Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Brad Wall Would Prefer You Ignore

Alberta's Rachel Notley has vowed to shut down her province's coal-fired power plants and implement meaty carbon pricing levies. Her colleague next door, Saskatchewan's Brad Wall, is already squealing like a pig, whinging about how slashing his province's greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to a clean energy regime will ruin Saskatchewan's economy.

Here, courtesy of the National Observer, is a graphic that tells you all you need to know about the provinces' electrical energy generation. Dirtier even than Chins? You betcha.

New Media Celebrates the Passing of Old (as in "Post") Media

The National Observer, outshoot of the Vancouver Observer, is making a name for itself as an up and coming new media outlet carrying real news, conducting real investigations, doing the very sorts of things that Canada's corporate mass media cartel jettisoned long ago.

And so it is fitting that the National Observer observe "the Tawdry fall of the PostMedia newspaper empire."

Postmedia is ...a ship taking on water, due to both self-inflicted and industry-wide wounds.

Of the self-inflicted variety, Postmedia was pilloried last month in the run-up to the federal election after its Toronto executives ordered 16 of its major daily newspapers to run editorials endorsing Stephen Harper. (Postmedia did the same thing last spring during Alberta’s provincial election, forcing its papers there to back Jim Prentice’s Tories).

In a surprising move, John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp., which publishes Canada’s largest daily paper, The Toronto Star, devoted an entire op-ed pagearticle two weeks ago heaping scorn on Postmedia’s decision, decrying “the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.”

Then there was the stunning resignation of Andrew Coyne as the National Post’seditorials and comments editor. Coyne quit on the eve of the election – although he remains a columnist with the paper – when his superiors told him he was not allowed to publish a column dissenting with their endorsement of Harper. Coyne, who declines to discuss the matter, tweeted his disapproval of the censoring, saying “I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest.”

“[Postmedia’s] handling of the Andrew Coyne affair was disgraceful,” says Ken Whyte, the founding editor-in-chief of the National Post, former publisher ofMaclean’s magazine and currently senior vice-president of public policy with Rogers Communications Inc. Whyte said that the former owners of the Post, the Asper family, “even in their worst moments would still have allowed Andrew to write a column stating his own views and the Aspers had some pretty bad moments.”

Meanwhile, last week, the editorial board of the Ottawa Citizen suddenly resigned without citing a reason.

The silencing of Coyne was not an isolated incident either. In August, acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood watched as a column she wrote for the National Postcriticizing Harper was posted on-line, then removed, and then edited before being reposted with some of her criticisms deleted. “Um, did I just get censored?” Atwood asked afterwards.

Three days before the election, Postmedia also permitted the Conservative Party to buy yellow ads that covered the entire front pages of most of the company’s major daily newspapers, direly warning about voting for the Liberals. This action, says Marc Edge, a Richmond, B.C.-based journalism professor and author of the 2014 book Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers, suggests Postmedia is “poisoning their brand.”

...Postmedia’s reputational hits are stacking up. Last winter, two of its top business columnists, Terence Corcoran and Peter Foster, and the National Post, lost a defamation lawsuit brought by Andrew Weaver, an esteemed climatologist at the University of Victoria and a Green Party MLA in the BC legislature. Corcoran and Foster wrote false information about Weaver, suggesting he exaggerated the dangers of climate change. The judge awarded Weaver $50,000 in damages. The decision is being appealed and Weaver will not discuss the matter.

...Since being founded in 2010, Postmedia seems to have bled copious amounts of red ink. In its most recent financial statement, it posted net losses of $263-million for this year alone, on revenues of $750-million, while weighed down with $646-million in long-term debt.

Before it bought the Sun Media chain of newspapers this past year, Postmedia’s revenues had fallen from $899-million in 2011 to $674-million in fiscal 2014 – a plunge of 25 per cent in just three years. Meanwhile, its shares, which rose to $17 in 2011, are now penny stock and no longer actively trading.

...Ironically, though, the most serious threat Postmedia faces might be from its owners and debt-holders. The company is controlled primarily by two American hedge funds – GoldenTree Asset Management LP and Silver Point Capital LP. Hedge funds are pools of capital that hunt for investment opportunities, but also have a reputation for being destructive and remorseless sharks within the financial industry.

Indeed, the hedge funds controlling Postmedia specialize in buying so-called distressed-debt companies. For them to profit from faltering businesses, however, often means slashing costs to the bone, sucking out cash flow and selling off assets for scrap to recoup their investment. “Basically that's what they do,” says Martin Langeveld, a former American newspaper publisher and industry expert with Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “They take a company, they have different ways of getting their money out even if they don't really fix it… You are cannibalizing, you’re consolidating.”

