Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Yes They Do. Of Course They Know.

Canada's Auditor General may not be very good at casting bones and reading entrails at least not when the offal comes from Steve Harper.

The AG is complaining that, "The Conservative government doesn't know whether its first-time homebuyers tax credit is working as intended, and kept the evaluation of the child fitness tax credit hidden."

Hey Fergie, lighten up.  Those tax credits were designed, not for what they could do for the Canadian people, but for what they could do for the Conservative government - buy votes.  Who cares whether they work anywhere but the ballot box?  Sheesh.

Smoking Gun, What Smoking Gun?

(Your Punchline Here)

The oh so Conservative Senate is trying to prevent the audit into senators' residency qualifications from being exposed in court in the Duffy bribery/corruption trial.

What's that?  There are more Mike Duffy's in the Senate?  Perhaps even including the Harper henchwoman sent to tar and feather Duffy and drive him out of the Red Chamber?

Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne and Crown prosecutor Mark Holmes briefly discussed the fact that a lawyer for the Senate is claiming parliamentary privilege to keep the audit from becoming public.

Neither Bayne nor the Crown have seen the audit, but it was referred to during a 2013 police interview with Gary O'Brien, who was then clerk of the Senate.

"Before Christmas 2012, the internal economy committee requested that senators provide four specific documents to support their residency locations," reads the report of the interview.

"Using those indicators, an internal audit would be done by (administrator) Jill Anne Joseph, on all senators."

In February 2013, the committee put out a brief report saying that only two additional senators initially raised flags during the audit — Liberal Sen. Rod Zimmer and Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson.

"Both explained to the complete satisfaction of the interviewers that their travel claims were in order," the report said.

Now, what if someone steering that very internal economy committee, the same individual already identified as one of two Conservative senators who initially intervened to launder the Duffy expenses audit on instructions from the PMO, was actually in the very same position as Duffy, if not worse, on the residency issue?  

Would the honourable senator from New Brunswick please stand up?

Canadian Press scribe, Jennifer Ditchburn, observes how a certain Carolyn Stewart Olsen's name keeps popping up in the trial.

[Duffy's lawyer, Don] Bayne repeatedly made reference to Conservative Sen. Carolyn Stewart Olsen. After her appointment in 2009, she, too, filed expense claims for an Ottawa home she already lived in.

Duffy found himself charged with fraud and breach of trust, while Stewart Olsen's expenses never seemed to raise an eyebrow inside the Senate.

As an added wrinkle, Stewart Olsen sat on the secretive Senate committee that reviewed Duffy's expenses and collaborated with the Prime Minister's Office on altering its final report in 2013. She was a former senior aide to Stephen Harper.

Duffy and Stewart Olsen were well-established figures in Ottawa before they were appointed by Harper to represent Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, respectively.

"You know that Sen. Stewart Olsen claimed this national capital living expense from the time of her appointment?" Bayne asked top Senate finance official Nicole Proulx.

"All I can say is if senators provided a form and said their primary residence was more than 100 km [away] and they incurred additional living expenses while in the [national capital region] and they had the proper documentation, then finance would have provided the budget," Proulx responded.

When the Senate expense scandal was unfolding in 2013, Stewart Olsen told The Canadian Press in an interview that she had always planned on living in New Brunswick, but she couldn't immediately sell the home in Ottawa.

Duffy also had work to complete on a cottage in Cavendish, P.E.I., where he says he spent $100,000 in upgrades over the years.

Internal emails filed in court show that Stewart Olsen worked closely with officials from the PMO in early 2013 to delete any overly negative assessments of Duffy's living expenses from a committee report.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Climate Change In The Raw

Imagine a highway full of cars, all traveling at very high speed, and all of them simultaneously going out of control.  Something along those lines may be in store with climate change if we can't very quickly decarbonize our economies and our societies.

I've done a few online courses in climate change, fairly mundane stuff.  I'm doing one now that's head and shoulders above the rest.  This course is being presented by experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, one of the most prestigious organizations in this field.  The Potsdam Institute is funded by the German government.  This course is funded by the World Bank.

This week's lectures explore what awaits us if, despite all the warnings, our governments allow 4 degrees Celsius of warming which, by the way, is what the consensus concludes is likely to happen. I prefer to go through the week's lectures non-stop so I don't fall behind and can avoid the necessity of reviewing everything at week's end before taking the test.

Much of the information is pretty well known to anyone who reads news reports - sea level rise; disease and pest migration; both cyclical and sustained drought and flooding and so on.  Other impacts are less well known but equally problematical.

Rate of change is something not commonly discussed yet it should be central to our governmental responses.  Some impacts will be gradual, linear and mild. Others will be abrupt, potentially severe and unpredictable.  The critical point to take from this is that we really don't have the luxury of time to waste in taking effective action.  We're not overtaken by events beyond our control yet, not yet, but that point is far closer than most of us seem to believe.

Carbon capture and sequestration.  Leaving aside all of its drawbacks and pitfalls, CCS probably won't be ready for large scale implementation until around 2025.  However it will then take at least two decades to implement on a scale that will even remotely put a dent in our emissions problems.  That's time we just don't have.  In other words it could turn out to be a gimmick, a blunder with enormous consequences if we cling to the faint hope of CCS instead of going cold turkey on fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

One lecture discussed the "cascade."  This describes the synergy of climate change impacts on other climate change impacts.  In effect they become greater than the sum of their parts.  Some of these challenges include the loss of coral reefs triggering a collapse in marine biodiversity; abrupt changes to the Indian Monsoons, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet (itself being accelerated by black soot from wild fires in the tundra and Boreal forests); the potential collapse of the Amazon rainforest and the effects that will have not only on natural carbon sequestration but also precipitation patterns (Sao Paulo, etc.); the retreat of glaciers, especially in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush; the decline of the Atlantic Ocean conveyor; and something called the marine biological carbon pump.  To these you can add sea level rise, ocean acidification, biome loss (habitat destruction) and so on.  At some point we have to anticipate some or many of these impacts sort of ganging up on us, each bolstering the others, and that is going to be a wild ride.

