Tuesday, October 20, 2020

McConnell Tells Trump to "Back Off"


Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has told Donald Trump not to cut a Covid stimulus deal with House majority leader, Nancy Pelosi.

Trump is desperate for votes and he's all out of mojo with the election just two weeks away. The American economy isn't working for blue or white collar wage earners. There's no wall, not that anyone even cares about that any more. His Covid policies keep putting Americans in the ground as death rates increase. Working class misery is about to get much worse as landlords are now free to evict. A lot of those most affected are Trump's base.

Ms. Pelosi had said earlier on Tuesday that she was “optimistic” a deal could be reached with the Trump administration in the coming days. But Republicans are growing increasingly anxious that Mr. Trump and his team are too eager to reach a multitrillion-dollar agreement and are conceding far too much to the Democrats. Republicans fear that scenario would force their colleagues up for re-election into a difficult choice of defying the president or alienating their fiscally conservative base by embracing the big-spending bill he has demanded.

Republicans in the Senate were also concerned that any vote on such a package could interfere with the Senate’s hasty timetable for confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court by early next week.

This must be driving the Mango Mussolini nuts. One thing he hasn't had from the Republican controlled Senate is disobedience. He expects to get his way. Congressional Republicans seem to have figured out that there's less to gain from appeasing Trump and little risk in defying the guy who may be on his way out anyway in another two weeks. 


Monday, October 19, 2020

A Sea of Bodies

Think of them as collateral damage from the nearly four-year term of the Trump administration. They're the men and women who were either fired or resigned from Team Trump and, trust me, there's a whack of them.

 A few of them left with their honour and integrity intact. Most were just shown the door.

The first tier includes the generals - James Mattis, H.R. McMaster and John Kelly. You can add ex-national security advisor, Dan Coats, and probably Rex Tillerson to that abbreviated list. Read Bob Woodward's latest book, "Rage," and you'll understand.

The second tier has to include the colourful and controversial departures. John Bolton, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Bannon, KellyAnne Conway, Michael Flynn, Ryan Zinke, Jeff Sessions, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Alexander Acosta, Sebastian Gorka, Nikki Haley, Reince Priebus, Mick Mulvaney, Kirstjen Nielsen, and Madeleine Westerhut.

The third tier is almost endless. These are the people most of us have never heard of and they are legion.

Here's the thing. Collectively this group knows where the bodies, if there are any, are buried. These are the people Trump depended upon to wash his dirty laundry. Some of these people, probably a good many of them, will take Donald Trump's secrets with them to the grave. Others, however, may eagerly await an interview summons to the post-Trump Department of Justice. Some may be anxious to make deals lest someone else gets there first.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Wishful Thinking?


When it comes to hoping that the menacing cloud of Covid-19 will be lifted by next summer by a silver bullet vaccine, I'm as delusional as anyone. This virus is a complete pain in the ass. Self-isolation is miserable, like solitary confinement only self-inflicted. The handwashing - ugh, but probably the least annoying. Face masks - don't go out without 'em. That's getting old and that's just the personal stuff.

Then there's the economic chaos. Lockdowns. Restaurants restricted, some gone for good. Businesses laying off staff. A shambles.

Telephonic medical care. Now you call it in - if you detect something and think you know what it means. They're doing some great things with technology these days. There's a device called Kardia 6L that performs six lead EKGs. Cardiologists seem to think it's great. And, of course, it comes with a smart phone app. It transmits test results by bluetooth to the phone that can then email the data to your healthcare provider.  The Kardia system also integrates blood pressure/pulse readings from Omron home devices. My GP says this blood pressure cuff is every bit as accurate as what they have in their offices. So you can send all that data along with your EKG tests in pdf format via email.

Then there's the oximeter, the little device that clips onto your fingertip and discerns your blood oxygen levels and heartrate. And maybe you've got one of these new watches such as the Fitbit Versa 2 that also monitors heart rate. I think the new Apple watch runs EKGs. If you're diabetic there are wearable blood glucose monitors.

Hypochondria is, I expect, worsened by isolation. That may be the hidden benefit of these various devices when they tell you "Shut up, moron. You're fine. Quit whining."

Maybe this will all be a fading memory by next summer when the vaccine arrives. It'll be like the end of WWII. We'll all be partying in the street. Maybe, maybe not.

There's an article in The Guardian/Observer exploring how pandemics end. It's written by a lecturer from City University of London who also wrote the cheerful book, "The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris."

Here's the problem. Few among us have much experience of epidemic/pandemics. We're in uncharted waters. Our natural tendency is to say, "oh, they'll think of something." I hope so but the track record from the plague, cholera and similar contagions doesn't give much cause for optimism. We've had just one victory, the eradication of smallpox in 1980. The plague, it's still with us. Polio breaks out here and there from time to time. Some of these diseases are suppressed by vaccinations and emergent herd immunity but they're still able to return.

A Covid-19 vaccine would be great but there's no sign that a corona virus  creates herd immunity. Getting Covid-19 under effective control will require more than a vaccine.

