to a spectacle, essentially both depoliticizing politics and privatizing culture.  
A couple of years later, American investment guru, Warren Buffett, spoke of the "class war" that Republicans were warning threatened America.
“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
This morning's BBC news podcast had an item about Brazil's strongman, Jair Bolsonaro. It reported that Bolsonaro has boasted that he wants Brazil to mirror himself, his beliefs, and, presumably, his utter contempt for democracy, even decency itself. He wants to change the "culture" of Brazil. Perhaps he sees himself as a latter-day Juan Peron.

At CBC's web site there's an item about American open mouth radio host, Dennis Prager, who will be a keynote speaker at (where else) the Manning Centre next month. Prager recently said it was "idiotic" that people could not use the N-word.
Prager was responding to a caller on his radio show, The Dennis Prager Show, who asked Prager why he used an anti-Semitic slur on his program but would not use "the N-word." 
"The left doesn't give a damn about [anti-Semitic slurs]. That's why. The left runs the country in the culture," Prager said. "The Republicans have the Senate and the presidency, and that's very important. But the culture? And the more the left controls, the more totalitarian it is."
Asked about Prager's remarks, a spokesman for the Manning Centre said "meh."
Troy Lanigan, president of the Manning Centre, said he had not heard of Prager's comments before CBC News reached out but he's "OK with some controversy" as "conservatives tend not to be part of the cancel culture movement."
Like it or not, Canadians live under the neoliberal order. We bought our membership during the Mulroney/Thatcher/Reagan era. At the time we really didn't give it much thought. The warnings from the left went unheeded. The critics, after all, just wanted to hold us back.  Now, decades later, it's becoming apparent those warnings were prescient.

Our federal government is neoliberal. The opposition is neoliberal. Ditto for our provincial governments, even under the NDP. We know nothing else. It can seem that our political, economic and cultural memory has been erased. That explains why so many still cling to the mantle of progressives when it has become an empty word. Ask yourself what neoliberalism means to you. What are the many facets of neoliberalism, how do they operate, what impact have they had on you, what lies ahead?

What Giroux wrote of in 2004 has recently been the subject of several scholarly articles that reveal authoritarianism to be nothing more than terminal or late-stage neoliberalism. Our incomplete grasp of neoliberalism has blinded us. There is a good primer on neoliberalism that was posted at NewPolitics in the summer of 2015, "Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism." It's a handy guide to understanding the neoliberal order.
Ask anyone what neoliberalism means and they’ll tell you it’s an economic system that corresponds to a particular economic philosophy. But any real-world economic system has a corresponding political system to promote and sustain it. Milton Friedman, who has become known as the father of neoliberal thinking, claims in his text Capitalism and Freedom that “the role of the government … is t o do something that the market cannot do for itself, namely, to determine, arbitrate, and enforce the rules of the game.”* While neoliberalism’s advocates like to claim that the political system that corresponds to their economic preference is a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has demonstrated quite the opposite tendency.
...The original liberals, or classical liberals as they are usually called, were those Enlightenment-era thinkers of Western European origin who desired to limit the authority of the feudal state and defended individual rights by restricting the power of the state, the crown, the nobility, and the church. The “neo” prefix serves as a romantic symbol, an attempt at establishing a (sometimes forced) common ground with historical figures like Adam Smith and the classical liberals, who challenged the tendencies of the monarchy to interfere in the economy for its own gain, producing inefficiency. Neoliberal economic thinkers are famously known for deriding government intervention in the economy, precisely because they trace their foundation to a period when markets were seen not just as a source of better economic outcomes, but as a weapon to challenge concentrated political power.
...Friedrich Hayek, whose text The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, is arguably the most celebrated of the neoliberal canon, sought to show how government interference in the economy forms the basis of fascist and other totalitarian regimes, contrary to the then widely accepted notion that it was capitalist crisis that had produced fascism in Europe. For Hayek, the strong state, whether in the form of fascism, Soviet communism, or the creeping socialism of the British Labour Party, was to be eschewed. 
If neoliberalism springs from a desire to combat the growing power and influence of the state, how is it that neoliberalism has produced not only a very robust state apparatus, but, as I will argue, an authoritarian one? The answer is that neoliberalism in practice has been quite different from its theory.
The neoliberals claim to eschew the state yet they have moved to capture it.  In the States we watched as the process began with legislative capture, the evolution of America's "bought and paid for" Congress. This begat regulatory capture in which regulatory boards and tribunals became dominated, that is to say controlled, by men and women seconded directly from the regulated industries themselves. Today America has a powerfully undemocratic president, a man whom some theorists claim is the "culmination" of the neoliberal revolution. And, of course, Trump has made a priority of stacking the deck in his appointments to the US Supreme Court and other federal courts, grooming them with "reliably conservative" jurists. Thus the corruption of the signature branches of American government is complete, the vaunted system of checks and balances neutralized.
As David Harvey points out in A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them. The first of these contradictions revolves around the role of law to ensure the individual’s superiority over the collective in the form of private ownership rights and intellectual property rights (patents and copyrights). A judicial system is necessary to designate and regulate the interaction between private actors on the market.
The second contradiction derives from the elites’ historical ambivalence regarding democracy and mass participation. If the people were free to make decisions about their lives democratically, surely the first thing they would do is interfere with the property rights of the elite, posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards unionization, progressive taxation, or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the minimal state cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. After all, as pointed out in the first contradiction, the neoliberal state exists in theory to guarantee the rights of the individual over the demands of a majority.
The inevitable ascendancy of authoritarianism is what Giroux termed the "eclipse of democracy."
Any method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether through force, coercion, or social engineering, is authoritarian. I argue here that the neoliberal state is authoritarian in two distinct but related forms. First, the historical imposition of neoliberalism on nation-states is the result of anti-democratic forces. Second, the maintenance of neoliberalism requires a market society achieved through a transformation in civil society. For this transformation to take place, welfare states must be slimmed down by austerity policies in order to turn over to the market potentially lucrative sectors of the social economy (in health care, education, social security, and so on). Public resources must become privatized; the public good must be produced by private initiative. Neoliberal economic policy can only function with a state that encourages its growth by actively shaping society in its own image, and austerity is the tool to push for that transformation. While the subversion of democracy is clearly authoritarian, the drive towards a market society and the social engineering necessary to maintain that society are further expressions of the de facto authoritarianism of neoliberalism and the neoliberal state.
Neoliberalism needs to ensure its own survival by bending civil society, political institutions, and democracy to its will.