Two new terms entering popular lexicon are "3 Sigma events" and "5 Sigma events."  3 Sigma events are what we now consider rare, extreme weather events. They're severe but we've endured them in the past.  They're going to become the new normal.  They will increase in duration, intensity and frequency.

5 Sigma events are coming.  We've had no experience of them.  They're unprecedented and and will render some parts of the world (the tropics and mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere) uninhabitable.  Toward the latter part of the century these will become common.

By about 2080 the coolest summer months are projected to be "substantially hotter" than the warmest month we've known in human history.  As for the hottest months, fortunately most of us won't have to deal with that.

Ecosystems are changing everywhere, especially in the Arctic.  In temperate latitudes, Spring is now arriving 2-weeks earlier than the historic normal.  Crop zones are shifting away from the equator.  Frost line defences are failing, enabling the migration of pests and diseases.

As for the 2C target, getting ourselves on track to limit warming to 2C by 2100 has many payoffs ranging from giving ourselves vital time to implement adaptation strategies to giving species in peril essential time to migrate and avoid some loss of biodiversity.

There was a discussion about the need to move promptly on upgrading and replacing infrastructure that was designed and constructed for the demands of a climate that is now gone and won't be returning.  We need to design infrastructure to meet the climate loads that will be here in just a decade or two and that's a huge challenge.

Those are some of the most salient points covered in this week's lectures. They're pretty stark, especially in the context of what awaits us if we don't act boldly and without delay.  Do we have the will to do that?  I have my opinion as I'm sure you have yours.

New York City. Four Cops. Two Black Guys. Nobody Dies.

Maybe it was because the cops were Swedes on the subway going to catch a performance of Les Miserable.  A fight broke out between two homeless men. When the conductor asked for police assistance, the four tourists intervened and, surprisingly, neither of the black guys died.  No one was shot, not even once, no one was Tasered, no one was strangled or suffocated.  Wowser.

The End of Trust. Life In the Surveillance State and the Deconstruction of Privacy.

A panel of British academics and experts furnish a very timely and necessary discussion of privacy, surveillance, ethics and the slow death of trust.  If you are genuinely concerned about such things it's worth watching.  If not, don't bother.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

One That Almost Slipped Through the Cracks

You might have read this already.  I've seen no reference to it so I thought it should be posted before it slips down the Memory Hole.  From the very credible, Pembina Institute.

Amin Asadollahi, oilsands director at the Pembina Institute, made the following statement in response to Environment Canada’s latest greenhouse gas emissions numbers.

“The new numbers confirm yet again that Canada is nowhere near meeting its emissions target of 17 percent below 2005 levels. By contrast, the U.S. has the same target and is on track to meet it. Canada’s failure to act on climate change will be obvious for the world to see at the upcoming Paris climate talks.

“We are disappointed to see the combining of oil and gas into a wider 'energy' category. This disguises the true impact of oil and gas production, which remains the biggest source of emissions growth in Canada. It also hides the success of Ontario’s phase out of coal in reducing emissions.

“The fact Alberta’s emissions are now 13 megatonnes more than Ontario and Quebec combined is particularly alarming. It also shows how critical it is that Alberta caps greenhouse gas pollution and begins to achieve absolute emission reductions.”

And, in case you missed it, a few days ago Furious Leader let slip that, not only is Canada falling behind the US on emissions reductions but we're not going to bother catching up either.

...at a media event in Winnipeg on Thursday, Mr. Harper suggested the lock-step approach with the U.S. is about to end.

“It’s unlikely our targets will be exactly the same as the United States’. But they will be targets of similar levels of ambition to other major industrialized countries,” the Prime Minister said. “And I will just say, broadly speaking, that there will have to be additional regulatory measures going forward to achieve these targets.”

In other words, his lies about matching US reductions have finally caught up with our prime ministerial son of a bitch.  This is pure Steve Harper, completely true to form.  He says whatever he thinks the public needs to hear, makes no end of grand promises, and then skulks back to his cave and does whatever he likes.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Struggle Ahead for a Decent Future for our Youth

It's sometimes hard to read a Henry Giroux essay without coming away feeling like you've been dragged into a dark alley and bludgeoned.  In his latest essay, this American intellectual explores what we've allowed ourselves to become, how we've been complicit in our own orchestrated economic, social and political degradation.  Brace yourself.

"The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages."

- Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Following Hannah Arendt, a dark cloud of political and ethical ignorance has descended on the United States. Thoughtlessness has become something that now occupies a privileged, if not celebrated, place in the political landscape and the mainstream cultural apparatuses. A new kind of infantilism now shapes daily life as adults gleefully take on the role of unthinking children and children are taught to be adults, stripped of their innocence and subject to a range of disciplinary pressures designed to cripple their ability to be imaginative.
Under such circumstances, agency devolves into a kind of anti-intellectual cretinism evident in the babble of banality produced by Fox News, celebrity culture, schools modeled after prisons and politicians who support creationism, argue against climate change and denounce almost any form of reason. The citizen now becomes a consumer; the politician, a slave to corporate money and power; and the burgeoning army of anti-public intellectuals in the mainstream media present themselves as unapologetic enemies of anything that suggests compassion, a respect for the commons and democracy itself.

Education is no longer a public good but a private right, just as critical thinking is no longer a fundamental necessity for creating an engaged and socially responsible citizenship. Neoliberalism's disdain for the social is no longer a quote made famous by Margaret Thatcher. The public sphere is now replaced by private interests, and unbridled individualism rails against any viable notion of solidarity that might inform the vibrancy of struggle, change, and an expansion of an enlightened and democratic body politic.