The other way the pandemic could be brought to a close is with a truly world-beating test-and-trace system. Once we can suppress the reproductive rate to below 1 and be confident of keeping it there, the case for social distancing dissolves. Sure, some local measures might be necessary from time to time, but there would no longer be a need for blanket restrictions in order to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. Essentially, Covid-19 would become an endemic infection, like flu or the common cold, and fade into the background.

Speaking of test-and-trace protocols, there's a report in the Washington Post about August's Sturgis motorcycle rally and the surge of Covid infections in South Dakota and neighbouring states.  

Within weeks of the gathering, the Dakotas, along with Wyoming, Minnesota and Montana, were leading the nation in new coronavirus infections per capita. The surge was especially pronounced in North and South Dakota, where cases and hospitalization rates continued their juggernaut rise into October. Experts say they will never be able to determine how many of those cases originated at the 10-day rally, given the failure of state and local health officials to identify and monitor attendees returning home, or to trace chains of transmission after people got sick. Some, however, believe the nearly 500,000-person gathering played a role in the outbreak now consuming the Upper Midwest.

No test-and-trace means state officials, such as the governor of South Dakota, a Trump acolyte.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem, a Republican, was one of the few state leaders who never restricted mass gatherings, managing the pandemic by emphasizing personal responsibility over government mandates.

No test-and-trace allowed Noem plausible deniability to dismiss the subsequent Covid surge as - wait for it - the result of too much testing. The evidence linking the mass rally and the spread of Covid-19 would never be found.


Friday, October 16, 2020

What Now?

When I spotted the BBC headline, "The grim fate that could be worse than extinction," I instinctively recoiled and thought, "fuck, what now?" I don't know about you but with this pandemic, the kaleidoscope of climate breakdown impacts, and the seeming "end days" of democracy, I'm up to my ass in alligators.

Cut to the chase. I'll bite, what could be worse than extinction?  Oh, I don't know. Ask George. George who? George Orwell, you pillock.

When we think of existential risks, events like nuclear war or asteroid impacts often come to mind. Yet there’s one future threat that is less well known – and while it doesn’t involve the extinction of our species, it could be just as bad.

It’s called the “world in chains” scenario, where ...a global totalitarian government uses a novel technology to lock a majority of the world into perpetual suffering. If it sounds grim, you’d be right. But is it likely? Researchers and philosophers are beginning to ponder how it might come about – and, more importantly, what we can do to avoid it.

Toby Ord, a senior research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute (FHI) at Oxford University, believes that the odds of an existential catastrophe happening this century from natural causes are less than one in 2,000, because humans have survived for 2,000 centuries without one. However, when he adds the probability of human-made disasters, Ord believes the chances increase to a startling one in six. He refers to this century as “the precipice” because the risk of losing our future has never been so high.

Researchers at the Center on Long-Term Risk, a non-profit research institute in London, have expanded upon x-risks with the even-more-chilling prospect of suffering risks. These “s-risks” are defined as “suffering on an astronomical scale, vastly exceeding all suffering that has existed on Earth so far.” In these scenarios, life continues for billions of people, but the quality is so low and the outlook so bleak that dying out would be preferable. In short: a future with negative value is worse than one with no value at all.

This is where the “world in chains” scenario comes in. If a malevolent group or government suddenly gained world-dominating power through technology, and there was nothing to stand in its way, it could lead to an extended period of abject suffering and subjugation. A 2017 report on existential risks from the Global Priorities Project, in conjunction with FHI and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, warned that “a long future under a particularly brutal global totalitarian state could arguably be worse than complete extinction”.

Big Brother is already here. 

In the past, surveillance required hundreds of thousands of people – one in every 100 citizens in East Germany was an informant – but now it can be done by technology. In the United States, the National Security Agency (NSA) collected hundreds of millions of American call and text records before they stopped domestic surveillance in 2019, and there are an estimated four to six million CCTV cameras across the United Kingdom. Eighteen of the 20 most surveilled cities in the world are in China, but London is the third. The difference between them lies less in the tech that the countries employ and more in how they use it.

What if the definition of what is illegal in the US and the UK expanded to include criticising the government or practising certain religions? The infrastructure is already in place to enforce it, and AI – which the NSA has already begun experimenting with – would enable agencies to search through our data faster than ever before.

In addition to enhancing surveillance, AI also underpins the growth of online misinformation, which is another tool of the authoritarian. AI-powered deep fakes, which can spread fabricated political messages, and algorithmic micro-targeting on social media are making propaganda more persuasive. This undermines our epistemic security – the ability to determine what is true and act on it – that democracies depend on.

“Over the last few years, we've seen the rise of filter bubbles and people getting shunted by various algorithms into believing various conspiracy theories, or even if they’re not conspiracy theories, into believing only parts of the truth,” says Haydn Belfield, academic project manager at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge. “You can imagine things getting much worse, especially with deep fakes and things like that, until it's increasingly harder for us to, as a society, decide these are the facts of the matter, this is what we have to do about it, and then take collective action.”