A state that so blatantly puts the rights and needs of one small class of citizens over others cannot be installed without a struggle. And further analysis shows us that once neoliberal regimes come into power, a certain degree of social engineering and coercion are necessary in order to guarantee the submission of the population and ensure the smooth accumulation of capital.
The neoliberal order, ideology, culture is a revolutionary process that we failed to see until it was probably too late.

As democracy wanes, social cohesion fails and what had been a more or less harmonious society succumbs to tribalism. It leads to an "us versus them" society that, as it splits, weakens and becomes easy prey for guys like Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro, Erdogan and many others of their ilk. To those of us who don't drift to the far right this looks like a nightmare because it is.

How do we unravel all of this? How do we excise the rot? Have we left it too late? Possibly, probably. In my opinion the way back must begin with democratic restoration. Unless and until we achieve that we're trapped. "Consent of the governed" must be given meaning again. 

You can't engage the public will when one party can form a solid majority government on the strength of fewer than two votes out of five. When a party wins a majority with a minority of votes cast that disenfranchises the majority of the electorate. When the party that takes that majority then proceeds to renege on its fundamental election promises, it operates without a legitimate mandate. That's not democracy. False majority is phony democracy and there's nothing benign about it. That is why you see powerful interests, special interests routinely prevail over the public interest. That corruption of democracy is the subject of the 2014 study out of Princeton by Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern).  They traced how America gradually morphed from democracy into plutocracy.

Social cohesion in the United States is fractured. It's claimed that the US has not been so divided since the Civil War. Can anyone say Canada is not on the same path?

As democracy wanes, social cohesion fails and what had been a more or less harmonious society succumbs to tribalism. It leads to an "us versus them" society that, as it splits, weakens and becomes easy prey for guys like Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro, Erdogan and many others of their ilk. To those of us who don't drift to the far right this looks like a nightmare because it is.

When I set up my blog 14 years ago I dedicated it to the "restoration of progressive democracy." There's been little sign of democracy rebounding in the meantime. For all the valid arguments against it, electoral reform is the key to arresting this slide. If we reject it, we reject representative democracy in a multi-party state and the alternative is the one we're experiencing now.

Unfortunately Justin is no philosopher prince. He was not gifted with his father's intellectual prowess. He embraces neoliberalism and rejects electoral reform/democratic restoration. There's not a lot he can do for Canada wearing those blinders. He certainly cannot arrest the atrophy of democracy in our country. He can't steer us away from the day we might have a Trump of our very own.

(Photo - Jair Bolsonaro live streamed himself riveted to the television for a full hour while Donald Trump proclaimed his exoneration in the Senate impeachment trial)

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Is This What Trump Was Hoping For? Iranian Hard-Liners Score Decisive Election Win.

On January 3, a US drone was flying above Baghdad international airport when it launched a precision-guided missile at a vehicle carrying Iranian general, Qasem Suilemani, killing him and everyone else in the vehicle.
The U.S. gave shifting and contradictory rationales for killing Soleimani, initially claiming the attack was necessary to stop an "imminent attack", though later stated "We don't know precisely when and we don't know precisely where." Iran said it was an act of "state terrorism". Iraq said the attack undermined its national sovereignty, was a breach of its agreement with the U.S. and an act of aggression against its officials. On 5 January 2020, the Iraqi parliament passed a non-binding resolution to expel all foreign troops from its territory.
The assassination seems to have played out in today's Iranian parliamentary elections.
Iran’s conservatives are on the brink of a landslide victory in the country’s parliamentary elections as forecasts show them taking more than two-thirds of the seats. 
The reformists, the largest grouping in the outgoing parliament, have been decisively beaten, with predictions showing them taking only 17 seats in the 290-strong parliament. The principalists – or conservatives – were on course to take around 200 seats, including all 30 seats in the capital, Tehran, previously a stronghold of the reformers. 
Although they are a diverse group, many of the senior conservatives are former supporters of ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The result is a rebuff for those that had pushed for greater engagement with the west, and is likely to constrain Iran’s foreign policy options. The parliament could press for Iran to quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
As a general rule, people intend the logical and foreseeable consequences of their acts. Trump, however, may be too unhinged, too addled, too far gone not to grasp that the attack on that Iranian general would be a blow to moderate Iranians, centrists, and a huge blessing to the Mullahs. His military aides would certainly have warned him of this blowback but this is a president who just doesn't listen.