...Postmedia’s roots go back to the Southam Inc. newspaper chain that was founded more than a century ago. In 1996, Black bought the Southam papers and soon created the National Post as its flagship paper. His term as boss would be short-lived, however: pressed by his bankers to chop debt, Black sold the papers to the Asper family’s CanWest Global Communications Corp. in 2000.

Seven years later, the New York-based hedge fund GoldenTree—co-founded by Steven Shapiro, a former manager with CIBC World Markets—began buying up CanWest’s debt issues. As CanWest floundered, GoldenTree acquired more of its debt. Poorly managed by the Aspers, weighed down by $4-billion in debt and pummeled by the credit crisis, CanWest declared bankruptcy in 2009.

A year later, GoldenTree and 19 other foreign and domestic lenders, mostly hedge funds, paid $1.1-billion for the CanWest papers, created Postmedia and made Paul Godfrey its CEO.

...At Postmedia, as revenue and circulation declined, it has downsized staff, sold off assets, consolidated and outsourced operations, cut Sunday editions and shuttered bureaus. Now all of its dailies are copy-edited and laid out, and even stories selected, in offices located in a strip mall in Hamilton, Ontario.

Despite these cuts, Postmedia has never earned any net profit, suffering combined net losses of $624-million since 2010. For the hedge funds who control it, on the other hand, Postmedia is a profitable investment. Because the company’s debt is owed to them, they receive interest payments at rates ranging from 8.25 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

...As long as Postmedia is paying interest on its debts and generating cash flow, the hedge funds will remain happy. The problem, though, is that Postmedia’s revenues keep falling. “It’s very difficult to stay healthy when you have less money every year,” insists Toughill. “Last year alone print advertising dropped 18 percent. That's a huge amount of money to have disappear out of the budget in a single year.”

Thus, in order to keep interest payments flowing to their American owners, the chain must continue cutting costs. But at a certain point, that’s no longer an option either. “If they continue to record net losses they will ultimately consume themselves in order to pay down the debt – unless they can turn themselves around,” says Mitchell Weiss, a former American financial services executive. “So they are in a race against time.”

...So what’s the long-term prognosis for Postmedia? According to Doctor, the hedge funds have likely figured out how they can get their money back by “managing [Postmedia’s] decline profitably.” Which might mean returning it to receivership and selling off its assets, with the hedge funds first in line as creditors to collect.

...One victim of the fall of Postmedia has been its journalism.

A former National Post journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recalls that by last year, reporters were being asked to produce more and shorter stories, with less in-depth coverage. Another former Post reporter said “they would look for a regional CBC stories, get that and put a Post spin on it. That's how they found stories.”
(Back in the day, the CBC poached a lot of its evening news stories out of the morning papers. Times, it seems, do change.)

...Another victim of Postmedia’s crisis is the Chinese wall separating advertisers from editorial content.

Once upon a time, newspapers could afford to alienate the odd advertiser because there were so many others to pay the bills. No longer. Former National Post editor Ken Whyte says it’s now commonplace for advertisers to demand favourable editorial content in return for their money. “Before, [newspapers] might've stood up and said we will let that million dollars go, we won't prostitute ourselves,” he remarks. “Now they'll see they will be way short on their budget and need the money.”

Last year, Greenpeace stumbled across a Powerpoint presentation that someone had leaked on-line. Produced by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) for Postmedia’s board of directors in 2013, the presentation proposed a close alliance between the media company and the oil industry’s main lobby group. “We will work with CAPP to amplify our energy mandate and to be a part of the solution to keep Canada competitive in the global marketplace,” it said. “Postmedia will undertake to leverage all means editorially, technically and creatively – through the Financial Post, Postmedia market newspapers and affiliated media partners – to further this critical conversation.” It’s unclear if this alliance ever materialized, although Postmedia said it would never surrender editorial control.

...Indeed, with a declining and aging readership, taking political and social positions that seem out of step with the majority of Canadians doesn’t appear to be a recipe for attracting new readers and a broad audience. In short, not a smart business plan. Yet the recent actions of Paul Godfrey and his American bosses suggest they are oblivious.

From a century as Southam the once great newspaper chain fell into the hands of the likes of Black, the Aspers of CanWest and then the vulture capitalists and their PostMedia. It's like one long, drawn out wasting disease first contracted in 1996 that metastasized in 2000 and went terminal in 2009, taking its credibility and reputation down with it. Good riddance.

Oh, Damn !!

Turkish warplanes have shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border. Vlad Putin has vowed that Turkey can expect to find itself on the receiving end of "significant consequences."

The Turks have called an emergency meeting of NATO members that is now scheduled for 11:00 eastern time.