Tucker Davey, a writer at the Future of Life Institute in Massachusetts agrees. “We need to decide now what are acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI,” he says. “And we need to be careful about letting it control so much of our infrastructure. If we're arming police with facial recognition and the federal government is collecting all of our data, that's a bad start.”

Yesterday an acquaintance in the States emailed me with a provocative defence of Donald Trump she had found online. She likes Trump and is trying to find some justification for voting for him - again. I mentioned how Trump had tuned up his base until they've become insensate. "All you're left with is the sound of one hand clapping. There are people who imagine they can hear that. Trump counts on that."

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Warpaint. Never, Ever Thought I'd See This

HMCS Regina is getting spruced up for the annual RimPac naval exercises. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, Regina will be sporting "dazzle" pattern camouflage paint of the wartime era.

Damn but she looks pretty nice.

Heart of Oak    Steady, boys, Steady

This Is a Story About a Real Dick. Dick is a Lawyer.

CBC has a "sign of the times" story about a Thai restaurant in Windsor, Ontario that refused service to a customer who would not wear a face mask.

After refusing food to a customer who wouldn't wear a mask at a walk-up takeout window, a local Thai restaurant was given an ultimatum: pay $20,000 or be taken to a human rights tribunal. 

Thai Palace received a hand-delivered letter Friday from Antoine d'Ailly Law Office, which states a claim of discrimination will be filed against the restaurant for violating the Ontario Human Rights Code. The letter demands that the owner hand over any and all video footage of the incident, which it says occurred on Oct. 7.

It also says the restaurant can settle the issue and avoid "the necessity of a formal process" by paying $20,000.

The restaurant's server Nhu Dang was working at the takeout window when the incident took place. 

"He came to pick up his takeout order and I politely asked him to put on a mask and he said he couldn't and I tried to explain the reasons why we have our policy and any alternatives that he can do to be able to get his takeout but clearly he didn't want to," Dang told CBC News. 

She said she also offered to give the man a disposable mask. 

At this point the manager and co-owner, Renu Anderson got involved.

"I said 'Sir what's happening? what's wrong? Because like why you don't want to wear the mask?' and he just started yelling at me and said I have human rights ... you can't ask me for doctor's notes. I said, 'You know, I run this place, I'm small business, I need to make sure my staff are safe and my customers are safe,'" Renu said. 

She added that she told the man, who identified himself as a lawyer, that he could leave if he wasn't going to wear a mask 

Ah, yes, the old "I'm a lawyer. Don't mess with me."  

Posted outside the restaurant are signs that say customers must be wearing a face mask. If someone is unable to wear one, the restaurant said they have a delivery service. 

I'm not sure how the Law Society of Upper Canada, or "L-Suck" as they're known to lawyers in other provinces, will view this affair but, to me, it sounds like a shakedown. Then again, L-Suck sometimes has unusual ideas.

CBC has made four tries at contacting Antoine d'Ailly but no luck. Could it be they're laying low?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Meanwhile in Germany

The Berlin tourist authority has launched an ad campaign targeting people who don't wear masks.

 I guess you don't have to sprechen Deutsch to get the point.

"Rage" The Shortest and Best Chapter

Rage, Bob Woodward's latest book on Donald Trump and his administration is a pretty good read. The least interesting bits are his conversations with the hopefully outgoing president. There's a lot to be gleaned, however, in Woodward's conversations with ex-defense secretary, James Mattis; ex-secretary of state, Rex Tillerson; ex-national security advisor, Dan Coats; and other denizens of the Trump White House.

The best chapter, Chapter 29, is the briefest and perhaps the best. It concerns the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, Lindsey Graham, speaking candidly of how the process for confirming judicial appointments got so screwed up.  Graham faults Obama and Harry Reid for scrapping the filibuster process.

"I didn't know we had so many fucking judges," Graham said. "I think every town's got a judge. Some are a little wacky. Most of them are really good. But a few outliers. The problem is when you only need a simple majority, you don't need to go outside your own party."

...A filibuster effectively allowed one senator to block the appointment of a judge. Senate rules required 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, meaning in effect each nominee needed the support of at least 60 senators.

But in 2013, under Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, infuriated by Republicans' use of the filibuster, pushed the elimination through.

"I don't think I've ever seen John McCain more upset," Grahan recalled. "Because that's the beginning of the end."

The result was making the judiciary more ideological, Graham realized. The rule change had removed the need to strive for compromise. "If you've got to reach across the aisle and pick up 10 votes, you're going to have a different judge than if you don't."

...Now with Trump's appointments "there's some wacky ones, but there's some that didn't make it. I said no. No, we're not going there.

"But we have weeded out some really wackos. It's only going to get worse over time, though. The judiciary is going to get far more ideological. It changes the Senate. It's just a matter of time until the Senate becomes the House" - more ideological, more partisan and focused on the short term rather than able to take a long view.

The filibuster on legislation would be next to go Graham worried. "If Trump wins re-election and we take back the House and we've got a small majority in the Senate, they'll be so much pressure on all of us to change the rules."