...Under market fundamentalism, there is a separation of market values, behavior and practices from ethical considerations and social costs giving rise to a growing theater of cruelty and abuse throughout North America. Public spheres that once encouraged progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, democratic values, critical dialogue and exchange have been increasingly commercialized. Or, they have been replaced by corporate settings whose ultimate fidelity is to increasing profit margins and producing a vast commercial and celebrity culture "that tends to function so as to erase everything that matters." Since the 1980s, the scale of human suffering, immiseration and hardship has intensified, accompanied by a theater of cruelty in which violence, especially the daily spectacle of Black men being brutalized or killed by the police, feeds the 24-hour news cycle. The tentacles of barbarism appear to be reaching into every aspect of daily life. Domestic terrorism has come home and it increasingly targets the young.

Given these conditions, an overwhelming catalogue of evidence has come into view that indicates that nation-states organized by neoliberal priorities have implicitly declared war on their children, offering a disturbing index of societies in the midst of a deep moral and political catastrophe. Too many young people today live in an era of foreclosed hope, an era in which it is difficult either to imagine a life beyond the dictates of a market-driven society or to transcend the fear that any attempt to do so can only result in a more dreadful nightmare.

Youth today are not only plagued by the fragility and uncertainty of the present; they are "the first post war generation facing the prospect of downward mobility [in which the] plight of the outcast stretches to embrace a generation as a whole." It is little wonder that "these youngsters are called Generation Zero: A generation with Zero opportunities, Zero future" and Zero expectations. Or to use Guy Standing's term, "the precariat," which he defines as "a growing proportion of our total society" forced to "accept a life of unstable labour and unstable living."

...The war on youth emerged when the social contract, however compromised and feeble, came crashing to the ground around the time Margaret Thatcher "married" Ronald Reagan. Both were hard-line advocates of a market fundamentalism, and announced respectively that there was no such thing as society and that government was the problem, not the solution to citizens' woes. Within a short time, democracy and the political process were hijacked by corporations and the call for austerity policies became cheap copy for weakening the welfare state, public values and public goods. The results of this emerging neoliberal regime included a widening gap between the rich and the poor, a growing culture of cruelty and the dismantling of social provisions. One result has been that the promise of youth has given way to an age of market-induced angst, and a view of many young people as a threat to short-term investments, privatization, untrammeled self-interest and quick profits.

Under such circumstances, all bets are off regarding the future of democracy. Besides a growing inability to translate private troubles into social issues, what is also being lost in the current historical conjuncture is the very idea of the public good, the notion of connecting learning to social change and developing modes of civic courage infused by the principles of social justice. Under the regime of a ruthless economic Darwinism, we are witnessing the crumbling of social bonds and the triumph of individual desires over social rights, nowhere more exemplified than in the gated communities, gated intellectuals and gated values that have become symptomatic of a society that has lost all claims to democracy or for that matter any modestly progressive vision for the future.

Giroux continues with a discourse on the "soft" and "hard" war being waged by neoliberals on North American youth.

In Canada, one child in six lives in poverty, but for Aboriginal and immigrant children that figure rises to 25 percent or more, respectively. By all accounts, the rate of incarceration for Aboriginal youth - already eight times higher than for non-Aboriginal youth - will continue to skyrocket as a result of the Harper government's so-called Safe Streets and Community Act, which emulates the failed policies of the US system by, among other things, strengthening requirements to detain and sentence more youth to custody in juvenile detention centers. Surely one conclusion that can be drawn from the inquest into the tragic suicide of 19-year-old Ashley Smith, who spent five years of her life in and out of detention facilities, is that incarceration for young people can be equivalent to a death sentence.

...Politics and power are now on the side of lawlessness as is obvious in the state's endless violations of civil liberties, freedom of speech and most constitutional rights, mostly done in the name of national security. Lawlessness now wraps itself in government dictates. In Canada, it is evident in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's support for Bill C-51, an anti-terrorist bill that further limits civil rights through a pedagogy of fear and racist demonization. It is also apparent in the United Sates in such policies as the Patriot Act, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Military Commissions Act and a host of other legal illegalities. These would include the right of the president "to order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists."

...Current protests among young people in the United States, Canada and elsewhere in the world make clear that demonstrations are not - indeed, cannot be - only a short-term project for reform. Young people need to enlist all generations to develop a truly global political movement that is accompanied by the reclaiming of public spaces, the progressive use of digital technologies, the development of new public spheres, the production of new modes of education and the safeguarding of places where democratic expression, new civic values, democratic public spheres, new modes of identification and collective hope can be nurtured and developed. A formative culture must be put in place pedagogically and institutionally in a variety of spheres extending from churches and public and higher education to all those cultural apparatuses engaged in the production of collective knowledge, desire, identities and democratic values.

The struggles here are myriad and urgent and point to the call for a living wage, food security, accessible education, jobs programs (especially for the young), the democratization of power, economic equality and a massive shift in funds away from the machinery of war and big banks. Any collective struggle that matters has to embrace education as the center of politics and the source of an embryonic vision of the good life outside of the imperatives of unfettered "free-market" capitalism. In addition, too many progressives and people on the left are stuck in the discourse of foreclosure and cynicism and need to develop what Stuart Hall calls a "sense of politics being educative, of politics changing the way people see things."

...The issue of who gets to define the future, share in the nation's wealth, shape the parameters of the social state, steward and protect the globe's resources and create a formative culture for producing engaged and socially responsible citizens is no longer a rhetorical issue. This challenge offers up new categories for defining how matters of representation, education, economic justice and politics are to be defined and fought over. This is a difficult task, but what we are seeing in cities such as Chicago, Athens, Quebec, Paris, Madrid and other sites of massive inequality throughout the world is the beginning of a long struggle for the institutions, values and infrastructures that make communities the center of a robust, radical democracy. I realize this sounds a bit utopian, but we have few choices if we are going to struggle for a future that does a great deal more than endlessly repeat the present. We may live in dark times, but as Slavoj Žižek rightly insists, "The only realist option is to do what appears impossible within this system. This is how the impossible becomes possible."