Putin has confirmed the aircraft, an Su-24, was downed by Turkish F-16s, calling the shootdown a "stab in the back carried out by accomplices of terrorists." At the recent G20 summit Turkey was one of the nations identified by Putin as the principal backers of ISIS.

No word yet on whether the 2-man crew of the Su-24 survived but there's a strong chance they were killed when the missiles detonated.


From bad to terrible.  Turkmen rebels inside Syria now claim to have shot and killed the Russian crew who had apparently ejected safely from their stricken plane.

Turkey's private Dogan news agency is quoting a Turkmen commander as saying Turkey brought down the Russian plane after it had dropped a bomb in a Turkmen region of Syria and entered Turkish airspace.

The fighter, who was identified as Alpaslan Celik, the second-in-command of the Turkmen Coastal Division, said the Turkmen forces had re-captured a Turkmen mountain region from Syrian forces.

Celik also said the rebels shot and killed both Russian pilots who parachuted from the plane after it was shot down.

The rebels had previously said they killed one of the two pilots and were searching for the second one. The AP couldn't immediately confirm the claim that both pilots were dead.

Ah, Jesus, that won't go unpunished.  Putin is going to have to retaliate for the wanton execution of his airmen.

Second Update:

It's starting to sound as though the Turks acted recklessly. From BBC News.

The Turks say the aircraft was warned about entering Turkey several times, and, when it did not change course, was shot down.

The problem is that according to a radar map released by the Turks themselves, the Russian Sukhoi could at best be described as crossing over Turkish territory.

It flew over a small piece of Turkey that projects into Syria - a tiny isthmus of land that would have taken the fast jet only a few moments to fly over.

So if the plane was shot down, as the Turks say, after entering Turkish airspace, you could equally say it was downed on the way out of Turkish territory too.

Monday, November 23, 2015

"It was pretty remarkable, and it was a pleasure to be able to do it."

"A pleasure to be able to do it." That's how a senior research scientist from Environment Canada, Greg Flato, described the experience of finally being allowed to brief the premiers and prime minister on up to date climate science and then be permitted to appear at a press conference and actually answer questions.

Our chief elected officials got quite an earful of science today, the straight goods. Yes, climate change poses a severe danger, several in fact, to Canada. Yes, climate change is largely man-made. Yes, we must decarbonize, free ourselves from our dependence on fossil fuels and time is not on our side.

Scientists being allowed to brief elected officials on science. Pretty remarkable indeed.

Sorry, Naomi, Climate Change Can't Be Your Sociology Project. BTW, Nice Hair.

Naomi Klein has her designer knickers in a bunch because, with some pretty nasty individuals floating around Paris lately, Hollande has banned protest marches at next week's climate change summit.

Klein asks, accusatorially, "Whose security gets protected by any means necessary? Whose security is casually sacrificed, despite the means to do so much better? Those are the questions at the heart of the climate crisis, and the answers are the reason climate summits so often end in acrimony and tears."

Let me clear the cobwebs for you there, dear. The security that gets protected by any means necessary next week has to be that for the delegates whom we all need to conference, undisrupted by acts of terrorism, so that just maybe - at this final opportunity - they can arrive at some meaningful agreement to forestall climate change cataclysm also known as runaway global warming.

Sorry, Naomi, I know that won't give a voice to the little people, especially those who are already reeling from the early onset impacts of climate change, and we can all feel deeply for their plight but this summit isn't some three ring circus or street festival much as you might like it to be.

This is the summit that has to work. We're just out of time to fail yet again. It takes time to slash emissions. It takes time to decarbonize our economies and societies. It takes time to transition to reliable, clean, alternative energy. It's a process - commitment, study, development and implementation - that has to be completed before we trigger runaway global warming (if we haven't already).

There will be more climate summits, plenty more, at which these many other important issues that have somehow become your priority will need to be addressed. We'll have to tackle justice and inequality, wealth and resource allocation, overpopulation and overconsumption and a whole host of other challenges. But, Naomi, if we don't get this summit right all those other issues will be moot.''

I understand you're feeling left out of the limelight. I read your book, "This Changes Everything." Hell, I even bought it. Your message came through loud and clear, we need to develop a post-capitalist society. Got that. You were a little wobbly on the details but don't worry - all the detail work was done long before you tweaked to climate change by folks like Herman Daly, Thomas Prugh, Paul Craig Roberts as well as Costanza, Cumberland, Goodland and Norgaard. You might want to check out their ideas rather than trying to reinvent the wheel in your own image.

Still I think you might want to sit this one out. Leave it to the delegates and their science advisors. It's their turn.

Just When I Thought Canada Was Short One Asshole

Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall popped up to let us know we're in no danger of running a rectum deficit anytime soon.

Wall served notice again today that he's going to be the climate change bad boy in Canada's federal-provincial contingent at the Paris climate summit.