...In the meantime, he said, "the judiciary's going to fundamentally change in our lifetime." The nominees will have to be approved by outspoken ideologues in the party "because you don't need any support from the other side."

Graham spoke to Chief Justice John Roberts frequently. "John Roberts is very much worried about this drift. He's an institutionalist at heart. He's joined several 5 to 4 decisions because he doesn't want the Court, I think, labeled as a political party."

The Lindsey Graham Woodward interviewed bears scant resemblance to the Lindsey Graham who has become Trump's snarling lapdog today. Maybe he still has two personas, private and public. 

"The Arctic is Dying"


This photograph is the wall of Batagaika Crater in Siberia. It's the biggest permafrost crater in the world and it's still growing. All the once safely sequestered carbon is being released as the permafrost wall thaws.

"The Arctic is Dying." I first encountered that headline in an Agence France Presse  report on the return of the massive icebreaker/research ship Polarstern to its home base in Bremerhaven, Germany, concluding a 389 day mission, much of it spent drifting, trapped in Arctic sea ice. I wasn't sure if it was hyperbole. Then I read a similar account in Deutsche Welle and, again, in The Guardian.

The team of several hundred scientists from 20 countries have seen for themselves the dramatic effects of global warming on ice in the region, considered "the epicentre of climate change", according to mission leader Markus Rex.

"We witnessed how the Arctic ocean is dying," Rex told AFP. "We saw this process right outside our windows, or when we walked on the brittle ice."

Underlining how much of the sea ice has melted away, Rex said the mission was able to sail through large patches of open water, "sometimes stretching as far as the horizon".

"At the North Pole itself, we found badly eroded, melted, thin and brittle ice."

The 140-million-euro ($165 million) expedition is also bringing back 150 terabytes of data and more than 1,000 ice samples.

"The expedition will, of course, produce results on many different levels," Rex said.

The team measured more than 100 parameters almost continuously throughout the year and are hoping the information will provide a "breakthrough in understanding the Arctic and climate system", he said.

Analysing the data will take up to two years, with the aim of developing models to help predict what heatwaves, heavy rains or storms could look like in 20, 50 or 100 years' time.

One thing is clear and inescapable. The Arctic, as it has existed for thousands of years, is over. We're only beginning to grasp the repercussions of that but, as climate change has shown repeatedly, it will be felt in various ways just about everywhere. The Guardian has a photo essay of what is already happening to the people of this remote region.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

America Stages a Comeback - to Pre-WWII America

An insightful article in Foreign Policy predicts that America is en route to a time before the era of liberal democracy.

Trump’s “America first” approach to foreign policy has deep roots in U.S. history. Before 1945, the United States defined its interests narrowly, mostly in terms of money and physical security, and pursued them aggressively, with little regard for the effects on the rest of the world. It espoused liberal values such as freedom and liberty but applied them selectively, both at home and abroad. It formed no alliances besides the one it signed with France during the Revolutionary War. Its tariffs ranked among the highest in the world. It shunned international institutions. The United States was not isolationist; in fact, its rampant territorial expansion inspired the envy of Adolf Hitler. But it was often aloof.

The United States could afford to pursue its goals alone because it, unlike other powerful countries, was self-sufficient. By the 1880s, the United States was the world’s richest country, largest consumer market, and leading manufacturer and energy producer, with vast natural resources and no major threats. With so much going for it at home, the United States had little interest in forging alliances abroad.

That changed during the Cold War, when the Soviet military occupied large swaths of Eurasia and communism attracted hundreds of millions of followers worldwide. By the early 1950s, Moscow had twice the military might of continental Western Europe, and communists ruled over 35 percent of the world’s industrial resources. The United States needed strong partners to contain these threats, so it bankrolled an alliance, providing dozens of countries with security guarantees and easy access to American markets.

...It would be comforting to blame the country’s current nationalist posture on Trump alone, but Americans’ support for the postwar liberal order has been shaky for decades. Surveys now show that more than 60 percent of Americans want the United States simply to look after itself. When pollsters ask Americans what ought to be the priorities of U.S. foreign policy, few cite promoting democracy, trade, and human rights—the core activities of liberal international leadership. Instead, they point to preventing terrorist attacks, protecting U.S. jobs, and reducing illegal immigration. Roughly half of those surveyed say they oppose sending U.S. troops to defend allies under attack, and nearly 80 percent favor the use of tariffs to prevent job losses from trade. Trump’s approach is no aberration; it taps into a current that has always run through American political culture.

In the years ahead, Americans’ support for the liberal order may decline further still thanks to demographic and technological changes that will increase the United States’ economic and military lead and make the country less dependent on others. First, most countries’ populations are growing older, many at extremely fast rates. By 2070, the median age of the world’s population will have doubled compared with 100 years earlier, from 20 years old to 40 years old, and the share of people aged 65 and older in the global population will have nearly quadrupled, from five percent to 19 percent. For millennia, young people have vastly outnumbered the elderly. But in 2018, for the first time ever, there were more people over the age of 64 than under six. 