You'll Never See Vlad Putin the Same Way Again

If there's one guy who doesn't get any slack from the Western media, it's Russian strongman, Vlad Putin.  We vilify Putin at every turn and, while he certainly brings some of it down on himself, we make sure to depict ourselves as the guys in the white hats while we heap scorn on him.

It's time to reset our compass and there's no one better to do that than Princeton prof Stephen F. Cohen who has been involved with post-Soviet Russia since he served as an advisor to George H.W. Bush during the fall of East Germany. According to Cohen, Putin is as much our creation as his own.

As Russia’s leader, Putin has changed over the years, especially in foreign policy but also at home. His first impulse was toward more free-market reforms, anti-progressive taxes. He enacted a 13 percent flat tax—Steve Forbes would’ve been ecstatic, right? He offers [George W.] Bush what Clinton never really offered Yeltsin: a full partnership. And what does he do? On September 11, 2001, he called George and said, Whatever you want, we’re with you. Bush says, Well, I think we’re going to have to go to war in Afghanistan. And Putin said, I can help you. We’ve got major resources and assets in Afghanistan. I even have an army over there called the Northern Alliance. I’ll give it to you! You want overflight? It’s all yours!

How many American lives did Putin save during our land war in Afghanistan? And do you know what a political price he paid in Russia for that? Because his security people were completely against it.

...Oh, yeah. You think they minded seeing America being brought to its knees? They’d been invaded so often; let America get a taste of it! But Putin assumes he’s achieved what Yeltsin couldn’t and that this benefits the Russian state. He has a real strategic partnership with America. Now, remember, he’s already worried about his radical Islamic problem because Russia has nearly 20 million Muslim citizens of its own. Russia sits in the East and in the West; it’s on the front lines.

What does Bush give him in return? He expands NATO again and he unilaterally withdraws the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the bedrock of Russia’s nuclear security— it’s a complete betrayal. Is that how you repay somebody who’s helped you save the lives of your citizens? This is where the word “betrayal” begins to enter into the discourse.

...I’ve heard him called, among right-wing Russian intellectuals, an appeaser of the West. Soft. You can hear this today: Mariupol? Odessa? Should’ve taken them a year ago; they belong to us. What’s he thinking? Why is he discussing it? [Mariupol and Odessa are two contested cities in the southeastern region of Ukraine.]

So Putin sets his course, and then comes this famous speech he gives in 2007 in Munich, with McCain sitting in the front row. Putin says just what I told you. He says, Look, we want to be your partner; this is what we’ve wanted to be since Gorbachev. We believe in the common European home. But every time we turn to you or we negotiate with you or we think we have an agreement with you, you act like a hegemon and everybody has to do exactly what you say if they want to to be on your side.

Putin has come to tell them that America is risking a new Cold War with more than a decade of bad behavior towards post-Soviet Russia. John McCain interprets this as the declaration of a new Cold War.

Cohen argues that America is massively damaging its own national security by its bellicose approach to Putin over Ukraine.

I think the Ukranian crisis is the greatest blow to American national security— even greater than the Iraq war in its long-term implications— for a simple reason: The road to American national security still runs through Moscow. There is not a single major regional or issue-related national security problem we can solve without the full cooperation of whoever sits in the Kremlin, period, end of story.

Name your poison: We’re talking the Middle East, we’re talking Afghanistan, we’re talking energy, we’re talking climate, we’re talking nuclear proliferation, terrorism, shooting airplanes out of the sky, we’re talking about the two terrorist brothers in Boston.

Look: I mean American national security of the kind I care about—that makes my kids and grandkids and myself safe—in an era that’s much more dangerous than the Cold War because there’s less structure, more nonstate players, and more loose nuclear know-how and materials…. Security can only be partial, but that partial security depends on a full-scale American-Russian cooperation, period. We are losing Russia for American national security in Ukraine as we talk, and even if it were to end tomorrow Russia will never, for at least a generation, be as willing to cooperate with Washington on security matters as it was before this crisis began.

Therefore, the architects of the American policy towards Russia and Ukraine are destroying American national security—and therefore I am the patriot and they are the saboteurs of American security. That’s the whole story, and any sensible person who doesn’t suffer from Putin-phobia can see it plainly.

...The truth is, not everything depends on the president of the United States. Not everything, but an awful lot does, and when it comes to international affairs we haven’t really had a president who acted as an actual statesman in regard to Russia since Reagan in 1985-88. Clinton certainly didn’t; his Russia policy was clownish and ultimately detrimental to U.S. national security interests. Bush’s was reckless and lost one opportunity after another, and Obama’s is either uninformed or completely out to lunch. We have not had a statesman in the White House when it comes to Russia since Reagan, and I am utterly, totally, 1000 percent convinced that before November 2013, when we tried to impose an ultimatum on Yanukovych—and even right now, today—that a statesman in the White House could end this in 48 hours with Putin. What Putin wants in the Ukraine crisis is what we ought to want; that’s the reality.

Maybe it's time we realized that the West, led by an increasingly bellicose Permanent Warfare State, has some fence-mending to do for our sake as much as anyone's.  

This One's For the Ladies. Well, Actually It's For Me.

#makeitfair from The Make It Fair Project on Vimeo.

They're Calling It "World War O"

It seems pretty clear that Barack Obama came into the presidency intending to extricate the United States from its foreign wars.  There were two at the time, Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today there are five.