Poindexter plainly doesn't like this talk about carbon taxes. Alberta premier Rachel Notley's carbon pricing plan announced yesterday seems to have Biff a bit worried. In Ottawa, premier Wall said he wouldn't support climate change measures that harmed the economy which, for Brad, is code for "fossil fuel exports." That pointy headed little bugger doesn't seem to understand that, if we extract, sell and burn the highest carbon fossil fuels there isn't going to be an economy especially if climate change brings sustained, severe drought to the Prairie.

Later on, Green Party leader Elizabeth May very diplomatically told CBC that she hopes Brad will benefit from next week's climate summit and will have an epiphany bordering on a religious conversion. Let us pray.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sorry JT But the Honeymoon's Over

Even the New York Times can't look the other way any longer. America's "grey lady," put it on the record today. Saudi Arabia is no ally to the West. It is, by contrast, the greatest "state sponsor of terrorism" on the planet and the radical Islamist outfits it backs are the same murderous gangs we're fighting - al Qaeda, al Nusra, ISIS and their affiliates who are sowing chaos through the Muslim world, Europe and even in North America.

If you need more details you can check out this trip down Memory Lane from Foreign Policy in Focus.

So, prime minister Trudeau, you're on notice. Unlike your predecessor, Harper, you can't duck this. You'll know that Harper approved the biggest arms deal in Canadian history for the supply of $15-billion worth of armoured fighting vehicles to the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.

Harper tried to duck his, and by extension all Canadians', abject moral failure with the greasy excuse that, if Canada didn't sell these combat vehicles to the Saudis, another country would. That's the talk of a moral reprobate but, unless you act Mr. Trudeau, you'll also have to own it.

It's not just the Saudis either. It's the Kuwaitis too. Apparently this is how they express their gratitude for our war to drive Saddam Hussein out of their homeland. And it's the Qataris and, it seems, our NATO ally, the Turks. Oh well you know all the players from that dossier Vladimir Putin handed to you at the G20 summit.

What exactly did the Saudis tell us they had in mind for all those armoured fighting vehicles? I wonder if it's got anything to do with their extermination campaign against the Houthi people of Yemen? Those Saudis are going through a massive amount of ordinance. When it comes to the Yemeni people they prefer smart munitions and cluster bombs. It's about all the Americans can do to keep up with demand.

You see, Mr. Trudeau, here's the thing. When the Saudis are placing an order that massive with Canada's defence industry, it's a good bet this state sponsor of terrorism has a pretty clear plan to use that high-tech death hardware before long and, with what we know of Saudi Arabia and the murderous swine it sponsors, whatever they do with those combat vehicles will be on our heads and I really don't like that idea.  We can't feign innocence. Harper says he swore not to talk, a condition of the sale insisted on by the Saudis. Why? What did Harper and his Saudi pals not want the Canadian people and the world to know?

Stop this, Mr. Trudeau. Stop it now before one of those fighting vehicles reaches the hold of a ship.

The New York Times Nails It - Saudi Arabia is Just an ISIS That Made It.

At last, a voice pointing to the cognitive dissonance bordering on madness in the West's (including our own) military adventurism in South Asia and the Middle East. I've been arguing this, well, forever. You want to kill the snake, you cut off its head and whether it's the Taliban, al Qaeda, al Nusra or ISIS, the head is always the same only we consider it our ally.

We're getting into the second half of the second decade of our high-tech futility over there, our pointless but endlessly lethal wars of gesture. There's a reason that all the King's horses and all the King's men haven't won anything, not one goddamned thing.

Here are excerpts from an op-ed written by Kamel Daoud reprinted in today's New York Times. When are we going to wake up?

Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity’s common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.

The West’s denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world’s chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.

Saudi Arabia remains an ally of the West in the many chess games playing out in the Middle East. It is preferred to Iran, that gray Daesh. And there’s the trap. Denial creates the illusion of equilibrium. Jihadism is denounced as the scourge of the century but no consideration is given to what created it or supports it. This may allow saving face, but not saving lives.

Daesh has a mother, the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books

You Know Better. The Head is in Riyadh.

But wait, there's more !!! The United States just released a large quantity of sophisticated ground attack weapons to the Saudis who are running low because of their endless bombing campaign against Yemen's Houthi population.  The Houthi rebels are waging battles with al Qaeda and ISIS units. In other words the Saudis are informally delivering air strikes in support of the same murderous Islamist bastards we're trying to defeat in Syria and Iraq.

The important point to remember is that these outfits, al Qaeda, ISIS, al Nusra and the rest can come and go.  You can't defeat them and they won't give up and they won't surrender. They just dissolve, disappear and reform at some place of their choosing. Their lifeline - the sheikhs and princes of the Persian Gulf - just keep them going and going.