The United States will soon be the only country with a large, growing market. Among the world’s 20 largest economies, only Australia, Canada, and the United States will have growing populations of adults aged 20 to 49 throughout the next 50 years. The other large economies will suffer, on average, a 16 percent decline in that critical age group, with most of the demographic decline concentrated among the world’s most powerful economic players. China, for example, will lose 225 million young workers and consumers aged 20 to 49, a whopping 36 percent of its current total. Japan’s population of 20- to 49-year-olds will shrink by 42 percent, Russia’s by 23 percent, and Germany’s by 17 percent. India’s will grow until 2040 and then decline rapidly. Meanwhile, the United States’ will expand by ten percent. The American market is already as large as that of the next five countries combined, and the United States depends less on foreign trade and investment than almost any other country. As other major economies shrivel, the United States will become even more central to global growth and even less reliant on international commerce.

...By 2050, Russia’s spending on pensions and medical care for the elderly will increase by nearly 50 percent as a share of its GDP, and China’s will nearly triple, whereas in the United States, such spending will increase by only 35 percent. Russia and China will soon face severe choices between buying guns for their militaries and buying canes for their ballooning elderly populations, and history suggests they will prioritize the latter to prevent domestic unrest. Even if Russia and China do not cut their military spending, they will struggle to modernize their militaries because of the rapid aging of their troops. Personnel costs already consume 46 percent of Russia’s military budget (compared with 25 percent of the U.S. military budget) and likely will exceed 50 percent this decade as a wave of older troops retire and draw pensions. China’s personnel costs are officially listed at 31 percent of its military budget, but independent estimates suggest they consume nearly half of China’s defense spending and will rise in the years ahead.

Democratic liberalism's days are numbered.

In liberal democracies across the world, public support for that order has long rested on rising incomes for the working class, which in turn were largely the result of growing populations and job-creating technologies. The postwar baby boom produced scores of young workers and consumers, and the assembly line provided them with stable jobs. But today, populations across the democratic world are aging and shrinking, and machines are eliminating jobs. The basic bargain—work hard, support the liberal system, and trust that a rising economic tide will lift all boats—has broken down. Nationalism and xenophobia are filling the void.

A New World Order - Region versus Region

Washington might retain only two sets of regular partners. The first would include Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These countries are strategically arrayed across the globe, and their militaries and intelligence agencies are already integrated with Washington’s. All but Japan boast growing working-age populations, unlike most other U.S. allies, and thus have the potential tax bases to contribute to U.S. missions. The second group would consist of places such as the Baltic states, the Gulf Arab monarchies, and Taiwan, which share borders with or sit in close proximity to U.S. adversaries. The United States would continue to arm these partners but would no longer plan to defend them. Instead, Washington would essentially use them as buffers to check Chinese, Iranian, and Russian expansion without direct U.S. intervention. 

The analysis reflects its authorship. Written by a political scientist it exists in a world defined by political science which introduces constraints and omits a great deal of modern reality. For example, he assumes that sophisticated, industrial nations will be relatively unscathed by climate breakdown than poorer and more backward nations. I suspect that affluent countries will be in some ways less resilient to climate impacts and disruptions than some second or third-tier economies. The author, a poly-sci prof from Tufts, also has apparently not heard of a world ordered on unsustainable consumption and rapidly dwindling resources.

On a more upbeat note, a South China Morning Post columnist, Alex Lo, writes that the world envisioned in the Foreign Policy article might not be that bad. For China, second place might be more comfortable - and peaceful.

Like many other countries, China faces a dire demographic outlook. When the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences first published the “Green Book of Population and Labour” in January last year, it made a news splash because of the dire warning it contained about population decline and a shrinking labour force.

While many major economies experience declining birth rates and increasing life expectancies, China’s former “one child” policy had worsened those trends. Its birth rate fell in each of the last three years, despite allowing families to have two children from 2016. A population contraction may start by 2027. By the middle of the century, there will not be enough workers to support a vast and ageing population.

...Actually, there are worse scenarios for China than falling into the “middle-income trap”. For one thing, it may escape the so-called Thucydides’ trap – or a third world war – as Beijing realises it’s unrealistic and counterproductive to compete with the US for world dominance. Since the late 1970s, China has been able to pay for both guns and butter because of its phenomenal economic expansion. At some point in the coming decades, it may have to choose butter over guns and scale back its global ambitions. God forbid if it chooses guns over butter – just to challenge the US!

But as US baseball legend Yogi Berra used to say, “Prediction is very hard, particularly when it’s about the future.” 



A Real Sh*tshow of an Election - B.C. Votes


My mail-in ballot arrived last week. It's still sitting uncompleted on my coffee table.

For several years I've been a committed Green Party member.  After leaving the Liberals, Elizabeth May and the Greens were a good fit for me. Then this dilemma surfaced. I became a lot greener than the Green Party, federal or provincial. They became mired in conventional politics, taking positions that would have been commendable, even inspirational, in 1970 or 1980 but have lost the plot in 2020. The Green Party has pursued a marginalized relevance.