From Politico:

Obama pledged in his 2013 inaugural address that “a decade of war is now ending,” but the numbers suggest otherwise. The U.S. takes regular lethal action in at least five countries. U.S. troops are deployed in three conflict zones. And America is directly involved in a pair of Arab civil wars.

Some administration officials fear that things will get worse before they get better, particularly in Ukraine and Iraq. But they are divided on how best to proceed, people familiar with the Obama team’s internal debates say — with top officials like Secretary of State John Kerry urging measures like arming Ukrainian government forces with Javelin anti-tank missiles, which can ostensibly be called defensive.

The goal, as one administration official put it, would be that “dead Russians will come back across the border and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will feel a greater price for his escalation.”

But the roster of violence is sobering, and the president’s more cautious advisers fret about how much more military risk America should take on as global conflicts multiply.

We’re sort of seeing the world order cracking around the edges,” says Robert Kagan, a conservative author and historian whose writing has caught the president’s attention. “The only thing Obama can hope is that it doesn’t completely collapse while he’s still president.”

The administration’s allies challenge such assessments, saying there’s only so much America can do to directly influence the chaos now spanning three continents.

...Obama seemed to set a higher bar as recently as two years ago — suggesting that he could demilitarize America’s foreign presence more dramatically.

“America is at a crossroads,” Obama said in a May 2013 address at the National Defense University. “We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us.”

Obama was speaking specifically about the fight against terrorism before it cranked into a new gear with ISIL’s rise last year.

Obama's allies, especially European leaders and Angela Merkel in particular, are becoming wary of America's war without end.  They're leery of the American idea of empowering Ukrainian forces to make a gift of dead Russians for Vladimir Putin.  And, of course, the Politico essay doesn't even touch on Washington's pivot to Asia and America's sometimes contradictory approach to China.


How Is Steve Supposed to Compete With This?

The Prince of Darkness, Steve Harper, loves to send Canadian fighter pilots to distant corners of the world to bomb the living Hell out of people who don't go to his church.  Why, then, won't he pay those gallant airmen, those Knights of the Air, the going rate?

So, what is the going rate?  You have to factor in salary plus bonus these days. The bonus part comes via Saudi Arabia where a prince of the royal House of Saud is going to buy 100-Bentleys for 100-Saudi pilots currently dropping bombs on Yemeni Houthi rebels.

The cost for a nicely-equipped Bentley Continental GT hovers around $200-grand US (roughly $270,000 in Harper bucks).  However, based on the number of missions flown, Steve owes our Canadian pilots a lot more than some cheesy Bentley.  They deserve something more along the lines of the Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse 16.4.  It costs about 2.25 mill but Steve can probably cut a bulk deal.

When it comes to dealing Death from Above and you want to say "thank you" loud and clear, nothing says it like a Veyron.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My, My. Tax Cuts Do Create Jobs.

A new study reveals that tax cuts do indeed create jobs and boost investment. One little snag.  It's only tax cuts for the bottom 90 percent that benefit the economy, not tax cuts for the rich.

The study from Owen Zidar, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, found that tax cuts aimed at the top 10 percent of earners produce little stimulative effect on the overall economy. On the other hand, those aimed at the bottom 90 percent have a greater impact.

Zidar examined the short- to medium-term impact of tax changes at the state and federal levels going back to 1948. On the national level, he found a 1 percent gross domestic product (GDP) tax cut aimed at the bottom 90 percent translates to job growth of 2 to 5 percent, but the impact of a similar cut on the top 10 percent of earners has a negligible effect. He reached similar conclusions on the state level: Tax decreases for most of the population generated 5 percent employment growth, but yielded little change when applied to the top income bracket.

Tax hikes produce similar effects, the paper says. When applied to the rich, they’re insignificant. But when applied to the rest of the population, they have a negative effect on economic activity.

And this research comes out of the neoliberals' favourite school, the University of Chicago school of business no less.

It's Louisiana, Bobby, the Urinal Cake of the United States.

Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, is at it again.  In a New York Times op-ed, Jindal has pledged to protect the 'religious liberty' of individuals, businesses and corporations in his state to discriminate against teh gays.

In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty. It was disappointing to see conservative leaders so hastily retreat on legislation that would simply allow for an individual or business to claim a right to free exercise of religion in a court of law.

As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.

In 2010, Louisiana adopted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. However, given the changing positions of politicians, judges and the public in favor of same-sex marriage, along with the potential for discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses that comes with these shifts, I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.

The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.
Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me.
When I read this sort of crap, I'm reflexively drawn to thoughts of Chuck Thompson's "Better Off Without'Em."

Texans and Frogs. What Do They Have in Common?

It's pretty hard to exaggerate our indifference to early-onset impacts of climate change.  They're here, they're worsening before our eyes and, more often than not, we ignore them.  Some call it the "boiling frog" syndrome.

The New Republic offers up a cautionary tale of drought-stricken Texas and the collapse of the state's once legendary cattle industry.

In fact, hydrologists estimate that even with improved rainfall, it could take thousands of years to replenish the groundwater already drawn from the South Plains. If sustained rains don’t come soon, the tiny cattle towns of the Panhandle and across North Texas, already in decline for decades, may be pushed out of existence. Their residents, like the workers displaced by the Cargill plant closure, may be forced north in the first wave of U.S. climate change migrants, as the national cattle herd constricts around a narrower band in the center of the country and the nation’s food supply becomes ever more reliant on the deepest parts of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas and Nebraska.  

This dovetails neatly with yesterday's post concerning America's looming 'internally displaced population' problem and the increasing problem with climate change migration.

Canada Advances to Top Tier Warmongering. Congratulations All.

Also Available in Green

Did you hear the news?  Pakistan has inked a deal to buy eight modern Chinese submarines.  Pakistan, yeah.  And the Pakistan navy is looking at developing nuclear warheads for the torpedoes and cruise missiles those subs carry.  What do you think of that?  Does it evoke any sort of visceral reaction in you? I wouldn't bet on it.