The Real Harper Derangement Syndrome - the Conservatives' Mirage Surplus

It smelled from the get to. The economy was wallowing on the cusp of recession. World oil prices had tanked. Yet Shifty Steve Harper went into the last election telling Canadians that after a half-dozen consecutive budget deficits, his government had finally turned a corner and engineered a budget surplus - the first, he assured Tory Gullabillies, of an endless streak of surpluses to come.

Only he was lying his ass off.

The new government has had a look at the federal books - not the cooked set but the raw data - and the crushing weight of reality transforms Harper's surplus into a $3-billion federal deficit.

The last Conservative budget forecasted a $2.3-billion surplus for this year, but Finance Canada now says it's more likely the year will end with a $3-billion deficit — and that's before Liberal campaign promises are costed in.

Finance Canada still predicts the economy will eke out growth in 2015 — but only at an average of 1.2 per cent. The April budget by the Conservatives had predicted two per cent growth for the year.

Ottawa is also now assuming a weaker loonie, too. In April, the budget was forecasting an 83-cent loonie, on average, between now and 2019. Friday's fiscal update downgrades that to 79 cents US.

The loonie is currently trading hands at around 75 cents US.

All in all, it's a fitting fare-thee-well from the most manipulative, secretive and duplicitous government in Canadian history. When one speaks of Harper Derangement Syndrome it was an affliction not of Harper's critics but a corrosive infestation inside the man himself. 

Duffy? Duffy Who?

Yeah, so the trial of the Cavendish Cottager has resumed. Who cares? Now with Stephen Harper sent packing and a new party with a secure-term majority, it doesn't seem to matter nearly as much as it did over the summer before it adjourned.

Where's the high drama now? The Crown seems intent on closing with a fizzle, focusing on petty cash/sticky fingers issues. The bribery case, the sine qua non of the prosecution, appears to have collapsed. It had been thought the Court might hear from Tory senators LeBreton, Tkachuk and Stewart-Olsen and maybe even party counsel Hamilton, just possibly Harper himself. Defence counsel Don Bayne might subpoena those folks but if he thinks the bribery charge has cratered he probably won't. What would be the point?

In other words we may be left with just the "hand in the cookie jar" charges and there's a bit of a problem with that. Some of the light-fingering referred to in the charges was pretty commonplace among a good segment of the Senate, I'm hearing about half.  So, if Duffy is prosecuted, possibly convicted, and the rest of his fellow senatorial miscreants are left off the hook, how does that look? Suddenly it takes on the trappings of a political inquisition dressed up as a criminal trial.

This saga began with some nasty, underhanded business. It might just end the same way.

U.S. Yells "Uncle" on F-35

When American military commanders run out of money, you know something is very wrong.

U.S. defence planners have run the numbers and figure there'll be no 60 or 80-a year buy of F-35's as once planned.  Putting it bluntly they said the USAF will be "struggling to afford 48 F-35s a year."

So what's a girl to do when she runs out of mad money?

The U.S. Air Force may solicit bids for 72 new Boeing F-15s,Lockheed Martin F-16s or even Boeing F/A-18E/Fs as budget issues put planned production rates for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter out of reach, according to senior service and industry officials at the Defense IQ International Fighter Conference [in London].

In the typical Dr. Strangelove lexicon, air force officials said modernized F-15s would be used to "augment the F-35 and F-22 in a high-end fight." Now, in case you're not up on US Air Force lingo, "high-end fight" means a peer-on-peer air war which itself is code for war on Russia or China or, almost certainly, both.

The U.S. Air Force activity parallels U.S. Navy fleet planning; the Navy, likewise, is considering reductions in the planned F-35C production rate to fund life-extension efforts for the Super Hornet.

Okay, what does all that mean for Canada and other F-35 partner nations? A reduced American buy means only one thing - higher unit costs for everyone. Lockheed's pricing is built on a projected US military buy in big numbers. As those US Navy and US Air Force numbers get whittled down, the price per aircraft goes up for everyone, including foreign customers. That's very bad news for an aircraft that is still plagued with delays, cost overruns, performance issues and a "perishable" stealth technology.

Even the air force guy running the programme, General Christopher Bogdan, has alluded to the F-35's pricing problems in the context of a "death spiral" in which, as orders are trimmed or canceled and, in the result, prices soar, the warplane becomes increasingly unviable.

For Canada there's a potential silver lining in all of this. Boeing has designed major upgrades for both the F-18 and F-15 that make them more capable and even somewhat stealthy. Either of those aircraft would probably outperform the F-35 for Canada's home defence needs and by a wide margin.