We are in a climate emergency. The world is in a climate emergency. Major change is imperative and time is fast running out. We are on a time table, an hour glass, that the Green Party's politics doesn't recognize. Canada doesn't need a scold in our legislatures. Canada needs a core of dedicated insurgents. People who will obstruct and derail. What the Extinction Rebellion is doing in the streets, what the Wetsueten are doing to defend their sovereign territory, Green Party MPs and MLAs should be doing in their respective legislatures. Otherwise, what is the point? 

Life on Earth hangs in the balance. Act like it. Stand up. Speak out of turn. Get thrown out. Make them carry you out. Force their hand and drag them into the spotlight. You've only got a few people. How else are you going to effect change?

With that frame of mind, here are the options for voters in Parksville-Qualicum Beach. Michelle Stil well, the incumbent Liberal, whose claim to fame is/was a successful 16-year career as a wheelchair athlete winning a bag full of gold medals in paralympic games. A favourite of Christy Clark, Stilwell took 45% of the vote in 2017. 

The NDP candidate is a town councillor from Qualicum Beach.  Seems a nice enough guy but I can't abide his party's support for the Site C dam or every LNG venture that comes along. 

So what about the Greens? Like Erin O'Toole, the Greens have a career military officer, a retired RCN weapons systems controller. He seemed okay until I came to the line where he described himself as a life-long "staunch Conservative." He hints that he might have had an epiphany but stops well short of saying as much.

So, the Green candidate doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell and he's is or until last week was a "staunch Conservative." No, I don't think so. The NDP candidate is a nice enough guy but I can't get past Horgan's Site C and LNG policies. And the Liberals? I could write pages why I would sooner have a nail torn out than vote for those bastards.

So there it is. I can't vote for any of them. I'll mail in my ballot, suitably voided.

Government of the Rich, By the Rich, For the Rich - The Republicans' Plutocratic Agenda

Give Mitch McConnell his due. To him, hypocrisy in defence of plutocracy is no vice. How else to explain how Senate Republicans never met a tax cut for the rich they couldn't approve but have no tolerance for relief for ordinary Americans in the throes of a pandemic. Paul Krugman says it better:

They’re willing to cover for Trump’s unprecedented corruption; they’re apparently unbothered by his fondness for foreign dictators. But spending money to help Americans in distress? That’s where they draw the line. 

This was obvious even before the coronavirus struck. Remember how Trump promised to spend trillions on infrastructure, then defaulted on that promise? “Infrastructure week” eventually became a running joke. But while Trump’s infrastructure proposals never made any sense, in early 2019 it seemed as if he might actually have a deal with Democrats for a serious spending plan.

But the deal went nowhere thanks to opposition from Senate Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, the majority leader.

McConnell and company are also the main reason we don’t have a deal to help Americans survive the economic effects of the pandemic.

...Trump’s chances of re-election and McConnell’s chances of holding on to the Senate would almost surely be better if there actually had been an infrastructure bill last year and a relief bill this past summer. Why weren’t Republicans willing to make those deals?

Whatever they may say, they weren’t concerned about the cost. Republicans didn’t worry about budget deficits when they rammed through a $2 trillion tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. They only pose as deficit hawks when trying to block spending that might help ordinary Americans.

No, what this is really about is the modern G.O.P.’s plutocratic agenda. McConnell and, as far as I can tell, every member of his caucus are completely committed to cutting taxes on the rich and aid to the poor and middle class. Other than March’s CARES Act, which Republicans passed only because they were panicking over a plunging stock market, it’s hard to think of any major G.O.P.-approved fiscal legislation in the past two decades that didn’t redistribute income upward.

You might think that Republicans would set the plutocratic imperative aside when the case for more government spending is compelling, whether it’s to repair our crumbling infrastructure or to provide relief during a pandemic. But all indications are that they believe — probably rightly — that successful government programs make the public more receptive to proposals for additional programs.

...So while Trump bears much of the responsibility for the misery facing millions of Americans, McConnell probably bears an equal share. Will they pay the political price? We’ll find out in three weeks.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Goldman Sachs Warns First Class Passengers to Take to the Lifeboats

They're going to miss the bloated bastard when he's gone. 

To Wall Street, Donald Trump has been a champion of the rich, so much so that Goldman Sachs is now telling investors to unload greenbacks because Joe Biden is coming.

Investors should sell the dollar, as chances grow for a decisive win by Democrat Joe Biden at next month's election and as progress continues towards an effective vaccine against COVID-19, Goldman Sachs strategists said on Friday.

Strategists led by Zach Pandl said in a note the two key drivers for the currencies are now the Democrats taking control of both Congress and the Senate in a Biden win on November 3 and progress on a vaccine.

"Although there are uncertainties around both, the risks are skewed toward dollar weakness, and we see relatively low odds of the most dollar-positive outcome-a win by Mr. Trump combined with a meaningful vaccine delay," Goldman said.

Goldman said the chances of a so-called "blue wave" have risen to more than 60%, based on Biden's growing lead over President Donald Trump in the polls.

"In our view, a "blue wave" US election and favorable news on the vaccine timeline could return the trade-weighted dollar and dollar index to their 2018 lows," the bank said. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Why Michigan? It Was No Fluke.