Notch One Up for Artificial Intelligence

There are plenty of bright lights who warn that artificial intelligence, AI, could be the end of us. Elon Musk is one. More recently, Yuval Noah Harari, has written of a world in which AI becomes the ruling force that may or may not keep us around for muscle. It all sounds quite bleak, dire.

It's not a one-sided picture of dystopia looming. Far from it. I caught an item this morning on BBC's global podcast about AI and antibiotics-resistant disease control.
In a world first, scientists have discovered a new type of antibiotic using artificial intelligence (AI). 
It has been heralded by experts as a major breakthrough in the fight against the growing problem of drug resistance. 
A powerful algorithm was used to analyse more than one hundred million chemical compounds in a matter of days. 
The newly discovered compound was able to kill 35 types of potentially deadly bacteria, said researchers.
I wasn't sure if this was BBC hyping something for a story so I searched science web sites and, wow, the story is being posted just about everywhere.

MIT broke the story two days ago. I assume that's because it was MIT's own researchers who unleashed AI to come up with new antibiotics.
The computer model, which can screen more than a hundred million chemical compounds in a matter of days, is designed to pick out potential antibiotics that kill bacteria using different mechanisms than those of existing drugs. 
“We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new age of antibiotic drug discovery,” says James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering. “Our approach revealed this amazing molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered.” 
In their new study, the researchers also identified several other promising antibiotic candidates, which they plan to test further. They believe the model could also be used to design new drugs, based on what it has learned about chemical structures that enable drugs to kill bacteria.
Now if they can figure out how to use AI to put the malevolent genie of 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue back inside his bottle, we'll be onto something.

Colby Takes the P*ss Out of the Buffalo Declaration

Even NatPo columnist, Colby Cosh, can't take the Buffalo Declaration seriously.

Alberta or Buffalo? Choose your own adventure? I suppose the revolution is still incomplete in the minds of the authors, too: they have begat a manifesto, but have not quite figured out on whose behalf, precisely, they are speaking. Forgive us, we’re all kind of new at this game of soft nationalism. (Or, rather, at the game of creating a Quebec-style spectrum of nationalisms, ranging from paranoid cranks to grouchy-but-devoted three-quarter federalists.) 
It is definitely a logical problem that so much of the declaration is devoted to the proposition that Alberta is culturally distinct from its neighbours — so much so as to permit the sort of political claims and considerations that would ordinarily pertain to a nation. The East, we are told, is full of the descendants of “bankers, lawyers and other capitalists.” Meanwhile, Alberta was being peopled by the wretched of the Earth. “Settlers like the Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians, Dutch, Germans, Scots, Chinese, and Icelanders immigrated to Alberta because of poverty, overpopulation and unemployment in their homelands. 
It turns out that the people who came from the corners of the Earth to dwell in West Buffalo were sailing into a trap. Their grandchildren and great-grandchildren now find themselves once again bled white by a tsardom’s cold and distant bureaucracy. Look at the language, the particular word choices, at the head of the document. “The economic and social challenges faced by Canada,” we are told, “… are the symptom of the colonial power structures from which Alberta and Saskatchewan were born.” Many Buffalonians “are disconnected from, and feel disrespected by, the power class of the Laurentian consensus.” Alberta faces “systemic inequities.” 
No wonder the Buffalovskian mental revolution is tricky. To find a hearing outside Buffalo, its factual basis will have to convince — no easy task, and the authors have not been as careful as they ought. (They hint that Alberta is experiencing a suicide epidemic, but rates are still slightly higher in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and many times higher in the rump Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The SNC-Lavalin mess is characterized as interference in “judicial” rather than prosecutorial independence. There’s a complaint about Alberta “access” to the Parliamentary Press Gallery that is flat-out mysterious.)
But perhaps the main task is to train the Buffalo audience in an unfamiliar and unnatural argot of victimhood, one in which injustices are always “systemic” and change must always be “structural” and you get a failing grade if you go a hundred words without mentioning undifferentiated “power.” If you feel “disrespected,” as we Albertans surely often do, you should immediately take that to be evidence of a conspiracy against your ambitions. And if it should occur to you that one of the signatories of the Buffalo Declaration now protesting perpetual Albertan exclusion from government was a minister of the federal Crown 52 months ago, well, maybe that’s your false consciousness talking.