Those familiar with this blog know that I devote some time monitoring arms races underway in many corners of the world but especially in the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and, of course, Russia and Eastern Europe.  They're all little beehives of martial adventurism and incipient mass mayhem.

Interesting piece in today's Guardian about how the West's mega-billion dollar annual arms sales to our 'Middle Eastern allies' (snicker, snicker) is destabilizing the region.  On this score even Canada gets special mention.

The Middle East is plunging deeper into an arms race, with an estimated $18bn expected to be spent on weapons this year, a development that experts warn is fuelling serious tension and conflict in the region.

Given the unprecedented levels of weapons sales by the west (including the US, Canada and the UK) to the mainly Sunni Gulf states, Vladimir Putin’s decision last week to allow the controversial delivery of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran – voluntarily blocked by Russia since 2010 – seems likely to further accelerate the proliferation.

That will see agreed arms sales to the top five purchasers in the region - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt and Iraq – surge this year to more than $18bn, up from $12bn last year. Among the systems being purchased are jet fighters, missiles, armoured vehicles, drones and helicopters.

...“It’s crazy,” says Ben Moores, author of IHS Jane’s annual report on arms buying trends. “The one Canadian deal alone – to supply Saudi Arabia with light armoured vehicles – will account for 20% of the military vehicles sold globally in years covered by the contract. And this is just the thin edge of the wedge. Saudi has booked enough arms imports in 24 months for them to be worth $10bn a year.”

...as Tobias Borck of the Royal United Services Institute points out, states in the Middle East are now more prepared to use the weapons they are buying.

“[The] Saudi-led military operations in Yemen [are] the latest manifestation of Arab interventionism, a trend that has been gaining momentum in the Middle East since the uprisings of the Arab spring,” he says. “Middle Eastern countries appear to be increasingly willing to use their armed forces to protect and pursue their interests in crisis zones across the region.”

Referring to the inconsistent approach by key security council members towards arms control in the region, he adds: “There are a lot of different streams feeding into this arms race.

“On Syria’s chemical weapons and the Iranian nuclear programme the two issues were ringfenced as pure arms control questions. When it comes to how we perceive our arms sales – whether they are British or US or whatever – it tends to be seen as a domestic economic issue – protecting our factories.

That neglects the regional political dimensions, with arms sales taking place with a lack of regard for that context and without long-term strategic awareness.”

...Omar Ashour, an expert on Middle East security issues at Exeter University, adds another caution, this time over the intentions of the new Saudi-led Arab coalition, warning that its interventions are unlikely to contribute to stability.

...Speaking to the Guardian last week, he added: “On top of that, the increases in arms sales are bound to be extremely destabilising. At the moment most of the interventions have been against softer targets – Saudi Arabia targeting guerrillas in Yemen; Egypt against Bedouin in Sinai; or strikes against ragtag armies in Libya.

“But if the ‘soft’ keeps being hit hard they won’t remain soft. They will find their own patrons and proxies and hit back and it will lead to a vicious cycle.”

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at Sipri, which maintains a database tracking arms contracts, raises another concern. “Something that doesn’t get mentioned is the complete lack of interest in arms control among the countries in region. It is not in the minds of leaders and decision-makers except for the need to arm to defeat any potential opponent.

“There is already instability in the region on several levels. You have instability in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. There is instability between Iran and the Gulf states. What is important now is how the massive expansion of the armed forces of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar will be seen as posing a clear threat to Iran.”

Borck adds a final warning: “If you are going for an ever-bigger hammer, then the more desperate you are to make every problem a nail.”

In summary, Stephen Harper just inked a massive deal to perpetuate the Middle East conflicts and ensure that the region remains destabilized for years, possibly decades to come.  Yet, at the very same time, we're over there bombing one bunch of bad actors in order to restore stability to the region.  Neat trick, eh? What do we have in mind for a third act?  It should be pretty exciting for laid back Canada.

While I'm on the topic of warmongering and this insane global arms bazaar, I thought I'd share with you an investment analysis that arrived in my inbox yesterday concerning industry giant, Lockheed Martin.  The title speaks volumes:

"Lockheed Martin: Well-Positioned To Take Advantage Of Global Destabilization"

You can't make this stuff up:

With the huge ramp up in geopolitical tensions and global conflict, the international markets are becoming much more relevant for Lockheed Martin. As such, Lockheed Martin's decision to put increasing emphasis on international expansion is extremely smart. The company even plans to have its international segment account for at least one-quarter of its total sales. Given how much worse geopolitical tensions and conflicts have gotten in the last few quarters, Lockheed Martin will very likely be able to follow through on its international ambitions.

The Middle East, in particular, represents huge opportunities for Lockheed Martin. With conflicts in the Middle East escalating, the company's sales to the region will surely constitute a huge portion of its international business segment. Just recently, another Middle Eastern conflict emerged in the form of a rapidly destabilizing Yemem. The Yemen situation has gotten so bad that Saudi Arabia is now basically in a proxy war against Iran. Given Lockheed Martin's somewhat close relationship with Saudi Arabia, this conflict should present the company with plenty of new opportunities. In fact, CEO Marillyn Hewson met with several senior Saudi Arabian leaders to discuss new business opportunities.

The Middle East is just one of many promising international markets for Lockheed Martin. From increasing missile defense system sales in conflict zones such as Eastern Europe (e.g. MEADs sales to Ukraine) to jet deals in the APAC region(e.g. F-35 sales to South Korea), Lockheed Martin is building a formidable international presence. As international tensions/conflicts are only getting worse, Lockheed Martin has an opportune chance to cement its global presence.

Maybe Harper should dispatch Old Leatherback, Joe Oliver, over to the ME as Canada's ambassador for warmongering.  This is just getting started and there's countless billions to be had with the race going to the quickest.