Until recently it seemed the Boeing's F-18 and F-15 production lines would soon be shut down, eliminating those options for Canada. Now it seems the US military may just be keeping them open. At this point what matters most - being invited to the opening strikes of some "high end" attack on Russia and China or being able to patrol and defend Canada's vulnerable airspace in the far north?

By the way, the Russians are using their air war in Syria for some live fire practice using Backfire bombers to launch medium-range (1,700 km.) cruise missiles at ground targets. They're not using those aircraft and those costly weapons to take out a few inconsequential targets in Syria. They're just training in case they need to use them against some other country, perhaps our own.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Climate Change Makes the Case for Renewable Energy Alternatives

Charleston, S.C., October, 2015

In America's southeastern states they call it "sunny day flooding." That's when coastal towns experience flooding caused only by high tides and sea level rise. That's distinct from the flooding triggered by high tides, sea level rise, hurricane force storm surges and deluge rainfalls - the real buggers that reshape coastlines and the houses that line them.

Coastal communities in America's southeast are just becoming accustomed to sunny day flooding, a.k.a. "nuisance flooding."  The population of Charleston is waking up to a problem that's only going to get much worse and sooner than had been imagined.

It's becoming more and more difficult to beat back the tides in Charleston. Not a month goes by now without city streets being washed out and closed off until the water recedes. Whether you call it nuisance flooding or a major threat may depend on whether you've had to abandon your car after stalling out in knee-high water. Either way, Charleston's flood problems are just getting started.

"Right now in Charleston, you get somewhere around 20 or 24 tidal flooding events per year, and that is really just when the tides get so high because you've got high tide on top of sea-level rise, they cause flooding, even on sunny days. Then when it rains, it just makes it much worse," says Nicole Hernandez Hammer, Southeast climate advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "With the mid-range sea-level rise projections, you'll probably get around 78 of those events by the year 2030, and you're going to be looking at 187 of those events per year by the year 2045. As problematic as it seems now, this is the beginning of living with sea-level rise impact."

Hammer says her home state, Florida, is in more dire straits.

"What we're doing here in Florida is we're putting in pumps and we're putting in barriers and sandbags, not very sophisticated stuff, and that's in the high-end places. The areas with very few resources, they're getting nothing," Hammer says. "The city of Miami Beach, which is just 18 square miles, a very tiny piece of Florida and Miami-Dade County, is spending half a billion dollars to deal with sunny-day flooding, and that really just amounts to pumps, raising roads, and those are the two kinds of things that are being done. You can imagine the costs associated with adapting an area if those are the figures you're looking at for a small stretch of Miami."

A study by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that a great deal of the power infrastructure and grid is susceptible to storm surge inundation, which, it claims makes the argument for alternative, clean energy.

"You reduce the importance of any one asset on the grid the further you get away from a centralized system, and I think one of the great things about resilient, renewable resources beyond them being clean is that they can generate money for you even if the power hasn't gone out," says [UCS researcher Julie] McNamara. "You can still be making money off of your solar panels when everything is fine. You can't say that for diesel generators. It's been widely reported that during Hurricane Sandy some 50 percent of diesel generators failed in New York City. When you aren't running them very often, you have a higher rate of failure just because of inactivity or failed maintenance."

While Paris Mourns, Netanyahu Makes His Move

With all eyes weary from trying to follow the Paris attacks, the G20 and APEC summits, our favourite peace lover, Benjamin Netanyahu, marked the occassion by "authorizing the marketing of (stolen Palestinian) land for the construction of 454 homes in occupied East Jerusalem."

That'll teach ISIS, right Binny? Or maybe it'll just give them more fodder for recruiting and raising funds.

Well played, Benjamin, you're all class.

Other Ways to Look at Paris and ISIS and Syrian Refugees

I think I'll keep this post open, adding new graphics as I come across them online.

Well That Wasn't Very Polite. Putin Outs ISIS Supporters.

This is certainly awkward. The West's favourite Bad Boy, Vlad Putin, brought some interesting info to the G20 summit. He brought intelligence data naming what he claims are the 40-countries that are funding or aiding ISIS. Some of them, according to Vlad, are members of the G20. Oh, yes, I think I see one right over there.

What's so infuriating is that Putin didn't let any cats out of the bag. We, the Five Eyes nations, also know full well many of those countries backing ISIS and we haven't done a damn thing about it. We would rather wage wars of gestures, dropping bombs on pickup trucks out in the desert.

Stephen Harper knew and yet he still greased the deal to sell $15-billion worth of Canadian built armoured fighting vehicles to one of the ISIS patrons. It's beyond hypocrisy. In my opinion it's borderline treason.