Why did heavily armed domestic terrorists storm Michigan's statehouse? Why did a group of terrorists, members of Michigan's Wolverine Militia, plot to kidnap and put on trial their governor, Gretchen Whitmer?

On the day that the FBI revealed it had broken up a conspiracy to kidnap governor Whitmer I spoke with a close friend in Grosse Point. I've known Bob for 50 years. He's a retired police officer with a PhD in criminology. He ventured the opinion that Michigan has the worst militia problem in the United States. Bob said militia territory begins where metropolitan Detroit ends and is widespread in the countryside beyond.

So, why Michigan? The story has its roots in the heyday of the Motor City and the creation of a Southern Diaspora of poor relatively uneducated blacks and whites from the Deep South who migrated to Detroit to get jobs in the car plants.

Henry Ford was big on hiring southern blacks until they started to get involved with the unions in the 40s. That's when he switched to southern whites. Ford, FoMoCo, was situated in Dearborn, one of the whitest communities in the region. From 1941 to 1978, Dearborn's mayor was Orville Hubbard, a committed segregationist.

"They can't get in here. We watch it. Every time we hear of a Negro moving—for instance, we had one last year—in a response quicker than to a fire. That's generally known. It's known among our own people and it's known among the Negroes here."  He also boasted that one of his tactics to discourage blacks who had just moved into Dearborn was by providing police and fire protection that was "a little too good"—wake-up visits every hour or so through the night in response to trouble calls.

Hubbard's other statements on race include the following:

    • He once examined the bullet-riddled body of a black man and called it an open-and-shut case of suicide. 
    • Hubbard was once quoted as saying, "I'm not a racist, but I just hate those black bastards."
I found some interesting photographs of Michigan's southern white diaspora at a website of the University of Washington.

Henry Ford’s massive Willow Run B-24 bomber plant at Ypsilanti, Michigan, hired thousands of southern migrants during World War II, mostly whites. Ford had taken the lead in hiring black workers in the 1910s and 1920s, but changed course in the early 1940s after black workers joined the United Auto Workers union. (Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University )



Reverend J. Frank Norris turned Detroit’s Temple Baptist into a bastion of rightwing fundamentalism.  Norris (right) joins Michigan Governor Luren Dickinson, a prohibitionist, at a 1940 campaign rally. Norris commuted between his churches in Detroit and Ft. Worth from 1935 to 1950. (Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University)


Detroit detectives show off confiscated robes, masks, and weapons belonging to the Black Legion. Before the Klan-linked organization was broken up in 1936, members had committed a string of murders and assaults in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan. Newspaper reports claimed that most of the members were former southerners. (Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University)


George Wallace enjoyed considerable support in the white suburbs and smaller cities of Michigan. Note the “Vote for Wallace” t-shirt at this 1971 anti-busing demonstration in Pontiac Michigan. (Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University)

I suppose Bob is right. The white trash problem has been imbedded in Michigan since the 40s. My friend, perhaps uncharitably, figures they're inbred. He said you only need to go back and look at the photos of the occupation of the Michigan statehouse.


Yeah, I see what he means. Funny what can lurk, completely unnoticed, right below your nose.

Lindsey Has Caught "Mad Trump Disease"

Lindsey Graham figures South Carolina is just fine with black people or at least some blacks that may or may not actually exist.

In a candidate forum with the South Carolina Senate race contenders, Senator Lindsey Graham has said he did not believe there was systemic racism in his state, insisting young black people would be safe, "as long as they're conservative."

Graham made the comment during what was initially going to be another head-to-head debate on Friday with Democratic contender, Jaime Harrison.

The format for the televised event was changed after Graham had refused a request by Harrison to take a coronavirus test beforehand. Instead, both candidates were questioned for 30 minutes each on a range of issues, laying out their pitches for the state's voters. 

"I am asking every African-American out there, look at my record," he said, referring to how he supported historically black colleges and universities. "I care about everybody, if you are a young African-American, an immigrant, you can go anywhere in this state, you just need to be conservative not liberal." 

Or else, what?


Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone


Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving today or the more conventional holiday tomorrow, it's good to give thanks on this weekend.

We should be thankful for our families, even if it is difficult to gather, and thankful for what life gives us. We should be thankful for this guy.

You may not be wild about the guy.  He has his failings and we probably haven't seen all of them yet. But, for all that, at least he's a damn sight better than this guy.

No matter what you think of Justin Trudeau, just remember it could always be worse - much, much worse. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Coals to Newcastle


From what I've read, sales of legal marijuana (government stores and licenced retailers) haven't lived up to expectations.

This is especially true for what was once known as the Napa Valley of illicit weed, British Columbia. Judging by sales of legal weed in neighbouring Alberta, B.C. is faring poorly. Ontario is first overall, no surprise there.  Alberta, however, is a close second. Quebec holds third place. 