Let's Ditch the Cowboy Act

Modern, high-tech warfare is putting many nations in an increasingly offensive military posture. The controversial F-35 is a perfect example. Despite what we're told, the F-35 is not a fighter jet. It's a light attack bomber, an inherently offensive, first-strike weapon.  One American general, by way of defending the F-35, called it his "kick in the front door" weapon.

You're probably familiar with Pearl Harbor.  Did you know the Japanese prepared for that attack by staging a full dress rehearsal with real aircraft launching torpedoes at targets simulating the American Pacific fleet at anchor? It's how they tested and perfected the ability to use torpedoes in the shallow anchorage at Pearl Harbor.

Did you know the Americans have done pretty much the same thing as their Japanese counterparts 75-years earlier?  It was called Operation Chimichanga and it was a full dress rehearsal of a surprise, first-strike attack by American warplanes on China.  In a real, sneak attack, the F-35 is intended to play a prominent role in taking out critical Chinese air defence assets.

One online course I'm doing at the moment explores what is loosely called "remote controlled warfare."  It's all about high-tech weaponry and push button warfare with really truncated lines of command.  Critics warn this affords less time for reflection and leads to a shift toward offensive decision making on short notice.  It also degrades meaningful oversight.

What is usually overlooked is that, to the person staring at the business end of the barrel, this bellicose policy encourages an equally bellicose response (see NATO v. Russia).  What makes it doubly dangerous is that it begins, quite seductively, with conventional weapons that, like the camel's nose under the tent, can make nuclear escalation a quite conceivable outcome.

We wind up, like whiskey-soaked cowboys at a saloon poker table, holding our cards in one hand while, under the table, everyone has a drawn six shooter in the other.

I'm sure you're familiar with the adage that, to a man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  It could be argued that, to a nation that has a preponderance of offensive weaponry, everything looks like a target.  And that's not a good thing, not good at all.

After WWII our appetite for offensive warfare was slaked, for a while.  What had been the Ministry of War or the War Department became the Ministry of Defence or the Defense Department.  It was all so demure.  In Canada we call it the Department of National Defence even though we devote little in the actual defence of the nation and far more in whacking some curious looking fellow whose religion we don't like at various hotspots on the other side of the world. This, they tell us, is the defence of the homeland.  Really?

NATO itself was born and lived its entire useful life as a defensive alliance. Then, its work done, it died.  Unfortunately there was no end of Dr. Frankensteins in various national capitals, but especially in Washington, who thought to resurrect it and managed to transform its DNA into an offensive alliance for political and military expansionism.  Today, we're "the horde."  I guess it's our turn.

It would be one thing if our military adventures were rational and, even better yet, if they were successful - if they brought meaningful and lasting change and stability to those lands that we so freely endow with our aerial, precision-guided generosity.  But they don't and that's not going to change.  We just go in to fuck'em up for a while and then we leave, mission accomplished.  We did that in our air war over Kosovo.  The Americans and Brits did that in Iraq.  We all did the same thing in Afghanistan.  And who can forget our triumphant bombing campaign in Libya?  Now we've become so immersed in all things Middle Eastern that we're alternately allied with and attacking both sides in the Islamic civil wars.

Look, let's ditch the cowboy act.  All we're managing to do is set up the world for a far greater conflagration.  If we don't stop this soon, we could become the victims of our own policies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Another Badly Overdue Conversation We're Not Brave Enough to Have.

It was around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  The British magazine, The Economist, published a provocative opinion piece focusing on whether Europe should erect defences to cut itself off from the barbarians beyond the EU borders or take down the walls entirely.

The article foresaw what we're witnessing today - the onset of a mass migration out of the Middle East and Africa by people desperate enough to risk nearly anything, including their own lives, to find sanctuary in the European Union.

In this week in which we have seen hundreds drown, trapped in the hold of a smuggler's boat as it capsized and sank to the bottom of the Med, that Economist article seems prescient and more urgent than ever.

Europe is finally having to confront the reality of an endless wave of refugees sweeping in from the east and south.  How many can the EU states allow in? Where does it draw the line? Who should get in and who should not?  What should the EU do to assist and alternately repel these uninvited arrivals?

It's not a problem unique to the EU.  In his book, Climate Wars, Gwynne Dyer has as grim assessment of how far the United States may be willing to go to halt a mass exodus of refugees out of Mexico and Central America.  He contends that the Pentagon is exploring a range of responses including one that could turn America's southern border into an automated killing zone.

In our cozy high-latitude sinecure, we don't give much thought to this problem or how it could play out over the next two or three decades.  The fact is we don't think of it at all.

A 2000 article in The Guardian examined how the Sahara has now jumped the Mediterranean.

The Sahara has crossed the Mediterranean, forcing thousands to migrate as a lethal combination of soil degradation and climate change turns parts of southern Europe into desert.

A major UN conference was told yesterday that up to a third of Europe's soil could eventually be affected.

A fifth of Spanish land is so degraded that it is turning into desert, according to figures released for the first time yesterday, and in Italy tracts of land in the south are now abandoned and technically desert.

Italian government environmental expert, Maurizio Sciortino, gave a fairly grim assessment:

"Land that has been carefully cultivated and preserved for 2,000 years, with terracing for soil conservation and careful irrigation to keep up productivity, is being abandoned and lost," he said. "The walls of the terracing break down, the soil is washed away and we are left with bare rock. Once that happens there is no way back.

"The conditions are particularly bad in southern Italy, Spain and Greece. Even southern France is not immune but so far they do not admit it for political reasons."

The problem is not confined to the EU. Bulgaria, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Russia have all reported signs of desertification. Experts say Moldova in particular is "highly vulnerable" to desertification, with about 60% its farmland degraded.