Update: I thought I'd cruise the mainstream media sites for their accounts of Putin's G20 presentation. Can't find it. Ain't there. Putin outs G20 members and two score of nations in total that are facilitating the flow of under the table money to ISIS and our editors spike the story. Hmm, I wonder why that is? Could it be that we'd rather not dwell on those Gulf State sheikhs and princes propping up murderous Sunni Muslim extremists? Could it be that we're afraid of opening a political can of worms by observing ISIS is being commanded by a number of ex-Iraqi army generals the Americans threw out of their jobs? Do we have some reason for not interdicting truck convoys by which ISIS exports their stolen oil?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Muslim, Jew, Doesn't Make Much Difference. We Don't Like Them When They Come Looking for Help.

A timely reminder from the Washington Post about how compassionate we are to refugees fleeing murderous persecution. It comes in the form of a flashback to
1938 when European Jews tried to escape Nazi controlled Europe. Some things, it seems, don't change.

He's Here!

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency has released their latest projections for el Nino.  At the bottom of this chart you'll see a band of dark red that stretches across the Pacific. That's el Nino and it could be a record breaker.

The dark patches west of Vancouver Island, off the Washington/Oregon border and from southern California to Cabo san Lucas - that's "the blob" that we've been dealing with since at least last spring. It looks like something similar is underway along America's eastern seaboard extending into the Maritimes.

The RedHead Girl in the Back of the Chevrolet

I've been writing some, no, a lot, of pretty grim essays lately. Sorry but that's how I see what's unfolding around us.

This stuff gets to me too, maybe even more than some others. Still I write but what keeps me going is reliving moments even as whimsical as this:

"Drank a lot of take-home pay.." yeah, fair enough. But there was an intensely progressive side to Billy Joel:

And the title track from his last album, 1993 - it's been that long.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dear "Fair Vote Canada" - Back the Hell Off

Fair Vote Canada has launched a campaign seeking volunteers to circulate petitions demanding the Liberal government implement proportional representation. They're piggybacking their preferred option, proportional rep., on the back of Justin Trudeau's promise to introduce some sort of electoral reform.

I'm more than a bit leery of Fair Vote Canada and their campaign for pro-rep. Part of that is because I don't know enough about proportional representation or any of the other options such as the single, transferable ballots and all of their permutations. I have read that the option FVC is pushing would favour the NDP while the weighted ballot might favour the Libs.  I don't know but I'd sure like to understand the ramifications of all the options before I throw in with any one of them despite Fair Vote Canada's strident urgings.

At the end of the day I want Canadians to have their say and I'll live with that. We should all get a democratic voice something we won't have if we give in to the squeaky wheels.

First past the post is a deeply flawed system in any multi-party Parliament. Convincing voters of the obvious failures of FPTP shouldn't be difficult. Giving them full information and a suitable slate of alternatives also should not be difficult. If you can't sell that at this point you never will but if Canadians choose FPTP then that's their will and you can't further democracy by defying their democratic choice.

My difficulty with proportional representation is that it provides for political parties to appoint MPs who have never faced the electorate. To whom are these people accountable. How can we have a Parliament with two classes of members, those chosen by voters and others chosen by party hacks in backrooms? By what moral right are these unelected place holders to vote on issues affecting my life and my children's? There's something unsavory to that.

I take the new prime minister at his word that he will deal with this during his term of office. The squeaky wheels of Fair Vote Canada can get by squeaking a little longer.

Here's a Thought.

An observation this morning from regular commenter, Toby:

At the barber shop this morning I got an earful of nonsense about the Paris attacks, about Trudeau doing everything wrong, about awful immigrants (Syrian, East Indian) gang warfare and how Harper did such a good job. Very little actual facts. One wonders how the eternal gabfest creates the fantasy.

One thing is obvious: if the Paris attacks had happened two days before the Canadian election Harper would have another majority.

Let that sink in for a couple of minutes and then breathe a deep sigh of relief.

The Moral War

I'm deeply confused by the outpouring of sentiment over the Paris terrorist attacks, especially the resounding clamour for prime minister Trudeau to reverse his decision on withdrawing Canada's six-pack of CF-18s from the air campaign in Iraq and Syria.  This is a sentiment that seems widely shared among Liberals and Conservatives alike although the Tories, true to form, are decidedly uglier and more racist in their criticisms.

Most of this stuff I just dismiss as the sort of emotionalism that always follows atrocity, excepting instances where our side is at fault (ask Medicins sans Frontieres if you need clarification). That goes for most of our populist journos also. The Star's Rosie Dimanno is a perfect example along with the editorial staff of the Globe and PostMedia.

I tend to make an exception for people like the CBC's Neil Macdonald who, in my opinion, seems to bring a bit more reason and balance to his punditry. When it comes to our hapless air campaign, Macdonald boils down the West's options as just keep going (i.e. bombing) indefinitely or leave.