Retail cannabis sales figures from Stats Can paint a bleak picture for British Columbia. In the first year of legalized weed, sales per capita in Canada averaged $24. The biggest markets, on per capita sales, were the Yukon ($103) followed closely in second place by PEI ($97). Nova Scotia ($68), Northwest Territories ($61) and N&L ($59), filled the top five spots. At $10 per capita, British Columbia came in dead last.

A province so steeped in weed culture that "BC Bud" was known throughout North America, even mentioned glowingly in an episode of Sex and the City, doesn't appear to have much appetite for legal weed. I guess it really is "coals to Newcastle."

Has Bill Barr Decided It's "Every Man for Himself"?


Bill Barr deserves no sympathy, none. As Attorney General, Trump's very own Renfield, has betrayed the American people, disgraced his office, damaged the Department of Justice over which he presides and routinely debased his integrity, to meet Trump's every command. Bill Barr is a loathsome man.

Yet Bill Barr might still cling to a survival instinct. He might not want to join the mad Captain Queeg and go down with Donald Trump's ship.

Bill Barr knows that, if Trump loses the presidency, he will have questions to answer. He will be held accountable for his decisions and he has much to account for. If the Democrats do prevail in just three weeks time it will not go well for Bill Barr.  Even within his own department there are many honing their knives.

Donald Trump wants, nay demands, that Barr now double down on what increasingly looks like a bad bet. Just as Trump attacked Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, the Mango Mussolini is now blasting away at Barr. Why? Because Trump wants Barr to indict Democrats - Barack Obama and Joe Biden at the very least. 

Maybe Barr is looking at the polls and calculating the consequences of doing something unforgivably boneheaded to appease a clearly demented guy who may be on his way out and has no loyalty to anyone except himself. Would you take those odds?

Does Trump Want to Spread Covid-19?


It's hard to imagine an American president choosing to put the public in harm's way as a pandemic rages but those expectations don't apply to the Trump administration.

With "second wave" infection rates surging, the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) moved to mandate the wearing of masks aboard aircraft, trains, buses and subways and in airports, train stations and bus depots. Guess who nixed that idea? Why, such a policy might make Donald Trump look bad.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a sweeping order last month requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transit in the United States, but it was blocked by the White House, according to two federal health officials. 

The order would have been the toughest federal mandate to date aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, which continues to infect more than 40,000 people in America each day. The officials said that it had been drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and that it had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex M. Azar II, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it.

Pelosi is right. They really should Article 25 this dude, give him the hook. Trump politicizes everything and weaponizes whatever he can, even a pandemic. Fortunately many terminal authorities as well as airlines and other transportation companies are imposing their own mask requirements. After all they can't rely on Trump to do the right thing. 

South America's Self-Inflicted Environmental Catastrophe


North Americans are all too well aware of our wildfire crisis as, every year, vast swathes of forest are consumed by fires that spread so fast they seem almost diabolical. It is becoming so hot and so dry fires that once spread through ground fuel - fallen branches, leaves, needles - now spread through the tree tops in explosive fires that leap from tree to tree.

South America also has a forest fire problem, particularly across Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. Only these fires are deliberately set to clear land for grazing and crop production.

In Argentina, half of the country’s 23 provinces are enduring the worst fires in decades, causing sore eyes and breathing difficulties in a number of smoke-invaded cities, while destroying wildlife – from endangered monkeys to jaguars, as well as birds and reptiles. Parts of its heavily deforested northern Gran Chaco are burning, as are the country’s eastern Paraná Delta wetlands, where fires skip from one cattle-grazing island to the next, forming gigantic walls of flame.

In Paraguay a national emergency was declared on 1 October as more than 12,000 outbreaks were recorded and the capital, Asunción, choked on dense smoke. Wildfires in the Paraguayan Gran Chaco forest have been so extensive that last weekend’s newspapers ran front-page stories with such headlines as “Paraguay burns”, “In between flames” and “Help! Somebody help us”.

Omar Cabanellas, mayor of the Chaco town of General Bruguez, says a local man died in “totally uncontrollable” fires that affected nearly 600 square miles. “It completely overwhelmed us,” he says. “There were dead wild animals everywhere. The ranches are totally burnt.”

The fires are also rampant in Bolivia, the land-locked nation next to Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, home to extensive areas of the Amazon and Gran Chaco forests. On 16 September, Bolivia declared a state of emergency because of widespread fires, fanned by strong winds and temperatures above 45C. Government estimates the loss up to September 2020 at about 2,400 square miles.

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon are the worst in a decade, satellite data has shown, driven by high levels of deforestation, mostly to make way for cattle pasture and soy plantations, two commodities that have grown in value during the pandemic. As much as 40% of the Brazilian Amazon is nearing the tipping point of turning from forest into savannah. Further south, more than a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands, has been on fire this year, a combination of arson and drought driven by the climate crisis.


We've seen this before in southeast Asia when choking smoke blanketed east Asia from  Singapore to Korea due to fires across Indonesia from stem to stern set to clear ancient hardwood jungle forests to make way for palm oil plantations. That has gone on for years. It's a savage, immensely destructive practice to extract maximum short-term gain with terrible long-term consequences.