In essence, Europe is confronted with a looming "IDP" or internally displaced population crisis.  As the south becomes increasingly less capable of supporting its native population, many will be forced to migrate northward.

Domingo Jimenez-Beltran, executive director of the European Environment Agency, said: "In some parts of Europe, the degradation is so severe that it has reduced the soil's capacity to support human communities and ecosystems and resulted in desertification. Because it can take hundreds or thousands of years to regenerate most soils, the damage occurring today is, for all purposes, irreversible."

There is some speculation that climate change and desertification could drive a north-south and east-west chasm in the European Union, resulting in the withdrawal of the northwestern European states from the remainder of the Union.

The United States has a bevy of its own challenges that could result in millions of internally displaced Americans who will need to be relocated due to sea level rise and coastal inundation of already hard pressed freshwater reserves or heatwaves and sustained drought, particularly in the American southwest.  This has all manner of social, economic, fiscal and security ramifications and costs. Caught up in this scenario, how accommodating will the US be toward a wave of climate refugees seeing refuge in the north?  American resources will be stressed, perhaps to the breaking point, tending to their own citizens.  The added burden of many millions of migrants out of Latin America could easily be intolerable.

Remember, what we're already witnessing is nothing more than 'early-onset' climate change.  These are problems that are not going away and are bound to rapidly worsen.  

A particularly important observation from Climate Wars is that, when it comes to full-bore climate change, every nation's greatest threat will be the neighbouring country that stands between it and the equator.  Mull that over for a while.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Does Austerity Lead to Nuclear War?

We in the West for much too long have taken our military supremacy over everybody else for granted.  With a lead partner (or perhaps "head office" would be more apt) like the Pentagon how could we think anything else?  It's a given that we have the best and the most of everything from the infantry rifleman to stealth bombers.

There's a dangerous tendency to look at defence spending as the measure of military power.  On that score the United States should have no rivals for it outspends the next dozen or so biggest military spenders combined.  But recent analysis suggests that America doesn't get very much bang for its defence buck, certainly not compared to its emerging rivals such as China.

China targets its military spending to what it needs for a) self-defence and b) expanding the nation's 'sphere of influence' to suit its emerging economic superpower status.  The United States doesn't spend an awful lot on self-defence. You don't need thousands of Abrams tanks to defend Wyoming.  America's defence spending should be called "offence spending" to reflect the inherently offensive systems that the United States deploys.

Take stealth for example.  The B-2 bomber, the F-22 Raptor fighter and the F-35 light attack bomber - they're all offensive.  When the USAF conducted "Operation Chimichanga" it was a dress rehearsal for a first strike on China to neutralize the Chinese air defences, paving the way for a sustained air campaign on the People's Republic.  It was an adjunct to the Air-Sea Battle doctrine focused on China and Southeast Asia.  It has now evolved into the "A2/AD" doctrine meant to counter anti-access and area denial (defensive) capabilities in China's home waters.

Provocative?  Ya think?  It's the sort of behaviour that sparks arms races and, not surprisingly, that's precisely what's happening.  The Chinese are building submarines and medium-range missiles specifically designed to sink American aircraft carriers.  They're building their own stealth warplanes (with a great deal of help from massive amounts of stealth data hacked from American and British computers).  They're developing island air bases in the South China sea, the latest in the hotly disputed Spratleys.

Russia, too, with NATO parked right on its doorstep, is rapidly re-arming.  New warplanes, including a new stealth bomber.  New subs,  a new class of long-range missiles to go with them.  New, longer range, cruise missiles - perfect for an over-the-pole saturation attack on North America.   New tanks.  New, new, new - new and better (in a way, I suppose).

Which brings us to military historian  and BBC defence correspondent Mark Urban's new book, "The Edge" in which he asks whether the West has lost its dominance in conventional warfare.  Spoiler Alert - the answer is "Yes."

Mr. Urban warns that, "projected cuts “will make it impossible for America to have the kind of military reach it used to”. Many Americans, he adds, “do not realise that the age of a single global hyperpower is over. And, actually, it’s worse than that. For it is only by combining metrics of that decline with the growth in military capabilities elsewhere that you can gain a sense of how quickly the scales are tipping”.

Now, says Urban, Russia, China and India have such strong conventional forces, and America has cut its forces so much, that in the event of a conflict “the US would be left with the choice of nuclear escalation or backing down”. He adds: “Against a full-scale invasion of South Korea, the US would have little choice but to go nuclear.” Russia, China, India, Israel, Pakistan, North Korea and some other countries could “mount a credible conventional defence that would leave the United States having to think the unthinkable, with profound implications for the world”.

Would the US really need to contemplate a nuclear attack on these countries? Urban does not really answer the question. More convincingly, he talks about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear blackmail at a time when Russia and China are reverting to the notion of “spheres of influence” and when, as he puts it, the idea that political power grows from the barrel of a gun is back with a vengeance in many parts of the world. “A growing threat to world order,” says Urban, will ultimately lead to more countries acquiring nuclear weapons, as well as chemical and biological weapons, and what he calls “cyber weaponry”.

I should have Urban's book in a couple of weeks and I'll post a full review. Unfortunately there are plenty of regional and even a few global arms races underway although we hear close to nothing about them from our mainstream media.  Warfare itself is changing across the gamut from the smallest failed state (Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan) to the ascendant superpowers.  As we ought to have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, having "All the King's horses and all the King's men" no longer yields reliable results.

This offensive mentality that was so ruthlessly implanted during the Bush/Cheney years now threatens our own security.  Every schoolyard bully learns that you can threaten people only so long before someone calls you on it.

It's probably a good time to put a lid on the hyper-bellicose nonsense spewed out by NATO.  Let's focus on what we need to actually secure ourselves, to defend our coasts and airspace.  It's shaping up to be a tough and intensely dangerous century.