"Everyone knows airstrikes will not decide this fight. And the U.S.-led campaign to arm and train "moderate" rebels in Syria and troops in Iraq has been an embarrassment, to put it mildly.

"Generally, whenever ISIS or its affiliated extremists have shown up, America's proxies have cut and run, often leaving their U.S.-provided guns and hardware for the enemy to scoop up.

"But disengaging and letting the Middle East sort itself out would involve a hideous price for the populations on the ground.

"ISIS operates by its own grotesque set of the Hama rules, and the massacres that would without question follow an ISIS expansion would validate Pope Francis's observation that what we are seeing today is a piecemeal version of World War III.

"For Washington and Paris and London and Ottawa and all the other coalition members, this is a horrible set of options.

"There is no Solomonic solution available, and, to make it worse, the brutal truth is that America's so-called coalition of the willing, which invaded Iraq on a false pretext, effectively created ISIS (which, unsurprisingly, has several of Saddam Hussein's former generals among its commanders).

"The West sowed dragons' teeth, which grew into armed fanatics now bent on taking the battle back to the West. And ahead of them, massive rivers of miserable refugees are trudging toward Western soil.

"We can pray for Paris to our hearts' content, and light up monuments in the colours of the French flag, and trade peace sign memes of the Eiffel Tower. But what Western militarism created cannot be sung or wished away.

"Hafez al-Assad and his Baathist colleague Saddam Hussein were both monsters. But compared to what the West unleashed on itself, they seem, in retrospect, like incarnations of stability."

Macdonald cites the "Hama Rules." The name comes from a campaign waged by Bashar's dad, Hafez.

"After surviving an assassination attempt by the militant Muslim Brotherhood, Assad sent out death squads with orders to slaughter every Brotherhood member held in Syria's prisons, of which there were hundreds.

"And he was just getting started. His security forces initiated a lethal crackdown that culminated in February 1982 when Syrian tanks and artillery units arrived in Hama, a Brotherhood stronghold.

"Over the next few weeks, the army destroyed entire sections of the city, killed tens of thousands of people, and bulldozed the rubble flat.

"Hafez al-Assad never had another problem with the Brotherhood."

Such may be the tactical lingua franca of the battle against Islamist radicals. If you want to win you must be prepared to resort to barbarism an order of magnitude greater than your adversary. You must not hesitate to kill innocents as well as your enemies. Of course it's one thing when it's Muslim on Muslim butchery.  

Which brings us to the strategy currently in vogue with Israel's political and military leadership, Dahiyeh. It's a policy of deliberately targeting civilian populations instead of military units or installations that was widely practiced on all sides during WWII (i.e. carpet bombing, firestorms and, of course, nuclear attack) but which was thereafter outlawed as inhumane. The thinking is that those civilians provide support to the enemy and whether that's voluntary or under compulsion is irrelevant.

This is all well and good except we have forsworn that sort of barbarism and readily condemn it in others (except our ally, Israel, of course). Besides, it's one thing in the Muslim on Muslim context, quite another when it becomes Infidel on Muslim. That might reverberate for a while with unwelcome results.

It would help if we could come to a working understanding of what warfare has become in the 21st century. We go to these affairs prepared to engage in "old war" - the state-on-state stuff with standing armies vying for victory ending in peace on one side's terms. Instead we're embroiled in "new war" in which there's a confusing mix of state and non-state actors, pursuing what are often distinct agendas leading to drawn out conflicts in which there is neither victory nor peace to be had at the conclusion.  The age of unwinnable war without end may be upon us. All the King's horses and all the King's men can't be relied upon to produce favourable outcomes.

What is the moral dimension of waging war without end? Where is the morality in going to war until the voters at home finally grow bored with it and the political caste finds it necessary to call the whole thing off? What is our moral obligation to the defenceless hordes we leave in our wake as we depart? How do we deny them sanctuary as refugees?

Is this a function of original sin? You lied your way into this war and now the Pottery Barn rule applies (you broke it, you own it).

I'm hopelessly confused and yet I have studied this "new war" theory and have some grasp on what it portends. It's one of those things that the more you explore it the murkier it becomes. All I've garnered out of those studies has led me to formulate a precautionary rule. Don't get into wars that you're not willing to win and, even then, not without knowing how you will win, how long that will take, at what cost, how you will know if you've won and if you've lost, and how you will get out. Those preconditions all sound so reasonable and yet, if applied to our military adventures in the Muslim world since the turn of this century, we would have stayed home.

Forget this bullshit about moral wars for it's the most heinous, most barbaric side that sets that morality bar in these new wars. There's no moral consolation prize that doesn't leave mountains of suffering and dead in its wake.